Title: Hell is Murky

Author: Su Freund

Email: su_freund@ficwithfins.com


Status: Complete

Category: Angst, Drama (and Jack whumping)

Pairings: None

Spoilers: Children of the Gods, Within the Serpent's Grasp, Legacy, Crystal Skull, Chain Reaction, Orpheus

Season: First half of 7

Sequel/Series Info: None

Rating: PG-13

Content Warnings: Contains scenes that might be disturbing to some readers, including child death. Minor use of bad language

Summary: Jack's mental and physical health is profoundly affected by the death of a young boy he befriends on a mission.

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Copyright © 2004 Su Freund

File Size: 123 KB

Archive: My site. Jackfic, yes. Gateworld, yes. FanFiction Net, yes.

Author's Notes:

1. Thanks to William Shakespeare for the title, and the use of some of his words throughout. Why make up your own when he says it so much better?

2. Many thanks to Bonnie, my beta, who made some suggestions about my first draft that helped improve this final version immeasurably. She has a good habit of doing that and long may it continue.

3. This fan fic is dedicated to all those who fight, and those who die, for their country to protect those of us who 'keep the home fires burning'. In particular for Lightfoot's father, who served as a fly boy in World War II. The artwork used on my site to illustrate this fic is by Lightfoot, who dedicates that wonderful work to her father, and I wanted to honour that dedication here. Thanks to Lightfoot for allowing me to use it for my fic.

4. The fic can be found in one piece on my site at It looks pretty there as it includes Lightfoot's wonderful picture as well as some other caps of Jack amongst the text.

Hell is Murky

O'Neill bent down and picked the little boy up, wiping away his tears.

"Hey, buddy, it's ok. There's nothing to cry about. I won't be gone long, but you can't come with me." He hugged the boy closely to his chest and put him back on the ground, bending at his knees down to his level. "Come on, shall we go find your mommy?" He took the boy by the hand and led him away, turning his head as he went towards his team. "Hey, Carter, I'm just going to take Dot'l back to his mom, and I'll be right with you."

Carter chuckled. The Colonel really seemed to be enjoying this mission, and had made quite a little friend in Dot'l, who had been following him everywhere that he was allowed to. He seemed to adore O'Neill, just as kids always did. That this child was alien, on a planet thousands of light years away from home, made no difference.

They really were alien too. These people were in no way descended from the people of Earth; had never been snatched from their homes by men with staff weapons or glowing eyes. As far as they could ascertain, these people were native to this planet. They had two legs and arms but were not human. Teal'c had quietly commented that they looked like something from the television programme called Star Trek. Although O'Neill never watched sci- fi, he couldn't avoid knowing what Teal'c meant by that. Even he could not deny knowledge of that particular programme.

The Tris't were reminiscent of the Nox; seemed a little naïve and primitive. They looked nothing like them, though, being more alien in appearance with leathery brown speckled skins, and claws rather than fingernails. O'Neill had been pleased to see that the claws were kept short and not as intimidating as they could have been.

Daniel thought that they must be evolved from something much more akin to a lizard than an ape; he also suspected there was a lot more to them than met the eye. He kept spotting things that did not seem to fit at all with their apparent level of development. He repeated, however, that a truly alien race was difficult to compare to those descended from Earth; that made it harder to determine what their level of development might be. Like the Nox, they could be way more advanced than Earth, but not appear to be so. Certainly, their behaviour was not that of a primitive society.

Getting answers was somewhat difficult. Communication between the team and the Tris't was something that still needed ironing out. The wrinkles sprang from the fact that these people spoke no language like any Daniel had encountered before. Daniel was a trooper, though and had managed some words; the rest was a cross between sign language and playing charades. On occasion, they had the whole village laughing hysterically at their efforts. At least they all seemed to get along. The Tris't were certainly friendly, and wanted to know more about their visitors.

As far as they could make out, the Tris't called this planet Coo'lt. The Colonel, of course, insisted on calling it Cool It! The team had all raised their eyebrows when he had first quipped that, so typical of him. It seemed he thought the planet cool, too. O'Neill appeared to communicate with Dot'l just by being Jack; he spoke universal child language. Dot'l had taken a shine to him almost immediately. Jack thought it had something to do with his hat when, in reality, it had everything to do with the smile on his face, which had lit up when the boy had approached him, curiously.

Carter was hopeful that they had found some sort of 'miracle' cure that seemed effective for a number of ailments. It was made into balms and potions from a native plant, dealing efficiently with external injuries, like burns and cuts, as well as internal ones, like vomiting and diarrhoea. She suspected it did much more than that and got all enthusiastic, trying to bore O'Neill with the details, as ever. He had just waved her off and told her to do her thing. She was in ecstatic scientist mode, probing for information on what the drug could do, and what other wonders might be available. They seemed happy to co-operate, and might well be open to trade. Daniel, of course, was intensely fascinated with the language and culture, so spent all of his time communicating like crazy and trying to glean everything he could from it.

The natives were so peaceful and friendly that it left little for O'Neill and Teal'c to do. Not for the first time O'Neill wondered why he came along on these missions. His kind of expertise wasn't needed half the time – but there was always the other half to consider. To O'Neill, potential danger was always lurking just around the corner, so he was generally wary, if bored.

Not on this mission. He had fallen for Dot'l as much as Dot'l had fallen for him. Indeed, the children of the village seemed to flock to him once they saw his friendly and playful response to Dot'l. So O'Neill relaxed and enjoyed the adoration, playing games with the kids, and having a little fun. He tried to get Teal'c to join in too, although Teal'c didn't appear to get the point of half the games children played.

Here was something that these people had in common with the people of Earth; the games these children played were very similar to those played by kids all over Jack's own home world. O'Neill wondered how much you could learn about a people from its children. Certainly he felt you could learn a lot by watching how people treated their children. The Tris't treated their young with great respect, recognising that they had minds and feelings of their own that gave them a voice in their society. O'Neill liked that; he liked it a lot. He felt a genuine warmth and affection towards these people, despite the communication difficulties.

When the attack came, they were unprepared for it. A Goa'uld aerial assault could be swift, deadly, and is generally unexpected. This was one such occasion. O'Neill was walking across the compound; having deposited Dot'l with his mother, when the attack occurred. He cursed that the damned Goa'uld couldn't even leave him alone for five minutes while he was enjoying himself. The Tris't were in chaos; dead bodies littered the compound and huts were on fire all around them.

"Goddammit! Carter!" O'Neill shouted as he spotted her blonde hair a short distance away, deep among the chaos. "We have to get these people to the gate! Let's try rounding 'em up!"

Carter signalled her understanding but, despite her gestures of explanation to those she could reach, no one seemed interested in going; they were all heading in the same direction, away from their village and into the rocky hills that skirted the village along one side. Daniel and Teal'c appeared from opposite directions, running towards O'Neill, who was signalling for Carter to join them.

"I think they have somewhere to hide in the mountains; some caves and tunnels or something. They go there when there's trouble." Daniel explained to O'Neill as he approached.

"Ok. Let's get the hell out of here. We can't force them to come with us. We get out now, before we run out of options."

They knew that the gate might be swarming with Jaffa any time now. They may even be too late already. The death gliders were turning around for another bombardment.

"Let's go!" cried O'Neill to his team.

His team was ahead of him as they ran across the compound and out of the village towards the gate. Carter was suddenly aware that the Colonel was no longer following them. She signalled the others to go ahead and that she would go back for O'Neill. When she re-entered the compound, she saw him crouched on the ground next to a bundle.

"Colonel O'Neill! Sir! We have to get out of here!" She called, but he was unmoving, so she ran over to him. "Sir!"

He didn't budge; was stock still, staring at the bundle. As Carter drew closer she realised that the bundle was Dot'l. He had been decapitated, head severed from his young body, only recognisable because of the distinctive clothes that he wore and the bracelet on his wrist. O'Neill seemed dazed and was holding the dead boy's hand. Carter tugged at his arm, frantically.

"Colonel O'Neill, you have to come, now!"

O'Neill looked up at her blankly, as if she was a stranger, and she saw tears in his eyes. Shocked, she crouched beside him and squeezed his arm sympathetically.

"I'm sorry, Sir. but we really are gonna have to go."

Around them, the compound was filled with explosions as the death gliders hit again and O'Neill shook out of his reverie.

"Right. Let's go Carter."

As they headed towards the gate, gliders firing down towards them, Carter pondered the Colonel's strange behaviour. That wasn't like him. He had taken a liking to the boy, sure, but he was usually able to cut that sort of emotion off until they were safe. Her thoughts were interrupted by those trying to survive this attack. So far they had luck on their side. She and O'Neill were fortunate to have not been blown to pieces in the middle of the village compound. As they were fired upon again, they seemed to be relatively unscathed. So far so good.

The pair saw Daniel and Teal'c crouched behind a couple of the large boulders that surrounded the gate, and joined them. Surprisingly only three Jaffa were on guard duty. Piece of cake, O'Neill thought, and signalled Carter and Teal'c to circle round and wait his signal, ordering Daniel to stay with him. Once they were in position, he signalled and they opened fire simultaneously, catching the Jaffa by surprise, and felling them swiftly.

"Well...that was easy. Daniel, dial it up."

The gliders were almost on top of them again as the wormhole took them into its watery depths. As their boots hit the ramp on the other side, O'Neill's legs buckled under him and he tumbled to the floor.

"Medical team in here now!" barked Hammond, and Doc Frasier rushed over to help the Colonel.

"I'm ok, I'm fine." O'Neill insisted as the Doc fussed over him looking for visible signs of injury.

"Let me be the judge of that." Janet replied.

O'Neill groaned in anticipation of another stay in the infirmary while she ran tests... and probably more tests...

"Can you walk, Colonel?" Janet asked.

"Sure I can walk. I'll have you know that I learned how to do that before I was one year old." He said, sarcastically, but with a twinkle in his eye.

Janet gave him a look that could wither a lesser man than O'Neill at 20 paces, and then ushered him to the infirmary. His legs felt wobbly beneath him, but he made it without them buckling again. Once there Janet could find no signs of injury. He hadn't hit his head, so no concussion. She found no cause for his collapse as he walked through the gate.

"Doc, I'm fine, really!" O'Neill protested, "I probably tripped over my own boot laces."

He smiled faintly at her, genuinely feeling okay physically. Despite his protestations, however, as he predicted, she insisted he stay in the infirmary overnight to be sure.

Although he felt physically fine, his mental state was something else entirely. He didn't show it while the others were there, but once they were gone, he let his depression take hold of him.

Dot'l had been a cute kid and had not deserved to have his life cut short in that horrible way. He had reminded Jack a little of Charlie. He figured that any boy of that age would always remind him of Charlie. Except that Dot'l was an alien; you can't have everything.

Jack felt responsible. He should never have let down his guard. It served him right for enjoying himself; relaxing too much. Now he had more blood on his hands. He sunk lower into the depths of despair, thinking of Dot'l and his own culpability for the boy's decapitation.

It wasn't the first time he had seen such death, and probably wasn't the last. He had seen a lot of death over the years, and had been responsible for much of it. Sometimes his victims even had faces, he had been so close when he killed them, or had seen them at the other end of a telescopic gun site, but many had been faceless. The faces came unbidden to his memory, his guilt and anguish conjuring imaginary faces for the faceless ones. They all haunted him, both the real and the fake; so many faces, imploring him, begging for mercy.

Among them were children, just like Dot'l and Charlie. They were like a sea of beggars, ragged and forlorn, holding their arms up towards him imploringly. Their faces melted in front of him as if they had materialised from the canvas of Munch's painting, The Scream. O'Neill could see them all whether his eyes were opened or closed; a waking nightmare.

Then they all disappeared leaving just two faces; Charlie and Dot'l. Like a slow motion action replay he saw the two boys playing in the compound on Cool It. The death gliders flew overhead, and the faces were gone; just two headless bodies lying still on the ground. Then there was one; Dot'l. The vision of Dot'l dominated him until he could see nothing else.

Although he never thought he would, O'Neill must have dozed off, because he felt himself waking in the dark infirmary. Opening his eyes, in the dim light from the nurse's work station around the corner, he could see Dot'l standing, plain as day, next to his bed. The boy held his hands out towards O'Neill, just as the beggars had earlier.

"What do you want?" O'Neill whispered, "Leave me in peace... please!"

He now recalled that his dreams had been filled with the boy's face, too. He wanted it to go away. He could feel himself slipping into the dark and dangerous place that he had been when Charlie had died. He had vowed never to go there again, yet here he was on the threshold.

The boy didn't answer his question.

"I know it's my fault. I'm sorry." Said O'Neill not knowing what else he could say.

"Set me free." Implored Dot'l.

Jack started at the sound, it seemed so real. He had to snap himself out of this, he determined. So he deliberately turned his back to the boy and closed his eyes. It did him no good. The face was stuck to the inside of his eyelids. When he opened his eyes again the boy still stood in front of him. He was like Banquo's ghost; the spectre at the feast.

Melancholy gripped Jack with her iron fist. However he tried, he could not tear his mind away from Dot'l, death, destruction, and Charlie. His son had once been the sunshine in his life. He had adored him. His death had been O'Neill's fault; he was responsible. Rather, he was irresponsible; it was his thoughtlessness that had led directly to his son's demise. Jack had killed him as effectively as if he had pulled the trigger himself. He would always believe that, no matter what.

He had once told Daniel that he could forget sometimes but never forgive. It was true that he could forget it but now was not one of those times. O'Neill was almost in tears as the image of Charlie filled his mind, as had that of Dot'l, and the beggar children - of all those he had killed; all of the children.

Once, on a special op in an 'undisclosed location', O'Neill's team had attacked a village very much like the one the Goa'uld had attacked yesterday on Cool It. The method of attack had been different, but the result was the same - death, and destruction. As it turned out the attack had been unnecessary because military intelligence had been entirely wrong. This was not a village of terrorists in thrall to the local dictator; this was a village of ordinary people going about their ordinary business. The children had all looked like the little beggars in his waking nightmare. Their dead eyes stared up to taunt him. It was one of those distasteful things that Jack had been ordered to do in his career. One of a fair number.

When he had stared in grief and pain at his own son's dead body, he had thought of those children's dead eyes. The light of his life had left him and he had wallowed in self pity, sorrow, and remorse. A part of him had died that day. A part of him always died when he killed a child; was responsible for his death. He was surprised that there was any part of him left that was still living. Charlie's death had killed such a large part of him that it had nearly taken him with it. Don't take me to that dark place again, that place of death, please, he silently begged whoever might be listening; anywhere but that place. He knew in his heart, though, that no one was listening, just him and his self disgust.

While a prisoner in Iraq, a young boy befriended him, as children so frequently did. O'Neill's tormentors thought it good sport to hurt the child in front of him. It killed O'Neill to watch as they whipped and beat the boy, and he begged that they take him instead. Of course his captors knew that O'Neill's pain was all the more unbearable because someone else had to bear it for him. Jack died a little more each day as he was forced to watch the pain and torture of this child, innocent of any crime except helping O'Neill, being his friend.

One day a guard had taken a big sword and severed the boy's head, right in front of O'Neill's eyes. It took a couple of blows to totally remove the head from the body and it had landed in Jack's lap. He had thrown up the meagre contents of his stomach right into the boy's open and terrified eyes. Another death on his conscience; another child whose demise he was responsible for.

The beheading was preferable to some of the things they might have done to the boy; things they had later done to O'Neill. He was close to insanity, desperately wanting to end it. His captors, like the Goa'uld, used terror to subjugate; terror and death.

O'Neill knew terror. He had looked it in the face many times. It had caressed him with an embrace that had turned to a grip so relentless, that he was almost squeezed in two by it. He lived and breathed it, knowing its scent and taste intimately. He knew every nuance of its face; pain and pleasure; domination of his soul. It made love to him and left him sated, exhausted and in pain. It ripped his insides out leaving him empty. It ravaged, vanquished, and mastered him. He grew dependent on its embrace; its grip was unyielding and he couldn't let go of it.

Yes, he knew terror, and he knew it again right now.

O'Neill woke exhausted having hardly slept for the visions of Dot'l and the other children; they hadn't left him alone for one minute. He was to blame, he was culpable. He deserved to be haunted by them. Dot'l had kept begging to be set free and O'Neill wished he knew how to do that. How does one exorcise a demon that only exists in one's mind?

Typically, O'Neill said nothing about his visions. Doc Frasier gave him a clean bill of health and, after a long shower which, sadly, didn't even begin to make him feel better, O'Neill arrived in the briefing room. He felt leaden, his depression hadn't lifted.

They all wondered why the Goa'uld had attacked the Tris't unprovoked. It wasn't their normal tactic if they were after hosts or slaves. Why kill something that might be valuable unless you needed to? Only if there was resistance would they normally have used such a method of subjugation. Terror. That was their weapon, and very effective in skilled hands. Kill the few to quell the many.

All out bombardment seemed a little out of line with that philosophy. Not that the Goa'uld needed that much of an excuse to kill wholesale. but they could come up with no reason why they should want to do so with the Tris't. So had they been after something else? They pondered what threat the Tris't might pose to the Goa'uld, or what else they might have of value. No answers were immediately forthcoming.

Carter waxed lyrical about the properties of the super cure they had found. Although Hammond was interested, he was not risking his people for that. PX7-1724 was off the mission list for quite a while. They might never find their answers.

After the briefing O'Neill tried to work. Paper had never been his favourite medium of communication. His exhaustion meant that he couldn't concentrate. When he looked up, Dot'l stood before him, or sat in the corner, staring. Sometimes he repeated his plea that O'Neill set him free, until Jack couldn't stand it anymore.

"Thou canst not say I did it; never shake thy gory locks at me!" O'Neill shouted at the figment, quoting from MacBeth, the banqueting scene where Banquo first appears to haunt him. Perhaps he should just re-christen Dot'l as Banquo and keep him as a pet. O'Neill was partial to a bit of Shakespeare, something which would probably surprise his team, and MacBeth had always been one of his favourites. It seemed very apt now.

"For god's sake tell me how to get you to leave me alone!" O'Neill cried, just as Daniel walked in his door.

"Um, Jack? What's going on? Who you shouting at?" Daniel looked around the room, puzzled.

"God, can't a guy even be pissed with himself?" Jack said huffily, trying to throw Daniel off. "I'm tired and I'm getting nowhere here. I was thinking of going home.

"Are you alright?" Daniel asked, not quite swallowing Jack's lie.

"Yes, Daniel. For crying out loud just give me some peace!" He snapped, wondering whether he would ever have any peace again. "What did you want?"

"It's ok, Jack. It'll wait until tomorrow." Daniel figured that Jack was just tired and needed some sleep. He'd be better tomorrow.

The problem was that O'Neill was not better the next day. He was irritable and cranky, snapping at everyone who came within two feet of him, accusing them of bitching about him behind his back and being generally paranoid. When he got home the previous night, Banquo's ghost awaited, boldly sitting in his living room in Jack's favourite chair. At one point his living room was filled with the beggar children, all holding out their arms imploringly at him again. Charlie and Banquo stood at the front urging the rest on.

O'Neill thought he was going crazy, terrified to shut his eyes and terrified to leave them open. No matter what he did, they were there. It was relatively peaceful when Dot'l was alone with him and he began to long for that, and beg for it.

By the time he had got to work he was half out of his mind, not having slept for more than an hour or two in little snatches through the night. His eyes felt gritty and sore, red-rimmed with tiredness, and his whole body was lethargic and ached, as if he had the flu. His head was fit to burst with a headache that was almost literally blinding; his vision was blurry, more than overly photosensitive, and he got flashes of light in his head, like lightening. It was something akin to a bad migraine. It didn't stop him from seeing the children though. He thought it might have been worth the pain if it had.

Although each of his team individually tried to talk to him, they couldn't seem to get through. In no uncertain terms, he told them to go away and leave him alone.

"Colonel, I know you were upset about Dot'l, but there has to be more than that. please let me take you to the infirmary and let Janet take a look at you." Carter said, trying gentle persuasion.

"For god's sake, Jack, you're losing it. Do you want them to send you to see old Doc MacKenzie?" Daniel took a deliberately provocative line, hoping that Jack would be rattled at the idea of MacKenzie and psyche tests.

"Indeed you are not fine, O'Neill." Said Teal'c in response to his friend's protestations that he was, but getting no nearer to cracking O'Neill than the others.

When Hammond ordered him to the infirmary, and O'Neill told him where to shove it, the General called Janet to the Colonel's office. By the time she got there O'Neill was unconscious. Right in front of Hammond's eyes he had just curled up in his chair and gone out like a light.

Not asleep, as Janet found to her dismay once they got him to the infirmary, but in some sort of coma. It was like no coma she had ever seen. It scared her that she didn't have a clue what was wrong with him. Every test she tried came up negative, so she could find no reason for his coma like state. She didn't know what to do.

SG-1 expected her to find the answer; she always found the answer eventually, often with their help in some way. This time, she did not know where to start. She talked to each member of his team, trying to find out all she could about his behaviour, symptoms and activities; any straw to clutch at.

The 'coma' continued, still without any sign of what caused it. Janet knew that it wasn't a real coma; his brain activity showed her that. Also he was never in REM sleep at any point. He looked awful, very pale and gaunt with black circles and bags under his eyes; like someone who had been sleep deprived. It was a puzzle.

A couple of days passed and his team got increasingly agitated. They were scared for their leader, worried that they had lost him. Carter kept thinking that something on the planet had caused this. She discussed it with Janet, over and over again, but they came up with nothing.

Then early one morning he screamed "Noooooo!" so loudly that Janet thought the mountain might come crashing down on top of them. He was awake but far from better. His temperature had soared and he sweated profusely, a fever gripping him. He tossed and turned and mumbled and screamed; none of his words made any sense.

Essentially, his eyes were unseeing, and he stared through everything and everyone. He couldn't seem to communicate and was unable to eat; fidgeting and thrashing so much that he kept pulling out his IV. Janet had to restrain him for his own safety, and that of others. He had even punched one of the nurses in the face, breaking their nose. She didn't think he even realised that the nurse was there.

His team visited, both together and separately, trying to talk to him. His mental state was so far gone that he allowed them no means of contact. Although they comforted themselves that he was no longer in the coma, they dreaded what might come next. It was when he seemed to be speaking the language of the Tris't that it really freaked them all out. Daniel noticed distinct words that he had learned in the time they had spent there. He was pretty sure that, a number of times, O'Neill said something like 'set me free'.

Alongside his obvious mental anguish, O'Neill was in a good deal of pain. It worried Janet that she could find no physical cause and she needed to keep him doped up with a combination of pain meds and sedatives. In a couple of his more lucid moments he begged her to end it for him and it terrified her that a man like O'Neill could ask such a thing. She tried to get him to explain his symptoms but communication was difficult. He was coherent only in short snatches.

He'd managed to say something about his aching limbs and that his head was going to explode. One minute he would be very hot and literally drenched in sweat. The medical staff frequently had to change both him and the bed covers. It was so severe that they found it hard to keep up. It would seem that he must have lost all the moisture in his body, but would continue unabated. It frightened Janet half to death as she had never seen anything quite like it.

The next minute he would be cold and shaking, breaking out in cold, rather then hot sweats, which soaked him and his bed almost as badly. His skin was clammy and deathly pale and he appeared to lose circulation to his extremities. He would shiver uncontrollably and nothing seemed to warm him.

Janet was scared that they would lose him during one of these incidents.

The dark circles and bags under his eyes worsened, seeming stark next to his ashen and almost translucent skin tone and increasingly skeletal features. He was rapidly losing weight in a way that confounded Janet; it was not normally physically possible to lose weight that quickly.

He would be violent, physically and verbally, using foul language that put even Janet's ex-husband to shame. He would be angry, aggressive and crazed, and then he would become meek and tearful, crying like a little boy who wants his mommy.

Never had any of them seen O'Neill behave in such a manner. He would weep, begging for help and comfort, and to be put out of his misery. It scared the hell out of all of them. Sam and Daniel clung to each other desperately, close to the end of their own tethers; saddened and sickened by what they saw happening to their CO and friend. Although Teal'c was more stoical, his own concern for his friend was also obvious. He tried to console his team mates, but they were inconsolable. None of them could concentrate on work and General Hammond had given up trying to distract them, letting them spend as much time as they wanted and needed with O'Neill, trying to get through to him, and to comfort him. However, the Colonel was not to be comforted. They felt helpless and hated their impotence.

Nearly a week after they had returned from Coo'lt, O'Neill's fever broke. When Janet came in to see him, he was awake and struggling against his restraints.

"About time," He said emphatically," get me the hell out of these restraints!" She smiled thinking that O'Neill was back, and then he started ranting and raving about needing to go back to Cool It. At least it was in English. He kept it up until Janet felt compelled to give him a sedative to calm him down, but when it wore off, he had not improved.

They were all worried that he had finally lost it. Sam had told Janet about the boy on the planet and the Colonel's reaction, and Janet pondered whether that had finally taken him over the edge; that he had just seen too much death to cope with it anymore.

He begged and pleaded to see General Hammond and, when he came, O'Neill repeated his request to go back to Cool It. This time he was more lucid, less crazy. They could see him straining to control himself.

"I can't send you to Coo'lt Colonel, not like this. Anyway, PX7-1724 is off limits. There is the little matter of the Goa'uld attack. Permission denied."

Jack looked horror struck. He knew that the only thing that would help him was to go back. No matter how many times he tried to tell them they wouldn't listen. They asked him to explain why he needed to go, but he couldn't. He would shrug and turn into an inarticulate O'Neill.

Banquo's ghost was still there, and always had been. During his 'coma' he'd had visions. He was back on Cool It, inside a cavern. Many Tris't were there looking upon Dot'l, who lay on a stone slab. It looked like some kind of ceremony but he couldn't work it out. After it had finished, Dot'l had smiled at him from the slab, waving and saying 'thank you for setting me free'. He didn't know what it meant, or even if it meant anything, but it drew him back to the planet. He desperately needed to go back.

Although he no longer had the fever and hot / cold sweats, many of his physical symptoms had not improved. The blinding headaches still bothered him and they had to keep the room darkened. He was not eating anything solid, couldn't keep it down, and so relied almost wholly on the IV for sustenance. His weight continued to decline and the look of his skin and eyes worsened. His nightmares continued and he hardly ever slept. When he did, he did not seem to get REM sleep any more than he had before. He was obviously depressed and would still have bouts of incoherent raving which stemmed from the nightmares. He was falling to pieces in front of her eyes and Janet could see no end to it. She was despairing about what to do, scared that his body would give up at any moment, if his mind didn't first.

O'Neill was sedated, but awake, when Carter popped in to see how he was. She had been working late, and strictly speaking shouldn't be there, but they always got a lot of leeway from the medical staff when one of them was sick. Jack was no longer in restraints but there was a SF posted at the door, which O'Neill found only slightly less humiliating. The tormented look in her CO's eyes worried her but she tried to show none of that to him, putting on a positive and upbeat face.

"Hey, Carter, sit. I'm not going anywhere." He indicated the SF, clearly frustrated.

"Sir, how are you feeling? Are you okay?"

"Do I look okay?" He said bitingly and Sam flinched at his tone. It had been a dumb question. Sometimes handling her CO could be like playing with fire, particularly when he was unwell. Currently the word unwell was too meagre to describe his situation. He said nothing further for a while, then, "Help me Carter."

"What can I do, sir?"

"Persuade them to let me go back."

"Colonel I really don't think..."

"If I don't go back, this will go on forever..."

"What will?"

O'Neill sighed. He trusted his team, but didn't want anyone to think he was going nuts. They'd send him to the funny farm with MacKenzie, and that really would drive him mad.

"It's killing me, Sam." She was surprised that her CO referred to her as Sam and shocked by his words, which seemed heart felt. "Promise me you won't think I'm crazy."

"You can trust me, Sir."

"Of course I can trust you, Carter, but can I trust you to not think I'm crazy?" He sounded like the old O'Neill and she smiled.

"You can trust me to try."

O'Neill didn't speak for a while and Carter thought he'd changed his mind, but eventually he spoke in quite, confidential tones.

"I have visions... almost all of the time."


"Dot'l...children...Charlie. Dead children, Carter, all of them dead."

"Sir?" She didn't understand, and O'Neill thought, how could she?

"Ever since we came back from Cool It, I see Dot'l everywhere. Almost every minute of the day, awake or asleep. He speaks to me."

O'Neill looked closely at Carter's face to see how she was reacting. It sounded crazy; he sounded crazy. However, her face merely expressed puzzlement and concern, although he wasn't sure what it was concern for. His sanity? There was no visible sign that, any second now, she might call the men in white coats to take him away. Well, he was committed now, had to continue, and had to risk his trust.

"What does he say?" Carter wasn't sure what to make of it.

"Free me." Her eyebrows rose slightly at that and O'Neill continued, "I think he's haunting me."


"You heard, Carter."

Haunting him? He sounded earnest and Carter was more than surprised. He was deadly serious. The Colonel was such a sceptic about that kind of thing, no matter that they had encountered so many weird and wonderful things over the years.

"I have to do something back on Cool It. He wants me to take him back."

"Take him back?"

"Sounds screwy, huh?" She nodded slightly in response.

"What does he want you to do on Coo'lt?" She asked.

"Oh, I don't know Carter. I don't understand it myself, for cryin' out loud. He chose the wrong guy to haunt if he was looking for understanding." He smiled, hinting thinly at the stupidity that Carter knew too well was only an O'Neill façade. Then he told her about his recurring dream; the cavern, the stone slab; the children taking over his living room, his office, and his every thought. He didn't tell her that he was responsible for the deaths of each and every one of them. Some things shouldn't be spoken.

"I just know that if I don't go back it's not gonna go away. They are killing me Carter, those dead kids with their pleading and begging. I can't stand it anymore."

Carter looked at him sorrowfully. If he was really seeing these kids, hallucinations or not, she could see how it might affect him. It could tear him apart. She knew little about O'Neill's history, his personal life or what he had done before they met, but knew him well enough to understand that he loved children and that the death of Charlie had effected him fundamentally. She had seen how he reacted to Dot'l death and imagined that this was not the only death of a child he had encountered in his long years of service in the Air Force. She squeezed his arm, in comfort, and nodded. O'Neill almost saw the light bulb of an idea light up over her head.

"I have an idea, Sir."

"I'd be truly surprised if you didn't, Carter." She smiled at the typical O'Neill comment.

"Let me think it through a little more, Sir, and I'll speak to the General in the morning." Carter had always suspected the planet had something to do with O'Neill's current predicament; the cause, and the cure. Besides, she trusted O'Neill's absence of scepticism about the concept of being haunted. That the Colonel seemed to believe this so vehemently made it all the more believable to her, somehow. Either that, or he was totally cracked, and she did not want to believe that about her CO.

She briefly wondered if she was kidding herself, then shook it off. Why did this sort of crap always happen to the Colonel? He was one of the world's unluckiest guys, but at the same time one of the luckiest. That he and his team were still alive bore testament to that. They'd sure been through a lot together. Now he needed her help. He was her CO, and her friend; she wouldn't let him down - that was out of the question.

She reflected how awful he looked. He was pale with dark circles under his eyes, which were puffy and red. He looked about 10 years older then his years, as if he had lived another lifetime over the past few days. They had to do something. They couldn't leave him locked in this internal prison forever; or the external one. It pained her that the SF was posted there to restrain the Colonel if needed, though probably nowhere near as much as it pained him.

Recalling that time when Daniel had been thought schizophrenic, due to Ma'chello's handy work, she could not tolerate the idea that something similar might happen to O'Neill. She was pretty sure she could convince Daniel to her way of thinking, maybe Teal'c too, but General Hammond might be a tough nut to crack. Coo'lt had just been taken over by the Goa'uld, after all. Maybe they were gone by now, but she seriously doubted it.

O'Neill interrupted her thoughts. "Carter, you'd better get some sleep."

"I can stay and keep you company sir." He smiled but shook his head.

"Sleep, Carter."

"Colonel..." She started to protest.

"That's an order, Major."

"Yes, Sir. Will you be alright, Colonel? Do you need anything before I go?" He smiled briefly.

"I'll be fine, Carter." He lied, knowing full well that he wouldn't be. Dot'l stood in the corner of the infirmary, looking at him accusingly and waiting for his visitor to leave.

So Carter left him, and the children came, Dot'l urging them all on again, along with Charlie. Seeing Charlie this way, was what was really killing O'Neill; worse than Dot'l or any of the others. Being responsible for the death of your own son, that was something that could never truly be forgotten, or forgiven. It was something that would continue to haunt him forever, always bubbling under the surface waiting to break forth into both his waking and sleeping nightmares.

The next morning, Carter caught up with Teal'c and Daniel early, explaining her hypothesis; trying her best to make the conversation that she'd had the previous night with O'Neill sound less like the ravings of a madman than they actually appeared in the cold light of day.

Teal'c was dubious, and concerned about what might await them on Coo'lt, but would do anything to help O'Neill; would happily risk his own life for the Colonel's sake. He was a pushover.

When she cited Daniel's Ma'chello situation, she knew she had cracked Daniel. He knew only too well what it was like for people to think you were crazy when you weren't.

Now for Janet. If she could get her on side, she might be able to win Hammond over. As she was dropping into the infirmary she called by to see O'Neill. He looked worse than ever, as if he hadn't slept for a very long time. She knew that he appeared to sleep, but Janet had found no evidence of REM brain activity while he did so. If he didn't get a proper nights sleep soon he surely would go nuts. She thought she could use the lack of REM sleep as an argument with Janet. After all, Janet was totally baffled about O'Neill's condition.

O'Neill tried to be cheerful. He really is good at putting on a front, she thought. It genuinely warmed him a little to hear that Daniel and Teal'c were on his side. Not that he expected anything less of them, although he knew he had found it tough to accept that Daniel wasn't nuts that time, and felt a little guilty. He would not blame Daniel if he felt likewise on this occasion.

He was asking them to risk their lives for him; it was both a lot and very little to ask of his team. They risked their lives for each other frequently; it was nothing new. However, right now he was asking them to risk it all for someone who they probably thought was totally mad. He questioned his own sanity, so why shouldn't they?

It had been another bad night; they only seemed to get worse. He felt like crap, and knew he must look it. He saw it in Carter's eyes, however much she tried to hide it. The visions had started to change. Instead of begging, the children lay all around him, bleeding from their wounds. There was Charlie, a gaping hole that would never be healed, left by a bullet. Dot'l was there, the eyes of his severed head looking at him pleadingly. The boy in Iraq had his eyes partially covered with O'Neill's puke and was staring up at him from his lap. All of the others had their various means of death taunting and accusing him. Some of them were hardly recognisable as children in this state, so badly had they been mutilated or blown apart.

Carter and the others had to come through for him. O'Neill might have felt a sense of relief if he had not been suffering such acute mental and physical torment. He could feel himself teetering on the edge of a precipice; once he went over the side there was no coming back. He knew that in his heart. Over the edge led to a bottomless pit from which there could be no escape.

"I'm close to losin' it, Carter." He said, simply, at one point in their conversation.

She sensed his despair and helplessness. The words had been inadequate to describe it, but she knew instinctively that if they did nothing, soon it would be too late for him. She was not going to let that happen; even if it meant disobeying orders and getting him through the gate in the same way that they had all gone through to Apophis' ship all those years ago. She thought she could persuade Daniel and Teal'c to do that, if necessary. She would probably face a court martial on her return; it was not as if they were doing it to save the planet, or the universe. To hell with it, she thought, the Colonel would do no less for her; for any of them.

Janet came in to see O'Neill, asking how he was today, giving him more sedative and generally fussing around. She hated that she didn't know what to do to help him. The General was ready to turn the Colonel over to MacKenzie and she knew how much O'Neill would hate that. Her orders were to call MacKenzie this morning and make arrangements but she hadn't been able to bring herself to do it yet. The doctor within her fought with her personal feelings of loyalty and friendship towards O'Neill.

"Janet, can I speak to you alone when you've finished please?" Sam asked. Janet knew it had to be about O'Neill and was more than curious.

"I'm done, Sam. Let's go to my office." She noticed Sam's brief nod to O'Neill on the way out, and his answering smile. Janet wondered what they were up to.

When they were gone Jack allowed himself to consider his fears. He didn't know what to anticipate for them if they went back to Cool It. Nor what awaited him; what he was expected to do, or what the personal consequences might be. He kept ruminating on the MacBeth theme; look what happened to him! Jack thought that he would rather meet death than to live like this for the rest of his life. Death would bring him peace, forever. Trying to fight his fear, he reflected, you're dead a long time, Jack, don't wish for it. But the words in the play kept coming back to him: "They say that blood will have blood." Did he have to pay for Dot'l's blood with his own? So be it. He could live with that - or die with it.

He deserved to spill his blood for the sake of the children. They could ask nothing less of him than he had asked of them. He had been pondering whether it was his guilt that was haunting him, or Dot'l. Normally he could live with his guilt. God, if he couldn't he would have gone nuts years ago. This was far worse than anything he had ever felt, even the death of his own son. That made him believe that it was something far more than mere guilt; nothing he had ever done before, or would do in the future, could be worse than Charlie's death. No amount of blood that he spilled of his own would ever absolve him from that.

Once more he was reminded of MacBeth: "Here's the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten this little hand". He could not help but be surprised at how that play kept coming to his mind; how appropriate the words from over 500 years ago were to him now. Good old Will, words suitable for all occasions! Valentines, weddings, funerals, and going totally nuts days. He laughed at this idea, making the nurse who had just entered the room start. Why wouldn't they think he was out of his mind? He thought, miserably

As O'Neill tried to face his fears, Carter was arguing the toss with Janet.

"Have you got any better ideas?" She was asking.

Janet was sceptical at first. Sam reminded her that they were dealing with an alien life form here. Who knew what they were capable of? Maybe the boy really was haunting the Colonel. Maybe there was something of Dot'l inside O'Neill, undetectable to human probing. She reminded Janet of the time Daniel had been transported to a different plain of existence by the crystal skull; that he had also lived in one for a whole year once he had ascended. There were many examples she could call on to remind Janet that things in the SGC, and beyond the gate, were not what might be considered normal here on Earth.

Janet was partially convinced, but feared that O'Neill was not physically or mentally up to gate travel, or a mission of any kind, particularly on a Jaffa infested planet. The lives of all SG-1 could be at stake. They were her friends.

"Janet. If Colonel O'Neill is right, he is going to die right here if we don't let him go back. I agree that he probably isn't fit for gate travel, or to face any Jaffa, but what options do we have? We are swiftly running out of them, and time. You just need to look at him to know."

"Sam, do you think I don't know that. He could collapse while he was there...anything could happen. How would I ever forgive myself if the Colonel got worse, or if you all got caught or captured by the Goa'uld? It's one hell of a risk."

"A risk worth taking and we are willing to take it. Will you ever be able to forgive yourself if we do nothing? Janet, without your backing I will never convince General Hammond to let us go. It's going to be hard enough. You know damned fine that if he doesn't get REM sleep soon he really will go mad. You're his doctor Janet, not a military strategist. What do you propose to do as his doctor? Not as his friend or as an officer in the Air Force, but as his doctor?"

Of course, Janet knew she was right. She didn't like it, but that didn't make it any less true. Sam knew how to press all the right buttons. Above everything, Janet was a doctor. She had to recommend the most effective treatment for her patient. She no longer had any doubt that O'Neill had to go back to Coo'lt. Even if it was all in his own mind, he was convinced that it was the only way to help him. So, it was probably the only viable option at this stage - except for MacKenzie. She really didn't think that Mackenzie would help the Colonel, if only because O'Neill would convince himself that he couldn't. She was in a no win situation. If only she could think of another way. As the Colonel sometimes said, however, she had nothin'.

Hammond took one hell of a lot of convincing. All four of O'Neill's friends argued to take him back to Coo'lt, each using different arguments. In the end, Hammond caved, although he needed to know the lay of the land on the other side of the gate before he gave the final go ahead. They would send a MALP through or, if necessary, a UAV.

It was one heck of a large medical bill for a certain troublesome Colonel, thought Hammond. Daniel has guessed his thoughts and argued that, if O'Neill was stuck on the other side of the gate, they would do it. It should not make a difference that Jack was imprisoned on this side of the wormhole. The General was pretty impressed by that argument. Dr. Jackson sure had a way with words sometimes.

He ordered them to get geared up, refusing Dr. Frasier's request to go along. She argued that O'Neill might need medical treatment. What if he needed a sedative or something worse? He countered by saying that she was one risk too far, and to get the Colonel ready to go with his team.

O'Neill breathed a silent sigh when she told him the news. He was very wobbly on his feet and this worried Janet. Under normal circumstances she would never have passed him as fit for gate travel. His limbs still ached, his head throbbed and he felt dizzy and nauseous now that he was upright. In a nutshell, he felt terrible. Only his sheer force of will allowed him to put one foot in front of the other to move, and he did his best to cover the symptoms. He wanted to give them no excuse to stop his quest for deliverance from his plight. It was not the first time that he had managed solely on dogged determination and willpower while weak and in pain.

Meanwhile, Janet gave Sam some medications that were not a normal part of mission kit, or something that a non medic should handle. This was an exceptional circumstance and she worried that something might happen to the Colonel which could make him worse, or kill him, or put them all at risk. She carefully instructed Sam in their use and the circumstances in which they should be used.

O'Neill took a lot longer than he liked to get geared up, finding it difficult to move or summon the energy. He wanted to hurry so that he could be there when they received the MALP telemetry. He figured that Hammond wouldn't let him be in charge of this mission, so he might not be invited to the show.

He was right. If Hammond had been able, he would have put somebody more senior than O'Neill in charge of the mission, the problem being that there was no one available that was more senior than O'Neill, with the exception of the General, and he couldn't go. So, instead, he had to relieve O'Neill of his command of SG-1, putting Carter in charge. He knew it was another risk because the team were loyal to O'Neill and still might obey his commands.

He had to trust that they would not let the Colonel lead them into doing something stupid. At least he had given Major Carter the authority to override O'Neill's command. It was the best he could do. He'd frequently had to make huge, often strange, concessions during his command of the SGC. If he was a commander who was unable to make compromises, many more of his people might be dead. Earth might have been destroyed or enslaved by now. Sometimes he bent the rules a little but it generally got results. He recalled what had happened when that hard nosed General Bauer had been put in charge. He hadn't learned that it generally paid to listen to Major Carter's advice, no matter what the Pentagon said. This all seemed like a preposterous idea, but they were often the ones that worked.

The MALP showed no Jaffa activity around the gate. O'Neill was disbelieving that they could be that lucky. Hammond gave them the go ahead and, not long after, they were through to the other side; cautious, but apparently undetected. Maybe the Jaffa had left. No doubt SG-1 would soon find out.

"This way," beckoned O'Neill. He was indicating the opposite direction to the village, into dense undergrowth. Carter looked dubious. "He's telling me where to go. He's taking us there, Carter."

O'Neill referred, of course, to Dot'l, who looked pleased that they were here and was smiling at O'Neill and pointing in that direction. There was no sign of any of the other children. Dot'l was home and that was a start. O'Neill felt a massive sense of relief, as if some of his burden had already lifted. He knew he still had a task ahead of him, although not what it was. Dot'l would show them the way.

Daniel and Teal'c looked at Carter, pointedly deferring to her leadership, and O'Neill was proud of them for doing that. She nodded and they followed the Colonel, and Dot'l, into the thick green mass. They saw no sign of Jaffa, or anything else, until they reached a small rocky outcrop in a clearing and O'Neill started to move the branches and growth around it aside, trying to get closer.

Suddenly O'Neill screamed and fell to his knees, holding his head in his hands. Carter and Daniel rushed thorough the undergrowth to his side.

"Stop! Please! I'm going as fast as I can. Please!" He was begging, looking towards the rock face, seemingly at nothing. The team assumed he must be looking towards his vision of Dot'l, that the boy was trying to hurry him. Carter wondered if she would need any of the meds Janet had given her and bent down to her CO.

"Sir! Janet gave me some medication. Do you need something?"

The Colonel's breath was short and ragged, but he appeared to be calming.

"Crap! It's subsiding, Carter. I'll be ok." Failing to mention that he could barely see what was in front of him, and that he felt on the verge of collapse, he doggedly pulled himself together and stood up with a single- minded need to override his pain and get on with whatever awaited him. Carter noticed that he was sweating and his eyes appeared to be a little unfocussed. She was in a dilemma about whether to follow his lead, or take control.

"Give me a hand!" He cried, and Carter again nodded approval. She had to trust that the Colonel knew what he was doing. She didn't have any idea of where they needed to go to get him fixed up and he was the only one who could tell them. That is if you believed that Dot'l was leading the way.

He uncovered the rock face and pushed at the rock, revealing a hidden doorway that led to some stairs leading down under the ground.

"This is it." He said gleefully, stepping through, taking for granted that the others would follow, which they did.

They all accessed their flashlights and, once O'Neill had closed the doorway behind them, it was just as well. It was pitch black inside, the stairway winding downwards beyond their range of vision. It didn't go that far down. They reached the bottom in a few minutes, and the Colonel took them down a passageway veering to the left, back towards the village, or underneath it. The passageway also led downwards, and it was difficult to tell exactly how far under the ground they were.

As they turned a corner, a Tris't stood before them, not one that they remembered meeting. The Tris't looked grim.

"You have brought our son back to us. You should never have stolen him from us in the first place." He said.

"I didn't do it on purpose." Said O'Neill. "He kind of went back with me." He paused, and then added, "Hey, you speak English?"

"I was set the task of learning your language, which I have now done." The team looked at each other in amazement. "I am Xant'lt, the high priest of the Tris't. It is I who decide your fate. The punishment for stealing one of our own is severe."

O'Neill wondered what could be much worse than what he had recently been going through, but said nothing. Zan Tilt? What kind of name was that anyway?

"You say that he went with you. You were there when he died?" Asked the priest, and O'Neill nodded. "You touched him? You took his essence?"

"Yes I touched him. As for taking his essence, I wouldn't know how, or even what the hell that meant. All I know is that, if that's what this is, then I have it, I didn't take it on purpose, and you are most welcome to have it back!" He almost barked at the priest in his anger and frustration. Carter hoped that she would not have to use any of the sedative that Janet had given her to use in case of emergency.

"Will you let me touch you?" Xant'lt asked O'Neill, who nodded. Carter signalled for the others to keep their heads up and her and Teal'c readied weapons, defensively. Who knew what this guy intended?

"It's ok, Carter. Dot'l says I should let him. These people have been nothing but friendly to us." Carter was surprised at his lack of caution. Well if he was going to just let these people do what they wanted, she wasn't. She would play his part for a change, be wary and defend her own if necessary.

Carter kept her weapon ready and O'Neill smiled inwardly at her action. She had come a long way over the years. Once she would have been the one lacking caution, eager to communicate, but obeying her CO's commands. That she did none of these things now, but acted as a leader should, made him proud once more. He'd trained her well.

Xant'lt reached his hand to O'Neill's head, his fingers spanning O'Neill's skull and squeezing slightly. He closed his eyes and seemed to withdraw into himself for a while. Then he removed his hand and smiled at O'Neill, and the group.

"You speak truly, Colonel. Dot'l tells me this. He says it took a long time for you to understand his message to you... that you should bring him home and set him free."

"I understood it well enough. My problem was convincing other folks. " He replied. His team looked slightly shame faced wishing they could have figured it out and done something sooner.

"Follow me, please." Said Xant'lt, "I will free Dot'l and your burden will be lifted." O'Neill smiled at this thought, and Dot'l winked at him. Jack had taught him how to wink; it wasn't something that the Tris't did.

Xant'lt led them down another passageway. When they neared the end the priest stopped and turned towards them.

"Only one of your friends can enter with you. Choose, Colonel."

O'Neill deliberated quickly. He still had no idea what would happen to him inside; whether the nightmare would get worse before it got better; whether he would die. He had already felt over exposed and vulnerable over the last few days. Which of his team did he feel would stand by him and let events play out? Whatever happened, this had to end here.

"Teal'c?" He looked at his friend knowing that he wouldn't refuse. Carter and Daniel both looked vaguely disappointed, exchanging dismayed glances. Teal'c bowed his acknowledgement and agreement to O'Neill's request.

"I need you two out here watching my six." Said O'Neill with a smile that belied what he was feeling. A lame excuse as he doubted anyone needed to watch his six here.

Teal'c was the best choice for O'Neill's needs. He totally trusted Teal'c with his life, and with his death if that was required. Carter and Daniel he trusted with lots of things, his life included, but not his death. They would not stand by and just let that happen. Teal'c, like Jack, was a true warrior and understood more than anyone their mutual belief in the warrior's creed - succeed or die.

He suspected that Teal'c knew only too well how he felt. He had wondered about Teal'c's own mental state when he was seriously injured that time after he'd lost his symbiote. It was rescuing his own son and Bra'tac that seemed to bring him around. Jack was glad he had insisted Teal'c accompany them on that mission. Lord knows what would have happened if he hadn't.

"I am afraid that you cannot take your weapons inside." Said Xant'lt.

O'Neill and Teal'c exchanged glances, Jack's slight nod providing the cue for Teal'c to relinquish his staff. Jack was frankly surprised that Teal'c gave in so easily. He had his own reasons for doing so, was prepared to do anything to stop this hell he was in, but Teal'c normally took a lot of convincing. He was grateful that his friend was following his lead without question. It confirmed his faith in his choice. Two aides seemed to appear from nowhere to disarm the two men. Jack's sense of dread of what might happen deepened.

Xant'lt directed Carter and Daniel into a side room. Once inside, the door closed behind them; they were trapped. Try as they might, they could not open the door and their weapons proved useless. The door appeared to be protected by a force field. They were both surprised at the use of such technology, and frustrated by its effects, and their helplessness. Carter felt like kicking her own ass for not guessing the reason they had not been disarmed along with O'Neill and Teal'c. All they could do was to wait for this to be over, and hope that O'Neill didn't need them in the meantime.

O'Neill and Teal'c followed Xant'lt, unaware of Daniel and Carter's predicament. Further down the passageway it opened out into a gigantic cavern. O'Neill knew this place; he'd seen it in his dreams.

"May I speak with Teal'c alone for a minute?" He asked Xant'lt, who nodded acquiescence and stood aside. As he did so, the cavern started to fill with Tris't. They did not look threatening; nonetheless O'Neill kept one eye on them and one on Teal'c. Not that he was in a fit state to do anything if they were threatened as he was dead on his feet, on the verge of a total collapse. His predicament had to be solved one way or another – and soon!

"Teal'c, I need to tell you something." Teal'c inclined his head and listened. "I don't know what is going to happen here; whether this is gonna kill me or cure me..."

Teal'c did not seem surprised by this possibility, merely nodding, affirming once more that O'Neill had made the right decision.

"I need you to promise me that you won't interfere, Teal'c, whatever happens. That's why I chose you to come in here with me."

"I do not wish to see you die O'Neill." Said Teal'c.

"No, but you could watch me being put out of my misery, Teal'c. Please understand. You of all people should. I'm relying on you. If they don't do whatever they are gonna do, I'm dead anyway, one way or another." Teal'c nodded, grasping Jack's arm with understanding, support and friendship.

"Hey, old buddy, it'll be fine." O'Neill smiled, clapping Teal'c on the back in reassurance before he stepped away. "Ok Zan Tilt. I'm ready." He took a deep breath, and entered into the depths of the cavern. He could hardly walk now and Teal'c had to help him, supporting much of his weight as they entered and followed Xant'lt.

It was massive, holding hundreds of Tris't. There had never been this many in the village. Where the hell had they all come from? Then he shrugged mentally, plenty of time to ask questions. Let's get this show on the road.

The priest led them towards a stone slab. It was like the one on which Dot'l had been lying in O'Neill's dream. He indicated that O'Neill should lay on it. Jack gulped. It looks a lot like those sacrificial altars you saw in old, corny horror movies. He hoped that was not its purpose here but, if it was, so be it. Dot'l smiled at him from where he stood close to O'Neill, trying to tell him that everything would be alright. He conjured Charlie into the vision; this time Charlie looked happy and waved at his father cheerfully.

"Charlie." whispered O'Neill, softly, his breath catching in his throat. He reached out his hand towards the vision in longing and sorrow.

"O'Neill?" Teal'c looked at him, concerned. Charlie? There was a look of devastation on Jack's face. "O'Neill?" He moved closer to Jack, protectively. O'Neill did not answer. Once again he seemed to be lost to his friend, deep in his own private place. "What will you do to him?" He asked the priest.

"I think you might call it an exorcism. That is the only similar word I can... conjure."


"Perhaps 'find' is closer?" asked the priest.

From beneath his robe, he took out something that looked a little like a prop from a Star Trek episode; all flashing lights and intermittent beeps, obviously a highly advanced piece of technology. Teal'c smiled to himself recalling his comments about the Tris't's similarity to aliens from that television series.

"We recorded your words on this device. Then it built up the vocabulary and I assimilated it."

It is indeed like Star Trek, thought Teal'c. Did they not have a universal translator? "Assimilated?" He asked.

"Learned? You asked me what will happen to your friend. It is difficult to say, but we wish him no harm. I do not know how one of his species will react to the rite. I will give both the Colonel, and Dot'l, peace by setting the boy free, so that his essence can rejoin us."

"What is this rite?" Teal'c could relate to rites in a big way; his whole life had been built around them.

"Your people and theirs are not able to do this. That is why I cannot find the right words." He replied, nodding towards the device he held. "I really must perform the rite, Teal'c, before it is too late." Teal'c bowed, stepping to one side, and Xant'lt grasped his arm. "Your friend might need you during the rite. He was very ill back on your planet, yes? And remains on the edge of his physical and mental capacity?" Teal'c nodded. "Then he will be very ill again, before he gets better."

Teal'c was perturbed, but remained outwardly stoical. "O'Neill will suffer the same physical and mental torment?"

"Perhaps. Not often does the essence of one of us go into one that is not of us. It is many years since this rite was performed on a being that is not of the Tris't. It is written that it has happened and that it is different for a non-Tris't. This is why I can give you no definite reassurances. I am sorry Teal'c, but I cannot guarantee that your friend will survive the rite."

Although Teal'c would have liked to know more, the priest was impatient to get on with it. Clearly, so were the rest of the Tris't. Having kept silent until now, for hundreds of people at least, they were becoming restless. The priest indicated a seat next to the slab, for Teal'c.

"Be prepared to come to the aid of your friend." He said, then turned towards his people and spoke in his own language. After a short speech to the waiting crowd, he turned to face O'Neill and started what might have been an incantation. From beneath his robes, he produced another piece of advanced technology that looked something like a remote control, and then he pressed a hand onto O'Neill's head once more, spreading his fingers wide to span the skull. Holding the remote control in the other hand, he moved it over O'Neill's head and body, pressing various buttons.

"It is done." He said to Teal'c, then turned back to face the Tris't. Whatever it was he said provoked what Teal'c thought might be their equivalent of a rousing cheer, and then they fell silent.

"What will occur imminently?" Asked Teal'c.

"We wait." Said Xant'lt and he sat on the floor beside the stone slab, falling as silent as the rest of the cavern.

After a while, Jack, who had been as if in a trance, started muttering to himself. Then his voice got more frantic. He was sweating profusely, as if in high fever. When he screamed, Teal'c got up and went to his side.

"O'Neill?" Jack seemed to look right through him, starting to writhe and toss around as if in the throws of a nightmare. Teal'c thought he heard him shout "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" Which didn't sound like O'Neill, or quite like any English Teal'c knew. He was unfamiliar with the sleep walking scene from MacBeth.

Teal'c caught hold of Jack, trying to still him and ensure he did not fall from the stone slab. O'Neill grabbed his arm.


"I am here O'Neill."

"What's going on?"

"They are removing the essence of Dot'l, O'Neill."

"Banquo?" O'Neill said. Banquo? Thought Teal'c. First his son, Charlie, and then this person Banquo, who Teal'c had never even heard of. An old friend of O'Neill's, perhaps?

"Banquo?" He asked O'Neill, but his friend was incoherent and raving once more.

It seemed to go on forever. Jack was going through hell. It seemed like all the tortures he had been through in the last few days were compressed in time; the hot and cold sweating, the obvious pain and nightmares. When he was lucid enough, it was a comfort to know that Teal'c was there with him. His visions had come back with a vengeance. He'd come here to be rid of them but they seemed worse than ever. He believed that, this time, he was finally losing it. He would not have to pay with blood but with his mental faculties. He'd much prefer the blood.

Watching Jack suffer saddened Teal'c, although he did not show it, just steadfastly stood by his friend, giving him what comfort he could. O'Neill was in such anguish and pain, and he could do nothing. His friend seemed to be in the midst of a great struggle. Perhaps it was a battle with himself; fighting to keep what sanity he still had left.

Recalling Star Trek again, he hoped his friend would not be the Star Fleet member who wore the red shirt, as the Tauri fans of the television programme might say. A strange cult of the Tauri, science fiction fandom, Teal'c thought. Then he remembered that O'Neill always won in the end and hoped that was true this time. He was, after all, their leader and the leader in these television programmes was never killed, merely his subordinates.

As O'Neill writhed in his agony, Teal'c regretted MajorCarter's absence for she still had in her possession the medication Doctor Frasier had provided. He was suffering without any such aid. Teal'c hoped O'Neill was unaware of most of what was happening to him. Hadn't enough things happened to his friend over the years without this to add to his burdens?

After many hours of suffering O'Neill seemed to still. Teal'c could feel hundreds of eyes turned towards him. The priest stood up. Jack screamed loudly, his whole body shuddering and, to Teal'c's astonishment, he saw something leave his friend's body. It was an ethereal wisp. The whole cavern let out a large sigh as the wisp moved towards them. It appeared to have a purpose. Then Teal'c was amazed to see the wisp enter the body of another Tris't. The alien looked pleased, and the surrounding Tris't were congratulating him, happy for his good fortune. Teal'c was puzzled as to what was going on, but remembered O'Neill, and turned to look at him.

O'Neill was still once more, too still. Teal'c felt for a pulse, and found a faint rhythm. His breathing was shallow and irregular and he looked weak and pale, drenched in his own sweat. After a good few minutes, which felt like eternity, O'Neill's eyes opened and he gasped loudly.


"He's gone. They've all gone. I can sleep now." O'Neill's voice croaked and could barely be heard. He remembered great pain, and nightmares. The pain had eased considerably, although his whole body, including his head, still throbbed. He couldn't envisage being able to stand up, he felt so weak. He could hear voices but they sounded distant and dreamlike.

"We will take the Colonel to a room where he can sleep." Said Xant'lt

"We should return to the Stargate." Objected Teal'c.

"Believe me, Teal'c, he needs sleep now more than his home. It's likely that he will have had none since this started." Teal'c was surprised. He recalled that DoctorFrasier had mentioned something about no REM sleep, but did not realise that his friend had not slept at all since his original return from this planet. He had recently come to appreciate the Tauri need for sleep and understood that they would be severely damaged without it.

"We all need to rest now Teal'c. I will take you both to your friends."

"I must ask you some questions..."

"They can wait."

Teal'c was relieved that O'Neill had lived through this. Many times over the last few hours he had thought they would lose him altogether, he seemed so close to death. He looked pretty awful but it was surely something that could be dealt with once they returned to the SGC. So he nodded assent and Xant'lt gestured towards two Tris't who came over with something similar to a stretcher, placing O'Neill's prone body upon it. Jack was awake but seemed barely cognisant.

They all followed Xant'lt back towards the room where Carter and Daniel waited impatiently. O'Neill was totally exhausted, but felt a peace he had not felt for a while. He thought he'd probably feel much better after a long sleep and a hot shower. He couldn't think straight anymore and had trouble keeping his eyelids open. His eyes felt as if they had been rubbed down with coarse sandpaper.

He was trying to recall what had just happened to him. The whole experience had been pretty spooky, and a physical and mental torment, but Dot'l had left him. O'Neill didn't understand, or even care, why Dot'l was inside him in the first place; he was gone. The children had left him. It seemed to Jack that they had been with him for so long, it now felt empty inside without them. He'd get used to it again. Despite his distress he felt such a relief that they had gone. He found it strange that he had such mixed feelings about it. Forget it, O'Neill, he admonished himself. Sleep, just sleep and it'll all be fine.

He could have sworn he'd seen Dot'l wave at him and thank him for setting him free before his essence had entered the Tris't man. He wasn't sure anymore whether that had been part of his vision or had really happened. It was difficult to tell one non-reality from another these days. The memory of what had happened during the ritual seemed to be escaping him. He was too tired.

Carter and Daniel, meanwhile, were both worried. No one had thought to tell them what was going on, nor why they had been locked in this room. It had been hours since Xant'lt had taken the Colonel and Teal'c away. Carter kept berating herself for being a poor choice to lead this mission. She was powerless to protect fifty percent of her team. Who knew what was happening to them? She had let herself and Daniel be locked in this room when she should have insisted on being the one to go with the Colonel. She'd let a half crazed man decide their fate.

She was acutely aware that the medications Janet had given her were lurking in her pack and of no help whatsoever to her CO while she was locked in this room.

Teal'c was more than capable of looking after the Colonel, although she had no idea what they were facing and it worried her. The Jaffa was strong, fast, tough, and had exceptionally alert senses including, it seemed, a sixth one for danger. That did not make him Superman. Even Teal'c couldn't fight off a whole army alone, if that's what was needed. Lord knows, the Colonel was in no fit state to help him.

What about the Colonel? What the hell were they doing to him? She cursed herself. Daniel tried to comfort her but she would not be dissuaded. This was all her fault, and now the Colonel and Teal'c could be dead for all they knew.

She felt helpless; she was in charge and responsible for the safety of her team and experiencing a crises of confidence. She was comparing her command skills to those of the Colonel and finding them severely lacking.

When the door started opening both Daniel and Carter rose towards it, smiling happily when Teal'c came in followed by O'Neill on the stretcher.

"Colonel? Are you alright?" She could plainly see that he wasn't and was about to suggest they try to get him back to the SGC, when he spoke.

"Carter! Stop fussing and lemme get some sleep." He grumbled, slurring his words as though drunk. The Tris't gently lifted him from the stretcher and placed him onto a long couch that was in the room.


"Go 'way, Carter. Sleep! Fine after sleep." Turning his back to the room and ignoring everything, O'Neill immediately fell into a deep, untroubled slumber.

In her frustration she turned to Xant'lt. "Why did you lock us in this room? Why didn't anybody tell us what was happening?"

"I am sorry. Everyone must be at the ritual. And no strangers are normally allowed there. Two of you were more than enough. I could not risk that your curiosity would overcome you so that you walked along to watch us. It is our most sacred and private ritual." Although Carter was still angry, she bit it back for the sake of diplomacy.

Teal'c felt honored that he had been allowed to witness a sacred ritual. He was happy that the outcome had not been the death of his friend and hopeful that it would save him from the fate that he feared. He knew that, more than the pain he suffered, the loss of his mental faculties was a prospect that horrified O'Neill. What warrior would not face this outlook with equal dread? He would rather kill O'Neill himself than see him endure that doom.

Xant'lt ordered some food and drinks to be brought to the humans and left them alone. Teal'c tried to explain the ritual as best he could, not really understanding it and what had actually happened.

"It appeared that Dot'l's spirit left O'Neill's body and then chose a Tris't to enter. Surely this is not possible?" He queried.

Carter shrugged. "Maybe it's something like what happens when someone ascends but a living host is needed?" Teal'c inclined his head, signalling that this was a possibility while Daniel nodded, warming to that theory.

"Will the Colonel be ok, Teal'c?" She asked.

"He suffered greatly, MajorCarter." She frowned at the thought of the Colonel experiencing yet more trauma. "I believed he would most certainly die. He is exhausted and needs DoctorFrasier's assistance. However, I believe that he will be... ok."

They ate little, unable to bring themselves to enjoy anything, and talked some more, theorising half the time. Every so often one of them would go quietly over to the couch and check O'Neill. It already appeared that his skin was getting a better color but they weren't sure that wasn't wishful thinking. They slept but took turns to keep watch, as if wary of what might happen. As they watched for danger, they kept their eye on the Colonel. He hardly even stirred.

He slept solidly for about 12 hours. None of them wanted to wake him. They were overdue at the SGC. When they next saw Xant'lt they asked about the Jaffa.

"They are up there but they will never find us here."

"How can you be sure?"

"I am just sure. You would never have found us without Dot'l's help." Carter had to acknowledge the truth of that; not via that route, at least. There had to be other ways in. When the villagers had fled during the attack they had gone in the opposite direction. However, her mind kept coming back to the Nox. Maybe these people had some special powers. Hell, if one soul can leap into another person's body, who knew what they were capable of?

"Can we get to the gate without attacking the Jaffa? Are they guarding the gate?"

"We will ensure that you can get home, Major Carter."

She tried pressing him but he remained enigmatic. It was infuriating. Once again she felt she was not in control of the situation.

"There are many of you here," chipped in Daniel, "but not many of you in the village. Do you normally live here?"

"Much of the time we live here, yes."

"The village appears fairly..." Daniel paused and coughed uncomfortably, then continued, "...primitive, but you use advanced technological devices. I wondered..."

"We are an advanced race that is thousands of years old. Our technology is here, underground, where most of us are. Here we grow most of our food. You look sceptical Dr Jackson, but have you never heard of hydroponics? That's the closest translation I can think of I'm afraid."

"Why do some of you live up there then?"

"None of us live up there. We visit up there. We like the sun, as well as the dark and damper places. We are not under threat down here. A plant grows up there that we have found no way to grow down here. We have to tend and nurture it. The village is where we are when we are doing that. Do you understand, Dr Jackson?"

"I think so."

"Xant'lt, is that the plant that makes that miracle drug?" Asked Carter.

"Indeed Major Carter." He mentioned the plant's name, but Carter still hadn't worked out how to get her tongue around it.

"Would you mind if we take some of that back with us to study?"

"It grows dangerously near the village. You risk exposure if we go there. Perhaps if you visit us again."

"Unless the Jaffa leave, we probably would never find you again."

"They will leave, eventually."

"How about some dried leaves or some of the ointments and medicines that you use it for?" Ventured Carter.

"I will consider your request." He partly bowed to her. "I see that your Colonel awakens."

A groan issued from the bed. "Oh God! Water, is there any water?"

O'Neill turned and sat up to face them. His mouth felt like he had just walked through the Sahara Desert and back again without the respite of an oasis. He was surprised that he managed to speak at all, it was so dry. He eyes felt leaden and, as he tried to rise, he realised that his legs were mush. His team mates walked over to him bearing gifts of water. O'Neill drank in small sips. He knew that he should not drown his thirst. Carter smiled down at him, relieved that he appeared so much better than he had when he came here from the ritual.

"How are you feeling Colonel? And if you just say 'fine' I'll take advantage of my command position on this mission... Sir." She added that as an afterthought. O'Neill grinned, looking around at his team mates, then at Carter.

"Carter. There is nothing wrong with me that a few good nights sleep and half a dozen pepperoni pizzas, maybe with some chicken in black bean sauce on the side, wouldn't cure. I've hardly eaten since this all started and I'm starved."

"Jack, you stay there. I'll get you something."

Daniel went over to the table; there was still plenty of food left. It was mostly fruit and vegetables. The Tris't were vegetarian. None of them realised that he hadn't been eating properly either, although he had been on an IV while in the infirmary so have probably had all the right nutrients. He came back, handing Jack a plate with a couple of bits of fruit on it.

"Go easy Jack. Don't wolf it down, there lots more." He said as O'Neill took a very large bite of something that looked like a peach but tasted entirely different. "Can't oblige with the pizza and Chinese, I'm afraid."

"A large streak and fries?" Asked O'Neill, quizzically. His team laughed. He seemed so much better. Jack felt queasy as he ate some of the fruit. He had to keep something down, regain his strength. He felt so weak that he could barely move.

Xant'lt stepped up, bowing slightly to O'Neill. "I am happy that you are feeling so much better Colonel. Soon you will be able to go home." That was a hint and a half, thought Carter. The Tris't wanted them gone.

"Tell me something Zan Tilt?" O'Neill enquired. "Why did Dot'l's... spirit, for want of a better word, come into me? Why did he choose to use nightmares to get my attention? Surely there was a better way? I thought the kid liked me." Xant'lt smiled slightly.

"He was too young to understand what he was doing; he hadn't completed his training. He died too young, Colonel. Had his essence entered one of us, things would have been different; his lack of training would have been of no consequence. He went into you because you were his friend and you were there. He had no concept that you would leave his home, not allowing him to undertake the ritual. He dug into the deepest recesses to find the things that most occupy your subconscious mind, that you bury the deepest, thinking that they would attract your attention." O'Neill winced. He didn't really want his team to hear this.

"So what would normally happen when one of you dies?" He asked, trying to divert attention.

"Their spirit... as you call it, although essence is also appropriate in your language... the spirit would enter into one of us who would then undergo the ritual so that the spirit can choose his resting place. It is an honor for one of our people to be chosen to house a spirit."

O'Neill vaguely remembered that the whole cavern had seemed celebratory when the ritual had finished, but was finding it harder and harder to recall any details. Maybe it's just as well, he thought. He'd had more than enough pain in his life without any additional memories to haunt him.

"Has this got anything to do with why the Jaffa attacked your planet?"

"Indeed, Colonel O'Neill. I questioned one of the Jaffa personally." O'Neill raised his eyebrows at that, wondering how they had prized anything out of a Jaffa. "They have heard a rumour that we live forever. They came to find the secret and assess whether we are a threat to the Goa'uld. Of course it isn't true; they have misconstrued. It is apparent that the aerial attack of our village was premature. The Jaffa was most agitated that their master would punish them for their destruction. Now? Well, why should they worry about a primitive people who live in a small village? They will leave soon enough, when they find nothing worth staying for."

"Won't your captured Jaffa give you away?" Asked O'Neill.

"Not any more Colonel. He won't bother anyone again." O'Neill was stunned by the response. Xant'lt's smile was enigmatic, and Carter began to realise just how crafty these people were. She would bet that they could kick Goa'uld ass if they wanted. They wouldn't want to draw that sort of attention. Wise move.

"Won't they miss him? Come looking?" She asked, curiously.

"The poor man had an unfortunate accident while on guard duty. That is how they will perceive it."

Carter contemplated how little they knew about the Tris't, hardly cared anymore. As long as the Colonel and her team got home safe and well, everything else could go to hell in a hand basket. The Colonel looked awful, and terribly weak. She hoped he had enough strength to make it to the gate. No doubt Teal'c would carry him if necessary, although she could imagine O'Neill's protestations at being carried like a helpless child. The image seemed singularly inappropriate in the circumstances.

"You should make yourselves ready to return to your home. I have decided to give you the samples that you seek, Major Carter. We shall expect your return, but not too soon." Said Xant'lt, and then he was gone.

They did not see Xant'lt again. Leaving O'Neill some additional recovery time, a while later a young Tris't brought Carter her samples and led them back to the same entrance they had come in by. The Colonel was walking, albeit unsteadily. He insisted that he could make it to the gate without help. The others kept a close watch, ever ready to help prop him up or catch him if he fell.

The Tris't left them at the entrance to find their own way to the gate. They figured that part wouldn't be too hard; unless they bumped into some Jaffa. True to the word of Xant'lt, though, they encountered no one along their trail, and the gate was again mysteriously unguarded. O'Neill guessed that they'd never find out the whole truth about these people, or what powers and technologies they possessed. He didn't care. He wanted to get home to a nice comfortable bed. He had more sleep to catch up on.

Once through the gate old Doc Frasier had him in the infirmary before you could say pen light. As always he protested that he should go home, and she insisted that he stayed. He lost every time. O'Neill didn't think it fair that a Major could tell a Colonel what to do. He out ranked her.

The Colonel whined in characteristic O'Neill fashion and, for once, Janet was happy that he did so. It proved to her that he was returning to normal. It would be a while before he was fully recovered, but he would make it. After probing and testing everything she could possibly think of, the Doc finally left him to rest. He went out like a light once more. When he awoke, he could see the rear end of Carter sneaking out of the door.

"Carter?" He called, quietly, knowing that if he made too much noise the nurses would fuss. She turned back to face him.

"Sorry, sir. I just crept in to see how you were. I didn't mean to wake you."

"I don't think it was you Carter. I think I'm all slept out... for now. Come, sit." He indicated the chair next to his bed.

"Can I get you anything, Colonel?"

"No. I'm fine." He reached for the water, already by his bed, and took a deep gulp.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, which Carter broke, braving a question.

"The visions, Sir, are they really gone? Is it all over?" She saw a shadow briefly darken his face.

"Sure, Carter. They're gone." It was a little white lie; although the demons that had been forced upon him were gone, the ones that he had created for himself, were not. They never would be, but he could control them. He had done it before and he'd do it again.

Shutting it away, he told Carter a couple of funny stories which had them both laughing softly. As she watched and listened to him laugh, Carter noticed there was no mirth contained within it. That saddened her. She wondered how far the ritual had gone to help him. Had the haunting brought back too many memories? Were they now bubbling too close to the surface so that he could no longer hide them deep within?

Carter recalled his face when she had gone back for him on that day of the Goa'uld attack. There was something a lot worse than that in his eyes right now and she feared for him. She knew that he was putting on a front and wondered how much of one. How much pain, and what dark thoughts, was he hiding?

"Can I ask you something, Sir?"

"Sure, Carter." It had been bugging her since she's been locked in that room with Daniel.

"Why Teal'c, and not me to go in with you to the ritual? I understand why not Daniel; he couldn't back you up like Teal'c or I could. But I'm your second in command, it should have been me. And I was in command on this mission. I should have overruled you. I was powerless, locked in a room with Daniel. I couldn't control the situation."

"Are you beatin' yourself up about it Carter?"

"Yes Sir."

Jack realised that she was having doubts about her command ability, her confidence knocked by the helplessness she had felt. He could empathise with that. He might be a cocky son of a bitch, but that bravado covered his own doubts on many an occasion.

"Carter, you know I have total faith in you, that I have no doubt that you could lead the team? 'Cos I have, you know. It wasn't exactly a normal mission, if we could ever be said to have such a thing. You might be a scientist but you are also one hell of an officer. And you've saved our sorry butts more than once." His tone was slightly teasing and she smiled at his scientist jibe, although felt flattered that he thought her a good officer.

"I could never lead the team like you can, Colonel."

"Hey, don't compare yourself to me Carter. I ain't exactly Mister Perfect. You of all people know that. It just made sense to split us up and leave you free to take a lead if needed. I needed to know Daniel was in safe hands. I didn't know any more than you did that they intended to lock you in a room, did I?"

"Why is it I'm not believing that was the real reason sir? Teal'c could have minded Daniel."

"Ok... Truth?" She nodded. "I knew what I was doing, if that's what bothers you. It was not the act of a mad man that you blindly followed. It had to be Teal'c I trusted him." As soon as he said that, he knew he'd said the wrong thing. Your big feet O'Neill - doh! Carter is wondering how much you trust her. She's in self doubt mode, you dumb ass.

"You didn't trust me to be there for you?" That clearly perturbed Carter and O'Neill sighed.

"I didn't mean... oh crap! Of course I trust you Carter. Don't go soft on me now. I need that confident, intelligent Major who is my second in command, not a self doubting wimp. It's just...." He sighed again, knowing he wasn't helping. Sometimes his communication skills could do with a facelift. He had to tell her the whole truth and be damned. "Look, I trusted Teal'c to do the right thing if he needed to."

"The right thing?"

"Let me die." She gasped, clearly shocked by the revelation, "I don't think I could have trusted you to do that Sam. Do you?" She shook her head, briefly. She knew that if the Colonel had been willing to give it all up, it must have been bad. He was a fighter. She felt sad for him and what he must have been through.

"It was that bad?" The question slipped out before she had time to think that this was probably the last thing the Colonel wanted to talk about or admit. Before he had a chance to say anything she added. "You don't have to answer that, sir. I'm sorry."

Once again she saw a shadow flicker across his features before he brought his demons under control. She was wishing she hadn't asked him her original question, forcing him to confess his intentions. That night when he was trying to convince her that they should go back to Coo'lt he had undoubtedly felt obliged to tell her more than he would normally. The Colonel had been weak and vulnerable, and she realised that he would hate that he showed it. O'Neill did not like to admit to a loss of control, or frailty. When he did it spoke volumes for the gravity of the situation he found himself in. She should have realised that and could have kicked herself for her lack of tact.

"It was pretty bad." He confessed quietly, despite that her words had absolved him from replying. Although she didn't respond he could see the sympathy in her eyes. "I'm ok now, Carter, really I am. Cross my heart, yadda, yadda, yadda."

His broad smile gave her comfort, although the shadows she had seen earlier told her something else. It was up to his team, his friends, to support him and cheer him up. She resolved to organise a get together when he was out of the infirmary. Operation Cheer Up O'Neill. She'd talk to Daniel and Teal'c about it in the morning.

A while later she left him to go to bed herself. She couldn't be bothered to go home now. When she'd gone O'Neill stayed awake for a long time thinking about the demons. He could still see faces of the children, but now they were conjured by him, not Dot'l. It might take a while but he'd be fine, eventually.

The Doc insisted on keeping him in the infirmary for a few days, despite his protestations. He was still weak and she needed to ensure he could look after himself effectively once he'd gone home. As each day passed, his skin tone improved and the dark circles and bags under his eyes started to lighten. He was eating well and seemed to be sleeping properly. Janet's concern for him lessened.

O'Neill felt considerably better, and was improving all the time. The headaches had subsided, and the ache in his limbs was diminishing. He could walk around without staggering or feeling dizzy and nauseous, albeit that Janet wouldn't let him go far. He was still exhausted and slept a lot. When awake he was bored, as so often when he had nothing active to do, and started once more to grumble about going home.

One morning she approached him with one of her giant needles and he groaned.

"My nurses tell me you have been making a nuisance of yourself, Colonel." She waved the needle threateningly.

"What's that?" He protested.

"A healthy dose of vitamins. Nothing to worry about Sir."

"I hate needles." Janet started to talk to him about what he should eat and how much exercise he should do when he went home. She wanted his recovery to continue at this pace. Knowing the Colonel, he might neglect some things and overdo others, once home. Jack had no intention of neglecting himself, determined to become fighting fit again in the shortest possible period. All the while Janet spoke, she held the needle in her hand, waving it around. Her voice was stern, reminding O'Neill of an old schoolteacher he'd had when a kid. It almost surprised him he could remember that far back. It seemed so long ago, probably because it was.

"What the hell is this, a lecture?" he complained. "Are you going to give me my shot or just stand there looking officious?"

"You are a pain, do you know that?"

"Of course I know that." His tone made her laugh and he joined in.

"It's good to hear that sound from your lips, Colonel." She smiled. "I'm telling you all this because, if you are a good boy, I will let you go home today."

O'Neill's face cracked into a huge grin and Janet thought how much better he looked through a smile. She studied his features and noted the skeletal look was disappearing rapidly, although he was still too pallid for her liking. Despite that, she realised that the best place for him now was in his own home. She would call around to make sure he looked after himself and see how he was. It could be a fairly long recovery process to get him back to peak fitness and allow further gate travel. She was determined to keep him off more active duties for as long as it took. She knew he wouldn't be happy about that, but could handle his ire.

For now, he could go home and recuperate his strength. She would check him again thoroughly in a few days before even suggesting that he might come back to the mountain. He'd probably need to work out a little to build up his musculature again. He could use the SGC gym, and catch up on paperwork, when he came back. He would so love that.

O'Neill was willing to take the recovery time, still pretty much exhausted. When he got home he took a lengthy shower, longing to make himself clean again. Would he ever get clean? Reminded once more of MacBeth, he wondered how long he would take to run out of apt quotes from the play. 'Out. Damned spot! Out, I say! Hell is murky." He chuckled to himself. Yep, murky indeed, he thought.

He slept again for much of the day and was beginning to potter around the house, tidying up, when there was a knock. Who the hell could that be? On his doorstep stood his team mates, beaming at him cheerily.

"Hey Jack, just thought we'd pop by and see how you're doing." Daniel said, almost forcing his way past O'Neill into the house. He and Sam had decided that they would brook no argument about keeping him company. Teal'c was ready to back them up. All three thought O'Neill looked much healthier and more like himself now.

"Oh, come in by all means." Waved O'Neill, indicating the inside of his house as the other two entered.

After all the traumas of the last few days Jack felt a lot more optimistic and perky. His depression had almost entirely gone, even if his memory of it had not. The arrival of his team mates lifted his heart, removing the last vestiges of his melancholy. He knew that nightmares would return to haunt him, they always did, but not for now. He was starting to feel whole again.

"We've brought pepperoni pizza, Colonel." Piped up Carter, holding a couple of massive pizzas in her arms.

"And Chinese. Chicken in Black Bean sauce, O'Neill. And fortune cookies." Said Teal'c, holding up a couple of take out bags.

"Oh, and don't forget the movies. Wide choice." Called Daniel, and waved a plastic bag in Jack's direction.

O'Neill smiled proudly. Hey, what a great bunch of guys... my team. He knew he could rely on them to support him through almost anything. This was a considerable comfort and meant a great deal to him. It was a wonderful thing to have such friends. He was a lucky guy.

"Then you are truly welcome." The smile turned into the very large grin. "No steak?"

His three friends smiled at that comment. Carter thought she saw some light once more shining in his eyes, where they had been so dulled. They had done the right thing by coming here. She was relieved.

"Which movies?" Asked O'Neill.

"Um..." Daniel looked stuck his nose into the bag. "One of them is 'Star Trek: First Contact.' You know how much Teal'c loves this stuff."

Jack laughed. Star Trek? How ironic. That TV show had come up a couple of times on Cool It. He wondered whether T had chosen one called First Contact on purpose. He wouldn't put it past the big guy.

"Anything to please my buddy T." said O'Neill clapping the Jaffa on the back. "I owe you pal." Teal'c acknowledged the tribute with a smile.

"A question O'Neill." Said Teal'c and Jack inclined his head. " Who is this person Banquo that you spoke of during the ritual?"

Jack smiled. It was good to be home, he thought. He was going to be alright.

The End