Summary- Set during and after Metamorphosis. What if Daniel had stopped by?

Disclaimer- I don't own Stargate, or its characters.

Spoilers- Major ones for Metamorphosis, slight ones for Abyss, Meridian, and Summit.

Jack slammed his fist angrily into the bars of the cell. Wincing at the pain that went shooting up his arm, he leant against the rusty metal, the bars cool against his forehead. How on earth had this happened?

"I do not believe injuring yourself will aid Colonel Evano or Major Carter." Teal'c's calm voice intoned from the cell on his left.

Jack opened his eyes and turned to face him, "Probably not" He agreed, and then punched the bars again.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Jack could virtually feel he and Jonas exchanging looks with each other.

"How's Colonel Evano?" Jonas finally asked grimly. Jack raised his head,

"Let's see." He replied and walked over to where he had deposited the unfortunate officer. Evano had been pretty quiet since learning of Major Carter's fate, whether from thinking, or from pain, Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know. "How you doing?" he asked gently, and wasn't much relieved when Evano opened raw eyes to look at him. "I think...I am dying" Evano coughed and took a deep shuddering breath.

"Don't be an idiot" Jack muttered, his heart not really in the retort, "We're going to get out of here, mutant aliens or not." Seeing Evano's look, "ALL of us," he reaffirmed both verbally and mentally. Evano just nodded slightly, and wincing, shut his eyes again, as a spasm of pain came over him.

Disturbed, Jack went back to the left side of the cell. "So, any bright ideas yet?" He asked, with only a small amount of sarcasm. "'Fraid not" Jonas replied, looking at Evano. Teal'c shook his head,

"I do not believe we will be able to defeat Nirrti, while those with such powers obey her"

Jack gave Teal'c a warning look, "Sure we will, couple of zat blasts and they'll go down like anyone else."

Teal'c began to reply, but the look Jack gave him was a sufficient deterrent. None of them noticed the slight breeze that swept through the chamber. p

Jonas, Teal'c and Jack were talking quietly when Agar and Woden returned, dragging a groggy Major Carter. Jack's heart leapt and sank within a minute of seeing her. Relieved she was alive, but alarmed about what they had done to her. Catching her as she half fell into their cell, he practically carried her over to the other cot opposite Evano. Having reassured himself she was alive, he directed his attention at the two aliens, now walking towards Teal'c and Jonas.

"Hey fellas! Want to do me a favour. Go on back; let her know that I'm next. You should pick me?" Jack said easily, disguising his anger under a façade of amiability.

"Her will is my command." Woden replied harshly, Jack noted he seemed a little uneasy.

Good.

"Yeah, well, there's your mistake right there." Fed up, Jack turned away from the alien to sit next to Carter, who seemed to be at least semi-conscious. When he heard the alien call to Jonas, he wondered how many more times he'd have to watch his friends go to their doom, before finally facing his own.

He watched Jonas struggle with Agar, feeling proud of the young man, and not for the first time. He watched in stoic silence as his teammate was taken away. Knowing he could do nothing for Jonas right now, he looked at his 2IC. Carter was leaning heavily against the cell bars, her eyes half shut, forehead glistening with sweat.

This just wasn't his day.

Teal'c watched O'Neill's attempt to reassure Major Carter. She appeared to be suffering the same symptoms as Colonel Evano, though to a lesser degree as yet. When she refuted his optimistic assurances, he merely ordered her to lie down and rest for awhile. A clear sign he was worried. A worry that would not be lifted by the fact Major Carter obeyed O'Neill's order; something she would not have done if she thought it avoidable. His thoughts turned towards Jonas Quinn. Teal'c had found the young man most irritating during his first few missions with SG1. But he had quickly integrated himself into the team, and was now irreplaceable.

Of course he had once thought the same of Daniel Jackson.

Though he did not mention their lost friend, Teal'c often thought of Daniel Jackson, wondering what fate had befallen him upon leaving earth. Whether the once-human archaeologist ever thought of them. Teal'c assumed something must have occurred to prevent him contacting them, or he would surely have wished to speak to his friends, at least to assure them of his safety and continued well being. Such thoughts did not comfort Teal'c, so he refrained from mentioning them to his teammates. They had their own burdens to bear.

Major Samantha Carter of the US Air Force, was no stranger to death. She'd killed total strangers, bitter enemies, and even dear friends in the shape of Martouf. Heck, she'd died herself once or twice. But watching Evano dissolve in front of her eyes, dying in a painful, alien manner, shocked her to the core. Somewhere far off, she dimly heard her CO tell her to 'snap out of it Carter'. Someone grabbed her shoulder and turned her around, every muscle crying out in agony.

"Carter!"

The urgency in the tone brought her feverish mind back to…earth temporarily. She found herself looking into the desperate brown eyes of Colonel Jack O'Neill.

"That won't be you Carter, I won't let it."

Too tired to argue, she nodded wearily, and again rested her head on his shoulder. The pain in her head had increased, her throat was burning, and her every cell felt twisted and wrong. Some point in her mind registered a comforting arm round her shoulders before, mercifully, she passed out.

Jack sighed as the weight on his shoulder increased slightly. He could feel the heat radiating from his 2IC even through his jacket. He shared a concerned look with Teal'c,

"Her condition is deteriorating rapidly O'Neill," the Jaffa said softly.

Jack looked back at Sam, and back to Teal'c.

"Yeah" He replied, not trusting himself to speak at that moment.

"Hey Sam"

Sam Carter looked around, wondering what the heck was going on. This place 'looked' like her lab, but the whole place had a kind of surreal feeling to it, like she was hallucinating. But her head felt too blissfully clear for a delusion. And where was that voice coming from?

"Over here" the voice continued. Wait a minute, that sounded like…

"Daniel?" Sam said, hardly daring to breathe, let alone move in case it all vanished.

"It's me Sam" a chuckle, "You can turn round now"

Sam turned, and vaguely got an image of brown hair, and a white sweater, before she was enveloped in a brhug from her much-missed friend.

"Oh my god! Daniel!" Sam almost cried into his shoulder, "Your alive!"

"Kind of, yeah" said Daniel softly, drawing back, "And so are you, for the minute."

Sam frowned, and was about to reply, when the memories came rushing back. Nirrti, the machine, the cell…

I hate to spoil this, where on earth are we?"

Daniel appeared to consider carefully before answering his friend "Well physically you're in that cell in brNirrti's fortress, and I am neither here nor there…"

"Daniel, please?"

"Well I suppose you could call this a dream, though I kind of joined in so I could talk to you." At her bemused look, "believe me, I don't really understand the technical stuff, so can we skip it?" Daniel looked anxious suddenly. "I really need to talk to you."

Sam smiled abruptly, the complete impossibility of the situation dawning on her. Gesturing towards the lab stools "Have a seat".

Daniel swallowed; glad he could still do so in this equivalent of a 'physical manifestation'. As glad as he was to see Sam, he'd leave a thousand times over if he could avoid the next few minutes.

"You don't have to do this" a voice in his 'head' reminded him.

"She's my friend Oma, I have to." Daniel replied, in the 'ascended' form of communication. After all, he reminded himself, she'd do it for you.

But in the words of one Jack O'Neill, this sucked.

"I'm here to offer you a choice Sam." Not much of one though.

"A choice? About what?"

"About your life."

Sam looked at her former teammate, one glance at his face assured her whatever he was going to say was bad news. Putting a hand on his shoulder, she said gently, "Tell me Daniel".

The anguish on Daniel's face was almost impossible to bear. Abruptly, he got up, and began pacing around the 'lab'. As you'll remember, those of us who have 'ascended' are not supposed to interfere in the matters of," Daniel shook his head, "lower beings."

Sam nodded, remembering with a pang, the alien Orlin, who had shown only too well the results of such interference. "I remember Daniel".

Glancing quickly at her, Daniel continued, "Well I have managed to get some lee-way in that, not much, but a little. After I watched Jack being tortured in Baal's fortress, I realized I needed to be able to do something." At her confused look, "Yeah I was there Sam.

Anyway, you have three options. I don't know how long they'll be there, or the consequences of your decision, but at least you have the choice."

Growing frustrated, "Daniel, come on, I'm dying to know here."

Daniel winced, if the situation hadn't been so dire Sam would have laughed at the action. "You've been hanging around with Jack too long." He muttered, She smiled.

"As it stands now, you're in that cell, every cell in your body is being broken down as Nirriti's mutations grow increasingly unstable. No one except maybe Nirrti can stop it, and she certainly wouldn't. You'll suffer a horrific, painful death if it carries on."

"Daniel!" Sam was horrified at the callousness of her friend. He grimaced and squeezed her shoulder gently. "I'm sorry Sam, I just need you to understand…I can't let this happen to you."

Sam nodded numbly, "You said I had a choice?"

Sitting down next to her, Daniel nodded grimly. "Well that's option one, you can wake up back in that cell. Who knows? Maybe Jack will pull another miracle out of that cap of his. In the meantime though…"

Sam held up her hand, "Pain, I got the picture."

"Right, which brings us to option two," he frowned slightly, "I can help you to ascend."

"Me?" Sam said doubtfully, "No offence Daniel but I'm hardly the open-minded philosophical type!"

"Sam, believe me, you could if you wanted to, with a little help."

She looked sharply at him, "What would happen then? If I ascended? Would you hang around for awhile or would I get to wander the universe watching my friends suffer, solo?"

The archaeologist shook his head, "I honestly don't know Sam, it's different for everyone. Ascension isn't an escape route, it's a change, that's all."

"And option three?" Daniel turned away; Sam could have sworn she saw tears in his eyes, "Hey! Don't give up on me here!" compassionately, "Daniel?"

"I can end it, right now." Yes, there were tears. "Something I wasn't allowed to do last time, or wouldn't let myself do. But I'm not going to let my friends suffer again, not if I can help it. So if that's what you want, if it's too much, I'll end it. You never have to wake up."

Daniel held his head between his hands, feeling grief beyond words. What would Sam think of him now? What would the others think of him, if he ever had to, and was able to offer them the same choice?

"You'd do that for me?"

He looked up, "Yes Sam, if I had to."

Silently she held out an arm, and the two hugged, both gaining a measure of comfort from the gesture.

"Well your right Daniel, you bring some pretty bad choices!" He smiled weakly, "but what you'd do for me, it means a lot." Relieved, he met her eyes in a strong clear gaze, "But I think we both know what my decision is."

Nodding, he stated regretfully, "Your going back"

"I couldn't do this Daniel, I couldn't be the watcher, its not me, and never will be," Sam shrugged, "as for option three, I think the colonel would be furious if I ruined his opportunity to save the day again"

Daniel smiled albeit sadly, "You're a brave woman Sam Carter."

She returned the smile, "and you're a good friend". She swallowed a little nervously, "Daniel?"

"Yes Sam?"

"If this is the end, I mean, if we don't make it." She looked up at him; "You'll be there won't you?"

"I'll always be there Sam, that's a promise."

Then she was falling through blackness, into a red light.

"Heya Carter" Jack couldn't help but be a little relieved. He had been almost sure she was never going to regain consciousness. "You passed out without asking permission you know, I might have to put it on your record."

Her slight smile comforted him a little, however that soon vanished as she grimaced in pain. "Hang on in there Major, we're getting out of here soon," His reassurance sounded phony, even to his ears. He was surprised therefore, when she nodded and gave something reminiscent of a grin. "Sure we are Sir," she agreed, with only the slightest catch in her voice. "Sure we are."

Jonas watched them drag Colonel O'Neill away, His head ached from the Zat blast he had received earlier, and Nirriti's little outburst had done little to alleviate the pain.

"Are you alright Jonas Quinn?" Teal'c asked with a note of concern.

"Sure Teal'c, just a headache, first time being hit on by a goa'uld and all" Teal'c raised an eyebrow, "Tell you about it later." Teal'c inclined his head, and walked over to the bars, separating them from the other Cell. Jonas felt an almost physical throb of sorrow, upon seeing Sam. It was painfully obvious she was close to the end. Water glistened on her forehead, and a series of small convulsions shook her. On seeing Jonas however, her lips curved in something akin to a smile.

"Your Okay?" She managed, before the effort sent her into a coughing fit.

"Yeah" Jonas replied, wincing at her obvious agony. "She didn't hurt me, apparently my DNA is different or something." Whether his words really registered or not he didn't know, but she seemed to take comfort in them. He watched as she closed her eyes, maybe for the last time. "Daniel…" She whispered, and blacked out.

Teal'c could feel little beyond grief at this point. Grief for Colonel Evano, who had lost his life in such a appalling manner, unbefitting a warrior, grief for Major Carter who was soon to follow him, Grief for his friends, and even himself who would be left to suffer and die afterwards. He and Jonas Quinn stood guard, for the little it was worth. Occasionally Jonas Quinn would make some encouraging comment to their afflicted teammate, but whether she heard them or not was doubtful. He watched both his companions with a sorrow that went beyond anything words could say. He was almost glad he would in all likelihood be taken next. Death, even in such a terrible way, would be a relief after watching his friends perish.

"We're not going to make it are we?" his companion asked quietly, rousing Teal'c from his morbidity.

"You should not give up hope Jonas Quinn. Both O'Neill and Major Carter possess a strong will to survive."

He watched as Jonas turned back to their friend then back to himself, "I just hope it's enough."

Feeling possibly the most helpless he ever had, Jonas watched, what must surely be the final death agonies of his friend. All he had to look forward to now was to see his friends suffer the same fate. Perhaps if he were lucky Nirrti would tire of his refusals and simply kill him straight off. 'At least they won't die alone' he thought to himself. And he could swear he heard someone far off echo, "they won't".

Daniel stood just inside Sam's cell, invisible of course. He'd stay as long as his friends did, whether he could help them or not.

"You cause yourself unnecessary pain" Oma's voice gently reproached him. "You can do nothing for them, and though your compassion does you credit, it cannot bring any comfort to them."

"And why is that?" Daniel mentally yelled, "Why can't I show myself to them, talk with them, let them know they aren't alone?"

"You know why."

"You let me talk to Sam!"

"Fire burns, it consumes, yet it is never satisfied. Nor can it be allowed to consume all."

Daniel felt desperate, "What does that mean?!" Suddenly a figure came racing down the steps to the cells,

"Jack?"

Teal'c watched with a mixture of shock and relief as O'Neill came racing into the cells, followed by the two aliens. To his amazement, Woden lifted the bars of their cage, and the other, O'Neill, went straight into his former prison, and to his suffering comrade. Following Jonas out of their cell, he noticed Major Carter open her eyes, something he never expected to see again.

"Sir" she whispered hoarsely, the syllable filled with pain.

O'Neill simply picked her up, and almost ran towards the exit. Sharing a look of hope with Jonas, he hastened after them, not stopping until they came to the chamber where the machine stood.

"Sir?" Jonas asked, a question in his voice. O'Neill did not spare him a look.

"You must hold her upright till the machine activates." The one named Agar stated, looking concerned. "It will cause you no harm."

Teal'c immediately moved to help, and together they supported the semi-conscious Major in the machine. With a low hum, it activated, forcing their friend upright, and causing her to cry out faintly with pain. He perceived O'Neill visibly wince at the sound, but in a voice filled with reassurance, he asserted, "Soon be over Carter"

'Liar' Colonel O'Neill inwardly reprimanded himself. Carter had been in the machine two hours now, and though Agar regularly assured them it was working, it was only in the last twenty minutes that she had begun to look better. He noted to himself that Jonas was looking pale, though the young alien had assured him Nirrti had not altered him. Still, being knocked out and then thrown across a room by a spurned goa'uld must make you feel pretty rough. Jonas had told them all about Nirrti's 'offer' while Carter was in the machine, the idea made him grin. Jonas would look funny in one of those suits Daniel had worn at the summit…

'Daniel, where the heck was he?' Jack wondered, remembering his last meeting with his friend. He still wasn't completely certain it hadn't been a hallucination. He hoped not, it was nice to believe Daniel was alive and 'living it up' on some higher level of existence.' Though for crying out loud, Danny, you could have picked a better time to drop in!' Jack mentally reproved his former teammate. He was instantly distracted from his internal 'conversation', by the machine switching off. To his immense relief, his 2IC remained upright, and was declared back to normal by Agar. Helping her off the device, more to reassure himself than to assist her, he thanked their saviors, disfigured they might be but they had great timing! With a hasty goodbye to their captors, he led his team outside, freedom at last; "Okay kids let's go!"

Blinking wearily, Sam Carter, rolled over to check the infirmary clock. She'd nearly blacked out afterbr coming through the gate, so the Colonel had insisted she go straight to the infirmary. Janet, her every helpful friend, had insisted she remain there for observation for 24 hours, though she was reasonably sure it was just exhaustion that had caused her 'trip to oz' as her CO so gracefully put it. Seeing the clock, she noted it was only 3am, what had woken her?

"Hey Sam"

Turning, and blinking away tears from suddenly wet eyes, she whispered, "Daniel?"

A figure dressed in a white sweater, with wavy brown hair stepped closer to her bed,

"Yeah, its me" that gentle smile she had missed so much, "How are you feeling?"

With a watery smile of her own, "I'm fine, we all are, God, Daniel I…"

"Shh," Daniel shook his head, "not time for grieving now Sam, okay? There's enough sadness around already without creating some more." He came closer, blue eyes sparkling in the dim light. "I have to go now."

Sam felt tears prickling behind her eyes again, "So soon? The others…"

"Don't know I was here," he finished gently, "it's for the best Sam. I came to console a friend, and to know you're all gonna be alright." He gave a slight smile, "And you are, all of you."

Despite her best efforts, a tear ran down her face, "And you?"

"I'm going to be fine" he stepped away, meeting her gaze with clear blue eyes. "Goodbye Sam"

Closing her eyes, "Goodbye Daniel",

When she opened them, he was gone.

"Ah Carter!" Colonel O'Neill called across the commissionnary where the team had agreed to meet. When Sam was released the following afternoon.

"Hey Guys," Sam smiled, sitting down "Sorry I'm late, Janet insisted on a final blood-test."

Jack looked keenly at his 2IC, "all good?"

"Fine sir, my DNA is 100% fixed"

"Great! Because ya know, it'd be loads of trouble if they had to redo your ID" at their looks, "extra eyes and all?"

Teal'c and Jonas looked bemused, Sam laughed, and the usual team-banter set in.

At the entrance to the commissionnary, a lone figure stood unseen. Watching his former teammates, Daniel smiled. "Your all going to be fine," he said, almost to himself, "That's a promise". SG1 continued their meal; not knowing their own personal guardian angel was only 10ft away. Watching over them.