Thanks to Adi and Sue.

What Doesn't Kill you

By

Denise

She watched the Jaffa pull the unresisting form between them. His head lolled forward, his feet making small scraping noises as they were dragged across the floor. They dragged him before a throne and dropped him to the floor. He fell with a grunting groan as he tried to catch himself with his hands.

The goa'uld got to his feet, leisurely walking around the prone figure. "Tok'ra scum," he snarled, kicking the man. The goa'uld kicked the man again, forcing him to roll to his back. She could see his torn and stained shirt, the holes silently attesting that this wasn't the first time the two had met.

She stepped forward, coming to stand by the goa'uld's side. The man looked up at her, silently pleading for help. "Sir?"

"Carter…help," he pleaded, his voice hoarse and rough.

"She won't help you," the goa'uld Ba'al said, taking her hand. A heavy, cold shape pressed itself upon her palm. "She helps me." He raised her hand, holding it out over O'Neill.

"Carter, don't," Jack begged, his eyes meeting hers.

"Sir…please," she muttered, releasing the dagger and watching it fall…burying itself to the hilt in his chest.

 end Italics

Sam jolted into wakefulness, her heart pounding in her chest. She raised her head and self-consciously looked around, relieved to discover that she was alone in her lab. Taking a glance at her watch, she scrubbed her hand over her face. 0300. Great. That's what she got for running 'one more test' instead of calling it a night and going to bed. Not that she'd sleep anyway.

Grateful that she hadn't drooled on her keyboard, she signed off her computer and got up from her bench. She needed some sleep. Too much more insomnia and Janet would notice. Idly massaging the back of her neck to relive some stiffness, she made her way towards the infirmary.

She slipped into the room, tiptoeing so she wouldn't disturb the colonel. Spying Teal'c in the corner, she made her way over to him. "How is he?" she whispered.

"His sleep is restless," he replied just as softly. In the last week and a half, Teal'c had taken to staying in the infirmary, ready to support the colonel through his withdrawal.

"Janet said his body chemistry is almost back to normal," Sam whispered. "She's going to release him tomorrow."

"I do not believe O'Neill is prepared to return to duty."

"I know," Sam agreed. She looked down to her hands. "Teal'c…he needs to get out of here," she said. "Go somewhere and decompress."

"I agree."

"I was talking to General Hammond. A friend of his owns a cabin down by Canon City. He's not using it right now and would be willing to let the colonel use it," she said. "But…"

"Doctor Fraiser would not wish O'Neill to be alone at this time," he interrupted.

"No."

They heard a creaking sound and looked to see Jack restlessly moving in his sleep. "Is there water?" Teal'c asked resignedly.

Sam choked back a grin. "A stream, yes…about 5 feet wide and it has absolutely no fish in it," she said. Teal'c sighed heavily. "I'll loan you my laptop with the DVD player and my Star Wars DVD's," she bargained.

He shot her a look. "That would not consume sufficient time."

"My Lord of the Rings?" she bargained. "The special edition with all the behind the scenes stuff."

He smiled slightly and nodded his head. "I shall accompany O'Neill."

"Thanks," she said, laying her hand on his shoulder.

"You will not accompany us?"

She shook her head. "No. I think I'm the last person he wants to have around right now."

"O'Neill bears you no ill will."

She ignored his reassurances, his words doing nothing to assuage the guilt that had become her near constant companion for the last few weeks. "I'm gonna go get some sleep," she said before turning and making her way out of the room.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack leaned back with a sigh, wrapping his hand around the beer bottle. He took a deep drink of the bitter brew and closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun soaking into his skin. He could hear the sluggish gurgle of water over the rocks in the steam a few feet away.

Despite the idyllic setting, dark memories from another time and another place crept from his subconscious, attempting to replace the peace and calm with fear and pain. He fought them for a few minutes, trying to push them back into the past where they belonged.

He succeeded for a few minutes before his senses fell, pulled back into the past. The soft embrace of the lounge chair was replaced by the harsh chill of a metal grate, the gurgling of the stream became the sickening sizzle of his flesh being eaten away, the soft squishing sound of knives piercing his flesh, the unmistakable scrape of metal on bone.

The sweat from the bottle became his tears, streaming down his face as he begged for it to end.

He fought for a few more seconds, trying to push the memories back into the box, lock them away where they couldn't hurt him any more. Finally surrendering, he opened his eyes, his breath harsh and rasping in his throat. He struggled to control his breathing and slow his heart, consciously relaxing his grip on the beer bottle.

Well, that was fun, he quipped mentally, scrubbing his face with his free hand. He fought the urge to turn around and see where Teal'c was. He knew his friend was close; he'd been sticking to him like a limpet for the better part of the last week.

He took another slug of his beer, making a face when he realized that it was now warm and flat. He got to his feet, pouring the undrinkable beverage onto the ground. Stretching, he made his way back to the cabin, idly scratching at the week's worth of beard growth. All in all, it was probably a damn good thing that this place was off the beaten path; he knew he looked like some sort of bum with his worn, baggy clothes and scruffy beard.

Walking into the cabin, he shook his head at the sight of Teal'c, hunched over the laptop computer, headphones wrapped around his head. A jaffa gadget junkie, who'd a thunk it?

His stomach rumbling, he meandered into the small kitchen, grabbing a bag of chips from the cupboard. Beer and chips probably wasn't what Fraiser had in mind when she lectured him on gaining some weight….but she'd get over it. Especially if she never knew about it.

He went back into the living room and sat in one of the arm chairs, automatically reaching for the remote. Whoever's cabin this was, they knew how to live, he thought, having been pleasantly surprised to find a DSS satellite dish and 32 inch TV upon their arrival. 

He leaned back as he surfed, popping up the footrest of the chair.  Finding an old rerun of the Simpson's, he set down the remote, suddenly trying to fight the wave of exhaustion that swept over him.

Coffee…he should have made some coffee before he sat down. He glanced over his shoulder, wondering just how much pain he'd be in if he interrupted the man's fifth viewing of Fellowship of the Ring to ask him to make some coffee, only to meet Teal'c's appraising gaze.

"Unlike Jaffa, humans require several hours of sleep per day to remain healthy," he said, taking off the headphones and pausing the DVD.

"T," Jack said warningly, knowing what was coming. He'd heard the lecture before, several times over the years in fact.

Teal'c got to his feet, quietly walking over to Jack's side where he sat down in another chair. "O'Neill, many times in my life I have witnessed and participated in some truly horrific events. These deeds place a burden upon one's soul, a burden that will destroy a person if not released or shared."

"So, what? One little round of true confessions and everything's hunky dorey?" Jack said, not bothering to suppress his growing anger. Damnit, why the hell couldn't people just leave him alone? He didn't want to talk about it, for crying out loud, he wanted to forget.

"No," Teal'c said. "However, a burden shared is a burden halved."

"Oh yeah? I didn't see you rushing to tell all after we got you back from Heru'ur," Jack shot back; the chips and the TV show forgotten.

"Indeed you did not," he agreed. "I was able to use kelnoreem to attain peace with my memories."

"And what? I meditate and everything will be fine?"

Teal'c shrugged. "That is unlikely. But as long as you struggle to deny the memories, they will have power over you."

Abandoning his chips, Jack sat back in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest knowing that if it came down to a stand off…he didn't stand a chance.

The trilling of a cell phone shattered the tense atmosphere and Jack jumped at the chance, leaving the phone to Teal'c, he got out of the chair and made his way back to the small bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

He splashed water on his face, unconsciously catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Shadowed brown eyes met his gaze, eyes that, if they really were the window to the soul, spoke of a soul in the middle of a major upset.

He ran his hand over his chin, frowning as he realized that his beard was now more grizzled than brown. Short silvery stubs that matched the silver at his temples.  Salt and pepper people called it, well he was definitely headed more towards the salt part, drying up rather than providing a little zest.

Idly he wondered if he should just take the hint, bail out and settle into retirement. He knew Hammond would understand, so would what was left of his team, eventually.

Teal'c would understand, the man had buried enough friends over the years to respect Jack's wish to stop, to stop losing his people.

And Carter…hell, Carter was ready to step up and start leading her own team, had been for about a year now. He'd just been holding back, holding her back, his own need to watch over and protect hampering her career, and maybe even her life.

Maybe his own private alien invasion was a sign, a kick in the ass from some higher being that it was time for him to move on and leave the world to those better able to handle it.

"O'Neill?" Teal'c knocked on the door.

"Occupied," Jack said, rolling his eyes.

"You must cease your ablutions immediately," Teal'c ordered.

"Ya gotta go that bad, go outside," Jack growled. "No one's around here to see anything."

"We must depart, O'Neill. We have been recalled to the SGC."

"I'm on leave," Jack protested.

"Major Carter is ill," Teal'c said, those four words snapping through Jack's ill temper like a hot knife through butter.

"What?" he demanded, pulling the door open.

"Doctor Fraiser did not impart details," Teal's said. "She merely informed me that Major Carter is extremely ill and advised that we need to return to the SGC immediately."

"Gimme fifteen minutes," he said, pushing past the Jaffa towards his bedroom.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Teal'c led the way into the infirmary, barely able to keep ahead of the man walking with him.  He was sure they had violated many of the laws governing transportation on their flight back to the SGC. O'Neill had been exceptionally tense, the worry for their teammate a nearly palpable force.

He did not know what could be wrong with their friend, she had seemed healthy enough the last time he had seen her.

"Doc?" O'Neill said, spying the petite woman. "How is she?"

Doctor Fraiser turned, walking away from the bed containing the object of their concern. She was lying still and pale, obviously unconscious. "In my office, please, Colonel, Teal'c," she requested.

She led them into her office and closed the door. "Doc?" O'Neill requested the second the door was closed.

Fraiser sighed. "Yesterday morning Sam called me, or I should say she dialed the phone. When she didn't say anything, I went over to her house and found her unconscious on the floor. We got her back here."

"What the hell's wrong with her?" O'Neill demanded.

"I think it's complications from the symbiote."

"Symbiote? I thought she was over Jolinar years ago."

Fraiser shook her head. "Not Jolinar, the Steveston goa'uld," she answered.

"Excuse me?" O'Neill demanded looking to Teal'c for an explanation. "Carter got a second snake?"

"While you were ill, we were sent on a mission to Steveston, Oregon to investigate the disappearance of a doctor who called Major Carter, seeking her assistance. During the course of that investigation, Major Carter came to be infested by a goa'uld clone of the symbiote possessing Adrian Conrad. Fortunately she had injected herself with a substance that killed the symbiote within moments of the blending," Teal'c reported.

"I think that's why Sam is so sick," Fraiser said. She took in O'Neill's confused look and smiled a bit. "When a symbiote blends with a host, it subverts the host's immune system; actually it's rather similar to how a woman's body reacts to a fetus in the beginnings of pregnancy. Since Sam was only blended for a matter of minutes, the symbiote didn't have time to do anything with her immune system."

O'Neill scrubbed his face with his hand, obviously attempting to reconcile what he'd just been told. Teal'c knew that O'Neill had not been briefed on any of the recent events of the SGC, the general consensus being that he needed to concentrate on himself before dealing with past events. "So what's making her sick?"

"Instead of absorbing the symbiote like she did with Jolinar, she's rejecting it," Fraiser said.

"Then take it out," O'Neill said.

Fraiser shook her head. "It's not that simple, colonel. Sam has a lot of scar tissue from Jolinar. It's bad enough that we were concerned about it impacting her neurological functions at the time. It didn't do that, but there is enough to hamper any attempt at surgery. Plus there's the added complication of the symbiote's blood."

"Symbiote blood is poisonous to humans," Teal'c said.

Fraiser nodded. "Right. When a host absorbs the symbiote, the body metabolizes the blood and neutralizes the poison.  Sam's body isn't doing that." Doctor Fraiser looked up, hugging the chart to her chest. "She's in critical condition, Colonel and she hasn't regained consciousness since we brought her in yesterday."

"So, what are you going to do?"

Fraiser shook her head. "There's nothing I CAN do, sir. Surgery will most likely kill her and the antibiotics I've been giving her seem to have no effect." She looked the two of them in the eyes. "She's dying," she declared.

"Can the Tok'ra not aid Major Carter?"

"We haven't heard from the Tok'ra since they brought Colonel O'Neill through the gate," Fraiser said. "They told us they were moving on and wouldn't tell us where. We've sent messages but haven't heard anything."

"What do we do now?" O'Neill demanded.

"We wait, sir. All we can do is wait."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack sat in the hard plastic chair, the agonizingly regular beep of the machine cold comfort. His second in command was hooked up to an ungodly number of machines, the most telling of which being the one that monitored her heartbeat and respiration.

The doctor had been in once, checking the dressing on the back of Sam's neck. Her body was trying to rid itself of the infection and an abscess had formed around the symbiote's body. An abscess the doctor attempted to drain to relieve pressure on and around Sam's spinal cord.

"Colonel," he heard Fraiser say as she stepped into the room. She moved past him to the other side of the bed, picking up Sam's slack wrist.

"It's slowing down," he said, nodding towards the monitor. In the last few hours he had watched the numbers representing Sam's heartbeat and respiration slowly decrease.

"I know," she answered. "The poison and infection is slowly shutting down her body."

"So what next?"

"Her O2 Sats are starting to drop now so we'll be putting her on oxygen soon. If we don't then we risk brain damage."

"And?" Jack prodded.

Janet sighed. "No extraordinary means, sir," she said softly. "As long as the EEG shows some activity, I can do what I can to help her but…as close as the infection is to her brain stem…" She shook her head slightly. "I would guess she has about twelve hours before the autonomic portions of her brain are affected."

Jack nodded, accepting the woman's pronouncement of his friend's impending death. She turned; ready to give him some privacy. "I swear to God, Doc, I don't remember," he said softly, the words escaping before he could stop them.

"Colonel?" she turned back, coming to stand by him.

He looked up to her. "It's all a blur. I…I remember a plane and Carter asking me about…" He broke off, taking a shuddering breath and scratching his head.

Fraiser laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You were very sick, sir. Having memory lapses are common."

He shook his head and closed his eyes. "After," he said. "When I was….with Ba'al I…I don't know if what I remembered really happened or…some of it did but some of it…" He opened his eyes and looked at her. "I just don't know," he said.

"It's ok," she said, squeezing his shoulder. "Considering what happened, not remembering might be a blessing," she said softly.

Jack shot to his feet, riding a sudden surge of anger, forcing Janet to take a quick step back. "You don't get it, Doc," he said. "I might know. Kanan might have known where they'd go next. But I can't…." He broke off, breathing heavily.

"And you might not know," she said, nonplussed by his outburst. "Colonel, what Kanan did…even the Tok'ra say it was less of a blending and more of a possession. You already told us that he took you to Ba'al's fortress, against your will. How do you know that he didn't block your memories of the whole thing?"

"I don't," Jack said. "But I'm going to find out," he declared, striding from the room.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"O'Neill, are you certain you wish to do this?" Teal'c asked.

He nodded. "I did it before," the human said, frowning a bit as he struggled to sit cross-legged on the floor.

"Indeed. However, the circumstances then were different than they are now."

O'Neill looked at him, his face uncertain but resigned. "Look, all I need to do is see if I can remember where the Tok'ra were going next. A name, an address…something to push us in the right direction."

"It is possible that Kanan had no knowledge," Teal'c felt obliged to say.

"And it's just as possible that he picked their next planet," O'Neill shot back. "I gotta try."

"As you wish," Teal'c said. "Close your eyes," he instructed. O'Neill followed his orders. "You must control your breathing. Feel the air coming into and then out of your lungs. See your blood carrying the air to the farthest reaches of your body," he said, his voice soft and low.

He watched O'Neill's face and body relax, the man's exhaustion from the past few weeks aiding him into a stuporous state. He sat in silence for several minutes until he saw the even breathing that hinted at O'Neill being just on the edge of sleep, his body relaxed, his barriers lowered.

"Do you remember being ill?"

O'Neill nodded. "Hot," he muttered, sweat breaking out on his face. "Cold," he breathed, his body shivering.

"You went to the Tok'ra. You took Kanan to host." O'Neill's head jerked, a spasm of pain crossing his face. "This was in the past, and the past has no hold over you," Teal'c reassured.

O'Neill's hand clutched towards his throat and he gagged. "It…in me…controlling me. I…no, I don't want to…get out. Go away and leave me alone. I don't…get the hell out of my head!" His voice rose and his breathing quickened.

"It is the past," Teal'c said loudly. "And the past cannot harm you."

O'Neill shook his head. "No, it…"

"It is but a specter and you do not believe in ghosts."

The man's breathing calmed. "Ghost," he muttered.

"Yes. A ghost, as ethereal as the mists, lacking substance. It cannot harm you." He waited until the human's body again relaxed. "What do you see?"

"Walls…blue walls. Voices. Muted footsteps. I can hear them…I can feel them, they…my skin crawls like I'm under a live wire. They're all around, but they avoid me. They're afraid of me, don't like me. They know I won't keep Kanan and they're angry that I'll let him die."

"Does Kanan speak to you?"

O'Neill nodded. "Sometimes. He grieves. He loved his host. He…She's all he has left."

"Who?"

"Shallan. That's why he had to go back. She was all he had. She was…he loved her. He...Ba'al knew. Ba'al used them both.  She was to seduce Kanan, get his secrets. But, instead she warned him. She betrayed her god and Kanan left her behind. He abandoned her." O'Neill frowned distastefully. "He was a coward. He sacrificed her to save his own skin. He left her behind."

"And you went back for her?" Teal'c said.

O'Neill nodded. "Couldn't let her die." His back arched and he slumped forward, his hands digging at the floor. "God," he groaned. O'Neill rolled to his back, his chest heaving.

"O'Neill?"

"Hurts," he gasped.

"The pain is in the past, it is not here." O'Neill's hand dug at his chest and Teal'c reached out, taking it in his own. "You escaped," he prodded. O'Neill nodded. "Fire. The trees were on fire. It was raining fire."

"You and Shallan sought refuge with the Tok'ra."

"Surprise," O'Neill whispered. "They thought we were dead. They were running. Like roaches run from the light."

"They were evacuating the planet for fear you had betrayed them."

"Chaos. They had no time for us. Didn't care about…I was supposed to be dead. Would have been easier had I been dead. They could have denied what he did."

"They sent you to the SGC."

"I was a reminder. Proof that they were no better than the goa'uld," he said, his voice flat with disappointment.

"Their evacuation. Did you hear where they went?" Teal'c asked.

O'Neill was silent for so long that Teal'c feared that he had succumbed and lost consciousness. "They thought I was asleep," he finally whispered. "Talked about the Tau'ri…were afraid I was a spy. One of them wanted to kill me, make sure I kept my secrets. But they were also afraid that the SGC would find out that I'd make it out alive. They couldn't find a way to cover up my death. Thoran stopped them." He sat up, his eyes shooting open, startling Teal'c who reared back.

"O'Neill?"

"Pesra," he gasped, his gaze seeking Teal'c's. "They were going to Pesra."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Janet carefully adjusted the oxygen mask over Sam's face, sighing when she saw the numbers on the monitor creep back towards a more manageable level. Her friend's respirations had been sinking into dangerous levels, her O2 Sats becoming an object of concern.

Realistically, Janet knew that she was just prolonging the inevitable. Sam's condition was deteriorating right before her eyes, a fever now complicating things further.

"Doc?" She turned to see Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c hurry into the room. "We got it," he said.

"Sir?"

"I know where they went. We're going to get Hammond to authorize a mission." She looked at his pale face, lit with enthusiasm and a purpose for the first time in weeks.

"How's she doing?" he asked, frowning.

"Still holding her own," Janet answered.

"We'll be back as soon as we can," he said. "Keep her alive for us, Doc," he said, his eyes pleading.

"We'll be waiting for you, sir," Janet answered, her eyes making a silent pledge. "Both of us."

O'Neill nodded, then turned on his heel, swiftly making his way from the room. Janet turned back to her patient, taking a moment to lean over her, one hand absently stroking her hair. "You heat that, Sam. You gotta hang on until they get back."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Slow rhythmic beeping pulled Sam from the black depths of her mind. Recognizing the smells she struggled to open her eyes, groaning out loud as she tried to turn her head. She gasped, the shaft of pain almost driving her back into unconsciousness.

"Major Carter." A warm hand settled on her shoulder. "It would be best if you did not move."

Listening to her teammate, she settled for trying to open her eyes, squinting against the light. "Teal'c. What…"

"You have been ill," he said. "But you shall recover."

Sam closed her eyes, trying to remember. She remembered not feeling well. Going home early a couple of days after Teal'c and the colonel left, a persistent nagging feeling and a crick in her neck forcing her to call it  a day earlier than she was used to.

It'd gotten worse during the night, the pain in her neck undaunted even by the strongest painkillers she could find. She remembered desperately waiting for the morning to come so she could call Janet…and realizing that she shouldn't have waited. "Tired," she finally said, trusting his word that she was going to be ok.

"Then sleep," he said.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack leaned back from the telescope, rolling his shoulders to relieve the stiffness there. It was a beautiful Colorado evening, the sun finally fading enough that the stars were becoming visible, dotting the sapphire sky.

He turned on his laptop, checking the coordinates from the files pilfered from the SGC. The program had been Carter's present last Christmas, full 3D star charts based on their missions and information gathered over the last six years.

She once joked that what they did was like time travel. That they visited planets and stood under the light of an alien star, only to go home and witness light from that same star, but light that had been shone hundreds, even thousands, of years before.

He looked at his computer screen and sighed, grateful that the program hadn't joined the long list of 'final gifts' he'd gathered over the years. Trinkets and mementos he'd received from dear friends and comrades now dead and buried.

Fortunately, Carter wasn't going to be joining that list anytime soon. They'd been able to get a cure from the Tok'ra, a substance that had boosted her immune system while at the same time neutralizing the symbiote's body, rendering it harmless.

It was going to be a couple of weeks before she got her strength back, but it really didn't matter…she was still alive.

"Anybody home?" a feminine voice called out.

Frowning, Jack levered out of his chair, craning his neck to look over the railing. "Carter? What the hell are you doing here?"

"Glad to see you too," she quipped, climbing up the ladder. She slowly made her way up to him. "Whew," she gasped, plopping down at the top of the ladder. "Did your house get taller?"

"Aren't you supposed to be in the infirmary for a few more days?"

She grinned slightly. "Sorta…until SG-6 and 10 came back, all with a case of alien poison ivy. Janet needed the bed," she finished with a shrug.

He shot her a skeptical look. "I somehow doubt her 'go home and get some rest' included a side trip," he said, guessing what the doctor's instructions had been.

She shrugged. "What she doesn't know…" She got up and moved over to perch on the arm of his chair. "Nice night for stargazing."

"You come all the way over here to talk about the weather?" he asked, leaning over to look through the eye piece.

"I came to say thank you," she said softly.

"What for?"

"I think you know."

"You'd be surprised at all I don't know," he quipped.

"Teal'c told me," she said, cutting the banter short. He abandoned his pretense of looking at the stars and turned his head, looking at her. "He said you remembered where the Tok'ra were going. That you made yourself remember."

"It's no big deal."

"Yes, sir, it is," she insisted, laying her hand on his shoulder. "You didn't have to. No one would have blamed you for not wanting to remember all of…that."

"If that's what you think then you need to get back to the infirmary," Jack said.

"Colonel?"

"There's no way in hell I could just sit back and let someone die because I was afraid of a few bad memories," he said.

"Bad memories you wouldn't have if it wasn't for me," she said softly. "I'm sorry, Colonel. I…"

"Stop," he interrupted her. "I knew what I was doing."

"Taking a Tok'ra, yes, but not…"

"It's a calculated risk every time we step through that gate," he interrupted again. "Normally we do pretty good beating the odds, this time we didn't." He put his hand over hers, pausing until she looked him in the eyes. "It was not your fault," he said.

"Colonel…"

"Carter, did you blame me when Jolinar hitch hiked a ride?"

"Sir, that was different."

"No. It wasn't. You had that thing in your head and if it hadn't have freaked out and panicked, we never would have known. Chances are if we'd have gone on the mission, Jolinar would have done to you what Kanan did to me." She stayed silent, unable to argue with his logic. "You took survival training, didn't you?" She nodded. "What's rule number one?"

"To survive," she said softly.

"That's what I did. I just needed a kick in the ass to remind me." He held onto her hand until she nodded, silently signaling her acceptance of his absolution.

"You actually use it?" she said.

"What?" Jack asked, the sudden shift of topic throwing him a bit.

"The program," she said, pointing at the laptop. "I didn't think you'd actually use it."

"Are you kidding me? This is much better than the last one I had."

"Show me," she said, scooting over to look through the telescope.

"What?"

"I just wrote it, I never used it. Show me how it works," she requested.

He shrugged, reaching around her to punch in a few keys on the laptop. Reading the coordinates, he adjusted the telescope, motioning for her to take a look.

She peered through the lens. "What is it?"

"That's the star Vorash was orbiting."

She turned to look at him. "Vorash?"

"I figure there's gonna be one hell of  a light show from there in, what, thirty years or so?" he said, referring to the star that hey knew didn't exist any longer, the star she'd exploded in an effort to kill Apophis.

"It's more like thirty three light years," she said with a small smile.

"I'll write it on my calendar," he drawled. "Maybe we'll have a party or something."

"You know, it probably won't be anything spectacular," she said. "Not this far away. It might just be a little…poof."

"A poof?"

"Little," she said, holding her fingers out in a pinching motion. "Poof."

"You know, it's not the size of the poof but the skill of the poofer," he quipped, making her laugh. "Ok, fine. If that one's not interesting, how about this one," he said, adjusting the telescope, enjoying instead of resenting, the company.

He felt the tensions and uncertainty of the past few weeks fade, replaced by the simple comfort of comradeship and friendship, the faint light of far away stars banishing the shadows and illuminating the path to peace.

Fin