A/N: This chapter has been edited - but only the Daniel scene entitled "No Safety" has been changed. I've been working on the sequel, "Letting Go" and this way of looking at the beginning of the Daniel/Osiris confrontation just works better with the rest of the story. Thanks!
Holding My Breath Chapter 16
Summit – The Symbiote Survives – Extended Scene
The first thing she noticed was the cold. The cold of the metal floor that seeped through the tough fabric of her pants, the cold air that brushed across her face and hands carrying smells of scorched flesh and the gritty feel of pulverized metal and rock, but, more importantly, the feel of cooling skin where her cheek lay against Major Mansfield's forehead. Sam opened her eyes and levered her torso up, away from where she'd thrown herself across the injured man's upper body, trying to save him from the impact of the collapsing Tok'ra tunnel. She felt the sting of new cuts on her cheek as she turned her head to take in the utter destruction of the lab. It was hard to breathe, hard to think.
Against her will her gaze slowly slid the length of Mansfield's body and she saw the heavy beam that had fallen across the major's legs and pelvis, crushing bone. She felt the burning in her lungs, blaming it on the amount of airborne grit and smoke she'd inhaled while she laid there unconscious, not on the lifeless face and silenced pulse of the commander of the brand new SG-17. Sam reached within the man's shirt and pulled out his tags, tugging on the chain until it released the slim pieces of metal into her shaking hand. Her fingers closed around them and she felt the raised letters and numbers, a short definition of his life in her hand. Sam folded the dog-tags into a pocket on her vest, pushed to her knees, and grabbed her weapon before limping her way across the room to the last place she'd seen Ren'Al.
Only the upper half of the woman could be seen beneath the mound of rubble. Sam knelt next to the dead Tok'ra and gently rolled her onto her back, taking a moment to study Ren'Al's serene face in the dim light. She'd also been a warrior, and for far longer than Mansfield and herself put together. Gritting her teeth against the pull and ache of her sore muscles, Sam reached into the Tok'ra's tunic and slid out the smooth, unharmed memory crystal the scientist had secreted there, knowing that the formula for the poison that was encoded on it would be just as important to any Tok'ra survivors as Mansfield's dog-tags were to his family.
Clamping her teeth together, Sam glanced around the room, noticing that a spray of light filtering through a breach in the tunnel to her left illuminated Lt. Elliot's unconscious face. No, not Elliot, she groaned to herself. His first mission – she could still see how excited he was in the 'gate room that morning. She climbed over the rubble, her limbs heavy with exhaustion and dread. She crouched there, unwilling to touch him, to find out if the young man had survived.
"Lieutenant?" she whispered.
The young airman's eyes snapped open – and glowed.
"Oh my God." Sam sat back on her heels. There was a Tok'ra symbiote inside Elliot. Ren'Al's? Did hers abandon its host when she was mortally wounded? Another thought sent goose bumps creeping along her skin and she turned quickly, feeling almost as if someone was standing right behind her. The symbiote tank was dark and empty, the glass broken into pieces. "Lantash."
The voice that barely groaned from the young airman's mouth had the familiar echoing tones of human/symbiote blending. "I had no choice."
Sam held onto her dread with both hands. "Elliot?"
"I'm afraid his injuries are severe. There is serious internal damage. It's going to take all my strength just to keep him alive." His mouth hung open, his chest rising and falling quickly as he struggled for each breath. "He'll have to speak for both of us." Eyes fluttered closed for too long a moment.
Sam's eyes widened in sympathy. One remaining member of SG-17. One. Even with all of the training, all of the briefings on past missions, on catastrophes both personal and global barely averted, how could the young airman have dreamed that he'd be facing crippling injuries and the invasion of his body by a parasitical alien his first time through the 'gate? She reached out and placed her hand gently on his cheek, thumb stroking slowly but firmly.
When the same eyes opened a moment later, Sam saw the change, saw the rapidly escalating panic. "Major?"
She set her teeth and made her face into a mask of encouragement and confidence. "Elliot. It's going to be okay."
"If you say so," he whimpered, his gaze flicking back and forth, his body shivering with reaction.
Sam kept the connection, continuing to brush her fingers against his cold cheek, trying to ground the frightened young man. "Believe me, I know. The symbiote's trying to heal you."
"Okay." Elliot swallowed hard and nodded, but stark terror shone in his eyes.
"Okay." Carter tried a quick smile, but remembering the soul-deep violation that thundered through her body when Jolinar pushed her way into the back of her throat she knew it was not enough. Elliot was on the verge of shock, both mentally and physically. She had to do something to help him get a handle on this before his reaction pushed him over the edge. "I know it doesn't feel okay, I know it's the scariest feeling in the world," she added, "but you're hurt, and you need to try to find a way to be okay with this, just for right now." She held his gaze, trying to will some calmness into him. "We're in trouble here, Elliot, and we're going to need you and Lantash, the symbiote inside you, if we're going to have a hope of getting out of this."
She watched the muscles in the airman's face tighten as he focused inward. "Lantash," he muttered. His wide eyes glazed over and his breathing deepened, the withdrawn expression that settled over him familiar. The silent dialogue between host and symbiote was so personal, so intimate, that there was no way to accurately describe it to someone who had never experienced the blending. Sam waited patiently, realizing that her words of comfort would do little to ease Elliot's fear compared with Lantash's more immediate explanation. Her fingers lingered along the pulse in the airman's neck, feeling it strengthen and slow as the unvoiced communication continued and she sighed, letting some of her own tension go.
"He's –" Elliot tried to wet his dry lips with an even dryer tongue and Sam hurriedly groped for her canteen and let a few drops fall into his mouth. "He's hurt, too," he finally finished. "He says he's sorry, sorry that I'm so afraid of him, sorry that he isn't able to heal me quickly." The light eyes brightened and stared a question at the woman crouching over him. "Major - he seems so sad."
Sam felt the tears gather, but blinked them away rapidly. Lantash had lost so much – his mate, his host – so many others over the long span of his life. This was the reason she was still drawn to the Tok'ra, why she could listen when Col. O'Neill turned a deaf ear, instantly suspicious of even the most harmless contact. Even with all the plotting, the second-class citizen status of unblended humans, the emphasis on preserving the symbiotes at all cost, Lantash felt Elliot's distress and worried about the human's reaction to his presence. He could – and would - suppress the highly evolved drive to survive, to find and take a host; if and when Elliot was healed at the symbiote's expense, Lantash would give the human the final say and leave an unwilling host, even if it meant sentencing himself to death.
"He just wants to help you, lieutenant," she assured him.
Elliot nodded. "I guess I get that – a little."
Sam's smile was much warmer now. "Think you can let me check you over?" At his second nod she shifted the rubble away from the airman's body, struggling to lift the larger pieces to avoid further injury. She rested a moment to take a mouthful of water and to let another few sips dribble past Elliot's lips before concentrating on his injuries. His arms and legs were whole, no breaks there, but his breath caught when her hands ran down over his chest and abdomen and she felt the warmth and distension there even through his uniform. Carefully brushing her fingers over his skull she kept her face still as the area just behind his left temple moved inward under her gentle touch. Abdominal bleeding. Skull fracture. Possible cerebral hemorrhage. Lantash must be suppressing the pain somehow.
"Carter, report." Her radio crackled, dust choking off the colonel's voice.
Sam brushed one hand through Elliot's hair in silent support before reaching for her left shoulder. "Carter here. Lt. Elliot and I are still in the lab. Sir, there's been extensive tunnel damage in our area."
"Roger that." O'Neill's voice was hushed. "See if you can make your way towards the secondary ring room. We'll meet up on the way."
Sam's gaze lingered on the injured man lying motionless at her feet, wondering how far he would make it.
"I'll make it, Major." Elliot read the momentary hesitation in her response correctly. He shifted his weight onto his hip and curled his legs beneath him, ready to try.
"Understood, sir," Sam acknowledged, releasing the button on her radio abruptly as Elliot's head sagged forward onto his chest. She positioned herself next to him and quickly drew one arm over her shoulders. "Ready?" she asked, putting every ounce of confidence in her voice.
"Yeah," Elliot sighed, trying to take some of his own weight as Carter all but dragged him upright.
Sam held tightly to Elliot's belt with her left hand and clutched his wrist with her right, taking a few hesitant steps towards the tunnel that led south from the ruined lab. Their shuffling progress led them past Major Mansfield's battered body and Sam knew the moment Elliot noticed his commander lying amid the rubble. She paused.
The young man's words would have been inaudible if she had not been so close. "I guess Col. O'Neill was wrong about 'no action.'"
She waited until Elliot made a first hesitant movement away from the body, then strengthened her grip and moved on.
By the time she caught sight of the colonel and Teal'c in the distance, Carter's back and arms were cramping from her tight hold on the injured man.
She caught her breath as Teal'c hurried to Elliot's side, sliding one large hand around the airman's upper arm and relieving her of some of his weight. "The ceiling in the lab collapsed, sir, Ren'Al and Major Mansfield are dead," she reported, the words tumbling over each other as she tried to hurry through the awful truth.
"As is Aldwin," Teal'c added quickly.
"Elliot's in rough shape, there's a Tok'ra symbiote inside him."
The colonel looked stunned, his dark eyes snapping to Elliot's pale young face. "What?"
"It feels very weird, sir." Close to unconsciousness, Elliot's head seemed to dangle on his neck.
Something was going on behind the colonel's eyes – he couldn't seem to tear them away from the young airman's battered body, but Sam didn't have the strength to question it. "Lantash." Carter bit down on her weariness, fighting for the emotional control that her military training had instilled in her. She needed it to survive, so that she could utilize her skills to help get her team out of this. "He's keeping him alive."
She could see the same fight for control on her CO's face – a mixture of anger and loss momentarily overwhelming his usual under-fire discipline, but a burst of staff weapon fire suddenly sounded too close and the four froze. The colonel dragged his gaze away from Elliot's face reluctantly. "Let's take our chances on the surface," he snapped and turned to lead his team back down the tunnel to the exit. Sam took a deep breath and followed, afraid to hope that their struggle was almost over.
Summit – No Safety
Daniel stopped and pressed his back against the wall of the corridor, working to settle his nerves, trying to still the shivering that had begun as the adrenaline drained from his system with each step he took away from Lord Yu and the horrible scene he'd just escaped, leaving him light-headed with the sudden and violent urge to heave up everything in his stomach. He shook his head back and forth relentlessly, hoping somehow the movement would shake his thoughts into some kind of order.
What was he doing?
He checked the hallway and then resumed his journey to Yu's quarters, only managing to slow his steps slightly from his previous head-long flight. Yu had almost- Daniel pushed the mental image firmly to the back of his mind. The Goa'uld had been angry, angry enough to force Daniel to serve him there in the council chamber before Ba'al called him away. At least the other System Lords and their lo'taurs were too busy, Daniel shuddered, to be prowling the corridors, so he'd have a few minutes to think, to regroup. And to communicate with Jacob.
Jacob was going to be pissed. Daniel's orders were to use the poison as soon as the surprise guest arrived within the council chamber – and he'd been ready to, he'd psyched himself up to play the assassin, to start the Tok'ra down their intended path of mass murder as the symbiote poison was released to destroy Goa'uld, host, and Jaffa alike throughout the galaxy. No one cared if thousands died, tens of thousands even, and Daniel had the capsule in his hand, his finger poised above the trigger to begin the slaughter. He'd be the only one to witness the death throes of the victims.
But one familiar voice, one human face had changed everything.
Imagining the deaths of thousands of faceless Jaffa had been enough to cause deep wounds to Daniel's conscience, a conscience that had once been spoken of with respect and high esteem within the halls of the SGC. Those days were far behind him. He clenched his teeth and swerved his thinking away from those deep ruts he'd worn in his psyche and back towards his lack of action just a few moments ago. No, even the thought of trying to explain the indiscriminate killing of Jaffa to his warrior brother had not stopped his hand, so why had the human shell of one one-time lover?
The door to Yu's quarters ground down behind him, and Daniel knew he couldn't put it off any longer. He paced, allowing his nervous energy a release now that he was behind closed doors. His gaze roved over the lush furnishings of the room but saw nothing, and he raised the Tok'ra communicator. "Jacob," he snapped.
"What's the delay? They should all be there by now."
It must all seem so simple from the deck of the cloaked tel'tac. "Yeah, we've got a full house, but…" he struggled for the right words, "there's been a complication."
"Daniel?" Jacob's one word demanded an explanation.
He sighed. "Sarah's here."
After a second's pause, Jacob seemed to have put it all together. "Sarah? You mean Osiris."
Daniel grimaced. Yes, Osiris, the Goa'uld who had been cast into oblivion by his brother, Seth, was an unexpected guest at the summit of the System Lords. But he had dragged along an unwilling human, Sarah Gardner, and she was more surely an innocent captive of the Goa'uld than anyone residing in a cell or on a slave planet out there in the galaxy.
"Did she recognize you?"
Facing into Yu's quarters, Daniel felt the tension in every muscle and swallowed past the soreness of his throat where Yu had grabbed him. He understood the consequences of his choice, he'd been going through the 'gate for five years now and yet many still viewed him as the same long-haired, wide-eyed innocent who didn't realize he was married until Sha're took him to bed. Yes, he was out of his depth here, but they were the ones who'd thrown him into the water. "I don't know," he stated honestly. "I think so, but she didn't tip her hand and I don't know why," he admitted.
The grating sound of the large door rising spun Daniel on his heels. Dammit! Was Yu coming to finish what he'd started in the council chamber? No, of course not, he nodded to himself. He just wasn't that lucky. It was her: Osiris – Sarah – he hid the communicator behind his back, but he'd never felt more completely exposed standing there dressed in the thin disguise of Yu's slave. It was almost as if he stood naked before her, the feral smile of a predator turning Sarah's face into something less than human.
"Daniel Jackson," Osiris purred in that thick double rasp. "You're rather a long way from home, aren't you?"
The Tok'ra, the SGC, Hammond, Jack, they'd sent him here as the hunter, armed with only his hard-won understanding of the Goa'uld and a weapon that might be a preemptive strike in a centuries old conflict. But all the scheming of the Tok'ra or the political posturing of Earth's government still left Daniel alone against the vicious Goa'uld who'd beaten Steven nearly to death and would have gladly murdered him with his ribbon device, and was now wearing the brilliant woman he once loved like a costume. And here, alone with her, Daniel was the prey.
Summit – Hopes Collapse
The three made halting progress along the Tok'ra tunnels, retracing Teal'c and the colonel's steps towards the rings and escape to the surface. Elliot sagged between Carter and the Jaffa, hardly able to shuffle one foot in front of the other. Another tremor hit and O'Neill let the others go ahead, moving towards the rear to make sure no Jaffa were on their tail. The blast that ripped through the air almost directly over their heads surprised them all, and they watched helplessly as the roof of the tunnel shook loose, dropping huge chunks of rock and crystal directly in their path. Teal'c shifted towards Major Carter, attempting to shield her and the injured man between them from any stray debris. When the smoke cleared he leaned Elliot's body to lie securely within Sam's hold and moved forward, his eyes slitted against the dust that hung in the air. When he turned back, his expression was grim.
"The tunnel is blocked," he stated simply.
Sam clutched tightly at Elliot's body. "Does Lantash know if there's another way to the secondary ring room?"
"There isn't," the airman whispered.
Teal'c stood solidly amidst the rubble. "Then indeed we are trapped."
End – to be continued in Letting Go which will deal with the events during and after Last Stand.