Chapter 15

"I gave up," Sam said so softly that Jacob, even with his symbiote-enhanced senses, could barely hear her. She sat in the corner of the couch with her arms wrapped around her and her knees pulled up almost to her chest, looking more vulnerable than he'd seen her since she was a very little girl. He ached to see it. He leaned toward her, trying to get her to make eye contact with him, but she dipped her head and said, "I let the team down."

Jacob sighed internally. His brilliant, beautiful, stubborn daughter was always so hard on herself, even now, even after what she had gone through. "No one thinks that," he said.

Sam dipped her head even lower. "Colonel O'Neill does."

Jacob knew nothing could be farther from the truth. "Of course he doesn't, Sammy. He told me if you hadn't kept on them about finding a solution in Daniel's notes, Daniel might still be on that planet."

Sam shook her head. "That was only after he told me how selfish I was being, when I refused to take another dose of the poison. And he was right. I wasn't thinking of Daniel or anybody else. . . . I just wanted . . . ."

The anger that flared up in Jacob's chest took even him by surprise. The thought that anyone, never mind Jack O'Neill, would berate his daughter as she was being tortured was almost more than he could bear. "He what?" he said, interrupting her. "He said. . . .?"

Selmak's wry, internal smile stopped him midsentence. "How the hell is this funny?" he shot out silently, turning his anger from O'Neill to his symbiote. "How is there anything even close to funny here?"

"I'm sorry, Jacob. I know I promised to stay quiet, but you are an old soldier: You must know what O'Neill was doing."

"Yes, dammit, I do. He was. . . ." And suddenly Jacob did know, and he was tempted to slap himself in the head.

He heard his daughter sigh. "Do you want me to leave you two alone?" she said tiredly.

Jacob winced and looked up guiltily. She'd apologized to Selmak as she said it, but she had asked to have just her dad here with her tonight, or to at least be able to pretend she did. That she had even asked, letting go of the soldier in her long enough to get it out, was more than enough evidence to Jacob of how wounded she was, how deeply shaken by her ordeal.

"I'm sorry, honey. . . ."

"It's all right, Dad," his daughter said. Then she was unwrapping her legs and standing up. "I'll just. . . ."

"No, wait, Sammy. Wait. You tell me. You're an officer. What do you do when a soldier in the field falls in exhaustion with the enemy on your tail? Do you sit down with him, have a little chat and tell him you understand?"

Sam, who had turned to walk away, stopped and looked back at him tiredly, and with some exasperation at the apparent non sequitur. But she answered anyway. "No, of course not. I pull him up and scream at him to get moving. I. . . ."

Jacob saw the light bulb go on behind her eyes before she stopped talking. She stepped backwards to the couch and sat down slowly.

"Oh," she said simply, then again, "Oh." She put her head in her hands and didn't say anything else.

"He just needed you to fight, Sam, that's all."

She nodded her head, still not looking up. "He must think I'm an idiot," came her muffled voice.

Jacob couldn't help but smile a little at that, the same way he always did when his little girl called herself or her ideas stupid, as she had so recently in the briefing room. He shushed Selmak's parallel thoughts and said only, "Sure he does, Sam. Jack O'Neill thinks Sam Carter is an idiot," purposely invoking the undignified, entirely-inappropriate-for-an-Air-Force-officer "dumb" game O'Neill was always playing.

It must have worked, because he saw his daughter's shoulders jerk, and he heard her snort into her hands. She looked up at him with a grateful smile on her face, and Jacob thought for the first time that maybe, just maybe she would be all right. "O.K.," she admitted, "maybe he doesn't think I'm an idiot. It's just that. . . ." Her smile faded and she slumped back in the couch.

Jacob winced as he saw the weight of the world again seem to settle on his daughter's shoulders.

"What, honey? It's just what?"

"It's just that. . . ." she repeated, then shook her head and grimaced, and he knew she was trying not to cry.

"Sam?"

Speaking again so quietly that he almost couldn't hear her, she got out, "It's just that . . . I always thought I was stronger than that."

Jacob shook his head. "No one is stronger than that, Sam," he said.

The tears welled in her eyes again, and this time she let them fall freely. "Daniel is," she said, not with envy or jealousy but only with sorrow that her friend's strength could have caused him to suffer so much.

Jacob pictured Daniel in the dirt on Polistia, reaching his hand out beseechingly toward the MALP camera. "Maybe," he said, sighing and sharing her sorrow. "Maybe."

But he didn't think so.

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Jack glanced over his shoulder as Daniel walked into the kitchen, his hair still wet from his hour-long shower. Jack turned back toward the chicken soup he was stirring with studied nonchalance, pretending that he hadn't just run from outside the bathroom door when he heard the water finally turn off, that he hadn't been checking on his friend every five minutes for the last half hour.

"Hungry?" he asked.

"What?"

"Hungry?" Jack repeated, gesturing toward the pot.

"Not really. My stomach's still a little. . . ." Jack still wasn't looking, but he knew Daniel was moving his hand in a "so-so" gesture.

"I'll give you some anyway, or the doc will have my head."

"Yeah, sure, whatever."

"Great," Jack said, as if his friend had just enthusiastically accepted. He looked back at Daniel again. "What do you want to drink? I don't have much. . . ."

"Water's fine."

"That's it?"

"Yeah."

"At least you picked something I'm not going to run out of," Jack said, reaching for a glass, but rather than smile, Daniel flinched. It took Jack a moment to connect the dots, but when he did, he mentally kicked himself. Among the litany of the injuries and ailments Janet had mentioned, "dangerously dehydrated" was at the top of her list. Dehydration was one of the side-effects of the poison—they knew that from Carter's symptoms—and no doubt those bastards hadn't given Daniel so much as a sip of water.

"Sorry," he said. Daniel gave a small, forgiving smile."It may be a little while before I take water for granted," he admitted, and it was Jack's turn to say only, "Yeah." He remembered his time evading capture in the Iraqi desert, and how even worse than his injuries was the terrible, terrible thirst.

Jack filled the glass from the pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator and handed it to Daniel, and before the silence could stretch this time, he said, "Why don't you go in the living room and relax. Pick up a book or something. I'll be right in with the soup."

Daniel nodded, eyeing the glass of water, then looked up at Jack. This time Jack could almost see Daniel willfully pulling himself into the present. "Uh, thanks," he said. "I think I just want to . . . watch something stupid on television."

Jack couldn't help but grin. "Man after my own heart."

Any other time Daniel would probably have shot back something like, "Don't get used to it," but at this point Jack was satisfied to see another small smile. He nodded in the direction of the couch and the TV, and Daniel wandered over and sat down awkwardly, as if his muscles were stiff, then picked up the remote and started flipping through the channels. Jack, gave the soup another couple of stirs, got out two bowls and ladled the soup into them, pulled a box of crackers from the cabinet and put it all on a tray. He walked up behind Daniel and stared at the TV.

"I thought you said you wanted to watch something stupid," he said.

Daniel turned toward Jack.

"What?" he asked.

"I thought you said you wanted to watch something stupid," Jack repeated.

Daniel glanced at the television and back at Jack.

"I did," he said.

Jack sighed. "That's a documentary on ancient Mesopotamia."

Daniel turned toward the television and watched for a few seconds. "Well, it's a stupid documentary on ancient Mesopotamia," he said.

Jack smiled. "Good save," he said, coming around the couch with the tray. "Still. . . ."

"All right, all right," Daniel said. "I forgot where I was. Give me the TV listings, and I'll find something stupider."

"Thank you," Jack deadpanned, wanting to keep the moment going, happier than he could admit to be bantering with his teammate for even a few seconds. "Today's paper's right there on top," he said, pointing to the two newspapers he'd dropped on the coffee table when they'd come in the door."

Daniel looked at the paper and shook his head. "That's Tuesday's paper," he said. "That's not going to help much." He picked up the paper, saw that Monday's was underneath, and dropped it back on the table.

"It is Tuesday, Daniel," Jack said, putting a bowl of soup in front of him, next to the papers.

Daniel smiled, obviously happy as well to be participating in their familiar routine. "It can't be Tuesday, Jack. The mission was at 0500 Monday, so. . . ." Daniel must have noticed the change in Jack's expression, because the smile dropped from his face.

"It's Tuesday?" he said.

Jack nodded and grimaced at the same time. "Seemed like longer to me, too," he said.

"So I was stuck there for, what, twenty four hours? A day?" Daniel's voice rose as he spoke, the shock and distress evident on his face.

"More like twenty five hours," Jack said. But who was counting?

Daniel rubbed his hand over his eyes and back through his hair. "So that's all it took," he said, not looking at Jack. "That's all it took for me to be . . . for them to. . . ."

Jack silently completed the thought. . . . .to make you less than nothing, to strip away everything you believed you were, to make you wish you'd never been born. It was suddenly all Jack could do to keep from putting his fist through a wall. That this could have happened to Daniel, and to Carter, that he could have let it happen. . . .

Jack unclenched his fists and made himself take a deep breath. Fortunately, Daniel was still looking away—he didn't need to deal with Jack's anger on top of everything else.

"Daniel. . . ." he started to say, struggling to find a way to explain it, to tell him that that's why torture exists, that there is only so much pain a human being can take, that no one is immune. That he understood, because it had happened to him.

"It's all right," Daniel said before Jack could continue. "I just have to figure it out."

Figure it out? Jack thought. Figure it out? This is one thing that even you can't 'figure out.' But he didn't say it. Daniel needed time to process what had happened, and Jack would try to give it to him. The shrinks would get involved soon enough. "All right," he said, speaking calmly despite his own emotions spiking all over the place. "Maybe for now just have some soup, O.K.?" Looking at Daniel's empty water glass, he added, "I'll get you some more water."

Daniel didn't say anything, and Jack gave his shoulder a squeeze and went into the kitchen. One day, he thought. One hellish day, and Daniel and Carter will never be the same. He remembered the look on Carter's face in the infirmary when she'd given up, and he wondered who was with Daniel when he'd done the same. Was Lioss there, laughing at him? Was he with other prisoners?

Was he alone?

Jack shook his head and felt the ache from his concussion returning, fighting its way through his last double dose of Tylenol. Ach. He hoped Teal'c at least was finally letting himself recover completely from his stab wound, that he was finally secure enough in the knowledge that his teammates were safe to let himself Kel'no'reem. Jack pulled the pitcher from the refrigerator, grabbed himself a glass, and carried them both back to the couch.

Daniel didn't seem to have moved at all, but when Jack sat down, he said, "Soup's good, thanks. I, uh, think there's a game on, or that doctor show or . . . something." His voice petered out, and the haunted look returned to his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "I probably should have just gone home. I—"

"I'm glad you're here, Daniel. You've got nothing to apologize for, all right? Just, just. . . ." Just give yourself a break, please, Jack wanted to say, or Just stop, already. You think I need you to make small talk? But instead he finished, "Just have another glass of water."

"Oh, right," Daniel said, noticing the pitcher for the first time. He blinked at it, but he didn't move to pick it up.

"You want me to pour?" Jack said.

Daniel looked at him quizzically, scrunching up his eyes as if he didn't understand the question, then looked back at the pitcher. "No, I've got it." He reached for it, stopped his hand halfway, then swallowed almost nervously before he grabbed the handle.

What the hell is this? Jack thought, as Daniel finally lifted the pitcher and began to pour the water into his glass. Then Daniel's hand started to shake, and water was spilling on the table and the floor, and Daniel was trying to put the pitcher down but couldn't seem to release his death grip on the handle even as his hand shook harder.

"Daniel?" Jack asked, forcing himself to keep his voice even. He grabbed Daniel's hand to steady it and prized the pitcher from his grasp, and Daniel put his hand to his head and started to rock back and forth where he sat.

"Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god, oh, god," he said.

"Daniel?" Jack got down on the floor in front of his friend and grabbed both of his shoulders. "Daniel, look at me. Daniel?"

"Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god, Jack, why couldn't I save them? I should have been able to save them!"

The anguish in Daniel's voice was like a stab wound to Jack's gut. Oh, hell, he thought. What now? What else did those bastards do?

"You were a prisoner," he started to say, not knowing what Daniel was talking about and not sure he really wanted to know. "How could you have. . . ?"

Daniel pushed Jack's hands from his shoulders and leaned back into the couch away from Jack's reach. "No, you don't understand!" he practically shouted. "He gave me the chance and I screwed it up and they died, Jack! I should have told him. I should have told him everything I fu**ing knew!" He put his palms to his eyes and started to rock back and forth again, and repeated, much more quietly, in almost a moan, "I should have told him."

Jack, still on his knees on the floor, stood up slowly and sat carefully on the couch, facing Daniel but not so close that he'd crowd him.

"You want to tell me what happened?" he asked.

Daniel stopped rocking. "No," he said with seeming finality, then, "I don't know." Jack waited, and after a long pause, Daniel began to talk, albeit haltingly, in fits and starts. He talked not about the poison and his own awful agony, not about his torture or his own fear and despair. He told of a family, a father, a grandmother, a girl and a boy, and how he tried to outsmart Lioss, to buy them some time, and how his plan ended in disaster. And how the family had paid the price for his failure.

Jack wanted to interrupt, to stop Daniel's self-flagellation, to tell him he had done everything humanly possible and more, but he stayed quiet and let Daniel finish.

". . . . So they killed them. They hacked them to bits, Jack! It was as if, as if they were nothing. There was so much blood, and pieces of, god, pieces of flesh. . . ." Daniel gave a long shuddering breath, his eyes wide with the horror of the memory. ". . . . And I. . . . And I didn't, I couldn't. . . ." Daniel stopped again and closed his eyes. "I killed them, Jack," he said after a moment, his voice barely above a whisper. "I killed them."

"No, Daniel," Jack said, hearing the pain in his own voice. Because as much as he wished to god he didn't, he understood all too well why Daniel said what he did. He knew all too well the agony of holding others lives in his hands and watching them die. And he knew that nothing he could say would help, but he had to try.

"You didn't kill them. It was Lioss. You know that. And picking the Solkin world was brilliant. It should have worked."

"But it didn't," Daniel said flatly.

"No, but you couldn't have known. It wasn't in the report. SG-3 didn't know about the recording."

"I should have just told them, given them the worlds they wanted." Daniel wouldn't meet Jack's eyes as he said it. "I had no right . . . no right to play Russian roulette with their lives like that."

Jack looked at Daniel steadily, willing his friend to meet his eyes. "Daniel, you couldn't let that murderous s.o.b. loose on other worlds. You knew that then; you know it now."

Daniel's head dropped farther, but he didn't answer, and Jack hoped he was getting through to him. But when Daniel looked up again, he looked even more miserable.

"After—" he started to say, but the word caught in his throat. He reached for his glass, then pulled his hand away and clenched his fist. "After, when the poison was. . . . When the pain got so much w—"

Worse, Jack thought, and he shuddered to think what that must have been like, but Daniel wouldn't say it, as if he had no right to talk about his own suffering.

". . . . I would have told him anything. I knew what he was; I'd seen what he'd done, but I would have told him anything if only they'd just . . . end it." He gave a hopeless laugh. "But they stopped asking."

Jack nodded. He understood that, too. "You held out for as long as you could, Daniel, and it was long enough. That's what counts."

"Is it?" Daniel said bleakly.

"It is. I know it's hard to see it right now, but it is."

Daniel didn't answer, and Jack could almost feel his friend withdrawing into himself again.

"Daniel. . . ."

But Daniel was already pushing himself off the couch. "I'm pretty tired, Jack," he said. "I think I'll go get some sleep. Thanks for. . . ." He swept his hand over the table and the barely eaten soup.

"Daniel. . . ." Jack tried again.

"Really, Jack. I'm . . . fine."

Jack sighed, but decided to play it Daniel's way. Maybe it was enough for one night. "O.K.," he said. "Do you need anything?"

Daniel paused at that, as if the usually simple question of a guest, implying extra towels or a pair of slippers, deserved careful consideration.

Do you need anything?

"No," Daniel said after a moment. "Nothing."

"All right. Good night, then."

Daniel nodded, already miles away, and turned and walked toward hall and the guest room. Jack watched him go, listened for the door shutting, then slumped into the couch, suddenly so bone tired he wasn't sure he could get up again. He needed to call Carter, check on her and tell her Daniel was with him. And he needed to take something else for the pounding in his head and to finally get some sleep himself.

Still, he didn't move. He thought about the horror Daniel had witnessed—the horror he had lived—on that planet, and he thought about Carter's choosing death, and the defeated way she'd headed out of the base, and he knew it wasn't the memory of the physical pain that was tearing them apart, that would continue to eat at them for years to come. No. From that, their bodies and souls would recover.

But the rest of it? He shook his head, wishing it weren't true but knowing it was.

There were some wounds that never healed; there were some kinds of pain that never went away.

Jack sighed, leaned forward and reached for the phone. He longed for sleep, but he knew it wouldn't come easy that night or for many nights to come. His teammates were strong, but for now he'd have to be stronger.

—End—