Thanks to: The entire Pegasus B community. SF, Mara Celes and Raqs for betas above and beyond the call of duty. Kuwdora, for creating two beautiful wallpapers to go with the story. And Salieri, for making the covers and for letting us all play in the sandbox she built.

Notes: This story takes place in the Pegasus B AU, in which Dr. Daniel Jackson, an old friend and lover of Dr. Rodney McKay's, did not join the Stargate program until the Atlantis expedition. The expedition's military leader: Colonel Jack O'Neill, who was pulled from retirement by General Samantha Carter. 

The first section of this story was written by Salieri, hence the tense changes after that part. I'd like to thank her for creating this AU and allowing me to compile her part with my own here. I've considered rewriting the first chapter to smooth it out, but decided in the end to put it up as it was originally on the PegB community.

Covers by Salieri.


CHAPTER 1: THE WAITING ROOM

Daniel doesn't squeal like a girl when the wormhole spits him out. His breath does rush out of him, though, and he staggers a bit, crowding up against Dumais, who falls forward a step, drops her case with a clatter and says in a soft exhalation, "Damnit."

Daniel can't figure out why everyone is crowded up together in the "debarkation area." The colonel said to clear it as soon as they got through. That was an order. But everyone is standing still and the event horizon is belching the last few people and Daniel has to push up against Dumais again, who moves aside as much as she can. Her ponytail is in Daniel's face. Angling his head and spitting out the hair, he looks over her shoulder and tries to make sense of things.

At the far end of the "debarkation area" there's an open space in the crowd. In the middle of that space are the colonel and Dr. Weir. In front of them is a guy in jeans and a Green Bay Packers t-shirt and he's pressing the muzzle of a gun to Dr. Weir's forehead.

"What the hell?" Daniel says.

"Don't make me ask again, Colonel. Identify the adept and the linguist and Dr. Weir gets to keep her cortex."

With a ripping sound – one universe shearing away from another – the wormhole disengages and the blue, wavery glow is replaced by the thin, low-angled light of dawn – or maybe sunset – that seems to sluice in at knee-level, leaving the rest of the room, that wide balcony, the corridors leading away under it, in shadow. There are shapes in there, darker shadows.

The colonel doesn't answer, but Daniel can tell from the way he angles his head that he's pretty much saying, "fuck you."

The stranger sighs and bites his lip, then looks into the crowd. On the balcony, there's a sort of electric crackling sound and a dozen sparks in the darkness. The colonel raises his head. Daniel's pretty sure he's counting. Weir stands very still.

"I need Daniel Jackson and Major John Sheppard," the guy calls out clearly.

"Why?" the colonel asks.

When they guy opens his mouth to answer, there's a whining sound – it comes from outside, not from him, even though for a second it seems like it – and a sudden concussion that rocks the floor a bit. Dumais steps backward into Daniel and he steadies her with a hand on the small of her back.

"That's why," the guy says. "That's a very unfriendly thing called a Wraith. There are about a hundred more of them on their way in little fighter ships and behind them are three carriers and they are gonna bomb the fuck out of this city and suck the life out of all of us." He flexes his fingers on the gun and Weir's head leans back a bit under the new pressure. "We've intercepted the data stream from one of the ships and we need to read it and if Daniel Jackson doesn't step – "

"Who the fuck are you?" the colonel demands, cutting the guy off.

"Waitaminute!" It's Rodney, stepping around Grodin and up beside the colonel, his finger pointing accusingly. "I know you. I know you! You're – " He snaps his fingers rapidly. "That guy from Systems? Zelenka!"

"No," comes a weary, irritated voice from behind a stack of medical supplies. "I'm Zelenka."

"Oh. Right. Sorry." Rodney turns toward the voice, his eyes pausing on Daniel, before he spins back to not-Zelenka and the gun. "Zewicky!" he says with a little jump as he hits on it. "You went – " a flutter fingers next to his temple, " – and bailed out of the program."

"I didn't bail," Zewicky objects sourly. "I found somebody with a bit of vision and a fast ship – " He cocks his head toward the balcony behind him. " – who made me a much better offer."

There should have been some kind of music sting, Daniel thinks, but there isn't. Still, it's kind of impressive when up on the balcony the shapes resolve into men, a lot of men in rustling chain mail and leather, and long staffs aimed down at the crowd. And front and centre, coming out of the shadows to lean on the railing, there's a guy in a long, black fitted jacket, high in the collar, a clean, elegant silhouette, sort of Demagogue GQ. He's got dark hair and a neat goatee and a strong chin and black eyes that are squinted up a little because he's smiling down at them. Part of Daniel's brain goes, "Hel-lo" and the rest of it cringes, because that smile is not a good smile. So not a good smile. Still, the renegade part of his brain isn't quite backing down, even when Rodney turns toward him and gives him a "Don't even think about it" glare. Daniel ignores him, because the dark man is laughing softly and now there's something wrong with the eyes, like for a second they're reflecting the light from a sun that hasn't yet broken the horizon.

At the front of the crowd on the floor, the colonel stiffens and then slumps just a little. "Oy," he says, and rubs his temple with his fingers.

On the balcony, the dark man straightens and lifts a hand to signal the soldiers around him, but before he can speak, the colonel interrupts.

"No, please. Allow me." Pulling himself to attention and sucking in a big breath, the colonel bellows, "Jaffa! KREE!"

– – –

"Stop!" Daniel shouted at Ba'al, who was doing...something...terrible to Rodney. Daniel wasn't sure what; it had something to do with the metal gauntlet on his hand. Rodney wasn't screaming, which somehow made it worse.

The tall, dark man closed his hand, and just like that, the beam that had been battering Rodney's head shut off. Rodney collapsed backwards, and Daniel caught him, slowly lowering him to the floor. Another pair of arms grabbed Rodney from the other side to help.

"Why do you always get between me and the bullies?" Daniel asked softly.

Rodney let out a couple of short, gasping breaths. His forehead was red and hot, and his body was shaking. "You have no idea what you're dealing with. Don't go with him."

"He'll kill you if I don't," Daniel said, pressing his cheek against Rodney's. He pressed his mouth against the other man's ear and whispered, so low that it was more a breath than a sentence, "And you can't help me if you're dead."

Rodney gasped, and sagged some more, but Daniel could feel his slight nod.

Daniel pulled away then, looking up at the other man who had caught Rodney. It was the grey-haired, flint-eyed colonel - only now his eyes were soft and wide, as if the scene before him had broken some sort of shell. "Take care of him for me," Daniel said, in a tone that brooked no argument.

The colonel nodded, and Daniel rose and turned to face Ba'al. "Sorry to keep you waiting," he said.

"Kree!" Ba'al said to two of his soldiers, who immediately grabbed Daniel by the arms and marched him out of the control room. He glanced over his shoulder just before he rounded the corner to see the colonel slowly helping Rodney sit up. Rodney looked after Daniel, his eyes full of despair.

Daniel looked away, clenched his teeth, and began to write a definition of the word "Kree" in his head.

As they walked down the hall, the armored soldiers moved him double-time until he was even with Ba'al. He thought about asking questions, but the earlier cultural questions he'd tried to ask of the Jaffa had been received with shoves and careless cuffs about the head. The clouts were hard enough to sting, but not hard enough to leave bruises, and Daniel had wondered, after what was done to Ford and Zelenka, if they'd had special orders regarding one Dr. Daniel Jackson.

The handsome man turned his head to look at him. "You care for him," he said in that eerie, vibrato voice.

"He's my best friend," Daniel replied. "And you need him. I don't care what that scientist you brought along says - if he were as smart as Rodney, y-y-you wouldn't have needed Rodney to solve your defense routing problem."

His captor smiled slightly. "Oh, I believe he will be very useful to me."

Somehow, Daniel didn't think they were talking about the same kind of useful.

They came to a door - beautiful, in a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of way. It slid back to reveal a large room decorated with curtains, carpets, and opulent jewel-toned fabrics, with an enormous bed in the center. Next to the bed knelt Major Sheppard; one of Ba'al's soldiers stood behind him, both hands on his shoulders, holding him there. From the blood trickling from the corner of the Major's mouth, it was obvious that it had taken some effort to get him into that position. Sheppard looked up at him, green eyes narrowed and jaw tense, everything about him a complete reversal from the relaxed, kind man he'd met less than twelve hours ago on Earth.

Ba'al smiled, a self-satisfied smirk that sparked a thrilled trembling deep in Daniel's gut. He pulled off his tailored jacket, and began unfastening the clasps on the vest beneath. "So," he said, some sort of wry humor making his smile broader, "I imagine you both are wondering why I brought you here tonight."

As Ba'al's broad, muscular chest was bared, his soldiers began to pull Daniel's jacket from his body. Sheppard tried to fight when the soldier holding him did the same. Ba'al lifted his hand - the one with the metal on it - and waved it, with one sharp gesture causing the Major to slump, stunned.

Daniel looked from Ba'al to Sheppard to the bed. His stomach flipped. This was awful. This was horrible.

And that little voice inside his head that Daniel had tried to train himself not to listen to said, This is what porn movies are made of.

As Ba'al moved toward him, it occurred to Daniel that this was the most excitement he'd had since...well, since Rodney had left Cambridge, actually. Whatever happened next, at least he wasn't going to be bored.

Dammit, Jackson, he thought to himself, you need to have your head examined.



In the commissary line, McKay took a swing at Kavanagh. The crack of his fist against the other scientist's jaw was audible, even from across the room. As the Jaffa moved in to break up the fight, Jack made a break for the transporter door. Who knew McKay could throw a punch like that? Jack thought as the doors slid open. Then again, there was supposedly no love lost between the two scientists, and after only one conversation with Kavanagh, Jack couldn't blame McKay for throwing himself a little too earnestly into the role he was playing.

The Jaffa were slow to move, slow to turn, even slower to shoot. "You must be new," Jack shouted as the doors closed behind him, the singing heat of a staff blast hitting the floor near his feet just before they snapped shut. Ba'al was understaffed and overextended, too many of his men killed by the Wraith, and it was working in Jack's favor. On the screen, he touched the north pier.

Dr. McKay says the sensors are out there due to flooding, Weir had told him, drawing the map in maple syrup on her military-issue flapjack like a stylized flower. Ba'al needed the Atlantis crew if he was going to keep the station running, and little things like good food went a long way to making the captives think the captor was an ally, not an enemy. He logged your biosigns. He wrote a virus. Once you vanish into this section, Atlantis will never register you on its internal detection sensors again. Ba'al won't be able to find you.

The doors opened. The corridors were dark. Jack ran, ignoring the throbbing twist in his right knee whenever he took a step.

I can't abandon my troops, Jack had whispered to Weir through gritted teeth.

She had looked at him, jaw set. He'd seen Carter look like that a few times; there was no moving her when she did. You have to. You're the only one who has been trained for this. And Zewicky doesn't know you have the Ancient gene. Then she'd paused, and glanced across the room at McKay, who'd given her a little nod and gotten up to stand in the commissary line, behind Kavanagh. Besides, Ba'al remembers you, she'd said then. He won't leave you alone forever. And we can't afford to lose you.

He rounded a corner at full speed, the pain still spearing through his knee. He'd forgotten, in his time retired, that he could run this fast. A staticky feeling crawled over his skin, and he looked behind him to see a pale blue, shimmering energy field forming across the hallway in his wake.

He could hear the sound of the door to the transporter sliding open. He pulled a little bag out of his pocket, reached through the irritating energy of the force field, and quickly scattered the contents on the floor. The energy field wavered, suddenly looking more dense.

He sprinted down the hall again, sliding into an alcove, and waited. Moments later, the Jaffa ran down the hall, following his path. The one on point hit the force field at full speed.

He didn't come out the other side. A cascade of ashes, like a special effect from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fell to the floor.

The next Jaffa managed to stop before he fully hit the shield, but he was leading with his head. Jack winced reflexively as he saw the results, his muffled hiss covered by the shouts of Ba'al's other soldiers.

McKay rigged an energy field. Weir had pushed something, a tiny cloth sack, into his hands beneath the table. Beckett used your blood samples to create this. When they analyze it, they'll think you were disintegrated.

The Jaffa called frantically for reinforcements, for a science team. Eventually Kavanagh and McKay came down, both looking angry and under Jaffa guard.

McKay thinks there's something down there. Something we can use. Weir's voice whispered through his head.

He'd signed on to explore new places, after all. There was just a lot less Gate travel involved this time around.

Help us.

Jack slipped back into the shadows.



Daniel sat on the sarcophagus, naked and shivering. Ba'al kept his chambers warm enough that clothes weren't necessary; the chill came from inside.

Ba'al had more uses for the hand device than torture, Daniel had discovered. He'd set fire to all of Daniel's nerves with it, making him shudder with pleasure, cry out until he was hoarse. He kept Daniel on the edge for what seemed like hours before taking him.

And as Daniel lay on the bed, spent and sated and barely able to move, Ba'al had brutally raped Major Sheppard on the floor. Daniel had tried, sluggishly, to come to the other man's defense, but Ba'al had thrown him aside with the ribbon device. Daniel had watched, wide-eyed and dazed, as the false god casually snapped the pilot's neck.

He listened to the low hum of the sarcophagus, feeling the slight vibrations pass through him. He'd known what it was as soon as the Jaffa had dropped John's body into it like a sack of garbage; Rodney had given him a whispered briefing on the Goa'uld while they'd been working together on the Ancient equipment.

Daniel wondered what it would be like to die as John had. It was the same curiosity that made him hesitant to stand on the edge of a cliff, or against the railing of a balcony, or on the lip of a subway platform when the train was coming. He wasn't suicidal, but if he wasn't careful he knew his inquisitiveness would override his self-preservation instinct, and he'd step off the edge just so he could know what it was like.

The hum stopped, and after a quiet click, the lid of the sarcophagus began to open. Daniel slid off it, then stood at the foot, waiting. If he were rising from the dead, he'd want to see a friendly face when he came back.

The major lay in the sarcophagus, naked, skin a little paler than Daniel had expected. He looked unmarred, the livid bruises left on him by the Jaffa vanished as if they'd been rubbed out by an artist's eraser. His eyes opened, vividly green in the eerie light, and locked with Daniel's almost instantly. There should have been some sort of a transition, Daniel thought,a few of those soft slippery moments that usually came with waking up, instead of instant clarity.

Sheppard's face barely moved, but a tumult of emotions passed through his eyes. "Where's Ba'al?" the major asked after a moment, sitting up.

"Gone. I don't know where; his Jaffa pulled him out of here in a rush," Daniel responded.

A little tension seemed to leave the man's shoulders. "O'Neill?"

"O'Neill?" Daniel replied, confused.

"The colonel."

So that was the gray-haired colonel's name. "When I last saw him, he was taking care of Rodney," Daniel said, reaching out to help Sheppard out of the sarcophagus.

"Still alive. Well, that's something." the major replied. "Who's Rodney?" He ignored Daniel's hand, standing up and climbing out with the slow movements of a man who expects everything to hurt.

"Dr. McKay. The head scientist."

"Oh," Sheppard said, looking around the room. "Is he..."

"I think he'll be okay," Daniel said, trailing after the major as he left the antechamber for the bedroom. "Ba'al used the same hand device on him that he used on you."

"Hurt like a son of a bitch," Sheppard replied in a distracted tone. "Hey, where's our clothes?"

"I don't think we get any while we're in here, Major,"

The major looked at him then, and smiled wryly. "I've watched you have sex, and you've seen me die. I think you can call me John."

Daniel reached out his hand for a handshake, reflexively. John took it before Daniel realized the awkwardness of it, and the very normalcy of the moment, with both of them standing naked in the false god's bedroom, made everything more surreal.

"I did die, right?" John said, looking at the spot where he'd been kneeling when Ba'al snapped his neck. "I mean, that really felt like..."

"I'm pretty sure you did," Daniel said, in a low voice.

"Wow," John said, glancing through the doorway at the sarcophagus. "Wish we'd had one of those in Afghanistan." He turned back to Daniel. "No clothes."

"It's a technique used by some captors in order to put their victims into a mindset of helplessness..."

John shook his head. "I got the lecture on all this in OCS." He frowned and walked over to the wall. "Although I think I skipped the day when they told us about getting killed and resurrected by an alien god."

And raped, Daniel thought. John seemed to be avoiding that part. If John wanted to deny it, Daniel wasn't about to bring it up; he'd learned over the years that a little denial could be a healthy thing, no matter what Rodney said.

John touched a cube that sat on a side table; above it, two gold panels, not dissimilar in design from the sarcophagus, slid back to reveal a screen. "Now we're getting somewhere," John said, looking at the symbols spilling over the panel. "What does this say?"

Daniel looked at the symbols, then looked closer.

"Well?" John asked, a little impatiently.

Daniel shook his head, fascinated. "It looks - I think it's a little like Linear A," he said excitedly.

"Linear A. Wasn't that the Babylonian alphabet?"

"Minoan, actually," Daniel murmured, his eyes drifting down the screen.

"You mean, when this guy says he's Ba'al..."

"Well, Ba'al was worshipped by the Canaanites and the Phoenecians, not the Minoans. " Daniel said, tapping a button. More symbols flashed on the screen. The surface was slightly glossy, and Daniel could see his own image over the symbols, John a ghostly presence behind him. "I - the whole problem we've had on Earth is that there's nothing like the Rosetta Stone for it. We haven't had a context for the symbols."

"But now you do. See? You're getting somewhere," John said.

Daniel reached out and underlined some of the symbols with his finger. "Not really. Not unless someone tells me what a few of these mean." It was the old archaeo-linguist's nightmare - a civilization with a vast library, none of which could be understood.

"I don't suppose Ba'al moves his lips when he reads," John said.

"It wouldn't be in English, anyway. I'd need a translation," Daniel said, as the slippery little beads of mercury in his head, all reflecting tiny indecipherable images, suddenly came together to give him the full picture.

It was a really bad idea.

It would give him the chance to learn about a new culture - and wasn't that why he came halfway across the galaxy?

It could save them all.

Rodney was going to kill him.

Daniel licked his lips and met John's eyes in the dim reflection of the computer screen. "He might explain it to me. If he...trusted me."

"That's a really bad idea," John said.

"There's a long tradition of enslaved former enemies becoming secretaries to their new leader," Daniel said.

"Yeah, and there's a long tradition of enslaved former enemies killing their new leader! I saw Spartacus," John countered.

Spartacus? Daniel thought, startled, but John continued, "Besides, isn't it a little too cliche?"

"Rodney said that cliche and Goa'uld go together like -" Daniel heard the door slide open; as one, they spun around.

The woman who came through, carrying a tray of food, was wearing a long, fitted dress, a reddish hue that showed off the cafe au lait color of her skin - Ba'al's taste, Daniel suspected. Her reddish-brown hair fell straight to her shoulders, and her almond-shaped eyes tensed with worry as she saw the two of them. There was something about the set of her shoulders, the way she looked at them, that made Daniel want to find out what was wrong, and help fix it.

Daniel suddenly remembered that he was naked, He automatically began to clasp his hands in front of him, then decided that limited coverage was probably worse than no coverage at all. "Ba'al said the two of you would need to be fed," she said, her voice a pleasing low alto.

"What are you, his servant?" John asked.

But she didn't move like a servant, Daniel thought. She moved like a leader. She began to draw herself up. "I -" Then she looked around the room, and her shoulders slumped, just a little. "Yes. I suppose I am, now. My people serve Ba'al in exchange for protection from the Wraith."

She serves Ba'al to protect her people, Daniel thought. She's the competition. He took the nascent flame of caring that had lit in his chest, and carefully blew it out. He couldn't afford to care about her problems, not if he was going to try to protect his own people. Not if he was going to try to protect Rodney. Rodney came first.

"I'm John," the major said, and held out a hand to her.

She reached out, clasping his forearm with her hand. After a second's startlement, John returned the gesture. "My name is Teyla," she said.

– – –

Sergeant Bates had a gun.

On any other mission, he would have laughed at the pea-shooter he was holding. It wasn't even a .38; Parker had apparently decided that the little DA Colt Diamondback .22 was of enough sentimental value to be his personal item. But Parker was dead, and the Jaffa hadn't gotten around to searching half the stuff the Atlantis team had brought with them, and now Bates had a gun. A .22 didn't have much shock power, but it would fragment inside the body and cause a lot of damage. And the dark storage room he crouched in was right next to one of the Jaffa dormitories.

Bates knew the moment he saw Ba'al that he wasn't going to make it out of this one alive. And within a day, things just got worse. Colonel O'Neill was dead, Ba'al had taken a personal interest in Major Sheppard, and Lieutenant Ford -

He didn't want to think about what had happened to Lieutenant Ford. He went back to checking the gun.

Six rounds. If he aimed well, that was six Jaffa down. It wasn't much, but it was something - and something was better than nothing. He checked the chamber, and clicked the safety off.

"Sergeant," a low female voice said behind him. He whirled around.

For a moment, all he could see was her silhouette, framed in the light streaming in from the corridor. She quickly stepped in, and the door slid shut behind her. His eyes hadn't adjusted, but he didn't need to see - he recognized Weir's soft alto. "Ma'am," he replied tersely.

"What are you planning to do with that?" she asked.

What do you think? he thought to himself. But respect for his superiors had been drilled into him by the Marine Corps, and even if she was a civilian, she was technically the leader of this now-doomed mission. "I need to do something, ma'am."

"I understand that," she said. "But firing on them - now - gets us nothing. In fact, it gets us less than nothing. If you shoot them, how long do you think they would let us move around the station without being under constant guard?"

Bates was filled with a rush of anger. He wasn't supposed to be here, making the big decisions. But all of the officers were out of action and the command structure, never clear in the first few days of a multi-branch operation such as this, had gone straight to hell. There was no one left to take orders from. "So that's it. We suck up to them? Let them enslave us?"

"No," Weir said, and the full force of her steely intensity was suddenly turned on him. In the gate room at the SGC, it had been enough to make him sit up and take notice; here it was like she had grabbed him by the throat. His spine suddenly straightened. "We wait. And we plan." She looked at the gun in his hand. "How many more of those do you think you can find?"

Bates shook his head. "I have no idea, ma'am."

"Sergeant Bates," she said, and he tried not to show his shock - he'd been the military's pick for the mission, not hers, and he didn't even think she knew his name. "I'm putting you in charge of finding out. Find every weapon you can, and hide them. I'll tell them you're our supply specialist. That should give you plenty of opportunity to search."

"Ma'am - my records say I'm military security," Bates replied.

His eyes had adjusted enough now to see the curve of her lips. "All our personnel records were lost. Apparently, an undetected computer virus came through the gate with us. Doctor McKay was quite upset at the incompetence of the SGC." She leaned closer. "Sergeant Bates, you're an expert in military security. Does that mean you know something about terrorism?"

Bates remembered bombs, and blood, and screaming. "I did a tour in Afghanistan, ma'am," he said.

She folded her arms. "Good," she said. "Because it's time for you to start thinking like the people you used to protect the bases from."

The people who a naive Marine corporal decided to trust. The people who operated in cells, who didn't let the left hand know what the right hand was doing, who seemed helpful and kind until the day they walked through the gates with a bomb strapped to their belly. The people who wouldn't give up information on the big plan no matter how much pressure you applied, because they didn't have any. He clamped his mouth shut for a moment as his stomach heaved convulsively about the thought of becoming one of them.

And between one breath and the next, the heaving stopped - because he had his orders, and he would be damned if he flinched at carrying them out. "Yes, ma'am."

– –

"Does it work?" Elizabeth whispered to Rodney as they walked down the empty corridor.

Instead of answering, he slid an arm around her waist, pulling her toward him in an affectionate motion that blocked the pair of Jaffa behind them from seeing between their bodies. His other hand slipped inside his jacket, pulling out something about the size of a palmtop computer. Four dots were at the center of the display, two of them almost on top of each other, the two just below the first pair a bit further apart. Like in a videogame, architectural line drawings of walls passed by the dots on either side. He slipped the device into her right hand, and as he let go of it the display turned dark.

She glanced up at him, flashing him a quick smile before she turned her head enough for the Jaffa to see. She brushed her lips against his cheek, and as she did breathed, "You have the Ancient gene now."

"And so will you," he murmured in reply. "Find some reason to stay with Carson when we're done. Make up an illness. He's got a syringe prepared for you. He's bringing it here."

She started to hand the device back to him; he pushed it toward her. "I've got one. Keep it. A friend sent it for you."

O'Neill, she thought, tucking it in her inside pocket as they stepped up to the door of the lab. Rodney's hand slid over her spine as he drew slightly away from her. The door slid open.

Inside stood Carson, his already creased brow sliced with deep furrows of worry. Next to him, leaning comfortably against a table, was Ba'al, a Jaffa at his side and a cool, cruel smile on his face. Elizabeth wondered what he'd said to make Carson look so scared - or if he'd terrified the doctor with his smiling silence.

"Dr. Weir," Ba'al said in his smooth, eerie voice. "Please go to the console and translate the readout as it appears."

"Why isn't Daniel here?" interrupted Rodney as Elizabeth crossed the room. "He's better than Elizabeth at translating Ancient."

Don't antagonize him, she thought, as if she could send it out over a psychic link. Rodney's forehead was a constant red from his repeated encounters over the past week with the ribbon device. His instinctive reaction to being scared seemed to be to snipe at the people he considered responsible for the situation - and Ba'al didn't take such speech lightly.

"He is otherwise engaged," Ba'al responded, with a slightly condescending smile.

Rodney licked his lips. "Is he -"

"He is unharmed, and will continue to be so long as you cooperate," Ba'al said. He gestured to the object in the center of the room. It looked like an altar, with depressions on the left and the right side of the flat surface moulded in the shape of hands. "Dr. Beckett will begin operating the device. Dr. Weir will translate the readouts. And you, Rodney, will devise a way to interface it with my computers."

Elizabeth got a sick feeling in her stomach as she heard Ba'al's use of Rodney's first name. He was singling Rodney out. We can't afford for Ba'al to kill him, she thought. Not when he just got the Ancient gene. She could see the tension at the corners of Rodney's eyes; his poker face was terrible.

Carson got just a little paler as he slowly stepped up to the mechanism. He put his hands on the surface.

Nothing happened.

They all stared at him for a moment. Sweat formed on his forehead.

"We're waiting," Ba'al said quietly.

Carson squeezed his eyes tightly shut. The console flickered to life for a moment, then died.

Rodney reached toward the surface. Elizabeth suppressed a sharp inward breath. Don't touch it, she thought. If it activated at his touch, Ba'al would know, and they were all doomed.

Fortunately, Rodney seemed to remember at the same time, and changed the motion to a touch on Carson's back. "Come on. Focus for a minute."

"I am focusing!" Carson said, his eyes flying open, full of anxiety. "You know I'm terrible under pressure."

"Are you saying you cannot do it?" Ba'al said silkily.

Carson turned around, and Rodney took a step back. "Look, I'm a doctor, not some sort of Ancient-device-activation object!" he pleaded. "If you want me to treat someone who's sick or hurt, I'll be happy to. But there are other people on the mission much better for this work than I am."

Ba'al looked at him for a moment, then nodded slightly. "Kree," he said to the Jaffa that stood next to him.

Unflinching, the Jaffa whirled his staff weapon. Elizabeth's brain raced as she saw him aim, throwing out ten ways to diplomatically defuse the situation as the active end of the weapon opened up, glowing. From across the room, Elizabeth saw Carson's soft blue eyes go wide as the Jaffa fired, hitting him full in the chest. Carson was flung back against the console by the energy; his lifeless body slid to the floor. The whole thing hadn't even taken a second; she hadn't had time to move.

Rodney dropped to his knees next to the doctor. He reached down for a moment, as if he could do something to fix the other man's broken body, then looked up at Ba'al, an angry snarl on his face. "What the hell are you thinking? You need him. He's a doctor. What are you going to do if someone gets hurt? Or sick?"

Ba'al shrugged slightly. "That is why we have the sarcophagus," he said.

The entire room seemed to waver; Elizabeth grasped the console behind her, and she wondered if Ba'al had planned this all along.

"Take his body," Ba'al said to his Jaffa, gesturing with his chin at the doctor. "Throw it in the ocean."

"No!" Elizabeth exclaimed. Carson had the syringe in his pocket - the one with the Ancient gene for her. "Please - let us bury him according to the customs of his people."

Ba'al smiled. "His body will be disposed of according to the will of his god," he said. The Jaffa threw Carson's body over his shoulder, taking his body - and the syringe - away. "We will meet here tomorrow, when Major Sheppard will accompany me," he said.

Rodney looked up at her, his blue-gray eyes enormous in his pale face, as Ba'al swept out, telling the Jaffa at the door, "Escort them back to their quarters."

She reached down, helping Rodney to his feet. "But...but..." he stammered. "The sarcophagus - it can't treat more than one person at a time! What if there's an outbreak? Or an accident?"

"Then the people who are in Ba'al's favor will get treated first," Elizabeth said as they moved into the hall.

"Oh, no," Rodney whispered, deducing the rest. "You mean anyone who doesn't suck up might not get treated at all."

"Withholding medical treatment is one of the best ways to keep a rebellious population in check," Elizabeth said, gazing down the corridor as Ba'al rounded the corner, his black coat flaring behind him. "He knows what he's doing."

 

CHAPTER 2: FALLING



Just before Daniel's fist arced toward John's face, the archaeologist's eyes flicked a little to the right. It was momentary, almost indiscernible, and John wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been working out with Teyla so much. He reacted instantly, blocking the blow with the back of his left arm.

He redirected the motion, turned his own hand to grab Daniel's wrist, and twisted the other man's arm behind his back, bringing the scholar to his knees. Unexpectedly, Daniel kicked out with one leg in an ungainly motion, throwing John off-balance. Daniel wobbled, too, and started to fall over onto his side, his weight pulling John with him.

John managed to let go of Daniel's wrist before he wrenched the guy's shoulder out of its socket, but he couldn't twist out of the way enough to keep from slamming Daniel in the ribs with his elbow. Daniel let out a sudden whuff; John cursed as a shock of pain went up his funnybone.

"You're getting better," John said as he rolled onto his back. He stared up at the ceiling as he rubbed the sore spot, waiting for his fingertips to stop tingling. He'd wound up just a couple of inches from the sarcophagus. He could hear it humming to him.

Daniel groaned. "I still wind up on the floor every time," he said.

"Yeah, and Teyla still knocks me on my ass every time we spar," John said, sitting up, trying to ignore the sarcophagus' song. "Doesn't mean I'm not learning every time she does it."

Daniel squatted for a moment, forearms resting on his knees, head bowed, breathing heavily.

John pushed himself to his feet, then put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. The muscle there was well-defined, now; he no longer had the softness of someone who did all of his heavy lifting in a library. "You're a lot better," he reiterated. "Trust me. I'm going to be paying for it later." He brushed his hand against his thigh lightly, feeling the ache through the skin and deep into the muscle, where Daniel had connected with another kick earlier in their sparring session. He was going to have a hell of a bruise there - well, if Ba'al didn't put him in the sarcophagus before it had time to form.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the sarcophagus, sitting, golden and patient, waiting for him. A little thrill went through him, and he shivered. It had only been a day since Ba'al had put him in there, and already he was wishing the Goa'uld would kill him again.

The fact that John found himself looking forward to dying was beginning to worry him a bit. His skin still cringed at Ba'al's gentler touches; whenever the system lord's skin brushed against his John felt a desperate urge to scrub himself clean. And yet…

And yet. Lately John found himself looking forward to Ba'al's more brutal behavior, because when Ba'al was violent and vicious, it meant that John was going to wind up dead at the end. Being dead was, well, relaxing, really; it was a period of several minutes where John didn't have to think, or worry, or plan, or hope. He just didn't exist. It was kind of nice, not having to exist. It was like the universe had decided to give him a time-out, a physical and spiritual coffee break.

Then he'd suddenly snap out of not-existing and see the gentle glow of the sarcophagus, hear the quiet snick as the top of his temporary coffin finished sliding open, and see Daniel's bright blue eyes – and sometimes Teyla's warm brown ones, too – staring down at him, welcoming him back. And damn if it wasn't the best feeling in the world, seeing one or both of them as he was filled with uncanny energy and well-being.

Two days ago, it had been Teyla that Ba'al killed, slowly smothering the life out of her with one hand over her mouth, blocking her nose as he pushed into her. Her eyes had been wide and frightened. John had looked on, immobile and still twitching from the zat, and wished it was him that Ba'al was suffocating. Bring it on, do whatever you want to me, hurt me, cut me, just fucking kill me already and put me back in the GODDAMN BOX! he'd wanted to scream.

When it was his turn the next night, though, all he'd let out were inarticulate howls of pain. And then there was blessed, blessed darkness, and the wonderful nothingness, and then the quiet humming glow, the gentle click of the sarcophagus doors, the cool smooth innards of it giving his skin one last whispery kiss as Daniel pulled him out, those big blue eyes full of concern.

He realized those blue eyes were full of the same concern now, peering at him through shaggy, slightly sweaty dark blond hair. "What's going on?" Daniel said, in a tone that made John wonder just how long he'd spent lost in reverie.

"Nothing," John said, shaking his head, deliberately turning his mind to something else. "Like I said, you're a lot better. But you telegraphed that last punch. You moved your eyes."

Daniel sighed, standing up and stretching. "I don't know if I'll ever stop doing that."

"I haven't stopped doing that," John said. "Why do you think Teyla keeps dropping me every day?"

They heard the door of the room slide open, and tensed up in unison. Daniel, who Ba'al had yet to harm, instantly put himself between John and the door. Yeah, Daniel was a decent guy – putting himself between John and danger, finding ways to distract John from his edgy anger when he'd gone too long between deaths. I could have a worse cellmate, John thought as he tried to recede into the background. He might have started to crave death, but he was damned if he was going to let Ba'al know it.

John saw Daniel lick his lips, saw his pupils dilate as he glanced toward the doorway into the bedroom. No, Daniel still telegraphed everything. Maybe that was why the enforced nudity didn't seem like such an issue around Daniel - even if the other man was wearing clothes, his face would still be naked, wide open.

The footsteps coming toward the doorway were soft, almost inaudible, and John felt the tension seep from his shoulders. Ba'al was never that quiet.

Teyla came through the doorway into the anteroom with a pile of clothing in her hands. Her smile was warm and welcoming as she looked at John. When her gaze turned to Daniel, however, her eyes narrowed just a little, and her smile got less friendly. John could see the muscles in Daniel's back tensing, could tell by the turn of his head that he was looking away. Daniel and Teyla had a little war going on, just under the surface, with Ba'al in the middle. Ba'al seemed to like it – in fact, as far as John could tell he was purposely upping the tension between the two of them. It made John grit his teeth in frustration; he was sure the two of them could do a hell of a lot of good if they were working together.

Then again, Ba'al had probably figured that out, too.

Teyla's eyes were back on his. "I have been told to bring you to the control room," she said, holding the stack of garments out to him.

"Wow. I get to leave the room and I get clothes," John said, pulling on the underwear. "It's a red-letter day. Any idea what he wants?"

"One of the scientists indicated that the equipment required someone with an Ancient gene to operate it," Teyla said.

Daniel looked up, his blue eyes intense and sharp. "Rodney might be there."

"Yeah?" John said, stepping in to the narrowly cut pants. Daniel had talked about Rodney often enough that John felt like the physicist was his friend too, except for one little detail; all of the scientists he'd met in Antarctica had blurred into one face in his mind. "How will I know which one is him?"

A distant look came into Daniel's eyes; though they were locked on John's face, they seemed to be looking at something just over the horizon. "He's a little shorter than me. His hair is thinning on top. And he'll probably be complaining about something."

– – –

"You seem well," Teyla said, her voice low, as they walked down the hall.

John tugged a little at the cuffs of his shirt. It was a soft blue-grey that he knew was his best color; it was the same hue as every "first date" shirt he'd ever owned. A tailored coat went over the ensemble, in that shade of slate gray that made his hazel eyes shade more toward green. Everything fit perfectly; the cut and color of each item was selected to accentuate all of his assets. It also marked him as Ba'al's property, and he would have gladly traded it in for his flight suit. "You know how it is," John shrugged. "A little time dead for good behavior and soon you're feeling good as new."

"I see," Teyla said, and even though she turned her head away he could see the concern in her eyes.

John tossed a look over his shoulder at the Jaffa, who were walking several feet behind, enough to give them plenty of room to bring up those staff weapons and fire if they had to. He leaned a little closer to Teyla and dropped his voice. "You know, there's something I just don't get."

"And what is that?" she asked.

He licked his lips. His mouth tasted like blood again, even though he knew nothing was bleeding. "Why don't you kick his ass?"

Her face went stony, and she turned her face away from him, down the hall. "No."

"Teyla, I've fought against you. You're like Buffy the Vampire Slayer." She looked confused at the reference; he thought about explaining, but decided to keep pushing forward. "I know he's got the hand device, but if you surprised him, you could take him down before he used it. We could help."

He could see bright color appearing on her cheekbones. "And then what? How would you suggest I kill him?"

John shrugged. "I dunno. Snap his neck. Something. Come on! If someone can do it, you can."

She turned her face to his, and he drew back at the anger he saw there, which he'd never seen even in their most aggressive workouts. "Do you think I did not try? After the first time he put me in the sarcophagus, I took the knife, and I buried it in his heart, to make an end to it. I drew it out and wiped it clean on his coat. Then I crossed the room, and I heard him laughing behind me. He laughed!" John's stomach tightened up at the sight of her bottled-up frustration and rage; he'd never looked past the calm surface to see what lay underneath. "Then he had his Jaffa take me before the Stargate. When he had arisen from the sarcophagus, he had one of my people brought there. Halling. Ba'al forced me to watch and killed him before my eyes." John could see a muscle in her jaw pulsing with strain. "It was not a slow death."

"I'm sorry," John said. They walked in silence for a minute. "There's got to be a – "

"There is none," she interrupted. Her tone was cool and professional, the glossy, capable veneer pulled down again. "I have seen him take many injuries that would be fatal even to a Wraith, but he recovers quickly. Even if he cannot heal himself, his Jaffa are fiercely loyal, and will place him in the sarcophagus to be treated." She shook her head. "My people have never believed in gods, but he is as unkillable as one." She sighed. "And he protects us from the Wraith."

"He kills you," John said slowly, emphasizing every word.

"But then he brings me back to life in the sarcophagus," Teyla said, looking at him with hollow eyes. "When one is killed by the Wraith, there is no way to return to life. Even the sarcophagus cannot restore one they have killed."

John wanted to ask how she'd found that out, but the doors were opening. The lab was crowded, but one man, a tall, thin figure with black eyes and dark hair, seemed to draw all the light in the room. John felt his stomach plummet. "So pleased you could join us," Ba'al said. "If you would, please – stand over there."

John walked over to a long, flat table with what seemed to be clear keys sticking in it. One step behind the device stood a blue-shirted scientist with thinning hair, his hands clasped behind his back. "Look, if you want to get my cooperation in accomplishing the impossible, how about you start by not starving me to death?" he snarled at Ba'al. John noticed the angry red mark on the other man's forehead, and realized this probably wasn't the first time the guy had mouthed off.

"You have eaten recently," Ba'al said, his voice a warning rumble.

"Yeah, four hours ago! I'm hypoglycemic!" the scientist shot back. "I need food if you want me to pull this off. Or maybe you want to leave it to Zewicky, in which case, great. I'll be down in my cell working on my last will and testament."

Ba'al rolled his eyes, then muttered something to the Jaffa next to him.

The Jaffa threw the scientist a PowerBar, which he caught in midair, instantly opening the packet and taking a bite. "Chocolate? Again? Even I get sick of chocolate. Don't you have any of the oatmeal raisin ones left?"

And he'll probably be complaining about something, Daniel had said. He realized this guy had to be Rodney.

"You will have them when you finish your work." Ba'al seemed to be speaking through gritted teeth.

"Right," Rodney said, looking up at John. "Here, put your hands on this. It should take about as much of an effort as it did for you to flop on that chair in Antarctica."

John ran one hand over the machine. He could almost feel a tickle in his brain, as if the instrument was probing him. Then suddenly, it lit up, and like Vegas, lights all over the room began flaring on in a cascade effect. Scientists began scurrying hither and yon.

"Peter, hook your laptop into the terminal behind Ba'al. Tell me what kind of readings you get. Kavanagh, let me know if we've got long-range scans that include life signs." He turned to John. "And you. Don't touch anything else unless I tell you."

"Hey, Rodney," John said in a low voice. "Daniel says hi. He said 'shop smart'." The phrase had given John flashbacks to midnight movies just before basic training.

To his surprise, the scientist smiled a little bit, though he didn't look up from the controls. "Well, tell him I still haven't seen it all the way through, because of him." Then his eyes, a stormy blue-gray, met John's. "How's he doing?"

Better than me, John thought. He shrugged. "Surviving."

Rodney frowned, and for a second his hands spasmed shut. "Yeah," he said. "Him and everyone else."

– – –

As Bates wired the tiny bomb, he chanted to himself. "If you feel like giving me," he whispered, like a mantra, "a lifetime of devotion."

He'd realized he was going insane a couple of days ago, when he found himself laughing with one of the Jaffa. Tarl'rac had made a joke about one of the female scientists speeding by, and he'd found himself laughing along. Suddenly, underneath the laughter, he'd realized. You don't even know I'm going to kill you. In that moment, he thought about what he was doing, really thought about it, and his stomach suddenly rebelled, pressing in, heaving. He'd managed to put his arms around his belly, lean against the wall, and pretend it was from the laughter. It took him just a second to think about something else, anything else, so that he could get control of himself.

But when he was alone, he had more time to think. And when he thought about it, his stomach heaved. So mostly, he tried not to think about it, to disconnect his mind from his actions when his stomach muscles started contracting and fluttering, and part of not thinking about it seemed to involve whispering the chorus of a Smokey Robinson song like it was a prayer.

"I second that emotion," he whispered under his breath.

He tried not to think about things, but it seemed like the walls were closing in; every time he turned around in his head, he was brushing against some other idea he was supposed to be avoiding. It was like being in that trash compactor scene in Star Wars.

And of course, there was another problem.

"And if you feel like loving me," he whispered under his breath. "If you get the notion."

He'd fallen in love with the Princess. Or at least, he was pretty sure he had.

"I second that emotion," he whispered, putting the tiny radio transmitter/receiver into the block of explosive.

Weir was beautiful and dark, just like Princess Leia. And just like Princess Leia, she was used to taking charge. He was supposed to be rescuing her, but instead she'd turned around and put him to work, exactly like in the movie.

"If you feel like giving me a lifetime of devotion," he whispered. If she was Leia, he was pretty sure he wasn't Han Solo or Luke Skywalker; he didn't even think he was Wedge. He was just one of the nameless X-Wing pilots who worshipped her from afar, who did whatever it took to accomplish her orders.

Hey, even Gold Three had an important part to play in that final run on the Death Star, didn't he?

"I second that emotion," he whispered, and, making his mind a glassy blank, tucked the little bomb, no bigger than a bar of soap, in with the women's clothes that sat in the corner of the supply room, for Kate to gather later.

– – –

"Are you certain this is the proper translation?" Ba'al said, underlining with his finger the words written in Goa'uld on the monitor.

Daniel licked his lips nervously. It was late, and the lighting in his quarters was low. Ba'al had sent Teyla and John away a few hours ago, under heavy Jaffa guard; tonight was apparently a working evening, and neither of Ba'al's other personal prisoners could assist with the translation in any way.

"My Goa'uld isn't that good," Daniel lied. He could read every word that Ba'al had transcribed from Daniel's oral translation of the Ancient script, but he didn't want the system lord to know that, not yet; there was too much he would be able to learn from an unguarded monitor. "But the Ancient text says the console can be keyed in to control some kind of defense weapon."

"What kind of weapon?" Ba'al asked, putting one hand on his bare shoulder. Daniel shivered at his touch.

"That's…uh, well, all the information on that seems to be held in another file, and I haven't managed to find it yet. The Ancients had some sort of system that I'm sure made sense to them, but it was based on some cultural assumptions that are very different from ours." That, at least, was no lie. Daniel had taken one library science course in college – only one, when he was trying to decide between focusing on museum work and field work for archaeology – and had learned about efforts to make information categorization "heuristic" and "algorithmic", so finding data would be instinctual. He was guessing the Ancients had succeeded in that, for their own people. Unfortunately, their data system defied his own human ability to extrapolate the connections.

"I need you to find that information," Ba'al said. "Such a weapon could be crucial in the days ahead."

Daniel turned to him, and was startled by the intensity in those brown eyes. "Why is this so crucial? Why now?" he asked. "You wiped out the Wraith just after we got here."

"But there are more," Ba'al said simply. "They will come. We must prepare." Then he looked away, and Daniel saw his jaw working for a moment. "And there are others from my own galaxy who may see the potential of an unexplored region, as I have."

"Others? What others?" Daniel asked, leaning forward, instantly curious. Ba'al had told him something about the system lords and their battles for dominance, but there was a vast culture here, and he'd only explored the tip of it.

"I will tell you when it becomes relevant," Ba'al said. "In the meantime, tomorrow you will accompany me to one of the laboratories. Your Dr. McKay has found an item there that may be crucial to our defense."

"Rodney?" Daniel said as casually as possible, carefully not looking up from the monitor, feeling his heart leap in anticipation. He'd heard a little about Rodney from John, but hadn't seen him since the night of their arrival. He'd started to wonder if Ba'al would ever let him see the physicist again, but had stopped asking out of fear that his constant requests might bring Rodney unfavorable attention.

"Yes," Ba'al said, moving away from his position behind Daniel. Daniel's back felt chilled at the sudden absence; he turned and saw the Goa'uld settling in on the bed, sitting up a little with his hands folded behind his head, his long legs crossed at the ankle. "Come here," Ba'al said. Daniel walked to the edge of the bed and sat down. Ba'al smiled, the little smile that made Daniel shiver with hot desire, and continued, "You have done well today, and I am feeling generous. I will grant you one request."

Daniel blinked, startled. If Ba'al had offered that five minutes ago, his instant request would have been to see Rodney. But he was already getting that. He looked down at the floor, his breath burning in his chest, thinking of the only other thing he'd been denied. Then he looked up again at Ba'al, through his eyelashes, and said in a low voice, "Kill me."

"What?" Ba'al asked. It was the first time Daniel had ever seen the Goa'uld caught completely off guard.

"I've just – I've – " Daniel took a deep breath, and started again. "I've watched John die so many times now. I want to know what it's like. I want to know what it's like to come back." He could hear the longing in his own voice.

Ba'al looked a little perplexed. He ran one finger along Daniel's jaw, and then seemed to come to some sort of a decision. "Lie down," he said, getting up off the bed.

Daniel slowly moved to the center of the bed, lying on his back. When Ba'al came back, he held a knife – the same knife he'd used to kill John two nights ago. Daniel's eyes opened wide, and he could feel his heart pounding. As Ba'al brought the knife closer to his skin, he followed it until it slipped out of his sight, then let his eyes drift shut.

Cool metal kissed his throat, right on the pulse point. Ba'al held it just far enough away that every beat of his heart brought Daniel's skin in contact with it for a moment, little flickers of chill that vanished between contractions of his heart – beat, beat, beat. Daniel shivered, and felt himself beginning to harden in breathless anticipation. Every bit of his skin was tingling, his instinctual urge for self-preservation fighting with his desperate desire to know. What would it feel like, when the blade dragged across his throat? Would he feel a sudden burning? Or would it be so sharp that he wouldn't notice the cut, wouldn't even notice the blood pulsing out until it started to cool on his skin when it touched air?

He felt the blade slip away suddenly, and opened his eyes. Ba'al was staring at him with gold-flaring eyes, head tilted, an intrigued look on his face. Daniel brought one hand to his throat; there was no blood, not even a drop.

Then he felt the tip of the knife gently scraping down his shoulder, toward his chest. Every muscle in his body tensed as he stared at Ba'al, who seemed fascinated by what he was doing to Daniel.

The point of the knife rested on Daniel's chest, just a little below his left nipple. The way to a man's heart is between his fourth and fifth rib, he heard Rodney's voice say in his head, that bad joke that he made at least once a week their second year at Oxford. Rodney would kill him for this, he thought, and his chest jumped a little with suppressed laughter at his own private joke. He felt Ba'al press the knife in just a little deeper, just enough so that he could feel it, and Daniel gasped. His every nerve felt electric, his thighs beginning to shake from coiled energy. This is it, he thought, breathing out until his lungs ached from emptiness.

Ba'al reached over with his free hand, and brushed his fingers against Daniel's right nipple. Daniel's back arched, his entire body taut and curved like a bow as Ba'al's touch sizzled through him. He would have impaled himself on the knife with his reaction, but Ba'al pulled it away, and Daniel's body dropped back to the bed, shaking.

He panted as Ba'al straddled him, and drew the flat of the knife along his stomach, down just above the hip bone, following for a moment along Daniel's appendicitis scar. Daniel clenched his jaw. If Ba'al decided to go in there, it would hurt. He swallowed.

But if Ba'al decided to go in there, he would finally know. His stomach fluttered, and Ba'al looked into his eyes. One blink, two, with the knife hovering over Daniel's stomach, and suddenly Daniel shivered all over. Ba'al smiled, and moved lower.

The knife continued down, down further. He felt the edge of the blade brushing down over his pubic bone. He realized that Ba'al, fascinated like a snake, could decide to make this a long process, the death of a thousand cuts. The sudden sensation of a sharp edge just touching his cock, even with Ba'al's hot breath wrapping around it, should have caused his erection to wilt instantly. Instead, he found himself getting even harder with the fear, the tension, the waiting, and wondered when he'd become such an adrenalin junkie.

Ba'al's breath continued to ghost, warm and moist, over his dick as the blade came to rest on Daniel's femoral artery. This had to be it; there was nowhere further down that Ba'al could go and inflict a fatal blow. Daniel's breath came in short, sharp bursts; his cock bobbed up and down with the rhythmic clenching of his pelvic muscles. He felt the knife press in, press just a little harder –

And then it left, and Ba'al was sliding up again, his whole body pressing the length of Daniel's, one hand wrapping around Daniel's throbbing erection. "No," Ba'al whispered into Daniel's ear, tossing the knife away and stroking his free hand tenderly along Daniel's cheek. "I will not. I will not harm you, Daniel."

"Why?" Daniel gasped, desperate, feeling his inescapable orgasm about to come crashing down.

Ba'al looked confused for a moment, and the vulnerability made Daniel catch his breath. Then he smiled, that dangerous, confident smile that had drawn Daniel to him weeks ago in the gate room. "Because you desire it too much," he said.

Everything went white as Daniel came, the pulsing roar of his heartbeat blocking out even his own gutteral cries.

– – –

"So, this is it?" McKay said around his mouthful of PowerBar.

"Yeah," Jack said, sliding one hand along the back of the chair. "I kinda figured I shouldn't sit in it until you were here."

McKay rolled his eyes. "I'm glad to see someone has a healthy appreciation of the potential dangers of Ancients technology." He tossed another protein bar at Jack.

"Oatmeal raisin. Nice," Jack said appreciatively.

"I still can't believe you don't like chocolate," McKay muttered, kneeling down next to the console and unscrewing the panel on the front. Jack started walking toward the chair, and McKay yelled, "Stop! Don't even think about getting in there."

"I thought me sitting in the chair was an important part of the process," Jack said, looking over the console at the doctor.

"If we turn it on and this energy-sucker is linked into the main power grid, it'll be an important part of the process of us getting caught by Ba'al," McKay said, not even bothering to scowl up at him as he started digging into the guts of the thing. "Sit down. Tell me about life on the outside."

Jack sat down, leaning against the edge of the console. McKay silently handed him a Maglite; Jack turned it on, and, with the practice of a now-established routine, held it up high enough to illuminate the innards of the console without allowing McKay to get into his own light. "I found a pond yesterday," Jack said.

"A pond?" McKay said, squinting up at him. The dark circles under his eyes had gotten more prominent over the last couple of weeks.

"With fish," Jack said. "Makes me wish I had my gear."

McKay shook his head, looking back at the machinery. "There's no way we're getting our hands on it. That supply guy Bates seems to be extra-friendly with the Jaffa."

Jack sighed. He knew that people would do anything to save their own skins, and he expected it from the scientists Weir had picked out, but it still bothered him that Carter had been so wrong about one of the men she'd sent on the mission. "Need me to aim this higher?"

"Lower, actually," he said, lying down on his back and sticking his head in the console. "Hold it toward the floor." McKay took a tiny silver box out of his pocket; it looked to Jack like a slightly chunky cellphone, and fit easily into the palm of McKay's hand. He plugged a cable into one end; then he clipped an adaptor to it, attached it to the console, and flipped the device open.

"Someone stick your laptop in the dryer again?" Jack said, raising his eyebrows at the thing which, for all the world, looked like someone had made a laptop for a Barbie doll.

McKay gave him a lopsided smile, then began tapping on the keys with his thumbnails. "It's a Zaurus. Japanese. Daniel was going to translate all the menus for me when we got here." The corner of his mouth pulled down, and for a moment, he didn't seem to be looking at anything. Then his thumbnails went click, click, click against the keys. "Elizabeth took care of it over the past few nights, enough for me to get into the command-line Unix interface and load up the bridge to the Ancients machines."

"Sounds like some hot dates," Jack said, chewing on his own PowerBar as McKay worked.

The doctor snorted. "Despite what we try to make the Jaffa think, she's not my type."

"What, you only go for blondes?" Jack said.

McKay grinned. "Something like that," he said, squinting at the screen. Whatever he saw there wiped the smile off his face quickly. "Just our luck. It pulls power from something in this section, but there's a built-in redundancy link with the main tower. If it needs more power, it'll suck at the naquidah generators Ba'al has set up on the station. We can't slip that by him." He sat up, resting his elbows on his knees, his head hanging low. "I've got to figure out some way to take it off the main grid."

"Well, you programmed Atlantis to think you're in Weir's quarters every night when you're down here with me," Jack said.

McKay shook his head. "Power's an entirely different interface," he said. "Elizabeth's working on translating it, but we have to be subtle, and her Ancient's not as good as -" He let out a hiss of frustration, rubbing one hand on the back of his neck. "There was a reason I didn't want to come across the galaxy without my human Universal Translator. It's like losing a piece of my brain."

Jack couldn't remember the last time he'd depended on another person as much as McKay seemed to rely on Jackson. Then he looked at the PowerBar in his hands and realized, yeah, maybe he could. And he could list off ten teammates he'd had that hadn't been nearly as good as McKay. Easy.

He tried to think of a solution that wouldn't require translation skills. "Why don't we just cut the wire?"

"The Ancients don't have wires," McKay mumbled, not looking up. "Everything routes through connector barrels on the..." His sentence drifted off, and his head snapped up suddenly. "The connector barrels. That's it! We just need to find a way to engineer a disconnect that won't pop up on the system."

"Okay," Jack said. "Bring me over, hand me a screwdriver and tell me what to unwire."

McKay shook his head. "I wish it were that easy. We're gonna need help." He covered his face with his hands. "Crap."

"What?" Jack asked.

McKay's hands slid down, revealing a face that was the picture of distaste. "I'm gonna have to talk to Kavanagh."

 

CHAPTER 3: CUT IN FULL BLOOM



Kate let one hand slide along his long, lean body as Pel'mar rolled out of the bed, making his way to the bathroom. "I had heard many rumors about Tau'ri women, but I did not realize they were true," he said, sauntering through the long, empty Jaffa dormitory and into the bathroom.

"What sorts of rumors?" Kate asked, keeping her voice low and sultry as she rolled over onto her stomach, reaching out to grab the pile of her clothes that was next to the bed.

"That you fought as fiercely outside of the bedroom as our women fight within its walls." His voice echoed out, through the dormitory, with an undertone of laughter. She heard the water-droplet sound of urine falling into a toilet.

As Kate pulled the small block of explosive from the pocket of her skirt, she put a practiced warmth into her voice. Not the warmth she'd used with her patients; this tone had a slow sultry burn in the back, a tone she'd learned to use in her undergraduate years at Tulane, when waitressing at bars had paid the bills. "And am I fierce?" she asked.

Where should she put it? Pel'mar's bed was too close to the front, and the wall jutted in a little at the head of it; from everything Bates had told her, it would direct the charge to the front of the room, and do far less damage than she needed. The bed in the back corner, now, the wall behind it was oddly shaped, a little less than a 90 degree angle.

"You are like a kitten," he said, and she rolled her eyes as she slid under the bed, the floor cold against her naked back, thinking to herself Don't come out, not yet, not yet. "Your teeth are sharp, but small," she heard him continue as she pushed the explosive solidly into the corner, wishing she had some way to bring something to direct the blast more. But she wouldn't know how to do it properly anyway. Bates didn't even know how to do it properly. The only one who did was Ford.

She could hear the stream of water slowing in the bathroom. "You play at being fierce predators, but you love to have your belly stroked, and you will wrap yourself around the man who is kind enough to give you a chunk of meat," Pelmar continued as she slid out from under the bed, looking back one last time to make sure the charge was in there firmly. If they found what she'd done, she wondered if she'd suffer the same fate as Ford, or if she'd get lucky, like Beckett had.

She pushed herself to her feet, and padded softly to the bathroom, putting on her game face. When she appeared in the doorway, he was at the sink, washing his hands. She slid behind him, and traced one finger over the bruises on his neck and shoulders. "My bites don't hurt, then?" she teased.

He turned his head slightly, and she could see his smile in profile. "Your little bites hurt just enough," he said, kissing her hand.

She pressed her body against his back, running her hands up his chest, and thought, Just wait until you feel me really bite.

– – –

Daniel could feel the tension in the room as he reviewed the Ancient files. Dr. Weir stood in one corner, her hands clasped behind her back, her face tight and drawn, a couple of scientists Daniel didn't know standing beside her. John had adopted a similar stance, looking grim as he stood next to Ba'al, who occasionally glanced up and down the pilot's body as if he were assessing a new suit or, more likely, a piece of meat. Two Jaffa bracketed John and Ba'al, making it very clear what the results of any sudden moves would be.

Daniel could shut them all out when he stared at the translucent Ancient monitor, his arms folded around himself despite the way it caused his soft, mossy-green jacket to pull in back. He couldn't, however, ignore the man next to him – and he didn't want to. Rodney was standing a few inches away from the un-initialized console next to the one Daniel was working on, looking like he wished he could lean against it and let the Ancient machinery bear his burdens for a while. Daniel didn't think he'd ever seen his friend so tired, not even the day before his thesis defense.

"Um," Daniel said, choosing his words carefully. The fate of at least one person in the room hung on what he was about to say. "These documents seem to be about weapons that are currently somewhere on Atlantis. The way it's written makes it a little obscure," he lied, glancing up at Ba'al, whose lips twisted up just slightly in a shivery smile. "Ancient tenses can be a little difficult to interpret. Its structure is similar to Latin, but more complex. The present active tense is conjugated in a way that's similar to the past imperfect passive tense – really, more like a passive past reflexive tense, which doesn't really exist in English or, honestly, in most modern languages – "

"So," Ba'al said, cutting Daniel off before he could explain further. "A simple mistake."

Daniel knew it wasn't a mistake; he knew those tenses were so easily confused because Weir had told him that herself, when she'd given him the briefing on Ancient. But he nodded. "Even if someone can work out a link to the weapons system, there's not enough power on the station to fuel it. It requires a ZPM."

"Which I am still trying to create," Rodney interrupted, turning to Ba'al. "And while I'm sure you think your theories of espionage are important enough to interrupt my work, there are some of us who would prefer not to become the next course on the Wraith's menu."

Ba'al's eyes narrowed, and Daniel thought to himself, shut up, shut up, Rodney. But the little smile never left the Goa'uld's face. "Then I would recommend you work quickly, Doctor." He looked around the room. "All of you. Work quickly. I assure you, compared to the Wraith I am a much more pleasant alternative."

The room immediately turned into a hive of activity. As Ba'al began a circuit around the room, Rodney stepped closer to Daniel. They weren't touching, but Daniel's skin tingled at his nearness, as if Rodney were radiating some sort of magnetic field.

"How are you?" Daniel asked, his voice low.

"Oh, you know," Rodney said, absently touching his forehead. "Thinking big physicist thoughts. And you?"

I've learned how to read Linear A, Daniel thought. If we can ever get back to Earth, I can translate every document we've ever found on Crete – we'll get a whole new understanding of the Minoan civilization! I'm learning about the sociodynamics of an entirely new culture. My fellow prisoner is acting as my own personal trainer. I'm having sex every night with the most beautiful man I've ever seen. And if he weren't keeping us all prisoner, if he weren't repeatedly killing John and Teyla, if I wasn't so scared he would kill you, I'd be having the time of my life.

What he said was, "I'm fine."

– – –

"I don't think you should go out tonight," Elizabeth said to Rodney as he opened the pill bottle, shaking two tablets into his hand.

He shook his head. "This must be what being married feels like. I'll be fine, Elizabeth." He popped the tablets into his mouth, chasing them with a glass of water.

"Rodney. He almost caught us today. He will still be watching us." He might have been hearing her, but he wasn't listening; his eyes already had that far away look they got when he was running through Ancient computer code in his head. "If we lose you, we lose everything," she said.

Rodney waved his hand, his sentences tumbling out one over the other. "Ba'al trusts computers. He trusts machines. He doesn't think the internal sensors will lie to him. And he can't afford to. He doesn't have enough Jaffa to guard every door. Not if they're going to sleep."

"You need to sleep, too," Elizabeth said. Rodney had stolen all the military-issue amphetamines shipped out with the Atlantis mission after Ba'al had killed Carson; she'd watched his use of them creep steadily upward over the past two weeks. He was getting more staccato and choppy with every dose, a little manic.

"Tomorrow," he said. "I've marked off tomorrow night for sleep. You need to wear one of those little nose strips, to keep from snoring."

"I don't snore!" Elizabeth said indignantly.

"It's quite charming, actually. Reminds me of my grandfather," Rodney said, pulling on the beige uniform jacket that now hung a little too loosely on his frame.

Elizabeth shook her head. "Forget the snoring! You simply cannot take this chance. Not tonight."

"It has to be tonight!" Rodney said. "Getting messages to O'Neill isn't exactly easy. If I don't show up, what do you think he'll think? He'll think I've been captured, and then he'll do something macho and military and utterly idiotic." His face was getting redder, and he gesticulated wildly. "Do you think I like going out there?" His eyes went wide, and his lips became thinner. "Every night I'm sure Ba'al's going to capture me." His voice shook a little, then became steady again. "But I don't have a choice. As you and Ba'al and everyone else remind me, I'm the only one who can solve this."

"Rodney," Elizabeth said, reaching out to him. He'd stopped telling her how scared he was a couple of weeks ago; it hadn't occurred to her that he'd ever stop talking about it if he was still frightened.

He cut her off with an angry, sharp gesture and walked away. "I'm going." The lights in the room suddenly went out, and he slipped out the door, leaving Elizabeth alone in the dark.

– – –

John could feel that cold, prickly sweat, the one that told him it was time to die again, and soon. He knew from experience that it would be a bad idea to try to grab a weapon from one of the Jaffa who were trailing him and Teyla. The Goa'uld equivalent of death-by-cop had never gone well for him. All the same, the thought had occurred to him once or twice on their way back to the Athosians' quarters. Make that fifty or sixty times.

"My people will be glad to see you again," Teyla said.

John shrugged a little, smiling at her. "Always nice to hear I made a good impression on a girl's family." She smiled back, and he felt a little flutter in his gut that momentarily pushed back the crawling need for death. "And I gotta say, the Prince of Darkness back there could learn a lot from your people's hospitality skills."

As the doors slid open, John looked forward to stepping into the other world the Athosians had managed to create, full of earth tones, thick velvety blankets, candles, wall hangings, their environment the polar opposite of the antiseptic ostentation that marked Ba'al's domain. Always open to inspection from the Jaffa, of course, but still somehow a haven.

But when they stepped through, the hallway was bare. He looked around, his nostrils flaring. He could still smell a trace of the Athosian incense, a mix of sandalwood and sage, but everything was white, bright, stripped back to the Ancient design. He turned to Teyla slowly, the prickly cold sweat he felt a moment ago redoubled as he felt his stomach muscles tense, preparing for the sucker punch the barrenness had telegraphed.

Teyla's brown eyes were wide, her mouth a little open as she looked around. She was still, utterly frozen for a moment. Then she leapt into action, running down the hallway, opening door after door after door. At the end of the corridor, she spun around. "My people!" she cried, and on her face was a look of fear far worse than the one she'd wore when Ba'al had stifled the life out of her just a few days ago. "My people are gone!"

Oh, Jesus, John thought. He moved toward her, planning to hold her and say something consoling. Then he saw her fists clench and her jaw tighten. She drew herself up and walked down the corridor toward the front door, terrifying in her determination. As the door drew open, she threw herself on one of the Jaffa, grabbing him by the throat and slamming him against the wall. The alien soldier stared at her, wide-eyed. The other Jaffa leveled his staff weapon at Teyla.

"Where are my people?" she shouted, either oblivious to or uncaring of the danger she was in.

Her volcanic rage made the Jaffa she was holding flinch. "Gone," he gasped. "Sent to the mainland, to grow crops for the base."

The other soldier reflexively stepped back, and then leveled his staff weapon in Teyla's general direction, obviously trying to figure out how to get a clear shot. John rushed forward, grabbing her from behind and pulling her off the armored man.

"Teyla, don't," he said, warningly, his voice low against her ear.

She struggled against him. "Let me go!"

He held onto her fiercely, fighting to keep her subdued, desperate to keep himself between her and the staff weapon. "If you die this time, I don't think Ba'al's going to bring you back."

"Do you think I care?" she said, her voice wrenching in despair.

"I care!" John shouted, his arms spasming around her. "You, Daniel – you're all I've got!"

All the struggle left her in an instant, her body began to go limp in his arms. He got her inside the door before she crumpled again, and he knelt beside her to hold her.

"If she should ever attack one of us again…" the Jaffa aiming the staff weapon said warningly. The door slid shut.

John kissed the top of Teyla's head, pulling her to him, stroking her hair. He expected her to begin sobbing; instead, she was quiet and still. "Hey," he said. "They're on the mainland. He didn't kill them."

She shook her head; he could feel her cheek rubbing against his chest through the silky shirt Ba'al had dressed him in. "He has," she whispered quietly, all emotion gone from her voice. "Ba'al has no ships fit to do battle with the Wraith, and they have no Gate to escape through." She shuddered once, all over. "This is his way of telling me that Daniel has filled my place," she said, and the shiver that had run through her body was in her voice. "Everything I have done – it was for nothing. Ba'al will protect my people no longer."

In the quiet blank room, the thin smell the memory of the life it had once held, John held Teyla. But she didn't weep; she only stared off into space.

– – –

Most of the time when Daniel read Ancient he was struck by its beauty, its complexity, and its elegance. It had verb tenses that simply didn't exist in any other language he'd known, such as a past negative tense and a future negative tense. Word order didn't matter at all; everything was dependent on declination and conjugation.

And then there were the times that he discovered that he'd gotten a translation all wrong, because the verb was irregular or the noun at the center of the sentence was a fifth gender that he'd simply never run across before. Or maybe it was a type of declension he hadn't seen. He still couldn't tell. He couldn't gather it from context, and he couldn't find another example anywhere, and he couldn't crack the damn sentence. He stared at the monitor like it was his own personal enemy, so deep in the whirling syllables of the Ancient tongue that he'd forgotten Ba'al was there until the Goa'uld let out a quiet sound of startlement.

Daniel jumped in his seat, and turned to see Ba'al leaning forward over his own Ancient computer terminal for a moment. He pressed a few keys, leaning forward even more, then suddenly leaned back in his chair, head tilted, staring at the screen.

Daniel cleared his throat. "What's going on?" he asked softly.

Ba'al looked at him, dark eyes intent. He shook his head, and pressed a key on the console, wiping the screen blank. Then he got to his feet. "I must go," he said, and walked out the door.

"Well. That was…abrupt," Daniel murmured to himself. He turned back to his monitor, but he'd lost any tenuous grasp he'd had on the sentence. Sighing, he got up to stretch.

As he reached up toward the ceiling, his eyes lit on Ba'al's other computer console, the one that interfaced with all the Goa'uld systems and data. It was on, shimmering golden in the dim light of the bedroom.

Daniel moved forward slowly, and looked toward the door. If Ba'al found him going through the Goa'uld files, he'd probably snap Daniel's neck.

But Daniel wanted to know what the sarcophagus was like, didn't he?

Daniel slipped into Ba'al's chair, the thick cloth warm against his bare skin, and began to read.

– – –

Jack stood on the floating surfboard, making sure it stayed steady as Kavanagh delved into the wires and chips inside the housing on the wall. The scientist kept up a constant litany of complaints about Ba'al, the minds of the US military, and Elizabeth Weir's leadership as he went. A midnight mist had formed over the ocean, and began to crawl up over the balcony. Ten more minutes of this and I won't be able to see McKay at all, Jack thought.

"– and he's not even following established scientific protocols!" Kavanagh continued. "We have no idea how much information we're losing, because he''s focused on weapons over preservation of data. I joined this mission because I wanted to be involved in science, not help the Goa'uld find a new way to fight another enemy."

"Write a complaint to General Carter," Jack drawled, and thought about dropping the Ancient surfboard ten feet, just to get the guy to shut up for a minute or two. It quivered just a little at his thought, like a dog ready to chase after a ball, and Kavanagh breathed in sharply, his white-lipped face turning quickly to stare at Jack.

"Sorry. Conversation distracts me," Jack said, counting on the shadows to hide his grin.

"Kavanagh, you ready yet?" McKay's whisper came through so loudly, Jack could swear the other man's mouth was right next to his ear, not twenty yards away. When they'd found the narrow metal channel that arced over the control trunk platform and down to the control panel Kavanagh was tinkering with, McKay had practically had a geekgasm, going on about acoustics and engineering and beautiful architectural design fulfilling necessary engineering function and brilliant low-tech solutions. Jack had blocked most of the explanation out: the channel carried sound from one end to the other, amplifying it when it reached the opposite end, and that was all he needed to know.

"He's been a little busy telling me how Ba'al's been infringing on his civil rights," Jack said, earning a burning glare from the whining scientist. "Give us a minute."

"Sure," McKay whispered, his voice like a wisp of mist. Jack looked down to see him leaning against the console, hands braced, head hanging low.

"You OK?" Jack asked.

McKay shook his head. "Yeah, yeah. Just tired." He let out a weary, long breath. "If we have time tonight, there's a strange power spike in one of the central towers we need to check out."

"Define need," Jack whispered back. "Is this need, like 'imminent doom hovering over the middle of Atlantis,' or need, like that time you decided I needed to activate that little training room at the end of that hallway?"

"You got a few bruises. For all we knew, that room could have contained all the secrets of the Ancients," McKay said. Jack couldn't see his face through the mist, but he swore he could hear the smug angled smirk on the scientist's face. "The power spike is at the top of the same tower Ba'al's quarters are in. We can go to that overlook we found two days ago and take some readings. You can even use your Silver Surfer powers to get us high enough to get a clear view into Ba'al's rooms." The overlook would have been the perfect place to spy on Ba'al from – if it hadn't been for the low, fairylike tower between it and Ba'al's chambers.

Jack leaned against the sculpted metal wall. A chilly breeze cut through his T-shirt, redoubling the salt smell that surrounded them. Kavanagh shivered, and Jack silently thanked his parents for handing down the Minnesotan antifreeze in his veins. "If I'm gonna lead the way, I'm leading it right back to that pond, and you and I are gonna find where the Ancients kept their fishing rods."

"We're in the middle of the greatest scientific discovery humanity has ever made, and you want to go fishing?" McKay whispered back.

"I figure you and me catch a couple of bass, have a nice little cookout. Pop open some beers, maybe do a little snooping around the computers and figure out whether the Ancients had something like pro ball."

"I thought you said conversation distracted you," Kavanagh said, scowling.

"Sorry. I meant whining distracts me," Jack said. Then he whispered to the silent McKay, "Fine. We'll check out your tower tonight, but tomorrow I'm putting a 'gone fishing' sign on my room."

McKay was still silent. Jack was about to ask him how the heck they were supposed to get to the tower if it turned out to be interesting when he heard the gentle whoosh of the balcony doors. McKay spun around at the sound. Jack figured that any entry was bad news, and the rigidity in McKay's body, the way he backed up until he was pressed against the console, confirmed it.

Shit, he thought. He grabbed Kavanagh and put a hand over the scientist's mouth before he could speak and give away their position.

He heard the voice first, the eerie voice that followed him no matter how deeply he dreamed."Hello, Rodney," Ba'al said. As Jack watched from above, the Goa'uld walked into view, through the mist just a dark smear on the balcony.

– – –

Daniel knew that Ba'al could be back at any minute, but he couldn't stop digging deeper and deeper into the files. This was fascinating, complete access to the secret records documenting the inner workings of an alien culture that had influenced every people on Earth. The organization of the knowledge was as idiosyncratic and foreign as the Ancients' arrangement of their own database; following the connections was like wandering a long, looping path through the jungle at night, with dimly visible trails scattering every which way.

He stopped short in his wandering. This wasn't old information. He'd stumbled upon Ba'al's private correspondence.

"Oh, this is bad," he whispered to himself, scanning the lines of Goa'uld. He licked his lips nervously, then started again at the beginning, trying to burn the words into his memory.

He had to find some excuse to get out of here tomorrow. He had to find an excuse to see Rodney.

– – –

Silently, the floating surfboard drifted a little further away from the sound conduit. Jack's heart was pounding so loud, he was surprised it hadn't carried down the channel to Ba'al's ears.

"Dr. McKay," Ba'al said."It seems you know far more about programming the computers on Atlantis than you had previously disclosed."

"I – I – I don't know what you're talking about," McKay stammered, slowly sliding his way around the control panel. Ba'al followed, slowly striding toward him, four Jaffa in his wake. Jack watched, assessing the odds, looking for angles of attack, anything to get McKay out of there.

"You have altered the way the internal sensors work," Ba'al said, his voice low and dangerous, carrying up to Jack and Kavanagh as if it were being broadcast through speakers. I have to tell McKay it's not just that little metal channel, Jack thought. The whole platform is like a megaphone.

"I didn't…" McKay said, drifting off mid-sentence. The mist blurred his features, and Jack was glad for it. He didn't think he could stand seeing the look on McKay's face. He could picture it vividly enough in his mind.

"You did," Ba'al said, and Jack knew that tone. He'd heard that tone over and over again as Ba'al sat on his throne, smiling at Jack just after dropping acid on him, or battering him with heavy objects that were dropped on him down the gravity well. It was the tone Ba'al used when he knew his prey was cornered and defenseless, without even the shield of bravado."You have been subverting me. Unleashing viruses in the system to destroy data I need. Altering the operations of Atlantis to your own ends."

McKay slid further around the conduit. The control panel he gripped lit up at his touch. Jack winced.

Ba'al stood there for a moment. Jack couldn't see his face, but he saw McKay turn his head, looking down at the console he was leaning against. He could swear he heard the scientist swallow as he looked back at Ba'al.

"And apparently you have the Ancient gene," Ba'al said, sounding quietly amused. Jack could have sworn the mist around him had suddenly turned to ice. He wanted to leave. He had to stay. He knew what was coming, and he couldn't leave McKay alone. He kept the floating platform in the shadows, ensuring an errant glance by a Jaffa wouldn't reveal them.

McKay drew himself up, standing ramrod straight. "If you kill me, you're cutting your own throat. Who are you going to get to analyze the systems? Zewicky? He's a couple of motherships short of a fleet. Kind of like you, now that I think about it. You can't even phone home for help. When the Wraith come back, if you don't have me, you don't have a defense. You don't have anything. There's no one else on Atlantis who can figure out the systems like I can."

"There is one person," Ba'al said. "Me."

McKay laughed incredulously. "I'd heard the Goa'uld had delusions of grandeur, but I never knew they had a death wish. It's not that easy."

The mist came in again, even thicker, and McKay and Ba'al were nothing but dark blurs on the platform. It didn't matter. Jack didn't need to see their faces; he knew both of them so intimately that he could picture their facial expressions in his mind.

"But it is," Ba'al said, and Jack knew he was wearing that smile that was like a knife. "I have watched you work with the systems. Daniel has taught me how to translate Ancient." Jack felt a sudden flood of hot fury at Jackson. Couldn't the guy hold out even a little against the enemy? "I have found every alteration you have made in my programs." Jack saw Ba'al raise his hand to McKay's cheek. He clenched his jaw. He remembered that touch, too. He felt filthy all over, watching this; he wished he could scrub himself clean. "I do not need you. You are more dangerous than useful."

McKay, usually so impossible to shut up, was silent. The only sound was the hollow echo of the breeze rushing through metal.

"Who have you been working with?" Ba'al asked quietly.

"Alone," McKay responded, his voice shaking and high pitched."I?ve been working alone."

Jack heard Ba'al's little half-laugh as he took another step closer to McKay. McKay backed away, taking one step away from the conduit, two, three – and then he was pressed against the balcony railing.

Shit, shit, shit, Jack thought, as Kavanagh's quick breaths rushed hot across his hand, still clamped over the other man's mouth. There was no way McKay could jump before Ba'al got to him. The physicist just wasn't that fast.

"I know you have not," Ba'al said, and now there was something glinting in his hand. Ribbon device, Jack thought. Well, McKay had daily experience with it; Ba'al would melt his brain before McKay gave out any information. "And I intend to find out exactly who you have been working with, and what you have done to my city."

The mist cleared for a second, and Jack saw what Ba'al was actually holding. Jack could see McKay look at the knife in Ba'al's hand, then back at Ba'al's face. The corner of his mouth dragged down. His lips were thin and tight with terror. "You – you can't do that," he said."If Daniel ever found out – "

The mist drifted over them again, and both figures were a soft blur. But it did nothing to blur Ba'al's soft, gentle chuckle."Do you really think Daniel will notice? Do you think he will care? If you mattered to him, he would have asked after you. He would have insisted upon seeing you."

Jack could see the white blur of McKay's hands, paler than the beige of his jacket, clutching against the waist high railing. "I'm sure he has," he said, his voice suddenly hard, an octave lower.

"He has forgotten you," Ba'al replied silkily.

McKay's whisper was low, harsh as breaking glass and empty of hope."You're lying."

An errant breeze drove the mist away again, filling Jack's nostrils with the stench of Kavanagh's fear. McKay's eyes were wide in his face, his mouth an open angled slit curving down.

Don't look up, don't look up, Jack thought. If he were smart, he would have pulled out of here long ago. But McKay was his friend, and he was damned if he was going to let the other man die alone.

Ba'al extended the knife, using the tip to slide aside McKay's jacket. He rested it against the doomed man's chest, pressed there as if it were underlining his left nipple.

"I will have answers, Rodney," Ba'al said, his voice sliding over the man's first name with horrible intimacy. McKay's eyes grew even wider."When the ribbon device does not work, I am always happy to resort to cruder methods such as this. And I will take great pleasure in making you scream, and beg for the mercy of death." He paused for a moment."If you tell me quickly, I may – "

McKay suddenly threw his entire body forward, pushing himself off from the railing with both hands. Jack's hand clenched into a fist in Kavanagh's jacket as he saw the knife slide into Rodney's chest, then out again as Ba'al reflexively shoved the other man away. Obeying the laws of physics, the scientist's figure rebounded from its contact with the solid mass that was Ba'al, collided with the railing, and went over.

Jack watched as Rodney McKay's dead body plummeted down, down into the sea.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: A LOVE LIKE BLOOD


The wind was frigid as they sailed upward, whipping at Jack's unprotected eyes and making them water. As the clock ticked in his head, Jack never lost sight of the paler-colored dot in the ocean that was Rodney. He finally had a reason to like those horrible pale brown uniforms they'd given the science team; if McKay had been wearing dark gray, Jack wouldn't have spotted him.

As soon as they were parallel with the balcony, Jack roughly deposited Kavanagh inside the railing. "There's a working transporter at the end of the hallway. Take it to Weir's quarters. Tell her I need a distraction that will keep Ba'al out of his rooms for the next forty-five minutes," he ordered.

"Are you crazy?" Kavanagh shouted. "Ba'al's going to Weir's quarters now!"

"And you need to get there first!" Jack said, tearing his eyes away from McKay long enough to look at the scientist, knowing every second that slipped by was a second he could never get back. "I can save him – if I can get him to the sarcophagus in time. You keep saying you're so much better than the rest of us. Well, show me."

Kavanagh stared at Jack for a moment, open-mouthed. Then he spun around and ran like hell toward the transporter.

Dive, Jack thought, and began rushing toward the ocean faster than gravity, the surfboard dragging him with it. He knew how long the brain could survive undamaged without oxygen.

He had two minutes left.

– – –

Elizabeth woke to a frantic knocking at her door. She opened it to find Kavanagh standing on the other side, gasping for air. "O'Neill said he needs a distraction," the scientist blurted out.

"Not in the hall!" she hissed, trying to yank him inside.

He resisted. "Ba'al's coming," he said. "O'Ne- you're supposed to keep Ba'al away from his quarters for forty-five minutes."

The sound of Jaffa boots came echoing down the hall. Kavanagh pulled away and sprinted in the opposite direction, rushing around the corner. The faint sound of his door opening and closing was barely audible beneath the sound of pounding feet.

O'Neill needed forty-five minutes. She had to get them for him. She raced back into her darkened room and slid between the sheets. She wanted to meet them standing proud in the middle of the corridor, but every minute she could drag this out was another minute for O'Neill. The pillow she dragged to her chest still smelled faintly of Rodney.

Rodney was probably dead, she thought. Her stomach convulsed in a sob that she swallowed away before it escaped. She couldn't afford tears; she couldn't afford to think about Rodney. She could only think of how to get those forty-five minutes.

The door slid open, without a knock. She consciously unfisted her hands, palms still stinging from her own fingernails. Four Jaffa stood, silhouetted by the light streaming from the hallway. Elizabeth sat up, locking her anxiety away. "Can I help you, gentlemen?" she asked calmly.

The Jaffa barely raised an eyebrow. I wonder if they practice that blank expression in the mirror? Elizabeth thought. "We are to bring you to the control room to see Ba'al. Immediately," he said.

"Of course." She slowly slid out of bed, bare feet sliding into the ridiculous pink scuff slippers Simon had bought her for Christmas. "May I get dressed, first?"

The Jaffa's saturnine expression barely changed. "No," he said.

Damn. Dithering over how to dress for Ba'al could have gotten her at least ten minutes. She stepped forward, regal in her cream silk pajamas and hot pink fuzzy slippers. The guards bracketed her, two slightly in front, two behind.

Elizabeth walked calmly to her doom, slippers scuffing along the floor, whistling defiantly.

– – –

The mist thickened as Jack descended, and he lost sight of McKay. Can't we catch one break? he thought, enraged, as he neared the water. The fog was so thick that he nearly smashed into McKay's body before he saw it floating face-down beneath him.

Damn it, if the board could drop underwater? Before he could complete the thought, the board obediently plunged down, still glued to his feet. The frigid water made everything up to his waist fee like it was being stabbed by icy knives; his knees were never going to let him hear the end of this. "Good boy," he said to the board as the pain hit.

He lunged, grabbing at McKay. His fingers grazed Rodney's collar, but a wave pushed the scientist away. "Damn it!" he swore. He'd lost another five seconds. He moved closer, not even thinking consciously about what he wanted the Ancient device to do. The board reacted to his urgent needs as if it were an extension of his body, bringing him within inches of the scientist. He finally got one desperate, clutching hand around McKay's belt and dragged him close.
Jack slipped his other arm under the scientist, cold water stabbing him through the jacket, and quickly flipped the man into a fireman's carry. He grunted as the heavy weight hit his shoulder, cold water streaming down McKay's body onto him, and considered pulling off McKay's sodden jacket to shed some pounds, but the clock ticking in his head said there was no time.

He thought, go. His magic carpet leapt into the sky, sailing toward the central tower. Jack looked at his watch, though he already knew what it would say. One minute.

Jack's glimpse of McKay's slack jaw, his half-open eyes, remained burned into his retinas.

– – –

Bates woke up to the sound of whistling down the hall, adrenalin flooding his system. It was his signal. It was time to get moving. He listened carefully, looking from his tiny radio transmitter to the door.

Damn it, when they'd set up two signals – "Tears of a Clown" for a small distraction and "My Girl" for all-out war – he hadn't realized that Elizabeth Weir was probably the worst whistler he'd ever heard in his life. There was no tune that he could discern; every note was as monotone as the last.

Why didn't she tell him she was tone-deaf? He tapped out the rhythm of the notes, frustrated, desperate to get it right as her whistles faded away.

– – –

The surfboard touched down gently on Ba'al's balcony, and Jack stepped onto solid ground. "Stay," he said to it, and glanced through the doorway, suppressing the ill-advised urge to rush through the door in favor of reconnaissance.

Only one figure was in view. The dim light from the Goa'uld computer monitor flowed over Jackson's body, shadow catching in pools in the hollows of his collarbone as he leaned forward, rapt, drinking in whatever it said. Jack's hand clenched in the loose fabric of McKay's pants. How McKay's friend could roll over for the Goa'uld at the first opportunity, he'd never understand.

The balcony door slid open at Jack's mental command, and he stepped through, snapping out, "Raise the alarm and I swear I'll snap your neck," his voice a low ribbon of steel.

Jackson looked up, breathing in sharply, eyes wide in shock. "What's going on? Colonel O'Neill. I thought you were dead."

"I'm not," Jack said pointedly, the weight on his shoulder getting heavier with every second. Time's up, he thought, not even needing to look at his watch. Four big red zeroes flashed over and over in his brain, and every moment they spent was a moment he couldn't spare. "Where's the sarcophagus?"

He'd expected the linguist to dither, but instead he sprang into action. "It's in here," he said, running through the doorway between rooms, Jack at his heels.

Jackson jabbed at a hidden button, and the sarcophagus opened its lid slowly. Before it had even finished, Jack was kneeling on the foot of the Goa'uld device, dangling McKay's feet into it. His arm was rigid around McKay's thighs, his hand firmly on the physicist's backside to keep his body from sliding off his shoulder.

"Help me out, here," he grunted as he began to lean forward. He could have thrown the body in, and McKay would have been none the wiser, Jack knew; his corpse was just an inanimate object, a piece of meat. But McKay deserved more respect than that.

Jackson stepped into the sarcophagus, catching McKay's shoulders as the scientist's limp body flipped backwards, his lifeless head lolling on Jackson's chest. "Rodney?" he said, voice strangled. As he stared into the man's slack face, Jack continued to lower McKay's feet into the sarcophagus. For just a minute, he thought about climbing in with the physicist, just for a few minutes of quiet, just to get his knee healed up. Instead, he stepped back, and as Jackson stepped out and onto the floor, the cover slid shut.

When Jack looked up, the linguist was staring at him across the sarcophagus, arms folded across his bare chest. It suddenly registered on Jack that the guy was naked, but it didn't seem to make any difference to Jackson. "I told you to take care of him," Jackson said quietly.

Jack folded his arms, defensive, unconsciously mirroring Jackson. "Yeah. And that's why he's here instead of floating in the ocean. You want to blame someone, blame Ba'al." He turned away in disgust, and caught sight of the trail of water behind him. "Get me some towels," he ordered.

"What? Oh…" Jackson's bare feet were quiet on the floor as he walked away.

Jack tried to squeeze the water out of his pant legs. It was a damn fruitless effort; really, if he wanted to get the job done, he needed to take off his pants and wring them. But he wasn't about to take anything off he didn't have to. Not here. He wondered if Weir had gotten the message, or if she was sleeping peacefully, and they were about to be found by Ba'al.

Jackson's feet were just as quiet on the return. He didn't look up as the younger man held out a long, flat piece of cloth. Figures the Goa'uld would dry off with a sheet, Jack thought, but said, "Thanks."

"Sure," Jackson replied, and then dropped to his knees, wiping up the trail of water left on the floor. The sheet turned out to be surprisingly absorbent.

The inside of Jack's boots made squishy noises every time he shifted his weight, trying to dry himself, and his toes curled up, in an ineffective, instinctive attempt to arch his feet away from the clinging, clammy insoles. Nothing to be done about that, he thought. Before the seconds had been fleeing from his desperate grasp; now they slowly ticked by, marking off an interminable wait.

The silence, marked by the squishing of Jack's boots and the quiet hum of the sarcophagus, was broken by Jackson's low murmur. "He wasn't'this was supposed to keep Rodney safe," he said softly, not looking up.

Jack bent down to help the other man clean up, gritting his teeth as he felt something in his knee pop sideways. "The snake lied to you. They always lie," he said. "Especially that one."

"I didn't have a lot of options," Jackson said sharply.

"You had options," Jack snarled. He gave up on bending over and put one foot on the balled-up fabric, shoving it down the wet trail that led back to the balcony. It was only a little easier on his knee. "You had the option to keep your mouth shut instead of giving Ba'al everything he wanted to know." God, McKay was worth ten of this guy.

"I – " Jackson bit off his angry sentence. When he began again, his voice was quiet, for all the world like he was a teacher in a second-grade classroom. "Do you know who Anubis is?"

Jack had a list of Goa'uld he wanted to see again even less than Ba'al. It was a pretty short list. "Yeah. Kind of like the Emperor in Star Wars, only taller. And less solid." He looked up to see Jackson raising his eyebrows at the last comment.

"Well, I got into Ba'al's personal files tonight," Jackson said.

Jack blinked. "Who do you think you are, Mata Hari?"

Jackson angrily balled up the towel he'd been wiping the floor with and threw it through the doorway to the bathroom. Good aim, Jack thought to himself. "Anubis is coming. Soon. He thinks Ba'al has something he wants, an artifact called the Eye of Ra."

"Okay," Jack said. "That's a problem. I'm assuming the rest of Ba'al's fleet isn't enough to take him on?"

Jackson stared at him for a moment. "The Wraith wiped out Ba'al's fleet."

"The advance party," Jack clarified. "You have no idea what a System Lord is. Do you have any idea how many ships he has?"

"Two tel'taks and an al-kesh," Daniel replied. "Ba'al didn't just come here with an advance party. He came with his entire fleet. And the Wraith wiped them out."

– – –

Elizabeth stood in Ba'al's throne room, hands gripping each other tightly behind her back. Ba'al sat casually, his chin propped on one hand, thoughtfully staring at her.

She stared back, and thought about the room she was in. What use did the Ancients have for it? It was close enough to the control room to be easily accessible, and really a bit smaller than a throne room should be; Ba'al was obviously trading grandeur for proximity. While most Goa'uld seemed content to let their Jaffa do all the work, Ba'al was an unexpectedly hands-on leader. Fortunately, those hands weren't on her. Yet.

Sergeant Bates, were you listening? she thought wildly. Her fingers spasmed, clenching painfully on each other, and she turned her mind back to the possible uses of the room, assessing the architecture she saw in her peripheral vision, eyes never leaving Ba'al's.

The silence had become leaden by the time Ba'al spoke, lowering his hand to rest on his knee. "Dr. McKay is dead," he said, somehow matter-of-fact without being casual.

"I had assumed," Elizabeth replied coldly. She was furious with Rodney for not listening to her. She'd grieve for him later; right now her rage gave her strength. "And exactly how do you plan to defend this city against the Wraith without him?"

"I could not have defended this city against the Wraith with him," Ba'al said calmly. "He was sabotaging the systems."

"He didn't want you to have control of this city," Elizabeth said. "And neither do I."

Ba'al smiled, just slightly. "You would rather be devoured by the Wraith than ruled by me?" he said.

"You've told us the Wraith will destroy us, but so far there's been nothing to prove that you weren't the aggressor in an ill-advised war with a possibly peaceful people," Elizabeth responded, every syllable clipped, bitten off at the end.

Ba'al laughed. "The Wraith are – " A tremor ran through the floor, making her lose her balance momentarily and catch herself, jerking her arms out to her sides. She saw the Goa'uld's hands clutch his knees for a second as the Ancient alarms began sounding, like a steam organ crying for help. Ba'al stood up abruptly and looked out the window to the gate room. The gate was still and silent, the mist outside the window obscuring the stars, the moons, and any hint of the ocean.

"Mel nok tee," Ba'al said to one of the Jaffa at the door, who immediately sprinted out. When he turned back to Elizabeth, his face was dark. "Tell me," was all he said.

Elizabeth spread her hands wide before her. "I honestly have no idea," she said.

Ba'al tilted his head, like a dark, inquisitive, predatory bird. "And if I pressed you, would you continue to say that?" he mused, articulating the threat that had hovered quietly over the room since she entered it.

She dropped her hands to her sides. "You know as well as I do that, with sufficient torture, the victim will confess to anything just to make the pain stop. If I'm telling the truth now, it's very likely I'll make something up if you apply physical pressure."

"Or you are telling me this now, so that I will doubt any information I gain from you if I do torture you?" Ba'al replied. Aside from the little smile that flitted across his face, he hadn't moved an inch. The old saw during negotiation preparation was that old age and treachery beat youth and charm; Ba'al was an ominous combination of all four traits.

Ba'al's soldier ran back into the room. "My lord!" he said. "There was an explosion in one of the dormitories."

A look of utter rage crossed Ba'al's face for a moment, and his fist clenched. "Bring her," he said, turning on his heel and striding out of the room. Before the Jaffa could take her by the arms, Elizabeth was at Ba'al's heels, matching her stride to his, preferring the dignity of walking under her own power.

The first thing she noticed was a breeze across her face, something she'd never felt before inside the Ancients' city. Then she smelled it, a scent like a barbecue held under the shadow of an oil refinery. As they came closer, it began stinging her eyes, and she reached up to wipe them with the back of her hand.

Ba'al grabbed her wrist, pulling her through the haze and thrusting her in front of the doorway, where the Ancient door sat aslant, fractal cracks running through the colored glass. "See what your people have wrought," he said.

She'd seen pictures of this sort of thing from Bosnia, Rwanda, Bali. Every time she saw them, she was relieved at the distance the photographs gave her, thinking to herself, I couldn't bear to see this in person. To her surprise, she'd been entirely wrong. Sometime between Ba'al's throne room and this messy, bloody, burning sight, something inside her had switched off. Maybe it was her humanity. When she saw the carnage, the indistinguishable fragments and lumps that had once been Jaffa, all she could think was good.

As she glanced over the room, Ba'al snapped out commands to his followers. "Search the Tau'ri," he said. "Go from room to room. Allow none of them to leave their quarters. If you find any are in possession of weapons, take them in custody. In the morning, bring them all in front of the chappa'i."

Elizabeth felt his hand on the small of her back, that spot that still held the memory of Rodney's touch. The fury seemed to flow off Ba'al as waves of heat, even as his voice was low, seductive and gentle. "You are useless to me as a translator. But you will make an excellent example to the rest of your people in the morning."

– – –

The floor shook slightly under Jack's feet. "What's going on?" Jackson asked, looking concerned.

"Oh, the usual," Jack said. "Death-defying feats, last-minute rescues. That sort of thing."

"Typical day at the office?" Jackson asked, walking back into the sarcophagus room.

Jack shrugged, trailing along. "Used to be," he said.

Jackson took up a position at the foot of the sarcophagus, something about his posture saying he'd done this before, a lot. Jack stood to one side, his hands fisted in his damp pockets. Either he'd gotten McKay to the sarcophagus in time or –

The image of McKay, brain-damage and drooling, flitted across his mind for a moment. Not that. He hoped he hadn't done that to the guy. And it wasn't just because they needed his mind so badly.

The archaeologist licked his lips, then looked at Jack. "How do you kill a Goa'uld?" he asked.

Jack stared blankly at him, mind brought to a stop by the unexpected question. Then he shrugged. "Drop a nuke on 'em. Stick its head in the event horizon and close the wormhole."

Jackson raised his eyebrows.

"Look, the snake goes in here," Jack said, patting the back of his neck. "You've gotta sever the spine and the Goa'uld, and figure out a way to keep anyone from putting Humpty Dumpty together again."

The quiet hum of the sarcophagus stilled then, and the lid split, opening. Even with the washed-out look the lights of the thing gave McKay, he still looked five times better than he had for days. But his eyes were still shut, and he hadn't moved. Jack held his breath.

Suddenly, McKay's eyes blinked open, focusing first on the ceiling, a slightly confused look on his face. Jack remembered that feeling, how he'd laid there searching for the last thing he remembered, and he had to look away for a second to compose himself.

When he looked back, McKay was sitting up, looking at his chest, fingering the hole in his shirt. He looked at Jackson, and grinned. "I'm not dead!" he said, laughing.

"Not anymore," Jackson said, reaching in to pull McKay to his feet. McKay climbed on to the foot of the thing, and Jackson reached up to help him down, tugging on his hand emphatically enough that McKay wound up flying forward, stumbling into Jackson. Jackson stared down at McKay for a moment, eyebrows drawn together, looking perplexed. Then he kissed him, hard and thoroughly, capturing the scientist's head in his hands, like he was trying to make damn sure the physicist was really there. McKay returned the kiss as enthusiastically as it was given, his arms sliding tightly around the other man's body.

She's not my type.
What, you only go for blondes?
Something like that.


Oh, Jack thought to himself, suddenly uncomfortable at the overwhelming emotion in the center of the room.

Jackson broke the kiss, burying his face in the other man's shoulder, holding him tightly as McKay's smile lit up the room more brightly than the directionless Ancient lighting. Jack remembered smiling like that, long ago, with Sara's arms around him.

"Ba'al said you…" McKay whispered, trailing off. There was a low, unintelligible murmur from the archaeologist. McKay laughed again, sliding one hand down Jackson's hair, and said, "I think that's the first time you've told me that when you haven't been high. I should die more often."

"No, you really shouldn't," Jackson said, pulling back a little and sliding his hands down McKay's body, half affectionate touch, half assessing pat-down. "You've lost weight."

"I've been splitting my meals with him," McKay said, looking over at Jack. His slanted grin was infectious; Jack smiled back, feeling the anxious knot that had sat under his ribcage suddenly loosen.

"How you feeling?" Jack asked.

"A lot better than I was ten minutes ago," McKay responded, that grin not slipping a bit. "Thanks."

"Hey," Jack shrugged, gesturing at Jackson. "I promised him I'd look after you." He glanced out toward the bedroom. "And while I hate to break up this touching scene…"

"We don't know when Ba'al will get back. You need to go," Jackson said, looking like someone had hollowed him out.

"Well, you're coming with us!" McKay said, looking from the archaeologist to Jack. "He's coming with us, right?"

A little smile slipped across Jackson's face, caring and melancholy. "I think he'd notice I was gone."

McKay looked at him, worry in the corners of his eyes, the thin line of his mouth. "Daniel?"

"Rodney," Jackson said, and they stared at each other for a second. "I'll be fine."

McKay sighed. "We'll get you out," he said.

They walked toward the bedroom, Jackson and McKay still touching each other lightly, like they were trying to store up physical contact against a long drought. As Jackson's foot touched the threshold between the rooms, Jack heard something, a subliminal current, and held up one hand to bring them to a stop.

Ba'al's eerie baritone rumble drifted through the door, louder now. "Fuck!" Jack whispered, backpedaling into the room, the other two following him.

"Where do we go?" Rodney hissed.

"How should I know?" Jack shot back, wishing the walls would swallow them. A tiny itch prickled at the base of his brain, and he looked up to see a section of the seamless wall obediently sliding back, revealing a small closet.

Jackson's eyebrows drew together. "That's new," he said. Then they heard the low hiss of the sliding front door. "Go!" he said, pushing them both toward the closet, then yanking McKay back for a quick, hard, desperate kiss.

Jack and McKay plastered themselves against the walls of the closet, the door sliding shut behind them, a low, ambient, shadowless light keeping them from total darkness. Jack hoped the wall was as seamless as it had been before they'd found the tiny room.

Through the wall, they could hear the low rumble of Ba'al's voice, Jackson's mellow tones responding. Suddenly, Jack felt a cold prickle coursing just under his skin. Fuck! he thought, gritting his teeth. The goddamn naquadah in his bloodstream, from that goddamn Kanaan.

Ba'al's voice got closer. Fee, fi, fo, fum, Jack thought. Ba'al might not smell Jack's blood, but he could sure feel it, just like Jack could – a subtle pressure, but still there. Jack wished momentarily for a beanstalk, then looked in the corner. Nope. Seemed like there were some limits to the city's ability to meet his needs.

Christ. Ba'al was standing on the other side of the wall, now. McKay stared at the floor, arms folded, his mouth a narrow, angled slit. Stay shut, stay shut, stay shut, Jack thought at the door, screaming with his mind.

Jackson's voice came through then, a low throbbing melody, and McKay's head jerked up. He stared at the wall as if he could look through it, eyes wide and pained. Ba'al responded, his voice drifting away. Suddenly, Jackson's voice came through the wall so loudly that Jack could almost make out the words he was gasping. He's a screamer, not a moaner, Jack thought. If they ever got out of this alive, he'd assign Kavanagh to a room between McKay and Jackson, and pick out a suite for himself in another section of the city.

McKay's eyes dropped to the floor, his face the picture of misery.

Jack closed his eyes for a second, letting his head drop back against the wall. I'd rather be anywhere but here, he thought to himself. His eyes snapped open as the tingling of the transporter crawled over his skin. Between two breaths, the sound of Jackson's voice stopped. The closet they stood in was still plain and austere, but the shading of the walls were different, more gray than beige.

McKay stared at Jack for a moment. He shrugged. "I wished us somewhere else," he said, and with a wave of his hand, gestured the door open.

He caught sight of some sort of lab with broad windows as a breeze rushed past them and out into the room. Jack's ears popped with the pressure change, and he tried to breathe in only to find there wasn't anything to breathe. He looked at McKay, whose hand was rising to his throat, his face red as he crumpled to his knees.

Blackness formed around the edges of Jack's vision, closing inward. The pain as his knees hit the floor was distant, like there were a hundred pillows between himself and his body. He could hear a deep, repeating wub-wub-wub.

"Some air would have been nice!" he screamed, but the words were a whisper under the thrumming. A gentle current seemed to flow across his face. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was McKay's eyes fluttering shut.


 

CHAPTER 5: DEAD MAN'S PARTY


Jack's head pulsed. There was a low, throbbing noise – it might have been his blood – echoing in his skull, and a quiet click-click-clicky sound outside it. For a minute he was sure he was back in the cell at Ba'al's lab, waiting for another torture session. Then he remembered McKay, clutching at his own throat. McKay? he thought, feeling like his brain had hit another wall. McKay was just another one of those damn sarcophagus-induced hallucinations.

No. McKay was real. Jack was out of Ba'al's cell.

Wasn't he? He cracked open one eye and looked up, to see a dry, dessicated corpse with long, golden hair sitting in a chair, watching him. "Yearrgh," he cracked out. It had started as a cry of alarm, but by the time it came out of his mouth it was more like a whimper.

"Oh, good. You're awake." Jack rolled his head a little more to see McKay sitting at an Ancient control panel, chewing on a PowerBar. He tried to figure out why the man was standing at such a strange angle. Then Jack realized he was staring up at McKay from the floor. "Colonel O'Neill," McKay continued, gesturing over to the corpse, "Meet Rapunzel. Rapunzel, Colonel O'Neill. I'm sure the two of you will have a lot to talk about. I've got some bad news for you."

Jack was still busy rediscovering his limbs. "Isn't there any good news?" he groaned.

"What, beside the fact that Atlantis filled the room with air before we both suffocated? I assure you, you'll want the bad news first," McKay replied through a mouthful of PowerBar.

"I really don't," Jack snapped back.

"No, trust me. You want – "

Jack put one hand to his forehead. "Dammit, McKay, give me some good news!"

"You won't thank me later," he said, then shrugged. "We're about ten thousand years too late to rescue the princess, but she had a couple of tricks up her sleeve that might rescue everyone down there" he said, gesturing at a wall, "from certain death at the hands of the Wraith," McKay's smile looked even more crooked from where Jack lay.

"I don't suppose she made a big can of Goa'uld Away to solve our other problems," Jack said, running through a little self-diagnostic in his head. Arms, check. Legs, check. Head, pounding and barely functioning – eh, make that a check minus. He looked back at McKay, craning his neck so the guy didn't look all angle-y. The physicist was tapping with his thumbs at his tiny hand-held computer. Jack raised one hand weakly. "Didn't that drown?"

McKay didn't even glance at him, picking up a small plastic box that sat on the console's surface. "Waterproof case. The place is called Atlantis." To his credit, he didn't actually say "duh".

Jack squinted at the case. "Were you a Boy Scout?"

"I was," McKay sighed, never relenting in his tap-tap-tapping. "They never told me that the nuclear reactor model for the Nuclear Science merit badge was supposed to be non-working. One little reactor leak, and everyone makes a fuss."

"Yeah," Jack groaned, rolling over and slowly pushing himself to his feet. Things were starting to feel a little clearer now; his brain was spinning up. "How long was I out?"

"Maybe five minutes," McKay said, taking another bite of his PowerBar and then speaking through the proteiney goo. "You remember that strange power spike I was talking about? It was coming from here."

"Yeah?" Jack said, sauntering over to a window.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," McKay said, but it was too late.

First Jack saw metal spikes protruding from the right-hand side of whatever building he was looking at, a little hazy from the clearing mist. He looked down, expecting to see water, and realized the ocean was sideways. "Whoa!" he cried out, vertigo hitting him hard.

"Don't say I didn't warn you," McKay said blithely.

Jack slapped one hand against the window to steady himself. He looked at the floor for a second, fixed very firmly in his mind that his personal gravity applied to the orientation of the room he was in, rather than the scene before him, and looked out the window again.

Yep, there was Atlantis, sideways. "So, highest point in the city, I'm guessing?" Jack said.

"Uh-huh, As you can see," McKay said, pointing to the two short walls of the room, "that's what should be the floor and ceiling. Shifting gravity to make use of available space – I wish I'd had this technology when I was at Oxford. Now, Rapunzel, here," he said, gesturing at the mummified corpse, "was apparently a very, very bad girl. She decided the best way to beat the Wraith was to starve them out, and invented a nanovirus to kill all mammals that weren't Ancients. No one else thought wholesale ecological destruction was really the way to go, so they stopped the project. But she didn't take no for an answer. She was about to release it through the Stargate when they caught her. They seem to have had more respect for life than she did, because instead of executing her, they put her here."

"She's kinda…" Jack waved a hand at the corpse.

"Yeah, well, that wasn't them. My Ancient isn't very good, but I'm fairly sure the first thing I read on this screen was a suicide note." McKay shrugged. "Whiny, too. But she was the smartest scientist they had. They were hoping she'd come up with a less destructive solution to the problem. They set up the transporter so that they could send up food and supplies, and anything living could come up, but nothing alive could go down."

Jack took that in for a moment. "You mean we're stuck here?" he roared.

"I did tell you I had some bad news," McKay said. "And what's worse is that she did come up with a solution."

"How is that worse?" Jack asked.

"It essentially uses the entire central tower as a giant conduit and focus point for an enormous amount of energy." McKay said, sliding his fingertips together to demonstrate. "Great for killing Wraith, but we'd get vaporized in the process."

"I'll go on record as saying I'm against that," Jack said.

"It's a moot point anyway. To make it work, we'd need a fully charged ZPM," McKay responded, glaring balefully at the Ancient screen. "I'm sure they set up a failsafe so someone could override the transporter programming and get us out."

"How uncharacteristically optimistic of you," Jack said.

"Your wit astounds me," McKay shot back, turning to face Jack. "It'd probably take the Ancient gene. And unfortunately, you and I are both here. Beckett's dead, Markham's under Jaffa guard, and Sheppard is Ba'al's personal property."

"Yeah, but he wasn't in Ba'al's quarters when we left," Jack said. "You're the genius. How do we reach him?"

McKay's lips thinned, but he turned back to the console, typing furiously with two thumbs on his mini-computer. "You'd think they would have set up a communications method so she could tell them she found a way to fend off the Wraith."

Jack sat down in a chair and closed his eyes, feeling for that tickle at the base of his brain.

"It's not nap time, Colonel," McKay snapped.

"Shhh," Jack said, waving one hand. He could feel it starting, that strange tickly scratch inside his skull. "I'm communing."

– – –

Sheppard stroked Teyla's hair, and tried to think of something to say. We'll rescue them seemed like a false promise. We'll figure something out seemed patently untrue. And that cold, prickly sweat was breaking out on the back of the neck, and he had that seasick feeling, and the hopelessness of it all was overwhelming him, and he wasn't supposed to have to deal with this now, damn it, he was supposed to be dead again.

Something inside his skull itched. He tried to ignore it, then jerked his head a little, as if he could dislodge it. But it didn't budge. Instead, it got finer, clearer.

"Major Sheppard," a male voice said. It was a little low and felt almost like it was resonating in the back of his skull, sending little spiky knife pains into the back of his eyes.

John knew there wasn't anyone else in the room but him and Teyla. Great. Hallucinations, on top of everything else. That was all he needed.

"Major Sheppard, report!" the voice barked.

John's head snapped up. "Colonel O'Neill?" he said, looking around the room for the source of the sound. "I thought you were dead."

Teyla looked up at him, her face full of confusion. "John," Teyla said quietly, brushing one hand against his cheek, her dark eyes worried. "Who are you talking to?"

"It's Colonel O'Neill. Can't you hear him?" Her eyes got a little wider, and, for the first time in a while, John actually got scared.

"She can't hear me," Colonel O'Neill's voice said. "It seems like the Ancients had two modes for this thing, private and loudspeaker. McKay says it's got something to do with focused acoustics."

"Handy for those boring briefing meetings," John said. The sound was a little like that inside-the-skull resonance he got with a really good set of headphones, only something about it made his brain itch on the inside.

"Major, give me your situation," the Colonel said, his brusque tone sending those little spikes of pain into John's eyes again, making his queasy stomach worse. John rubbed his forehead, trying to get past the sick feeling. "Major?" the voice said again. This time it sounded annoyed.

John was annoyed right back at him. "I'm a prisoner, the Athosians have all been kidnapped, and I've got a dead guy talking to me. How's your day going?"

"I watched Ba'al kill McKay, dragged him out of the ocean so I could stick him in the sarcophagus, and now I'm trapped with him at the top of the central tower," came the acid reply. "You're not exactly cornering the market on 'bad day', here."

"And I thought I was special," John said.

"John!" Teyla said, rising to her knees and staring at him. "What is this?"

"It's…" He felt like all the cells in his body were vibrating dissonantly. For a second, he wanted to tell Teyla and the Colonel to just shut up and leave him alone. He pressed his hands against his temples, closing his eyes, wanting nothing more than to curl up in a ball, to be so deeply unconscious that his body was a forgotten thing. It was worse than coming down from the go-pills the Air Force gave him in Afghanistan; at least then he'd had the no-go pills to take the edge off. Pull it together, John, he thought to himself, gritting his teeth. He ran one hand through his hair and looked at Teyla. "The Ancients had a…thing…and now O'Neill is talking…" He grimaced, and then gritted out the next three words. "In my head." His hand worked on the back of his neck, slick with toxic sweat, massaging the knotted muscles. "He and McKay are trapped at the top of Ba'al's tower."

Teyla stared at him for a moment, then nodded, as if coming to a decision. "I will help you get them out," Teyla said, standing up. "But on one condition."

He looked up at her. "What?"

"We must kill Ba'al and bring my people back," she said, holding out a hand to him.

Yeah, and let's end world hunger while we're at it, John thought, but said, "Well, I was kinda figuring on that anyway." He wrapped his hand around hers, and she pulled him to his feet with one strong jerk. A line of white-hot pain shot over John's skull, and his stomach turned again. Keep it together, he thought to himself, and said, "You seem awfully gung-ho."

She smiled, a fierce, angry smile. "I have nothing left to lose."

He took a deep breath, and found himself automatically looking up at the ceiling as he talked to the Colonel. "Okay. What do you want us to do?"

– – –

If Sergeant Bates had been sleeping, the noise in the corridor would have woken him up. He put on his best squinty, sleepy-eyed face and opened his door, peering out. Tarl'rac stood in the corridor, grim-faced. Two other Jaffa had pulled Dumais and Raudanitis out of their rooms. Tarl'rac kept a watchful eye on the two scientists as the Jaffa entered their living quarters.

"Tarl'rac. What's going on?" Bates asked, keeping his voice as low and slow as possible to hide the anxiety that made his stomach muscles tense.

"There has been an explosion. Pel'mar and – " The Jaffa cut himself off, looking at the two scientists he held under guard. "Several people were killed. We're now seeking the culprit."

Bates leaned back against the door frame, hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. "You want to search my place?" he asked casually, jerking his head at his room. "I need to hit the head anyway."

The hint of a smile touched Tarl'rac's lips. "Of course. Although I will warn you – I will confiscate any woman you have hidden in your quarters as contraband."

Bates made himself chuckle at the joke, and walked down the corridor to the head, singing to himself as always. "First I was afraid, I was petrified…" his voice chimed softly as he walked down the corridor.

– – –

Teyla snapped the trunk of the dead Ancient plant off at the base, then snapped the bough in her hands in half, so that she had two sticks about half as big around as her wrist and a little longer than her forearm.

"McKay's hacked into the life-signs sensor," O'Neill said. He'd briefed John on the entire situation. John hadn't really grasped all of it; waves of sickness kept breaking his concentration. But he had the important bits, the thing about the transporter and the dead girl and the weapon that needed a ZPM. "There's only one guard outside the door. You think you can take him?"

A pool of sweat between John's shoulder blades made his shirt cling to him, and his hands were shaking. "No, sir. But Teyla can." He looked at Teyla, who stood next to the door. She nodded. John pressed one hand against the door latch to open it, and stumbled out.

Playing sick didn't take any acting on John's part, and falling to the floor was great – well, not the falling, and definitely not the hitting the ground part, but the part where he stopped and just lay there was pretty good. The Jaffa, startled, leaned over to check on John, letting down his guard for a moment.

Teyla whipped out of the room in a flash of movement, striking out with one arm and cracking the Jaffa in the throat, rendering him silent. Then she pinned his neck between the two sticks and made a sudden, twisting, jerking motion with her hands. The breaking noise seemed to echo down the hall as the alien soldier fell to the floor beside John, his head at an unnatural angle.

"Good job," John said to her, and started pushing himself to his feet. Teyla reached out, grabbed his arm, and pulled him up with ease. "Sir, we're clear," John whispered to the ceiling.

"Good work," the Colonel said. "There's some stairs at the end of the corridor. Take those down four levels. You'll find an Ancient computer terminal in a room down there."

"Got it," John nodded, and tapped Teyla on the shoulder. They ran for the stairs. John tried to ignore how much every step made his head hurt.

– – –

The commotion in the corridor had woken Kate a half-hour ago, and she lay awake, running through her secret storage compartments in her mind, wondering if they were secret enough. She wondered if the sudden middle-of-the-night appearance of the Jaffa had anything to do with the present she'd left for Pel'mar. I hope he's dead, she thought. After her nights with him, she really felt like she'd never be clean again, and despite all her psychological training, she still found herself scrubbing her skin raw most mornings.

As she lay in bed, waiting for the soldiers to come, she heard Bates' melodious baritone. "I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key," he sang. He was a lot better than whoever had been whistling earlier. He sounded for all the world like Barry White trying to cover Gloria Gaynor.

"If I'd've known for just one second you'd be back to bother me," Kate sang along under her breath, sitting up. It was the signal they'd been waiting for.

Kate got her gun.

– – –

On their way down the stairs, they heard a Jaffa coming up. Teyla tossed the stick in her right hand to her left, grabbed the railing with her now-free hand, and vaulted over it with a precise twist, her falling leap propelling her feet into the chest of the Jaffa below. She and the Jaffa tumbled down the stairs in a tangle of limbs, and John spun down over the landing, trying to catch up, wanting to do something. By the time he got to the bottom of the steps, though, it was all over. The Jaffa's sightless eyes stared at the ceiling, and Teyla was pushing herself up, an ominous smile on her face.

"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" John said.

"Would you not, were you in my situation?" Teyla asked.

"Good point," John said with an offhand shrug. "You want to give me his staff weapon?"

Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Could you really carry it right now?"

The shaking weakness was stealing over John's whole body. "Probably not," he said.

She put an arm around his body to help him along, and John slung his arm over her shoulder, leaning heavily on her. If only he weren't so sick, he thought, he'd really be able to enjoy the feel of her arm around him. Of course, if he weren't so sick, it probably wouldn't be around him at all; he wasn't sure if it was a good trade or not.

They went down the stairs as fast as John could go and down the corridor, finally coming to a darkened lab. The moment John walked in, the machines lit up. "Nice to see you, too," he said to them.

Then, on the opposite wall of the room, something curvy and ridged seemed to emerge from the wall. "Huh. That's odd," John said.

"Odd?" Teyla and the Colonel said, in unison.

"Yeah," John said, walking closer to it. It was the same color as the wall, and seemed to be made of the same stuff. "I could swear this wasn't here a minute ago."

"You wanna give me a couple of adjectives?" O'Neill said. His sharp tone sent more knives into the back of John's eyes.

"It – uh – it kinda blooped out of the wall," John said. "It looks like a deformed sea urchin." He took another step toward it, and suddenly the center opened up. "There's a light inside it." As he stared at it, his headache seemed to abate. "It's kinda pretty."

"One of those. Look, Major, do not, I repeat, do not get any closer to that thing," the Colonel commanded.

"What's wrong with it?" John asked, taking an automatic step back. Teyla looked at him, opening her mouth for a second as if she were going to ask a question, then closing it again.

"It'll download all the Ancient knowledge into your head." O'Neill said.

John scowled at the ceiling. "Well, that's kind of what we need right now, isn't it?" he said.

"The human brain can't handle it," O'Neill replied. "The next thing you know, you're speaking Ancient and building ZPMs and going halfway across the galaxy."

John looked back at the light again. It was beautiful, lulling; just staring at it seemed to smooth out the little white spikes that slammed into the back of his eyes with every word the Colonel said to him. "Still having trouble seeing the downside," he said.

"If there's no one around to take it out, it shorts out your brain and you die," the Colonel said.

"Oh," John shrugged casually. "That." He stepped closer to it, peering in the portal, turning his head slightly to look at the light. It popped out of the wall a little more, coming toward him, in sort of a friendly way.

"Major," the Colonel said warningly.

"Give me a minute," John said. He could almost make out a picture…

Suddenly, it lunged out at him. He pulled back reflexively, but it was too late; the thing had his head wrapped tight, and forced him to stare into the light, which was suddenly blindingly bright, a pounding wave of color shading to white. Oh, God, O'Neill was right, it was hammering at him, the information was carving into his brain. He clawed at it, tried to pull it off, but it wouldn't let go. He could feel Teyla's hands scrabbling over his, trying to pull him out of it.

He screamed, but the only person who could hear him was O'Neill, and he was screaming too.

– – –

"What is it?" McKay said in a panicked voice. He'd somehow gotten his hand behind Jack's head just before it hit the floor.

"Backwash," Jack managed to grit out, trying to find a way to disconnect himself from Atlantis. He'd begun to think of the city as a friend, but now it was his enemy; no matter how much he fought it, it wouldn't let go, not until it poured its information into him, through that damn disobeying Sheppard, in a flow that seemed even more torrential than it had the first time.

This time, when he blacked out, it came as a relief.

– – –

Daniel dragged himself out of bed as soon as Ba'al left, spent and sweating and reeking of sex, and made his way to the wall where he'd last seen Rodney and the Colonel. Some part of his brain misfired, rattling off three horrible "in the closet" jokes in the space of a breath. Shut up, he thought to himself.

"It's safe. You can come out," Daniel said, his voice low, and then winced at the grade-school giggle in the back of his head.

There was no response from Rodney or the Colonel. Daniel slid his hands along the wall, trying to feel for the invisible crack that the door must have left behind. He knew it had been right here. Here. He'd stood right here when he'd kissed Rodney goodbye, and shoved him into the

closet, that insane part of his brain snickered.

anteroom, he thought through gritted teeth, and ran his hand over the wall once more. Still – nothing.

With a sudden frustrated rage, the same one that had made him throw his typewriter out a third-floor window years ago, he balled up his fist. He punched at the wall with a precision that would have made John proud, taking a perverse pleasure in the painful shock that went up his arm. "Open up!" he yelled.

And just like that, the wall slid open to reveal an empty nook. Daniel looked in, then stuck his head inside and looked up. Four walls, a ceiling and a floor – all empty. He stepped back, jaw muscles aching from how hard his teeth were clenched, and the door sighed shut.

They must have gotten out. They couldn't have accidentally hidden in the local equivalent of a garbage incinerator. They must have found some way to go somewhere. Anywhere. And O'Neill knew Anubis was coming. They'd do something.

Yes – if Ba'al doesn't find them again, the little voice in his head said.

Daniel looked around the room, frustrated and angry. Rodney and O'Neill were free, but he was still locked in his cage, a pretty pliant songbird for a dangerous, deadly man. We'll get you out, Rodney had said – but Daniel didn't want to wait around to be rescued. He'd been asleep for weeks, playing games of appeasement he thought would keep Rodney safe, lost in dreams of research and alien cultures, until Colonel O'Neill walked in with Rodney's dead body over his shoulder and woke Daniel up.

He needed to do something, he thought, walking into the bedroom, feeling more constrained with every second.

The Goa'uld monitor glowed gold, patient and full of knowledge.

And what good will that do us? Daniel thought to himself, feeling useless. There was so much information there, so much data about a culture and a species that had influenced everything on Earth, and every new word something that might turn human history on its head. But that wasn't what they needed now. They needed to kill Ba'al, and Anubis, and the Wraith.

Well, maybe Ba'al would catch him and decide to torture him to death, Daniel thought hopelessly. At least then he'd keep the Goa'uld distracted for a while.

He slid into Ba'al's chair, the fabric automatically molding itself to his flesh. Chewing on the inside of his lower lip, he scanned, directionless, assimilating everything he could, unable to ignore the nagging feeling that he should be doing something useful.

– – –

John heard a low crooning sound, and suddenly he was staring up at Teyla, who was running one hand through his hair over and over again. She was humming, tears slipping down her face. He reached up, hands still shaky, and caught one with his thumb.

Her smile, happy and wistful, made his heart jump a little. "I feared you would not awaken," she said, her voice aching with relief, and reached down to pull him into a hug.

"Easy there," he said; his head was pounding like something inside was fighting its way out. "I'm still fragile. What happened?"

Her hand tightened in his hair just slightly. "John, please nod if you understand what I am saying."

He nodded. "Why?" he asked.

"Because much of what you say is in a language I have never heard," she said.

The next thing you know, you're speaking Ancient and building ZPMs and going halfway across the galaxy, he suddenly remembered O'Neill saying, and then remembered the thing coming out of the wall. Well, if he had the Ancient part down, maybe he was already at the stage where he could build a ZPM. He signed at Teyla, a "help me up" gesture. She gently guided him to his feet, and walked him to a work station.

No, he couldn't build a ZPM yet, but he could release the lock on the transporter in the room McKay and O'Neill were in. It was easy, in fact; he hardly had to think about it, which was good, because his head was still pounding, and his ears were ringing.

"Colonel?" he said, trying to get his CO's attention. And it was easy, now; in fact, he knew exactly how it was done, and when he saw McKay he was going to tell him that his theory about focused sound was all wrong. But there was no response on the other end. The itchy spot at the base of his skull never really got going; it was like picking up a phone where the wire had been cut.

"John," Teyla said anxiously, tugging at his arm.

He was confused for a minute, and then the noise was no longer in time with the pounding in his head, and he could hear it. Boots, coming down the hall.

With a thought, the building layout came up on the screen. It wasn't what John wanted to see; they were cut off, with nothing but Teyla's sticks to defend them. As they turned to the door, it opened. Ba'al stood on the other side, with three Jaffa.

"It seems you are not pleased with my hospitality," he said with a vicious little smile. His eyes surveyed the room once, alighting on the object that still protruded from the wall. "The library of the Ancients," he whispered, staring at it. Then he fixed John with a steely glare. "Has one of you made use of it?"

"No," John said.

Or at least, he thought he did. From the smile on Ba'al's face, it looked like he had said something else entirely. "You will be useful to me yet, Tau'ri," the Goa'uld said. "I have been seeking this knowledge for a long time."

Well, it's mine and you can't have it, John thought, smiling back.

"Oh, no," Teyla whispered. He looked down to see a horrified look on her face as she stared at Ba'al. "You would not dare."

"There are many things I would dare, for knowledge," Ba'al said.

What the hell? John thought.

Then Teyla lunged at Ba'al, swinging at him with her sticks, so quickly he didn't even have time to get his arms up. It looked like she was about to connect, but something around Ba'al flared gold, repelling her blows with a low thud and throwing her to the ground. As she stared up at Ba'al, auburn hair falling down her shoulders and russet skirt hitched up high above her knees, the Goa'uld let out a low, menacing laugh.

One of the Jaffa thumbed the switch on his staff weapon, and the tip glowed gold. "No!" John cried out. He stepped forward, trying to force the staff weapon up toward the ceiling, but he was too weak. The tip was resting against his chest when the Goa'uld fired.

Oh, thank God, John thought to himself as death overcame him.

– – –

Ba'al entered his laboratory silently, wrapped in thought. He was a god, and he knew when his creations were ready. These, the dark figures that lay unconscious under force fields, were not. Several had already withered and died when he attempted to activate them, their bodies rejecting the genetic experiments he'd wrought. He paced the length of the laboratory, looking at them.

They were not ready.

Ba'al ran one thumb firmly over his index finger, the only outward expression he would allow of his inner rage. His fondest wish was to take John Sheppard, as soon as he arose from the sarcophagus, and force him down, beat him bloody, make him scream and writhe and plead for death. It was what Sheppard deserved – to go through that again, and again, and again.

But there was no time. Ba'al had always planned in terms of centuries. Now, because he had listened to one idiot Tau'ri's tales of knowledge beyond imagining, he was trapped at the far end of the universe, his subjects dead, the residents against him, this glorious city become a palatial prison, and all with the tantalizing puzzle of the knowledge of the Ancients held before him.

His creations were not ready, but he could not wait any longer; without them, the city would not hold. He needed only to hold this place throughout the night. In the morning, he would have the knowledge of the Ancients, and he could keep the city safe.

It was the right decision. And yet, despite himself, he hesitated before encoding their orders, staring at his own hands on the console before he slid them across, initiating the commands.

The force fields came down. His new army was waking. He stared at them for a moment, hand hovering over the input mechanism as if he could take back what he had done. Then he turned, leaving the room.

He walked down the corridor, regal, untouchable. In his quarters, he would have Daniel, and a moment's peace before the real battle started.

– – –

Bates flattened himself against the wall of the corridor, licking his lips. Whatever it was that Ba'al had just left behind, it had to be important. Bates had to check it out. It was his duty. He needed to figure out what secrets the Goa'uld had up his sleeve.

No. You need to rescue the princess, he thought.

He sighed, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall. This was stupid.

But she was their leader. It was his job to rescue her. Especially before someone came looking for him. Tarl'rac was going to figure out sometime soon that Bates hadn't just gone on a bathroom run, but Bates was hoping all hell would break loose before the Jaffa would begin a search.

Bates looked at the closed door once more. Then he turned and ran the other way, toward Elizabeth's cell.

– – –

Daniel was so engrossed in his reading, he didn't even notice the sound of boots coming down the hall until they were nearly in the room. He slid out of the chair, slapping the touchpad in order to clear the screen, and threw himself on the large bed just before the door slid open. Two Jaffa strode in, John's limp body between them.

"What's going on?" Daniel asked anxiously as they brought John to the sarcophagus.

One Jaffa looked at him, anger in his eyes. "You are not lo'taur yet, Tau'ri. When Ba'al names you thus, perhaps we shall answer your question." He poured John into the sarcophagus like a sack of flour, letting the pilot's head ricochet off its glowing walls with a sickening thud.

The Jaffa sneered at Daniel as he walked out. "I hope you are as fond of your god's new host as you were of his current one," he said.

New host? Daniel thought, filled with a January chill. He stepped up to the sarcophagus, pressing his hands into it, as if he could reach through and touch John, protect him from Ba'al. Then he suddenly saw it in his head, saw John seated on Ba'al's throne, all arrogance and hard angles and glowing eyes. He saw John standing before him, reaching out to touch him, making love to him with that cold, cold smile – and John, the real John, trapped inside, unable to say anything, unable to do anything but watch and feel. All of the air went out of Daniel in a rush; when he recovered he found he was sagging, holding himself up with his forearms resting on the cold, gold, ridged surface of the device.

No. I won't let this happen. And suddenly, he was calm. There was something he could do, after all. He felt like he was somehow standing just a little bit outside his body, like he had a distance that gave everything around him a cut-glass clarity. He heard the door slide open, and pushed himself back to his feet, feeling just the hint of a smile grazing his lips as he strode into the bedroom to meet Ba'al.

The Goa'uld was pulling off his coat with flowing, angry movements, tossing it to the floor. "Your people," he said, "would rather die by the Wraith than live under me."

There was a tingling buzz inside Daniel's ears. Anticipation filled him; he took shallow, heat-filled breaths. He felt like, after playing a game blindfolded for weeks, he'd suddenly been shown the whole board. Now it was Ba'al who was blind, and Daniel just had to maneuver him into position for his final move. "Have you found a solution?" he asked. His voice sounded odd to his own ears, filled with a strange light curiosity.

Ba'al leaned over his computer terminal, tapping the touch pad and looking intently at the screen. "Major Sheppard has found a device that placed the knowledge of the Ancients in his brain. It will not activate for a Goa'uld. Only a human. But there is too much knowledge in it for a human mind to contain. It will overwhelm his mind, and kill him." He glanced up at Daniel then through thick eyelashes, his eyes alight. "But it will not kill me. I will take all that knowledge in, and use it. I will save this city, and rebuild my empire."

Every nerve in Daniel's body was afire. He thought of Rodney stepping out of the sarcophagus, and looked at Ba'al, and the little voice in his head sang, I know something you don't. "You'll take over the galaxy," Daniel said.

"A god requires worshippers," Ba'al said with a smile and a little shrug, sliding one hand over the back of his chair as he slowly walked toward Daniel. Then he gestured toward the sarcophagus. "The process of assuming a new host will take several hours. I will be heavily guarded." He reached his hand up and brushed Daniel's cheek with the back of his fingers. "I would like you to watch."

Daniel turned his head just a little toward Ba'al's hand. And he will want to see me like this, he thought, looking carefully first down and then up at the Goa'uld through his lashes, an old, practiced glance, to see his lover staring raptly at him. "Of course," Daniel said. He could see everything now; he felt all-powerful. And still he kept his breathing light, rapid; he was afraid that if he breathed in too deeply, he'd snap back into his body again and be just Daniel, powerless and unable to resist.

"We have a ritual," Ba'al said, leading Daniel toward the bed. "I would like you to read the texts for me." He began speaking the archaic tongue of the Goa'uld. "May I create words of beauty, houses of wonder. May I be given a god's duty, a duty that matters."

Daniel's roommate at the Oriental Institute had tried to speak the same words, reconstructing the ancient language and religion, but everything she said had been brittle and garbled. From Ba'al's lips, the words flowed smooth and warm. Daniel shivered, electric with the revelatory new knowledge. The Pyramid Texts – the Book of the Dead – they were never funerary literature. They were for the Goa'uld, to remind them of who they were when they woke up after taking a new host.

He ransacked his memory and found the proper response. "May I stand amazed in the presence of my god," he whispered, in sibilant Egyptian.

Ba'al smiled. "So your people have remembered this." He slid his other hand over Daniel's hair, then down to his shoulder, and gently pressed.

Daniel immediately went to his knees, head bowed, breathlessly waiting for his moment. He heard the soft susurration of linen on silk as Ba'al sat down on the bed.

"My faithful Daniel," he said. "Let me grant you something you desire."

And there it was. Daniel felt another shiver run through him, but this one was deep inside; it never touched his skin. He looked up at Ba'al through his eyelashes, then licked his lips. "You know what I want," he murmured, lowering his eyes to the floor again.

"Ah, yes," said Ba'al. Daniel heard the hiss of metal on leather. "Perhaps this time, I will give you what you wish."

As the cool metal of the blade touched Daniel's throat, he began shivering again, all over, and for a moment, his breathing hitched. Inside, he was burning. He could picture Ba'al's smile as the Goa'uld toyed with the man he thought was his helpless captive.

And then he thought of Rodney's slanted smile and thought, I know something you don't know.

Daniel turned his head to kiss Ba'al's palm and followed the knife with the corner of his eye, his next words, another prayer from the Book of the Dead, almost lost in the Goa'uld's smooth skin. "May I do work with my hands worth remembering," he whispered.

You telegraph things when you think about them before you do them, John had told Daniel. So Daniel didn't think. He didn't think as Ba'al ran the knife down his skin, rendering Daniel's nerves white-hot and blinding. He didn't think when Ba'al slid his hands over Daniel's body; he writhed under his touch, begging as much with the movements of his body as with anything he said. He didn't think when Ba'al tossed the knife aside, as Daniel knew he would.

And Daniel didn't think when he kissed Ba'al, hard and feral, the coppery taste of blood under his tongue. He didn't think as he slid his naked body against Ba'al's, feeling Ba'al's hot breath against his ear, moving his hips and biting at Ba'al's neck until his lover moaned. Daniel hooked his leg around the Goa'uld's hip, carefully not thinking as he reached up to wrap his hand around the knife handle, and rose to straddle Ba'al, pushing the other man onto his back.

Ba'al looked up at Daniel, eyes aglow, hard and fierce, hips rising up to meet Daniel. Daniel straddled him, all tousled hair and bright fiery eyes, not thinking, not thinking as he brought the blade down with all the force he could muster.

 

CHAPTER 6: THE KILLING MOON


Through the agony coursing over her every nerve, Teyla could feel the pressure of the Jaffa's armor against her stomach. She lay slung over his shoulder, his arm clasping her thighs to his chest. He was talking with the man next to him, paying her no attention. Obviously, he thought she was incapacitated with pain from the zat'nik'tel blast.

She silently acknowledged the hurt and then put it to the back of her mind, as she had learned so long ago. Then she slowly opened her eyes, keeping her body limp, turning her head to look at her surroundings as her upper body bumped against the soldier's back. They were in a corridor, as indistinct from the others as most Ancient corridors were. The Jaffa next to her was holding his staff weapon loosely, parallel to the floor.

Oh, this was too easy. They had obviously forgotten they were dealing with Teyla Emmagen, daughter of Tagar. She had forgotten too, for a long time, but now she remembered.

Her arms swayed back and forth with every step her captor took. She added just a little more energy to the swing. Not much, not enough for him to notice; just enough for her hands to move out further to the side, brushing against the other man's staff weapon. Back and forth, back and forth, her fingertips brushed against the hard metal, and he wasn't even cautious enough to pull it away. More fool he.

She grabbed the weapon with her left hand, yanking it toward her with a twist generated from her own momentum that smashed it into the thighs of the man who carried it, and the backs of the knees of the man who carried her. Her Jaffa's knees folded forward, and he released his grasp on her thighs, cursing loudly. She felt herself sliding forward, toward the floor. Instead of trying to stop her fall, she curled into it, letting her right shoulder hit the ground, rolling diagonally across her back, onto her left buttock and springing to her feet, never losing her grip on the staff weapon. She swung around, following the sound of shifting armor, thumbing the trigger on the long pole as she'd seen so many Jaffa do before. The diamond end of it opened, glowing, as she brought it to bear on the armed Jaffa who lay sprawled on the floor, pushing himself to his feet.

She fired. The weapon gave off a sizzling sound, but had no recoil. The room filled with the smell of burning meat, and the Jaffa went down and did not rise again.

The other Jaffa smiled then, rushing toward her, intent on taking the weapon from her grasp. She swung it back and then up, smashing it into his jaw, snapping his head back and sending him sprawling to the ground. Before he could react, she kicked his arm out of the way and smashed the blunt end of the staff into his throat, crushing his airway.

He choked and sputtered under her, blood streaming from his mouth. For a moment she considered leaving him as he was, to drown in his own fluids. She raised the weapon over her head, twirled it, brought it down with the active end aimed at his head, and fired.

The corridor was quiet then, except for the sound of Teyla's breathing. Surging adrenalin drove away the pain skittering over her skin. She should hide their bodies, but there was no time to stash them away and clean the blood and the scorch marks from the hall. Anyone who came along here would know what happened in an instant, bodies or no.

There was no time. Ba'al was going to take John as his new host. She had to stop him. Staff weapon in hand, she ran down the hall, trying to get her bearings, trying to find Ba'al's quarters.

– – –

Bates sauntered up to the guard standing outside Elizabeth's cell. He should have known the guy's name – they'd talked in the cafeteria – but for the life of him, he couldn't bring it to mind. I can't do this, he thought, and his stomach heaved. But the smile never left his face. "Hear things are a little crazy tonight," he said to the Jaffa.

"You have heard correctly. You should be in your quarters," the Jaffa said, adjusting his at-ease stance just slightly.

Bates cocked his head and put on his best friendly manner. "Tarl'rac sent me down here," he said. "They decided to use a few of us to keep guard until things quiet down. He needs you over in the control room." Trust me, trust me, he thought.

The Jaffa hefted his staff weapon as if he was about to walk away. Then he stared hard at Bates, and began to lift the wrist radio to his lips.

In one smooth move, Bates stepped forward, punching hard at the Jaffa's throat. His opponent, caught off guard, couldn't block the blow. Bates felt cartilage crunch under his hand. Quickly, he grabbed the knife that was under his shirt, strapped along his spine. With meticulous, quick efficiency, he slit the Jaffa's throat and let his body drop to the floor.

Duslat. The dead man's name was Duslat. He had a wife and three children back home. The oldest, Tyrian, was twelve and just begun his warrior training in earnest. Duslat's mother-in-law was known throughout their village for her keffa bread. His daughter…

Bates' stomach heaved again, so hard that his body folded and his shoulder hit the wall. He fought down the bile rising in his throat. He couldn't think about this. He couldn't think about this. Dr, Weir was on the other side of the door.

He slapped his hand against the door control and stepped over Duslat's body into the brightly lit room. Dr. Weir looked up as the door opened. She was sitting in a chair with her knees pulled up to her chest, wearing cream pajamas and the ugliest furry hot pink slippers Bates had ever seen. Her eyes were huge as she stared at Bates.

I'm Luke Skywalker, Bates thought to himself, and said, "I'm here to rescue you."

Dr. Weir looked stunned for a moment. Then her lips pressed together firmly, and she nodded. "Good," she said, standing up. Even in silk pajamas and hideous pink slippers, she was regal. "What's our status, sergeant?"

Bates drew himself up, spine straight. "Ma'am," he said, "the Jaffa are searching for contraband. There was an explosion in one of their dormitories – "

"I saw," she said, a grim smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "Good work, Bates."

"Thank you, ma'am," he said, pride making him stand a little taller. "Our people are about to begin an assault. We need to get you to safety."

"No," she said, stepping toward the door. "We need to take Ba'al's quarters."

"Ma'am," he said, reaching out to catch her arm, then thinking better of it. "With all due respect, let the professionals take care of that. My duty is to keep you safe."

She bent down over Duslat's corpse, searching his body, never even glancing at the Jaffa's face. "Does he have a weapon I can use?"

Bates leaned down beside her and unclipped a weapon from Duslat's belt, handing it to her, thumbing it into the active position. "This is a zat. One shot incapacitates, two kills, three disintegrates," he said.

She took it from his hand. "Easy cleanup," she said, raising an eyebrow, and stood up, tossing her head slightly to shake her brown hair out of her face. "Sergeant, Ba'al has the sarcophagus. If he continues to control it, he can bring back any Jaffa that die. And they follow him religiously. That puts us at a distinct disadvantage." Her green eyes, normally warm and liquid like the sea, had gone hard, and the taut strain around her mouth was throwing the fine lines that surrounded her lips into stark relief. "Have you tasked anyone else with that duty?"

Bates sighed a little, and took up the stance known to every noncom – the one that said I will follow your orders, but I think this is a really, really bad idea. "No, ma'am."

She efficiently tucked her zat into the waistband of her pajama bottoms. There was no doubt who was in command. "Then it's you and me. Let's go."

– – –

When Jack came to, he found that McKay had stripped off his own jacket and tucked it under Jack's head. "Oh, crap," Jack said, everything coming back to him instantly.

"How are you feeling?" McKay asked.

Jack squinted up at him. "Am I speaking English?"

"Yes," McKay said suspiciously.

"That's not gonna last," Jack said as he sat up. He could feel all the little bits and pieces of knowledge popping up in his head. It was fast, far faster than it had been last time. Well, nothing to be done about it, and he couldn't make use of the information yet; it was too disconnected.

He looked up at the screen, which still showed the life signs monitor. Only one red light flickered on it. "Is that the lab?"

"No," McKay said, his words tumbling out in quick panic. "It's Ba'al's. First there was just one light. Then there were two, and they walked over here." He pointed to the sarcophagus room on the map. "Then they walked out again. We can guess what they were doing. Then there were two lights, right here." He pointed to the red light that glowed, pulsing slightly.

"We can guess what they were doing, too," Jack said.

"Not necessarily. One of those lights vanished a minute ago," McKay said, his eyes wide and full of fear. "There's only four minutes before Daniel gets brain damage. We need to do something."

"What?" Jack said. "We don't have any weapons."

"We have this," McKay said, tossing him a little gray ovoid.

It fit into Jack's hand easily. It had a flattened spot on one end, and a little dent that his thumb nestled into. He rolled it over in his palm. "Looks like a paperweight," he said. "What does it do?"

"Not really sure," McKay responded. "Let's go field-test it."

Jack scowled. "Going into a battle with untested weapons is only marginally better than going into it without any. And last I checked, there was a big Out of Order sign on the transporter."

McKay was strident. "What if Sheppard managed to unlock it?"

"Well, did he?" Jack asked.

"How am I supposed to know?" McKay asked.

"Didn't you try it?" Jack shot back.

McKay threw up his hands in frustration. "What is this, 'Answer a Question With a Question' hour? No, I didn't try it. I wasn't about to leave you alone up here."

"You could have carried me," Jack said.

"Yes, because the only thing better than meeting Ba'al unarmed would be meeting him unarmed with you in my arms," McKay said.

Over McKay's shoulder, he could see the screen begin to flicker, and got to his feet. He rested one hand on the console, trying to mesh with it, but couldn't quite seem to lock in.

"What are you looking at?" McKay said. He looked over his shoulder in time to see the screen go dark, and bolted to his feet. "No," he said, stabbing at his tiny computer with his thumbs. "No!"

On, Jack thought at the screen. It didn't react. "I said on, dammit!" he shouted. At his command, the screen flickered to life. Instead of the room below, however, it showed a broad starfield. "What the hell is that?" Jack said.

McKay waved his hand. "It's like a neighborhood map, but for the local star systems. Give me a minute. I'll get the internal detection sensors back up."

There was a flicker of movement at the edge of the map. Jack held out one hand. "Wait," he said.

A small red triangle slid in from the edge of a map. Another one followed it, and then another, and then they began appearing by the handful.

"Tell me this is a screensaver," Jack said.

– – –

Daniel didn't think as he brought the knife down, driving it into Ba'al's throat; he was a creature of movement and sensation. Ba'al grabbed for the personal shield on his wrist, but it was too late, far too late, and he'd been too trusting. The knife slipped into Ba'al's throat easily, parting the skin and driving deep until it hit something hard. The abrupt jarring shock reverberated up Daniel's arm and through his shoulder.

Ba'al's hands scrabbled at Daniel, clawing at him. Daniel shook them off, slamming his knee down on one of Ba'al's arms to restrain the Goa'uld. He hammered desperately once, twice, three times on the hilt with his left hand, feeling a bright throbbing explosion of white shiver through his body with every blow. His ears were filled with the sound of his own grunting wordless exclamations, a wet gurgling hiss from Ba'al, the rush of his own blood.

The blade twisted slightly, settling as if it was lodging into a notch, and suddenly slid down until the hilt was against Ba'al's throat. Ba'al's eyes flashed gold for a second, then went dark.

Daniel knelt astride Ba'al for a moment, breathing heavily, shaking with adrenalin. The smell of copper, the musk of sex, and the pungent and green and vile odor of whatever was dripping from Ba'al's throat filled the air. That white throb was still flashing through Daniel, muted and fading but still there, and his brain was still frozen, except for the little insane bit, which mocked, Well, your therapist did tell you to stop falling for the dark, dangerous type.

Through the overwhelming miasma of sensation, he heard footsteps. He looked up to see John standing over him, skin showing white through the hole burnt in his shirt. Daniel suddenly realized that his naked body was smeared and sticky with blood and sweat and ichor and come.

John glanced over the scene, raising his eyebrows slightly. Then he looked up at Daniel. "Euge," he said with satisfaction.

Good, Daniel automatically translated.

John placed one hand on the hilt of the knife, over Daniel's. Together, they bent themselves to the grisly task of removing Ba'al's head from his body.

– – –

"We have to go down there," McKay said urgently.

"We've got one untested weapon which might tickle Ba'al or vaporize half the city. We can't get the doohickey to show us how many people are down there, and there's no backup." Jack's finger jabbed at McKay's chest with every point. "Going down there is bad tactics."

"You didn't have any backup when you fished me out of the water," McKay yelled back at him, flinging one arm out. "We've got an alien fleet coming. Sheppard's the only one who can tell us how to get the defense systems up and running, unless you're holding out on me. Daniel's the only one who can translate it. And I'm the only person who can put everything together, and I can't do it from here." He pointed at the screen. "They're coming. I think they'll be here in an hour. What do you think our chances are if we stay up here?"

Jack shook his head. "Do you Canadians have that whole saying about snowballs and hell?" he asked. He stared at McKay for a minute, then sighed. "Come on," he said, leading the way to the transporter, half hoping that Sheppard hadn't turned it back on.

The door shut, and there was that slight, indefinable stasis change that let Jack know that they'd been transported from one spot to another. McKay started to move toward the door; Jack threw his arm out like a steel bar in front of the guy, and then held his other hand up. Wait.

He listened at the door, hoping to hear anything – a breath, a word, a moan. There was nothing. Crap, he thought. He hated to go blind into any situation that involved Ba'al.

Using military hand gestures, he waved to himself, then left, to McKay, then right, and began motioning that they should bracket the doorway between the sarcophagus room and the bedroom.

"What?" McKay hissed.

Jack let out a frustrated breath. "I'm going left," he whispered. "You go right. Stay low. Get to the side of the doorway. Stay under cover as much as you can, and keep your eyes peeled." McKay nodded, looking determined.

The door slid open with a quiet hiss, and Jack slid out, immediately going to the left and sticking to the wall. McKay moved to the right, watching Jack and clumsily mimicking his movements. They slid down the wall, around the corner, and soon were standing on either side of the doorway. Jack could smell blood, blood and sex and something faintly nauseating underlining it all. He held up one hand, then peered around the corner, quickly assessing the room.

No one living was in the room, but in the middle of the bed was Ba'al's head. Only his head.

"Well, that's weird," Jack said, walking into the bedroom, the fight-or-flight charge still tensing his muscles.

"What's – " McKay's sentence ended in a gasp as he entered behind Jack. "Oh, God," he said, sounding stunned. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw him turn away. Ignoring McKay for a moment, he stood at the foot of the bed, enjoying the view.

"Where's the body?" McKay asked, his voice sounding slightly strangled.

Before he finished his sentence, the balcony door slid open. Jack spun around, pointing the little Ancient egg, wishing for a gun that wasn't there.

Jackson came through the doorway, naked and covered in blood, a blood-smeared, regally-clad Sheppard next to him. Jack took a deep breath, trying to suppress his now-useless adrenalin. "We threw it into the ocean," Jackson said matter-of factly.

"Well. That's anticlimactic," Jack said.

– – –

Kate threw on her uniform shirt and pants, the ones she'd never even tried on before. The pants were just loose enough to allow her freedom of movement without getting in the way, and the shirt was close fitting and stretchy, if a little itchy. She rolled her head loosely on her neck, shook her arms, and worked on getting in touch with her inner juvenile delinquent.

She was lucky. Every truly stupid thing she'd done was kept under lock and key in some file cabinet in the state of Louisiana, closed to everyone's eyes, even those of the Stargate program, by her home's complicated laws regarding underage offenders. Someone with spare cash and the right connections could get access to the teen exploits that had sent her into an experimental anger management program, but the only people with that kind of pull really didn't care what she'd done before she hit college.

She took an experimental kick at the wall, trying to dig up her teen anger and channel it into what she'd learned in her cardio kickboxing classes at the gym. I wish I had black eyeliner, a pack of Marlboros, and a bottle of Aqua Net, she thought. It would help her get into the right mental state.

She'd waited the requisite fifteen minutes. It didn't matter if she couldn't touch that angry place inside anymore. It was time. She slipped the little .22 that Bates had given her into her pocket and walked out the door.

One of the Jaffa soldiers was standing in the hall. She didn't know his name. She didn't want to know it. She pasted a sultry smile on her face and walked slowly down the hall, letting her hips sway a little. His face was stoic, but she saw his eyes flicker as he looked her up and down, the minute change in her stance. Oh, yeah, she thought to herself. You didn't grow up down South without learning to read all those little, subtle cues.

"You should be in your quarters," he said as she sauntered up. His grip on his staff weapon was loose, far looser than it should have been after a bombing like the one that happened tonight. Go ahead, underestimate the little China doll, she thought.

"I just needed to use the restroom," she said, moving closer, so close she could smell him. "It's not a problem, is it?"

As she completed her sentence, without even changing her tone, she punched him in the face with all of the energy and the anger she could muster. She could feel the pain slam through her hand. It felt great. After all these years, she'd forgotten how good it felt to hit someone, how it made her feel so alive. Suddenly she was fifteen years old again.

His head slammed back against the wall, hard, and he dropped to the floor. She took the gun out of her pocket, made sure the safety was on, and then slammed him in the base of the skull with the butt.

She rolled him over and stared at him. If she was going to make sure he wouldn't cause more trouble, there was one more thing she had to do. She slid her hand under his armor, gritted her teeth, and then worked it into the slimy slit in his stomach, feeling around until she found the thing squirming inside. It writhed and hissed in her grasp as she pulled it out.

Just like Pel'mar, this soldier had a knife slipped into the top of his boot. She held the fighting slippery snake on the floor with one hand, and sliced with the other, sawing until she'd cut the thing in half, breathing through her mouth so she could avoid the cloying dank smell of it. The knife was sharp; it didn't take long. She tossed one half down the hall; if the thing had the power to reassemble itself, it would have a long walk.

She looked at the soldier, then at the knife in her hand. If I'm going to keep him from getting up again, I should really slit his throat. Even her inner teenager recoiled at the thought. She wiped the blade off on his pants and ran down the hall.

Behind her, the humans were rising.

– – –

Rodney ran a corner of the towel under the cascade that flowed down the wall and into the invisible drain on the floor, changing the nearly silent murmur of falling water into a tinkling patter of droplets. He turned and began scrubbing at the blood on Daniel's chest.

"I can wash myself, Rodney," Daniel said, faintly amused. He still felt like he was a spectator in his own body, like nothing could touch him. "I've been doing it for years."

"You'll miss spots," Rodney said distractedly as he scrubbed.

"Tua esthesio indeeo," John said, leaning against the doorframe. "Deserdus insignie?"

Daniel shook his head. "I think Ba'al got rid of our uniforms. Anything you can find will be fine."

John left the room. Rodney's eyes flickered up to Daniel's for a moment, full of worry and relief. If eyes were the windows to the soul, then Rodney's were the display showcases in front of Macy's, Daniel thought; everything he was feeling was always on view for anyone who cared to look.

O'Neill took up John's place in the doorway, edgily tapping the wall with the fingers of one hand as he watched them. "I don't suppose Ba'al had any weapons stashed around his quarters," he said.

"Knife's on the table. He didn't have anything else useful to us. Just the hand device," Daniel said.

Rodney's hand, scrubbing down Daniel's stomach, stopped suddenly. "That's very useful." He looked at O'Neill. "It is useful, right?" he said.

O'Neill sighed. "We'll see. Where is it?"

"Illa est haece," John said from behind him, slipping by Jack to put a neatly folded stack of clothes on the long, low shelf that ran along the side of the bathroom.

"He says – " Daniel began to translate.

"I know what he says," O'Neill grumbled. "We'll go test it out." He followed John into the bedroom, leaving Daniel and Rodney alone.

Rodney scrubbed a smear of blood off Daniel's hip as Daniel grabbed the pants. They were the same closely tailored, soft black ones Ba'al had given him to wear – was it only this morning? It seemed like days ago. While Rodney rinsed the towel off, Daniel pulled the pants on, then the cream linen shirt, leaving the mossy green jacket lying on the counter. He tried to shake the feeling that clothing was inappropriate.

Dropping the towel on the floor, Rodney turned around, eyeing Daniel. "Ba'al certainly knew how to dress you," he said, stepping closer to Daniel. He smoothed the front of Daniel's shirt with one hand. "In the control room, I – " He shook his head. "How'd you get the knife, anyway?"

"I asked him to use it on me," Daniel shrugged, smiling just a little. "I wanted to know what it was like." His control slipped when he saw Rodney's eyes widen, saw the corner of his mouth pull down. He looked like he was the one who'd been cut.

Daniel looked away quickly. He was still outside his body, still disconnected, and if he kept his breathing light maybe he could stay that way.

Rodney's hand slid up to cup Daniel's cheek. "Daniel," he said.

Daniel turned his head toward Rodney's palm, just as he'd done with Ba'al, and kissed it, knowing exactly the way Rodney would see him. Rodney's hand quaked just a little bit, and suddenly Daniel was snapped back into himself, gasping. Instead of glancing at Rodney through his lashes, extending his control, he closed his eyes, swallowing back tears. He had the same power over Rodney that he'd had over Ba'al – beauty and desire and something else – but he didn't want to use it. He wanted to be alongside Rodney as he fell.

Rodney's fingers ran along Daniel's jaw lightly, and Daniel felt something excruciatingly beautiful unfold inside him. He met Rodney's eyes, knowing his own were as wide and clear and unshielded as Rodney's ever were. Rodney swallowed, nodded once, and slid his hand to the back of Daniel's head, fingers tangling in Daniel's hair, pulling him closer. Daniel slid one arm around him as Rodney leaned in to brush his lips against Daniel's.

The muffled sound of a staff blast came from the hallway. They both spun towards the door.

"Va!" John shouted.

As they rushed into the bedroom, Daniel could see that O'Neill had slid the ribbon device onto his hand. John held the little egg-shaped thing O'Neill had been carrying earlier. He slid the knife along the floor to Daniel.

"Heads up!" O'Neill said over the sound of staff weapon fire from outside. "We've got company."

– – –

Elizabeth ran through the halls at Bates' heels, the doors on either side flying by rhythmically. She tried to keep her panting breaths under control, tried to be as soundless as possible as she followed him, not wanting anyone to hear them coming. Her tractionless pink slippers slipped as she took a corner. She recovered just before she crashed into the wall, and pushed off with one arm to give herself momentum as she continued pelting after Bates. She could feel the sweat staining the armpits of her silk pajamas.

Bates came to a halt at the next corridor junction. Elizabeth tried to stop short, but skidded into him. She was afraid she would send him into the hallway, but he was braced and stopped her slide like a solid wall. For a second, she was pressed against his back; she could feel the tension vibrating through the muscles of his back, the coiled energy of his arms.

She slid back, and he turned to her. With his short, curly hair and square jaw, he looked like some sort of comic book hero. He held out his hand to her, palm up. Confused, she stared at it. His brows knit together over burning eyes, and he turned his hand, pointing two fingers and his thumb at her, the other two fingers curled toward his palm.

Oh, Elizabeth thought, handing him the alien weapon tucked into her waistband.

He nodded to her, and then motioned. Wait. He peered around the corner again, assessing, and then ran into the hallway. The noise as he activated the weapon seemed loud. She looked around the corner to see what was happening, her knuckles white as she wrapped one hand around the edge of the wall.

The first shot caught the Jaffa standing on the near side of the doorway, and he immediately collapsed in a heap. Bates aimed at the second one, but the alien soldier was already diving across the corridor, his armor jangling as he hit the wall. He fired the second shot into the collapsed Jaffa, ensuring he wouldn't rise again.

The second soldier was on his feet, charging Bates. Bates moved to fire, but the Jaffa spun his staff weapon, swiping Bates' legs out from under him. He fell to the floor with a soft grunt, the zat flying out of his hand. The Jaffa raised his weapon to strike.

Elizabeth ran into the corridor, screaming. The Jaffa seemed shocked by her banshee cry; he didn't manage to move out of the way as she slammed into his chest, throwing her shoulder into it like her older brothers had taught her to do when they played football in the backyard.

But, just like when she'd tried that move as a ten-year-old, her quarry was barely moved by her onslaught. He took one step back, then looked down at her with a sneering smile and tossed her against the wall.

The impact stunned her for a moment. When her vision cleared, she found herself sitting on the floor just a few feet from the zat, staring as he kicked Bates back to the floor with a boot to the chest, then raised his staff weapon. The noise as it became active echoed through the hall; Elizabeth could hear it in stereo. He aimed it at Bates. She desperately lunged for the alien gun, but even as her fingers closed around it she knew she was moving too slowly.

The sound of staff weapon fire seemed to fill the corridor. Elizabeth gasped, rolling onto her back and aiming her weapon with shaking hands. But no energy was coming out of the Jaffa's weapon. A nimbus of momentary fire seemed to surround his torso, and his eyes went wide and blank as he crashed to the floor. Standing behind him, staring down the barrel of Elizabeth's alien gun, was a Valkyrie with café au lait skin. The last time Elizabeth had seen her in that beautifully tailored rust-colored dress, she had been running errands for Ba'al. She tried to remember the woman's name. She must have heard Ba'al say it a hundred times.

"Teyla?" Elizabeth asked, lowering her weapon.

She nodded at Elizabeth, the same burning focus in her eyes that Elizabeth had seen in Bates', and stepped over the dead Jaffa to help the sergeant to his feet.

"Thanks," he said as he clasped her forearm with his hand.

"You are welcome," she replied, a momentary smile lifting one corner of her mouth as she handed him her staff weapon, picking one up from the floor for herself. "It seems we are on the same mission. We must act quickly."

Elizabeth could see him weighing and measuring his options in a flash. "All right," he said firmly, some inner decision made. "Let's do it. We go in there with everything we got, right?"

"Yes," Teyla said, her eyes hard.

Bates and Teyla took up positions on either side of the door, Elizabeth next to Bates. At his nod, Elizabeth slapped her hand on the wall switch that activated the door.

– – –

John had been laid up in the hospital for three weeks in Afghanistan after that mission outside of Khabour had gone to hell. The drugs they handed him in there had really thrown him for a loop. He'd be tracking fine, and then suddenly he'd get wound up in a convoluted net of his own thoughts. The line between reality and his dreams would blur, and he'd stop cold in the middle of a long bullshit session with Dex, realizing that he was talking to thin air and Dex was dead.

The Ancients download was something like that. His mind was filling up with information, knowledge forcing itself in like he had his mouth pressed to the business end of a fire hose. He was trying to stay focused, to keep the mission in mind. But then Daniel curled up on the bed, looking just like a god's pampered, placid plaything, and John saw the openness in his blue eyes and wondered what McKay, who was tucked behind the doorway in the next room, had done to crack his controlled shell. And then he looked at the way Daniel's hand was moving on the crumpled velvet coverlet, stroking up and down the invisible outline of the blade that was tucked under a not-even-slightly-random fold, and thought about how it looked like a wave in the ocean, triggering calculations of turbulence mathematics in his head. The math, pretty neat formulas all in a row, spun out before him, and he would have gotten lost in it if O'Neill hadn't snapped his fingers from where he stood, bookending the doorway to Ba'al's chambers.

John's hand tightened around the Ancient weapon he was holding, and his other fist closed. The mission, the mission, the mission, he thought to himself, and remembered. Daniel was the bait, disheveled clothes and wanton look substituting for his usual total nudity, to keep the Jaffa thinking everything was normal for the second they'd need before John and the Colonel took them down. Hopefully took them down. If John didn't forget where he was again. He dug his nails into his palm, hoping the pain would keep him locked in to this moment, holding the unfurling knowledge at bay.

The door hissed. John raised his weapon; he could see O'Neill raising his metal-gloved hand, anger turning his eyes cold and flinty. As he was about to fire, he heard Daniel shout, "Don't shoot!"

Instead of firing, John slapped down the staff weapon that came through the doorway, wrapping one hand around the pole and yanking it toward him. A hand connected solidly with his chest, and he grabbed the wrist and twisted, just as Teyla had taught him to do. Then he looked down into warm, almond brown eyes.

"John," she breathed as he released her wrist.

"Hi," he grinned, a little shyly. He'd never been one to be tongue-tied around women, but in this case, he wasn't even sure he was speaking English. He wanted to tell her how glad he was that she was alive. He almost wanted to say, Hey, if we make it out of this, how about dinner and a movie?, his stomach fluttering at the idea that she might say no, or yes. Instead, he drew her into a hug, heedless of the staff weapon poking at his shoulder.

"Colonel O'Neill. I thought you were dead!" he heard a man's stunned voice say from the doorway.

"Well, the night's still young," O'Neill replied.

John was starting to lose his way again. Teyla's soft hair reminded him of carbon filaments, and the self-replicating nanotubes the Ancients used to wire the station together. He followed their path down, down into the center of the station and under, running up into the defense systems, thinking of how to rebuild the city's defense shields.

"Rodney!" Dr. Weir's pleasant alto sounded even more breathy than usual. "Ba'al told me he'd killed you!"

"I got better," McKay replied, sounding utterly self-satisfied. Or at least, John thought he said that; the information was crowding his head and everything around him was starting to break into fractal mosaics. He was losing it, he was vanishing, the knowledge was taking over.

Teyla's lips pressed against his, jolting John back to himself, the tide of data receding for just a moment at the sensation of her soft lips, her muscles powerful and lithe as she pressed against him. Maybe he'd get that date, after all.

"Hate to cut the tearful reunions short, kids, but time's a-wastin'," O'Neill said. "We need to move."

– – –

Jack led the charge down the hall, zat in hand, thinking that of all the missions he'd ever run, this one was the most fucked. And he was including that last trip to Ba'al's chamber of horrors in his mental list.

As they pounded toward the control room, he reviewed the entire dismal situation. He'd left his only functional soldier behind at Ba'al's quarters. Weir was right. They had to hold the sarcophagus, and Bates was the one to man that station.

He would have liked to have left the auburn-haired Amazon with Bates, but she had her own problems. All her people were trapped on land elsewhere on the planet, and the Wraith were probably going to figure they were an easy lunch. Which had probably been Ba'al's plan in the first place, come to think of it.

Jackson (who, after the story about the knife Jack had determined was either the ballsiest guy he'd ever met or actively suicidal) had managed to pull the exact location of Teyla's people from Ba'al's computer. Proving that he thought ahead, he'd also pulled out the remote control for Ba'al's tel'tak from the Goa'uld's pocket before throwing his body over the side. Oh, yeah, Jack saw a trip in a Goa'uld ship in his near future, since he was the only one who could pilot the thing.

He would have left Jackson back at Ba'al's quarters, but they needed him to translate the technical gobbledygook Sheppard had started spouting. Jack recognized the look on the Major's face. He'd seen it in the mirror a few years ago, and was sure he'd be looking at it again in a few hours, a day, tops. Jack could feel it every time Sheppard skipped a groove. He hoped the guy could hold it together if they got into a fight, because besides the Amazon, Sheppard was the only backup Jack had, and he was going to need him if they were going to get McKay and Weir into the control room to connect the technology and lead the revolution, respectively.

In the distance, Jack could hear the sound of staff blasts and gunfire. He couldn't tell which was winning, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because the staff weapons could just as easily be in his own people's hands as a Jaffa's.

The doorway to the gateroom was unguarded. Open he thought at it, and charged through into a room hazed with smoke. Scorch marks were on the walls, and the body of a Jaffa and two of his own people lay on the floor. He wanted to pay his respects, but there was no time to look close and see who they were.

On the stairway, he could see Jaffa boots, and the end of a staff weapon. He heard him fire, and then heard the sound of bullets raining ineffectively against the armor. Must be a 22, Jack thought.

"Fuck you!" a honeyed female voice, full of Southern rage, screamed from the top of the stairs.

My kind of woman, Jack thought. He smelled burning ozone and remembered there was a staircase on the other side. Go. Back them up, he gestured at Sheppard and the Amazon. Sheppard got it; maybe it was the tight grip Teyla had on his arm that was keeping him grounded. The two of them slid under the stairway and then sprinted across the room, under cover.

The Jaffa on the stairs was aiming again. Jack coolly took his own aim and fired. Blue energy coruscated over the alien, sending him to his knees. Jack fired again as the Jaffa fell down the stairs. He would have fired a third time, but they couldn't afford to lose the weapons that would be vaporized along with the other man's body if he did. Instead, he stepped out of the way of the corpse as it tumbled toward him, ricocheting off the railing. McKay wasn't as quick to move, and was knocked into Jackson as the body fell against him.

From the other stairway, Jack heard energy fire. He looked over to see Sheppard firing up the stairway and the Amazon, with a bloodthirsty grin on her face, throw a Jaffa to the ground. With an easy flip of her staff weapon, she aimed and fired, taking half the guy's head off.

"I'm glad she's on our side," McKay said.

Jack was about to call up the stairs when he felt a hand on his arm. It was Dr. Weir. "Let me do this," she said. Leaning into the stairwell, she shouted, "This is Elizabeth Weir. Is the control room secure?"

"It is now," that same Southern voice called from above. "Nice shooting."

"Thanks," Jack said. "Mind if we come up?"

Three women were in the control room when his team got there. There was a little Asian scientist staring at a map of the city with small red dots clustered in a few areas. There was a wild-looking blonde with a .22; after a minute, Jack realized he was looking at Dr. Heitmeyer, the psychiatrist who'd done a last assessment of him before he'd come to Atlantis. And there was an absolute knockout that Jack remembered from the personnel files he'd reviewed before coming on base, with a P-90 and a headset hooked to her ear. "Airman Jones, give me our situation," he said.

"Sir!" She drew herself to attention. I thought you were dead, Jack filled in. "The Jaffa were understaffed, and they weren't expecting us. It was room-to-room in the staff quarters for a while, but Smitty says it's a mopping-up operation now," she said, putting one hand to her ear.

"But several may have fled into unexplored areas of the city," the Asian woman said quietly, one hand on the Ancient console. "I cannot make the machine distinguish their biosigns from ours."

"McKay, can you…" Jack waved at the computer.

"Sure, if I had five hours and three assistants," he snapped, shouldering the owl-eyed Asian woman out of the way, and pressing buttons. "But as I'd like to remind you, we don't have five hours." The map of the city was replaced by a starfield. The cluster of red triangles had come even closer to their star system.

But from the other direction, a cluster of yellow squares was speeding in their direction.

"Who's coming toward us?" Weir asked.

Jack ran his hands through his hair. "One fleet's the Wraith. The other's Anubis,"

Her eyes widened. "You mean – "

He nodded. "Yep, the second-rate Emperor of the Sith is dropping by for a visit."

"Maybe they'll destroy each other," Heitmeyer said, picking up a staff weapon that lay on the floor.

"Yeah, I'm sure Poland thought the same thing," McKay said sharply, tossing a hand out as if brushing her away, already going to work on the console. "If we don't get the shields up, we're screwed."

"And if we do not rescue my people, the victor of the battle will kill them," Teyla said. She stopped, looking distracted. Her eyebrows crinkled up, and she cocked her head, as if listening for something.

Then Jack heard it, too, a faint mechanical clanking. "What the hell?" he asked.

Jackson licked his lips. "Ba'al's notes said something about an experiment he was working on, technology he'd stolen from Anubis."

"Now you tell me," Jack said as they turned toward it.

It rounded the corner, its steps nearly silent, the slight metallic grinding noise as its joints moved the only giveaway. The thing wore dark, glossy armor; the only transparent part was the clear front of the helmet, revealing a bony, almost featureless gray face, repulsive in its unnaturalness.

Jack aimed his zat at the it, feeling a rush of air by his face as Teyla's staff weapon came down, locking on the soldier. Heitmeyer had already aimed, and was shooting staff weapon blast into the center of the thing's chest.

It didn't even notice. It kept coming toward them, lifting one arm and firing.

Jack hit the deck, pulling Weir down with him. He saw the first bolt of fire hit Heitmeyer in the center of the chest, sending her spiraling off the balcony. The second one scorched over Jack's head, hitting the wall behind him.

"Move, people, out the back!" he yelled, pulling out his zat and firing from under cover. He felt his pant leg move as Weir slid past him, gathering the noncombatants. From behind one of the consoles, Teyla was also firing at it, Sheppard joining in right next to her. Jones was shooting it with her P-90, but their combined effort had no effect. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Jackson, McKay and the female scientist, crawling under the console toward the back hallway with Weir herding them. Jack kept firing, trying to buy time.

"We've got a problem!" McKay shouted. Jack looked over his shoulder to see the scientists diving under the Ancient machinery. Another armored soldier was coming down the back corridor.

"Stercorius!" Sheppard spat.

"I don't think I need to translate that one," Dr. Jackson said.

 

CHAPTER 7: HIGH TIDE


Elizabeth huddled under the console in the control room between Rodney and Dr. Jackson; Miko was shaking, curled up against Elizabeth's back. "Is there another exit?" Dr. Jackson asked over the sound of bullets.

Rodney shook his head, eyes wide and scared. "Not unless you want to follow Heightmeyer."

There was another explosion well above their heads, followed by staff weapon fire. From their hiding space, she could see the head of the first armored warrior that had come at them, ghoulish features and all. If she turned, she could see another warrior coming from the other direction, which meant the cover they were under was all but useless. She could hear Colonel O'Neill and Jones firing on the first fighter; Teyla and Major Sheppard were facing the one coming from behind, but their shots seemed to be not only ineffective, but entirely unnoticed.

Elizabeth slipped her hand into Rodney's. His palms were as sweaty as hers. His other hand was intertwined with Dr. Jackson's, gripping so hard that the knuckles were white. He turned his face away, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. A part of Elizabeth wanted to do the same, but her mother had always told her to face danger head-on. She lifted her head as the warrior approached, staring at the harsh bony skull tightly covered by grayish-brown skin. It raised its arm, pointing its weapon across the room. She squeezed Rodney's hand tightly.

It fired.

She followed the path of the energy bolt automatically, expecting to hear screams from O'Neill or Jones when it passed out of view, obscured by the legs of the console. Then she saw a shower of sparks fountaining up from the front of the first ghoulish soldier. Its head dropped out of view. She heard the crash as it fell to the floor.

"What?" she asked aloud, stunned.

Rodney opened one eye. "We're not dead?"

Elizabeth shook her head, stunned. She was even more shocked when the soldier spoke, its voice blurred and gravelly, but somehow familiar. "Colonel O'Neill, sir," it said.

Rodney and Dr. Jackson looked at each other. Elizabeth could feel Miko moving against her back, straightening from the curled up position she'd been in earlier.

"Who is that?" Dr. Jackson asked, his mouth hanging open just a little. Elizabeth shook her head, and crawled out from under the console, standing up to get a better look.

Colonel O'Neill moved toward the construct, head cocked to the side, looking slightly confused. His eyes suddenly went cool and blank, but before they did, she could see a flash of horror in them.

"Lieutenant Ford?" he asked.

Elizabeth stifled her own gasp; there were enough coming from the rest of the room. From the corner of her eye, she could see Jones go even paler than her normal alabaster. Elizabeth grabbed the console tightly with one hand, focusing on staying calm and collected, silently running through all the issues confronting them.

"Yes, sir," Ford said, his hand abortively moving toward his face, then dropping back to his side. "I'm not sure, but…I think I've been drugged, or something."

The Colonel's brow furrowed a little, but before he could begin to explain, Elizabeth broke in. "Colonel O'Neill. I realize there are things we need to explain to the Lieutenant," she said, nodding to Ford, trying not to look for the young man she'd known, however briefly, beneath the new face. "But first, someone needs to bring Dr. Heightmeyer to the sarcophagus."

O'Neill nodded. "Jones," he said. "That's you. Move fast. Once you put her in the sarcophagus, you stay down there and back up Bates until I relieve you. You got that?"

Jones' bright green eyes went a little wider. "Bates – wait, Bates is in on this?"

Elizabeth smiled, warm pride at Bates' skill filling her. "Airman, he planned this."

"Go, Jones," O'Neill said.

"Headsets are over there," Jones said, pointing at a small box balanced on an Ancient device. She turned and sprinted down the stairs to the gateroom, taking them two at a time.

The Colonel took a deep breath, then let it out, turning to his erstwhile third-in-command. "Lieutenant Ford – "

"Good news," Rodney interrupted. Elizabeth and O'Neill turned to see the display on the screen. The red triangles and yellow squares were almost within their planet's orbit, now, but they all seemed to be on top of each other. "We seem to have gained a few extra minutes," Rodney said, his hands moving over the Ancient input mechanism. "I'll to try to zoom in on what's going on."

Sheppard was staring at the console Rodney was working on, a slightly bemused expression on his face, like there was some common word he was searching for that wouldn't come to his lips. He shouldered Rodney aside and began touching buttons, each one of which lit up happily under the feathery motion of his fingers, the difference between Rodney's harsh taps and his gliding motions like that between a third grader and a concert pianist.

"What's he doing?" Rodney asked. "Daniel, ask him what he's doing."

"Cantartas quequa anodio," Sheppard said distractedly.

"He says it's too difficult to explain," Dr. Jackson said, looking worriedly at the intent Major.

Rodney was indignant. "Well, tell him to try breaking it down into words of two syllables or less for all the double Ph.Ds!"

"Must be tough, not being the smartest guy in the room," O'Neill smirked.

"I'm the head scientist on this mission. If he breaks something – "

The visual on the screen suddenly zoomed in, giving a close-up of the interplanetary battlefield and ending Rodney's incipient tirade. The squares and triangles were now the size of Elizabeth's palm. As she watched, one of the squares flared brightly, then faded to nothing. In a smaller square in the corner of the screen, another window popped up, this one displaying a three-dimensional overlay of what looked like wires and pipes, with notations in Ancient. It rolled and turned, too quickly for Elizabeth to make sense of the words.

O'Neill stepped closer to the console. "You mean, we get picture-in-picture on this thing?"

Another window popped up; this one showed, from above, a field with a number of tents. Two small figures were walking across the field, carrying what looked like long logs; many more seemed to be building a fence, or maybe a frame for a long building.

Teyla's hand reached up toward the screen. "My people," she said quietly.

Sheppard looked up for a moment, and flashed her a quick grin. Then his fingers skimmed over the flat translucent panels again, and several more windows popped up over the starfield. Words raced across one; another held something that seemed to Elizabeth to be no more than a whirl of ever-changing color; a third had a map of the city, with a blue line running through it.

"What's – is that the Ancient version of MapQuest?" Rodney said.

"Eego indeeo adeitum eo lochus," Sheppard said, pointing as the map zoomed in on a room deep in the bowels of the north pier.

Elizabeth searched her brain for the words she needed in Ancient, putting them one after the other slowly and carefully as if she were laying them out on a table. "Licere tu aramara reconcilio?" Please tell me you can bring the defense shields up, she thought.

"Eetium, ebi," Sheppard said, as if it would be as simple as making coffee. He looked at everyone else in the room, raised his eyebrows as if they were all a little thick, and pointed at the map again.

"Okay," Elizabeth said. She picked up the box of headsets and took one, then handed it to Colonel O'Neill. As she fitted it over her ear she took a deep breath, already making lists in her head. "We have three missions. Rodney, you and Dr. Jackson will go with Major Sheppard and help him bring up the shields."

Dr. Jackson and Rodney nodded. Sheppard had that look she was familiar with from hundreds of negotiations where all parties were not speaking the same language, the confused one that said he was trying to follow everything that was going on by tone alone. As Jackson leaned over to whisper in his ear, she turned to O'Neill. "You said you could fly one of Ba'al's ships, yes?"

"Like falling off a unicycle, ma'am," he responded.

Behind him, Miko was at a computer that was clumsily patched in to the Ancient systems on one side and a piece of Earth technology on the other. When each person activated their headset, a green light flared on the back of the chunky Earth machine, and Miko made an entry into the computer system. Elizabeth caught her eye and nodded a thank you.

"Good," she replied to O'Neill. "The transport rings are in the gate room. You and Teyla will bring the – " Elizabeth realized that, though she'd seen Teyla's people around the base for weeks, she'd never found out what they were called; she'd always assumed they were followers of Ba'al. "What are your people called?" she asked Teyla respectfully.

Teyla smiled. She'd already hooked her headset on. "We are the Athosians," she said.

Elizabeth smiled, and turned back to O'Neill. "You and Teyla will get the Athosians and bring them back here."

Colonel O'Neill took a deep breath. "Ma'am, this – " he waved his hand around "…rebellion is a military situation. You need me here."

Elizabeth folded her arms. "Colonel, I organized this rebellion. I have plenty of fighters to defend the city. What I need right now is a pilot that knows how to fly a Goa'uld ship, and you're the only one I've got. How fast do you think you can do that?"

O'Neill looked at her for a second, as if he were considering another protest. Then he turned to the woman standing next to him. "How many people have you got?" O'Neill asked Teyla.

Teyla's head tilted to one side. "Perhaps one hundred. Certainly no more."

O'Neill nodded, and turned back to Elizabeth. "For a simple drop-everything evac, we can be there and back in two hours," he said.

Elizabeth's eyes darted over to the screen; she noticed O'Neill was looking at it, too. "I think the Sharks and the Jets will be at it for a while longer," he said.

Elizabeth nodded. "I hope you're right," she answered. She stepped over to Lieutenant Ford, resting one hand on his armor, which was oddly warm to the touch, and forced herself not to flinch as she looked into the flat, blank spaces where his eyes should have been.

"Lieutenant Ford," she said quietly, trying to put as much empathy into her voice as she could. "I'm afraid that you've been the victim of some experimentation by Ba'al. When we get through this, we're going to work as hard as we can to bring you back to normal. But right now, you are probably the person on this station best-equipped to defend this area against his Jaffa." She searched his nearly-immobile face, wishing there was an expression on it she could read. "Can you do that?"

"Yes, ma'am," he said, the dark helmet inclining downward a fraction.

"Good," Elizabeth smiled, wishing she could squeeze his hand. She hoped Dr. Heightmeyer was placed in the sarcophagus in time; after this was over, nearly everyone on Atlantis would need her counseling. And who will counsel her? Elizabeth thought, and realized her automatic answer was, Me. "I'll organize teams to take care of the last Jaffa in the city," she said.

She looked over the people in the room. Her people. Then she nodded.

"All right, everyone," she said. "Let's get to work." As they moved together to say their goodbyes, she leaned down toward Miko. "Doctor, I'd like to make an announcement to the entire city."

Miko nodded, moved her hands from the human technology to the Ancient control board, and then looked up expectantly at Elizabeth.

– – –

"This is Dr. Elizabeth Weir. The Atlantis expedition is now in control of the control room and the gate room, and is rapidly taking control of other areas of the city."

Bates looked up from the sarcophagus lid closing over Kate's face, and smiled at Jones. "Now, that's the sort of thing I like to hear," he said, hefting his staff weapon and moving back toward the door.

"To all the Jaffa on the station: Ba'al has been killed. Your god is dead, and he is not coming back."

Teyla looked at Daniel consideringly for a moment. He still had the same slightly befuddled, slightly nervous aura he'd had when they'd all been Ba'al's prisoners, and yet she'd seen evidence of the steel inside. He turned, as if he could feel her eyes on her, and looked back.

She stepped toward him. "I did not think you were capable of killing Ba'al."

He smiled nervously, his lips pulling back to reveal all his teeth. The light flared off the lenses of his glasses, and for a moment she couldn't see his eyes. "Neither did I, really."

She smiled, reaching her hands out to grasp his forearms. "You have greater strength and loyalty than anyone has given you credit for, I think," she said, bowing her head toward him.

"There is no point to fighting any longer. If you throw down your weapons and give yourself up, we will show mercy. If you do not, my military teams are under orders to hunt you down."

Tarl'rac looked up from his hiding place in the dark parts of the city. His god was dead, and he knew there was no longer any hope of victory.

His hands curled around his staff weapon. He might not be able to save Ba'al, but he could at least avenge him.

"To my own people: we now have new information on how to operate the Ancient technology, information that can protect us from the Wraith."

Jack stood in front of Major Sheppard, arms crossed. He tried to think of the Ancient, but most of the words wouldn't come. "When I reditio, noo are gonna have a talk about dictia," he said.

"Eetiam," Sheppard replied, standing rigidly at attention. His fingers were starting to glide over the console again, though, and even though his eyes stayed locked on Jack's, there was a slight drift of focus, as if he was looking at something a few inches beyond the back of Jack's head.

Jack slapped him on the shoulder, bringing the Major's attention back to him for a moment. "Good luck," he said.

"If you are part of the science team who has been working in the control room, please report here as soon as possible."

Kavanagh was sitting in the dark, his arms wrapped around his knees, listening to the announcement. The fighting outside his door had ended about fifteen minutes ago. Discretion had seemed the better part of valor – if he didn't take part in either side of the fighting, he was more likely to be alive in the morning. He wasn't going to make it back home if he was dead, and he wasn't going to try to take on the Jaffa in an unarmed suicide mission.

But now Dr. Weir was calling. Was she telling the truth, or was it just spin control, like the US military did with every battle?

He looked down at his hands. Then he looked at the door.

He pulled on his jacket and left for the control room.

"We also have another enemy approaching, the Goa'uld system lord Anubis. He's currently battling the Wraith within this solar system. Their battle has bought this station some time."

Jack bent his head close to McKay's; he didn't want to advertise what he had to say to the rest of the room. "Sheppard hasn't got much time before everything that's in his head overwrites his brain. You remember the place where we found the old lady?"

"The cryogenic house of horrors? I'm not likely to forget it anytime soon," McKay said.

"When he gets done with whatever he's doing, bring him there. He'll be able to operate the thing." Jack looked away, down toward the Stargate. He felt a little like he was dictating his last will and testament. He looked back at McKay. "When I get back, put me in one, too. Then send a message to General Carter."

"What do you want me to say? 'Having a lousy time, wish we were there?'"

"That's a start," Jack shrugged. "Then tell her to contact the Asgard. Thor will know how to get all the..." He gestured with one hand, a rolling, looping motion. "'stuff out of our heads."

McKay nodded, his mouth a thin angled slash, his eyes wide and pained. He grasped Jack's hand with his own. "Good luck," he said.

"You too," Jack said, shaking his hand, then pulling him in for a momentary back-slapping hug, feeling almost naked going into potential disaster without the cranky physicist at his side. As he let McKay go, he looked at Dr. Jackson, who'd just walked up beside them. This was where the three of them had their first conversation, he realized, practically this very spot. "Take care of him for me," he told Jackson.

Jackson nodded, and smiled a little. "I always do."

"We must all work together if we are to save this city from the Goa'uld and the Wraith."

"Teyla," John said, then stopped. There were so many things he wanted to say to her, but he couldn't say them in any way that she would understand. Instead, he leaned forward, cupping her face with his hands, and kissed her, trying to make it matter.

But even as he tasted her mouth, his mind was spinning through the corridors and pathways of Atlantis, unfurling the knowledge of the Ancients. The texture of her tongue was like the regular, velvety pattern of molecules between points in the transporter system, the system that was slowly bleeding power from the generators that were not nearly as powerful as the ZPM the city needed to power the shields. Stars were whirling before his closed eyes. There was warmth in his arms, something reassuring, someone he cared about very much, and the sensations that flowed through his body when he touched her were simply unbelievable.

When he looked down at her again, he knew she was special to him. But he could no longer remember her name.

"We've made it through the night. This morning, the city belongs to us. In the next few hours, we'll ensure that it's ours for good. Thank you, everyone, for your sacrifices and your good work."

– – –

The man with the hard mouth and thin hair was following John around, tapping on his primitive little hand-held computer as he watched John pull up schematics and bring supplies to the lab. He said something John didn't understand, and the other man, the taller one with the long hair, translated. "He wishes you to slower down, so he will to learn what you do here."

John rocked back from his knees to squat, resting his forearms on his knees, looking up at the guy. A moment of clarity washed over him. Daniel, he thought, looking at his friend. Rodney McKay, he thought, looking at the scientist who was staring at him with a combination of avarice, jealousy and fear. And Ba'al was dead. Dammit, they should be having a party, and instead everything in his brain was getting pushed out by the Ancient version of Encyclopedia Britannica, and not one, but two enemy fleets were on the way. This just isn't my day, John thought.

"Daniel, did anyone ever tell you your Ancient grammar is for shit?" he asked. Daniel opened his mouth to respond, and John waved him off. He could feel another tsunami of information about to rush over him, and wondered if this would be the one that drowned him. "Look, tell Mr. Smarty-Pants there that I can either do this or explain it to him, but I can't do both. I'll try to unlock a library or two for you along the way, but…"

It crashed down around him, formulas and theories and data and the structure of the Wraith RNA and how to stabilize naquadah so that it wouldn't explode even when sent into the core of a sun, and it was easy, so easy, the invaders had no idea, that healing device he'd spent so much time in would just ignite if enough power were sent through it, and he looked down at the pieces in front of him and remembered that he needed to build this thing for them, the Zero Point Module.

He looked up at the shorter man, the one with the thin mouth. He couldn't do this? Children did this. He began to assemble it.

"John?" the other man said, the one he dimly remembered as a friend. He tried to translate what the man was saying. Oh, he suddenly remembered. That's my name.

He shook his head at his friend and turned back to his work.

– – –

With the touch of a button, the doors of the tel'tak opened. A breeze wafted in, carrying with it a smell that reminded Jack of his house by the lake. They stepped out, and he saw the fields, the forest, and through the trees, the glint of sunlight on water.

"You guys lookin' for neighbors?" Jack asked as he gestured toward the lake.

Teyla smiled at him. "I think you will find my people welcoming."

People were already leaving aside their work, coming out of their tents, walking toward them. Then Jack saw Charlie walking toward him, and froze, not daring to breathe.

His son took two steps, and then he turned his head, and Jack realized it wasn't Charlie at all, just an Athosian teenager who didn't even look all that much like him, really. Then he realized he hadn't thought of Charlie at all for the past twelve hours, and his heart seemed like it was being wrenched out of his chest. It felt like a betrayal.

"Colonel O'Neill, are you all right?" Teyla said, placing her hand on his arm. As she looked at him, he understood why she was the leader of these people – she had that weird combination of fierce warrior and nurturing nymph down pat.

He meant to say Yeah. What came out of his mouth was "Eetium".

Aw, stercus, he thought.

"It is happening to you, too," Teyla said, her voice low.

He nodded. "Let's get a move on."

– – –

Elizabeth spoke into her radio. "Jones, I need Sergeant Bates up here to organize teams to clear the city of hostile Jaffa. Can you handle things down there on your own?" she asked.

"Sure can, ma'am," she said. "I'll have Kate to back me up in a few minutes."

"Thank you, Airman," Elizabeth said, tapping her headset to close the connection.

"Ma'am," a low, cultured voice said from behind her.

She turned. Peter was sliding into a seat behind a console. There was a smear of blood on his shirt, a bruise was forming around his right eye, and his lip was split. "Peter! You look terrible!"

Peter started to smile, then stopped as it pulled on his cut mouth. "Not nearly as bad as my opponent, ma'am." He looked up at the screen, looked down at his console, tapped a couple of buttons, looked up again. "Doctor Weir, we may have a more imminent problem than we thought."

"What?" she said, looking at the screen. The picture changed, showing outer space. The battle was in the background, Goa'uld and Wraith fleets swirling around each other in a whirlpool of death. In the foreground, she could see something shaped like a triangle, silver and deadly sharp.

"It's a Wraith hive ship," he said. "It looks like it's fled the battle, and it's coming toward us."

– – –

The knowledge was weighing heavily on John. His head throbbed; he knew he was forgetting things, but he couldn't remember what.

Of course you can't remember what you forgot. That's what forgetting means, he thought to himself.

The man with the glasses and the kind blue eyes leaned over him again, touching his shoulder. When John looked at him, he got a flash of blood, a knife, a quick memory of a dark haired corpse. "Who did we kill?" he asked.

The man's mouth was slack for a moment before he spoke. "Ba'al," he said, and John remembered pain and violation, and tensed under the hand on his shoulder, his flesh crawling. "It was needed," the man continued, taking his hand away, looking suddenly sad. He scanned the control board, then looked back at John. "Finished?" he asked anxiously.

John looked around. The ZPM was in, and the shields were ready for activation, but there was so much else he could do. Every time he touched a console, he could hear the city singing to him. It missed him, it wanted him. It was begging him to stay. His head throbbed again, and everything around him seemed to white out for a second. "I'm finished with the shields," he said. "But that's not the only thing here that needs fixing."

The bespectacled man spoke to the slash-mouthed one in a language John didn't understand. The brittle one replied hastily, words tumbling out of his mouth, but a sudden sharp look from the kind man put him off. He sighed, looking disappointed, and said something to the kind man in a defeated tone.

"I'm sorry," the man with the glasses said to John. "You're ill. We must take you to the…" He paused, searching for words. "the freezing-room until one comes who can make you well."

John saw it in his mind, the room with the glass columns, knew exactly how to activate it so his biosigns would slow to a crawl. He nodded, running his hand over the Ancient console soothingly. Soon, he thought to it.

He walked out the door toward the cryogenic chambers, the two blue-eyed men at his side. There was someone else, a woman with brown eyes. She should have been there, too.

"Tell her I said goodbye," he said to the man with the glasses. Daniel. The name flitted across his brain, and then was gone.

"I will," the man nodded. "I promise you, I will tell her."

– – –

The tel'tak flew high above the ocean, casting a shadow on the water below. They'd managed to cram all the Athosians into the cargo hold. It was a tight fit; good thing they were okay with being cozy, Jack thought.

"Thank you," Teyla said to him. "I know how difficult it is to leave your people when you feel you should be leading them. There are not many who would rush to help others when their own people were in danger."

"De nada" Jack said with a wave of his hand. She opened her mouth, and he cut her off. "Sorry. Not Ancient. Spanish." He shrugged. "If I'd stayed there I would have just been making coffee anyway."

Teyla nodded. "I understand," she said. "They don't need warriors, now. They need scientists. I suspect I would have felt quite useless, as well."

He looked at her, at the knives she'd strapped on in her home village when she'd changed into her more practical native clothing. "You kicked some serious Jaffa ass today."

She smiled. "Thank you," she said.

They flew in silence for a minute. Then Teyla spoke quietly. "I saw the shock in your face at seeing Arunas. Did he remind you of one you lost?"

Suddenly, the ten minutes it was going to take to get back to Atlantis were looking like eons. Jack took a deep breath, his hands pressing against the console. "Look – "

Without warning, the ship shook.

"What the hell?" he asked, bringing up the rear view on the screen.

Behind them was a ship he'd never seen before – tiny, needle-nosed and fast as hell. On the readouts in front of him, the shields had suddenly taken a precipitous drop.

"It is a Wraith dart," Teyla said, her eyes wide. "Can you fire back?"

"This thing is Ba'al's minivan," he said. "No weapons." He started skating around the sky, evasive maneuvers that shook the Wraith off their tail for a moment. "Hit that red button there and phone home. Tell 'em to bring up the shield as soon as we get back. He'll hit it like running into a wall," Jack said, and focused all of his attention on staying the hell out of the Wraith ship's way.

– – –

Bates scratched the back of his neck as he stood in the control room, but the itch didn't go away. He wondered if it was because of the armored man looming on the other side of the control room. He may have been Bates' superior officer once, but he'd been tinkered with by Ba'al, and Bates didn't quite trust him.

"Okay, Sheppard's a popsicle and the ZPM's in the socket. Why aren't the shields up yet? Hello, big ship, coming our way, thinks we're dinner," Dr. McKay said as he and Dr. Jackson ran in.

"Colonel O'Neill's run into a problem on the way back to Atlantis," Dr. Weir said. "There's a Wraith dart following him. The tel'tak doesn't have any weapons, so we're waiting for him to get inside the shield."

"Like slamming a door in the Wraith's face," Dr. Jackson said.

Dr. McKay looked like he was about to say something, but Dr. Kavanagh spoke first. "Of course, we could always wind up locking the Wraith ship in here with us," the scientist said.

That itch on the back of Bates' neck was getting worse. He started looking around the room. A flash of sunlight off Ford's helmet as he turned his head blinded the sergeant, and he rubbed his eyes.

"Well, I suppose that's why Ba'al set up a few cannons on the balconies," Dr. McKay sniped back. His hand hovered over the console. "I can code this to bring the shields up as soon as his tel'tak comes within the perimeter."

Bates blinked as he saw another glint. The clouds slid over the sun, and he realized it wasn't a glint at all. "Down! Everybody down!" he yelled, grabbing Dr. Weir and bringing her to the ground, shielding her body with his own as a staff blast went over their heads. Adrenalin kicked in, and everything around Bates seemed to go into slow motion.

The little Asian scientist hit the deck beside them just as a second staff blast flew through the air, slamming into the communications console they'd set up. He moved, covering more of Dr. Weir's body as metal shrapnel flew toward them, searing his back through his jacket.

Across the room, he could see Dr. Jackson wrap one arm around a stunned Dr. McKay, pulling him down to the floor with a diving lunge. Dr. Grodin was flying out of his chair and under his console in a graceful dive. A staff blast from a different direction hit the console just where Dr. McKay had been standing, sending the entire thing flying to the floor in a spectacular fountain of translucent shards. Two of them! Bates thought, looking around, wishing to hell he had more military and less scientists in the room.

Terrible and fierce, Lieutenant Ford began walking forward, firing. A staff blast hit him in the back; the energy flashed over his shoulders and down his body, then dissipated. Bates looked up, seeing the glow of the weapon, the face above it. Tarl'rac.

Thoughts of Jaffa card games and late-night jawing sessions flitted through Bates' mind as he got to his knees, straddling Dr. Weir's body, and fired his P-90. The bullets hit the Jaffa in the shoulder, and he tumbled down the stairs.

From the corner of his eye, Bates saw a body in Jaffa armor fly into the air, slamming against the window, leaving a dark smear as it slid to the floor. Ford's hand came down onto a console, and he slipped to his knees, then slowly got back up again.

Dr. McKay was already getting up, pulling at the console. "This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening!" he said, holding pieces in his hands, staring at the shattered innards.

"Just use one of the other consoles to trigger the shields," Dr. Weir said to him, pushing herself to her feet.

"It's not like the thing has a universal remote!" Dr. McKay shouted at her. "This is the control panel for the shields, and it's going to take me at least an hour to duct-tape it together until it'll work. Short answer: we're screwed."

"Then find another solution," Dr. Weir said, her voice low and steely.

Dr. McKay laughed incredulously. "Another solution? What do you think this is, a fairy tale?" Then he blinked, a stunned expression on his face. "Rapunzel. That's it," he said, and grabbed Dr. Jackson by the wrist. "Come on, Daniel. I need you to translate one more thing." As Dr. Jackson nodded, following at his heels, Dr. McKay said, "Kavanagh, fix the console. Elizabeth, make an announcement. Clear everyone out of the central tower."

"Why?" she called.

Dr. McKay waved his hands in frustration, as if he couldn't believe they were still having this conversation. "Because if we do this right, in about fifteen minutes it's all going to turn into one big weapon," he called over his shoulder, as he and Dr. Jackson ran full-tilt toward the teleporter.

As the Asian woman sat down at the Ancient communications console, hands shaking, Bates moved to the top of the stairs, aiming his gun down.

But there was nothing at the bottom but a smear of blood. Tarl'rac was gone.

– – –

"Colonel, the shield is down. Repeat, the shield is down. Doctor McKay and Doctor Jackson have gone to activate the weapon in the central tower." Doctor Weir's voice was urgent as it came over the tel'tak's communication system.

"Oh, hell," O'Neill said as they hurtled toward the city. "That puts a little crimp in our plan."

Teyla looked over the city, eyes wide, assessing the situation. "When I was a child, I was the best among my people at playing Wraith and Runner."

Jack banked the ship hard, trying to shake the Wraith on their tail. "I always got picked last for dodgeball. Your point?"

"I have an idea," Teyla said.

Jack banked again, skimming low over the water. "Sweet," he said.

– – –

Rodney and Daniel pelted down the hallway toward Ba'al's quarters, passing by Airman Jones, who was running toward the transporter, Dr. Heightmeyer at her heels. "Sirs, do you – "

"Go, go!" they yelled at her in unison. The two women kept running.

Daniel and Rodney hurtled through Ba'al's quarters, barely sparing a glance for the surroundings on their way to the tower teleporter. As they came toward it, the wall parted, and they slipped in.

"I hate this," Rodney said, scowling furiously as his fingers tapped a frantic rhythm. There was a brief shivery feeling, and then the door slid open, revealing a room Daniel had never seen before, with a desiccated female body in a chair in the middle, and big windows, sun so bright they just seemed like blocks of white. He wanted to look more closely at the corpse, analyze her clothing for more clues about the Ancients, but Rodney was already moving toward a computer console. "I really, really don't want to die again."

"Is that likely?" Daniel asked, following Rodney into the room, feeling Rodney's panic begin to rub off on him.

Rodney gestured with a thumb at the withered corpse. "Rapunzel over there figured out a way to turn this whole tower into a giant cannon. We might be able to take out that Wraith hive ship, but if we don't get out of here right after we hit the trigger, it'll be a Pyrrhic victory for the two of us." He slapped his hand against the console, and text spread across the screen. "Translate," he said.

Daniel translated, feeling adrenalin begin to rush through his body as the words flew out of his mouth. Rodney's hands danced over the Ancient machinery like he was playing a Mozart sonata.

– – –

The P-90 in Bates' hand made him feel whole again, like a security blanket. "I know you're under here, Tarl'rac," he called out. The area below the stairs was far darker than the gate room in the morning light, the stairs casting long shadows. Bates closed his eyes for five seconds to force his pupils to dilate, hoping to hell the Jaffa wasn't standing right there. "Give yourself up now. You're not going to get Ba'al back."

"Fine words from you," Tarl'rac's voice came from the blackness. "You made all of us think you were working with us. Instead, you got our trust only to betray us. Do you know what that makes you?"

Bates opened his eyes, making sure he was looking into the darkness. His stomach clenched. He tried to ignore it. "Smart," he said, slipping under the stairs.

"Shol'vah," Tarl'rac hissed. "Do you know what you could have become if you had worked with us?"

A slave with a snake in my gut, Bates thought to himself, but didn't say a word. He could make out Tarl'rac now, who was looking around for Bates, his face turned out, toward the windows. Bates kept his back against the wall, and slid inward, trying to get behind the Jaffa.

"Do you have any idea what you've done?" Tarl'rac shouted.

"Yeah," Bates whispered from behind him. Tarl'rac spun around, staff weapon in hand. "I won."

Before Tarl'rac could bring his staff weapon to bear, Bates unloaded the entire clip into him.

– – –

"It's not working! Why isn't it working?" Rodney asked, his fists clenching in frustration.

Daniel rested his hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Give me a minute," he said, looking over the information on the screen. He read it, then read it again to make sure he had it right. "It says there's a mental trigger."

"Oh, no," Rodney moaned.

"You can do it," Daniel said.

Rodney looked at him, eyes huge. "No, I can't! O'Neill can do it if he concentrates. Sheppard can do it without even thinking about it. But they have the gene. I've got a – it's a fake gene. Gene therapy. I can't do it."

"You can," Daniel said. This time, without even meaning to, it came out as a command. "Put your hands on those panels there," Daniel said, gesturing at the two pieces of white, hewn stone on the console. "And then just – close your eyes and think at it."

Rodney closed his eyes and breathed out. From the way his lips were pressing together, Daniel could tell he was ready to immediately claim failure. Daniel slid closer to Rodney, standing close to him until his chest was pressed against Rodney's shoulder. "You can do this," he said quietly, running one hand rhythmically down Rodney's spine and up again to calm him. "Just let yourself sink into it. Breathe deeply and slowly, and let yourself drop down."

Daniel kept up the patter, a low constant lulling murmur. The strain at the corner of Rodney's eyes smoothed out; gravity stopped tugging the corner of his mouth down. He looked intent but there was an air of calm, of focus. Then his eyebrows drew together in confusion, his lips parting a little bit as he slowly breathed out.

Rodney's sudden gasp made Daniel jump. His eyes flew open, full of anger and fear. "Run!" he said urgently, shoving Daniel toward the transporter.

Daniel lunged forward, taking a breath to ask Rodney what was going on. Before he had a chance to breathe out, to take a second step, gravity twisted, and the transporter flew away from them.

"No!" Rodney yelled, as Daniel found himself spinning. He was falling toward the wall. Why was he falling toward the wall? He reached an arm out to try to steady himself, and screamed when first his hand, then his shoulder hit the wall with all of his weight behind them, an agonizing loud snap rattling through his body with each impact.

– – –

The tel'tak wove between the towers of Atlantis, the Wraith dart in hot pursuit. "Hang on!" Jack shouted. The ship shot straight up, flying along the limned central tower like a racecar at the Indy 500.

"Is this part of your plan?" Teyla asked over the whine of machinery.

"Yeah," Jack said. "Go back there and get your people ready. You know what to do."

As Teyla rushed back to the cargo compartment, the tel'tak hovered over the top of the central tower. Jack wished it had one of those message screens at the bottom, like the SpectraVision at hockey games. Instead, he tried to put a little zing into his hover, a little taunting nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.

The Wraith ship spiraled around one of the city's lower spires, then turned and headed toward him.

– – –

"Oh," Daniel groaned, rolling onto his back. Rodney was crumpled on the floor beside him, making little whimpering noises and holding his knee. Behind it all, there was a low whining noise.

Rodney was speaking between moans now, cursing between gritted teeth. "She set up a trap. I should have known it. I should have seen it." He touched a hand to his temple, leaving a streak of blood behind. "There was something in there…I felt something slip out…"

"What?" Daniel said, pushing himself up with his one good arm, wincing at the pain. Endorphins were racing through his system, trying to fight the pain down. The low whining was getting higher, louder.

"Rapunzel," Rodney said, pointing at the corner where the Ancient woman's dessicated body was crumpled, mostly dust and bone surrounded by scraps of fabric, her teeth still grinning at them. "She figured whoever shut her up here would come here to use her weapon sooner or later. She wanted to save the city, but kill them when she did it. She made sure they couldn't get out." His eyes were bleak as he looked up at Daniel. "I'm sorry."

"Come on," Daniel said, pulling Rodney to his feet, slinging one of the physicist's arms over his shoulders, choking down a cry of pain until it was nothing but a strangled gasp. He looked up at the ceiling, where the transporter hung thirty feet above them. "We'll – we'll get you on my shoulders, grab one of the consoles and – "

"Daniel," Rodney said flatly, and shook his head. "There's no time."

Daniel was about to tell Rodney not to be pessimistic when he felt the hot tingling begin to wash over his skin.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said desolately. "I shouldn't have dragged you out here. I should have left you back on Earth."

A crazy grin spread over Daniel's face; his body was racing with useless adrenalin. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world," he said, and realized it was true. "And we saved the city, right?"

"Right." Rodney laughed, then winced in a way that told Daniel he'd probably broken a rib. Not that it mattered, now; the walls were beginning to glow. "Well, if you ever wanted to promise me 'til death do us part', now would be the perfect time."

It was almost too bright to see. "Will it hurt?" Daniel asked quietly, barely audible over the high-pitched keening of the tower.

Rodney nodded shortly, stiff in that way he got when he was scared. "For a second, probably." His wide blue eyes were almost clear in a face washed pale by the white light. He reached up and pulled Daniel's head down toward his, kissing him desperately. Daniel kissed him back with equal fierceness, knowing it was the last thing he would ever do, wanting to make it count.

There was a loud crashing noise, and their arms tightened around each other. A tingling washed over Daniel's body.

To his surprise, it didn't hurt at all.

– – –

Teyla stood at the console, sliding levers just as O'Neill had told her to. Her people stood behind her, as many as could fit into the cabin, tense and silent, watching the screen as she did. They rushed away from Atlantis, moving sharply toward the sky just before the Wraith dart came in range. As it turned and looped to follow them, the brightening central tower suddenly seemed to come alight with a shimmer of rippling fire, racing upward.

The Wraith saw it, too. She could see the ship twist, try to veer off. But it was too late, even for Wraith reflexes. It flared and burst, catching fire and vanishing like a moth that had spun too close to a candle flame.

Atlantis became ever tinier on the screen, the bolt of energy from it shooting away from them, toward the threatening silver arrowhead of the Wraith ship. Gold washed over silver, consuming it, then rushing beyond, leaving nothing in its wake.

As the people behind her began cheering, she heard O'Neill's sharp intake of breath. "It didn't even retarde," he said, watching as it continued out into space, toward the fleet that lay beyond.

The light flared brighter as it began racing over the two star fleets locked in battle, whiting out the tel'tak's screen.

– – –

"Peter, give me something. Anything!" Elizabeth said, leaning over Grodin's shoulder.

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, ma'am. The blast has blinded the sensors."

Elizabeth kept a tight clamp on her own emotions, even though she wanted to scream in fear and frustration. Their headsets were down, the sensors were down – they were blind, and she didn't know what was happening to her people. She looked out the windows behind the Stargate for a moment, as if the view beyond would tell her something.

"Hang on," Kavanagh said, abandoning his work on the shields to turn toward a different console. "I'm going to try to maneuver a satellite from the other side of the planet into polar orbit." After a few seconds, the central monitor flared to life with a view of a starfield, broad and almost empty. A gas giant could be seen in the near left corner.

"No. This can't be right," Kavanagh said, looking at the screen. "There were'there were two fleets there just a minute ago."

"Increase magnification," Elizabeth said. The stars zoomed toward them, expanding – but there was nothing else there.

"Ma'am," Miko said quietly, walking toward the screen. "There should be a moon, right here." She pointed.

Kavanagh zoomed down and to the left, where her finger was pointing. It seemed empty, but…"Is that debris?" Elizabeth asked.

Kavanagh tapped a few buttons. "I can't zoom in any more. But – I think those are parts of Goa'uld motherships."

"Hang on," Peter said, his voice clipped and smooth. "Communications are coming back up. I have a transmission from one of Atlantis' outlying satellites."

The starfield was replaced by a view of the Atlantean world, from a great distance. In the near foreground, almost obscuring the planet, the Wraith and Goa'uld fleets crashed against each other, energy bolts flaring as they fired, small ships buzzing around them like stinging mosquitoes and wasps. Without warning, a wave of white gold passed over them, dissolving ships as it touched them. The light grew bigger, expanding to fill the whole screen. Then the picture went black.

Peter's calm British veneer seemed to be thinning. "That camera was placed on one of the moons orbiting the fifth planet, the very same moon Miko said we should have seen from our cameras. That debris might be from other Goa'uld ships that were hiding behind it."

The entire room fell silent. Then Kavanagh blurted out, "He blew up a moon?" He turned to Elizabeth, his finger stabbing at the screen. "You can't just blow up a moon! It's going to alter the gravitational field of the planet it was orbiting around, and that could change the ecology of this entire star system! It's…it's…irresponsible!"

"When Doctor McKay comes back, I will tell him that he's grounded for a month and take away all of his TV privileges until he promises not to do it again, Dr. Kavanagh!" Elizabeth shouted back, slamming her palms on the top of the console in front of her. Kavanagh took two steps back. "And I will also thank him for saving this city from the Goa'uld and the Wraith, and giving you the time you need to get our shields up!"

"Ma'am," Peter said quietly from where he sat. "There's something you should see."

"Onscreen," Elizabeth said, clipped as if she'd bitten off the end of the syllable.

The black was replaced by a sweeping view of Atlantis, fairy towers reaching into the sky, ocean sparkling beneath. In the center, the tallest tower should have been reaching for the sunrise. Instead, it had been amputated. The top of what was left was smoldering.

She looked back to Peter. "But they?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry. The tower's been demolecularized to about two levels below Ba'al's quarters. Even if they could have gotten out of that room, I don't think they could have made it to a transporter in time."

Her shoulders tensed up, hunching in toward her chest, too late to defend her against this blow. "Can you contact Colonel O'Neill?" she said to Miko quietly.

Miko nodded, bending her head to the Ancient console. "Colonel O'Neill. Colonel O'Neill, please respond."

There was a faint hiss of static from the speakers. Then, echoing as if from down a long corridor, they heard O'Neill say, "Atlantis, mission conficiare. In spades."

The entire room erupted in cheers. Peter grabbed Miko around the waist, spinning her in a circle. Elizabeth could see Kate Heightmeyer locked in a hug with three other people. Even Kavanagh was whooping, pumping a fist into the air.

Elizabeth turned away, blinking rapidly so no one would see the tears that momentarily filled her eyes. "Glad to hear it, Colonel. We look forward to your swift return." Her voice betrayed no hint of her turbulent emotions.

"So do we," he replied. "It's a little crowded in here. But we've got a couple of fiare you're gonna want to see."

– – –

The tingling swept over Daniel, the crashing noise echoed through his ears a second time, and suddenly the energy wave raising all the hairs on his body seemed to dissipate.

Huh, he thought, still kissing Rodney, wondering if somehow his brain was extending the last seconds of his life into infinity.

He heard an intake of breath, a giggle, and then loud cheers.

"I don't think we're alone," Rodney said against his lips.

They both opened their eyes, looking around, suddenly feeling more than a little awkward. People stood on boxes and crates at the edge of the room, hugging each other and jumping up and down. The walls were washed in gold and chased with symbols, a familiar look.

"This looks a little…Goa'uldy," Daniel said.

There was a look of dismay on Rodney's face, rapidly changing to anger. "If Ba'al really is a god, I want my money back."

They looked toward the doorway of the room they were in; a crowd of bodies were packed there, like passengers on a Japanese subway train. The throng began moving, coming in to the room. Only then did Daniel notice the broad circle on the floor. Everyone in the room, he realized, had been standing well clear of its perimeter.

The ripples of crowd movement changed suddenly, and the people parted to admit a slender, strong woman.

"Congratulations," Teyla smiled at them. "It is good to see you both."

Daniel felt his jaw drop open. "You…how did you…" Rodney stammered beside him.

"Colonel O'Neill brought the ship close enough to the top of the tower to beam you both away," she said. She appraised them with a look and then moved forward, smoothly slipping between them to take Rodney's leaning weight off Daniel's shoulder. "Come. See what you have accomplished."

"Did we do it?" Rodney said as they moved forward. The people crowding around them – Teyla's people, Daniel realized – backed away enough to avoid jostling Daniel's injured arm, something he silently thanked them for. "I mean, it was supposed to be a pretty powerful weapon."

"Ain tu," O'Neill said, turning around toward them with a slightly sardonic smile. Behind him, the screen showed a starfield spreading wide before them, a watery planet taking up part of the view. Daniel rocked back on his heels, staring, all pain forgotten.

"The Wraith ship is gone!" Rodney said jubilantly.

"As is their entire fleet, and Anubis' fleet as well," Teyla said.

"And a moon," O'Neill said.

"A – wait. I blew up a moon? It wasn't supposed to be that powerful," Rodney exclaimed, turning to Daniel. "Daniel, are you hearing this?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, not really," he said, still staring at the screen.

"What?" Rodney said, looking at it, then back at Daniel.

Daniel smiled. "You know, I came halfway across the galaxy, but I've never been in space before."

Rodney turned back to the screen, eyes full of wonder. "Come to think of it, neither have I."

"Nor I," Teyla said, tilting her head, a thoughtful look on her face. "I have been to many planets, but always through the Stargate."

"Trust me," O'Neill said. "It gets old real fast."

– – –

Epilogue

The Ancient text was whirling in front of Rodney's eyes. Sometimes it did that on its own, but he had the feeling that this time around, it was a user problem and not a design feature. He looked out the window for a moment, at the glimmering reflection of the stars in the ocean, hoping that would remedy his eye fatigue. Then he stared again at the instructions O'Neill had left behind, just before they froze him, for building another ZPM. The words settled out for a moment, then began to blur.

He desperately tried to focus. He'd felt something slip out of the computer system in the tower when he was linked to it, brush by him angrily like the quarterback bully at his high school, and he needed to figure out where it was, to corner it before it hurt someone. His hands were starting to shake with exhaustion and panic.

Damn it, he couldn't have this happen. Not now. He needed to figure this out. He couldn't afford to be tired, or scared.

He fumbled in his pocket for the bottle of pills, pulled it out, and popped off the top, shaking one into the palm of his hand. He balanced it on his thumbnail, and then flicked it up, tilting back his head to catch it in his mouth, looking forward to feeling awake again, looking forward to feeling ten feet tall and six different kinds of bulletproof.

Just above his head, a hand swept through the air right over his face, grabbing the bright yellow tablet. Daniel's hand. Rodney closed his eyes and sighed.

"Rodney, you need rest," he said.

"I had rest," Rodney snapped. "I died ten hours ago."

He could hear Daniel smiling. "Death isn't a substitute for sleep. No REM state." He paused for a second, then said a little too casually, "How long have you been taking these things, anyway?"

"You're the last person to lecture me on this," Rodney said, turning back to his computer. He didn't want to look at Daniel; he was feeling uncomfortable enough as it was. "The breadth and depth of your pharmaceutical knowledge would astound Timothy Leary."

"Yes, but I learned most of that while I was in college, with a self destructive streak a mile wide," Daniel said.

"Like that changed when you graduated. Look, I'm doing it for practical reasons. I need to keep Atlantis safe," Rodney said, trying to make the text on the computer screen stay still.

Daniel sat on the edge of the table, taking Rodney's hand in his good one. "It's safe. You saved the city."

"You don't understand," Rodney said, shaking his head, looking up at Daniel for the first time since he'd entered the room. Shock stopped his tirade. "What the hell happened to your hair?" he said sharply.

Daniel ran his hand over his newly shorn scalp; his other arm was in a cast, a sling around his neck. His hair was about an inch long on top, a little bit closer on the sides. The front was sticking up slightly; the haircut seemed to emphasize all the cowlicky, unruly bits. "It turns out Jones thought about being a hairdresser before she joined the Air Force," he said with a little wry smile. "You like it?"

Rodney shook his head. You look like a sheep after shearing season, he thought, already missing all the hair he used to run his fingers through, but what came out of his mouth was, "Why?"

Daniel opened his mouth, licked his lips, and then looked away uncomfortably, in a way that made Rodney wonder how many times Ba'al had run his fingers through Daniel's soft hair, or tangled his fingers in it as he forced Daniel to –

"I like it already," he said, determined that within a day that statement wouldn't be a lie anymore. He was suddenly really seeing Daniel, seeing the dark circles under red-rimmed eyes squinty with fatigue, the lines between his eyebrows that told Rodney that any painkillers they'd given him hadn't alleviated the discomfort from the broken collarbone or the broken wrist.

"You need sleep," Daniel said, and underneath, Rodney heard what Daniel was really saying. I need sleep, and I won't get it if you're not there. Maybe he'd really been saying it for years.

Rodney took the fingertips of Daniel's injured hand gently, feeling some of the panic drain off. Whatever had slipped by him hadn't destroyed the city yet, and if it tried, all the amphetamines on Atlantis weren't going to give Rodney the edge he needed to beat it. Besides, he'd marked off this night for sleep. "My place or yours?" he asked Daniel with a slanty smile.

Daniel scratched a spot behind his ear. "I don't exactly have a place right now. We sort of blew it up."

Rodney stood up, wincing as pain shot through his bad knee. He was about to slap Daniel on the shoulder when he remembered the collarbone, and instead slid his arm down Daniel's back. Daniel's good arm draped over Rodney's shoulder, and Rodney's hand fitted automatically over Daniel's hip. "Every time you get in trouble, you wind up staying with me. You've got those Breathe-Right strips to keep from snoring, right?"

"I don't snore," Daniel said, as they walked down the hall.

"Yes, you do. I should know. I'm the one you wake up in the middle of the night."

Daniel snorted. "You wake yourself up when you talk in your sleep."

They kept up the banter all the way back to their room, but Rodney couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching them.

– – –

Daniel preferred to sleep on his side, but the collarbone made that impossible; on his left side it was excruciating, and on his right, the pressure was awkward enough to make it uncomfortable. He lay flat on his back. Rodney sprawled beside him, arm draped over Daniel's waist, breathing slowly settling toward sleep. Maybe tomorrow there would be sex, gentle and awkward because of all their injuries; tonight, all they needed was to touch.

"I think I was in love with him," Daniel said, whispering what he could only admit to the dark.

Rodney's arm wrapped around Daniel a little tighter, and he scooted closer. "You wouldn't be you if you hadn't," he said muzzily, with one calm sentence cutting through the giant Gordian knot of self-recrimination and shame in Daniel's chest. He kissed Daniel on the shoulder. "Get some sleep."

This time, as Rodney's breathing slowed and deepened, Daniel's slowly settled with it, drifting long and low as he fell asleep.

– – –

Sharra watched them from inside the system, the one who had christened her "Rapunzel" and his lover. The sharp, acid one intrigued her. He felt Ancient, but not; like her, his goal was to keep the city safe, at all costs. His brain was not primitive, only his knowledge, and she could fix that. If he could see her side, if she could make him understand, what a team they could be!

She looked at how he held the other one, remembering dimly how skin had felt on skin, millennia ago, when she'd still had a body, before she'd been trapped. She had no body now, but…

If she'd had the body she so missed, she would have rested her chin on her hands, and her eyes would have narrowed. Hmmmm, she thought, studying the lover, face intent even in sleep, the soft one who could unexpectedly turn to ice.

An idea was beginning to take shape in her mind. She stealthily slipped her consciousness out to the systems of Atlantis, away from their rooms, taking up a bit of CPU time here, a few terabytes of memory there – nothing enough to be noticed, dispersing herself just enough to stay below their radar. She would watch for now, and plan, and find ways to keep her city safe.

In the dark, Daniel and Rodney slept on.

A/N: A big thank you to everyone in the Pegasus B community who supported me in this endeavour. Even bigger thank-yous are due to SF, Raqs, and Maraceles for amazing betas. The biggest thank you is to Salieri for starting the whole shebang and letting us play in her sandbox. You're welcome to play, too. If you'd like to continue this story, or start another AU (say, the one in which Ba'al did take John as a host?), we'd love to see it. Post it here or come on over to http://www.livejournal.com/community/pegasus_b, where there's lots more where this came from.

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