Summary: What if Daniel wasn’t the only lifeboat?
Category: Drama, H/C, Angst, Missing Scene/Episode Tag Lifeboat
Beta: Sue, my wonderful and very patient beta. I couldn't write without her -- at least, I wouldn't want to.
He awoke in the darkness, the blood-curdling scream of his companion reverberating through the ship’s corridors. Lacy fingers tweaked the edges of his awareness as a brief flicker of another consciousness within him teased the recesses of his mind. He knew it was now only a distant memory, like the nerves twitching in a cadaver, merely impulses and fragments of the mind that previously inhabited this body, his body now.
In a fuzzy haze, he watched through slightly parted eyelids as the others lifted him onto a stretcher and carried him through a vertical pool of shimmering blue water. Yet he remained silent and lifeless, unwilling to disclose himself to these strangers.
Once through the swirling vortex, he again heard a panicked shout and a voice pleading with his captor to allow him to return. He listened to the plaintive whimpers as they whisked the deranged young man away to their infirmary. A part of him grieved the loss of the other one. Consciously, he didn’t recognize that tormented man, but an uneasy feeling within him twisted his gut as if it was his best friend in such distress. He fought briefly against his own agony, wanting to go and comfort that disturbed soul, but he quickly lost the battle and succumbed to the darkness.
He opened his eyes to a vision of cold gray walls staring back at him. The harshness of the lights above him caused his head to throb in rhythm with the continuous beeping sounds near his bed.
He looked around cautiously, trying to assess his situation. The massive size of this room forged in concrete, suggested that this place was a bunker of some sort, possibly protecting the people here against a huge invasion force. On the other hand, maybe it provided shelter from a dying sun that had made the surface of this world uninhabitable.
He squeezed his eyes shut against the irritating sensations surrounding him while his thoughts digressed to his own world’s destruction, replaying like a living nightmare on sealed eyelids. He knew he would never see his home again.
He forced the terrifying images from his mind to preserve the little amount of sanity he had left, choosing instead to focus on his last memories on board the Stromos.
He heard an apologetic voice whispering his regrets as someone dragged him and his companion into the vessel’s sleeping compartments. The voice continued softly, telling him that many Talthusians had fallen victim to the ship’s crash. The subsequent power failures had prevented their stored minds from returning to their own bodies in the stasis chambers. The man wept soundlessly, saying that several bodies had already died.
Suddenly, his tone changed and he seemed to be arguing with himself for a moment. Just as quickly, the calm inflection returned to the voice as the stranger relayed his assurances to some unseen entity that he could still save the survivors. He could download their consciousnesses into the two newcomers for safekeeping.
After further delusional deliberations, the man turned to look directly at him, a glimmer of the elusive clarity shining in his eyes. The alien asked for his forgiveness for the hardship this would create, even as he powered up the machine’s circuitry.
He feared that the alien was placing them in suspended animation like the other passengers on the ship. As he experienced an eerie ebb and flow of sensations surrounding him, he became acutely aware that a connection had formed between himself and another person. Focusing on that link, he realized that he could communicate abstractly with many different minds, the ship’s passengers he assumed, as they merged. In a dream-like state, he watched helplessly as more than a dozen distinctive personalities fled from the machine.
He felt a strong desire to protect the person next to him from the onslaught of these minds as the apparatus downloaded them, one by one, into his brain. Severe, mind-numbing pain assaulted him but he knew it wasn’t his own body experiencing it. He tried to make the odd little man stop whatever was happening by crying out but the alien just continued muttering unintelligibly to himself, never hearing his silent pleas.
His concern for their predicament grew when he sensed shock and confusion embedded in the white-hot pain signals pouring through the connection into him. For some reason he couldn’t quite comprehend, he wished it were he instead of the stranger on the receiving end of this torture. Frustration finally gave way to resignation as he realized he was helpless to control the situation.
Several minutes into the transfer, a shuffling sound echoed through the ship’s corridors. The noise distracted the alien who was monitoring the transfer process.
It was then that he made his decision. While still attached to the machine, he threw his own mind into the maelstrom, retreating through the link to join the many bodiless minds trapped there. He prayed his plan would work.
Ardus felt the new mind enter the repository as it brushed by him. At that moment, the technician flipped the switch, isolating him from the body to which so many had retreated. He pushed through the mayhem that was threatening to drown him in order to reach the one remaining empty shell. He had to get their first, to save his own life. To hell with everyone else.
The hallway sound grew louder and the technician hurriedly removed the younger man’s body from the stasis chamber, leaving it sprawled haphazardly on the floor. Then, he returned to download more souls into this body but he stopped abruptly as a large, dark man approached. Panicking, he discontinued the process prematurely after transferring only one consciousness.
The schizophrenic alien debated quietly with his other self as he dragged this body along, trying to stay just ahead of the dark man approaching them from behind. He deposited this body on the floor near the other one.
As he lay on the cold floor, he listened to the mentally unstable alien walking away and he was surprised to hear him utter an almost coherent phrase. He thought about the sound of the voice, knowing he’d heard it before. After a bit, he finally recognized it. It was the voice of a Stromos crewmember. Pharrin, wasn’t it?
Paralyzed and sightless, at least for the time being, his mind wandered. He couldn’t understand what had possessed the soul that originally inhabited this body to leave. It was a foolish mistake. At first, he believed the being was a coward, fleeing out of fear, but the imprint that it had left in this mind told him it was something very different, very courageous.
Yet, regardless of the reason, he assumed that man’s soul was now lost forever since, with the ship’s power failing, there had been very little time left for a complete transfer.
As he opened his eyes again to this stark place, he grinned, realizing he was well and truly alone inside this vessel.
He had succeeded in his plan, albeit in a round about way. Prior to the Stromos leaving his homeworld, he had programmed his personal memory matrix to override the others. He wanted his body to be the first to return to life when they reached Ardena. Then, he had planned to leave the ship unnoticed and slip into the shadows of a new existence.
When the ship’s power had failed, he had indeed revived first, almost simultaneously with Pharrin. Unfortunately, Pharrin had not been able to bypass the failsafe mechanisms in time to save his body, but his mind remained intact long enough to be transferred into its new home.
He shuddered as a disturbing image of his decaying corpse left in its stasis chamber flashed before him. He didn’t know where that surreal vision had come from but he figured it was most likely a real memory left by this body’s previous occupant.
So, his original body was dead and he had nothing to go back to. It wasn’t quite the way he had planned it, he thought wryly, but he could still make a new life for himself on whatever planet this was…in the body of Jack O’Neill.
“Oy!” He exclaimed as he fully regained consciousness. He didn’t know why he chose that particular word but it seemed fitting somehow.
“Inform General Hammond that the colonel is awake,” a pleasant, feminine voice spoke. Something told him that he knew this voice and he relaxed a little as he waited for the ghostly imprint in his mind to help him determine how to proceed.
“Hey, Doc,” he said, surprised at how easily the ingrained memories became his own.
The doctor turned away to answer the call of the person lying next to him…Carter…and he thankfully accepted the reprieve.
His mind wandered again to the Stromos and how the plans to save his race had failed miserably. The people of Talthus designed that vessel to carry inhabitants from their home to a new world named Ardena. Its occupants would sleep peacefully for several hundred years during the journey and awaken at their destination as though the voyage took only a few weeks.
He laughed inwardly at the mockery his people used to select who would live and who would die; who was worthy of safe passage to Ardena. Of course, the Sovereigns received a seat, or rather a cryogenic chamber, on the Stromos along with the engineers and technicians who would handle the necessary tasks required for safe transport. The highest ranking crewmembers could choose to bring only one family member, leaving the others to take their chances with the drawing or to die along with their planet.
The leaders selected the remaining positions by lottery, allowing only those people attaining a certain status level within their society to be chosen. These affluential dictators simply would never permit commoners to take up the scant amount of room available on the ships. So, unbeknownst to the people, all entries were screened by the Sovereigns for the proper monetary requirements. Any submissions not meeting this limitation were privately burned.
This deliberate trickery projected an outward façade of legitimacy and security but with one fatal flaw; the overseers passed or failed the ballots based solely on a person’s wealth without regard for anyone’s ethical or criminal behavior.
With this understanding of the process, he, Ardus, had found the loop hole that gained him the right to join the new colony. A common criminal on his world, he acquired his wealth by stealing and pilforing from those around him, including the Sovereigns. From these indiscrimate earnings, he easily surpassed the necessary income for a chit in the lottery. His knowledge of the system along with a touch of blackmail, then gave him the upper hand in rigging the drawing in his favor...
“Colonel, Major? How are you feeling?” a booming baritone voice said, demanding he return from his reverie. He recognized the man’s tone as that of General George Hammond.
He tried to sit up as his emotions roiled to the surface. He couldn’t understand why he felt so deeply concerned for someone he’d never met, yet he couldn’t deny it. Strong memories of friendship left in his head by Jack O’Neill taunted him and he worried desperately about the absence of his teammate.
He fell back down on the bed, ensured he’d won these people’s confidence. They truly believed him to be Colonel Jack O’Neill.
“No, I'm not,” he said softly, staring at the ceiling as his fear for his friend grew.
“With your permission, sir, I'd like to stick it out here with Daniel,” the stranger in O’Neill’s body spoke quietly in the observation room which overlooked the isolation cell. There, in one man’s body, over a dozen souls intwined together. It was unfathomable. He didn’t understand his feelings for the poor man forced to suffer this incredible fate, but they were there nonetheless.
Suddenly Ardus found himself alone in this cold, dreary place. He leaned forward to peer through the glass at the man in the room below. As he moved nearer to the two-way mirror, the reflection of a handsome, graying man startled him. His reflection. He didn’t recognize the finely chisled features or the hint of a scar bisecting an eyebrow as his own. Although definitely an improvement over his original face, it still bothered him to be in another man’s body even if the mind that belonged there had ceased to exist. Nervously, he shifted in his seat until the image disappeared and he could see through to the activity below.
For long moments he sat frozen in his chair as he watched the man called Daniel morph through several different personalities, each one distinctive in its insanity. Often, a soul appeared almost too briefly to notice before escaping back into the recesses of Daniel’s mind. Sometimes the only way Ardus saw a change at all was by watching the man’s expression, quickly shifting from confusion to nervousness to sheer terror. Ardus grew increasingly concerned as each new persona emerged; he hadn’t yet seen any traits of the only one who truly belonged there. Worry clouded his thoughts as more and more erratic behaviors surfaced. He didn’t believe anyone could survive such chaos within themselves very long.
Ardus recognized many of the characteristics as people he’d met onboard the Stromos. He envisioned their actual bodies before him in place of Daniel’s. Some of these people he recalled liking, however, most of them he didn’t. One most particularly hated was the Sovereign, Martice.
Ardus knew Martice quite well. That egotistical, narcissistic, megalomaniac ruled his people by fear. No one stood up to the son of a bitch and lived to tell about it. He was almost happy to find out that Martice was now trapped inside a dying body...almost. His concern for Daniel, cohabitating with the Sovereign, prevented Ardus from reveling in Martice’s demise. His death would also mean the end of someone he was beginning to consider a friend. At least, O’Neill had considered him as *his* best friend...
Watching the scene below, Ardus remembered his time on Talthus with Martice. He had worked for many years as that powermonger’s personal manservant, catering to his capricious whims. The Sovereign epitomized arrogance, behaving as a spoiled brat who demanded to have his butt wiped and his shoes spit and polished. He tolerated the man and performed his distasteful job admirably by any standards. He knew the proper way to serve Martice’s breakfast, when to give him his towel, and when to look the other way. It wasn’t a job he liked but it gave him access to the upper echelons of Talthus’ society.
Martice’s powerful lineage placed him high above all authority on Talthus. His family tree was filled with outstanding leaders and honorable men. His parents, however, had intended to prevent Martice from ever becoming a ruler. They had disapproved severely of their youngest son’s unethical practices and lascivious behavior, considering him quite unsuitable to be a sovereign. In fact, it was his parents who had signed the orders to commit him to an institute for the corrupt, refused any further associations with the man, and disinherited him. Although they hated to take such dire actions, they knew he was unfit and truly a danger to society.
Yet regrettably, they never completed their plan for, just prior to filing the papers, Martice’s family met with an untimely demise. His parents and both his siblings mysteriously disappeared and authorities quickly crowned the bereft remaining family member, Martice, hoping to dispel any local gossip regarding the strength of the royal family. Police questioned the local rift-raft at length for possible motives and clues but nothing ever surfaced. Young Martice appeared to be so distraught that no one considered him as a suspect. After police conducted several exhaustive seaches, finding no evidence to build upon, they finally closed the case.
Ardus had always suspected foul-play in the Royal Family’s quick departure and the authority’s cover story hadn’t convinced him otherwise. In fact, he was so certain that Martice was guilty that he had spent much of his time researching ways to expose the evil man. He had no desire to turn the offender in. He was merely preserving his livelihood for, in his ‘profession’, covert operations were par for the course. A good thief’s toolbox always included blackmail whenever possible.
Shortly after the murders, Ardus began working for Martice. One of the first assignments that Martice had ordered him to complete was to locate the family pet who had slipped from his leash and had retreated into the subterranian network of hidden escape routes which were common to most affluent residences. As Ardus searched the catacombs, he found the beast digging in a particularly smelly location and unearthing a rather large bone. As he aided the mongrel in his efforts, he uncovered several more body parts nearby and a sword. He continued his excavations, hoping to find something that would prove to him what he had always suspected.
When he finally found the head of Martice’s mother, his suspicions were confirmed. He continued searching until uncovering the bodies of the Sovereign’s mother, father, and siblings buried within the palace walls. Well, not complete bodies exactly but bits and pieces strewn haphazardly throughout the now collapsed underground tunnel system.
Intending to keep his findings quiet for his own safety, he carried the dirty animal back to the palace and planned to clean it up before Martice found them. Unfortunately, the ruler had monitored their ascent from the tunnels and intercepted him and his cargo as they exited the catacombs. After a quick glance at the animal, Martice, in a fit of rage, demanded that the tunnels be sealed along with his childhood pet. Only too grateful to oblige, Ardus completed his orders quickly, hoping that the madman wouldn’t decide to terminate him as well.
Following that incident, Martice spent most of his days giving orders to his people and building himself up to a standard that was unachievable. Completely self-absorbed, he never uncovered the scam going on under his nose. Ardus had begun stealing from the bastard, bit by bit over time, while maintaining an air of humility towards his employer. He served Martice well, knowing that those who followed orders unquestioningly received meager rations and a bed roll in the basement as payment for their servitude. Those who didn’t…well, they eventually suffered the same fate as the Sovereign’s family.
As time passed, Ardus became his most trusted servant. Martice gave him the responsibility of ‘firing’ the poorer performing employees which was a task he undertook well. Afterwards, he buried the bodies quickly and silently. He did everything that was expected of him without complaint while he stole shamelessly from Martice’s coffers.
The only one less deserving safe passage on the Stromos than Martice was Ardus himself. He had willingly killed many innocent Talthusians at the whim of his boss. Oh, he could probably claim coersion but, if the truth be told, he had relished in the power of it all; he had the authority to decide who lived and who died. He enjoyed having such control, grinning as the unjustly condemned quivered and begged him for their lives even as he released the gallows floor beneath them.
An evil smirk crossed his features as he recalled how easy it was to blackmail the magistrate. He effectively used his knowledge of the Sovereign’s dark side to ensure he would be allowed to travel to Ardena.
Ardus didn’t approve of the methods Martice used to control his people but he did take pleasure in some of the hideous activities. The magistrate had a penchant for the young, pretty men. He often ordered Ardus to find a strong, willful sexual partner to entertain him in the evenings. And if he could find no man willing to partake of the pleasures Martice desired, he brought the unwilling, forcing them to bend to the Sovereign literally while he chained their hands to their feet. Many times Ardus would even participate actively which was something he considered a perk from his job.
Still, he hated Martice for reasons too numerous to count. The man played twisted mind games with his victims, reducing them to mere shells of what they once were. This Sovereign ruled by fear, casting off those who confronted or disobeyed him and condemning them to a life of hard labor, hunger, disease, and ultimately death.
Ardus’ sympathised with the strong, blue-eyed man just beyond the glass in the room below. He knew the agony that Martice must be putting him through. The bastard would silence Daniel’s voice through coercion using twisted, mind-fucking games. He only hoped Daniel could remove himself from the tyrrant’s grasp before he lost his sanity.
He watched as Tryan’s personality emerged, glad to know that this man had survived. Tryan was the ever faithful, intelligent engineer who diligently tended to the ship and its memory matrices. Ardus recalled speaking with him just prior to the ship’s initial launch. The man was a very ethical and upstanding individual; his personality was the antithesis of Martice’s in every way.
Yet ironically, these diametrically opposed minds now shared one body, undeniably linked forever.
He watched Tryan demonstrate the futility of Daniel’s situation to Dr. Fraiser as only a scientist would, with explanations of water molecules being inseparable and comparing them to the myriad consciousnesses trapped inside one body. He saw the painful finality of the example cross the doctor’s features as Tryan poured the water from the glass into the pitcher, asking her if the molecules could ever be returned back into the glass in their exact original configurations. She understood the meaning…Daniel would never be just “Daniel” again.
Oddly, that realization struck Ardus hard and he shuddered at his conflicting emotions. Daniel didn’t deserve such a fate, especially to be forever melded with a soul as evil and self-serving as Martice. He wasn’t a hard drive destined to house the souls of the damned. He had his own life to live, paths to choose, and Ardus grieved for the loss of the man he still felt bonded to as a friend.
Suddenly, Tryan’s personality faded and he recognized yet another change in expression. He knew this one too. He’d seen it too many times before, unfortunately. That characteristically ‘deer in the headlights’ Daniel-look was unmistakable, although he didn’t have any memory of it; Jack O’Neill did.
Ardus couldn’t understand the feelings he had for this stranger, a stranger that he seemed to know very well. Ardus had never cared about anyone but himself before, yet worry for this man made his stomach churn. God, he hoped Daniel could hold onto his sanity but he feared the others would drag him to the edge of that precipice.
Ardus turned his head away from Daniel’s pain-filled expression but he could still hear the frightened voice. Looking back into the room, he saw sheer terror in Daniel’s eyes as they darted rapidly from side to side.
Daniel screamed amidst the increasing volume of voices within his head. He couldn’t think straight but he knew something was terribly wrong. He felt possessed by a thousand demons, unable to control the movements of his own body. Perhaps this was how a host felt when its body was taken by a Goa’uld, he thought. He had to get out, to regain control and take back his body. He pushed the others away, swimming upward against the current, and surfaced briefly.
“Janet?” Daniel pushed his own mind out in front of the cacophony of the others vying for control of this body…his body. The pain he felt was incredible, as if a time bomb inside his head had finally counted down to zero, and the resulting explosion spewed the thoughts and sounds of a multitude of souls outward from its origin to splatter against the inside of his head. It was a horrible sound.
He had intended to say more but the words caught in his throat. A single voice cut through the others, calling his name. Something reached out and tugged him down towards the maelstrom. He pulled back, wanting to remain in the comfort of the isolation room but he couldn’t maintain control of his body much longer. He fought for his individuality even as he felt his mind shutting down from the overwhelming sensations.
Standing at the brink of madness, he heard the voice once again. It sounded like…
No sooner had that brief candle surfaced than the soul most deserving to be in that body disappeared, vanquished to the corner of his not entirely sane mind. Janet’s initial enthusiasm at the appearance of Daniel’s personality turned into despondency as she realized that he had rapidly retreated back into himself. At least they knew he did exist somewhere in there. They’d just have to figure out how to get him back.
“Daniel!” he recognized the urgent, pleading voice. Looking rapidly around the room, he tried to spot Jack and failed. His friend wasn’t in the isolation room with him.
‘I must be going crazy,’ Daniel thought.
“Daniel, I’m in your mind! Get back here, now! We’ve got to get out of this place!”
Daniel relinguished his brief hold, sinking back into his tormented psyche. He didn’t see Jack but he could hear him…in his head.
“How? Jack? What’s going on?”
Sounds swirled around inside him, intermingling with his own thoughts. He had difficulty focusing enough to concentrate on Jack’s voice.
“I don’t know but it’s not good,” Jack spoke cautiously. He wasn’t sure what was happening either. He vaguely remembered Daniel being captured…or something. He had tried to rescue him, hadn’t he?
“Either we’re both going nuts or it’s just you but, whichever it is, I don’t like it,” Jack said quickly, obviously disturbed. He could ‘feel’ the presence of many people surrounding him, shouting at him. Some of them were angry; some were crying. He even thought he heard a small child in the distance as he continued, “Actually, I’m hoping it’s just you going crazy and I’m a figment of your imagination but…”
“No…it’s not. Jack, I saw Janet. She looked worried. And I’m in an isolation room.”
“So, not good then. Did you happen to see me anywhere out there?”
“No…?” Daniel asked skeptically. “And why do you think I’d see you there?”
“Dunno. Kind of a hunch,” Jack stated vaguely as he tried to recall what had happened to them. Somehow, he didn’t think he and his body were on speaking terms anymore.
“God, what’s happening to me? Am I a Goa’uld? Have I finally lost it?”
“Not sure about that but I’m thinking this has something to do with that damned ship. Remember, we were counting bodies when…”
“…a bright light engulfed us.”
“I wish Sam was here. She could figure this out.”
“Uh, no Daniel. I don’t think your mind could handle another personality.”
“Another…what?? Are you saying that you’re in my… But I can see you. How is that possible?”
“Don’t know, Daniel. No previous mind melding experience.”
“Are *you* actually here? Or, just my…”
“Well, now that’s the 64,000 dollar question, isn’t it?” Jack said flippantly. “Whatever. I think you…we…need to remove ourselves from these other voices.”
The strain of keeping it together was becoming a burden to Jack. The others permeated his own thoughts, combining with his, and he was finding it difficult to separate his memories from theirs. He knew he had to get himself isolated soon if he had any chance of saving Daniel.
“I followed you out there just now and it was SO not a good thing.”
“Yeah. So…what? I’m stuck with you in here?”
“It would appear so, you lucky guy.”
“Right. Luck. God, I really am going nuts, aren’t I?”
“That’s why we’ve got to hide…wait it out…give them time. Fraiser will figure it out if…”
Jack’s voice faded abruptly and Daniel sensed a wall form between them.
“I am a Sovereign! I demand you to give up this body to me!”
“I’m sorry,” Daniel began. “I’m Daniel and you are…?”
“Who you are is of no consequence to me,” the near-by presence huffed disgustedly. “I am the Sovereign, Martice. The people have chosen me to rule over Ardena and I must have control of this body in order to do that.”
“Excuse me?” Daniel questioned. “You don’t belong in this body…*I* do.”
The arrogant man paused for a moment and Daniel thought that perhaps he had disappeared, shoved away by someone new. As he listened for a response, the background sounds and voices surrounding him grew in intensity, threatening to overtake him once again. He heard what sounded like a child sobbing, along with several other indistinguishable sounds. The voices were getting louder, more demanding, and he felt them tearing his mind apart, shredding it into little pieces.
He concentrated on his own thoughts, focusing on blocking out everything else so he could try to pull the bits back together. A violent outburst beside him almost caused him to lose his tenuous grasp.
“You must stop this insufferable noise!” the Sovereign exclaimed. “It is intolerable!”
“What do you mean, stop it? I don’t even know what’s causing it!” Daniel yelled back in frustration. He knew he’d be unable to keep it together much longer, and he wasn’t at all certain that he wanted to hear the answer to his question.
“You are a fool,” Martice’s voice moved closer, intending to intimidate him. “Your body is a receptacle for a dozen minds, forced to reside within you after the Stromos crashed,” the voice cried out briefly in pain before continuing. This time anger clouded the tone as he enunciated each syllable clearly, “*You* must be destroyed in order for me to live! The others do not matter, but as long as you remain…in this body…I can never fully gain control.”
“Wait, um, I’m confused,” Daniel spoke quickly to draw Martice’s attention, trying to stall him. He wondered what had happened to Jack.
“Why are there so many people inside me?” Daniel paused to think for a moment. The last thing he remembered was that he and Jack were counting the people in the cryogenic pods. A few bodies were obviously dead inside them. Then, he had seen an intense light…felt someone or something dragging him…forcing him into a standing position inside one of the chambers…experiencing a severe shooting pain in his head…
Suddenly, it all started to make sense. He thought he understood what was going on. The perplexing part was that it had taken him so long to figure it out in the first place. Still sorting out his hypothesis, he continued thinking out loud, “Oh…the stasis chambers on that ship. You were all in suspended animation…”
A tense silence answered him.
“Then, why don’t you go back to your own bodies?” Daniel pleaded.
“We cannot go back,” Martice said condescendingly.
“Yes, you can. My friends can help you.”
“They can not help me. My body is dead,” the Sovereign replied matter-of-factly.
“Well, perhaps *your* people can help. Once they’re revived…”
“That is unacceptable. I have what I need already. My people will sacrifice themselves to save me. It is *you* who must leave.”
“But, as their ruler, don’t you want to save *all* your people?” Daniel futilely tried to reason with the despot.
“It is a small price to pay. They are honored to serve me, in life and in death,” Martice paused briefly as if listening to something. When he spoke again, Daniel didn’t even know if the Sovereign was still speaking to him, “What is the little woman doing? She cannot speak with the child!”
“What are you talking about?” Daniel said as Martice’s presence floated away.
“Let me go!” the egotistical monarch demanded, apparently to the other voices around him. “She cannot hear the truth! Out of my way!”
Daniel’s body and mind reeled from Martice’s violent actions as the dominant mind kicked and shoved past the others to regain control and return to the relative solitude of the isolation ward.
A young boy named Keenin held Ardus’ attention. He listened intently to the child-like voice coming from Daniel’s body and it reminded him of his own child, or was it O’Neill’s son?
The boy relayed the sad story of the Stromos’ departure, obviously still upset at having to leave his mother behind on Talthus. Frightened tears flowed freely as he said that he’d known all his life about the impending destruction of his world.
Exhausted from his confessions, the boy leaned forward, resting his head in Janet's lap.
Dr. Fraiser placated the youngster inside Daniel’s body by stroking his hair. "It's okay ... shhh. It’s all right." She tentatively touched the crying form, rubbing his back with her hand. "It's all right, shhh ... it's okay."
A cold sweat dampened Ardus’ brow when he saw Daniel’s body tense and his now trembling fist tighten on Janet’s lab coat. Martice was back.
"What are you doing?" The soft-spoken words belied the emotion behind them.
"Martice?" Dr. Fraiser blushed slightly at the intimate position they were in due to the boy’s need for comfort.
Martice sat up and Dr. Fraiser rose from the bench, quickly placing some distance between her and the angry man.
"You may address me as Sovereign,” he spoke through clenched teeth, “and I will ask you never to do that again. Now, what have you done to resolve this?"
Janet looked away.
Martice began pacing. "I demand to speak to someone in authority."
Janet abruptly turned to face the alien in Daniel’s body, her arms crossed. Annoyed, she replied, "Well, I'm sorry. You're stuck with me."
"Why have you involved the boy in this?" Martice queried suspiciously.
Watching from above, Ardus wondered where the man was going with this line of questioning. He continued to listen intently to the conversation, although he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stand idly by, without taking action.
"What boy?" Dr. Fraiser said, intentionally going for the obtuse approach.
Martice wasn’t buying it. "The boy. You were just talking to him. Where is he?"
Janet stared silently back at him.
“Daniel!” Jack’s worried voice sounded very close.
“Jack…?” his friend replied.
“God, what’s going on? I could ‘see’ you but I couldn’t reach you,” Daniel heard the implied quotation marks. “It’s like there was this shadow…or something.”
Although he wouldn’t admit it, Jack had nearly panicked when he lost sight of Daniel. Fighting past the voices surrounding him, he listened for his friend but, instead, a paralyzing fear gripped him as he heard the ramblings of the soul that called himself ‘Martice’. The story he had told to Daniel was unsettling.
After the dark cloud beside him had lifted, Jack found a barely sane Daniel in its wake.
“Jack, I think we’re in trouble…or, at least, I am,” Daniel spoke carefully as if he was still fighting the demons within his mind but Jack heard the true meaning of his words; Daniel was hurting both mentally and physically. If they couldn’t reverse whatever had happened, the younger man would never be the same again. Jack ‘felt’ rather than saw his friend grimacing in pain as his soul grew weaker.
“That’s why we’ve got to get out of this…,” Jack started but paused as a stray voice interrupted him with frantic ramblings and incoherent gibberish. Apparently, it was just another lost character within Daniel’s mind.
“You can say that again…” Daniel sighed.
“No, I don’t think it can…,” Jack joked, hoping to relieve some of the tension.
“That’s not what I meant, Jack.”
“I know. How’re you holding up?”
“Dunno. It’s difficult to…” he stopped, losing his thoughts.
“Right. Come on, we’ve got to go.”
“Where?” Daniel queried.
Suddenly, Jack lost him again as other voices became intermixed with theirs.
‘This must be what hell is like,’ Jack thought.
He heard a deranged sounding mumbling pass between them. “No, no, no, no. Crowded, dark. I want to leave now. Pain, monsters, not alone. Kill the monsters…”
The voice grew quieter until it finally faded away. He turned back towards Daniel, trying to remember what they had been talking about. He found his friend near-by, apparently caught up by the unwanted, wayward tenant wandering around in his mind. Daniel began muttering in a quietly insane sort of way. His scrambled chant disturbed Jack greatly. The probability that his teammate would make it out of this situation unscathed continued to diminish with each passing second.
“Too many…make it stop! Can’t hear myself… Not here…God, they’re in my mind! No! Get away from me! Jack!”
Jack grabbed Daniel’s shoulder. He gently shook his friend, hoping to bring him back. “Daniel. Daniel! Just relax, Daniel. Separate your mind from your body.”
Several long moments passed before Jack heard the quiet whisper, “I’ve never believed in out of body experiences, Jack,” he sounded almost normal again but Jack could hear apprehension in his tone.
Jack chuckled nervously, relieved to hear a coherent thought coming from the archeologist. “Well, how about out of mind…”
“Yeah.” Jack sighed. “Let’s go.”
After several edgy minutes with Martice, Janet was glad the security guards were in the room with her. Sadly, she looked at Daniel’s likeness, finding it hard to continue this exchange with a body that wore the handsome features of her coworker and friend.
General Hammond paged her, requesting a progress update. Grateful for a respite, she turned and exited the room.
From his vantage point, Ardus found it increasingly difficult to do nothing. He paced inside the small observation room as he watched Martice fight to maintain his dominance over Daniel’s body. It seemed that the more the man struggled to retain control, the more physical pain he had to endure. Ardus didn’t really mind that the Sovereign was in pain but, unfortunately, the one truly suffering was Daniel.
Deciding to take action at the risk of incurring Janet’s wrath, he stormed out of the room and ran down the stairs. He knocked first at the door to the isolation cell, but he lost no time waiting for the guards to open it as he used his master key to gain entrance. Recognizing him as O’Neill, the two men relaxed slightly at the unexpected intrusion.
“Colonel O’Neill, sir, only medical personnel are allowed in here.”
“I know. I’ll only be a minute. Just…wait outside the door, okay?”
The guards exchanged glances and Ardus added, “That’s an order.”
Apparently satisfied at the directive, the men left Ardus alone with Martice. Ardus rapidly closed the gap between them. He spoke very softly, yet the vehemence behind the sentiment was clear.
“Martice, you son of a bitch! What game are you playing?”
“I know not of what you speak,” he replied haughtily as he turned away.
“I believe you do,” O’Neill’s voice demanded his attention. He put his hands roughly on the Sovereign’s shoulders and manhandled the other man until they were once again face-to-face.
“Do not touch me!”
“I’ll do as I damned well please! Now, what are you planning?”
“I will tell you nothing,” the man said with a smirk.
“Oh, I think you will,” he paused dramatically before continuing. “I wonder…what would your people think of a Sovereign who would kill his own parents to gain power?”
“What? What are you implying?”
“I’m implying nothing. You can’t fool me,” Ardus spoke, unrelenting in his accusations. He leaned into Martice, his expression filled with loathing as he pressed his lips against the other man’s ear, “I know you.”
Surprised, the Sovereign stepped back quickly. His thoughts cartwheeled as he tried to place the man before him. It was difficult to wade through the jumbled state of his mind, but after a few moments, recognition came to him.
“Ardus,” he spat the name out in disgust. “I see you’ve upgraded as well,” he sneered.
“It doesn’t matter. The one originally inhabiting this body is dead. I am alone here.”
“Alone,” Martice laughed maniacally as he moved away, clutching his head in pain. The man in O’Neill’s body followed closely behind the retreating figure.
“Why are you in so much pain? The others don’t seem to be ‘damaged’ when they emerge.”
“Their minds are feeble. They rise up for a short time before succumbing to the other voices. I can dominate them quite easily.”
“But, it causes great pain.”
“It does…but that will improve soon.”
“And that would be…why?” Ardus said using a typical O’Neill inflection.
“I will defeat the one whose body this is. Once he is no more, I will be free to do with it as *I* please…”
“What? Daniel?” Ardus said, suddenly concerned for the fate of O’Neill’s friend. “Martice, that body does not belong to you!” he growled. “Let me speak with Daniel.”
“I will not.”
“You will or I will tell the others what their ‘sovereign’ truly is…a vile, demented narcissist who would slaughter his own family to gain power,” his voice rasped as he tried to keep its tone low and menacing. “You’re just a sadistic, power monger who thrives on demeaning and controlling others!”
“I seem to remember you enjoyed the ‘activities’ as much as I did,” he said with a feral grin.
“That is SO not the point!” Ardus grimaced, as the remnants of O’Neill appeared.
“Isn’t it, though?” Martice continued thoughtfully. “In fact, that is exactly the point. This body appeals to you, does it not?”
“Go to hell,” Ardus refused to participate in the bastard’s mind game. “Let me speak to Daniel!”
Martice sniffed insolently. “I think not.” He tried unsuccessfully to mask his expression as the stabbing pain in his head returned. He raised his hands to rub his temples.
The door opened suddenly and an irritated Dr. Fraiser entered. “Colonel O’Neill! I must ask you to leave.”
Ardus held his hand up to stall her briefly. Leaning in closely, he delivered a final threat to Martice, “We are not finished. If you continue down this path, I will destroy you.”
Martice smiled as he whispered menacingly, “Is that *you* speaking…or Colonel O’Neill?” He chuckled as he pulled back from Ardus.
The man in O’Neill’s body tromped angrily out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Jack heard his friend loudly and clearly against the clamoring of other voices. The terrified cry vibrated around him and he recognized both pain and fear within it. He was afraid Daniel’s time here was growing short.
He turned, fighting to reach the mental image of his teammate, but a menacing presence blocked his path. A heavy weight pressed him down, trying to subdue his thoughts. He struggled against it but the pressure was so great that he could no longer move freely. Pushing against the invisible barrier, he finally lost the battle as an undertow of other minds swept him farther away.
From a distance, he listened over the background chatter as Martice tried to match wits with Daniel.
“I will have this body!” Martice shouted.
“No, no…it’s…not…yours…” Daniel focused his efforts to drive the Sovereign back but he found it increasingly difficult to do so as an intense, searing pain overpowered any rational thoughts he might have had left.
“Is it not?” Martice said confidently.
“No…ahhh,” Daniel squeezed his eyes closed tightly in pain and pressed his balled fists against his temples.
Jack noted with trepidation that, although Daniel’s voice grew weaker with each second that passed, Martice’s became ever stronger. The bastard was robbing Daniel’s very life force from him.
“Do I not control its movements and its voice? My mind is the strongest. I need only to be rid of you to assume this body as my own, pain-free…”
Suddenly, intense visions of death and decay assaulted Daniel. Everything was dark…so very, very dark. He smelled putrid, decomposing bodies. He saw body parts buried in rubble. Skulls crushed beyond recognition. He threw another shovel full of dirt on top of them…
A distant light became brighter and he twirled around, trying to find its source. Suddenly, his surroundings transformed into a room that looked surprisingly like the one at the museum where his parents had died. He saw them standing beneath a huge slab. His father caught his eye briefly and smiled, motioning him to come join him and his mother under the stone. He moved slowly towards them, mesmerized by the visions of his parents. He reached the edge of the stone and his mother beckoned him in closer.
He continued moving towards them, wanting to touch them again. He could smell his mother’s sweet perfume as he closed the gap between them. He stepped closer and closer, knowing he should stop because this wasn’t real. Something wasn’t quite right about it all yet his desire to be with them again was too great.
His footsteps faltered briefly even as his mind encouraged him to spend eternity with his family. He was at the edge now. One more step and he’d be with his parents forever…
“Daniel, no!” Jack yelled loudly as he recognized Martice’s evil ploy. He fought his way through the chaos towards his friend but he knew he’d never make it in time. If Daniel took one more step…
Daniel heard the voice of his friend in the distance and hesitated. He turned to look for Jack. A second later, he heard his parents’ screams and a horrible grating sound as the cover stone broke free from its support. A thunderous crash preceded the rise of rose-colored dust, mushrooming up into the air around him from the pulverized stones. As it cleared, he saw a stream of blood trailing from where his parents had been standing.
Daniel fell to the ground sobbing.
When he dared to look up again, everything had changed. He found himself in a small room, illuminated by the flames of a fireplace. Having just finished the evening meal, his parents gave their servants leave to return to their families for the night. He joined his parents and siblings in the adjoining room. Once the palace was empty except for his family, he calmly left their sides to retrieve a sword, one he remembered leaving purposely hidden near-by. He heard their plaintive pleas as he brandished the sword in the air in front of them. A few moments later, he grinned at the severed heads lying at his feet.
He knew the palace guards wouldn’t come in until morning. By then, he would have everything taken care of. He already had his obfuscation planned to mislead the authorities. He just needed to clear the room of any evidence that might incriminate him in his family’s disappearance.
Everything warped again and he found himself back in the museum, trying desperately to wipe up the blood from the floor as it continued to pour out from under the slab. He wouldn’t let them catch him. With his family gone, he would rule Talthus uncontested.
Daniel paused from his inane motions to look at his hands. Covered with his parents’ crimson blood, he rubbed them incessantly against his pants, trying to get rid of the evidence. He couldn’t comprehend his actions; he had orchestrated the deaths of his own family. Yet, Daniel hadn’t killed *his* parents. Martice, on the other hand…
As Daniel became more and more lost in his visions, the hum of the surrounding voices continued increasing significantly. Now, the noise was almost unbearable.
Jack suddenly found it easier to push past the others. He pushed towards Daniel, relieved that the brick wall separating them was no longer there. He assumed that Martice had tired of this hideous game and left.
“Daniel,” Jack gasped as he finally reached his friend. He pulled Daniel into an embrace, hoping to quell the archeologist’s rising panic. The distraught younger man looked up at him with such emptiness in his eyes that Jack thought his heart would break.
“Come on, Daniel. It wasn’t real,” Jack soothed with his words. He had seen the nightmare played out in Daniel’s mind and he hated Martice for putting his friend through that. Not only to witness his parent’s death all over again, but also to have the lines blurred between what was an unfortunate accident in the archeologist’s life and what was intentional homicide apparently in Martice’s past was unforgivable.
Jack held Daniel for a long time as he waited for his friend to regain some control. “We need to get you to safety. Keep a low profile.”
“Keep out of that bastard’s way?” Daniel asked, his voice shaking.
“Yeah, that too…” Jack’s words trailed off as he contemplated what he’d really like to do to the Sovereign if given the chance.
Dr. Fraiser experienced a brief reprieve from the pompous Martice for almost an hour, but the rollercoaster ride continued as other frightened personalities appeared. She never caught a glimpse of Daniel or Tryan during this time.
Without warning, her break from Martice ended as the Sovereign re-surfaced. His disposition seemed worse than before, possibly due to the obvious increase in his pain. Janet stepped back to put some physical distance between them.
"Tell them to stop shouting! It is unendurable!" Martice bellowed. He cupped his hands over his ears as if trying to block any noise from entering them. His face pulled tight in pain.
"I can't hear them," Dr. Fraiser sighed.
Martice walked over to the two-way mirror, yelling at his reflection. "Be silent!"
"They're in your mind, Martice.”
"No…no. No, no, no, no, no, what you say cannot be so. I have responsibilities to attend to. I…cannot remain here."
"You cannot leave,” the doctor stated.
"Three thousand of our people depend on me to lead them. I am their sovereign. They have sworn an oath to me."
"It is my destiny to rule over Ardena!" Martice shouted over the unheard voices in his mind. He paced around the room like a caged animal, unable to remain in one place because, if he did, he feared the madness would overtake him.
"No, listen,” Dr. Fraiser said as tears welled up in her eyes. “You don't understand the seriousness of your condition."
“And you still do not realize who you are talking to!” Martice’s face reddened in both pain and rage as he screamed at the doctor.
“I don't give a damn! You don't belong in that man's body and I intend to take it back!” Janet Fraiser’s anger almost gave way to tears as she threatened the Sovereign. She intended to make good on her words.
Martice winced as he placed his fingers over his ears again.
Daniel obediently followed Jack into a quiet room in the corner of his own mind.
“This is where I hung out until you decided to go out and visit Janet. I think it’s your subconscious,” Jack explained. “Just…stay. The others won’t bother you in here.”
“How do you know that?” Daniel said, his voice still trembling.
“It…well, it seems to be a, uh…,” Jack fumbled as he tried to find the best way to explain. “Well, it’s fairly…intimate…? I mean, this is the *core* of who you are, Daniel. I don’t think the others would be comfortable in here…”
Daniel nodded slowly, and then he turned rapidly to look at Jack as realization suddenly dawned on him. “You mean my true character…?”
“Something like that,” Jack shrugged. “Hidden fears, suppressed desires, moral standards…yadda. Everything that makes you…well, *you*,” Jack said uncomfortably.
“And you’ve been here before…” Daniel said in a worried tone.
“Yes…but, I swear, Daniel, I didn’t look around,” Jack defended himself and then added quietly, “…too much.”
“God, I don’t even know what’s in here…”
“That’s why it’s called your *subconscious*, Daniel,” Jack patted his friend’s back. “It’s where we stow the things we don’t want to admit about ourselves.”
“And…did you learn anything new about me?” Daniel asked, looking nervously at the older man.
“Nope. See, you don’t know these things about yourself, but I know you well enough to see them. They’re all good, Daniel…well, mostly,” Jack grinned, intentionally leading his friend on.
“Mostly…?” Daniel asked timidly. He wasn’t too sure he wanted to hear the answer.
“Mostly…,” Jack started. “Oh, except for that whole ‘take over the world’ thing. You know, Daniel, absolute power…”
“…corrupts absolutely,” Daniel sulked. “I got it, Jack.”
“But…that’s it…cross my heart and hope to…no, wait. What’s with the obsession over Mary Steemburgen?” Jack tried to lighten the mood.
“That’s *you*, Jack!”
“Oh…hmmm. So it is…” Jack sighed wantonly as if lost in a daydream. “So it is…”
Once again, Ardus found himself relegated to the observation room, along with General Hammond. He watched as Martice’s dominant personality faltered. The man squeezed his eyes shut tightly, obviously in extreme pain as he fought against hidden spirits in order to maintain control of Daniel’s body.
Then abruptly, the Sovereign’s demeanor changed. Amazed at the sudden metamorphosis, Ardus realized that the man had finally lost the battle to wield his power over the others…at least for now.
As Dr. Fraiser’s medical assistant left to get another dose of painkiller, a soft-spoken voice said, “That won't be necessary, Dr. Fraiser. I seem to have a higher threshold for pain than the others."
"Tryan?" Janet asked hopefully.
"Oh, thank God for that…,” Janet began.
The door to the isolation area opened and Major Carter stepped in. "Janet? Can I have a word?"
Dr. Fraiser looked at the now calm man beside her, glad to have Tryan here once again. "I'll be back,” she said as she followed Carter out of the room.
Teal'c joined Ardus and Hammond in the upper room.
"You sure you trust this guy?" Ardus questioned. He didn’t know much about Pharrin other than that he was an officer on the Stromos.
"He has much to gain by assisting us," Teal’c answered.
“I suppose he does,” Ardus added skeptically, as he looked back through the window. He carefully avoided looking at his reflection in the glass as he monitored the situation below.
His mind drifted as he watched the scene between Pharrin and Tryan unfold.
Their commitment to do what they had to do to save Daniel and the additional souls on the ship moved him deeply. These two men were sacrificing themselves, possibly irrevocably, to save the other Talthusians as well as Daniel. It was a very magnanimous gesture. Needs of the many and all that. Ardus found himself swiping at moisture forming in the corner of his eyes.
He didn’t know when he had begun caring so much for another being. No, actually, he did. It happened as soon as he found his mind intermingled with the ghostly remnants of Jack O’Neill’s.
He listened intently as Pharrin discussed the accident with Tryan.
"These people possess a device capable of transporting all our people to another world…perhaps even Ardena,” Officer Pharrin began. “It is very real…and it will save our people, but in exchange, they ask that their friend be returned to them as he was before. I believe it can be done if we act quickly. It is a reasonable bargain," he said poignantly.
"I will do whatever is necessary, Sir. Whatever you ask of me," Tryan said unquestioningly. However, Ardus wondered if the man agreed out of his duty to the officer or because he truly believed it was the right thing to do.
Tryan bowed his head respectfully. Then, the change happened so quickly that it took Ardus by surprise.
"No!” Martice yelled. “There will be no sacrifice of any kind! Officer Pharrin, as your Sovereign, I demand you return me to the ship immediately," he spat the words out, clearly and succinctly, leaving no room to misinterpret his orders.
Recognizing the switch in personalities, Pharrin dropped to his knees.
"Forgive me, Sovereign," the officer said cautiously as he ducked his head, avoiding eye contact with Martice. Ardus knew that submissive pose; Pharrin had obviously had run-ins with this jerk before.
"Pharrin…" Carter interrupted, trying to steer him back on track.
"We have sworn an oath to do his will. We cannot proceed," Pharrin spoke reluctantly as he caved into the bastard’s demands.
"Officer Pharrin,” Martice said arrogantly. “I have given you a command. Do you understand me?"
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Ardus exclaimed from upstairs. Furiously angry, he leaped up and stormed out of the room. He ran down to the isolation area, taking the stairs two at a time.
Infuriated by Martice’s ability to control his people from the body of another, the man in Colonel O'Neill’s body roughly yanked Pharrin to his feet. ”Your Sovereign's dead! Get up!”
”Not if I cut him out!” Ardus exclaimed through clenched teeth. His eyes bore into the Stromos officer. He would not allow this arrogant prick to bully Pharrin into backing down from the decision to save Daniel.
”You would not,” Pharrin looked into the intense dark brown eyes of Jack O’Neill.
”Oh, yes, I would,” Ardus said, turning his glare on Martice. Martice’s expression indicated that he knew Ardus well enough to know this wasn’t a bluff.
Clearly shaken, Pharrin looked at his Sovereign. Martice stared fiercely back at him, daring him to choose Daniel Jackson’s life over his own. Pharrin knew that look. He’d eventually pay dearly for any disobedience to the ruler yet he knew what he had to do.
”I will not surrender this body, not at any cost. It is mine!” Martice cried.
“Daniel, stay here, got that?” Jack commanded.
“What’s going on?” Daniel asked. The relative calm of his subconscious had held the demons at bay but he suddenly felt the unease creeping back again.
“I’m not sure, but…” Jack listened to distant voices before turning to look into Daniel’s eyes. “Look, whatever happens, don’t leave this place!”
“Okay…” Daniel said cautiously. “And, what are you planning to do?”
“I don’t know how I know this, but Martice is causing problems,” Jack tried to mask his concern for Daniel’s sake.
“So…what else is new?”
“It’s not good, Daniel,” Jack began. “I’m going to see if I can shut that bastard up from this side.”
“Of course you are…” Daniel sighed wearily. “Can you find your way back here?”
“Sure, no problem,” Jack replied, not feeling very confident in his actual ability to return to this place.
“Be careful, Jack.”
Jack left Daniel’s subconscious hideout searching for a way to silence Martice. He knew that the madman was, once again, in control of Daniel’s body and things had taken a turn for the worse. The rumbling from the ever-present undercurrent of voices had grown in volume and intensity. Not a good sign, especially for Daniel, Jack thought.
He quickly found the source of the disquiet. Several of the souls trapped inside Daniel’s mind were leading an uprising against Martice. They wanted out of Daniel’s body, choosing to take Pharrin’s option to retreat into his already overcrowded mind and seek refuge through the storm in stasis, yet the arrogant son of a bitch refused to relinquish his control. Jack feared that the more Martice fought, the greater the chance he would lose Daniel forever.
And fight he did. Martice continued to push back despite the fact that it caused both him and Daniel great pain. The problem, however, wasn’t that Martice wouldn’t give up this body; he had no choice really. The others now recognized Martice for who he really was; they would eventually drive the dictator out, either through sheer fortitude or insanity, whichever came first. This was their only possible chance to survive and eventually reunite with the rest of their people and they knew it.
Jack’s greater worry was the long-term affect that this power struggle would have on Daniel, both mentally and physically.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Jack quickly added his own voice to the others that were pressuring Martice. He knew that he might have to sacrifice his own freedom in the process, but it would be worth it to save Daniel’s sanity.
Besides, he didn’t know if he had a body to go back to anyway…
Ardus watched in amazement as Tryan’s personality emerged, challenging Martice. It was an incredible yet heart-wrenching scene as the two minds exchanged words from within the same body.
Ardus hoped the dual body experience was a sign that Martice was losing the war inside Daniel’s mind.
"Forgive me, Sovereign…," Pharrin grabbed Martice’s arms, thereby stopping the lopsided debate.
"How dare you touch me?!" Martice fumed.
"For twelve years we have fought to save the people of Talthus and we will do everything in our power to do so, no matter how great the sacrifice," Pharrin spoke to Martice but the words were obviously meant for someone else.
Martice lowered his head briefly. He looked back up at Pharrin but when he spoke again, it was clear that Martice was no longer in charge. "Father?"
"Keenin…,” Pharrin sobbed, the unexpected appearance of his son taking him by surprise. “I am so sorry, my son. You must sacrifice as well…”
Ardus realized that Martice was playing dirty, using Pharrin’s own son against him. He only hoped that Pharrin was strong enough to stick to his decision to save all the people of Talthus, even if it meant sacrificing Keenin.
He didn’t think O’Neill would have been able to make the same choice if it had been his own son caught in the balance.
Daniel shifted in distress. The murmurings surrounding him became more urgent and more disturbing. He ensconced himself in the farthest corner, holding his head in his hands in a futile effort to stop the pounding coming from within. Extreme, burning pain assaulted every nerve ending in his body. He trembled uncontrollably as he prayed that the war for control of his body would end soon.
Realizing that Jack hadn’t returned yet, he cautiously looked around for his friend. He’d promised Jack he wouldn’t leave this place, but he no longer felt any safer here than out there amongst the others. His concerns for Jack clouded his mind and, once again disobeying a direct order, he cracked open the door and ventured nervously outside.
Immediately, the sounds and images bombarded him depicting unimaginable suffering and turmoil, and, at the heart of it all, he felt Martice’s presence, still trying to suppress him. He fought back for as long as he could but the sensations were too great. Finally, half in and half out of consciousness, Daniel slipped into a catatonic schizophrenia.
Once Pharrin had spoken with his son, Jack knew that they had won the battle against Martice. It hadn’t been easy but, together, the people of Talthus drove the dictator down, possibly silencing Martice forever.
Just after Keenin returned to the others, Jack had been able to emerge briefly in control of Daniel’s body. He didn’t stay long but he needed to see for himself what was going on. He was shocked to see someone else that looked like him arguing against Martice. Surprisingly, the other ‘O’Neill’ even spoke with many of his own characteristic mannerisms.
It gave Jack some hope that, since his own body still existed and was functional, he might be able to return to it. However, he’d never leave Daniel alone with the turmoil that was currently his existence. He knew, also, that it was to be a battle against time if he was going to help Daniel survive intact. He raced against time to get back to Daniel’s subconscious ‘room’ before the transfer procedure began.
As he reached it, Jack didn’t like what he saw. Daniel had fallen into a stupor and was muttering incomprehensibly. Jack gathered him up and dragged him back into the quietest recesses, closing the door behind them.
Jack watched helplessly as Daniel drifted in and out. He talked nonsensically, and grew increasingly agitated and restless. Feeling helpless at his inability to control the situation, Jack stayed by Daniel’s side, touching his arm, hoping that he was providing comfort on some level.
As he waited, he wondered what fate waited for him once Pharrin had the other personalities downloaded into him. Jack didn’t know if the process would draw him out as well. Actually, he didn’t really care as long as Daniel became whole again.
After a while, Daniel’s inane ramblings stopped as his body slipped into a drug-induced calm.
“They’ve sedated us…uh, I mean, you,” Jack said knowingly.
“Right…that would explain these…strange…feelings. I guess that means they’re going through with the…” Daniel sounded groggy and disoriented, as his mind drifted.
“Yeah. Probably so. The others will keep Martice from re-emerging,” Jack commented as he eyed Daniel closely. He hoped the procedure would work because he didn’t think his friend would be around much longer if it didn’t.
“He never deserved to rule these people,” Daniel said.
“No, Daniel, he didn’t.”
“What’s going to happen to you, Jack?” Daniel questioned.
“I know this may be hard for you to believe, Daniel, but, for once, I don’t have all the answers,” Jack replied flippantly.
“Not hard…,” Daniel chuckled softly. He looked at Jack, his concern evident despite the joking words.
Jack merely nodded in return as Daniel slipped into unconsciousness.
Onboard the Stromos, the scientists connected Daniel and Pharrin to the memory matrix module in two adjacent cryogenic chambers. Ardus and Dr. Fraiser supervised the operation. Ardus personally initiated the transfer process, downloading the personalities trapped inside his friend to the brave officer. Even if the resultant overload created insanity for Pharrin, at least he and his son would be together.
Major Carter and Teal'c climbed down the steps into their compartment just as the power and lights came back on.
“They do?” Carter said jokingly.
“Yeah. You betcha. Sure,” Ardus answered.
Carter grimaced, wondering if she had heard the colonel correctly. She never knew him to switch that particular phrase up like that. It was his trademark expression after all. A quick glance at Janet confirmed what she suspected.
‘Oh, well,’ she thought. ‘Everyone gets tongue tied occasionally.’ She didn’t give it another thought as she turned her attention to the health of their fourth teammate.
”Daniel?” Ardus said gently, remembering the pounding headache that he had experienced shortly after awakening from the transfer process. ”That you?”
”Jack?” Daniel asked suspiciously, wondering if the Jack he heard was speaking from inside or outside his mind.
”How you doing?” Ardus said quickly.
In a knowing voice, Ardus added, “Nail in the head kind of thing?”
Beside them, Carter smiled a small, worried kind of smile. She knew that things might look fine now, but Daniel still had a lot of issues to resolve ahead of him. Dr. Fraiser continued writing notes on her patient in a small notebook. Teal’c appeared relieved as well, nodding slightly as he caught Ardus’ eyes.
He looked at his friend still confined in the tube. Daniel struggled to focus and appeared to be in a lot of pain. He also looked confused and not entirely himself. As Daniel’s eyes glazed over, Ardus wondered if the transfer went as well as they thought it did.
“Doc?” Ardus asked Dr. Fraiser, pulling her attention back to her patient. “You sure everything went okay?” He said with a slight head tilt in Daniel’s direction.
“He’s fine, Jack. He just needs some rest.”
The medical team began helping Daniel onto a stretcher to transport him back to the SGC.
“Carter, you stay here and give them a wake-up call,” Ardus said, pointing towards the people asleep in the chambers. “I’m going with Daniel.”
Ardus waved, and then turned to follow the medical team as they hauled the archeologist down the hallway and back to the gate.
Ardus sat beside Daniel in the infirmary, fidgeting nervously. He knew that Daniel would need to talk about his ordeal in order to heal. In fact, he knew the routine well. After much cajoling and annoying antics, Jack O’Neill would eventually coerce his best friend to confide in him. Together, they would find the answers and wrestle away the demons.
As the soul inside the body best fitting the description of Jack O’Neill, Ardus knew he was in trouble. Although he may look physically like the colonel, he knew he would never be able to give Daniel what he needed. Ardus didn’t help anyone but himself and he most certainly didn’t care about anyone else…until now.
Damn Jack O’Neill for caring way too much for everyone around him, for caring too much for Daniel. Damn Jack O’Neill for fleeing his own body in a vain rescue attempt. With O’Neill gone forever, now Ardus would have to assume the role of Daniel’s best friend. Worse, he would have to admit that, for the first time in his life, he did care about someone else; he cared about this man lying in the bed before him, fast asleep.
Ardus may have fooled the SGC regarding his identity but he knew he could never fool Daniel…nor would he want to. It would be difficult, but he would have to explain the facts, as he knew them, to Daniel and help the younger man deal with the loss of Jack O’Neill. He only hoped he could convince him to extend his friendship to him.
Daniel began to stir, finally waking from his twelve-hour sleep. He mumbled something unintelligible as his eyes slowly opened. His head listed from side to side as he tried to focus on his surroundings. Finally, his gaze settled on Ardus.
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!” were the first words out of Daniel’s mouth.
Startled at the exclamation coming from Daniel, Ardus leaned closer to the bed, wondering exactly who was talking to him. It sounded so much like O’Neill.
“Daniel,” Ardus started. “How’re you feeling?”
“Head hurts,” he said gruffly. “And who the hell are you?”
“Do you always wake up this irritable?” Ardus questioned cautiously.
“Well now, if you were actually O’Neill, you’d know the answer to that, wouldn’t you?” The voice said sarcastically.
“I guess I would,” Ardus said pensively. ‘This is so not good,’ he added silently.
Ardus watched Daniel’s body sit upright. “So, is Daniel in there with you?”
“Yeah,” Jack in Daniel’s body said, “but you still haven’t answered my question.”
“Who do I look like?” Ardus grinned, enjoying one upping O’Neill with O’Neill’s own wry sense of humor.
“You know damn well who you look like so stop the bull crap!” Jack said through clenched teeth.
Ardus chuckled softly, “I’m Ardus, first assistant to the Sovereign Martice, and not looking my best, I might add. Bad hair day.” Ardus combed his hair with his fingers.
Jack sneered. “Yeah, well, I think you look handsomely rugged and, oh, by the way,” he motioned Ardus to lean towards him, then continued loudly, “I want my damn body back!”
Startled by the outburst, Ardus jumped back in his chair. “I assumed you were dead. After you left this body, there was only time to complete the transfer of one mind into it. I’m alone here, in your body,” Ardus paused. He needed to make a decision…quickly.
“You assumed wrong,” Jack said wryly. “And now, I’ve got a really big problem here.”
“Daniel? Is something wrong with him?” Ardus asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“Yeah, he’s not doing so good and he’s not going to make it unless I can find a way out of his body. There’s no way I’m going to stay in here, watching him go completely…nuts.”
“It’s that bad, huh?” Ardus sighed.
“No, Ardus, it’s worse,” Jack flung the words out in frustration. “Daniel’s too weak to surface anymore. Either you give me my body back…”
“How? It can’t be done!”
“…or I’m going to get out some other way, even if it kills me ‘cause Daniel sure as hell doesn’t deserve this!”
“No, he doesn’t,” Ardus said softly. “But I’m afraid I can’t give you what you need…”
Dr. Fraiser announced herself as she stepped inside the curtain and approached the two men. The diversion gave Ardus the opportunity he needed. He stood up quickly, almost causing his chair to topple over backwards in his haste. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ran for the door.
“Stop him,” Jack commanded using Daniel’s voice. “He’s not Jack O’Neill and he can’t be allowed off-base!”
“Dr. Jackson, I don’t understand,” Dr. Fraiser spoke in calming tones as she pulled her pen light out of her lab coat pocket.
“I’ll explain later just…don’t let him get away!” Jack barked. “And get that damn thing out of my eyes!” He added, swatting the offending light away.
Startled, Dr. Fraiser recognized the tonal inflections as those of Jack O’Neill. ‘Either Daniel is very confused or…’ she thought. With only a moment’s hesitation, she made her decision. She walked hurriedly to the intercom system and, speaking into the receiver, she said, “Security team. Detain Colonel Jack O’Neill! Repeat. Detain Colonel Jack O’Neill. Do not allow him to leave the mountain!”
Looking back at Daniel’s body on the bed, she added quietly, “You’d better be right about this.”
“Oh, I am.”
“And how did you know that wasn’t Colonel O’Neill?”
“Just a hunch,” he said flippantly. “The body may be mine, but the brain sure isn’t.”
“Dr. Jackson, are you saying?”
“I’m not Daniel. Well, actually I am, but I’m not,” he motioned towards his head, “and he’s not,” he laid his head back on the bed. “Oy. Can you do something about this headache, doc?”
Janet gasped as realization struck her. The voice may not sound quite right, but the words were definitely O’Neill’s. Daniel would never have so much trouble stringing a coherent sentence together.
“So, is Daniel in there too?” Janet asked with concern.
“Yeah, but he’s not well,” Jack spoke quietly.
Janet grabbed a passing technician. “Get an EEG setup on Dr. Jackson, stat.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the man replied before leaving to collect the proper equipment.
“Just, hang on, Doctor…uh, Colonel,” Janet stammered. “I need to let General Hammond know what’s going on. Don’t worry, we’ll figure this out.”
“Just…make it quick, okay? For Daniel’s sake?”
She touched her patient’s shoulder tenderly, before hurrying off to her office. She had some heavy duty explaining to do to the general.
Janet requested that Teal’c, Major Carter, and General Hammond be present as she delivered the news of Dr. Jackson’s state.
“So, what you’re telling me is that somehow Colonel O’Neill is trapped inside Dr. Jackson’s body?” General Hammond sat at the end of the briefing room table, obviously puzzled by the information he received from Dr. Fraiser.
“Yes, sir. His EEG confirms it. Colonel O’Neill is definitely the dominant personality. In fact, Daniel’s brain waves are so weak that I would have never picked up the second pattern if the colonel hadn’t told me he was still in there.”
“But, Janet, how did we miss the fact that…Ardus…wasn’t the Colonel? I mean, he’s been on base now since we returned from the Stromos the first time,” Sam skirted around the issue that they were all afraid to admit; they had allowed an imposter to wander unchecked inside a top security facility. It didn’t really matter that the intruder looked like one of their own. They should have noticed something and they would have if they hadn’t been so concerned for Daniel. They hadn’t considered the possibility that another one of them could have been compromised as well.
“We never had a reason to suspect otherwise. You all had scans performed when you first returned; Colonel O’Neill’s, or rather, Ardus’, were normal,” Janet insisted. “And according to Colonel O’Neill, this Ardus is somehow able to do a darn good impersonation of him.”
“Maybe…or maybe some traces of Colonel O’Neill’s personality remained with his body,” Sam’s eyes lit up as her thoughts came together into something rational.
“I do not understand, Major Carter,” Teal’c raised one eyebrow.
“It’s just an idea,” Sam began, growing more excited as she put the pieces together, “but what if Ardus has been able to fool us into thinking he’s Colonel O’Neill because his brain is still wired like the colonel’s,” she paused as she saw the doubting looks around the table. “Just bear with me a second here…Each of the Stromos passengers’ minds were downloaded into a memory module directly from their own brains, right?”
“That is correct, Major Carter,” Teal’c stated.
“The process sounds similar to moving files on a computer from its hard drive to another storage location,” Janet added.
“Exactly, only they were supposed to be returned to their own brains…or, in other words, moved back to the computer’s original hard drive,” Sam continued.
“I’m not following you, Major,” General Hammond spoke, hoping to get the scientist to get to the bottom line quicker.
“Their brains weren’t affected by the transfer; the hard drive wasn’t reformatted, the content was just moved. The synaptic pathways already formed in their brains remained unchanged. So, when their consciousnesses were moved back, their brains still had the original neural passages and their memories would simply be copied back onto the original blueprint,” Sam stopped, looking around as if everyone should understand exactly where she was headed with this discussion. Unfortunately, the expressions on the faces staring back at her told otherwise.
“Don’t you get it?” Sam continued excitedly. “Colonel O’Neill’s brain would still have his ‘blueprint’…his personality, mannerisms…what makes him, well, him. The only thing that changed was that his memories and consciousness, if you will, were downloaded into Daniel’s hard drive.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this, Sam,” Janet started slowly, hoping to bring the others along with her. “So, the colonel left his own body but his brain already had his footprint. Then, when Ardus’ consciousness entered the colonel’s ‘hard drive’, it was overlaid onto a network of electrical impulses that were originally created by Jack from a lifetime of experiences,” Janet concluded.
“Right, so when Ardus took up residence there…” Sam picked up the thread.
“The hard drive had a pre-existing imprint. Ardus could not separate his own personality from O’Neill’s,” Teal’c commented, staying with the computer analogies.
“Does this help us?” General Hammond questioned, attempting to bring the philosophical discussion to a resolution.
“I think it does, sir,” Sam said, practically beaming as the parts of the puzzle fell into place. “Ardus would have many of the same feelings and characteristics of Colonel O’Neill now. He’d be almost as much ‘the colonel’ as he is ‘Ardus’…”
“And Colonel O’Neill would never want to save himself if it meant sacrificing someone he cared about,” Janet completed the thought.
“So, what are you suggesting, Major?” The general asked.
“Maybe we can convince Ardus to help us save Daniel,” Sam thought out loud.
“I think it may be more effective if Colonel O’Neill can convince Ardus himself,” General Hammond countered.
“Indeed,” Teal’c had the last word as usual.
With awkward movements, Jack walked down the long corridor towards the brig. As he manipulated the arms and legs, he could almost believe that this was his own body until he heard the sound of its voice when he spoke or saw its reflection in a mirror. It wasn’t his, he knew that, and yet he had no other choice now than to use it. Daniel’s mind definitely wasn’t capable of doing so and someone had to convince Ardus to help save the man.
With a medical escort in tow, Jack rounded the corner to the holding cell area, grimacing against the escalating physical pain he felt. It continued to get worse; the stabbing headache, the shooting nerve pain throughout his extremities. The mental anguish of knowing that his best friend was slipping away and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Until now, Jack had hidden this increasing disability from the medical staff and his teammates well, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be able to keep up the charade.
Dr. Fraiser had released him from the infirmary only a few minutes earlier even though his temperature had continued to rise steadily since his return from the Stromos. He knew he was burning up Daniel’s body with his actions but he had to appear strong so they would allow him to meet with Ardus face-to-face. That stubborn, son-of-a-bitch would never listen to anyone else, of this he was sure; he resembled that bastard after all.
So, he covered up his agony by making witty remarks and generally fooling everyone into thinking he was okay but, truth be told, Jack was far from okay. If he stayed in Daniel’s body much longer, he would be responsible for extinguishing his friend’s consciousness; the physical pain, fever, and mental confusion would become debilitating and Daniel would simply cease to exist.
Not that he wanted it that way. He’d rather die than be the cause of Daniel’s suffering yet ironically, if Daniel’s mind disappeared, he knew it would relieve his own misery, just as Martice had claimed it would. He’d be able to live a normal life using Daniel’s form. The impending reality of that thought sickened him; he wasn’t looking forward to that worst-case scenario. In fact, he wanted nothing less, but as he half stumbled down the hallway, he feared he was doing irreparable damage to his friend. He could never live with himself if Daniel died.
Finally reaching his destination, Jack paused briefly outside the cell door to ‘listen’ to Daniel, something he had done many times since finding himself back at the SGC in this body. He tuned into his teammate’s thoughts, trying to understand what he could do to ease his affliction and what he should do to avoid those things that threatened to push him into oblivion. Jack didn’t ‘chat’ with Daniel as he had early on because the inner turmoil was just too stressful...for both of them. The man couldn’t focus his thoughts anymore and he subjected Jack to endless broken murmurings…the utterances of a lunatic.
Foremost amongst the susurrations, Jack sensed that Daniel felt trapped, forced to do things against his will, as if a parasite had taken over his body. Daniel thought this would be how it would feel if a Goa’uld infested him and, even though Daniel tried to hide these thoughts, Jack felt them nonetheless. He knew that, to Daniel, he was the Goa’uld, controlling this body to walk and to talk without its owner’s permission. Knowing how much Daniel hated the snakes, and knowing he was treating Daniel’s body the same way as they would, deeply wounded Jack although it was probably as close to the truth as it could be. He was using Daniel in his noble attempt to save him. He only hoped Daniel could forgive him for this injustice.
Yet, amongst the swirl of thoughts, he also felt Daniel’s staggering confidence in his ability to save him. It was this unwritten covenant, Daniel’s trust in him, which kept Jack going now. He just prayed that he could get out of Daniel’s head before it was too late.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Jack motioned to one of the guards to unlock the door. He gestured for the medical team to wait outside, and then he sauntered in casually, taking a seat across a small table from the prisoner.
“Ardus…,” Jack said in greeting, through Daniel’s voice. “You’re looking good.” Although the words were humorous, there was no levity in their delivery.
“O’Neill,” Ardus replied. “I trust you’re well.”
“Not really,” Jack grunted, trying to hide the grimace of pain that crossed his features.
Ardus frowned in sympathy. “How’s Daniel doing?”
“Not changed much,” Jack started. “Jabbering incessantly…not really making sense…excited about some Ziggurat or something. You know, same old Daniel.” His voice tightened around the lump in his throat as he spoke. He leaned across the table to get closer to Ardus, his eyes narrowing. “Look, he’s dying…just so you know.”
“So, what do you want me to do about it?” Ardus tried to look nonchalant as he pushed his chair back from the table.
“Let me out of here. Give me my body back,” Jack suggested.
“Even if that were possible, why should I?” Ardus said. He looked away from O’Neill to hide his own conflicting feelings.
“Because, if you don’t, you’ll spend the rest of your life in *my* body rotting in this cell,” Jack said vehemently. “You’ll have plenty of time to watch both Daniel and me go absolutely nuts. And don’t think I won’t make you watch it happening!” Jack noticed Ardus respond to the words, ever so slightly. “I don’t know you but…”
“Oh, but you do know me,” Ardus turned back. “*You’ve* never cared before, so why should it be different this time.”
“Do I really have to answer that for you?” Jack spit the words out.
For several long minutes, neither one spoke. Jack sat and watched the other man’s cool demeanor break down into a haunted expression as Ardus fully absorbed the question. Ardus stared back at him, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Jack had him where he wanted him. He paused a bit longer, allowing the man using his body to absorb the gravity of Daniel’s situation while he considered the best approach to use to reach that part of Ardus that shared his own feelings.
“God damnit, it’s Daniel, that’s why! The man who died for me on
He hesitated, trying to judge Ardus’ temperament. He looked into the man’s eyes and, briefly, he spotted empathy in them just before the other man turned away. It was what Jack was counting on. Ardus did care about what happened to Daniel.
Jack knew his next words would deeply hurt both him and Ardus but he had to say them, to bury the knife in his opponent while Ardus continued to struggle with his inner demons. “Daniel saved my soul after Charlie died! Without him, I wouldn’t be here now. I’d have been blown to hell when that nuke went off on
Jack abruptly stood up and stormed off to the farthest corner of the room. His body trembled ever so slightly from the emotional outburst. It took him a few moments to compose himself.
Ardus watched as the other man slowly turned to look directly at him. He tried to appear unaffected by the words, but Jack noticed the pursed lips, a sure sign of the man’s angst.
After several moments, Ardus spoke, his tone feigning indifference, “Why don’t you just leave his body? If you care so much, why not sacrifice yourself?”
“Fraiser said it won’t work that way. Gotta have something to ‘download’ me into…a receptacle. Freaking hard drive or something.” Jack returned to the table slowly and walked around to the side Ardus was sitting on. He glared down as he added in a raspy whisper, “You know I’d do it if I could. I know you would…”
“Really, how do you know that there’s anything left of O’Neill in this body?” Ardus steeled himself, gathering strength to continue, “Even if there was, O’Neill has killed in cold blood…many times…women and children…snapped their necks then looked for more…” Two could play this dirty game and he could be as nasty as they come…as nasty as O’Neill could be. “Did you suddenly get a conscious?”
“I had no choice! You know damn well it isn’t the same thing, you son of a…” Unshed tears glistened in Jack’s eyes at the memories that the cruel words evoked.
“Oh, it’s not? Daniel’s a good man, we’ve established that, but so were many of those kids you took out! They didn’t deserve what you did to them!” Ardus stood up, yelling as he looked down at Daniel’s shorter frame standing beside him. “You didn’t have a choice then and you don’t have a choice now! Why is it any different?”
“Because, this time, you won’t see the reflection of some unknown enemy, ready to prey upon you in the darkness. You won’t hear the laughter of a young mother right before she shoots you and your buddies with an AK-47! You won’t see the innocent face of some poor child that the bastards have rigged up as a fucking roman candle to kill half your unit!” Jack stood shaking as he finished his rant. He hugged himself in a very Daniel-like pose, trying to quell his trembling body.
After quickly composing himself, Jack turned to gaze deep into Ardus’ eyes. He continued in a subdued, almost threatening, tone, “Because it’s not *me* you’ll be watching die. You’ll be watching your friend die…not just a passing acquaintance but a damn good friend…your *best* friend. And, believe me, it’s not gonna be pretty.” His rage against the unfairness of their situation sapped his energy and he plopped back down into his chair, exhausted.
“And so, I ask you again…what can I do?” Ardus’ tone was calloused but his eyes gave away the true depth of his feelings for Daniel.
“Let me leave Daniel’s body by going back into yours…er, mine.”
“And what of me? I don’t have a death wish,” the man stated glumly.
“I don’t know, Ardus,” Jack said wearily. “Maybe we could make a go of it together…I’ve had a damn snake in my head once before. I could handle living with you…probably. How bad could it be?”
“Very,” Ardus added pensively. The skeletons he kept tucked away would make O’Neill’s pale in comparison.
“Then why don’t you go bunk with Pharrin until your people figure out what to do? I hear there’s a real party going on at his place…”
“Not funny,” Ardus replied.
“Yeah, I know,” Jack had used the inappropriate humor to try to impersonalize their situation but he knew the attempt was futile and cruel. His voice trailed off for a moment.
“So, *you* got any bright ideas?” Jack asked.
“Sorry, fresh out,” Ardus’ curt responses were eating away at Jack’s barely contained patience.
Jack rose and staggered a few paces away, his frustration evident in his features. Suddenly he turned back towards his own image and, with an audible sigh, he said, “God, you are one damned, irritating son-of-a-bitch!”
“Takes one to know one, I guess…” The gleam in the dark brown eyes indicated he had the same impression of Jack.
Ardus didn’t expect a reply as he watched the blue eyes that belonged to Daniel close. His handsome features contorted and his eyebrows furrowed into an expression that clearly displayed confusion.
Ardus recognized the signs as an exchange of personalities. He waited nervously, concerned about seeing Daniel’s actual state of mind. He knew it was one thing for O’Neill to describe how badly Daniel was adjusting but it would be something altogether different to witness his friend’s turmoil first hand. He set himself mentally for what would come next.
After another moment, a distraught voice broke the silence, “Stop it…just…stop it.” Ardus knew that Daniel had resurfaced as was in control of his own body again. The archeologist continued chastising them. “This isn’t helping!”
Surprised at the drastic transformation, Ardus watched in stunned silence as the younger man shivered uncontrollably. He seemed unable to select his words as his mouth opened and shut a few times without uttering a sound. In fact, his entire body slumped wearily in a fashion completely opposite from the way it appeared when O’Neill was in control just moments earlier. It was a strange and terribly disturbing contrast.
“Daniel?” Ardus began.
Daniel rolled his eyes under raised eyebrows in a gesture that could only mean ‘you were expecting someone else?’
“Of course it’s you,” Ardus said, stating the obvious.
“God, it hurts,” Daniel moaned as he grasped his head in his hands. He struggled to walk towards the seat that he, or rather O’Neill, had vacated. Ardus, recognizing his instability, lunged forward quickly and grabbed Daniel just as his legs crumpled beneath him. Ardus kept him from hitting the floor and, with a steadying arm around his waist, carefully maneuvered him into the chair.
“Uh, thanks for…,” Daniel said after he’d collected himself.
“Yeah, no problem,” Ardus responded as he monitored the other man carefully for signs of stress.
“Look, pretty soon this…,” Daniel motioned weakly between himself and Ardus.
“…thing…” “…thing…” Both men responded simultaneously.
“Uh, yeah…” Daniel squinted as he focused in on Ardus, finding it curious that the man had the same uncanny ability to complete his sentences as Jack did. “Well, it won’t matter soon. Jack will get used to living…here…” He indicated his own body.
“Look, Daniel…,” Ardus started, then stopped as he noticed that Daniel still wasn’t behaving quite right. The younger man’s eyes darted around the room nervously and he began whispering to himself.
‘I guess O’Neill was right…Daniel is losing it,’ he thought sadly. “Daniel, listen to me,” he continued out loud but the other man was totally lost in his own world. Ardus reached out and touched Daniel’s arm, hoping to bring him back. To his surprise, Daniel just quickened his delivery of the unintelligible phrases as he became more agitated and disturbed.
“…not right now,” Daniel jerked his arm away at the touch. “They’re watching…want to damage…” Daniel ranted. “Jack, don’t!”
Ardus thought for a moment that Daniel had mistaken him for Jack, understandably of course. Yet, as he looked into his friend’s eyes, he realized Daniel was lost, deep within himself, perhaps conversing with the O’Neill in his mind. Regardless of the cause, he waited silently for Daniel to break out of his mind’s meanderings. He was afraid he’d only cause more problems if he interfered now.
“Jack, I don’t want...please, I won’t let you. I’ve tried…no, it doesn’t...it won’t help…not worth it...stay...” Daniel said pleadingly.
Ardus listened to try and figure out why the two men were arguing and, after a few minutes, Daniel quieted down. Although, the chattering continued, Ardus could no longer make out any specific words but he didn’t think that Daniel was still talking with O’Neill. Regrettably, he seemed to be acting more and more like the demented soul that O’Neill had said he was becoming.
Thinking of O’Neill, Ardus wondered where the guy was now. Pissed that O’Neill would use Daniel in this dangerous way just to play against his emotions, he wanted the chance to give the man a piece of his mind. ‘It’s a saying, right?’ Ardus thought, curious about the origin of his somewhat inappropriate choice of words.
As Daniel remained in control of his body, Ardus deliberated on why O’Neill would let this go, knowing the damage it would cause Daniel. Hearing the tormented, nonsensical sounds coming from the linguist was heart wrenching. Ardus hated O’Neill for stooping this low in order to get his own body back.
No, it wasn’t like O’Neill to resort to such emotional tactics. Oh, the man could be very conniving and devious to get what he wanted, but, this time, Ardus didn’t think it was O’Neill calling the shots. He suspected the reason for Daniel’s re-appearance was the archeologist’s own doings. He wouldn’t willingly let O’Neill die in his place. Perhaps by regaining control of his body, Daniel was intentionally trying to burn out faster, putting them both out of their misery. Ardus certainly wouldn’t put it past the guy. He’d definitely sacrificed himself many times before for less important reasons. The man was smart; he knew the circumstances. Fully aware that he might wind up a raving lunatic once this ordeal was over anyway, Daniel would believe that his life wasn’t worth the loss of O’Neill’s; if Daniel ceased to exist, he would carry on, alone in his dead friend’s body.
Ardus gasped soundlessly as he realized that soon he’d lose the real Daniel forever. He had to do something...quickly. He’d never be able to live in O’Neill’s body if it cost Daniel his life. Daniel was irreplaceable.
In such a short lifespan, his friend had accomplished incredible things. He’d pulled his...O’Neill’s...butt out of the fire on numerous occasions, using his keen intelligence, his fortitude, and his bullheaded, badass attitude. He’d negotiated treaties with the Unas. He had cunningly tricked the Gadmeer into understanding and empathizing with the Enkaraans, saving both races in the process. He always tried to see the good in people, even the alien kind...except for possibly Apophis.
Ardus felt the strong bond of friendship between O’Neill and Daniel deep inside him. They’d been through a lot together, gone to hell and back. They’d died many times over only to have the Nox or a sarcophagus revive them yet these things wouldn’t be able to save them this time.
They’d even saved each other’s lives, both in the physical and emotional sense. They comforted each other during their darkest hours, from the death of a loved one to the recovery of a battle scarred body and soul.
Ardus had even begun to feel a bond between himself and Daniel. He wondered if he’d actually become emotionally attached to another being or if it was just the remnants of O’Neill within him making him feel that way. He was even thinking about letting O’Neill back into his own body, in effect, committing suicide so Daniel could live.
Laughing aloud, Ardus realized the thoughts of giving up his life for another weren’t entirely his own. In fact, he’d have never even considered this possibility before the unfortunate events aboard the Stromos had thrust him into this situation.
Yet, no matter the source, Ardus felt deep-seated concern for his friend’s fate. Like it or not, he cared for Daniel Jackson. His thought processes, or rather O’Neill’s, drove home the fact that he couldn’t separate his feelings from those of O’Neill’s. They were one and the same now, internalized within him and Ardus didn’t want to live at the expense of his friend.
He accepted that this metamorphosis of living inside someone else’s body had to have...side effects. Yet, he couldn’t understand why a man like O’Neill would feel the need to forfeit his own life to save Daniel Jackson to begin with.
As he inwardly reflected on the qualities of the man whose body he now controlled, he wondering what made him tick. Why did O’Neill put other lives above his own? Ardus certainly would never have done so. It had to be part of the man’s make up, his internal ‘wiring’, so to speak. The guy was an enigma, capable of killing in cold blood when the situation warranted, yet judiciously going to great lengths to spare
Ardus shivered at the implications of his thoughts. O’Neill would eagerly offer his own life in exchange for Daniel’s. The O’Neill in Daniel’s body had all but said he’d jump ship out of Daniel if he had another place to go, even if it meant his own death. Ardus knew it wasn’t an idle threat. Yet, could Ardus do the same?
A nearby voice startled Ardus out of his reverie. “Sorry...I’m sorry for being...so screwed up…can’t seem to get my thoughts together,” Daniel said in a curiously lucid voice.
“Neither can I,” Ardus said gently. “It’s not your fault.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” he replied. His eyes scanned the room as if he was looking for someone or something. Honing in on the apparent source of his distress which looked a lot like empty air to Ardus, Daniel continued pointing into nothingness, “…stop it…I know...doesn’t belong to you. Just go back...”
Daniel paused and looked embarrassed about having a disjointed conversation with the wall.
“It’s okay...” Ardus said as he walked over, hoping to comfort his friend.
“I can’t help thinking that I’ve let you…or rather, Jack…down. Should’ve been stronger…”
“Daniel, there was nothing you could do. I’m just sorry that I can’t do anything to get O’Neill out of you…”
“I don’t want you to. He’ll be fine in here...soon,” he grimaced as a wave of pain hit him and his knees buckled.
“That’s not what I meant,” Ardus reached to steady his friend. “He doesn’t want to stay there...” Ardus added as he helped Daniel sit down.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m in charge now. For once, Jack can’t control this outcome,” Daniel sighed heavily as he suddenly slumped, cradling his head in his shaky arms on the tabletop. Adding under his breath, “and I won’t let him...”
“Daniel, stop fighting me.”
“Look Jack, we both know how this is going to end. Unless Ardus leaves your body...well, even then, there are no guarantees.”
“God, I hate this,” Jack sighed as he realized just how strong Daniel’s mind was even in his exhausted state. The guy wasn’t going to back down and, as much as Jack pushed, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to regain control of this body until it was too late for Daniel. God, the man really was stubborn.
“Yeah, me too. It’s not going to be easy for you,” Daniel said, obviously more concerned for the one he’d be leaving behind than for himself. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
“Leaving you alone in my body,” Daniel said sincerely.
“Didn’t see that in your will...” Jack joked sadly.
Jack contemplated Daniel’s comment, realizing his apology was about more than Daniel’s death. He was apologizing for the fact that, every time Jack looked into a mirror or saw his reflection in a pool of water, it would remind him of his friend. Knowing he unintentionally caused his friend’s death would be difficult to take. In fact, it’d be a living hell...
“Hey, at least the accommodations aren’t too bad...fewer scars...younger too. You should get a few extras years out of it,” Daniel made light of the situation for Jack’s sake.
“It ain’t the years, Daniel, it’s the mileage,” Jack mused. “Damn. I’ll have to buy a whole new wardrobe. Can’t see myself wearing plaid...” He added mirthlessly. Jack found absolutely nothing to laugh about. He didn’t really think he’d ever be able to laugh again...
Depressed, Ardus reflected on the futility of his situation. Where would he be if he stayed in this body? Locked up in prison for the rest of his life? Sure, he could attempt to escape and, with his history as both Ardus and O’Neill, he’d most likely succeed.
Yet, why should he? Did he deserve to live anymore than O’Neill? Of course not. He’d so royally screwed up his own life.
With conflicted feelings, Ardus contemplated his own worth. ‘Living’ with O’Neill had taught him something about the human spirit, something he’d never be able to find within himself. He’d always done what was best for his own well-being, never once considering anyone else. He, like O’Neill, had killed in cold blood many times, but, unlike O’Neill, his intentions had always been self-centered. He had killed innocents at the whim of a pompous Sovereign in order to bed down with the devil. He had killed for power, for money, and for the sheer thrill of it.
In contrast, O’Neill and Daniel had done so much for the greater good. They’d overcome hurdles that most humans would never have the courage to attempt. They’d saved their world from Goa’uld and Replicator attacks, and they’d done it together. They saved other worlds inhabited by people they didn’t even know...and not for some personal gain either. They’d risked their lives selflessly for alien races because it was the right thing to do.
Yet, after all their best efforts, their enemies continued to threaten innocents, and unlike Ardus, O’Neill and Daniel couldn’t let that happen. They still had wars to fight and battles to win...together.
Their galaxy...hell, the entire universe...still needed them.
Addressing the guards at his door, Ardus commanded, “I need to speak with General Hammond now!”
“How can we be sure this is Colonel O’Neill?” General Hammond addressed the base’s Chief Medical Officer as the others around the briefing room table listened intently.
“His test results were...conclusive,” Dr. Fraiser replied, choosing to forego the medical jargon for now.
“I thought they were conclusive the last time?”
“Last time, we didn’t suspect anyone other than Dr. Jackson to be affected. We did the standard, mission return checks for SG-1; however, we didn’t perform any more extensive tests to check their brain wave patterns. We have since followed up with thorough examinations for all of SG-1 and all other personnel that visited the planet, comparing their current readings with ones from past EEGs. Everyone shows only one pattern indicative of his or her original traces. No one appears compromised at this time.”
“So, Colonel O’Neill is really...?” Sam queried, looking directly at Janet.
“I’m Colonel O’Neill, for crying out loud! You know, I’m sitting right here...” Jack waved his arms, reaching between Janet and Carter to get their attention, and then pointing to himself.
“Are you, Jack?” Daniel said softly from his position beside Jack at the table.
Jack pivoted slowly in his seat to glare at Daniel. Daniel squirmed slightly in his chair, looking nervous.
“Dr. Jackson has a good point. We couldn’t distinguish you from Ardus before. How can I be assured that Colonel O’Neill is back where he belongs, in his own body and alone this time?”
“Well, I know Jack is no longer in *my* head,” Daniel said. In a much quieter voice he added, “...thank God.”
“Still sitting here, Daniel!” Jack looked at his teammate, seeing only the back of a head as Daniel quickly turned away, the epitome of innocence written across his face.
“Sir, with the way we performed the reverse transfer, I believe Ardus’ consciousness escaped into the ship’s memory matrix,” Sam said after an uncomfortable silence.
Nodding, Janet added, “We monitored the colonel’s brain waves throughout the process. He was isolated from Daniel entirely. We initiated the transfer at that time and watched as his readings suddenly flattened. For a few moments, Colonel O’Neill’s brain showed no activity whatsoever. He was essentially brain dead.”
“I remember feeling...dead,” Jack quipped.
Daniel snorted. “How would you know the difference...?” Jack looked at Daniel again but this time he was concerned. Daniel’s obviously grumpy mood and snippiness gave him cause for alarm. After the briefing was over, they’d have to talk about what happened.
“That’s when we swapped the device’s electronic circuitry to block the colonel’s body from the ship’s systems and align him with Daniel,” Sam finished.
“And I just followed that yellow brick road out as fast as I could...” Jack said while watching for Daniel’s reaction from the corner of his eye.
“Not really, sir.”
“No. The transfer actually took a lot longer than we’d expected it to.”
“Hmmm. Guess Daniel should’ve had that power bar after all. I felt a bit...drained,” Jack continued. He noticed that Daniel grimaced at almost everything he said and he wondered what his problem was.
“Do you think that’s significant?”
“Well, I usually waste no time getting out of hostile territory...and with Daniel pushing...” Jack saw Daniel visibly tense up.
“Colonel O’Neill!” General Hammond’s tone of voice clearly meant that he’d had enough of Jack’s inappropriate comments.
“Sorry, sir,” Jack knew he was close to crossing a line but he’d hope to bring Daniel out of whatever funk he was in.
“No, sir. I don’t think the transfer rate was an issue. Colonel O’Neill claims that he didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary,” Janet glared at both Jack and Daniel as she answered the general’s question.
“Other than the whole ‘transferring’ thing...” Jack threw in one last wisecrack, even as he apologized for his conduct non-verbally by ducking his head and waving a hand curtly in front of him.
Jack started to utter an “Aw, sir” but, at General Hammond’s stern look, he shook his head and held his tongue. His expression alone indicated his displeasure at staying on base.
“You can each have a VIP suite,”
Daniel sat back down wearily. His head continued to hurt even after two days in the infirmary. Janet kept him supplied with painkillers but they weren’t very strong. He didn’t want to feel sedated to the point that he couldn’t keep working and, right now, work was the only thing preventing the memories of a dozen souls from haunting him. He rubbed at his temples, willing the pain to cease.
Recognizing that his friend was both physically and mentally fatigued, Jack gently rested his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “I’ll procure us the rooms and meet you in your office?” It was more of a question than a statement.
Daniel nodded, “Thanks, Jack.”
Jack continued to hover for a moment longer, worry regarding the archeologist’s health etching his features. He squeezed Daniel’s shoulder and glanced towards Carter and Teal’c. He saw his concern mirrored back from them.
In that brief, yet silent, exchange, Jack conveyed an order. He didn’t want them to leave Daniel alone. They acknowledged his unspoken request by remaining to chat with Daniel after Jack left the room.
When the door closed behind Jack, Teal’c broached the subject that they were all afraid to verbalize. “Do you believe he is indeed Colonel O’Neill?” Teal’c asked Daniel.
“Yeah, I don’t think Ardus would be antagonizing General Hammond so much. I’ll know for sure when I have a chance to talk with him one-on-one later.”
“You’ll know for sure? What makes you say that?” Sam questioned.
“Ah, well, um...let’s just say that sharing a consciousness with Jack has given me additional...insight.”
“Oh, I see,” she chuckled. “Was he a pain?”
“No...well, yes...but no. I didn’t mean it that way. He helped me hang on to my wits,” he stumbled nervously around the words, uncomfortable with admitting the truth. “It’s just that we kind of...well, let’s just say we know a bit more about each other...and ourselves...now...not all good actually. If Jack never made it back to his body, I’d be able to work it out eventually.”
“I don’t know exactly. I’m hoping he intentionally gives me a sign or something but...” his voice trailed off as he apprehensively contemplated what that sign might be.
“What if they both inhabit the one body?” Teal’c added as an afterthought.
Sam gasped quietly, “Oh.” She apparently hadn’t anticipated that potential outcome.
“Yeah, that one has me a little more concerned...” Daniel said vaguely, waving an arm through the air as he meandered towards the door. He left the room, never looking back to see Sam’s dumbfounded expression and Teal’c’s raised eyebrow, signaling that both of his teammates were appalled that he would even be considering that possibility.
“Ha! Checkmate!” Jack exclaimed.
“What? I can’t believe...” Daniel picked up his overturned king, examining the chess pieces and Jack’s last move. “Two in a row? That never happens.” Daniel said absently.
“It doesn’t?” Jack said with a twinkle in his eye.
“No, it doesn’t...” Daniel raised his head to meet Jack’s gaze.
“Wanna go three out of five?” Jack queried mischievously.
“I don’t think so...” Daniel continued to ponder his last moves, analyzing what went wrong. He picked up several pieces and placed them back where they were earlier in the game. After several moments, he spoke, “Hey, that last game you executed Epaulette’s Mate! And the game before that you checkmated with Mat du Guéridon!” Daniel added incredulously.
“I did?” Jack said innocently.
“You did. When did you learn to make moves like that? I don’t normally have to watch for those things when I play against *you*. Actually, I usually let my mind wander...”
“I know. That’s your flaw. Too many things in your head. Not concentrating on the game.”
“No, I don’t think that’s it...”
“Huh. So, what do you think it is?”
Daniel thought for a bit, shook his head, and then grinned knowingly. Suddenly, he stood up. “Wanna play gin?”
Jack looked up at him suspiciously. “But you’re not any good at gin...”
“I think this time I might just win...”
“Hmm,” Jack said, feigning innocence. “Now, why do you suppose that would be?”
Daniel moved to the desk and pulled out a deck of cards while Jack cleared the chess table.
“Oh, probably the same reason you beat me at chess...unfair advantage,” Daniel beamed as he returned with the cards.
“Ah,” Jack added. “So...I guess playing poker with you anymore is out.”
“Yeah, unless you have some money you’d like to throw away...” Daniel retorted as he shuffled the cards. He placed the stack on the table between them and waited for Jack to cut the deck.
Jack reached to divide the pile and paused as realization hit him. “Just what else did you pick up during our time together?” Jack asked cautiously.
“Um, nothing important,” Daniel said a little too quickly as he averted his head. “You?”
“Same here...” Jack countered. It was the truth, just not the whole truth.
“Right,” Daniel said, his mood changing suddenly. He glared at Jack for a long moment, afraid about what the other man had figured out while sequestered in his body. Afraid that Jack might have guessed his deepest fears. They did spend a lot of time ‘together’ after all. He couldn’t handle someone knowing so much about him, even if it was Jack. Looking embarrassed, he pushed away from the table and headed for the door, no longer interested in playing games. “I’m going for a walk.”
“Daniel. Look, we can’t continue to avoid this,” Jack stood up quickly and his chair’s legs scraped against the floor. “I know you have some issues with my approach...”
“Your approach, Jack?” Daniel chimed in, interrupting Jack. “Your ‘approach’ was to get yourself killed by jumping out of my head! That’s NOT an approach!” Daniel spat the words angrily.
“Oh, and your way was supposed to be better? You forced me down, took control intentionally trying to burn yourself out!” Jack raised his voice.
“I wasn’t going to make it much longer! I’d rather die than to be a mental case for the rest of my life! I can’t...”
“So, leaving me in YOUR body, knowing you were dead, was supposed to be better...how? Jesus, Daniel! I’d be living the rest of my life as you! Seeing you every day in the mirror, staring back at me...knowing I’d killed you!”
“You wouldn’t have killed me!”
“Like hell I wouldn’t! Me being stuck in your head would’ve meant your death. It wouldn’t have mattered whether I wanted to be there or not! You’d be dead, and I’d be living a nightmare!”
Content that Daniel wasn’t going to flee just yet, Jack tried to temper his emotions by pacing around his quarters.
“So, killing yourself would’ve been better for me?”
“Hell, yeah! That’s what should’ve happened anyway! I didn’t belong there...you did. Sure, you’d grieve my loss but at least you wouldn’t have to see your dead friend’s face every day as you shaved!”
“But you’d still be gone! You would’ve abandoned me, just like my parents, just like Share, Sarah...,” Daniel’s voice bordered on hysteria and Jack turned to face him, surprised by his distraught state. His tone suddenly changed, its pitch dropping low as he added, “...just like my mother staying behind on Talthus...it isn’t fair...everything goes away!”
Appalled at the transformation, Jack gaped as he watched his friend. Fear inched into his mind at the implications. The words Daniel spoke sounded very much like those of Keenan just hours earlier. Apparently, his brain still held the memories from trace imprints of his previous ‘passengers’.
Like a young, sensitive child chastised by his parents, Daniel fled to the back corner of his room and crouched down to the ground. He couldn’t stop the tears forming in his eyes and it made him angry. He felt like a little kid, lost and scared. Yet, even though he wished he could kick Jack out of his room and sleep away his pain, he knew he needed Jack to stay. He couldn’t be left alone again...not by anyone...and especially not by Jack. The fear and self-doubt he’d experienced when Jack had tried to leave his mind for his protection was still too raw.
As Jack watched the upset man, he battled his own issues. Daniel had willingly tried to sacrifice himself for Jack. He’d been angry at that knowledge while he cohabited within Daniel’s mind and, reflecting back to that time, he realized he had said some ugly things to his friend as they shared one body. He had ignored Daniel’s feelings, considering them trivial to the situation. He had clawed his way into controlling Daniel’s body in order to save his friend’s life. At that time, he was convinced that it was the right thing to do and that Daniel was being irrational.
Now, Jack wasn’t so sure.
Many factors had played into those events and Jack was just beginning to understand them. Daniel had lost his parents at a very young and impressionable age. He’d experienced many setbacks during his lifetime, with the deaths of his beloved wife and more than a few good friends. All of which translated into abandonment issues for Daniel.
Yet, it wasn’t enough that these memories haunted Daniel, the man now had to bear the sufferings of the more than a dozen other souls who had shared his mind, including young Keenan, compounding his misery.
Daniel had obviously been terrified that Jack would leave him too, either by walking away or in death, and Jack selfishly had decided that Daniel would have been better off without him in his body. Daniel’s feelings hadn’t matter to him then. All he could think about was his own emotional issues at having to face a life without Daniel.
Jack cursed softly as he recalled the many other times in his life where he had left Daniel. Of course, they weren’t all intentional. He’d remained behind on
Jack knew there had been many other instances too numerous to remember but none of them compared to his horrific order to destroy the Gadmeer’s ship with Daniel aboard. He’d despised his actions, but Daniel had intentionally placed himself in harm’s way, leaving him with no other choice. The command had torn him apart inside...
Damn. There was one of those seven deadly sins again...selfishness. He felt sorry for himself having to order his best friend’s death, but he’d never considered how Daniel felt having his commanding officer and friend decide the value of his life was too low to trust his abilities to find a peaceful solution and give him a few minutes longer to reach an agreement with Lotan. He hadn’t given Daniel much of a chance. No wonder he’d found the man’s mind filled with self-doubt and loathing.
Jack’s vision cleared as he returned from his reverie. He spotted a visibly shaking Daniel and realized that he was to blame for much of his friend’s emotional distress over the years.
“Daniel, it’s okay. Come sit down.” Jack started then paused, waiting for Daniel to make a move. After several long moments, Jack considered giving up and going to his own room. He didn’t think he could face this right now. They could continue their discussions tomorrow, he thought, as he turned towards the door.
The realization slapped him in the face. He was a selfish bastard and Daniel deserved better. Jack stopped briefly and then changed his course to move towards his friend. He placed his hands on Daniel’s shoulders, rubbing lightly, until finally, his friend’s trembling eased and he rose to follow Jack back to the table.
On the way, Daniel stumbled and Jack caught his arm. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Daniel spoke nonchalantly, as the color drained from his face. Jack released his arm but remained close until Daniel sat down.
“Still having headaches?”
“Little bit...you?” Daniel asked as he rubbed his eyes.
“Naw, I’m doing pretty well actually,” Jack went over to the dresser and returned with two small pills. He handed them to Daniel, relieved to have something to do. He so wanted to delay the inevitable discussion that he knew neither of them wanted to have.
“Just a sec...” Jack added as he went to the bathroom, returning shortly with a glass of water. “Here.”
“Thanks, Jack,” Daniel’s voice was muffled beneath his hands as they covered his face.
Jack sat across from Daniel at the table, looking from the hidden face of his friend to the deck of cards still waiting to be cut. He opened his mouth several times, intending to say something, but couldn’t quite find the right words to express himself. No surprise there.
Uneasy, Jack finally broke the silence, “You...uh, you want me to leave so you can rest? I mean...go back to my room?” Jack added, trying to diffuse any unintentional hidden meaning in his words.
“No. It’s okay. I’m feeling better.”
“Uh huh,” Jack grunted disbelievingly. He reached across the table to pull Daniel’s hand away from his face.
“I just need...I just need some time, you know?” Daniel looked up.
“Yeah, I know,” Jack agreed, still holding the cold, shaking hands in his own.
He caught Daniel’s eye for a long moment before continuing. “You know, I’ll be here when you want to...you know...talk...or something,” Jack stammered.
“Sure, yeah. Maybe later,” Daniel smiled hopefully.
“Count on it,” Jack responded, content to see the emotional and physical pain on the archeologist’s face lessen considerably.
Jack knew they both needed to heal and they’d do it together. Renting a room in Daniel’s head had given him a better understanding of the man and vice versa. They would mend their issues and become stronger as a result, but they would do it on their own terms and timing. That was definitely okay by him.
Daniel carefully extricated his hands from beneath Jack’s and picked up the cards between them. He fumbled with them for a bit, looking uncertain. Then, he looked up at Jack and smiled knowingly.
“So, you still feel like playing gin?” Jack said suspiciously.
“Nah. Let’s play poker,” Daniel replied, pushing the cards towards Jack. “Cut them,” Daniel added, sporting a shit-eating grin.
Jack cut the deck without taking his eyes off Daniel. Obviously, Daniel knew Jack’s weaknesses and intended to exploit them but Jack didn’t care. For them, this was therapy.
“Yeah. You betcha. Sure,” Jack said as he pushed the cards back for Daniel to deal.
Daniel stared at the man across the table.