Godless Provenance: Chapter 10
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings. Due credit given to SG1 episode 2.18 (Serpent's Song) and 3.12 (Jolinar's Memories) for a few great lines.O o O o O o O
Daniel was numb; bone-chilling, mind-achingly numb. His watch said that it was after midnight, but from his on-base quarters in the deepest part of the mountain, Daniel Jackson wouldn't have known night from day. It could have been high noon in the world above, and the deep, penetrating darkness in which he sat would not have been affected.
It had been nearly two months since their escape from Apophis' mothership. Daniel remembered none of it. One moment he had thrown himself at the Jaffa guard that was trying to take Buffy from their cell, and the next thing he knew he was waking up in the infirmary, with Dr. Janet Frasier's worried eyes staring down at him. Thinking back now, he was ashamed to admit that his first thought wasn't for his team, but instead for his own pain and discomfort from a head that felt ready to split in two. It was only when Sam crowded into his line of vision, her happiness at seeing him awake tempered by a grief that she was powerless to hide, that he not only remembered his team, but also realized that something was wrong. Something was horribly, dreadfully wrong, for Sam never
looked like that.
He had been right.
For those first few weeks Daniel's world had been narrowed by anger: anger with Sam and Teal'c for leaving Jack behind, anger with Jack himself for ordering them to leave in the first place, anger with the girl, Buffy, for slowing Jack down, anger with General Hammond for not sending them immediately back to rescue Jack, and then anger at the world that when a rescue mission was finally authorized, the gate address no longer worked. He was angry at everyone, but mostly he was angry with himself.
Jack had been there when Daniel had met Sha're, he had been the one to allow Daniel to stay behind on Abydos where his love had blossomed, and Jack had been the one to welcome him back when Daniel's world had fallen apart when Sha're had been taken. Jack was not the same man he had been three years ago - the hard-nosed colonel who had been one step away from complete self-destruction. He had changed from the man that had hovered on the roof ledge to the one who was pulling others back when the world became too much. Jack was his friend - his best
friend - and now Jack was gone.
Yes, Daniel was angry at the world, but with much patience from Teal'c, he realized that he was really the most angry with himself. He was angry at himself for becoming compromised by attacking the Jaffa guard. He was angry at himself for being knocked unconscious. He was angry at himself for making himself a dead weight - a dead weight that had hung about Sam and Teal'c's necks, slowing down the team and further isolating Jack. He was most angry, though, for not being able to say goodbye.
Two months had come and gone and hope had dwindled. The Tok'ra were unable to help - their spies couldn't tell them where Jack was, what was happening to their friend, or even if he was still alive. There was no one else to turn to, and it was with great reluctance that Jack had been officially listed as MIA. Tomorrow, though, Jack's status would be changed. Thanks to Apophis' surprise visit, and the chaotic events of the past few hours, tomorrow Daniel's best friend would be listed as KIA - and then not even hope could exist.
SG-2 had been sent off-world to meet with the Tok'ra - at least, they were pretty sure that it was the Tok'ra that they were supposed to be meeting.
They returned just a short while later with Apophis.
As Jack would have said, had he been there, another goa'uld had kicked Apophis' ass and Apophis had come to share his misery. His army had been conquered - defeated - and he had been taken captive by Sokar, one-time ruler of the System Lords, personal enemy of Apophis, and the original God of Death. Apophis had then been tortured and brutalized, only to slip free of Sokar long enough to dial out an S.O.S. in hopes of finding sanctuary with his enemies, the Tau'ri.
How did that saying go? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
Apophis had tried complimenting Sam, commanding Teal'c, and worst of all, bonding
with Daniel himself - insinuating a common love for Sha're because his queen, Amonet, possessed Daniel's wife's body. Apophis was dying - the torture having done irreparable damage to the symbiote, and his host's life failing without a sarcophagus to restore him. He bartered for his life - a new host for vital intel about the goa'uld, technology, weapons... information about Jack.
That was, of course, when the Tok'ra finally showed up with a warning that if they didn't return Apophis to wherever they had found him, Sokar would turn his wrath on Earth instead. They had been right. Sokar had come and the order had been given to cease all medical intervention on Apophis' behalf. They were to send his body through the stargate, to whatever fate awaited him, and in the end Daniel had stood by and watched as the golden light slowly faded from Apophis' eyes."Help me," Apophis begged, his voice a weak rasp that did little to break through the haze that had settled over Daniel's vision. This vile, pitiful creature had taken his wife from him, and yet he was the one person that could tell them Jack's fate. Deep down, he knew that Jack had most likely been killed many weeks, if not months ago, and yet some stubborn part of him refused to relinquish that hope. How many times had they already overcome certain death? How many times had they already been written off, only to return victoriously?It was a moot question, a moot point, for no matter what information Apophis still possessed, there was no way to retrieve that information from a creature that was moments away from death. The only way to save Apophis would be to provide him with a new host, and no matter how much Daniel loved and missed Jack, he knew that he could never sacrifice another in his place. Oh, it wasn't because he was afraid that he would never be able to live with himself. In the past few years Daniel had come to realize that he was capable of many horrible, despicable things that went against his very nature - anything if it meant saving the ones that he loved. No, he knew that this sacrifice could never take place because
Jack would never be able to live with himself. He would hate them for giving this sacrifice, and Daniel didn't think he could live with that."No," he stated, his voice firm and low as he met Apophis' glowing eyes."A host," Apophis pleaded, and Daniel wished he could find a cruel, vindictive smile somewhere as he slowly shook his head. But he couldn't find a smile, no matter how gratifying."No.""I am afraid," Apophis whispered, causing a swell of anger to course through Daniel's veins."Good," Daniel returned, and in that moment he watched as Apophis accepted his fate. All weakness, pleading, or fear slipped from his features like a painting that had been doused beneath a harsh wave. In its place, cold, cruel calculation caused Apophis' gaze to narrow as the goa'uld took obvious delight in delivering his final words."I killed O'Neill... many times... he is in hell."
They had been Apophis' final words, and with those words all hope that remained immediately withered and died. They had sent his body through the wormhole, most likely to be revived and tortured all over again, and Sokar had withdrawn his assault upon their stargate. The crisis was over, and yet there was no celebration, no sense of accomplishment.
Colonel Jack O'Neill was dead, Killed In Action, and soon there would be a memorial for the base's second-in-command. An empty grave would be dug, his ex-wife, Sara, would be notified, his belongings would be boxed, sorted, and sold, and his house would be put on the market.
And Jack was dead.
Tomorrow he, Sam, and Teal'c would start the process. They would go to Jack's house and begin boxing up his personal effects, and they would remember the man that had been their leader, their teammate, and their friend. They would celebrate a life lived and mourn a life lost.
But tonight... tonight was for Daniel. Tonight was for his grief, to sit alone in this dark room and remember the friend that had meant so much to him. Tonight was his night to say goodbye.O o O o O o O
Though a handful of minutes were most likely all that had come and gone, Jack felt like he had been eyeing Buffy's slumped form for hours. He had awakened to one mother of a headache some time ago, only to find that his metal-pod-of-death was cracked open and leaking in a sulfurous wave of heat and barely breathable air that left him alternately gasping for breath and hacking up his lungs. All in all, it wasn't the most pleasant of ways to wake up - and if his head wasn't hurting so much from where he had cracked it during his initial freefall, he was sure that he could come up with a time he had encountered worse.
And to think his team considered him a pessimist.
With no other options left available to him, Jack had finally squeezed out of his pod and taken his first steps on Netu - steps that had proven to Jack that Harry hadn't been exaggerating about the hell that they had been sentenced to, for this place certainly resembled that Catholic-induced fear of fire and brimstone. The planet's surface was a dark crust that was blanketed beneath deep mounds of loosely shifting ash that were stirred, lifted and eddied by a constant arid wind. Jagged spires that were a mottled red color of utter desolation dotted a horizon that was lit by sporadic bursts of lightning, the dry, static kind, with open streams of boiling lava cutting through the barren landscape. All around him great gaping maws belched toxic fumes, polluting the air he breathed and squeezing the water from his pores. The sky was a mottled blackish-gray, and a large, deadened planet loomed in the distance through the hazy gray atmosphere.
It was a scene that even Bosch himself would have had a hard time painting, and for a moment Jack could do nothing else but take in his surroundings in silence. His breathing was slow and shallow by necessity, and he felt a subtle weight pushing on his shoulders, as though trying to bear him into the ground. It could have been despair, the absence of all hope, or maybe just the atmosphere at work, but after a few moments of selfish wallowing, Jack did his best to suck it up, straighten his shoulders and start walking.
And walking some more.
And then there was more walking.
In the end, Jack didn't know how long he had walked, or in how many circles he had turned, either by necessity to circumvent a lava stream, or by pure misdirection, before he noticed that the pod that he had stumbled upon wasn't his own. His shirt was soaked with sweat - water that he was sure his body desperately needed - and his breathing sounded ragged, his throat burning from both the heat, the fumes, and the raw thirst that had occupied the good majority of his thoughts for the last few hours. Now, however, that thirst was forgotten in lieu of the petite blonde that was slumped against the wall of her pod prison.
With a puzzled frown, Jack scratched at the silver whiskers that dotted his chin as he contemplated the young woman who had once been his only ally. Did the rule about never leaving a man behind still count when aforementioned man was infested with the enemy? Or did that just mean that you left the man behind and hurried like hell to put some distance between you? Even though he had mocked Harry as nothing more than a blubbering sissy, the fact still remained that he was a goa'uld who was in possession of a body with enhanced speed, strength, and overall butt-kicking capabilities. Whenever he finally got over the whining-sissy-stage, Harry had every probability of beating Jack to within an inch of his life - or worse. And yet... Buffy was still in there, somewhere.
Sighing, Jack realized that standing around thinking about the matter was rather pointless. He couldn't leave Buffy behind, symbiote or not, anymore than he could have left Carter, Teal'c or Daniel. Somewhere in the course of their captivity, he had stopped seeing her as the civilian that had been thrust into their dangerous world, and as a comrade that was just as capable of rolling with the punches as he was - and that was a skill that he had only learned the hard way - through grief, loss, and plenty of adversity. From their time together, Jack knew that Buffy had learned the same way. No matter how young she appeared, she had stopped being the girl she was entitled to be and had grown into a capable woman that he would have been proud to have on his team.
Not that she would have been any better at following his orders than Daniel.
With a resigned slump of his shoulders, Jack stepped forward and manhandled her limp, unresponsive form into a fireman's carry. The position wouldn't be comfortable for either of them, and while he knew his back would be complaining within no time, there were simply no other options available. The air was toxic, the heat unrelenting, and unless he found them some sort of shelter that was at least partially more habitable, neither one of them would be around to complain.
With that relatively optimistic thought in mind, Jack put one dogged foot in front of the other and started walking. Again.
It was some time later when he felt his increasingly heavy burden begin to stir. By this point, thirst was no longer a time-consuming thought, but a desperate need, and Jack shifted Buffy's slight frame onto the ashy ground with a groan of relief. With a slight stagger, he all but fell beside her and stared up at the hazy planet that loomed in the distance. While Harry was an evil bastard by nature, Jack was almost looking forward to the snake finally waking up. Not only would that mean that the rat bastard could finally walk on his own and carry Buffy's own weight, but it also meant that Jack would be marginally less alone. Not that he minded solitude, but even he had to admit that the hiss of fuming vents and the crack of shifting rock in no way made up for the nearly suffocating silence that blanketed this world.
"Ooh, ow," his companion groaned.
Yet to the colonel's surprise, the muttered words had been grunted in Buffy's voice, and not the harsh modulated tones of the symbiote. It was a cruel trick, but a trick nonetheless and Jack refused to be baited - no matter how much it hurt to hear Buffy's voice again, even when it was used to complain. "And the bitching begins," he muttered crossly as Buffy's hazel eyes fluttered open before clenching shut.
"And speaking of bitchy," the goa'uld muttered, once more with Buffy's voice as its hand lifted to weakly probe at a ragged cut along the hairline, still gummy with congealed blood. "Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the pod this morning," it continued to goad, and Jack found his anger suddenly intensifying at the goa'uld's gall.
"Stop it," he snapped, sitting up quickly and glaring down at the figure that was slowly making its way from full sprawl to a pained slouch. The sharpness in his voice surprised them both, and Jack found his fury growing as he met Buffy's hazel eyes, a small furrow of confusion marring her brow. He was unable to look past her familiar features to the snake that he knew was wrapped around her spinal column, tapped into her brain. "Stop using her voice like that. Stop-"
"Yelling," it interrupted with a tired glare as it pinched the bridge of its nose - of Buffy's nose. "Some of us are not only suffering from the headache from hell, but also from what feels like the most undercooked batch of chicken strips known to man, and I swear to all that is holy that if you continue to vent your bitchiness on me I will
puke on your boots. Trust me when I say that symbiote-poison-induced vomit is never
For a moment in time, Jack sat frozen, his mouth hanging open in disbelief as hope warred with caution. She sounded like Buffy all the way from the pitch of her voice to her annoyed rant, and yet he had already played this game before. When Carter had been taken over by Jolinar, the snake hadn't hesitated in using Carter's own voice to beg for her commanding officer to set her free - and that had been a Tok'ra. If their allies
could be capable of such deceptions, there was no limit to what the goa'uld could do. "And why should I believe you?" he asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Instantly a familiar smirk caused Buffy's lips to lift in a sly grin. "Well, we can always have that conversation about how you know so much about She-Ra or Gem and the Hologram Girls," she offered sweetly, but Jack knew neither shame nor the embarrassment she had intended as he quickly pulled her close in a bone-crushing hug. In that moment, despite the toxins he inhaled with every breath, the immense heat, cloying thirst, pounding headache, and despair, defeat, and depression that had been so close to crushing him only moments before, Jack felt at peace. Completely and utterly at peace. Nothing else existed outside of the small blonde woman that was tucked safely in his arms, evidently free of the goa'uld that had initially defeated her. She was safe (if not for the moment), whole (at least relatively speaking), uninjured (at least by their standards), and best of all, she was still Buffy. For this single moment, nothing else mattered.
Well, almost nothing else.
"Speaking of which, how did She-Ra even get drug into any of this? Where do you come up with this stuff?" he asked as he loosened his hold just enough so that he could meet her bright hazel eyes where they blinked innocently at him.
"Hours and hours of cartoons as a kid," Buffy returned with a wry smile. "And it was either She-Ra or Rainbow Brite, but somehow I doubted that any name with 'Rainbow' in it would strike fear in the hearts of my enemies."
"And what, Buffy is any better?" Jack returned, relishing in their steady banter as the small slayer scowled playfully at his familiar quip. It was as if the last few days had never happened. Her eyes seemed no more shadowed than before, her shoulders just as burdened, and her remarks just as light. If anything, she seemed a little bit more like herself - a little stronger and a little more steady. Harry had healed the damage that had been done to her body before dying and polluting her blood stream all over again, and yet Buffy was stronger for that reprieve. In fact, the only real reminder could be found in her clothing, for gone was the shapeless brown rags that she had been wearing for so long, and in their place Buffy was still clothed in Harry's get-up: flowing burgundy pants that clung to Buffy's hips and pooled around her ankles - dirty now and ripped in places; a skin-tight vest that revealed Buffy's slim waist and toned arms - stained with her blood; and flat-soled shoes that were remarkable only in the fact that Buffy was finally wearing shoes again. The only thing she was missing was the cape, and that thought alone brought a smile to his face that only slipped at Buffy's grumbled response to his good-natured teasing.
"Well excuse me for trying to have a little bit of fun while being suppressed by Evil." Her words were obviously intended in the light vein that they had been talking, but they were a stark reminder that everything wasn't
the same. He couldn't pretend that none of it had happened because Buffy had
been overcome by a goa'uld. She had become a prisoner in her own body, had no doubt borne witness to Harry's disturbed thoughts and dark past, and had undergone horrific and brutal torture at Sokar's hands. It had all happened to Buffy, and that thought was enough to sober Jack of any and all light-hearted thoughts - a fact that was evidently quite obvious as Buffy gently covered his hand with her own and squeezed it lightly. "Besides, I think I'd look pretty damn hot in that leotard and mini-skirt that She-Ra had going on."
"Definitely better than the original," Jack agreed with a weak smile before averting his eyes, giving her what little privacy he could afford for the conversation that was now unavoidable. He wished that he could follow through with Buffy's unspoken request to keep things light, but he had learned long ago that avoiding a subject didn't necessarily make it go away - no matter how much they both wished that it would. "What happened?"
Silence followed his question, and yet Jack knew how to be patient when it was needed. Over the course of their exchange they had both shifted until they had found positions that didn't aggravate their various bruises, and yet allowed them to maintain the smallest of physical contact. They were now seated side by side, hips brushing against each other, with Buffy's legs curled beneath her and his spread out before him. He didn't look at her, allowing her to find her measure as he instead looked past the horrific landscape and to the hazy planet that hung above them. In time, he felt Buffy's shoulders brush against him in a slow shrug.
"At first I just needed time to regain my strength," she admitted, her voice quiet - thoughtful. "After... after everything I just couldn't fight him, too. And after that, well, it just didn't seem like the most opportune time to retake the reigns." Here a pause, as though she was uncertain how to continue, or if she even wanted to, but if there was one thing that Jack had learned about Buffy during their captivity, it was that she hated silence more than anything. Often she would talk just to fill the silence, and she didn't disappoint now. "It was weird, really. Weird in a bad kind of way. I kept quiet and hidden and concentrated on keeping him out of my head - my thoughts, my memories. I would just let a few things slip every now and again."
"You made Harry think I was important enough to keep alive," Jack prodded when the silence began to stretch.
His words surprised her, and when he felt her turn he matched Buffy's movement until he met her puzzled gaze. "You are," she returned, simple as that, and with a small smile she turned away and Jack knew that at least for the moment, the matter was closed.
Ceding to her wish, Jack returned his gaze to the bleak landscape and indicated it with a jerk of his head. "Harry didn't seem too happy about being sent here," he noted, watching as Buffy seemed to take notice of their surroundings for the first time. Surprisingly, she didn't seem too fascinated by the hellish vista.
"That's because he wasn't," she stated, and Jack responded to the strange note in her voice by dropping his arm over her shoulder and drawing her closer against him. Sure, it was hot as hell on Netu, literally, but some things just transcended personal comfort. "We're on a moon that's in Sokar's backyard, orbiting his home planet," she explained as she indicated the deadened world that hung ominously in the stormy sky. "A looong time ago some of his scientists turned this place into the hell you see today. And when I say hell, I mean that literally."
"As in a place of eternal suffering and damnation from which there's no return," Buffy deadpanned as her head tilted until it was propped against his shoulder. "Netu was once an industrialized colony of the planet it's orbiting. When Sokar conquered the planet, he changed the moon's atmosphere."
"Changed as in..."
"He filled it with barely breathable toxins-"
"Noticed that," Jack interrupted, all the while trying to ignore the uncomfortable tickling that his throat developed just at the thought of everything he really didn't want to be breathing.
"-and then blasted holes in the surface, releasing the molten core-"
explain the balmy climate," Jack continued as Buffy shrugged in agreement.
"The only way on this rock is by the pods we came in on - something about the atmosphere that makes it unfriendly towards ships. Oh - and there's no way out," she finished with a breathy sigh - as though they were having another discussion about the Simpsons and not their eternal damnation. Although, that did beg the question...
"So how was Sokar planning on springing us when our two hundred year sentence is up?" Jack asked before pausing to admire how only his strange life could prompt such a question. Yet Buffy didn't seem to have an answer to that one, so Jack turned instead to the next in a list of blindingly stupid observations. "You seem to know a lot about this place."
"Ass-Hat did. He was one of the guys who helped build it."
"Oh," Jack returned, a small smile lifting his lips at Harry's new nickname before he shrugged his broad shoulders and moved onto the next item on his list. "So now what?" he asked, a question that felt at once strange and familiar all at the same time. He had been leading his team for two years now, and various other missions for much longer. That meant that it had been quite some time since he had asked another for direction - at least so directly. With his team, there were many times when their expertise meant they knew the best avenue to take much better than he did, and yet because he was in charge, somehow he always found the best way of asking that question without seeming quite so... clueless. Yet for all of his survival skills, this situation was well and truly beyond his range of knowledge, and a good leader always knew when to stop and ask for directions - no matter what Carter said to the contrary.
"Well, we should probably head below ground. We can find just about the only inhabitable area down there," Buffy sighed as she slowly shrugged out from under Jack's arm and made a passable attempt at regaining her feet. Instantly Jack scrambled up in a move that made him look far more spry than he was feeling, before he bent down and pulled the small slayer up, steadying her against his side as she gratefully leaned against him.
"You know, that's kind of creepy," he commented as she pointed them in a new direction.
"What is?" Buffy returned, her voice sounding suspiciously sleepy.
"The sudden Know-Everything," Jack filled in as he wondered how long she'd be able to hold out before sleep claimed her once again. Yes, she was looking worlds stronger than before Harry had taken over, but it was evident that she still wasn't back up to her side of normal yet. How could she be? A snake just died in her head and sent all sorts of nasty toxins into her bloodstream.
"Yeah, you should have tried living it," Buffy returned, breaking into Jack's thoughts and instantly causing him to tighten his hold around her waist.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, kicking himself for his tactlessness. After months of captivity, it shouldn't have been any surprise that his manners and common sense were slipping a bit. Still, back in the day a thoughtless comment like that would have earned him a slap upside the head from good old Nana. "I didn't mean-"
"Hey, it's no big," Buffy interrupted with a sloppy shrug of her shoulders. "While it was kind of rough letting Ass-Hat take the reigns, even I could see that our chances of survival were that much higher with him running the show. At least then we had some
kind of value to Sokar."
"And now?" Jack couldn't help but ask.
With a sigh, Buffy stopped and nodded her head in the direction of dark, gaping maw that cut into the dark landscape before them. "For now, I recommend we keep Ass-Hat's untimely death to ourselves."
"Huh. I can live with that," Jack agreed before tightening his hold on Buffy's slender waist and guiding them down into darkness.