A Better Man


P3A-575 looked as Earth-like to the three Tau’ri when the four members of SG-1 exited the wormhole and got their bearings as Chulak had. They stood on top of a high stone platform, a long series of wide steps leading to the short grass of the small clearing where the Stargate rested, the DHD just to the left of the base of the stairs. Sam and Daniel immediately headed toward the device, the archaeologist clearing the gate travel-induced frost from his glasses as he went while Jack and Teal’c followed more slowly, their eyes warily watching for potentially hostile natives.

“Oh, wow, look at that,” Daniel breathed with excitement after he’d jotted down the unique symbol that would help get his team home, pointing toward a roughly-hewn hollow in the side of the staircase that was almost overflowing with a variety of foodstuffs.

“What is it?” Sam asked as Daniel hurried over to take a closer look.

“Probably something you shouldn’t touch,” Jack said, leaving Teal’c to watch over them all as he moved to find out what had caught Daniel’s attention.

Daniel shot the older man a smile and came to a halt just before the crude opening. “Actually you’re right, Jack. This looks like a place of religious significance, the crops some kind of sacrifice. If we were to touch them we could be defiling the offerings to the gods. We’ll never get along with the natives if we do that.”

Jack nodded slowly. “And this is exciting to you why?”

“Well, obviously this receptacle for the offerings was created long after the staircase for the platform. You can tell by the evidence of much cruder tools being used that...”

“Daniel,” Jack interrupted, “does this tell us anything about the people we can expect to meet? Any signs of the local language, stuff like that?” He looked at the civilian expectantly.

Daniel blinked. “Um, no, no, I don’t see any writings. I’m not sure whoever created this... altar, I guess you could call it... had fine enough tools to do such potentially delicate work.” He turned back to the hollow. “The chisel marks are wide and shallow...”

“I think the stone is too dense for more primitive tools to make much of an impact,” Sam commented, critically eying up the rock as she joined her fellow scientist.

“Hey, Teal’c,” Jack called, shaking his head and turning away from the absorbed duo. “You ever been here before, see anything familiar?”

“I have not.” Teal’c’s eyes never left the thick growth of trees that surrounded the clearing.

“If I were to reach in I could just reach the back of the hollow,” Daniel mused, causing Jack to spin his head back around to face him. Fortunately for the younger man, his arms were at his sides as he leaned forward slightly to peer into the hole, cutting off Jack’s reprimand at the source.

Sam nodded her agreement, also looking closely at the hollow. “That would suggest an average human arm span, wouldn’t it?”

Daniel shot her a brief smile of confirmation. But before he could say anything, Teal’c cried out a warning. “From the trees!”

The three Tau’ri straightened and quickly turned to face the threat just in time to begin dodging a barrage of fist-sized rocks. Jack pushed Sam and Daniel toward the DHD while he and Teal’c dove for the side of the stairway away from the attack, a second volley immediately following the first. “Daniel!” the colonel yelled as a third wave ended. “You don’t think we’re dealing with some kind of primitive tribe of cavemen, do you?”

Daniel turned from looking out at the trees in preparation for another attack and came face to face with the point of a gleaming, wicked-looking spear. His blue eyes traveled up the shaft to the angry man holding it and the mob behind him that poured out from behind the Stargate and its tall platform. He jumped as a tiny bolt of electricity crackled around the edge of the metal blade. “Uh, no, Jack. I’d have to say these people are anything but primitive.”

By that time the four-person team had been completely surrounded, the natives having used the missile attacks as cover for their ambush. The man who held Daniel at spear point barked out some kind of order in a language other than English, and while the linguist wasn’t completely sure he recognized the words, he was relatively sure what the gist of the message was. He and Sam rose slowly to their feet after sharing a worried look, their hands held away from their bodies as a pair of men came forward and stripped them of everything but their clothing, including their vests and helmets. A quick look showed Jack and Teal’c in the same predicament on the other side of the stairs.

The men that surrounded them didn’t have the appearance of soldiers, although they seemed more than competent with their weapons. “What do you think, Captain-Doctor?” Daniel whispered to his right, his eyes never leaving the spear that had yet to waver from his chest. “Is this some kind of army?”

“No,” Sam whispered back. “While showing a good grasp of strategy, they aren’t disciplined enough to be regular soldiers. Look at the men furthest from us, how they’re laughing and talking amongst themselves, how half of them aren’t even paying attention to us. My guess is that they’re part of some kind of local militia.”

“Maybe to protect whatever settlement is closest from anything that comes through the Stargate,” Daniel added.

“That makes sense.”

The exchange was cut off by another sharp command from their captors and a slight poke to Daniel’s chest with a spear. The archaeologist gave a quick yelp of pain as he received a jolt from the weapon. “Daniel!” Jack exclaimed at the sound. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Daniel called back, rubbing his chest as he glared at the man who’d poked him. “I was surprised more than hurt. Watch out for those spears; there’s a current running through them.”

“I got that,” Jack replied wryly. “Do you understand what they’re saying?”

Daniel listened for a long moment to the random conversations going on around them, his guard poised to shock him again at the slightest provocation. “I think it’s a variation of ancient Greek. It’s going to take me a little while to work out the differences and start a dialogue.”

“Why don’t you just try and make adjustments as you go?” Jack called back, distracted irritation in his tone suggesting his guard was about as happy as Daniel’s was.

“Considering the sharp pieces of metal on the ends of long pieces of wood that are pointed at us, I don’t exactly have a lot of room for error, Jack. They’re obviously not just going to kill us outright. Give me some time. I’ll get it soon.”

“Take what time you need, Daniel,” Sam said softly. “We’ll make it until then.”

With gestures and harsh tones, the natives started herding the members of SG-1 away from the Stargate. As they reached the tree line, a pack of children by all appearances between ten and thirteen dashed out and began to collect the stones that had been thrown. “What were those children doing so close to the fighting?” Sam asked, gazing over her shoulder at the proceedings in shock.

“Wasn’t much of a fight, Captain, now was it?” Jack replied. Menacing growls put an end to the conversation.

Five minutes later, the mob plus four entered a decent-sized town, its streets deserted and eerily silent. A triumphant call from the man leading the pack once they’d reached the center square remedied that. Soon, a massive sea of humanity made up of women, children, and the elderly came pouring out of the buildings, morbid curiosity tainted with a healthy dose of fear bringing them out to see the captured invaders.

The leader of the militia proved to be quite influential, as the crowd hushed quickly when he raised his arms and spoke briefly before turning to the foursome from Earth who had been lined up in front of the square’s central fountain. The tall, rugged man stepped purposefully over to Jack whom he equaled in height, looked him in the eye, and said something that sounded like a question. “Look, I didn’t understand a thing you just said,” Jack replied when it became apparent the other man was waiting for a response. “So how about you just let my team go and we’ll just leave. Sound fair?”

The man frowned and ran a callused hand through his shaggy dirty blond hair. He said something else. Jack just stared back, his posture tense as he waited for his opponent’s patience to end. And it didn’t take long. After only a minute or so, the leader cocked back his arm angrily, obviously intending to land a punch somewhere on Jack’s person. Jack was just as obviously not going to just stand there and take it.

Daniel watched the proceedings with growing horror from the other end of the line. If this was allowed to continue, there was no way SG-1 was going to successfully deal with these people who were obviously willing to fight against the Goa’uld or any other hostile force that came through the gate, much less make it back to the gate themselves. He thought he had a handle on the language, but wasn’t entirely confident - which explained why he hadn’t said anything up to that point. But now it was evident a verbal faux pas couldn’t possibly be as devastating as what was about to happen. “No, stop!” Daniel cried in the new language as he jumped in front of the Air Force colonel and braced for impact.

The blow never came. When Daniel finally cracked open his eyes, he saw his teammates struggling with the militia members that had grabbed them in reaction to the sudden move and the leader slowly lowering his hand as he gazed at the linguist in shock. “You understand my speech?” he asked as the slightly shorter man straightened to his full height.

“Yes,” Daniel said simply as he pulled an aura of confidence around himself. This man came across as someone who respected strength and leadership - thus why he chose Jack to speak with - and would have to be dealt with as an equal. Placating would get him nowhere.

“Why then did you not speak earlier? My men asked important questions, and you ignored them.” Indignation flashed through the dark hazel eyes staring at him.

Daniel considered his answer, aware of the hopeful gazes of his teammates behind him. “I was unsure of your speech at that time. It is similar to one I learned in my younger days, but not exact. I needed to hear more to insure you would understand me when I chose to speak.”

The leader slowly nodded. “Such caution is wise. However, you and your companions came through the Great Ring. Only evil has been known to travel through it.”

The brown-haired man locked eyes with the blond before him. “We are not evil. We are peaceful travelers, explorers who seek knowledge and allies against the evil you speak of.”

“Lies are easily crafted, traveler. It is a simple thing to say one is not evil.”

“True. However, I speak the truth.” Daniel paused a moment. “My name is Daniel Jackson.”

“And I am Prespos Talyn, leader of these people. Do not think giving me your name makes it easier to trust you. All that you speak may be lies.”

Daniel sighed and wondered just what it would take to get through to these people - and if he and his team had the time to figure it out. “If you do not wish to negotiate with us, to discuss things peacefully, we will leave.”

He was cut off by a derisive bark of laughter. “You will do only what I permit you, Daniel Jackson.” Prespos gestured to the crowd that surrounded them, the majority of them getting more and more restless as time went on. “We do not suffer evil gladly.”

“I told you, we are not evil,” Daniel insisted forcefully, resisting the urge to stomp his foot by sheer willpower alone. Why wouldn’t this man at least consider the possibility that he was telling the truth?

“And I told you your words are lies!” Prespos shouted into Daniel’s face in reply. The linguist managed not to flinch.

“Uh, Daniel? What’s going on?” Jack asked from behind the tense archaeologist.

Daniel took a deep breath to remain calm before answering. “It seems these people believe that only evil comes through the Stargate. And because we came through the Stargate...”

“They think we’re evil,” Sam finished with a grimace.

“Exactly.” Daniel never looked away from the man standing in front of him.

Jack cleared his throat slightly. “So what have you two been talking about?”

Daniel frowned. “I’ve been trying to explain that we’re peaceful explorers, that we’re looking for allies against the evil that comes through the Stargate. They call it the Great Ring, by the way. I even told him we’d leave if he didn’t want to discuss it.”

“I take it the big man doesn’t believe you.”

“No, he doesn’t. He insists that everything I’m saying is a lie.”

“What of allowing us to depart?” Teal’c asked.

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest. “Apparently that’s not an option. But I’ll keep trying.”

Prespos’ eyes narrowed. “What plot are you constructing? What evilness do you think to bring upon our people?”

The brown-haired man released an explosive breath and threw his arms wide. “Nothing! There is no plot against you! My teammates merely wished to understand what was being said!”

“You will remember who is in control, Daniel Jackson,” Prespos said darkly.

“I doubt you will let me forget,” Daniel retorted lowly.

Without another word or warning, Prespos’ right arm snapped out and the town leader backhanded Daniel across the face, knocking him to the ground. The linguist barely managed to keep his glasses on his face as he glared up at the man who struck him. “Guys, stop,” he said firmly as the rest of his teammates struggled against their captors at the sudden assault. “This is a power struggle. He’s trying to make me acknowledge his superiority.” He began to get back to his feet.

The three other members of SG-1 stared at him with various levels of incredulity. “Is it all that smart not to?” Sam asked with one last tug against the firm hold she was in.

“I’ve seen this type of power structure before. He’ll only give us a chance to prove the truth of what I’ve said if he sees us as equals. And if I back down now he’ll never do that.”

“Well...” Jack said slowly, ceasing his own struggles, “why don’t you let me deal with him? You’re not the only one who’s seen crap like this before.”

Daniel shot him a brief, somewhat-confused look. “Jack, you don’t understand the language.”

Jack shrugged. “So you translate as we go.”

With a snarl of rage, Prespos backhanded Daniel to the ground once again. “Stop your plotting! You are dealing with me!”

Daniel eyed Prespos warily as he put his glasses back on and once again got to his feet. “That’s no longer an option, Jack,” he muttered. “There are no deals taking place here,” he said at a normal volume, switching to the ancient Greek variant these people used. “You are insisting I am lying to you and trying to prove to my teammates how important you are by having your way with me.”

This time it was the left fist that flashed out in a backhand that sent Daniel stumbling to the ground just past where Sam stood looking on, horrified. “If you object so much to my having my way with you, perhaps I should have my way with someone else.”

Daniel grabbed his glasses and looked up in time to see Prespos stepping toward Sam with a lecherous expression on his face. The Air Force captain was glaring daggers at the town leader, but the men who held her merely tightened their grip as they laughed at her predicament. More men moved forward to help with Jack and Teal’c, who had renewed their struggles in the face of this new threat. “Don’t you dare touch her!” Jack shouted, only the fact that there were four men holding him back keeping him from entering the fray. There were seven on the growling Jaffa.

“Leave her alone,” Daniel said menacingly as he grabbed the wrist that had extended to caress Sam’s left breast and placed his body between Prespos and his friend. He even surprised himself with the speed in which he’d done it.

“So she is yours?” Prespos asked tauntingly before planting his left fist in the Tau’ri’s stomach and tossing him aside once the grip on his right wrist loosened. “You do not appear strong enough to keep her.” He moved to tower over the groaning linguist. “You should stay there and remember your place.”

Daniel rolled with the kick Prespos tried to embed in his chest and used the momentum to push himself to his knees. “My place is not at your feet; it is at my teammates’ side,” he insisted as he managed to get his feet beneath him and rise to a standing position.

“Why do you insist on defying me?” Prespos roared, charging the battered anthropologist and connecting with a solid right hook. The blow sent Daniel flying back just past the left of Jack and the foursome guarding him, ending in the back of the brown-haired man’s head slamming against the stone fountain.

“Daniel!” Sam and Jack cried in unison, their struggles rising a notch in intensity while Teal’c required another two people to hold him back. “Damn it, Daniel, say something!” Jack added.

A groan preceded a load expulsion of air from the ground near Jack’s feet. “I act the way I do not so much as to defy you as to assert my lack of inferiority,” Daniel said to Prespos shakily, his body matching his voice as he got to his feet one more time.

Jack stared at the linguist incredulously. “How exactly do you manage immediately speaking some ancient version of gibberish after cracking your skull like that?”

Daniel’s gaze never wavered from that of Prespos Talyn. “I swear to you I have spoken the truth, and I will not bow to you as your inferior. Please, allow me to prove my veracity. Put to me any test you can devise. You will see for yourself.” His shaking became more pronounced as the injured man pushed himself to his limits.

There was a long pause as the leader of the natives considered it. “You have shown much courage, Daniel Jackson. I will speak to the elders on your behalf. There may be a way to do as you request.” He looked to the men holding the other three members of SG-1 as Daniel’s shoulders sagged slightly in relief. “Until the elders have made their decision, take them to the lower depths of the hall and confine them there. Provide them a light source and sustenance.”

“Thank you, Prespos Talyn,” Daniel said softly, then gave in to the darkness that beckoned at the edges of his vision. The last thing he heard as he fell into unconsciousness was the sound of his name as Sam, Jack, and Teal’c cried out at his collapse.

* * * * * * * *

If this was what was going to regularly define “standard recon”, Jack O’Neill was going to put in a request to have the name changed. Maybe something like “standard screw-up” or “standard road of good intentions” - since everyone knew where that led - would be more accurate. The colonel sat with the rest of SG-1 in the small but deep root cellar of the large building he and the others had been brought to by all appearances on the orders of the guy Daniel had faced off against. He couldn’t be sure exactly what was said between them, but it apparently was enough to keep them all alive just a little while longer.

Thoughts of his team’s linguist made Jack roll his head along the hard-packed dirt wall he sat with his back against and lay his gaze on the younger man. Carter had stretched him out on the floor next to the north wall across from the door he’d been tossed through like a rag doll, barely managing to catch a small bundle of ragged cloths that had followed her graceless entrance after her unconscious teammate. Jack had a cloth-covered package shoved into his stomach before he was roughly forced in after the blonde captain, and Teal’c had been next, a glowing sphere slapped into an open palm before a barricade of flesh limited the Jaffa’s options to trailing into the cellar after the other prisoners. All three standing soldiers heard the heavy barrier slide into place after the door had been shut behind them.

Jack’s package had turned out to be bread, cheese, and a large leather bladder of water, decent nourishment they all shared when Daniel woke up for a brief time shortly after Teal’c had placed the globe of light in a niche in the wall and Sam had finished doing what she could with the rags she’d been given and the wound she’d found at the back of his head. Daniel managed to get a bit of food down and fill them in on the basics of the situation before passing out once again. Jack had offered his jacket as a pillow and moved over to the west wall close to the corner. Teal’c sat silently near him against the south wall, the fact that the door opened in toward the two warriors giving them the only advantage Jack could see if things turned ugly.

Daniel had done well, Jack had to admit. And the fact that he had continued to press his suit when all he must have wanted to do was pass out made Daniel’s actions all the more impressive. Jack wasn’t really all that surprised, not after what had happened on Abydos the year before and Chulak more recently, but it was good to know this was going to be something he could count on. He just wished that tenacity wouldn’t always come with these hours of worry about the archaeologist’s health. First he goes and dies, then gets flung against a stone wall, and now punched into a stone fountain...

Just then the sound of rustling caught Jack’s attention as Daniel began to get restless, his head turning from side to side. A frown marred his previously peaceful features, and he started to mutter under his breath. Jack was about to call out to Carter, who had dozed off while sitting in the corner nearest Daniel’s face, when the younger man gasped sharply. “Sha’re!” Daniel cried. “Oh, God, no... Sha’re!” Sam sat bolt upright at the nightmare-induced exclamation and immediately leaned forward to use a soft voice in her fellow scientist’s ear and a gentle touch to his shoulder and hair to calm Daniel before he awoke.

It made Jack happy to see the technique worked. The last thing Daniel needed was traumatic memories thrust to the forefront of his thoughts while he was dealing with a head injury. “That was a close one,” he muttered.

“May I make an inquiry of you, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked quietly, his eyes riveted to the scene before him.

“Sure, go ahead,” Jack replied, a bit startled. The Jaffa had been very quiet up to that point. “What do you need?”

“What is the significance of this woman Sha’re to Daniel Jackson?”

Jack’s eyes widened and the last of Sam’s soothing words cut off abruptly as she drew her hand back from Daniel and sat bolt upright. “No one told you?” Jack asked.

Teal’c raised an eyebrow. “I had not asked previously.”

The two Air Force officers shared a look before Jack continued. “Sha’re is Daniel’s wife, Teal’c. She’s why Daniel worked so hard to be part of SG-1.”

The big man’s jaw clenched. “And what of the boy you inquired after on Chulak? What is he to you?”

“Skaara? I met him on the first mission to Abydos. He really made an impression on me; it’s why I gave him my lighter. He reminded me of...” Jack cleared his throat. “Let’s just say he made me think of someone special. He’s Sha’re’s brother, actually. Daniel’s brother-in-law.”

The lids lowered over suddenly stricken dark brown eyes. “Then I have caused a terrible injustice for both you and Daniel Jackson, O’Neill.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about, Teal’c?” he asked warily.

“I am the cause of the situation that both the wife and brother of Daniel Jackson are in.” Teal’c opened his eyes. “It was I who brought the boy Skaara to the attention of Apophis on Abydos after the people there had been subdued.” Jack’s face shifted to an emotionless mask even as more feeling leaked into the Jaffa’s tone. “His weapon had malfunctioned as I approached, and he went so far as to attempt to strike me with it before I restrained him. I knew the people of that planet were not advanced enough to have created such a device, and I had seen such a weapon when we had come to Earth, but he would not respond to my demand to know where he had acquired it from. Just then Apophis joined me to inquire about my captive. I presented him, and Apophis used his hand device to render him unconscious, stating that the boy was a perfect specimen.”

“I see,” Jack said flatly. “So what about Sha’re?”

“While I was not the one to take her from Abydos, it was I who selected her from the women gathered as possible hosts for Apophis’ queen. I then presented her to be considered by Amaunet.” Teal’c held his head a little higher as he sealed the small cracks in his stoic reserve that had appeared with his admission. “I will of course inform Daniel Jackson of this at the next earliest opportunity.”

There was a long moment of silence as Teal’c stared unflinchingly at Jack, and Jack returned the look. Sam’s gaze darted between the two men, aware of the tension there and unsure of what the long term effects of this new information would be. And she just knew things would get worse when Daniel was added to the mix.

“You bastard.”

The whispering voice was the last one expected to break the silence. The three of them turned their heads to find Daniel awake and glaring daggers at Teal’c, his entire expression one of utter loathing. “Daniel, this isn’t the best time...” Jack started before being cut off like he’d never spoken.

“How could you? How could you take such a beautiful, loving, and passionate woman and give her to those evil, body-stealing parasites? The very beings that stole her people and their freedom... How could you take her from me? I love her so very much, and one negligent decision from you trapped her in a living hell!” His bright blue eyes, unhampered by the glasses that currently rested in a pocket of Sam’s jacket, blazed with fury. His fists were clenched tightly at his sides, and his whole body had begun to shake.

“Daniel, there’s no way Teal’c could have known Sha’re was your wife,” Sam said quickly, seeing things were turning out even worse than she had imagined. “He didn’t even know you when it happened.”

“And that’s supposed to excuse him?” Daniel snarled back, his eyes never leaving the rigid Jaffa. “I won’t do this.” The injured man finally let his eyes close. “I can’t do this. Just... leave me alone.” With those last softly spoken words, Daniel rolled onto his side facing the dirt wall, and everyone sensed the emotional barrier he constructed around himself with the motion.

Teal’c blinked a few times before turning his head to face Jack. “Do you believe as Daniel Jackson does, O’Neill?” he asked quietly.

Brown met brown as Jack considered it. “Not quite, Teal’c. I have to admit you shocked me with your little bombshell - unexpected news,” he explained when he saw the flash of muted confusion in the Jaffa’s eyes. “But Carter had a point. You didn’t know us. And you’re not the one who specifically put the snake in either of their heads.” Jack took a deep breath and released it. “More importantly, you were under orders. I know what it’s like to be forced into doing things you may or may not agree with because your higher-ups want them done. I don’t know what I’d be saying if I were in Daniel’s shoes right now, but from where I’m sitting we’re still okay.”

“Um, Teal’c,” Sam began a bit hesitantly, “you told us that Apophis killed the woman you took from Earth. Did that have anything to do with what happened to Sha’re?”

Teal’c gave a short bow of his head. “I had presented the Tau’ri woman prior to the wife of Daniel Jackson, but Amaunet rejected her. Apophis then killed her. As it was in the cell with you, all those not chosen were to be put to death.”

“So they were all screwed one way or the other,” Jack mused, frowning.

That thought along with Teal’c’s revelation and Daniel’s reaction to it led to a long period of silent contemplation for the members of SG-1. It was finally broken some time later when they heard the sound of the barrier trapping them inside being shifted. “Carter, Daniel,” Jack whispered urgently, suddenly completely alert and jumping to his feet. Teal’c smoothly followed suit.

“Daniel’s unconscious, sir,” Sam replied, also standing. “His injuries might be worse than I originally thought.”

“Crap, that’s the last thing I needed to hear. How are we supposed to communicate with these people?” Jack’s mini-tirade was cut short by the opening of the door and the entrance of a quartet of militia members, Prespos Talyn at the forefront. “How ya doing, fellas?” Jack asked flippantly. “You’ll have to excuse Daniel; you were a bit too rough on him last time.”

Prespos ignored SG-1's team leader and took another step forward before getting blocked by Teal’c stepping in front of him. “You will not harm Daniel Jackson again,” the Jaffa declared somewhat ominously.

“While I agree with the sentiment, Teal’c, that may not be the wisest move right now,” Jack said in response to the annoyed expression the town leader now wore.

“Daniel Jackson must be given the opportunity for retribution, O’Neill. I have taken his wife and brother. My life is his in return. No matter his choice, I will not allow him to come to harm.”

“Oh, for crying out loud...”

An order barked out in the native’s language brought the conversation to a halt, the meaning clear although the words were not. Teal’c’s eyes narrowed briefly before speaking to Prespos in Goa’uld. The natives, both inside the room and just outside the door, gasped in shock at the sound.

“What did you just say?” Sam asked, her eyes wide at the reaction.

“I told them I would take the place of Daniel Jackson, nothing more.”

“It better not have been more,” Jack grumbled.

Another order was barked out, this one much more viciously, and the next thing Jack, Sam, or Teal’c knew they were being forcefully dragged from the cellar and toward the center of town amidst a flurry of words they had no hope of understanding. While the two officers were treated with a modicum of respect, the guards around Teal’c were taking a perverse delight in causing the Jaffa pain. Random blows struck the large man anywhere from his shoulders to his knees, and Teal’c did nothing to stop them. He merely continued on stoically, barely even flinching although it was more than apparent that these were not glancing blows.

Eventually they reached the center square, where the entirety of the population had gathered for the spectacle in the light of the setting sun. Jack and Sam were held securely next to the platform that had been constructed while Teal’c was led onto it, and Prespos Talyn spoke to the crowd, gesturing frequently to the Jaffa behind him. The speech culminated in a loud shout and gesture toward the back of the townsfolk, who parted to allow a group of men bearing some kind of metal contraption to make their way to the stage. A chant began as Teal’c was then strapped to it, the volume low at first, but slowly growing as the minutes ticked by.

“I have a bad feeling about this, sir,” Sam said, her eyes never leaving her bound teammate.

“You, too?” Jack quipped, his dark, serious expression belying the flippant tone. “God, I wish I knew what they did with Daniel.”

“We could really use his help right now. Maybe he could talk to these people and make them see reason.”

Jack looked at her in disbelief. “Carter, right now I’m not so sure Daniel wouldn’t help these people do a little damage. Teal’c just admitted that he was responsible for what happened to Sha’re. I think we both know how hard that hit Daniel.”

Sam nodded, her eyes sad. “I know, sir. I suppose you’re right.”

By that time, the people had been organized into a long line that had started to file past Sam and Jack onto the platform. As they passed the trussed-up form on the metal contraption, each person would do something to harm him, anything from slapping him to cutting him with pieces of jewelry and other implements. Teal’c never looked any of them in the eye and never made a sound. It was eerie to witness.

The chanting got louder and louder, the people starting to work themselves into a frenzy. “If these people keep this up they’re going to kill him!” Sam cried as a man planted a vicious punch directly to Teal’c’s larval pouch. It was the closest either of his restrained teammates had seen him come to crying out.

“I don’t think they really give a damn, Captain,” Jack replied, glaring at the townspeople who passed him. “And considering the iron grip these guards have on us, I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it.”

A disruption in the crowd caught their attention then, an odd parting of the overwhelming numbers that put a pause to the activities on the platform. Prespos called out, and a voice they hadn’t been expecting called back. In the next moment, Daniel Jackson broke through the crowd and planted himself directly in front of the gruesome spectacle going on in the center of the clearing.

“Daniel!” Jack cried, shocked.

“Are you all right?” Sam asked, her worried eyes scanning him.

Daniel looked over at them and nodded. “I’m fine. I’ll explain everything later. I don’t think Teal’c has a lot of time right now.” Jack and Sam shared a startled look as Daniel returned his attention to Prespos Talyn, just noting out of the corner of his eye that Teal’c was watching him intently. “I believe I was the one who was to undergo the test to determine my truthfulness,” he declared, switching to ancient Greek.

“This one speaks with the tongue of the evil that comes through the Great Ring,” Prespos shot back with a scowl. “You may not have known of this; I am willing to concede this fact.”

“Teal’c is an enemy of the evil just as the rest of my team is,” Daniel said. “He has chosen to fight at our sides to defeat it.”

“Yet he speaks with the evil tongue.”

Daniel took a deep breath before continuing. “He was once in the service of the evil, but no longer. He gave up everything to turn against them and join us, saving our lives in the process. He is truly one of us now.” There were gasps and murmurs from the crowd at the startling piece of information.

Prespos looked deep into Daniel’s eyes for a long moment. “What would you have me do, Daniel Jackson?”

“Allow me to take his place,” the linguist replied, pointing at Teal’c’s bruised and bloody form. Even more astonished reactions rippled through the crowd. “Allow me to complete the test you originally came to summon me for.”

“You would freely take this man’s place, knowing what these people will do to you?”

“Yes.” Daniel stood tall and waited for what would happen next. He did his best to hide the fear he felt.

The militia leader gave the man on the ground a wry half-smile. “This was not the test we had in mind for you, Daniel Jackson.”

Daniel blinked. “It is not?” he asked, flabbergasted.

“I must admit that the outrage I and my people felt when we heard the language of the evil ones led us to... this.” Prespos gestured to the scene they were in the middle of. “The elders approved the use of an herb that grows near our fields that induces truthfulness. I intended to have you take this herb then ask you questions.”

“I... see.” Daniel frowned slightly. He failed to notice the controlled panic his expression produced in his teammates. “I take it something has changed.”

“Possibly. I must speak with the elders once again.” The man with the dirty blond hair looked down on Daniel speculatively. “You would truly take the place of this one?”

“To save him any more pain? Yes, with no hesitation.”

Prespos nodded. “Then I will go and discuss this with the elders.” He turned his attention to the milling crowd. “You have heard what Daniel Jackson has offered. We will continue the actions of this evening only if the elders can see no other way. I will go now and speak with them.” With that the leader of the people gave Daniel one more nod, stepped off of the platform, and disappeared into the murmuring crowd. One last gesture before he left had Jack and Sam’s arms released from the hold their guards had firmly kept up through the previous exhibition.

“Daniel, are you all right?” Sam asked again as the guards around Teal’c closed their ranks and she and Jack hurried over to the man who had caused such a sensation upon his arrival.

“What the hell did you say?” Jack asked, eying the archaeologist somewhat suspiciously.

Daniel considered it for a moment, his gaze shifting to lock with Teal’c’s. “I told him I’d take Teal’c’s place. He went to talk to the elders about it.”

“What?” Jack exploded.

“Daniel, you can’t!” Sam added.

“I cannot allow this, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said softly, stopping Jack and Sam from continuing their arguments. “I have been the cause of the loss of your wife and brother. It is only just that I take this punishment in your place.”

Daniel sighed and his features softened. “No, Teal’c, it isn’t just that you suffer because of a people’s paranoia. There’s nothing you can say that would convince me of that. You see, I did a lot of thinking after my little explosion in that root cellar, and I realized a few things. I realized that you turned away from everything you were taught to believe in, walked away from everything you knew when you decided to help us on Chulak. You rebelled against your god.”

Teal’c shifted slightly, obviously uncomfortable and in pain. “That does not exonerate me nor lessen the enormity of my actions.”

The brown-haired man shrugged. “I’m not saying that it does. But it does explain a few things. And when it comes down to it, you listened to Jack’s plea and helped all those people in the cell with us. And you’ve continued to help us in any way that you could, even when some of our people treated you horribly. I came to realize that you were mostly helpless in regards to Sha’re and Skaara. Jack was right, you didn’t implant the Goa’uld. The person who’s truly to blame for all of this is Apophis.” Daniel spit out the name with total distaste.

“But my actions...”

“Teal’c, you’ve wronged me, right? You’ve committed acts that demand retribution.” Daniel waited for Teal’c’s nod before continuing. “I take that to mean that you owe me. You owe me anything I could ask for. Would you agree?” Teal’c nodded again. “Am I right in thinking you’d offer up your life to pay me back for the loss of my family?”

“As I have taken your family, you are free to take my life,” Teal’c said solemnly. Jack and Sam just looked on wordlessly, neither of them knowing where this was headed.

Brown eyebrows rose. “What good would that do me, Teal’c? If I took your life, my wife would still be just as lost to me. But since your life is mine, I have a demand to make. You have to live. You have to live and help me find Sha’re and Skaara, help me bring them back. That’s how you can repay me.” Daniel gave the Jaffa a small smile. “Is everything clear?”

Brown met blue for a long moment before Teal’c bowed his head. “As you wish, Daniel Jackson. You have my pledge that I will do everything in my power to assist you in your quest to recover your wife and brother. I will not fail you.”

“I never thought you would.”

Jack grabbed Daniel’s arm. “Daniel, could I speak with you for a moment?” He dragged the younger man away without waiting for a response. “Are you sure about this? Are you sure you can do this?”

Daniel returned the colonel’s piercing gaze with a calm one of his own. “More than sure, Jack. I meant what I said. I did a lot of thinking about this after you guys were dragged away. There was just no other conclusion to come to.”

“You are a very good man, Daniel Jackson,” Jack said with a touch of awe in his tone.

“Don’t think that this is the action of a saint, Jack,” Daniel responded with a derisive laugh aimed at himself. “I woke up just as Prespos and his men came into the cellar. When I heard everything that was being said by you and all the members of the militia, I decided to fake unconsciousness. They were talking about doing some pretty vicious things to Teal’c actually, and I was more than willing to let them do it. And then I started thinking. I thought about how Teal’c was determined to protect me even after what I’d said and how I treated him. I thought about what you said even though I knew it had hurt you pretty deeply when Skaara was chosen. I considered the fact that if Sha’re hadn’t been chosen there would be no hope at all for me to get her back, because she’d be dead, either by Apophis when Amaunet rejected her or Teal’c and the other Jaffa when someone else was picked in her stead. And I realized just how choiceless Teal’c really was in all of that. If he’d refused, the only thing that would have changed is that Apophis would have killed him and replaced him with someone more willing to obey his god. And I came to truly believe that if he’d known and it had been in his power, Teal’c would have gone to the ends of the Earth... Chulak... to get Sha’re back for me. He would have saved her like he helped save all of those prisoners with us in the dungeon. If Skaara had been with us Teal’c would have helped him too. And that makes all the difference.”

Jack held the gaze of this amazing man for a long moment, considering everything that had been said. “So you’re going to be okay with him, okay with Teal’c being part of SG-1?”

Daniel gave him a genuine smile, although it was small. “I forgave him, Jack. I meant what I said. Apophis is to blame for what’s happened to my family. And Teal’c has a promise to keep, doesn’t he?”

Jack shook his head. “You’re a better man than I, Daniel Jackson. Better by a long shot.” He cocked his head to the side as he thought of something. “So how is it you managed to join the party? I’m guessing the militia left you in the cellar.”

“Well, yeah. Once they were convinced they weren’t going to wake me up any time soon, they hurried off so they wouldn’t miss any of the excitement. But they didn’t lock me in. So when I came to my senses, I just walked out and ran over here hoping I’d be in time to save Teal’c.” Daniel shrugged.

“Which you were,” Jack said with a decisive nod. He started to lead the linguist back to where Sam stood waiting in front of where Teal’c was still strapped to the metal contraption on the recently constructed platform. “I can’t believe they were going to make you go through all this to see if you were telling the truth.”

“They weren’t,” Daniel replied as they stepped up next to the blonde captain.

“What are you talking about?” Sam asked.

Daniel met her gaze with a slightly apologetic one of his own. “Um, Prespos told me that he and the elders weren’t originally going to make me go through what they’ve done to Teal’c, actually. I think that’s what surprised him so much when I offered to take Teal’c’s place.”

The sight of Daniel’s bare gaze reminded Sam that she still had his glasses in her pocket. “So that’s why they put everything on hold?” she asked as she handed back the wire-framed spectacles.

Daniel nodded as he slipped on the eye gear. “Basically.”

“So do you think we can get Teal’c down from there while they’re deliberating?” Jack asked, looking at the Jaffa with an uncomfortable flinch.

“That is not necessary, O’Neill,” Teal’c declared stoically. “I will wait until these people have made their choice as to my fate.”

Daniel gave the dark-skinned man a rueful look. “I don’t think he has much of a choice, Jack. When they heard him speak Goa’uld, they saw him as one of the evil ones that must have come through the gate at some point in their history, although I don’t think it’s been any time in any of these people’s lifetimes.”

“I tried to help him while you were talking to Daniel, sir,” Sam offered. “The guards wouldn’t let me anywhere near him.” She turned to look at Daniel as Jack nodded with a resigned expression. “What makes you think it’s been that long since the Goa’uld have been here?”

“They didn’t recognize Teal’c as a Jaffa. I don’t think they realize that even now. All they know is that he speaks with the tongue of evil. My guess would be that these people’s ancestors passed down snippets of the language so that the following generations would recognize it on the off chance the Goa’uld came back. And I’m willing to bet that they understand the language better than they speak it.”

Jack waved his hand in a gesture that drew the others’ attention. “Wait a minute. So you’re saying they understood Teal’c’s offer in the cellar, and they still did this to him?”

Sadness touched Daniel’s expression. “I’m sure the hatred that led to this level of paranoia was passed down with the language - which would also explain why they most likely can’t speak it, thanks to the stigma against it - so I would think that it wouldn’t have mattered what Teal’c said. No matter what they would have responded the same way.”

The conversation was cut short by Prespos Talyn’s return. “Daniel Jackson,” he greeted the brown-haired man as he stopped at his side. “I have spoken with the elders and they have agreed that your companion may be freed.” He gestured to the men that surrounded the Jaffa, and they began to free him from his restraints.

“Um, do I have to take his place?” Daniel asked warily.

“No, Daniel Jackson, that will not be necessary,” Prespos answered with a small smile.

Daniel’s shoulders sagged a bit in relief. “So I will have to take those herbs?”

“That will also not be necessary. Your willingness to take the place of your teammate, even knowing it could kill you, spoke more highly of you and your team than any answers you may have given while under the influence of our medicines. And the fact that your teammate offered himself in your place to begin with, not knowing our plans for you, proved your assertions as to his integrity. The four of you are free to go, Daniel Jackson. We only hope you will choose to return. Your offer of an alliance against the evil that comes through the Great Ring has intrigued us, and we would gladly speak of it with you.” Prespos Talyn’s smile grew wider, and he offered his hand to Daniel as four more of his men arrived with SG-1's gear.

The younger man grinned and accepted it. “I believe we must return home to tend to our injuries, but we will return. Now that the misunderstandings have been cleared between us, I believe we can become friends.”

“That is our hope as well.”

Two of the guards helped Teal’c to rejoin his team, and Jack and Daniel took their places to support him between them once they’d replaced their packs and weapons. Sam did the same with hers and carried Teal’c’s. “Come on, guys,” Daniel said to his team. “Let’s go home.”

“You’re sure everything’s okay?” Jack asked.

“Yes, Jack. In fact, they want us to come back and discuss an alliance. Maybe we can find out how they power the current that runs through those spears and that light globe they gave us in the cellar.”

“That could be valuable information, sir,” Sam agreed as they made their way through the parting crowd, the mood extremely subdued as they watched the quartet go.

Jack frowned slightly. “We’ll see. For now I’ll just be glad to get home.”

Sam and Daniel could only nod their agreement, and SG-1 headed on toward the Stargate.

* * * * * * * *

Later the next evening, Daniel made his way through the halls toward the quarters Teal ‘c had recently been assigned. He’d been cleared with an extremely mild concussion and admonished to stay on the base for the next forty-eight hours as a precaution and given a list of symptoms to watch out for. Thankfully none of them made an appearance, and now Daniel had a few loose ends he needed to tie up.

He opened the door and took a few steps inside after he’d heard the muffled invitation to do so. Teal’c was in the middle of placing a large number of candles of all different sizes around the sparse room. “Hey, Teal’c,” Daniel offered as a greeting. “What are you doing?”

“I am placing these candles to better prepare my personal space for the act of kel’no’reem. I have found that the lighting prevalent here at the SGC is too harsh to be conducive to such a state.” He placed one last candle on the stand next to his bed and turned to face his visitor.

“What’s kel’no’reem?”

“It is a state of intense inner focus which allows me to reach an inner balance and also allows my symbiote to calm and function more effectively. This is how I have recovered from the injuries I received on P3A-575.”

Daniel blinked at the reminder, flinching slightly with leftover guilt. “So you’re okay then? I wondered why I couldn’t find you in the infirmary.”

Teal’c bowed his head briefly. “Indeed. Such injuries were minor compared to some I have endured previously.”

“I can imagine.” Daniel took a deep breath and closed the door behind him. Teal’c raised an eyebrow at the action. “I need to ask you a question, Teal’c.”

“If I am able I will give you an answer, Daniel Jackson.”

The young archaeologist took another deep breath, met the Jaffa’s gaze, and spoke quickly. “What made you pick Sha’re?”

Teal’c blinked and took a long moment to formulate his response. “When I returned to the chamber where the women Apophis had collected as possible hosts for his queen were kept, I allowed my gaze to travel around the room, taking note of each of them. Sha’re was seated near the far corner, separate from the others and with her back to me, even though she was aware of my presence in the doorway. Her back was straight, and I could sense the strength of her spirit through her small act of defiance. This drew my attention, and I chose her. Beyond that I cannot tell you for certain, Daniel Jackson. I can only reaffirm my vow to return her to you.”

Daniel took a shaky breath when Teal’c was finished, his eyes dropping to the bare concrete floor. “Thank you, Teal’c,” he said softly. “I needed to know that.” He brought his eyes back up to meet those of his teammate. “She is so strong, so very strong. Stronger than I am, than I’ll ever be.”

“Then we shall surely succeed in freeing her,” Teal’c said simply.

Daniel nodded. “I have one more thing to admit to you, Teal’c. Back on the planet I knew what Prespos and his people were going to do to you when they took you out of the cellar, and I laid there and let them. I was awake. I was so angry I just let them.” His blue eyes were wide behind his wire-framed glasses and filled with shame at his actions.

“You were justified in your anger, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c replied gently, his dark brown orbs reflecting his understanding that this greatly bothered the man standing before him, even if he couldn’t quite understand why. “I would not have blamed you if you had allowed them to complete their trial.”

“Teal’c, I meant what I said back there. Apophis is the one to blame for what’s happened to my family. You’ve made your promise to me, and that’s all that matters. I just shouldn’t have let my selfishness put you in the position to get as badly hurt as you did, especially since you were trying to take my place.”

“There is no need for this to concern you any longer. You came to my assistance before any permanent harm was done, and I have fully recovered. I may never fully comprehend your motivation for doing so, but I am grateful nonetheless.”

The two of them shared a long, silent look, a sense of peace settling over the pair. “Well, then, Teal’c,” Daniel began, his tone and bearing much lighter, “I guess that just leaves one last question.”

Teal’c’s eyebrow rose again. “What would that be?”

Daniel gave him a small smile. “Would you be willing to teach me Goa’uld? In exchange I can teach you how to read and write English, and any other language I know.” He gave a short laugh. “I might even be able to explain a few of those weird sayings Jack keeps randomly throwing out.”

“I would be honored to exchange such knowledge with you, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c replied almost reverently, his eyes wide.

“Then I guess it’s a deal,” Daniel said, his smile growing slightly. “We can set up a regular time later. For now, I should get back to a project I’ve been working on, and I’ll let you get back to your kel’no’reem.” He paused for a moment and let his expression fade to something more serious. “I’m glad you’re one of my teammates, Teal’c. With your help we can do a lot of good out there, and my chances of finding Sha’re are so much more improved. I want you to know that.”

“And I wish you to know it is a great honor to fight by your side, Daniel Jackson.” Teal’c bowed deeply.

Daniel returned it before offering his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Teal’c,” he said once the Jaffa had shaken it. He then gave a short nod of his head and left the room, closing the door behind himself. As he headed back to his office and the project he’d mentioned, he realized that everything would be okay, and that he had just taken the first step in the most unique friendship he would probably ever know. All things considering, he had a lot to look forward to in the days to come.

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