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Thread of Life

~Jo. R~

He hadn't thought it was possible for the headache he had to get worse.

He was wrong.

George Hammond felt pain slice through his head from one temple to the other as he stood at the bottom of the ramp watching his men and women return home.

If only the pain was isolated to his head.

So many lives had been lost, so many good men and women injured and hurt and killed... And for what? To save the world without the glory usually associated with heroes? To die in a war few knew existed?

How could one mission go so horribly wrong? How could one mission cost the SGC so much? How could one mission threaten to ruin so many lives?

His jaw tightened, his fist clenching at his sides as the final team came through, complete with casualties.

SG-1.

Colonel Jack O'Neill hung limply from the shoulders of Daniel Jackson and a man the general couldn't identify from his current position. His head was down, his feet making no attempt at keeping up with his escort's pace.

SG-1's leader was one of the more seriously injured.

As was Doctor Janet Fraiser, the Base Chief Medical Officer.

A bead of sweat ran down his forehead as he watched the small doctor be carried past him on a gurney by Teal'c and a soldier whose name escaped him.

She looked so pale, so hurt. So...still.

Another descriptive word sprang to his mind but he banished it almost instantly. He wouldn't think like that, couldn't let himself think like that.

She would never give up on any of her patients so they couldn't give up on her.

Major Samantha Carter was the final person to walk down the ramp, her face devoid of all colour, her eyes wide and round. She looked as lost and as confused as he felt, her knuckles white as she clutched her gun in front of her.

"Major," he greeted her with a certain degree of caution, the military side of him demanding to know what transpired but vying with the gentler side of him who knew and understood how shaken she would be by whatever had happened. He looked at her, taking in the trails of dirt and blood on her uniform and swallowed the lump that rose in his throat. "Get yourself cleaned up and checked out. We'll debrief in 30 minutes."

He watched her nod slowly before she turned her back on him, dragging her feet as she made her way out of the gate room after her teammates, and silently sent his thanks to whoever had managed to keep the documentary crew out of the way since the first transmission had come back through the Gate.

Whatever happened had been bad, that much was obvious. He could only hope whatever happened next didn't make it worse.

*****

The briefing room was unusually quiet when he walked in. Only Doctor Jackson, Teal'c and Major Carter were present, the latter pushing herself wearily to her feet when she noticed he was there.

Nodding at her as he sat, General Hammond was pleased to see she managed to sit down before exhaustion made her fall down.

"I just got off the phone with Doctor Warner," he started, deciding to begin the meeting on a positive note. "Colonel O'Neill has been stabilised and the surgery to repair the damage inflicted to his back was a success. All being well, he should make a full recovery."

For now, Hammond added silently. He didn't mention that Doctor Warner had warned him the Colonel's time in the field was competing against the clock. SG-1 had enough on their minds without being told or reminded that the team couldn't stay together forever. He wouldn't take that little bit of security away from them, not yet.

"Did Doctor Warner say anything about Doctor Fraiser, sir?" Her voice was quiet and strained, her eyes too dark in contrast to the pallor of her skin. Sam's hands were clasped tightly on the table in front of her, her mouth in a thin grim line. "Did he say anything about her condition?"

Blood. Dirt. Mingling. The look of horror, of surprise. The way her face lost its colour as the puddle of red at her side grew. The defeat in her posture as she closed her eyes for the last time…

Sam clenched her hands together even tighter as the memories flooded her brain in little flashes. She'd been tending to the already wounded Colonel at the time Janet was hit, but having been relieved by medics had made it to her friend's side in time to witness her brief moment of regained consciousness. Guilt plagued her as she sat at the briefing room table waiting for an answer. Would things have been different if she'd been by Janet's side instead of his? If she could switch the fates of her two friends, would she?

"There's been no change, Major, I'm sorry." Hammond answered after a pregnant pause, his face showing nothing but sincere sympathy and empathy for the situation. "Doctor Warner believes there's nothing else we can do for her here. Her condition is perilous. He believes it's a miracle she's still with us with injuries as severe as hers."

'Still with us.' Right. Sam stared down at her white knuckles.

If being unconscious and having her heart stop every so often could be classed as still being with them.

"There has to be something we can do." Daniel was the first to speak, the first to find his voice even if it did crack in places. "One of our allies..."

"I hope so, Doctor Jackson." General Hammond's eyes reflected his words but his expression remained grave. In the current climate, he wasn’t sure they had any favours left to call in. "If you and Teal'c can spend some time on that when the gate isn't in use, I would be grateful. Major Carter, I assume you will want to inform Cassandra of the situation."

Cassie.

Three pairs of expectant eyes turned towards her as Sam sunk further down in her chair, her face turning a sickly shade of greyish-white.

She hadn't thought of Cassandra. Hadn't realised someone would need to tell her, hadn't realised the unpleasant honour would most likely fall on her shoulders.

She gave the General an almost mechanical nod, her gaze fixed firmly on the tabletop. "I'll try and get in touch with her as soon as possible, sir. She's away with school at the moment so I'm not sure how long it will take."

Hammond nodded sympathetically and gave her a gentle smile. "I'm sure if you tell the school it's a family emergency they'll put you in touch with one of Cassandra's teachers."

She nodded again and managed a tight smile but wasn't prepared to say anything more on the subject. It seemed as though everyone felt the same way as the meeting quickly came to an end and General Hammond excused himself, shutting the door to his office behind him.

Daniel and Teal'c stood and made to leave but lingered near the doorway when they realised Sam wasn't following them. Catching Daniel's eye, Teal'c nodded and indicated that the archaeologist should leave.

Taking the seat beside her once Daniel was gone, Teal'c reached out and put a hand on her arm. She turned slightly, her eyes rising to meet his, and he was saddened to see the glimmer of tears in her eyes.

No words were spoken between them. No words were necessary.

It was barely noticeable the way she leaned towards him, her other hand moving to rest over his where he touched her arm, giving and taking comfort, giving and taking strength.

*****

Everything was blurred at first, strange and out of focus. He pushed himself through the black waves of unconsciousness and opened his eyes, having to blink several times before his vision cleared enough to confirm where he was.

The infirmary. Great.

He should have recognised the smell, should have known by the sound of the all too familiar beeps.

There was no one beside his bed when he came around, not even one of his teammates. It was odd. Usually, when one of them was injured, the others would take it in turn to sit with them, making idle conversation or just sitting in silence so that they'd know when they came around, so they'd be able to alert Doc Fraiser, or Warner or one of the nurses.

Weird.

He tried lifting an arm and winced when the skin on the back of his hand was tugged viciously.

"Cool." He mumbled, squinting through narrowed eyes at the post at the side of his bed. "IV."

Several minutes passed. He glanced around, staring up at the tiles on the ceiling, wondering how he'd never noticed that every other tile was a slightly different shade of grey to the one beside it before.

Very weird.

Under ordinary circumstances, someone would have been to see him by now. He tapped his fingers on the mattress at his sides, his mind going through the possibilities at what was keeping the infirmary staff away.

Some kind of medical emergency in the gate room?

Nah, Doc Fraiser never left the infirmary unattended. Even if she'd been called away, there'd be someone there doing the rounds, checking on whatever patients were already there.

Maybe an off world incident?

Nope. There'd still be someone on duty.

It hit him then.

The memories of what had happened, of how he ended up there. The Goa'uld attack, the fallen men and women. Carter hovering over him as he came round. Daniel's voice over the radio, telling them the news.

Janet had been hit. Doctor Fraiser was down.

A cold shiver worked its way down his spine. No wonder the infirmary seemed strange, no wonder it felt like something was missing.

Someone was.

Had it been serious? He could only wonder and hope not. There was no one to tell him otherwise, where were his teammates? His own memory faded out again not long after Carter had left his side. If Janet's injuries were serious, if she was – God forbid – dead, it might explain why the usual greeting wasn't forthcoming.

God.

The sound of approaching footsteps had never filled him with such a sense of relief as it did then. He craned his neck, trying to look beyond the curtain to see who it was. The footfall sounded familiar but he couldn't quite place it.

"Jack?" Daniel's head appeared from behind the curtain, his startled expression matching the surprised tone of voice he used. "You're awake!"

"I am?" An eyebrow rose, a small sarcastic smile playing on his mouth. One that faded when his previous trail of thought returned to the forefront of his mind. "What's goin' on? Where's the welcome back party?"

Daniel shuffled nervously from foot to foot, his gaze lowering till it came to rest on the floor by his feet. "Ah... It's not good, Jack." Swallowing, he let his eyes drift back up to the Colonel's face. "Doctor Fraiser was hurt pretty badly..."

A curse muffled by the hand that ran over his face was the first thing Jack said on the subject. He moved his hand, peering at the archaeologist through his fingers. "Is she..?"

"No, not yet." Shoving his hands in his pockets, Daniel shuffled closer to the bed. "It's not looking good. Teal'c and me are trying to contact our allies and Sam's... Sam's trying to get in touch with Cassie and let her know what's going on."

Doc. Cassie. Sam. Damn it.

Closing his eyes, Jack wished for a fleeting moment that he could slip back into unconsciousness, that Daniel would forget he'd ever been awake and he could stay blissfully unaware of everything else going on around him until Doc Fraiser was back on her feet and the crisis had been averted.

"Who's the Doc in charge till Fraiser's back?" His words were carefully chosen, his voice thick. He stared at Daniel when the younger man failed to answer the query. "Come on, Daniel. Go get whoever it is and tell then I want out of here."

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Jack," Daniel mumbled as he slowly started backing away, his feet shuffling across the concrete floor.

"I don't care if you think it's a good idea or not, I want out of here – Daniel!" Frowning as his teammate vanished from sight, Jack clenched a hand into a fist and thumped the mattress, wincing immediately when the tube attaching the IV to his hand tugged painfully on his skin in protest. "Damn it."

He let his eyes slide closed again, willing himself to wake up and find out it was all a bad dream conjured by his drug-laden mind.

Two hours later he woke up again to find the nightmare was still as real as ever.

*****

"General Hammond, I must speak with you urgently," Teal'c stood in front of the General's desk, having knocked curtly before stepping into the room, regardless of whether the General had company or not.

"Of course, Teal'c, have you been successful?" Hammond didn't think that was why the Jaffa had barged into his office, a suspicion confirmed by Doctor Jackson arriving out of breath with his face flushed a few moments later. "Or has something else happened?"

"We contacted Hak'tyl as you suggested, General," Daniel hurriedly spoke before Teal'c could get a word in edgeways, knowing his friends personal feelings were playing a big part in his motivation and worried that they could do something to hurt the chances of their request from being granted. "The Jaffa women are under threat, sir. It sounds like they might have been exposed so they've asked for our help in evacuating them. We wondered if you'd allow us to go with a small team and take them to the rebel Jaffa’s new base. It's the perfect solution," Daniel rushed on, "Teal'c doesn't think they'll have a problem accepting the women if he can go along with Ishta and explain their cause. Their main concern was to be dependent on no one but their own. The Jaffa woman are their own."

General Hammond blinked. Once, twice. He shook his head slightly, his eyes focusing on the taller of the two men. "How urgent do you believe the situation to be?" He asked quietly, his mind processing the information and trying to figure out which team he could spare with so many officers unable to work.

"I believe it to be very urgent, General Hammond," Teal'c's grave answer matched the expression in his eyes. "Ishta said it was likely Moloc will launch an attack on her people before the day is over."

"Take SG-5 with you then," Hammond gave them a swift nod. "Permission granted. I'll ask Major Carter to take over contacting our allies."

"What about Cassandra?" Daniel backtracked from where he'd started walking towards the door, his question prompting the General to frown. "Jack did say he wanted to be involved somehow..."

General Hammond smiled slightly as he trailed off. "Then I'll ask Colonel O'Neill to take over from Major Carter. I'm sure Doctor Warner won't object to him being given something to do."

"He'll probably be grateful," Daniel muttered as he followed Teal'c from the room, guilt waging a war with relief that the opportunity to go somewhere he could help someone had arisen and taken him away from the hopeless task that now lay before Sam.

*****

She couldn't remember the last time she'd slept, couldn't remember the last time she'd had something to eat.

Sam sat at the computer in the control room, a list of paper with hastily written names on it on a clipboard in front of her. She stared despondently at the list, struggling with exhaustion to lift her hand and cross yet another name off the list.

The Nox.

Attempts to contact them by radio had failed. She could get the Stargate to connect to their home planet, had felt her heart rise hopefully in her chest when the wormhole had formed, but after twenty minutes of trying to hail them, of waiting for a response, she'd been forced to admit defeat and shut the Stargate down.

Nothing.

No one anywhere seemed willing or able to help them.

She'd gone through the first twenty names on her list, crossing them off systematically, her heart and her hopes sinking just that little bit further with every dead end.

She had tried getting in touch with the Asgard but hadn't had much luck, eventually resorting to asking General Hammond if she could contact one of the teams currently off-world and get them to go to Cimmeria on their way home in the hopes that they could somehow get a message across to them that way that their help was needed.

Desperately needed.

The Tok'ra had proved to be unsurprisingly uncooperative given recent events, and when she had reached them had simply told her they had no one available to assist at the moment but would pass the message along to her father. Then the chances of the message she'd left for him reaching him were slim. It was something she'd come to learn and accept a long time ago but with the alliance on the rocks her chances were even worse than usual. Knowing this didn't stop her from resenting it, especially not now.

Especially not when her best friend's life was at stake.

The people from the Land of Light had offered their sympathies but no solutions. They weren't very medically advanced and were unable to suggest anything that wasn't below the capabilities of the medical technology available on Earth.

The Tollan... She'd tried, on a whim, to make contact with their world. She hadn't been very surprised to find the Stargate wouldn't connect but still felt the familiar jab of pain at knowing a whole civilisation had been wiped out because of Narim's loyalty to the old ways – and to her.

The Aschen had been added to her list but had been scribbled out before she'd even tried making contact. The risks were too big. Given the way things had been left between Earth and the Aschen, it would be a very big mistake to contact them and ask for help, no matter how much it pained her to know they probably would be able to save Janet.

The consequences would be too dire.

Sighing heavily, Sam propped her head up on her elbows, her hands folded under her chin as she stared at the inactive Stargate and prayed for whatever it would take to bring her friend back.

Prayed for a miracle.

*****

He stood and stretched, glancing at the clock on his desk as he did so. He winced at the time, telling himself he was really going to have to start cutting down on the long hours he worked. It's not good, he told himself firmly. You're not as young as you used to be.

Getting his jacket from the coat stand in the corner, General Hammond shrugged into it and grabbed his briefcase on his way out of his office. He wasn't surprised to see no one as he walked from his office, through the briefing room and started down the stairs to the control room.

This was his favourite time at the SGC. When there was only a skeleton crew on duty, when he could walk through the corridors and marvel at the losses and victories the facility had been witness to.

He stopped with three steps to go, a sigh catching in his throat at the sight of the woman sitting dejectedly in front of the computer.

"Major Carter," he spoke as he took the remaining three stairs, the sound of his voice obviously startling her. He tried to keep his expression gentle in contrast to the sternness of his tone. "Didn't I tell you two hours ago to call it a night and get some sleep?"

She'd spun around to look at him when he'd said her name, her eyes dropping to the floor as he continued. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I just wanted to try the Nox and see if they responded."

"And did they?" He allowed his voice to take on a slightly softer edge, noticing her slumped shoulders, knowing the news wasn't good. Wordlessly, she shook her head, her hands gripping the other tightly. "Then there's nothing else you can do tonight that won't wait until tomorrow morning."

She looked up and opened her mouth to protest, the words coming to a halt on her tongue when he lifted a hand and gave her an unyielding look.

"You won't be able to help Doctor Fraiser if you end up in the infirmary yourself, Major." He let his hand fall back down to his side on seeing resignation flash in her eyes. "Go and get some sleep, Sam. That's an order."

"Yes, sir." The use of her name going unnoticed, Sam got to her feet and clutched the clipboard to her chest as she shuffled down the stairs in front of him.

In silence, they walked to the elevators and each got in, pressing the appropriate numbers for the floors they were after. Sam got out with a cursory nod and politely uttered 'good night' when the elevator reached the floor her quarters were on walking a few feet away as the doors shut behind her.

When she was sure he was gone, she stopped and leaned against a wall, her eyes closing with a tired sigh.

She didn't want to go to her quarters, knew she wouldn't be able to go to sleep anyway. The monotonous grey walls of her quarters would make the room seem claustrophobic if she went and lay on her bed and willed sleep to come. She knew from experience that insomnia seemed to make the walls close in on her, an experience she had no desire to repeat.

Her mind was too full with thoughts of Janet and Cassandra and... Cassandra.

Opening her eyes, she pushed off from the wall, her shoulders squared. She'd go and visit the Colonel, she decided. Find out if he'd made any progress in tracking Cassie down.

She could talk to him for half an hour or so, give the General enough time to leave the facility completely and be well on his way home…

...And then she could go back to the control room and resume her work.

*****

Daniel stood to the side of the heated discussion, her temper wearing thin with the Jaffa warriors gathered around Teal'c and Ishta. He couldn't understand how they could be so pigheaded, how they could be so willing to throw their offer of help away because they still saw themselves as being superior...

What was superior about having a snake in their guts, he'd never know.

He felt something warm against his hand and looked down.

Nesa looked back up at him.

"Hi," he smiled down on her, linking his fingers with hers. He was pleased to see her well, pleased to see the colour in her cheeks. It was the Tau'ri-Jaffa alliance that had saved her life, surely they'd proven themselves to be trustworthy when they'd saved her life among others?

"Why do we have to leave, Daniel?" She asked him quietly, her eyes showing her lack of understanding for the situation and her total faith in him.

Crouching down so they were on the same eye level, Daniel wished all of her sisters were as trusting – and as sensible – as she was. "Moloc might have found out what's been going on," he explained softly. "Two of your... sisters... didn't come back like they were supposed to and they haven't sent word that they're okay so there's a chance the Goa'uld might know what they were doing. If he does, he might know where you are so Ishta, Teal'c and me want to move you all so he can't find you and hurt you."

"If you want to help us, why do the others not want to leave?" She gazed at him through big, round eyes. "You've helped us before..."

"It's not that they don't want to be safe, Nesa," he smiled encouragingly at her furrowed brow as she tried to understand. "I guess they don't want to be forced to leave their home and they don't want to go to the place we want to take them."

"Why not?" The question came to her lips instantly. "You wouldn't make us go anywhere we'd be in danger..."

Daniel hesitated, wishing the others believed her. It was because of where they wanted to take them that her sisters were protesting. Because of who else was there. More rebel Jaffa, male Jaffa. "We want to take you to another Jaffa base. You'll be safe there, I promise, but... The people there are Jaffa like you, who've realised the Goa'uld aren't Gods but... They're men and your sisters don't like the idea of sharing a planet, sharing a home with them."

Nesa blinked, the line in her forehead deepening. "But you're a man and you haven't hurt us. Teal'c's a male Jaffa and he hasn't hurt us. Why would the other Jaffa hurt us?"

"I... I don't know," he admitted with a small smile. "I don't think they would but your sisters... They're not ready to risk it in case something happens to you or the younger ones."

"If we stay we might get hurt by Moloc and that'll be worse," she summed it up for him in a matter of minutes, making him smile again. "I think we should go with you," she declared, letting go of his hand. She straightened her shoulders and walked away, pushing through the older, taller women to the heart of the circle where Ishta and Teal'c stood side by side, facing their opposition.

Daniel watched her go, wondering how it was possible for one of the youngest to also be one of the wisest.

*****

"We will not be forced from our home," one of the Jaffa declared heatedly, a statement backed up by murmurs in the crowd. "Moloc will see our leaving as a victory."

"He will also see our deaths as a victory," Ishta spoke up above the murmuring, her blond hair blowing in the breeze around her face. She glanced from face to face, meeting each woman's eyes for a brief moment. Her sisters, her family. She only wanted them to be safe, wanted them to live. Why couldn't they see that? "If we stay, we will die. Moloc does not need to use the Stargate to get here, he has ships. He could attack us at any moment, destroy us before we have a chance to defend ourselves."

"I would rather die with pride than flee like a coward," a voice at the back called out.

Teal'c narrowed his eyes. "If you stay you will die but you will not die with pride. You will die like a fool who gave up too easily. You will die and the Goa'uld will win. Your sisters, the children you have saved.. They will die also. All that you have worked for, all that you have done... It will have been for nothing. Your sisters, those who did not come back to you, they will have died in vain. Can you live with yourselves if you allow that to happen?"

"We do not know our sisters have indeed been discovered," Neith spoke up, her arms folded across her chest. "You do them wrong to imply that not only have they allowed themselves to be found out but that they have revealed our whereabouts to Moloc."

"I do not call them Shol'va or imply that they created this situation willingly," Teal'c corrected, meeting her gaze evenly. "I do however know how a Goa'uld extracts information they desire. I know of the torture they use, I know how easily they can break even the strongest of Jaffa and bring them to their knees. I know what it is like to be in so much pain you will do or say anything if only it would stop. Your sisters were brave and courageous warriors. I do not lay any blame at their feet."

For several moments, no one said anything. The Jaffa stared at him, half with respect in their eyes, half trying to determine if he was telling the truth or not.

"If we do not leave soon we may not have the chance. Please," Ishta implored, "if you value your lives and your sisters lives, we must act now. If we die here, everything we have done will have been for nothing. We can't help our brothers and sisters rise above Goa'uld oppression if we die this day."

"You will not be forced to leave your homes," Teal'c continued, his loud voice carrying above the residual whispers and murmurs of the crowd around them. "The choice to stay or come with us is yours to make. Those who wish to leave should meet us at the Stargate within one hour. Those who wish to stay do so of their own will."

His piece said, Teal'c walked through the crowd with his head held high, the women moving aside to make way. Ishta lingered, staring each one of them in the eye once more, willing them to make the right choice before she followed in Teal'c's footsteps and disappeared inside her tent.

*****

The infirmary was eerily quiet when she got there. Sam kept expecting her to hear the soft clicking of Janet's shoes against the stone ground, or to have her friend pop her head around the door to her office and smile knowingly at her.

The disappointment when her friend made no such appearance hurt.

She walked through the infirmary quietly, the first seeds of common sense growing in her mind. It was the middle of the night, the Colonel was injured, he might be – should be – sound asleep, with or without the aid of drugs.

Stepping around the curtain surrounding his bed, Sam bit down on her lip when she caught sight of her Commanding Officer for the first time since bringing him back to Earth. His eyes were closed, his breathing steady. His brow was furrowed, his face too pale...

Guilt that she hadn't been to see him, hadn't really paid him much thought struck her.

"You gonna stand there all night, Carter? Your feet'll like you better if you pull up a chair." His eyes remained closed but the corner of his mouth curled upwards.

"Sorry, sir." A light blush stained her cheeks as she did as he said and sat in the vacant chair at the side of his bed. "I... I was just wondering if you got any further with contacting Cassandra."

His eyes opened and all traces of the smile disappeared. "I got through to one of the teachers at her school, managed to convince them I wasn't crazy and gave them the number Hammond said we could use. They're going to get in touch with the teacher leading Cassie's trip and get them to call us back as soon as they can."

"So Cassie might call tomorrow?" Sam swallowed, her hands joined in her lap. She looked down at them. "We'll need to decide what to say to her, what to tell her..." She let her eyes drift upwards, locking on his face. "We need to make sure she's gets here in time... Just in case..."

"It's not going to happen, Carter." His voice was suddenly firmer, louder, echoing in the almost empty room. "Doc'll pull through. You'll find someone who can help her and she'll do the rest herself. She's a fighter, she's not going to give up on us yet."

"I hope you're right." Sounding unconvinced, Sam looked away again. The infirmary seemed deserted but she knew the reason was that most of the medical staff on duty were keeping an eye on Janet in her own private room down the hall. "I just... If the worst comes to the worst, I don't want Cassie to miss out on saying goodbye to her. She'll never forgive herself if she doesn't get that chance."

Jack, realising they were talking about more than Cassandra and Janet, nodded wordlessly, his hand edging closer to hers but stopping just short of touching it. His fingers curled up, his mind reigning in the urge to touch her.

"She's not going to... Janet's going to be okay, isn't she?" The change in subject took him by surprise. "Hopefully Dad will get in touch soon."

"Yeah, he'll probably turn up tomorrow." He crossed his fingers on the hand that was on the other side of the bed, hoping he was telling her the truth. "You look tired, Carter. When was the last time you got some sleep?"

She lifted one shoulder and let it fall. "How are you feeling, sir?" Changing the subject on him, she forced a smile. "Doctor Warner said you'll be back out in the field in no time."

"Yeah, I heard." He bit back at sigh at her tactics but decided not to pressure her. He let his eyes close, unsurprised when he heard the rustle of material against the plastic of the chair she was sitting in. "It'll be okay, Carter. Doc'll be okay, just go get some sleep and we'll start again tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." Her voice was quiet but still closer than he expected it to be. "Goodnight, sir."

Already halfway down the slippery slope into slumber, Jack wasn't sure if the soft pressure he felt against his hand was real or a figment of his imagination and when he'd woken himself up enough to be able to open his eyes again she was gone.

*****

"Why can't they see we only want them to be safe? Moloc will destroy them if they stay." Ishta paced the length of her tent, her eyes showing her incomprehension and her fear. "I will not let them act like fools, Teal'c. I will not allow another of my sisters to die a cowardly death."

"You cannot force them, Ishta." Teal'c stood in her way, grasping her shoulders with firm hands so she couldn't brush passed him and resume pacing. "If they choose to stay the decision will be on their heads, not yours. You must not burden yourself with guilt for those who choose not to come. Your responsibility is to continue leading those who choose to join us in the battle with the Goa'uld."

She gave him a small, grateful smile, reaching a hand up to cover the one on her shoulder. "Thank you, Teal'c, for all you have done for us." Her smile faded a little and she turned away, her hands dropping to her sides. "I must confess I am concerned at the reception that awaits us. Our brothers may not see us as being their equals and may expect us to serve them."

"That will not happen, Ishta. I will not allow it." Approaching her from behind, Teal'c's hands resumed their place on her shoulders. "You will be their equals, you will fight by their side as warriors of equal rank and strength. I vow to you I will not leave until I am convinced they have accepted your presence and place among them." His voice lowered, a raw note appearing and giving it an edge. "There are no longer as many of our brothers as there once was. Many dozens were slaughtered by the Goa'uld, many were lead to their deaths."

Ishta turned and took a step closer, standing with only inches between them. She stared into his eyes and looked into his troubled soul, the soul of a warrior. "You rarely speak of the incident that freed you of your symbiote," she guessed accurately, lifting a hand to touch the side of his face. "As selfish as it is of me, I cannot help but be relieved that you were not among those who died that day. If not for you, our ways would have continued. We would have taken the lives of our brothers to save our sisters. We would have nowhere to go when Moloc came for us." She took another step closer, her other hand lifting to hold his face. "I would still be alone, without another to share my life with."

Her lips brushed against his briefly before she pulled back and let her forehead rest against his.

"I, too, am relieved I did not die that day," Teal'c confessed, his hands moving to take hers, trapping them between their bodies. He closed the gap between them, covering her lips with his own, effectively ending the conversation and providing them both with a much needed distraction.

*****

The phone at the side of his bed woke him up from a restless slumber. Jack blinked sleepy eyes as he did his best to push himself up, wondering faintly when he'd turned the volume of his phone up. And changed the tone for that matter.

It hit him the moment he answered it with a gruff "O'Neill".

It wasn't his phone; he wasn't even in his own bed.

Infirmary, mission from hell, Doc Fraiser injured, Cassie...

Cassie!

"Hello?" He asked again, a little more alert.

"Mr. O'Neill?" The line was thick with static, the person on the other side sounding like they were a thousand miles away. "It's Mrs. Doe, Cassandra's teacher? I... message... school? You're... contact us?"

The volume of static kept fluctuating and some words were lost.

"Yes, Ma'am." He spoke a little louder than normal into the receiver, wanting to make sure she could hear him. "I'm trying to contact Cassandra Fraiser, it's important. There's been an accident, she needs to come home as soon as possible."

"Cassandra... out today... all day... back tonight..." The line was getting worse, Mrs. Doe sounding increasingly distant. "When... back... her... call... later... Okay?"

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Doe, I can't hear you very well..." Jack trailed off as a burst of static erupted in his ear, followed by a dial tone. Sighing, he took the receiver away from his ear and stared down at it. "Guess there's no point in asking you to repeat yourself."

Putting the phone down, he lay back down and closed his eyes in defeat.

*****

She was already at her chair in the control room when he arrived that morning. General Hammond sighed as he took the stairs down to the control room floor, nodding in greeting to the officers he passed.

"Major Carter," he kept his voice quiet but she jumped in spite of herself. When she turned, he had to struggle to keep the frown off his face at the lines on her face and the bags under her eyes. "How long have you been here?"

"Not long, sir," Sam murmured, her eyes lowered guiltily. "Just a few hours." She hurried on before he could protest, noticing the grim expression in his eyes, knowing he'd reprimand her if she gave him the chance. "I've made it to the bottom of the list, sir. Unfortunately, there's no one who can help us but I've left messages for the Tok'ra with the people who are our allies as well as theirs and I was just about to try and contact them again to see if I can get through to Dad. Sir."

General Hammond blinked. Then he sighed in resignation. "Okay, Major. But I want you to take a break after you try contacting the Tok'ra. I'm sure there's something you can do in your lab and your report is due on my desk first thing tomorrow morning."

The report. Of what had happened.

Gunfire, staff weapons. Explosions all around.

Mud and dust flying through the air, making it hard to see, hard to breathe. The smell of flames, of guns being fired.

Of sweat and blood.

People shouting, people screaming. People fighting, people dying.

Janet crouching over the injured, the Colonel taking a hit. Kneeling beside him, something sharp digging into her knees. Putting pressure on the wound, the blood still gushing out.

The static of her radio.

Daniel's voice.

Janet's down, Janet's been hit.

Swallowing, pushing the images aside, Sam nodded and looked to the Stargate. "Yes, sir. I'll have the report on your desk first thing, sir."

"Good." He nodded at her and turned on his heel, walking back up the stairs to his office. Only when he was there with the door closed did he let his shoulders slump, his expression weary. "Keep fighting, Doctor," he murmured to the empty air in front of him. "Don't let them down now."

*****

The Gate activated and she felt the familiar rush of anticipation, of hope, rise up within her. The wave broke as she reached for the radio, fighting the urge to cross her fingers for good luck.

"This is Major Carter of Earth," she spoke into the microphone, eyes fixed on the shimmering event horizon. "I'm trying to contact my father, please respond."

"Major Carter," the voice of the Tok'ra on the other side was now familiar to her. It sounded bored, uninterested. Annoyed at being interrupted for the fifth time in the space of a day. "As I have told you before, as soon as Jacob Carter is available, we will tell him you are waiting for him to contact you."

Sam sighed, her own patience wearing thin. "Is there absolutely no way you can contact him? It's important, we might not have much time left..."

"As I mentioned before," the Tok'ra continued in the same bored tone, "your father and Selmak are occupied with a matter that is of the utmost importance to the Tok'ra. We cannot allow his work to be jeopardised by petty Tau'ri affairs."

"Petty..." Her eyes narrowed and the other officers in the control room shrank back to watch the show. "This is not a petty affair," she ground out through clenched teeth. "This is a matter of life and death, literally. Despite what you may believe, we have helped the Tok'ra on several occasions, Doctor Fraiser herself has helped you more than once... I can't believe how selfish you're being. All we need is for one of you to spare half an hour or so to come here and see if there's anything you can do. We're talking about someone's life here. Can't you understand that?"

There was a momentary pause on the other end. Then the Tok'ra was back, as condescending and unhelpful as ever.

"We understand the situation, Major, but there is nothing we can do. We cannot spare any of our operatives. This is a very busy time for us, we are in the process of deciphering an important piece of text and using it to infiltrate the ranks of the Goa'uld Anubis. If one of our operatives can get close enough to him..."

"I don't care," Sam interrupted, her hands clenched into fists. "I want you to contact my father right now and let him know what's going on. Tell him Doctor Fraiser has been seriously hurt and we need his help to save her. Tell him everything we've done has failed and no one else can help us. Tell him..." Her voice trailed off, exhaustion and nerves catching up with and beginning to get on top of her. "Tell him his daughter needs his help. Tell him I don't know what to do."

"Very well," the Tok'ra replied eventually, his voice strained. "We will see what we can do. Goodbye."

The connection was lost before she could respond. Sinking further into her seat, Sam disconnected the Stargate and let her head fall forward into her hands, her shoulders slumped, her eyes stinging behind closed lids.

Around her, everyone got back to doing their jobs, the atmosphere subdued and unusually quiet.

This was it. She'd done all she could do. The waiting had started.

*****

Their arrival at the Jaffa base caused quite a stir. Teal'c led the group of women – all of whom had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to leave their home and go with Ishta – from the Stargate to the main building, stopping just outside it.

The male Jaffa who had been training on the grounds around the Stargate stopped what they were doing and joined the group, forming a circle around the Jaffa women Teal'c and Daniel had brought to them.

"Master Bra'tac," Teal'c greeted the elder Jaffa warmly, taking the arm that was offered to him.

"Teal'c," Bra'tac returned the gesture then took a step back, glancing up and down at the woman warrior at the side of his long-term friend. "This must be Ishta, the warrior of which you spoke."

Several men grunted and muttered among themselves at the term 'warrior' being associated with the female.

"Yes, this is she." Teal'c spoke loudly, his voice carrying above the crowd. "Ishta and her people have been fighting the Goa'uld in their own way for many years. However, their home is now under threat and their actions have been discovered by the Goa'uld Moloc. I have brought them here so that they may help us fight against the Goa'uld without having to worry about a threat on their lives." He glanced around, his gaze stern as it came to rest on a male Jaffa who seemed to think the idea of female warriors was highly amusing – and insulting. "Is there something you wish to share with us, brother?"

"You insult us by bringing them here, Teal'c," the Jaffa in question spat out, his eyes narrowed as he glared at the women. "Women are not warriors. Their place is in the home, tending to our children and to our homes. They have no business fighting our battles."

"We have as much right as you to defend ourselves," Ishta spoke up, her chin defiantly high. "Do you think you are the only ones to suffer at the hand of the Goa'uld. Do you think the women you have left behind, your wives and mothers and children, have escaped punishment for your actions? We are warriors just as you. We fight for our lives and for our people just as you do. We care for our children and raise them to be warriors like us. We do not believe females should be excluded from gaining the training and the skill needed to defend themselves because they were not born as sons."

No one seemed to have a retort on hand as silence greeted her impassioned statement.

Bra'tac gazed at her in amused approval, his mind having been opened considerably by the involvement of the Tau'ri in his life. "You and your people are most welcome here, Ishta." He glared at the Jaffa at the back who dared to snort in distain at his words. "We welcome any who stand as we do against the Goa'uld."

"Thank you, Master Bra'tac." Ishta took the arm he offered her, returning the greeting as relief flooded her stomach and rose within her. "We look forward to learning from each other and using what we learn to defeat the Goa'uld."

Her ease spread to Teal'c, who stood proudly at her side as one by one most of the male Jaffa approached to extend their own welcomes to the female warriors.

Their ease, however, wasn't shared by Neith, who stood behind Nesa, her hands protectively resting on her little sisters shoulders, keeping the other Jaffa away with a haughty glare.

Daniel moved to stand beside them, reassuring Nesa with a smile when the young girl looked up at him. "Relax, Neith," he murmured to the older sister, nodding politely at Bra'tac and a Jaffa who looked faintly familiar. "No one will hurt either of you. We wouldn't have brought you here if there was a chance of that happening."

Neith stared at him, torn between wanting to believe him and wanting to stay on her guard. "You do not know what it is like to live among them," she said finally, her eyes flicking away suspiciously from face to face as memories of her own unhappy childhood assaulted her, leading her to tighten her grasp on Nesa's shoulders. "If this peace lasts until your next visit, I will be very surprised."

She left before he could comment, ushering Nesa along to one of the tents she heard Bra'tac say had been vacated for them.

Daniel watched them go, his own thoughts troubled until he brushed those doubts aside, telling himself it would work out when the two genders got used to each other. Besides, he reasoned as he let himself get caught up in a conversation with Bra'tac, if anything did start going pear shaped, the SGC would be called and they'd find a solution.

His thoughts took him in a downward direction.

Hopefully, he thought to himself, he and Teal'c would get home and find Sam had found a solution to the more immediate problem facing them.

*****

If he didn't know her as well as he did, he would have glanced through the open door into her lab, seen her sitting at her workbench with her head bent over and assumed she was immersed in her work. He would have smiled to himself and walked on, not wanting to interrupt or risk distracting her by lingering for too long.

Jack knew better.

He limped into the lab, supporting himself on his crutches. The sound of the crutches touching the ground made her head snap up and around, the expression on her face resembling the classic deer-caught-in-headlights-look he was used to seeing on Daniel's face when the archaeologist had been caught doing something he shouldn't do.

"Hey, Carter." He managed a small grin, wincing a little as his wound protested. Doctor Warner hadn't wanted him to get out of bed but he'd insisted. He had to talk to Carter, make sure she was okay after hearing the General express his concerns and since the Major wouldn't go to the infirmary, the infirmary had to go to the Major. Or something like that. He vaguely remembered being dosed up with something half an hour before the plan had formed in his mind.

"Colonel, sir!" She got up and immediately went to his side, helping him over to the stool, ushering him onto it. "You shouldn't be up," she admonished, her glare not quite as heated as the one Nurse Myers had thrown him when he'd knocked into the tray of instruments she'd only just finished cleaning. "Does Doctor Warner know you're here?"

"Yup." He wrapped one arm around his middle, supporting his injury. "Didn't approve, though. I'm beginning to think he had a point."

Frowning, Sam shook her head and made to stand from the stool she'd just sat down on. "We should get you back to the infirmary, you should still be in bed..."

"Cassie called." His words were enough to stop her mid-action. "I told her there'd been an accident, she assumed something had happened to you."

"Oh." Retaking her seat, Sam grasped her hands and glanced at him curiously. "How did she take it when you told her it was Janet?"

"She... She was okay." He shrugged in an attempt at being casual, swallowing the lump that rose as he recalled the stunned silence on the other side of the phone. "She was quiet more than anything else. She... She's on her way home. I didn't tell her how bad it was, just that she needed to come back."

Sam bit down on her bottom lip, chewing it nervously. "I don't know how to tell her how bad it is. I don't know how to explain that there's nothing else we can do for her."

"I take it the Tok'ra were no help?" Jack wanted to reach out for her, to offer some sort of comfort but he knew he couldn't. It wasn't allowed.

She snorted, shaking her head and wrapping her arms around herself. "Dad's apparently on a mission that's too important to disturb, like always. And they can't spare anyone else because they're busy trying to get a spy somewhere among Anubis' fleet."

"That sounds... good," he murmured, not wanting to cause her further aggravation by reminding her where he stood when it came to the Tok'ra. "Your Dad will be here as soon as he gets the message. Then... we'll see what happens."

"Yeah." Nodding but still unable to get passed the knot of dread tightening in her stomach, Sam forced a smile when the klaxons went off. "Maybe that's him now."

"Maybe." Getting to his feet – with some help from her – he couldn't stop himself from wincing when he put his weight on the ankle he'd sprained as he went down. "I... ah... don't think I'll be coming with you to find out."

A genuine smile flickered across her face for the first time all day, her hand hovering at his back as he started walking. "I'll help you back to the infirmary, sir."

Too tired to let his ego protest, Jack continued slowly making his way from the room. "Thanks, Carter. Don't know what I'd do without you."

*****

Daniel and Teal'c met her in the corridor on her way from the infirmary to the gate room. She pushed the disappointment she felt at discovering they'd been the reason for the Stargate activating and covered it with a small smile.

"Hi guys, how did it go?" The threesome stopped in the corridor, mindful of any passing SFs who came their way. "Did you get Ishta and her people relocated in time?"

"Yep," Daniel returned her smile, noting, though, that it didn't reach her eyes. He wasn't surprised; General Hammond had briefly updated himself and Teal'c before they'd left the gate room. "How's Jack? We thought we'd stop by and say hi before letting Doctor Warner check us over."

"He's okay," her smile faded and her gaze dropped downwards. "He managed to contact Cassandra... She's... She's on her way home. She doesn't know how serious it is but she knows its Janet who's been hurt."

"Well..." Daniel shuffled from one foot to the other. "Some things are better said in person."

The lights started flashing and the klaxons started going before she could think of an adequate response.

For a second, none of them moved. They just looked at each other, wanting to hope for the best but not allowing themselves to do so.

"Are there any teams currently off world?" Daniel asked her quietly, his gaze intense.

Sam shook her head, her eyes wide. "Not that I know of. General Hammond recalled all of them after the attack."

The two of them turned in perfect unison, jogging towards the gate room with Teal'c following at a slightly more sedate rate. They made it to the gate room just in time to see a harassed looking Jacob Carter step through the event horizon and walked down the metal ramp, the sounds of his footsteps reverberating around the room.

His eyes softened when he saw his daughter standing at the bottom of the ramp, his gaze taking in the bags under her eyes and the strain on her face. Opening his arms to her, he closed them when she moved into his embrace, burying her head into his shoulder like she'd done when she was a child.

He took a step back, gazing at her through sad eyes. "I heard about Janet, I'm sorry, Sam." He took her hands, giving them a tight squeeze.

"Is there anything you can do, Dad? Anything that can help her?" Imploringly, Sam stared at him through hopeful eyes.

His expression grim, Jacob nodded and squeezed her hands once more. "There is something I can suggest but you're probably not going to like it."

Intrigued, Sam gazed at him for a few moments before exchanging a glance with Daniel. The knot in her stomach tightened again as her gaze returned to her father and the grimace upon his face.

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Written by: Jo. R
Producers: LauraJo & Vicki

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