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Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 08:39 pm
[personal profile] sg_betty made the following request for the Fall Fandom Free-For-All: The aftermath of a failed mission. Any season. They can still be in harm's way, on a ship, or back at the SGC. She also once quoted this line of dialogue for Teal'c: "The Tau'ri spoke too much of their defeats, and not enough of their victories." She said she'd like to use it in a fanfic one day, and she has given me permission to use it here. I'm grateful to her for the prompt as well as the compelling quote, which inspired much of this story.

Summary: SG-1 doesn't always win. It's a good thing they have each other to help pick up the pieces. Jack POV, Daniel-centric, Teal'c awesomeness.

4,350 words. Rated PG for Goa'uld atrocities. Set in S2 immediately after Secrets, with spoilers for that episode.

I'm grateful to Random, the queen of betas, who wouldn't let me take shortcuts and helped me get the beats right. Any remaining mistakes are wholly my own.


Taking Tally

The rings whined as they snapped down around Sobek and his retinue, and Jack tightened his grip on Daniel's arm. A quick sidelong glance told him he needn't have bothered; Daniel had gone utterly still, lips pressed tight and stare fixed on the hatak that dominated the sky.

That, Jack knew, was an even more dangerous sign than outright fury.

The rings shot upward again, leaving the windswept ground silent and empty. The hatak rose ponderously through sullen gray clouds. Thunder echoed as the ship broke free of the sound barrier, and then it was gone.

Fat raindrops spattered on Jack's BDUs as he slowly rose to his feet. He grimaced as he tested his twisted left ankle, still unhealed after three days of relentless use. Daniel remained in his crouch, still staring upwards at the vanished hatak, and Jack braced himself for what would come next. He was still hoping for an explosion, and he wondered if he could somehow provoke one. Otherwise, Daniel was about to retreat into that simmering guilt that would eat away at the man until desperation drove him to rashness.

He nudged Daniel, careful to avoid the stained bandage on Daniel's right shoulder. "Time to go."

Daniel's gaze snapped to him, then slanted away. He ignored Jack's proffered hand and scrambled to his feet, head tipped at just the right angle to allow his hair to fall forward and hide his face.

"Try the radio?" Daniel's voice was a little too neutral, the tone too flat to be real.

Jack considered the suggestion, then shook his head. "The snakehead's gone, and so are the Jaffa, but I'd still rather not advertise by breaking radio silence."

"Right."

Jack waited, but Daniel offered nothing more. "Let's head back," he said at last, nodding to the west. "We're about two klicks from the river. Carter must've figured out a way to cross by now."

"The crocodiles will still be dangerous."

"Even now? After they've... fed?"

"Crocodiles save food for later," Daniel said, his tone still a little too distant. "They'll let it rot, if that makes it easier to eat. They wouldn't hesitate to kill again -- and we'll be lucky if we don't see their leftovers."

Jack closed his eyes, willing himself not to remember the screams, the blood, the feeding frenzy. "We could just zat them, I suppose. Swim across before they wake up again."

Daniel's brows rose. "You want to take a chance that we might not spot one? Or that crocodiles recover faster from zat blasts than humans?"

"Ah. Right."

The rain fell faster as they trudged towards the river, soaking their hair and clothing. Jack wriggled his chilled toes in sodden boots and hunched his shoulders against the steady downpour. What he wouldn't do for a long, hot shower and a steaming mug of coffee right now -- no, make that a roaring fire and a chilled beer. Or four or five beers. He could use a little temporary amnesia.

He controlled the urge to keep sneaking glances at Daniel. What was going on inside that shaggy head? Too many bad choices, too many failures. Was there any way to stop that all-too-active brain from spinning out if-onlys?

For one, if only these people here hadn't seemed so much like the Nagadans on Abydos.

They'd stepped onto the planet on a routine three-day mission, in search of little more than ruins and abandoned mines. There'd been only a few broken paving stones to show that anyone had ever used the Stargate, and the UAV hadn't shown any signs of life in the cluster of buildings on the other side of a river about four klicks away to the south. Of course, Jack knew now that the town had seemed empty because everyone had been busy working in the naquadah mines at the time. Typical SG-1 luck.

The mission had started going south as soon as they'd reached the river. The UAV had shown the stone bridge that spanned the swift current, but a closer examination showed that it was carved with elaborate hieroglyphs, inlaid with gold, and included an open platform that jutted out over the water like a gangplank. Daniel immediately recognized the innocent-seeming logs drifting in the current as crocodiles, and wondered aloud if the predators had been brought from Earth by Sobek. Before he could really launch his monologue on the mythology of Sobek and the significance of crocodiles as totems, Teal'c confirmed the existence of a Goa'uld by that name.

The team shifted into battle-ready mode, weapons unholstered, and crossed the bridge, with Jack trying to ignore Daniel's anxious speculation about the ceremonial uses of that open platform.

The town was far from empty, and Jack silently cursed the bad timing of the UAV flight that left them so unprepared. Daniel did his usual thing, though, and while the townspeople were clearly frightened of Teal'c and wary of strangers in general, they answered questions readily enough, speaking a dialect so similar to the one used on Abydos that even Jack felt the aching tug.

Daniel seemed torn between pleasure and dismay when he learned that the people of the small town called their planet Shedyet. Jack muttered a question, and Daniel quietly explained that Shedyet had been the main site of Sobek's cult back on Earth -- and that the Greeks had nicknamed the city Crocodilopolis. Daniel pressed for further information, and while the answers didn't seem to surprise him much, Jack found himself gripping the handle of his rifle just a little more tightly with every added detail.

Yes, Sobek often descended from the sky to claim his rightful tribute of naquadah. If their labors pleased him, Sobek would sit in judgment and weigh the chosen on the scales of good and evil. The chappa'ai? No, Sobek never came to Shedyet that way -- he always arrived in his sky chariot, blotting out the sun with the terror of his wrath.

Licking his lips and glancing at Jack, Daniel ventured a few questions about how the judgment took place. The question was met with surprise -- surely the strangers knew the significance of the holy bridge that spanned the sacred river and locked its banks in chains! There, on the great platform, Sobek would weigh the hearts of the judged. Those that were worthy were graced with additional life; those deemed guilty would be thrown into the river to be consumed by Sobek's holy totems -- a just punishment, they hastened to add.

And Sobek sometimes chose a fortunate few to rise with him into the skies and rejoice in everlasting immortality.

The young man who answered most of Daniel's questions was shadowed by the slight figure of a woman with downcast eyes -- his wife, apparently, who bore no resemblance to Sha're other than the color of her eyes and hair. Daniel's voice had never faltered as he spoke to the couple, but Jack watched his hands slowly clenching into fists.

Daniel tried to broach the subject of false gods, and met with fierce denial from the town's leaders. He tried again, seeing a spark of uncertainty in the eyes of some of the younger adults, but the nervousness of the natives quickly turned to anger. Jack quietly warned Daniel to back off, but it was too soon after seeing Sha're and losing her again, and Daniel wasn't able to stop himself from arguing just a little too strongly.

Sometimes, it doesn't take all that much to turn a gathering into a mob.

As Jack limped along on his aching ankle, he wished, yet again, that they'd managed a quick retreat to the Stargate at that point. They would have left this miserable planet with minor injuries and a fair amount of frustration, but at least no one would have died.

Instead, he and Daniel were now trudging through the slog and mud, soaked through from the rain, bruised and scraped with nothing to show for the last three miserable days. They'd come, they'd seen, and they'd royally messed up.

They were nearing the river and the wreckage of the bridge now, and Jack hesitated, uneasy at the thought of the grisly detritus that might still be there, some seven hours after the slaughter. He turned to Daniel to suggest they skirt the area -- but Daniel had stopped a dozen paces back, and he was staring at the path that led to the town.

Jack pitched his voice low and sharp. "Daniel."

Startled, Daniel looked at him, then slowly turned back towards the town. "We could --"

"Daniel."

"Jack..."

"No, Daniel."

"We can't just walk away! These people need help. Maybe we could show them how to use the Stargate, find them somewhere else, somewhere they could --"

"You can't give what they don't want, Daniel."

The two of them stared at one another, and Jack felt frustrated at the heavy rain that blurred their faces, leaving Daniel's expression almost abstract.

"They don't want us," Jack said again. He stifled the impulse to gentle his tone. Daniel didn't need or want kindness right now.

"So we just slink away?" Daniel asked bitterly, swiping ineffectually at his face. "We'll just leave them with their dead and the broken bridge, so they can mine more naquadah for Sobek?"

Jack snorted. "A broken bridge is the least of their worries, isn't it?"

"No. It's retribution."

"Retribution," Jack repeated in that deliberately slow drawl that he knew infuriated Daniel. "It's a punishment that Sobek can't throw them into the river any more? And while we're at it, why did the slimy snake decide to blast his own bridge instead of --"

"Yes, it's a punishment!" Daniel stalked forward, his back finally turned to the town, and shoved past Jack, heading upriver past the shattered debris. "They think they can't be judged any more. That bridge represented their passage to the afterlife. Unless Sobek lets them rebuild the bridge, they believe they've been condemned to limbo, or worse. No judgment means no purgatory or paradise, Jack."

Jack shook his head in silent disgust and fell into step at Daniel's side, squelching through the mud. Trust the Goa'uld to manipulate their victims to the point where they were begging to suffer...

When SG-1 had fled the town ahead of the angry mob that Daniel had incited with his words, they'd had no plan other than an ignominious retreat to the Stargate. But their usual impeccable timing meant that was also exactly when the big honkin' mothership had appeared in the sky. They'd had to scramble desperately for cover in the brush, with no opportunity to cross the river again and make a four-klick run over open ground for the Gate.

They'd been forced to wait it out, hoping to stay hidden until Sobek claimed his tribute and left again. Three days of keeping just one step ahead of the Jaffa who patrolled around the town, looking for anything suspicious. Three days of carefully nursing wounds from the stones and sticks and fists of the mob, and cautiously rationing food and water. Three days of watching the Jaffa's casual brutality and forcing themselves not to react.

Daniel had argued in vociferous whispers in favor of ambushing one of the patrols. They'd inspired revolt on Abydos by showing that Ra's guards could be killed. Couldn't they do the same here? They might even get lucky and kill Sobek with a lucky shot.

Jack reminded him that they didn't have a nuke along this time, much less any sign of support from the natives. And when that didn't work, Jack got brutal, and mentioned another suggested ambush that had ended with most of them dead.

Daniel shut up after that, white-faced and tight-lipped. Carter directed one of those polite killer stares of hers at her commanding officer, and Teal'c's expression had gone cold and set. But Jack figured that a verbal low blow was better than seeing any of his teammates dead.

All any of them wanted to do was empty a weapon into Sobek's smirking hide. It didn't help that they started to see a few signs of uncertainty among the younger natives -- puzzlement, frustration, even some anger at the behavior of Sobek's Jaffa. Maybe there was a little ripe ground for rebellion here, but the odds were too ridiculous to consider, even for SG-1. If they managed to avoid detection until after Sobek left, maybe they could come back one day and do something more.

Then the race against time ended in Sobek's favor, because their 72-hour window closed. And Hammond dialed the Gate to find out why his premier team wasn't coming home.

Jack hissed a warning to Hammond over the radio and requested immediate closing of the wormhole, but the damage was done. Sensors on the hatak alerted Sobek to the opening of the Stargate. Extra platoons of Jaffa ringed down, and a little brutal interrogation quickly revealed the existence of the four strangers who had appeared in the village and been chased away for their blasphemous words.

Sobek's reaction wasn't long in coming. It didn't matter that the town's elders were as blindly loyal as ever, and that the majority were equally devout. The fact that outsiders had come, and possibly spread doubt of Sobek's divinity, was enough to seal these people's fate. The Goa'uld needed something spectacular and horrific to remind them of his power and their helplessness.

Either that, or the snake was just a megalomaniac sadist. Jack wouldn't take bets either way.

Sobek paraded his randomly-chosen victims onto the bridge's platform, with ranks of Jaffa lining the banks. The entire town had been forcibly turned out to watch. Jack, huddled in the scanty cover of a thorn bush with Carter crouched next to him, remembered another execution orchestrated by a Goa'uld. Only this time, there was no disheveled archeologist armed with a staff weapon, and no natives smuggling rifles under their robes to provide a distraction.

No, there were only the twenty-odd men and women -- and children -- that Sobek had chosen for his little demonstration. None of them had wept or pleaded; they'd simply dropped to their knees, heads bowed, awaiting Sobek's judgment. Only one of them had kept his head held high, and it was little comfort to see it was the young man that Daniel had spoken with a few days before.

Multiple staff weapons fired. Once, twice, three times.

The bridge collapsed in an explosion of dust and rubble, plunging the victims into the river.

When the screams of terror turned to howls of agony, Carter turned away, face unashamedly streaked with tears. Thrashing tails churned the water, mercifully obscuring the worst details, but it was clear there would be no survivors -- even if the Jaffa on the banks hadn't been ready to kill anyone who tried to escape to shore.

With the killing ceremony over, Sobek had the entire town marched out to the naquadah mines for a formal affirmation of their loyalty and devotion. Teal'c and Carter stayed near the river in an attempt to discover a safe crossing to the Stargate, although Teal'c looked like he'd rather find Sobek and tear the snake apart with his bare hands. Jack and Daniel followed the entourage to the mines to keep watch.

With an unnaturally still Daniel at this side, Jack watched in fuming silence as the traumatized people shuffled out of the mines, carrying naquadah ore. And just when Jack thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, Sobek had pointed imperiously at first one girl, then another, then a third. Jaffa quickly hustled the chosen ones forward to stand within range of the transport rings.

One of the three was the shy young woman who had watched SG-1 from behind her husband's shoulder -- the husband who had just died in the river in a welter of splintered stone and crocodile's teeth.

Jack heard the hiss of fury, saw that first shift of weight, and clamped his hand down hard on Daniel's wounded shoulder. He ignored the stifled gasp of pain and tightened his grip for good measure. Daniel was a little too good at darting out into danger when someone needed protection, but it wouldn't help now -- it would only cause more deaths.

It wasn't as if Jack didn't understand how Daniel felt. Through all the slaughter and servitude and suffering, SG-1 had been forced to do nothing. It was bad enough when Sobek only knew that the people had dared to speak with strangers. If SG-1 was spotted by one of the patrols and identified, the Goa'uld would wipe out every single person on Shedyet for daring to ally themselves with the Tau'ri. They'd done enough harm as it was, by seeding doubts and then failing to get off-planet before Hammond dialed Shedyet and sparked the brutal reprisals.

Now Sobek was gone with his shipment of naquadah ore and new hosts, and SG-1 was left with the shattered pieces of one of their most disastrous missions. They couldn't even go back to the town and offer aid -- not without compromising these people even more. Daniel wouldn't want to believe it, but Jack knew that their offer wouldn't just be soundly rejected; if they showed their faces, the natives would likely tear them to pieces.

Jack didn't think he'd blame them, either. And his team had been through enough.

They were past the bridge now, trudging upstream through thick, slippery mud and steady, dreary rain. Still no sign of Teal'c or Carter, but Jack hardly expected them to be waiting in the open. As they paced along the shore, alert for innocent-looking logs, Jack risked a few clicks on the radio. To his relief, a reply came almost instantly, with Teal'c's personal click code for all-clear; radio silence unnecessary.

"Teal'c," he said softly into the radio. "Status?"

"We are well, O'Neill," Teal'c replied, his voice calm and reassuring even through the static. "Before the hatak departed, a patrol of four came dangerously close to Captain Carter's makeshift bridge. We avoided detection with only minor difficulty. Since then, we have been able to finish our work without distractions."

Jack shot a relieved glance at Daniel at even this little piece of good news. "Carter made a bridge for us, you say?"

"Yes, sir," Carter's voice broke into the transmission. "We'll still have to exercise caution when we cross, though, especially with all this rain."

"We're about half a klick above the old bridge. Where do we meet you?"

"Approximately two kilometers further upriver, O'Neill."

"Right. We'll be there shortly. O'Neill out."

As they jogged cautiously along the riverbank, trying not to slip in the worsening mud, Jack reconsidered his earlier decision. Goading Daniel into an explosion might have to wait until they were back on Earth. The man was just too quiet, and it was little comfort to know that silence was something they needed right now. Daniel was never this quiet just because it was tactically sound.

It was guilt, Jack knew -- the same guilt he felt for blundering onto this planet and their culpability in destroying these lives. But for Daniel, it had to be compounded by too-recent memories of Abydos, and the failures they'd suffered then.

Sha're was still out there with Apophis, and knowing they'd saved her son from becoming a host didn't ease the knowledge that Daniel's wife had been forced to bear another man's child. Kasuf had been forced into hiding. Abydos had suffered yet another Goa'uld invasion. Sometimes it seemed like they were just spinning in circles, firing off bullets at random and hurting innocents in the process.

Jack gave his head a quick shake and shoved the whole question aside. Physical problems now, emotional problems later. He'd worry about Daniel's state of mind when his own brain wasn't marching along depressingly familiar paths.

Climbing a small rise, they found themselves at Carter's jury-rigged crossing. Jack was impressed; she'd cannibalized all the rope and harness from their packs, planks of wood she'd found who-knew-where, and a few staff weapons to create a rope bridge that stretched across the river. Teal'c had already crossed -- a wise tactical move, Jack thought. It proved that the structure was sturdy enough to bear the weight of the heaviest team member.

Carter stood watch by the bank, her green BDUs darkened to black by the heavy rain. Her eyes lit with relief as Jack and Daniel came into view.

"Haven't seen any crocodiles," she reported.

"Let's get across, then, while the going's good," Jack replied briskly. "Nice work, Captain."

Carter nodded and moved, stepping lightly across the bridge. She didn't look down at the water, but her gaze did flicker from side to side, wary for any sign of approaching predators. She reached the other side without incident and gave a thumbs-up.

"Go, Daniel," Jack ordered.

Daniel hesitated, eyes squinting behind fogged glasses as he peered back downstream in the direction of the town.

"Daniel," Jack said again, and he hated himself for failing to keep the weight of his own weariness out of his voice this time.

Daniel turned back, and Jack almost wished for the hot, furious stare again, instead of the dulled, hopeless anger in the man's eyes. Finally, without a word, Daniel shuffled carefully onto the rope bridge and slowly made his way across to the other side. The moment Daniel touched the opposite shore, Jack stepped onto the ropes himself, moving across with spare efficiency. He didn't want to trust luck to keep the crocodiles away for much longer -- after all, their luck on this mission had been spectacularly bad.

Jack stepped onto mud-churned ground and immediately unsheathed his knife. "Best place to take it all down, Carter?"

"I've already showed Teal'c which supports to shoot out on the other shore." She pointed to one of the improvised struts that anchored the rope bridge in place. "You should cut here and here, sir."

One slash of the knife. Two. The thunder of Teal'c's staff weapon, firing once and again. The makeshift bridge collapsed into the river, already falling apart as the current carried it downstream. By the time the debris reached the site of the old bridge, it would be pummeled out of any hope of recognition.

"That's it, then," Jack said, and he was a little surprised at how much bitterness he could hear in his own voice. "No way to tell we were ever here."

"Except for all the dead people, of course," Daniel countered, brows drawn down tight and his mouth pinched with unreleased anger.

"Daniel..." Carter started, but Teal'c uncharacteristically interrupted her.

"They died free, Daniel Jackson."

Daniel's eyes sparked to blazing fury as he rounded on Teal'c. For a moment, it looked like he'd haul off and punch him, and Jack wondered if that might actually help them both. "They did not die free! They died to suit Sobek's whims, not to defy him! They shouldn't have died at all!" He flung himself away, hands spasming into fists, and his voice was suddenly low, almost wounded. "They wouldn't have died if we hadn't been here."

"Can we know that?" Teal'c asked calmly. "Might not Sobek have found some other whim by which to order their deaths? Jaffa have been ordered to kill senselessly before now, and they will no doubt again. Would their lives be better served by dying otherwise?"

Daniel pivoted back to stare at him. "You, of all people," he said in that soft, deadly voice that could flay flesh from bone, "should know the answer to that question."

Teal'c didn't even flinch. "You see our failure here, and thus condemn all we have achieved since the Tau'ri uncovered their Stargate. It is true that many died, and it is true that we share in the blame."

Jack opened his mouth to speak, then closed it as Teal'c continued, "But the greatest culpability lies with Sobek, not us. It is he who has enslaved these people. And I say to you, Daniel Jackson, that while those that died may not have chosen to serve as martyrs for freedom, the day will yet come when their deaths will inspire a true rebellion."

"All we have achieved?" Daniel repeated bitterly. "What have we done, Teal'c? Sha're is still out there, Apophis is still out there, we've made a personal enemy out of Heru'ur..."

"We have done much." Teal'c's voice carried the snap and authority of the man who had once commanded armies, and it stopped even Daniel. "Setbacks do not negate our successes. Have you forgotten that we saved Earth by destroying two hatak in orbit, greatly reducing Apophis' forces? What of our mission to Cimmeria, and your contact with Thor of the Asgard? Will you so quickly dismiss how we thwarted Nirrti's plans to destroy Earth?"

He paused, but Daniel only pulled off his glasses and closed his eyes, shaking his head mutely. The sound of the rain seemed suddenly louder.

"What of those missions that affected lives other than the Tau'ri?" Teal'c pressed. "We failed here, most grievously. But what of the lives we granted to the victims of Pelops' nanotechnology, or the residents on the Gamekeeper's planet? Will you say those victories are worth nothing?"

"No, of course not," Daniel whispered. "But -- these people. Abydos. I..."

"The Tau'ri speak too much of their defeats, and not enough of their victories." Teal'c's voice suddenly grew more gentle. "Allow your victories to lend you strength, Daniel Jackson."

Daniel shuddered, just once, then sighed. Jack watched the tension slowly bleed out of Daniel's stance, leaving him tired and hurting -- but still whole inside, where it really counted.

He looked away, and allowed himself the luxury of a grimace of his own. Maybe he could even believe it himself, when Teal'c spoke with such conviction.

Jack turned back and nodded at Teal'c, getting a grave nod in return. He glanced at Carter and her too-bright eyes, then placed a hand on Daniel's good shoulder.

"C'mon, kids," he said quietly. "Let go home."


stat tracker for tumblr

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
Of course it has to be Teal'c and Jack, the old warriors (with T the oldest!) who know how to deal with defeat. And they help Daniel and Sam learn it too.

You did a great job with the plot bunny, one that is seldom told in SG-1 fic.

Thanks!
Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 04:35 am (UTC)
I love fics where we get to see Teal'c use some of that wisdom that he has accumulated in his long years.

I love that Daniel seems young and petulent by contrast, but it is only because he is being (by human standards) mature and trying to take responsibility and clean up the messes he has made.

Carter is pretty quiet here, but then she tends to be when emotions are running a little high on the team, so this is very much in character.

And Jack, for all that he is eager willing to be the bull in the china shop when he has time and leisure to do so, is showing his leadership skill here in knowing when to push, when to pull back, and when to let others do what needs to be done.

Very lovely, very team-y, very much what I have come to expect from your writing.

And it's nice to get a view of one of their Other Sort of Days for once.
sid: (Teal'c clouds)
[personal profile] sid
Friday, November 20th, 2009 07:38 am (UTC)
Oh, the pain of the early seasons when the fight against the Goa'uld seemed nearly hopeless. *pets the team*

Teal'c sees the truth, though. No one has succeeded like these people have succeeded, in spite of setbacks and outright failures. There is hope. \o/
Monday, March 1st, 2010 01:31 am (UTC)
Here via a comment at [personal profile] synecdochic's -- lovely story! Excellent Jack POV, and very good use of Teal'c's experience & perspective.