One Too Many Planets Part 3

Later, when it was finished, Jack lay in an exhausted daze, barely aware that Sam was using water to cool his fevered both. As the interminable hours passed, he thrashed from side to side, crying out incoherently while at other periods he lay quietly, sometimes aware of where he was and who he was with. At these times Sam took the opportunity to coax and wheedle the patient into drinking as much water as he could face.

After one such effort he lay back holding up both hands, palms out in submission. 'Enough…are you trying to drown me, Carter?'

She smiled at his attempt at a joke, stroking his forehead as if seeking her own comfort.

"It's holy water, Colonel," and seeing his expression she dropped her gaze. Feeling a little contrite he attempted to make amends.

"Whatever it takes, eh Sam?"

Blue eyes rose to brow; Sam was keenly aware he'd used her first name, something Jack rarely did. She gave him a winning smile.

"I wonder if you can clear something that's been niggling me."

Please don't let it be what I think it is. Sam could feel the blood rushing to her face and prayed that the light from the torches kept her features in shadow. "Sir, I…I think you should rest now, you don't want to -."

"Did I hear correctly when Ragnar referred to me as your mate?"

Sam kept her head down, trying to conceal her colour and the fact that she found this conversation intensely uncomfortable.

"I think….I mean….I…I'm sure," she stammered, increasingly vexed with herself that she was unable to present a cool, poised exterior , "Ragnar used the term simply to imply friendship, sir."

"Did she now?" Jack's tone clearly thought otherwise. "Talking of the devil….." Jack's eyes roamed around the cave.

"She's gone to find the Shaman."

"Wha-at?" Jack, his face darkening with undisguised anger, struggled painfully to sit up. "You let her go alone?" he accused curtly.

"I couldn't-."

"You couldn't what, Captain?" he snapped, his eyes flaying her. "And don't let me hear that it was on my account!"

Jack knew he was being a bastard but his irritation at his own weakness uncharacteristically made him lash out at the last person he would want to.

Stiffening, Sam wiped all emotion from her face as she too realized how unjust was her C.O.s stinging retort.

"No, sir!"

"No, sir, what?" he growled, unwilling to let it go at that and as she remained silent he continued, "Can you tell me why you allowed that woman to leave here alone?"

The frigid silence was broken suddenly by Ragnar's soft voice cutting through the air like a knife, startling them both.

"Why do you not tell him?"

Turning to her, Sam's expressive eyes implored her to silence, but the older woman chose to ignore it.

"O'Neill, I do not know how you inspire such loyalty in this woman when, from what I observe, you treat her with such disdain."

"Tell me what?" he demanded scowling.

"For the last few hours your fever has soared and plummeted at an alarming rate. When it abates, as now, you are quite lucid though you appear to have no recollection of those times when your body burned like a fire."

Jack's expression remained blank though he noted Sam grew more distressed with every spoken word.

"Ragnar, please!"

"Enough is enough, child. His churlishness to me is irrelevant but when I see you treated with such a lack of respect, then I must speak." And Ragnar turned back to look down on the injured man, her green eyes flashing dangerously. "When you burn she has to hold you down, and when she is not holding you down, she is bathing you constantly. When you cry out, she holds you, when you weep she cradles you in her arms and wipes away your tears, and when you curse her for her tireless ministrations she watches over you even closer."

Turning her back, Sam could not bring herself to look at Jack as Ragnar relayed all this information; rather she hung her head and stared at her hands.

"And you!" continued Ragnar coldly, coming to stand over the pallet making Jack squirm and wish she'd never begun, "What did you expect? That she would do nothing to help you?" she demanded scornfully. "I will ask you one question and only one – would you have done any differently if roles had been reversed?" She was ready when he tried to turn away and bent gripping his chin, forcing him to look at her. "Well?"

Aware that the bright colour on his cheeks had little to do with his fever, Jack mumbled something under his breath relieved when he was able to wrest himself free.

Ragnar pounced on his words. "Louder, O'Neill, my hearing is not what it used to be."

Jack glared but the grey haired woman refused to look away.

"I said 'no'," he shouted. "Is that loud enough?"

Turning away to look at Sam, she replied calmly, "It is sufficient."

Tired from his exertions, Jack was forced to lie back, desperately aware that the fever in his body was beginning to rise yet again. He tried reaching for the water but upturned the container and was forced, through weakness, to fall helplessly back on the pallet.

Hearing the clatter of the falling bowl, Sam turned and made to go to Jack's side, but Ragnar put out a restraining hand.

"I think it is your turn to rest, child. He has had too much of your attention – let him be satisfied with mine." And seeing her hesitation, Ragnar coaxed, "Go and rest, we have important things to do all too soon."

When Ragnar knelt next to Jack and cradled his head he drank copiously then lay back trying to fight the dizziness and utter weakness which attacked him so virulently. He felt a cool cloth on his forehead and opened weary, pain-filled eyes.

"Try and rest too, O'Neill. Soon we will bring the Shaman."

His throat was burning as he tried speaking. "Where?"

Ragnar's own eyes darkened ominously. "The lizard people have her."

His brain was having difficulty focusing on the problem but he knew there was something not right though he couldn't put his thoughts coherently in order. He felt himself drifting off trying to solve the dilemma and fought against the overwhelming powers of his illness. His last clear thought was of Sam in her combat gear, ready to go on a mission – going without him. He tried reaching out desperately for her, calling her name over and over.

He couldn't tell whether he was dreaming or not when he next opened his eyes and saw his 2IC in combat fatigues. Her face was stained for night operations and she was checking her weapons.

"Carter?" He grimaced at the depth of weakness in his voice.

She looked up startled, an almost guilty expression quickly replaced by one he couldn't work out

"What's going on?"

Ragnar was quickly at his side proffering a bowl of honeyed mead but Jack drew his head away, aware that this was one concoction which enforced a drug induced sleep. He needed information and wasn't about to allow himself to be drugged.

"Captain, I'm waiting for an answer."

Knowing Sam would never refuse to answer Ragnar attempted to intervene, but Sam waved her away, her eyes fixed on her C.O.

"Sir, you're sick – you're very sick. Ragnar informs me that the Shaman can cure you – we're not having much success, even with the holy water. I'm going to find her and bring her back here."

Weak as he was, his eyes radiated their owner's anger. "And just how the hell do you intend doing that, Captain?"

The sarcasm was all too evident but Sam chose to ignore it and enthusiastically outlined her plan of action. The more Jack heard, the more his heart plummeted, so much that, in the end, he wished he had been having a nightmare.

"And let me ask you," his sarcasm had gone up a notch or two, "just let's imagine that your little scenario doesn't quite pan out the way you've planned – what back up do you have?" Jack's last words were fired at her with high velocity and she blinked in consternation.

"Sir, there's no back up, but I have no choice."

'Like hell you do!"

'With respect, sir, if I don't get this Shaman to you," and here she paused uncomfortable to continue.

Jack would have liked to use his cutting military authority to force Sam to back down, but that stubborn look in her eyes troubled him more than he liked to admit and he decided a change of tactics was required.

The hard edge to his voice was replaced by one far more amenable, calling on Sam to use her judgment. "Sam, think straight here. You'll be going on a suicide mission if you go alone."

"But she's not going alone – I will accompany your mate."

Jack raised his eyes as if to the heavens and slowly shook his head, a pained expression which had nothing to do with his injuries, crossing his features. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?" he muttered dryly.

"It's all we've got, sir."

"No, it isn't!" he shot back.

As realization hit her, Sam's eyes widened in alarm and she began shaking her head. "No way, sir. We're trying to keep you alive until-."

"Listen to me – you need back up. I know what I'm talking about and you know it," he challenged.

"You'll never make it to the Goa'uld camp," she countered, accepting that what her C.O. said made absolute sense but refusing the offer.

"I can with some of those leave of yours." And now Jack was addressing Ragnar, his eyes locked on hers.

"You don't know what you are asking," she warned

"They helped me get here."

"You don't understand. The leaf causes a terrible craving. To take more than one or two is extreme folly and not even the Shaman can ease the deep need."

"I'm willing to take that chance."

Ragnar's hesitation encouraged Jack to push himself up, however Sam's firm "Well I'm not!" had him closing his eyes, yet still a voice of reason within him warned him to contain his frustration.

"Captain, I'm not ordering you, I'm asking you – please...Sam?"

She'd heard that tone before when he was trying to get Janet to agree to an early release from the infirmary, but he'd never used it on her and she tried to close her ears to the Pied Piper plea of his voice.

"Let me at least try – if it gets too much, I promise I'll fall back and leave you to it."

Sam stared at him suspiciously and Jack had the grace to look sheepish.

Ragnar, having listened and watched the two, now stepped forward. "It makes sense – sick or not, your mate's thoughts are clear."

"He's not my mate! She snapped her annoyance plain to hear, though Ragnar felt it was more for O'Neill's benefit than for her.

"His fever has just fallen – that allows possibly two or three hours of clear thought before the fever re-establishes itself."

Trying hard to curtail his impatience and the fact that he was being talked over, Jack knew that if he allowed his temper to get the better of him he could well lose all chance of persuading the two women to come round to his idea. Strangely enough, he felt Ragnar was more amenable to his plan – it now rested with Sam and he wasn't sure if he had what it took to get her on his side.

Throwing the blanket off, he willed his legs to support him as he pushed himself up. "See," he forced a smile though he was hurting, attempting to appear confident and relaxed.

Sam's jaundiced eyes regarded him coolly. "Stop faking it, Colonel."

Jack's smile faded and he allowed himself a sheepish shrug, as if to say 'what else can I do?'

By the time they were ready for departure, Jack had to grit his teeth, as much from the fuss being made over him as the pain from his wound.

Yet again Sam approached, her hand automatically reaching out to feel his forehead, but it was just once too often.

"For crying out loud, will you stop doing that!" he snapped, his outburst making Sam jump back in alarm.

Too late, he realized his mistake. 'Crap.'

Ragnar's eyes narrowed menacingly as she came face to face with him. "If you don't want me to put you back in your bed right now, O'Neill, you will accord Samantha some courtesy!"

Jack's eyes glared darkly; he was ready for battle, but he did not want the fight to be against Ragnar – he was under no illusions as to who would be the victor. Dropping he eyes, he mumbled a few words only to have the older woman rap him none too gently on the thigh with her long walking stick.

"Ouch! I said I apologise!" and seeing Ragnar did not comprehend his choice of words, Jack continued hastily, "That means I accord her respect, lots of respect!"

Sam eyed Ragnar's stick worriedly, particularly when she could hear the sarcasm in Jack's voice, but fortunately for Jack, it appeared sarcasm was unfamiliar to Ragnar and she accepted the words at face value. Only as they were leaving the cave did Jack lean close to Sam and whisper softly in her ear, "When we get back Carter, you and I are going to have a long talk on a number of issues." She winced at the implied threat. "Understood, Captain?"

"Understood, sir."

It was surprising to Sam how lax the Goa'uld appeared as they observed them from their vantage point high above their encampment. Ragnar had explained that as their people were so peaceful - and here Jack had snorted throwing her a disbelieving glare as he rubbed his bruised thigh to which she had swiftly retorted, "Disobedient children sometimes need a gentle reminder." - There was little need for high security but both Sam and Jack put it down to a possible renegade group lacking a powerful leader.

Still trying to hide her smile at Ragnar's words to Jack, she whispered, "You're sure the Shaman is held there?" indicating a tent guarded by two serpent soldiers and the older woman nodded affirmatively.

"Okay, listen up. We'll do it like this-"

Ragnar held up her hand imperiously, cutting off Jack in full flow.

"If I remember correctly, O'Neill, you are back-up. And as such you are to await our instructions. Am I not correct?" She looked to Sam for confirmation, who, ignoring her CO's deep scowl, nodded affirmatively.

As Sam and Ragnar made to move out, Jack held up a hand. The two women halted watching as Jack struggled to find his tongue.

"Sir?" clearly unused to seeing the colonel at a loss for words, Sam's concern rose; she was deeply worried that the narcotic effects of the leaves were wearing off more quickly than they had anticipated.

Eventually, looking his 2IC in the eye he spoke firmly. "I don't want you taking any unnecessary chance, Captain, is that understood?" His voice sounded brusque but his eyes imparted far more than his words ever did and they burned with an intensity Sam found disconcerting. Having met his gaze, she now floundered and dropped her eyes in confusion for a second and when she dared to meet her CO's eyes again a shutter had come down and the hidden message she thought written there was gone.

"Yes, sir, we'll be careful."

It had been almost too easy disabling the serpent guards but for once Sam wasted no time questioning this oddity – she'd take whatever break was thrown her way. However, when Sam entered the tent she was unprepared for what she found – an exact double of Ragnar! Sam stared incredulously from one to the other.

"Are you twins?" she asked watching the two embrace warmly.

"If you mean, are we of the same birth – yes," replied Ragnar, her eyes shining with joy.

"Why didn't you say?"

"It was unimportant."

Ragnar turned back to her twin and it seemed to Sam they were communicating without speaking.

"Ragnar, we must hurry."

"One moment, child."

Casting her eyes around for further trouble, Sam glanced over her shoulder. "Tell me about it later – when those two guards come round we need to be well away from here."

Ragnar shook her head, her features conveying her disagreement.

"Take the Shaman and go – I must stay."

"Wha-at?" Sam froze in disblief at what she was hearing. "You can't be serious?" For a mad moment she felt herself sounding like Jack and wondered how he was, but Ragnar brought her back to her senses.

"You are right, you must go. O'Neill will be unsettled at the delay," Ragnar advised, knowing when to play her trump card, "but I must stay or the serpents will exact a terrible revenge on our people."

Confused, Sam ran a hand through her short, blonde hair. "Why, I don't understand?"

"Do you see this?" Ragnar motioned to some strange containers in one corner of the tent. "They contain an element the serpents hunger for."

"What is it?"

For the first time the Shaman stepped forward and Sam could see an exact replica of Ragnar except her eyes, which were such a deep aqua-green she had to force herself to look away, so mesmerizing were they.

"The serpents call it Tilan – it is highly treasured by them, but only after it has been treated."

"Treated?" Sam frowned her confusion. "What do you mean – what's so special about this Tilan?"

"The serpents use it in their life caskets."

"Life caskets?" Sam felt the conversation getting away from her. She wondered if she should….

"She's talking about the Goa'uld's sarcophagus!" The voice was highly pissed and as she spun on her heel, Sam cringed at the brutal look, a silent yet deadly condemnation for dropping her guard and allowing him to creep up on them. She knew this would be much more painfully vocal when there was time for it. "Enjoying the chat?" he demanded icily

Swallowing her discomfort, Sam's concerned gaze settled on her C.O. aware that he was chewing on the special leaf Ragnar has so carefully handed him with her stern warning to use them sparingly. She had to restrain herself from rushing over to check how he was and realized Jack had sensed her feelings when he glared even harder.

She turned guiltily away and noticed the Shaman's eyes fall on Jack and then turn to Ragnar as again, some form of silent communication passed between them.

"What my beloved sister does enables the life caskets to work more productively."

Jack looked thunderous. "You mean this stuff helps keep the Goa'uld alive longer?"

Ragnar nodded.

"So let's destroy this and get the hell out of here."

Jack was fast losing his patience with the lack of action at such a critical time.

"I must stay so that the serpents will not realise the shaman has escaped."

"But the Tilan?" Sam was not happy with this turn of events at all.

Ragnar remained calm in the face of Sam's unease. "They will not realise for many moons, by which time they will have left this place."

Shaking her head Sam continued, "I don't like it, it's too dangerous." Sam couldn't quite admit that she found it hard to think of Ragnar in such danger and she looked to Jack for support.

"I don't usually agree with Ragnar, but she is right, Captain. Once those guards wake up – they'll find everything as it was, other than the big, fat headache I hope you've given them. They'll not be too eager to admit their negligence and face the wrath of their 'god' if nothing appears amiss. Once they've left it's up to your people to destroy the stargate so they can never return."

Unwilling to accept what everyone else had agreed Sam continued to put up resistance. Ragnar's sacrifice was too much to accept. "But your eyes!"

The Shaman stepped forward. "They dare not look into my eyes so they will not notice the change until it is too late."

"And then, what happens to you?" she persisted. Stepping forward, Ragnar took Sam's hands in her own.

"We are successful. We have what we came for, now you must go." She nodded towards O'Neill. "Already I see he weakens – he must have no more of the leaf. Once the Shaman has dealt with his wounds you must deal with the craving sickness yourself."

"Ragnar, I….I…"

"I know what is in your heart, you need say no more," and her grey eyes glowed with joy. She turned to Jack an amused glint now reflected in the grey. "And I know what is in your heart too, O'Neill." And she smiled as Jack swiftly dropped his eyes as if to guard against her intrusion. "Your secret is with me," she said softly and his head jerked up, alarm in his eyes. "Now go, and always walk in the light." She turned her back on them reaching one more time for her sister and then they were moving.

They heard no signs of disturbance as they hurried away, and once they felt relatively secure they halted to allow Jack to rest. The Shaman took his hand, placing her own palm against his.

"Feel my strength," she whispered, her voice so like her sister's that Jack found it difficult to believe it wasn't Ragnar, until he felt a surge of energy enter his very vitals. The pain in his side instantly lessened and he shook his head in wonderment.

"How….how do you do that?" He sounded perplexed.

The Shaman smiled but gave no answer.

"Come, we must seek the holy water to make your recovery complete."

Back at the cave Jack was still relieved to slink gratefully back onto his pallet, but the Shaman shook her head and smiled gently as she took his hands and coaxed him back up.

Hearing his groan of protest she softly explained, "Soon you may rest, my son, now we must bathe. Come." And carefully she led him to the place where the water fell, Sam following closely.

He was startled by the waterfall and more astonished when the Shaman led him right under the flow fully clothed. She encouraged him to drink and ran her hands over his head and down his body. At long last she led him out and they returned to the cave where she carefully undressed him, wrapping him in blankets while she softly intoned an incantation in a language unfamiliar to either Jack or Sam.

Unable to stay awake, Jack did not see her uncover his wound, sprinkling a powder on it then recover it. After a number of hours in which Sam also slept, the Shaman again uncovered the wound – there was nothing but healed flesh.

Sam, having just awakened, looked over her shoulder, totally and utterly dumbfounded. "How….how did you do that?"

"It is a gift." The Shaman almost seemed shy of Sam's open admiration. She turned back to Jack observing the rapid fluttering of his eyelids and the increase of his heartbeat. "My work is done here – yours must continue."

Sam frowned not understanding. She was so delighted that Jack was well that she had forgotten Ragnar's warning.

Going to where Jack's clothes lay drying, the Shaman bent down. When she stood up again she held out her hand holding some leaves in her open palm.

"One sickness replaces another and this one I have no powers over. You must be strong and defeat the devil within him."

"You're not staying?" Sam had grown so used to Ragnar's presence that she was loath to lose the company of her twin.

"I have done what needs must, but work awaits me beyond. Have no faintheartedness, my sister saw in you a kindred spirit – your courage will suffice, but you must be strong."

When Sam raised her head, the Shaman was gone.

Go to Part 4