Daniel blew on his fingers again as he shook his head. His gloves were soaked, useless, and he stuffed them back into his pockets. Rain dripped down his face and continued down past his collar and along his neck. He scrunched his shoulders up, trying to protect that vulnerable area. He cursed his boonie hat, which he'd left back at the village earlier that morning. At the least it would have given him some slight protection from the rain and the wind.
"There is no mention or sign of Goa'uld here either."
Daniel turned to Teal'c, who had been examining a set of similar statues on the other side of the temple. "Maybe we're not looking for the right kind of signs." He pressed his hands beneath his armpits. His clothes were soaked despite their thickness and his breath came out in steamy puffs.
Sam came to stand beside Daniel. She, unlike Daniel, hadn't forgotten her hat. "Most likely this isn't the right planet. The Tok'ra did say their information was sketchy. There are three other planets in this solar system with working Stargates. Probably one of those will hold the answer."
"And all of them waiting for us to go explore another day." Jack made a motion with his head. "C'mon kids, there's a hot bath and mulled rum waiting for us back in the village."
"Jack, I'd like to take another last look around, just in case we missed—"
"Daniel, we've been standing here in the rain for over four hours. It's 38 degrees and it's more than an hour to the village." Jack turned to look at Teal'c. "You think it's worthwhile going over these things again?"
"I believe not."
"You're going to take Teal'c's word over mine?"
Jack's response was simply a rise of his eyebrows.
"Fine." Daniel grabbed his camera from atop his pack and stomped to the farthest wall. Damn Jack's attitude. It might be weather-related, but it wasn't as if Jack was the only one suffering from it.
Despite his and Jack's relationship at home, their working relationship hadn't changed one iota. If Jack had his mind set on something, it was usually almost impossible for Daniel to make him change it. He knew Jack asking Teal'c's opinion wasn't because he didn't trust Daniel, it was simply Jack's way of riling Daniel. But he wasn't in the mood right now to be taunted, and Jack should know better.
"Daniel, the exit's the other way."
"Sir, the water level's rising fast."
"I haven't had a chance to photograph this part of the temple." Daniel began taking pictures of the statues, moving in for close ups of the inscriptions etched into the marble. He'd rather have videotaped the place but he'd had trouble with the humidity levels and the camera wasn't working properly. Yet another irritation to the day, adding to little sleep the previous night thanks to the noisy serenade of local wildlife. Daniel hoped that tonight Jack accepted the villagers' offer to sleep in their homes instead of roughing it out in their tents.
"You heard Carter. Daniel, let's go."
"Just another minute."
He ignored Jack's pained utterance of his name and continued shooting. Sure, he was just as uncomfortable and miserable as everyone else, but the weather wasn't life-threatening, just... cold and wet. Not a reason to cut the exploration short just because they hadn't found any information confirming the Tok'ra's hint of a weapons' cache in this solar system.
He wasn't going to say a word to Jack here but he'd sure as hell let him know he wasn't pleased when they got home. And it wasn't as if they were going straight back to Earth. SG-1 had planned to spend time with the villagers, learning more about their cultures and using the opportunity to question them further about their past.
But as soon as they got Earth-side, Daniel was tempted to threaten Jack and have him sleep alone for a night or two if he didn't have a good explanation for his attitude here. Then he pushed back the childish thoughts. If truth were told, he was just as anxious to get somewhere dry and warm.
He was aware of his teammates leaving the temple and heading towards the wooden bridge behind it. He framed the last of the statues in the viewfinder and took the last photo just as Jack called his name again.
Daniel hurriedly grabbed his pack and jogged towards the river. To his surprise, the water level had risen considerably since they'd been inside the temple, with only an inch or two to spare below the wooden slats. The river was muddy and littered with debris. Daniel realized that Jack had probably made the right decision in leaving now. Another few minutes and the bridge would probably not be traversable.
Sam and Teal'c had already crossed to the other side, Jack was waiting for him by the shore. When he saw Daniel approaching, he turned and began crossing the wooden structure. Daniel stopped near the edge and struggled to securely shut his pack, his fingers thick and clumsy with cold. He wanted to make sure nothing would fall out of the pack and into the water as he crossed.
The plastic clip finally clicked into place and Daniel took a good grip on the bag. He looked up. Jack had stopped three quarters of the way across and was looking back at him in exasperation. And that was when Daniel saw the dark shadow sweeping quickly towards his lover. He cried out a warning at the same time Sam and Teal'c did. In slow motion he saw Jack turn, saw Jack notice the huge tree rushing towards him and begin running for the shore.
Jack almost made it when a large branch caught him across the shoulders, throwing him down onto the wooden planks, mere inches from shore.
Daniel rushed forward but was forced to a halt as the tree's trunk crashed into the bridge. For a moment it stopped there and Daniel took several steps onto the bridge itself, planning to cross over, across, under or around the tree, until the bridge began to shake ominously under his feet.
He jumped off the bridge, back onto the muddy shore seconds before the current forced the tree farther onto the bridge. The manmade structure crumpled into pieces as the tree easily swept through it.
Sam and Teal'c had rushed forward and as the huge tree continued to make its way downriver, it hid everyone from Daniel's sight. He frantically yelled Jack's name again, then his teammates'. He paced several steps back and forth in front of the broken structure that once had been a bridge.
"We've got him," Sam yelled over the sound of the angry water.
When the last of the tree and bridge's remains had been swept away, Daniel saw Sam and Teal'c crouched beside Jack, who was lying on the ground. Sam was looking over at Daniel while Teal'c's attention was on Jack.
"He's alive. He's unconscious, though."
Daniel felt weak in relief as her words carried over the water. For a moment he'd thought the tree had taken Jack along with it.
She nodded as Teal'c spoke to her. She keyed her radio rather than shout over the noise of the river. "He was caught between the bridge's railing and the tree. He might have internal injuries. We have to get him to the Stargate."
"I know." Daniel felt helpless, caught on this side of the river. He needed to be over there. Now.
"Daniel. Bergesse told me that there are a series of bridges along the river. The nearest one is about ten miles, that way." She pointed to his left, shaking her head as she glanced at the water. "There's no way the water level is going to go down anytime soon. Your best bet of crossing over right now is going upriver and finding that bridge."
"Okay." Ten miles, that was doable. He could jog part of the way; it'd go faster and he'd keep warmer that way.
"We'll come back to meet you as soon as we can."
"It's about three hours to the Stargate, Sam. By the time you get there and back, the sun will be close to setting. I'll be fine. Come and meet me in the morning."
"You'll be okay by yourself?"
"I'll be fine." And it wasn't like he had a choice. "Just, let me know about Jack, okay? The MALP's range should reach me, shouldn't it?"
"It will." She stood as Teal'c picked Jack up and positioned him in a fireman's hold. "Be careful, Daniel."
"I will. You, too."
He stood there in the heavy downpour, shivering but no longer feeling the cold as he watched in despair as Jack was carried away from him. He stared into the mist long after they'd disappeared from his view. It was only when a cold gust of wind blew into his face that he realized he needed to start moving.
He forced his mind into gear and bent down to pick up his pack, and he realized it was nowhere in sight. He looked at his empty hands in bewilderment and realized belatedly that he must have dropped it when he'd tried to go across the bridge. It must have been swept into the water.
He realized with a pang that he'd lost both his camera and tape recorder, but even worse, he had no food, no emergency blanket and no matches. Well, the matches wouldn't help him if he couldn't find a dry spot to shelter overnight, but the blanket would have been mightily welcome.
Still, he had no choice. He needed to move. Already out here in the open, the wind was blowing fiercely and the rain whipped across his face and onto his sodden clothes. With the river on his right, Daniel began to make his way downriver.
He couldn't get rid of images of Jack being hit by that tree limb, and then lying unconscious on the ground. He kept seeing the scene over and over, and it took him a long while to finally pay attention to his own surroundings.
He finally broke into a jog, making good time until the ground beneath his feet turned muddy and slippery. He had to slow to a fast walk then, which soon became a series of slips and slides, testing his equilibrium. He tried walking farther away from the shore but even amongst the leafless trees, the ground retained the muddy slime and tree roots inhibited his progress even further.
He trudged on for close to an hour in a near daze while the wind battered him from behind. His back, butt and thighs were soaked through. His gloved hands were thrust deep into his jacket's pockets. It didn't stop the cold but at least helped protect his chilled fingers a little from the merciless wind. His ears were numb and his upturned jacket collar offered scant protection.
The only worse thing that could happen were if the temperature dipped below freezing. But the weather readers at the village had told them that the temperature would rise slightly during the night by a few degrees, although the wind and rain wouldn't relent. He'd been in such a hurry to visit the temple, he hadn't really paid attention to the weather readers' predictions for tomorrow. Now Daniel could kick himself for his shortsightedness.
The weather readers had intrigued Sam. Their forecasts came from smelling the wind, watching the sky and animals. Sam, on the other hand, had been skeptical. She had questioned them extensively, and had smiled politely when they'd warned SG-1 to bring wet weather gear with them on their outing this morning. The bright sunshine had been in their eyes the whole time they'd walked towards the temple, and they hadn't seen the clouds come in behind them until they had hidden the sun. The rain had hit them long before they'd reached their destination.
In any case, he just hoped they were right about the weather for the night. If this rain turned to snow, Daniel knew he had no chance in surviving. Even as it was, he didn't know how he'd get through the night. He was thoroughly soaked.
His foot slid deeper into the mud and then let go with a loud squelching sound. He looked down and saw the soil had turned to a bluish coloured, clay-like consistency. His feet had sunk nearly three inches into the stuff. Walking just became more difficult, the muck tried its best to hold onto his feet and every step required more energy. And if that wasn't enough, it was just as slippery as the mud.
Resolutely he put his head down and continued to plod on. He shrugged his shoulders up, keeping the edges of his jacket as high as possible over his neck and ears. He could hear the loud rush of the current to his right. Occasionally debris would float by – branches, roots, a dead carcass, but nothing as large as the tree that had brought the bridge down.
Suddenly he wondered how far downriver that tree had traveled from. What if it had come from beyond the next bridge? Had it destroyed that one, too?
He checked his watch. He'd been walking for two hours. The going was much slower than he'd expected. He'd have hoped to have made it to the bridge in under two hours at a jog – at this rate it would take him closer to four.
Which meant he probably wouldn't make it to the temple before sunset, not that he'd expected to, but still, he'd hoped...
It would be pitch dark out here at night, and he had lost his flashlight when he'd lost his pack. He had no choice now but to hunker down and find shelter before the light faded. He looked around skeptically. Not much chance of shelter around here – maybe it would be better on the other side of the river. He squinted across the rain-blurred water. The other side had more trees, unlike here.
He continued slogging through the clay, his thighs and calf muscles aching with fatigue while his skin chafed against the cold, wet material of his clothes. His neck and shoulders burned with the effort of keeping his shoulders hunched up. The river turned slightly and the wind blew from a different direction, easing the attack against his ears. He tried to relax his shoulders, feeling the strain in them as he rolled them around. But too soon instincts took over and he found himself hitching them up close to his ears again.
Why hadn't Sam contacted him yet? They had to have gotten to the Stargate by now. Jack had to be safe... had he been seriously hurt? Sam had mentioned internal bleeding. He'd forced part of his worry for Jack to the back of his mind but now it all came flooding back.
Had Janet needed to operate on him? Was Sam waiting to find out his prognosis before attempting to contact him? Couldn't she have at least told him they'd gotten home safely?
He wiped his face with the back of his hand. The motion actually hurt his skin and he wondered if maybe once he'd crossed over he should start looking for that shelter as soon as possible and get out of the wind and rain, and wait until morning to continue on his way. But then remembering Jack, he decided that he was better off traveling as far as he could so he could get home sooner tomorrow.
He checked his watch again. Nearly four hours. Where was the damned bridge?
There was a small rise near the water, giving an unencumbered view of the river. He climbed up and stared down the river. Even with the rain obscuring his vision, he could see no sign of a bridge anywhere in the distance. Could he have missed it?
He dug his glasses out of his jacket pocket with numb fingers and peered up and down the river through rain-spattered lenses. Everything became crystal clear and with a pang as his heart skipped a beat, he recognized the wooden wreckage of the bridge several hundred feet upriver. He'd passed right by it and hadn't noticed.
He slid down the slippery embankment and slipped to his knees when his feet hit the clay. He got up wearily. He had no choice but to walk on to the next bridge. He could only hope it was closer and that it hadn't been destroyed.
- - - - - -
The wooden span of the bridge loomed out of the mist. Daniel stopped and stared at it for a moment, shivering as a gust of wind battered him from behind.
Water had reached the height of the wooden structure and had inundated it. Daniel moved closer, thinking that there wasn't more than an inch or two of floodwater covering it. He knew he had to cross now, as soon as possible, before something came rushing by to tear it down.
He walked onto the flooded edge and nearly lost his footing as the current tried to pull him off. He managed to grab the edge of the railing and hold tight as he took a step, then another. He was right, the water wasn't higher than his ankles but the pull of the current was very strong.
Holding on as securely as frozen fingers could, Daniel traversed the bridge, carefully stepping over branches and other debris that had gotten caught. Before he knew it he had reached the other side.
He quickly made his way to drier land where the flooded river hadn't yet reached. The ground here was less muddy, so Daniel hoped he'd make better time on his way back.
It had taken him another two grueling hours to reach this bridge. Despite the constant activity, he was shivering and would have given anything for a hot bath and a bed right now.
He figured he had less than an hour before the sun set, although the daylight had already decreased considerably. He decided to take advantage of the better footing and forced his tired and aching legs into a slow jog.
The exercise finally began to warm him up. His skin was still chilled but at least he'd stopped shivering. He continued running when he could, walking quickly when the land prevented him from doing so. He hit one patch of clay and slipped and slid his way away from the water until he reached higher and firmer ground. He didn't want to get too far away from the river but he could still hear it roaring to his right.
Finally the light dimmed enough that Daniel knew he had to start looking for a place to hole up for the night. The woods here weren't thick, and even if it were, the trees wouldn't have provided him with much of a shelter. Most had no leaves with only a few fir trees far and apart. He began to fear he'd have to spend the night out in the open when he spotted a recently toppled fir tree whose trunk had partly broken off near the ground.
He remembered Jack showing him how to survive in the wilderness, and the recollection brought back the gnawing fear for his lover that he'd managed to push towards the back of his thoughts while he concentrated on making his way home.
Moving quickly as night approached, Daniel trimmed as many branches from the fir tree as he could near the ground with his knife, creating a small space for himself. There was another smaller fir tree close by and he cut several large branches from it. Those he placed inside the shelter. They would help insulate him from the wet ground and hopefully keep him warm.
By the time he crawled inside it was nearly dark. The shelter wouldn't keep all of the rain out but it did help protect him from the wind. He curled up on his side and brought his knees to his chest, stuffing his hands inside his clothes. His fingers were almost as cold as his abdomen.
He closed his eyes, shivering despite himself. Now that he wasn't concentrating on getting himself back, worry for Jack hit him full force. He wished he were home, lying in bed, curled up around Jack's body. He'd sneak his hands up inside Jack's tee shirt, slide them up and down along his chest hairs, snuggle his chin into the hollow behind his ear and—
"Daniel? Can you read me?" Sam's voice came through his radio, startling him.
He pulled his hands out and fumbled for his radio. "Sam?"
"Daniel. I'm sorry we couldn't contact you earlier. SG-10 was in a volatile situation and we needed to keep the Stargate free in order for them to get home."
"Are they okay?" He asked the question out of habit, but his mind was centered solely on Jack. 'Come on, Sam, let me know he's okay'.
"They took some hits, but Janet says they'll be fine. How about you? Did you manage to find the bridge? Did you find shelter?"
"I'm fine. How's Jack?" He hadn't meant to sound so curt but what difference did it make if he'd found shelter or not. There was nothing they could do to help him. But he had to know Jack's condition. Damn it, he just had to be okay.
"Colonel O'Neill will be just fine, Daniel." Janet's voice replaced Sam's. "He suffered a concussion and plenty of bruising, but no broken bones or internal injuries. How are you holding up?"
The relief he felt at her words was so great that Daniel simply lay there and shook while a loud rushing sound filled his ears. Something warm slid down his face and the shock of the heat helped him focus on Janet's voice again.
"Daniel? Are you there? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," he managed to stutter as he wiped the tear away. "Cold and wet, but I've found some shelter, and I crossed the river. I'm fine, don't worry about me."
"We'll come over as soon as it's light and we'll meet you halfway. How's that sound?"
"Sounds like a plan, Sam." He shivered, wondering worriedly if he'd be able to stay in the shelter for the whole night, or if he'd have to spend half of it pacing around trying to stay warm.
"Okay." There was a long pause as if Sam was waiting for Daniel to add another thought. "Goodnight, Daniel."
When the radio became silent, Daniel cursed that he didn't try and talk longer with his friends. A sense of abandonment hit him strongly, and he chided himself for the thoughts, knowing that he hadn't been deserted. He told himself he was just tired and cold, and his worry over Jack had simply made him a little vulnerable right now.
- - - - - -
Well, if the chill and damp conditions hadn't been enough to keep Daniel from sleeping, then the local insect population would have certainly done the trick. He still couldn't figure out how such tiny creatures, not much bigger than a cricket, could make such loud and irritating sounds despite the rush of water nearby.
The team had had to endure the sounds all of last night, rushing out of their tents at the first ear-shattering croaks and cries, half expecting to be overrun by dangerous beasts. Instead, they'd traced the noise to tiny critters who were probably trying to entice a mate with their vocal endeavors.
He gritted his teeth as another love song began on the tail of the last one. It began softly at first, then grew in strength and shrillness until finally he couldn't take it any longer. All the frustrations, worry, fear of having let his team down, coupled with feelings of abandonment and fed up with being cold and tired, finally took their toll. Daniel kicked the branches while screaming at the top of his lungs. He smacked the ones close to his face a few times, but abandoned that when his chilled hands erupted in pain.
The racket stopped at his outburst, but he kicked the tree a few more times for good measure, hoping to dislodge any persistent bugs from between the branches.
There was blessed silence for a while, until one lonely critter began again. By then Daniel was shivering so hard despite his tantrum, that he had no choice but to step out from his meager shelter and walk around in order to try and stay warm.
It was very dark. His eyes had adjusted enough that he could make out a lighter shadow that was a small clearing amongst the darker shadows that were trees. He didn't dare go far, only chanced a few steps in any direction for fear of getting lost and not finding his way back to the tree.
He spent his time either huddled in the small enclosure or pacing around in the rain. Daniel couldn't remember a more miserable night. Even those times when he'd had to stand watch in lousy weather like this, at least there had been tents, a campfire, warm food, someone else around to lend moral support, and even better – to share body heat.
Now that his fear for Jack had been brought down several notches, he began to worry about his own situation once more. He couldn't keep going like this for much longer. The cold was quickly leeching his strength, and he hadn't had anything to eat since lunchtime.
His stomach gurgled and hunger pangs assailed him. He was thirsty, his water bottle lost with his pack. As he lay there under the tree, curled up on his side trying to conserve heat, he realized it was ironic that he could hear the nearby river over the sound of the rain. But the water was so muddy and debris-ridden he could never take a chance drinking it.
Then it hit him. The rain. All this time and potable water had been right there. He crawled out of the tent as quickly as his stiffened muscles would allow him and cupped his frozen palms together, then slurped down the accumulated water. He drank that way until he could no longer feel his fingers, then simply put his head back and opened his mouth.
The chill of the water had him shivering again but at least his stomach wasn't complaining for the moment. He wiped the dripping rain from his face with his sleeve and began moving around again to try and get his blood circulating.
After several hours, Daniel no longer had the energy to crawl out and try to keep warm. He simply lay there waiting interminably, shivering, lying in a half daze, dreaming of lying in bed draped across Jack's body, and waited for the sun to come up so he could continue on his way back to the Stargate.
When he could finally see enough to distinguish the trees so he wasn't in danger of walking into one, he crawled out and staggered back down to the river on numb legs. The water level had risen even more overnight, the power of the current almost frightening as he stood watching debris bob along effortlessly.
When he turned to continue on his way, he realized he wasn't sure which way to go.
He rubbed his face, knowing exhaustion was causing his disorientation.
"This is stupid." He looked at the misty shoreline across the river and pictured himself walking there yesterday, with the water on his right.
"Fine, then the water should be on my left since I'm going the other way." He moved away from the water's edge and forced his frozen and aching body towards home.
He tried to jog but after a few steps, his calf threatened to cramp. He stopped and massaged the abused muscle, then continued on more slowly, gently easing himself into the movement. It took a long time before his body warmed up enough so he could continue walking at the same pace as yesterday.
An hour later, just as the day brightened enough that he could clearly make out objects through the rain, Daniel spotted something in the middle of the river. He continued walking, incredulous, not believing that there had been another bridge, intact, that he had missed yesterday. He couldn't approach it now due to water coursing over the wooden planks, but it was evident that it was still in one piece. He stopped and stared at it.
Then his gut clenched when he had a sudden thought. He was positive he wouldn't have missed a bridge yesterday. But what if he had turned the wrong way this morning?
No, he was sure he was heading in the right direction. He looked across the river. The water had been on his right as he had headed upstream yesterday. He turned so his back was to the river, miming crossing the bridge. Then he'd have to have headed downstream, in the opposite direction, so he turned again to his right.
The water was still on his right. Heading downstream.
He'd just spent the last hour with the water on his left. Going upstream.
"Damn it!" Daniel yelled loudly but his voice came out hoarse and gravelly. He stamped the ground in anger. How stupid was he anyhow?
He played the scenario in his mind once again, chiding himself for not having gone through this earlier when he'd been unsure which way to turn. He'd just lost an hour... no, make that two hours because he had to make up the distance again.
Resolutely he turned the way he had come and began to jog, cursing at his unwilling legs. He continued on anyways, forcing chilled muscles and tendons to work, slowing when cramps became inevitable. He took his hands out of his pockets and pulled the wet material of his sleeves down as far as they would go. He held onto the edges with curled fingers, trying to jam his hands up into the shelter of his jacket.
He hadn't even gotten close to where he'd spent the night when his radio crackled.
"Daniel, are you awake?"
"I'm here, Sam," he answered. He slowed down, walking quickly instead.
"We've just come through the Stargate. We're heading towards the river now."
"I hope you brought umbrellas." He forced joviality into his voice, although upon hearing Sam's voice, suddenly the day seemed brighter. Even though they were still miles apart, the distance certainly wasn't as great as when it had been light years.
The hoarseness was worsening, though, and he cleared his throat. The familiar scratchiness promised a sore throat in the near future.
"With this wind? Janet would go up like Mary Poppins."
"How are you doing, Daniel?" Janet's voice cut in right after Sam's. He could picture his friend rolling her eyes at Sam's comment.
"I'm cold, I'm miserable, and I have an axe to grind with a colony of bugs."
"They were out in this weather?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. You'd think it was too cold and wet for them to be out and carousing." He coughed and cleared his throat again. "Janet, how's Jack?"
"He's doing good."
There had been no hesitation in her voice and his concern went down another notch. He knew he'd continue to worry until he got to see Jack with his own eyes, but in the meantime, he could concentrate on himself for a while.
"O'Neill was not happy with his morning meal. I have long recognized this as a sign that you Tau'ri are healing well."
Teal'c's words made Daniel smile. Jack and the infirmary didn't mix well. He hoped that by the time he got back to Earth, Jack would be released. He didn't relish the idea of listening to Jack complaining about being forced to stay.
"He wanted to come with us. You should have heard him when Janet told him no."
Daniel stumbled over a root and cursed as his fingers lost their grip on his radio. He fumbled at the controls. "Janet, you said he was okay...?"
"He is, Daniel. He's very stiff and has a bit of trouble getting around. And his concussion left him with a pretty nasty headache. I'm afraid you're going to have a very out of sorts colonel on your hands when you get home."
"And that's different from a normal day, how?"
He heard Janet and Sam laughing; one of them was holding their radio button down. "He doesn't remember much of what happened." Okay, it had been Sam. "The last thing he remembers is telling you to pack it up and wanting to head back to the village."
Daniel mulled Sam's words over. Was this her way of warning him that Jack didn't remember their slight dispute over Daniel wanting to stay longer? Of course Daniel would have to bring it up eventually even if Jack didn't remember. It didn't excuse Jack's behaviour, even though he had been right to order them to leave when they did. Or had Daniel been too touchy over the incident in the first place?
"Right here, Sam."
"How are you? Really?"
There was definite worry in her voice. And although he could lie and tell them he was fine, he wasn't. The lack of sleep and constant cold had sapped so much out of him that he knew he needed to get warm soon. And it would be hours before he rendezvous'd with them, let alone get to the Stargate and out of this weather.
"I'm freezing, I'm hungry, I'm tired and I'd give anything for a hot shower right about now."
"So, just a regular day on the job?"
Daniel smiled at Sam's words, and the action made him realize how frozen his face felt as muscles moved with difficulty.
"Exactly. Except you're over there and I'm over here, and Jack's over that-a-way." He waved towards the grey sky.
"What is your approximation from the Stargate?"
"I'm not sure, Teal'c. Less than seven hours." Inwardly he cursed himself for losing time. He could have been meeting up with his teammates that much sooner. Would have been that much closer to the Stargate, to home, to Jack.
"The ground's really mucky here." Janet was slightly out of breath.
"Some spots are like that. So far it's not too bad."
Conversation lapsed after that as Sam and Janet concentrated on their footing. Daniel took advantage and broke into a jog while his footing was sure enough. He managed to run for a good thirty minutes until he hit a section of bog.
At first walking wasn't difficult; he only sank an inch or two into the clay. The run had warmed him up considerably and for the first time in many hours, Daniel had stopped shivering. But as he continued on, his pace began to slow as his legs tired, and the rain quickly chilled him once again.
Then his foot sank unexpectedly into the soil, dropping him almost to knee level in the soft muck. Daniel nearly overbalanced, pulling his hands from his pockets and pin wheeling his arms to stay upright. With one foot still on more solid ground he heaved mightily and with a loud sucking sound, dragged his foot out of the bluish clay.
Daniel looked around, seeing the tell-tale blue in the soil all around him. He took several steps back as a precaution and then headed up away from the river. When the ground felt a little firmer, Daniel began following the course of the river once more. He also picked up a dead branch and used it to probe the ground ahead of him as he went. He changed hands often, shoving the free one into a pocket to try and keep it out of the cold rain and wind.
When the ground changed again to a more solid consistency, Daniel no longer had the energy to jog. He simply plodded one foot in front of the other; his pants and boots were streaked with clay which clung to him despite the pouring rain.
His throat and chest ached by now. His neck, shoulders and upper back burned with the strain of hunching up from the cold. His legs were leaden and he often lost his balance when he slid in the mud. He had several scrapes and bruises on his shins, evidence of run-ins with unforgiving twigs and branches.
Too tired to calculate how long he'd been walking, Daniel contemplated sitting down and waiting for the others to find him. He knew he was now in a dangerous situation. He was close to hypothermia, and if he stopped moving it was going to get worse. Resolutely he pushed aside the urge to rest and continued to walk.
Something caught his arm and he tried to pull away. He took a step but whatever it was held on tight. Then something else grabbed his other arm and forced him to stop.
He blinked water from his eyes as shadows moved before him. Then suddenly Sam, Janet and Teal'c were there, talking to him all at once. He stared at them in confusion as he tried to make out what they were saying.
Teal'c moved aside as Sam put a cup in his hand. He smelled chicken soup as she pushed the small plastic container towards his mouth. He took a sip and the heat of it made his teeth hurt. He swallowed the contents quickly before the rain could dilute it and cool it off. It was delicious. He could feel the heat make its way down his throat and into his stomach.
He began shivering violently as his insides suddenly realized they'd been heated up. Sam took the empty cup from him, promising more in a minute.
Sniffing loudly as the steam from the soup made his nose run, Daniel was aware of Janet's warmer fingers against his face. He turned to look down at her and she smiled.
"Come on." She pushed him so he turned around and blinked in surprise at the tent which Teal'c had just finished erecting. "Get inside," she urged.
Daniel crawled into the tent with Janet. It was heaven to be out of the rain and wind, and there was a small portable heater which gave off blessed warmth.
"Take your clothes off." She reached for his jacket and unzipped it while his brain sluggishly reacted to her words. She pulled the sodden piece of clothing off and threw it into a corner. Daniel allowed her to remove his long-sleeved tee shirt and she rubbed him briskly with a dry towel.
She pulled a shirt from a bag which he presumed the towel had come from, and although the cloth was dry and warm, he didn't feel warmer.
"Shoes and pants." She unlaced his boots while he was still struggling with the shirt, pulled off the wet socks and added them to the growing pile. Meanwhile Daniel fumbled for the buttons of his pants, then sat there in embarrassment when Janet reached for them with much nimbler fingers. As he shoved them down past his hips with numb fingers, Janet took a moment to blow on her hands to warm them up.
"Sorry," she said when she saw him watching her. She grabbed a pant leg and pulled the fabric down his legs. His underwear followed and he averted his eyes as Janet dried him off. He was too cold and miserable to object and he knew the faster they got this over with, the sooner they'd get home.
Soon he was dressed in warm, dry clothes. His skin felt strange as it rubbed against the material. Janet handed him a heavy jacket and a rain poncho. She wrapped the jacket around his shoulders and took a moment to take his pressure and listen to his heart and lungs. Then she helped him into the jacket. When she was satisfied, she took the thermos Sam had given her and poured Daniel another cup of broth.
Daniel drank it down as quickly as possible and held the cup out for more. He was shivering so badly the liquid sloshed against the sides but he didn't care. The heat from the cup felt wonderful against his fingers, even though he had to wrap them around the small container in order not to drop it.
"Try some of this now," Janet said, holding out a power bar. She took the empty cup from him and Daniel took a bite of the sticky stuff. She zipped up his jacket and double checked his laces while he finished his meal.
"We can stay here a few hours while you get a bit of rest." She began folding his sodden clothes and placed them in a plastic bag while he huddled as close to the heater as possible. Even though he could feel the heat against his skin, it didn't seem to be warming him up. He felt he was cold from the inside out.
"I'm fine. We can leave now." As much as he wanted to allow himself the luxury of getting warm again and maybe sleeping a while, he knew they had to still be a couple of hours from the Stargate. He really, really, just wanted to go home. The soup and food had helped a bit, and he figured he had made it this far, the rest of the way would be easier now that he wasn't alone.
"Daniel, I don't think you're ready to go back out there."
"Janet, did you bring two tents?"
"No, why would we bring two?"
"Because Sam and Teal'c are going to be standing out in the rain all this time and by the time I'm nice and toasty, they'll be ready to change places with me. Can we just go now?"
She stared at him, her gaze intent and unnerving. "Look at you, Daniel. You're in the early stages of hypothermia. You're exhausted and you can't think straight. By all rights I shouldn't let you out of this tent until tomorrow morning."
"But tomorrow morning I'll still have to step into that rain again and walk home. And I'd much rather sleep in my own bed than here. Even a bed in the infirmary would be better than this."
"You getting some sleep is the only thing I agree with, but *where* you'll sleep is not up for discussion. But you're right, a bed has to be more comfortable than the tent." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "It's a tough call," she finally admitted. "Okay, we go. But, and this is a big but. If I say we stop because I feel your health is compromised, we stop. No argument."
Daniel nodded slowly in agreement. He vowed if they could get moving again, he wouldn't give her any reason to stop until they reached the Stargate. Hell, he'd made it this far and had endured the cold and wet for this long, another couple of hours shouldn't be that much harder.
He slipped on the poncho, then stepped outside and immediately was buffeted by the wind. Although he was dry for the moment, he knew within a short time the damp would make its way under the bulky cover-up into his clothes and he'd be just as cold and wet as he'd been barely fifteen minutes ago. Still, the poncho helped protect him from the chill wind.
Teal'c and Sam quickly took down the tent and Teal'c hefted the folded shelter, heater and discarded clothes onto his back. Sam took point with Daniel coming next, then Janet and Teal'c taking up the rear. Daniel managed to keep up with Sam's pace, although with difficulty as tired muscles obeyed sluggishly. His pants became soaked in no time and he continued shivering despite the exercise.
Gloved hands stuffed deep into his pockets, Daniel slipped his fingers from inside the gloves and curled his hands into fists in the center, trying to preserve heat around the dry material. Wind whipped the rain against his face and despite the protective outerwear, cold water dripped down his neck.
"SG-1, do you read?"
"General Hammond." Sam slowed her pace slightly as she answered and Daniel gratefully slowed down also. "We read you loud and clear, sir."
"What's your status? Have you found Doctor Jackson?"
"Yes, sir." She turned and grinned at Daniel for a moment. "We're on our way back to the Stargate right now."
"Hey, Daniel. How're you holding out?"
Jack's familiar voice shocked Daniel and for a moment he could only stammer his name under his breath.
Janet, though, responded immediately in a stern voice. "Colonel? What are you doing out of bed?"
Daniel slowed down even more, coming to a full stop. Sam, realizing what was happening, turned back and came to stand beside Daniel, a hand on his shoulder. "Are you alright?" she whispered.
Daniel nodded as Jack answered Janet.
"I'm just stretching my legs, doc. I'll be heading back to the infirmary as soon as we disconnect." There were a few seconds of silence through which Daniel tried to collect himself. Jack sounded apologetic, and he sounded good to Daniel's ears. "Honest."
"I'll hold General Hammond to that, sir." Janet was staring at Daniel and he pulled a hand out of his pocket and waved her concern away.
"Daniel? You there?"
He fumbled with the radio. "I'm here. Jack, how are you... are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'd be fine if it weren't for the killer headache and the one honking bruise covering half my body. Nothing broken, though."
"Th... that's good." Suddenly all the worry he'd been doing over Jack's condition left him, leaving him feeling light headed and disoriented.
"How about you? I remember the weather back there being really shitty." There was concern in Jack's voice and Daniel knew how much Jack hated feeling helpless when he couldn't do anything for his friends.
"Shit is warm." He forced the words out, trying to sound cheerful and energetic. He took a step forward. Sam turned with him and moved her hand so it pressed comfortingly against his upper back. "I'd give anything to be basking in a load of shit right now."
"That bad, huh?"
Daniel didn't answer, his throat suddenly thickening with emotion. Just hearing Jack's voice made him *really* want to be home and out of this weather. He wanted to get warm, to get some sleep, to make sure Jack was really all right and to get this day behind him and forget about this planet.
"SG-1, what's your ETA?"
"Four or five hours, depending on the conditions, sir."
"Understood. We'll contact you in three hours from now."
"Thank you, sir."
Daniel took a shuddering breath, fighting to get his emotions under control. The next breath was just as shaky and he hoped Sam simply thought he was shivering from the cold. But her hand shifted to squeeze his shoulder a moment before she silently moved past him to continue in the lead.
Despite the respite, the hot drink and the dry clothes, Daniel quickly lapsed into a daze. His world became focused into moving one foot after the other as his body trembled under the unforgiving cold and rain. He allowed his friends to steer him in the right direction, let their chatter flow over him as he lost track of time, slogging through the slippery mud.
- - - - - -
Jack looked at General Hammond and saw the worry reflected in the man's blue eyes. Daniel hadn't sounded very good, even though he'd tried to put up an encouraging front. Jack ignored the pounding in his head and slowly turned to limp out of the control room. He felt very shaky and although he wouldn't admit it, getting dressed and sneaking out of the infirmary had taken a lot out of him. His slippers scuffed noisily along the cement floor.
The general followed behind him. "They'll be fine," Hammond said as he took his key card out and swiped it through the reader near the elevator's door.
Jack nodded and waited for the elevator. When it came, he was surprised to see Hammond enter along with him.
"Ah, sir, you don't have to..." He leaned against the wall and waved as Hammond pressed 21.
"Nonsense. I told Doctor Fraiser I'd make sure you'd go right back to the infirmary. I'm just ensuring you make it there safe and sound."
"Five hours," Jack said softly, staring at his feet. "That's a long time to be out in that kind of weather when you're already half frozen to death."
"I'm sure Doctor Fraiser will take good care of Daniel." The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Hammond held them open as Jack slowly straightened and made his way out. The corridor leading into the infirmary had never looked so long and unending. He pushed that thought away, reminding himself that Daniel had a much longer distance to travel, in a far more unfriendly climate.
With his head pounding, Jack finally lowered himself onto his bed, grimacing as the change in position didn't ease the pain. He ignored the nurse's scolding as Hammond turned to leave.
"Sir?" he called out.
Hammond turned around and looked at him expectantly.
"You'll let me know when you contact them again?"
"I'll let you know," he answered with a nod. "Now get some rest."
Jack waited until the general had left the room before he accepted the painkillers from the nurse. He swallowed them quickly, wishing he didn't need them but acknowledging that he was in too much pain to do without. At least if he slept now thanks to the drugs, he'd be more alert and feeling better by the time Daniel got home. And of course, time would pass by more quickly that way, and it would be that much sooner to seeing Daniel.
He closed his eyes and waited for the pain to go away.
- - - - - -
A sharp cry behind him pulled him out of his stupor. He lifted his head and turned, almost losing his balance as his foot sank several inches into a patch of clay. He reluctantly pulled his hands from his pockets to keep his balance.
Janet had slid past her knees in the clay, unable to pull free, and had fallen sideways in it. Teal'c was carefully making his way to her. Daniel waited patiently as Sam came to stand beside him. Teal'c managed to get her on her feet with little difficulty. Janet was covered with clay and she brushed ineffectively at the clinging material.
"The ground wasn't this bad before," Janet huffed as she slogged her way towards him.
"The water level must be soaking into the soil. We'd better try moving to higher ground." Sam turned and walked away from the river at an angle. Daniel forced numb legs to follow.
Two steps later, he encountered clay again and sank nearly to his knees in the cold muck.
He saw Sam was in the same predicament, walking with difficulty as her legs were swallowed by the muddy ground. Daniel pulled one leg out, the effort almost super-human. He took another step, fighting the urge to let himself fall back and curl up in the muck.
Then Teal'c was there, guiding him, encouraging him. Three more steps and the ground was firmer underfoot. Daniel walked on wearily, head bowed, beginning to doubt his resolve for getting home today and not resting earlier when Janet had offered him the chance. There was no place to put the tent up here; the ground was too wet and muddy. So he gritted his teeth and continued to follow in Sam's footsteps.
He jerked to a stop when someone tugged on his arm. Janet had moved past him and was staring up into his face.
"We're taking a rest. Come on, let's sit down."
"I'm fine, I can keep walking," he mumbled, his lips and cheeks numb with the wind. He was afraid that if he stopped now, he wouldn't have the energy, or the fortitude, the start up again.
"I know you can," she said gently. "But we're all tired and hungry." She tugged at his arm again. "Come on, Teal'c's putting up a shelter."
Daniel squinted towards where she pointed and saw that Teal'c was spreading out the tent over several low branches of a tree. There were three large boulders beneath, which would make for seats off the wet ground. He sat down wearily, his legs and back aching with the change in position.
He lowered his head and shoulders and rested his arms wearily against his knee. A cold hand cupped his nape, the fingers colder than his skin. They patted him comfortingly before reaching down for his wrist. He straightened as Janet sneaked her fingers into his glove and took his pulse.
Sam prepared four MREs and stretched her legs before her as she sat down beside Daniel. Teal'c finished with the shelter and simply squatted near Sam. The wind caught at the edges of the tarp but it held, stopping all but the most persistent of gusts.
"We're nearly at the path," Sam said when Janet let go of Daniel's wrist. He pulled the glove back up. "I'd guess maybe thirty more minutes. Then, if Bergesse promised to wait for us like he did, we'll have a ride back to the Stargate."
"A ride?" Daniel shoved his gloved hands beneath his armpits and hunched forward.
"When we didn't show up in the village last night, Bergesse got worried. He sent a search party out this morning and met up with us. They've got a wagon and horses so we'll be traveling in relative comfort." She smiled at Daniel. "And it'll be faster than walking."
Another gust of wind splattered rain into the shelter. "Is it me, or is it getting colder?" Daniel straightened as the wind caught at his exposed neck.
"The weather is indeed dropping. That is why Bergesse sent out a search party. Their weather readers forecast the temperature would freeze by this evening." Teal'c reached down and removed a small pouch from the MRE's heater, and opened it. He handed it to Daniel and the smell of beef stew caused him to salivate. He took the plastic fork with awkward fingers and shoveled a forkful into his mouth.
He burned his tongue on the hot meat; his teeth were so cold that the food hurt to eat but he nonetheless devoured his meal. Too soon Sam was packing up their garbage and they were back on their feet.
Instead of doing him good, the rest had caused his body to stiffen up. Thirty minutes, he told himself. Sam had said they'd be off their feet in thirty minutes. He could last that long. He had to.
He was aware at one point of Sam talking with General Hammond, but listening to their conversation was too difficult, so he continued to concentrate on just one more step. They had moved away from the river and the sound of the rain was no longer masked by the sound of rushing water.
Then he was aware of someone piling blankets over him, and being hoisted into a dark space, only to be pulled against Teal'c's hard chest. Sam moved to sit beside him and Janet beside Teal'c. The small area they were in was made of wood with only a tiny window in the door that let in dim light. Then the room jerked and they were moving.
Teal'c put an arm around him and held Daniel securely against him. Daniel relaxed against his friend as much as his shivering body would let him, and closed his eyes.
They were on their way to the Stargate.
- - - - - -
Jack barely had time to rub the sleep out of his eyes when the infirmary suddenly broke into a hive of activity. Three personnel rushed out with a gurney, and the nurse who had scolded Jack for getting out of bed earlier ran into the communal bathroom. Jack could hear a tub filling with water as he gingerly sat up and tried to figure out what was happening. He slipped his feet into his slippers and walked towards the bathroom, almost bumping into the nurse as she rushed out.
She smiled at Jack as she apologized. "They're bringing Doctor Jackson in," she told him in a rush. She hurried to a cabinet and removed several blankets, then put them at the foot of the bed next to Jack's.
Jack watched her run back into the bathroom, then he checked the clock on the wall as he went back to his bed. He rubbed a hand over his face, not believing he'd slept all this time. But that wasn't the important part. Daniel was home.
He heard the rattle of the gurney before it turned into the infirmary and he moved aside, leaning against his bed, out of the way as Daniel was rolled in. He was huddled on his side under a pile of blankets while Fraiser hurried before the gurney, calling out orders. Carter and Teal'c followed behind. All of them were soaked to the skin.
When the gurney stopped near the bed, Fraiser spoke softly to Daniel and he raised his head and nodded. He sat up with a nurse's help and they began helping him out of his soaked clothes. He was shivering uncontrollably and Jack winced as he watched Daniel's teeth chatter together.
"I can do it," Daniel said, fumbling with the top of his jacket after a nurse had cut his poncho apart. Jack could see how clumsy he was as he tried to grasp the zipper.
"Daniel," Jack called out. Immediately Daniel raised his head, his fingers freezing as he caught Jack's gaze and smile. "Welcome home."
The nurse took the opportunity to pull the zipper down and ease the jacket off of Daniel. She moved to his feet and began unlacing his boots. Jack could see the filth accumulated on the boots and pants and wondered just what kind of hell Daniel and the others had gone through.
Daniel continued staring at Jack as shiver after shiver wracked him. Jack approached the bed once the boots had been removed and helped Daniel stand up while his pants were slipped down his legs.
Daniel's skin was ice cold and red, and he was soaked through. Jack grasped the edge of the tee shirt and pulled it up over Daniel's stomach. Daniel raised his arms obediently and Jack gently eased the shirt over his face, remembering how tender chilled skin was.
Clad only in his shorts, Daniel was wrapped in a blanket and made to lie down. Fraiser, as wet and filthy as Daniel, had shrugged out of her jacket and was blowing on her reddened fingers. She listened to the numbers as the nurse performed a basic examination, then nodded as the figures were entered into a chart.
"Daniel, we're going to put you in a bath to warm you up." She waved at a waiting medic and he brought over a wheelchair. Hating that he could only stand uselessly by, Jack watched as Daniel was helped into the chair.
Carter and Teal'c watched from the sidelines as Jack followed Daniel and Fraiser into the bathroom. The he stood stoically aside as Daniel was helped into the tepid water after they quickly stripped him of his underwear. Daniel's cries of pain tugged at his heart.
"It's too hot!"
"I know it feels like it's burning but believe me, the water is only tepid. Give it a minute, your skin temperature will get used to it soon." Daniel moved restlessly for several moments, then lay back, exhausted, as his shivering increased.
"We're going to heat the water up a bit at a time, okay?"
Daniel nodded and Jack assured Fraiser he'd watch Daniel while she went to shower and change. She smiled at him gratefully and hurried out. Jack eased himself onto the tub's side, wincing as his bruised body protested. He dangled a finger into the water and realized Fraiser was right, the water wasn't even hot.
"You ok... k... kay?"
Daniel was staring at Jack's forehead and he raised a finger to the bandaged temple, wincing as he touched the tender area. "Oh, you know me. I've got a hard head."
"I'm okay, Daniel. Just a little banged up."
"Here, Doctor Jackson, this will help you get warm." A nurse knelt beside the tub and handed Daniel a steaming mug. Jack could smell the hot chocolate from where he sat and his stomach churned at the thought of the sweet drink. Daniel, though, wrapped both hands around the mug and the nurse helped him hold the cup to his mouth. He took a few sips, his teeth rattling against the ceramic and sighed raggedly, his gaze turning to Jack.
"I'll put it right here, just tell me when you want more." She put the cup on the floor within Daniel's reach and tested the water with her hand. "I think we can heat this up a little more now." She had Daniel move his feet and she ran the hot water, swirling the bath water to quickly even out the temperature. When she was satisfied, she turned the water off and had Daniel drink some more. He licked his lips, closed his eyes and relaxed.
Jack could see that Daniel's shivering was finally beginning to ease off. He looked exhausted, though, with dark circles beneath his eyes. His hair was still wet so Jack grabbed a nearby towel and leaned over him, ignoring the increased pain in his head due to the angle. As he gently rubbed the wet strands, Daniel opened his eyes in surprise.
"I was worried about you," Jack said softly. He used the towel to hide his hand, with which he cupped around the back of Daniel's nape. He fingered a cold ear with the tip of his finger.
"Me t... too." Daniel turned his head into Jack's caress. "Not me, you." Daniel grimaced and raised a dripping hand to grab Jack's arm. "I saw the t... tree... I thought you were dead. I was sss... scared."
"I don't remember any of that," Jack said, frowning as Daniel let go of his arm and closed his eyes. His speech was slow and slurred, nowhere close to his normal quick pattern. He resumed drying Daniel's hair. "But imagine how I felt when I woke up only to discover you were out on a planet, alone, stuck in that bloody rain, and nobody knew how far you'd have to walk to get across the river."
"You're really okay?" Daniel opened his eyes to look at him and Jack pulled the towel away.
"I will be. I got lucky, from what I hear. I'm just pretty bruised. And I'm in better condition than you at the moment."
"At least your body d... doesn't feel twice its normal size." Daniel raised his hands out of the water and flexed his fingers. "I hate it when it does that."
"I thought you walking around with a swelled head was a normal thing," Jack said with a grin.
Daniel rolled his eyes and let his hands fall back into the water. Fraiser took that moment to enter the bathroom and she knelt beside Daniel, immediately testing the water. "How are you doing?"
"Better," Daniel said softly.
"Good. I think we can get you out of here and back into bed in a few more minutes." She added more hot water after draining some out of the tub, then helped Daniel drink the last of the hot chocolate. As she stood, she looked at Jack. "How are you feeling, sir?"
"Like I got broadsided by a tree." Jack swallowed hard at her stare and quickly added, "No double vision, very little nausea, killer headache, and lots of stiff muscles. Other than that, I'm doing fine." He turned to look at Daniel, who was watching him with concern.
Fraiser nodded and patted Jack's arm. "I'll be back for him in five minutes."
Fraiser's nonchalant attitude must have relieved Daniel, because he finally seemed to relax as tension lines around his forehead and eyes eased. Jack sat there quietly watching Daniel, who apart from an occasional tremor, seemed to be almost comfortable now.
"Okay, time for bed."
Daniel started as Fraiser entered the bathroom again with Teal'c on her heels. Jack moved aside as she and Teal'c got Daniel up and out of the tub and wrapped in towels. They dressed him in scrubs and wheeled him back to bed. As Daniel curled beneath the blankets, Fraiser uncovered his feet and put a pair of socks on them. Daniel wriggled his toes happily and buried his nose beneath the blankets.
- - - - - -
He was almost pleasantly warm except for his feet, which were still cold. He was dry and out of the cold and rain. He was lying in a bed, under a mound of blankets. His stomach was full and happy. There were people around him, and best of all, Jack was asleep a mere few feet away from him.
So why couldn't he fall asleep? You'd think he was tired enough by now.
Daniel turned restlessly onto his side and brought his legs up to his chest. A minute later, the position made his back ache, so he stretched his legs out to the foot of the bed. But that position emphasized his cold feet so he pulled his right leg and tucked his foot beneath his left knee.
He raised his head and smooshed the pillow up into a ball. He eased his shoulder onto the pillow, this position giving him a clear view of Jack, who was sleeping peacefully on his back, his face turned away from Daniel.
Daniel knew what he needed was to be lying in bed with Jack, plastered against his body and taking in his body heat. He needed to feel Jack's breath against his neck, feel his heartbeat beneath his fingers, feel the heat of Jack's skin against his own body. Instead he had to settle for the sight of Jack tantalizingly out of reach.
He lay there watching Jack sleep until his legs began to ache, forcing him onto his back.
That position strained his neck so he turned onto his other side. He raised a hand to try and massage the burning muscles, and was surprised when warm fingers took up the kneading.
"No. I can't seem to get comfortable."
Janet pulled the blankets down from his shoulders to get better access. She rubbed along his neck and upper spine, her fingers easing knots and making Daniel aware of how tense he was.
"You're overtired. I'll get you some Tylenol; it should help with some of the aches and help relax you a little." She patted his tingling skin and covered him up again.
True to her word, she was back by his side in a moment, holding out two pills and a glass of water. He took the pills and drank the water down in three large gulps, then handed her the empty glass. To his surprise, she sat down next to him.
"You must be tired," Daniel said.
"I am." She smiled gently at him. "I'm off duty and I just thought I'd relax a couple of minutes before heading home." She placed a hand on his back and rubbed gently through the blankets.
Daniel closed his eyes, enjoying her quiet company. Slowly he relaxed, his legs lying comfortable and heavy, the ache in his back diminishing and the strain in his neck and shoulders easing. Janet began to hum softly, and Daniel smiled as her hand rubbed his back in time with her song.
"I feel like a cat," Daniel said sleepily.
"What?" Janet canted her head and frowned slightly.
"You were enjoying yourself, as if you were petting a cat." He snuggled his head further into his pillow.
She laughed softly. "I don't hear you purring. Or should I say snoring?" She continued rubbing circles on his back, her touch softening and slowing as Daniel neared sleep. The last thing he heard was the sound of her humming softly once more.
- - - - - -
"For crying out loud, it's almost lunchtime. How much longer is he going to sleep?"
Despite his outburst, Jack kept his voice low, staring at the blanket-covered lump in the bed that had barely moved since he'd woken up five hours ago.
"If Daniel doesn't wake up in the next thirty minutes, I *will* wake him up so that he can eat something, sir." Fraiser stood, arms folded, and glared at Jack. "His ordeal took a lot out of him and he needs sleep." She looked at the rumpled bed Jack was sprawled on. "As do you. I'm going to check on you later this afternoon after you've had a nap—" She raised a finger when Jack went to object. "And if Daniel's sufficiently recovered by then, I'll release him, too."
Jack immediately pursed his lips to stop from cheering, but he couldn't help the smile that curled past his tensed cheeks. Fraiser must have noticed because she winked at him.
"Now get some rest and don't let me catch you trying to wake Daniel up before I say it's time for him to be woken up."
"As if you'd catch me," Jack muttered under his breath. Still, he did wish Daniel would wake up just so that Jack could see if he was really okay. The sight of Daniel lying in that tub, half frozen and clearly exhausted, had scared Jack last night. And Jack hadn't even glimpsed Daniel's face since he'd been awake as it was hidden beneath the blankets.
The tension of waiting to see Daniel for himself had kicked his headache up a notch, the painkiller he'd taken earlier this morning having worn off. He rubbed his forehead and figured he might as well take the doctor's advice.
He'd waited this long, he could surely wait another thirty minutes. He gingerly lowered himself down onto the pillows, careful of his strained muscles and bruises, and closed his eyes.
Only to be woken up what felt like seconds later. A tray bearing food was on the roll away table before him and he blinked at it in confusion. Fraiser grinned at him before turning to Daniel.
"Daniel? Come on, wake up, Daniel." She pulled the blanket away from Daniel's face and moved aside just in time for Jack to see Daniel open his eyes. He looked around sleepily.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Jackson," she teased.
"Considering it's well after noon..." She pushed Daniel's lunch closer and Daniel turned his head to look at the tray. He spotted Jack and smiled, his eyes lighting up. Gone were the hollows beneath his eyes, there was colour in his cheeks, and his eyes were bright and aware.
Fraiser raised the head of Daniel's bed with the bed's control and he sat up, moving with the mattress. "You two can catch up on gossip over lunch," she teased as Daniel stuffed a pillow behind his back. She handed Daniel his glasses and smiled at him before turning to leave.
Daniel yawned. "Is it really that late?"
Jack took a bite of buttered roll and chewed. "Yep," he said once he'd swallowed.
"You're looking better than you did last night."
"So are you."
"I feel a lot better." Daniel yawned again, then began to eat.
They both ate in silence, their gazes flitting from their plates to one another. Jack felt a slight anxiousness on Daniel's part and he wondered what was bothering him. He wasn't about to push, though. This was certainly not the place and Daniel would certainly mention it to him when he was good and ready.
Fraiser showed up when they'd finished their meal, and proceeded in giving Daniel a thorough examination. Jack lay back against the bed, listening to Daniel talk and joke with Fraiser. When she finished and turned her attention on Jack, he quickly brought up the subject of allowing them to go home.
"I said after you had some rest." She handed him a small paper cup with a pill in it. He recognized it as the pain killer she'd prescribed for him.
"I just slept." He frowned at the medication, then tipped it into his mouth, swallowing it down with leftover juice.
"For twenty minutes, sir. That wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"I'm not tired."
"So humour me. Lie back and relax for a couple of hours. Like you did before lunch."
"I could sleep in my own bed, you know."
"Yes, I know. But in the meantime, someone else needs their sleep." She moved aside and Jack saw that Daniel, who had curled up on his side to listen to their conversation, had fallen asleep.
Jack raised his hands in defeat and slid down the bed. He figured he'd relax until the headache eased, then he'd try and convince Fraiser again into letting them go home.
- - - - - -
Despite the fact it was still early evening, both Jack and Daniel were in bed, under the covers. Jack, in deference to his bruising, was using Daniel both as mattress and pillow, his head tucked into the hollow of Daniel's shoulder and the rest of him plastered over Daniel's chest and hips.
He was snoring softly, his breath tickling Daniel's throat and he rubbed a hand over Jack's back underneath the blanket, realizing that this was exactly where he had dreamed of being while being stuck in the cold and rain. The memory now felt almost surreal, more a bad dream than an actual nightmarish experience.
He felt sleep beckoning but he fought its pull, opting instead to continue enjoying Jack's warmth and weight. He lay there, almost drowsing until Jack shifted in his sleep. Daniel tightened his hold on Jack, forgetting about the bruises for a moment.
"Sorry." He quickly let Jack go. "You okay?" Daniel raised his head as Jack winced.
"Yeah." Jack moved around a bit, getting comfortable, pushing Daniel's leg aside to make room for his own. "Why aren't you sleeping?"
"I was. Sort of. I was just enjoying this."
"Enjoying what? Squeezing the crap out of me?"
Daniel stiffened but Jack patted Daniel's abdomen. "Sorry," Jack said. "That didn't come out right."
"I was just thinking this is sort of what kept me together out there." He relaxed and kissed the top of Jack's head. The soft hairs brushed against his lips.
"A warm bed and a full stomach?"
"You in the bed with me, lying on top of my stomach," Daniel amended. "Just like this."
Jack slid his hand beneath Daniel's tee shirt and slowly rubbed the skin on his chest. "I'm sorry you had to go through all of that. Carter told me how it happened. If I'd gotten you guys out of there sooner—"
"You can't be blaming yourself," Daniel said incredulously. "I'm the one who wanted to stay and photograph the last of the statues, despite your order for us to leave."
"I knew about the possibility of flooding. The weather guys had said it had been raining in the mountains and the streams were running fast. I should have kept a better eye out for—"
"Jack. Don't. I didn't know about the flooding and I was a little miffed at you so I insisted on taking those pictures. I can start blaming myself for holding the team back just as easily."
"You were mad at me?" Jack shifted so he was lying on his side so he could look at Daniel eye to eye.
"You don't remember?" Daniel traced the bandage on Jack's temple with his index finger.
Moving his finger down the side of Jack's face, he traced a line down to his lips. "I wanted to look around the temple again, double check our findings, and you ignored me and asked Teal'c if he thought it was necessary."
Gently, Daniel followed the outline of Jack's lips with the pad of his finger. "I hate it when you do that."
Jack moved his jaw slightly and caught Daniel's finger with his teeth, biting down gently before sucking and twirling his tongue around it. He let the digit go with a sigh when Daniel tugged it away. "Sometimes you can't take a hint, Daniel. I know how meticulous you and Teal'c are in your work. If there had been something there, you would have found it. Which is probably why I made some half-ass sarcastic comment and ended up hurting your feelings." He squeezed Daniel's ribs lightly. "I'm sorry."
"You're sure you don't remember making that half-ass sarcastic comment?" Because, Daniel thought, claiming amnesia would be a great way getting out of this.
"Honest. The last thing I remember was feeling anxious about getting back across the river, and the cold, the wind and the rain."
"Don't remind me." Daniel shivered involuntarily. He cleared his throat, happy to note the scratchiness was getting better.
"Sorry. I can't imagine how bad it got for you out there."
"Could have been worse. Could have been a Goa'uld with a ribbon device. Or being forced to work in a mine. Or being stuck on a prison planet. Or tortured by a bunch of Jaffa. Or—"
"I'm just glad it's over." Jack's pulled his pillow down closer and bunched it beneath his head.
"Or being stranded a million light years away from home in horrible weather and the wrong way and realizing your mistake an hour later." Daniel lowered his eyes in embarrassment. He hadn't told anyone about that mistake, but had been feeling so guilty and stupid that he had to tell Jack.
"Hey." Daniel felt a hand on his cheek and he looked at Jack's worried face. "It can happen to anyone at the best of times. Getting disoriented while exhausted and on the border of hypothermia is a given."
"I could have just kept going the wrong way."
"Just thank God you didn't." Jack moved closer and kissed Daniel gently, then broke off and laid his forehead against Daniel's shoulder. After a moment he raised his head and smiled wryly. "Just look at me. Drop me off in a jungle or a forest and I can find my way out, no problem. Throw me in a mall and I get turned around instantly."
Daniel snorted. It was true. Nine times out of ten, whenever they walked out of a store, Jack would turn in the opposite direction than the one they'd been headed in. "Okay, point taken."
"I wish I could bottle this," Daniel sighed a few minutes later.
Jack simply "mmm'd" sleepily.
"What?" Jack's snarky, almost-impatient tone made Daniel smile.
"Next time we go to a mall, want me to set you up with a GPS so you can find your way home, because I'd hate to lose you in that jungle out there."
Jack huffed. "Funny. Very funny."
"Just think about it. You could find your way from the sports store to the bookstore without getting lost."
"I don't get lost. I just like stopping at the pet shop on my way to the donut shop before meeting you at the bookstore."
"The pet shop isn't on the way to the donut shop, Jack."
Jack raised his head and looked at Daniel in surprise. "It's not?"
Daniel laughed and buried his face in Jack's neck.
"We are talking about the mall on King Avenue?"
"I could have sworn it was on the way."
"Go to sleep, Daniel." Jack's order was muffled in a yawn.
Daniel relaxed against Jack, feeling sleep tugging at him again. He smiled as Jack snuggled against him and let himself drift off, glad to have found his way home.
Author's Comments: Multiple hugs to devra, who had to force herself to *work* in order to alpha this fic *G*. And hugs to my heartsisters who are always full of encouragement and praise
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