Almost is Close Enoughby JoaG
Daniel ran his fingers over the slab of rock, feeling the grooves of the etched pictograph catch on his fingertips. He peered closely at the indentations, noting minute bits of paint or coloring that hadn't quite yet been eroded.
The slab had clearly been chiselled off a larger piece, the edges sanded so that they were smooth. It stood about ten inches high and nearly as many wide.
Daniel felt the soil around it, but the earth was too hard to dig with hi fingers. He rooted in his pack for a small shovel and began to unearth the rock. He fingered the damp part of the unearthed stone until he was convinced that the section of rock wedged into the soil had been deliberately left bare.
He shoved the soil back into the hole he'd dug and firmly tamped it back down, making sure the rock was exactly the same as when he'd found it. He moved to the next one several feet away, noting that this piece of stone had more remnants of paint on it. He stood, squinting into the sunlit valley despite the shade of his boonie hat. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of slabs here, one or two nearby with paint not yet worn away by wind and rain.
Daniel wandered around the area, intrigued. He couldn't make out the symbols, wasn't sure if they were a form of writing or were simply decorative. Occasionally he'd decipher animals and plants among the symbols, some drawn with exquisite care, others with only a rough outline.
"Pretty weird, huh?" Patrimus came over to join Daniel and stood looking down at the stone which portrayed some type of cat. "Nobody knows who put these here."
Daniel shielded his eyes from the sun with his hands and looked at the small huddle of people squatting underneath a tree, who were watching them carefully. It was obvious they were wary of Daniel and his team. When Patrimus had conveyed them here, the four had simply grouped together, moved into the shade and decided to wait them out as if it was a normal occurrence. Maybe it was; maybe groups of sightseers came here on a regular basis.
"What about them?" he asked with a tilt of his chin.
"The Othrais? I told you about them – they're too primitive to be able to create anything like this. They're no more than beasts. Anyways, these have been here for generations."
"I don't know, some of these are pretty recent." Daniel pointed at the large feline drawing on the rock. Not knowing anything about the ingredients applied for the paint, it was hard to gauge how long it had been here. But the soil around the stone slab wasn't as packed and hard as the one he'd unearthed a few minutes ago. Daniel squatted and fingered the soil. A month, maybe two, he'd hazard.
"Colonel! Keep your distance. They can be dangerous." Patrimus waved Jack away as he wandered close to the group. One of the males had stood at Jack's approach, seeing him as a possible threat. The man bared his teeth, and they flashed white amongst his dark beard. He puffed his chest out and make a few barking sounds. Jack simply changed the angle of his walk, moving away from them at the same pace, but his hands never left the trigger on his gun.
"So you and these people have lived on this planet for thousands of years, yet you've made no attempt to befriend them?" The male settled down again, squatting with the two females. The fourth looked younger, a teenager, maybe. There was no facial hair and although they all wore what looked like animal skins, the clothes were too baggy for Daniel to tell if it had breasts.
"They're too primitive, Doctor Jackson. They don't even have a proper language. Grunts and inhuman sounds. Typical animalistic reactions. We keep away from them and mind our own business, and they keep to themselves. Of course people go out into the mountains, camping and sporting, but the tribes stay in specific areas. They rarely move around, so we know where not to go. We haven't had any serious altercations with them in ages."
"But this place is part of their territory?" Daniel swept a hand at the valley before him.
"Well, yes. Kids come here on dares occasionally. You know, bring back a piece of a rock to prove they're brave?" Patrimus kicked a piece of stone over, and a faint outline of a bird's wing was evidence that it had belonged to a larger piece.
"You said those guys were dangerous," Jack said as he joined them, having obviously overheard Patrimus' last sentence. "You let kids come here alone?"
"If we don't bother them, they won't bother us."
"I dunno. I'd hate to tackle with that male." He looked at Daniel. "The guy's built like Teal'c."
"It's obvious he was only trying to protect the women. You should have known better than get close to them."
"I wanted to see what kind of reaction I'd get, considering we'll be camping here tonight."
Daniel continued to walk around the valley with Jack following on his heels. He glanced at the small group who were still huddled beneath the tree, wondering if they were a family. Daniel was almost sorry he'd shown interest in this place when Patrimus had mentioned the odd paintings here; he felt like he was disturbing these folks.
"Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson? There is one more thing I need to warn you about." Patrimus had stopped before a large cone-shaped hill, similar to those of termites back on Earth. "You need to keep away from these. The garnak will not bother you unless you disturb their home."
"What are garnaks?" Daniel figured they were bugs and quickly scanned for more of the hills.
"I'll show you." Patrimus stepped close to the hill and took something out of his pocket. He opened a small bottle and poured the powdery contents into the opening, then quickly stepped back. He grabbed hold of Jack and Daniel's arms and pulled them backwards several dozen feet.
One of the females stood and took a few steps in their direction. Daniel's attention was divided between whatever Patrimus was expecting to come out of the anthill, and the social habits of these primitives... Othrais, their guide had called them.
"Here they come," Patrimus warned. Something black plopped out of the anthill and two creatures scampered down its side. They looked like scorpions on steroids, the size of a squirrel. They had large pincers and curved tails, and the two creatures seemed to stand guard at the bottom of their home.
Two more joined them, and Daniel could see they appeared slightly disoriented. There was a white powder on their carapace, probably whatever it was that Patrimus had dumped into the hole.
"Their sting is poisonous but not deadly, unless you're unfortunate enough to be stung several times. But it will make you sick and make you wish you were dead. They're nocturnal, but they remain out in the open. If you camp out in the woods, you won't be bothered by them."
Daniel held back a shudder as one of the four snapped its pincers open and shut and scuttled forward several feet. Daniel instinctively took a few steps backwards until Jack grabbed his arm.
"Careful." His friend pointed behind Daniel and he realized he'd nearly tripped over one of the slabs of rock. Daniel sidestepped the rock and moved even farther away from the creatures.
"Now, watch." Patrimus was looking off to the side and Daniel realized the group of Othrais were approaching, intent on the giant scorpions. Jack tightened his grip on Daniel's arm and pulled him even farther away, and Daniel allowed himself to be led while not taking his attention from the Othrais.
They circled the mound and with lightning quick reflexes, one of the females grabbed hold of a scorpion and speared a piece of flint through its tail, pinning it to the ground. Seconds later, it had been cut open and the two women were enjoying a grisly meal.
"Oh God, that's disgusting," Jack exclaimed. The male raised his head nonchalantly at Jack's words, leisurely dispatched one of the scorpions and took a bite from its torso. He wiped his mouth with the back of an ichor-streaked hand and chewed enthusiastically. He grunted in Jack's direction, then pointedly turned his back on him.
"Guess we're not invited to the picnic. Can I just say I'm sooo glad this isn't one of our 'meet and greet over supper' missions." Jack made a face as he turned away from the Othrais.
The remaining insects were quickly disposed of and eaten, their discarded shells soon the only things that remained of them. The women and the teenager, a boy, Daniel finally decided, grabbed some flat rocks and began digging into the scorpion's former home. Soon after they were eating a jelly-like substance.
"The garnaks' eggs. It's a shame, you know," Patrimus said with a sigh. "They are quite the delicacy."
Daniel pursed his lips and shared a look with Jack. Fish eggs were one thing, but he'd draw the line at insect caviar.
Patrimus turned and began walking to where he'd left the horse and buggy. "You're sure about this?"
Jack glanced at Daniel and he nodded. "Yeah, we're sure. We'll just go have a look-see at that cave you mentioned, and spend our time hiking among the rocks and taking pictures." Jack's tone indicated that he expected it to be a boring time.
"It might be interesting to study their habits," Daniel said with a glance to the group who were returning to the shade of the trees.
"What's to study? They're like the Touched, except they don't have the..." Jack motioned to his forehead where the heavy brows and sloped forehead had not been apparent.
"But we never got to study the Touched," Daniel said. Of course he'd lived *among* them but he didn't remember much about that time except that he'd hurt before, and after, his change.
"I would caution against approaching the Othrais, Doctor Jackson." Patrimus put a foot on the buggy's wheel. "You saw how protective the men are of the women. And don't let the females fool you. They're like a wildcat when cornered, even the young. Just remember to keep your distance, and everything will be fine. They won't bother you if you don't bother them."
"What about camps? Villages? Where do they sleep?"
"Their home is at the foot of the valley." Patrimus pointed towards the far end. "Again, don't wander in that direction. You have your weapons with you but honestly, we have lived in a relative peace with them and the Council allowed you to come here because you showed interest in the stones and the cave, not the Othrais." He leaned forward as if he were conveying a secret. "It is forbidden to have any dealings with them. They carry diseases and vermin. We punish those who go seeking them; even what I did today with the garnaks is frowned upon."
"Don't worry, we're here simply for the joy of researching rocks and caves, not the local wildlife."
Daniel opened his mouth to complain about Jack's comment but shrugged it off instead. He could probably watch these people interact without getting too close to them.
"Carter and Teal'c, *they* get to visit the falls and the hydro-electric setup."
Daniel raised his eyebrows in question at the exaggerated longing in Jack's voice.
"Water, Daniel. Water, river, fish... do you even see a stream nearby?"
"Fishing rod, Jack. I don't see that either."
"Always a critic," Jack mumbled as Patrimus waved them goodbye and set the reins to the horse. "Well, the cave's that-a-way." Jack turned to the right, eyeing the gentle slope of the mountainside. They began walking slowly, Daniel's attention torn between the group of beings who had come out from beneath the shade of the tree and appeared to be rummaging for food, and the multitude of etched rocks including the promise of more ancient drawings inside the cave. From what Patrimus had described, there could be Goa'uld script in there.
Daniel crouched to take a photo of a delicately sketched flower; there were shades of blues and yellows that would put many well-known artists back on Earth to shame. He straightened and caught sight of the older male ruffling the teenager's hair. Both were grinning as they wrestled for something in the older man's hand. One of the women was watching her two companions, the other woman was keeping an eye on Jack and Daniel. Obviously they were intelligent enough to put up a guard.
Eventually they came to a small ravine and Daniel stepped close to the edge and peered into it. He saw telltale grooves that were very familiar to him.
"I think this is the quarry where the Othrais mine those slabs." He pointed to the rock wall where indentations showed tools had chiselled out pieces of rock, making it look uneven.
"You think they're capable of this kind of intricate work?"
"Some of the paintings are very recent, Jack. Unless it's a hoax and it's Patrimus' people who are doing this on the sly, then they're more than obviously pretending these folks are animals. And have you ever seen a dog draw a flower?"
"Not recently, can't say that I have."
Several scattered pieces of rocks on the quarry floor caught Daniel's attention. "Hey, I think someone was working here." He pointed down to where part of a slab had been chiselled, the edges around the rock having been sliced away.
"How can you tell?"
"Because those are tools, and I'm betting it took whoever made them a lot of time to get them made right."
"What, the slabs or the tools?"
Jack glanced up into the wooded area above them. "By the way, is that the cave?"
Daniel looked up and after a second, noted the darker-colored rock which indicated it could be the cave's mouth. "I think so."
Jack stepped close to Daniel and then moved behind him. Daniel peered around his shoulder as Jack fumbled through his pack.
"What are you looking for?"
Jack moved closer, his breath hot and soft on Daniel's nape. It sent a shiver down his spine. "Your video camera."
"Because I'm going to go up there and videotape what's inside that cave while you go play with the rocks down there." Jack's fingers eased over onto the skin of his neck and rubbed gently before he took out the camera.
"Because it's obvious that unless there's something Goa'uld-y in the cave, coming here's a waste of our time. Ack." Jack's raised finger was thrust around Daniel and stuck in his face. "Not one word about this great opportunity on learning about different civilizations. Just..." He pulled his hand back and closed the pack. "Just enjoy yourself, 'k?"
Daniel gave his partner a quick smile. "Thanks." He turned to watch the four Othrais, who were still engrossed in searching for food. They didn't appear to be alarmed that Daniel and Jack were near the quarry, so he guessed they weren't the ones who had been working on the rock.
"I wish you'd look at me like that," Jack said with an exaggerated sigh.
"I already know your habits, Jack. Fast foods, hockey game. Then once you're full, you just lie on the couch and spend the evening farting and yelling at the referees."
"Hey, I cook."
Daniel shrugged. "Dumping a can of soup into a pot does not equate to cooking."
"I made pasta last weekend."
"When's the last time *you* cooked for me?"
"It's the MRE's."
"They give me gas."
"Oh, I thought it was the fibre Janet made you add to your diet."
"Funny! Hey." Jack nudged Daniel's shoulder with his own. "Just make sure you don't bump into whoever was working down there. Keep your distance, okay?"
Daniel nodded and began climbing down into the pit as Jack scrambled towards the cave. As he'd suspected, the stones he'd spotted beside the partly chiselled rock were tools. He took the large, round, pitted hammer in his hand and wondered if they'd been abandoned moments ago, or days or weeks.
He put the rock down beside the other tools and began wandering around the site. It wasn't large and accounted for only part of the stones he'd seen in the valley. He crossed to the far side of the pit and spotted a path where it was obvious people had climbed up and down. He climbed up, and to his surprise, saw another quarry only several feet away and even more of them in the distance.
Daniel crossed the grassy area between the two pits. The second quarry held a darker stone, and although it showed signs of use, there was no indication that anyone had been there recently. He decided to go explore that quarry also when movement caught his eye.
A fifth Othrais, a female, was crouched beside one of the cone-shaped scorpion hills. She grunted at him, and made motions towards the hill.
"Hi. I, um, sorry, I don't know how to get those things to come out."
She grunted some more and then pointed at the hill again. Obviously she'd seen Patrimus force the bugs out of the hill and she wanted her share of lunch. Daniel spread his hands open.
"Sorry," he said again.
With what sounded like a 'hrmph', she turned her back to him and began digging into the bottom of the sand hill with a thin piece of rock. Within moments she'd unearthed one of the scorpions and pounced on it with a flint knife. She broke the carapace in two and bit into the dripping insect. Chewing noisily, she offered Daniel part of the bug.
"Um, thanks, but I'm not hungry." The woman motioned again for Daniel to take it and he took a step back. Raw scorpion or roasted symbiote, creepy crawlers definitely weren't part of Daniel's diet. She shrugged when she realized Daniel wouldn't take the offering, and called out softly. The sounds she made sounded like a language, nothing like the grunts she'd made earlier.
To Daniel's surprise, a small child, maybe four years old, cautiously moved out from behind some bushes and, eyes wide in fright, scampered towards the woman. She huddled against the female and accepted the part that Daniel had refused.
Smiling, Daniel squatted, watching the two eat despite the repulsive 'speciale du jour'. The little girl watched Daniel with a fear that the female didn't appear to show. Both were dirty, their hair matted and full of debris. This close, Daniel could see their clothes were made of skins, but they appeared to be skilfully sewn together, and beneath the dirt Daniel could see embroidered symbols.
"So, come to this place often to eat?" he said in a pleasant voice. "Although I'd keep away from the scorpion. It's a touch undercooked for my taste. Maybe you could recommend something else, in the form of a salad, maybe?"
The woman raised her eyes from her meal and used her flint knife to cut the tail into pieces. When both she and the child began to suck out the meat, Daniel had to turn away in disgust. As much as he enjoyed trying new foods, this was something he was sure he'd never get used to.
He stood. He hoped the woman would feel comfortable enough to continue with whatever she'd been doing before Daniel had startled her, although she seemed unafraid enough of him now. She watched him walk around the perimeter of the quarry with wary eyes as she finished her meal.
By the time Daniel had come full circle, she was licking her fingers. Her long, blond, matted hair blew into her face from a gust of wind and she impatiently pushed it back, then wiped her hands on the grass. She and the child appeared more unkempt than the other four and Daniel wondered if they were outcasts.
Daniel decided to head away from them and go explore one of the other quarries. He only took a few steps when to his surprise, the woman growled. He turned and found she was standing and had even taken several steps forward, her knife in her hand. She gestured him away from where he'd been headed. Daniel paused, unsure as to why he'd suddenly alarmed her.
He looked around, wondering if there was another direction he could take to get to the quarry pit. He had been planning on heading right but he figured he could go left in a roundabout way.
Keeping a wary eye on the armed female, he took two steps back. Even before he could react, she screamed and threw herself on him. Daniel managed to bring his hand up to block the knife thrust, but as he pushed the knife aside he felt the sharp edge cut through his tee shirt and along his side.
Snarling, the woman was like a wild animal. Daniel didn't want to harm her but he knew he probably would have no choice. He held her wrist, easily holding the knife away but shifted back as she snapped at him with her teeth.
All the while she was yelling something. The little girl ran around them. She gathered something in the bushes off to his left. The woman fought even more fiercely and Daniel was hard pressed to hold her struggling body while trying to see what the child was rescuing.
Wide blue eyes, a swatch of thin blond hair and white skin, then the little girl was running away with the tiny baby in her arms.
"Oh God, I'm sorry," Daniel uttered. He planned on holding onto the mother long enough for the little girl to make her escape, then letting her go. But even as he loosened his grip on her, she began struggling more fiercely and he took an instinctive step back. Too late he realized how close to the edge of the pit they'd gotten, and both of them fell backwards as the soil crumbled beneath their feet.
It was the sand that saved them from serious injury. The side of the quarry that Daniel had been standing on was filled with extremely fine, shifting sand that threatened to bury him as he came to a stop. The woman rolled away from Daniel and scrambled to the opposite side of the small pit. She tried climbing out, but the walls were too sheer.
Even as Daniel awkwardly half swam, half crawled from the cloying sand to more stable ground, he tentatively felt the slash along his ribs. The woman rushed past him and tried to climb up the sand-strewn edge. Daniel remained where he was; she was panicked enough without having to worry about him looming over her. She managed to climb three feet of the twelve foot pit when both of them realized she had sunk past her knees, and was quickly being pulled in deeper.
Daniel had never seen soil like this before. It had the qualities of quicksand and he wondered if there was stone beneath the huge pile of sand. If not, the woman could continue sinking in until she suffocated in the stuff.
Thinking fast, she threw herself backwards just as the sand enveloped her thighs. She slid down the sand pile and rolled once she hit solid ground. The woman quickly got to her feet and put her back to the wall, breathing heavily and watched Daniel cautiously.
Satisfied that his injury was nothing more than a shallow scratch, Daniel looked around. There were no handholds on the rock face of the pit, no vines or tree limbs they could use to climb out. The sandy area was too dangerous to attempt again.
A shadow on the stone floor caught Daniel's attention. He turned just in time to see the little girl standing at the edge of the pit, holding a large rock over her head, teeth bared. She heaved it at him just as the girl's mother yelled at her. Daniel easily dodged the rock but the motion threw the child off balance and she tumbled head first into the sand.
Before Daniel or the woman could reach her, she disappeared.
Daniel threw himself onto his stomach and began digging furiously where the child had landed. The woman was beside him, and all Daniel could hear were their desperate breathes and the swoosh as they scooped the sand away.
Then his fingers touched flesh and Daniel grabbed and pulled. He'd caught the girl by the ankle. Seconds later, she was out.
Her eyes were closed and she wasn't breathing. Despite the mother's attempts to take the girl out of his arms, Daniel turned the child onto her side and jammed his finger into her mouth. All he could feel was sand. Desperately he cleared her mouth then grabbed her by the feet and held her upside down. More sand poured from her. Daniel placed her onto her back and throwing a prayer to whatever gods looked over these people, began rescue breathing.
To his surprise, after only two forced breaths the child began coughing. He turned her onto her side again and then reached for the water bottle on his belt. He rinsed the sand from her eyes as she coughed and then she started crying. The sound was like music to his ears.
The child blinked through the water and reached for her mother. In a flash, the woman gathered the girl in her arms and crooned to her as she carefully wiped the remaining sand from her face and ears. The girl continued coughing but she calmed considerably the moment her mother's arms were around her.
Daniel sat back in relief. His hands were shaking. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn't just his hands that were trembling, but his whole body.
He broke out in a cold sweat the moment his ribs began to burn. His head ached and there was a hissing in his ears. He put a hand to his side again and suddenly an awful thought went through him. He'd been slashed with the flint knife, which had, moments earlier, cut apart the scorpion's tail. If that knife had touched the creature's venom sac, it could have become contaminated.
Reaching for his radio, Daniel ignored the pain that flared along his ribs as he stood. "Jack, Jack, can you hear me?"
He looked up towards the mountain, trying to see if he could spot the cave that Jack had gone to explore but he couldn't see it from this angle. He tried again but knew that if Jack was still inside, the rock could probably interfere with the radio signal.
The child had stopped coughing and Daniel moved slowly to her side. He knelt stiffly and again he uncapped his water bottle, this time offering it to the mother. The woman took it and sniffed its contents, then tipped it to the girl's mouth. The child drank greedily and when she was done, the woman handed it back to Daniel. He waved his hand at the woman, indicating she could drink also. Her eyes never leaving Daniel, she took several long swallows before giving it back.
Daniel took a few sips himself before reattaching it to his belt. It was nearly empty but he had more in his pack. He stood, holding a hand out onto the rock as the pit spun around for a second.
"You know, if you climbed onto my shoulders, you might be able to reach those footholds up there." There were a couple of roots sticking out a few feet from the top. Daniel put a hand out and waggled his fingers. "Come on, let's give it a try."
The woman canted her head to the side, watching him warily. She clutched the girl more tightly in her arms.
"Jack, are you out there? I could use your help right about now." He sighed loudly when the radio gave back only silence.
Daniel reached down and slowly touched the woman's bare foot. She pulled back in alarm. Daniel smiled, then touched her foot again. "If you put your feet here," he said, patting his shoulder, "I could lift you up and you could climb out."
It took several more repetitions before she understood and she stood quickly. She positioned the little girl so she had her arms and legs wrapped around her waist and shoulders. Then as Daniel squatted, the woman stepped onto his thigh. Her foot brushed his ribs and he gasped in pain.
Then she was balanced on top of his shoulders and Daniel forced his trembling body up. He locked his knees and leaned forward, his shaking arms holding him steady against the wall. He felt the woman's feet strain as she reached up and then she was scrambling up the side of the quarry, sending pebbles and sand into his face. He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing as dizziness overtook him.
Then the debris stopped falling and Daniel opened his eyes and looked up. The sky spun sickeningly but the woman was gone. She'd made it. Of course, there was no way for Daniel to get out of the pit; he certainly didn't expect her to go running to the other Othrais for help, let alone go up to the cave and get Jack.
He stumbled to the side where the sun shone and slid down the wall. He was cold and the heat of the sun wasn't doing anything to warm him up. Before reaching for his radio, he adjusted the cord of his boonie hat lying against his throat, which had fallen from his head sometime during his struggles with the woman and was resting against the back of his neck.
"Jack, damnit, can you hear me?" What the hell was so interesting in that cave that he was taking so long? Usually it was the other way around, with Jack complaining about the length of time it took Daniel to explore.
He heard an odd scuffling noise and looked up. The woman came into his field of view and peered down at him, then disappeared again. He closed his eyes.
"I'm still here," he mumbled softly. "You're free to go now."
The sound repeated itself, but he was too dizzy to look up again.
A loud crash startled him and he jumped, then rolled to the side out of reflex despite the dizziness. A large tree trunk had been pushed into the pit, landing close to where he'd been sitting. It leaned precariously against the side wall where he'd helped the woman out.
He blinked at it in confusion a moment, then up at the woman who was looking down at him, making motions with her hand. Daniel got up off his knees and stood. His joints and muscles hurt and he suspected he might have the start of a fever. He pushed the trunk until it was wedged solidly against the far wall. Slowly he began climbing.
The wood was mostly rotten, which was probably why she had been able to drag it here. He would need to hurry, he could feel it begin to give way under his weight.
He made it to the top of the trunk and felt for a foothold. Despite his shaking legs, his foot felt secure, so he lifted his arm and reached for a handhold. As his fingers grabbed a root, he felt a touch on his wrist. A dirty brown hand with ragged nails curled around his arm and tugged. As Daniel made his way up the rest of the way, the woman continued pulling on his arm, encouraging him with soft sounds.
Once out of the pit, he rolled onto the ground and curled up against the encroaching pain in his side. He felt those same hands pulling at his clothes where she'd cut him at the same time as Jack's voice came over the radio.
"Daniel, were you calling me?" The woman pulled back, startled. "I thought I heard you but I wasn't sure..."
Slowly, Daniel reached for his radio and spoke into it. "Jack, I sort of made some friends but I have a problem."
"Problem?" There was concern in Jack's voice.
"Remember the scorpion?"
"Damnit. Where are you?"
"It's okay, I didn't get stung, but I think I got infected by some of its venom."
"Where the fuck are you, Daniel!"
"Just past the quarry, coming your way. Jack, go slow, you don't want to spook them."
- - - - - -
"Spook them?" The words echoed through Jack's mind as he ran down the trail and past the quarry where he'd left Daniel. He could see Daniel now, curled up on his side. One of those people they'd seen earlier was kneeling beside him and she quickly backed away a few steps as Jack approached.
He slowed down when he spotted the glint of a knife in her hand. It was only then that he noticed the child hiding behind her. Still he pulled his weapon forward and trained it on her.
"Jack, stop," Daniel called out weakly. He pushed himself up onto an elbow, but not before Jack saw the trail of blood against his ribs and staining the top of his pants.
"Get away from her, Daniel."
"She won't hurt me. She... okay, she did this, but it was more an accident than anything." Daniel managed to get to his knees and the woman put a hand to his shoulder as he swayed.
"Damnit." Jack put the gun down and approached at a controlled walk, which took everything he had in him not to run to Daniel. As he reached his lover, the woman tugged on Daniel's arm and urged him to stand. She pulled Daniel along, glancing at Jack's face then staring at his hair before turning her attention to Daniel again.
Jack grabbed Daniel's bicep and together they got him moving. But Daniel stopped and turned to look behind him.
"The baby, go and get the baby." Daniel pointed the way they'd come and then brought his hands together as if he were holding something small in it. The woman nodded and damn if she didn't actually speak to the kid.
"I thought Patrimus said they didn't have a language." Jack watched the little girl run and get something out of the bushes behind them.
"I think there's a lot of things he doesn't know about these people," Daniel replied, as the little girl carried a baby wrapped in a blanket of sorts. Daniel began walking again once the kid had reached them.
The woman was definitely leading them into the trees and Jack had no objections. They needed to get Daniel out of here before the sun went down and while he still could move. They climbed uphill to a spot behind the quarry.
When they stepped into the clearing, Jack was surprised at the small camp. There were two mounds of blankets, signs of a campfire and what looked like a couple of bags made out of animal skins.
The woman brought Daniel over to one of the piles of blankets and motioned him down with her hand. Daniel bent his legs to comply but went down faster than any of them had expected. He rolled onto his side and simply stayed there.
"I'm okay. Just... let me rest a minute."
Jack knelt beside him and placed a hand on Daniel's damp jacket. The tee shirt underneath was soaked in sweat, his face was dripping beads of water and his hair was soaked around his forehead, temple and nape.
"What did you mean back there when you said she was responsible for this?" He glanced at the woman who was in the process of gathering wood to make a fire. The little girl had sat herself down on one of the blankets and was talking to the baby in her arms. Or maybe she was singing since her voice seemed to be going up and down in some sort of melody. Jack pulled Daniel's shirt up to look at the wound. He was relieved to see that it was shallow, not much more than a deep scratch.
"She came at me with the knife when I got too close to the baby. I didn't know it was there. It wasn't her fault, she was just protecting her child."
"How'd you know this is from those bugs?" Jack unclipped Daniel's pack and reached for the first aid kit.
"She cut one open a few minutes before. She must have gotten some of the venom on the blade."
"It'll be fine. Patrimus said people don't die from this..." He broke off as he watched the woman strike two rocks together. Sparks flew and ignited a small piece of lint. She quickly fed it wood shavings and within minutes, she had a fire going.
Jack busied himself disinfecting the scratch, then placed a bandage loosely over it. He gave Daniel some Tylenol, hoping it would ease some of the discomfort he was experiencing. Then there was nothing more he could do. He sat back and threaded a hand through Daniel's damp hair, watching as the woman heated several small rocks close to the fire, then poured water from a water skin into a wooden bowl.
The woman stood and went to the child. She ran a hand over the girl's face; an obvious sign of affection, and spoke some words to her. The little girl nodded, then glanced at Jack nervously. Jack smiled back as the woman looked at Jack also. Then she left the camp, a small woven basket in her hand.
She was back only a few minutes later, the basket full of plants and roots. She alternated chopping one of the roots and leaves of a plant while dumping the red-hot rocks into the bowl of water, using two sticks to fish the heated rocks out of the hot embers.
It didn't take long to get the water boiling, and she placed the leaves and roots into the water once it was steaming hot. An odd smell wafted from the bowl as she stirred its contents with the stick; not exactly appetizing but earthy.
When the concoction cooled, she dipped a wooden cup into it and brought it over to Daniel.
"Wait a second, lady." Jack put a hand out, stopping her from coming nearer. "Daniel, I don't think—"
"Jack, they eat the scorpions. I think they must get stung occasionally. This must be some sort of medicine."
"You don't know that." Jack glared at the woman when she pushed his hand away and tried to bring the mug to Daniel.
"No, I don't, but she seems sure of herself."
"I still don't think it's a good idea, Daniel. We've got Tylenol, I'm sure that—"
"It's not doing much good, Jack. I'm willing to give this a shot."
She pushed Jack aside and he let her, accepting Daniel's decision. She knelt beside Daniel, giving Jack a dirty look and what sounded like a few choice words to go along with it. Then she turned her attention to Daniel, her face softening. She lifted his head and brought the brew to his mouth.
But before she could put the edge of the cup to Daniel's lips, she stopped, a look of near-horror on her face.
With a shaking finger, she put the cup down and drew her finger across Daniel's cheek. Then she turned wide eyes to Jack. With the same finger, she rubbed his face. Suddenly she was on her knees, head bowed to them, the contents of the cup spilling over the ground as she knocked it over in her hurry to cower before them.
"I don't know, I don't understand." Daniel reached a hand and touched her arm. The woman glanced up at him, flinching as if she thought he might hit her.
"It's okay. We won't hurt you."
She looked at Daniel, then back at Jack again. Her eyes went to Jack's hair and then back to his cheeks.
"You know, the man we saw earlier had a beard. I wonder if she thought we were children."
"You've got to be kidding me," Jack exclaimed.
"She knows we're different, I think she was putting on an act earlier for me. They're intelligent, Jack. And probably because we don't have obvious facial hair, she thought we were younger than we really are. I think your grey hair had her confused but our five o'clock shadows made her realize we're adults."
Jack leaned back and watched as the woman straightened up again. She watched them both carefully as she refilled the mug. She approached Daniel slowly, then offered him the cup with more respect. Daniel reached for it but his hand was shaking so she placed her fingers around the cup and her other hand beneath his head.
She insisted he drink everything down and Jack could see how much difficulty he had in finishing the last of the tea, or whatever she would have called it. His breathing had sped up and Jack hoped he wouldn't spew. When he finished, he lay his head back down and Jack reached out and placed his hand on his shoulder.
"Tell me how you're feeling," Jack said, hoping to distract Daniel from his discomfort.
"Nauseous. Headache. Dizzy. Everything hurts. I'm cold."
Before Jack could look around for something to wrap Daniel in, the woman was there with a blanket. She wrapped it around Daniel, smiling shyly at Jack as he fingered the material. It was soft, very soft, and made of some sort of animal skin. The quality was incredible and he wouldn't mind having one of these on his own bed. Daniel burrowed his nose under the blanket and Jack gently wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand while Daniel continued to shiver.
"You said earlier you thought she had been putting on an act for you. Any idea why?"
Daniel shook his head. "To keep up the appearance of being dumb brutes? It must have something to do with keeping Patrimus' people from knowing how intelligent they are."
"Yeah, I got that part. But why?"
"I don't know," Daniel sighed heavily.
"That stuff she gave you doing any good?"
"Actually, I'm a little sleepy."
"That's good. Try and sleep."
Jack sat back and watched as Daniel's face slowly relaxed into sleep. When the woman reached over to put more wood on the fire, Jack realized it would be dark soon. He stood and began gathering more wood for the night.
Immediately the woman was up and rushing around, gathering pieces of wood herself. As she bent near Jack, he placed a hand on her arm and tugged her up. He took the wood pieces from her and with a gentle smile, had her sit beside her children.
"Your kids need you. I think I can do this by myself." He placed the few pieces beside the fire and continued to gather more wood. The woman stared at him with a confused look on her face, but after a while she rummaged through one of the bags and pulled out something that looked like jerky and a handful of dried leaves and berries.
Looking uneasily at Jack, she stood slowly and began gathering some plants from around the camp. When she finished, she poured what was left of the concoction she'd given Daniel into the cup and rinsed the bowl out. She began heating more water and soon she had a variety of roots cooking along with the foodstuffs she'd brought with her.
When the baby began fussing, she unashamedly pulled her top aside and began breast feeding. Jack turned his face, watching Daniel sleep instead until she finished. By then the meal was cooked and the woman dipped two bowls into the stew. She handed one to Jack and the other to the little girl.
Whatever she put into the stew, Jack found it delicious despite having to eat with his fingers. And he didn't kid himself. She made cooking look so easy but much of what she was carrying in that bag had taken time to prepare. This obviously was a well-planned trip.
When he finished, he handed her back the bowl with thanks. She smiled shyly at him and took some food for herself. By the time her daughter had finished, she took that bowl, filled it and pointed at Daniel with it. Then she handed Jack the bowl.
Jack put the bowl down and leaned over Daniel. He was sleeping and Jack figured he needed the rest more than he needed the food. He passed a hand over Daniel's still-sweating face and felt the warmth of a mild fever.
Jack gave the food back and shook his head. "Better let him sleep. We'll see how he's doing in the morning."
The woman nodded and began cleaning up. She disappeared with the dirty dishes and returned a while later with cleaned dishes and both larger bowls filled with fresh water. As she handed one to Jack, he could see that she'd washed up. The streaks of dirt were gone from her face, arms and legs. He took the bowl and a soft cloth she offered him, and while the woman used the second bowl to wash her kids, Jack dipped the cloth into the cold water and wiped the sweat from Daniel's face with it.
Daniel stirred slightly but didn't wake up.
Jack took the opportunity to freshen up himself, watching with a grin as the little girl squirmed in her mother's arms, preferring to play with the assortment of sticks and stones she'd picked up somewhere along the way.
When she finished, the woman took out some sort of spindly branch and began combing the snarls from the little girl's hair. Jack ran a hand through his own short crop, thankful he didn't have to go through what looked like agony for the poor child. He fished through Daniel's pack and took out a chocolate bar. Breaking off a piece, he handed it to the little girl, who was soon distracted with her piece of sweet and allowed her mom to finish.
He threw another log onto the fire. The sun was setting fast and the firelight would soon be the only illumination.
The woman undressed the little girl and Jack was amazed at the amount of sand that had collected in the child's clothes. After shaking everything out and redressing the girl, the woman turned her attention to her own hair and soon, even in the dim rosy light, she didn't look quite as feral and uncivilized as when he'd first spotted her. By now the little girl had moved to sit beside Jack, going through his pockets, looking for more chocolate. He smiled as he handed her another bite, and popped a piece into his mouth.
"So, you got a name?" Jack asked softly, handing the mother a bit of chocolate. She looked up at him questioningly as she took the candy. Remembering Daniel's attempts at communication with strangers, Jack put a hand to his chest.
He put a gentle hand on Daniel's shoulder and said his name. Then he put his hand out towards her, palm up while raising his eyebrows in question.
He saw the understanding in her eyes as she looked at him and Daniel, licking her fingers free of melted chocolate. She put a hand to her breast and said, clearly, "Challa."
Then with a smile, she pointed to her daughter and said, "Jeena." Then the baby. "Mollner."
"Nice to meetcha, Challa, Jeena, Mollner." He handed Jeena the last bite of candy and crumpled the wrapper before tossing it into the fire.
"Jack. Daniel." The woman grimaced as she continued to pull the comb-like thing through her knotted hair.
"So, what's a pretty gal like you doing in a place like this? Are you alone? Don't you have a husband? Mate?" He rubbed his hand over his mouth, wondering how to get beyond simple name exchanges. Maybe he'd just wait for the morning and leave it all to Daniel.
Challa finished and returned the comb to her bag. She called the little girl over and soon she and her two children were snuggled up beneath one blanket. It was still early but there really wasn't anything else to do, so Jack banked the fire and curled up behind Daniel, sharing the blanket with him.
"Jack?" Daniel turned his head towards him sleepily as Jack adjusted the blanket.
Using the cover of darkness, Jack reached over and kissed Daniel's sweaty nape. "It's me. Go back to sleep."
"Okay." Daniel sighed softly and wiggled slightly, moulding his back and butt into Jack's chest and groin. His clothes were damp with sweat, but at least Daniel wasn't in pain or discomfort. Whatever Challa had given Daniel seemed to pack quite a punch.
It took Jack a long time to drift off. He kept thinking about the poison in Daniel's body and hoped that Patrimus had been right when he'd said it wasn't deadly. Right now they had no way of getting back to the city except on foot. Carter and Teal'c were out of radio range so he couldn't call for help. Hopefully Daniel would be up to walking the four miles tomorrow, but they wouldn't be missed until the day after.
He woke up when Daniel began moving restlessly against him.
"Hey, you okay?" Jack whispered as he turned towards Daniel. He could hear Daniel's breathing which was loud and fast.
"Sorry, I can't seem to get comfortable." Daniel turned onto his side and curled his legs up to his chest.
Challa poked the fire and sparks flew into the sky. When she added fresh logs, the fire flared and Jack could see that Daniel's face had tightened in pain. A moment later, Challa was kneeling beside them and had a cup to Daniel's lips.
"Drink it," Jack ordered when Daniel glanced at him. "It's the same stuff she gave you earlier."
Daniel swallowed the medicine as fast as he could, then wiped a hand over his mouth as he took deep breaths. Jack looked for the bowl of water and cloth and wiped the sweat from Daniel's face. "You need more liquids. You're sweating too much."
He gave Daniel his canteen and got another from his pack while Daniel drank. "We're going to need more water soon." He exchanged the now empty canteen with the fresh one and motioned with a finger for him to keep drinking. "Maybe Challa knows where there's a stream or a spring around here. She has a supply so—"
"Challa?" Daniel handed the canteen back and Jack put it within easy reach.
"Yeah. The kid's Jeena and the baby Moll... Molly or something."
"How did you...?" He looked up at Challa, who had smiled at Daniel when he said her name.
"Daniel," she answered, then followed with a string of sounds that had both Jack and Daniel frowning.
"Can you make out what she's saying?"
Daniel shook his head. "I can't get a grasp on anything. It doesn't sound like anything I know."
Challa finished wiping out the cup and said a few more words before snuggling back under the blanket. Jack followed suit, then put his arm around Daniel's clammy shirt as he turned to face him and buried his face in Jack's shoulder. His body was tense and he was shivering.
Again the concoction worked fast and soon Daniel was lying relaxed against Jack. His breathing slowed and when Jack was sure Daniel was sleeping, he allowed himself to drift off.
This time it was Challa who woke Jack up. She had stoked the fire back up and was moving about the camp. Jack opened his eyes a crack only to see that dawn was just a promise in the night sky. He closed his eyes, not yet ready to get up. Daniel was still sleeping soundly in the same position as before, lying flat against Jack, his head pillowed on his shoulder, his body still too-warm and damp with sweat.
He heard little Jeena move closer to them and squat next to him. She gabbled something and played her hand through Jack's hair. Then Challa was there scolding her softly and pulling her away. He heard the child complain, and then quiet.
He slept some more, and woke up later to find only himself and Daniel in the camp. He gently turned Daniel onto his side and slid out from beneath him. Walking into the bushes, he took care of the call of nature and realized there was a repetitive thudding sound coming from the valley.
Shrugging, he figured as long as it wasn't something dangerous, he'd not bother to investigate just yet. He stepped back into camp and saw that Challa had left a large bowl full of some sort of oatmeal near their bed. He removed the cloth which covered it and dipped a smaller bowl into the mush. It was still warm and this time he decided he wasn't going to use his fingers. He took a plastic spoon from one of the MREs in his pack and took a bite.
It was delicious. Full of some sort of sweetener and with fruits mixed in it. He finished the helping and took a second.
Daniel coughed, turned onto his back, and opened his eyes.
"What's that smell?" he mumbled.
"Breakfast." Jack held a spoonful to Daniel's mouth. He stared at the mush a moment, his eyes nearly crossing, then opened his mouth a little reluctantly, Jack thought. He fed him the first bite and watched as Daniel's eyes widened in surprise as he smacked his lips appreciatively.
"Is there more?"
"You bet." Jack quickly stuffed the last bites into his mouth and dipped the bowl into the quickly diminishing food. Daniel sat up and accepted the bowl and spoon while Jack splashed some water on his face from another bowl containing clean water. As he did so, he realized the water was warm. Challa must have freshened the water and heated it up for them. Which meant there definitely had to be a water supply nearby.
"So, feeling better?" Jack looked at Daniel while he ate, noting that he still looked pale. But his tremors had stopped and he didn't appear to be in too much discomfort. And the sweating had stopped, although his clothes were still ringed with dampness.
"A little shaky, but my joints don't hurt as much. Stomach's settled, too."
Jack dug an extra tee shirt from Daniel's pack along with fresh socks and underwear. The pants would have to dry on their own. He pushed the bowl of water towards Daniel.
"Wash up and change. I'm just going to have a look at whatever's making that noise."
"It's the quarry," Daniel answered as he picked up the larger bowl of oatmeal and began scraping the sides and bottom with the spoon. "Someone's cutting stone."
As Daniel began to strip, Jack stood and stretched. "Come and meet me when you're done," Jack said when he saw that Daniel seemed to be moving without difficulty. He pointed in the direction of the quarries and Daniel nodded. He went down the mountainside and the closer he got to the pits, the louder the tapping sounds became.
He waited for Daniel at the bottom of the mountain, idly looking at a nearby stone slab. Several minutes later Daniel joined him and they walked to the quarry pit. Challa was crouched before a piece of rock, busily cutting into the rock with what looked like a rock and a stone chisel.
There was a bundle of cloths off to the side and Jack spotted a small arm waving in the air. The baby was safe and within reach of its mom.
Challa looked up in alarm when their shadows crossed her line of sight, but relaxed when she saw them. She never stopped working, diligently tapping out pieces of stone and slowly separating the slab from the edge of the quarry.
Jeena ran out from behind some bushes and threw herself against his legs. She thrust her fingers into his jacket pocket and Jack laughed as he gently extricated dusty fingers.
"Got any chocolate on ya?" Jack asked Daniel.
"Yeah," Daniel said, a bemused look on his face as opened his pack. To Jack's surprise, Jeena turned to Daniel and hissed, baring her teeth.
Immediately Jack grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. He stuck his raised index finger in her face. "No," he said firmly. "You behave or else you won't get anything."
Jeena stuck out her bottom lip in a pout but she didn't back away from Jack. Instead she turned and watched sulkily as Daniel fished out a 5th Avenue bar from his pack and handed it to Jack. He tore the wrapper open and gave first Daniel a piece of the candy, then broke off a piece for Jeena.
The little girl ran off happily with her treat and disappeared back into the bushes where she'd been playing. Or hiding. Or maybe just babysitting.
"I really don't want this." Daniel handed him the piece of candy and Jack stuck it back inside the wrapper while Daniel licked the melting chocolate from his fingers.
"I just didn't want her to think you're not important." He folded the wrapper over and pocketed the rest.
"She saw me and her mother struggling yesterday. It's normal that she doesn't trust me."
"Yeah, about that... I wonder why Challa isn't afraid of us?" Jack reached the edge of the quarry and began making his careful way down the worn trail.
"Maybe she knows we're not from around here?"
"How would she know?" Jack asked distractedly, sliding the last two feet into the pit as Daniel started down behind him. "Our clothes? Our body language? Our attitude towards her people?"
"Possibly. I'm sure the city people don't show much interest in the Othrais, or else they chase them away." Daniel's reply was interspersed with pauses as he made his way down the steep path.
As Jack moved towards Challa he heard Daniel slither down the last couple of feet, same as he did. Except Daniel's landing was echoed with an oomph as he hit the ground hard. Jack turned in time to see Daniel stumble and his legs crumple as he landed on his butt.
"You okay?" Jack waited a moment while Daniel seemed to take inventory, then offered him a hand. He pulled Daniel up and waited close by while Daniel teetered for a second before standing shakily. As he brushed the dirt from the seat of his pants, Jack realized that Daniel was still far from recovered.
"Well that was embarrassing," Daniel said, giving a quick glance at Challa. The woman had gotten up into a crouch, but once she saw that Daniel was alright, she went back to her work.
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I just won't be sitting easy for a couple of days," he added. He more or less shuffled over to see what Challa was doing and squatted next to her. "At the rate she's going, she'll have this finished in a couple of hours." He picked up a small piece of rock and held it up. "She looks pretty determined to finish; I think we've distracted her enough as it is." Daniel stood, wincing slightly, and looked up at the mountain. "What about that cave you explored yesterday? Anything worthwhile going back to look at?"
"How about we sit somewhere and go through the video footage I took. That way you can decide. I think there was something that looked Goa'uldish, but you know me and writing."
"Yeah, I do. You can't even read your own grocery list." Daniel smirked at him but Jack thought he also looked relieved. The climb up to the cave wasn't difficult but if Daniel had trouble with this small quarry, the climb would prove to be difficult and there was no use forcing him up there if there was no need.
He looked around the pit. "Might be more comfortable somewhere up there in the grass."
Daniel nodded and started climbing out of the pit. Jack watched a moment, noting that although he was clambering up without any visible problem, he was moving slowly and carefully.
Jack joined him up top and they chose a tree with a view of Challa's pit and Jeena's play area where she was currently building something with twigs, leaves and rocks. He pulled Daniel's camera from his pocket where he'd shoved it in hurriedly yesterday when Daniel had called for help.
The first time Daniel went through the video footage, Jack watched it with him. He was a little embarrassed that as careful as he'd been, a lot of the close ups he'd taken of the writing and drawings on the walls were shaky.
The second and third times Daniel ran through the video, he watched Daniel. When Daniel began watching it a fourth time, pausing and zooming every couple of minutes, Jack began counting leaves.
"So, anything interesting?" Jack finally asked. Daniel glanced at him from over his glasses.
"You're right, there is some Goa'uld in here, but I don't think it was written by any Jaffa." He played with the camera's controls, rewinding it until he came to a wall with script painted on a corner. "I've seen some of these symbols."
"On the slabs out there." Daniel pointed towards the valley spread out in front of them. "At first I thought they were just a decorative piece but I'm sure I've seen this," he pointed at something that looked Chinese, "and this." This one looked Arabic, all flowing curlicues and dots.
"No, but we can go check." He stood and limped several steps before easing the kinks out of his butt.
"Looks like you might need a massage when we get home," Jack said as he moved next to Daniel.
"You offering?" Daniel's teeth flashed as he grinned at Jack.
They spent the next couple of hours going over the stone slabs, and Daniel identified a dozen different symbols etched onto the top left corner of each slab. They'd meandered a good distance from the camp site and Jack kept a wary eye at the other four Othrais, who were still evident but were keeping their distance.
He occasionally watched them with his field glasses and found it odd that they were apparently doing very little as opposed to Challa. He could still hear the rhythmic tappings as she worked in the quarry; these four did nothing other than sit around and laze about. And he didn't think they were lazy people; not with the amount of work that needed to go into the type of supplies Challa had been carrying.
Then again, maybe they were waiting for something... maybe they were waiting for Challa to finish whatever she was working on.
He lowered the glasses and realized that the noises from the quarry had stopped. Daniel had noticed too, and was staring back towards the quarry area.
"Wanna go check it out? Anyways, it's lunchtime." Jack noted that Daniel looked tired and pale. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to have had him moving around so much.
"We need to start back for the city soon, don't we?"
"We can head back in the morning. Leave at dawn and make it in time to meet Carter and Teal'c's train."
"I wonder how their visit went," Daniel said tiredly. "I know it's more of a steam engine than a locomotive but it might have been fun to ride."
"Eighteen hours on a train? And miss all of this?" Jack spread a hand across the expanse before him.
"Well I could have definitely done without the bugfest yesterday."
"Plus you always love a puzzle." Jack smirked as he glanced at the small ledger in Daniel's pocket where he had copied all the various symbols from the slabs.
"I'm sure Challa can tell us about them."
"Sure, when one of you learns the other's language."
They'd reached the foot of the mountain and began climbing towards camp. Jack could smell smoke and wasn't surprised to see Challa bent over the cooking bowls. She smiled at them when they arrived and promptly sat down on *their* bed. Jeena immediately scrambled over from where she'd been playing and ran to Jack, plopping down on his lap. She grabbed the edge of his jacket's zipper and began toying with it.
"Something smells good." There was some sort of meat cooking over the open fire and Jack leaned to the side and looked over Jeena's head to examine the cooking food more carefully. No way was he eating scorpion, even if it was cooked.
Jack spotted a wing, and relaxed a little. "I think it's some kind of bird." Okay, fowl he could handle.
"Challa?" Jack shook his empty water bottles when she looked at him. "Is there water nearby?" He mimed scooping water from a stream and brought it to his mouth.
She said something and pointed to her left.
"Wanna give me your canteens?" Daniel lethargically pulled them from his pack and handed his two to Jack. "Can you carry these?" Jack asked Jeena, who had gotten up along with him. She grabbed them and trotted behind Jack as he walked in the direction Challa had pointed.
It didn't take him long to find the spring, the sound of trickling water led him right to the source. The water seeped out of the rocks and ran into a small pool. He uncapped the four canteens and one by one, held them to the flowing water. Although spring water was usually filtered as it ran through the various rocks, he didn't take any chances and added a purification tablet in each, just in case.
When he returned, Daniel had stretched out on his side and was watching him sleepily. He tucked the extra canteens into their packs and kept the other two close at hand.
Challa was tending to the baby, who was fussing. Jeena sat beside Jack and began fingering the laces on his boots. The smell from the cooking meat was tantalizing, making his mouth water. There was other stuff cooking in one of the bowls; the water was simmering and Jack could see some bright yellow roots of some kind cooking.
"Lunch smells good," Jack told Challa with a smile. She looked up at him and smiled back when Jack pointed at the food. He hoped the few words she said in reply were something to the effect that lunch would be ready soon. At least to his experienced eye, the fowl was more or less ready.
"Daniel, you think we could try our hand at supper tonight? Challa's done all the work so far and..."
He broke off when he noticed Daniel's eyes were closed. He reached a hand and cupped Daniel's nape, then slipped his fingers across his jaw to lay flat against his cheek. Daniel's skin felt normal, his breathing steady and regular, and he didn't react to Jack's touch. Jack grasped his partner's shoulder and shook him.
Daniel's eyes flew open and he looked at Jack in alarm.
"Don't go to sleep. Lunch is almost cooked."
Daniel shrugged Jack's hand from his shoulder and closed his eyes again. "Wake me when it's done."
"No, really. It's cooked. You okay?"
Daniel turned onto his back and huffed out a breath. "I'm okay. I just have a headache and I'm a little tired."
"Need some Tylenol?"
"Yeah," Daniel said with a soft breath. Jack reached into his vest and punched two of the pills from the blister pack, then handed them to Daniel along with some water. Daniel sat up reluctantly and took the medication. He yawned, listing over slightly and leaned against Jack.
Challa finished with the baby and expertly dug out the cooked vegetables. Using a slab of wood as a cutting board, she quickly sliced them up with a flint knife and divided the food into the two small bowls. Then she took the meat and placed several generous pieces onto large leaves and handed the meat and a bowl for the men to share. She called Jeena over and she and the little girl shared the second bowl.
The meat tasted like chicken and it had been liberally sprinkled with a spice that was delicious. The vegetables tasted like a mix between broccoli and cinnamon, a combination he couldn't quite get used to. But still it was filling and he ate with gusto.
He was glad to see Daniel also eat with appetite, and Jack let Daniel take a larger portion of the dessert, which looked and tasted akin to sweet rice pudding. After Challa poured some hot tea into their rinsed cup, she pulled a piece of rock out from behind her. Jack recognized the slab she'd worked so hard from removing from the quarry.
"Hey, you should have waited. We'd have helped you lug that thing up here." He took a sip of the bitter tea and handed the cup to Daniel. They both watched with interest as Challa took out several tools and laid them out beside her. Then she took a piece of charcoal from the fire and began sketching something on the stone. The first thing she drew was one of the many symbols they'd identified on the other stone slabs down in the valley.
Daniel put the cup down and reached for his notepad. He opened up the page where he'd sketched the symbols and showed them to her. Challa studied them a moment, then pointed to one, and Jack recognized it to be the one she was drawing.
"What is it? What does it mean?" Daniel pointed to the symbol and shrugged his shoulder. Challa pointed to a symbol on the pad and pointed to Jeena. Another symbol; the baby. Then she looked at them expectantly.
Jack shook his head. He didn't understand.
Challa wrinkled her nose, then put the charcoal down and grabbed a twig. On the ground she drew two figures. One had heavy breasts, the other was unmistakeably male. Then she made two small stick figures which were children. She named Jeena and Mollner, pointing to the female and male child sketches as she did so and then a matching symbol on the pad. Then she pointed to the woman, said her name, and pointed to another symbol. The man she identified with the symbol she was in the process of sketching.
"Rendo," she named the man. Then she pointed to herself. "Challa, Rendo." Then to the children.
"I think that's the children's father." Daniel's eyelids were drooping but he was still following her explanations.
Suddenly she drew her stick through the earth several times where Rendo's drawing had been. Her eyes filled with tears and she threw the twig angrily into the fire.
"What happened to Rendo?" Jack asked softly.
Eyes pooling with unshed tears, she grabbed another stick and drew what looked like a bear. Or a lion. Some kind of creature that had claws, judging from how she was drawing its feet.
She put a hand near her throat and opened her hand into a claw and drew it swiftly across her throat and chest.
"Dead." Jack pursed his lips, and said the words, even though he knew she wouldn't understand. "I'm sorry."
Challa wiped her nose with the back of her hand and sniffed, then turned back to finish the sketch. Daniel gave up the struggle and lay down again. Within seconds of closing his eyes he was asleep. Jack watched him a moment, worried that he was still sick. He checked for fever again, then pulled the blanket up to cover Daniels legs and hips.
He glanced at Challa, only to see her watching him and Daniel.
"Jack, Daniel..." She clasped her hands together.
"I don't get you..."
"Challa, Rendo." She did the clasping again. "Jack, Daniel?"
"If you're asking are we a couple, well," Jack smiled a little shyly and a little embarrassed. "Yeah, yeah, we are."
Challa grinned and winked at him before returning her attention to her work.
The symbol finished, she began sketching a leaf. It took up a good portion of the upper rock face, but off to the side she added a flower and two small buds. She wasn't an artist but her depictions were clear; the leaf was Rendo, she was the flower and the two buds were the children.
Hell, this was an epitaph to a beloved husband. The symbols she'd pointed out earlier – the one for Jeena: daughter. For Mollner: son. The one she'd drawn was probably husband, and the others on Daniel's pad more than likely meant wife, sister, brother, mother, father.
Those rocks in the valley were memorials for their beloved.
- - - - - -
Jack teased another handful of berries from the thorny bush, adding them to the wooden bowl. He glanced at Jeena, whose face was smeared with the ripe yellow berries. He smiled as she dropped another berry into the bowl while stuffing two into her mouth.
"Your mom wanted these, probably for dessert. You keep on eating those this way, you won't have room for supper."
Jeena grinned up at him and she probably had a good idea what he was talking about, because she finally got serious and helped him fill the bowl. It didn't take them long, but they had gone a fairly good distance from their campsite. Jeena had led him to this spot without hesitation once Challa had thrust the bowl into his arms and had given him a small sample of dried berries as an indication as to what she wanted.
He'd left the camp to the sight of Challa bent over the stone, chiselling out the illustration she'd drawn, and Daniel sleeping, dead to the world. Jeena had grabbed his hand and had pulled him here, chattering the whole time and not seeming to mind that he didn't understand a word she'd said.
They'd been gone from the camp only an hour but he didn't like being this far away from Daniel. He glanced back towards the foot of the mountain and saw a small plume of smoke giving away the camp's position. What if those Othrais showed up and what if they took offence to a strange man sleeping close to Challa?
Jack felt a prickling on the back of his head when he heard a soft sound behind him. He turned slowly, not surprised to see the male Othrais standing nearby, watching him. The teenager was right behind the male and the two women were standing a few feet behind them.
Evidently Jeena knew them because with an excited cry, she threw herself into the man's arms. He picked her up, never taking his eyes off of Jack. The little girl jabbered excitedly, waving to the women, then wrapping her arms around the man's shoulders in a hug. He put a large hand to her tiny back and hugged her back, gently.
The male stared unmistakeably at Jack's cheeks and he held back the impulse of running his hands over his stubble. Then the man turned and handed Jeena to one of the women as Jack stood, the bowl of berries still in his hands.
The teenager spat something at Jack and took a step forward, but the male simply put a hand across his chest to stop him from approaching.
"Look, we're not here to harm any of you. Challa invited us to stay with her and anyways, my friend's in no shape to walk right now. We'll be leaving first thing in the morning."
Obviously Jack was missing some important greeting ritual; it was making the teenager incensed, but the older man waited patiently. There was intelligence in his eyes, patience and strength, none of the arrogant posturing like the youngster who was dying to prove alpha masculinity.
Jack shifted the bowl under one arm and tilted it so they could see inside.
"Challa wanted something for dessert and the kid knew where this place was. I'm sure there's enough to share, if you'd like." He held it towards them as an offering.
The teenager cried out something and struck the bowl. It landed on the grass, spilling a third of the berries. Jack tensed, ready for a fight, but the angry boy was hauled back by his hair by the male, and scolded. Face red with embarrassment, the teen was shoved towards the women. He glared at Jack but he obeyed the older man.
The woman who wasn't holding Jeena moved forward and began scooping the majority of the spilled berries back into the bowl. Jack took a step away to show that he had no quarrel with her, but kept his attention on the male. The older man nodded, waved to the woman holding Jeena and squatted on the ground. Jeena was put down and she ran to Jack and took his hand while the other woman squatted also. After a warning look from the older man, the teen crouched also.
The woman handed Jack the bowl, and acting on a hunch, he also squatted and offered it to the male. With a nod of his head, the man helped himself to a handful, then passed it to the women. The teen got it last and he took a handful, squashed them, then threw the crushed fruit to the ground. The bowl was handed back to Jack, who shared the bowl with Jeena. He also took a small handful and ate them, and noted that the little girl waited until he'd eaten before she put the berries to her mouth.
Pleasantries exchanged, the older male stood and began walking away. The women and the teenager followed, but even as Jack watched, the alpha male hauled the teen by the arm and began berating him. Jack smiled; boys would be boys in just about every society.
"Well, how about we empty that bush over there and head on back?" He relaxed a little now that he knew that these folks more or less had accepted him here. Patrimus had said they lived here in the valley; since Jack hadn't seen more than these six, seven if he included the baby, he wondered if that were true. He still had the feeling they were passing through, waiting for something or other.
Satisfied they had enough berries, Jack straightened up and called Jeena over. She quickly ran to him and followed him back towards the camp.
Moving up through the trees, Jack spotted a furry creature scurrying away from them. He pointed it out to Jeena and she giggled. Jack mimed eating, pointed to where the animal had disappeared, and she nodded, smacking her lips to show she liked it. Which gave Jack an idea.
When they reached camp, the little girl immediately ran to her mom and began talking, and Jack bet she was telling they'd bumped into the four others.
Challa stopped working on her rock and looked at Jack, worry on her face. He didn't miss how her eyes searched his body, then seeing no marks of a tussle, she relaxed. Jack placed the bowl near her supplies and glanced at her handiwork. She'd scored almost half the stone; at this rate she'd be finished long before nightfall.
He watched a moment as she hammered the stone with a rock and a chisel-like implement, thinking of the amount of patience and strength it must take to work on this non-stop. Then he continued on to Daniel's side and sat.
Daniel hadn't moved an inch; he was still sleeping heavily. Jack adjusted the blanket and turned back to watch Challa work while he contemplated supper.
- - - - - -
It was the smell of something wonderful that teased Daniel from sleep. He opened his eyes and sniffed, turning his head as the tantalizing aroma was moved away from his nose.
He saw a piece of meat held by familiar lean fingers. As the meat was waved from side to side, Daniel pushed himself onto his elbows, grabbed the meat and took a cautious bite. Juicy, tasty and absolutely delicious.
"About time you joined the living." Jack grinned down at him as Daniel sat up, looking for more.
"What did I just eat?"
"I dunno, a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. But Jeena assured me it was delicious so I set a couple of snares."
Daniel sat up fully and searched for his glasses, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He averted his gaze when he noticed Challa breast feeding the baby. Jeena was busy playing with something off to the side. His nose told him there was more of the meat somewhere nearby.
"You caught this?"
Jack smiled. "Saw a trail where the critters travelled – didn't take long to catch supper. And Challa was pretty happy with their furs." Jack handed Daniel a bowl with meat and some sort of cooked greens that looked like spinach. Immediately Daniel took a bite of the meat. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," he said with his mouth full, wondering if the lethargy he still felt was from too much sleep or the lingering effects of the poison. His head wasn't as heavy, but he was still tired.
"Did you eat?" Daniel poked the greens, then took a small bit with his fingers. He sniffed it then put it into his mouth. It tasted surprisingly like celery, nothing like cooked spinach. He decided he liked it.
"Yep. Although I was good enough to wait for you before indulging in dessert."
"Some kind of berries that cooked into something like applesauce. Tastes great."
"Obviously you indulged in tasting."
"Well, hell, I picked the darned berries. The least I could do was get in a taste or two."
"Well if you put it that way." Daniel reached for the bottle of water nearby and took a couple deep swallows and concentrated on his food.
"I know what those things are," Jack said after a moment. He pointed to where Jeena was playing, and Daniel realized the child was painting something on Challa's stone. Jack went on to convey the short mimed dialogue he'd had with Challa after Daniel had gone to sleep, and how he knew what all the symbols meant.
"That's incredible," Daniel said quietly as the magnitude of these people's traditions hit him. "I don't understand why Patrimus said they were no more than beasts. They're intelligent and compassionate and probably have a rich culture I'd love to learn about."
"It's probably better this way; we all know what happens when those with technology encroaches on those without."
"I wonder if the Goa'uld had anything to do with the separation between the two? Where's my camera?" Now that his head was a little clearer, he thought he could try and look at the writing again and see if he could make more sense of it. He fished the video camera from his pack and began playing the film back.
He was aware of Jack cleaning out his empty bowl and returning with something that looked like bright yellow applesauce. With an eye to the replay on the LED screen, Daniel took a spoonful of sauce, and then mmm'd in pleasure. "That's good," he said in surprise.
"Of course it is. I picked them."
Daniel smiled quickly at Jack and returned his attention to the screen. He paused the display when the Goa'uld script appeared.
"Kel ma kree, Sha'shan, Kel mant'ai... this sounds familiar," Daniel said as he read the words out loud.
"Kel ma kree, Sha'shan, Kel mant'ai, Or'intani, Kel han'dai..." The small clear voice singing the words had both Jack and Daniel staring at Jeena in surprise. She was still painting, singing as she played.
"Lti Sha'shan han'dai," Challa joined in, singing the words along with her daughter, but staring at Daniel in wonder.
"It's an ancient lullaby. It's the one Teal'c and Drey'auc used to reach Rya'c when he was brainwashed."
"They know Goa'uld?" Jack exclaimed in English.
"You know Goa'uld?" Daniel asked in that language.
"Yes, it is the language of our god," she replied, equally surprised.
"You mean we could have communicated all this time without the sign language?" Jack was staring at Challa incredulously. "Well, okay, Daniel could have communicated but... hell!" Jack turned to Daniel. "They speak Goa'uld."
Daniel gave Jack an understanding look before turning to Challa. He shifted closer to her and sat leaning forward. "I want to thank you for everything you've done. I... we realize that you're here for something that's... painful and personal. We didn't mean to intrude."
Challa smiled at Daniel before speaking to Jeena. Daniel, from his new position, saw that Jeena had been painting the scores in the rocks that were the flower buds. It was a sloppy job, but probably most sincere and heartfelt since it came from the man's daughter. Jeena wiped her hands clean of paint on the grass and went to sit beside Jack.
"You did not intrude. After the scare you gave me at first," she smiled at Daniel as she pulled the stone closer to her, "it was easier having someone with me who did not remind me of my loss." She began dabbing paint into the rock with a feather and several bits of fur.
"Ask her about how she learned to speak the language." Jack leaned forward and nudged Daniel's arm with his forgotten bowl of dessert. Daniel took it from him distractedly.
"Challa, how did you learn to speak this language? If there's a Goa'uld nearby, we need to know."
"We have always spoken it. It is our way, to be prepared for when our Lord returns."
"Who is your god?"
"Our god is the mighty Heru'ur."
"Okay, I understood that," Jack said, relief in his voice evident.
"Challa, when was the last time Heru'ur came to your planet?"
"Many generations ago. The Tok'beo never accepted his rule and resisted when Heru'ur came to this planet."
"You're not native to this planet?"
"No. We were his attendants. It is told that one night the Tok'beo opposed his rule when Heru'ur was away. They destroyed his castle, killed his Jaffa and drove away those few attendants that survived. My people. Our forefathers returned to the old ways while awaiting Heru'ur's return. We are always ready to resume our duties. This way," she stopped painting and lowered her head a moment, "we pray we will not incur his wrath when he returns."
"Well, you can stop worrying about that. Heru'ur is dead."
"But he is a god!" she looked up at Daniel, eyes wide in fright. "Gods do not die."
"I'm assuming you just told her the snake's dead?"
"Yeah." Daniel turned to Jack. "She says her people were once Heru'ur's attendants. The natives of the planet, she called them Tok'beo; at a guess I'd say it means 'against belief'. Funny, it's a mix of Goa'uld and Celtic. These people, despite keeping away from Patrimus' people, still have absorbed some of their culture and—"
Jack waved a hand in Challa's direction and Daniel realized he'd been rambling. "Sorry."
He smiled at Challa. "Heru'ur and all the Goa'uld are false gods. They're evil beings that rule through fear and intimidation. Um... you said your people returned to the old ways. Do you have any idea where your people came from in the first place?"
She nodded. "Our priests have kept records so that we may always remember."
Daniel turned to look at Jack. "I wonder if there's any way of sending Challa's people home."
"Well, from where I see it, *this* is their home."
"Yes, I know. But I meant sending them back to their home planet. She said her priests have kept records, maybe there's a Stargate address or something."
"Isn't that sort of pushing it? What makes you think they have a 'gate address? And even if they did, how do we know it's not populated by other snakes? Or let's say they do have an address and it's a safe planet, how do we know they'd even want to leave?"
"But to live like this, Jack?"
"It's what they've known all their lives. You're the one always saying we shouldn't interfere with other peoples' way of life. You want to send Challa and her folks into some unknown place where they might not even be safe?"
Daniel fiddled with the bowl in his hands, running his index finger through the remaining sauce. "I know; I just hate to see them at a disadvantage considering how the Tok'beo live."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching Challa as she painted.
"Why weren't you afraid of me when you first saw me?" Daniel put the bowl aside and licked his finger clean.
"The Tok'beo do not come here often. They know it is sacred to us and we will fight to defend it. Occasionally they bring others here whom we believe are strangers and they always bring the garnaks to the surface as a display of our savagery." She smiled with an almost feral expression as she looked up at Daniel and Jack. "We do not require the Tok'beo to acquire our food, but it helps to play along with our deception at being barely human."
"Why? Why the subterfuge? Why live like this and pretend you're dumb? Because it's plain to see what a rich and extensive culture you have. You're an extremely intelligent woman, despite the fact that you eat raw insects." Daniel made a grimace as he said the last.
Challa laughed. "Don't you have delicacies where you come from?"
"Yes, yes we do. And I'm sure some of what my people eat wouldn't please you."
"The sweet, dark treat pleased me."
"Chocolate? Do you want some?" He turned to Jack, who realized what Daniel had asked and fished the partly eaten bar from his pocket. Jeena immediately perked up and accepted a piece before Daniel handed the rest to Challa.
She studied the wrappings before taking the last bite from it.
Daniel waited until she had finished the sweet and had thrown the wrapper into the fire. "You didn't answer my question."
"For many years, we lived in peace. We thrived, and even traded with the Tok'beo. Then their cities grew larger, their farms grew bigger, their need for lumber and stones took them deeper into our territory. When we objected, they began killing us. Soon they hunted us like animals, led by a zealot who began blaming my people for all the illnesses and misfortunes that befell the Tok'beo. He accused us of using magical weapons. We did not. Even had the Jaffa's weapons not been destroyed in the uprising, we had no right to utilize the weapons of our god."
"So you became nomads?"
Challa nodded. "We live in small bands, travelling often so if the Tok'beo stumble across us, they will not decimate all should they attack. And this way they believe our total population is much smaller than it truly is."
"Do they still hunt your people?"
"No. The zealot is long dead, peace has been restored, to a certain degree, at least. There have been isolated incidents, but our ways have been of survival and we know nothing else."
"Maybe we can talk to the Tok'beo leaders and explain to them that—"
"No! They think us nothing more than savages. They have nothing to fear from us now. Please, do not inform them of our ways."
"I won't. I was just hoping for a way to try and make things better for you."
"We are fine. Thank you for your concern."
"Look, if there is any chance that the records your priests have can show me and Jack where you came from, we can maybe find that world for you and send your people back home."
"Daniel," she said softly. "This is our home."
"Daniel?" Jack asked after several moments of silence. Daniel conveyed their conversation to Jack, ignoring the 'I told you so' look when Daniel told him about offering to relocate her people.
They sat in silence as the valley darkened around them. Eventually Jack got up and gathered the dishes, saying he'd be right back as he walked away from camp, Jeena trotting behind him, talking a mile a minute. A ground fog began misting the land while the sunset cast spectacular colors around them, decorating the rock face where the sun still shone with an orange hue.
"Those others in the valley, are they your family?" Daniel asked when he spotted movement off to the right.
"My sibling, her husband and son, and her husband's sibling." Challa stopped painting and looked in the direction Daniel had been staring at.
"Why aren't they with you?"
"I chose to do this task by myself, with only myself and my children."
"But we... I..."
She looked down at the paint-saturated scrap of cloth in her hand. "Helping you eased some of the pain from this task. I realized too late I should not have turned my family away but I was too afraid of showing weakness by asking them to stay by my side once I had made my decision."
"It's not a sign of weakness to ask for support, especially in a matter like this."
"I realize that now; but my pride was too stubborn to permit me to ask." She dabbed the cloth into the paint and applied the coloring into a few missing spots. "Jeena does not quite understand what has happened; she most of all needs the support of family now."
"Don't ignore your own needs, Challa. Everyone needs support."
She smiled at him brightly. "Yes, I know that now. Thank you for reminding me. And thank you for your support." She gathered the various implements she'd used to paint and threw everything into the fire. Then she picked up the rock and leaned it against a log, showing off her handiwork to Daniel. The firelight reflected in the still-wet paint, making the leaf look like it was shimmering in the wind.
"It's beautiful," Daniel said softly.
Challa nodded, then moved the stone out of the way to allow it to dry.
"I've got water if anyone wants to wash up." Jack put down the large bowl which was full of water. Challa used two sticks to pick up several stones heating near the fire and dropped them into the water. A few minutes later, she poured half the water into another bowl and handed it to Daniel. The water was barely tepid, but as he and Jack broke out their store of soap, he admitted that it was the next best thing to a shower at the moment.
By the time they dried off and snuggled beneath the blankets, the sun had set and the surrounding woods were dark. Daniel spooned up behind Jack and put a hand around his waist. He buried his face against the small of Jack's neck and with a deep sigh, went to sleep.
- - - - - -
It was the chill of cool morning air brushing against his back that woke him as Jack left their bed. He heard Jack putting on his boots and moving away from the camp, then heard the splatter of water hitting the ground as he emptied his bladder. The sound reminded him that his own was full and demanding to be relieved.
With a sigh, he sat up and began pulling on his boots. "Are you up to walking back?" Jack asked softly as he crouched beside Daniel.
"Now? I thought we'd stay at least to see the ceremony with the stone and—"
"Teal'c and Carter will be arriving at the train station in three hours. If we're not there to meet them, they're gonna get worried. As it is, I'm surprised Patrimus or someone else hasn't sent out a search party for us."
Daniel finished lacing his boots and stood. "Well, it's not like we told them we'd be back by a specific time." He walked past a couple of trees in the dim morning light and tended to business.
When he returned, Challa was sitting up and feeding the fire. She looked up at him and Jack, obviously a little confused as to why they were up so early.
"We have to leave now," Daniel told her as Jack motioned for Daniel to turn around so he could clip the pack to Daniel's back.
"You will not be returning." She poked the fire with a stick.
"No. No, we won't." Jack handed Daniel his pack and offered his back. Daniel quickly clipped the pack into place.
"Thank you for your company, Daniel. Jack."
"Thank you for everything you did for me. For us."
"I did nothing but make you ill from the garnak's poison. Helping you was the least I could do."
"Tell her to make sure the kid knows I said goodbye, willya?" Jack knelt beside the sleeping child and gently pushed a strand of hair aside.
"He says to tell Jeena goodbye."
"She will miss him. I will miss both of you also."
"Goodbye, Challa." Daniel held up a hand in farewell and then turned to follow Jack back down to the valley floor.
- - - - - -
"So the technology is nowhere as advanced as ours, but colonel, some of the applications these people have made with their limited knowledge is incredible."
Daniel smiled at Sam's exuberance as they detoured from the city streets and walked along the seashore instead.
"So I gather we're gonna talk trade negotiations this afternoon?" Jack kicked at a piece of driftwood in his path.
"Sir, they've developed methods of turning sea water into fresh water. That in itself would be worth trading for. We could help so many countries on Earth and since the technology isn't that advanced, it could be a great bargaining chip with the more technologically-impaired civilizations we might meet."
"What about the dams?"
"Primitive constructions," Teal'c answered, "their hydro-electric power clearly feeds the needs of their population but their methods would not be productive for most large cities on your world."
Daniel stared out at a tall pile of rocks sticking out of the water near the shore. They seemed to form a causeway, cutting through a small bay.
"That looks manmade," he said.
"Maybe some kind of storage for keeping fish fresh. Or a water break of some kind?" Jack stopped and stared at the causeway a moment, then continued walking, skirting over some seaweed that had been washed up on shore.
Daniel followed, but his attention was on the causeway. There were metal grills high up on some of the rocks; windows of sorts. So the interior had to be hollow. From the looks of the seaweed growing on the rocks, he figured the whole thing might be under water during high tide.
Daniel slowed his pace to match that of Teal'c's, allowing Jack and Sam to walk ahead of them. He grinned as Sam continued to ply Jack with the various discoveries she'd made over the past two days.
"Teal'c, I wanted to ask you something. I found an ancient nursery rhyme written in Goa'uld in a cave." Daniel quickly recounted the events of the past couple of days, then went on to recite the nursery rhyme.
"That particular song long ago implied readiness to serve. In this case, it is Heru'ur's followers who are attesting to their readiness to attend to him upon his return. As a nursery rhyme, it simply speaks of the affection between a parent and a child."
"So it's a double standard? Or its true meaning was lost over the years?"
"Like Ring Around the Rosie?" Jack stopped and waited for Daniel and Teal'c to catch up.
"What?" Daniel looked at Jack, confused.
"What? You don't know the nursery rhyme. It's about the black plague and describes the symptoms in—"
"Yes, Jack, I know the nursery rhyme and that's an urban legend."
"It is not. It mentions posies and how—"
"The plague hit in 1347 and the nursery rhyme only came out in the 1800's. You're going to tell me that kids were singing that song for five centuries when—"
"What are these posies?" Teal'c asked.
"They used flowers, perfumed oils and incense to try and ward off the disease. Or hide the stench of death," Daniel explained.
"A pocketful of posies. You tell me that's not describing the plague."
"And the sneezing," Sam added. "Achoo Achoo, we all fall down."
"See? Sneezing was a symptom of the plague, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, well, that's one variation, there are several others of the song, and they're not all sneezing in it."
"So not a warning about the plague?"
Daniel had to bite his cheek to keep from smiling at the look of disappointment on Jack's face.
"Sorry. No, it's not."
"Jack, I'd like to go back to the library and see if there are any old documents that might make mention of the time Heru'ur was here. Maybe—"
"Don't make an issue out of this, Daniel. Challa doesn't want—"
"I know. I'm just curious about what she said about the heretic blaming her people for whatever problems arose." He shrugged and grinned, and tilted his head towards Sam, who had moved on ahead of them. "You can always fill me in on whatever Sam thinks might be of interest to the SGC."
"How's this research important to our mission?"
"It's not, really." He lowered his voice. "It'll just be a lot more interesting than sitting around a stuffy room discussing negotiations."
"But you do that so well."
"Sit around a stuffy room?"
"Actually I was hoping to find some leads to how the people here defeated the Goa'uld. You have to admit it's a pretty mean feat. We got lucky on Earth, and on Abydos. I just wonder if history repeated itself or..."
"Fine. Go. Stick your head in some crumbling old scrolls and we'll just go sit in a stuffy room and negotiate."
"Just remember to take it easy, okay? If you're feeling tired..."
"I'll head back to the hotel. Right."
- - - - - -
Daniel walked back down the beach alone, trying to decide exactly where to leave the beach and head back into the city. He thought maybe the next street would bring him to the area that housed the library.
He adjusted his boonie, pulling it low over his forehead to cut the glare of the sun as he slogged through drier sand towards the path leading to the main street. He was nearly there when he heard a woman scream.
Daniel saw several law enforcement officers roughly hauling a woman towards the water. He squinted, realizing she looked familiar. It only took him a couple of seconds before he realized it was Challa.
"Daniel!" she cried when she spotted him. Several others were running towards them while other law enforcement officers were keeping a small crowd back.
"What's happened?" he yelled to her. "What are you doing with her," he asked the men who were holding onto her.
"Jeena, have you seen Jeena? She went after Jack to say goodbye and—"
"Quiet!" one of the men roared.
"You know this woman?" Patrimus asked Daniel. He was breathing hard, glaring from Challa to Daniel.
"Yes. She helped me when I—never mind that. She's only looking for her daughter. Why are you holding her?"
"You associated with this creature?" Daniel recognized one of the councilmen as he strode up to him, a hard look in his eyes.
"We met in the valley. Look, let her go. She's not here to harm anyone. Her daughter strayed and she—"
Before Daniel knew what was happening, he was surrounded by more men, disarmed, his radio torn from his vest.
"Wait! Her daughter, she's just a little girl. Has anyone—"
Daniel didn't know what happened next, except that he was lying on the ground, his head buzzing and his muscles refusing to obey. Hands roughly grabbed his arms and pulled him onto his feet, the sudden movement making him dizzy. He managed to lift his head as he was dragged across the sand, towards the ocean. Challa had been thrown over one of the policemen's shoulder. She appeared unconscious, or in the same predicament as he.
For a moment he thought they were going to throw him into the water and he began to struggle. One of the cops flanking him had a long metallic stick in his hand and he threatened Daniel with it. He quieted, suspecting the weapon worked on the basis of a taser, some sort of electrical charge that paralyzed. Temporarily, he hoped.
He breathed easier when they began walking along the shoreline. The way his muscles weren't responding, he didn't think he'd be able to swim.
By the time they reached the causeway he could feel his body beginning to recover. When they stopped near the edge of the rocks, close to the water, he saw two more Council members had arrived and were waiting for them.
The cops pushed Daniel against a large boulder and he forced his legs to hold his weight. His muscles shook, but he remained upright. Challa was dropped onto the sand and she curled up into a ball.
"Get it open," Patrimus ordered the group of men. To Daniel's surprise, one of the councilmen stepped forward into knee deep water and unlocked a door that had been hidden in the rocks' shadows. It opened with a loud groaning sound.
"Wha..." Daniel licked his lips, his mouth dry, and tried again. "What are you doing?"
"Getting rid of the garbage," the councilman said. "Put him inside."
Daniel was pulled roughly into the water, towards the dark opening.
"You didn't answer my question. Why are you doing this?" He had no strength, it was hard enough to stay upright; trying to escape was out of the question at the moment.
"This is how our forefathers dealt with her kind. And anyone who was caught associating with them."
Daniel stepped blindly into the dark, unable to see his footing. His eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the dimness, but the stone walls echoed his footfalls and their voices. The sound of the water outside lapping against the rock was loud. Some weak daylight came through here and there, just enough to show him he was looking down a long corridor. The causeway – they were *inside* it.
The walls were made of huge slabs of rocks, outside were piles of boulders protecting them from the pounding of the surf.
Patrimus added, "You were warned to stay away from the Othrais. Now you've been contaminated."
"I've been what?"
"It's not enough you associated with her and her kind. You speak their language."
"No. No, I don't." Daniel turned to look behind him. Everyone had piled into the corridor. Challa had been hauled to her feet and was being forced to follow in his wake. "I speak another language, one that's common to many worlds where the Goa'uld have been. I—"
A blow to his back broke off his explanations and his teeth clicked shut painfully, barely missing catching his tongue between them. His glasses slipped onto the tip of his nose and his boonie hat was pushed forward, half covering his face and nearly blinding him.
"Do not speak of those monsters again." He was roughly pulled to a stop. "Put him in here."
A door made of rusted iron poles creaked loudly as it was pulled open. Daniel was forced down three steep steps and into a room that was nearly two feet deeper than the corridor. Water was pooling into the room as it flowed down the centre corridor with each incoming wave. There was a drain in the middle of the cell, barely managing to empty the continuous flow of the ocean as it poured through the open doorway.
He was forced onto his knees. The water was cold, immediately covering his legs.
Then he was held down close to the wall perpendicular to the window and the door. His face was pushed against the damp, salt-encrusted stone while something cold and metallic was attached to his right wrist. He turned his head against the stone and managed to dislodge his hat, finally clearing his sight as he used the wall to adjust his glasses.
As the manacle was affixed to his other wrist, he noted that the center of the handcuffs were curved, and had been looped through two holes in the wall that had been chiselled out. There were old marks in the stone and Daniel had a sinking feeling that they had been made by other prisoners held in the same manner as he.
"Close the grills," Patrimus ordered. One of the councilmen pulled a lever in the corner and something grated in the center of the small room. The water that had been streaming towards the drain began to pool.
"What are you going to do?" Daniel asked as he tested his bonds.
"These cells haven't been cleaned out in... why, I'd say close to a century." The councilman who'd just spoken grinned at Daniel. "I think it's about time we see about getting rid of some vermin."
"But we haven't done anything – she was just looking for her daughter. Do you think she would have come into your city if she wasn't desperate?"
"It just proves she's an animal – can't even control her young." He waved to the others and they began filing out of the room.
"My friends won't let you get away with this."
"Well now, they'd have to find you, wouldn't they? And of course the stories about a half-wild woman going berserk in the city will have begun to circulate; and the young stranger trying to stop her and getting himself killed for his efforts as he got carried away by the current will be such a shame."
The man stood at the top of the stairs and looked down at Daniel. "The seawater is supposedly good for your health. Do try to enjoy yourself while you can. The tide will be coming in very soon."
"Don't! Don't do this! Come back, we can talk about this! It's all a misunderstanding! She was only looking for her daughter!" Daniel stopped and listened, but all of the footsteps had faded. There was laughter and the sound of conversation outside, but even as he tried to listen over the sound of the ocean, the small group walked away and those sounds faded. "I can't believe this is happening," he said softly to himself.
"Challa? Are you okay?"
"I'm not hurt, but I have been restrained."
"Are you tied to the wall?"
Daniel shifted from his position on his knees and sat. The manacles were attached to the wall near the floor, allowing him very little freedom. He could either sit facing the wall at an angle, or lie down, or kneel. He decided to lie down on his side, leaning against the wall for support.
"Okay, don't worry. Jack and my friends will find us and get us out of here."
"But how? Do they know where we are?"
"Well, no, but they'll find us."
"Daniel, I have heard of this – many of my people were murdered here many years ago. We must escape from this place."
"Oh God," Daniel said softly. The tide would come up and through the open door. The water would flow into the rooms and... He looked around, trying to gauge the water marks. Salt and dried growth littered the room, and there were signs that the water could, or would, rise above his head.
Already the water was ankle deep. And it was rising fast.
- - - - - -
"So exactly how long are we gonna be discussing stuff?" Jack stood at the top of the stairs and looked at the darkening sky, waiting for Carter to give him the bad news.
"Probably just till tomorrow. If we can get the preliminaries settled, then we can send in either SG-7 or 13 to finish up. I'm just glad the Council is willing to take the time to talk to us tomorrow at such short notice."
"Thank God," Jack breathed. As much as he'd found his little foray with Daniel and Challa interesting, he was looking forward to his own bed, with Daniel in it. So they'd be here an extra twenty-four hours, hopefully no longer than that.
"Then you guys can have the pleasure of informing the SGC that we'll be a day late and I'll go collect Daniel."
"Meet you at the hotel?"
"Yeah, but better make it fast. Looks like a storm's coming up." It was hot and humid and still at the moment but the sky had that dark, ominous look that spoke of thunderstorms.
"Supper at that little place around the corner?"
"Sounds good, Carter. Teal'c, that okay with you?"
"Indeed. I look forward to hearing more about your and DanielJackson's dealings with the Othrais."
Jack bit his tongue to stop from laughing. The past hour had been Carter's moment, and while they'd waited for an audience with the Council members, she had gushed over the different and wonderful inventions these people had. Simplistic and economical, they had managed to devise gadgets that could end up being extremely useful back home.
Jack suspected Teal'c was a little bored. He had to admit that he was.
He turned towards the beach, debating whether to walk along the sandy shore or else cut quickly through the city streets. He glanced at the sky once more and then figured he might enjoy the solitude of the shoreline. But he'd have to hustle if he wanted to beat the storm back to the hotel.
He walked quickly, keeping an eye out on the large frothy waves as they broke on shore, and an eye on the occasional flashes of lightning out over the ocean. It was an incredible sight.
He recognized the high-pitched, terrified voice coming from the scrubby growth growing along the shore. He stopped as Jeena ran towards him as if the devil were after her. He crouched down as she approached, then bit back a surprised oomph as she threw herself into his arms.
She was gabbling something, her face streaked with tears and her body shuddering with tremors. He hugged her close as she sobbed, her hiccupping breaths interlaced with a message he couldn't understand. All he knew was that she wasn't where she was supposed to be, and she was royally spooked.
"Jeena, easy easy. Slow down. Is your mom here? Did something happen to her? Where's your little brother? Challa. Is Challa here?"
Jack's questions evoked more sobs but she must have realized that Jack didn't understand because she nodded her head vehemently.
"Challa. Daniel. Jack, bradio." Still crying, she wriggled out of Jack's grasp and pulled on his arm.
"Go where, sweetheart?"
"Daniel," she repeated, pointing towards the water, followed by a string of words that Jack didn't understand. "Daniel, Challa, Ju'iu."
"No, I don't see, but..." She continued to point and tugged at his sleeve. Jack let himself be led towards the water, thankful that the kid spoke the few words that Jack did understand thanks to his forays to Abydos and other Goa'uld-infested worlds.
He reached for his radio. "Daniel. Daniel, do you copy?" He waited a moment and repeated his call. Okay, he could tell himself that Daniel had turned his radio off to respect the silence of the library, except that this library didn't follow the same rules as Earth's.
"Carter, Teal'c, nix the Stargate and get back over here on the double. I think Daniel's in trouble."
"The kid I told you about? She's here with me, looking for her mother and she's pretty upset. She's using Daniel's name along with her mom's, and Daniel's not answering his radio."
"O'Neill, is not the girl's kind prohibited from entering the city?" Teal'c's voice warred with static as lightning interfered with their transmission. He waited a moment until it cleared.
"Yeah, they are, and that's what's got me worried. If she or her mom found Daniel and someone spotted her with him... Teal'c, I need you here to communicate with her. She speaks a little Goa'uld."
"We're on our way." Thunder boomed, and he had to wait again before being able to reply.
"I'm on the beach, not far from the causeway."
"We'll be there in five minutes."
Carter's voice was breathless, telling him they were coming in at a run.
"Shor'wai'e – yas, yas."
"Yes, I'm hurrying." The wind whipped the sand into a frenzy. Only as he turned his face from the wind did he notice the footprints in the sand. There had been close to a dozen persons here recently, and although the approaching storm had softened the marks, he could see how something, or someone, had been dragged towards the water.
Towards the causeway.
He broke into a jog, hurrying towards the rocks. The water had risen considerably, the waves splashing over the causeway, whipped by tide and wind.
He couldn't see anyone on the causeway, but then he remembered the grilled windows and thinking that the place might have been used for storage. "Daniel! Daniel, can you hear me?"
Immediately Jeena began calling for her mom and ran into the water. Jack scrambled after her, catching her just as a large wave broke over him. He lifted her into his arms and out of the foaming water while he fought for balance, sliding on hidden rocks and the strong undertow as the wave receded.
As he stumbled back onto shore, he heard Teal'c call his name. He turned and saw that Carter and Teal'c had caught up to him.
Jeena had started crying again and she was pointing towards the rocks. A flash of lightning nearly blinded him, and in those few seconds of illumination, he saw the open door leading inside the rocky bridge.
He put the little girl down onto the sand, well away from the far-reaching waves. "Jeena, I want you to go over there and wait for us. I want you to hide, do you understand?"
"Challa," she cried, pointing towards the door.
"Teal'c, she understands Goa'uld," Jack said as Carter and Teal'c joined him. "Tell her to go and hide, far away from the water, and wait for us."
While Teal'c did as he'd ordered, Jack turned and looked back at the causeway. The open doorway was allowing the seawater to pour into the structure; and getting to the door was going to be difficult as they'd have to walk a good twenty feet into the pounding surf just to reach it.
The storm and the coming tide were stirring up the water; the waves high and powerful as they broke over the rocky causeway and ran up the beach.
Jeena had taken a few steps away from them but had stopped and turned. "Jeena, go." Jack pointed to the bushes farther away from the shoreline. The last thing he needed was to worry about her going under; he'd have enough problems worrying about himself and his teammates.
"Go," he repeated firmly. Thunder boomed overhead and she turned quickly and ran into the bushes. Jack stared a moment longer and was satisfied that she wouldn't be seen if anyone happened to come down to the beach. Which wasn't likely, at least until this storm was over.
Jack hurried to the water and immediately began slogging through the waves. "I think Daniel's in there. Maybe with the kid's mom." Carter and Teal'c were right behind him and they were all hard pressed to stay on their feet as the waves simultaneously pushed and pulled at them. The water quickly reached up to his armpits, but then his foot hit something solid, and he was climbing onto the flattened rocks leading up to the door.
Jack pulled out his flashlight and aimed its beam inside. The water there was up to his ankles, surging up with each wave. As the water streamed inside, it rushed down the corridor and poured into the cells on either side. The cells weren't large; maybe three feet wide and eight feet long. But there were many; at a guess Jack would estimate at least forty, twenty on either side of the narrow corridor.
He thought he heard someone coughing, but the storm outside was making it difficult to hear.
"Daniel!" Jack had almost expected his voice to echo but the water instead muted it. "Daniel, you in here? Challa? Answer me, is anyone in here?"
Jack shone his light into first one cell, then the next. He couldn't tell how deep the water was; it was too dark to see the stone floor underneath the water.
A large wave broke over the causeway and water poured through the high, grilled windows inside the cells and down along the corridor, the surge rising quickly nearly to Jack's knees before easing off. He held onto one of the metal grills and hauled himself along, shining his light into the opposite room.
Carter and Teal'c brushed past him and started searching the cells at the opposite end of the long corridor.
Jack had searched five of the cells and was moving on when something caught his eye. He stepped back and aimed his light into the cell. What he'd thought was a piece of seaweed at first glance, upon a more careful scrutiny, turned out to be Daniel's boonie hat floating in the water.
"Daniel?" Jack pushed the grilled door open and carefully felt for a step. He found three of them and slowly eased into the water. The level reached his thighs as he made his way across the cell to pick up the hat.
He had a bad feeling about all of this. He turned around, aiming his light into the water. There was a dark shadow moving against the far wall. For a moment Jack thought it might be a large fish that might have gotten caught inside the cell when suddenly he saw the gleam of glasses and—"
"Colonel, we found someone."
"I found Daniel!" Jack yelled over Carter's announcement.
Jack rushed over to Daniel, who was completely submerged. His face was thrust forward and up, his mouth held as high as possible, waiting for a gap in the water to take a breath. Jack tried to bat the water away, to try and give Daniel a chance to take a breath but it was to no avail. The water level in the cell had risen just an eighth of an inch too high.
"Damn it." Jack lunged forward, trying to feel what was holding Daniel down.
"Tealc! I need you here now!"
He ran his hands down Daniel's arms, felt metal bracelets around his wrists and discovered that the manacles were looped around a piece of rock that had been chiselled out of the stone near the floor. He pulled against the rock with all his strength, his fingers half-numb with the chill of the water. Daniel struggled beside him, trying to pull himself free.
"Teal'c!" Jack yelled loudly while frantically trying to break the rock. He took his gun and tried to smash at the stone, but it wouldn't give.
Daniel stopped trying to free himself and turned his head to look at Jack. His face was only inches away from Jack, he had lost his glasses during his last ditch effort to free himself. Water and air separated the two of them. The look of panic faded from Daniel's face and he mouthed 'I love you'.
"Daniel, no." Jack moved his hands to grasp Daniel's face, trying to pull him higher, out of the water. To his horror, Daniel's eyes rolled back and he went limp.
Teal'c exploded into the room, water flying everywhere as he ran to Jack's side. He thrust his staff weapon into the area where Daniel's hands were secured to the stone wall. His shoulders and back tensed, and suddenly the rock broke, freeing Daniel.
Jack grasped his lover's body and hauled him out of the water.
"Come on, come on, breathe," Jack ordered, giving Daniel a small shake. But Daniel remained limp, his head lolling as Jack tried to see if he was breathing.
Jack was peripherally aware of someone coughing violently somewhere nearby, but his attention was wholly focused on Daniel. A stray thought went though him, hoping it wasn't Carter; but the cough meant whoever it was, was getting air, and so wasn't in any immediate danger.
Teal'c managed to get Daniel onto his back and into position to provide rescue breathing. He floated limply in the water. Teal'c was better situated and without waiting, he pinched Daniel's nostrils and blew one, two, three breaths into the slack mouth.
Jack fumbled for Daniel's hand, his fingers shaking as he felt for a pulse. The manacle was in the way and he shoved it aside. For a moment he thought his fingers were too numb to feel but then he felt it. Slow, weak, but beating.
"He's got a heartbeat," Jack said as Teal'c breathed a fourth time. Then Daniel coughed, water bubbling out of his mouth.
Teal'c turned Daniel around, holding him around the chest so his head was pointed down, leaning him against Jack's shoulder while allowing the water to drain from his mouth, and at the same time the position kept his head away from the seawater.
A loud crack of thunder boomed overhead, lightning illuminating the stark cell. Daniel took a deep breath, then broke into violent coughing. Jack held his precious burden tightly as Daniel strained to breathe and empty the water from his lungs.
"Colonel, is he—?" Carter broke off as she hurried to the cell and saw Daniel for herself. At that moment, a larger than normal wave broke into the causeway, raising the water level high enough that both Jack and Teal'c and to lift Daniel up to keep his head out of the water.
This time the water level didn't go down, but remained past his hips.
"We need to get out of here, we'll be flooded in a matter of minutes. We can't go out the way we came in," Carter said, pointing to Jack's left, "the water's too high, but there's a cliff on the other side we can climb with what looks like shelter away from the waterline."
"Daniel, you with me?" Jack said as he pulled Daniel's face away from his shoulder. Although coughing and wheezing, Daniel's eyes were only half-opened. Jack placed a hand to the cold cheek and rubbed his thumb against Daniel's raspy cheek. The gentle touch seemed to catch Daniel's attention and he moved his eyes to Jack's chest. "Can you walk? We need to get out of here." Daniel shifted his eyes again and this time caught Jack's gaze. He nodded slowly and Jack felt him move his legs. But his movement was lethargic and slow, and Jack figured he was expending so much energy just trying to breathe that he had nothing left for escape.
"Carter, take the lead."
Jack grabbed one of Daniel's arms, Teal'c the other, and they pulled Daniel to his feet. With a supporting hand around his waist, they started hauling ass up the stairs. Daniel was so exhausted his head and shoulders slumped forward.
He heard someone coughing again and he remembered Challa with a twinge of guilt. "How's she?" he called out to Carter when they got Daniel into the corridor. The two women were up front, wading carefully through the quickly rising water. Then Jack remembered the baby. "Challa, where's Mollner?" he yelled frantically, trying to dispel visions of the baby drowning in the sea water.
Challa yelled something back, her voice rising in pitch as another wave hit them from behind. Jack grabbed onto a metal bar to stop from falling. Daniel's legs were swept from under him and Jack held on as another wave followed close behind the first.
"The woman says the baby is safe with her family," Teal'c interpreted once they managed to get Daniel moving again.
Daniel was still coughing, wet, ragged coughs; but at least he was breathing, even though those were short, panting gasps. They half carried, half dragged him past the remaining cells and out the open door.
They would have to wade through more surf, but the water here didn't appear quite as deep. Carter and Challa stepped down and although the water surged up to their necks with each coming wave, the water level itself was only up to their waists.
They followed, both Jack and Teal'c supporting Daniel. He wasn't coughing as harshly now, but his breathing appeared laboured. Still, by the time they reached the rocks, Daniel had managed to stand and although he wouldn't have been able to walk without their help, he was making a more concerted effort.
Which was a good thing because now they needed to climb. They had reached the rocks and were climbing the first level which brought them out of the water, except for when a wave would break over and cover them with foam before threatening to pull them back into the ocean.
Carter and Challa were already halfway up the large, slippery boulders. Jack could see a ledge about ten feet up the cliff's face. A huge slab of rock had broken off and lay at an angle. If there wasn't any debris behind the rock, it would give them some shelter from the coming storm and surf.
And at the same moment that thought went through Jack's mind, the heavens opened up. After a short warning of a few, heavy raindrops, a torrent of rain streamed down on them.
"Daniel, we gotta climb," Jack said into the exhausted man's ear. Daniel, who had fallen to his knees when they'd gotten out of the water, looked up. Then he turned to look towards the water behind them. He stiffened, turning suddenly, and Jack nearly lost his grip on him.
"Challa, she's in there—"
A bout of coughing stopped his struggles.
"She's safe. She's up there, with Carter. Look."
Jack took hold of Daniel's head and forced him to look up. "We have to climb up there, out of the water. Can you do that?"
"The woman Challa is safe, DanielJackson. We must climb."
"Okay." Daniel reached up with his tethered hands and his fingers scrabbled for a handhold. Finding one, he began to pull himself up. Jack helped him onto his feet and with a worried look towards Teal'c, they began guiding Daniel to shelter.
They were halfway there when suddenly Daniel began shaking. Before Jack could ask what was happening, he vomited violently. Jack made a grab at Daniel, making sure he didn't slide down the slippery rock while his stomach expelled all of the salt water he'd swallowed.
For a few moments Jack was afraid Daniel was going to choke again as he alternated spewing and coughing. By the time Daniel's stomach was empty, Jack was shaking almost as much as Daniel. He was very grateful for Teal'c's solid hold on their friend.
- - - - - -
Barely aware of the hard rock digging into his knees and left hip, Daniel focused on trying to breathe. Someone had placed a vice around his head, chest and arms, but as his stomach settled he managed to separate the various hurts.
His head was pounding, horribly. His chest and throat hurt whenever he tried to breathe, forcing him into taking small, gasping inhalations. His stomach was still cramping, but at least that horrible bloating feeling was gone. He couldn't seem to take deep breaths, but that was okay; anything not to start the coughing again.
He jumped when Jack spoke close to his ear. There was noise around him, sounds he thought he should know but wasn't able to quite identify them.
"Just a little farther. Come on." The vice around his right arm eased off and something was tugging at it. Even as he obeyed blindly and tried to stand, he looked around. He was surrounded by darkness, and as he blinked water out of his eyes, he realized it was pouring rain.
He stood and felt his legs nearly give way. An arm tightened around his waist and the vice around his left arm squeezed a little harder until he managed to lock his knees.
"That's it. You're doing great. Just a few more feet."
Lightning flashed, illuminating the dark rocks before him. He realized Jack wanted him to climb and he squinted at the rock before him. They looked like stairs, and he wondered who would have taken the time to hew stone into steps.
"Shelter. We need to climb. Can you do that? Just a little more."
He reached out with his right hand for balance and found he couldn't raise his arm. He looked down and pulled, wondering why the motion caused pain in both his wrists. He tugged his arm again until Jack put his hand on his arm, stilling his efforts.
"It's okay, we've got you."
"Jack, I can't—" He raised his hands helplessly.
"I know. We'll get those off of you in a little bit as soon as we get up there."
"Colonel, do you need help?"
"No, we're okay, Carter."
"We will not allow you to fall, DanielJackson. If you can proceed, we will soon arrive at shelter."
Daniel turned to look on Teal'c. He realized his was the grip that was holding him so tightly. "Don't let go," Daniel mumbled breathlessly. He raised his head to look towards where he'd heard Sam's voice, and his face was pummelled with water. He sputtered and spit the water out, only to have his mouth filled with more. Then he remembered the seawater quickly rising in the small cell, covering his body, creeping towards his face. And then knowing time was running out, and praying with all his might that Jack would find him before it was too late.
And then seeing Jack in those last few seconds when the water had covered his eyes and mouth and he couldn't do anything but hold his breath and pray Jack would save him. He'd kicked his feet, trying to get Jack's attention, but the movement had caused him to fall against the floor and he'd flailed, trying desperately to get back to the surface.
Jack had seen him but it was too late. Even as both of them had tried to break his bonds, Daniel knew he wouldn't survive. With his ears buzzing loudly and his vision beginning to darken from lack of oxygen, he'd tried to tell Jack how much he loved him. He'd been so sorry that Jack had found him; that the one person he cared for most in the world had to see him die right before his eyes. And with that thought in his head, he'd passed out.
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. He was drowning and he couldn't save himself. He struggled despite knowing he lacked the strength to break the rock or free himself from the manacles.
"Easy, easy. Take one breath at a time."
He could breathe. Choking coughs, gasping breaths, water was in his mouth but he was breathing nevertheless. He found himself held tightly against Jack, his face tucked low against his shoulder. Rain was pounding down at him and water was surging from below; but he could breathe.
He'd drowned. From the way his body felt, he knew he'd drowned. But somehow Jack had gotten him free, and they were safe. He was safe.
He didn't remember anything until now. He could hear the surf, feel the rain beating against him, hear the thunder cracking overhead. Half blinded by rain and lightning, he allowed Jack and Teal'c to guide him forward and upwards, until he was curled in a corner against cold, hard rock, out of the wind and rain, and held tightly against a warm, living body.
"You're safe now," Jack murmured into his ear.
Despite the chill he felt, Daniel allowed himself to relax. He felt hands touch him, his wrists were pulled aside and soon, or maybe it was later, he was able to move both hands independently of one another.
It took him a while to gather the energy to stir, but he managed to raise his head as Sam bandaged his raw and abraded wrists. He hadn't realized how much they hurt until the other aches and pains slowly receded.
"Thanks," he rasped as when she tied off the last bandage. He smiled at her in the shadows of their shelter, then winced as the sky erupted around them in light and sound.
"Where are—" he broke off when he saw Challa leaning over Sam, watching him. "Are you okay?" he asked, then when he saw the look of confusion on her face, realized he'd asked the question in English. He repeated it in Goa'uld, and she nodded.
"Your friends rescued me just as the water made it impossible to breathe. I was able to hold my breath until they freed me."
"I tried," Daniel mumbled to himself, and felt Jack squeeze his shoulder.
"I know," Jack answered just as softly.
"Well, we're stuck here until the tide goes down," Sam said as she sat down beside him. "Might as well make ourselves comfortable."
"Jack," Daniel said, remembering why Challa was there. "Jeena, she was looking for—"
"It's okay. The kid's safe. She's the one who led us to you, believe it or not."
"She did?" He pulled away from Jack's hold. Now that he wasn't moving he was beginning to feel a little better.
"Yep. Found me and pointed out where you two were being held. She must have seen you get caught. And speaking of caught, what did happen?"
Daniel sighed as he shifted and leaned his back against the stone wall. "The Council sorta took exception to my having *associated* with the Othrais and decided to make it look like we both drowned accidentally."
Jack grabbed one of Daniel's bandaged wrists and shook it lightly. "This wouldn't look like an accident."
"Yeah, well, maybe they'd have chopped my hands off after the fact to hide the evidence and said some fish got me. I don't know..." He shivered, both from the memory of the cold-heartedness of the people and from the memory of his close call. "Jack, Challa said that that place I... we were in, they used that place to deliberately drown her people."
"During the purge by that zealot?"
"That place was pretty huge. They could have put over a couple hundred persons at a time in there."
"They're still just as ruthless. Challa and her people aren't safe here."
"It's her choice, Daniel."
They sat quietly for a while, the drumming of the rain slowly easing off, the sound of the surf becoming louder now that it was no longer muffled by the rain. The sky lightened as the clouds began to dissipate. Daniel blinked in surprise; he'd thought it was night time. He checked his watch and was surprised to see it was barely suppertime.
"Think they'll come and get our corpses anytime soon?"
"Not until the tide goes down," Sam said. "The place is flooded right now. And we're stuck here for the same reason."
Daniel turned his head so that he faced Jack, stifling a cough before asking, "Can we destroy that place when we go?"
"You read my mind, buddy. Some C-4 should do the trick." Jack turned to look at Sam. "I presume you have your usual stash?"
"Never leave home without it." She grinned at them both. "Anybody hungry?" Sam pulled out five MREs from their packs, offering one to Daniel.
The thought of food made him nauseous and he shook his head. His chest still felt heavy and sore, his head ached and his stomach, although no longer rebelling, still reminded him it hadn't been happy to have gotten filled up with salt water. He coughed, but it didn't help relieve the pressure.
He tried to doze as the others ate, ignoring the scent of food which was nearly impossible in their close quarters. He was grateful for the feel of Jack's shoulder and thigh against his, and Sam's presence on his other side. Shivers still shook him occasionally when the wind whipped past the stone block and snuck inside.
After a time he became aware of the intensity of the sun changing, the colors around them muting. The surf didn't sound quite so violent without the wind whipping it against the rocks.
"I think we'll be able to leave in two or three more hours."
Daniel opened his eyes at Sam's statement. He didn't remember her leaving his side to go sit by the edge of their shelter. She was staring out towards the water. Now that he was a little more alert, he was more aware of the uncomfortable feeling in his lungs.
"It'll be dark by then," Sam continued. "We'll be able to get down this cliff without anyone spotting us from shore."
"Challa," Daniel said after taking a deep breath and coughing to clear his lungs, "will you come with us? We can find you another world to live on, away from people like the Tok'beo and their cruelty."
She smiled at Daniel and shifted to move closer to him. "I have told you before; this is my home. We would not leave it."
"Even after what they did to you?"
"What if they had captured Jeena instead of you. Instead of me?"
Her face hardened a moment, but still she shook her head. "I must spread the news of our Lord Heru'ur's death. We have waited these many generations to serve, but," she lowered her voice to a whisper, "I must admit that I am glad he will not be returning and require our servitude. My thoughts are shameful, but I never enjoyed the idea of serving another unless I wished to."
"I know. It's called freedom. You and your people are free to do and choose as you will. Maybe we can..." Daniel switched to English. "Jack, do you think we could explain to Challa how to use the Stargate. If her people decide to leave this world, they could go somewhere else, someplace safer."
"I don't know." He waved tiredly with his hand. "Olaf's people in the Land of Light?"
"That's what I said."
"No, you said Olaf."
"I didn't. I said Tuplo."
Daniel shook his head and shrugged. "Either Olaf or Tuplo. Anyway, it'd be for a short while. In the meantime we could search for a planet for them to inhabit and then give them the 'gate address when Tuplo," he frowned at Jack, "or Olaf, contacted us."
"We could do that," Jack answered after a moment.
Daniel turned back to Challa, who had been following the conversation, knowing they were speaking about her. "We can explain to you how to use the Chaapa'ai, and if you decide to—" He broke off when a sudden spasm of coughing assailed him. He cleared his throat, began again, only to start coughing once more.
Teal'c took up the explanation while Daniel sat there feeling suddenly worse. Jack leaned forward and put a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"
Daniel nodded, cleared his throat, and closed his eyes. The pressure in his chest seemed to be worse; he hoped he wasn't coming down with some sort of congestion. "Just tired," he said truthfully.
"Won't be long now. We'll just skirt around the city and head straight for the 'gate."
Daniel sat there listening to Teal'c explain the Stargate, and then heard the sound of paper rustling as he wrote the symbols down for her. "Where?" Daniel asked.
"Land of Light," Jack answered.
"We'll need to tell Marul." Daniel rubbed his chest, realized that wasn't right. Wrong planet. "Tuplo, sorry."
"Challa will have to sneak her people through the Stargate so the Tok'beo don't see them leave."
"We'll worry about that when we get back." Jack shifted closer, nudging Daniel gently with his shoulder. He took the hint and relaxed against Jack, using the shoulder as a pillow.
"Carter, how's that tide coming along."
"The water level's still pretty high. We could try crossing but..."
Daniel could feel her eyes on him and he knew they were delaying because of him. Truth be told, he didn't feel like moving. He didn't feel like climbing down the rocks and he sure as hell didn't feel like battling his way to shore. He tensed slightly, knowing he should tell them that he was fine and that he didn't mind attempting to fight the waves.
Jack pulled away from beneath Daniel and there were scuffing sounds as he moved to the edge. "The water's still pretty high – I don't think—" There was the sound of a wave slapping against stone. "Whoa! Nope, we're not going out in that. Anyways, it's still light out. I'd rather we wait until it's fully dark. Let's give it at least one more hour."
Daniel relaxed at Jack's statement. He could still see daylight through his eyelids. He slid down and curled up against the stone wall, but the position seemed to worsen his cough so he sat up and leaned into the corner. He tried to doze, missing Jack's warmth beside him. Soon the sounds of conversation and the water below began to fade, staying just within reach of his consciousness.
He must have slept at one point because he suddenly became aware that he couldn't catch his breath, feeling like he was underwater again. He began coughing violently. He'd slumped against the wall in his sleep and he now fought to sit up. Then there were hands on him, pulling him up and supporting him until the spell was over. His mouth had filled with saliva and mucus, and he wiped his lips with the back of his hand as he tried to catch his breath.
"Okay?" Jack asked as he handed him some water, looking at him with concern. Daniel nodded as he took the water bottle with shaking hands and took a small sip, afraid that even that little bit of liquid would go down the wrong way.
He shivered and felt sweat run down his armpits and into the small of his back. His clothes were still wet and his over-heated body quickly cooled. He took a few more sips and gave the bottle back to Jack.
He settled back in his corner, only to be forced back up when he began coughing again. His mouth filled with saliva again and he swiped at it once more. He went to wipe his hand on his pants when Teal'c suddenly grabbed his hand.
"What?" he complained, gasping as he struggled to catch his breath. He noticed the blood-tinged saliva that stained his hand and bandage. He looked up at Teal'c, then at Jack and Sam. All of them were staring at his hand. He quickly wiped away the saliva and blood.
"O'Neill, has the water level retreated to an acceptable level?"
Another coughing fit drowned out Jack's answer. The more Daniel struggled to take a deep breath to clear his lungs, the more he coughed and the more his chest ached. He felt like he was running uphill, his lungs and heart working overtime, but without the benefit of physical exertion of using his legs to get him there.
Sam and Challa had left the shelter by the time Daniel was able to focus on his surroundings once more.
"I don't think he can walk," Jack said as he wiped Daniel's chin and lips with something.
"I can walk," Daniel said stubbornly as he got his feet under him, ignoring the heaviness in his chest. His muscles shook as he pushed himself up, holding onto the wall for support. He straightened, turned towards the cliff's edge, and watched in surprise as the stone floor slowly came to meet him as everything else around him turned black.
- - - - - -
It was Teal'c's quick reflexes that stopped Daniel from falling head first down the cliff. Even as Jack made a grab for him, Teal'c had Daniel in his arms and then manoeuvred him into a fireman's hold.
Teal'c descended the cliff's face quickly, moving as if he didn't have one hundred eighty plus pounds draped over his shoulders. Jack scrambled behind him, keeping an eye on Teal'c and one on Challa. Carter had entered the cells and was setting up the C-4 on Jack's orders.
Once in the water, Jack hurried to Teal'c's side to help him keep his balance. Even now, Daniel was coughing and Jack didn't like the way he seemed to gasp for air between spells.
The going was difficult; hidden rocks and seaweed caused them to stumble while the tide tried to pull them back towards the ocean. The sun burst from behind the receding clouds, sending a golden glow along the beach and sparkling along the foamy breakers.
He was halfway to shore when Carter and Challa came out of the cells. He turned towards them, a hand on Daniel's shoulder as he and Teal'c waded through thigh deep water.
"Keep an eye out for rocks," Jack called out to the women as they made their way into the water. "The going's easier than—"
Daniel suddenly twisted violently, nearly falling off Teal'c's shoulders. Jack immediately grabbed at Daniel while Teal'c stopped and tried to reposition him. But Daniel continued to struggle and began coughing harshly. His mouth filled with froth, the bubbles tinged with pink.
"Get him down, quick!" Jack ordered. Teal'c began quickly wading through the remaining feet separating him from shore. It was impossible to run and Jack found the more he rushed, the harder it was to move.
Then they were on the wet sand and Teal'c allowed Daniel to slide from his back.
"He's choking," Jack cried as Teal'c tried to turn Daniel into the recovery position. "Sit him up." Jack grabbed Daniel's arm and pulled him up even as Daniel latched onto Jack's arm and leaned against him. Daniel's coughing eased slightly and Jack held onto him while he struggled to breathe.
"We need to get him home," Carter said as she reached them. She wiped the saliva from Daniel's lips and looked at Jack in horror. "He's going to drown in his own fluids if we don't get him help."
"I cannot carry him; the position is harmful to him."
"We can't..." Jack looked around wildly, searching for something to use as a stretcher. He saw Jeena run across the beach and throw herself into her mother's arms, but he ignored the reunion.
"Jack—" Daniel was all eyes, obviously terrified and looking to Jack to make everything okay. Jack had never felt so helpless; having to detour around the city made the Stargate a good thirty minutes away and they had no way of getting Daniel there without him choking.
He put a hand out and cupped Daniel's sweaty neck. He could feel the tightness in the muscles as Daniel struggled to breathe in between coughs. "It's gonna be okay, Daniel," Jack said, feeling useless.
"O'Neill, take his legs. I will keep him upright." Teal'c gently pushed Jack aside and eased Daniel so that he was leaning against his chest. He placed his hands beneath Daniel's armpits and waited for Jack to hurry to Daniel's feet. Jack turned, grabbed both legs so that they were lying against his hips, and straightened.
"Carter, go on ahead and see if you can find that nature trail we used the first day we got here when Patrimus showed us around. It'll keep us away from meeting anyone." Jack began walking as fast as he could manage. As Carter jogged past him, he looked over his shoulder to Teal'c. "Tell Challa she has to come with us back to Earth. We don't know if she breathed in any water. Tell her she could end up like Daniel if she doesn't get medical help."
He concentrated on adjusting his hold on the wet, sand-covered legs as Teal'c and Challa conversed. They were soon going to hit the main road and he could see Carter searching the area ahead of him.
"Challa insists she did not inhale any water, but I have convinced her to accompany us as a precaution."
"Reassure her we'll send her back as soon as Fraiser gives her the all-clear."
"Sir, over here." Carter stood beside a dirt trail, waiting. The moment Jack turned onto the trail, she moved on ahead. Challa walked beside Daniel and after a bit of coaxing, sent Jeena up to walk with Jack. At first the kid kept looking back towards her mom and he felt sorry for her. In his own anxiety for Daniel, he'd almost forgotten the kid had had to go and hide out on her own and those few hours must have felt like eternity to her.
"It's gonna be fine, kiddo," he told her. She looked up at him and gave him a tremulous smile before glancing back towards her mother.
He tried to ignore the sound of Daniel's continuous coughing but ended up looking back at him almost as often as Jeena looked to her mom. He was relieved to see Challa talking to Daniel, wiping his mouth as he continued to cough up blood-tinged froth.
Daniel was restless, trying to move his legs despite Jack's hold on them. He coughed incessantly; harsh, wet hacking interspersed with breathless gasps that scared Jack almost as much as the short panting breaths in between the spasms.
As the sun began to set, Jack concentrated on the path before him and tried to ignore the slowly increasing heaviness of Daniel's legs. He was out of breath; the trail led uphill, up into the foothills of the mountains overlooking the ocean.
He couldn't complain because Teal'c was carrying the bulk of Daniel's weight but damn, it felt like they'd been walking for the longest time and he had a sneaking suspicion they'd only been at it for half the time. He tried shifting his wrist to sneak a look at his watch but wasn't able to get the proper angle.
"Carter, how long did you set the timer for?"
"Thirty minutes, sir. We still have ten more to go."
Good. They'd been on the move for twenty minutes. The trail would come out just to the right of where the Stargate was situated. He remembered the spectacular view of the ocean on one side and the majestic mountains on the other. He half wondered if they'd see the causeway go up from there. He didn't really care one way or the other, but he did secretly wish that all those people responsible for locking up Daniel and Challa decided to go check on their victims seconds before the C-4 detonated.
It was definitely getting difficult to see by the time they came out of the trail and he had to slow down in order not to trip over anything. There was just enough light in the sky to make out the path.
As the trail ended and he broke out of the trees and into a meadow, he picked up speed. The sky over the water was a deep cerulean blue, overhead it was nearly pitch black.
"Colonel, I can see the Stargate." Carter's carefully pitched voice barely reached him. "It's guarded."
He stopped and crouched, letting go of Daniel's legs. "Stay here," he ordered Teal'c. Daniel moved sideways as Jack got into a crouch, restless, and Jack winced as Teal'c turned Daniel's face into his chest to muffle the harsh coughs. Jack climbed up the small rise to where he could just make out Carter's head against the glow of the darkening sky.
"There's only three. But they're armed." She handed Jack the field glasses and he trained them on the men standing guard by the Stargate. Some sort of rifle was slung around the men's shoulders. He regretted that they hadn't had a chance to discuss weapons.
Although Jack could clearly hear Daniel's distress, the guards were thankfully still too far away to be aware of them.
"Welcoming committee, I take it. See any others?" He put the glasses down and searched the surrounding area.
"Let's wait for the explosion and then we can—"
A loud boom cut him off and he motioned Carter forward. "Zat," he mouthed over the second blast as the men went rushing away from the Stargate to see what had happened down below.
Blue light sparkled and the three men collapsed.
"Dial it up," Jack yelled as he ran back towards Daniel. He grabbed Daniel's legs as Teal'c stood, and they hurried towards the blossoming puddle in the center of the Stargate.
"Go," he yelled at Challa, who paused just at the wormhole's edge.
"I'll bring them in," Carter answered. Without waiting, Jack rushed through the wormhole, hurrying down the metallic ramp while yelling for a medic. He glanced up and saw only one technician manning the Control Room and who was speaking urgently into a telephone. It took Jack a few seconds before realizing that it was the middle of the night. There would be no General Hammond to welcome them home.
After years of 'gating home, he knew exactly how many steps it took before he reached the end of the ramp. Ignoring the security detail that had now put their weapons down, he stopped at the ramp's edge. He lowered Daniel's legs and hurriedly backed up a few steps to sit beside Daniel.
Daniel's jacket was flecked with mucus and blood. His face was dusky in the artificial light and beaded with sweat, and Jack could see Daniel's chest and shoulders working hard as he attempted to draw in air. Daniel squirmed restlessly against Teal'c.
The wormhole disengaged and the sound of multiple footsteps descended towards him just as the technician keyed the speakers into the room and informed him that a medical team was on its way.
"Hang in there," he told Daniel as the two women and child passed by them. "Help's on the way." He placed a hand on Daniel's cheek, then wiped the pooled sweat from around his eyes with his thumb.
Daniel turned his head towards Jack, his mouth gaping open, his wheezing breaths rapid and loud as he grabbed the edge of Jack's jacket. "Up... sit up... can't... breathe." Daniel pulled weakly on his jacket as he tried to readjust his position, his torso falling back onto Teal'c's chest. He rested his head on his friend's shoulder, eyes closing in exhaustion.
"Don't. Stay put." Jack shifted his hand in an attempt to help support him.
Jack glanced at Carter, who was standing at the foot of the ramp with Challa. The woman was looking around in fear. Jeena had her head buried against her mother's leg. He glanced past the women towards the corridor, and was relieved to finally hear the sound of running footsteps coming towards them.
Daniel shifted restlessly again.
"Easy, don't move," Jack murmured as Doctor Warner ran into the room, "I'm right here." The doctor hurried up to them and knelt at Daniel's side. He pulled his stethoscope from its position around his neck as he visually assessed Daniel.
"Let's move. One hundred percent oxygen, non-rebreather mask now. Then immediate transport," he barked to the medics who'd followed behind, pulling a cart loaded with a variety of medical equipment.
Jack had opened his partner's jacket, unbuttoning his pants, pulling the damp tee shirt up, exposing his chest in anticipation of the doctor's examination. After listening to Daniel's chest, he replaced the stethoscope around his neck. The oxygen mask was now in place.
"Easy breaths, Daniel. Try to slow it down. We'll get you some meds soon, they'll help your breathing." As he spoke, he pulled back Daniel's drooping eyelids and even Jack could see the pupils' sluggish reaction to the additional light. He gave Jack a sidelong glance.
"What happened, Colonel?"
"He almost drowned. He was out, quit breathing. Teal'c had to do rescue breathing, but he started to breathe on his own after a few breaths."
"How long ago?"
"Five, maybe six hours."
"How long ago did the hypoxia start?" Jack shook his head and Warner shot Jack another look. "Problems breathing," he amended.
"Thirty minutes, give or take."
"Salt or fresh water?"
"It was an ocean. Salt. Plenty of salt." Jack ignored Warner's frown as he quickly looked beneath the soaked bandages around Daniel's wrists. "Why? He drowned. What difference does it make?"
Warner addressed the medics as he adjusted the head of the gurney to an upright position. "It makes a huge difference, Colonel. Fresh water washes away the surfactant, the wetting agent that helps keep the air sacs inflated."
Jack moved forward to help the medics lift Daniel onto the gurney.
"They collapse and oxygen can't get into the bloodstream, and the victim dies. With salt water, the salt draws blood plasma out of the bloodstream and into the lungs. The fluid build-up in the air sacs prevents oxygen from reaching the blood. This is what Doctor Jackson is coughing up."
"Go," Warner ordered the medic as soon as Daniel was settled, and the three medical personnel began wheeling Daniel out of the Gateroom, Carter following right on their heels. Jack waved Challa and Jeena to him and Teal'c waited for Challa to take Jeena into her arms before allowing them to precede him.
"Colonel O'Neill?" The voice coming over the intercom stopped Jack as he went to follow behind the gurney.
Jack sighed and looked up into the Control Room at the technician who was looking down at them.
"There's no authorization for allowing a guest into the SGC, sir."
"I know. Log it and note that I take full responsibility."
Jack waved the major in charge of the security detail over. "I need a guard assigned to this lady and her daughter."
The major nodded and waved to one of his men to accompany Jack. Minor details now organized, he was free to go to the infirmary for his post-mission examination.
"Come on," he said gently as he waved Challa out the door once more. He placed a hand on the young child's head and smiled encouragingly at her.
They stopped at the elevator and he motioned for the guard to use his keycard. The guard obligingly did so, then punched level 21 for the infirmary.
As the elevator began moving up, Challa's eyes widened in fear and she glanced at Jack, who nodded. Teal'c spoke to her and the expression on Challa's face changed from fear to wonder. He left Teal'c to take care of all the explanations and turned to face the door in restless anticipation.
As Jack entered the infirmary, he eyed the curtained-off triage area; he could hear Daniel's repetitive wet hacking coughs through the multitude of voices of the medical personnel that had gathered at his bedside. Carter was already sitting on an empty bed nearby, her demeanour one of dejection as she sat with her back to Jack, shoulders slumped, head down.
She straightened and schooled her features as Jack and the others approached; but he knew exactly how she felt.
"Colonel O'Neill?" He turned, surprised to see a nurse standing beside him. He hadn't heard her approach. "Doctor Singh has been notified; he should be here in a few minutes. We can start with the preliminary post-mission exam now."
"Check the woman and her kid first," Jack ordered as Challa gingerly took a seat on a bed beside Carter. "Take it slow and easy; she hasn't been exposed to any kind of technology. Teal'c?" You wanna explain the procedures to her as she gets checked out?"
"Of course." As Teal'c began speaking to Challa, another nurse approached Carter while yet another one hurried from behind the curtained-off area, a number of tubes of blood in her hand.
"Challa might have breathed in some salt water – we brought her here as a precaution, seeing what Dan – Doctor Jackson's going through."
The nurse quickly glanced towards the coughing sounds and nodded. "I understand."
Jack took the nearest bed, trying to ignore the sounds of the infirmary and concentrating instead on the deep, painful-sounding coughs which he prayed would begin to ease soon. "Do you know if Fraiser's been called?"
"Yes, sir. Doctor Warner had her notified immediately after Doctor Jackson's arrival. She's on her way in from home. Said she'd be here as soon as possible."
- - - - - -
The terrible need to move, to ease the pain and pressure in his chest, to do *something*, anything, to get a breath of air, had eased slightly. Daniel suspected that it wasn't because he was better thanks to Doctor Warner's ministrations, but rather due to something the good doctor might have snuck into his IV. He vaguely remembered Warner explaining to him what they were doing and administering, but he hadn't been able to concentrate much on his words.
He closed his eyes, ignoring the nurse who had returned to take his vitals. He wished Jack or one of his team would come and sit with him; he was trying very hard not to show it, but he was terrified.
He desperately wanted to lie down and sleep, but anything close to that position made him feel like he was choking. Drowning. He couldn't get the memory of the water inching up his face, the salty odor prevalent as his breaths were soon interspersed with mouthfuls of the brackish water.
Daniel couldn't remember drowning, and for that he was grateful. He'd passed out from lack of air despite his body's desperate attempts to breathe when he was underwater. His throat had locked closed after the first involuntary inhalations, the cold, wet burning and flooding his sinuses and throat.
He moved on the bed, trying to escape from both the memory and the resulting cough. He could feel the nurse's presence as she wiped the sweat off his face, then pulled the oxygen mask aside to clear up the gunk he'd coughed up.
The metallic taste of blood was constant in his mouth. He wanted to rinse his mouth, have a long, deep drink of cold water, and curl up and sleep. Instead all he could do was gasp for breath and hope he didn't cough.
There were voices nearby; Doctor Warner, Jack, Sam, Teal'c. He'd heard them talking on and off. But now his fear had lessened; or maybe he was just too tired and didn't care as much anymore.
The curtain around the bed twitched, catching Daniel's attention. He turned his head and watched disinterestedly as Jack entered his own little corner of hell.
Jack smiled at him and pulled a chair closer to the bed. Daniel waggled a couple of fingers in greeting as Jack sat, too exhausted to do much else. He lowered his head in embarrassment when the nurse leaned over and adjusted the pulse ox affixed to his index finger which he'd accidentally dislodged in the welcome.
His world was soon turning into this bed and his next breath. It was almost all he could do to concentrate on taking a breath without choking. He moved restlessly on the bed, wishing there was a position that would ease his discomfort. His chest, shoulders and back ached and he just wanted to stretch out. The motion started him coughing and he leaned forward and sideways, trying to ignore the pinch of the catheter brought on by the change in position.
He fought the urge to pull the oxygen mask off; he knew it was delivering oxygen but instinctively he felt it was constricting his breathing.
"You're not looking so hot," Jack commented once Daniel was back to breathing in short, panting gasps. Unable to draw a deep enough inhalation to speak, Daniel simply rolled his eyes at him.
"Warner said they gave you some diuretics to get rid of the gunk in your lungs. You should be feeling better soon."
"Not... soon... e... nuff." Just those few words took a lot out of him and he closed his eyes, wishing he could take a deep breath and just clear his lungs once and for all. Instead his chest was getting heavier and more congested and every inhalation hurt. His throat was raw with coughing and his head pounded.
Jack shifted on the chair and Daniel looked at him. And what he saw scared him even more. Jack was worried, that was to be expected. But there was something behind the façade; something that he was hiding, and failing miserably. And seeing fear in Jack's face scared Daniel even more.
"Gonna.. be... 'k," Daniel gasped, putting a hand towards Jack and gripping the edge of the mattress tightly.
"Please, Doctor Jackson, don't try to talk," the nurse scolded as she began taking his blood pressure.
"Shhhh. Save your strength," Jack said at the same time. He reached forward and covered Daniel's hand, the one still gripping the edge of the mattress.
"I think he's got a fever," Jack said after a moment.
"His temperature is slightly elevated," the nurse answered as she entered the BP results in his chart, "it's not unexpected."
Daniel coughed again and shut his eyes tightly against the pain.
"Can't you do something for the cough?" Jack complained. "Didn't Warner give him some morphine to..."
Jack's voice faded to a buzz as Daniel fought for breath. He could barely get enough air to breathe, his body involuntarily demanding more and more as each inhalation became weaker and weaker. His world focused on every painful wheeze punctuated by torturous hacking. His vision became tinged with red as stars danced before his eyes.
Then there were hands touching him, voices in his ear. Something cool and wet blotted up the sweat from his face and neck. He opened his eyes to see several forms standing over his bed. It took a few seconds before he made out Doctor Warner's face leaning over him.
"Try and relax, Doctor Jackson," the man said. "I know it's difficult, but you need to allow the medication time to work."
Daniel nodded; at the moment words were just too difficult to attempt. Jack was still sitting beside him, his thumb rubbing slowly along the side of Daniel's hand. It was only then that he realized he'd let go of the mattress and had a death grip on Jack's hand. Slowly he relaxed his fingers and Jack squeezed his hand gently.
Time began to lose meaning. What mattered were the few short minutes between one coughing jag and another. His team came to see him, he knew they spoke to him but if asked later what they'd said to him, he would never be able to say.
Challa also came through the curtains at one point to stand beside Jack. Seeing her dressed in a green jumpsuit felt odd, for some weird reason. He couldn't put his finger on why it did; he'd have to ask Jack later.
Janet showed up also, her ready smile and gentle touch a relief from Warner's constant dour face. He felt relieved to see her; not that he didn't trust Warner, but Janet was his friend. She'd helped him before; she would get him through this.
He'd gotten used to the constant come and go of the medical personnel into the small area around his bed, ignoring everybody as he continued to fight for breath. So when Jack gently cupped his cheek below the edge of the oxygen mask, Daniel was surprised to see they were alone.
The seriousness in Jack's face suddenly scared Daniel.
"Doc's gonna be back in a minute so I don't have much time." Jack leaned forward and put his lips to Daniel's temple. "Everything's gonna be all right. Just remember that, okay?"
He felt Jack's hands threading through his hair. Daniel shook his head, indicating his confusion.
"You're not doing so good. Doc wants to put a tube down your throat to give you more oxygen. It won't be for more than a day or two. You'll be asleep the whole time, you won't feel a thing."
Oh God, anything to stop this pain. He was so tired, he wanted it to stop, one way or the other. He'd begun thinking maybe he'd have been better off to have drowned. The horror and agony had been brief, nothing compared to this.
Janet moved into his field of vision and he was surprised he hadn't heard her approach. She smiled reassuringly at him before placing gloved fingers on his bare arm.
"Daniel, we have no choice now but to intubate you. Your oxygen levels are too low and the medication we've given you isn't working quickly enough. You've been through this before and..."
Janet's voice fuzzed out for a moment, but Daniel found himself nodding, giving permission; if he could have spoken he'd have pleaded for her to do something to stop the agony.
"Okay, I'm going to administer something to put you out. Just relax." Her voice faded out as she moved away from the bed, fiddling with his IV.
A lethargy swept over him and suddenly the effort of breathing wasn't so bad. The bed was lowered until he was flat on his back. Jack's face swam before his eyes as Janet's voice slowly distorted until it was deep and garbled. He felt someone press back on his forehead to tilt his head back and—
- - - - - -
"Challa wishes that we say farewell to DanielJackson on her behalf," Teal'c translated. They were all standing around Daniel's bed as Challa gently brushed her fingers through Daniel's hair.
Challa turned to smile at Jack even before Teal'c informed her of Jack's words. "She regrets she cannot remain until DanielJackson awakens, but understands the necessity of abiding by the assigned windows in which we may dial her planet."
"She didn't say all that, did she?" Jack teased. The woman had barely spoken more than five words as she stood over Daniel's bed.
Teal'c cocked an eyebrow and canted his head. "I assure you, she did. The words do not translate exactly into English and—"
"Teasing, T, I'm teasing."
Challa straightened and bowed her head to Jack. Jack nodded back, then smiled gently as Jeena, who had been hanging back, stepped forward into the vacated space.
The little girl said something, her demeanour serious. Then she half climbed onto the bed and gave Daniel a kiss on the cheek. Jack was surprised; the kid never seemed to like Daniel. Maybe this action was because everyone else seemed to be so attentive towards him, especially now that he was lying here so helpless.
The mother and daughter had been shocked at first upon seeing Daniel rigged up the way he was, but after a detailed explanation by Teal'c, they had taken turns sitting beside him and talking to him, even though they'd been assured Daniel couldn't hear them. Still, it was heartening to Jack to know whenever he left the infirmary, after spending a good portion of the evening and night sitting with Daniel, that there were friends sitting with him during the day while he worked.
Jack checked his watch and saw it was nearly time. "Time to go, folks," he announced. "They're probably busy dialling our number as we speak."
They made their way down to the control room just in time for Challa and Jeena to see the wormhole explode in all its glory. The MALP trundled up the ramp, and they waited patiently for its telemetry to come onscreen.
- - - - - -
"Come on, doc, it's been over two days. Shouldn't he be better by now?" Jack tried to shrug off the shroud of fatigue and straightened his shoulders, giving Fraiser his *Colonel* glare.
His scowl faded when she had the audacity to smile at him. "If I were to tell you that all of Daniel's stats look good enough that we're going to start weaning him off the vent as soon as he wakes up, could I convince you to go get something to eat and get some decent sleep that doesn't involve a chair?"
Fraiser moved past him and picked up Daniel's chart.
"He's better?" Jack followed behind and stood at the foot of the bed, looking down at Daniel's unconscious form.
"He's been better since the past thirty-six hours, sir. It's just taken us this long to ensure that we've got all the secretions cleared from his lungs." She put the chart down and looked at Jack, her eyes narrowing. "But I've told you this already."
"Yeah, well, telling is one thing, doing is another," he mumbled, absently running his finger over the swell of blankets covering Daniel's toes. To be honest, Daniel looked a helluva lot better just a short time after he'd been placed on the vent. At least the bluish cast to his face had faded, and even now he didn't look quite as pale as he had yesterday.
"Well, you have time to go have yourself a nourishing lunch and get some more work done before the excitement starts. The meds should be wearing off in about two hours so..."
"I'll be here," Jack quickly said.
"Good." She stepped away from the bed and Jack followed. "So, did Teal'c and Challa get through okay?"
"Yep. MALP showed no hostiles in the area. Teal'c's gonna escort her back to the valley where we met her and hopefully meet up with some of her people. He should be back in a couple hours."
"She was very lucky." They both stopped by the exit and back towards the infirmary beds to where Daniel lay. "And Daniel's very lucky that there's no sign of pneumonia. Thank goodness there were no particulates in the water he inhaled to cause an infection." She put a hand on Jack's arm. "He's going to be fine. It'll just take another week or so for him to get his feet back under him."
"Thanks doc." Even though she'd been telling him similar things for the past two days, maybe seeing Daniel breathing on his own just might make him believe her. "See you in a couple hours."
- - - - - -
Jack watched for the familiar telltale facial twitching that would tell him Daniel was waking up. His pulse sped up slightly as he saw Daniel's eyebrows first go up slightly, then furrow closer together in a slight frown.
"Daniel?" he called gently, hoping this time was the real thing. The two hours Fraiser had promised were quickly going on three, and Jack shuffled the paperwork he was pretending to be working on resignedly when Daniel didn't react.
But no reaction was better than seeing Daniel's eyes open when earlier he'd called his name and Daniel had stared out into nothingness. Jack had called out again, and had been rewarded with a slight shifting of blue in his direction. But then Daniel's eyes had closed long before Jack was certain Daniel hadn't even registered that Jack was there.
"I'll get Doctor Fraiser," Daniel's nurse said with a smile. "He'll be awake in a few minutes."
The moment she left him alone with Daniel, Jack leaned forward and placed a hand on Daniel's arm. "Daniel? Come on, you with us yet?"
It took a little more cajoling, but the eyebrows danced a little more followed by the fluttering of eyelids. This time when Daniel opened his eyes, there was awareness.
"Hey," Jack said, moving so he was in Daniel's direct line of vision. Daniel's eyes tracked his movement, bringing a grin to Jack's face.
"Welcome back, Daniel." Fraiser gently pushed Jack out of the way, placing herself in front of Daniel. "I know you can't speak, you've been intubated, remember?"
Daniel's forehead wrinkled as his eyes narrowed. Jack knew he was assessing his body; and the look of panic on Daniel's face when he came to the conclusion that there was something foreign stuck down his throat had both Jack and Fraiser immediately trying to soothe him.
"It's okay, just try to breathe normally," Fraiser advised as Daniel finally relaxed. "It won't be for much longer." She checked the readouts connected to the vent. "Looking good, Daniel. Just keep that up for a little longer and we'll take the tube out as soon as you're ready."
Hoping to distract Daniel, Jack tapped the bed. When Daniel looked at him, he asked, "Do you remember what happened?"
Daniel raised his eyebrows.
"You got caught with Challa, you almost drowned."
Daniel frowned as he looked at Jack. His eyes seemed to unfocus for a moment, then he blinked rapidly when Jack spoke again.
"Almost... damn, almost is close enough." Jack managed a smile. "Teal'c broke you free. We brought you home, you and Challa. You had a bad reaction to the salt water in your lungs, doc had to put you out and help you breathe with that tube."
Daniel waggled his head a little from side to side.
"You remember coming home?"
"Great. She's fine, by the way. Teal'c's taken her back home. Hammond okay'd the search for a viable planet for her people, if they choose that route. Carter started searching and already got a few hopeful prospects."
Daniel's eyes began to slide shut and Jack waited, unsure if he should keep talking. A noise from farther down the room echoed in the infirmary and Daniel's eyes shot open again. Daniel shifted slightly in the bed, then allowed his eyes to close.
"Try to stay awake, Daniel," Fraiser chided gently before patting Daniel's arm. Daniel nodded, then looked to Jack.
"You've been out of it for over two days. Doc says you're lucky; no signs of infection."
"The colonel's right. You could have developed a nasty case of pneumonia if you had breathed in any particles along with the water."
"So you just got your lungs pickled from your little adventure." Jack smiled as Daniel rolled his eyes. "Good news also is that there's no lingering effect from the poison, either." Jack continued to talk when Fraiser left them, keeping Daniel entertained, shifting the subject from on-base activities that he knew would intrigue him. Finally he stopped when a nurse came to draw some blood.
- - - - - -
Daniel gagged as the long tube was inserted into his mouth and the nurse suctioned out his secretions. He'd been warned he wouldn't be able to breathe during the process, but this was worse than he'd expected. The sound of the vacuum was horrible and the thought that if there was still this much gunk left inside of him, they wouldn't take the tube out.
He gripped the edges of the mattress, forcing himself to wait it out while he closed his eyes tightly. Not soon enough, the vent was reconnected and oxygen flowed back into his lungs.
He took quick, short, panting breaths as he relaxed, then a deep, satisfying inhalation. At least now he could breathe despite the awful sensation of having his throat blocked.
He swallowed, feeling his throat muscles press against the tube. He couldn't help it, he wanted it out and instinctively felt that he could either force it up or down by doing so. It was like testing a split lip, or a cut in your mouth. Your tongue always found its way to the injury despite knowing it would hurt.
A hand pressed on his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to see Jack looking at him with compassion. Daniel reached up and gave Jack's fingers a squeeze, grateful that he was back. He had no idea of the passage of time; only knew that Jack had been called away and Daniel had been left alone with only Janet and her nurses to keep him company.
And speaking of Janet, he heard her footsteps come across the infirmary, heading for his bed. She had a smile on her face which got Daniel's hopes up.
"Your ABGs look very good, Daniel, so we're going to take you off the vent now."
"Way to go, Danny," Jack said, slapping Daniel's thigh.
"You remember the last time we did this?" Janet asked as she placed a towel on his chest. He nodded, anxious to get it over with.
"Okay, on the count of three, cough and blow." She placed her hands near his mouth and fiddled with the vent. Daniel met her steady gaze. "Ready?"
"One, two three."
Daniel coughed and exhaled as hard as he could. The tube slid out of his mouth and finally he was free of it. But his elation was short lived when the coughing continued.
He turned away from the helping hands and shifted onto his side. He felt someone rubbing his back until finally the spasm eased. He cleared his raw throat and took a few cautious breaths, then relaxed when they didn't trigger another bout.
He realized then that Janet had put an oxygen mask over his face. He felt a little embarrassed as he moved onto his back but she simply smiled at him.
Would you like anything?"
"Water?" he rasped. His voice was hoarse.
"In a little while. Will you settle for some ice?" She raised the mask and put a spoonful to his mouth and Daniel sucked at the cool slivers. It did nothing to ease his thirst but the chilly feel of the melting liquid helped his throat as he swallowed. And at last he finally had something in his mouth that didn't come from his own body.
"Let's see if we can make you more comfortable." Janet replaced the mask with a nasal cannula. Daniel rubbed at his mouth and cheeks, feeling the rasp of whiskers beneath his fingers.
"We'll let you rest a little, then maybe you'd appreciate a bath and a shave?"
"Thanks. I would," Daniel replied in a hoarse voice.
"How does your chest feel?"
Daniel rubbed at his chest and took a deep breath. He coughed a little, but nodded. "Okay. Better than before." He smiled. "Much better than before."
"Good." She picked up the discarded paraphernalia and straightened. "Don't tire him out," Janet warned Jack as she left his bedside.
"Want some more?" Jack took the spoon and bowl of ice chips. Daniel nodded and soon was sucking on more ice.
"Is Teal'c back?"
Jack shook his head. "Probably not for another hour or two. He wanted to make sure Challa and Jeena met up with her people and not just abandon her on their land."
"I hope they take our offer and leave."
"So do I. Oh, that's why I was called away earlier. We contacted Tuplo and he's agreed to put Challa's people up if they decide to relocate. He even offered to show them land a few days' walk from the Stargate, up in the mountains. Said there's plenty of land to spare and if they liked the place, they were welcome to share."
"That's really nice of him."
"Although one of the planets Carter found looks pretty sweet. But Challa's folk might appreciate having neighbours who didn't have it in for them, for a change."
"They might end up being a little reclusive, exactly because of that." Daniel waved towards the bowl of ice and Jack immediately complied, offering him more. "When did Janet say I could have some water?"
"She didn't, but I'll go see if you can have some." Jack stood and went looking for a nurse.
Daniel stretched, feeling lethargic and wrung out. He turned onto his side, watching sleepily as Jack walked out of his sight. He closed his eyes and let himself drift.
He opened his eyes and saw a pair of blue-clad pants in his field of vision. He blinked, stared at the legs, and realized they were too muscular to be Jack's. He raised his eyes and saw Teal'c sitting in the chair Jack had been in earlier.
"Hi." Daniel searched for the bed's control and raised the head, then pulled himself up. The change in position triggered a cough.
"I am pleased to see how well you have recovered," Teal'c said once Daniel cleared his throat.
"Yeah, me too." There was a glass of water beside the bed with a straw sticking out of it. "Um," he pointed at the glass. "Is that for me?"
"Indeed." Teal'c handed it to Daniel and he immediately placed the straw in his mouth.
"DoctorFraiser warns that you only take the liquid in small increments."
Daniel spit the straw out after wetting his mouth. "I know." He took another mouthful and swirled it in his mouth before swallowing. "I remember." He resisted the urge to gulp the whole glass down and settled for another sip before resting the glass against his thigh. "So, did you get Challa home safely?"
"I did. We met with several of her people who were extremely relieved to find her and her daughter well. We have spoken of the recent occurrences and they will spread the word. I believe they may be inclined to relocate."
Daniel grinned. "That's great. And Tuplo said he'd be happy to have them as neighbours if they wanted to stay."
"O'Neill and MajorCarter have informed me of this possibility. Hopefully we shall be hearing from Challa within a few days. It will take time to spread the word."
"Speaking of... I haven't seen Sam since I woke up. Is she... okay?"
"MajorCarter sat with you just recently. She left with the colonel to get some sustenance before attending a meeting. She will regret not being able to speak with you."
"She's not coming back?"
"Perhaps. She did not say."
"So Jack's at that meeting, too?" Daniel twirled the straw in the water and took another sip.
Daniel's stomach rumbled, surprising him. He drank a little more water, which only served to remind his stomach that it was finally happy to have something inside it. Although he knew by rote that that wouldn't happen before tomorrow. Tonight, he was looking forward to probably broth, juice and Jello. Oh joy.
Teal'c stayed until a nurse came by with a razor and basin of water. The promised bath and shave.
"Thanks for coming," Daniel said as Teal'c moved aside and allowed the nurse to approach.
"I will return later, if you would like."
"Yeah, I would. Thanks." Daniel watched Teal'c leave the infirmary, then turned and smiled at the nurse.
"We'll get this done quickly and then we can start your nebulizer treatments," she said with an answering smile. Daniel nodded as she pulled the privacy curtain around the bed. He held back a grimace as she pulled the blanket away and removed his hospital gown. God, he hated the discomfiture of all of this.
- - - - - -
"Well, here we are," Jack stated needlessly as he pulled the Avalanche into his driveway. "Thai sound good to you?"
"What?" Daniel had turned to push the door open and froze, looking at Jack in confusion.
"Supper. I thought we could share some shrimp Pad Thai or some of that soup you like."
"Sure. Whatever." The enthusiasm Daniel had been spouting at the anticipation of leaving the infirmary had disappeared the moment he'd gotten into the truck. Jack had seen through the act; he was surprised Fraiser hadn't. Then again, she probably wouldn't have let Daniel leave if he wasn't ready to.
Daniel slid out of the cab and slowly made his way to the house. Jack stood leaning against the Avalanche and watched Daniel for a moment. Even though Fraiser had just released him, he was still suffering from lethargy, a nagging cough and had little appetite.
Jack slammed the door shut and hurried after Daniel, reaching him just as Daniel stuck his key into the lock. They entered and while Jack made for the phone, Daniel headed for the bedroom.
"You want anything else with supper?"
"No, noodles are fine. I'm going to take a shower."
Jack made the call to the local Thai place as he followed Daniel into the bedroom. He knew exactly how Daniel felt; the first thing he usually did upon getting home after a prolonged stay in the infirmary was wash the smell from his body.
Jack gave the order and hung up the phone, then pulled back the blankets, exposing the fresh sheets he'd put on the bed earlier that morning. Then he went back to the den and took out the selection of DVDs he'd bought and placed those on the coffee table, within easy reach. He double checked the magazines and novels he thought Daniel might enjoy reading, left a few in the den and brought the rest to the bedroom.
By the time he laid out fresh clothes, Daniel exited the shower and walked into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around his waist and was rubbing at his hair with another.
"Food'll be here in a few. Wanna eat at the table or maybe go watch a movie while eating?"
"Whatever." Daniel dropped the towel and began threading the sweats up his legs. Jack swallowed at the sight of Daniel's naked butt and licked his lips.
Daniel straightened and sat down tiredly on the bed. Daniel's fatigue quickly put a stop to Jack's lascivious thoughts. Jack sat down beside him and ran a hand over the still-damp shoulders and back.
"Would you rather just eat in bed?"
Daniel shook his head tiredly. "How about in the backyard, at the picnic table? We could watch the sun set..."
"You got it. You just finish getting dressed and—"
The doorbell interrupted and Jack stood, shoving Daniel's sweat shirt into his arms. "Go on outside, I'll get the eats."
Jack paid for the food and stopped in the kitchen for utensils and met Daniel by the picnic table. He took the containers out and removed the covers. The scent of the lightly-spiced noodles wafted in Jack's direction and his stomach grumbled.
He sat and handed Daniel a fork and some napkins. Jack dug in, well aware of Daniel's lack of appetite. By the time Jack finished eating, Daniel had barely made a dent in the pile of noodles. Still, he'd eaten more tonight than he had all day.
Jack brought the dishes back inside before the flies made an appearance, and came back out with a bag of cookies that Carter had left him for Daniel. He was rewarded with a smile as Daniel accepted one of the cookies; despite his lousy appetite, he always seemed to find room for Carter's offerings.
They sat in silence, watching the sky darken and the sunset color the sky. It wasn't very spectacular and soon the light orangey cast dissipated as the wind began to pick up.
"Wanna watch a movie?"
"Sure." Daniel stood and opened the door, and Jack took the opportunity to lock up so he wouldn't have to bother before bed. By the time he got to the den, Daniel was sprawled on the couch, shoes kicked off and feet resting on the coffee table. Jack took the other side of the couch and imitated him.
There was a DVD in the player already and Daniel was waiting for Jack with the remote. He settled down to watch, but he was more aware of the man sitting just two feet from him than the action before him.
He watched Daniel instead, and after a short time, realized that Daniel wasn't paying attention to the television. His gaze was set a few inches to the left, and he seemed lost in thought.
"Penny for your thoughts."
"The movie's not that interesting?" Jack waved to the television.
"No, I'm just tired." He pulled his feet off the coffee table and straightened. "I think I'm gonna go to bed."
"Want company?" Jack asked, not sure exactly how worn out Daniel might be.
"Nah. You stay and enjoy the show." Daniel got up, leaned over Jack and gave him a chaste kiss. "Night."
"Sleep well," Jack answered. He watched as Daniel left the room, aware of the circles beneath his eyes. Today was the fifth day after Daniel had been taken off the vent and he seemed slow in recovering. Fraiser had assured Jack that he'd be tired for a few more days, but seeing Daniel this sluggish was painful.
Jack forced himself to sit through the most of the movie, sure that Daniel wanted to get back into a routine. Still, barely halfway through he began fast forwarding, stopping only at the action scenes, and finished the remainder of the movie in fifteen minutes. He shut everything off and went up to bed.
Daniel was curled up on his side of the bed, fast asleep. Jack took a quick shower and grabbed last night's sweats, drying off quickly before putting them on. He slid into bed and moved close to Daniel, planning to curl up behind him. To his surprise, Daniel chose that moment to turn, facing him.
He shoved one leg between Jack's and draped an arm heavily over Jack's chest. He snuggled his face into the hollow between Jack's neck and shoulder. "You're wet," he complained sleepily as he snuggled against Jack.
Daniel didn't answer; he simply shifted slightly to make himself more comfortable. Jack held the warm body in his arms and kissed the tempting brow. His bed had felt empty the past four nights; now it felt just right.
- - - - - -
Jack reached for the bags containing the Mexican food and shut the door of his truck. He skirted Carter's small car and made his way towards the back of the house. Even from the front he could hear Daniel and Carter's laughter.
He couldn't help but smile; it was good to hear Daniel laugh. Even though Daniel was going back to the base tomorrow for a follow-up check up which hopefully would allow him back on duty, it had taken Daniel another couple of days to start getting his strength and energy back. This morning he'd seemed his normal self, even surprising Jack by following him into the shower and thus making him late for work.
"I hope that's not me you're making fun of," Jack stated as he rounded the corner. Daniel was sitting at the picnic table, a dozen photos spread over the table before him. Carter was leaning over the table, pointing to something in one of the photos, their two heads close together. Two sets of blue eyes looked up at him, both of them shining with happiness.
"Colonel." Carter straightened as Jack came up the steps to the deck. He glanced at the photos and saw they were those the UAV had taken of P3N 993 earlier this morning. The new home waiting for Challa and her people.
"So this is where you snuck off to." Jack glanced at Carter as he pushed some of the pictures aside to make room for their supper.
"I did inform you I was leaving early, sir." She looked a little ill at ease and Jack couldn't help but tease her for it.
"Carter, when have you ever left early? I thought early to you meant sometime before nine."
"Well, normally it does, but I wanted to make sure I caught you before you went to bed."
Daniel burst out laughing and Jack smiled.
"Good one, Carter."
"Actually, we were talking about you." Daniel took one of the photos from the pack and pushed it in front of Jack. "See, there's a lake here and we were just saying it's a great spot to go fishing."
Jack peered at the photo; its beauty hadn't been lost on him the first time he'd seen the UAV's telemetry.
"Probably doesn't have fish in it," he said, pretending to dismiss it. "Carter, you're gonna stay for supper." He pushed the bag towards her. "There's more than enough here for three." He walked towards the door, waving his fingers at the near empty beer bottles. "You guys want more brewskies?"
"I wouldn't want to impose," she said, a hopeful look on her face.
"Don't be silly, Sam," Daniel said as he picked the photos up and stacked them neatly against the table. "And yeah, Jack, we'll take another." He lifted his bottle and drained it, then reached over and handed the empty to Jack. He waited for Carter to finish hers and then got three fresh beers from the fridge. The food had been removed from the bag and divided by the time he joined them.
"So, Daniel. What do you think of P3N 339?"
"993," Carter corrected.
"You said 339. It's 993."
"Okay." Jack took a swallow of beer. "What do you think of Challa's new home?"
"It's really nice. I'm sure if they decide to relocate, they'll be happy there."
"Then consider them happy."
Jack raised his eyebrows at both Daniel and Carter's looks of shock as he took a bite of his burrito. Daniel's astonishment quickly changed to joy. "That's great."
"When did this happen, sir?"
"Just after you left. That's why I went looking for you. Tuplo contacted us to inform us that the exodus has begun. They expect that all of Challa's people will have gone through the Stargate by the end of the week."
"And who'll be—"
"SG-1, considering two of the team already speak the language. Teal'c's already gone to the Land of Light to help with translations. Hammond's got us scheduled to 'gate over the day after tomorrow. So, Dannyboy, you better pass Fraiser's physical tomorrow or else."
"Piece of cake." Daniel shovelled some refried beans into his mouth and studied the pictures.
"I sure hope so. 'Cause I'm not in the mood to be playing charades over there."
"You didn't do too badly the first time."
"Yeah, well... I'd rather not have had to the first time." He swallowed some more beer and busied himself with eating, trying not to remember Daniel sick and helpless thanks to the poisoned knife.
"So they're not going to stay with Tuplo?"
"According to Teal'c, they appreciate the offer to stay in the Land of Light but they already shared land with one people, and it backfired on them so they'd much rather have their own little stake."
"I guess I can understand that."
They finished their meal, discussing the merits of the new planet. Jack watched Daniel, who was looking healthy with only an occasional recurrence of a cough. He didn't think Fraiser would have any problems clearing Daniel for work, and the upcoming mission would be a walk in the park.
He smiled, then burped loudly. It was good having his routine back to normal.
- - - - - -
A small body left the group who had been waiting for them beside the Stargate. Even in the blue glow of the still-active wormhole, he recognized Jeena as she shot towards him. He grabbed her up and swung her around, then settled her in his arms as the Stargate deactivated.
"Welcome," Tuplo said, stepping front and center. There were torches set around the clearing, illuminating the area.
Daniel immediately stepped off the dais and went to Challa. The woman smiled at Daniel as she handed her son over to another woman who looked vaguely familiar. It took Jack a moment to realize she was one of the four he'd seen in the valley when he'd gone berry picking with Jeena.
Jack looked over the hundred or so watching him and his team anxiously. There were packs and supplies stacked everywhere; it looked like they were ready to roll.
"Daniel, we good to go?"
Daniel flashed Jack a smile. "They're more than ready." He strode up to the DHD and began punching in the glyphs for the new home world.
"Teal'c, you and I can go first. Daniel, you and Carter make sure everything goes smoothly on this end."
Jack took a step towards the fluctuating wormhole, then waited for Challa and her family to join him. He took the final step through, and blinked when bright daylight assailed his eyes.
Challa appeared right behind him, immediately raising a hand to shield her eyes. She looked around then smiled in embarrassment as Jack pulled her forward to stop her from blocking the others coming through behind her. She took a deep breath, and looked at Jack.
"Sank yew," she said seriously.
"You're welcome." Jack put Jeena down and grabbed his sunglasses and put them on. He waved the people forward. "Welcome to your new home."
The lake from the photo lay before them in wondrous glory. Jack smiled to himself as he anticipated teaching the little girl staring down in awe how to use the fishing rod he'd packed in his bag.
Author's Comments: Many thanks to Jmas, for trusting in me and publishing this story in her E-zine 'Ancients Gate VII - Ancient of Days'
If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:
And HUGS to the sisters of my heart, who always keep me in check
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