In Search of a Dhingleby JoaG Manips by JoaG
Not sure if the warning was meant for him, Jack threw caution to the wind and jumped his captor anyway. When no shots or blows followed, he figured Daniel's warning had been meant for either Carter or Teal'c.
His tackle forced his opponent to the floor and Jack followed him down, ending the tussle with a well-placed blow to the temple. A moment later, the whine of an energy weapon filled the room.
Jack ducked out of reflex, then quickly looked at who was firing the weapon. A large bounty hunter wannabe was now aiming his weapon at Daniel, who had his hands full trying to keep a knife away from his throat from yet another aggressor.
Before Jack could get to his feet, Teal'c stepped over to the armed captor and with a quick twist, broke his neck.
Three down, counting the first guy Teal'c had taken out.
He heard a grunt of pain and saw Carter's opponent go down as well.
Four down. That only left Daniel's guy. This escape was looking better all the time.
Moving quickly, Teal'c plucked the knife out of the burly guy's hand while Carter kicked him in a place where the sun don't shine. One kick, two kicks, and that made five. Unconscious bounty hunters, that is.
Okay, things were looking up now.
Plan A – lure one big burly captor into cell and break free - deployed and executed.
Plan B – take out the rest of the bad guys - check.
Plan C – take control of the ship and fly back to the planet where they'd been captured - in progress.
Jack took a moment to gloat – when the going got tough, SG-1 got tougher. He rubbed his hands together in satisfaction, feeling the knuckles of his right hand already beginning to swell.
"Thanks, guys." Daniel touched his throat and to Jack's horror, spread a long bloody smear along the skin. Daniel must have noticed the wetness because he looked at his fingers and frowned at the sight of the blood on them.
Jack hurried over and without a word, tipped Daniel's head back, exposing his throat. He could feel Daniel's warm breath on his face as he wiped his thumb over the area. To his relief, the knife had only made a small nick in the skin. He pressed against it and saw that it wasn't bleeding much.
"It's nothing. You've cut yourself worse while shaving."
He lowered his hand, only to have Daniel take hold of it and stare at the bruised knuckles. "I'd kiss it better, but Sam and Teal'c would probably think I'm giving you special favors."
Jack couldn't help but smile. "But you are giving me—"
The ship gave a sudden, telltale lurch as the engines changed pitch, throwing them out of hyperspace.
"Sir, we have a problem."
"Crap." Something told him that Plan C wasn't going to be executed as flawlessly as he'd hoped. He hurried into the cockpit, where Carter was sitting at the controls. As always, the sight of space was distractingly beautiful; the planet to their right and her two moons would have been something to stare at for hours had he had the time for it.
"The weapon discharged into the main console. We've lost the controls to the hyperspace engines and life support."
"If we're lucky, thirty minutes." Carter punched a few buttons and nothing happened. She hit the series of buttons again and smacked the console with the palm of her hand and the ship turned sluggishly towards the planet. "We're caught in the planet's gravitational pull. Sir, if you'd take over, I'll go see if I can rewire some of these controls. At this rate we'll end up crashing into the planet before we can get the engines to reverse."
"Um, right." Jack slid into the chair and looked over the controls. They looked easy enough to figure out, even if the writing next to each button was in a language he'd never set eyes on before. Still, it'd be safe to actually know which button did what before he started punching haphazardly.
"That one's right, that one's left." Daniel leaned over Jack and pointed out the two buttons, which had little arrows pointing right and left next to each one beside the script.
"Thanks, I sort of figured those by myself." Jack waited for Daniel to have a heyday explaining the rest of the console. And waited. He looked over at Daniel, expecting to see him reading the lettering; instead Daniel was staring out the window.
"So, what'd the other things say?"
"What?" Daniel raised his eyebrows, dislodging his glasses slightly in doing so. He shrugged. "I don't know, I can't read the writing."
"Hey, you're the linguist. You should be able to translate this stuff for me."
"In fifteen minutes? At the speed we're heading for that planet, we'll be at the bottom of a newly dug crater."
"Our prisoners have been secured. Do you wish me to fly the ship, O'Neill?"
Jack popped out of the chair so fast, he nearly bowled Daniel over. "Yeah, sure, go ahead. I'll see if I can give Carter a hand. Or something," he amended quickly when Carter stuck her head up from inside the console she was half buried inside of.
oo~O~oo "Try it now." Carter's voice was almost frantic despite her controlled movements as she continued to fiddle within the guts of the machinery.
"There is still no change." Teal'c, eyes glued to the instrumentation as he punched buttons, didn't seem to be aware of the fact that the planet was growing steadily bigger and bigger with every passing second. "Our velocity has not diminished."
"Look. How about we turn the ship and try something else?" Jack could feel the nervous sweat beginning to drip beneath his armpits and down his back. "Aren't there thrusters or something we could use?"
"I have attempted that already. The controls no longer respond."
"Try it again," Carter yelled, this time pulling out of the console and looking up towards the view port. There was a smear of grease along her cheek and bits of dust and wiring in her hair.
This time when Teal'c touched the console, the whine of the engines changed pitch and the ship lurched heavily.
"The engines are slowing but our descent is too rapid. I am still unable to change our trajectory."
"Okay, how about if I—" Carter disappeared again inside the console. A moment later the ship pitched again, and despite the fact that land was approaching fast, they were definitely slowing. "Okay, now if I try this—" The ship's engines began to vibrate but they slowed down even more. "—And convert power to the shields. That should... There."
"Hang on." Jack hurried over to Carter and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her out of the console. "Grab onto something. We're going to hit—"
"Jack, the prisoners. They won't have a chance, tied up and—" Daniel was running for the door and Jack let go of Carter and quickly headed him off.
"No time." With a desperate glance at the trees nearly upon them, Jack grabbed Daniel and pushed him against the small balustrade separating the cockpit from the machinery behind them. He anchored them both against it and covered Daniel with his body.
Then everything went dark.
Daniel heard Teal'c's voice from far away, calling through a tunnel. When Jack didn't answer, Daniel fought to open his eyes, but the effort was too great. Teal'c's voice called again, fading to nothing as the tunnel got longer and deeper.
oo~O~oo "Daniel. C'mon, wake up."
Jack's voice pulled Daniel out of the darkness but it was the touch to his cheek that gave him the incentive to open his eyes, fighting the pain in his head.
The room was dark, illuminated solely by a streak of sunlight coming through a corner of a ship's view port. He squinted at Jack, whose face was partly in shadow. His vision was off; not quite blurry but slightly out of focus. There was a glint of something dark and shiny along the side of Jack's face, starting from his temple and running down into his collar.
"What..." His tongue felt swollen inside his mouth, saliva thick and pasty. He tried again. "What happened?"
"Ship crashed. Carter got the shields in place so we didn't quite break apart, but..."
Daniel let his eyes slide shut, trying to remember. Bounty hunters, a ship... taken prisoner... escaping... the planet coming fast... he didn't remember the crash, though, for which he was particularly grateful.
"Carter's got a busted arm and a good knock to the noggin, same as me 'n you." Jack pointed a finger towards his blood-smeared temple. "Teal'c's fine - plenty of bruises all around but you're the one who's the worst off."
"Me?" From the pounding in his head, Daniel couldn't figure what could hurt more. He tried paying attention to the rest of his body, shifting around and tensing fingers, hands, feet – and nearly screamed from the pain that erupted in his right calf.
Jack didn't have to worry, Daniel definitely wasn't going to try moving around again. He panted through the agony, his breathing finally slowing as the fire in his leg eased to a resounding throb.
"You got a piece of metal in your leg. We're gonna pull it out in a minute; we're waiting on Teal'c to get our packs and our first aid kit first."
Daniel nodded, tensing against the slowly encroaching grayness at the edges of his vision and slight whining in his ears. He took a deep breath, feeling his back and chest twinge with unknown aches and strains.
"I'm sorry, sir, the onboard computer's offline. I have no idea what planet we crashed on. Not that it would make any difference; this ship won't be taking off again anytime soon without major repairs."
"What about Stargates?" Daniel turned his head towards Sam's voice. There was a bit of a glow behind some machinery where he presumed Sam was. A moment later, her upper body popped up, the flashlight she held making the room dance sickeningly with shadows.
"I'm sorry, Daniel. We didn't get a chance to search the computer's database before we crashed."
Daniel nodded, letting his eyes close as the whining got louder. He drifted for a while; Sam and Jack's voices slowly meshing into background noises rather than intelligible sounds.
A persistent tapping against his cheek finally got his attention and he jerked his head aside in irritation.
"Daniel, we're going to pull the metal from your leg. Brace yourself."
Someone put their hand on his leg, just below his knee. "What?"
Before he could lift his head to see what was going on, Jack pushed against his shoulders, pinning him to the ground. He gasped as he felt a searing pain in his leg. Then there was a heavy pressure against the agony, the action causing the pain to continue rather than abate.
"Okay, it's over." Jack eased his hold, giving Daniel's right shoulder a gentle rub before peering at his leg. He picked something up and held it up for Daniel to see. It was a long, thin piece of metal, about a half inch wide and several inches in length, with blood staining a portion of it.
"Can you move your foot, DanielJackson?"
With Teal'c still pressing down on his calf, Daniel wiggled his toes within his boot, then slowly rotated his ankle.
"It is merely a flesh wound. There does not appear to be any serious damage."
"Hurts like hell for a mere flesh wound," Daniel muttered under his breath as Sam knelt at his feet beside Teal'c. Slowly Teal'c released the pressure for a moment and all of them peered at his leg.
"Good, the bleeding's slowing down. It doesn't look like you nicked an artery." Sam flashed him a lopsided smile; her cheekbone and forehead were already showing signs of discoloring, and her arm was in a sling. Daniel wondered lethargically how long he'd been unconscious if they'd had the time to set her broken arm.
Fighting eyelids that seemed heavier than normal, Daniel tried to ignore the constant pain from the pressure Teal'c maintained on his leg. Trying to stay focused, he watched as Sam got up and went to look out the view port. After a moment, Jack went to stand next to her. His vision blurred as fatigue slowly crept over him.
oo~O~oo Carter looked exhausted. All of them were pretty much battered but her movements were slow and sluggish. Jack wondered if maybe the concussion she'd suffered was worse than she was letting on. He looked around at the singed console behind them and put a niggling thought into words.
"Is there any kind of scanner on the ship's computer? Anything we can use to try and see if there's a Stargate on this planet?"
"Why would you think there'd be a Stargate here, sir? The odds of actually crashing on a planet that has one would not only be astronomical—"
"The odds of our crashing on a planet that can support life is a miracle in itself. Look out there, Carter. What do you see?"
Jack motioned towards the view port in exasperation. It was so clear to him, why wasn't Carter figuring it out? "What do you see?"
She rubbed her face, then winced as she took in the vista beyond the debris-covered view port. "Trees, sir," she finally said with a shrug of a shoulder.
Worried that Carter was so slow only uptake, Jack cast a quick glance back towards Teal'c and Daniel. Teal'c was staring at Carter while Daniel was... sleeping. Damn. "Exactly," Jack said with feigned enthusiasm, punching a fist towards the view port.
"But what does that have to do with a Stargate?"
"The Ancients made sure all the planets they fixed with a Stargate could support life, right? And for the most part, almost all the planets we've 'gated to look the same." Jack paused a moment, giving her a chance to catch up on his idea. When she stared at him with an unfocused gaze, he continued. "And so, considering that outside looks pretty much like Earth, it stands to reason that the Ancients have visited this planet. And left a Stargate as a calling card?"
Understanding finally lit within Carter's eyes. Earlier she'd slumped against a piece of machinery, but as she straightened with a bit of renewed energy, she staggered suddenly. Jack grabbed for her and felt his own equilibrium go off kilter.
"Sir, there's something... we need to get out... into fresh air. There must be... a leak of some kind..."
"O'Neill. DanielJackson is unresponsive."
Jack turned and started moving towards Teal'c and Daniel, but the quick movement triggered a bout of dizziness. He lurched sideways, caught himself with a curse and realized they had one option left to them. "Teal'c, we gotta get those doors clear."
Teal'c stood and wobbled a moment before straightening. The look of surprise on his face was actually more frightening than not knowing what the effects of this gas would do to them.
"Colonel, get Daniel up off the floor. Whatever this is, it's heavier than air so it's more concentrated at floor level."
With a grunt, Jack and Teal'c got hold of Daniel's limp and uncooperative body and dragged him to the pilot's chair. As Carter supported Daniel's head, Jack headed for the hatch. "Let's get this debris cleared so we can get fresh air in here."
An earlier attempt at opening the hatch had been unsuccessful. Dirt and debris blocked the exit and Jack had been more concerned at the time in his team's welfare than seeing what was outside. Teal'c, armed with a long, metal pole, began shoving it through the piled soil. Jack grabbed a flat piece of metal and began digging next to the spot Teal'c was working on.
Before long they had an impressive pile of dirt on the floor and a small pinprick of daylight to show for their efforts. "Carter? How're you holding up?" Jack hadn't heard any telltale thuds so he figured she was still conscious and on her feet.
"A little dizzy and wobbly, sir, but that may just be due to my headache."
A puff of wind blew through the hole; the scent of freshly dug soil and fir trees filled the immediate area. Jack felt a little better, and attacked the dirt with renewed vigor.
"There's no change but his pulse is strong."
Twenty minutes later, the cleared space was big enough to drag Daniel through. It took a bit of maneuvering and a lot of brute strength to get him not only through the hole but over the furrow the ship created when it crashed into the hillside.
Teal'c stopped beneath the shade of a large tree and they put Daniel down. Once they'd eased him into the recovery position, Jack took a look around. They were on a plateau, halfway up the gentle slope of a mountain, with a forest descending towards a lush valley below. A long, deep furrow in the earth, starting from the rear of the ship, ran nearly a quarter mile uphill, disappearing into yet another copse of forest.
"We must retrieve supplies immediately, before the ship is no longer habitable."
Carter reached for Teal'c as he turned to go back to the ship. "Teal'c, we don't know how bad the air is deeper inside the ship. There's no ventilation; if the gas has permeated throughout the ship—"
"Thus necessitating all haste in salvaging what we can."
"I'll go with you. Carter, you stay with Daniel."
Jack hurried as fast as his bruised body would allow, envying Teal'c his ease as his Junior-healed body showed no signs of stiffness or pain. He entered the gloomy dungeon of the ship and immediately felt the effects of the gas. Lightheaded, he caught the edge of a piece of machinery so he wouldn't keel over.
Teal'c stepped into the hallway while Jack stuffed the first aid kit into one of their packs.
"The air is markedly worse deeper inside the ship, O'Neill. I would suggest you go no further."
"Teal'c, maybe you shouldn't—"
"My symbiote protects me. I am in no danger." His voice faded as the corridor curved.
"Make it fast," Jack yelled. The ship wasn't big, comprising of a small storeroom that had been their brig, tight living quarters and an even tinier mess hall, the engine room and the bridge.
He searched the bridge, making frequent trips to the open hatch and breathing in the fresh air. He found a small hatchet, a coil of rope and a small toolbox under one of the chairs. Those he tossed out next to the packs.
Jack suddenly remembered their captors. He felt a little guilty at having forgotten them for this long, but then again, if they hadn't taken SG-1 prisoner, none of them would have been in this situation to start with.
He took a deep breath and called out loudly down the corridor. "T, the prisoners—"
"Dead," Teal'c proclaimed, entering the room with an armful of blankets and some of the contents of their packs, scrounged by their captors. "The gas has flooded the entire ship." He tossed the bedding outside and returned the way he had come.
Teal'c made several trips, returning with the rest of their gear and four thin mattresses that they could easily carry rolled up. By the time Teal'c returned with a bundle of foodstuffs, Jack had been forced to leave the confines of the ship. Still seeing spots before his eyes, he slowly gathered their weapons and packs, saying nothing as Teal'c staggered several steps and stopped, leaning his hands on his knees and taking deep, gulping breaths of air.
Jack dropped the weapons next to Carter and Daniel, stopping only to ruffle Daniel's hair. He was grateful to see Daniel was awake and sitting up, even if his eyes were bloodshot and looked hung over. He let Teal'c drag the rest of the supplies over; he picked up the hatchet and went looking for branches. Carter's broken arm had been immobilized but she'd need to have a more permanent fix if she was to have some semblance of comfort. Because it sure as heck looked like they were here for the long haul.
oo~O~oo Daniel wanted to curse his lethargy, but that would have taken a modicum of energy and he couldn't really spare any at all. He felt useless sitting, leaning tiredly against a tree, a wasted piece of baggage that was more worthless than any of the items Jack and Teal'c had pulled out of the ship. The least he could have done was offer to whittle the sticks Jack found to set Sam's arm but the way his hands were shaking, the last thing he needed was to have something sharp anywhere near them.
The Advil wasn't doing much for his headache, either. Or for the nausea and dizziness. He considered himself lucky that the pills and the sip of water he'd taken hadn't made a quick exit, although for a few minutes it had been close. Hell, if he was going to feel this bad, the least he could have were scraps of memories of the good times that had led to the hangover. And a kidnap attempt followed by a ship crashing on a planet didn't quite measure up to a good time.
He opened his eyes and saw that Sam was watching him. He gave her a weak smile, knowing it probably looked forced. He shifted his gaze and looked over her shoulder, down the mountain, trying to see if he could spot Teal'c, who'd gone to check out the immediate area. He waited for his vision to adjust but couldn't make out any signs of movement before his vision blurred again.
Daniel moved his head fractionally to avoid aggravating his headache, to see Jack holding out an MRE.
"You've got to be kidding," Daniel said through clenched teeth. Hadn't the gagging sounds he'd made earlier been a tip-off that food wasn't something he was ready for yet?
"You need to eat, and you need something in your stomach before you try and take antibiotics."
"Why would I need...? Oh." Daniel glanced at his bandaged calf and took a controlled deep breath. "Later." He went to wave the offered food away but he caught a whiff of the chicken salsa and quickly put a hand up to his mouth as the nausea threatened to spill over.
"Maybe some crackers, sir?" Sam made a face as she took an MRE from where she'd set it to heat in the sun. "They might be easier on his stomach."
Daniel accepted the pack of crackers from Sam and struggled with the packing. Finally he grabbed a corner with his teeth and tore it. When she held up the small packet of peanut butter, he shook his head as he brought one cracker to his mouth and took a tiny bite. Chewing the dry saltine far longer than necessary, Daniel tried to put off swallowing for as long as he could. Finally, his mouth full of pasty saliva, he swallowed. And waited. When his stomach didn't complain overmuch, he took another bite and chewed slowly until he'd eaten all two pieces.
"You still need to take the antibiotics, Daniel." Jack handed him another pack of crackers and the peanut butter he'd refused earlier. With a sigh, Daniel spread a dab of the gluey stuff on a corner of the cracker and took a bite. The moment the flavor hit his taste buds, he knew it was a mistake and he spit it out, breathing deeply as he waited for the nausea to subside. He avoided looking at Sam and Jack, who were eating their MREs, even if it was with less gusto than usual.
"Thanks," he said when Sam handed him her canteen. He rinsed his mouth and took a cautious nibble of plain cracker. He managed to swallow but knew he'd end up being sick if he ate more. Dessert was the pill Jack handed him, and he followed that with a chaser of gum to rid himself of the sickening taste of peanut butter in his mouth. "Sam, can we fix the ship?" He pursed his lips and looked away when Sam slowly shook her head.
"There was too much damage even before we crashed. The engines are still operational but the controls are fried. Plus there's that gas leak—"
"We'd need environmental suits to get back into that ship for any periods of time." Jack, who'd been crouching next to Daniel, suddenly stood and shielded his eyes from the sun. A moment later, he reached for his radio. "T, find anything out there?"
Teal'c's voice, tinny but clear, came through the radio in Jack's vest. "Indeed. The planet appears to be inhabited. I have discovered a path which leads into the valley below. It is not well traveled but there are clear signs that humans have passed through as recently as several days ago."
"Understood." Jack shifted and reached for his weapon in the cache they'd brought from the ship, clicking it onto his vest in one smooth movement. The sun, low in the sky, reflected brightly on the metal. "This puts a slightly different take on things." He handed Carter her handgun, and shoved Daniel's back into its holster. "Maybe we'll get lucky and these people will know where the Stargate is."
"S... stargate?" Daniel turned to Jack, aware that his heart had begun beating too fast in anticipation, making his head pound harder with each beat.
"Colonel, we don't know for sure, and even if there is a Stargate here, we don't know if it's even on this side of the planet."
"There're folks here. If they're low-tech, chances are the population didn't move that far away from the 'gate."
"Sir, human civilizations had spread throughout Earth during Ra's time—"
"Sam's right, Jack." Daniel felt weak with disappointment, even though his heart was still racing and his head thumping right along with it. "The Goa'uld have ruled for centuries. Even if the people here didn't advance technologically..." He stuttered on the word, hearing himself slurring slightly as he corrected himself... "Any more than the people of Abydos, they must have boats. I saw oceans as we came through the atmosphere. The Stargate could be on another continent—"
"If there even is a Stargate."
"We'll cross that bridge when we meet someone. In the meantime, we'll camp here tonight. We'll need to do something about that ship... if we can't air it out properly, then we'll need to lock those doors, make sure nobody comes across it and asphyxiates inside."
"What about the bodies? Should we bury them?"
"Bodies?" Daniel squinted at Sam, the setting sun shining directly into his eyes. "What bodies?" He cursed his headache, realizing that pain and the lingering effects of the gas were making his thought processes exceedingly slow.
"The guys who captured us, Daniel. They... didn't make it."
Daniel closed his eyes against the glare, and the pain he felt at the loss of life. "Was it the crash, or the gas?" he asked after a moment, knowing that the answer Jack gave him could possibly turn into an argument between them. Not that he wanted a fight, but there were times he and Jack looked at loss of life from totally different points of views.
"I'm not sure. I think most likely, both." Jack was watching him warily, as if aware of what Daniel was thinking.
Holding Jack's gaze a long moment, he decided Jack was telling the truth. The men had been locked up in a small room and had probably been thrown violently around during the crash. And Jack's priority had been to get his team out first... "Are we going to bury them?"
"It depends. If the conditions in the ship improve by morning, we'll see. But I'm not risking Teal'c going inside to get them out."
"Okay," Daniel said softly. He shivered as a light wind blew cool, moist air over him. The temperature seemed to have dipped several degrees along with the sun.
"Looks like we're going to have a chilly night. I think we better double up to stay warm. Carter, you up to setting up camp?"
"Yes, sir." She adjusted the sling around her broken arm and shifted to her knees, getting up slowly and awkwardly.
"I'll get the firewood. Teal'c got some food out of the ship so we'll need to take stock and see how soon we can move out."
"I can do that, Jack." He'd rather lie down and rest but he needed to prove to both himself, and Jack, that he could carry his weight and not be a liability.
Without a word, Jack dragged the large backpack over to Daniel. He shifted so he could start digging through the stuff and began to systematically remove and catalogue the contents.
By the time Daniel finished, the sun had set and it had definitely gotten downright chilly. Teal'c had returned and had helped Sam set up the mattresses next to the fire. Daniel was working by the light of the fire, and had several piles of foodstuffs around him. "Well, looks like we won't go hungry for a while." He gave Teal'c a quick smile. "I didn't know the Goa'uld had MREs."
"They do not." Teal'c looked at the piles with disdain, raising an eyebrow when Daniel picked up a packet, squishy to the touch.
"This is written in Goa'uld." He held up the writing towards Teal'c.
"What is it?" Jack asked, leaning over and grabbing one of the packets from the pile.
"I have no idea. I think it's stewed kal'eni."
"And that would be..." Jack tossed the packet back onto the pile after having mashed it together between his fingers, and picked up another one.
"I have no idea." Daniel looked to Teal'c, hopeful that he knew what the food was.
"It is not a food known to the Goa'uld or Jaffa."
"Okay, how about..." Daniel tilted the package to better read the writing. "...Ito'dor'i?"
Teal'c shook his head slowly as Daniel made a face. He picked up yet another packet, this one feeling more solid beneath his fingers. "Okay, lal'lan tar?"
"I do not recognize any of these names."
"You're making those up."
"No, Jack, I'm reading the names that someone else made up." He tossed the packet back onto the pile. "In any case, if all of these are main meals, then we've got enough to keep us going for at least four weeks. Assuming these are similar to MREs, then I'd guess some of these are the main servings, and others dessert, and others side dishes. So under that assumption, we've got at least two week's worth of food here, plus our own MREs. If we ration this out, we could go six weeks. And that's assuming, of course, that the stuff is edible and is actually food, and not lube for the engines."
"I guess we'll have to give the stuff a taste test tomorrow."
Daniel began stuffing the packages back into the backpack, secretly hoping his nausea continued well into tomorrow so he wouldn't have to take part in the taste-testing scenario. "Maybe we can find some fruits or vegetables to supplement our meals." He tossed the last of the lal'lan tar into the pack and pushed the bag aside.
"Colonel, we don't know what's safe to eat—"
"We'll use standard precautions. We'll probably have plenty of time to test stuff out." Jack grabbed the pack and walked over to a tree a fair distance from the camp. With a rope he'd already secured to a branch high up, Jack raised the food out of reach of hopefully human and animal predators.
Standard precautions meant that whatever foods they found would take weeks before finding their way into their diet, if at all. Hopefully they'd meet up with people before then. Jack was right; if there were humans on this planet, there also had to be a Stargate. Then again, maybe they were humanoids, and not humans per se... Although any type of intelligent life increased their chances that the Ancients had deemed the planet worthy enough for a 'gate.
Daniel pulled his flimsy blanket up over his legs and stretched back against the tree. The mattress he was sitting on was thin and lumpy, but it was better than sitting on the ground . When Teal'c tossed a log onto the fire, sparks flew up into the air, illuminating the area brightly for a few seconds. Everyone except Teal'c looked exhausted and battered; it wasn't only the bruises, it was the slump of shoulders and head.
"I think it's time to call it a night. We'll do standard watches. Daniel, you up to taking last shift?"
"Yeah. Not a problem." He nodded gratefully at Jack, who was allowing him the luxury of getting uninterrupted sleep for the majority of the night. Normally Jack reserved that for himself. Daniel slid lower onto the mattress and pulled the blanket up over his shoulders.
"I will take first and second watch. We do not yet know the length of the night here and it will allow you all to get adequate rest should the nights be longer than anticipated."
Jack didn't reply as he slid down behind Daniel while Sam lay down in front of him. Their body heat was welcome; the blankets were thin and truly didn't do much against the cold. Maybe once they were down in the valley, the temperatures would be a little more comfortable.
oo~O~oo Lingering fatigue and a stubborn headache made it mighty tempting to empty his P-90 into the trees and end the damned birds' constant twittering. The high-pitched screeches and squawks felt like sharp needles puncturing his brain.
Jack knew he would have to force himself up in a few minutes. The birds' chatter had started shortly before the sun began to lighten the sky and they'd been at it for some time already. He could hear Teal'c and Carter talking some distance away so he took advantage of the relative privacy.
He snuggled his face into the back of Daniel's neck, nuzzling the soft hairs there with his lips. Now, as before when Jack had rejoined him after his watch was over, Daniel didn't stir, his breathing remained slow and rhythmic, his sleep deep and hopefully restful. Daniel had been lucky, with Teal'c taking double duty; he'd gotten to skip his turn. He considered lengthening the time of the watches in order to allow everyone a night off. Something to think about if they couldn't find civilization soon.
A whiff of coffee caught on the breeze, tickling his nose. He inhaled deeply, smelling coffee, fresh air, and Daniel. He couldn't put off lying there for much longer, so he rolled onto his back and stretched carefully, mindful of his bruised body.
"Morning, sir." Carter's voice was low, primed just loud enough to carry to him but not wake Daniel. "Did you sleep well?"
Carter probably knew he hadn't slept much during her watch. He'd tried to relax but hadn't been able to do much more than doze in the past two hours.
"Passable," he answered as he rubbed his scalp hard. "Got any Tylenol handy?"
"Yeah." Scrunching his eyes tightly, he stretched one last time, forcing his muscles to go just beyond the point of pain, then relaxed.
"Here, sir." Carter tossed him a blister pack, then carried over a steaming cup of coffee. He sat up, careful to replace the blanket over Daniel, and helped himself to two of the pills before taking a cautious sip of liquid. Once the coffee had cooled sufficiently to swallow, he tossed the two Tylenol back.
"How's the arm?"
"Feels like it's broken, sir."
"Did you..." He waved the blister pack at her.
"Yes, sir." She gave him a tight smile.
Teal'c joined them and crouched next to Daniel. "Should we not wake him?" He placed a gentle hand to Daniel's neck, probably checking his pulse and temperature. Jack could attest to the fact that his pulse had been slow and steady, his temperature normal, up until just a minute ago, but he didn't volunteer the information.
"Let him sleep." He knew Daniel needed food and water, especially as he hadn't eaten anything last night, but he also needed sleep.
"Sir." Carter eased herself down onto one of the mattress and sat, legs crossed. She held her injured arm close to her chest and looked at Jack, over Daniel's sleeping form. "I'd suggest following the path Teal'c found. It must surely lead to civilization and—"
"I agree, but not today. I think we can take one day off and recoup. Anyways, we need to find a way to see if the ship's still toxic and if so, find a way to shut the door so nobody accidentally stumbles onto it and dies."
"There must be a locking mechanism but it's probably controlled by a code and..."
"We don't have it. Can we jam the lock? Barricade the door?"
"I'll have to examine the locking mechanism but that may mean having to enter the ship."
"What about drawing a skull and crossbones, or a serpent cross, over the door?" Daniel's sleep-heavy voice surprised Jack.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."
"Um... s'okay." Daniel slowly rolled onto his back, his hip brushing against Jack's knee. "Ugh. Anyone else have a small percussion band playing overly enthusiastically inside their heads?"
"Here, this might mute some of the bass." Jack handed Daniel the blister pack, then passed his coffee over to him so he could swallow the pills. Daniel rose onto an elbow, took a sip then handed the coffee back. He lay back down and closed his eyes. The fact that he didn't even try to keep Jack's coffee for himself was testament to how lousy he felt.
"We could draw a warning sign over the door but that doesn't necessarily mean the people here will understand what it means." Carter glanced up the hill, staring at the ship which was reflecting the sunlight where it caught the metal.
"And it probably won't be enough to keep anyone away with a streak of curiosity in them." Jack shuddered when he imagined if a nearby village whose children came up to play and discovered the ship, and managed to get inside.
They sat in silence for a while, until Teal'c passed some MREs around. Daniel didn't stir, he'd fallen asleep again. Jack, conserving water, opted to heat the MRE in the weak sunlight rather than waste the liquid to heat it up. While his breakfast heated, looked up at the ship.
"We're going to need water." He put the bread and jam aside, for later, or for Daniel if he wasn't up to eating anything heavier. "We need to check out the area, see if there are signs of civilization." He picked up his coffee and took a sip. "And we need to secure that ship."
"There must some sort of ventilation control in the ship, except that we'd need—"
"To get inside the ship to look for it. I know. If you can't get the doors to lock, we'll think about that option then. T, I want you to explore a little further today, keep an eye out for water, and anything that you think might be edible."
Teal'c inclined his head.
"Think you're up to stepping inside the ship for a minute to see if the air's gotten any worse?"
Jack picked up his now lukewarm breakfast and opened it. "We'll get started as soon as we've chowed down."
oo~O~oo "This one?" Jack's finger hovered over the red button on the console.
"The other red one, sir." Carter's voice was brimming with exasperation. Jack ignored the slight, well aware that the headaches and aches and pain were taking a toll on both of them. He moved to the other side of the console and pressed the button. Immediately a loud hum filled the room and he felt a breeze as the ventilation kicked in.
"That'll do it. It's programmed to run automatically until the toxins have cleared the ship."
Face flushed and shiny with sweat, Carter headed out the door, clambering awkwardly over the mounds of soil. Jack followed her outside, eager to get into the fresh air. The gas had dissipated somewhat overnight in the bridge, thanks to the opened door, but enough of it lingered to make them slow and irritable. The headache was back full force and the multitudes of bruises were making moving around more than a little uncomfortable. They sat a moment on the upturned earth, recouping before returning to their campsite.
He glanced around and looked towards the camp, expecting to see Daniel still asleep. To his surprise, Daniel was sitting up. Jack quickly reached for his radio when Daniel leaned over and began fiddling with the bandage around his leg.
"Daniel, unless you're on the verge of bleeding out, do not touch that bandage."
Jack bit back a smile when Daniel startled at the sound of his voice. It took him a moment to find the radio Jack had left next to an unopened MRE.
"Jack, where are—" Daniel's voice broke off as he searched the surrounding areas and spotted Jack and Carter. Daniel waved, and Jack waved back.
"There's food and we left some coffee for you."
With his free hand, Daniel picked up the MRE. "You guys going to stay up there or are you coming back?"
"We'll be there in a few minutes. Carter got the auxiliary engines online and the ventilation system going."
"So, can we fix the ship?"
"That's a negative." He glanced at Carter, who was biting her lip in frustration. "Carter and I are going to go explore uphill for a ways, see if there's any more signs of civilization. Make sure you take your antibiotic with your meal."
"Yes, Jack," Daniel drawled.
"We won't be long. Just... try and stay alert. We don't know what kind of predators are out here. Teal'c's gone down the mountain and see if there's a road or something we can follow."
Jack waited and watched while Daniel began opening his MRE, then motioned to Carter to take point. He didn't plan on going far, just a quick stroll around the area to see if there weren't any other paths or signs of people in this direction. The sun had cleared the mountains, burning the chill out of the long shadows.
Carter's foot slipped and she reached out with her good arm to steady herself on a branch. "We're going to need to bury them."
"We've got zats," Jack said dryly. Carter glanced back at Jack with a surprised look, which in turn puzzled him. He'd expected opposition from Daniel, but not from Carter. "Anyways, I don't think any of us are up to anything that strenuous yet." Okay, maybe Teal'c wouldn't mind digging a mass grave by himself but Jack had other uses for his team other than getting rid of bounty hunter scum.
"We should check the ship's computer, see if there's any record as to who hired them."
"You mean, which overly glitzed Goa'uld put a bounty on our heads?"
"Well, yes, sir. It'd be nice to know which one is going to be disappointed when those goons don't show up with us in tow."
"Not to mention how far spread this bounty thing went... might make it a tad inconvenient going through the Stargate if and when we get off this planet with more bounty hunters waiting for us around the next bend."
They stopped a moment, slightly out of breath. His legs were trembling from fatigue and he wondered if the air were thinner up here, or if it was simply a side effect of exposure to that gas. His body was still pretty sore but the exercise had helped ease some of the stiffness. Still, they'd all be moving slow for the next few days, Daniel most likely more so than the rest of them.
"We'll need to get Daniel some crutches or a cane, or something..." He motioned to Carter to stop when they reached a fairly open area. They stood there for several minutes, surveying the land. It looked undisturbed by man; he hadn't even seen natural trails made by large animals. If there was any travel around this part of the world, then nobody came up this way.
He took point this time, walking down the mountain slowly, keeping an eye for broken branches. He found what he was looking for just before they reached the ship; a long limb with one end split into two. It'd be uncomfortable to use but at least it would help make Daniel mobile.
He tossed the makeshift crutch aside for the time being and lowered the backpack containing their supplies from where he'd stashed it the previous night. He winced inwardly as he rifled through the supply of aliens MREs. Maybe they should get Teal'c to try these out first.
"Did you take some of these out of here?" Jack hauled the backpack over to Daniel and opened it, revealing that a good quarter of the contents were gone.
Daniel tugged the backpack from Jack and dumped the contents onto the mattress next to him. He quickly put the stuff into several piles once again, and it was obvious one pile was much smaller than the rest. "Looks like most of the Ito'dor'i are gone."
"Someone came into the camp and raided our food?" Jack began eying the bushes as both anger and unease coursed through him.
"Well, it wasn't me. I have enough trouble with the macaroni and cheese."
"Maybe it was Teal'c—" Jack swore when he realized how dumb that sounded. "Okay, so we had an intruder. Tonight we bring the food closer to the fire and make sure it doesn't happen again." Jack hoped that that thief had long gone after helping himself to their stash but he wasn't about to hold his breath. Angry that someone had gotten under their guard, he grabbed a package at random, tore it open and sniffed the contents.
Sour stench filled his nostrils and he pulled back in disgust. "Ew." He prodded the bean-like filling with a finger, then made a face as he licked the sauce off. "Spicy and vinegary. Not exactly my idea of a hearty meal." He contemplated actually tasting the beans but from the bitter aftertaste, he decided not to. "I think it's gone bad."
He put the envelope down and Carter reached for it. She fished a bean out of the package and began chewing, only to spit it out a moment later. She made a face as she put the bag down, then handed it to Daniel when he put a hand out for it. "Unless Teal'c has no problem eating this, can I suggest we leave the rest of these out for our burglar tonight?"
Daniel had been watching them with an amused half-grin. But it was Jack's turn to smile when Daniel took one whiff at the contents and put the package down untasted. "Maybe it needs to be heated?"
Jack rubbed his lips with his fingers as he eyed the leftovers from the MREs. "Do you really think it'll make a difference?" He grabbed a package of peanuts and popped several into his mouth. He chewed quickly, anxious to get rid of the underlying taste. If there was any sort of nutrition in this food, eating it was certainly going to be a hardship. A moment later the peanuts were imbued with the sour taste and he ended up spitting them out instead of swallowing. "Gah, that's gross."
"No, Jack, that was gross." Daniel was staring at the mess of saliva and peanuts he'd sprayed over the mattress.
Sweeping the peanuts off with a handful of grass as best he could, Jack swallowed several times, trying to refrain from gagging.
"No, Daniel, it really is awful." Carter looked pale and her face was shiny with sweat. "I really think I'd rather go hungry than to have to..." Her eyes widened and suddenly she was stumbling into the bushes. A moment later the sound of retching brought home the truth of her words.
"I guess we're going hungry." Jack picked up the discarded packet of food and dug a hole. He'd buried it by the time Carter stumbled back to the camp. Without a word he handed her his canteen and she gave him a weak smile. She took a sip and sat down tiredly next to Daniel.
Jack picked up the discarded crutch and unsheathing his knife, began to trim the branches from it. "How much longer before you think the ship is safe to enter?"
Carter squinted at her watch. "It's probably safe now, sir."
Sheathing his knife once he'd evened off the wood, Jack swept the shavings from his lap and mattress. He stood, one hand automatically checking the zat strapped to his leg. Carter caught his eye and nodded. "You two stay put and rest. I'll see if there's anything in there worth salvaging and..." His gaze went to Daniel, who was watching them with a frown. "What?"
"The bounty hunters didn't make it, did they?"
Jack tried not to read accusation in Daniel's tone of voice, but it was there nonetheless. He pursed his lips tightly together, feeling anger begin to rise. "No, they didn't," he said curtly, despite the fact they'd already had this conversation yesterday. Maybe Daniel didn't remember, but he resented the tone.
He turned his back on his teammates and began trudging back up the hill. His back was stiff, knowing Daniel was staring at him. Damned bounty hunters wouldn't be dead if they hadn't tried to capture SG-1. None of them would be in this predicament if someone hadn't put a price on their heads.
Price on their heads... Damnit, the computer. Carter had wanted to check the database. Well, she'd do that later. Now that he knew someone was out there in the woods, there was no way in hell he was leaving any of his team alone, injured and in a vulnerable position. A shudder flitted up his spine as he thought of Daniel sleeping earlier, unprotected, while anyone could have waltzed into their camp while he and Carter had been inside the ship. Actually that could have been when their food had been taken, if the thief had acted quickly. Which reminded him... he reached for his radio.
"We got a party crasher on the loose. Keep your eyes peeled."
"Do you require assistance?"
"Negative. Just thought I'd give you a head's up."
"I have found water. I am presently following the trail, which I believe may lead to a more traveled road."
"I believed I had seen a glimpse of it through the trees. I was correct. I am now standing at the edge of what is definitely a much-used road. There are tracks which appear to be made by wheeled vehicles drawn by large creatures, possibly similar to the horse and buggy from the ancient Tau'ri world."
"How recent are these tracks?"
Jack clambered over the mound of earth as Teal'c paused. He waited just outside the ship, afraid that the radio might not work inside.
"Some are quite recent, others possibly two or three days old and as much as a week."
Jack breathed a small sigh of relief, feeling some of the nausea ease as he relaxed a notch. He'd rather have broken camp today but he figured by the time they got around to it, with Daniel's bum leg, they wouldn't reach the road before the sun set.
"Good. Come on back to camp, we can fill up on water and then head out tomorrow."
Jack slowly entered the ship and stood near the exit, breathing deeply, ready to go back outside at the first signs of distress. The earlier feelings of lethargy and fatigue didn't appear, so he headed towards the controls. He hit the red button and the sound of the ventilation died down.
He quickly double-checked the rooms in the ship, looking for anything Teal'c might have overlooked. He didn't find anything except a couple of empty containers which they could use for carrying water, and another length of rope, which he placed over his arm and shoulder.
The room where their captors had died wasn't a pretty sight. It was only when he'd zatted the four of them into oblivion that he realized one was missing.
He clicked the radio the moment he crawled through the doors. "One of the bounty hunters survived the crash. He's most likely our thief." He waited a moment for Teal'c and Carter's acknowledgements and made his way back to camp, angry that they had this to worry about on top of everything else. The only good thing is that they'd taken all the weapons out of the ship so unless their friend made another foray into camp, he was unarmed.
oo~O~oo "You sure about this?" Jack looked dubiously at the small handful of berries Teal'c had brought back.
"My symbiote did not react to my ingesting the food." Teal'c held out the kerchief that he'd filled with the berries. Remembering the awful taste of the alien MRE, Jack picked one of the bright red berries, sniffed it, then gave it a lick.
He tasted nothing. Aware of Daniel and Sam watching, he popped it into his mouth and reluctantly chewed down on it.
Immediately sweet flavor burst onto his tongue. He smiled as grabbed several more berries, then nodded at the rest of his team to try them out. He knew the rules, though. As good as these were, only a few were permitted, despite Teal'c's reassurances that they were safe. The last thing they needed was to suffer through the indignation of the trots on top of everything else.
"Here's the kal'eni." Daniel handed Teal'c the package of yet untried alien food. "We decided the lal'lan tar wasn't edible, and we've only got six packages of Ito'dor'i."
Jack had enjoyed tearing up every single packet of the lala tar stuff and burying it. He'd hoped the bounty hunter was watching as he punctured each packet and dumped it into the hole he'd dug. The stench had made his eyes water and the juice had cleaned his knife out quite nicely, making it shine like it was new.
Jack watched as Teal'c sniffed the open packet, then fish out a piece of meat-like stuff that actually looked like doggie kibbles. Teal'c placed it in his mouth and chewed a moment, then swallowed.
"Judging from my experience with Tau'ri food, you will not enjoy eating this. Its taste is similar to that of raw aquatic animals."
"Well, I like sushi." Sam took the bag from Teal'c and took a kibble out. She gave it a sniff and then bit off a small portion, only to spit it out immediately. "Sushi, this ain't." She popped it back into the bag, making a face of disgust.
"Well, that settles that." Jack grabbed the rest of the unopened bags and headed off to bury them.
oo~O~oo With the aid of the makeshift crutch, Daniel hobbled back to his bed. Carrying out bodily functions had become an act of frustration and pain when he could barely put weight on his injured leg. He lowered himself onto the thin mattress, biting back a groan. Ignoring the sheen of sweat that had built up on his forehead and above his lips despite the cooling temperature, he put the crutch aside and wondered how he was going to manage the walk down the mountain tomorrow.
He was aware of Jack's stare as he tried to make a show of relaxing against a tree trunk, glad that the firelight didn't illuminate the area that well. To be honest, his calf was throbbing something awful and to his frustration, he felt something warm and wet trickle down his lower leg.
"Yeah, I know." Daniel leaned forward, reaching for the now bloody bandage wrapped around his leg but Jack beat him to it. He lay back and let Jack unwrap it and place pressure against the gaping cut, grinding his teeth against the increased pain. Soon the sweat was trickling down his armpits and lower back and he wiped his face with the back of his hand. He shivered in the night chill and wrapped his blanket around his shoulders. It seemed to take forever before the bleeding stopped; unfortunately the throbbing didn't go away with the cessation of the blood and a new bandage.
Daniel looked at the pill sitting in Jack's palm. He knew the painkiller would not only get rid of the pain but would help him sleep. The problem was, they had no idea how long they'd be stuck on the planet and there might be a time in the future where one of them might be more desperate for a painkiller.
"Jack, I don't need—"
He needed to sleep, but he also needed to be able to keep up with his team tomorrow. And if his leg was anything to go by, he was going to have a hard time of it. "I'll take it in the morning, if I need to."
"We've got enough meds to tide you over for a few days—"
"You don't need to waste them on me—"
"Daniel." Sam reached over and took the pill from Jack's hand and held it right before his face, along with a water bottle. "We'll worry about it when we run out supplies. You need this, now. So take the pill."
"You heard the Major, Daniel." Jack placed his fingers on Daniel's injured leg, just above the top of his boot, and rubbed the skin gently. Even that gentle touch aggravated the ache in his leg. He closed his eyes a moment, wishing things were different, then reluctantly took the pill from Sam and swallowed it.
"Teal'c, you've got first watch again. Let's keep the same schedule as yesterday. Daniel'll take last watch." Jack turned to give Daniel an assessing look and Daniel nodded. He could sit a watch; at least this way he'd be carrying out his share of duties, finally. He felt guilty that he'd gotten to sleep the previous night through and Sam hadn't.
It took them only a moment to settle. Sam lay on her back on his left, Jack to his right. Neither was close enough to touch, and although it wasn't quite as cold as the previous night, Daniel was chilled. He turned onto his left side and brought his knees up to his chest, trying to conserve heat.
Until the painkiller kicked in, the throbbing in his leg would keep him from sleeping. He listened to the night sounds; the crackling of the fire and the singing of insects. An occasional rustle in the bushes nearby; even less frequently the sound of Teal'c shifting where he sat, away from the fire. Jack and Sam's breathing, slowly evening out and deepening, until both were snoring softly.
It wasn't until Jack shifted in his sleep and spooned up behind Daniel, was he able to start to relax. Jack's body heat was more than welcome, his soft breaths against his nape familiar and reassuring, and the feel of his arm lying loosely against his ribs gave him a sensation of security. His leg wasn't hurting as much, the throbbing reduced to an occasional twinge. His mind began to drift as his body slipped into sleep.
oo~O~oo Oblivion lasted only as long as the painkiller's effects, and by the time Sam had woken Jack for his watch, the loss of Jack's body heat had pulled Daniel from sleep and the increasing throbbing of his leg kept him from returning to it. Sam had burrowed under the blanket and snuggled between him and Teal'c. He felt her shiver a few times but she fell asleep quickly.
By the time Jack came over to him and shook his shoulder, Daniel was more than ready for his turn at sitting watch. The good thing was that his leg would keep him awake and stop him from nodding off. He was feeling muzzy from the painkiller and his stomach was queasy from the antibiotics. The downfall was that he was afraid the pain would distract him and keep him from staying alert.
He grabbed his blanket as he sat and with Jack's help and the use of the crutch, hobbled over to the large tree stump where he could sit and look over the camp without the campfire blinding him. Both of them were moving stiffly; his leg was so bothersome that it wasn't until he tried to move that he remembered how abused the rest of his body was.
He wouldn't be able to walk around to stay warm so he wrapped the blanket over his shoulders. Jack leaned in close and pointed to the right. "There's a rodent of some kind that's playing in the bushes over there so don't get trigger happy if you hear some rustling around."
Daniel stared in the general direction Jack was pointing at. "No sign of our intruder?"
"Nope. Let's hope he's happy with what he stole and went in the other direction." Jack lowered his hand and placed it on Daniel's shoulder. "Wake me at sunrise, which should be in about ninety minutes." Jack's hand lingered on his shoulder for a moment as Daniel nodded.
After throwing a log on the fire, Jack curled up next to Sam, in Daniel's spot. Daniel sighed softly and looked around, getting acquainted with the barely visible landmarks.
Whatever rodent Jack had been talking either moved on or decided to curl up in its den because the next hour passed so slowly that he'd have welcomed anything to break the monotony.
Finally, just as the sun began to rise, Daniel stood and hopped behind a tree to relieve his bladder. He then made his slow way to the campfire. He barely put pressure on Jack's arm when Jack woke with a start, turning onto his back and reaching out to block an imagined attack just as he opened his eyes and recognized Daniel.
"Bad dream?" Daniel asked apologetically as Jack rubbed his hands through his hair.
"You could say that." Jack sat up and gave Daniel an assessing look. "How're you doing?"
Daniel thought a moment about lying but Jack, as leader, needed to know what to expect. He gave Jack a direct look, speaking softly. "My leg hurts like hell. I don't now how far I'll be able to walk today."
Jack nodded, his eyes casting down towards his bandaged leg. "I'm hoping if we can get down to that main road Teal'c saw, we'll get lucky and run across some local folks. I'm thinking maybe there's a village where we can borrow a cart or horse or something..."
Teal'c must have been listening to them speaking. He sat up, the blanket falling from his shoulders and pooling in his lap. "The road is approximately an hour's walk from here. The way is not difficult and if we travel slowly, you should not have a problem reaching it."
"Easy for you to say." Daniel couldn't help glancing in the direction of Teal'c's stomach, momentarily envious of Teal'c's healing abilities. There were times he actually forgot about Junior; so comfortable was he around Teal'c.
oo~O~oo Not difficult, Teal'c had said. Despite his not uttering one single complaint, Jack could see how much the two-hour downhill trek had taken a toll on Daniel. He was pale and sweaty and his balance had been unsteady for the last twenty minutes.
The moment his feet, or foot, rather, touched the rutted path, Daniel hobbled to a patch of grass and sat down with a loud grunt. He put the crutch aside and rubbed the inside of his arm and chest where the wood most likely had rubbed him raw.
Jack had been going for easy mobility; maybe he should have gone for a cane instead and let Daniel use one of them as their crutch. It was more than obvious that Daniel wasn't going to be going much further for a while.
"You explored this trail yesterday?" Although Jack was speaking to Teal'c, he walked over to Daniel to take a look at his bandaged leg. A quick glance showed that although there had been some bleeding from his exertions, it wasn't serious and hadn't done more than stain the bandage.
"I did. North. For about a kilometer. It continues beyond that mountain and into the next valley."
"Any idea which way we should go, sir?"
Jack scratched his head, looking south along the path. He could separate his team and have each of them head off in a different direction, but if Daniel wasn't on the half that found civilization, it would mean having him cover twice the distance. He stared at the footsteps that had dried in the mud, noting that they went in both directions. The southbound path seemed to be straighter, less hilly.
When Daniel looked up at him in question, Jack shrugged. "One way's as good as the other and for all we know, there's a village just a kilometer away."
"Great. South it is." Daniel reached for his crutch, getting ready to stand, and Jack placed his foot on it, preventing Daniel from tugging it closer.
"We're not heading off yet." Jack stepped over the crutch and circled Daniel, heading for a large tree, and eased himself down on the grass, resting his back against the trunk. "What?" he asked when Daniel kept staring at him.
"I'm fine. I can keep going."
"I know you are. But there's no rush, seeing there's no snakes or Jaffa on our tails. We can take a thirty minute rest."
Carter, taking her cue from Jack, eased back also and sat next to Daniel. Teal'c stood a moment longer before sitting on Daniel's right.
Despite the rest stop, Jack kept his eyes peeled along the trail before him and he knew Teal'c was doing the same thing in the opposite direction. He kept glancing over at Daniel, however, knowing that the painkiller he'd taken with breakfast would begin to affect him once he was no longer moving. So after twenty minutes, when Daniel's eyelids began to droop, he got everyone moving again.
Teal'c got Daniel up onto his feet but before Daniel could position the crutch under his arm, Jack maneuvered himself so Daniel could wrap his arm around his shoulder. "Use the crutch for balance," he suggested as he slowly turned towards the path, edging Daniel to move with him. He felt Daniel's arm tighten around him and easily took his weight as Daniel took one awkward hop forward.
oo~O~oo Daniel looked at the rocky path running through the stream with trepidation. If he'd had two good legs, he wouldn't give this a second thought. But as it was, he was pretty sure one of them was going to get wet trying to cross the fast-running water.
He was tired, his leg was throbbing despite the second painkiller he'd had with lunch, and the roots that looked like carrots which they'd supplemented their rationed MREs were making him nauseated. Or maybe that was due to the painkiller since nobody else seemed to be suffering from mild vertigo and the shakes that were accompanying the nausea.
"Maybe we should camp here and try to cross tomorrow."
Daniel hated the pitying look Sam gave him. He turned his head away from her and looked up the stream, watching the water splash past the smaller stepping-stones. It wasn't far, no more than ten feet wide, not even a stretch in between stones for a person with long legs, or a short hop for someone shorter. But his inability to walk was going to hamper him greatly.
Jack's voice was soft, and the arm around him tightened.
Daniel reluctantly turned to look at Jack. He knew Jack was tired but he'd uncomplainingly supported him most of the day.
"It's your call. We can make camp here and cross in the morning, or we can give it a try now and make camp on the other side, and if we get wet, we'll just dry out in front of a campfire."
"Let's cross." He was going to slip into the water and bring Jack along with him, whether it was today or tomorrow, so he'd rather dry out in front of a fire rather than trek in wet clothes for half a day.
"Then allow me to assist you." Teal'c stepped right up to them and held his staff weapon out to Jack. Daniel didn't think Jack would trade places with Teal'c and he was surprised when he felt Jack's arm let go of him. Then Teal'c was there before Daniel lost his balance, large and solid and strong.
He watched enviously as Sam and Jack made it easily across the stream then turned to watch him cross. Feeling extremely self-conscious, he steeled himself. With that tiring hop, pause, hop he'd been doing all day, he made it to the first of the stepping-stones. The stones were wide enough for one person to stand on; two of them had to move sideways, slowly and carefully.
The second stone was an easy hop once he got to the edge of the first stone. The third one, however, had a larger gap. He had no choice but to put his injured foot down and push off. He felt the pain in his torn muscles burn up his leg but he made it, with Teal'c's support.
Daniel began to think he'd make it across without actually getting his feet wet, and became too confident. On the second to last stone, as he pushed off with his injured leg, it gave out on him and he wasn't able to spring as far. He missed the stone and slid backwards into the water. Teal'c's hold on him prevented from falling ass first in the water but both legs landed knee deep in the chilly stream.
"Shit." The shock of the cold water on his open wound prevented him from saying more. He scrambled back up onto the rock with Teal'c's help and, angry at his misstep, forced himself to hop forward and cross without another mishap.
"I've found a place to set up camp."
Daniel hadn't realized how long it had taken him to cross; obviously long enough for Sam to scout around and find a spot for them to spend the night.
"Guess I should have walked through the water in the first place." He helped himself and Teal'c along with the crutch, despite the blisters on his hand and the ache in his arm and chest muscles from supporting himself with it.
"The stream's filled with rocks; with your luck, you'd have sprained an ankle," Jack said from behind him. Daniel didn't bother answering. Jack was probably right.
Daniel was never so glad to get off his feet when Sam led them up to a clearing near the water, just a stone's throw from the path. The sun was still high in the sky and he rued the daylight they were wasting, but was extremely grateful for the fact that they had no true urgency to keep on moving.
Before he could reach for his bootlaces, Jack was there, undoing his footwear, while Teal'c began gathering wood. Sam was rolling out their mattresses and blankets, a job she could manage one handed, even if it was a little awkward for her.
"We gotta change that." Jack fingered the sodden and stained bandage before slipping off Daniel's boot and sock. He reached for his other foot and did the same.
By the time Jack dried Daniel's feet and put a fresh bandage over his wound, Teal'c had a fire started and Sam had made their beds alongside it. Daniel shifted onto the mattress and stretched his legs out towards the flames, hoping his clothes and boots would dry before morning.
His leg was burning and throbbing and his head was beginning to pound in counterpoint. Laying his head back, he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, hoping to at least ease his growing headache.
oo~O~oo Jack stood and carefully walked around the silent camp one last time before going to wake Daniel. Well okay, maybe waking wasn't quite the right expression because he damn well knew Daniel wasn't sleeping, and hadn't slept, at least on Jack's watch. Oh, Daniel had tried to pretend he was asleep but the slow, restless movements were an easy giveaway, considering how well Jack knew Daniel's sleep habits. The man slept like the dead, usually plastered all over Jack. That he needed a painkiller was a given and he knew Daniel wouldn't take one until his watch was over. The danger of nodding off was too great.
Still, he could help with Daniel's pain. He took a moment to rifle through their supplies, then went to crouch next to him. As he reached to touch his shoulder, Daniel turned onto his back and pushed the blankets away, obviously aware that Jack was there. He reached for his glasses as he sat up and Jack noted a fine sheen of sweat on his face, glistening in the moonlight.
"Here." He held out his hand and exposed the three pills sitting on his palm.
Daniel squinted at the pills, then at Jack.
Without a word, Daniel took the pills and Jack handed him some water, followed by his socks and boots. He waited until Daniel swallowed the pills and put his boots on before offering a hand up. He got Daniel settled at the camp's perimeter, then stood there, watching as Daniel settled the blanket over his legs and shoulders. He found himself reluctant to go back to bed, unsure if his wanting to stay was due to his worry over Daniel or simply the need for his company.
"Go to bed, Jack." Daniel's voice was low in deference to his other teammates. There was a rustling sound in the bushes and Daniel immediately turned his head in that direction.
"Some kind of critter; looks like a mix between a cat and a porcupine. It's been hunting bugs." Instead of heading to his bed, Jack sat down next to Daniel.
Jack caught a glimpse of the creature as it pounced on something. It lowered its head towards its paws then raised it, jaws working furiously. A moment later, it ran back into the bushes, obviously going back into hiding for another prey.
"You don't need to keep an eye on me. I can do this—"
"I know. That's not why..." Jack put a hand on Daniel's thigh, feeling Daniel's muscles first tauten then relax through the blanket as he gave the leg a gentle pat.
Daniel sighed as he spread the edge of the blanket over Jack. Smiling to himself, Jack inched closer until their shoulders were touching. He let himself relax and closed his eyes, listening to Daniel breathe. He felt himself drifting, the tension of the past days easing momentarily, feeling safe and loved next to Daniel.
oo~O~oo Daniel sat still as Jack's head rested more and more heavily against his shoulder. He listened as Jack's breathing deepened, going from resting into sleep. Despite his discomfort, and despite Jack's certainty of a stiff neck in the morning, Daniel couldn't help but appreciate these small moments they shared offworld. He was pretty sure Jack wouldn't have thought twice about sleeping next to the fire if Daniel hadn't been injured instead of sitting with him. This was probably Jack's way of keeping a closer eye on Daniel, along with giving his support, and his much-welcomed body heat.
He spent the next ninety minutes watching the odd little creature hunt for its supper while staying alert. His butt was numb from sitting on the hard ground, unable to move without disturbing Jack. When the sky began to lighten, though, the lure of coffee forced him to wake Jack a little earlier than he'd planned. Trying not to think of the day when they ran out of coffee, he turned his head and kissed the top of Jack's head before speaking his name softly.
"Wha... What's wrong?" Jack pulled away from Daniel, coming awake immediately. "Ow."
"Nothing," Daniel said quickly, trying not to smile when Jack immediately clapped a hand to his neck. "I just need to get up and make some coffee."
Jack looked around blearily. "It's morning?" He sat there massaging his neck while Daniel awkwardly got to his knees, preparing to stand. "Hold on a second." Jack stood, moving slowly and stiffly, and then reached down to give Daniel a hand. He overbalanced and grabbed onto Jack. His good leg felt heavy and stiff and he realized that today the going would be even harder. With a resigned sigh, he took a short hop forward, towards the fire, and Jack wrapped his arm around his waist, giving him support.
oo~O~oo Jack almost wished he had taken point so he wouldn't have to walk behind Daniel and Teal'c. It was one thing being there beside Daniel and helping him. It was another lagging behind and watching every painful hop-step he made. How every so often he pushed the crutch's edge away from him because of the way it must be digging into his skin, forcing him to put his injured leg down for balance.
He looked over Teal'c and Daniel's shoulders to see Carter standing to the side of the road, looking to the right.
"The road splits off here." She waved in the direction she was facing with her good hand as everyone stopped to stare. It was immediately evident that the path they'd been following was little used compared to the new road it had now merged with. The grass underfoot was gone, eaten up by hooves and feet and wagon wheels. The churned up dirt was still muddy in places, the rut of wagon wheels grooved deep within the soil. Walking here was going to be more difficult; they'd have to stick to the edge of the road where there was still grass.
"Which way, sir?"
"Most of the traffic appears to be heading southeast."
Teal'c was right. So Jack canted his head towards the southeast and Carter began leading them in that direction.
Teal'c and Daniel immediately moved to the grassy edge, their speed already diminished as Daniel now not only tried to hop forward, but not sprain an ankle in the grooves.
They weren't ten minutes on the new road when Jack heard a familiar clop clop coming from behind them. He turned to see horses coming fast upon them, pulling a wagon. He stepped out of the way and a moment later, the wagon was pulling up next to him. Up close, Jack realized that these beasts were more a mix of horse and ox. They appeared placid enough; their muscles rippled beneath their skin, and he was sure they were as fast as they appeared strong.
"Need a lift, friends?" The driver's face bore the marks of someone who spent the majority of his days outdoors. The lines around his eyes creased as he smiled at them.
"Where ya heading?"
"To the village of Arnyth." The man stared at Daniel, his gaze raking down to his injured leg. "We no longer have a healer, but there is one a half day's journey at Hithon."
"What happened to your healer?" Daniel asked, obviously picking up the strain in the man's voice as he mentioned their healer.
"She died." For a moment, Jack thought the man would simply ride away; his fingers were clutching the reins so tightly, his knuckles were white. But he seemed to shrug away the bad memories and gave Daniel a forced smile. "Forgive me. She was my sister and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and died trying to save a soldier who'd been injured during a clash—"
"You are at war?" Teal'c seemed to grow a foot taller and wider as he brought up staff weapon up.
"Yes. But you're in no danger here," he added quickly. "There is peace, for the moment, at least." He pointed to the back of the wagon, which was half-full with stuffed burlap bags. "Climb on. We'll be at Arnyth by lunchtime."
Everyone was watching Jack, so he nodded, giving his team permission to get into the wagon. He waited until Teal'c got Daniel situated against the back of the wagon, his leg propped up on one of their packs, before climbing in and settling amongst the lumpy bags. A quick peek inside showed vegetables that looked like red turnips.
The wagon started up with a jerk.
"I'm Daniel." Sitting with his back right next to the driver, Daniel didn't have to raise his voice to speak. "That's Jack, Sam and Teal'c." Daniel pointed everyone out when Nagan turned to face everyone.
"Honored be." Nagan bowed his head slightly, and Daniel replied in kind.
"How'd you cut your leg?"
"I... fell." Daniel gave Jack a quick, sidelong glance, and Jack made a face back at Daniel. Sure, Daniel had fallen. Fallen right out of the sky, if you really wanted to get technical.
"We're actually looking for something. Maybe you know? It's a ring. A large ring made of metal. Some people all it a Stargate, or a Chaapa'ai?"
"Where's this ring at?"
"Um, that's the problem, we don't know. We'd heard... stories, and so we came in search of it."
"Never heard of it. Although you could ask ol' Gat. He was our storyteller up until he got the coughing sickness."
When Daniel began asking Nagan about his people, Jack let the conversation flow over him. Despite the rough road and bumpy ride, he was very grateful to be off his feet. He was tired and stiff and sore, but with any luck, by tonight they'd have shelter over their heads and hopefully some answers as to how to get home.
The wagon had been slowly going uphill, and as the road turned, they got a panoramic view of the mountains and valleys around them. To their right was the mountain they'd descended; the furrow of the crash an ugly scar amongst the greenery. The ship itself shone brightly in the sunlight.
The valley below them half consisted of cultivated fields, broken up into uneven squares by fences made of grey or red stones. The other half was filled by the ruins of an abandoned city.
"Wow." Carter's exclamation, although softly spoken, held enough awe that Daniel's question faded as he turned to see what they were all looking at.
Daniel rose up onto his knees, leaning over the edge of the wagon. "Nagan? What is—?"
Both Teal'c and Jack lunged for Daniel when Nagan pulled the beasts up short and he nearly fell over the side. "What in Krack's heels is that?" The man stood up into the wagon and was staring at their ex-means of transportation.
"Shooting star?" Jack said under his breath. He'd gotten enough from listening to the two of them talking to learn that this was a low-tech world.
"It's a ship." Even to Jack's ears, Daniel's explanation sounded lame.
"But there's no body of water."
"Which is why the ship's not going anywhere," Jack added quickly as he held onto Daniel, who was still leaning over the edge, staring at the ruins below.
"Nagan, the city down below—"
Nagan pulled his attention from the crashed ship and turned to stare at Daniel. "It is forbidden to enter Balu, except to pay tribute at the shrine of Krack." He stared at each member of SG-1, holding their gazes for several seconds each. "I mentioned we were at war, earlier. We fight over ownership of the shrine of Krack."
"Krack... he was a god?"
Nagan laughed at Carter's question. "Krack was simply a man who killed a god, thus freeing my ancestors from the god's slavery. The story goes, when the god died, the people abandoned the city, choosing to resume their lives where the memories of mistreatment would no longer haunt them. Some moved to the ocean's edge, others moved inland. But over time, the people flourished, and the cities of Arnyth, Hithon, Iberan and Elar were settled close to Balu. Arnyth and Elar tilled the land, as we still do today. The fields are separated by the stones; red for Arnyth, grey for Elar."
"But if your people are at war, how do you till the fields?"
"We must eat. Both villages require food. Truce is kept so that both cities may survive."
Nagan flicked the reins and Jack tightened his grip on Daniel as the wagon moved forward with a muscle-jarring wrench. But Daniel had braced himself and simply swayed with the movement.
"How did the war start?"
"When the old Lord of Elar died two years ago, his son, Algor, became Lord. He wished to increase their crops, and so began destroying the city to make room for new fields. We of Arnyth and Iberan objected. We have held to the old ways, and follow the old processional through the city when we pay tribute to Krack's memories. If Algor were to take the city apart, piece by piece, he would also be taking apart our beliefs and heritage."
"So you fought in order to stop him."
"We did. The battle was fierce and bloody. Many died that day, and still, neither side won. We have had several skirmishes since that first battle. Now we only enter Balu to pay tribute to Krack."
They watched the panorama change as the road led past the city. The last few bits of broken wall were soon about to be hidden by trees. Jack was leaning back against the edge of the wagon, when he saw Daniel stiffen.
Jack scrambled to his knees, peering through the shrinking gap towards where Daniel was pointing. He didn't see anything, but Daniel was already asking Nagan to stop. The man ended up having to back the wagon several feet before Daniel asked Jack for his field glasses.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure, but I think..." Daniel half-knelt, half-sat in the wagon, swaying slightly until he managed to anchor his elbows on the wagon. "Jack, I think we might have found the Stargate."
He handed the glasses to Jack, and after several false starts, Jack managed to locate the area Daniel wanted him to look at. "I don't see anything."
"It's the growth pattern of the grass, Jack. There's definitely something buried beneath the soil."
"It's circular. Big, and round."
"You think they buried the 'gate?" Carter scrambled over the bags to peer over the edge with Daniel. Still unable to see anything, Jack handed the field glasses over to Carter.
She looked over the area, following Daniel's directions. Jack glanced at Nagan, who was watching them with an amused grin.
"Sir, I think I see the... Yes, it's definitely the DHD."
"Where?" Carter handed the field glasses back to Daniel, who found the DHD within seconds.
"Nagan, we have to get down there—"
"Boy, I told you it was forbidden. You can't go traipsing over the city; Algor has guards and—"
"What if we offered a tribute to Krack? Couldn't we then be allowed into the city."
"You'd need to be baptized before you'd be allowed to pay tribute. And that will require the approval of the Lord of Arnyth and the consent of our priests. And I'm not so sure you'll get it if your sole reason for wishing to go into the city is to dig up parts of it."
Nagan started the wagon forward again and Daniel slowly sat back down. He winced as he stretched out his injured leg. Jack gave him a concerned look as he reached over to take his field glasses back from Carter.
"You know, Nagan, that's what I do for a living."
"Dig? Are you a grave digger?"
Daniel gave a short laugh. "No. I search through the remains of ancient ruins to learn about the cultures of forgotten civilizations. If your Lord allowed us to dig up the Stargate, in repayment, I could find out a bit about your ancestors and tell you about them."
Jack simply raised his eyebrows at Daniel. He'd heard Daniel talk about it often enough; excavations were pain-stakingly slow and sometimes took years before the secrets unearthed were enough to extrapolate what might have gone on during the town's heyday.
This time it was Nagan who laughed. "Boy, we know all about our ancestors. We don't need you to go digging in dirt to tell us who they were. We have storytellers who teach of the old times, so that they won't be forgotten."
"You spoke of this man, Krack, who destroyed the god who'd enslaved your ancestors." Teal'c braced himself on the edge of the wagon as it began going downhill. Jack simply leaned into the bags of vegetables, allowing them to take his weight. "Do you have tales from whence the god came?"
Nagan's voice took on a slightly harder edge than before. "Ashur chose the strongest of my ancestors, and pressed them through a holy portal which brought us to this world, where they were bred and trained to fight in his name."
"Ashur was a god of war," Daniel said softly.
Of course he was, Jack thought.
"For centuries, my ancestors served our god, until they had enough, and a revolution slowly grew. Krack, Ashur's champion, bided his time and turned on him at the moment they were to step through the portal to wage war on Ashur's enemy. Ashur's guardians fled through the holy portal when they saw they could not regain the upper hand. The portal then turned into a dhingle beetle, and disappeared from our world."
Daniel closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the wagon. "Tell me, does a dhingle beetle burrow into the ground?"
"Of course it does."
Daniel opened his eyes and looked at Jack, a small smile lifting the right side of his mouth despite the paleness which Jack hadn't noticed before now that the flush of excitement had worn down. "I know what your holy portal is, Nagan. It's a Stargate. Your ancestors, maybe even Krack himself, buried the Stargate so that no other gods could come through to avenge Ashur's death or take over his holdings. We need to unbury the Stargate and step through it."
The wagon was pulled to a jolting stop. "Are you gods?" There was a slight quiver of apprehension in the man's voice.
"Nope." Jack met Nagan's gaze. "Just four friendly explorers," Jack said, using Daniel's favorite choice of words, "who need to go through that dhingle."
oo~O~oo As happy as he was to have met up with a villager and thus not have to walk, Daniel was anxious for the rough ride to end. Even with the padding of the mattresses they'd carried on their backs, he was getting bruises on his bruises and the constant jarring had kicked his headache up two notches. And he wasn't the only one. Although Sam was trying not to, he noticed her wince several times as she sat hunched, protecting her broken arm. Right now, all Daniel wanted was to be able to lie down without fear of being whacked into a hard, wooden wall and sleep for a couple of hours.
Jack was sitting with his eyes closed, giving the impression he was dozing but Daniel nevertheless recognized the slight tension in his body, betraying the act. Only Teal'c seemed comfortable, body swaying as easily with the wagon's movement as Nagan's.
The nausea had stayed with him since the morning, and from the way his back and hips were aching, he was pretty sure he had a touch of fever. His leg wasn't throbbing more than usual, though, so that had to be a good sign. And unless Nagan's people had discovered penicillin, Daniel had to hope that the antibiotics he'd been taking was keeping any infection at bay because there were only two pills left.
The town of Arnyth lay sprawled along a river. A couple of children playing on the outskirts left their game and ran towards them, waving excitedly. Nagan waved back, grinning as he urged the beasts pulling the wagon into a quick trot for a short ways. The animals seemed to know they were being admired; they pulled their feet up and held their heads up high until Nagan let them slow down again.
When they entered the city proper, four men wearing heavy leathers and riding horses as big as Clydesdales, galloped towards them, surrounding them within seconds and pointed swords at the four in the wagon. Without any words between them, all of SG-1 sat up straight, alert for trouble. Everyone except Daniel put their hands on a weapon closest at hand.
"Nagan?" Jack said between clenched teeth.
Their driver made a quick motion with his hand and the men sheathed their swords. They held their positions, though, two riding on either side of the wagon, forcing all traffic aside as Nagan threaded his way through the streets. "It's okay. They're just a little upset that I left without giving advance notice." There was a hint of irony in Nagan's voice and Daniel noted that one of the men, who wore a crest on his shoulder which most likely identified him the leader of this squad, gritted his teeth together at the words.
Daniel glanced quickly at Jack and caught his eye. Letting go his P-90, Jack cocked an eyebrow at their host. Obviously Jack agreed with Daniel that the man was far more than a simple farmer or merchant. Nagan seemed friendly and open to their discussions so maybe they already had a foot in the door. If Nagan knew the Lord of this town, they might have someone to champion their cause and help them on their way home.
Daniel glanced past the horses, trying to see the people on the streets. Many of them stopped what they were doing and either waved to the entourage or bowed their heads. SG-1 watched silently as Nagan brought them to an enormous mansion in the center of the town. Guards stood at the entrance of the driveway and let them in with no questions asked.
Jack leaned close to Daniel and whispered, "Maybe he's the cook?"
Daniel wagged his head slightly, agreeing with the possibility. "Then he must be a pretty damned good cook to get this kind of welcoming committee," Daniel whispered back. He braced himself when the wagon was brought to a halt before a large door.
Nagan jumped down from the wagon and was there pushing aside the bags of vegetables, clearing space before any of them could make their way to the edge. Daniel waited until Sam and Teal'c, who were closer, to get off before he slid off the wagon. He let Teal'c help him, balancing on a good leg that was feeling heavy, shaky and weak.
The front door opened with a squeak and a man hurried out, half running towards them.
"My Lord, you're back."
"My Lord?" Daniel exclaimed, pivoting on his good leg to stare at Nagan, who was handing bags of vegetables to his guards.
Nagan gave a sheepish smile. "I guess I sort of forgot to mention what I did for a living. Actually, today I went to Elar to negotiate a trade between raddo roots and belchens." He pulled one of the turnip wannabes from a bag. "These raddo roots will bring us a good crop when the seeds are planted. Plus, they're a delicacy." He turned to the man who was still waiting by the door. "Jos, please take my guests to the west wing and make sure they're comfortable. Dinner will be...?"
"In a quarter cycle, my Lord."
"Then add four plates to the table, please."
Jos turned to SG-1, glancing quickly at Daniel and Sam before giving Jack all his attention when he took a step forward. "This way." Two of the guards left the wagon and followed them, which didn't surprise Daniel.
The inside of the mansion was bright and airy. Jos led them down a long corridor, the walls lined with paintings of people, landscapes and architecture. "Do any of these portray the city of Balu?"
Jos hesitated, then nodded. "There's one in the dining room. You can view it when you return for the midday meal." They turned into a smaller hallway that led to a door at the end of it.
"This is your suite." He hurried forward and opened the door, revealing a large living area, complete with fireplace, a small dining table and chairs, and a couple of couches. There were six doors along the walls.
"I will leave it to you to choose your rooms. There is water through here, if you wish to freshen up." Jos hurried to one of the doors and opened it, revealing a large bathroom, complete with tub. "There will be warm water ready for you by this evening. I apologize, we were not expecting guests, otherwise I would have had the water heated in the cistern before your arrival."
"Not to worry," Jack said over his shoulder, already exploring one of the bedrooms while Daniel gratefully sank onto one of the couches. "We sort of dropped in uninvited. Cold water will do for now."
"You have no luggage..."
"We ran into trouble and lost just about everything. Your Lord has been kind enough to take us in and hopefully help us find our way home." Daniel glanced at the two guards who'd remained just outside the doors. "Thank you, Jos. These rooms are more than adequate for our needs."
Jos smiled and bowed at them. "If you require anything, just ask the guards. They will escort you to the dining room shortly. Unless..." Jos gave Daniel a questioning look. "I'm sure my Lord Nagan will not be offended if you wish to eat here and rest your leg."
Daniel shook his head. He really wanted to see the picture Jos had mentioned, plus, as much as he'd rather sleep than eat, he thought it more important to see whether Nagan planned to help them or not. "I'm fine, but thank you for your concern."
Thirty minutes later, after a quick shit, shower and shave routine despite the tepid water and the fact that they didn't actually have time for a soak in the huge copper tub, or clean clothes, for that matter, SG-1 was as ready as they'd ever be to join Nagan for lunch when the guards knocked at the door.
Daniel had swallowed a few more Tylenol, pocketed his antibiotic and gritted his teeth for the walk to the dining room. The guards obviously took pity on him because they walked slowly as he hopped along on one leg, leaning heavily on Jack.
The dining room was huge, comprising of one main table in the center that sat at least twenty people, and a smaller dining table placed next to large picture window. This was where Nagan stood waiting for them; the table was already laden with food.
He watched Daniel intently as they made their way, making him a little nervous. However, Nagan himself pulled out a chair so that Daniel could sit, before moving to the end of the table to take his seat. "Boy, if you need me to, I can send for the healer at Hithon."
"No," Daniel said quickly, looking up from contemplating the bowls and platters of food for which he had no appetite. "Please don't trouble yourself. I'm fine."
"Jack, I'm fine. Nothing that a few days being off my feet won't cure." He met Jack's gaze and held it, wishing he didn't feel so tired and achy. When Nagan passed Daniel a plate full of meat that looked like chicken, he speared a small portion and placed it on his plate before holding the dish for Sam so she could help herself.
"I believe I owe you an apology." Nagan passed Daniel a bowl of small round things that looked like young potatoes. He shoved several onto his plate. "I deliberately kept my identity a secret... firstly because I was alone and wasn't sure whether I could trust you and secondly, once you began asking questions about Balu, I was interested in hearing your opinions. I somehow feel inclined to trust you, despite your wild tales."
"There seems to be a lot of security here." Sam was struggling with the potatoes. Daniel took pity on her and took the serving spoon from her and put some of the vegetables on her plate. She flashed him a smile as she continued talking to Nagan. "I'm surprised you were traveling alone."
"Nagan was not alone." Teal'c's plate was already piled high with food and he sat, waiting for their host to begin eating. "There were at least four riders behind us at all times and two ahead of us, all of which carefully remained out of sight."
"You are a very perceptive man," Nagan said with a grin. Teal'c inclined his head and lowered his eyes, accepting the compliment. Daniel couldn't help smiling at Jack's look of surprise; obviously he'd never noticed Nagan's guards.
The food would have been delicious if the Tylenol had kicked his headache to the curb. Instead Daniel fought increasing nausea, and barely tasted his food. The bright sunshine wasn't helping his headache, either. He settled for sipping a cup of herbed tea instead, finding it helped settle his stomach a little.
When the meal was done, Nagan leaned back against his chair and waved a hand at the room's expanse. "Please make yourselves at home. Feel free to explore the city at your leisure. For your own safety, I ask that you not leave the city limits without letting me know first. You are not prisoners here; but when word of strangers reaches Elar, they will certainly attempt to discover who you are and why you are here."
"We simply wish to return home," Sam said softly.
"I will speak with the priests tomorrow to see about baptizing you. There may be resistance at first when I tell them why you wish to visit the shrine of Krack but I have always wondered about the portal... If there is any truth to your story, then I wish to learn more.
"There is only one stipulation; if you are granted permission to dig up this... gate, you will have to do so alone. I cannot allow my men to help, otherwise it would draw Lord Algor's attention. Even then, you may have to fight him off. I cannot get involved—"
"We understand." Jack leaned his elbows on the table and palmed the small ceramic cup. "We'd just appreciate the chance to unearth the Stargate."
"And despite what I said earlier, any information you can dig up on my ancestors, boy, would be very much appreciated." Nagan's gaze fell on Daniel, who nodded.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few pressing matters to take care of." Nagan pushed his chair away and stood. "As I said, make yourselves at home. Jos will provide you with anything you need."
Nagan strode quickly out of the room, while Jos, who'd been standing in the sidelines for the last several minutes, took a few steps forward, holding a cane in his hand.
"I took the liberty; perhaps this would help you in getting around?"
Daniel took the cane and examined it dubiously. It would be better than nothing but he'd still have to put weight on his leg.
"Actually, Jos, is there anyone here who can work wood? Nothing fancy, just cut a few sturdy planks to a certain size and then wrap some padding around one end?"
"Crutches, Carter," Jack repeated, taking the cane from Daniel and handing it back to Jos.
"Yes, Andeyrs makes the Lord's furniture. He's very talented and—"
"I'm not looking for fancy. What I'm looking for is very simple."
"I'm sure Andeyrs can create whatever you wish to your specifications."
"Jos, what about currency? Is there anything we could trade for his services?" Sam gave Daniel a quick look. Normally they kept beads and a few gems in their packs in case they ever needed to barter but their last mission hadn't been a meet and greet so neither had brought anything.
"There's no need. You are Nagan's guests. You don't need to pay for anything."
"Still, it doesn't seem right..." Jack gave them all a quick look. "We'll think of something. So, can you tell me how to find this Andeyrs?"
"I'll have someone take you to him."
"Good. Carter, Daniel, I want the two of you to rest up the rest of the day. Teal'c, maybe you'd like to come explore the town with me?"
"Colonel, I'm fine. I can walk around just as easily as—" Sam quickly quieted when Jack shifted his gaze over towards Daniel.
"I don't need a babysitter." Daniel bristled at Jack's unspoken order.
"No, you don't. But you got pretty banged up and a few hours' rest won't do you harm. Both of you. Don't worry, I'll be coming in for a nap after I have a look around."
Jack stood and waited until Daniel got to his feet. With the promise of a bed before him, the walk along the long hallway seemed unending. It was only when Jack pushed through the nearest bedroom in their suite and led Daniel to the bed that he realized he'd forgotten to look for the painting of Balu.
He decided he'd look at it tomorrow. He let Jack untie his boots, grateful to finally take them off. Until he got a whiff of his own smell and curled his toes in embarrassment.
He shrugged out of his jacket and vest and slid under the covers. The change in position triggered a dizzy spell and he closed his eyes as the room whirled around him.
"There is an herbalist who may be able to help with your discomfort," Jos said uncertainly from the doorway. "To ease the pain and fever... should I ask him to come later tonight, when you're rested?"
"Daniel?" The questioning tone in Jack's voice was part inquiry, part worry.
"We're running low on Tylenol, Jack, so if he has something for headaches, fever, and maybe something to kill the ache in my leg, then yeah, I'd appreciate it, Jos."
"Bes won't disappoint. He worked with Sila before she died..."
"Yes. He mentioned her?"
"Just to say she'd been killed in a battle."
"We all miss her. Her daughter was studying to be a healer but she is far from ready to take on the duties." There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, until Jos walked away, leaving Daniel and Jack alone in the bedroom.
"Is already in bed. Teal'c's tucking her in."
"See if you can find something better to splint her arm with?"
"I'm on it. After I see to your crutches."
"The cane would work..."
"Ack." Jack held a finger up as Daniel swallowed a yawn. With his back to the door to hide his actions from Jos, Jack reached out and cupped Daniel's cheek. "Sleep well. I'll be back soon to keep you company."
Eyes already drooping with fatigue, Daniel nodded. "I'll keep the bed warm for you." His last words were lost in a yawn. He was aware of Jack closing the door, then nothing.
oo~O~oo Jack was so looking forward to soaking his bruises in hot water tonight. Now that the strain of survival was lifted, he was exhausted. He trudged through the city street next to Teal'c, proud that Daniel was going to have a new pair of crutches by suppertime. He hated owing Nagan, though. Maybe Daniel would be as good as he'd promised and would find some tidbit of history that would help pay their debts.
He juggled the two pieces of wood he'd foraged from Andy's workshop for Carter's new splint, whistling tunelessly until Teal'c grabbed them from the air and tucked them under his arm. He didn't bother objecting, but he did give Teal'c an injured look which was lost on him because Teal'c didn't once glance at him. Jack continued whistling, wondering if the noise bothered the two guards who were following them five paces behind, until they reached the gate leading them to the manor. One of the guards manning the gate opened the door and Jack stepped through, then paused when Teal'c remained on the street.
"If it is permissible, I would continue exploring the city and speak to the people." Teal'c turned to the guards, and one of them nodded. The other left his side and moved towards Jack and the gate.
"I'll see you later." Jack accepted the pieces of wood from Teal'c and tucked them under his arm as he made his way towards the main doors. Once inside, he let the guard take the lead, not quite familiar yet with the layout of the mansion.
There was nobody inside the main living area of their suite. Moving quietly, Jack put the sticks down on a nearby table and opened the door to Daniel's bedroom to see him sleeping. He quietly opened the next two doors until he found Carter curled up on one of the beds, also asleep. Satisfied that Carter was all right, he returned to the other bedroom.
He wasn't planning on sleeping; just lying with Daniel long enough to relax. Taking the time to only take his boots off, Jack slid under the covers, spooning up close to Daniel, wriggling slowly until his front was plastered against Daniel's back. He heard Daniel sigh in his sleep and he stretched forward to plant a gentle kiss against Daniel's neck. He froze when he felt a not so subtle heat against his lips.
"Damn," he whispered to himself after he'd splayed his fingers against Daniel's ribs, beneath his shirt, and confirmed the fever. It wasn't high, and he knew that a low-grade fever was normal for an injury like he'd sustained. Well, there wasn't much else he could do; he'd seen Daniel take the Tylenol earlier. He closed his eyes and listened to Daniel breathing, and before he knew it, the familiar sound was lulling him to sleep.
oo~O~oo Jack woke with a start, not sure exactly what had disturbed his sleep. For a moment he was disoriented, until he remembered with sudden clarity the events of the past hours. There were voices outside the bedroom and he realized that there was someone out there with Carter.
With frantic movements, Jack checked the time. For a moment he couldn't believe what his watch was telling him. He'd been sleeping for three hours, plastered against Daniel, who was still sleeping deeply. Sliding carefully from beneath the blankets so as not to disturb Daniel, Jack moved quietly to the door and listened.
He recognized Jos' voice. He shoved his boots on and sliding a hand through his hair to make sure there was no telltale bed head, he took a deep breath, and then stepped outside as if it was the most normal thing to walk out of another man's bedroom.
"Colonel." Carter was sitting on the couch with Jos next to her, who was in the process of resplinting her arm with the sticks he'd brought back, and a stranger sitting in a chair across from her with a half dozen bottles and bags full of dried plants spread out on the small coffee table. Carter's face was white and her eyes over-bright as she tracked Jack's progress across the room. "Is Daniel okay?"
"Yeah. He's finally sleeping," Jack lied. "He's got a touch of fever, though."
"Bes can help you with that." Jos canted his chin at the middle-aged man who was measuring herbs into a small bottle.
"What's causing the fever? Illness or injury?"
"He's got a cut, on his leg. But we've got medicine to take care of that."
"Is it infected?"
"Um, no." Jack gave Carter a quick look, realizing at that moment that they hadn't even changed Daniel's bandage today. She gave him a wide-eyed look, realizing the same thing. He'd take care of that as soon as Daniel woke up.
"I have herbs that will help with the fever." Bes picked up bottle full of colorful bits of plants and measured out a small quantity, not even looking at Jack as he worked. "Is his injury painful?"
Jack bit back a 'no duh' comment, and nodded instead. "Yeah, he can't walk on it yet."
"I'll mix up two teas for the pain. This one is for Samantha," Bes said, holding up the small glass jar to the light and shaking it vigorously. "A normal infusion won't make you sleepy, but it will ease your discomfort. You can take the tea, when needed, for a few days, until the aching stops." He put the jar aside and removed several more bags and began measuring the herbs into a second bottle.
"This tea I'm preparing will be for your friend. This one will make him sleepy. It won't stop him from getting around but he'll have a tendency to nod off if he stops moving. Once the injury heals, he can switch to Samantha's tea, at a double dose."
As much as Jack appreciated the local meds, and as theirs was already starting to run low, Jack hated to be in debt to others. He spoke up, even though Nagan had said he'd taken care of everything. "Look, we don't have anything to pay you for—"
"Don't worry about it." Bes finally looked up and gave Jack a quick smile, his light grey eyes almost glowing in the late afternoon light. "Samantha has explained to me how to increase the water yield from the pump that controls my irrigation system so that in itself is worth ten times what I'm leaving you." He lowered his head and began measuring again. "If you need more, please don't hesitate to come and see me."
Jos finished with Carter's arm and she gave it an experimental wave. "Thanks. This is much better."
Jack stood, hands in pockets, watching as Bes finished putting a third bottle together. He put all three jars aside and began quickly and efficiently repacking all his herbs.
"This," Bes said, pointing to a jar that had bright orange petals in the mix, "is for fever. This one," he added as he picked up a second bottle that had more green than the other two, "is for Samantha. And this one," he said, pointing to the third jar that had spiky thorns in it, "is to ease your friend's pain. All you have to do is steep about this much for about fifteen minutes." Bes removed a generous pinch from Carter's stash and dropped it into a cup. He stood, walked to the fireplace and removed a large kettle of water which Jack hadn't noticed, and poured the water over the herbs. "I've added sweetroot so the teas aren't bitter. But you can add honey if you need it to be sweeter." He handed the cup to Carter. "Drink this in fifteen minutes and you'll soon be feeling much better."
"Thanks." Carter smiled at Bes, who smiled back. "I'll try and come see you tomorrow and have a look at that pump."
"That'll be fine." Bes turned to Jack. "Use the same amount for your friend's teas. If you have any questions, please, Jos knows where to find me."
Jos stood and pointed to a pile of material on one of the chairs. "I brought you all clean clothes. If you'd like to leave your dirty clothes outside in the basket by the door, someone will clean them and return them to you tomorrow. And the evening meal is in two cycles. If you wish, I'll send someone to remind you?"
"Thanks." Jack nodded pleasantly as Jos and Bes headed for the door. It opened before they could open it themselves, and Teal'c entered. He bowed to the two men as they passed him and he shut the door behind them.
"So, how're you feeling, Carter?" Jack walked to the table and picked up one of the jars and gave it a cautious sniff. He couldn't smell anything, so he put the jar down and picked up another.
"Not bad, sir. The nap helped. A bath will help even more. Jos says the hot water's ready," she said with longing.
Jack put the second jar down, remaining quiet, but he mentally put in second dibs for the tub. He magnanimously made a motion for Carter to avail herself of the bathroom first, and she didn't waste time going through the clothes, selecting pants and shirt that would fit her before darting into the bathroom with her tea.
"So, find out anything?" Jack asked, sniffing the third jar. This one had a faint pungent scent to it.
"Nothing of consequence. Whilst the townsfolk are friendly and willing to converse, they did not have any knowledge of the Stargate other than the fable Nagan told us of it transforming into an insect. I have not learned much more of the war waged between Arnyth and Elar other than that the situation is most volatile. I would suggest we proceed with caution, O'Neill. I fear our presence in the abandoned city may not be well accepted when we attempt to unearth the Stargate."
"Well, it's not like we have any other options." He dug a finger in the jar and swirled the herbs around.
Teal'c was quiet for a moment. "No, we do not. Perhaps if we traveled to Elar and spoke to Lord Algor and explained our intentions—"
"We could, but if people are as trigger happy as you think, I don't think our talking to anyone will help. But it's always an option. Let's just hope we can go into the city fast, get the Stargate working ASAP and book."
"What if the priests do not grant us access?"
Jack made a face. "Then we go talk to Elar's people in Arnyth." He held Teal'c's gaze, trying to assess Teal'c's reaction. He relaxed when Teal'c inclined his head. "I concur."
"Let's hope it doesn't take those priests forever to—" A knock on the door interrupted Jack and he put the bottle of herbs down to go answer. One of the guards stood there with a pair of wooden crutches in his hand.
"The woodworker had these sent over, sir."
Jack took the crutches and thanked the man. He shut the door and examined the handiwork. Nagan had been right; Andy did good work. He'd given him a description of what he'd needed and the man had followed them to the letter. They were well padded and were even adjustable so Daniel would at least be halfway comfortable using them. He put them close to the door to the bedroom, then went to search through the clean clothes in anticipation of his bath.
oo~O~oo The herb guy had been right; the tea worked wonders. After Carter had come out of her bath declaring she felt like a new person, Jack had opted to try some himself. That, plus the heat of the bath, had worked out so many of the kinks and pain of his bruises, he hadn't realized how truly stiff he'd been over the past days.
So now Daniel was lounging in the bath, injured leg propped up out of the water, dozing despite his earlier nap thanks to his special tea. And the stuff seemed to work well because it'd given Jack a chance to change Daniel's bandage and he barely blinked an eye.
"Okay, big guy." Jack dipped his fingers into the bathwater and shook his damp fingers into Daniel's face. "Time to get dressed."
Daniel jerked awake, making a face. "What?"
"Jos is gonna be here any second and you're still in the tub. C'mon, let's get you dried." He helped Daniel out of the tub, pleased to see how Daniel was moving more easily. He helped him hop to the toilet and tossed a towel onto Daniel's chest. Daniel caught it and began to dry himself, slowly coming out of the drugged daze.
Jack watched him carefully, assessing his condition. He began to wonder whether he should have given him the teas after all.
"What is it?" Daniel passed the towel across his chest and under his armpit, squinting up at Jack.
"Nothing." He watched the towel move back across Daniel's chest and other the other armpit, then down his stomach, towards his groin.
"Jack, you're watching me like a cat ready to pounce on his poor, unsuspecting supper. If we were home, I'm thinking you'd already have jumped into the tub with me. But since we're offworld I'm pretty sure it's not sex you're thinking of so... spill."
Daniel was wrong; he was thinking of sex, or at least, trying not to think of sex. "I just thought you might want to eat in the room tonight."
The towel stopped moving, pooling on Daniel's leg but leaving his cock and balls exposed. Jack licked his lips and berated himself, wondering if the tea had some sort of Viagra derivative in it as he tore his gaze and looked into Daniel's eyes. They were slightly glassy and his pupils were dilated, but there was full awareness also as his lips curled into a wicked smile.
Jack quickly raised a finger and thrust it into Daniel's face. "Not going there." The smile turned into a grin and the towel started moving again.
"I'm fine, Jack. I admit the tea's made me a little slow but at least for once I'm not hurting."
Daniel tossed the towel aside and reached for his clothes. Jack could hear voices outside so he pointed towards the door. "I'll go tell Jos that we're almost ready." He made sure the crutches were within easy reach before he slipped out the door.
oo~O~oo On second thought, maybe the tea worked too well. Jack had never thought someone was able to weave drunkenly on crutches, but Daniel was making a good attempt at doing so. Carter gave Jack an amused glance before she moved to the right to try and get Daniel back on track.
"Just how much of that stuff did you use for his tea?" Jack hissed when Teal'c reached out to steady Daniel.
Wide, blue eyes looked back at Jack. Her amusement faded, replaced quickly with concern. "No more than what Bes suggested. Actually I used a little bit less than he'd recommended. Maybe it's interacting with the Tylenol?"
Daniel veered towards the right, stopping in front of a painting hanging on the wall, mumbling to himself. "Oh right, it's in the dining room." He smiled widely at Jack and as he started off again, the edge of his crutch caught Teal'c's leg and nearly tripped the poor man.
"Daniel, be care—"
"Sorry, Teal'c." Daniel flashed Teal'c an apologetic smile. "It's been a while and I haven't gotten my crutch legs yet." He giggled at his joke and turned to look over his shoulder at Jack, grinning, and nearly tripped himself when his crutch caught the wall.
"Oy vey," Jack said under his breath as he hurried forward to flank Daniel. Thankfully the dining room was just a few feet away and he was grateful when they entered the room.
Nagan was already there, talking to an elderly man wearing a long, grey robe. Both turned towards SG-1 as they entered, their gazes turning to Daniel as he maneuvered around awkwardly on the crutches. Daniel, oblivious in his own little world at the moment, was following the edge of the wall, looking at the paintings there instead of coming to greet their host. Jack caught Teal'c's eye and motioned for him to stay with Daniel while he greeted Nagan.
"Jack. This is Bishop Purn. I invited him to evening meal so he could talk to you and hopefully speak on your behalf to the rest of the Council about baptizing you into the faith." Nagan turned to watch Daniel, who was still circling the room.
"Those walking sticks are very... interesting," Purn said, rubbing a hand through his beard.
"These are the sticks that you asked Andeyrs to make?"
"Yeah. See, I told ya they'd be better than a cane."
Daniel had stopped in front of one particular painting and was leaning crookedly on the crutches. He was talking more animatedly than since they'd crashed on the planet, his hands moving as he spoke to Teal'c, tracing parts of the painting with a finger, making a quick jab to the side to make a point. Obviously Daniel was feeling no pain at the moment.
Finally Teal'c put a hand on Daniel's shoulder and brought his attention to the group who were standing around, watching him. He turned and looked at them, seemingly startled that there were others in the room with them. After a moment he began hobbling towards them, a crooked smile on his face.
Jack stepped back as Nagan made the introductions and led them to the dinner table. Daniel began talking about the story of Ashur, and soon he and the priest were sitting side by side, talking enthusiastically about theories and stories of gods and kings that went right over Jack's head. Daniel was slightly hyper, the way he got when he'd had one beer too many, his words tripping out of his mouth so fast that at times Jack himself had trouble keeping up. But Purn seemed to enjoy Daniel's enthusiasm, talking back nearly as fast as Daniel.
Carter, on the other hand, was talking with Nagan about plumbing and things Jack generally had no interest in. The food was delicious and he helped himself to a bit of everything, grateful that this food was more palatable than the alien MREs they'd had to give up on.
Jack leaned sideways towards Teal'c and spoke softly. "What was so interesting about that painting you and Daniel were looking at?"
"It appears to be a rendering of the city of Balu before it was abandoned. DanielJackson identified an object in the city that bears a striking resemblance to a Stargate."
"So we have no doubt the thing we saw when we rode past is a Stargate."
"Indeed. The only impediment would be if the Stargate or the DHD is damaged."
"And we won't know that until we've uncovered it and raised it."
Jack concentrated on his food, helping himself to more meat and an unappetizing blue vegetable that actually had a sweet, carroty taste. The table became quiet during a lull in conversation, and when it picked up again, Purn began talking with Nagan. Jack glanced over at Daniel and couldn't help a pang of worry when he noted Daniel just sitting there, staring unseeingly at his nearly empty plate.
As Daniel's eyelids began to droop, Jack recalled the herbalist's warning about how the painkiller would make him sleepy if he wasn't moving around. As much as Jack hated seeing Daniel in pain, he disliked seeing him doped up to the point he couldn't function.
Purn turned suddenly to Daniel, asking him a question. Daniel looked up with a jerk, blinking rapidly and trying to focus.
"Ya gotta excuse Daniel," Jack quickly said when it was obvious that Daniel had lost the thread of the conversation, and actually looked like he had no idea where he was. "I think he's a little overtired tonight."
Nagan laughed softly. "I recognize the effects of Bes's teas too well." He clapped Daniel gently on the arm. "We won't keep you up much longer, boy. You're welcome to stay and enjoy dessert, but you might want to think about going to bed early tonight. Once the tea has you in its grip, it's difficult to climb out of it." This last was said to Jack, who nodded his understanding.
"You two gonna hang around for dessert?" he asked, pushing his chair back.
"If you don't mind, sir. Nagan promised to show me the interior plumbing system and I'd love to see how they've set it up."
"Knock yourself out, Carter." Jack caught Teal'c's eye as he circled the table to pick up Daniel's crutches and Teal'c nodded minutely, indicating that he'd be on Carter's six tonight. He stood behind Daniel's chair, waiting. When Daniel didn't move, he placed a hand on his shoulder and shook him gently. Daniel turned and blinked sleepily up at Jack.
"C'mon," he said softly. He helped Daniel stand and made sure the crutches were securely under him before he urged Daniel from the room. He waved over his shoulder as goodnights were uttered, concentrating on making sure Daniel was steady and wouldn't lose his balance.
After several steps, Daniel seemed a little more alert and in less danger of falling asleep standing up, leaning on his crutches.
"How much of a fool did I make of myself in there?"
"Define making a fool of yourself."
Daniel rolled his eyes at Jack, but he didn't answer, simply plodded along slowly as they followed their escort back to their rooms. Daniel spoke again after a short while. "I meant falling asleep at the table."
"Technically, you didn't fall asleep. That would entail actually closing your eyes and landing face first in the pudding."
"There was pudding?"
"Possibly. For dessert. Which we're missing, thanks to you."
"Because I fell asleep at the table."
"No, like I said, sleeping would have meant snoring and drooling." They turned a corner and Jack let Daniel move ahead so he could maneuver around the corner more easily. "I think you just zoned out for a few minutes," Jack said when he caught up with Daniel again.
"I hate this." Daniel lowered his head and wouldn't look at Jack. They walked in silence, well, Jack walked, Daniel hobbled, until they reached the door to their room.
He sat Daniel down on the bed and turned to put the crutches against the wall. When he turned back, Daniel had lain down on the bed, fully dressed.
"Ack, clothes first, Daniel."
With a sigh, Daniel reached for the buttons of the borrowed shirt and lazily began unbuttoning them. Eyes closed, his fingers slowed as he struggled with the second button.
"C'mon." With an exasperated sigh, Jack pulled Daniel up to a seated position and began unbuttoning the shirt. Daniel leaned his forehead against Jack's shoulder, sighing heavily. Jack held back from planting a kiss against the soft hairs, instead he pulled the shirt off of Daniel, and tossed it onto a nearby chair.
"Daniel, c'mon, sit up for a minute. I gotta get your boots." This time it was a deep sigh from Daniel, who pulled away while Jack leaned down and quickly removed his boots. The pants followed, and then Daniel was under the blankets and asleep before Jack had time to fold the clothes so they wouldn't be too creased in the morning.
"Night, Danny," he whispered, this time leaning over and planting a kiss on the exposed cheek.
oo~O~oo By the time Jack settled down on the couch to relax, his stomach was bothering him. Actually it was the carroty-tasting blue veggie he'd eaten that was repeating on him. He burped, long and hard, but it didn't really ease the growing nausea and dizziness. He tried to ignore the discomfort but after a good thirty minutes, he couldn't take it anymore.
He was rifling through one of the packs, looking for antacids, when there was a crash from Daniel's bedroom as the door opened wildly, smashing into the wall as Daniel ran, limping heavily, towards the bathroom. Jack dropped the pack and even as he hurried after Daniel, he heard the sounds of retching coming from the room.
As much as Jack wanted to help, the sounds and smell triggered his own nausea and clumsily avoiding Daniel's legs as he knelt over the toilet bowl, Jack vomited his supper into the sink. For a short time, the two of them heaved in unison, until Jack's stomach, finally emptied, gave a last cramping lurch before he felt it safe to straighten.
He ran the water, palming some into his mouth as he cleaned the sink, then waited a moment to see if his stomach would accept the peace offering. It gurgled noisily, but didn't reject the liquid. Finally Jack raised his head, aware that Daniel was still sick.
By the time Jack found a towel and ran it under the water, Daniel had sunk onto his butt, leaning tiredly against the wall. Jack handed him the towel and he ran it over the back of his neck before burying his face in it.
"Remind me never to eat those blue vegetables again," he moaned, his voice muffled from behind the towel.
"You, too?" Jack palmed another cautious sip of water, and satisfied that the worst was over, grabbed a metal mug and filled it with water before handing it to Daniel. As Daniel sipped the water, Jack left the bathroom to get Daniel's crutches, only to wince as Daniel began retching again. Jack had to take long, deep breaths to keep his own sympathetic nausea at bay and was ashamed to admit that he took longer to get the crutches than he should.
By the time he got back to the bathroom, Daniel was sitting on the edge of the toilet, his face pale and his body damp with sweat. He still seemed under the effects of the drugs he'd taken in the tea, though, because he looked half-asleep already. "Want to go back to bed?"
Daniel passed a hand over his face, his gaze lowered to the floor. "Can you find a bucket or something?" he finally asked, sounding somewhat embarrassed.
"Sure." He handed Daniel the crutches and waited a moment to see if Daniel was steady enough to return by himself. Satisfied after Daniel took a few, slow hobbling steps, Jack found a metal bucket of sorts under the sink, full of cleaning equipment. He dumped the contents and followed Daniel into the bedroom and placed the container on the floor, next to the bed. "You gonna be sick again?"
"I don't think I've got anything to bring up, but... just in case..." He turned onto his side, facing the edge of the bed, and the bucket. Jack waited, watching, until Daniel's breathing evened out and he was sure he was asleep before he decided to head on to bed himself. He was feeling shaky and more than a little exhausted.
He made it to the door when Carter and Teal'c came in. They were talking, okay, Carter was talking, but she took one look at him and broke off. "Colonel, what happened? Are you all right?"
"Just a case of possible food poisoning," Jack said with a grimace. "You eat any of those blue vegetables?"
"No, sir. I didn't feel blue vegetables to be exactly appetizing."
Jack held back commenting about the blue Jell-O Carter enjoyed so much.
"Are you sure it was food poisoning?" She hurried over to him, her eyes going over his body as if searching for telltale signs of vomit. "It could be an allergic reaction of some kind, maybe not even to the food you ate. Do you have a fever? Cramps? Diarrhea?"
"No. Just... nausea. Look, Daniel was sick, too, and we both agree those blue veggies were to blame."
All the while, Teal'c had walked past him and Carter and was now slowly opening Daniel's bedroom door. He paused a moment and closed it softly. "DanielJackson sleeps."
"Yeah. That tea really did a number on him. That's another thing, as much as I don't like seeing him hurting, I hate seeing him that dopey."
"We can try a weaker brew tomorrow."
Jack nodded as he took the last few steps towards his bedroom. "You sure you're feeling okay?" He looked at her carefully, trying to see past the bruising on her temple. She didn't look sick; actually she looked better now than she had since the crash.
"I'm sure." She moved towards their supplies and removed some paper and pen. "I told Nagan that I'd see if I could improve his heating system. It's pretty innovative but I'm sure I could come up with a couple of ideas that would go far in paying for his hospitality. That is, if you agree, sir."
Jack waved a hand at her and backed up into his bedroom. His head had started pounding and although he wasn't nauseated anymore, the room was spinning slightly. "Sure. Just don't stay up too late."
He shut the door behind him and stripped quickly, crawling under the covers, anxious to lie down.
oo~O~oo Jack woke up with a stomach so sensitive, the mere thought of food had him clamping his teeth together to prevent himself from gagging. Added to that was a headache of such proportions that if he moved his head too fast, he was pretty sure it would simply snap off his neck. He forced himself out of bed and staggered into the living area of their suite, where Carter and Teal'c were sitting at a table, plans laid out before them.
"Morning, sir. How're you feeling?"
"Oh, just peachy," he griped as he bypassed the bathroom and detoured to Daniel's bedroom.
"He's still sleeping," Carter said as Jack put a hand to the doorknob. He eased the door open and spied Daniel lying curled up on his side. There wasn't any smell of sickness in the room so Jack assumed Daniel's stomach had behaved. A quick touch to his cheek confirmed, however, that the color on Daniel's cheekbones was definitely due to fever.
"You give him any Tylenol?" Jack shut the door behind him and headed for the bathroom.
"Yes, sir. He got up about an hour ago, went to the bathroom and then went back to bed. He really didn't look too good."
"You feeling up to playing diplomat today? I don't think Daniel or me are going anywhere."
"Are you also ill, O'Neill?"
"Let's just say I feel like I've got the hangover of all hangovers. Without the benefit of the booze."
"Nagan wanted us to talk to the Council today. To be honest, sir, I don't think I can present as eloquent a case as Daniel can."
"Then try to stall, Carter," Jack sniped. "Tell them we're sick and we'll talk when we're feeling better." He stomped into the bathroom and shut the door behind him, aware of his bad attitude and really not giving a shit.
A shower helped the headache just a bit, and a sip of cold water seemed to ease some of the stomach cramps he was experiencing. Carter and Teal'c were gone by the time he got out of the shower. He found the Tylenol, hoping for relief from his headache but hesitated taking any of the pills because there were only four left. He eyed the bottles of herbs, wondering if maybe those had been part of the cause of last night's sickness.
He finally opted for the tea, saving the last of the pills for Daniel, just in case.
He'd just finished brewing the tea and was sitting on the couch, sipping it slowly, when Jos entered the room, followed by two servants bearing laden trays of food.
"Nagan and your people have gone to speak to Bishop Purn in order to change the meeting date to tomorrow. I hope you're feeling better, Colonel." Jos waved the servants to put the food on the table. "I brought something in case you were hungry. If not, the food will keep until you feel up to eating."
Trying not to look at the food on the table, Jack concentrated on his tea. "Anybody else get sick last night?"
"I do not believe so." Jos waved the servants out and rearranged a few of the plates of food on the table. "Although I noted you and Doctor Jackson both ate the raddo roots. They're the cause of your illness."
"Raddo roots... the red turnips Nagan had in the wagon?"
"Turnips? But yes, the roots are red, until cooked. Then they turn blue."
"Okay. Mystery solved. Definitely got raddo root poisoning."
"It is not a poison." Jos sounded alarmed, and Jack quickly waved away his worry. "Yes, we deliberately set the roots on the table to see if you would eat them—"
"Knowing that we'd be sick if we did?" The tension in Jack's body made his head feel like it was going to pop open. Jack slammed the cup of tea onto a nearby table and felt the warm liquid slosh over his fingers.
"Nagan sends his apologies. They're not only a delicacy; they will make people sick unless they've slowly been accustomed to eating them over several years. We don't have enough quantity of the raddo to eat them on a regular basis so most of us can only tolerate very small portions. It's a way of determining whether visitors are really from Elar, and thus, possible spies."
"How can eating a root tell you whether or not someone's a spy?"
"Either the person eats the vegetables with relish, as you did, and becomes ill, or eats them and doesn't get sick. If he doesn't get sick, he's eaten the raddo before and his body's accustomed to it, then it's very likely he's from Elar." Jos walked over to the table and picked up Jack's cup of tea and offered it to him.
Jack took the cup, still seething at the idea that they'd been deliberately poisoned. "What if someone knows about the roots and only eats a small serving?"
"Then they're spies."
"On seeing the raddo roots on the table, the guest knows he's being tested, so he will do exactly as you and Daniel did last night – they will eat the roots with gusto, knowing fully that they would be exceedingly ill for a day or two. Most do not wish to be ill."
Jack stared at the liquid in his cup before taking a sip, trying to quell his growing anger and confusion. "So, what's the verdict? Are we spies?"
"If you are, then you aren't Elaran spies." Jos grinned at Jack, who simply shook his head at the confusing logic. "Nagan told me of the ship he saw on the mountain. My father used to tell me stories he'd heard from his father's father of the god Ashur flying through the night sky in a ship so huge it resembled a mountain. Is this how you came to Arnyth?"
"It wasn't our choice, we crashed here by accident but yeah... that's why we need to go to Balu and find the portal that was buried after Ashur's Jaffa abandoned him."
"That's what Nagan thought. He sent men to the ship yesterday and by their accounts, they've never seen anything of its kind."
"Why're you telling me all of this?"
Jos smiled. "Because Nagan hopes by allowing you to dig up the portal, Algor will see the portal is not merely a myth, and will conclude that Balu still holds importance and he'll stop trying to destroy it." He looked at the nearly empty cup of tea Jack was holding. "Is the tea helping?"
"Not really." Jack placed the cup back down, this time more gently.
"There are few herbs that will help with the raddo root. Drink liquids and rest today. You should start feeling better by the evening meal." He moved to the door and opened it. To Jack's surprise, the two servants had been waiting outside and they came in and took the plates of food away. "I saw by your expression when you saw the food that you weren't faking your illness. Again, I apologize for the deceit; rest assured that you made quite the impression on Nagan."
"Yeah, that makes me feel so much better." Jack stared at the floor, ignoring Jos as the man walked to the door.
"There's a pitcher of fruit juice on the table. It'll help ease your stomach."
"Thanks," Jack said to the closing door, "but no thanks. It's probably laced with a laxative."
oo~O~oo Moving back to bed felt like too monumental a task so Jack swung his legs up onto the couch and lay back. For a while, the tea swished and roiled in his stomach, gurgling noisily and causing him to belch several times. He lay there in misery, waiting to see if he'd need to run to the bathroom. By the time his stomach settled enough that he knew he wasn't going to be sick, his head was pounding so fiercely that he wasn't sure he could get up if he wanted to. He closed his eyes, wishing for a shot of Fraiser's happy juice to put him out of his misery for a couple of hours.
It was finally his concern over Daniel that got him to his feet. He staggered to the bedroom and peeked inside. Daniel opened one eye and peered at him, then shut it with a soft moan.
"This is worse than moonshine," Daniel groaned as he laid an arm across his eyes.
"Apparently we were deliberately poisoned."
"What?" The arm moved aside and both eyes squinted at Jack.
"A test, to make sure we weren't spies."
"Okay." The eyes closed, then opened again. "Did we pass?"
"We got sick so yeah, we passed."
"You'll have to explain this to me again when my brain's actually functioning." The arm came back up and covered his eyes.
"Someone'll have to explain it to me again when my brain's actually functioning." Jack moved back into the living area and ran some water into a cup. He returned to the bedroom and put the cup next to Daniel's bed. "Liquids, and rest. We should be feeling better by suppertime."
"Oh, god, please don't mention food."
Jack's stomach gurgled in sympathy. He eyed the bed longingly, but decided he'd go lie down in his own. He was miserable enough that all he wanted to do was pull the covers up and die. He had a feeling Daniel felt exactly the same way. He snagged some water for himself, deliberately ignoring the pitcher on the table, and finally decided to stretch out on the couch, his bed just too far away for him to make a run for it if he needed to puke.
oo~O~oo When you're sick, time sometimes passes interminably so that you feel like you've been ill a lot longer than you actually have. So by the time Carter and Teal'c showed up after lunch, Jack felt like he'd been suffering for an eternity.
Sleep had been fragmented; he'd woken up several times to the sound of Daniel being sick, and had himself hit the ground running when the water he'd consumed made a noisy and gut-wrenching re-appearance.
He waved Teal'c away when he stuck his head over the back of the sofa. He didn't miss the look of concern but at this point he really didn't care. He curled onto his side so that his face was pressed against the back cushions, trying to ignore his teammates as they tiptoed around him.
"Daniel, I've got some broth if you're—"
"I'm not hungry."
"Nagan said you should try to put something in your stomach. You'll feel—"
"Sam, I said I wasn't hungry."
"You should at least try—"
"Will you just leave me alone?"
There was a near sense of desperation in Daniel's voice, which Jack completely understood. He tensed when Carter snicked the bedroom door shut a few seconds later, and when he heard her come this way, he simply raised a hand behind his back and muttered, "Don't even think of coming near me with food."
Jack waited until he was sure Carter had moved whatever foodstuffs she'd brought with her away from him before turning onto his back. He needed a report from them despite the fact that he really didn't want to have to try and concentrate on anything right now.
"We've been rooted." Carter got an odd expression on her face and Jack didn't miss the quick look she gave Teal'c. It took him a moment to realize she was trying not to laugh. She was busying herself with her sling, trying not to look at him. He thought back to what he'd said and winced internally. "I mean, poisoned. We've been poisoned."
"I know, sir. Nagan explained to us that you'd eaten the..." She winced again and took a step away from the couch as Jack put a hand to his mouth and burped long and hard. "... Eaten the raddo roots," she finished, looking embarrassed.
"So, apparently we're not spies. Did you meet with the priests?"
"Yes, sir. Purn agreed to postpone the meeting until tomorrow in light of what's happened."
"Peachy. I'll see you tomorrow." Jack turned his back to them, reprising his earlier position.
Daniel's bed creaked loudly, the sound coming through the walls as he shifted restlessly. Jack had heard the sounds all morning long; each squeak confirming that Daniel was still alive and still well enough to move. He closed his eyes and concentrated on not being sick.
oo~O~oo Jack didn't know the exact moment when nausea shifted to hunger but his stomach gurgled, loud and strong, and he realized that the cramp he was experiencing was actually a hunger pang. He turned onto his side, feeling strung out and shaky and more than a little groggy. As he sat up, he realized he'd finally fallen asleep and while he slept, his headache had more or less disappeared.
"O'Neill?" Teal'c, sitting on a chair to Jack's left, had obviously been meditating.
"I'm fine." He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling achy and old. He'd have to get up in a moment and he had a feeling that his hips and back weren't going to like that. "Where's Carter?"
"MajorCarter has gone to attend the evening meal with our host in an attempt to learn more about the effects of your poisoning."
"Yeah?" Jack groaned loudly as he stood. He knew his posture was far from perfect and he tried stretching out the kinks. His stomach gurgled again and he looked around for something to eat.
"We got any food here?"
He didn't miss the slight crinkling of Teal'c's eyes that gave him away every time he tried not to smile. "Indeed. There is broth, kept warm for you if you wish." Teal'c stood, a lot more graceful than Jack, and walked towards the table. Jack tried not to limp as he followed. "And there is a mixture of dried fruits and something which MajorCarter said resembled tapioca. Jos has assured us that it will not provoke any discomfort if you choose to eat it."
Jack could smell the soup when Teal'c lifted a cover off the ceramic pot. There was a small candle burning underneath, keeping it warm. It smelled similar to chicken soup with some weird herbs in it. He nodded, and Teal'c dipped a ladle into the mix and poured the liquid into a cup.
Jack palmed the cup and took a cautious sip. It tasted wonderful, weird spices and all. The warm liquid hit his stomach with a very noticeable splat and for a moment he thought he'd have to give up all thoughts of eating for a while, but his stomach had other thoughts, grumbling loudly and churning out more hunger pangs.
He took a longer swallow, and when that went down easily, chugged half the cup down before looking at the tapioca stuff Teal'c had mentioned. It looked good so he spooned a large glob into a bowl. "How's Daniel?"
"DanielJackson still sleeps."
"So he hasn't eaten anything yet?" Jack spooned the tapioca, thick with some sort of fruit, and chewed. It was sweet and rich and very satisfying. He leaned against the table, forcing himself to eat slowly.
"He has not."
"Damn, that means I'll have to keep some of this for him." Jack gave Teal'c a quick smile as he alternated between soup and tapioca. When he finished, he put the bowl aside, promising himself to fill it again as soon as he checked on Daniel.
A quick peek into the room showed Daniel lying on his back, snoring loudly. Jack started to back out when he realized there was color in Daniel's cheeks. A quick, gentle touch, hidden in a caress, proved that Jack's observations were right. Daniel was running a fever.
Daniel snorted, sighed, and opened his eyes. "What?" he asked fuzzily.
"There's food in the other room, if you—"
"Not hungry." Daniel punctuated his words by turning on his side, away from Jack.
"You probably think you're not hungry, but I swear, the stuff's great." He turned to get some broth for Daniel and stopped just in time to avoid bumping into Teal'c, who had come in behind him with a cup of the stuff. "C'mon, give it a try."
"Look, sometimes when you're nauseous, putting something in your stomach will help ease get rid of the—"
"And sometimes when you're nauseous, putting something in your stomach will make you puke." The bed squeaked loudly again as Daniel turned to squint at them.
"Jos said we'd be feeling better by suppertime." Jack made an exaggerated motion of looking at his watch." Hey, guess what? It's suppertime." He took the cup from Teal'c and held it out to Daniel. "C'mon, give it a try."
Moving slowly and obviously reluctant, Daniel pulled himself up against the wall and took the cup from him. He sniffed loudly at the broth, took a small sip and closed his eyes. Jack figured Daniel was waiting to see what sort of reaction his stomach would produce.
Jack slid by Teal'c. "I'm gonna get some Tylenol; he's got a fever." He paused when Teal'c touched his arm.
"Perhaps the herbal tea would be better choice."
He looked at the bottles of herbs lined up on the table. He'd forgotten about the mix for fever.
"Think you can stomach a cup of tea on top of the soup?" Daniel had only taken a few sips; it was obvious that his stomach hadn't recovered quite as quickly as Jack's. At Daniel's hesitant nod, Jack set out to making tea.
oo~O~oo Listening to the sounds coming out of the bathroom, Jack silently acknowledged that trying to get Daniel to drink something when he hadn't felt like it had been a mistake. He eyed the closed door, which Daniel had slammed in his face when Jack went to help, and wondered if he should try and go back in. Then again, there wasn't much he could do and Daniel wouldn't appreciate his trying to treat him like a hothouse rose.
The retching finally stopped and now Jack could hear running water. When the bathroom door opened, Jack stopped himself from standing and remained seated, waiting to see what Daniel was going to do.
Daniel hesitated a moment after hobbling out of the bathroom. His gaze found Jack, and after a moment, he slowly maneuvered towards the couch. Lowering himself with a loud sigh next to Jack, he pushed the crutches aside as he eased his injured leg in front of him. Jack grabbed a throw blanket from the back of the couch and spread it over Daniel's boxer-only clad body.
"Shall I attempt to locate a healer?"
"What?" Daniel turned to Teal'c, his face pale and shiny with sweat. "No, I'm fine. It's not as bad as it was."
"Daniel, I think you need to have someone check you out. You can't even keep liquids down. And you've got a fever."
"Look." Daniel turned, putting a hand on Jack's knee. "If I'm not feeling better in the morning, we'll talk about me seeing Bes again, or some local healer. Maybe I just ate more of the raddo roots than you did."
"And perhaps it is your injury that is exacerbating the problem. Have you changed the bandage today?"
Jack wanted to swear under his breath. "Not unless Carter did this morning."
"She did not."
Without another word, Jack went looking for their supplies. When he came back, Daniel was lying with his head against the cushions, turned sideways with his leg resting on Teal'c's lap. When Teal'c unwrapped the cut, however, it didn't look much worse than it had the day before. But it did look painful as hell.
Jack let Teal'c clean the wound and change the dressing, grateful that he didn't have to do it because despite having eaten something, he still felt shaky. He stood there, hands in his pockets, watching as Daniel hissed and gasped as Teal'c applied antiseptic cream to it. Jack concentrated on the difference the lower pockets of his borrowed clothes felt as opposed to those of his BDUs. When Teal'c finished and was wrapping Daniel's leg, Jack gathered the dirty bandage and tossed it into the garbage.
Daniel looked wiped out, lying there on the couch, still breathing fast. Jack felt a wave of guilt spread over him that he'd recovered more quickly from the raddo root. He took a seat on a chair opposite the couch since Daniel was now occupying most of its length. Both Teal'c and Jack remained quiet, watching Daniel who, after several long moments of silence, cracked one eye open and peered at them quizzically. "What?"
Jack simply raised his eyebrows in response.
Daniel was about to say something, when the door opened and Carter walked in. She paused when she saw them sitting, then smiled and came to join them. As she walked past Jack, he got a whiff of fried meat and exotic spices, plus some flowery scent. It took him a moment to realize there was a flower tucked behind her ear.
"How are you feeling?" She smiled at first Daniel, then Jack. When Jack didn't answer, his gaze still on the flower, she blushed as she plucked the bloom and held it in her hands. "We... Jos and I took a walk in the gardens."
"A walk? In the dark? With the hired help?"
"There's a full moon tonight, sir." Her blush deepened but she jutted out her chin and stared back defiantly. "And just for the record, Jos was explaining the baptism ceremony to me. Which is scheduled for tomorrow, mid morning."
"It's already set?" Jack leaned forward in his chair. "We don't have to meet with the priests and try to explain why we want to dig up the Stargate?"
"No, Jos and Nagan did that today. You made quite an impression on Bishop Purn last night, it seems. Apparently he's never seen anyone eat raddo roots with such relish."
"Sam, if you don't mind me asking, how does Jos know so much?"
Carter perched a hip on the edge of the bolster, next to Daniel. "He's Nagan's brother." She turned to stare defiantly at Jack, who couldn't help smiling.
"Ah, so definitely not the hired help," Jack couldn't help himself from saying.
Teal'c ignored his teasing and got right down to business. "Are we required to prepare for tomorrow, MajorCarter?"
"Not really. We'll be brought out to a shrine outside the city where there's a consecrated pool and that's where we'll be baptized into the faith. We don't need to say anything; the Bishop will say some words and we all step into the pool and he'll anoint us, and we're good to go."
Jack waited for Daniel to start questioning Carter about details, but he seemed content to just lie there and listen. Jack took up the questioning, although trying for the more pertinent questions rather than the ones that would interest Daniel. Time enough for him to study the social studies of these people tomorrow.
"So, once we've done the whole John the Baptist thing, we can grab some supplies and make our way to the 'gate and start digging?"
"Yes, sir. Nagan said if we're lucky we'll most likely have a full day, maybe two, before Algor realizes we're there."
"It may not be possible to unearth the Stargate within twenty-four hours."
"I know, Teal'c." Carter shifted her weight on the edge of the cushion. "It all depends on how the Stargate was buried. It might have a cover stone, like on Earth, which acted like an iris and prevented anyone from coming through, which means we'll need to deal with that also. If not, and if it's facing down, then we'll have to physically raise it, and we'll need manpower. There's no way the four of us can get it upright without heavy machinery."
"And if the Stargate is facing upwards," Teal'c continued, "then we would have no such problem as the backwash would clear the debris concealing it."
"That's true, Teal'c." Daniel made a half-hearted attempt at sitting up, only to flop back down against the cushions. "Except that it's unlikely the Stargate was never activated in the thousands of years it was buried. Even once, would have caused a very noticeable depression in the soil. I'm willing to bet that the 'gate's facing down."
"Then maybe Carter better start practicing her charms on the Lord of the city's brother." Jack ignored Carter's glare and patted Daniel's leg. "C'mon, let's get you back to bed before you end up falling asleep on the couch."
oo~O~oo Jack eyed the rocky path leading to the algae-ridden pool and gave Daniel a sidelong glance as he struggled to position his crutches on already wobbly legs. The moment Daniel was ready to move away from the carriage that had brought them to the site, both Jack and Teal'c jostled for position next to him. Jack finally stepped back and allowed Teal'c the honor, deciding that he would walk behind Daniel and be able and ready to steady him should he falter.
Jack jumped, startled, when four young men and women, who'd followed them in a second carriage, suddenly began blowing into some flute-like instruments. The noise they made was like a cat being skinned alive, until they finally merged into some sort of melody.
"I wish we could have given him another day to recuperate." Carter's voice was soft and wouldn't carry past the grating sound of the four musicians who accompanied them. They followed a procession, led by Bishop Purn and one priest, both of them wearing long, simple gowns decorated with chains of gold, with a pendant made into a disk with wings on either side. Purn's looked to be made of gold and was twice the size of the priest's. The musicians followed behind.
"At least he managed to keep his breakfast down this morning." Jack held back a wince as a young girl blew enthusiastically into a flute like instrument, off key and a full beat behind the other three.
"True. But he's still feverish. I think his leg might be infected. It felt a little hot to the touch this morning."
"Could be the fever."
"I just wish we had more antibiotics."
"Maybe that Bes guy has medicine...?"
"I asked. He said the combination he gave us for fever also helps combat infections. We're going to have to make sure Daniel drinks that tea on a regular basis and hope it'll deal with any infection that's brewing."
Instinctively, Jack reached out as Daniel's crutch slipped on a slab of rock, but Daniel half hopped on his injured leg until Teal'c's hold on his arm held him steady.
Before long, they were approaching the pond. It was covered with green scum, and insects circled its circumference, buzzing wildly. The path they were on led directly into the water.
"Please don't tell me we have to step into that."
"I'm afraid so, sir."
The procession stopped at the water's edge and the Bishop bent down to remove his sandals. He placed them on the side and straightened, then nodded to SG-1, looking pointedly at their feet.
Teal'c was the first to move, getting down onto his knees to untie Daniel's boots. Jack took his own footwear off and gathered both his and Daniel's, while Teal'c then helped Carter, who'd been having trouble with the laces and one good hand. Now, with bare feet touching the chilly stone, SG-1 made their slow way into the middle of the pond.
The bottom was slimy and slippery, and the water was so green that Jack couldn't see his feet, even as his legs displaced the scum-covered water. They followed Purn's directions, so that all four of them were standing in a line, facing some sort of slab at the far end of the pool. Purn stood with his back to the slab, which had the same symbols of a circle and wings as on his pendant. The priest stood off to the side, and the four musicians were circling the pool, still playing as passionately as from the start.
The music around them slowly came to a halt, and the silence was deafening until a bird cheeped inquisitively. Purn reached for a small cup the priest handed to him, dipped it into the water and began chanting. But when he realized the man was spouting Goa'uld, Jack looked to Teal'c in alarm.
Trying to be polite, Jack didn't dare question Teal'c. Purn stepped up to Jack, and waited expectantly. Movement behind the Bishop caught Jack's eye, and the priest was standing with his hands together, palm upwards. He made a quick, waving motion with one hand and resumed the position.
Moving hesitantly, Jack brought his hands up in the same position, and the Bishop poured some water into his cupped hands, chanting away. The priest brought his fingers up to his mouth, as if kissing them. Jack did the same, and the priest beamed. Purn nodded and moved on to Carter.
One by way, he poured water over their hands and waited till they brought their hands to their mouths. He turned to face the slab of stone, muttered some more words, and turned to them, arms outstretched.
Jack glanced towards Daniel, wondering what the proper etiquette was. Daniel bowed his head, and so Jack did the same. That seemed to satisfy the Bishop, who smiled at them.
The very moment Purn waded to the edge of the pool to hand the cup to the priest, Teal'c spoke up, his voice very soft. "It is an ancient dialect, one I am not familiar with. I believe it most likely was passed down throughout the years, since Ashur's rule."
"So, you're saying—"
"We are not in imminent danger of a Goa'uld rising to attack."
The retort of a staff weapon filled the area as the Bishop fell down dead, a dark, charred hole striking the middle of his chest.
oo~O~oo Slow to react, Daniel stumbled in the calf-deep water, struggling with his crutches on the slick bottom. Staff weapons discharged around them, striking their targets with unerring accuracy as none of the musicians nor the priests were quick enough to duck for cover.
Daniel threw himself onto the edge of the pool and rolled behind the large stone slab, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in his leg. He tried to catch his breath, cursing the fever that still had a hold on him. Bad enough he'd felt shaky and weak throughout the whole ceremony; he now needed to gather his strength to help his team get out of this situation.
Speaking of team... he peeked quickly from behind the slab, feeling horribly vulnerable without any weapons. He caught a glimpse of Teal'c and Jack running a zigzag course for the wagon, where they'd left all of their weapons and supplies. If one of them could get their hands on their guns, then the tide could easily change.
He held his breath as Jack slid under the wagon, using it for cover, while Teal'c disappeared behind a large tree. Heavy fire prevented both Jack and Teal'c from reaching inside the wagon. They needed a diversion, something to give them those few seconds to get the weapons. Daniel searched for Sam, realizing he hadn't seen her since the shooting had started. He scanned the victims, at first not being able to distinguish her from the others since none of them had been wearing fatigues. He hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath until he confirmed none of them were Sam.
He could only hope she'd gone around the long way, circling past their attackers.
Maybe if he could try and move in the opposite direction, draw their attention, stop their fire for just a moment. He stood, using one of the crutches as a lever, gathering his strength and mentally preparing himself for the pain this was going to cause. He glanced one last time around the slab, deciding to make a run at an angle, away from the wagon. He took a last deep breath and just as he was about to let go of the crutch and make a dash for it, he heard the distinctive snap of a staff weapon being primed, right behind his left ear.
He turned slowly, seeing a stranger staring back at him. The man, who had no telltale marking of Goa'uld servitude, motioned with a tilt of his head that Daniel should move in the opposite direction.
With the staff weapon held next to his ear, he had no choice but to slowly maneuver around, using the one crutch, and began hobbling away from the fight.
oo~O~oo When the staff blasts suddenly ceased, Jack took hold of the opportunity and scampered into the back of the wagon. He grabbed the first weapons he could put his hands on, which turned out to be a zat and two P90s. He slipped back out of the wagon and ran the few feet separating him and Teal'c, quickly handing Teal'c one of the guns. Together they began making their cautious way back to the pool.
The silence was unnerving, and his stomach clenched so tightly that his breaths were coming out in fast gasps. It either meant that their attackers were waiting in ambush, or that they'd killed off everybody and had moved on. His greatest fear was for Daniel, who he'd lost sight of seconds after the attack had begun. He motioned for Teal'c to circle to the right and paused a moment, listening intently, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his feet due to running through the woods barefoot.
He twirled quickly at the sudden crack of a twig snapping behind him, bringing his weapon to bear and getting ready to shoot, only to shove the barrel to the right when he recognized Carter. She stopped, startled at the near miss, then jogged the few steps to close the gap between them.
Without a word, he handed her the zat that he'd tucked into the back of his pants.
Oddly, they encountered no resistance, even when they stepped up to the edge of the pool. With her zat held at the ready, she crouched next to the nearest victim and checked for a pulse.
"Daniel," Jack hissed. He paused a moment, listening, then began walking towards the other end of the pool.
He stopped next to the young girl who'd played her flute so enthusiastically yet so badly. She still had it clasped in her hand. For a moment Jack hoped she was alive but the two staff blasts in her chest told him otherwise. He stood and stepped over her.
When he reached the end of the pool, he quickened his pace, hoping to find Daniel crouched behind it, under cover and in one piece. Teal'c joined him, coming from the opposite side.
The only thing waiting for him was one of Daniel's crutches.
oo~O~oo The blindfold aggravated the motion of the swaying boat. With his hands bound behind him, Daniel fought back nausea, trying to breathe deeply through his nose to stem the threatening rush of bile, and praying that he wouldn't puke because he'd certainly choke with the gag shoved into his mouth.
His captors were silent, the quiet broken only by the occasional soft splash of oars lowered into water. He'd only seen the one who'd taken him prisoner. Forced to his knees next to a river, he'd been blindfolded, then gagged, and made to get into the nearest of two boats.
He had no idea how long they'd been traveling on the river, but it was long enough for his butt to go numb and his leg to start throbbing. He was sitting at the bottom of the boat, his knees bent close to his chest. The boat itself resembled a very long canoe, and he figured at least a dozen people could fit into it. Someone was kneeling directly in front of him, he could tell by the way his bare toes rested against the person's legs so he wasn't able to stretch his legs and ease the pain. He shifted his weight, trying to find another position for his leg and butt, only to get a hard punch against his lower back.
Gritting his teeth together, he ignored the flash of pain on an already bruised area, and continued to straighten his leg, pushing it against the side of the boat, next to the unknown paddler in front of him. He expected another blow, but to his relief, one didn't come.
He wished he knew what had happened to his team... to Jack. The area in the middle of his chest tensed up and he tried not to go there, worry and sickness pushing his stomach to its limits. Jack was alive. Jack was fine. Jack was standing by the edge of the river, cursing and trying not to hit things. Jack was on his way back to Arnyth, to get help. And it went without saying, Sam and Teal'c were fine and with Jack.
Their BDUs were back in the wagon and Daniel wished fervently that they'd not opted to stay in their borrowed clothes in order not to get their clean outfits wet. They'd planned on changing once the baptism ceremony was over and heading directly to the ruins of Balu. If he'd been wearing his BDUs, he'd have his utility vest on, and with that, his radio. It would have been only a matter of time before he'd, hopefully, have gotten in touch with Jack.
His body swayed with each push of the boat, the motion disorienting and at the same time, soothing. His back and neck were burning with the effort of sitting straight so he allowed himself to lean against the edge of the boat. Despite the pounding headache and throbbing leg, he found himself dozing. Each time his head dropped sharply against his chest, he startled awake. He cursed his weakness, wishing he could at least remove his blindfold and see who had captured him.
The man who'd forced him to the river's edge hadn't seemed comfortable with the staff weapon. Oh, he knew how to use it, but it was painfully apparent that he hadn't the ease a Jaffa had, and had handled the long weapon awkwardly in the close quarters of a wooded area. So, definitely not a Jaffa.
Although he'd found it odd that none of Nagan's guards had carried anything more complicated than a sword or a crossbow. He wondered how the men from Elar, and he was pretty sure these were who they were, had gotten their hands on superior technological weapons. Because if Elar went head to head with Arnyth, they more than had the upper hand and this war would have ended ages ago.
He was desperately thirsty, and wished for the pain-numbing herbal tea that could put him out of his misery for a while., If the chills that were beginning to run up and down his spine were any indicator, it was a sure bet that the earlier tea, which had helped with his fever, had worn off . He sighed, settled himself more comfortably, and forced himself to relax. He couldn't stop but worrying, but figured he might as well make himself comfortable until they got to wherever they were heading.
oo~O~oo The carriage before him tilted dangerously as Teal'c took the turn into the city at breakneck speed. Jack eased the horses' speed slightly to avoid that same mishap, then slapped the reins to try and catch up. Their passengers wouldn't care; his grizzly cargo was something he would have preferred leaving at the pool but doing so would have wasted time; speed was of the essence if they were to get Daniel back, and he needed Nagan's support in this. The bodies were the proof he needed that Arnyth was being attacked.
Carter was yelling at the top of her lungs to clear the way, and people managed to jump out of the horses' path. Guards came galloping towards them, waving at them to slow down and Jack simply pointed towards the mansion, which was their obvious objective.
"Get Nagan," Teal'c demanded as he jumped off the carriage at the same time Jos ran through the mansion's front door. He opened the door to the carriage, revealing the bodies inside. Jos' face went white but he didn't hesitate to run back inside. Jack could hear him yelling for Nagan even as he pulled his carriage up next to Teal'c's.
Immediately, the city's guards surrounded them. "We were ambushed," Jack said as Nagan hurried outside, jumping down awkwardly from the high driver's seat. Teal'c had pushed past the guards' horses, ignoring the drawn swords, and had already opened the door to Jack's carriage, exposing his own load of dead bodies. "They took Daniel. They came by boats, went back down the river."
"Algor," Jos said, the name tight and clipped.
"How did he know? How did..." Nagan, who'd paled visibly as he peered inside the carriages, suddenly straightened. "Call the household staff together, as well as Purn's people. This is the work of a spy and we're going to find him."
"Nagan, I need to know how to get to Elar. And suggestions as to where they might be holding Daniel." His speech quick and clipped, Jack reached for his supplies, tucked up under the driver's seat, and began stripping his clothes then and there.
Nagan stared at Jack, watching numbly as all three of them exchanged the citizens' cotton for their BDUs. He eyed their weapons a long moment, and his eyes followed Jack's P-90 up until he clipped it to his vest.
"You know going after your friend will mean all out war against Elar."
"I've a newsflash. The Elarans just killed seven of your people, maybe eight. We haven't found the second driver's body yet." The last thing Jack gathered was Daniel's glasses, almost overlooked by the water's edge where their attackers had gotten into boats. He tucked them carefully into one of the vest's pockets.
"These injuries... these are not from weapons I am familiar with. How do I know it was not you who—"
Taking quick aim, Jack squeezed off a single shot. The branch he'd aimed for exploded and the bullet impacted in another tree trunk several feet behind. "These are our weapons; what did this to your people are from Jaffa's." Jack didn't dare bring up Teal'c's staff weapon. Nagan stood, open-mouthed, staring at the pieces of wood littering beneath the tree, before dragging his gaze back to Jack. He eyed both Carter and Teal'c, taking in their weapons, and from his obvious non-recognition of Teal'c's staff weapon, Jack's assumptions were affirmed.
"Jaffa? That is a term you or Daniel have mentioned—"
"They were Ashur's guardians." Teal'c, dressed and prepped, stood next to Carter, who was in the process of awkwardly clipping her P-90 to her vest.
"Ashur has returned?" Panic laced Jos' voice.
"It is unlikely that the attackers were Jaffa." Teal'c gave Jack a quick look, and Jack nodded. They'd quickly thrown out possibilities of what had happened on their mad rush back to the carriages, and one of the scenarios they'd discarded was that their attackers were Jaffa. Although there were several victims in this attack, none of SG-1 had been hit, proving that the attackers were basically familiar with the staff weapons, but not adept enough to hit a moving target. That, plus the fact that SG-1, as a whole, should have easily been captured, considering that none of them had been armed.
It was more than obvious that Daniel had been the target; and Jack had berated himself the moment he'd realized it. Injured, they'd counted on the team running for their weapons, leaving the only person who couldn't keep up to run for cover.
Jack hadn't realized he'd sworn out loud until he saw Jos jump. Okay, so much for war-hardened leaders. Jack was about to berate them when he realized that possibly it was the idea of their god returning that had them spooked.
"They didn't have the accuracy that the Jaffa... the guardians," he amended quickly. "Trust me, if it had been Jaffa who'd attacked us, none of us would have returned alive to tell the tale."
Nagan swallowed, then swallowed again. "Then how did Algor come across these formidable weapons?"
"That's the sixty-four thousand dollar question."
Nagan blinked, then turned to Jos. "Gather the men and arm them. Meet us at the outskirts of the city." He then motioned Jack into the mansion. "There's a map," he said when Jack didn't budge.
Fifteen minutes later, Jack had a pretty good idea that the city of Elar was going to be impenetrable. Unlike Arnyth, it was built high on a hilltop, and it would be nigh to impossible to sneak into. He started grasping at ideas.
"Carter, the bounty hunters' ship. Any chance we can get it into the air?"
"Not without major repairs and a prayer, sir."
"And unfortunately, there is no transport ring capability on the vessel."
Jack realized he had a death hold on the grip of his weapon. He forced his fingers to relax and lowered his hand. "Options? Suggestions?"
"There were at least a dozen staff weapons firing at us. Even if Nagan has a small army, we will still be overpowered."
"What about if we try and hold Balu? That way we force Algor to come to us, give us at least better fighting odds."
"We have often contemplated such a contingency." Nagan quickly replaced the map of Elar with one of Balu. "We would have marksmen situated here, here and here." He pointed at several areas which Jack guessed were high points. "This way we could have all possible entrances covered."
"How many ways into the city?"
"There are two main entrances, plus a handful of sections where the walls have toppled and men could enter one at a time. The problem is that there is no cover, and anyone approaching will be seen. A portion of the wall, however, lies within the forest of Crom. The wall there is undamaged but—"
"Then that's our move. We lay claim to the city and—"
"My Lord! My Lord!"
They all turned towards the door, where a soldier was hurrying into the room. "We've gotten reports that farmers have been abducted by Algor's men."
"Balu?" Jack asked with a sinking heart.
The soldier nodded, and Nagan's face hardened. "So Algor has taken Balu before us."
"Then we take Balu back." Jack turned to Carter. "How much C-4 have we got?"
"Enough to blow pretty big holes in a couple of stone walls."
"You have a plan, O'Neill?"
"There're parts of the wall where we can get to it unseen?"
"Yes, but the fortifications are—"
"Doesn't matter. We'll get you through that wall; the rest will be up to your soldiers."
oo~O~oo Blind and off balance, Daniel stumbled and fell to his knees yet one more time. And one more time, his captors hauled him to his feet and half dragged him along. Barely able to put weight on his injured leg, Daniel finally allowed his captors to bear the majority of his weight and let them do the work.
It felt like he'd been on his feet for hours, but a part of him knew it couldn't have been more than thirty minutes. The only act of compassion he'd received was to have shoes shoved onto his bare feet, for which he was immensely grateful. He had no idea where they were, except that in some places, he was dragged through thigh-high growth. He was too well acquainted with those as he kept tripping over unseen stalks.
When his escorts finally brought him up short and pulled him upright, Daniel was totally unprepared. He stumbled and attempted to catch his balance on uneven ground while keeping most of his weight off his injured leg. His blindfold and gag were ripped off, and he blinked in the bright sunlight, blinded by the glare.
Daniel swayed, his legs shaking as he tried to get his bearings. Through tear-filled eyes, he saw several persons standing before him. He straightened, trying not to show more weakness than they'd already seen, hopping on his good leg to keep his balance. He moved his tongue in his mouth, trying to produce enough spit so he could talk. He cleared his throat with difficulty.
"Um... hello." Okay, a little croaky and not exactly something that would carry to the far end of an audience-filled room, but it was a start.
He squinted, trying to make out who he was facing. There were times when it was difficult to tell who was in charge until they came forward. Unlike Nagan, who comported himself, both in dress and attitude, like one of his people. But even with his slowly clearing eyesight, Daniel could see one man stood out from the rest. Jewelry flashed on his neck, arms, fingers, ears, and forehead. His clothes were richly colored, and the men flanking him were positively subservient.
Except for one.
"You," Daniel exclaimed in shock.
oo~O~oo Jack was frothing at the bit, hating how everything had taken so much time to get organized. Every instinct screamed for him to drop everything and run in to save Daniel, but he knew that would only get both of them killed. He had a plan; he just needed time to make it work.
Nagan's study was filled with maps of Balu and the only paintings of the city, two of which had been borrowed from the Church and the library. Getting acquainted with the ruins was taking time, but now Jack had a pretty good idea of the city's layout.
And he knew where they were going to break into the city. It was getting there that was going to take time. To get to the forest, they'd have to circle around the city itself, meaning at least an extra couple of hours on top of the half-day hoofing it there.
Nagan entered the study, carrying two oil lamps and Jack blinked in surprise. He hadn't realized how dark it had gotten.
"The men are ready, and the citizens are leaving the city now and are heading for the safety of Iberan. And Iberan's soldiers will be arriving within a few hours."
Jos came in, followed by Carter and Teal'c. "The men have been briefed, Nagan. We're set to go."
Nagan looked haggard, which wasn't surprising as the man's citizens were being uprooted and most likely the coming battle would either make, or break, the conflict. "The moon will be rising three hours before sunrise. We leave then. I suggest we all get some rest in the meantime."
Jack gave the map one last look, satisfied that he'd committed the main points to memory. He headed for their rooms and sat tiredly on the couch. The mug Daniel had drank out of that morning still sat on the coffee table and Jack picked it up, wondering where Daniel was, and whether he was even still alive.
He told himself Daniel still had to be alive; he'd been kidnapped, he was obviously going to be used as a hostage because he couldn't bring himself to think of anything else.
Both Carter and Teal'c took seats close by. Neither spoke; they knew him too well to offer false platitudes. They all knew the score; they all knew the possible outcomes. He caught their eyes and held their gaze, one after the other, and nodded. They'd do this, they'd get Daniel back.
He got up and headed for his room. He had a couple of hours to kill and he was going to spend them running possible scenarios through his head.
oo~O~oo "And here? What of here?" Algor waved to those two dozen servants carrying oil lamps and like they'd done for the past two hours since the sun had set, they spread out, illuminating the immediate area.
"Is it here, Doctor Jackson? Is the Stargate buried here?" And like each time they'd stopped to survey the land since late afternoon, Daniel's former captor, the one who'd somehow survived and escaped the spaceship's crash, grabbed Daniel's shoulder and pushed him forward into the center of the area in question.
He was limping so badly he was barely able to stay on his feet. Catching himself on a piece of collapsed wall, Daniel looked around and recognized the area he'd seen from the hills just two days ago. The evidence of a buried Stargate right beneath their feet was negligible; it had been obvious from up above but down here, the patterns looked the same as any other part of the ruined city. And the DHD was here somewhere; they'd made a positive ID of it when they'd ridden by. It was possible that the bounty hunter had described the device to the men and told them to be on the looking for it. If not, then he was possibly the only other person who'd recognize it apart from Daniel.
Daniel did exactly as he'd done the dozens of times the bounty hunter questioned him; he remained silent and acted dumb. Not hard, if you thought about it; he'd learned from the best.
"You said the portal would be easy to find." Algor, who had grown more impatient with each passing hour, turned on the bounty hunter. "You said this man would know where the portal is. We've walked the lengths of Balu and he hasn't found it yet."
Daniel took advantage of Algor's distraction and slid down the edge of the wall until he was sitting. He bent his injured leg carefully, placing his hands above the wound, wishing he could stem the intense throbbing with a touch. His whole body ached, both from exhaustion and fever, and more than likely from a touch of dehydration. Even sitting hurt his back and hips, and his neck felt too sore to hold his head up. He'd give anything to be able to stretch out on a grassy area just a few feet away.
"I started a war because you said he would know how to find the portal." Without turning, Algor pointed at Daniel. "At this very moment, Nagan is more than likely amassing his men and getting ready to attack Elar for retribution. All my men are here, and if we can't locate and unearth the portal before he attacks, we won't be able to contact Ashur and return his people into their rightful place at our god's feet."
"Um... Excuse me?" Daniel cleared his throat when Algor turned to glare at him. "Isn't Ashur dead? Nagan said someone by the name of Krack killed Ashur?"
"Lies. Heretic lies." Algor pointed to the bounty hunter. "He has seen Ashur. He has attended Ashur's court." Algor's face changed, his expression turning to manic obsession as he spoke. "I will bring our people back into Ashur's grace and I will sit at my god's right hand. As Zerinda Lei has stated," Algor said, turning to look at the bounty hunter with more leniency, "Ashur believes our descendents were killed by Krack and his followers. Ashur will be pleased to learn that his servants are strong warriors and that we did not die—"
"You don't want to do that," Daniel said quickly, knowing he had only a short time to try and convince his captor of his mistake. "Even if Ashur is alive, he isn't some benevolent god your friend is trying to make you believe he is. The Goa'uld are evil, and even if you manage to contact one, he'll more than likely cut you down like an insect. He'll take your people, enslave them, use the youngest and fairest to host more of his own kind, and kill the rest. He doesn't have need of warriors, he has his own. Jaffa are stronger than your men will ever be and—"
Daniel stopped talking, recognizing the particular tone in Algor's voice as being too far self-involved as to think of others' well being, especially that of his own people. Daniel was pretty sure the bounty hunter had simply spouted these lies in an attempt to locate the Stargate for his own means of escape. Whether or not there was a Goa'uld at the end of the 'gate address he was going to provide Algor, was yet another matter for worry.
Algor motioned for his men to move on, and before Daniel could even try to stand on his own, he was hauled to his feet. Forced to follow, he was grateful that they were moving away from the buried Stargate. If Nagan was going to attack, most likely Jack would be with him. All Daniel had to do now was try and stall, and pray for rescue.
oo~O~oo "Colonel. We have a problem."
Jack watched Carter striding towards him, holding something in her hand that glinted off the lamps and torches illuminating the entrance to Nagan's mansion. Jack recognized the piece of glass just as Carter reached him.
"Jos said it was a relic from the time when Krack attacked the Goa'uld and killed it."
"The DHD's activation button?"
"Plus two slivers of what appears to be a power crystal. Sir, even if we do get the Stargate working, we won't be able to dial out without a power source."
Jack acknowledged this was going to be a problem, but right now he had other priorities. They couldn't go home until they defeated the small army waiting for them in Balu, and he wasn't leaving until he found Daniel.
"We'll worry about that when we get Daniel back."
"Of course, sir. I just thought you should know." She gave Jack a small, forced smile, which he assumed was supposed to be supportive but from the glint of lamplight reflected in her eyes, he knew she was just as worried as he was about Daniel. "Because, you know, the way things have been going since we started out on this mission, it's no surprise that something else went wrong."
"Well, this is us we're talking about. If this were an ideal situation," Jack said quickly, "we'd just go back to that spaceship where we left it up in the mountains. You'd get it up and running with nothing more than a few strips of duct tape and a screwdriver. I'd fly it over to where Daniel's being held, we'd ring him up—" He held out a hand when Carter opened her mouth. "Yeah, yeah, I know, the ships got no transport capabilities but our luck has to change sometime, doesn't it?
Jack looked to see if he could get a real smile from her, and when her face lit up, he nearly patted himself on the back. Then he frowned. Okay, he was good, but usually not this good. He'd thought his example kind of lame, actually, but it was the best his tired mind could come up with on short notice.
"Thank you, sir. You're right. The answer's in that spaceship."
oo~O~oo Beyond exhausted, Daniel leaned against a piece of broken-down wall and tried not to fall down. They'd forced him to walk through the city the whole night, and hour by hour he could feel his strength waning as his fever rose. Even though it had been sorely overused, from the way his leg was hurting, Daniel had the sinking feeling that the cut was infected.
He tried to hide the chills that wracked his body; the damp night air clung to his clothes and chilled his skin. For the third time that night, Algor ordered his men to start digging in an area he thought might conceal the Stargate. The bounty hunter paced back and forth amidst the workers, ordering them to dig faster.
Knowing he had a short reprieve, Daniel sat on the wall and leaned against the crumbling masonry. He closed his eyes for a moment, listening to the sounds of shovels striking earth, which oddly echoed the sound of his heartbeat beating through his skull.
"We're running out of time."
Daniel ignored Zerinda Lei's comment, but when the agitated bounty hunter's footsteps came his way, he resignedly opened his eyes, expecting the man to physically haul him up onto his feet. Lei didn't disappoint, and Daniel's injured leg gave out, forcing the bounty hunter to let him go as Daniel dropped to the ground. Glaring up at Lei, Daniel allowed himself a bit of grim satisfaction that the man hadn't been able to haul him over to the diggers and demand that he pick up a shovel this time.
Or maybe not. Lei grabbed Daniel's arm and tugged him upwards. The man's strength was considerable; he was built like Teal'c and just as strong. How his team had overpowered these guys in the first place had been a miracle.
"Leave him." Algor strode slowly towards them, staring down at Daniel as Lei reluctantly obeyed and let go of him. Daniel collapsed to the ground, unable to hold back a hiss of pain. He turned as quickly as he could towards Algor, wary of the approaching man. Daniel could see him clearly, and it struck him with a shock that the sun had risen and he hadn't even noticed.
"You're right, we are running out of time. If he won't talk, then maybe his friends will. Bring him."
Two of Algor's flunkies broke off from digging and grabbed Daniel, this time succeeding in hauling him to his feet. Certain that he wasn't being brought to another part of the city in the hopes of identifying the buried Stargate, Daniel looked around with trepidation. Fifteen minutes later, Daniel knew his fate.
oo~O~oo "This is SG-1 leader. I'm in position." Tired, worried, frustrated and ready to kick enemy butt, Jack let go of the radio and began affixing the C4 to the abandoned city's outer walls even as several of Nagan's best archers scaled the wall to his left and right. The sun had risen about an hour ago and it had taken the army longer to wend its way through the thick woods than he'd anticipated. He set the detonator to the C4, waited for the last of the sharpshooters to climb over, then motioned the nearest of the warriors into position as he spoke into the radio.
"C4 is set. Is everyone ready?"
"We're at the north entrance, sir. I estimate it'll take approximately ten minutes for us to break cover and make our way inside."
"I concur, O'Neill. We are also in position at the southern entrance." Teal'c's voice came through directly behind Carter's. "Although there is something just beyond the entrance which we cannot identify."
"The entrances should be clear." Nagan, who'd been given Daniel's radio, spoke quickly. "If anything blocks the entrances, then it's Algor's doing."
"Carter, T, can any of you get a clear view?"
"Shit." Mumbling to himself, Jack moved back to the wall, looking for handholds. Jos hurried behind him and offered him a hand up. With a bit more swearing and struggling, Jack got himself up onto a flat part of the wall and looked around, trying to spot whatever Algor had set up in both entrances of the city.
He could just about make something to the north. Lying on the wall, he pulled himself forward several inches, trying for a clearer view. He pulled his field glasses from his vest and trained them on what looked like a large clutter of logs, like an immense tumbleweed.
The zoomed picture before him sent a surge of anger and fear through him. It was a tumbleweed, all right. Huge jumbles of logs were affixed together, blocking the way into the ruins. And tied to these logs, were people. More than a dozen. If the same thing was happening at the south end, then these were most likely Nagan's missing farmers. He panned slowly through the chaos, searching for Daniel. The third time through, he gave up, unable to identify any of the men from this distance. If Daniel had been wearing his BDUs, it might have been different but his clothes were identical to the rest of the prisoners.
He clicked his radio. "There's at least a dozen hostages tied to some kind of contraption on the north end." Jack examined the ground, between the logs, and swore. "Looks like they're planning on a bonfire."
"Colonel, is Daniel..."
"I don't know." Jack's words were clipped. He kept his finger on the mic. "I'm going in for a closer look. I want everybody to sit tight." He spoke to one of the waiting men below. "You know the layout of the city?"
The man nodded.
"Go catch up to the archers and tell them to hold their positions until I've come back. Make sure you're not seen. Then come back and wait for me here."
The man was over the wall in a flash, and remembering his own struggle up the wall, Jack suddenly felt old. He watched the man a moment, then confident that the warrior was being sneaky enough, lowered himself into the city and became sneaky himself.
He followed the wall, using the broken buildings nearby as cover. He paused once to quickly examine an area where the soil had been dug up very recently.
He resumed his approach, then paused and took cover when he heard the scuff of a boot heel on rock. He paused, waited, and a man walked slowly by. He was dressed in clothes different from that of the men that had accompanied them to Balu, so Jack's only hesitation before shooting him was to make sure he was alone.
Fear and anger over Daniel's welfare had been held in check for too long, and zatting the enemy had felt good. Real good.
Using a strip of material from the man's clothes, he quickly hogtied him before moving on. Twenty minutes later, he had climbed on top of the partial remains of a building and was scanning the entrance once again. He did a quick count, and reached for his mic.
"This is SG-1 leader. I make at last two hundred soldiers by the north entrance." He trained his field glasses once more over the prisoners tied to the tumbleweed, moving slowly, until one man's profile caught his attention. "I've found Daniel," he reported. "He's among the prisoners." He continued watching, waiting anxiously, until Daniel moved his head.
He exhaled explosively, not realizing he'd been holding his breath.
Relieved and empowered with the knowledge that Daniel was alive, Jack lowered himself to the ground and began making his way back. "Okay, we go to plan B. Algor's expecting us to come through the two main entrances, with the hostages between us and his army. Instead of using the C4 as a diversion, we'll have two small teams head towards both entrances and then pull back, making them think Nagan's army is on their doorsteps. That way Algor'll pull his attention away from the interior of the city.
"Nagan, you come in as planned. I'll give the word when I engage the enemy, and you send your men in through the gaps in the walls. They'll be too busy fighting to notice you until it's too late.
"Carter, Teal'c, I want you both to send half your men to my position and follow us in over the wall as our backup. Jos and I will split the army, go north and south, and when we've engaged the enemy, I want you to come in through the front gates and free the hostages with the remaining men."
He heard his team's acknowledgements and he ran through the scenario in his head as he hurried back. He was nearly at the spot where he'd climbed over the wall when a man, who'd been crouching in the shade, stood up suddenly. Jack raised his zat instinctively, only to lower it when he recognized the man he'd used as messenger.
"Are the archers still waiting?"
"Good. I want you to go tell them to get into their prearranged positions. But their goal now is to protect the prisoners as well as to take down those using the staff weapons. We'll hold off attacking for a while, give the rest of the army time to move into position. Tell them to wait, and that their cue is when the fighting starts, instead of the explosion."
"Yes, sir." The man was off, leaving Jack alone to scale the wall by himself.
As Jack began dismantling the charges of C4, he barked out orders. By the time he stuffed the explosives back into his vest pockets, several men had been deployed to search for wood and vines.
"This is your last chance, Doctor Jackson." Lei stood before Daniel, bloodied knife held lazily in his hand. The man whom he'd just stabbed was still screaming in pain, each shriek like a nail digging into Daniel's skull. "Tell me where the Stargate is, and I'll make sure he dies swiftly."
"Go to hell." The words were forced out with difficulty. Strung up by his arms, his injured leg was unable to hold his full weight, and so his shoulders felt like they were slowly being pulled out of their sockets. The position was putting a strain on his chest and he was having trouble breathing.
He knew the man's death would eventually be on his conscience, but at the moment, he just wished the man would die already, just so he'd stop screaming. The thought hit him that if the bounty hunter tortured a second prisoner, Daniel might just tell him where the Stargate was just to get some peace and quiet. Daniel chuckled, the sound startling him. The chuckle turned into a cough, and when it was over, he was left breathless and fighting the nail that had now made permanent residency inside his skull.
Ignoring Lei, Daniel looked at the soldiers who were guarding them. "Your leader is following a liar." He took a shaky breath. These men were ignoring him, just as everyone he'd tried talking to. "Where I come from, the beings you considered a god are evil, and will, without a doubt, destroy your people. What this man is looking for," Daniel glared at Lei, who was watching him with a look of amusement, "is only a means to leave this world and go back to his own. He doesn't care about you or your gods."
"And what of you, Doctor Jackson?" Lei stepped nearer, his face looming close enough that Daniel got a whiff of bad breath. "Your team was looking for the Stargate. Weren't you trying to find a way home, too?"
"Yes." Daniel fought back the pressure in his chest which was looming into another coughing spree. He saw the handful of guards watching him intently; for the first time, he realized he really and truly had their attention. "But we weren't planning on siccing a Goa'uld on them after we left." He turned to the guards, speaking as quickly as he could before he had to give in to the cough. "This man is a bounty hunter. He hunts people and captures them, exchanging them for money." The soldiers' faces expressed their shock at Daniel's words, and he spoke with his last breath. "He'll hand your planet over to a Goa'uld, a race of beings who enslave people, who you knew as Ashur generations ago." Coughing abruptly bit off his last words and Daniel tried to watch the soldiers' reactions, but his vision was wavering as spots danced before his eyes.
"Is this true?" One of the soldiers faced Lei. "Nagan may be our enemy, but he is an intelligent man. He and his priests wouldn't fall for strangers' words unless they truly believed them." He took a step forward. "Are you bringing destruction to my people?"
With barely a glance at the soldier, Lei backhanded him, the blow so strong the man fell to the ground, dazed. "You dare question your own Lord's orders?" The other soldiers seemed undecided, and for a moment Daniel hoped they would jump the bounty hunter. But Lei stared them down, and reluctantly, one of them grabbed his fallen teammate and dragged him to his feet. The remaining three turned and stood at attention, ignoring Daniel.
Lei moved closer to Daniel, speaking softly so that his words only reached his ears. His face loomed before him, and Daniel couldn't even turn his head away. "You won't win. We've got superior firepower thanks to that cache of hidden weapons I found. These primitives fight with nothing but swords; we'll blast through them like malkatesh nuts in a bonfire."
Then Lei stepped back, giving Daniel some space. "But you can save them. Okay, maybe not this poor bastard here." Lei made a short, sweeping motion at the still screaming man. "But everyone else. It's all up to you, Doctor Jackson. If you tell me where the Stargate is, we can get it up and running and even the enemy will put down their weapons in the thrill of meeting their god."
Daniel didn't reply. Lei had a point. If Algor's men found and raised the Stargate before the attacking army arrived, the sight of it might just be enough to turn the tide. He just prayed that the majority of the men thought the way Nagan did.
Daniel couldn't hold back a gasp when Lei approached a hostage tied up on his right and without warning, stabbed him in the abdomen with the knife. Daniel closed his eyes at the look of pleasure on Lei's face and bit his cheek, trying to keep his own screams from joining that of the two dying men.
oo~O~oo Within thirty minutes, several dozen crude ladders had been constructed. Jos waggled his eyebrows at the nearest ladder and Jack, this time with less of a struggle, went over the wall a third time.
It took less time than he'd anticipated to reposition the men, and within fifteen minutes, they were moving out. He hated having to break up the army but they had no choice. Jack took half and went north, while Jos took half and went south, leaving a handful of men to wait for the troops Carter and Teal'c were sending over.
"This is SG-1 leader. We'll be in position to attack within a few minutes. Carter, Teal'c, stand ready for that diversion when I give the signal. Nagan, you start sending your men through on my mark."
Jack looked over at Jos, who nodded. Jack wished they'd had a fifth radio for the man. "When you hear the fighting start, engage the enemy."
"From what Samantha described, I gather I won't have trouble knowing when the fighting has begun."
"No, that you won't."
"May your arrows fly true, O'Neill."
"Um, yeah, you too." Jack glanced over Jos' shoulder at the men who were gathered, waiting. "Godspeed."
It took him and his army ten minutes to get into position. On the way, they found three lookouts with arrows through their throats. He looked around, trying to spot their hidden sharpshooters. He sighted one and gave him a two-fingered salute. The man nodded back in acknowledgement, then returned to scanning the area around them.
Soon they couldn't move forward without giving themselves away.
"Carter, Teal'c, now. Do it now. Nagan, start sending your men through."
Carter's response came through the radio and he raised a hand, warning the men closest to him that they were on the verge of attacking. He could see Algor's army, most of them lounging around, waiting for the action to start. Within seconds the alarm was raised and they quickly rallied, turning their backs to the interior of the city.
With a flick of his wrist, Jack motioned his people forward. Then all hell broke loose.
oo~O~oo The battle was bloody, furious and the type of one-on-one that Jack wasn't used to. He fell back, using his weapons to pick off the combatants one by one, unable to spray bullets into the fray because of the close combat situation. He skirted the edges of the fighting, trying to make his way to the prisoners. He didn't deny that his main mission was to rescue Daniel, but at the same time he hoped that Algor was on this side of the city because that man was dead, he just didn't know it yet.
He fired whenever he was confident of a clear shot, but the fighting men were in constant motion, swords flashing as they maneuvered for a killing thrust, only to be blocked by their opponents. He heard several thwumps of staff weapons, but those were silenced almost immediately. Nagan's sharpshooters were obviously on the ball, and had better positions to shoot from than he did.
Nagan's description of Algor was accurate, and Jack had no difficulty in spotting the man as he circled the fighters. The leader was waving his hands in agitation at several soldiers who'd apparently been delegated as his bodyguards, and was staying well away from Carter's troops.
Carter had engaged the enemy at her end and the fighting was just as fierce.
Jack's plan seemed to be working, catching the enemy by surprise and preventing them from executing the prisoners. But that wouldn't last long; sooner or later Algor would probably sacrifice the prisoners so Jack needed to move fast. The tide of the battle would probably turn in their favor as soon as Iberan's army caught up with them, but until then...
Jack reached the far end of the wooden platform which held the prisoners. He put one hand on his knife, intending to begin cutting the prisoners loose, when Algor apparently decided to do whatever his men were refusing to do. Jack froze when Algor grabbed the remains of a guttering torch and began running for the giant woodpile.
Oh god, no. He was going to set the thing on fire.
Jack raised his weapon, trying to get Algor into his sights, but there were too many obstacles between them. He started running, looking for Daniel among the prisoners, when two of the enemy's men tackled Algor, stopping him just before he was close enough to throw the torch.
Breathing hard, more from anxiety than exertion, Jack watched in shock as one of Algor's men drew his sword and ran it through Algor. Then the man began yelling at the top of his lungs, ordering everyone to stop fighting.
The second man took up the call, and before long, several men had stepped back from the battle and lowered their swords to the ground. A long, piercing wail cut through the air and Jack turned in the direction it came from. The wail repeated itself, and nearly immediately, the fighting stopped.
"O'Neill, the enemy has surrendered."
"Yeah, T, got the same thing going here, too."
"What of DanielJackson?"
"I'm looking for him as we speak." Jack began jogging down the length of the platform, reaching Daniel just as Nagan's soldiers arrived to begin cutting down the prisoners. Jack climbed up onto the edge of the platform and reached for Daniel. A soldier climbed up next to him and began cutting the bonds that were holding Daniel up. At their touch, Daniel opened his eyes and stared at them with an unfocused gaze.
"Shit." The heat coming through Daniel's clothes was unmistakable.
"It's me. Hang on. We'll get you down from here in a second."
"Jack, what's happening?" Released from his bonds, Daniel collapsed bonelessly into Jack's arms. Jack staggered, one hand holding Daniel against his chest while the other hung onto a pole for balance. With the soldier's help, they got Daniel off the platform and lowered him to the ground.
"Colonel!" Even as Jack knelt next to Daniel, Carter rushed up to them.
"Sam?" Obviously fighting his disorientation, Daniel tried to sit up.
"Daniel, stay still."
"He's burning up."
"That's pretty obvious," Jack snarked back at Carter.
"Fighting... I heard... fighting..."
"The fight's over, Daniel. We won."
"Stargate..." Daniel coughed and Jack took his water bottle off his belt and unscrewed the top.
"Here." Raising Daniel's head just enough so he could drink without choking, Jack let some water dribble onto his mouth. "Algor's dead. His men gave up the fight."
Daniel drank greedily, and Jack pulled the bottle back, afraid Daniel was going to choke. "Slowly, okay?" Daniel nodded weakly and Jack gave him a bit more water.
"Stargate?" Daniel repeated as Jack laid him back onto the ground.
"It's secure." He held a hand to Daniel's shoulder, his thumb moving slowly in a gentle caress through his clothes.
"What about Lei?" He stared at both Jack with glassy, nearly unfocused eyes.
"Who?" Carter, who was examining a prisoner next to Daniel with a gut wound, looked up over at them both.
"Bounty hunter. He talked Algor... into believing... Ashur... wasn't dead... and he'd be in... his favor if he... opened the Stargate."
"Sonofabitch." Understanding hit Jack like a club over the head. "You mean this whole fight's been thanks to that bounty hunter who escaped?"
"Where is he?" Carter stood quickly, scanning the men around them.
"Dunno... dead?" Daniel's eyes closed and Jack shifted his hand so that his fingers cupped the side of Daniel's neck and throat.
"He sure as hell will be," Jack vowed as he turned to Carter. "Warn Teal'c and Nagan that the bounty hunter's on the loose. Bring all of Algor's men to the center of the city, and have Iberan's troops watch them. I want guards set up around the city until we find that bastard, and I want Teal'c to keep an eye on the area where the 'gate is, just in case."
Jack reluctantly let go of Daniel, and stood. "And I want to talk to that man." Jack pointed to the soldier who'd killed Algor, held under guard just a few feet from the man's body.
The prisoner came willingly, glaring at Jack while locking his knees, as if expecting to be forced down to kneel. "Before you execute me, you must hear me."
Jack raised his chin. "Go on."
The prisoner glanced down at Daniel, then at the two other wounded ex-prisoners lying on the ground not far from Daniel. "We did not want this; we had no hand in their torture. Our Lord was lied to." He looked again at Daniel before raising his eyes to Jack. "He," the man said, meaning Daniel, "told us about the monsters who are out there. The goold. The priests tried to talk to Algor, but he murdered those who spoke out, to keep them in line.
"We all know the stories of how cruel Ashur was, despite the unpopular faction our Lord Algor followed who believed Krack had wrongly murdered him centuries ago. I... we, didn't want Ashur's return."
The man swallowed. Sweat beaded his upper lip and Jack could see the desperation and fear in his eyes. Fear, Jack guessed, not for himself, but for his fellow soldiers. He'd killed his leader, so he expected to die. But in doing, so this man was hoping to save the rest of his people for having followed a madman.
Jack could live with that.
"Algor killed too many already. I couldn't allow him to take more lives, to cause more deaths between both our people. So I stopped him."
Jack looked at the two guards who were taking no chances; their swords were drawn, one close to the prisoner's throat, the other close to his chest. "Let him go."
"You heard me." Jack waited until the swords were lowered. Not sheathed, but the immediate threat removed. He turned back to the prisoner. "Your men, how will they take your murdering their leader?"
Seeming bewildered by Jack's actions, the man looked around uncertainly before speaking. "Most wish for peace between Elar and Arnyth. We knew that would never happen under Algor's rule. Too many have perished already, for what? So that the Elarians may pray at the shrine of Krack, while the Algorans wish it torn down because he believed it to be heretic."
"So you're saying, if I let you join your people over there," Jack said, pointing behind his shoulder towards the subjugated army, "none of them are gonna pull a knife and slit your throat?"
"You are worried for my safety?" Surprise and shock caused the man's voice to rise half an octave.
Jack shrugged. "Wouldn't want anything happen to the hero of the battle, now, would we?"
"The army was under my control. The men followed my lead. They surrendered, did they not? We had... discussed this situation before the battle. My people want peace."
Jack turned to the guards. "Take him to Nagan. Let the two of them work this out."
When the prisoner was escorted away, Jack turned to Carter, who was now kneeling by Daniel's leg and trying to unwrap the bandage one-handed. Daniel stirred weakly, trying to shift his leg away from her touch. Jack batted her hand away and did the job himself. When he pulled the last of the bandage away, they saw the redness and oozing of the infected wound.
Jack reached for his radio. "Teal'c, I need you here to give me a hand with Daniel. Carter's gonna go relieve you. Nagan, we need to get the Stargate up and running ASAP. You got men to spare to help us dig?"
There was a pause, and Nagan's voice came through. "I've dispatched a dozen to the area. Will that suffice?"
"Perfect. Thanks." Kneeling, he took the fresh bandage out of Carter's hand. "Go." She was off and running even before he'd started wrapping the bandage around the seeping wound.
oo~O~oo Jack hated feeling helpless and useless.
First off, there was nothing he could do for Daniel except try and make him comfortable. And all that entailed was having Teal'c carry Daniel into a shady area near the dig site, shove his folded vest beneath Daniel's head as a pillow and brew him a mix of the teas specifically aimed at lowering fever and killing pain. He didn't even have blankets to cover Daniel's shivering body with so he used both his and Teal'c's jackets to cover him as best he could. The sound of Daniel's chattering teeth and uneven, shaky breaths were tearing at him, making him feel even more useless and helpless. And worried.
Secondly, Teal'c had the excavation of the Stargate well under way. With the dozen men Nagan had provided, even in the short time since the battle, they were making fast progress and it looked like they'd be attempting to raise it by late afternoon.
Thirdly, Carter had gone off to the spaceship to scavenge the auxiliary battery to power up the Stargate in view of the damaged DHD. He could have gone with her but to what end? Even one-handed, Carter could unscrew the machinery faster than he could.
God, he hated alien technology. Nearly as much as he felt feeling helpless and useless.
Fourthly, Nagan and the head honcho from the other city, Iberan, were busy negotiating with the new guy who'd taken over Algor's army. This was a civil matter and it looked like they'd be able to solve their problems on their own. He was just the sap who through some miracle in fate, brought three armies together with surprisingly minimal deaths considering what the outcome could have been. Although the army docs still had their hands full with cuts and stab wounds.
He gave the tea a quick stir with his finger. Almost ready; it just needed to cool a little. He carefully strained the liquid into a cup and put it aside. He turned to check on Daniel and saw that he was curled up on his side, watching him through half-slitted eyes.
"Won't be long; Carter'll be back by morning and we'll hopefully get you home in no time."
"What about Lei?"
Jack wasn't sure if he heard fear in Daniel's voice. "He's disappeared." He watched Daniel's face carefully. "We've got guards on the lookout but he managed to get lost in the melee."
"He enjoyed hurting those men, Jack."
Okay, not fear for him, but concern for the poor victims who'd fallen prey to a madman's torture. One of them had already died from blood loss; the other one, from experience, Jack knew wouldn't last till morning. And even if a miracle happened and they got the 'gate open within the next few minutes, he was probably still too far gone for Fraiser to save.
"I'm sorry, Daniel."
Bloodshot eyes stared at him for a long moment, and then closed when understanding came to him. "They were farmers, Jack. They went out into a war zone every day to try and grow food for their people. They didn't deserve this."
"I know." Unable to think of words to ease the hurt, Jack turned to the tea. "Here, think you can drink this?"
When Daniel tried to sit up, and failed, Jack slid beside him and pulled him up, maneuvering slowly so that Daniel was leaning against him. He reached for the tea and Daniel wrapped his fingers around Jack's. His hands were shaking so hard, though, that the tea sloshed over the rim, splashing both their fingers. Daniel let go, and allowed Jack to bring the cup to his mouth.
With teeth chattering against the metallic edge, Daniel slurped the tepid liquid. When he'd drunk it all down, Jack readjusted the jacket that had fallen off his shoulders, and held it in place by wrapping his arms around Daniel.
"You feel good," Daniel whispered, cupping his fisted hands beneath his throat, trying to curl up against Jack to preserve heat.
Okay, maybe he wasn't so useless after all. He squeezed Daniel's nape, alarmed at the heat and dryness of his skin. "Try to sleep." Too many people around for him to chance putting his lips to Daniel's temple, but he did so in his mind's eye.
Whatever was in those herbs, they worked fast. Within minutes the strain in Daniel's body eased and he grew heavier against Jack. The shivering continued for a while longer, until sweat began seeping from his pores, greasing the dry skin and lowering the fever a couple of notches. By the time he lowered Daniel to the ground, he was totally out of it, and didn't even bat an eyelash as Jack positioned his limbs so he'd be more comfortable.
He'd done all he could, now he was back to the feeling useless and helpless part again. He picked up his radio and clicked the mic. "Carter? You there yet?"
There was a pause, and then Carter's voice came through. "We're still a couple of hours away, sir." Her transmission was starting to break up; she was already nearly out of range. Which meant she must be making good time.
"Right." He paused a moment, watching the digging men. "I just wanted you to know that Teal'c's almost got the Stargate unburied. It should be ready and waiting by the time you get back."
"I'll try to hurry back, sir, but I don't know how long it'll take me to take the equipment apart."
"Yeah. I know. Still, we'll be here waiting."
"Sleeping. His fever's down a bit." He passed the back of his fingers across Daniel's cheek, feeling the dampness that still lingered.
"Be careful with the herbs, sir. We don't know their composition and in his weakened state, if they're anything like morphine, too much might comprise his breathing." Carter's voice was breaking up badly by now.
"Understood. I'll see you in the morning."
"Take care of Daniel, sir."
"I will. Keep an eye out for the bounty hunter."
He tossed the radio aside, wishing it was morning already and that they were in the process of dialing the 'gate.
It was going to be a long night.
oo~O~oo "Jack?" Daniel tried to sit up while looking around in panic, eyes wide in alarm.
"It's okay, I'm here." Jack hurriedly dropped the small handful of pebbles he'd been tossing into a hole he'd dug to pass the time, and scooched over to Daniel's side. He pressed down on Daniel's chest, trying to push him back down. The fever was back full force, its heat leeching through Daniel's clothes.
Daniel's gaze was unfocused and he stared at Jack without recognition for a few seconds, before giving in and falling back onto his makeshift bed.
"Ya think?" Daniel covered his eyes with his forearm, still breathing heavily. He shifted his legs and gasped in pain.
"More tea?" He didn't wait for Daniel's acknowledgement. He uncovered the cup of tea he'd brewed an hour earlier and handed it to Daniel. With a shaking hand, Daniel rose partway onto his elbow and slurped a few sips, dribbling tea onto his chin in the process, then lowered it as he squinted past Jack in the fading daylight.
The Stargate was already upright; it had taken close to thirty men to pull it up and stabilize it but under Teal'c's directions, everything had gone smoothly and quickly. Now all they needed was for Carter to return with the power source so they could dial out.
"Yep. Didn't take us long at all to get it standing."
Daniel gave Jack a piercing look, complete with narrowed eyes and raised eyebrows.
"Hey, I supervised," Jack said in his defense. Fine, he didn't actually get to pull on the ropes because Teal'c insisted he stay with Daniel, but he did have a great view of the goings on and would have called out if he'd spotted any potential problems. "Drink your tea."
With his eyes still on Jack, Daniel obeyed, quickly slurping the tea and falling back heavily onto the ground.
Jack picked the cup out of Daniel's hand and put it aside, waiting for the drugs to take effect. Several men were walking by and as Daniel moved restlessly, trying to get comfortable, Nagan broke off from the group and approached them.
"Daniel, you're awake. How are you feeling?"
"Nagan." Daniel rose onto his elbows, trying to pull himself up. Jack hesitated between keeping Daniel flat on the ground and helping him sit. Finally, he shifted again so that he was between Daniel and the stone wall behind him, with Daniel half lying against him. Jack could feel the shivers that Daniel was obviously trying to hold back. "I'm sorry. I feel responsible it all came to this..."
"But this has been the most wonderful thing." Nagan looked up at Jack in surprise. "Doesn't he know?"
"Know what?" Daniel shifted so he could see Jack's face.
"The battle, boy. Arnyth is no longer at war with Elar. Peace has come to our people, something that I only dreamed of while Algor lived."
"What? How? When did this happen?" Another shift, another questioning stare at Jack.
"While you slept, obviously." Smiling, Nagan crouched down next to them. "Your words, Daniel. You spoke to the Elarians of the evils that await us through your Stargate, and they listened. They put their weapons down rather than chance Algor and the other stranger to bring down these evil gods upon us again."
"So the fighting... there was fighting, wasn't there? I heard..."
"Yeah." Jack transferred his weight and tried to tease a rock that was digging into his butt. "Didn't last long, though. Considering what could have happened, casualties are light. A dozen dead, several dozen seriously injured—"
"You call that light?"
"Yes. I call that lucky, considering these people were going at one another with swords." Jack turned to Nagan. "Look, when we leave, I can send back doctors and medicine to help the wounded—"
"Thank you, Jack, but we'll be burying the portal once you've returned home. My ancestors conquered evil once; I'd rather not have to worry about these gods returning to conquer us again." The man grinned widely. "We'll erect a monument over it with a description of today's events, and a warning to never attempt to use it."
"You should still take Jack's offer and wait a while before burying it." Daniel's voice had slowed, his words starting to thicken and slur.
"I thank you, but I will feel safer the sooner we bury the portal again. It'll become a dhingle bug once more."
"But your people..."
"Knew what they faced before going into battle. And as Jack said, the casualties were thankfully light. Most of the injured will heal, and even those who remain disabled will never have to worry; I'm prepared to aid those whose families require it."
"Thank you," Daniel said, emotions filling his words. Jack nodded his thanks also, knowing that Nagan, obviously feeling this strongly about unearthing the 'gate that he'd deny the badly injured medical help, was doing them an immense favor by allowing them to leave through it.
Daniel's head was drooping, and as Nagan stood, Jack eased Daniel back down. Once Nagan left, Jack watched as sleep quickly overtook Daniel. He wished the fever reducer worked just as fast. He rounded up his discarded pebbles and started tossing them into his hole, falling back into the earlier routine of checking on Daniel before crawling to the hole and gathering the rocks up again to start the game over.
oo~O~oo Jack stood, brushing his hands on his pants as he watched the wagon brigade wind its way through the ruins, heading for the Stargate. The armed guards trotted their horses past him, making for the temporary corral as he walked to meet them. He glanced back at Daniel, who was sleeping heavily, and figured he'd be fine alone for a short while.
Exhaustion was clearly evident as Carter disembarked from the wagon in a slow, careful manner. She leaned back a moment, waiting for him to catch up while two soldiers clambered into the back and began unloading the piece of equipment she'd gone to get. She stared at Jack, who stared back, surprised to see a bloody gash on her forehead.
"What the hell happened to you, Major?" He gave her a quick once over, searching for hidden wounds.
Without a word, she pointed her thumb over her shoulder, towards the interior of the wagon. Jack stepped past her and peered inside. To his surprise, the bounty hunter was inside, bound and gagged, with a bloody bandage wrapped around his torso.
"Sonofabitch was waiting in ambush just a couple of kilometers from here. He had some kind of whistle that made the horses go crazy." She dabbed at the cut on her forehead with her fingers and winced.
"But it wasn't horses pulling the wagon..."
"Thank goodness for that. While the horses were going crazy bucking and trying to run off, these babies just stood there, calm as can be. It took three of us to overpower Lei, but I'm afraid he's pretty badly injured."
Jack contemplated jumping into the wagon and heading out into the middle of nowhere and tossing the man out for the buzzards to feed, but then figured it might be more profitable taking him back to Earth. Maybe the NID had drugs or barbaric torture methods they could use to see if he knew any pertinent information. Or even better, maybe the Tok'ra knew if anyone would be willing to pay for getting their hands on this particular bounty hunter.
Allowing a tight smile to escape, he asked the guards to drag the bastard closer to the 'gate, and as far away from Daniel as possible.
Jack's voice sliced through cobwebs, pulling him from a twilight sleep that he had trouble escaping from. Reluctantly Daniel opened his eyes, and in doing so came awake enough to feel the full effects of fever-pain in joints and muscles, the pounding headache and the agony in his leg. As he'd done every time he'd woken up, he schooled his features, hiding his pain, and blinked up at Jack.
"They're dialing the 'gate now. We'll be going through in a minute."
It was dark; night had fallen while he'd slept. A small bonfire illuminated the area around him and Jack. He heard the distinct sound of a chevron locking nearby. Turning his head, Daniel could see the glint of light on the uppermost part of the Stargate. It was turning slowly, and for a moment Daniel wondered if time had suddenly become warped, when he realized they must be dialing manually. Jack had said something about Sam and a power source...
"C'mon, let's get you up on your feet."
He got a quick glimpse of Jos' face and then hands were grabbing his arms and hauling him upright. Unable to bear the slightest weight on his injured leg, he fell forward. Hands caught him and jostled him, forcing his arms around two sets of shoulders, awakening aches and pains in his back and neck.
Light blossomed around them, the wormhole's backwash nearly blinding him and sending shards of pain into his skull. With his head feeling too heavy for his neck, Daniel allowed them to drag towards the Stargate. It was all he could do to keep his leg from touching the ground and even that had him shaking so badly that he was afraid he was going to shimmy his way off Jack and Jos' shoulders.
He caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision of some of Nagan's men tossing something large through the wormhole, then there was more jostling, and Jos left his side as Teal'c took his place. Daniel forced his head up to try and acknowledge Teal'c but the effort was just too great.
"Sir, we're good to go."
He was pulled forward again, the light growing brighter and brighter until the gut-clenching feeling of the Stargate gripped him, tore him apart and put him back together just before spitting him out on the metal ramp of the SGC.
"We need a medic," Sam was yelling. Then the room twirled sickeningly as he found himself flat on his back. Then the gurney beneath him was moving and lights swirled sickeningly overhead, so much so that Daniel had to close his eyes against the motion.
The gurney vibrated beneath him, and each bump or jolt sent agony up his leg. Movement along the hallway brushed cool air against his skin, and he shivered. He tried to turn onto his side and curl up against the chill, but a hand against his shoulder pressed him back.
"Lie still, Daniel."
"Cold." The motion of the gurney stopped, and he took a chance opening his eyes. His vision blurred, the lights nearly blinding him, until Janet leaned over him and spread a blanket over his chest and legs.
"Better?" she asked, smiling down at him.
It didn't really help chase away with the chill but he told her it did, anyway. But at least once the gurney was in motion again, the blanket did add some protection. Eyes closed again, he tried to raise his leg, anchor his foot against the thin mattress so his leg wouldn't be jostled, but even flexing his foot was impossible.
He'd lost track of where they were, uncertain of whether they'd entered the elevators or were still in the corridor leading to them from the Gateroom. He was dizzy, sounds seemed to distort, then become audible again. The gurney turned sharply and came to a stop again. He waited a few long seconds before trying to look around again. He was surprised to see he was surrounded by people. Almost desperately, he searched for familiar faces.
"We're going to take your clothes off now, Daniel."
He latched onto Janet's voice, searching for her face amidst the blur surrounding him. Hands touched his body as he turned his head, and just as he found Janet on his right, cold air against his exposed chest caused him to shiver even harder.
His arm was straightened as his blood pressure was taken. Someone placed the bell of a stethoscope against his chest, the chill of the metal even worse than the air in the infirmary. His body was rolled sideways and his pants removed, exposing his lower body. He could feel goose bumps erupt over his legs as the hairs pulled away from his skin.
Leads were attached to his chest, someone was sticking a thermometer into his ear while someone else was removing the bandage from his leg. Someone stuck a needle into his arm. Machinery beeped, words were floating around him, some he caught, others were jumbled as nurses reported to Janet. Too many people were handling him; all he wanted was to be left alone, to curl onto his side, away from the cold and noise.
"Someone get him a blanket," Janet barked, her voice rough in his ear. Then miraculously, for a long moment, his body was his own. Grasping the last of his strength, he turned onto his side, brought his legs up to his chest, moving his injured leg slowly.
The demanded blanket was placed over him, easing the outer chill but not doing anything for the internal one.
He opened eyelids that had become weighted down.
Janet's voice had softened. "You've got a pretty high fever. Do you think you can swallow these?" She held a tiny paper cup with three brown pills. "Tylenol, for your fever."
His hand was trembling uncontrollably as he reached for the cup. Instead of handing it to him, she let him guide her hand so that she could tip the pills into his mouth. A straw sitting in a glass of water immediately followed and Daniel sipped. For a moment he didn't think he'd be able to swallow, so dry was his mouth. But then the water went down and he couldn't get enough.
The straw made a loud, slurping sound when the glass was empty and he released it reluctantly.
"You're pretty dehydrated so I'm starting you on an IV, along with a broad spectrum antibiotic until we can pinpoint exactly what's causing the infection. I'm going to need to take care of your leg in a minute; I'll give you something for the pain as soon as the IV is in, okay?"
Daniel nodded, because he thought Janet required an answer from him. Someone tugged his arm and the sharp smell of antiseptic filled his nostrils. A moment later a needle was inserted into his forearm and taped down.
"Can you tell me how you injured your leg?"
Daniel blinked, not quite able to remember how he'd gotten hurt. It felt like he'd been in pain forever. He tried to think, staring at the IV, his eyes slowly losing focus as the sounds in the room began to sound like they were coming from the bottom of a tunnel.
"Daniel?" There was a sharp tap to his cheek. "Stay with me just a few more minutes."
"Sorry." The word was hard to form, his mouth was dry and his tongue suddenly seemed impossible to control.
"Colonel? Can you tell me what happened?"
Surprised to hear Jack's voice, Daniel tried to turn his head to search him out. "Jack?" His voice came out as a mere whisper.
"Spaceship we were on crashed. Daniel ended up with a piece of metal in his leg. He took the antibiotics, everything seemed good at first." Jack's voice got louder, moving around from left to right.
"I guess the crash accounts for the bruises all over his body?"
"Yeah." Jack's voice was right behind him now. Daniel wondered if his hearing was starting to play tricks on him again.
"Okay, I'll order an X-ray for his leg, just to be safe."
"Five minutes, Colonel."
Daniel's eyes threatened to close and he forced them open just as Jack rounded the edge of the bed. Daniel watched Jack watch him, too exhausted to say anything.
"How's the leg?" Jack quickly glanced down Daniel's body, coming back to meet his eyes.
He had to stop and think, because the pain, which had been all encompassing just a few minutes ago, had dwindled to a dull throb. Janet had said she'd give him something for the pain, she must have done so and he hadn't realized it.
"Not bad." His words were barely a whisper and he tried to clear his throat.
"Good." Jack smiled and patted Daniel's hand awkwardly. "You get some sleep. I need to debrief the General as soon as I'm cleared and then I'll be back, okay?"
Daniel slipped his fingers over Jack's and squeezed as he nodded. He couldn't seem to be able to raise his eyes and his gaze was stuck on their hands. Jack squeezed back, his thumb rubbing slowly across the back of his hand.
A wave of dizziness and fatigue swept over him and Daniel finally allowed himself to give in to it. The last thing he was aware of was Jack's hand slipping from his, and then a touch to his cheek, and nothing.
oo~O~oo Grateful that the briefing had been short and fairly brief, Jack hurried back to the infirmary, only to slow when he saw the empty spot where Daniel had lain in bed an hour earlier.
"He's in X-ray, Colonel," a nurse called out to Jack. Walking towards him, she glanced at her watch. "Doctor Jackson should be back any minute. You can wait if you'd like, or I could call you—"
"I'll wait. Thanks." He sank gratefully into a chair, exhaustion filling every fiber of his being now that the mission was over and he'd gotten his team back home.
"Any news on the prisoner?"
"He's in surgery, sir. There's internal bleeding but Doctor Warner believes he'll survive his injuries."
"Pity," Jack said under his breath as the nurse went on with her work. He pushed with his feet, turning the chair to the side so he could reach for a couple of swabs and an emesis basin. He placed the basin on the edge of the table and pushed back with his chair, keeping himself occupied by tossing the swabs into the basin, similar to the pebbles he'd tossed into a hole back on the planet.
By the time Daniel was wheeled back into the room, Jack had made 150 bulls eyes and had only dropped them onto the floor a dozen times. Standing quickly, he threw the remaining swabs into the basin and watched as Daniel's bed was positioned against the wall.
He waited as two nurses checked all the leads and wires to the medical equipment. Daniel was out for the count, not moving even an eyelid while he was being worked on. When the nurses were done, Jack pushed his chair closer to the bed and settled down for a long wait.
The rhythmic beep of the heart monitor was oddly soothing; he scanned the readouts, watching the numbers climb and fall as they constantly adjusted to Daniel's vital signs.
Fraiser's voice pulled Jack from a near doze. He looked up blearily to see her holding out a Styrofoam cup. He straightened, his body stiff and tired, and accepted the coffee, taking a grateful sip while Fraiser leaned back against the empty bed behind her. Odd that he had never felt this sore while they'd tried to make their way home.
"Good news. There's no sign of a break in Daniel's leg." She gave Jack a quick smile. "The only broken bone was Sam's arm. She'll be in a cast for a few weeks. Do you have any idea how lucky you were to survive a crash and come out of it with a broken arm, a cut leg and mostly bruises?"
"More than you know, doc," Jack whispered into his Styrofoam cup.
"Why don't you go get some sleep? You look exhausted."
"I'm fine." He took another sip of coffee, wishing the caffeine would clear the cobwebs from his brain.
"Tell me another one, sir. Your body's been banged up pretty bad and it's telling you it needs rest to recuperate. And sleeping on a chair does not constitute rest."
Jack bit his lip and turned to look at Daniel. He was torn; he wanted to stay here in case Daniel woke up, and at the same time, his body was crying for sleep.
"I could make that an order, sir."
"Daniel's already responding to the antibiotics. His fever's come down a degree and a half. He was dehydrated from the bout of poisoning you described, which weakened his immune system and acerbated the infection despite the precautionary round of antibiotics.
"I've given him something for the pain and he's sleeping. He'll probably sleep for several more hours, at which time when he wakes, he'll get something to eat if he's up to it and another round of pain killers, which will make him sleep some more. And while he's sleeping, he'll be healing. And during which time, sir, you should be doing the same."
Jack closed his eyes and rested his head against the cement wall. "You'll call me if there's any change?"
"That goes without saying, sir. You'll be staying on base?"
Jack allowed himself a relieved smile. "That goes without saying, Doc."
oo~O~oo "I thought you'd gone home."
Carter jumped at the sound of Jack's voice, and he felt slightly contrite at having startled her. She gave him a quick smile, but didn't let go of Daniel's lax hand. "I decided to spend the night on base, sir." She shrugged with one shoulder. "I've got nothing in the fridge to eat and it was too late to go for groceries last night so..."
"How're you doing?"
She looked down at the sling with a frown. "This is so damned frustrating. I can't type, I can't—"
"Type?" Carter was worried about typing when she'd led an army into battle, fixed a secondary power supply to the Stargate - and she was worried about typing? "Carter, do the words 'medical leave' mean anything to you?"
"I only checked my emails, sir." She had the grace to look contrite as she turned her attention to the hand she held in hers.
"How's he doing?"
She gave Jack a bright smile. "He woke up a little while ago for a few minutes. His fever's not as high as yesterday and Janet said he had a good night."
Some of the tension he'd woken up with eased and he nodded at Carter while looking past the bed at the other patient occupying the infirmary. "What about him?"
"Janet said his injuries were pretty serious but that he should survive them."
"Good." Jack refrained from saying anything else; at the moment he wanted all his attention focused on his team. They'd discuss the bounty hunter later, when the NID most likely tried to make a claim for him.
Now that he'd seen Daniel and was satisfied that he was doing okay, his body began clamoring for sustenance. "You eat yet?"
She shook her head, looking up at him. Jack merely canted his head towards the door in invitation. Carter gave Daniel one last look, positioned his hand on the bed, and stood.
He followed her out of the infirmary, waiting until they were in the elevator before asking, "You need any help with the food shopping? I can get someone to—"
"No, it's fine. Janet said she'd go with me when her shift's ended. But thanks."
Jack put Carter's food choices onto his tray and carried everything to a free table. She looked a little uncomfortable as he slid her plate before her. They started eating and it wasn't until they were halfway done that Jack realized neither had said one word to each other. Carter wasn't usually this quiet, even with him.
"So, good job on getting the 'gate up and running," he said, taking a sip of his coffee.
"Thank you, sir."
More silence. Jack contemplated his waffles, thinking how much Daniel enjoyed them, before cutting a square with his fork. "That battle was pretty fierce, wasn't it? Made me think that maybe we should have some basic training in sword training, staff weaponry, that type of thing." To be honest, that type of training was a waste of time and he knew it, but he was desperate for something to say.
"I disagree, sir. Basic training would merely endanger the combatant if they were faced with someone of superior skills. Unless—"
"—They were Teal'c," Jack said in unison with Carter.
That got a grin from her and he felt a little better. Until she put her fork down and pushed her plate away, her breakfast half-eaten.
"I should have stayed with Daniel, sir."
With a bite of waffle halfway to his mouth, Jack paused and stared at her in surprise. "You hadn't had breakfast. Thirty minutes here won't make any difference in—"
"At the baptism ceremony, sir. He was injured and unarmed. I shouldn't have gone for the weapons. I should have stayed behind and—"
"You'd most likely have gotten yourself hurt, or worse." Jack dropped the fork to the plate, his appetite gone. He'd thought the same thing and had gone over the incident several times. But it had been a tactical call; if they'd been able to get to their weapons, they'd have had a good chance at overpowering their attackers. Still, the guilt that Daniel had been taken because he'd been left to fend for himself still prickled his pride. "That bounty hunter knew us pretty well and was able to anticipate our moves. Now if we'd known he was in the picture—"
"We'd have played it differently. I know." She picked up a piece of bacon and nibbled at the end. "Still, I can't help feel responsible—"
"Daniel is going to be fine, Carter. We got out of an impossible situation more times than I can count during the past couple of days. You have nothing to berate yourself for."
Her nearly inaudible sigh told Jack that she didn't believe him, but she'd have to eventually work out the guilt herself. She always did.
She looked at her watch and pushed her chair back. "I should be going." She looked exhausted. Jack, despite the several hours' of quality sleep he'd enjoyed, suspected he didn't look much better.
"I'll give you a call tonight, let you know how Daniel's doing."
"Thank you, sir." She stood, smiling at him and some of the shadows disappeared.
Despite his pep talk to her, Jack's own guilt resurfaced. He was suddenly anxious to be with Daniel and check on his wellbeing.
oo~O~oo He entered the infirmary at a quick pace, only to slow when he found Teal'c sitting in the chair Carter had vacated earlier. "Hey, T. Missed you at breakfast." He placed the two magazines he'd taken from Daniel's office on a nearby table and placed Daniel's folded glasses right on top of them. Then he moved quietly to the edge of the bed and placed a hand on Daniel's arm. The fever was still there but it was definitely not as high as yesterday.
"I partook of breakfast earlier, while you slept."
Jack felt that particular pang of envy over Teal'c's Junior-assisted resilience. As usual, it was short-lived. He'd rather heal normally than have anything to do with a Goa'uld larva. "Still, we missed you."
Daniel coughed lightly in his sleep, and turned away from Jack, curling up onto his side.
"DanielJackson woke several minutes ago."
"He did?" Damn. He was beginning to think Daniel was conspiring against him.
"He was groggy from the medication, but he did inquire about you."
"I informed him that you would be returning shortly, and he was content."
"Thanks, T." Jack reached over the bed's metal bars and gently rubbed Daniel's shoulder a moment before adjusting the blanket.
"The has'sak will be taken by the NID."
"They will not permit us to participate in his interrogation."
Jack sighed. "Nope."
"I wish a chance to question him."
"You and me both."
"I will attempt to speak to GeneralHammond. Perhaps he could put in a word to the President."
"Mind putting in a word for me while you're at it?" Teal'c inclined his head, then stood, and Jack quickly took the chair before someone else came by. He waggled his fingers at Teal'c as he took his leave, then turned to Daniel.
He was still sleeping, but at least it was a restful sleep and not a restless one that usually accompanied a fever.
He sat there for several minutes before he heard Fraiser approaching.
"I thought you were supposed to be going home."
"I am. I just wanted to say hi to Daniel... you know, when he wakes up."
"I'll tell him you said hello."
"He, um, woke up for Carter and Teal'c... I just thought—"
"That you'd be getting some much needed R&R away from the base, right? Sir?"
"Yeah. Right. I'm going." Jack made a zooming motion with his hand and arm, like a jet flying by, but didn't get up off the chair.
"Fifteen minutes, sir, and then I want your ass in your truck and I don't want to see your face here for at least twenty-four hours."
"Unless there's a change in Daniel's condition."
"But if he wakes up—"
"I'm sure my staff is well enough trained to keep Daniel occupied, Colonel."
Jack sighed. He wasn't about to start arguing with Fraiser; he was exhausted enough that he more than appreciated the down time and leave, he just wished he could be enjoying them with Daniel.
He sat there alternating between watching Daniel sleep and watching the minute hand of his watch go round and round. He snuck in an extra five minutes and stood slowly when he heard Frasier approaching, making a show of stretching, feeling bruises and strained muscles ache and burn as he did so.
"I'm going," Jack said, walking towards the exit while Fraiser kept pace with him.
"Yes, sir, you are." She grinned up at him and Jack couldn't help but smile back. They passed the bed where the bounty hunter lay, unconscious. The glitter of something bright caught his attention and he stopped, staring down at their prisoner.
The part of the man's chest not covered by a sheet was peppered with gems and thin flakes of gold. With a frown, Jack pulled back the sheet, exposing intricate artwork embedded into the man's skin, flowing over his chest, shoulders, upper arms and around his back.
"What about him?"
"He's as strong as an ox, sir. His constitution is incredible; but considering his lab works shows that he's not quite human, that's not surprising."
"Well, ninety-nine percent of his DNA shows that he's as human as you or me. But there's a small factor that shows that his makeup isn't quite the same as ours. Let's just say, he's as human as Teal'c, or as alien as Teal'c."
"But not Jaffa?"
"Definitely not. But his ability to heal may be somewhat close to that of a Jaffa. See the bruising here?" Fraiser pointed to the man's shoulder. "He apparently dislocated his shoulder recently. Just in the time he's been in the infirmary, the swelling disappeared and the only sign of the injury is the residual bruising. X-rays show he suffered a pretty severe crack in his left humerus." Fraiser pointed to the man's upper arm. "Again, the only sign is minor bruising and fading scar tissue from where the bone pierced the skin. I have no doubts that these injuries occurred during the crash.
"Even now, the incision site resembles that of a three-day wound, and not just a few hours."
"Ah, that's peachy." Jack glanced at the two SFs, making sure they were listening to their conversation. "What's keeping him from waking up?"
"Good drugs, sir." Janet's smile sent shivers down Jack's spine. He was glad at that moment that she was on their side. "At this rate, by tomorrow he'll be ready for questioning. And the sooner he recuperates, the sooner he'll be out of our hair."
"What about the..." Jack motioned to the artwork on his body.
"Precious and semi-precious gems, plus 18 carat gold and silver. Incredibly, they seem to be fused to his body."
"Talk about not believing in banks. Might be easier to tuck all that under his mattress." Jack bent closer, examining a large ruby surrounded by a trail of gold. Fraiser was right; the ruby seemed to meld right into his abdomen. He shivered, wondering how painful all of that must have been.
oo~O~oo Daniel was bored. He was too sick to be allowed out of bed, his head ached too much to read, there was no TV in the infirmary, not that he even felt like watching anything, and Teal'c, as much as Daniel appreciated his sitting with him, wasn't exactly the most exciting conversationalist.
With a deep sigh, Daniel reached for the bed's controls and raised it. Moving cautiously so not to jar his leg, he folded his pillow in two and shoved it behind his back, and reached for a magazine someone had left by his bed.
He flipped through the pages until he found something that looked interesting. He began reading, but the words were making no sense. His concentration was non-existent. He tried again but his head was throbbing and his neck and shoulders were straining with his trying to keep his head upright.
He took his glasses off and resting his head against the back of the mattress, massaged the bridge of his nose. And now, on top of everything, his leg was starting to throb in earnest again. Janet may have said it was starting to heal, but it hurt as much as it did when he was offworld, even with the painkiller she had prescribed.
He put his glasses back on, then stopped and stared at them. He'd lost one other pair just a few months ago and his spares when he'd been captured and blindfolded. "Teal'c, who found these?" He held the glasses out towards Teal'c.
"O'Neill discovered them by the water's edge when you were abducted."
"Oh." Well, that explained that.
He went to put the glasses back on but decided it was fruitless. He folded them instead and reached over to put them on the table, then lowered the bed so he could lie down. He sighed in relief as the position eased some of the achiness in his body. He closed his eyes and tried to rest.
Unfortunately his head and leg were throbbing out of unison, making it exceedingly hard to relax. He turned slowly onto his side, shifting his foot until he found a more comfortable position. Five seconds later, though, a chill ran down his back and he shivered. With a resigned sigh, he sat up and reached for the blanket, which he'd kicked to the foot of the bed earlier. By the time he pulled the blanket right up to his chin, he was in full body-shiver mode.
Teal'c's hand was warm against the back of his neck. "I have signaled the nurse for assistance."
Teeth chattering loudly together, Daniel nodded his thanks. He closed his eyes and waited. An eternity later, he heard a familiar voice.
"Looks like your fever's spiking again." He kept his eyes closed as one of Janet's nurse placed a thermometer into his ear, then pulled his arm out from beneath the blanket to take his blood pressure. He accepted the Motrin she gave him, swallowing the pills quickly before gulping down the whole glass of water she'd handed him.
The boredom he'd experienced earlier was gone. He just wished Janet would give him something to knock him out again; at least when he was sleeping, he wasn't hurting.
The interminable shaking finally eased, and exhaustion brought him to the cusp of sleep despite his throbbing leg. Vaguely aware of the sounds of the infirmary, Daniel constantly roused just enough to ascertain that the voices he heard didn't belong to Jack. He also found himself waking when the throbbing surged, and he'd need to shift his position in a futile attempt to ease the pain.
He woke with a jerk when something touched his cheek. Opening his eyes, he saw Janet down at him. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." She moved her fingers to his forehead as she smiled an apology. "Teal'c says you've been restless. Your leg bothering you much?"
"A little," Daniel admitted.
"I'm going to give you something stronger; it'll make you sleepy but at least you'll get some rest this way." Janet moved off, away from his line of vision and too miserable to move, Daniel remained huddled, listening to her give orders for his medication. A short while later, the nurse moved to the foot of his bed and injected something into his IV.
Within minutes, the pain in his leg became a dull ache. His vision blurred, and his hearing dulled as his body became heavy and loose. The pull to sleep was strong and he gave in. Just as he drifted off, he thought he heard Jack's voice...
"Hey, T, how's he doing?"
oo~O~oo "C'mon, Doc, he's been sleeping since last night." Jack could hear the whine in his voice, but he was starting to get worried. He bit his tongue, however, when Fraiser lowered her chin and looked at him with eyebrows raised. Contrite, he lowered his voice. "Sorry."
"It's not my fault you've got lousy timing, sir."
"It's been three days and I still haven't gotten to see him awake. You're sure he's doing okay?"
"He had a light supper last night and ate breakfast this morning. Yes, he's recovering well, despite the residual fever."
"Well, I guess I'll have to take your word for it, considering that yesterday, when I walked in to visit, you'd just doped him to the gills and this morning I come back, he's still sleeping."
"Not anymore, I'm not."
"Daniel!" Jack turned, feeling the grin stretch his face from ear to ear. Okay, so maybe he'd been a little paranoid but hell, he'd begun to feel a conspiracy had been brewing. "How're you feeling?"
"I was wondering why you hadn't come to visit me." Daniel yawned and stretched while raising a hand to scratch at his scalp. He lowered his hand, having not done much for the very apparent bed head.
"Hey, it wasn't my fault. You were sleeping and doc kept kicking me out." He gave Fraiser a fake, sweet smile and got another raised eyebrow in response. He turned his attention to Daniel and was happy to see that he seemed better. Not quite so pale and his eyes seemed clear. Jack pulled a chair close to the bed, noting as Daniel raised the bed so he could sit, that the IV was gone.
"I'd like you to try and get up and around a bit today, Daniel. There's a pair of crutches by the bed; I'll have someone come and give you a hand in a little while."
"Sure." Daniel didn't seem too thrilled about the prospect of walking around but Jack felt the last vestiges of worry begin to lift. If Fraiser wanted Daniel up, that meant he really was better.
Fraiser handed Daniel a glass of juice and Daniel drained it in three gulps. She took the glass and handed him water, smiling with a glint in her eye as Daniel downed that, too. When she refilled the glass a second time, Jack understood her tactics. There'd probably be a nurse here in approximately thirty minutes to help Daniel to the bathroom. He smiled and had to look away as Daniel naively sipped the water, then placed the half full glass near at hand.
"So, did Nagan really bury the 'gate after us or did you not test the address after we came back?" Daniel wriggled on the bed, trying to get comfortable.
"We tried to dial the planet eight hours later, and we couldn't get through."
"I understand why Nagan resorted to such an extreme means to protect his people but—" Still trying to get comfortable, Daniel bent his legs and he suddenly froze and went pale. A fine sheen of sweat covered his face as he straightened his legs out.
"Daniel?" Jack tensed, ready to call out for help.
Daniel swallowed and gave Jack a forced smile. "I wasn't in a position to see much of the ruins while I was there but considering that Zerinda Lei found a cache of staff weapons in Balu, I'm sure there were other hidden treasures there that have never been found. Not to mention the fact that Nagan and his people could have become our allies."
Jack watched Daniel carefully as he spoke, trying to act like nothing had happened. There were signs of pain around his mouth and eyes that Jack had brushed off as sleepiness. Daniel picked up the glass of water with a hand that trembled ever so slightly and quickly drained it.
Without a word, Jack took the glass and refilled it, sitting back down and watching Daniel for more signs of discomfort. But whatever had hit him earlier seemed to have disappeared, and Daniel continued to speak, telling Jack of some of the things he'd spied while being forced through the ruins.
After one more glass of water later, Daniel began glancing in and around the cubicle. His gaze first went to the table where Jack had noticed a urinal during one of his earlier visits. When Daniel didn't see it there, he searched out the rest of the area.
Almost as if on cue, a woman walked up to the bed and reached for the crutches. Jack recognized her as one of the base's physical therapists. "Doctor Fraiser said you should try and get around a bit this morning, Doctor Jackson. Do you feel up to a few minutes of exercise?"
Jack almost felt sorry for Daniel at the speed he sat forward and began to inch to the side of the bed. Daniel stood and wavered, balancing on one leg until he got the crutches positioned and then he was off, making a beeline for the bathroom at the far end of the infirmary.
Unable to stop himself from smiling, he watched as Daniel hobbled, his movements sure and steady, until he reached the bathroom door. Jack's smile faded when he saw the expression of pain flit over Daniel's face as he tried to balance and reach for the doorknob while the therapist shooed him back, pushing the door shut.
Jack waited until Daniel reappeared then stood and walked slowly towards them, intending to keep Daniel company. "How's the leg holding up?" he asked, rubbing his lip with his thumb as he accompanied Daniel and his escort past his bed.
"Not bad," Daniel said with a tight voice. He smiled and Jack could see how forced it was. But it seemed to satisfy the therapist, who smiled brightly at him.
They were nearing the bounty hunter's bed and Jack saw the man was awake. He watched them come closer, and the way he glared at Daniel immediately raised Jack's hackles.
Daniel's attention was mainly on moving forward and it wasn't really until he noticed the SFs standing guard over the bed did he most likely realize the patient wasn't your normal run of the mill personnel. Daniel glanced at the bounty hunter and nearly came to a stop when he recognized the man. Jack put a hand to Daniel's shoulder in a silent urge for him to keep going, which he did, but not until Jack after Jack saw the glint of anger reflected in Daniel's eyes.
Jack, however, remained where he was, locked in a staring contest. He was aware of Daniel's progress by the sound of his crutches on the floor, aware of the nervous shift of one of the SFs by the scuffing of his feet. He heard Daniel hesitate and come to a stop, and only when he called Jack's name did he turn his back on the bounty hunter and rejoin Daniel.
"I thought Fraiser was keeping him sedated," Jack growled to the therapist as Daniel continued plodding on towards the far wall.
"She was. But his metabolism's adapted to the drugs and he fights them off in an hour or two."
The back of Jack's neck was prickling and he turned to look towards the bed, but Lei had turned onto his side, facing away from them. Daniel reached the end of the corridor and turned to continue down the next.
"I didn't know he..." Daniel coughed, clearing his throat, staring at the ground as he continued to hobble along. "I thought... hoped he'd been ki... hadn't made it through the battle—"
"NID's got plans to take him into custody and question him," Jack said as nonchalantly as possible, as if talking about the weather. "Teal'c's asked if he could get first dibs; unfortunately Hammond's got orders to the contrary. NID's coming to take him tomorrow."
Daniel stopped at the next junction and turned around awkwardly. It was evident that he was tiring; his pace was slower, his breathing louder now and somewhat faster, and his steps shorter. "Pity," Daniel said, frustration and anger evident in the manner he said the word.
Back in the main ward, Jack made sure to walk on Daniel's left, between him and the bounty hunter's bed. He was tempted to pull the privacy curtain shut as he passed, just out of spite, to prevent the man from watching Daniel's increasingly laboring progress back to bed.
As he reached the bed, Jack stepped forward, glancing at the bounty hunter who seemed to be sleeping. Jack waited for Daniel to pass by and was just about to join him when he spotted something red on the sheet wrapped around the man's chest. For a moment he thought it was one of the many jewels winking in the overhead lights, until he realized it was blood.
"Hey—" was all Jack managed to say before Zerinda Lei opened his eyes and pointed something at him. Pain filled him from head to toes and he collapsed in a heap, his muscles paralyzed and quivering from a zat-like blast. Somewhere far away, he heard one, two, three high-pitched whines followed immediately by thuds, and he knew that Lei had gotten the guards. And most likely Daniel.
His eyes were open; he could see the scuff marks on the cement floor where gurneys had been wheeled back and forth, but he couldn't move his body. He could hear clearly the rustle of the bedclothes and the squeak of the plastic-covered mattress loud in the room. A bare foot appeared then disappeared, the motion alternating in slow, then normal speed.
Just as quickly as the energy bolt had paralyzed him, his muscles unlocked and he heaved in a deep breath of air. His first thoughts on Daniel, Jack turned, rolling on his back, his body heavy and stiff, searching the room for the downed man.
To his surprise, Daniel was still on his feet. Lei was behind Daniel, attempting to work one arm around his neck, forcing him off balance. Daniel had lost his crutches and even as Jack struggled to stand, Daniel's undoing was from being forced to place his weight on his injured leg. His knee buckled and Daniel fell back with a cry, slipping into position so that Lei had a strangle hold around him and a weapon to his temple.
The bounty hunter kicked the therapist's legs out of their way, dragging Daniel past her crumpled body and away from Jack. The man's chest was dripping with blood and it was evident that several pieces of his intricate body art cum bank account were missing. He swore under his breath, wondering why Fraiser or Carter hadn't thought to test the pieces for a power source. Then he remembered belatedly that Carter had also been put on downtime; chances are she didn't even know about the guy's artwork.
Daniel tried repeatedly to get his feet under him. His good leg worked fine, but somehow he couldn't seem to get his injured leg to hold him up.
"Stay back. This is a bomb and I'll use it if you don't give me access to the Stargate."
Moving on all fours, Jack crawled as fast as he could to the nearest SF and reached for his sidearm. The man was stirring and he sat up with a jerk just as Jack took his gun. "Get reinforcements," Jack ordered as he slowly stood and aimed the gun at the bounty hunter.
Daniel was a dead weight in the man's arms. He'd given up trying to get to his feet and was using both arms to try and pull the bounty hunter's arm away from his throat. He met Jack's gaze, his eyes full of pain and frustration.
"Let him go."
"You're in no position to make demands, O'Neill. Although this little device isn't made of naquadah, let me assure you that its detonation will make a fairly impressive crater. This complex will definitely be destroyed." He pulled Daniel nearly a foot in the air before roughly dropping him back into the same position. "Get on your feet."
The man's strength was incredible, but Jack wondered how much endurance he had due to his injury. He'd lost a lot of blood, and despite his miraculous healing abilities, that still had to account for some weakness, didn't it?
Daniel tried to lever himself by grabbing Lei's arms and standing, but again, any pressure on his leg was evidently causing him great pain. Lei pulled him upright once more and this time Daniel managed to get most of his weight on his good leg and balanced himself by touching the toes of his injured leg to the floor. Lei shifted so that his mouth was next to Daniel's ear. He whispered something to Daniel while he kept his eyes fixed on Jack.
"I want you to clear the corridors while Doctor Jackson leads me to the Stargate." He took a step towards Jack, forcing Daniel to limp heavily. He only managed to stay on his feet by holding onto Lei's arm, which was still wrapped around his neck. "And I have no qualms about breaking your neck and taking someone else as hostage, Jackson." Lei looked pointedly at the therapist, who was trying to crawl away on hands and knees.
Jack stood his ground, waiting for a clear shot. His body was still trembling from the residual effects of whatever Lei had hit him with but he was confident that he could get a shot in if the opportunity arose. Lei and Daniel took yet another step forward and Daniel's leg gave out on him again. This time Jack didn't miss the agony evident on Daniel's face.
With Lei slightly off balance, Jack searched for that opening, his finger squeezing on the trigger. But Lei moved with Daniel, keeping himself covered at all times. Jack could see that the bounty hunter was growing frustrated with Daniel and was afraid that he'd follow up on his threat of breaking his neck.
Then Teal'c walked into the infirmary, striding towards Zerinda Lei from behind. Jack kept his gaze on the bounty hunter's face, deliberately not glancing towards Teal'c. He backed up a few steps, as if he was giving Lei access to the corridor and trying to placate him while Teal'c quickly shortened the distance between them. Then Teal'c stopped, and with a short glance at Jack, raised a zat and shot the two men.
Even before Lei hit the ground, Jack was running. He kicked the bomb out of the man's clutches and grabbed Daniel, pulling him away while the SFs pounced on Lei.
Seconds later, the prisoner was tied up with several strips of plastic ties and thrown unceremoniously onto his bed, covered by several angry SFs with drawn guns, while Daniel was placed onto one of the beds and converged upon by the medical staff who'd been waiting in the wings.
Even as the effects of the zat wore off, Daniel was trying to curl onto his side, his hands clutching his leg. Fraiser was having a hard time getting him to calm down. Finally she ordered someone to give Daniel morphine. She gave Jack a look that did nothing to calm the flutters that had begun when he'd seen Daniel hiding the spasms of pain earlier; even when Daniel lay still and complacent, half-conscious from the drugs, his stomach roiled sickeningly. Damn, he'd thought everything was going to be fine once he got Daniel home. It figured that trouble would just follow them through the Stargate.
oo~O~oo "The infection in his leg's moved into the bone," Fraiser said, hands folded together on the briefing room table. "The MRI confirmed osteomylitis." She released her hands and rubbed her index finger on the shiny red mahogany, leaving a streak of fingerprints in its wake. "It looks like the piece of metal that cut Daniel's leg also nicked the tibia, causing a minor injury ripe for infection—"
"And you didn't see this before?" Jack asked, holding his temper in check.
"The X-ray would have shown the infection in a well-established case, but as the injury is recent, no. All signs showed an infection of the surrounding area, there was no reason for me to suspect the bone to have been affected also.
"The good news is that it's treatable. I've got him started again on IV antibiotics. The bad news is that treatment will last several weeks, possibly longer, depending on how well he responds to the antibiotics."
"But he'll be okay?" Carter, despite heavy makeup hiding the bruises on her face, looked pale.
"He'll be okay."
oo~O~oo Despite Fraiser's reassurances, Jack doubted her words the moment he entered the infirmary and saw Daniel huddled on his side shivering from fever. The privacy curtain was pulled halfway closed, giving Daniel some semblance of privacy from the comings and going in the ward.
Rousing just enough to lethargically open his eyes as Jack pushed a chair close to the bed, Daniel closed them before Jack could sit and say hello. Taking advantage of their meager seclusion, Jack reached for Daniel's hand. Shocked to feel the dry fever-heat enveloping Daniel once more, he nearly missed Daniel opening his eyes again at his touch.
Daniel licked his lips as his unfocused gaze brushed over Jack's face. "Hey."
"Doc said you were gonna be fine."
"Mmmm." Daniel's eyes slowly began to close and he dragged them open again, his eyes rolling slightly as he fought to focus on Jack again. He licked his lips again. "They put something..."
"Drugs?" Jack guessed, from Daniel's somewhat dopey demeanor.
"Yeah, for the drugs." He pulled his left arm out from beneath the covers, and Jack saw an IV catheter taped to Daniel's upper arm. "Middle line..."
Having experienced a Peripherally Inserted Central Line before, Jack couldn't help smile. "Central line. For your IV treatments?"
"Hmmm." Daniel's eyes rolled slightly up towards his forehead before he squeezed his eyes shut, the opened them again. He shifted restlessly, not so much from fever and pain, but the action of a man trying desperately to stay awake. "Doesn't hurt 'nymore."
"That's 'cause Fraiser probably gave you the heavy duty drugs." Jack listened attentively and couldn't hear the sound of anyone nearby. With one hand still wrapped around Daniel's fingers, he leaned closer and caressed Daniel's cheek with his other hand. Daniel pushed his face against Jack's palm, his shuddering breaths hot and dry against Jack's skin. "Go to sleep, Danny," Jack whispered.
"I know you do."
Daniel's eyes closed, and a moment later his head rolled forward slightly, totally limp on the pillow. With a sigh, Jack held his palm against his hot cheek a few seconds longer before pulling back and sitting up straight.
oo~O~oo Carter spotted Jack the moment he walked into the ward, and she must have told Daniel he was here because he turned his head and watched Jack approach. He looked washed out and drained but at least his temperature wasn't threatening to blow the end of a thermometer off.
There was a half-empty glass of orange juice and a full cup of water on the table by Daniel's bed, along with a half-eaten bowl of red Jell-O. Remnants of Daniel's meal, most likely, as Carter would certainly have polished off her share of the dessert had it been hers.
Jack nodded to Carter, then raised his eyebrows at the photographs lying by Daniel's hand. Carter may have returned back to work, but Daniel was still supposed to be resting. At Carter's guilty expression, Jack looked for, and found, the clear, plastic box which held several samples of Lei's body art which had doubled as instant cash, and hidden weapons, and which hadn't gone to Area 51 for further assessment with the rest of his cache.
Not bothering to pull up a chair, Jack sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the glossies. Zerinda Lei's body had been photographed from various angles, depicting the designs that had been so intricately created. Wordlessly, he rifled through them, until he came to those where Fraiser had begun surgically removing the gems and gold filigree and the second disassembled parts of a stun gun.
"I wanted to see how he'd managed to get a bomb past you guys," Daniel said, speaking slowly, as if the words were an effort.
Jack tossed the photos aside and gave Daniel a good look. He didn't look flushed or even feverish, but he did look dazed and sleepy. Most likely he'd gotten a dose of medication recently; which meant Jack's visit was going to be shorter than he'd hoped.
"Might come in handy as backup," Jack said, reaching a hand and casually brushing Daniel's uninjured leg, "but there's that nasty habit of bleeding were we to pull that much metal out of our skin."
"Teal'c was interested in trying..." Daniel's words faded as yawned.
"He's got Junior." Jack looked at Carter, who shrugged.
"It was the sheer size of the disguise that worked for him, sir. If Teal'c were to fuse anything to his body, it would probably stick out like a sore thumb."
"Not unless it was in his tattoo." Daniel raised a hand and touched his forehead, then dropped the hand heavily onto the bed.
"Like hiding it in plain sight?"
"It'd have to be very small." Carter reached for the photos and flipped through them quickly. "As it is, the power source of that weapon Lei stuck together was only good for a couple jolts."
Daniel's eyes were getting heavier, and they slid shut just as Carter found the shot she was searching for. Daniel jerked his eyes open when she spoke again.
"See, the power source for the stun gun was one of the larger pieces and wouldn't fit."
Jack didn't even glance at the picture in Carter's hand. Instead he watched Daniel until his gaze met his. When he knew he had Daniel's attention, he squeezed his leg and gave him a smile, wishing instead he could kiss him goodbye.
"I'll be back later."
"Thanks." Daniel shifted his gaze to Carter, who suddenly seemed to notice that Daniel was managing to stay awake by sheer willpower. She had no compunctions about kissing Daniel, though, and bent down for a quick peck to his cheek before awkwardly gathering all pictures and samples and clutching them to her chest.
As Jack stood, she hurriedly took a few steps away from the bed, then waited for Jack, who watched as Daniel closed his eyes and turned his head, making himself comfortable.
"Any chance of making that power source smaller?"
"And still remain undetectable to a scan?" She shrugged. "Possibly. But small enough to fit and not be noticeable? Probably not."
"But another possibility would be to integrate these with different materials. I've already discussed this with Doctor Jordan at Area 51. It's something he'll definitely look into."
"Plus ripping parts of a gun from a shirt would definitely be less painful than ripping them from your chest."
"There is that, sir." She grinned at him as they waited for the elevator.
oo~O~oo "Fever and some pain are to be expected for a while yet."
Daniel nodded, sitting on his bed and staring blindly at the bed next to his. Six days back and he'd been plagued with a low grade fever for the past three. "Do you need someone to go over the instructions with you on how to use it?"
"No." He'd watched the nurses often enough in the care of his PICC Line and administration of antibiotics. Anyways, Jack said he'd help, so if he couldn't manage, he'd just let Jack take care of it.
Janet shifted, the material of her lab coat seeming loud. "I want you back here in four days for more blood work. Of course if your fever goes up beyond 101 or if the pain gets worse..."
"I'll come in," Daniel answered tonelessly.
Janet was quiet for a moment, and Daniel realized he needed to shake off his lethargy or else she might just keep him in the infirmary for who knew how long. He half turned on the bed so he was facing her, and forced a smile. "Or rather, Jack will haul my ass down here faster than if I were stepping through the 'gate."
He had a hard time holding Janet's gaze, and he turned his attention to fiddle with his thumbnail the moment she nodded. "Fine. You're good to go as soon as the Colonel comes for you. Just make sure you stay off that leg and take it easy."
As if he felt like doing much of anything, anyways. Still, he nodded again, wishing he could lie down on the bed instead of sitting here, dressed, waiting for Jack to finish up with something before driving him home.
Janet finally left him sitting there, with his bag of medication. He was just about to give in and lie back on the bed when he heard Jack's voice. Moving slowly, he got his crutches and stood. He felt shaky and off balance, but he wasn't about to admit that to anyone because he just wanted the hell out of here.
"Ready to go?" Jack asked, even as Daniel began doing the three-legged shuffle towards the exit. "I take it that's a yes?" Jack caught up to him within seconds, carrying everything he'd need for self-administration of the antibiotics for the next several days.
The trip home was nearly unbearable. He couldn't stretch out his leg when the throbbing started up, and he was exhausted just from the walk through the mountain to the Avalanche. He spent the majority of the ride with his eyes closed, listening to the CD player, grunting at the proper places when Jack began talking about the lack of information the NID procured from their most recent guest.
He headed straight for the bedroom once he got into the house and only took the time to pull off his sneakers and pants and put his glasses on the table before getting into Jack's unmade bed. God, it felt good to lie down. He rolled onto his side, burying his face in the pillow and sheets, which still smelled of Jack.
"You need anything?" Jack sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on Daniel's hip. The bed dipped as Jack leaned over him and Daniel turned his head, anticipating Jack's kiss. Despite feeling like shit, the kiss, the bed and Jack himself were sheer heaven.
Jack cupped Daniel's face as his tongue welcomed him home. When he pulled back, Daniel sighed, long and hard.
"Get some sleep. I'll leave a bottle of water by the bed. Just yell if you need anything."
"Thanks." Daniel took hold of the blanket and pulled it over his shoulder, turning into its comfort as Jack shut the door behind him. The feeling of coming home evaporated when Jack left the room.
oo~O~oo The first thing Jack heard when he stepped through the front door was the sound of the small television he'd set up in the living room. He'd wanted to put it in the bedroom but Daniel had argued going down a handful of steps was good exercise for him, and that was easier than going down the full flight of stairs into the den.
Jack sighed. Sure, Daniel made his way down those stairs. Once a day, mid-morning, and only ascended them late in the afternoon, on his way to the bathroom and then spent the remainder of the day napping in bed. Not that he didn't nap on the couch. Half the time the television played on one of the two channels he got a halfway-decent reception on without benefit of cable, but Daniel snoozed away. Snoring. Drooling. Out for the count, hours at a time.
And when he was awake, he was moody, uncommunicative and downright... well, moody. This just wasn't normal for Daniel.
He'd pussyfooted around for the past three days, taking into consideration that Daniel was recuperating and was still feeling shitty. But hell, Jack had seen Daniel feeling shitty before, more times than he'd like, actually, and this wasn't Daniel's usual shitty-feeling behavior.
Jack was pretty damn sure this had to do with whatever that bastard had said to Daniel just before Teal'c took him down. Daniel hadn't shared what little secrets the bounty hunter had whispered to him, he'd just shaken his head and told Jack, and anyone else who asked, that it didn't matter.
Well, obviously it did matter and if Daniel didn't cough up the truth the next time Jack asked, he was going to fly to Area 51 himself and beat it out of the prisoner himself.
Jack headed for the kitchen, dropped the brown take-out bag from Thai Gardens on the counter, and stepped to the half wall to glance into the living room. No surprise there; Daniel's blanket-covered body was curled up on the couch, glasses askew, fast asleep.
It didn't take him long to pull out the container of noodle soup Daniel liked so much and place it on a tray, along with a container of stir fried vegetables with beef. Jack tossed his own choices next to Daniel's, grabbed a bag of the scheduled antibiotics and stuck it on the corner of the tray, picked up both trays, stacked one over the other, and descended into the living room.
Daniel jerked awake as Jack put the trays onto the coffee table, blinked at Jack groggily, then sat up slowly as he adjusted his glasses.
"What time is it?"
"Nearly six." Jack separated their meals, then put Daniel's on the couch next to him. It didn't take him long to get the antibiotics hooked up and running; he was getting old hand at this, having done it twice daily since Daniel was home.
When Daniel made no move to reach for his meal, Jack stopped and took a good look at him. Despite the red crease marks on his cheek which he'd picked up from the couch, Daniel didn't look flushed or abnormally pale. He looked tired, but that was most likely due to the half-lidded appearance as he stared listlessly at the coffee table. Still, Jack reached for Daniel's cheek, intending to give him a caress while checking for fever.
What he didn't expect was Daniel's jerking his head from Jack's questing fingers.
"Don't. I'm fine."
Jack fisted his fingers, arm still extended, and then raised his index finger to make sure he had Daniel's attention. "If you were fine, you'd be eating."
"I said I was fine, I didn't say I was hungry."
"You weren't hungry at noon, either. I may not be the world's greatest cook, but this stuff you usually jump through hoops to get." Jack knocked the tray with his knee, sending soup sloshing against the clear plastic cover.
Daniel raised his hand in a gesture of surrender and reached for the tray. With steady hands, he pried the cover off and twirled a fork into the mix of noodles. Fragrant chicken broth erupted from the steam, causing Jack's mouth to water. He waited until Daniel slurped up a mouthful of noodles before crossing to the opposite couch and placing his tray on his lap.
They ate in silence, Jack watching Daniel like a hawk, while Daniel studiously ignored him although he had to be aware of his scrutiny. Meals had been more or less like this from the moment Daniel had come home. Jack understood Daniel probably had little appetite but damnit, he'd driven out of his way to pick up their supper tonight and the least he could have gotten was a thank you.
Daniel managed a third of the soup and a few bites of the beef and vegetables before pushing his tray aside. Jack didn't say anything and kept on eating. Everything could be reheated for tomorrow's lunch; that was, if Daniel actually made the effort to eat something while Jack was at work.
Maybe he should sic Fraiser on Daniel; that might scare him enough to try and eat three meals a day.
Then again, if he did that, chances were Fraiser would haul Daniel's butt back to the infirmary. Jack sighed and dropped his tray onto the coffee table, the last of his appetite gone. He had a niggling feeling that a big part of the problem wasn't so much physical as mental.
He cleared his throat, wishing Daniel would look at him instead of staring off into space all the time. "Okay, enough is enough. Either you tell me what's going, or I'm taking the next Janet Air to Area 51 and I'm going to talk to Lei myself."
Well, that got a reaction. Although a wounded puppy dog expression wasn't what Jack was expecting.
"Something's working its way up your butt and either you're gonna spill, or I'm gonna get it from the horse's mouth."
Daniel's face quickly became guarded, and he glanced down to his thumb and began worrying a hangnail. "I have no idea what you're talking—"
"Lei said something to you back in the infirmary and I want to know what it was."
Daniel's gaze bounded over to Jack, to the food he'd barely touched, to the television set that was showing some game show and back to his hangnail. "It was nothing."
"Jack, we've been over this already. He was just posturing—"
This time Daniel gave him his full attention. "Jack?"
"What did he say?"
A sigh preceded Daniel's words. "It doesn't matter. They buried the 'gate..." He lowered his eyes back to his hangnail.
"What. Did. He. Say?"
"He left a bomb in the middle of the ruins." Daniel's words were so softly spoken that Jack had trouble hearing them.
"Bomb? Like the one he was holding in the infirmary?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"And you believed him? The man enjoys hurting people, Daniel. Physically, emotionally, psychologically." Jack shook his head and stood, not knowing exactly where he was heading. Actually, if he'd been at the SGC, he'd have stormed to Fraiser's office to grab the photos of the bastard, but at the moment, that was out of the question. "He had no other bomb." He raised a finger in the air quickly as Daniel took a breath to speak. "Fraiser'll confirm it. Those crazy implants he had all over his body? She'd have noticed if some of them had been removed, and that would have, at the least, clued her in that they weren't just decorative. Yeah, the guy heals fast, but not that fast. There'd have been marks. She's got to photos to prove it, after they took away all of his toys."
"No bomb, Daniel. The only damage that bastard did was to lie to you."
Daniel seemed to crumple into himself as he collapsed against the back of the couch. Jack hoped it was from relief but he took no chances. He was by Daniel's side in a flash, a hand to the side of his neck. Daniel was shaking, and without a word he turned towards Jack. Reaching for him, Jack took Daniel into a hug and sat there, wordlessly holding him, until the shakes receded.
oo~O~oo How could he have been so stupid? He should have talked to Jack, or Sam or Teal'c, or hell, even Janet. Instead he'd naively believed the words of some maniac which were, now that he thought about it, aimed to do nothing but hurt. Because even if Zerinda Lei had somehow managed to escape the SGC, Lei would have gained absolutely nothing by what he'd whispered in Daniel's ear.
He sighed as he reached for his cup of coffee and sipped, watching the sky darken as the sun set. A shiver ran down his spine; just the last symptom of his slowly climbing fever which routinely kept him company from sundown to sunrise each night.
"Wanna go inside?"
"In a minute." He waved his coffee cup, took another sip and breathed deeply, smelling fresh cut grass intermingling with the caffeine. This was the first time he'd been outside in three days; it was actually the first time he felt alive in three days, despite the non-stop throbbing in his leg and the low-grade fever that he couldn't shake.
Jack gave him a gentle smile, and Daniel couldn't help smiling back. He finished his coffee and then eased off the edge of the picnic table he'd been sitting on and reached for his crutches. Jack stood also, hovering until Daniel was steady, then grabbed their empty cups and hurried past him to get the door.
Daniel continued on into the bedroom and sat down, easing off his sandals and pants, moving slowly thanks to a quickly growing headache. Jack joined him after a minute, water bottle in hand and two Tylenol. Daniel swallowed the pills with a few sips of the water, the chill of which was just enough to send him into full body shivers.
Within seconds, the water bottle was plucked from his hand, the blankets lifted enticingly and once he was under them, Jack spooned up behind him. As miserable as he felt right now, things finally felt right.
Jack touched his lips against the back of his neck, and Daniel couldn't help smiling. "Thermometer's on the table next to you."
"I know." Jack's lips moved across his neck, up behind his ear. "I don't think I need to call Fraiser quite yet."
"Thank you," Daniel said when Jack settled his head back on the pillow.
"For what?" Jack's hand opened wide against his chest, then slowly his fingers closed together, giving him a gentle rub.
"Oh, you know, the usual..."
"Ah. Okay." Jack tapped Daniel's chest lightly with his palm. "Just, next time..."
"...Come and talk to you?"
Daniel relaxed into Jack's embrace as the Tylenol slowly lowered his fever and headache, and the painkillers he'd taken with supper kicked in. He drifted in a fever-sleep, sleepily aware of Jack's presence and welcome heat.
oo~O~oo Jack waited until the shivering stopped and Daniel passed that drift and jerk mode into a deeper sleep before getting out of bed. He was glad that they'd talked but his anger now was simmering below the boiling point. Anger not aimed at Daniel, but at that damned bounty hunter who, Jack hoped, rotted in a cell and never saw the light of day until he died of very old age.
He grabbed a beer and went down to the den, intending to watch some television. Instead he sat there, nursing his beer, and stared into space, the remote sitting on the couch beside him, forgotten. He sighed deeply, blaming himself for not making sure all the bounty hunters were dead directly after the crash and allowing this one individual to escape and make life more than miserable for his team and three small cities on a planet light years away.
Hammond had received Jack's mission report this morning, so everything was still crystal clear in his mind. He began to mull over his decisions, his actions, trying to see where he could have acted differently. Twenty-twenty hindsight was great in finding ways to lay blame. The hard part, he'd discovered, was to accept it and live with it. He finally came to the conclusion that there really was no blame to be assigned anyone, especially himself. And after today, he was fairly sure Daniel had reached the same assumption.
Bringing the beer bottle to his mouth, he was surprised to find it was empty. And even more surprised, when he glanced at his watch, to see that more than two hours had elapsed while he'd sat here by himself.
He locked up quickly, showered and joined Daniel in bed. He eased his fingers onto Daniel's torso, checking for fever, and was surprised to find Daniel's skin slick with sweat. He touched Daniel's cheek and forehead, which was equally cool and damp.
Jack couldn't help smile to himself as Daniel turned sleepily towards him. He wiped his fingers on the sheet. "Yeah, everything's fine."
More than fine - for the first time since he'd come home, Daniel's fever had completely gone.
The sheets rustled as Daniel turned. "Wanna talk about it?" He still sounded sleepy but at least Daniel was awake enough to want to discuss something.
"Nothing to talk about."
"You sure?" Daniel reached out and laid his arm over Jack's abdomen, its weight heavy and warm, and damp.
"Yeah. I'm sure." Jack draped his fingers over Daniel's arm, holding it there. "Everything's peachy."
"Because we can... talk, if you, you know..."
"I know." He gave Daniel's arm a gentle tug. "It's fine." He could feel Daniel staring at him in the dark. "Really."
Daniel yawned long and loud. "Okay. Just make sure," he said, his words punctuated by a second yawn, "next time we get taken prisoner by bounty hunters and you crash the ship, that they're all present and accounted for before we try and get home, okay?"
"Yeth thir," Jack said in an exaggerated comedic voice. He yawned in sympathy with Daniel's third yawn, smiled when Daniel smacked his belly, and closed his eyes. Yep, things were definitely going to be fine.
This story is from a zine called You'll be alright, a zine which was a labour of love, put together by devra and I for our wonderful Jmas last year.
If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:
And Darcy made a vid - you may want to check it out on her site here called Stand - by Rascal Flatts