A Helping Snoutby JoaG
"Whatever you say, Jack." Daniel deliberately let a hint of sarcasm colour his words as he turned his attention to his computer screen. The writing before him suddenly made no sense; his concentration was broken and the week-long argument between himself and Jack had finally come to a head.
"Look, it's not that the SGC can't do without you," Jack said awkwardly, "but it's that we... Can't do... Without you."
Daniel chanced a quick glance over at Jack, who looked embarrassed and contrite. He held back a snort; he knew this was simply Jack's way of trying to butter him up. A week with the two of them barely talking and Daniel spending his nights at his apartment obviously had Jack one step away from plying him with candies and a romantic dinner.
"You never minded my going off on missions with other teams before," Daniel began, rehashing the argument that had started the whole fiasco.
"That's because you were never gone for four months—"
"It's a long-term project. Can't you even put yourself in my place for a moment? Think of the opportunities I'll have, getting back to archaeology—"
"Crouching all day long and having nothing but stiff muscles for your trouble. I know what it's like. I've had to massage the cramps out of—"
"And living with the people there," Daniel went on, ignoring Jack's interruption. "Learning first hand about their culture while we unearth the repository left by their ancestors—"
"No running water, outdoor toilets, little or no hygiene—"
"There's so much to discover, Jack." Daniel was talking faster and faster, trying to get the words out before Jack could interrupt again. "Even in the months we'll be there, we probably will only unearth a fraction of—"
"That's just it. You'll be out of reach of the Stargate for four months—"
"It's not like we won't have anyone to watch our backs. SG-4 is going with the archaeological team and—"
"Four months, Daniel. Four months offworld, cut off by a river overflowing its banks for four months. That's leaving SG-1 with a whopping hole in the middle—"
"So get someone to replace me—"
"Like who? Nearly all the archaeologists are going on that mission!"
Ignoring Jack's outburst, Daniel fought to keep his voice low and controlled even though he was on the verge of shouting himself. "The SGC won't fall apart just because there'll be nobody with hands-on experience. There'll still be a skeleton staff on base. Anyway, we both know that the SGC's priorities have slowly been changing. We're no longer looking for exchanges of cultures. Instead we've been concentrating on—"
"That has nothing to do with the matter at hand—"
"Yes, it does. This might be my one and only chance to get back to what I really love to do. There's going to be at least a dozen of us over there and—"
"That's just my point. With all those archaeologists working on the dig site, it's not like your services are expressly needed."
The disagreement was looping around the same argument as it had all week long. With clenched teeth, Daniel deliberately turned his back on Jack and pretended to read the text on his screen. He stared at it, waited an appropriate amount of time, and moved the cursor so that the text shifted. His hand was shaking from the anger coursing through him and he could hear Jack breathing heavily, tension still radiating from his body.
For some reason Daniel couldn't quite fathom, he kept waiting for Jack to say something to him and he wasn't quite sure what it was. He'd felt let down and disappointed from the moment he'd brought the subject up seven days ago and Jack had nixed it in the bud. At the time it had been simply a half-hearted wish, but Jack's on-the-spot decision had suddenly made Daniel yearn to be a part of that mission, just to spite him.
He focused hard on staring at the computer, wishing Jack would leave, so when the phone rang, he grabbed it quickly, grateful for the distraction and the possibility that he'd need to go somewhere, which would take him away from Jack's condescending manner.
"Hellooo," he said in a falsely cheerful voice.
"Hey, Walter." Jack took a step away from the desk and Daniel immediately felt Jack was no longer looming over him. Still, he turned on the chair, keeping his back towards Jack. "Something I can do for you?"
"General Hammond wants you and Colonel O'Neill to report to his office immediately. Could you pass the message on to the Colonel?"
Daniel frowned and turned quickly to make sure Jack was still there. How did Walter know Jack was here, in his office?
"Um, yeah, he's here with me now. I'll let him know."
"Thank you, sir."
Daniel hung up and pushed away from his desk. "The General wants to see us."
"Walter..." Jack pointed towards the phone with a finger, then to himself.
Shrugging, Daniel took a sip of the last dregs of coffee remaining in his cup, waiting for Jack to take the lead, then grimaced at the cold and bitter taste. He followed Jack more slowly, deliberately keeping well behind to avoid having to talk to him.
Daniel looked curiously at Captain Mancini, who was seated at the briefing table. The Captain was kitted up, his BDUs covered with dust, which made it obvious he had just come back through the Stargate. What was odd, though, was that he was alone; there was no sign of his team. Daniel walked deliberately past the Captain and sat next to him while Jack took the seat opposite Mancini.
"Didn't SG-7 just go offworld yesterday?" Jack asked.
Daniel glanced towards the starmap, catching a glimpse of General Hammond seated at his desk behind the glass, poring over some papers. A moment later the General looked over at them and stood.
"Yes, sir. We sort of ran into a problem."
With Hammond approaching, Jack left off questioning the man and waited while the General took his seat at the head of the table. Hammond began talking even as he pulled his chair closer to the table.
"As you are aware, SG-7 has gone to P9E 873 to conduct surveillance of a possible Goa'uld stronghold on the planet's moon while testing new equipment provided by the people of P3S 772. In the process of setting up the surveillance equipment, they encountered an alien creature who stole a pertinent piece, without which they are unable to operate the telescope. To make matters worse, the equipment is to be returned in perfect working order to the people of P3S 772, who were more than kind enough to allow us the use of their technology. And according to our agreement with them, anything less than perfect and we'll be up to our necks trying to recompense them for the damages."
Daniel nodded; the summary of the mission had come through his desk a few weeks ago and he remembered thinking how tedious the mission for the team chosen to do the surveillance.
"You couldn't run after and catch the alien, Captain?"
"Not exactly, sir. It flew away and now it's hiding inside a hole in a cliff."
"Yes, sir. It's a packrat. It's stolen a few items from camp before we realized what it was that was taking our things. Nothing major, a few pieces of food, some wire, shiny things, you know?"
"Did you try to entice it out with some food?" Daniel swore Mancini began to roll his eyes and stopped at the last moment.
"Of course, sir. We did everything we could think of and short of blowing that hole with C4. We're at our wit's end."
Jack made a short noise deep in his throat. "And you called us to this meeting, why, sir?" The sarcasm was just borderline and Daniel winced inwardly, wondering if Hammond would react to Jack's attitude.
"It seems, Colonel," the General replied, stressing Jack's rank, "that you have encountered this type of alien being before. So with your experience, I figure you two can think of something to retrieve that piece of technology before we end up going to war with someone who's supposed to be our allies."
The wind coming from the sea was hot and arid, not doing the least bit to help cool off Daniel's overheated skin. Squinting even behind his clip-ons, Daniel followed the others down a broken path along the cliff and stopped halfway between land and ocean.
"We followed it here." Perez waved to one of many small holes visible in the stone. Someone had clearly attempted to dig into the hole but the hard rock had done nothing more than given in to scratches. Like Captain Mancini had said, nothing short of C4 would gouge into this. Daniel couldn't help but wonder what sort of creatures had originally dug the tunnels into the rock.
Adjusting the flap of his boonie so it didn't block his sight, Daniel peered into the tunnel. "Is it still inside?" He couldn't see anything; either the hole was long and deep, or else the sun's glare was preventing him from seeing clearly.
"It never came out. We tried everything." Colonel Perez, whose nose and cheeks were covered by sunscreen, gave a lazy wave at the withered scraps of food littering the edge of the hole.
"Is there any other way out of there?" Sam aimed her flashlight into the hole, and a soft and familiar-sounding inquisitive cheep echoed back at her. Sam and Daniel exchanged bewildered looks.
"Not that we can tell, although the rock's riddled with caves and passages. Can't get in there, though, until the tide's gone down."
Daniel stepped away from the cliff and peered down towards the water. Waves slammed against the rocks and he could just make out the entrance to what could be a cave about twenty feet to his left. Perez was right, the water level was too high and the waves too powerful to even try attempting to enter it at the moment. Maybe not even when the tide was out.
"We're not even sure the caves connect to the alien's lair." Perez leaned a shoulder against the cliff in an attitude of waiting, and raised an eyebrow.
Daniel frowned, looked around at Sam, Teal'c and Perez in confusion, pointedly ignoring Jack. Just exactly what were they supposed to do here? Even if SG-1 had had the most experience with the alien creatures, it didn't mean they could do better than SG-7. Jack cleared his throat, as if he were also waiting for Daniel to do something. Still irritated from their argument earlier, he stepped resolutely back towards the hole. "How deep is it?"
"Much longer than our arms, and I'm not sticking my hand inside; who knows if that thing bites."
"They're not vicious," Daniel said quickly. Partly because he wanted to prove a point and partly because he didn't know what else to do, he shoved his arm into the hole, ignoring Jack's curse. A moment later, feeling nothing but stone, he pulled his arm out just as Jack grabbed his shoulder and pulled him away. He gave Jack an appraising look, noting the anger reflecting back at him, and shrugged, holding his own anger at bay. This wasn't the time, or the place, to rehash their argument. "He's right. It's too deep."
"Could we push a stick in there, try and force it out—"
"We need that piece of equipment, Daniel." Jack's words were short and clipped.
"But not at the expense of hurting an innocent creature."
"It's just an animal. And a nuisance at that." Jack's eyes were hard, and Daniel wondered how much of Jack's attitude right now was due to his anger towards him. Daniel dropped his head, staring at the rubbish-littered ground.
"Colonel, what if we had some help?"
"Carter?" Jack turned his steely gaze to Sam as Daniel fought to control his own temper.
"Maybe we could get one of it own kind to coax it out—"
"And once it's come out there, how do we get the piece it stole out of that hole?" Jack raised an arm, starting to point at the hole when a head peeked out of the stone wall barely two feet from them. The creature stared at them, gave a soft cheep, and slid out of its lair and quickly took to the skies.
"No, sir," Perez said quickly. "The one inside is a mottled orange colour. That one's got more black."
"They're a different colour." The creatures Daniel was used to seeing were varying shades of grey. These were more vibrant. He watched it soar, circling around them, keeping well out of their reach. He felt some of his antagonism towards Jack recede, replaced with eagerness to see an old friend. "I'm sure I could get Scarlett to retrieve the equipment." He turned hopefully to Jack, and felt the smile that had grown on his face slide away at the closed look of his friend, team leader, and lover.
Jack hated the look of uncertainty and hurt that flashed over Daniel's face, and he knew he was hugely responsible for it. He forced his irritation back, and gave a nod. Daniel was right; other than physically hurting the alien inside the small burrow, or waiting until it got hungry and left, their best bet was to try and have one of its own coax it out.
"Teal'c, you and Carter stay here, in case the critter decides to vacate the premises. Daniel and I'll go see if we can recruit Scarlett."
Rewarded by a smile from Daniel, Jack allowed Daniel to lead the way back to the Stargate. Walking behind Daniel, Jack slipped a piece of paper containing the 'gate address he'd looked up before leaving for the mission and memorized the glyphs. Stepping past Daniel, Jack punched in the address, ignoring the look of surprise on Daniel's face as he crumpled the slip of paper in his fist. The moment Daniel looked away, he stuck the paper into a pocket. Remembering his previous experience with the aliens, Jack quickly grabbed his baseball cap from his head and shoved it into a pocket as he stepped into the wormhole, walking side by side with Daniel.
It didn't take long for the airborne critters to notice their arrival. Unlike the planet they'd just come from, these animals greeted them with cries of welcome, chittering and squawking overhead, coming close enough to brush against them, pausing so that Jack and Daniel could give them a quick stroke before they were off to circle once more. A few grabbed Daniel's boonie hat, which he'd shoved off his head once they came through the 'gate, and tried to fly off with it. Jack smiled, glad he'd had the forethought to take his own hat off.
The disturbance quickly caught the attention of the one they wanted. She came streaking towards them, and Jack was surprised that he could actually differentiate her cries from the rest of the noisy brood.
As expected, Scarlett headed straight for Daniel, swarming over his body in excitement, giving him a few quick licks on hands and cheek before zipping over to Jack and giving him a similar welcome. At her arrival, the others pulled away, still circling, still excited, but allowing Scarlett their full attention and not for the first time, he wondered whether she was their leader, or if her status amongst them was simply because they'd singled one another out.
Once Scarlett finally calmed down, Daniel caught her body and held her loosely. She curled around him and brushed her cheek against his. "Hey, missed you, too." He gave Jack a quick, furtive look and shrugged. "Look, we need your help." Daniel sighed and scratched his eyebrow with his thumb. "Jack, I honestly don't know how we can get her to understand that we need her to come with us."
"Leave that to me." Without another word of explanation, Jack stepped over to the DHD and began punching the coordinates for P9E 873. Once the wormhole was engaged, Jack made an after you motion with his hand. Within seconds, several of the creatures were flying around the event horizon, sniffing the liquid blue.
"I can't just force her to come with us." Daniel's voice was full of horror, and it took all of Jack's control not to roll his eyes.
"Let her go," Jack said slowly, as if talking to a child. "Step through the 'gate and she'll follow you."
"How do you know that she—"
"When has she not followed us through a wormhole, eh?"
"Oh." Smiling sheepishly, Daniel pushed at Scarlett, urging her to take to the air. He jogged up the stone steps and turned, seeming surprised to see the alien at his shoulder, where she'd followed him like a well-trained dog.
Jack motioned him impatiently to go through as he approached the Stargate, and the moment both Daniel and his shadow disappeared, several of the aliens who'd been investigating the wormhole followed them through.
"Ah, crap." Jack hurried through the active Stargate before any others got the bright idea of tagging along.
"Okay, how're we going to do this?" Jack tried to ignore the excited squawks of the aliens flying circles around him and Daniel.
"Get her to go into that hole and drag the piece of equipment back out?"
"Oh. Well, I don't know. Yet."
Jack sighed, slowing as a group of native aliens flew over to meet theirs, Scarlett streaking by to get to the front of her kind. The excited squawks suddenly changed pitch and even to Jack's ears, the chitters sounded angry and aggressive by both parties. Grey and orange met one another in the air, slowly sniffing one another out, moving slowly, guardedly around one another.
Scarlett stood her ground, shifting her posture so that her body was stiff and straight rather than the usual undulations of her kind. Jack didn't like this, for some reason they'd never even thought that the two groups of aliens might be aggressors. One of the others hissed, and Scarlett hissed back. Slowly the two groups separated and Scarlett flew back down to Daniel's side. All of Scarlett's brood slowly spread out and surrounded the two men and Jack wondered if this was a proprietary act, or a warding one.
Whatever it was, the orange herd of aliens drifted away, leaving them alone, but Jack was aware of several constantly flying by, most likely keeping an eye of them. Scarlett's flock was unnaturally quiet, which put Jack on edge. He glanced at Daniel, who kept looking over his shoulder. Obviously, Jack wasn't the only one feeling the edginess of the aliens.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," Daniel said softly as he rubbed his fingers against Scarlett's cheek.
"As long as they don't go at one another's throats..." Scarlett rubbed her head against Daniel's fingers, then turned to look up at the sky. She growled low in her throat before butting her head against Daniel's hand.
To Jack's relief, the aliens flew off to cavort over a clear section of water, leaving Scarlett alone with Daniel. Carter and Teal'c were standing near the edge of the trail, keeping an eye on the aliens while SG-7 had gone back to finish putting the rest of the equipment together. The native aliens cavorted a hundred feet to their right, but both sides remained watchful, two or three of the aliens holding obvious guard while the rest relaxed and played. He turned to their own little problem, watching as Daniel got several coloured wires and showed them to Scarlett.
Slowly he shoved them into a hopefully unoccupied hole, one by one, and stepped back. Cheeping inquisitively, Scarlett poked her head into the hole, then backed out, looking at Daniel with a confused expression.
"Go and get them." Again, Daniel pointed at the hole. When Scarlett didn't move, Daniel slowly snaked an arm into the hole and pulled one of the wires out. "See? I want you to go and get them." This time he waved the wire in front of Scarlett and her eyes widened in interest. She followed his hand with her eyes and when he tossed it into the hole, she flew in and backed out, holding the wire in her mouth.
"Yes, that's it!" Daniel grinned and stepped forward to take the wire from her. Thinking it was a game, she took off, flying out of reach before he could grab it.
"Damn. No, I don't want to take it away from you. Come on, Scarlett, I want you to go back and get some more." He reached inside the hole and pulled the remaining wires, waving them at her. Before he could react, Scarlett flew down towards him, grabbed the wires from his hand and took off, her loot dangling behind her as she flew excitedly up and over the cliff, except for one which had fallen to the ground by Daniel's feet.
Daniel leaned his head back in exasperation, eyes tightly shut.
Jack wanted nothing more than to ruffle Daniel's hair. Instead, he picked up the wire and pocketed it, put his lips together and whistled.
All cavorting stopped and several dozen sets of eyes turned to look at him. After a moment, the aliens continued to frolic while Scarlett came flying back towards them, eyes wide. She'd lost the wires and went immediately to Jack, although she turned to stare at their orange counterparts for a few seconds before giving him her full attention.
Jack simply walked over to the occupied hole where the alien refused to come out and play with the rest. Jack wondered, suddenly, if it were sick or infirmed. Maybe it couldn't come out. Or maybe there actually was another way in – maybe these tunnels in the rocks all intersected and the thief was out there, playing in the surf.
Jack pointed to the hole and Scarlett looked at his fingers, the hole, back to his fingers and then finally at Jack's face. "Go inside and get it."
She meeped and slowly flew towards the entrance. She seemed reluctant to enter.
"Maybe she knows there's one of them still inside."
Jack pulled the piece of wire from his pocket. He showed it to her and she moved towards him, but stopped when he raised an index finger. Grasping the wire, he moved his hand towards the hole and pointed. "Go and get it."
Giving the hole her full attention, Scarlett slowly flew inside, her body sliding easily into the tight space. She disappeared from sight and Jack realized that the tunnel was longer than he'd thought. He bent to peer inside, then froze when he heard growls and hisses. A moment later, an orange streak flew past him, and Jack pulled back just in time, the creature's fur rubbing against his cheek and ear. It turned and came back, chittering angrily as Scarlett came out of the hole with its coveted treasure in her mouth.
"Good girl!" Daniel reached for the piece of equipment and she dropped it into his hand. She rose into the air next to Daniel, chittering softly to herself as she twirled around him, obviously showing off, giving occasional glances towards the angry alien flying circles around them.
"Colonel?" Carter called out. When Jack acknowledged her, she tossed a small piece of metal which she'd wrapped the wires that Scarlett had dropped. "How about a peace offering?"
"Good idea." He waited until Daniel and Scarlett had moved away from the nests and were on their way back up the trail, before dropping the replacement just below the hole. By the time he'd gone a few feet up the trail, the creature had pounced on the gift and had returned to its lair with its new prize.
"Well, I never thought I'd see the day." Colonel Perez stood next to the now completed observation equipment, watching nervously as Scarlett and her fellows investigated it. "Jack O'Neill, alien tamer." Its innards, however, were now enclosed within steel plates and unless the critters suddenly grew fingers, they'd be unable to steal any more of its parts. "Somehow I thought you were more of a dog person."
"Hey, if the leash fits..." Jack couldn't help smiling. Although Scarlett had at first attached herself to Daniel, she seemed to enjoy Jack's company nearly as much. And the fact that he'd been able to make her understand what they needed, he didn't know if he was more proud of himself, or his favourite alien.
"Listen." Perez stepped to the side, forcing Jack to turn and squint, as he was now facing into the sun. "Lieutenant Morrison spotted some ruins about a mile down the beach. We were going to go check it out but thanks to our resident packrat, well, that doesn't look likely now. I thought maybe if you guys weren't in a hurry to get back, you could give it a quick once over."
"What kind of ruins?" Daniel had broken off from the group and was walking towards them. Jack bit back the words that wanted to come out, demanding why bother when he was more interested in going off with SG-4.
"A large stone building down in a valley. The roof's still intact – pretty amazing architecture. Carved right into the cliff. Couldn't make up many details from up here but it was intriguing enough to warrant plans to go investigate."
Daniel didn't say a word, but simply stood there, staring in the direction Perez had pointed. Jack looked at the sky. The sun was high, they probably still had several hours of daylight left. Hell, it wouldn't hurt to ask permission to go check these ruins out. And he reassured himself it wasn't an unspoken apology to Daniel for their argument; it was reconnaissance, pure and simple. Who knew what secrets these ruins hid and what treasures they could glean for the SGC?
"You see about collecting Madame over there along with her harem—"
"They're not a harem—"
"And I'll go check in with Hammond, see if we can get an extra few hours to check out the ruins."
Emotions flashed over Daniel's face; each one lasting only a few seconds. Surprise. Pleasure. Incredulity. And finally, wariness. "Sure." He turned away from Jack, his posture slightly slumped, before turning. "But she may not be willing to go until we leave the planet."
Jack nodded shortly; he'd had experience in trying to get Scarlett to leave. She probably felt she was here on an adventure with them and would have no inclination on leaving until they did. He had a pretty good idea that getting Scarlett to retrieve the piece of equipment had been a piece of cake compared to trying to get the aliens home.
Daniel was bouncing nearly as much as the aliens were bobbing around in the sky; both were pleased with their extended stay, although Scarlett seemed to portray a bit more decorum and simply twirled around all four members of SG-1 instead of zipping left, right, up, down, back and forth, making the whole expedition seem from afar, Jack suspected, like a many-tentacled thing walking along the cliff.
"They're still following us." Carter looked to their left, where the native aliens were keeping pace over the water. Some of the excitement had rubbed off on the natives, who were playing tag with one another.
"They're probably just as curious as Scarlett was when we visited her planet." Daniel reached a hand out to rub against one of the grey aliens who'd darted down close to him before it zoomed back up into the sky, chasing another of its kind.
"Look." Carter pointed at one of the orange aliens which had left its group and darted through theirs. The streak of orange was bright amongst the grey. It quickly twirled around several of the aliens and escaped back to its own group with a loud, teasing chitter.
Jack was hard pressed to watch his footing and the aliens' antics. Both groups began playing dare, whizzing back and forth between each group, and a couple of times there had been a few hisses and growls. Jack wasn't sure if these were simply warnings or actual signs of aggression.
Daniel's exclamation pulled Jack's attention from the aliens and down towards a break in the cliff. Perez had been right, the whole thing looked... amazing. It had a delicate appearance from up here; stone columns could be seen supporting the roof which had literally been carved right out of the rock. The whole area had been dug where the cliff had broken off ages ago, but still high enough that the water never came this far inland.
"O'Neill, there is a trail."
"What?" Daniel hurried forward to where Teal'c had taken point, one hand holding onto his boonie hat, the other waving for balance as he descended lower into the cliff side. "Jack, Teal'c's right. There's a path. That must mean there's a village somewhere nearby. It's not well used, but it's clear that it has been used, most probably in the past few months."
Jack met Carter's eyes, and without saying a word, glanced around before meeting her gaze again. She nodded. They'd been travelling here with the belief that the place was uninhabited. Now they'd be on the lookout for signs of habitation.
"Can we use the path to get down to the ruins?"
"Yeah. It leads straight to it." Daniel flashed Jack a grin and then hurried past Teal'c, quickly hidden from sight as he followed the trail.
Teal'c started down after Daniel, and with a sigh, Jack pointed to Carter to precede him. He started down on the trail, which was steep and full of loose rocks and dirt. He was taking it slow, careful not to twist an ankle or knee, when a loud squawk, followed by a series of hisses and growls right overhead, brought him to a halt.
Both groups of aliens had been interacting with one another, but suddenly it looked like the fun and games had stopped and things were going to get rough. The orange aliens left the skies and flew around SG-1, getting into their way while the grey aliens flitted around, trying to keep them away from SG-1. Scarlett was in the thick of things, scolding one and all, regardless of colour. If she kept this up, she was going to run herself ragged in a few minutes.
Without hesitation, Jack stopped and whistled loudly, startling both groups enough that they separated with a few disgruntled cheeps. Hovering on either side of Jack, both teams of aliens stared at him. He raised a finger to his grey gang, and ordered, "Play nice. You're guests here. Be on your best behaviour." Scarlett punctuated his words with a loud squawk and a quieter cheep.
Then he turned to the orange team. "You gotta learn to share. You'll make more friends that way." Aware of his precarious position, he motioned to the nearest orange flying balloon by crooking one finger. "C'mere."
It stared at him, then shifted its gaze over to Scarlett, who immediately obeyed his order. She rubbed against him and crooned softly. Jack motioned the critter over again, using all fingers, and it slowly advanced, obviously unsure of Jack's and Scarlett's intentions.
He rubbed Scarlett's head with his index finger and she sighed happily. When the orange creature was close enough, Jack slowly moved his hand up to it, and let it sniff his fingers. It butted his hand with its head, and Jack eased his fingers to its forehead and rubbed. Laughing softly as it rolled its eyes in contentment, Jack continued to pet it for a few more seconds before pulling away.
"Okay, see? We can all play nice." He glanced down and saw that his team had stopped and were watching and smiling. "C'mon, let's all go down there, nice and quiet." Waving both hands in the direction of the ruins, Jack took a few more steps until the rest of the team started moving again.
His first step seemed to be the signal that set off the orange creatures once again, much to Jack's consternation. Once he was sure the aliens weren't really attacking, he concentrated on his footing and tried to ignore them the best he could. They buffeted him occasionally, brushing against him and if their actions were anything to go by, it was giving him a bad feeling about things.
"I think they don't want us down here," Daniel said as he pushed his boonie hat back now that they were out of direct sunlight. He stared at the ruins before him, and there was uncertainty reflected in his face. Jack had come to trust Scarlett's instincts, but these other aliens, he wasn't so sure about. He watched Scarlett, who seemed confused as she watched the orange guys twitter around nervously.
"Okay, let's go in there, but keep your eyes peeled." With a hand on his weapon, Jack turned a full three sixty degrees, looking for possible threats. Then with a loud raucous cry, the orange aliens took off, flying up the cliff, back the way they'd come. One or two of the gray ones followed for a bit, gave a few satisfied chuffs, as if they'd been responsible for chasing them away, then came back down to join the rest of their group.
"Something has frightened the creatures." Teal'c was watching the tall brush around them. "It may be prudent to retreat."
Jack hated not knowing what was out there; it could be something simple, like a natural predator that stalked the aliens so they simply kept out of the area. Or, it could be something bigger, something that stalked the aliens and humans. He glanced at his group of aliens, most of which had gone ahead and were cavorting inside and outside the ruins. They sensed no danger, but that didn't mean anything if they weren't familiar with whatever could constitute danger here.
"Let's make this quick, and we'll reassess the situation if there's anything inside that place worth exploring."
Daniel opened his mouth to protest but Jack simply ignored him, and thankfully Daniel didn't push the matter. They were nearly to the ruins when Teal'c slowed and stopped, slowly turning around in a circle.
"What is it?" Jack paused and looked around, suddenly feeling like they were being watched, although this could simply have been a result of paranoia resulting from Teal'c's action. Carter stopped also, looking back the way they'd come.
"I am unsure."
Daniel had continued walking, stopping only when Jack had spoken up. He looked back at them, looking a little confused and worried. "What's going on—"
Before anyone could react, several large animals burst out of the surrounding shrub. Mottled blacks and browns, they were barely visible, merging perfectly into the background. It was mainly the movements of the bushes that allowed Jack to see their progress.
Then Daniel cried out as one of the creatures jumped him, knocking him to the ground.
"Daniel!" Unable to get a clear shot, Jack started to run towards him but a sudden disturbance in the grass next to him forced him to stop and fire his weapon at a barely visible creature. He got a glimpse of teeth and large, yellow eyes before it collapsed with a yelp.
Teal'c had reached Daniel, however, and was using the stock of his P-90 to beat the attacking animal away. Carter was giving them cover fire, and Jack quickly realized that they were surrounded.
The snarls and growls were deafening, and to Jack's surprise, Scarlett and her brethren were viciously defending Daniel to the best of their abilities, diving down and biting a second creature that had gotten close, swarming around it, trying to stop it from creeping up behind Teal'c. He aimed carefully and shot it, praying that none of the aliens would become a victim of friendly fire.
The sound of a gun firing confirmed that Teal'c had gotten the one that had gone after Daniel.
"Sir, there's too many."
They couldn't stay here; the animals were too well-camouflaged. They needed to either flush the creatures out of the bushes or take cover.
"Get to the ruins." Running side by side beside Carter, they retreated towards their original goal. Daniel was on his feet, staggering towards the ruins while Teal'c ran backwards, firing his weapon as he covered Jack and Carter. They stumbled down the three shallow steps, the dimness of the cave suddenly alerting Jack that there could be more danger inside.
Scarlett flew past them, screeching loudly and angrily, zipping around the interior of the ruins while the rest of the pack spread out, facing outward, hissing loudly at the beasts outside.
To Jack's surprise, nothing followed them in. Still facing the exit, he took a few steps backwards to check Daniel out.
"I'm fine." Although he'd drawn his pistol, his right arm was soaked in blood and was hanging by his side. "Damn thing bit me." He sounded insulted, but gave a nervous laugh. "Did you see Scarlett and the others, Jack? Did you see them? They went after those creatures like... I never thought they could be dangerous but they actually hurt it. Enough for it to yelp out in pain."
"I saw, Daniel." Jack took his eyes off Daniel and glanced back towards the entrance. When nothing outside moved, he turned back to Daniel. "Other than the arm, are you hurt anywhere else?"
"A few scratches and bruises, nothing serious."
He turned to his other teammates, who were closer to the opening. "Carter, anything moving out there?"
"No, sir. It's like the attack never happened."
"Warn Perez, tell him what's happening and to be on the lookout for those things." With one hand still holding his weapon, he used the other hand to search for the first aid kit in Daniel's backpack. He let go his weapon long enough to disinfect the wounds and wind a bandage around the gashes on Daniel's arm while Carter tried to contact SG-7.
By the time he'd tied off the bandage, Carter had given up.
"It's no use, we're being blocked."
As Jack made his way to the entrance to peer outside, one of the aliens made an odd, whining sound. It wasn't until a couple of them chittered in alarm that he turned to see it hovering near the floor, blood dripping from a gash in its body.
"I got it, sir." Carter hurried to the alien and wrapped a bandage around its body. Just as she finished, another alien slid down next to her, also injured. She gave Jack a worried look as she found another bandage to bind its wound.
"It doesn't look serious, sir, but then, I'm not a doctor and they're not..."
"Human, yeah, I know." He climbed up the three steps and stood near the exit, peering outside. Nothing moved. "Cover me." His heart hammering in his chest, his mouth dry in anticipation, he took two steps past the edge of the building. He reached for his radio and tried to contact Perez.
Five paces past the edge, he heard Mancini finally answer his call. Just as he went to answer, something came rushing out of the bushes. Jack jumped, more than ran, back into the depths of the ruins and was surprised when his attacker didn't follow.
"You don't think..." he began.
"It appears the creatures are reluctant to enter this building."
"You don't think it was a fluke, do you?"
"There is only one way to ascertain this." Stepping into the sunshine, Teal'c moved slowly forward. When he reached the spot where Jack had been attacked, he was also forced to backpedal into the ruins when several of the creatures rushed him. Scarlett growled next to Jack's ear, staring intently outside.
"Any ideas why they're not attacking us in here?"
"Maybe there's some sort of force field?" Daniel stood wearily next to Jack, his good arm supporting his injured one.
"We're managing to come in and out without any problems." Jack turned to look at Daniel, noting the fine sheen of sweat on his face and the paleness of his skin.
"Oh, right. Maybe something in the..." Daniel pointed to his ear with a finger. "Sounds? Like a dog whistle?"
"That's possible." Carter began moving around the interior, which went pretty deep inside the rock. The whole cavern was in good repair, there were no cracks, no crumbling stones. A large slab of stone sat in front of the far wall, maybe an altar of some sort. Something littered the altar and the ground around it; it looked like dried flowers. "I don't see anything but it's a little dark in here and there's lots of nooks and crannies which speakers could be placed in."
"I have an idea." Jack motioned Daniel to turn around, and when he did, Jack unclipped his backpack and rummaged through it until he found paper and pencil. He dropped the pack and quickly wrote down what had happened and ordered Perez to not come and find them without backup.
"Scarlett." When the alien flew over to him, he held out the folded piece of paper. "Go bring this to Perez." He pointed outside in the direction he'd come from. "Stargate. Perez. Give this to him." He held the paper out and she slowly advanced until it was in her mouth. "Perez. Go."
She glanced at Daniel a moment, then slowly backed out of the cave, staying high and hopefully out of the reach of the aliens. Then she disappeared in a grey blur.
"You getting anything out of all of this?" Jack turned to Daniel, who looked at him in confusion. "The stuff on the walls... It mean anything to you?"
When Daniel turned to stare at the wall in surprise, Jack began to get worried. Moving a little shakily, Daniel started following the symbols etched into the stone. Jack studied him a few more minutes until it appeared Daniel was fully absorbed in the translation.
With Teal'c watching the entrance, Jack went to join Carter by the two fallen aliens. One of them mewled when Jack kneeled next to him and he rubbed its snout with a finger, which seemed to calm it.
"I'm not sure, sir," Carter said in a near-whisper, "but I think they might have been poisoned."
"Their injuries aren't deep, but they're pretty weak."
There seemed to be some doubt in Carter's voice. "But you're not certain..."
"They're aliens. This may be a normal reaction to injuries—"
"DoctorFraiser has treated these aliens for injuries. She will be able to ascertain if they have been poisoned or not."
"Yeah, well, the problem with that is we need to get them out of here first. Maybe if they could fly, they could make it topside and..." Jack glanced towards Daniel, who'd made his way deeper into the cavern. A sudden thought hit him. "Daniel..."
"That thing bit him—" Carter stood and joined Jack in watching Daniel, who was oblivious to their stares.
"Maybe the poison's in those things' claws, not their teeth. Maybe the aliens weren't bitten. Do the gashes look like bite marks?"
"I don't know, sir. They're gashes."
"It may be that the flying aliens are these creatures' natural prey. It may be they poison the aliens in an attempt to seize them as they are naturally agile and swift. The poison would slow them down, allowing the creatures to capture their prey after a short period."
"So the poison isn't necessarily fatal?" Carter began rummaging through the first aid kit.
"Wouldn't make sense to eat something that's full of toxins, now, would it?"
"Maybe some antihistamines might help." She pulled out a pre-measured syringe and looked at the aliens on the ground. "How much do you think I should give them?"
"I dunno. They're the size of an arm... how much does an arm weigh?"
Carter rolled her eyes at Jack and kneeled next to one of the injured aliens. She rubbed the back of her hand across her mouth, staring at them. "Maybe I should just try the antihistamine on one of them, just in case..." She took a deep breath and injected what looked like a few drops into the alien. It raised its head and watched her, then flicked a tongue, licking her fingers. The trust these critters had in SG-1 scared Jack. What if Carter were wrong? What if the antihistamines made things worse? These were assumptions they were all making and their hands were tied.
It sneezed suddenly, mewled in pain, and yawned. They waited several minutes, and the only reaction the alien had during that timeframe was to yawn several times and close its eyes.
"I don't know, sir," Carter replied to Jack's unspoken question as they both rose to their feet and glanced towards Daniel, who was leaning a shoulder against the wall close to the large piece of stone, standing in a ray of sunlight that had recently crept deep enough into the cavern to illuminate the altar. Jack suddenly realized Daniel had his eyes closed.
"Daniel?" Jack reached out to touch Daniel's arm when Scarlett flew into the room, causing the rest of the aliens, who'd been flying back and forth across the entrance, to chitter and screech. Both Jack and Daniel jumped at the unexpected sounds.
"Shit." Daniel winced and bowed his body forward in pain. With a sympathetic pat on Daniel's uninjured arm, Jack turned towards Scarlett and took the somewhat damp and crumpled sheet of paper from her mouth.
Perez had written back that they were sending for backup and to sit tight. Daniel peered over Jack's shoulder, slowly leaning against him. His body heat was uncomfortable against Jack's already sweat-soaked clothes. "When did you..."
"While you were looking at the stuff over here." Jack pocketed the note and waved at the walls. "Did you find anything?"
"I'm not sure." Daniel moved away from Jack and raised a hand to the wall. "It's hard to understand but I think this is a shrine to Poseidon."
"Chicken of the sea?"
"Charlie the Tuna?"
Even on a bad day, Daniel usually made faces at Jack's jokes. Today, he simply looked back at him with a confused expression that was worrisome. "Okay, so Poseidon is god of the sea, right? Goa'uld?"
"I don't know." Daniel swayed and Jack reached a hand to steady him. "This place is pretty well-kept; it's obviously used regularly. There's a fairly fresh offering of flowers, grain, dried fish and what I think is incense over there." Daniel waved towards the large stone and Jack's first assumption was correct. Sunlight, which was moving quickly across the cavern, shone on the bits of shriveled flowers which had blown off the altar. Baskets and ewers behind the altar displayed the offerings Daniel had mentioned. Scarlett had found them and was investigating their contents. "They were put there, maybe a few months ago."
"So whoever put them there could be coming back. What about the things outside? Any mention of them?"
"That's the part that's not clear. I think they're guardians. I think they're diurnal—"
"They're not nocturnal. They come out during the day—"
"I know what it means, Daniel. I meant, how do you know that?"
"This text..." Daniel squinted at the wall, then moved over a foot, obviously trying to find the right passage.
"Daniel?" Jack gently took hold of Daniel's shoulder and turned him to face him. "How do you know these creatures are diurnal?"
"The, um... Passage says..." Daniel closed his eyes, and for a moment Jack thought he was going to take a header. He tensed, prepared to grab Daniel but then he opened his eyes and licked his lips. "It says..." He stopped and cleared his throat. "It says that the people shall arrive at the path, and led by moonlight, shall descend into the heart of the mountain to pay their respect to their god Poseidon." Daniel closed his eyes again and coughed. "I'm sorry, I'm just repeating from memory. I'd need to find the passage to quote the exact words."
"So you're saying if we wait until nightfall, we can walk out of here?"
"Um... yeah." When Daniel opened his eyes to look at Jack, there were small visible lines of tension around them. "I, um... don't feel so good."
"You don't look so good." Jack put his arm around Daniel's back, urging him to step away from the darker interior, and closer to the rest of the group. Immediately Scarlett joined them, bumping first against Jack and then Daniel as she twirled around them both, "How about you come back here and sit down?" He brought Daniel to the wall and helped him slide down along the stone.
Grabbing the paper from his pocket, Jack turned it around and quickly scribbled new orders. "Scarlett."
The alien had just curled herself up into a small ball on Daniel's lap, and she raised her head almost reluctantly, when Jack called her name.
"I need you to bring this back to Colonel Perez."
Scarlett made a small sound in the back of her throat, and lowered her head onto Daniel's thigh.
"Jack, don't yell at her." Daniel put his good hand out to prevent Scarlett from flying to Jack. She gave Daniel's fingers a quick lick while doing a good job at glaring at Jack.
"Daniel, I have two, maybe three SG teams that are going to come down into this ravine to try and rescue us. If we can just walk out of here in a few hours, I think that her highness, there, can postpone her nap for another few minutes."
"Oh." Daniel took his hand away, and the alien simply hovered there, as if undecided. Jack held the folded paper towards her and she rose to take it. She left before he could say anything.
"How are they?" Jack asked Carter, looking at the aliens. She'd wrapped both of them in a spare tee shirt, and one of them appeared to be shivering.
"I think the antihistamine is helping. I'd like to give the other one a shot... and maybe one to Daniel—"
As she treated the trembling alien, Jack kneeled close to Daniel. "Tell me how you feel?"
"Um... dizzy. Tired. My arm hurts."
"No, just having trouble keeping my balance. And my lips and fingers are numb and my tongue's tingling. I think I could sleep..." Daniel shivered. "It's cold. Is there a storm coming?"
Jack could feel the sweat dripping down his own back from the high, humid heat.
"D'ya have a fever?" A touch to Daniel's forehead didn't give him hot, dry skin; instead Daniel's face was cool to the touch. And dry. Suddenly worried, he pulled the hem of Daniel's tee shirt out from his pants and thrust his hand against his belly.
"Shit." He reached for Daniel's earlier discarded backpack and removed the emergency blanket from it. "I think he's going into shock."
Before Daniel knew what was happening, he was manhandled down to the ground, his legs resting on top of their packs, a blanket wrapped around him. Okay, the blanket felt good but he was damn uncomfortable with his legs up in the air.
He'd thought Scarlett had been with him and he missed her small, living furnace heat. The dizziness was worse with his head down and his arm throbbed even more. He tried to roll onto his side so he could sit up but Jack pressed down on his shoulders to the ground. "Stay there."
"I'd rather sit."
"I'd rather you didn't. You're in shock."
"No, I'm not."
"That thing that bit you also poisoned you. Now hold still. Carter's going to give you a shot of antihistamines to see if it'll help counteract the toxin—"
"I'm fine. I'm just dizzy. It's cold, though. Is it going to rain?"
"Your body temperature's dropped. It's 105 in the shade, Daniel, and you're shivering."
"It's... 105?" It felt much colder; damp, chilly, and he wished Jack would let him sit up so he could move into the ray of sunshine just a foot away.
"Let's see if this'll help. I'll just start with a small dose, okay?" The sharp smell of alcohol filled his nostrils as Sam rubbed his arm before injecting him with antihistamines. He turned his head, looking outside into the sunshine, and watched as Scarlett streaked in and flew directly to him. With a satisfied chuffle, she spit out something she'd been carrying in her mouth and made her way up to him, settling herself in her usual spot on his chest with her face nestled against his chin. Her body heat was more than welcome.
Jack picked up the piece of paper and read it. "Hammond's agreed to put off sending in the cavalry until nightfall, which according to Perez, should be in about five hours. We may as well make ourselves comfortable." Jack motioned for Teal'c to relax, and everyone sat down, Teal'c and Sam next to the entrance, Jack next to Daniel. Daniel watched sleepily. He was aware on some level of what was going on, but on another level, not quite able, or willing, to participate. He felt like he was watching a dream take place. He wondered lethargically if it was the antihistamine's effect or the poison's.
"How're you feeling?"
"Um..." Daniel forced himself to take stock of himself. He licked his lips. "Not tingling anymore. I think the shot helped." He pushed the blanket down, confused as to why it wasn't moving until he realized Scarlett was lying on top of it. "Still tired. Not so cold." And he wasn't. He'd stopped shivering and while Scarlett's weight was welcome, her body heat didn't feel like a small personal heater anymore. "Sleepy. Can I put my feet down?"
Jack nodded after a moment and pulled the packs away. Daniel stretched his legs, feeling the pressure ease off his lower back.
"How's the arm?"
"Hurts like a bitch." His arm was throbbing, but maybe the antihistamines would make him sleepy enough that he didn't have to think about it so much.
"Yeah, a little." He was getting sleepy, and talking was starting to become an effort. He closed his eyes, listening to the others talking softly amongst themselves. Scarlett shifted, moving close enough that he could hear her breathe. She felt good, familiar, almost like Jack's body nestled against him, but not in a sexual way, but in a reassuring way. As he drifted off to sleep, he realized that they'd done this often. Him sick or hurt, her giving him comfort. He reminded himself to tell Jack when he didn't feel so sleepy and tired, he'd have a laugh at her being a bad luck charm.
You'd think that with the amount of waiting his job entailed, he'd get used to it by now. Right, maybe he did a pretty good job of making it look like it was easy, but he hated it. Waiting for night to fall. Waiting to see if Daniel's condition, or the aliens', would deteriorate. Waiting to see if Daniel's theory was correct, and that they could simply walk out of here after nightfall. Waiting for Daniel to wake up... that was the hardest. He was hard-pressed not to poke or tickle or caress him, just to see how he was feeling.
Okay, so maybe Daniel's sleep wasn't the deepest or most restful, but it was sleep, even though he twitched or grunted or sighed at the least little noise and even farted once. But he was asleep, which meant he wasn't hurting, which meant Jack had no idea how he was doing and if the poison or toxin or whatever was affecting him, was making him worse.
He stood, rubbing the back of his neck, and peered outside, looking up past the vegetation to the bit of sky visible between the cliffs. The sky was still blue; but it had gotten dark down here earlier thanks to the fact that the sun no longer made its way to the bottom of the ravine.
They still had an hour before the sun set, and probably it'd be safer to wait a second hour after that. A sudden surge of energy coursed through him and he wanted this over. He wanted to take action, to run, to fight, to scream, to kick something. Instead, he walked over to the far end of the cavern, accompanied by two of the aliens while fishing his flashlight out of a pocket, and purely out of frustration and boredom, aimed it at the varied offerings.
At first there wasn't much to catch his interest, but then, off in a corner, he spotted what he'd first thought were a bunch of branches leaning against the wall. He picked up the torches and examined them. After a moment he determined they'd burn.
He walked around the cavern, looking for places where he could prop them up when he realized the walls were blackened at regular intervals. Upon closer examination, he noted small stone outcroppings where he could stick the ends of the torches into. He filled every one in and around the entrance plus the ones outside, so that when darkness did fall, they wouldn't be caught blind. The aliens gave each torch he placed in a slot a good sniff before following him to the next one.
The remainder he tossed onto the ground, ready to be used when they needed to leave. He was pleased with himself. These would not only illuminate their way out, but could be used as weapons.
He stepped inside to see Carter kneeling next to the injured aliens.
"The antihistamine has worn off." She uncapped the syringe and gave the shivering creature a second dose of the drug. When she was done, she sat there and stroked it. "Sir, I don't think it's doing too well."
Jack moved closer and looked at the creature. It was breathing shallowly and seemed weaker than before. It raised its eyes towards Jack, reminding him of a basset hound his grandfather had when he was a kid and would give him that oh, poor woe is me I'm starving look whenever Jack was eating something. He got down on one knee and rubbed a finger from forehead to snout, back and forth, and it sighed softly. Its breathing eased slightly but it was obvious the alien was pretty sick. He kept up the comfort, along with Carter, until the shivering stopped.
"It's sleeping," Carter whispered a short while later.
"Jack?" Daniel coughed as he stirred restlessly, disrupting Scarlett from her resting spot on his chest as he struggled to sit up. "Where are... oh." He looked around groggily, blinking his eyes as if trying to squeeze the sleepiness from them. "What time... How long have I... Have we been here?"
"You've been sleeping for about four hours. We still have a couple of hours to wait."
"Oh." Daniel leaned his head and shoulders against the wall, cupping his injured arm with his good hand, and Jack berated himself for not setting up a sling. After searching through the first aid kit for the required material and wrapping it around Daniel's chest, he noted that Daniel didn't look any more alert than before he'd taken his nap.
"How're you feeling?"
"Not sure." With eyes closed, he rubbed his head on the wall from side to side as Jack eased his arm into the abundant material. His skin still felt cool to the touch and Jack was sure his temperature was beginning to drop again. He had to fight Scarlett off for a moment as she tried to climb into the sling.
"Cold?" Jack asked when Scarlett finally settled on Daniel's lap, laying her head against his wrist.
"Mmmm." Daniel stopped moving his head around and sat still. He blindly clasped cool fingers against Jack's with his uninjured hand. "I'm not sure if I can... Make it up the path."
"Don't worry about it. Worse comes to worse, we'll tie you to the rest of the critters here and float you up to the top of the cliff."
"What..." Daniel's eyes popped open and it seemed to take him several long seconds to process Jack's joke. "Oh, funny."
"You want some water?"
Jack reached for the bottle of water attached to his belt but stopped when Daniel shook his head.
"I think I'm going to lie down now." Daniel slid sideways along the wall until he was lying on his good arm. As Jack adjusted the blanket, Daniel shivered.
Jack placed his palm against the side of Daniel's neck, alarmed to feel the chilled skin.
"I think it's time for another shot." He picked up the half-filled syringe Carter had given Daniel earlier and quickly swabbed a patch of skin and stuck the needle into his arm. Daniel didn't flinch, which meant he was either truly out of it, or else Jack's medical skills had suddenly improved a hundred fold. He winced as he pushed the medicine out of the needle and slowly and carefully pulled it back out.
Daniel's breathing had sped up in the short time he'd laid down to the time Jack gave him the injection. Jack touched his fingers to Daniel's wrist and felt the too-rapid thumps. He waited anxiously while Scarlett cheeped nervously a time or two. It seemed to take a long time, but Daniel's breathing began to ease just as his pulse slowed to something not resembling someone running a marathon.
Jack ran a finger around Daniel's jaw, caressing the cool skin there, waiting for it to warm up and the shivering to stop, until he was satisfied everything felt closer to normal.
The aliens were playing nursemaids to their injured brethren, taking turns to curl up next to them, croon to them, give them licks when they'd open their eyes and answer back weakly. But at one point Jack realized that two of the orange aliens were cautiously circling the injured ones. He didn't react, though. If the nursemaids thought it was okay, he wasn't about to shoo the others away.
But then he got a whiff of something putrid. He waved a hand in front of his face. "What the hell are these guys eating?" It was only then that he realized the aliens had pulled away the rough bandage Carter had placed around the injured aliens and were dropping something on their wounds. What was amazing was that the grey guys seemed to accept what the orange guys were doing.
"Carter..." He pointed to the aliens and they watched in fascination as a bucket brigade of aliens flew in and each dropped a small mouthful of the noxious stuff, taking a moment to make sure it was placed directly in the wounds before flying off. A few stopped and rubbed their faces on stone outcroppings, trying to get the remaining gunk out from their snouts. Jack felt sorry for them, and poured some of his water into a depression on the ground. Immediately several of the orange guys swooped down to lap up the water.
"It's nearly time." Jack stood next to Teal'c and stared into the pitch-black exterior. The interior of the temple was illuminated, although the flickering torches made the shadows dance in the immediate area.
"There has been no sign of our attackers. Perhaps they have left."
"Perhaps." Jack glanced back at Daniel, who was still sleeping soundly. Scarlett had stirred when Jack stood a few minutes ago, and she seemed restless now, as if she knew what was coming up. She batted Daniel's cheek with her snout, and Carter hissed at her to stop, finally pushing at her so that she hovered by Carter instead of staying close to Daniel.
Jack glanced over at the two injured aliens, whom Carter had carefully bundled into a backpack, wrinkling her nose at the smell, ready to be carried out. "I think maybe we better test the waters, just in case." At Teal'c's raised eyebrow, Jack indicated the exterior. "Check and see if the area's clear."
Jack took one of the unlit torches, put a match to it and when it was burning brightly, tossed it far into the bushes. When nothing stirred, he cautiously stepped outside, followed by just about every healthy alien except for Scarlett, who had chosen to remain with Daniel. With Carter watching their backs, he and Teal'c slowly stepped away from the ruins.
"Colonel Perez, this is SG-1 leader. We're about to—" Before Jack could finish, two things happened. Several of the vicious creatures moved out of the darkness, growling loudly, and inside the cavern, Carter cried out in alarm.
Jack and Teal'c took a stand; they'd made it out further than the previous times and they wouldn't have a chance if they ran for the cavern. Both fired into the rustling bushes, hearing several yelps and thuds as they retreated one step at a time. The aliens screeched loudly above, but none dove into the gunfire, seeming to know well enough to wait until Jack and Teal'c were finally close enough to seek sanctuary in the cavern.
As Jack ran down the steps into the cavern, Teal'c continued firing from the entrance until he ran out of ammunition.
"Colonel!" Carter's voice was frantic as Jack skidded to a stop. She was kneeling next to Daniel, who was in the throes of a seizure. Scarlett was flying around them both in a panic; her chitters and screeches echoing loudly in the cavern.
Roars, hisses and snarls outside told Jack that the flying aliens were attacking the creatures. Even as he hurried over to Daniel, he sent a small prayer that none of them would be injured. The muscular contractions eased and stopped as Jack crouched next to him, and Daniel lay still, his breathing hardly audible with the pandemonium outside.
With a trembling hand, Carter reached out to take his pulse. She exhaled noisily as she nodded. "We need to get him to Janet."
"I know, but those things out there are between us and the Stargate."
Suddenly the noise outside increased tenfold. Jack reluctantly left Daniel's side and hurried back to Teal'c. He couldn't see anything, so he aimed his flashlight out into the shrubs.
There were hundreds of flying aliens in the sky, rushing at the bushes, pulling back only to strike again at the unseen predators. Scarlett growled and seemed torn between going out to join the fray and staying by Daniel's side. She inched closer to Jack, hissing occasionally, glancing at him to see his reaction as she slowly glided forward a foot, only to stop and come back to hover next to him. An orange and a grey streak flew by, zipped around Jack, Teal'c and Carter in the cavern's entrance, and both flew back into the battle.
This proved too much for Scarlett and with an excited screech, she flew out into the darkness.
"Sir, this may be a good time to try and—"
"Not with Daniel down—"
"O'Neill, we may not get another opportunity. Now, while the beasts are distracted—"
He was undecided. They couldn't see what was out there, with Teal'c carrying Daniel, they'd have only two weapons to defend themselves with. But Daniel needed help and the alternative—
It took Teal'c mere seconds to get Daniel up into a fireman's carry and Carter was right behind him with the backpack containing the injured aliens. Jack grabbed three torches, shoved the ends into the flames of a lit torch and took point while Carter covered their six.
Jack's torches caught some odd movements here and there, but the multitude of aliens managed to keep the creatures distracted enough that they got to the trail without any hassles. The way up was difficult in the dark, and Jack constantly felt something was going to jump out at him. He was aware of several of the aliens accompanying them, hopefully if there was anything waiting to ambush them or following them, they'd get a warning early enough to take down the animals.
Then there was covering gunfire from above: a quick glance towards the top of the cliff showed at least two SG teams shooting into the fray below.
Then they were up top, and Jack let Teal'c take the lead, allowing Carter to pass before standing at the edge of the trail and waiting. The sounds of the fighting animals below stopped, and the last of the gunshots echoed eerily. Then a loudly chittering group passed them, along with a gust of wind from their passage as the aliens gave up the battle and retreated. Some of them accompanied Teal'c and Carter towards the campfires SG-7 had set up, and some of them, from both the orange and grey teams, stayed with him and the teams. A touch against his shoulder heralded Scarlett's presence. All the aliens were unnaturally quiet and he wondered if they were listening.
Then one of them growled, and several other aliens repeated the sound as they stiffened around him. Then just as suddenly, they relaxed and began drifting away. Scarlett cheeped softly in his ear, then turned to look in the direction Teal'c had gone. Trusting their instincts, Jack tossed the torches down the ravine.
"They're not going to follow," he told the leader of SG-12.
"You can't be sure of that," the leader replied, peering down into the darkness below, gun aimed down the trail.
Glancing at Scarlett, he shrugged. "Yeah, I'm sure."
Turning his back on the trail and the nervous soldiers, he hurried towards the Stargate.
By the time he jogged to the 'gate, they were dialing out. Once the backwash cleared, he took a step towards the event horizon, but Scarlett stopped him by tugging on his sleeve.
She chittered at him and flew inland away from the water, only to come back to him when he didn't move.
"Teal'c, go." He waved Teal'c towards the wormhole, then turned to Perez once he'd gone through. "She wants to show us something. Carter, give Morrison the sick aliens so he can bring them to the infirmary."
Without a word, Carter shrugged the pack off and handed it to the Lieutenant. Morrison hurried through the wormhole, followed by several of their group of aliens, while three stayed behind with Scarlett.
"Let's see what she wants," Jack said to Perez. He had a pretty good idea what it was she wanted to show him.
"How do you... never mind. Should we hold here?"
Jack nodded. "Yes, hold here, and inform General Hammond that Carter and I'll be back as soon as we can."
"I can send Mancini with you—"
Jack shook his head. "If we need any help, we'll ask for it. Keep an eye on the trail, but I don't think the creatures are gonna follow. Watch the aliens; they're probably a good indication if they do come up after us."
Without a word, Carter stepped away from the wormhole and accompanied him, both of them following Scarlett through the tall grass.
Scarlett, it seemed, was following several of the orange aliens.
"Do you think they talk to one another?" he asked Carter as he waved his flashlight over the aliens.
"They're obviously communicating."
"I wonder if they can understand one another's accent," he said with a wry grin, wishing Daniel was here to tease him about his bad joke. He tried not to think of Daniel going through that seizure and prayed there was something Fraiser could do.
They followed the aliens for a good thirty minutes until they came to a small and very odious pond. He began to skirt its edges but Scarlett flew down to the edge and waited, looking back expectantly at him.
Breathing through his mouth, Jack crouched next to her, feeling the muck at the edge squelch underneath his boot. She chirped, her eyes catching the flashlight's glare and glowing in the dark.
Scarlett sneezed and pushed at his hand while several orange aliens flew overhead excitedly. Jack examined the area, which looked anything less than pristine. The smell was enough to make his eyes water.
Scarlett batted his fingers, then sighed loudly. She flew down to the slimy mud. She pushed at the mud with her nose, sneezed, and then dove quickly and grabbed a mouthful. She flew quickly to Jack and dumped it on the back of his hand, then coughed and sneezed and promptly rubbed her snout against a tuft of grass, trying to get the muck out of her mouth while making sounds of disgust.
"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of." He eyed the mud with revulsion as four aliens slowly landed on the pond's edge and rolled around in it. They were injured, and made sounds of pain as the ooze squeezed into their wounds. He pulled out a few Ziploc bags he always carried in his vest. While Carter offered Scarlett some clean water, he began filling the bags with the smelly muck while two aliens swooped down to investigate his handiwork. The stuff was cold and slimy, less like mud and more like something that had partially rotted.
One alien thought he wasn't doing it properly and pulled at the baggie, only to be told off by Scarlett, who chased it away and then took a proprietary position next to the already filled bags.
Five slimy bags later, Jack stood and handed two of them to Carter. She took them almost with revulsion; no matter how careful he'd been, he'd smeared the stuff all over them.
"Janet's not going to rub this into Daniel's wounds." Carter juggled the bags until they were lying against the crook of her arm. Jack carefully stuffed them into his vest pocket, feeling the coolness of their contents against his chest.
"I sure as hell hope not," Jack agreed.
"At least not without serious testing." She stared at the aliens who were slowly rising, ooze dripping from their bodies. "It must have some sort of pharmacological properties, maybe a painkiller—"
"Or anti-venom?" The injured aliens moved off a little ways and curled up together on a large patch of tall grass. Those who were hale and whole joined them, curling up with them into what eventually looked like a large, coiled snake, until only Scarlett remained in the air.
"Oh, Janet's definitely not going to like this." She made a face as she wiped her hand on her pants.
He was so cold. He tried to reach for a blanket, but his fingers only met scratchy cotton. There was nothing for him to grasp.
There was a chill wind blowing, the sound of it so loud it drowned out everything, even his thoughts. He shivered, and the involuntary motion sent shards of pain up his arm and into his chest.
A touch to his face made the wind stop, or rather, the sound of the wind changed. Its chill didn't go away.
Dreamlike, he realized he'd heard his name called many times in the wind, but his brain hadn't made sense of the word until just now, all those echoes reaching into his consciousness and suddenly making sense as if someone had snapped their fingers. He opened his eyes, and his vision was limited to a grey ceiling, a bright light shining to his right which effectively half-blinded him, and a grey thing that kept streaking from left to right, right to left, back and forth, until it made him dizzy.
"Scarlett, settle down."
Something moved above his face, coming to intercept the grey blur, and suddenly both stopped. A high-pitched squeak filled the area, and then silence.
He moved his eyes slowly towards the voice, tried to focus on the pink blur which he could barely make out behind the blinding light. "Jack?"
"Yeah. How're you feeling?"
He tried to assess his body and the moment he thought about it, the pain hit him.
"Not so great," he gasped. The agony was in his arm, tendrils of fire reaching up into his shoulder and into his chest and back. He could hardly breathe; the pain was so bad it forced him to take short, gasping pants. He tried to sit up, to move, to escape the pain but a firm pressure on his chest held him down.
"Easy. Just breathe." Jack leaned over him. "Fraiser's giving you the good stuff. Wait for it."
And just as fast as it hit him, the agony eased to a point that was almost bearable. He lay there, spent, trembling uncontrollably as sweat dripped down his face.
"Yeah," Daniel managed to say as Jack smiled down at him. "Better." Something grey peeked out from beneath Jack's arm and cheeped pathetically. "Hey," he said as Scarlett slowly descended to the bed. She seemed afraid to land on him, hovering right over his chest. He raised trembling fingers to touch her, wondering what she was doing here. She must have taken that as an okay because she immediately flew to the pillow and curled up in her usual position, around his head and neck.
Jack settled back in a chair, his gaze never leaving Daniel's. Daniel stared back, unsure of what Jack was thinking. He looked angry or... Daniel blinked, trying to bring Jack's suddenly blurry face back into focus.
"What...?" He licked dry lips with an equally dry tongue. "I..." He suddenly felt lightheaded, and the trembling began to ease. His arm still hurt but it was a bearable throb. He couldn't remember getting hurt... Something warm and slightly rough rasped at his cheek and he caught sight of Scarlett's blue tongue flicking past his nose as she tried to lap up his sweat.
"Hey, stop that." Jack waved a finger in front of Daniel's nose and he felt his eyes cross trying to focus on it. She made a small sound and settled her snout against his throat.
"Do you remember what happened?"
Daniel started to say no, but he sort of remembered Scarlett, and a few others. A... mission? But he'd been hurt. He didn't remember the actual cause of injury but he felt it had to do with... A sudden memory hit Daniel almost as hard as the earlier pain. "Are you still mad at me?"
"What? Why would I be mad at you?"
"SG-4 and the mission to P... P..." He blinked in confusion, the planetary designations refusing to come to mind.
"We'll talk about that when you feel better, okay?" Jack rubbed his thumb against his cheek on the same spot Scarlett had just licked. "How about you try to get some sleep now."
"I'm not..." He nearly said sleepy, but he realized his eyes weren't focusing properly and he really, really wanted to shut them and just sleep. Whatever Janet had put in his IV banished the pain in his arm to a minor discomfort. "You didn't answer my question."
The thumb stopped its movements as Jack leaned so close, his face was just a few inches from Daniel's. "I'm not angry, and I'm not changing my mind about letting you go on the mission."
Daniel smiled sleepily. "Good. Because neither am I." He shut his eyes and the thumb started its caress again and he relaxed into that sensation.
"Doc?" Jack looked up across the bed, keeping up the gentle movement with his thumb.
"He's sleeping, sir."
"His fever's worse." He spread his fingers across Daniel's hot, stubbly cheek. The sweat had already dried, evaporated within seconds.
"I know. His body's developed a tolerance to the antihistamines; it's no longer an effective tool against the venom."
Scarlett raised her head and nudged his fingers. He raised his hand and stroked her snout with a finger. "So he'll keep getting worse?"
"I'm afraid so."
"What about the mud?"
Fraiser made a face. "Sir, I can't in all intents and purposes use that on Daniel without extensive testing—"
"How are the aliens doing? The sick ones."
"Better. But their physiology is so different from ours, I can't prove that the mud is what cured them. It's possible they have a natural defense against the poison—"
"I saw injured aliens go roll in the mud, doc. I saw foreign aliens bring the mud to those that got hurt along with Daniel. As disgusting as that stuff is, isn't there any way of testing it—"
"The labs are working on samples as we speak. But it could be days before we get enough information to deem it safe."
Daniel coughed, a short, harsh sound that had both of them turning to watch worriedly for a moment. He shifted restlessly, but didn't wake.
"He may not have days—"
"I know that, sir."
"C'mon, girl, you have to eat." Jack picked up the leafy branch recently retrieved from her home world and waved it in front of Scarlett. She sighed heavily and stared at him with woeful eyes from her perch at the foot of Daniel's bed.
Daniel jerked, gasping in pain, his foot kicking out, nearly hitting Scarlett as she rose and dashed towards him. Jack tossed the branch aside and took two large steps, bringing him closer to the head of the bed where Daniel thrashed around in pain.
"Hey, hey, easy, there." He reached down, but pulled back uncertainly at Daniel's wild-eyed, unfocused gaze. Instead of soothing him, his voice seemed to disturb Daniel. A nurse moved quickly, injecting a painkiller into his IV. A moment later Daniel's agitated movements slowed and he finally lapsed into drugged slumber.
With a soft, sad mewl, Scarlett returned to her spot on the bed, watching along with Jack as the nurse readjusted the nasal cannula and checked the monitors.
Jack went to resume his seat when Teal'c walked in. His gaze went first to Daniel, then to Jack, who shook his head sadly. Teal'c stopped next to him, and reached a finger to caress Scarlett.
"She's not eating." Jack grabbed the branch he'd tossed aside and broke a leaf off and held it out to Scarlett.
"Perhaps she would benefit from a change of scenery."
"She won't leave Daniel." Jack folded the leaf in two and sap dampened his fingers.
"She would, if you requested her to. Perhaps a visit to her brethren?"
"How're they doing?"
"The injured aliens are recovering well. Has DoctorFraiser made any determination whether the mud you collected would aid DanielJackson?"
"Nope. She's afraid that the stuff will make Daniel worse. I don't blame her; it's not exactly something you want to spread onto an open wound." He sighed and rubbed fingers into his burning eyes. Maybe a break would benefit both him and Scarlett. "If I go see Carter and the aliens, you gonna stick around?"
"I won't be long. Maybe just stretch my legs and see if her friends can coax her into eating something."
Teal'c pulled the chair out and sat. "I shall remain until you return."
"They just gave him something for the pain. He shouldn't wake up for a bit."
He was reluctant to leave but he knew he needed a break. And he needed to eat something; the cups of coffee he'd drunk were burning a hole in his stomach. "C'mon, girl, let's go see your friends."
Scarlett turned away from her mournful stare at Daniel to give him an are you kidding me look. Jack, not in the mood to start coaxing her, simply reached down and picked her up. She made a small sound of protest but didn't fight him, curling up around his shoulders and allowing him to carry her. He walked down the hall, heading towards the medical labs where Fraiser had set up the aliens in a closed off room in order to prevent them from having free reign of the whole complex.
Scarlett cheeped a greeting when he walked into the room.
"Colonel." Carter looked up from the microscope. There was an alien lying wrapped around her neck, just like Scarlett. Immediately Scarlett rose from his shoulders and flew over to Carter and gave the alien a sniff and a quick lick.
It was only when Jack got closer that he saw the long, red scar on the alien's side. "Carter, is that..." He leaned closer for a better look when Carter nodded.
"It's one of the injured aliens, sir. They're recovery is incredible." She gave the little critter a loving pat and it rubbed her face with its cheek. "Unfortunately, I can't prove if it's their physiology, or if it's the mud."
"There must have been a reason why they were all rolling around in the stuff." He waved a hand at the clean scar. "You give it a bath?"
"No. The mud seemed to have been absorbed by their skin. There's no sign of it anywhere. No sign of infection, no sign of fever or undue pain. The only discomfort they're experiencing is pain where the skin was cut open. And even that's healing pretty nicely."
Scarlett began flying around the room, giving each piece of equipment a quick sniff. Every few seconds she'd turn to look at Jack, as if to make sure he wasn't leaving.
"How's Daniel doing?" Carter fiddled with a pen, pushing it around on the table.
"Not good. I was sort of hoping you'd have some good news for me."
Carter sighed and allowed her head to drop backwards, stretching her neck and shoulders. "I wish I had good news, sir. At this point, if we were to try to use the mud as anti-venom, we'd be going in blind."
"He's not getting better, Carter."
"Sir, the mud isn't soil, not as we know it. It's teaming with microscopic organisms and some sort of plant life which we have no way of knowing what it'll do to Daniel if we—"
"Carter, he can't—"
Jack nodded at Fraiser, who was standing in the doorway, hands in her lab coat pockets.
"I know you're worried, we all are. My gut tells me to use the mud on Daniel's wounds, but my brain is telling me to wait. Sir, if we went ahead and it made Daniel sicker—"
"Looks like that's going to happen whether or not you try the stuff out—"
"We still have some time. I'm waiting on test results on a few samples that'll tell me more."
Jack nodded curtly and turned away as Fraiser started discussing something with Carter. He walked over to see what Scarlett was so interested in. She was staring avidly at an open magazine on a table in the far corner. Jack leaned over her to see and smiled at the picture of a young child lying in bed, being handed over a stuffed toy that almost looked like the flying alien.
"Ready to go see your friends?" Scarlett curled around in mid-air, gave the magazine a last glance, and followed Jack to the door leading to the rest of her crew. Jack opened the door cautiously and peeked inside. The dozen or so aliens were spread out around the room, sprawled on a several pieces of equipment. They all turned to look when Jack slid inside, followed by Scarlett. Within seconds she was surrounded by all of them. It looked like a seething mass of coils for a short while, until they all broke apart and most returned to their respective resting spots. One or two hung around Scarlett while she investigated their new digs. Finally she stopped at a pile of branches and settled down to eat. Jack watched, absently stroking one of the aliens who was butting him, seeking his attention.
He finally noted the scar on the body of the alien and realized this was the other injured alien. "Hey, looks like you're doing pretty good, huh?" He gently checked out the wound, noted that Carter was right, there were no signs of the mud anywhere, except that the fur around the wound was a little crusty. The alien was excited by the attention he was giving it and began squirming in mid-air, until it mewled in pain. "Okay, settle down." He allowed it to drape itself over his arms and it scuttled up until it was wrapped around his shoulders, watching everything from its new vantage point.
Scarlett chirped sharply at them and the alien reluctantly slid off his shoulders. Jack kept a hand on it, allowing the soft fur to run through his fingers until it flew off to join a couple of others curled up on a blanket.
It looked like Scarlett's appetite was back; she was busy eating and looked like she'd be doing so for a while, so Jack slowly backed out of the room. "Wanna let her out when she's through eating?" he asked Carter.
"Sure," she said distractedly, not looking up from the microscope. One of the lab assistants nodded at Jack, indicating he'd take care of Scarlett. Jack nodded his thanks and headed for the locker room. A shower, change of clothes and something to eat would help him tide over a few more hours sitting in the infirmary.
Jack was wrong. A shower, change of clothes and food only served to remind him how tired he was. What his body wanted was a bed; what it was going to get, he grumbled to himself, was a chair next to a bed. He stepped out of the elevator and almost bumped into two airmen who were standing still, blocking the hallway leading to the infirmary's main entrance.
"Excuse me." His no-nonsense tone had the two men jumping aside, and with their movement, he saw what they'd been staring at.
Scarlett, struggling to fly with something as large as her dangling from her mouth. She was flying slowly and erratically, having obvious problems remaining airborne. Just as she reached the doors, Jack hurried up to her and pushed them open so she could enter. That was when he saw what she was carrying.
Daniel's stuffed toy which Jack had given him ages ago and which he'd relegated to his office, unwilling to have the stuffie sitting on a bureau in their bedroom, watching them when they were intimate, and equally unwilling to have the toy shoved into the back of a closet and forgotten. So Daniel had brought Lumpy here to the SGC where it had graced his office for the past two years.
She was heading for Daniel's bed, and she was going down fast. Now flying at thigh level, she made a valiant effort to rise up to the bed and dropped Lumpy on Daniel's lap. She made a few gagging and hacking sounds as she collapsed onto the bed before wearily turning around and nudging the toy closer to Daniel.
"Oh, sweetheart." Jack picked Lumpy up and brushed the saliva-soaked fur around its neck. "How about we put Lumpy here, so Daniel'll see it when he wakes up?" He put the stuffie on the bedside table next to Daniel's pillow, then picked up the exhausted alien as he sat down. She was a dead weight in his arms, her little blue tongue hung out from the side of her mouth as she panted. Holding her awkwardly, he rolled the chair to the far side of the bed and reached for a pitcher of water. He poured some water into an emesis basis and held it out to Scarlett where she drank half the water. When she was done, she simply laid her head against Jack's shoulder and shut her eyes.
"Yeah, I know how you feel."
Jack startled awake, and nearly fell off the chair. He righted himself and took in several things at once. Firstly, was the stench filling the immediate area. Secondly, was that Fraiser was furious. Thirdly, was that Scarlett hadn't stopped at simply bringing a stuffie over to Daniel's bed. She'd somehow tugged the bandage off his wound and had pilfered one of the bags of muck from the lab which Jack had collected from the planet and had somehow spread it, very messily, over the angry and puffy wound on Daniel's arm.
She was smeared with the stuff and obviously had no remorse with her actions. She glanced up at Fraiser but didn't stop her attempts at cleaning the muck from her snout by dragging her mouth against the bed linens. With a satisfied cheep, she flew over to the table and lapped up the remaining water from the emesis basin while Fraiser looked at Daniel's arm.
"Damn it. She's got it all over the wound."
"Doc, since the damage is done, why can't we give the stuff a chance—"
"His arm's already showing signs of infection. If this isn't the miracle cure it appears to be, it could mean disaster for Daniel. Colonel," she added tightly.
"And that means?"
"Gangrene and amputation at best. Death at worst. A very painful death which—"
"Daniel." Fraiser quickly cut her words off as they both leaned forward. Pain-filled eyes stared up at them.
"The aliens, the ones that were hurt by those things back on the planet," Jack said quickly as Daniel's eyes began to lose their focus, "they're all better. Fraiser's afraid of using the cure on you, just in case it'll make it worse."
"Painful death... Worse than this?"
"Daniel. Hold on, I'll give you something for the pain." Fraiser started to straighten but Daniel reached out with his good arm.
"No. The cure... Do it."
"Doc, it's his choice."
Fraiser glared at Jack, but nodded curtly at Daniel's request. When she left the area, Jack hurriedly leaned over Daniel and grabbed hold of his hand. "Hang in there, you hear me?"
"Not... Going... 'Nywhere." Daniel's gaze had been steady, not leaving Jack's face. But then his focus seemed to go off kilter for a moment, listing to Jack's right.
When Daniel didn't react, Jack shook the hand he still held. "Daniel?"
With a gasping inrush of air, Daniel tensed, his fingers almost crushing Jack's hand. Bellowing for help, Jack tried to pull his hand free. He realized almost immediately that Daniel's muscles had frozen shut over his fingers with the seizure, so Jack simply held on to the bedrails as the bed shook noisily from the contractions, while Scarlett backed away from the bed and hovered next to Jack.
He stood still, wincing in pain as Daniel's bed became a beehive of activity. Stuck there, he tried to make himself smaller as Fraiser rushed past him, barking out orders. A nurse hurried to the medicine cabinet and grabbed a syringe, but before she could inject the drug into Daniel's IV port, Daniel went still.
Finally able to pull his hand free, Jack grabbed Scarlett before she could rush to Daniel and stepped out of the way as Fraiser checked Daniel out. After several long minutes, she moved back and motioned for Jack to follow her.
"Let me see your hand."
Jack had the urge to hide it behind his back but he allowed her to prod and poke it until she said, "It's fine," and let go. He refrained from telling her I told you so.
"Is not so fine. I kept hoping that Daniel's body would eventually break down the venom, but his condition is deteriorating quickly." She waved at Scarlett, which Jack was keeping a hold on, but who was straining to get to Daniel. "Go ahead, let her go."
Jack loosened his hold and seconds later, Scarlett was snuggling up with Daniel, stretched out against his leg.
"He'll be out of it for a few hours, sir. If you want to go stretch your legs, get something to eat or take a shower or something—"
"No, I'm good."
"Sir, I insist." She gave him a small, tight smile. "I promise not to touch Scarlett's handiwork unless I see it's making him worse. To be honest," she said as she absently brushed stray hairs out of her eyes, "Sam just found a correlation between the venom and the organisms living in the mud." She had the grace to face Jack head on, without losing eye contact. "I can only pray we're not too late with its application."
"So if this works, we got this lovely lady to thank?" Jack stroked Scarlett, who cheeped at him and gave his fingers a quick lick before settling back alongside Daniel.
"I'll give credit where credit is due. Just cross your fingers that her instincts are right."
"She hasn't let us down yet."
"Now, about that supper you promised me..."
Jack widened his eyes in mock surprise. Quickly he thought back to Fraiser's words. Yes, he was tired, but he didn't think he was that tired to have forgotten inviting her out to eat.
"Okay, so you didn't offer but if it'll get you out of here for a little while... Besides, I'm starving." She batted her eyelashes at him and he couldn't help but smile.
"I think our flying medic could use a snack or two," he finally capitulated. A quick meal, another quick shower and change of clothes and he'd be back here within the hour.
Daniel woke up with a sigh. He didn't want to open his eyes, doing so meant that he'd have to face Jack, and the damn argument that they'd been fencing back and forth about for a week. Besides, his head was pounding and he had a cramp in his arm that was throbbing something awful. And Jack had cranked the air conditioning up to the max once again.
He smacked his lips, realizing he was thirsty. Great. Now he'd have to get out of bed and go get a drink of water. He really didn't feel like moving; he was halfway comfortable, with his upper body cuddled against Jack's body heat, although the rest of him was cold. He brought his legs forward, searching for Jack's legs to warm the rest of him, and came up with nothing but chilly mattress.
"Jack?" His voice sounded odd to his ears and for a moment he wasn't sure if it was his vocal chords or his ears that weren't quite working right. Then there was a sound beside him and it sounded a little dull and muffled.
At the sound of Jack's voice, which was coming from behind him, and not from the comforting warmth he was huddled against, Daniel opened his eyes in confusion. Oh right, he remembered now. Daniel had spent the week at his apartment, giving Jack the opportunity to reacquaint himself with his right hand. So Jack must have had enough and had let himself in. So he wanted makeup sex – which meant Daniel had won the argument.
"Changed your mind?" Daniel mumbled, turning back into his pillow. God, he was tired. The small bundle of warmth squirmed and he tried to capture it with his whole body by curling around it. The movement caused a draft against his lower back and butt and he couldn't help but shiver.
"The mission. You had a change of heart?" Talking seemed so difficult. He closed his eyes a moment, trying to find the energy to argue with Jack again.
His arm was hurting and he moved restlessly, trying to find a comfortable position. "I don't see why you were so dead set against it."
"Huh? What?" Jack's voice sounded sleepy and Daniel wondered why he wasn't getting into bed with him. He resisted opening his eyes. Okay, he admitted it; he was just too tired to bother.
"It's only sixteen weeks. You know, what they say about being apart..." He felt himself drifting as a small, warm furnace snuck around his shoulder and chest...
"It makes the heart grow fonder." Now it was his head that was pounding, not his arm so much. And he was hot, so hot. He shoved irritably at the blankets and then they were gone.
"I don't think that's a problem with us," Jack said.
There was a cool touch against his cheek and Daniel turned into the caress. "Wish it were SG-1 coming instead... of SG... four." He paused, having trouble catching his breath. Hot, he was so hot.
"You sure... you can't... convince the General to... change the rotation?" His teeth were chattering and the small source of heat was against his thigh. He wanted more of it. He shifted, and realized that there was something against his face. He tried to bat it away and his hand hit something hard, covering his mouth.
"Easy, easy, it's just an oxygen mask." Warm hands grabbed his and held onto them.
"Jack?" He opened his eyes. Where had the oxygen mask come from?
"Right here." Jack was leaning over him. Even with his blurred vision, Jack looked horribly tired.
"You okay?" He felt guilty now; maybe he should just let the whole thing go. It really wasn't worth the trouble, even if Jack had been the one who'd gotten him angry and had forced the whole thing out of proportion.
"I'm fine." Jack smiled, and some of the fatigue seemed to disappear.
"Didn't really wanna go," Daniel mumbled. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded weak. "This is all your fault." Jack said something but Daniel didn't have the energy to make sense of the words. "Maybe if you'd just showed interest in my work once in a while, or pretend you cared."
The headache was gone and the throbbing in his arm wasn't quite as bad as before. "Sometimes I have trouble believing that..."
"I'm sorry... sometimes I'm an ass."
Daniel couldn't help smiling. He twitched his mouth and nose when he realized the oxygen mask had disappeared, only to be replaced by the irritation of something dripping alongside his nose and cheek.
"Fraiser says you're doing better."
"Janet?" How'd Janet come into this conversation?
"I'm right here, Daniel."
Daniel turned towards Janet's voice. "What're you doing here?"
"Looking after you," she said in an amused tone.
"In my bedroom?" Concerned, Daniel tried to sit up and realized immediately that he didn't have the strength.
"You're in the infirmary." A small hand pushed against his chest, easily holding him against the mattress. "You've been sick, but it looks like your fever's broken."
"Sick?" Was that why he was so cold? He moved one foot, trying to shove it under his leg for warmth and wet skin slid on wet skin. Air beneath the blankets shifted against his body, sending a chill against his skin. It was then that he realized that not only was he soaked, but so were the bed linens beneath him.
"We'll get you and your bed changed in a minute. Just stay still." Janet used a corner of the sheet to wipe his face and he twitched his nose at the relief. He looked around, confused when he found himself in the infirmary and not his bedroom. When had they moved from there to here?
There was a fan right above his bed, sending furls of air wafting down towards him. He turned his gaze towards the blades, only to be surprised to see it wasn't a fan but something elongated, furry, and alive. And very, very familiar.
As the little alien cheeped loudly and dove towards him, Daniel's memory suddenly came back.
Jack sighed in relief when Daniel finally appeared to have all his wits again. He'd been talking throughout the day, dropping off to sleep in mid-sentence, and continuing the conversation whenever he woke up as if there'd been no interruption. To say it had been confusing and worrisome was an understatement.
"Take it easy, girl." Before Jack could put a hand out to stop Scarlett's rambunctiousness, she settled against Daniel's chest, giving Jack a big, doe-eyed look of apology.
"I remember Janet saying something about a cure..." Daniel was absently petting Scarlett, but his eyes were on Jack.
Jack nodded slowly. "Some mud, from the planet. Something in the mud was a cure for the poison—"
"Those... Animals... They attacked... And the temple... We got out?"
"Yeah. You were right. We waited for the moon to come up and made a run for it."
"That I don't remember." Daniel swiped at sweat dripping down his face and Jack reached for the sheet to wipe him with, but Fraiser beat him to it.
"You got Teal'c to thank for that."
"Maybe I should be thankful I don't remember," Daniel said after a moment, watching Jack carefully. "What about the others like Scarlett? I remember a few were sick?"
"Now here's where you're going to find it hard to believe. You know, the other aliens actually... Told..." Jack paused as Daniel's gaze moved away from him. His eyes opened wide in shock as they fell on Lumpy.
"Okay, maybe this will be harder to believe. She brought your toy camel to you after seeing a picture in a magazine—"
"Oh, come on—"
"I swear, cross my heart. She saw a picture of a sick kid in bed with a stuffed toy and—"
"Jack, I know she's intelligent but that's going a little beyond what she can understand—"
"Daniel, it's true." Fraiser leaned over and picked up Lumpy. Scarlett watched the camel avidly, and Jack had the funny feeling she was afraid Fraiser would walk away with it. She seemed to relax only when Fraiser put the stuffie down. "She found the stuffed camel and brought it into the infirmary—"
"It was in my office. You're telling me she went to my office, found the toy and brought it ba—" Daniel rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "Why am I surprised?"
"Well, it is Scarlett we're talking about here." Jack couldn't help smiling as Daniel turned to give him an exasperated glare.
"So what else am I not going to believe about her?"
Jack began telling Daniel about how Scarlett learned about the mud, but when it looked like Daniel's eyes started to glaze over, he gave him an abbreviated story.
"They communicated?" Daniel looked down affectionately at the happy alien curled up in his arms. "I wish I'd seen that."
"They just yipped at each other." When Daniel turned to glare at him, Jack shrugged. "So maybe they spoke with an accent. The important thing is, they got the mud cure and it worked."
"The aliens recovered fully?"
"They're flying around, eating, playing," Janet said, "although I will admit they haven't quite gotten back their endurance yet."
"They're here?" Aghast, Daniel looked around the infirmary, as if expecting the horde of flying aliens to descend upon them in the next few seconds.
"Kept out of trouble in an Isolation Room," Fraiser quickly explained with a grin.
Two nurses arrived, bearing a basin with a washcloth, fresh linen and another hospital gown. It looked like Daniel was in for a bath. At the look of dismay on Daniel's face, Jack quickly pushed his chair back, allowing Daniel a bit of privacy and dignity.
"Where are you going?" There was a touch of panic in Daniel's voice. Fraiser, bless her heart, reached down and patted Daniel's arm.
"You'll feel better after this, trust me."
"I'm just going to go get..." Jack hemmed and hawed, pointing towards the floor... "A coffee. I won't be long." Fraiser reached for the privacy curtain as he left and it snicked shut right behind Jack. A second later, Scarlett came racing towards him, chittering madly. Jack wondered if she'd been shooed away or if she was afraid she'd get dumped in the bathwater after they were through with Daniel.
Jack couldn't help but be disappointed when, on his return, he found Daniel was sleeping. Carter and Teal'c were sitting next to the bed. Carter had one of Daniel's hands between her palms and she gave Jack a brilliant smile as he approached.
"He looks a lot better," she whispered as Scarlett gave both of them a joyful greeting.
And he looked better. In the short time Jack had gone, Daniel had been washed and changed. The stubble was gone and although his hair was still slick with sweat, the rest of him was dry and almost normal to the touch. But best of all, gone was the dangerously high temperature.
He stayed just long enough to convince himself Daniel was doing fine, and that Carter or Teal'c would stay with him throughout the night. Scarlett seemed undecided when Jack stepped away from the bed. She rose, flew to him and hovered.
"C'mon," he coaxed. With an uncertain cheep, she followed Jack to his quarters, and settled on the pillow next to him. Just as he was drifting off to sleep, he felt her slither over and curl herself around his neck. She gave his ear a quick lick.
"Yeah, I know, I miss him, too."
"You didn't have to come, you know." Jack couldn't help worrying about Daniel, sitting in the wheelchair, the two previously injured aliens allowing themselves to be cuddled in the blanket wrapped around his legs while Scarlett occupied the space within his sling. The rest of the alien contingency were overly excited at their release from the room, startling personnel left and right as they zipped back and forth down the corridors.
"I needed to see them off," Daniel replied softly. His good hand was stroking Scarlett, who was oddly withdrawn, as if she knew they were on their way to the Stargate.
Jack called for the elevator and when it arrived, Teal'c pushed Daniel's wheelchair inside. Jack and Carter stood outside, counting the aliens, making sure they all entered.
"There's one missing," Jack exclaimed, holding back his impatience.
"I'll go look for it." Carter had barely taken a step away from the elevator when Scarlett issued an angry-sounding chitter from inside the sling. There was a startled meep from one of the opened offices and the alien streaked down the hallway and entered the elevator so quickly it had to curl back on itself to avoid slamming into the far wall.
"That's all of them," Carter said with an amused grin as she stepped inside.
Jack quickly shut the door before any of them could escape. It was a tight squeeze, the four of them along with the slowly writhing bodies around their heads. Carter led the way out of the elevator, heading towards the Gateroom. Once again, Jack and Carter counted as all of them zipped inside, this time without any stragglers.
Turning towards the Control Room, Jack made a circular motion to Walter, ordering him to dial the 'gate. As the chevrons lit up, Scarlett slowly exited the depths of the sling and twined herself around Daniel.
The aliens were having a field day, zipping around the room, flying in front of the soon-to-erupt wormhole. The two on Daniel's lap rose and joined the melee, adding their excited cries to the din. Jack winced as two of the aliens flew right on the crest of the backwash, almost like a surfer. He shook his head; one of these days, one of them was going to zip when it should have zagged and get itself killed.
Scarlett made the rounds, saying her goodbyes. She went to Jack last and rubbed her face against his cheek. He petted her length as she twirled around his chest once. Then with a loud cheep, she rose into the air.
Almost in formation, the horde of aliens flew once around the room, dipped down to fly amongst SG-1, then flew straight into the wormhole. Scarlett followed them but stopped just before entering the wormhole. She turned toward them, chittered softly and when Daniel raised his hand and whispered "Goodbye," she turned and dove into the wormhole.
Suddenly it was eerily quiet as the Stargate disengaged.
"I always hate to see them go," Carter said, breaking the silence.
"I must admit the creatures do convey a sense of well being," Teal'c admitted, seemingly grudgingly.
Daniel remained silent, head down, as Teal'c turned the chair and pushed it towards the exit.
"Yeah. I miss them for all of five seconds, until I remember how peaceful it used to be without them around."
Carter threw Jack a smile but her eyes were all for Daniel.
They returned to the infirmary in silence. Daniel got back into bed, moving slowly. He wouldn't admit to weakness, saying he was fine when Fraiser asked how he was doing, but the sheen of sweat on his face and the shaking hands he wasn't able to hide quickly enough beneath the blankets belied his statement.
Everyone excused themselves after a few minutes, leaving Jack alone with Daniel. Jack picked up the stuffed camel and balanced it on his palm, allowing the legs to dangle on either side of his hand. Daniel stared into space, apparently lost in thought.
"I gotta go," Jack said, bouncing Lumpy to get Daniel's attention.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to be—"
"No, I mean I really have to go and get some work done. Hammond was pretty lenient, letting me have some time off." Jack didn't elaborate that he'd spent those two days here next to Daniel's bedside. "But I gotta catch up on some things and I guess now's as good a time as any." Plus, Jack thought to himself, Daniel needed to rest and probably would appreciate the time alone.
"Okay." Daniel's smile was genuine, and Jack knew he'd made the right decision. He tossed the camel to Daniel so that it landed in his lap.
"How about I grab something from the commissary later and come join you for supper?"
"Sounds good." Daniel held Lumpy by the hump and waved it at Jack. "So, she really did..."
"All the way from my office?"
"Scared a couple of the SFs in corridor C, from what I heard."
"Yeah, flying camels are really scary." Daniel moved the camel back and forth over the bed, as if it were a plane. Seeming to run out of energy, he let his arm drop and pulled the stuffie to his chest.
"She's pretty amazing, isn't she?"
A slight smile quickened the corner of Daniel's mouth. "Yeah."
"Get some rest. I'll be back later."
"Yeah. Right." Daniel placed Lumpy off to the side and slid deeper down the mattress. He closed his eyes, and Jack watched him for a long moment before turning aside and heading to his office.
"I was starting to think Janet was never going to let me out." Daniel flashed a quick grin Jack's way as they strode towards the Avalanche.
Jack beeped the truck open, his fingers playing nervously with the remote. "It's only been three days since your fever broke." Jack waited as Daniel opened the door and tossed his small carryall into the back, then slid inside. When Daniel had a problem with the seatbelt, Jack leaned over him, grabbed it and pulled it taut. This was the closest he'd been to Daniel in a few days and he hesitated a moment as their eyes met. Daniel's eyes were wide behind his glasses and his tongue slipped out to wet his bottom lip. Jack cleared his throat and quickly snapped the belt secure.
He cleared his throat again as he started the truck, concentrating on driving and trying to ignore the fact that he hadn't as much as kissed Daniel in nearly two weeks. Daniel seemed tense as well and he stared out the window, slowly rubbing his arm resting inside the sling as Jack drove along Norad Road.
"So..." Jack started awkwardly. "My place or yours?"
Jack glanced over at Daniel, who was staring at him in surprise. "What?"
"I thought it was decided. I didn't realize..."
"Nothing. Never mind."
Jack shook his head in confusion. "Realize what, Daniel?" Another glance over at Daniel showed he was staring ahead. "Daniel?"
"I just thought that, well, it was a given."
"What was a given? My place or yours?"
Jack tapped his fingers irritably on the wheel once he pulled into traffic. "Okay, can we start over? Just two words – my place or yours."
"Okay. Good." Jack relaxed back into his seat and concentrated no driving. Then it hit him. "Um, is that my place - my place, or my place - your place?"
"Which one?" His voice rose in exasperation.
"My place, Jack."
"So, my place with the fireplace and cozy den, or my place with the doorman and uncomfortable couches."
"My couches are not uncomfortable."
"They're not as comfy as mine."
"Yours are broken in. Mine are newer and—"
"And hence, mine are more comfortable. So," Jack spoke quickly as the exit leading to his house was fast approaching, "what'll it be? Fireplace?"
"It's the middle of summer."
"I can crank up the air conditioning." When Daniel didn't answer, Jack flicked on the signal light and took the exit.
Jack parked the truck, shut the motor and was halfway up the steps when he realized Daniel wasn't following. He paused, suddenly nervous, and was just about to go and ask if something was wrong when the door opened and Daniel stepped out. He took his time retrieving his bag and slowly came up the walkway.
"You need anything?" Jack shut the door and moved around Daniel, who stood somewhat hesitantly in the hallway.
"No, I'm fine."
"Hungry? I can order an early supper—"
"No, I can wait."
"Want to lie down for a while?"
"No, I'm not tired."
"Water? Juice?" Jack headed for the kitchen, not stopping even when Daniel declined something to drink. He grabbed two Snapple Iced teas, and headed into the living room when he heard Daniel descending the steps. He jogged down the stairs and sat next to Daniel on his leather couch.
He twisted the cover off and handed the iced tea to Daniel. "Here."
Daniel glanced at the proffered drink and raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Hey, I didn't want to drink alone." He bumped Daniel's arm with his elbow, encouraging him to take it. When Daniel did, Jack opened his Snapple and took a long chug. Daniel took a sip, smacked his lips, and took a longer drink. He put the bottle down on the coffee table and wiped the moisture left on his fingers on his sling as he sat back against the couch with a sigh.
"Want me to start a fire?" Jack pointed to the fireplace with his chin.
Daniel gave him a tight smile. "Neighbours are gonna call the fire department if you do."
"Yeah, there is that," Jack said reluctantly. He leaned back also, toed off his shoes and stretched his feet out onto the coffee table. Curling and uncurling his toes, Jack felt awkward, until Daniel slid slowly along the couch and his shoulder rested against Jack's.
He turned his head and kissed the edge of Daniel's temple, getting a mouthful of hair at the same time. Daniel shifted some more until his head was resting against Jack's shoulder. "Wanna go lie down?"
"No, 'm fine here." Daniel fumbled a moment and took his glasses off. He went to put them in his sling, but Jack reached for them.
"Safer here." Jack put them on a side table instead while Daniel followed Jack's lead and rested his legs on the coffee table.
"You know," Daniel said slowly, almost sleepily. "I think I missed something back there in the truck."
"No, I think we settled on coming here."
"I meant before. I thought we were okay, Jack. I didn't realize that... Didn't we talk about things?"
"Talk? When?" Jack wished Daniel would sit up so they could look at one another eye to eye.
"A few days ago... In the infirmary. We... I told you how I felt."
"You did? About what?"
"Oh." Jack so did not want to get into this. "You, uh, were a little out of it. You weren't quite making sense."
"Nope. No sense."
"It made sense to me."
"Maybe because your brain was being fried as it hovered at over 104 degrees."
"Wow, that's really weird."
"That your brain got fried?"
"That it all made sense."
"Not weird to me."
"So... I spoke to Dave Everson and he said the mission's set for Wednesday."
"Yeah, two days from now."
"I still have time to pack and..."
"Fraiser wouldn't release you for offworld—"
"She would for this mission. The first few days are mostly organizing and I could get Nyan to be a gopher for me."
"You really want to do this?" Jack swallowed back his disappointment; he was hurt that Daniel wanted to go so badly and not want to spend his time with him. He admitted he was jealous, and he knew it was wrong. He also knew it had been wrong in the first place to nix the idea outright but damnit, Daniel had caught him off guard and his instinct had been to keep him close.
"I'm thinking about it."
"Okay that I'm thinking about it, or okay that..."
"If this is what you want, okay." The words hurt, a lot. But if it meant Daniel going away for four months and coming back happy and without any grudges, then it would be worth it. He knew otherwise that the alternative was the start to the end of their relationship.
Daniel sat up and stared at Jack, his eyes opening wide with disbelief.
"You really mean that?"
Jack nodded as he reached for the half-empty bottle of Snapple and finished it off. He wasn't sure what he'd just seen in Daniel's face. It was almost... disappointment. He burped softly, put the empty bottle back down and sighed noisily as he rested his head on the back of the couch and stared at the ceiling instead of trying to figure out what Daniel was feeling. Hell, he didn't know what he himself was feeling. "I'd rather you didn't go. I admit it, I'll miss you a helluva lot and I hate that you'll be gone that long, but it's your decision, and I won't hold you back."
"So... you want to call Fraiser now?"
"And Hammond. He'll need to shuffle the personnel assignments and this late in the game, it ain't gonna be pretty."
"What about your gear? You want to go to your apartment now to look it over? I can help you pack, if you need me to."
"You know, if you'd broken the news to me earlier, instead of last minute, I could have tried to work it out with Hammond and get SG-1 assigned instead of SG-4."
"SG-1 assigned... Jack, I didn't say I was going."
"Yes, you did."
"No, I said I was thinking about going. But honestly, with this arm and... well, I really hate the thought of being away from you for that amount of time."
Jack raised his head to give Daniel a wounded look. "Why the hell didn't you say so in the first place?"
"Maybe because you told me there was no way in hell that I was going on that mission."
"Hey, don't argue with an injured man."
"Why? Is that a rule?" Jack faked a look of innocence, his heart suddenly light at the turn of events.
"Of course it is. As a matter of fact, you should take lessons from Scarlett and bring said injured man whatever he needs."
"Hey, I brought you a Snapple. Are you sure your brain still isn't fried? Your memory's going fast."
"Did I just say not to argue with an injured man?"
"You are, too." Daniel was grinning now.
Jack couldn't help grinning back. "So, is there anything in particular that this injured person wishes? And please don't say a stuffed toy because I am so not driving back to the mountain to get that camel."
"Well, I'd like a kiss, for starters."
"You got it." Jack shifted and brought a hand up to caress Daniel's nape as he leaned closer.
"I'm sure Scarlett would do it for me," Daniel said just as Jack brought his mouth to Daniel's.
"I'm sure she would, too," Jack breathed against Daniel's lips. He flicked his tongue against the lips in invitation, and Daniel's came out to play.
"I think I'd rather have the kiss." Daniel's words were breathy as he pulled back to catch his breath before diving back in.
"Thank God," Jack answered when he came up for air. "Wouldn't want to be shown up by a flying balloon." Both of them took a moment to resettle on the couch. Careful of Daniel's injury, Jack eased his hands under Daniel's shirt, caressing the skin.
Chuckling, Daniel tried to pull Jack's shirt from his pants with one hand. "Afraid you can't make a camel fly?"
Jack kept one hand on Daniel's ribs and with the other, helped him tug his shirt all the way. "Nope, I know I can't make a camel fly." He found Daniel's mouth again, and for a few minutes, all he could hear was the sound of their breaths and the rustle of clothes. "But give me a few more minutes, and I'll have you orbiting the moon."
Writing two fics at a time is something I rarely do. It's not that I don't have the ideas, it's that I don't have the focus. This fic was started sometime late last year. And was dropped when devra and I started writing our Little Daniel universe and series. Occasionally I'd ressurrect it when we were in the midst of editing or discussing storylines, then I'd drop it again, much to devra's consternation. So finally after much nagging on her part, I've finished it. And she graciously took time after a long editing session this past weekend to give it a look-over. So honey, these hugs are all for you!