There's nothing like the sound of gunfire to get your adrenaline flowing. Especially when said gunshots are coming from the area where you've just left two of your team members on a planet that's shown no signs of life or existing civilization.
I'm moving even before the sound of the gunshots fade. The rock I'd been tossing in the air while admiring the shining colours is long gone, tossed to the side without thought as I swivel and begin running on instinct. I struggle my way through the maze of broken walls, heading for the temple ruins where Carter and Daniel are playing without supervision.
Thoughts of chastisement flow through me as I struggle through the deep sand-filled passageways, trying not to trip on the hidden pieces of masonry beneath. I shouldn't have been so trusting. I should have stayed closer to the temple and not allowed my boredom to entice me to seek some means of entertainment.
I trip and nearly fall, then right myself just as Teal'c bursts ahead of me, coming from the opposite direction. I curse at the sand that's blown in from the nearby beach over the years, mixing with pieces of debris collected from the collapsing walls. This is a fair-sized town, and I can see from one end to the other as most of the walls are waist high. Except for the temple which amazingly has remained fairly untouched from the ravages of sea, salt and wind. And because it's still in one piece, I can't see inside and assess the situation before I go charging in.
There's no more gunfire. I take a second to reach for my radio. "Carter, Daniel, what's going on?" I listen intently, hoping to hear a voice telling me the danger's over, but all I get is silence.
Teal'c slowly pulls away from me, his symbiote-aided body pumping faster than my mere blood and sinew. Then I get close enough to hear the sounds coming from the temple, and that's enough to get the adrenaline pumping. I'm suddenly catching up with Teal'c just as he skids into the dark interior.
I rush in just as Teal'c raises his staff weapon and fires.
The bolt of energy strikes something big. It shrieks loudly as the force of the blow throws it against the wall. For a second I think Teal'c's shot Carter, but my eyes adjust to the dimness of the room and I see her lying on the floor. That... thing had been right over her.
Even before I can see whether or not Carter's hurt or where Daniel is, there's an ominous growling coming from my right. My gun's up and pointing towards that sound before I even think of doing it. There's a second creature, and it's got Daniel pinned.
My heart leaps into my throat and my ears make that weird little buzzing sound, but at the same time my vision sharpens and everything around me becomes more acute. I get a better look at the creature in those two seconds where I manage to take everything in. Its long, sharp fangs are inches from Daniel's neck. He's desperately trying to hold back the teeth and claws, his arms are trembling with the effort, hands locked onto the creature's wrists as they slowly begin forcing his arms down to the side. The creature growls again and raises his head to look at me, and I take the shot, shooting it between the eyes.
It collapses on top of Daniel who immediately begins wriggling from beneath the body.
Teal'c's already heading for Carter, so I hurry and grab an arm and roll the thing off Daniel. At first glance it looks human. Its got two arms, two legs. Well, actually other than the fact that it's got a protruding forehead like a caveman and long, carnivorous teeth like those of a cat and that it's wearing some sort of leather garments, I guess you could say it's humanoid instead of human. And male, I realize when the lower part of its leathers ride up as I roll it over. Definitely very male.
I step over the creature and look to Daniel. There's blood on the stone floor, blood on Daniel's right leg and all over his arms. I kneel and carefully take the two flaps of torn material on his pants and examine the damage on his leg.
"They came out of nowhere," Daniel says, wincing as he sits up and tries to peer at the cut. "One minute Sam and I were discussing the star map over there and the next, those things just charged inside and attacked us. Sam managed to grab her gun but they were just too fast..."
The cut's deep and bleeding freely, but thankfully it doesn't appear serious. "Leg's not too bad. Fraiser's not gonna be happy, though. She's gonna have to take her sewing kit out. Let me see your arms."
"You mean you can't kiss and make it better?" Daniel says in a whisper, a wry grin on his face. He raises his arms obediently, and when he does, I note there's also blood also Daniel's chest. One arm's got three consecutive slashes along it; there doesn't seem to be much damage there, thankfully. His other arm has what I think is a partial bite.
I nod and he puts his arms down, then looks at me in confusion as I grab the hem of his tee shirt, which has pulled out partly from his pants during his struggle. I raise the shirt and note several shallow slashes along his ribs.
"You were very lucky," I say as I stand.
"I know. How's Sam?"
"Major Carter has several cuts, the most severe on her arm, but none are life threatening," Teal'c states as he walks over to us. He hands me one of the two first aid kits he's got in his hands.
With an ease that comes from years out in the field, I quickly bandage Daniel's wounds. The worst is the slash on his leg, the others, barring infection, shouldn't be much more than an irritation for a couple of days.
Once I'm done, I start gathering our belongings, stuffing Daniel's video camera and notebook haphazardly into one of the backpack, along with Carter's doodads. "Think you two can walk to the 'gate?"
"Yeah. Not a problem, sir." Carter's voice is thick with pain but she's already on her feet.
"Just give me a hand up." Wary of the wounds on Daniel's arms, I put my hands under his armpits and heave, getting him onto his feet.
"Stargate, now, before any more of these creatures show up."
Teal'c hurries to the door, checking the exit before Carter reaches it. She grabs hold of her weapon before stepping into the sunlight and I can't help but notice the grimace of pain on her face. For her sake, I hope we don't run into more of these aliens because she's hurting enough as it is. She doesn't need the added pounding of having to fire her weapon on top of her injuries.
Daniel takes a couple of limping steps towards the exit. I grab the backpack, sling it over my shoulder while keeping an eye on Daniel, but he seems steady enough even with the gashed leg. I take one last look around, checking to see if I haven't missed gathering anything of importance but also checking to make sure none of these creatures are hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce on us from behind. Satisfied when I see nothing, I turn to follow Daniel out.
He's almost at the door. I hurry to catch up, then run the last few steps when he wobbles and falls sideways against the wall. For a moment I think his injured leg has given out but I realize by the way he collapses that something else is going on.
He's down on his knees by the time I reach him. He's breathing hard and his tee shirt is damp when I put a hand on his back.
"What is it?" I'm kneeling next to him, and I have my arm curled around his back, trying not necessarily to support him, but to give him support.
"Dunno. Dizzy. Hot."
Then I get a look at Daniel's face. It's too pale. There's sweat dripping down his temples and when he raises his head to look at me, there's definitely fear in his expression. And Daniel Jackson expressing fear means that I should be terrified.
"Teal'c, hold up," I yell as I scramble to try and get Daniel back up on his feet. My intention is to get his arm around me and drag his ass to the Stargate as fast as possible. My gut instinct is yelling poison or venom in either fangs or claws, or both. I manage to get my hands on Daniel's arms. I can feel the tremors in his biceps as he tries to hold himself up.
Somehow I get Daniel up on his feet but his legs don't seem to be working. He starts to fall again and grabs for me just as I make a grab for him. He's almost dead weight for a moment until he gets control of himself. Slowly he takes some of his weight but I can feel how much even this small effort is costing him.
"Teal'c!" I yell again. Belatedly I realize I'm yelling right into Daniel's ear but at the moment I don't care because he's slowly going limp. I can't hold onto him anymore and I'm forced to put him down. Angry now that Teal'c's not even acknowledging my calls, even though a part of my mind is telling me that it's possible Carter is having the same kind of reaction, I reach for my radio. But before I can click the button to activate it, there's a sudden bright light. Ironically, things go dark after that.
- - - - - -
I hate waking up slowly and then realize I've been awake for a while but not realizing I'm actually awake for that while. That particular thought crosses my mind and I realize I'm really not awake enough to even be thinking such bizarre ideas.
I take a quick mental assessment of my body. I'm not hurt, I'm not tied down, and I have no idea where I am. My brain is fuzzy and I begin to think I've been drugged. I can smell salt water so I know I'm not in the infirmary. Slowly I open my eyes a crack and listen intently. I can hear someone else nearby; faint shuffling sounds of material scraping on stone. I can't see much because I'm facing a stone wall.
I turn slowly onto my back and note there's sunlight coming in through two small holes in the ceiling. The sunlight clearly illuminates a pool of water directly below the openings. In contrast, the far end of the cave is in shadow.
I keep turning my head and see a pair of BDU-covered legs a few inches away. There's blood on the material and suddenly I become more alert when I remember binding Daniel's wounds.
I sit up fast, then curse when the motion triggers nausea. Moving quickly, I turn onto my side and heave once, twice, then cough, spit and swear some more. Dragging myself onto my knees, I immediately begin to check Daniel out. But my hand barely touches his clammy, chilled skin when the hairs on the back of my neck start to rise.
We're not alone in here. Something's growling, back in the shadows where the sunlight don't reach. I've heard that growl before. Heard the humanoid creature growl at me back in the temple just as it raised its not quite human face to stare at me just before I shot it.
This creature slowly moves into the edges of the pool of sunlight. Without thought, I grab for my P-90, but to my dismay, all that's there is the clip on my vest. The gun is gone. I slap my thigh and come up with an empty holster as I realize that the familiar weight against my leg is gone. Cursing once, I scramble for Daniel's weapon, only to come up empty another time.
Staying low to the ground, I grab Daniel beneath the arms and tug, pulling him out of the creature's reach to the far end of the cave. I never take my eyes off the creature while it paces at the edges of the sunlight, as if trying to decide whether to pounce on us or keep its distance.
I set Daniel down and stand, moving forward to stand between him and the creature. He makes a little moaning sound and pulls his knees in slightly towards his chest, and the creature snorts in response. I stand there staring at the ugly brute, wishing I had something to defend myself with. The guns are gone but maybe... I reach for my scabbard at my back and allow a small smile when I feel the knife within.
The creature may have brute strength over me but my claw is longer than his. That he's got ten of them to my one is something I'll have to take into consideration if he attacks.
I pull the knife out and the creature's eyes widen at the sight. He growls again and starts advancing. I tense and take a step forward myself, just to stay clear of Daniel. I can feel my heart pounding as the adrenaline kicks in and somewhere in the back of my mind I acknowledge that I'm nervous. It outweighs me by a good fifty pounds and its reach is longer than mine.
I crouch, ready to do battle when the creature freezes as a second one makes a sound from the shadows. Oh great, here I am thinking I can take on one of these goliaths and now I see there are two of them?
I blink in surprise when the creature answers in the same odd ululating tone. They seem so vicious; it's hard to believe they're actually capable of speaking to one another. I glance behind me quickly, wondering if Daniel is hearing this. But Daniel's not moving and he's lying there curled into a ball.
The creature snarls at me and relaxes just a bit, and if I were to guess, I'd say he's telling me I just got off easy. I take a step backwards and to the side, trying to see behind it. From this angle, I can now make out another of the creatures lying on the ground. It has an arm up, almost in supplication. It appears to be smaller; maybe it's a female. If it is, it's most probably his mate. And she looks sick, or injured.
"You listen to the lady, this isn't the time or place to fight," I say softly. Not that I like the idea of being cooped up in a cave not much bigger than my living room and kitchen put together, but it beats getting bitten and gouged to death.
The big one hasn't backed off, but neither has it attacked me. Slowly I lower the knife and it appears to relax a bit more. The two of them carry on a conversation for a short while, then the big guy turns suddenly and walks to the water's edge. It looks like it's studying the pool. It thrusts an arm into the water and does more of the ululations.
While it's busy playing over there, I move back and check on Daniel. His eyes are open and he's watching me but I'm not quite sure he's firing on all cylinders.
"Hey," I say softly as I reach a hand to cup his cheek. I'm keeping Mr. Big Guy over there in my peripheral vision while seeming to give Daniel all my attention. I don't like the way his skin feels cold and clammy beneath my fingers, or his somewhat unfocused gaze.
"Coming to bed? I'm cold."
A confused and disoriented Daniel deserves to be in a medical facility, definitely not stuck in a cave with possible poison coursing through his veins and two murdering aliens mere yards away from him.
I take my vest off and shrug out of my jacket. I cover Daniel with it and then put the vest back on. It doesn't escape my notice that our radios have disappeared, just like our guns.
"Thanks." Daniel sighs softly and closes his eyes. Maybe whatever knocked us out is still affecting him; I have a funny feeling that these two creatures aren't responsible for us being here. This definitely has got to be some sort of setup and I can't help but wonder what happened to Carter and Teal'c.
The big guy seems to have gotten his fill with examining the water and he's moving off to join the female.
"Who're they?" Daniel asks, coughing a little to clear his throat as he lifts his head up to follow the creature's progress. He seems to be a little more aware.
"Not sure. We haven't gotten past the thumping our chests part to prove who's the alpha male."
"Did you try talking to them?" Daniel pushes up with one hand and winces. I help him sit up and readjust my jacket over his shoulders. He just looks at the creatures.
The big one's crouching next to the female while she's staring our way. They're talking again, softly. From where I'm kneeling, the bits that I overhear actually sounds like speech. I wonder exactly how intelligent they are.
"No, I didn't try talking to them. I don't think they're the type you can reason with, considering how their kind jumped you and Carter without provocation."
"That's not true." Daniel shifts his gaze to me for a moment and smiles dopily. Okay, he may be awake but he's still definitely still feeling no pain. "The star map Sam and I were studying might have held some sort of significance to them. Maybe we broke some sort of taboo. Maybe they were its guardians, although it's pretty badly eroded and it's just sheer luck that the sand protected it somewhat from the environment. Maybe—"
"Maybe they were hungry?"
Daniel rolls his eyes at me and I fight not to smile. He's talking, or rambling, kinda, but he's making sense and despite the dopey look on his face, I'm thinking I may have overreacted earlier.
He points with his chin. "That other one, I think it's a female. Or else a younger male. Maybe his son, or his mate."
"It's a female," I say with certainty. I'm pretty sure I can make out breasts beneath the leather coverings she's wearing. "He's protecting her."
"Like you're protecting me?" Daniel looks up at me and frowns. "I'm not so sure I like that idea."
"What, me protecting you?" I realize my hand is still on Daniel's shoulder and I'm rubbing my thumb over a bit of skin alongside his neck. I move my hand and give his nape a gentle squeeze as he answers.
"No, me being compared to a woman... Not that I don't appreciate you looking out for me but I think I can hold my own just as well as Sam. And I—"
"You were unconscious."
"Was not. I could hear you talking."
"Wasn't me talking. Was them."
"They talk? They have a language?" Daniel shifts onto his knees then gasps in pain. Mr. Big Guy across the cave looks up our way and snarls, but doesn't make any threatening moves as Daniel falls back onto his hip and straightens his leg. "Son of a bitch. Why didn't I feel that before?" He scootches back a few inches so he's leaning on the wall.
"Drugs. Looks like they're wearing off."
"Someone drugged us? Why?"
"How the hell should I know? And apparently dumped us into this cave with no apparent exit other than that pool of water. Look, stay put. I'm going to go check it out."
I stand slowly, and the big creature glares my way. I wave a hand at the pool. "Just going to check out the spa. I'm not coming over to your side of the cave, so take it easy." I take a short step in the direction I waved at, while watching Mr. Big Guy in my peripheral vision. I remember all those lectures about not looking wild animals straight in the eyes because they think it's a challenge. I don't know whether this theory will apply to these creatures but I'm thinking any small advantage I have, I'll use.
I take another step and suddenly the big guy stands. Boy, he's fast. He's snarling at me, but he quiets when the missus places a hand on his leg and say something in a low voice. She hasn't even attempted to stand. I'm pretty sure she's hurt and it's ironic, if you think of it, that both me and the other big guy here are more interested in protecting a loved one from what we perceive to be a threat.
I'm at the water's edge and I lean over and peer into it. The sunlight is playing over the water, and I can't see anything. I walk around the edges of the pool, trying for a different angle and suddenly I can see into its depths. It looks deep; I sink into a crouch and put a hand in the water, like the big guy did earlier. The water's chilly and I put a finger in my mouth. Salty. There's algae growing on the rocks but right there, deep down and opposite me, a part of the rock is clear of growth and it could just possibly be some sort of submerged tunnel. Maybe that's our ticket out of here.
I glance quickly over at the Mr. and Mrs, and the big guy's quiet. He's crouched next to the female but he's watching me carefully. I nod, stand, and slowly back up until I'm back next to Daniel.
"Any idea how we might have gotten here?" I ask as I wipe my hand on my pants.
"Not a clue. Some sort of beaming technology?" He swipes a hand over the stone floor. "I don't see any sign of rings..." He raises a hand and pulls the edges of my jacket closer. I don't miss the fact that his hand is shaking. "What about Sam and Teal'c... I don't remember..."
"You passed out just as we were leaving the temple. They were ahead of us and no, I don't know what happened to them," I add as he opens his mouth to speak again.
"Are we even on the same planet?" he asks forlornly. He's leaning his head back against the wall and I can see a small pulse point beating on his neck. I'm not sure, but it seems to me it's beating pretty damn fast for someone who's doing nothing but sitting.
"Water in that pool's salty. I'm thinking we could still be around the same area as the temple, seeing it was fairly close to the beach." I reach for his hand, which is resting on the ground, next to my thigh. I wrap my fingers around his wrist and search out his pulse. God, his heart is racing and I register heat on my skin.
"Maybe we're on a ship... brig..."
"With a salt water pool in the middle?" I put my hand along his neck, then cup his cheek, as if I don't trust what my fingers are telling me. Daniel's gone from almost moderately cool to at least 101 fever in like twenty minutes.
"Latrine? No, I guess... that'd be overkill. I hope Teal'c... got Sam back to the 'gate... all right." His voice has slowed, with small pauses interspersed here and there. He jerks suddenly. I'm not sure if it's in reaction to maybe a pain spasm or if it was a shudder. He does it again.
"Jack... I don't..."
"Cold." This time the shudder turns into full-blown body shivers.
"It's not surprising. You've got a fe—"
"Shit. It hurts." He slides down along the wall so that he's lying down. I shift so that his head and shoulders land in my lap. Even as I place a hand along his sweaty neck, I know this wasn't the smartest of moves. I'm literally tied down if Mr. Big over there decides to break this little truce and attack.
- - - - - -
"Probably the drug that knocked us out had some sort of painkilling effect," I say as I attempt once again to find a position that doesn't hurt my injured arm. The ground is hard and as accustomed as I am to roughing it, my fever-abused joints and muscles don't take too kindly to this sort of abuse. "Teal'c, I think my arm's infected."
"I would assume, rather, that the creature which attacked you infected you with its venom. You are most likely suffering from poisoning rather than infection. You were unwell even before we were transported here."
Teal'c's still staring at the two aliens, similar to those that attacked me and Daniel. One of them looks really sick because he sort of just passed out. And the other one, for some reason I can't yet define, I think is fairly intelligent, has taken the injured one into his arms. He's just lost any defensive advantage, not that we're going to attack him, but... he looks so lost and worried. He may be ugly but he obviously cares for the other alien.
"Since he seems a little preoccupied, maybe this is our best chance to have a look around and see if there's a way out of here. We might not have another chance if the sun goes down." I don't mention that maybe we should do this now, before I'm too sick and weak to help. I really do feel awful, and I think things may just start to get worse pretty fast. Plus if we're stuck here in the dark with the aliens, well, let's just say we were attacked us once, I'd hate to have to spend the night wondering if these guys would try to finish the job. Who knows what their night vision is like? I know mine sucks.
"I fear the only way out may be through the tunnel within the pool."
"But we were brought here by a different route. There might be a door or—"
"Or they used Asgard technology or its equivalent."
"That's true," I agree as I offer Teal'c my uninjured arm in a silent appeal for a hand up. He complies, lifting me up without effort. Unfortunately standing is harder than I thought and I stagger slightly until I catch my balance. When I'm more or less steady, I look over and realize the alien has gotten up and is watching us warily. So much for me thinking he'd be at a disadvantage. I exchange a glance with Teal'c and deliberately turn my back on it, and begin to examine the stone walls.
Teal'c starts to move the other way and I have a feeling he's paying more attention at the potential threat of attack than for a way out. I'm not sure what I'm looking for exactly, but I'm confident that I'll know it when I see it. Let's just say I've hung around Daniel long enough to be able to spot hidden doors. Thinking of Daniel makes me realize how worried I am for him. He'd been hurt worse than me; that slash on his leg looked deep, and he got cut up more than I did. If there was poison in their claws, there's a good chance he got a bigger dose than me. I hope the Colonel got him back to the SGC pretty damn quick.
I turn at Teal'c's softly spoken words and to my surprise, I see the alien doing what we're doing. Examining the walls carefully, running his hands along any possible fissure and pressing protrusions which could be hidden doorknobs. I stop a moment and watch, unable to decide whether it's imitating us or actually understands what we're trying to do. I do notice that he's remained close to his fallen friend and he's also keeping a wary eye out for us.
I don't trust him to know what he's doing, though, and I'll need to go over the area he's currently examining. I just hope he doesn't take it as a threat and let's me approach. He might be a little defensive and I know Teal'c's not going to be happy with my going over that way.
I'm at the pool's edge and I can't get to the far wall, so I slowly walk past the water. I glance into the depths and can't make anything out. It looks deep, though. Once I'm at the far side I begin searching for an exit once again. I am now officially on the aliens' side of the cave. I hear Teal'c go quiet as he stops to watch, and I glance over under cover of my arm and see the alien watching me. He's got his hand on the wall but he's given up all pretense of searching. I can almost see the indecision in his face and I could swear there's intelligence behind those brown eyes.
I keep working methodically, moving slowly towards his fallen friend, or partner, or mate, or whatever it is. It's curled up on its side and I can see it's definitely not well. Its clothes are bloody and its long straggly hair is damp and matted with sweat. It's breathing fast and loud; I can hear it from here.
I finish examining the area of wall and take a step closer. I guess maybe I've gotten too close now, because the alien moves towards me. I tense and prepare to defend myself just as Teal'c calls out a warning. But the alien doesn't come at me; he goes to the sick one and crouches beside it.
He begins talking to it; the ululations it makes are so weird. I wish Daniel were here to hear it. I mean, most times when Daniel hears people on other planets talking, they're speaking a derivative of an Earth-based language and he usually can make some sense out of it after listening to it for a while. But this, this is an out and out alien language – and I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it.
To my surprise, the alien takes his mate and pulls him away from the wall. I swear he's making room for me. He looks up at me after a moment and nods. I nod back, watch a moment as he pulls his mate close, holding him... and yes, I'm positive these are both males – there's just something about the size and shape of their bodies that cry out masculinity. I turn back to my work and continue to check for a way out while Teal'c moves to the other side, coming to meet me halfway.
I'm hyper aware of the aliens as I pass right behind them. My legs are wobbling and my good arm is burning from fatigue, but I continue searching. My fingers feel raw from rubbing on the stone; I wish I had two good hands. I'm running out of wall to search and Teal'c is now just a few yards away.
"I'm beginning to think you're right, the pool of water is the only way out of here." I keep my voice low, glancing back at the aliens as I speak. To my surprise, the alien leans forward and gently kisses the forehead of the injured one. I feel my jaw drop at the tenderness he's displaying. The sick one moans slightly and opens its eyes. I swallow hard at the look of tenderness he gives the healthy alien. I wish I knew why their kind attacked us in the first place – it just doesn't make sense. These two seem so gentle compared to the ones in the temple.
Then the alien raises its head and looks at me and there's steel in his gaze. I realize I've been standing still for a minute, staring at them, and he's not happy. His hand moves and I see a glint of steel. He's got a knife in his hand, and I'm suddenly extremely conscious of being unarmed. Hell, my P-90 didn't stop the creature, how am I going to stop this one with a bum arm? I'm not even sure if Teal'c will have the strength to defend me, and considering the size of claws and teeth on this guy, he doesn't need a weapon. I stare at the long fingers curled around the knife's handle. They open slowly and close and I get a good look at the knife.
I hurriedly turn away and finish my examination, then go back to our little corner of our cave. I am more than happy to sit. My head is aching and my arm is throbbing and I'm feeling more than a little nauseous. Teal'c joins me and squats next to me and I lean against him, using his body to hide my actions. I bring my hand behind and feel for my knife. Our guns are gone, but my knife is still there. I reach over and pat Teal'c's back until I feel his scabbard. His knife is there also. Which means...
"The knife the alien is holding? It's military issue. That means he has to have gotten it from the Colonel or Daniel."
"Perhaps the knife was lost during the attack. It is possible he picked it up in the temple after O'Neill and DanielJackson left."
"If they left. We never saw them come out before we were knocked out."
"Then we must escape this place and return to the temple."
"The pool? I couldn't even tell how deep it was."
"I would attempt to see if there is an actual escape route, but I will not risk leaving you here alone with them." Teal'c moves his head and stares at the two aliens. I know Teal'c is feeling defensive, especially since I'm hurt, but I'm thinking maybe his posturing might be making our situation a little worse. Things had gotten tense earlier just as I was waking, and I had a hard time convincing him to leave those two alone.
I watch Teal'c watch the aliens, both of whom are watching us. It's a stalemate. We can't talk to one another, we really have no way out and Teal'c's right, if he attempts to go into the water to see if there's a means of escape there, that means I'll be at their mercy. Even with my gun, I was no match for them.
We need to do something, and sitting here isn't going to cut it. I shift my weight and I pick up the nearly empty water bottle that Teal'c had procured earlier. With a hand on Teal'c's shoulder for leverage, I stand. "Stay here."
I walk slowly towards the others, hoping I look harmless. They're both watching me, the brown-eyed one moves his hand holding the knife into obvious view. I stop for a moment, pointedly look at the knife, then at him, and take another step forward. The other one has blue eyes, but they're sunken and shadowed and if his physiology is anywhere close to mine, I'd guess he's running a high fever. I wish I had more water to give them, but as it is, this is the last of it and I hope the peace offering that it is will be obvious enough to allow us, or rather, me, the price of safety.
When I'm two feet away I stop and go down on one knee. I'm shaking, both from nervousness and from the damn fever. Slowly and awkwardly, I take the cap off the water bottle and raise it to my mouth. I take a small sip and the wetness only serves to make me realize how truly thirsty I am. I wipe the back of my hand over my mouth, then slowly hand over the water bottle to the sick one.
I bite my lip when I see how the blue eyes track the bottle. He licks his lips in anticipation and again, I wish we had more water to give him. He's trembling, either from pain or fever, or maybe both. He reaches for the bottle but his mate is faster. His hand whips out but stops just before touching mine. Maybe he's being careful not to scratch me but he's really gentle as he takes the bottle from my hand. I stay there, watching, as he feeds the water to the sick one. I'm impressed; he has to be thirsty, too, and he doesn't take a single sip for himself. He pulls the bottle back, shakes it slightly and looks at me and I wave my hand at it. He nods, gives the other one the rest of the water, then hands the now empty bottle back to me. He wails something short, which I take to be a thank you. I nod, recap the bottle quickly and stand.
"Go, see if we can get out through there." I go to the pool instead of back to where Teal'c is waiting for me. Already the sun's moved across the sky; the luminosity coming through the holes in the ceiling isn't as bright as before. I really don't want to be stuck inside a dark cave with unpredictable aliens.
I make a face when Teal'c hesitates. "I can swim now; I may not be able to in the morning." I glance at the sick alien. "He won't be able to swim. He may be too weak to hold his breath in a few hours. We have to do this now. Go on, I'll be fine."
Teal'c obeys me, which often surprises me when he does. I know he's got a lifetime's more experience than I do and it has to rankle him to follow our orders sometimes, but he always does it willingly because I guess this time it's different for him. He wants to fight with us against the Goa'uld, whereas when he served the Goa'uld, he was forced to follow their will.
He sits at the edge of the water, sticks his feet into the pool, and slides in. He disappears immediately and I anxiously watch the water. I hear movement and I look up. The alien has put his sick friend aside and is adjusting a piece of material he's been using as a blanket. Then he stands and walks slowly towards me. I tense and reach my hand back on my knife's scabbard, when I realize he's not armed. He approaches slowly, the way I did him with the water earlier, and he kneels opposite me. He stares at me for a long second, then turns to peer into the water.
Teal'c must have found a tunnel because he's been under for a good sixty seconds now. I just hope we don't have far to swim. I dip my fingers into the water and gasp. It's freezing.
- - - - - -
It's going on close to five minutes, and the big guy hasn't come out of the water yet. Either he's got incredible lung capacity, or he hasn't made it. The female doesn't look worried, though. I think she's more nervous about my proximity than the fact that if this actually is a way out, we're going to have to swim underwater and I don't even want to think how I'm going to get Daniel thought that ordeal.
"Can you see him?" Daniel calls out weakly.
"No." The female startles when I answer but she doesn't pull away. "But if there's a way out and he has to swim there and back, he should be coming out any second now."
Mr. Big Guy suddenly pops out of the water, startling me and I'm glad to see, surprises the female also so I don't feel so silly. He's not even breathing hard as he pulls himself out but he does give me a wary look. He's dripping wet and he passes a hand over his face, brushing water out of his eyes. He and the female talk a long time and I watch, intrigued at how oddly their jaws work with their overlapping fangs. You honestly wouldn't think they'd be capable of sustained speech but obviously I'm wrong.
They both turn to me suddenly and I grit my teeth. I still don't trust them but her giving Daniel the last of her water in the weird little gourd convinced me they're not like our attackers. And she isn't well; I can't help notice the shakiness of her movements and the high spots of colour on her cheekbones. If she were human, I'd say she was running a fever, just like Daniel is.
The male begins talking... to me. I can't make out what he's saying, but he's making swimming movements. I nod my understanding. We can swim out but... oh, here's the clincher. He's showing me he swam to a certain point and now he's mimicking pushing against something. There's a barrier, and I'm pretty sure he's saying he couldn’t get it to open. So, me and him, he thinks the two of us, combined, can open the way out of here.
I glance back at Daniel. There's no way I can help him swim out of here and try to force our way free. The woman looks too sick to help. Which means I'll have to leave Daniel here, with her, while I go and help the big guy. Then I'll have to come back and get Daniel and that really doesn't fill me with confidence.
I have to trust them and all my instincts are yelling at me not to. But there's not much choice in the matter. It's getting dark. We have no more fresh water or food, or medicine. Even if these two manage to escape, I'll still be here with Daniel without help or provisions. And I don't know where here is so I can't even try and ask these creatures to go and find Carter and Teal'c to show them where we are.
So I make my decision, and nod. I go back to Daniel and kneel next to him. "The way out is blocked."
"I'll be back in a few minutes to get you."
"I'll be here waiting." He smiles at me wanly and I want nothing more than to kiss him, for luck. Instead I stroke his hot cheek and smile back.
I return to the water and sit next to the pool. The big guy is still there, legs dangling in the water, watching me. I slide my feet in and hold back a gasp at the coolness. I nod again, take several deep breaths and wait for the big guy to slide in. I hold my breath, prepare myself for the shock and slide in after him.
The water is surprisingly clear. We're in a shaft and there's a hewn tunnel at the bottom. I swim behind him, kicking and pulling myself along by grabbing the slimy seaweed that's covering the sides of the tunnel. The salt water burns my eyes and my sinuses. The tunnel itself is pretty dark but there's light at the far end. By the time I reach the light, my lungs are burning and I'm desperate for air.
I look up and to my surprise, I see what appears to be a copy of the star map Carter and Daniel had been examining earlier in the day. Sunlight is streaming through the small holes of what they had thought were constellations. Mr. Big Guy motions to me and reaches up. He braces his feet against the seaweed-covered wall and I can see where his earlier attempts have scraped the growth off the stone. I follow suit, put my back to the slimy wall next to him, quickly scrape my boots along the seaweed so I've got stone rather than slime beneath the soles, put my hands against the slab, find purchase, and push.
The stone slab begins to move with our combined effort. I push harder and begin to see spots. My foot slips and I scrabble back up, struggle for a moment as my foot slides again against the seaweed. We've raised the stone slab about an inch and I heave myself forward and put my shoulder against the opening. I'm desperate for air and suddenly I can't hold my breath anymore. Air bursts from my lungs just as the big guy mimics my position. Desperation fuels my actions and I push for all I'm worth. Suddenly the stone shifts with a loud grating sound and I'm kicking frantically and manage to grab a lungful of air just as I pop out of the water.
Unfortunately I started inhaling before I was clear and I breathe in both water and air. I start to cough, choking while I flail for a handhold before I begin to sink. Then there are strong hands around my hips and I'm suddenly clear of the water. I fall onto my back. At this point my only goal is to try to take one breath without feeling like I'm drowning.
I'm still seeing spots and my vision is blurry. Worried brown eyes that look almost familiar peer into mine and I wave the big guy away as I turn my head and focus on my wheezing and coughing breaths, trying not to shiver from the cold and reaction.
I'm not sure how long it takes before I can actually breathe well enough to roll onto my side and look around. I see broken walls and a ceiling and lots of debris that looks disturbingly familiar. I push myself up and my suspicion turns into certainty when I spy the splotches of blood on the floor where both Daniel and Carter were attacked.
I'm shocked, because I don't think anyone suspected there was water underneath the slab which held the star map. I turn to look for the big guy; but I'm alone in the room. I drag myself up to the water's edge and look down. There's more light in here and I can see more clearly into its depths but there's no sign of the creature.
Daniel's down there. And he's alone with two possibly dangerous aliens. I start taking deep breaths as I throw my legs into the water, preparing to go back for Daniel, but my efforts cause me to start coughing again. Cursing, I clear my lungs and take another breath before I slide back in.
The shock of the water isn't as bad this time and I sink down. I curl into the tunnel and kick forward, only to pull myself to a stop when I see a large shadow coming my way. I blink and back up, waiting. It's Mr. Big Guy, and he's hauling Daniel along with him. For a moment I think everything's going to be all right when suddenly Daniel begins to struggle. The creature stops and tries to hold onto Daniel and my heart sinks when I see air bubbles escape Daniel's mouth. I realize what's going on and start to kick forward again when the creature puts its huge hand over Daniel's face, covering his mouth and pinching his nostrils. He looks up, sees me and suddenly he's swimming my way so fast, I kick off the bottom and move towards the surface.
I haven't even realized I've been holding my breath, so fierce is my worry for Daniel. I pull myself out of the pool seconds before the two of them explode out of the water. The big guy treads water and pushes Daniel up towards me. Even as I make a grab for him, he removes his hand and releases Daniel's nose and mouth.
I grab Daniel by the armpits and pull. His body comes out of the water easily; I think the big guy gave him a push because suddenly I've got my arms full of my wet, limp lover and I stumble backwards.
I hit the ground hard but I ignore my bruises as I scamper to turn Daniel onto his side, blinking salt water from my eyes. I'm peripherally aware of the big guy helping the female out as I put my ear to Daniel's mouth while desperately searching for a pulse. Then Daniel takes a breath and I clear my throat, whisper a thank you to whoever was looking out for us today, and lower my forehead to rest against Daniel's temple.
I can hear the creatures wailing together nearby. Somehow, I'm not surprised when the female puts a tentative hand on my shoulder and tugs. I rise up and the big guy pulls Daniel up and onto his shoulder without any hint of effort. Me, on the other hand, get up onto my feet like an old man. The female, who was crouching beside me, gets up also. She sways and puts a hand to her arm. It's only now that I see a bloody and bedraggled bandage wrapped around her bicep. She motions towards the exit with her head and I follow. The big guy's already gotten Daniel outside and suddenly memories of the same thing happening hours earlier, but with Carter and Teal'c evacuating the temple before me and Daniel, hits me like déjà vu.
I hurry outside and blink in the sunshine. The sun's low in the sky but it's warm out here after the chill of the water. The big guy's put Daniel down beside the remains of a wall and I hurry to join them, keeping an eye out to make sure the female's okay.
I kneel beside Daniel, checking his breathing and his pulse once again as I settle beside him. His skin temperature feels hot under my fingers but the quick, strong beat of his heart is comforting. I caress the stubbly cheek with my thumb before looking at the creatures.
They've settled opposite me, watching us. I have to get Daniel home, through the Stargate, and I sigh. It's at least two miles away, and it's going to be a struggle to carry him there myself. I wonder what these two are waiting for, though.
With my finger, I draw a rough circle in the sand. "Chaapa'ai," I say, pointing at the circle. They both look at me as if I had grown horns. Obviously, I'm speaking this planet's version of Greek to them. There's no reaction and of course, my circle doesn't look like the Stargate. I draw a second, larger circle around the first, make little lines so that the Stargate is divided into segments, and draw a couple of tiny glyphs onto two of them. I look up at them expectantly, and I'm shocked to see the female grab the big guy's arm and start ululating excitedly, waving at my crudely drawn picture.
Oh boy, they know what the Stargate is. So, how do I get them to help me get Daniel there? I'm pretty sure Hammond won't be happy if I invite them home with me, but the female definitely needs medical attention. I'm sure the general won't mind having one of the doctors take a look at her arm, if she and her defender allow it.
I pull Daniel so that he's sitting up, leaning against me. He's dead weight, his head falls heavily against my neck, his whole body is limp for a moment until he sighs and nuzzles against me.
"Mmmm." The sound he makes is a half moan, half groan. He snuggles a little more and I somehow get my feet under me and rise. I'm still crouching, holding Daniel next to me. I tighten my hold, lower my shoulder and get him into position for a fireman's hold.
This always looks easy when someone else is doing it. But when the dead weight is lying across your shoulders, let me just say it's pure torture. And I still have to get upright. I grunt as I rise. One hand is holding Daniel's leg and the other I'm using to help lever me up.
I'm standing, finally, and I turn to head towards the 'gate. The two creatures follow me, the female still yammering on. I tune her out and concentrate on not tripping on the rocks hidden in the sand. My legs and spine already feel like they're being squished by Daniel's weight, and the going is rough. I try to aim for the clearest route out of the city, without having to clamber over any broken walls.
I manage to carry Daniel for all of ten minutes when the need to rest becomes overpowering. I put Daniel down faster than I'd expected, my legs giving out just as I begin to bend down. I scramble to make sure Daniel's head doesn't hit anything and I slide underneath so that my thighs pillow his head and shoulders. The other two settle nearby, still wailing away. Even if I didn't hear them, I can still see them peripherally.
The sand clings to our wet clothes and skin. I carefully brush bits of it adhering to Daniel's face, when suddenly I hear Carter's voice. "—But we don't know that for sure. If he's heading for the Stargate, then this can't be his home planet—Holy Hannah!"
I yell in surprise at the sight of Teal'c and Carter, both soaked to the skin, sitting where the two creatures had been a second ago. Carter's in the same position as the female had been in, leaning forward slightly with a hand on the dirty bandage wrapped around her bicep. Teal'c is crouched next to her, slightly forward, in a protective stance.
Even Teal'c sounds shocked and surprised when he utters my name right behind Carter.
"Where did you two—" I make the connection suddenly, just as Carter does.
"You and Daniel, it was you all along."
"What the hell is going on here? Why was I seeing some alien creatures instead of you two?"
"We... I didn't know it was you, sir. I thought you and Daniel were more of those—"
"—Creatures that attacked you two. Yeah, I know, I thought the same—" Daniel moans softly and begins to stir. I direct my attention to him, while still talking to Carter. "—Thing. Someone or some thing kidnapped all of us, put us in that cave and made us see half the team as aliens? Where the hell is the logic in all of this?"
Daniel is moving his legs and arms, but he hasn't opened his eyes yet. I put a hand on his chest, near his shoulder, to let him know I'm here.
"Perhaps the machinations that were responsible for our hallucinations have a boundary which we have now crossed."
"Teal'c?" Daniel turns his head just enough so that he can look at everyone. His gaze flits from Teal'c to Carter. "Sam?"
"Hey, no howdy for me?"
"Jack..." He scrunches his face and looks at me with fever-bright eyes. "I was... I couldn't... I think I drowned."
"You did not." Teal'c raises a hand to his face as he speaks. "I was able to prevent you from inhaling the water and bring you to the surface."
"I didn't drown?"
"Not this time. Although if you were a cat, I'd be just about ready to turn you in for a new one 'cause between me'n you, your nine lives must be pretty much used up by now."
The scrunched up look deepens. He's ignoring my comment, which isn't anything new. His attention is focused on Teal'c. "I thought the alien... he took me to the water... I thought he was trying to help me get to Jack... you rescued me from him?"
"No, Daniel, Teal'c was The Big Guy."
"He was... who?"
I tsk softly to myself. "Teal'c and Carter were there all along. We just saw them as the aliens."
"And we thought you were aliens also, Daniel."
"We appear to have been the subjects of some manner of mass hallucination." Teal'c takes his attention off Daniel and visually searches the area, glowering at whoever might be behind all this.
"That's funny." Daniel rolls onto one arm and tries to sit up. I maneuver him and myself so that he's half lying, half leaning against my chest. "It wasn't only visual, it was auditory. I couldn't understand what you were saying... it was all gibberish."
"Yeah." Carter smiles gently. "It sounded like wails. I kept thinking I wished you were here to hear them speaking, that you probably wouldn't be able to make heads or tails out of this brand new language."
"You're right. I couldn't."
"So," I interrupt. "You saw us with big teeth?" I make a pulling motion near my mouth where my incisors are. "Beady little eyes? Protruding forehead?"
"Indeed. I must admit this current version of yourself is most pleasing compared to the hallucinatory one."
"Thanks." I smile at Teal'c, then look at his bald pate. "I gotta say you look better with no hair than with that long, stringy stuff that was hanging off your head." My smile fades when Teal'c remains silent and his expression doesn't change.
Carter interrupts, which I'm thankful for because I'm becoming a little paranoid when Teal'c continues to stare at me expressionlessly. "With respect, sir, but don't you think we should get to the Stargate before whatever happened to us, happens again? Considering we don't know how or why—"
"Right. Daniel, do you think you can walk?" I see him press his lips together before he gives me a tight nod and I could kick myself for even asking the question. Of course he can't walk. Not only does he have a honking gash in his leg, he's running a fairly high fever and has spent more time either sleeping or doing the unconscious thing than keeping me company. I glance at Carter and note she isn't looking that hot either.
"Okay, rest period's over." I shift under Daniel and between Teal'c and me, we get him on his feet. He's wobbly and his knees give out at one point. By the time we both have Daniel's arms around our shoulders, he's already breathing fast and we haven't even gotten started yet. I'm almost tempted to put him back down and make a run for the 'gate and request a medical evac, but the threat of a second attack by the aliens, or another trip into that cave, urges me to force Daniel onwards.
Carter takes point but she's also keeping tag on our sixes. Walking has become awkward and many times we have to walk sideways through the debris. I can see the Stargate and if we could only get to it in a straight line, it'd cut our time in half.
I call a stop after fifteen minutes when it's apparent Daniel can go no further. We perch him on top of a stone wall that looks fairly solid and I sit beside him. He leans in against me and rests his head against my neck. He's shaking so hard he can hardly sit up by himself and I'm beginning to wonder if maybe this forced exertion is making the poison act faster. A glance at Carter shows her sitting a few feet away, head down, cradling her arm. The 'gate's still out of easy reach and I realize at this rate it's going to take at least a couple of hours to get there.
"It is perhaps wise if I proceed to the Stargate and return with a medical team. It would be more expeditious that way and perhaps less... taxing... on their injuries."
I nod. "Go," I say softly. Teal'c is up and jogging before I have time to blink. At the speed Teal'c's going, clambering over the debris, he can probably make it there in fifteen minutes. It'll probably take another twenty for the team to get organized, and maybe twenty, twenty-five for them to get here. The sun's pretty low in the sky and I'm sure we'll be heading out back to the Stargate in the dark.
There's a damp breeze and it begins to cut through my wet clothes, chilling me. If I can feel it, I can pretty well imagine it's pretty uncomfortable on fevered skin.
"Come on, let's get you two comfy." I push Daniel away so I can grip him around the waist, and lower him down so that his back is leaning against the crumbling stone wall. I realize with a pang that he's not quite awake. He's almost dead weight and as I awkwardly settle him against me, I motion for Carter to join us. There's no wind down here and the sand is still sun-warmed in places.
Daniel's still shivering and so is she. She leans her head back against the wall, dislodging small bits of stone that trickle into her hair and onto her shoulder. Her face is pale and drawn and she appears to be in a lot of pain. I rue the fact that we lost our packs; I've got nothing to give them for the fever and the hurt.
As time progresses, I find myself constantly staring at my watch. The Stargate is behind me and I can't turn around to watch Teal'c's progress without dislodging Daniel. When the imagined time for Teal'c's arrival at the Stargate comes, I strain to listen, but I know I'm too far away to hear the sound of the dialing 'gate. But to my surprise, I see the reflection of the Stargate's wormhole in a smooth slab of rock several feet away. It remains lit for several seconds, just enough time for Teal'c to activate the GDO and—
"Damn." I feel so stupid I could smack myself.
"Sir?" Carter opens pain-filled eyes and turns her head to look at me.
"The GDO. I don't have mine and I suspect everyone else's has been taken, and Teal'c—"
"He'll be forced to go somewhere else, maybe The Land of Light, and use theirs."
"Yeah, but that'll mean he needs to get to Tuplo and back to the Stargate. That's... at least thirty minutes, each way."
She shuts her eyes again. "He'll be here." Her voice is a soft mumble. "It'll just take him longer."
"Get some rest," I say softly to Carter. "It'll be a while."
"Daniel?" She cracks one eye open to look at my slow-roasting sleeping beauty.
"Sleeping. Go on, I'll keep watch."
She shifts slightly, getting comfortable, and closes her eyes.
- - - - - -
I don't know why Jack thinks I'm sleeping. I'm not, I'm too miserable to fall into a real sleep, and too sick to try and move. I've listened to them talking and trying to join in the conversation is more than my poor, fuzzy brain can attempt at the moment.
The shivering isn't stopping. The bits of me that touch Jack can feel his body heat through our wet clothes, but it's not enough to appease my chilled body. And the tremors keep triggering little shocks of pain every time the muscles in my arms and chest contract around the slashes there. My leg is one huge throb; the tremors aren't making it worse, at this point I don't think anything can.
Jack's heartbeat is comforting, stronger and louder than my own, which reverberates oddly in my skull. I concentrate on the thumps below my ear where it lies against his chest and try to time my breathing with his, but it's too difficult. My breathing's coming fast and shallow and if I try to force it, I get the feeling I'm going to smother so I just content myself to lie there and wait.
Time drags incredibly slowly. If I open my right eye, I can see my watch. Despite being unable to retain the time, I watch mindlessly as the digits count upwards. Time passes, even if the bit of brain function I have left isn't able to figure out how much longer it'll take Teal'c to get back here.
Jack's lips brush my temple and I snuggle closer, hoping for another caress. Then I realize we're not home and feel a wave of heat spread over my face when I realize how pathetic I am at this moment. I push my face into Jack's vest and in response, he begins to stroke my cheek.
"You okay?" he whispers close to my ear. I can't speak and can only nod; my throat tight with barely held emotions. I don't understand why I'm suddenly feeling like this and after some thought, decide it's probably a side effect from whatever is making me sick.
"Teal'c's gone for help. He should be back in just over a half hour."
I nod again, blindly raising my hand and grabbing hold his that's still stroking my cheek. I press it against my skin and once again I feel his lips against my temple.
"Try to rest." His voice is soft and I'm wondering why he's whispering. "Carter's sleeping. You'll feel better if you get some sleep."
I nod again and wriggle around to get more comfortable. I have to lower my hand, keeping it up in the air seems too monumental an effort for my aching muscles. Jack's fingers begin their caress once again and I relax into it.
- - - - - -
I wake up startled and disoriented. Someone's holding me down and there's a light blinding me. I pull back with a sharp movement and the movement sends lightning spearing through my brain.
"Daniel, it's okay, it's just me."
The light's pointed away from my face and it takes me a moment to recognize the voice and figure out who me is. It's gotten dark somewhere along the way and I didn't notice. There are flashlights waving in the background and one of them points towards us for a moment. Everything is extremely disorienting.
"Yeah. Take it easy, we're bringing you home." She slowly brings the light back up and shines it quickly in each eye. She's talking to me, her voice slow and calm, that doctor's voice that means she's trying to keep her emotions under control and not scare the patient. I acknowledge what she's doing on one level while on the other I search the moving blobs of light and shadows for Jack. I spot him several feet away, talking with Major Pierce. Odd, the last thing I remember was dozing with him holding me close.
Janet's doing something to the back of my hand and I feel something cold and wet. A moment later she smiles at me. "I've set up an IV and I'm going to give you something for the pain. You'll be feeling better in just a moment." She uncaps a needle and shoots something into the IV. "Do you want some water?"
I'm desperately thirsty and realize it now with the offer of water. I lick my lips and taste salt. She raises my head when I nod and holds a water bottle to my lips. I take a sip, nearly choke on the first swallow, clear my throat and drink a little more.
"Here, can you swallow these?" She holds up a couple of pills and I nod again. "Hopefully we can get your fever down a little by the time we get you home." Janet gives me some more water with the pills and then wipes my chin with her gloved hand and smiles at me. I smile back. Whatever she gave me for the pain has kicked in without my realizing it. I still feel awful but my headache has receded and so has the agony in my leg.
"Okay. Just rest while I have a look at Sam." She gives a meaningful look to someone opposite her as she gets up and walks away into the dark. I turn my head and see Teal'c kneeling next to me.
My memory's sort of fuzzy. I'm not sure what planet we're on or what exactly happened but I'm comforted to see my friend staying close to me. He's got his staff weapon in hand and he's dividing his attention between me and whatever's out there in the darkness.
"How's Sam?" My voice is raspy and just uttering those two words makes me feel breathless.
"MajorCarter is ill but not as critical as you. Her injuries are not as numerous or as severe."
"We believe there may have been venom in the creature's saliva."
I frown, trying to remember what attacked us. They were human, or almost human.
"Bodies?" I ask, thinking maybe they can autopsy the aliens and see whether we were poisoned.
"The temple was empty when we left but SG-15 has discovered the remains two feline creatures several meters from the building."
I frown at his words. Felines... I don't remember seeing any cats.
"It is possible their appearances were altered to make us believe they were humanoid."
I shrug inwardly. It's too hard to figure things out and it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open. I let my eyelids slide shut just as I hear Jack's voice asking, "How's he doing?"
I want to tell Jack I'm doing fine, but the darkness is too deep and thick and I can't fight out of it. I think I feel a gentle touch against my jaw, and then nothing more.
- - - - - - -
I can't help but feel on edge. Our flashlights don't illuminate more than a few feet around us and I keep expecting an attack any second. I know that part of my paranoia is exhaustion but I saw those animals Pierce's men found and there's no refuting that they're what attacked Daniel and Carter. Not the humanoids we'd all thought we'd seen, but something closer in shape and size to a cougar. We've got them bagged and they're coming back with us for an autopsy and maybe, once and for all, we'll discover what the hell's been going on.
We're about halfway to the 'gate when Daniel begins to stir. He's been in and out of consciousness, saying a few words before drifting back under, but this time he's agitated.
"Put him down," Fraiser orders. As Crockett and Williams put the stretcher down at the first clear space they come to, I hurry past Crockett, mumbling an apology when I knock into him as he tries to shift out of my way.
"We have to go back." Daniel's fighting the straps that are holding him securely to the stretcher.
"Shh, it's okay. We're going home." I put a hand on his shoulder just as Fraiser flashes a light on Daniel. I can't feel his fever through the blankets but his face is damp with sweat. He's awake, eyes wide and searching. He hones in on me by my voice, I suspect.
"No, we have to go back. I just realized – it's not a star map." He's excited and almost manic, struggling to get free. As weak and sick as he is, he really can't afford to waste any energy like this. But I can't get a word in edgewise; he's talking a mile a minute. "Sam and I were wrong. The markings on the stone in the temple, it's writing. I remember I'd seen it before. We have to go back and videotape it—"
"DanielJackson." Teal'c's climbed over the piece of stonework and is leaning over Daniel from the other side of it. "You have videotaped what you believed was the star map, did you not?"
"Yes, yes, but our gear is gone and—"
"All of our supplies were left by the Stargate, including our weapons and GDO. I discovered this when I returned for help."
"Even my pack? My video camera?"
"I believe so. If O'Neill placed your recording device in your pack directly after the beasts' attack, then you have your footage and there is no need to return."
Daniel scrunches his brows together and looks at me. "Who—?"
"I don't know, Daniel, probably whoever did this in the first place." I glance at the doc, who's been checking Daniel's vitals while we've distracted him. She happens to look up and catches my eye. She simply nods and stands.
"It's writing," Daniel repeats, the urgency gone from his voice. He's fading fast. "S'not a map. It could be... important." His eyes begin to close and he's fighting to stay awake. "I need to find the mission report... SG-5... last year... they went to... P... P..."
He's out again. His head slides a little to the side and he's breathing heavily through his mouth. Fraiser takes his pulse again and motions for the men to get moving. I let everyone pass and take up the trail behind them.
Daniel doesn't wake again, but Fraiser asks that we stop twice before we're out of the ruins. The second time she fixes an oxygen mask over Daniel's mouth. He's still doing the mouth-breathing thing and once the way is finally clear to the Stargate, it's all I can do to stop myself from ordering everyone to double time it. Until I hear a loud growl and feline cough behind us, then I don't hesitate to give the order.
Pierce stops and fires several shots in the direction of the growl, then hurries to catch up. We hear the big cat several times afterwards but it sounds like its keeping its distance.
When we reach the 'gate, Pierce sends a man to dial the SGC while Teal'c walks over to the right of the dais. There, just like he'd said, are Daniel's packs, our weapons and assorted other equipment. I go give him a hand, strap my P-90 over my shoulder and grab a handful of radios. As I begin stuffing them into one of the packs, I finally feel less vulnerable and mentally dare the cats to come closer.
By the time we've sorted everything out, the light from the puddle illuminates the area and I double check that we haven't forgotten anything. I join Pierce and wait until everyone's gone through, then step through the wormhole along with the Major.
Even as I step down the ramp, Fraiser's already gotten Daniel's stretcher onto a gurney and they're wheeling him out of the Gateroom. I awkwardly juggle the items I've carried with me and hand them over to the supply officer.
"Go get checked out, we'll debrief in the morning."
I nod gratefully to General Hammond, hand over my P-90, and with Daniel's backpack still in my hands, I follow Teal'c to the infirmary.
There are two beds with a bevy of doctors and nurses flitting around them. It's not difficult to find a free bed close enough to the action to be able to see and hear and I patiently go through my post mission exam, most of my attention on the treatment of my teammates. When I'm cleared, I hurry through a shower and pop my head back into the infirmary. There are a few less people around Carter's bed, but just as many around Daniel's. Still lugging his backpack, I go down to the commissary, grab a bite to eat and then stop off at Daniel's office to leave his pack there.
I take a moment and rummage through the pack, find the video camera and play back the footage. I nod to myself when I see he's gotten the star map, or writing, whichever of the two it is, on film. I place the camera in the middle of his desk so it'll be there for him to use once he's discharged from the infirmary, and head back on down there.
When I walk in, I'm pleased to see that both Daniel and Carter are alone, except for Teal'c, who's sitting between their two beds. I stop by the foot of Carter's bed and watch her sleep a moment, her face pale, her body surrounded by wires and tubes, then move to the other side of Daniel's bed and pull up a chair.
"The doc say anything?" I reach for Daniel's hand and curl my fingers around his palm, leaning forward to hide my action from anyone who might pass by. His skin is hot and dry, and his fingers twitch beneath mine for a moment.
"She advised they are now both stable, although DanielJackson's fever remains high. Their wounds are infected, but that is not the sole reason for their illness. She is currently performing tests on their blood samples."
"What about the cats we brought in?"
"I presume they will dissect them in order to search for evidence of venom."
I rub my thumb along the back of Daniel's hand and decide I dislike the scratchy sound his dry skin makes. I let go of his hand and sit back in the chair, and suddenly exhaustion hits me. I feel old; my body aches and my head feels too heavy to sit on my neck. As I rub my neck, I wish things were different and that we were home so that Daniel could give me a backrub. I suddenly feel guilty at that thought. I shouldn't be thinking of me, I should be thinking of Daniel.
"Go and get some sleep, Colonel."
I jump at Fraiser's voice next to me. I know I didn't doze off, I should have heard her approaching. I chalk it down to a sign of my exhaustion and pretend it didn't happen.
"They'll be asleep for several hours. There's nothing you can do here except make yourself sick. Get some sleep and come back in the morning."
"We're keeping them hydrated and hopefully this will help flush the venom out of their system. They're on antibiotics for the infections from the scratches. Daniel's got a pretty deep gash in his leg but there's no serious damage. Sam's arm's not quite so bad. We're monitoring their temperatures and if there's any change I promise I'll send someone to let you know."
"I will remain."
I nod tiredly. If Teal'c is staying, then I can rest assured that if either Daniel or Carter takes a turn for the worse, he'll come and let me know immediately.
"You may rest in my room."
Just as I start to object, the thought of filling out the paperwork for a place to bunk tonight hits me. I don't think I can manage that right now. "Thanks. I'll take you up on that offer."
I stand and I can't believe how much my body hurts. I give my teammates a last look then shuffle out the door.
I lie down on Teal'c's bed and I think I'm asleep just as my head hits the pillow.
- - - - - -
It takes me only a second to figure out I'm not in Jack's bed, nor in my own. From the sounds and smells around me, I recognize I'm in the infirmary. My first instinct is to open my eyes and search out my teammates. My vision is blurry and I blink but it doesn't clear up. Until I realize the reason I can't see clearly is because someone's arm is restricting my view.
I'm lying on my side, close to the bed's edge, so I roll onto my back. I recognize Jack's body, slouched in a chair and I open my mouth to say something when I realize he's asleep. I stare at him for a little while, until I notice the haggard lines around his eyes as well as the dark shadows.
I rise up on my elbows to try and get a closer look and fall back in exasperation when I realize the effort is too great.
"Daniel. Welcome back to the land of the living."
I turn towards Janet's softly spoken voice. She smiles at me and nods towards Jack with her chin. "Don't mind him, he's been sneaking in every time I've thrown him out of here." She turns her attention back to me. "Are you in pain? Can I get you anything?"
I'm not hurting much. My leg did give me a pretty good twinge when I shifted but if I'm not moving, I'm not hurting. "Thirsty," I finally decide. My voice is raspy and my throat is dry.
"Ah, that I can help you with." She speaks to someone at the foot of my bed and I squint in that direction. I hadn't noticed a nurse waiting there but she goes off to get me some water. I lick my lips in anticipation.
"How long?" I'm feeling better, although truth be told, I don't remember arriving at the SGC.
"Three days. Your fever broke late this afternoon and you've been sleeping since." She nods again towards Jack. "He's spent every free moment here with you and Sam, unless Teal'c and I chased him away."
"Sam? Is she—?"
"She's fine. Her fever broke yesterday. You both have an infection from the scratches and bite but the antibiotics are dealing with that. Ah, here we go," she says when the nurse returns with a pitcher and glass. Janet waits until the nurse pours water into a glass and pops a straw into it before taking it from her.
To my surprise, Janet sits on the side of my bed and holds the straw to my mouth. "Slowly, now." I sip and ice water flows into my mouth. I take a moment and allow it to linger there and wash away the pastiness. I follow her instructions and take small sips and it feels wonderful going down.
When I've emptied the glass, she places it next to the pitcher, close at hand. I'm already tired and I feel sleep pulling at me. I yawn and quickly try to bury it behind my hand, but my reflexes are too slow.
"Get some sleep. You'll feel stronger when you wake up."
I turn to look at Jack, shocked again at the fatigue expressed on his slumbering face. He never looks this bad when he's awake; it's only in the vulnerability of sleep does it ever show, and I feel guilty knowing I'm partly responsible for it.
"I'll tell him you woke up and didn't want to wake him."
"Thank you. Tell him I told him to go home and sleep in..." I nearly said our bed. "...His bed."
A yawn escapes me again and my eyes are suddenly sticky and dry. I close them and listen for Janet's footsteps, and fall asleep before she walks away from my bed.
- - - - - -
The next time I wake up, I hear voices nearby. I turn my head, curious. Jack and Teal'c are sitting around the bed next to me, and I figure that must be where Sam is. I nod to myself when I hear her voice. I'm still tired, I'm still thirsty and I'm feeling a little hollow and weak.
"You're sure Daniel said SG-5 brought back the handwriting samples? Because I've gone through all their mission files for the past six months and haven't found anything remotely similar."
I clear my throat. "It was last year, Sam."
"Daniel." I can't see her but I can hear the delight in her voice.
A chair squeaks as Jack turns around and he greets me with a wide grin. "It's about time you woke up." The fatigue I'd seen earlier is gone, but the lines are still visible if I look carefully enough.
Behind him, I can now see Sam, who's sitting up in bed with a laptop on the rollaway table in front of her. Teal'c gets up and walks around the beds to come and stand next to me. "It is good to see you are awake."
"Thanks." My stomach growls loudly and I rub it absently. "What time is it?"
"Nearly fourteen hundred hours." Jack nods at someone and I see another nurse approaching my bed. "He just woke up, and he's hungry."
I lie patiently through a quick examination, aware of my team's eyes on me throughout. When the nurse is finished, she leaves me with a promise of a quick return with something to eat.
"Did you find my video camera?" I can't help the hopeful tone in my voice. Teal'c nods and I breathe a sigh of relief. "It's writing. I'm sure of it. Sam, try SG-5's mission about 15 months ago. They found a planet whose inhabitants weren't wholly human. There was speculation that there had been breeding with some of the native population and—"
"I remember. The differences were slight but just enough to make them look a little—"
"Alien?" Jack intercedes. "You mean those folks with the—?" He waves towards his face and I nod.
"Nose hair." I still remember the jokes Jack cracked about the tufts of braided hair that hung from some of the men's nostrils. But there had been other differences. Irises slightly oval rather than round. Hair colour leaning towards bluish black, more emphasis on the blue rather than black, and all without the help of chemicals. An extra set of knuckles on fingers. Jaws not quite meeting right, making some people look apelike. Not everyone had the same characteristics; most appeared normal but if you looked hard enough, there was always something different about them.
"They signed an agreement with us; they wrote it up in both... damn." I rub my forehead, unable to remember the name of the people or their language. "But their official letterhead had something written in the same writing as what we saw in that temple."
"You're saying the people on that planet SG-5 visited last year spoke the same language as what you videotaped?"
I shake my head and wish I were sitting up. It's awkward talking from this position. Sam's leaning forward on the bed, looking at me over Jack's shoulder. "No, they used a derivative of Portuguese. But they had a phrase written in both Portuguese and the language of the original inhabitants. If I can find that piece of paper, I can maybe do a rough translation of what was on that rock."
The nurse returns at that moment with my lunch. I'm so hungry I feel like I could eat a steak. Instead, I have the usual bland, soft foods that will be my diet for the next few meals. She raises my bed so I'm comfy and positions the rollaway table positioned over my lap. I pick up a spoon, dip it into the colourless applesauce and stick it into my mouth.
At this point, my stomach doesn't care what it's getting. It rumbles loudly again and my mouth fills with saliva. I make short work of the applesauce and reach for the small glass of orange juice.
By the time I finish the juice, my stomach feels full. I don't feel satisfied, though, but I know from experience I'll be hungry again soon and hopefully will be having normal meals by this time tomorrow.
And I'm ready for another nap. I want to continue our discussion but Sam's busy searching through the CD full of mission files and Jack and Teal'c are talking about some movie. I lay my head back for a moment and close my eyes.
I feel a hand caress my cheek and I turn into the warm palm. I force my eyes open, not believing I've fallen asleep again. Then I realize where we are and I pull back.
"It's okay," Jack says, awkwardly patting my shoulder. The lighting's a little dimmer and I notice that the curtain's been pulled closed, giving us the impression of privacy.
I stretch. "Sorry. I just thought—"
"I know. My fault." Jack smiles and pushes the table close to me. I smell chicken coming from beneath the dish cover and my mouth waters. I push myself up as he adjusts my pillow so that I'm sitting up. "Fraiser said it was okay to wake you so you could eat and she's the one who pulled the curtain."
I'll have to remember to get Janet some of those hand-made Belgian chocolates as a thank you for these minutes of privacy. I flip the cover over and inhale the scent of chicken soup. There are a few crackers, cheese and some juice. I drain the juice first then dig into the soup.
"Did you eat?" I ask between slurps. I open the package of crackers and unwrap the cheese, place the cheese over the cracker and take a bite. Immediately I'm covered in crumbs but I don't care. Everything tastes wonderful and I can't help but wish there was more.
"Carter found the document you mentioned."
I pause, spoon halfway to my mouth, and look at Jack expectantly.
"We sent it to your department, along with the videotape."
"Jack, I could—"
"I know. But you're not going to be up to working for a few more days and, well, General Hammond was sort of curious as to what the hell happened to us on that planet."
"He's not the only one." I put the spoon in my mouth, chew the few bits of meat and vegetables, and put the spoon down. "If they can't translate it, I want a stab at it."
"When Fraiser clears you—"
"How about in the morning?"
"I don't think she's letting me out of here for a few days. At least not until she starts taking some of these wires out of me." I stare pointedly at the IV going into the back of my hand and the tubing from the Foley catheter that's barely visible at the side of my bed.
"You were out of your head for two days, Daniel. It's going to take you a bit longer to get your strength."
"I can work on it while I'm recuperating." I push the table away. I can't understand why the moment I finish eating something, I feel like I'm ready for a full night's sleep. I try to swallow a yawn but Jack sees through me.
"Look at you. You can barely keep your eyes open or more than fifteen minutes at a time. Hammond's had people looking over that videotape for more than five hours already. Not that I have no confidence in your abilities, but you need time to get better and I know you're going to push yourself if you try and work on—"
"Jack—" I'm not sure I appreciate what Jack's just said. I want to know what happened just as much as he does.
"Daniel." He pushes the tray away from the bed. "Get some sleep. If there's been any progress made in the morning, I promise I'll bring you an update."
I want to argue, but I can't believe how traitorous my body is. Jack lowers the bed and I huff in anger. I'm not sure if I'm mad at him or at myself. Still, I turn onto my side, offering Jack my back – I'll pretend I'm mad at Jack until I decide who I'm really angry at. But my anger is short-lived when Jack leans over and pulls the sheet up over my shoulder and pats it down with nervous fingers. "Sleep well," he whispers in my ear. I feel his breath on my skin, smell the coffee he's been drinking, and suddenly remember how vulnerable and tired he'd looked last night.
I turn to him and our faces are only a few inches apart. "You're going to get some rest yourself, right?" I look him straight in the eyes, hoping he doesn't try to lie.
He nods. "I'm kinda beat. I'd like to stay and be close but I think I need to sleep in my own bed."
"Keep it warm for me?"
His mouth twitches in that that little lopsided smile which always sends my heart leaping. "You betcha. See ya tomorrow."
He's never looked more kissable and I thump my head back down into the pillow in frustration when he turns and walks away.
- - - - - -
"What time is it?" I feel like I've been asking that question a hundred times today. I have no idea where my watch is and I've been disoriented all day because I keep falling asleep and waking up without any idea how long I've slept.
"It is precisely forty two minutes from the last time you inquired."
I squirm on the chair, already tired from sitting. I put the magazine that Teal'c brought me on the rollaway table. The words are blurring anyways, not that they managed to hold my attention for long. I keep thinking of Jack and wondering where he is. I'm torn between disappointment that he hasn't come to the mountain to see me even though I discovered this morning that he had the day off. Sam's been released and she's gone home, leaving me more or less alone in the infirmary.
Pushing the blanket away from my bare legs, I begin the process of inching to the edge of the chair.
"I need to lie down," I say at Teal'c's silent raise of an eyebrow.
"Do not attempt to stand. I will inform a nurse—"
I use the arms of the chair to help me rise and put weight on my good leg. "Just give me your shoulder to hang on to." I did this earlier this morning; hobbled to the chair and back with the help of one of the nurses. It's a huge sense of accomplishment at this point. Anyways, I can manage it on my own but why should I suffer if I have someone at hand to help?
I pointedly look towards the bed and Teal'c finally rises from his chair and moves around the bed so he's standing next to me. I put a hand on his shoulder and take a couple of slow, limping steps.
I'm sweating by the time I get there but I'm proud of myself, even though my muscles are shaking with fatigue. My thigh is burning but Janet said I could walk on it for short distances so long as I don't overdo it. I just wish Jack were here to see me because I've lost both the catheter and the IV since I've seen him last.
The last few feet are hard and I keep my attention focused on the head of my bed. I reach it and let go of Teal'c, transferring my weight from him to the bed as I struggle by myself.
I collapse sideways onto the mattress, breathing hard, and then find the strength to pull myself fully under the sheets. "Thank you," I remember to say as I close my eyes. My breathing begins to slow and I hear the chair creak as Teal'c sits. Guiltily, I open my eyes. "You don't have to stay—"
"I have no desire to be elsewhere. I shall be here when you awaken."
Touched by Teal'c's words, I nod and close my eyes. I listen to him breathe, all the while wondering where Jack is.
- - - - - -
This is getting old. The noise which woke me up is repeated - someone laughing and talking loudly somewhere in the infirmary. I listen a while longer and try to identify the voices but I can't make out which team is being checked out. Then Teal'c shifts, the chair creaks and I turn to ask him if he's heard from Jack when I realize it's not Teal'c who's sitting by my bed.
"Jack." I can't help but grin when he winks at me. All the anger I felt yesterday is gone as I get a good look at him. He looks rested. This has probably been a good day for both of us. A sudden thought hits me.
"What time is it?"
"Almost seventeen hundred hours. About time you woke up; I was beginning to worry you'd miss supper."
"When did you get here?"
"Oh, about thirty minutes ago. I shooed Teal'c out of here." He drops the magazine he was reading. "Sorry I didn't come sooner. I guess I was more tired than I thought. Slept till almost noon and then there were things I had to do around the house." He shrugs. "Groceries, laundry, you know, and get things ready for when you come home tomorrow."
"You didn't have to go to all that trouble. We could order out like we always—" Then what Jack said just hits me. "To... tomorrow?"
"Fraiser said you were ambulatory. She said you could go home as long as there was someone there with you. So I took a couple days... hey, she even found a cane for you."
He reaches behind him and comes up with a brown cane. I look at it with suspicion. Crutches I can do, I've used them before. But with the slashes on my arms and chest I'm not sure I'll be able to handle them without discomfort. But a cane...?
"You'll look like a proper gentleman." He leans it against the bed, close at hand.
"I'm not a gentleman," I add, raising my eyebrows in quick succession to make me look like a dirty old man.
Chuckling, Jack leans closer to the bed. "I'm looking forward to you proving that to me."
The rejoinder I'm about to make is lost when my supper is brought to me. I pull myself up, not waiting until someone adjusts the bed. I'm hungry; I'm feeling a lot stronger and Jack's here. I begin to eat, and actually scarf down a couple of bites when I suddenly feel guilty for eating alone. "Did you eat?"
"No, actually I was going to run down to the commissary later. I wanted to give you this first, when you woke up." He reaches over for a manila folder on the table behind him. He places it next to the tray and pushes it closer to me. I look at him questioningly for a moment before reaching for it.
Jack keeps his fingers on the folder, preventing me from opening it. "Eat first. Then read. Knowing you, you'll get caught up in the report, forget to eat and then Fraiser'll have my hide."
Torn between my curiosity and my hunger, I decide the quickest course of action is to do what Jack suggested. I concentrate on my meal, although my attention often wanders to what the folder might contain. When I'm halfway done, Jack opens the folder, pulls out a piece of paper and places it on top.
It's the document I remembered seeing. I find the alien writing and quickly scan it. Then I read the Portuguese version, comparing the words, trying to find a pattern. I shovel food in my mouth as I continue to scan the document. When I'm done eating, I push the plate aside, drink the juice and water, and Jack hands me the rest of the contents of the folder.
Inside is a photograph of what we'd originally thought was the star map. I study the symbols, comparing it quickly with the document. Then I find the report prepared by Andrew Jenkins, one of my staff. I quickly begin to read, occasionally stopping to verify his findings. He's made some assumptions and I've already spotted several mistakes. Still, the gist of it appears to be correct at first glance.
I know Jack has read this already. Still, I reiterate what they've discovered. "The line in the document states, 'In conviction you shall find your freedom. In faith you shall find deliverance. In trust you shall find yourself'."
"Sounds like." I shuffle the pages, quickly going through the report again. "The same words are repeated on that slab of stone."
"I know. Carter thinks it's likely the aliens were originally from that planet."
I skim some more and start going through Andrew's translation more carefully. It doesn't take me long to get the feel for the language. I look around for a pen or pencil and Jack silently hands me a pen. I smile my thanks, realizing he's anticipated my needs, and start making corrections. I'm relieved to see that none of my changes affect the substance of Andrew's report.
"General Hammond is going to want to send a team back to the planet." I glance over at Jack, who's taken up his magazine again.
"Is he?" Jack doesn't take his eyes off his article.
"We were hallucinating... the cave, the aliens... right?" I cross out one of the words I'd corrected already, replacing it with another and wish I had access to my office. I could use a few of my books for reference.
"I'd say so." Jack's voice is impartial. I look up and watch his face; his eyes aren't tracking, he's not reading, he's simply staring at the page.
"Well, that city has been abandoned for centuries, but the power source for whatever technology that created the hallucinations is still operational. He may want to retrieve it and study it."
"I'm not sure the rewards are worth the risk." His eyes have narrowed and I know he's thinking of me and my injuries.
I continue going through the report and keep silent for a few minutes. I speak up when I've verified a certain section of the text.
"It was all a test, you know." This catches Jack's attention and he puts the magazine down to look at me. I start speaking before the anger I see brewing in his face explodes. "A test to see if we were capable of trusting one another, to see if we could work in a group."
"You and Carter getting mauled by wild animals was a test?" The knuckles holding onto the now crushed magazine are white. I drop the pen and reach a hand to touch the shaking fist.
"No, that was an unfortunate event. But there must be a computer system that was able to take the events and feed them into the..." I shrug, not sure exactly what the technology we experienced was comprised of. "Holograms?" I hypothesize. "Just think, Jack. The technology is far superior than almost anything we've seen in a long time and—"
"Does it say why the city was abandoned? Why the planet was abandoned?" The fist loosens slightly as I rub his knuckles. His eyes are glued to our hands.
"No," I say with regret. "But maybe there's something on P3K 338." I tap the document with the alien writing with a finger. "They must have records or something."
"Why'd they want to test us?" He nods at the papers in my lap as his thumb reaches from beneath my palm and he begins to rub the back of my hand with it. "Does it say anywhere in there why they'd put someone in a life and death situation for a stupid test?"
"It's vague." Like so many instances, it's almost impossible to come to conclusions without knowing the history of a dead civilization. The writing on the tablet was written at a time when everyone else knew what it was used for. There's no introductory chapter, no instruction book, no tour guide to give us a background. Andrew made a suggestion based on the wording, and I have to agree with his assumption. "I think, from what I can make out here, is that the natives used this as a test of their faith. Maybe—"
"Possibly. Or maybe a symbolic representation of some event that happened at one point in their history. All I'm sure of is that it has to do with trust."
"So what you're saying is that this test ended when you and I decided to trust Teal'c and Carter, who in our mind's eyes, wasn't Teal'c and Carter but some big bad baddies."
I start to nod, but Jack's not finished.
"It doesn't make sense. The creators of this technology wouldn't have gone through the trouble of making this whole set-up for people who knew that the aliens sitting across from them weren't really aliens—"
"But that is the point of the scenario. Possibly they're re-enacting something that happened and by symbolically trusting the others, the whole scenario is completed."
Jack doesn't look convinced and he lets go of my hand and drops the magazine on the edge of the bed. I take the opportunity to push the blankets aside and carefully swing my legs to the edge of the bed.
"Where're you going?"
"Bathroom." I need to pee; and although technically I should be using crutches, I stand, slowly putting weight on my injured leg.
"Need a hand?" Jack's standing before I'm fully vertical and I shake my head.
"I can do this."
Despite my assertive tone, my body is shaky and my legs feel like they could crumple at any moment. I had less trouble going to the bathroom earlier with Teal'c. I eye the cane with doubt, then reach out and grip it. It takes me a couple of steps to get the hang of it but I find it does help a little.
Jack's trailing me and I don't know whether to be annoyed or touched. I wave off his question and make it to the bathroom and quickly use the facilities. My reflection in the mirror surprises me. Both times I've made it here today, I really hadn't taken the time to examine myself. But today I see a pale face with dark smudges beneath my eyes. There are lines in my face I don't remember seeing before and I suddenly understand why Jack sounds worried.
I grab the cane and open the door, then slowly make my way back to the bed. My leg's killing me by now and I hop the last few steps. Immediately Jack's there, helping me back onto the bed.
"Thanks." I'm out of breath and my muscles are shaking, but I'm proud of myself. Jack pulls the blankets up and I grab the edge, carefully folding it back neatly as I wait for the burning in my thigh to subside. The slashes on my arm hurt from the pressure of using the cane but it's bearable.
I pick up the papers; I want to get back to the translation but fatigue hits me with the suddenness of a bucket of cold water poured over my head. Instead of reading them, I tap them on the roll away table, tidying up the three sheets, and put them down next to my supper tray. The pen's rolled to the far end of the bed. I ignore it and push the table away. I'll look at them later.
"You gonna sleep?"
"Mmm hmmm." I've lost control over my eyelids and have to force myself to keep them open.
"Then I'll go get myself something to eat." Jack smiles at me, his eyes soft and full of affection. He reaches up and smoothes a part of the blanket next to my chin that has a slight rumple in it. I feel his fingers rub over my chest and I smile lazily back at him.
"I'm going home tomorrow?" I ask as Jack's face disappears beneath my lashes. I force my eyes open again, anxious for confirmation.
"Tomorrow." The rubbing changes to a gentle pat and Jack's fingers are gone. "Go to sleep."
I want to say more to Jack, tell him how much I want to be home now, feel his arms around me rather than just the tips of his fingers, but I've lost the fight and instead I drift off. There's a caress of fingers against my chin and I know nothing more.
- - - - - -
House secure and locked up for the night, I switch off the lights as I make my way to the bedroom. Padding on stocking feet, I walk into my bedroom and go to my side of the bed. With practiced ease, I slip under the covers while reaching for the sole lamp illuminating the room, and switch it off.
Sliding over to Daniel, I slowly bring my body close to his. He's sleeping deeply and doesn't react as I put my arm around his chest. I nuzzle my face against his neck, breathing in his scent. His body heat has created a small cocoon of warmth beneath the blankets and I take advantage of it as the bedroom itself has no heat and the late autumn night has made it chilly. My fingers brush against the bandages beneath the loose tee shirt and I lower my hand until it's resting against his abdomen.
I shift around for a moment until my legs are tucked in behind his. I listen to him breathe, slow, rhythmic and deep. I try to match my breaths to his but I'm not quite that relaxed yet. Daniel's been sleeping for over three hours, fatigued from the trip home from the base and his insistence at staying up to keep me company until I finally put my foot down and sent him to bed when he kept falling asleep mid-sentence.
It's still early in terms of my bedtime and I'm not sleepy, but I'm content all the same. For once, the morbid thoughts that have been plaguing me during my waking hours since we returned from our mission are gone. Hoping it's Daniel's presence in my bed that's warding them off, I sigh happily as I start to drift.
I wake up sometime later and squint at the LED display of my alarm clock. It's just past midnight and I wonder what woke me. The bedroom door is partly closed but not enough to totally block out the light coming in from the kitchen. I realize then that Daniel's not in bed with me. I raise my head and shoulders off the bed and listen carefully, but I don't hear anything.
The house is quiet but it doesn't feel empty. I leave the bedroom and walk into the kitchen. Daniel's sitting at the table, bent over and is slowly massaging his thigh. There's an open pill bottle on the table before him and a half-empty bottle of water.
He startles at the sound of my voice and turns to face me. He looks pale, his face is drawn, and his whole body is tense. There's no doubt he's hurting.
"Yeah, just waiting for the pill to kick in."
"I thought you took something before going to bed."
"I... forgot." He lowers his gaze to his fingers, which are still rubbing at the edges of his thigh. I move closer so I'm leaning against the back of his chair and give in to the temptation of rubbing my thumbs through the whorls of hair that lay flat against his scalp where it touched the pillow. I'm relieved when I don't feel a fever.
He leans back, relaxing against the chair and rests his head against my chest.
He tilts his head backwards so he's looking up at me. "Why?"
"I should have made sure you took something before you went to bed."
"Don't be stupid. I'd just have gotten up a couple hours later to take a pill." He lowers his chin and bobs his head against my hand.
I comply by rubbing his scalp some more. Some of the tension leaves his body; I'm not sure if it's from the effects of the painkiller, or if it's just because I'm here. I lean down and kiss the top of his head. "Can you make it back to bed? You'll be more comfortable lying down."
He nods almost imperceptibly, his head rubbing up and down against my tee shirt. Leaning forward, he places his hands on the table and heaves himself up, heavily favouring his right leg. I try to move to his side to help him but he waves me away. He's limping but he's managing as he circumvents the table and walks out of the kitchen. In the hallway, he rests a hand on the wall, using it to help him along. I grab the bottle of water, shove the chair under the table, flick off the lights and follow.
Once in the bedroom, he lurches to the bed and collapses on it. I turn my bedside lamp on before joining him. I'm not sure why but I need to see him, make sure he's really okay, at least until he falls asleep. I shove my pillow next to Daniel and slide in beside him so I'm partly sitting up. Daniel eases over so that he's lying against me and not the pillow. He's shaking and I hold onto him until his muscles relax.
He wriggles around a little until he's comfortable, then takes my hand and threads his fingers between mine. I can feel his body relaxing incrementally as the pain begins to diminish. His breathing slows and becomes deeper and longer. Belatedly I realize I now can't reach the lamp without disturbing him again. In the dim light, I watch as Daniel drifts off to sleep.
Without exhaustion and worry pulling at me, my mind has time to start working overtime. My thoughts go back to the dark and depressing, and suddenly I'm reliving the events of the past days. I lie with him in my arms, constantly telling myself things turned out okay, until my hand that's intertwined with his begins to go numb. Gently I extract my fingers from his and shake my hand to get the circulation going again.
"Go to sleep, Jack." His eyes are closed and I'd have sworn he was asleep, but he rolls off me and stretches out on his back. I pull my pillow down and lie down next to him, shifting onto my side. He turns onto his side and plasters his length against my back so that we're spooned together. His soft sigh is music in my ear.
I begin to relax but again I see Daniel hurt and feverish, relying on me to get him to safety.
"What's wrong?" His voice is sleepy but tinged with concern.
"Nothing's wrong. Go to sleep."
"You're worrying over the mission, aren't you?" His fingers brush my shoulder as he moves his arm to pull me closer.
"I'm worrying about what Fraiser's gonna to do to me if you don't get a good night's rest."
"Whatever torture she inflicts, I'll just kiss it better." I feel his lips on the back of my neck, and I smile. "Stop tormenting yourself. There's nothing you could have done differently."
I bring my hands to my waist and envelope his fingers with mine. "It's not what I did; it's what could have happened. If Teal'c hadn't been willing to trust me, things could have turned out differently. If he thought at any point I was a threat to Carter—"
"He'd have torn you limb from limb, yeah, I know." His nose nuzzles my neck and I shrug my shoulders at the sensation. His nose is cold. "I know Teal'c's a cautious man but he's trusted you once before."
"But he didn't know I was me. For all he knew, I was some butt ugly alien who could have become dangerous trying to protect another of its kind."
"He didn't know you were you when we first met him on Chulak." I can feel Daniel's mouth stretch into a grin against the skin of my neck; the movement sends shivers down my spine. "And you probably were a butt ugly alien to him then, trying to protect more of your kind."
"Hey, who you calling ugly?" I turn so I'm facing Daniel and he's still grinning. In retaliation, I lean forward and kiss him. Before his drugged and sleepy mind can comprehend what I've just done, I pull away. He moans a complaint as he licks his lips. The grin is gone but it's replaced by a dreamy look in his eyes. I hope that look was caused by me and isn't a side effect of the painkiller he took.
"It wasn't me I was scared for, it was you. I took one hell of a leap of faith leaving you there and jumping in the water to try and find a way out. I can't stop thinking about what could have happened if I hadn't—"
"That was the whole idea of the test, Jack." He blinks lazily at me and I realize the effects of the drug and the dimness of the room have dilated his pupils so much that I can't see any blue. I can't tear my eyes away, it's so odd and mesmerizing. "You trusted the so called aliens, and so did Teal'c and Sam. And as intriguing as the whole scenario is, I just want to say that the next time we go for an underwater swim, I'd appreciate it if you brought an oxygen tank with you."
"You remember that?" Visions of Teal'c's alien alter ego holding a hand to Daniel's face to prevent him from breathing in the water is something I'll never be able to forget. And in one sense I'm glad it wasn't me who had to do that to Daniel because I don't think I'd be able to take the nightmares that would have produced.
"Parts of it." Daniel averts his eyes and I know he doesn't want to talk about it. After a moment, he looks at me again. "You know, I can't help but feel this... affinity... with everything's that's happened." His voice is slow and measured, unlike the normal tongue-tripping pace that he usually expounds his theories with. "I know it sounds silly because we've always been a team and I trust you." He frowns slightly and I realize the slowness is definitely due to the medication in his system. "Not just you, I mean, the team." He pauses and raises an eyebrow. "Not that we needed a test to tell me that."
"Yeah, I know." And I do know. Our lives are always in one another's hands. We depend on one another and we've worked for so long that most times we're a well-oiled entity that moves without conscious thought. "I feel the same way."
Daniel smiles at me sleepily and leans forward to snuggle against me. I raise a hand and thread my fingers in his hair and gently stroke the soft strands. I close my eyes and relax. He's right. There is some strange sort of good feeling about what's happened, despite my gloomy thoughts about what could have happened. I wonder if maybe this was what the test was about. Maybe it wasn't whether we could see if we could trust others, maybe it was to instill a sense of faith in ourselves.
I mull the idea over and exhale deeply. Nah. Even that's too deep even for me. I snuggle closer to Daniel and follow him in sleep.
Author's Comments: For Ann-Marie, may this keep her out of trouble :)
to contact me: link removed, since nobody bothers to use it