Daniel turned from his vantage point and saw Jack waving at him. He left the rugged coastline and made his way inland towards his friends. They left the ‘gate and began following a well-used path, walking between fields of crops on one side, and fruit trees on the other. Ridges made by wheels and human footprints had been gouged into the soft soil during a previous rainfall, hardened now to near-cement consistency under the strong, hot sun.
“Kinda barren, isn’t it?” Jack said, meaning the water’s edge.
Daniel nodded. There had been no signs of beaches or flat areas where one could easily climb down the twenty foot cliffs to the water. The area they were walking in now was the complete opposite.
“I’d have thought the people here would at least fish from the ocean, but I didn’t see any signs of boats or rafts,” Daniel replied. “The fields are obviously well tended,” he added with a wave of his hand to the weed-free crops.
“There is livestock here also,” Teal’c said from before them.
Both Jack and Daniel turned to their friend in confusion when the sounds of goats came to them over the wind.
“Where there’s animals, there might be people,” Sam suggested from ahead.
“Fine,” Jack said. They stepped off the path and made their careful way through the field towards the goats. The slender purple stalks weren’t familiar to any of them. The soil underfoot was black and spongy. It gave softly as they stepped on it, and the scent of a spring day wafted around Daniel, along with the slightly aromatic aroma of the growing plants.
A small tremor brought the team to a halt.
“Did you feel that?” Sam asked.
“Do you think this place is prone to earthquakes?” Daniel asked.
“That was definitely a small one,” Jack said as he waved the team on.
A small paddock held about two dozen goats and several sheep. A few other animals that resembled deer with odd-looking horns grazed in a larger field, fenced off with large rocks. As they got nearer, they could hear excited voices, and five men came around a copse of trees towards them. All except one looked like they could have been Teal’c’s relatives. They were large, dark-skinned, heavily muscled men. They were carrying hoes, obviously on their way to tend their crops. The man leading them was talking excitedly. Still dark-skinned, he was shorter and very slim, almost to the point of emaciation.
They were speaking a language that sounded totally foreign to Daniel, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t one he knew. Languages changed throughout the ages, and he listened attentively to see if he could recognize a word here or there.
The group came to a stop the second they spotted SG-1. The smaller man stared at them a moment, then wailed loudly and threw himself to his knees. The other four men stood around hesitantly, unsure of what to do.
Embarrassed, Daniel quickly stepped forward and knelt beside the cowering man. This reaction happened to SG-1 occasionally, and it was disconcerting each and every time.
“No, no, please, don’t,” Daniel said softly. “Please, get up.”
He grasped the man’s arm, noting the terror that marked the man’s face and the trembling of the limb beneath his hands. Gently, he pulled him up so that they were both standing.
“It’s okay, we won’t hurt you,” Daniel said in English, trying to ignore the wet stain spreading down the front of the man’s pants. Daniel smiled. “I’m Daniel Jackson. We’re peaceful explorers. We just came through the Stargate over there. The Chappai’ai,” he said with a wave of his hand.
The man stood gasping as his gaze kept flitting between Daniel and the rest of his team. He muttered something, then turned and fled, screaming “Damballa!” Daniel raised his eyebrows as he watched the fleeing figure.
“Made a friend there, didja?” Jack quipped as he moved up to stand beside Daniel. He rolled his eyes at Jack, then turned his attention to the other four who stood their ground, albeit uncertainly.
“Um, hello,” Daniel said to them. One man hefted the hoe in his hand and for a moment, Daniel thought he was going to use it as a weapon. Instead, he passed the implement to his fellow and put both hands together at waist level, bowing his head. He had a very crooked nose, testament to it having been broken when he was younger.
“I am Uyiosa,” he said in a gravelly voice, in the Goa’uld language. His words were understandable, although heavily accented. “Welcome to Bandele.”
“Thank you,” Daniel replied. “I’m Daniel. This is Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter and Teal’c.” Daniel turned to his teammates, and waggled his eyebrows at Jack. Well, at least this person was a little more receptive than the other one.
“Please forgive Msambaa. He is our village priest, but I fear that actually coming face to face with our gods has upset him.”
“Daniel?” Jack prompted.
“They think we’re gods,” Daniel said with a sigh.
“I could have told you that in three guesses,” Jack groused. “Why’d the smaller one get so scared?”
“He’s their priest, and I guess thinking we were gods, he sort of panicked a little.”
“We’re not gods,” Daniel told the men.
“But you must be. He wears the sign of one of Damballa’s forms,” the man who had taken Uyiosa’s hoe said as he stared at Teal’c’s tattoo. “And you have just told us you came through the Chappa’ai. Have you not come to aid us?”
There was that word again. It sounded familiar, Daniel knew he’d either read or had heard of it somewhere.
“He believes me to be associated with this Damballa,” Teal’c informed Jack, who was beginning to fidget.
“He a snake?” Jack asked.
“I am unfamiliar with that name,” Teal’c replied.
“I’m not. Damn, I know that name,” Daniel mumbled to himself.
“I am not who you believe me to be,” Teal’c told the men. Uyiosa inclined his head, seeming to accept Teal’c’s words.
“You spoke about needing aid…” Daniel prompted Uyiosa.
“Yes. Only the gods can fix our world. We have hoped for many years that—”
The land suddenly tilted sickeningly and they all worked hard to keep their balance.
“Damn,” Jack swore as the earthquake eventually subsided.
“It happens more and more frequently,” one of the men said as he glanced around worriedly.
“It is said that the gods made our world and Damballa was to return to us one day. But we fear that we may not survive his return,” Uyiosa continued.
Finally, the word popped into Daniel’s mind.
“Jack, Damballa is the name of a snake god in African religions.” Daniel wasn’t sure exactly which religion, he was just thankful that the name finally came to him.
“Oh. Snake god, huh? Well, that explains it. No, Teal’c’s not more a god than any of us are. Like Daniel said, we’re just explorers,” Jack said to the men. “We’re here to… explore. Peacefully. Tell them, Daniel.” In an aside, he said, “D’ya think there’s a snake here?”
“I don’t think so. Although from the way Msambaa ran off, he must know about the Goa’uld. I’m sure these people have had some experience with them, if not recently, then at least in their past. Just the fact that they speak the language proves it, even though it’s accented, and they certainly recognized Apophis’ symbol.”
Daniel turned to the men once more. “Please, believe us, we’re simply explorers who travel to learn about other cultures.”
“Learn? But you must know of us. Is she not Ayida-Weddo?” Another man spoke up, staring at Sam. Daniel realized that if these people were descendants of African tribes, they might not have seen white-skinned people before, and which could be part of the basis of their belief that they were gods.
“Umm, no. She’s not. Who exactly is Ayid… Ayida-Weddo?”
“She is Damballa’s companion.”
“Oh. Of course she is. No, Sam’s not her. She’s just a person, like me and you. Look.”
Daniel stuck his hand out, and when Uyiosa tentatively reached out to grasp it, Daniel shook it once. “On our world, this is an indication that we’ve come to you unarm…” Daniel glanced at Jack’s P-90 and suddenly was very conscious of his own Baretta holstered to his thigh. He quickly changed his words, “…come to you without a knife hidden up our sleeves. We come in friendship.”
“Would you look at our world?” Uyiosa asked. Daniel looked at Teal’c, then shrugged. After explaining to Jack what the men had said, Jack agreed.
The men led them to a small hill nearby, and Daniel was surprised to see the entrance to what looked like a mine. A staircase led down into the bowels of the hill. They followed Uyiosa down the stairs, descending steadily for several minutes. Faint strips of luminescent paint on the walls illuminated their way down, and it was with relief when the stairs ended. Daniel’s legs were beginning to burn and he glanced up the way they came while one of the men entered the dark space before them. Daniel grimaced at the thought of climbing all those steps once more.
There must have been a light switch somewhere because the area behind Daniel was suddenly lit up with bright lights. When he stepped through the entry way, he had been expecting darkness and rocks and tunnels. To his amazement, an enormous engine room stood before him.
“Holy Hannah!” Sam exclaimed as she moved from control to control, “this is a boat! This whole piece of land… it’s a ship, moving through the water.” Daniel could see portals nearby and he went to peer out of one. He couldn’t see the bottom of the ocean, but they definitely appeared to be moving, and at a good clip.
“Can you fix our world?” Uyiosa asked worriedly.
Sam was examining several more controls, and Daniel repeated the man’s question to her.
“I think so, but I might need Sgt. Siler’s help on this one,” she said as she kept her attention on the machinery she was examining. “It’s all so incredible,” she added with a grin, obviously pleased to have found this challenge.
Daniel relayed her answer and Uyiosa smiled and clapped Daniel on the arm. “Come, friend. Friends. It is close to midday. Perhaps you would wish to share our meager fare?”
“We’ve been invited to lunch,” Daniel told his teammates.
“Sweet,” Jack answered as he nodded to Uyiosa. “I just hope they’re not serving goat,” he added. “Too many bones.”
- - - - - -
The meal was delicious, spicy and tasty and almost-familiar to Daniel. Azubike, the village’s chief, had welcomed SG-1 into his home the moment Uyiosa had introduced them and explained who they were. Msambaa had been summoned, and the priest had come. But the moment he’d entered the airy room, he was sullen and non-talkative, a clear contrast to the chattering person whom they’d first seen outside.
Jack nudged Daniel in the ribs with his elbow to get his attention.
“Didja see the doll collection behind us?” he asked.
“Think these people are into voodoo? All that’s missing are pins sticking in them.”
The dolls in question consisted of several dozen tiny figurines on display on a shelf built into the wall. About four inches in length, each had a small piece of cloth or adornment wrapped around them. Daniel hadn’t had a chance to get a good look at them, but they were intriguing.
Sam snickered, and Daniel scowled at his lover.
“Come on, Daniel. You got the dolls, and you got the zombies,” Jack insisted, rolling his eyes towards one of the two servants clearing off the table. The one Jack was pointing out worked slowly and methodically, but his face was expressionless, his eyes dead, as if he wasn’t quite in the room with them. The man somehow made Daniel nervous for some reason, even though it was clear that he was brain-damaged. But somehow, it felt more to Daniel than someone who was simply *slow*. The servant’s gaze never focused on anybody, and he only obeyed the chief.
Jack and Sam left to contact the SGC soon after they’d eaten. While waiting for General to decide whether or not to help these people, Daniel walked around the room, examining its contents. Wooden masks hung on the walls and intricate carvings adorned the corners. Ignoring these, Daniel picked up one of the dolls Jack had referred to earlier, noting that it was made of a rubber-like material. Daniel was squeezing the arm of one doll, testing its resilience, when Azubike placed a dark, heavy hand over Daniel’s and removed the figurine from his grasp.
“Please, it is best you do not touch,” he admonished. “Only Msambaa or the holder is permitted to do so.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Daniel said quickly. “I didn’t know. I hope that I haven’t offended you?”
“No, of course not,” Azubike replied, placing the doll back carefully onto the shelf. “You may touch or handle anything you wish, except these.” He smiled openly at Daniel, and Daniel smiled back.
“So, what do the dolls represent?” Daniel asked as he continued to examine them. He noted then that one had a very striking similarity to Uyiosa, the broken nose being unmistakable. And there was a very tiny, thin one sitting on the ledge underneath, with tiny, piglike eyes that resembled Msambaa’s. Daniel turned to look at the priest, who was staring at Daniel with obvious dislike on his face. Daniel began to think that Jack’s earlier comment about voodoo seemed a little too close to the mark, as the chieftain answered.
“A warning and censure.” Azubike turned also to look at Msambaa. The priest suddenly lowered his gaze and fiddled with a trinket that hung around his neck.
“DanielJackson, is this not one of the creatures we saw when we visited the zoo in Colorado Springs?”
Teal’c had gotten up and was also examining the contents of the large room. As Daniel walked over to his friend, he sidestepped the slow-moving servant carrying the remains of their meal to the kitchen.
Teal’c stood before what Daniel made out to be a painting on a large, flat rock. The colors were faded and the paint had flaked, but the form was unmistakable.
“An elephant, Teal’c. Yes, we saw those at the zoo.”
“A creature from the world of our ancestors,” Uyiosa said, approaching them. “Azubike also has a piece of this beast, handed down from father to son.”
At Uyiosa’s prompting, the chief opened a small, wooden box and reverently removed a tiny piece of carved ivory. He proudly displayed it to his visitors.
“Yes, it’s ivory,” Daniel said. “It’s from the elephant’s tusk,” he added as he pointed to it in the drawing.
“You have heard of these beasts?” Azubike asked, obviously in awe of Daniel’s knowledge.
“Yes, they are from the world of the Tau’ri,” Teal’c explained. “Many generations ago, your gods took the people from the Tau’ri world to use as slaves. We have encountered many on our journeys.”
“Yes!” Uyiosa cried. “Bandele stands for such a world. It means ‘born away from home’.”
“You have seen the home of our ancestors?” Azubike asked excitedly.
“It is our home, too, Azubike,” Daniel replied. Msambaa muttered something under his breath, and Daniel turned to him, but the man simply glared and turned away.
- - - - - -
“And what happened here?” Janet asked as she turned Daniel’s hand over. The small shallow cut was exposed now that she had removed the bandage.
“Sliced my hand on a piece of jewelry,” Daniel said. “It’s okay, Teal’c disinfected it right away,” he added.
“Well, let me be the judge of that,” Janet answered as she turned his hand this way and that. He grimaced as she poured more disinfecting solution over the cut, then wrapped it up in a clean bandage.
“Doesn’t need stitches,” she said. “But keep an eye on it,” she warned.
”Yes, ma’am,” Daniel replied. He closed his hand in a fist, feeling the torn skin move beneath the bandage. He should have known the medallion was sharp when he picked it up, but when Msambaa had made an overture of friendliness, Daniel had been more than happy examine the man’s belongings when invited back to his home.
The priest’s home had held the same little dolls as had Azubike’s, except he owned at least four times the number as had the village chief. The man had been contrite when Daniel had injured himself, quickly wrapping his hand in a clean cloth to stop the bleeding. He had been intrigued at the bandage Daniel had removed from his pack and Daniel had left him with several when he left his house.
Finished with his post-mission physical, Daniel grabbed his jacket and headed for the commissary for a cup of coffee before heading for the inevitable debriefing. He loved missions like this one, where they were able to befriend people and actually get to help them. Sam and Siler had replaced several gears in the machinery, and had shown the people how to care for it. The miles-long boat was now running very smoothly. In appreciation, Azubike had sent them home with samples of seeds and herbs, several of which he promised had healing qualities.
- - - - - -
“Elephants, Doctor Jackson?”
It wasn’t often that Daniel could render General Hammond open-mouthed in disbelief, but his request for giving the Bandelens a couple of elephants seemed to have done the trick.
“They had this small piece of ivory,” Daniel explained, unable to convey the feelings he’d had when the small trinket had been so proudly displayed. He wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, feeling hot all of a sudden. His hand came away damp with sweat.
“Where would they keep the elephants, Daniel?” Jack asked. “I don’t think they’d be happy to have it trampling through their gardens or fields.”
“There’s lots of uncultivated land a few miles south of where we were, Jack. Their ship is about 30 miles long and 50 miles wide. I’m sure there’s plenty of room on it for an elephant or two.”
Daniel leaned forward and took his jacket off. When had it gotten so hot in here? His tee shirt was quickly becoming soaked in sweat.
“There’s more than enough room, Daniel. But what about food?”
“I don’t know, maybe they could grow it?” Just what *did* elephants eat anyway. He realized he needed to do some research, and offered to do so for the General before he made a decision. He reached for the water carafe sitting on the table and poured some into his empty coffee cup. He drained the cupful and poured some more.
Their debriefing quickly came to an end and as Sam and Jack stood in deference to the General’s departure, Daniel used his jacket to wipe his face. He could feel sweat pouring down his sides and back. He looked at his friends, noting that none seemed to be experiencing the same discomfort as he was as they followed General Hammond out.
He stood up slowly, keeping a hand on the table for balance. His legs were shaky, and he felt dizzy. His first thought was that he’d been poisoned, and he squeezed his fingers together, trying to see if the cut on his hand had become inflamed. The bandage was damp with his sweat, but it didn’t feel any worse.
“Hey, you okay?” Daniel looked up to see that Jack had returned and was standing by the door.
“I feel hot,” Daniel admitted as he stepped away from the table. Jack put a hand on his back as he walked by and Jack jerked it away.
“You’re soaked!” his friend exclaimed. Hands took hold of Daniel’s shoulders and turned him so he was facing Jack. “Jeezus, Daniel, you’re burning up.”
Daniel didn’t feel feverish, at least not in the sense of sore joints and muscles. He just felt… hot. Stifling hot, like the air around him was superheated, like he’d been sitting in the sun for too long without water and was burning up.
“Come on, let’s get you to Fraiser.”
Daniel didn’t argue, and allowed Jack to lead him to the infirmary. His sinuses and throat felt raw, inflamed, as if the air he was breathing was burning the moisture out of his tissues. Breathing was becoming painful and he leaned against the cool cement wall while waiting for the elevator.
By the time they reached the infirmary, Daniel was staggering and if wasn’t for Jack’s arm around his waist, he would have fallen flat on his face.
“Can I have some help here?” Jack bellowed the second they entered the medical area. Footsteps came running towards them, but Daniel didn’t have the energy to raise his head to see who it was. Hands helped support him and seconds later he was lying on a bed. His sodden clothes were quickly stripped away. He was aware of several bodies around his bed, hands and instruments taking readings of his vitals. He felt the sting of an IV in the back of his hand and an oxygen mask on his face.
The relief of not having cloth against his skin was momentary, the air against his over-heated flesh quickly firing up. Wet cloths were dragged over his body, creating goose bumps where they passed. The cool liquid quickly evaporated, but did little to bring his temperature down. He was so thirsty, his tongue thick and dry inside his mouth.
“Water,” he croaked. “Please.”
His head was lifted and the oxygen mask was pulled aside. A cup was placed to his mouth. He managed to swallow it all, and asked for more. He drank the second cupful, knowing he was losing the liquid nearly as fast as it was going into him from the way his bed linens were soaked beneath him.
Janet’s familiar face floated before him and she gently passed a cloth over his face and around the oxygen mask. Sweat oozed out of him just as fast as she wiped it away.
“Janet, what’s happening to me?” he asked weakly.
“I don’t know, Daniel,” she told him. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. Your core temperature is 107. Now that’s medically impossible for you to be awake and lucid. You should be unconscious, with obvious brain damage. We’re trying to keep you hydrated but by the way you’re sweating, we’re barely keeping you supplied with liquids.”
“Hurts to breathe,” he complained.
“Okay, I’ll see if we can’t help ease your discomfort.” She smiled and turned to speak to a nurse. A moment later, Jack’s face swam into view.
“Hey, buddy,” Jack said.
“Hey,” Daniel replied. Jack took Daniel’s hand in his, the callused fingers feeling cool to the touch.
“Hang in there, Daniel,” Jack said after a moment. Daniel held Jack’s gaze until sweat dripped into his eyes, causing him to blink.
There wasn’t much that he could do except endure. When Jack held up some more water, Daniel nodded. Jack moved the mask and raised Daniel’s head and shoulders until he was half lying on Jack’s lap. The familiar body beneath him was cooler than the mattress, the material having absorbed his body heat. When the cup was put to his mouth, Daniel tried not to gulp the liquid down.
“More,” he gasped. A nurse refilled the cup and Jack fed it to him in smaller sips, refilling it twice more until Daniel had drunk his fill. When the oxygen mask was replaced, Daniel was beginning to feel the effects of whatever Janet had injected into his IV. He was having problems keeping his eyes open, and he closed them for a moment, only to open them when Jack went to lay him back down on the bed.
“No,” he whispered. “Please. Feels good, you’re so cool.”
“Okay,” Jack said. He felt Jack’s hands thread through his hair, and he closed his eyes, letting himself relax.
- - - - - -
A small figurine lay very close to a roaring fire. A blood speckled rag had been twisted around it, obscuring everything but its face. This doll differed from all the others in the room, it was white, the others were all black, and small circles were painted around its blue eyes.
A cloth-wrapped hand carefully picked up the figurine and placed it aside, well away from the fire.
- - - - - -
“His temperature’s nearly back to normal,” Fraiser told them with a smile. Jack looked down at his lover, who was lying fast asleep in his arms. Daniel had stopped sweating about twenty minutes ago and his breathing had improved enough that the doc had taken the oxygen away.
“I still don’t understand what happened. Nothing in his blood work indicates any kind of infection or alien organism, and his temperature definitely didn’t correspond to a normal fever. Whatever it was has left him pretty tired, so with the sedative I’ve given him, he’ll be sleeping for the next few hours.
“Let’s get him onto a dry bed,” she said, waving to two approaching orderlies pushing another hospital bed into the room. In one smooth operation, the men managed to shift Daniel onto the second bed while nurses moved the various paraphernalia still attached to him. Daniel made a small grunting sound at the movement, but never opened his eyes, curling up onto his side. Fraiser removed the soiled sheet covering Daniel’s naked body and replaced it with a fresh one.
Jack gratefully got off the sweat-soaked mattress. He looked down at his BDUs and peeled the sopping material from his legs as the orderlies pushed the bed out of the room.
“I think I’ll go take a shower and change,” Jack said as a nurse arrived, carrying items for a bath. “Won’t be long,” he said as she pulled the privacy curtain around Daniel’s bed.
“Well be here,” Carter said as she and Teal’c stepped out of the room while the staff cleaned Daniel up.
“Need anything? Coffee? Juice?” Jack asked as he walked towards the room’s exit. Both nodded, and he made a mental note to swing by the commissary before returning to the infirmary.
- - - - - -
The small figurine was carefully removed from its resting place on the shelf and placed on a block of ice in which a hole had been dug. Handfuls of frosty shavings were dropped on top of the small doll until it was totally covered.
- - - - - -
“Come on, Janet, I’m fine,” Daniel insisted as he pushed away the remains of his meal. “It’s been two days, and nothing’s happened.” He uncrossed his legs and got up off the bed, pacing the confines of the small room. His slippers made small scuffing sounds as he walked, impatient and bored and just wanting nothing more than to go home.
“Your latest blood work shows your electrolytes aren’t quite back to normal, Daniel. Plus, I’m reluctant to let you off base until the results of the last test comes in,” she argued. “Until then, I can’t rule out if your hypothalamic or pituitary glands were responsible for what happened to you.”
“I haven’t felt hot since I woke up. Why can’t I just go home instead of hanging around here? I can come in again if you need more blood or something.”
Daniel rubbed his hands over his bare arms, feeling a bit of a chill in the room. Which was good because every time he felt anything remotely similar to a hot flush, he began to worry.
“Daniel, I’m not comfortable with letting you go home, not without knowing exactly what caused your illness.”
“How about he stays with me?” Jack asked from the room’s doorway. He came inside, hands in his jeans pockets, and stood looking at Janet. “I know how bored Daniel must be, and I promise I won’t let him do anything more strenuous than play with the TV remote.”
Daniel turned to look at Janet, feeling a cold shiver start from the middle of his lower back and work its way up his spine. When Janet nodded, Daniel grabbed his jacket, both in readiness to leave and to cover up the goose bumps that had appeared on his bare arms.
“Thanks!” he said over his shoulder as he rushed out of the infirmary.
“Hey, wait up,” Jack said as Daniel reached the elevator. Daniel punched the call button, anxious to leave. “I need to finish up one or two things.” He tossed his keys to Daniel, who caught them one handed. “I won’t be more than fifteen minutes.”
“Great. That leaves me just enough time to grab a coffee.”
Daniel made a quick trip to the commissary, holding the steaming styrofoam cup in chilled fingers. He didn’t bother changing back into his civvies, he had plenty of clean clothes at Jack’s. He signed out of the base and hurried to the Avalanche. He thought Sam had mentioned earlier that it was warm today. Although it was a late spring day and the sun was shining, the air definitely felt chilly.
He unlocked the door with half-frozen fingers, and quickly slid inside, starting the motor and turning up the heat. He turned the vents towards him and sipped his coffee.
The air coming out of the heater was barely warm, so Daniel cranked the heat up to high. He gulped down the rest of his coffee and shivered. Damnit, he’d been complaining two days ago of being so hot, why couldn’t he get warm now?
He reached behind him and pulled the blanket Jack kept in the back, and draped it over him. He bunched it tightly against his ankles so no cold air leaked against his skin. He shivered again, and suddenly his teeth started chattering.
Something was wrong with him, again. He knew he needed to return to the infirmary, but walking in the frigid air outside was beyond him. He was too tired, too cold.
He huddled sideways against his seat, waiting desperately for Jack.
- - - - - -
Jack whistled as he made his way across the parking lot to his truck. General Hammond had given Jack three days off, and Daniel was on sick leave, so he was planning on spending his free time lazing around the house with his favourite archaeologist. The scare Daniel had given them was still fresh in his mind, and he knew Daniel was still a little freaked out about how quickly the illness had hit him.
It was such a beautiful spring day, perfect short-sleeve weather. He wondered if maybe they should pick up something from a fast food and stop and eat in a park somewhere. Enjoy the budding leaves and newly sprouting plants.
He could just make out Daniel’s form through the tinted glass of his truck, and as he opened the door, ready to ask Daniel if he wanted Chinese, Mexican or Thai, the heat from the interior hit him like an oven. Daniel was huddled miserably, leaning sideways, facing Jack, the blanket pulled right up to his nose. Jack stared at his lover for a moment, trying to figure out what was going on, when he realized Daniel was shivering.
“Daniel, what’s going on?” he said as he climbed into the truck. He made to lower the heat but upon hearing Daniel’s teeth chattering, he let it be.
“I’m cccold,” Daniel managed to ground out. Jack reached out and touched Daniel’s face, swearing when he felt the cold skin beneath his fingers.
“Christ,” Jack said. Not bothering to buckle his seatbelt, he put the Avalanche into gear and drove straight to the base’s front door. He left the engine running, and thus the heat, and jumped out and ran inside. “Call the infirmary, tell Doctor Fraiser it’s an emergency and that I’m bringing Doctor Jackson in!” he ordered the startled guard. Not waiting for confirmation of his instructions, Jack returned to the passenger side of the truck and opened Daniel’s door. This time he reached over and shut off the motor, but left the keys in the ignition. He’d ask someone to move the vehicle as soon as he got Daniel down into Fraiser’s care.
“Come on,” he coaxed, pulling Daniel’s legs out and physically turning him in his seat until his feet were resting on the running board. “Let’s get you inside.”
Daniel was shaking so hard he could barely walk. Jack put his arm around him and led him to the elevator.
“Doctor Fraiser’s been informed,” the guard said as he quickly moved around his desk to punch the elevator button. “She said she’s coming up to meet you.”
“Thanks,” Jack replied as they stepped into the elevator car.
True to her word, Fraiser was waiting for them with a wheelchair on level 11. While Jack signed both himself and Daniel back in, Fraiser gave Daniel a cursory examination. When he finished, Daniel was huddled forward, his breathing slow and tremulous. The doctor was arranging Daniel’s blanket so that it covered his head and neck.
“S..sorry, J..janet,” Daniel stuttered once they’d entered the elevator. Jack kept his hand on Daniel’s nape, making sure the blanket stayed put.
“Shhh, it’s okay,” she said. “Did this start when you went outside?”
Daniel shook his head. “S..started before… left… infirmary. I d..didn’t know.”
“I know,” she said. “Let’s just get you warmed up, okay?” she said gently to him as Jack wheeled him out of the elevator.
They helped Daniel onto a bed and Jack stepped back when several medical personnel swept down on their patient.
“Let’s get his clothes off,” Fraiser ordered.
While two nurses began to strip Jack’s lover, his blood pressure, pulse and temperature were taken.
“87?” Fraiser exclaimed when the nurse gave the results of Daniel’s temperature. “Check it again, and use another thermometer.”
“Doc?” Jack questioned.
“With a temperature that low, Daniel shouldn’t even be conscious,” she replied. “Damnit, it’s just like before, except he’s hypothermic rather than overheated.”
The nurse confirmed the same number and Fraiser swore. “It’s not medically possible,” she said irritably. “I don’t know, Colonel,” she snapped when Jack opened his mouth to comment.
She gave her staff further orders for a few moments before turning back to Jack. “We’re going to try and raise his core temperature with warmed saline and oxygen,” she explained. The warm packs the nurses positioned to Daniel’s head, neck, groin, armpits and chest didn’t need any explanation. Daniel had curled up onto his side and was huddled with his knees to his chest. One of the nurses repositioned the oxygen mask, which had come slightly askew when he’d turned over.
Once the staff had done everything they could, Jack rolled a chair beside the bed and picked up Daniel’s hands. He couldn’t get over how cold they were. Daniel was still shivering convulsively, wrapped in layers of blankets, which were hooded up and around his head. Mindful of the IV, Jack cupped the frigid fingers between his own, blowing on them gently. Daniel was watching him, his irises so dilated that there was hardly any blue showing.
Fraiser looked up from where she’d been studying the readouts on the EKG machine.
“You said earlier, this wasn’t medically possible.”
“I did.” She moved closer to Daniel and repositioned one of the packs. “Daniel’s temperature is now 85.8 degrees and everything about him is wrong. He should be unconscious; his heart should be barely beating. But it is beginning to show signs of strain.”
“You know that we’ve come across a few… odd things in our travels?”
Fraiser laughed softly. “Odd might be an understatement, Colonel.”
“The last place we visited, P4H…” Jack waited for Daniel to supply the last digits like he normally did. Instead Daniel simply closed his eyes. Jack knew then that not only was his heart being affected by this unnatural cold, but his brain processing was slowing down. Keeping his gaze on Daniel, he continued. “Well, let’s just say they had this heap of little dolls that looked like some of the people in the village. I’m just wondering if maybe Daniel’s been placed under some kind of curse or something.”
“Dolls, Sir? Just a moment,” she said, holding a hand up to forestall Jack’s explanation. She waved a nurse over and gave her instructions before turning back to Jack.
“I’m talking voodoo.” He looked at Fraiser to see her reaction. She simply tipped her head slightly and laughed.
“Colonel, I grew up with tales about witchdoctors and voodoo curses that would make your hair curl. My grandma had these little clay dolls, one for me, and one for my brother, and she used to threaten to stick a pin into them if we didn’t behave. Every time she’d cut our hair, she’d keep a strand and glue it onto those damned dolls. It wasn’t until she dropped one and it broke into several pieces that we realized it was just talk, that nothing bad would happen if the dolls were damaged, or burned, or pricked with a pin. You do know, Sir, that voodoo and zombies are just a product of Hollywood.”
“The village chief told Daniel that the dolls were used for warnings and discipline.”
“Censure,” Daniel corrected, his voice sounding weak behind the oxygen mask.
Jack lowered his face and blew on the cold hands once more before continuing. “If you suppose someone over there had a doll of Daniel, doesn’t this seem like he’s being warned or,” he smiled at Daniel, “censured?”
“Jjj..ack. That’s stupid.”
“Or cursed?” Fraiser said.
“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Sir?” she quickly added.
“Is it? No more than a small object controlling a planet’s weather, or little grey men flying around the galaxy, or a snake embedding itself in a person’s spine and taking over their body.”
“I see where you’re going with this, Colonel,” Fraiser said as the nurse returned, pushing a small trolley packed with equipment, “but scientists have never been able to prove these curses actually exist.” Fraiser began unpacking a large, shiny, light blue, plastic futuristic-looking blanket and spreading it on the bed alongside Daniel. “In actuality, Voodoo is a mixture of an old African religion that merged with Catholicism during the slave trade.”
“So, no zombies in New Orleans? No people walking around the Caribbean Islands with little dolls sticking out of their pockets?” Jack unwillingly let go of Daniel’s hands as Fraiser closed the odd-looking blanket around the still-shivering man.
“No, Sir. Except in horror movies.” A hose was connected into a hole in the blanket, and a small motor began pumping air into it. Motioning towards the machine, she explained. “This is a Bear Hugger. It’s pumping warm air around Daniel’s body. Hopefully this will help warm him up, or at least, keep his temperature from getting any lower.”
“But we just can’t dismiss the possibility that it does exist, on another world.”
“Okay, let’s just for arguments sake say that they do practice Vodun and that someone did make a voodoo doll of Daniel. They’d need a physical part of him that most likely would contain DNA, like nail clippings, strands of hair, blood…”
“Blood, he cut his hand over there!” Jack exclaimed.
“So he did,” she said softly. “But why would they be warning him for, or punishing him? What did he do?”
“Now that is the 64 thousand dollar question,” Jack groused. “We need to go back to that planet,” he said softly.
“What planet, Colonel?”
Hammond’s question startled Jack. He hadn’t even heard the General come in behind him.
“P4H 832. I think there might be a connection.” At Hammond’s skeptical look, Jack said, “Daniel was fine before we went there. This started up almost as soon as we came back.”
“The Colonel thinks it has something to do with voodoo,” Fraiser supplied with a mischievous grin.
“They had these dolls,” Jack started to say but quickly cut off his explanation when Daniel gasped. An alarm behind them went off, and Fraiser was suddenly there leaning over Daniel, stethoscope to her ear, listening to his heart through a panel in the blanket. A nurse turned the alarm off, and then went to get the medication Fraiser hurriedly requested.
“His heart is beginning to weaken,” she said as she closed up the panel.
“Hang on,” Jack whispered. “It didn’t last very long the last time. Just hang on, Daniel.”
Daniel’s unfocused gaze met his, and Jack could tell that Daniel was fighting hard to remain conscious. The spark of awareness slowly faded, and Daniel’s eyes rolled back. His body continued to shiver, trying to generate heat in a slowly-losing battle.
They waited silently around the bed, the only sounds being the hiss of pumps and motors, and Daniel’s shaky breaths beneath the mask.
“Colonel,” Hammond said, breaking the silence. “Do you truly believe there’s a connection between Doctor Jackson’s illness and the planet?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Jack said, rubbing a hand over his face. “But I can’t think of any other explanation. It just feels right. I need to call Carter and Teal’c,” Jack said, realizing both his teammates had no idea Daniel was sick again.
“I had a nurse try to contact them,” Fraiser told him. “Both aren’t answering their cell phones.”
“Damn.” They were all on downtime and both had had plans off base.
“Doctor Fraiser,” a nurse exclaimed. Jack raised his head, alarmed at the excitement in her voice. “His temperature is up, it’s 86.3.”
“You’re sure?” Jack asked, standing up to look at the readout himself. As he watched, the numbers on the digital readout changed to 86.4.
“I think it’s working,” Fraiser said, smiling at them both.
“Colonel, if you feel you can find something on P4H 832 that will help him, then I’ll authorize SG-1 to go there first thing in the morning. Doctor Fraiser,” he said, “keep me informed of Doctor Jackson’s progress.”
“Yes, Sir, I will,” she replied as General Hammond left the infirmary.
Jack anxiously continued watching the slow but definite rise in Daniel’s temperature. Soon, the shivering began to subside, and Daniel began to stir beneath the Bear Hugger. He woke up all at once in a panic, struggling in the confines of the warming blanket, his eyes searching wildly. Jack placed a hand on Daniel’s shoulders, holding him down, the plastic warm and smooth beneath his fingers.
“It’s okay, you’re okay,” Jack said when Daniel’s gaze met his.
“Where?” Daniel said, looking around, then calming when he seemed to recognize the infirmary.
“Yeah, that’s right, you’re in the infirmary.”
He squeezed the taut muscles beneath his hands, then placed his palm over Daniel’s cheek. The skin was warm, the temperature almost normal. He held his hand there a moment, feeling Daniel move into his caress.
“Tired.” Daniel shut his eyes, then forced them open again.
“Try to sleep,” Fraiser said as she began taking Daniel’s vitals. Jack smiled as he saw the bewildered look on his lover’s face when he noticed the contraption he was lying in.
“What?” he said, looking from Fraiser to Jack.
“You caught a little chill and Doc’s been trying to warm you up,” Jack explained, realizing Daniel didn’t remember Fraiser packing him inside the thing. “Fraiser called it a bearhug.”
“Bear Hugger,” she corrected with a smile before she moved away from the bed, leaving them alone.
“Rather have a Jackhug,” Daniel whispered as he closed his eyes and relaxed into sleep.
- - - - - -
With Hammond’s words admonishing him and his team to be careful still ringing in his ears, Jack led the way back to the village. He couldn’t explain how he felt the reason behind Daniel's illnesses was here, it was simply a gut feeling. Both Teal’c and Carter hadn’t questioned his reasoning when he’d explained it to them earlier that morning. Teal’c had grown used to the Goa’uld’s ‘magic’ over the years, and nothing he came across, it seemed, phased the older man. Carter, on the other hand, had no scientific data to prove Jack’s theory either right or wrong. But she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In any case, it wasn’t like they had all that many other options to try out.
Azubike had gotten word of their return and was striding to greet them, a large smile on his face. When they stopped, he said something to Teal’c, and Jack caught Daniel’s name. They spoke for several minutes, Azubike becoming more and more agitated whenever Teal’c spoke.
Looking at Jack, the chief motioned for him to follow, and they set off down to the village.
“He claims that the dolls are used simply for disciplining his people. There is one doll for each villager, created when they are but a young child. But he says the effect of the punishment is discomfort rather than pain. He could not understand how DanielJackson came to be so ill, although he did confirm that heat and cold are often used against the person charged with wrong doing. More often than not, it is the embarrassment of having been caused this punishment that is the most chastising.”
“So you were right, Sir,” Carter exclaimed.
“Seems like. Where are we going?”
“To the priest’s residence. He is the only one in the village with the power to activate the figurine.”
Azubike was striding forth before them, and Jack could tell from his stance that he was upset. Jack figured that it was one thing to punish your own folks, but to do so on a guest, who had, by the way, helped to get repairs done to their home, wasn’t exactly hospitable.
“Did he say why the witch doctor might have done this to Danny?”
“He did not. And he is a priest, not a… witch doctor.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Jack muttered. Anybody who played with dolls and curses fell into the witch doctor category, in his estimation.
They arrived at the man’s house, and Azubike barged right in, not bothering to knock or announce their presence. Jack stood and watched them, afraid their discussion might turn violent, but the *priest* finally went to the large unit of shelves and brought back a doll. It was different from all the rest, this one had been painted white, and its eyes were blue with little rings depicting glasses around them. A bloody rag had been twined around the body; this was Daniel, it was all too evident.
“I think we’ll just take this,” Jack said, holding a hand out for it.
Msambaa jerked the figurine back, jabbering at Jack and then at Azubike.
“Teal’c?” Jack prompted, eager for a translation.
“He says it is too dangerous for any of us to tend to the doll. It requires special safeguards, to keep evil spirits away from it.”
“Right, of course, how could I have forgotten about the evil spirits,” Jack said. “Sooo, what? He keeps it here? To play Doctor Evil whenever the urge takes him?”
Teal’c continued to listen, translating whenever there was a pause in the litany.
“If the doll is not to be utilized, it must be neutralized. He cannot keep it here, if there should be a catastrophe, and the doll damaged, it could, over time, create severe harm to DanielJackson.”
“Like almost freezing to death or burning up from inside? How can things get worse than that?”
“Well,” Carter interjected, “if this house were to burn down, and the doll with it, imagine what might happen to Daniel.”
Thoughts of Daniel combusting spontaneously flitted through his head for a second.
“I’d rather not,” Jack said, suppressing a shiver. “So, we neutralize this doll, and that would be done… how?”
“He requires DanielJackson to be in attendance,” Teal’c said after asking Msambaa the question. “He must remove the curse in a ceremony. He requires time to prepare so he asks we return tonight at sunset.”
“And this ceremony will fix everything.”
“So he states, O’Neill.”
“And what guarantees do we have that he won’t hurt Daniel again?”
Msambaa’s voice rose when Teal’c relayed the question, his hands waving wildly. Jack flinched and wanted to grab the doll from his gesticulating hand before he hit it on something.
“He repeats what Azubike stated earlier. That the punishment does not endanger lives, merely makes the person uncomfortable.”
“Well, maybe it’s all a matter of perception, but I think that Daniel was a little more than uncomfortable.”
“Teal’c, tell Msambaa that without medical intervention, Daniel would have certainly died both times,” Carter asked.
The man glared at them at Teal’c’s words, then chattered off some more.
“He assures us that he will desist from censuring DanielJackson.”
“What do you think, Teal’c? Do you believe him? Maybe one of us should hang around and keep an eye on Tiny here?”
“Indeed. I volunteer to stand guard on the doll, O’Neill.”
“Sweet. I’ll go back to the ‘gate and tell Hammond, and see if Daniel’s up to coming by for the ceremony.” He clapped Teal’c on the shoulder and turned to leave, then stopped.
“Oh, ask him why he felt Daniel needed to be punished.”
“I believe that is not necessary. The priest lost respect with his people when he greeted us.”
“You mean when he, um, wet his pants?”
The look Teal’c gave Jack spoke volumes, and Jack had to bite his tongue in order not to laugh. “I meant when he did not greet us properly as guests. I have learned that Uyiosa is indeed now held in high esteem as he is the one who set in motion the repairs for their ship.”
“Ah. Wonder if I could manage to borrow Azubike’s figurine of the witchdoctor for a few hours,” Jack mumbled to himself as he walked out the door.
- - - - - -
Six hours later Daniel went through the Stargate with Janet following on his heels. Although a little shaky and tired, he was feeling better. He really wanted to get this ceremony over and done with, he was living under the constant fear that he’d undergo another episode and it was a relief to know that his friends had discovered the reason behind them.
Janet had refused to let Daniel return to the planet unless she accompanied him. Daniel had no arguments, and he felt much better knowing she was here with him should something else happen to him again.
The warmth of Jack’s gaze greeted him as he arrived back on P4H 832 and he smiled his appreciation of the welcome. He walked to meet his lover and Jack put his arm companionably around his shoulder. There had been damned little time for privacy between them the past few days, and Daniel wished they could at least have hugged. He settled for slipping his hand behind Jack’s jacket and rubbing the warm skin through his tee shirt.
“So, you were right?” Daniel asked Jack as they made their way through the fields to the village.
“Yep. Found the little bugger in the witch doctor’s home.”
“This is incredible,” Janet said. “Did the shaman say what the ceremony would entail?”
“No, he’s being tightlipped about it all. But he’s trying to save face, and doing everything he can to pull the curse. Teal’c’s standing guard over the doll, by the way,” Jack said to Daniel.
Daniel looked at Jack with furrowed brow, then looked away. “Um,” he said, a little hesitantly. “Does it look like me?” he finally asked.
“Spitting image,” Jack replied with a wide grin. “A little more muscled, a little longer in the leg, very well endowed, and it doesn’t talk back.”
Fraiser, who was walking ahead of them, snorted with laughter.
The chief welcomed Daniel warmly into his home and after chatting with him for several minutes, moved to the window where both Jack and Janet were examining something swathed in a cloth. It was his little look-alike doll. Curious, he picked it up, examining it carefully. Somehow he had half-expected to feel his hands on his skin as he touched it, but there were no sensations. Experimentally, he gently squeezed the rubber-like arm and felt a spasm in his bicep.
“Geez!” he cried, nearly dropping the figurine. Jack quickly took it out of his hands and returned it to its resting place.
“Bites back, does it?” Jack asked as Daniel massaged the strangely bruised feeling in his arm.
“That was downright odd.” He peered at his reproduced face on the small item and felt a chill go down his spine. This had been used to torture him, and suddenly anger coursed through him. He usually didn’t like the idea of his people interfering with other cultures’ way of life, but he didn’t appreciate being pulled into this method of disciplining, especially for nothing more than spite.
“Azubike, why do you permit your people to do this?” Daniel asked, waving at the other figurines on the shelf beside him.
“It is our way, Daniel,” Azubike answered. “We teach our young early, and they soon learn the ways of right and wrong.”
“It’s barbaric. A child should learn through example, not pain. I know what this feels like,” he said, beginning to pace, “and I would never, ever, wish it on someone I love and care for.” He met Jack’s gaze, calming slightly at the empathy he saw reflected back at him.
“Daniel, please, you are reacting too strongly. Look, it is only mild discomfort that the person experiences.”
Before anyone could react, Azubike grabbed Daniel’s figurine and jabbed a long, sharp pin through it.
Agony exploded through Daniel’s chest. A red hot poker stabbed him through his back, and he could actually feel it move through his lungs and organs. Pain shot out through his chest where the poker exited. Someone far away was screaming, and as Daniel saw the floor approaching in slow motion, he knew he’d been stabbed through the heart.
- - - - - -
It happened too damned fast. Azubike poked a long thin needle into Daniel’s doll before anybody could react, and Daniel screamed. Screamed! He collapsed like he’d been pole axed, and it was all Jack could do to catch him before his head connected with the ground.
Daniel was a dead weight in his arms, and Jack slid his legs under Daniel’s body, keeping the unconscious man from lying against the cool floor. Daniel’s eyes were partly open, but he wasn’t focusing on anything.
“Lie him flat on the floor,” Fraiser ordered as she knelt beside him.
Jack ignored her, trying to raise Daniel’s tee shirt to see what injuries the needle had caused. Because of the way Daniel was lying, Jack couldn’t get any leverage and he swore as he pulled on the cotton material, stretching it away from Daniel’s body.
A steel grip caught his hand, surprising him.
“Colonel, he’s not breathing. I need you to lay him on the floor.”
He looked at Daniel carefully and realized that she was right. Daniel’s chest wasn’t moving, and his skin had a waxy hue to it. He quickly slid from beneath him and he and Carter straightened his torso. Carter pulled gently on Daniel’s head to align it and then tilted it back.
“Colonel, get me my pack,” Fraiser ordered as she placed a finger to Daniel’s wrist. He saw her frown, then reach for his carotid artery.
“Now!” she yelled as Carter began rescue breathing. As he moved to do her bidding, he was aware of Fraiser straddling Daniel and hitting him hard in the sternum. As she began chest compressions, Jack realized that Daniel was dead.
“I need my stethoscope and some oxygen,” Fraiser said, panting from her exertions. As Jack fumbled through her belongings, he noticed that Teal’c had removed the doll from Azubike’s hand and was carefully pulling the pin from it. Jack expected Daniel to wake up any second now that the pin was out. He found the requested pieces of medical equipment and laid them beside the doctor, in her field of view and within easy reach.
Azubike called something out and Teal’c answered. Jack assumed that Teal’c was explaining what was going on because the man’s face paled, and for a moment Jack thought the chief would pass out. But he appeared to rally and ran out to the door, yelling something. Jack heard running footsteps moving away from the house as Azubike came back inside.
‘Come on, Daniel’, Jack said under his breath as the women stopped their CPR and Fraiser listened to his chest with the stethoscope. She shook her head and they resumed, Daniel’s body flopping lifelessly with each compression. Jack looked on helplessly as Teal’c came to stand beside him. Jack looked at the small doll carefully cradled in the big man’s huge hands.
He could tell Fraiser and Carter were tiring. He was just about to step in and replace one of them when Msambaa rushed in. He and Azubike conversed softly, and then the witch doctor approached Daniel, getting onto his knees and examining the man carefully. He turned to look at Jack, bewilderment and sorrow evident on his face.
When Fraiser called another stop to check Daniel’s vitals, or lack of them, Teal’c went to the exhausted woman.
“Perhaps we are treating the wrong patient,” he said. “Do we have a moment to try something?”
Fraiser nodded, wiping the sweat from her face. Teal’c placed an index finger to the doll’s chest and gave a gentle push. He repeated this four times before blowing into the doll’s face. He resumed the compressions, and blew again.
Everyone was watching Teal’c and they all jumped at the loud gasp that came from Daniel.
“I’ve got a heartbeat,” Fraiser announced excitedly as she put the stethoscope to his chest. Quickly she placed the oxygen mask on his face, and grabbing her pack, removed a blood pressure cuff from it and wrapped it around Daniel’s bicep.
Shock hit Jack like a ton of bricks, and he began to shake. As his knees threatened to give out, Jack clasped Teal’c’s shoulder and squeezed, both to convey his thanks and to have something to hold on while he regained his equilibrium. “Good work, big guy,” Jack managed to say. He looked at the small innocuous doll in Teal’c’s hand and shook his head.
“Perhaps we should place it in a strong box,” Teal’c said as he returned the doll back to the shelf.
“Or wrap it up in cotton,” Jack replied.
As Daniel began to stir, Fraiser asked the men to move him onto the couch. Jack picked up Daniel’s feet and Teal’c grabbed his shoulders, while Fraiser supported his head. In a few seconds, Daniel was lying on his side, wrapped in several blankets. Fraiser sat on the cushions beside Daniel while Jack knelt by his lover’s head. Daniel’s cheek twitched, and as he began to wake, his breaths started to come unevenly. Jack could see Daniel’s body tense, and he threaded his fingers in the downy hair, gently massaging his scalp and nape.
“Daniel,” Fraiser called. “Daniel, are you awake?”
Eyelids fluttered and opened a crack.
“Hey, there,” Jack said softly, squeezing his fingers slightly to let Daniel know he was the one touching him. Daniel’s gaze shifted to Jack’s, the pupils contracting and expanding as Daniel tried to focus on him.
“Do you know where you are? Can you remember what happened?”
Daniel’s blank look and slight shake of the head worried Jack, but Fraiser went right on questioning him.
“Can you tell me your name?”
As Daniel answered her question, he winced as he tried to move.
“Are you hurting?” Fraiser asked. Daniel nodded. “Can you tell me where?”
“Back, chest.” The words came out slurred and weak, hard to make out. Fraiser pushed the blanket away from Daniel’s torso and leaning over him, lifted the back of his tee shirt. Jack saw a large red mark, two inches in diameter, marring Daniel’s back just below his shoulder blade. Fraiser pulled the tee shirt back down and pulled the front of it up. On his chest, the mark was wider, right above and around his sternum. If this corresponded to the needle in the doll, then it must also have been exacerbated by both Fraiser’s chest compressions and Teal’c’s to the doll.
“I’ll give you something for the pain, okay?” Fraiser said gently as she got up and went to her bag. She returned in a moment and taking Daniel’s arm, wrapped a large elastic bad around it. She then injected part of a prefilled syringe into his bloodstream. Releasing the elastic, she said, “Just relax, the pain will be gone soon.”
What?” Jack said, then realized that Daniel had just remembered what had happened.
“Doll. He did something to it.”
“Yeah, he did,” Jack replied. “Don’t worry, Teal’c’s got it now.”
Daniel closed his eyes, waiting for the medication to take effect. Jack moved his hand from Daniel’s head and slid it down to where his neck met his shoulders and kneaded the taut muscles.
“We need to get him to the SGC as soon as possible,” she said to Jack.
“What about the ceremony?”
“The hell with the ceremony. I need to make sure he’s all right His heart stopped and he wasn’t breathing for almost twenty minutes! You saw the marks on his skin? That needle went straight through his heart and lung, so who knows what kind of damage it might have caused.”
They both turned to look at Daniel, who was staring intently at Fraiser.
“Daniel, there will be no argument over this. I need to run some tests and make sure there’s no lasting damage.”
“Janet,” he began, then lifted a hand from beneath the blankets to move the oxygen mask from his mouth. Jack took it from Daniel and held onto it.
“I don’t ever want to go through something like that again. I’m terrified now that some bird or other creature is gonna sneak in here and run off with that damned doll. Or or or, that there’ll be a flood and I’ll drown because the thing’s on the bottom of the ocean. And even if we leave now and bring it with us back to Earth, who’s to say that I might not drop it and someone will step on it. I can’t live this way. I want the connection broken between it and me, and I want it done as soon as possible!”
The impassioned speech left Daniel gasping and Jack quickly gave Daniel more oxygen before Fraiser could say anything. “He’s right, you know. I’d be terrified knowing that my life is at the mercy of that thing.” Jack drew the string tight once more, making sure the mask was positioned comfortably on Daniel’s face. “But even worse, if we leave now and take it back to the SGC, there’s always the chance of the NID getting their hands on it. I’d be more afraid of that happening, than of Daniel getting hurt again through an accident. So Doc, you have to understand, we need that curse removed as soon as possible, while we still can. Or before these people try and show us again how harmless the dolls are.”
“I saw Azubike’s reaction when Daniel collapsed, Sir,” Carter said. “He looked shocked. He definitely wasn’t expecting this. I believe what he said about his people not reacting this intensely to the censure.”
“But why is that? Why would Daniel nearly die from something these people find commonplace? And technically, he *was* dead.” Fraiser ran a hair through her hand, then leaned forward to examine Daniel. Even though his eyes had closed and his breathing had slowed, the body beneath Jack’s hand had only relaxed slightly. Jack knew Daniel wasn’t asleep due to the small shivers of pain that would course through him occasionally.
Jack wanted nothing more than to lie down beside Daniel and take him into his arms, to soothe the pain away while holding him close to his heart. It was times like this that he hated the Air Force regulations; when even though the other members of his team knew how much he and Daniel loved one another, they couldn’t take chances with any outsiders knowing.
“If they’ve been practicing this sort of thing for hundreds of years, maybe they’ve become accustomed to it? Or maybe there’s something in the water or the food chain that lessens receptivity to the pain? It could be many things, or a combination of them.” Carter was pacing back and forth restlessly, and Jack knew it was her way of trying to get rid of the after effects of the scare Daniel had just put her through.
“Doc, let’s just wait a little while,” Jack said. “Sunset is still three hours away. If Daniel’s not feeling any better by then, I’ll make the call and we’ll take him home and come back another time for the ceremony.”
“No arguments, Danny. You go to sleep now, and we’ll see how you feel later. I want that thing gone as much as you do, but I’m not going to jeopardize your life over it. If we have to come back in a couple of days, so be it.”
“Colonel, I’m not sure,” Fraiser began. “But you’re right, the NID…”
“Look, he recovered quickly without lasting effects the other two times,” Carter said.
Fraiser nodded, a thoughtful look on her face.
“Who’s to say that this isn’t the same thing,” Carter continued. “He’s exhausted and he’s in pain right now. Moving him might not be the best thing. We can let him rest, and like the Colonel said, we’ll see how he feels at sunset.”
“I’m not totally convinced it’s the right thing to do, but you’re right. I’ll give you those three hours, Sir. But if I say Daniel’s not up to the ceremony, then we go home.”
“Or wait here for twenty four hours?” Jack suggested.
“He’ll be fine,” Jack said confidently. He turned to Daniel, who was obviously fighting to stay awake. “Go to sleep. I’ll be right here and Teal’c will be guarding the doll from birds and beasts and all other sorts of creepy crawlies.” Daniel closed his eyes, relaxing as he let his body succumb to Fraiser’s drug.
“How about you fill them in,” Jack said to Teal’c, indicating Azubike and Msambaa, who had been hovering nearby during their discussion.
- - - - - -
The pain in his chest was gone. Mostly. If he didn’t move, that was. But he could breathe now without feeling like his lungs were on fire and the heavy throbbing that had beaten in rhythm with his pulse had disappeared.
He stretched a little, trying to figure out where he was. Oh, a couch. He opened his eyes, and saw he was in a large, bright room. Oh right, Azubike, the doll, the curse. His brain seemed to be catching up a little slowly and Daniel figured it must be due to the drug Janet had given him.
The ceremony! Daniel rose up on his elbow, trying to see how long till sunset, ignoring the twinges in his ribs and sternum.
Jack’s voice startled him, he’d thought he was alone in the room. His partner was sitting on a chair behind him, watching him carefully.
“Hi, Jack.” Daniel sat up, rubbing his chest and massaging the aching muscles there.
“How are you feeling?” Jack stood and moved to sit beside Daniel.
“A little sore, but a lot better.”
“Let me see.” Jack raised the tee shirt and Daniel looked in awe at a series of dark bruises over the center of his chest. “Looks a little painful.”
“I’ve had worse,” Daniel replied truthfully.
“Let me see your back.” Daniel turned his back to Jack and helped raise the edge of his shirt. “The mark’s gone from there,” Jack said as he passed his fingers lightly over Daniel’s skin, sending a shiver through his body as he lowered his tee shirt. “I think the bruising is from Fraiser’s handiwork, and also Teal’c, who managed to jumpstart your heart through the doll.”
“How much time do we have before the ceremony? And where is everyone?” Daniel asked.
“Less than an hour, and Carter wanted to have another look at the engine room, so I sent Fraiser and Teal’c along with her, and the chief and witch doctor went with them. You hungry?”
“He’s a priest, Jack, not a witch doctor, and yes, I’m hungry.”
“Got some soup heating up for you, if that’s okay? And some bread and cheese.”
Jack got up and walked into the small kitchen and Daniel stood up slowly. His legs were a little rubbery but other than that, he felt fine. When Jack pointed towards the table, Daniel pulled out a chair and sat down by the window.
The soup ended up being spicy and tasty, full of vegetables and beans. He began eating with appetite, and had eaten half the bowlful when he realized Jack was staring at him. He swallowed what he had in his mouth, put his spoon down, and reached for Jack’s hand.
“I’m fine, Jack” he said, tracing his thumb along Jack’s palm.
“So stop looking so worried. I’m not going to drop dea—” Jack’s face hardened at his words and Daniel swore. He had done exactly that, apparently, a few hours ago. “I’m sorry, that didn’t quite come out the way I meant it.” He squeezed Jack’s hand again, and this time Jack squeezed back. He let go, and continued his meal.
“Look, I am fine,” he said between bites. “I really just want to get this over with and get the hell out of here. It’s just been too long since I’ve been home.”
“Tell me about it,” Jack grumbled as he stole a piece of Daniel’s cheese. “I’m getting a little fed up sitting around and watching you sleep. I’d rather have you sleep while lying in my arms.”
“Yeah, well, spending all that time in infirmary beds does get a little lonely. Maybe tonight you can sleep in my arms?”
Jack smiled, and Daniel relaxed. “Sounds like a date,” Jack said.
He finished his meal and Jack brought the dishes to the sink. As they returned to the living area, Azubike arrived, along with the rest of SG-1 and Janet. They all greeted Daniel, and at the doctor’s request, Daniel returned to the couch and submitted to her examination.
“I guess you’re good to go,” she finally said as she packed up her equipment. “Just take it easy, okay? If there’s any dancing out there, I don’t want you participating, or doing anything else that’s physically taxing.”
“Don’t you hear the drums?”
Daniel cocked his head, listening carefully. What he’d thought to be background noise was actually the rhythmic beat of drums. “The ceremony’s started?” He turned to Azubike and repeated his question.
“Yes. They will soon be ready for us. Have you enjoyed your meal, Daniel?”
“Yes, it was delicious. I thank you for your hospitality.”
“My friend, it is the least that I could do. I apologize for my misunderstanding earlier. Had I known, had I understood…”
“I know, it’s all right. At least now we know nothing like this will happen again.” Daniel smiled at the chief, and saw the man relax at his words.
“Can you tell me what the ceremony entails?” Daniel asked curiously.
“Of course. Msambaa will call upon the spirit of Ayza, the protector spirit, to hold and protect your life force. In this way, he can sever the connection to the doll easily. Then the spirit of Ogou Balanjo, spirit of healing, is called, to ensure that no harm has been done. Then Ayza releases your life force back to you, and your essence returns to the land of the living.”
“I return where?” Daniel asked, the last words a little troubling.
“Ayza takes your essence into the world of the spirits, my friend. It is not for long, and you do not feel any pain. Unlike the Nzambi, who are sentenced to remain there for a time.” Daniel’s uneasiness wasn’t alleviated, he knew the Nzambi were like the brain-addled servant who stumbled around Azubike’s house. He was just about to ask further details when the drums suddenly increased in intensity, their sound now unmistakable. Primal, invigorating, they called insistently.
“It is time,” Azubike said. “Teal’c, as a warrior, I ask that you take charge of the doll during the ceremony. This way we know nothing will happen until the ritual has been finalized.”
Teal’c nodded. “I am honoured.” He carefully picked up the effigy then inclined his head at Daniel. Somehow Daniel felt safe with the figurine in Teal’c’s hands.
They filed out of the house and walked to a small field behind the village. A large pole was set into the earth, decorated with ribbons and feathers and beads, which hung festively and swayed musically in the breeze. It looked like the whole village had turned up to witness or participate in the ceremony, all were sitting around the pole, with a small empty gap at the far end.
As they neared, the drums began to beat in a cadence that was both soothing and disturbing. It took a while before Daniel realized they imitated a heartbeat, with an undercurrent of rhythm that blended in and among the pulses. Msambaa came to meet them and pointed that they should sit in the space allotted for them. Daniel folded his long legs and sit on the grass, Jack and Sam sat to his right, and Janet and Teal’c to his left. The Jaffa kept hold of the doll, cradled protectively in his hand.
Msambaa took a pouch and with something that looked like flour, drew two circles connected with a short line, then two other lines leading away from each circle. Daniel smiled, and whispered to Jack, “I think that represents my glasses.”
“I think the witch doctor needs art lessons,” Jack whispered back.
The sun was on the verge of setting, the last rays falling onto the wooden pillar.
The drums’ tempo began to speed up, and Msambaa approached Daniel, a rattle of some kind held in his hand. He stopped and raised his hands, and with a loud shout, jumped straight up into the air. The drums stopped, with only one lone drum continuing on, the heartbeat unmistakable.
The priest knelt before Daniel and began chanting, shaking his rattle around him. After a minute, still chanting, he put the rattle down and removed a folded leaf from inside his pocket and opened it up. An oily substance was exposed and Msambaa spread it along Daniel’s forehead with his thumb. He then placed the now empty leaf on top of the drawing on the ground.
More chanting followed, rising to a crescendo. The drumbeats took up where the chanting ended, and three bonfires were lit simultaneously on the edges of the circle. Daniel began to feel lightheaded and dizzy. The music was luring, and he felt restless, like he needed to get up and run off the excess energy.
Or dance it off, he thought when several villagers got up and began stomping in the soft earth near the pole. He watched them in the flickering light, the glow of sunset almost gone. He felt good, and with a small giggle, realized he might be tipsy. He continued to watch the dancers until Msambaa appeared before him, cutting off his view.
The priest was carrying a small bird of some kind, holding it upside down by its feet. He shook it around Daniel like he’d done the rattle, chanting several sentences, and before Daniel realized what he was going to do, Msambaa cut the bird’s head with a sharp knife. He dipped his index finger into the bloody neck and added it to the oily substance on Daniel’s forehead. The priest then picked up the head, and walked to the pole.
With bird in one hand and head with the other, he head up the grisly offering and began a shuffling dance. The drums seemed to change, the drumbeat becoming more pronounced. Daniel could feel his own pulse now, pounding heavily between his temples. It sped up, slowed down, then matched the drums beat for beat.
Daniel caught himself nodding off, and then Jack’s hand was on his thigh.
“You okay?” Despite feeling drunk, Daniel caught the worry in his partner’s voice.
Daniel blinked and turned his head to look at Jack.
“I’m fine,” he answered. But his voice sounded like it was distorted, coming from far away and moving from the right to the left. Jack removed his hand, and the lingering warmth on his thigh soon disappeared with the chill of the night.
He turned his attention to the dancers, and wasn’t surprised when Msambaa was squatting before him again. He held out a small cup, and said only one word.
He felt Janet place a warning hand on his knee, and Jack simply called his name. Daniel realized that whatever the priest had spread on his skin was some kind of intoxicating agent. He looked at the small amount of liquid being offered to him and tried to decide if he should go any further with this. It suddenly dawned on him that with all the adverse reactions he’d had so far to the seemingly innocuous religion, this ceremony might not go down as they’d all predicted.
He was pretty sure that whatever drugs or herbs contained in this potion were crucial to the ceremony. If he decided not to drink it, he’d have to deal with the fear of living with that doll for the rest of his life. But he knew, somehow, that if he swallowed the liquid, he might end up in a worse situation. He turned to look at Teal’c, at the small doll cradled in his hands. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t live with the chance of that thing ending up with the NID. Or worse, the Goa’uld.
He reached for the cup and looked at Jack a moment. Jack nodded, and Daniel knew he understood. With a grimace, he swallowed the bitter, oily liquid. Trying not to retch, the pleasant buzz he’d had disappeared, leaving nausea and a headache in its wake. The sound of the drums became painful, and it was with relief when they all ceased, leaving only the solitary one that matched his racing pulse.
He sagged, his muscles turning to jelly. He fell against a hard body, and arms encircled him, holding him protectively. He felt his head cradled against strong legs, and tender fingers ghosting along his cheek. Just as Teal’c was protecting his soul, Jack was protecting his body.
The feel of Jack’s touch was the last thing he was aware of as the world darkened around him.
- - - - - -
“God damn it,” Jack swore as he held Daniel’s limp body in his arms. This was getting old, and fast. He looked at the witch doctor, but the man didn’t appear to be concerned. Fraiser leaned over Daniel, checking his pulse and respiration.
“He seems simply sedated,” she said, moving aside when Msambaa finished his little dance and returned to crouch over Daniel. He shook that rattle thing with feathers over Daniel again, then moved to Teal’c and did the same with the doll. The chanting, the rattle and the freaking drums were all starting to get on Jack’s nerves.
Ah, blessed silence. Even the lone drum stopped. The only sound was the scuff of bare feet of the dancers, who continued to move despite the lack of music. The witch doctor reached down and carefully removed the bloody rag from around Daniel’s doll. He placed the rag in the center of the drawing he and Daniel had joked about earlier, over the leaf the witch doctor had placed there earlier. Then he began making an eerie wailing sound, causing the hair on the back of Jack’s neck to rise.
Continuing to wail, he moved to the nearest fire and returning with a flaming brand. He touched it to what Jack had thought was flour or powder, and the sketch of glasses, leaf and rag burst into flames. Others joined in the wailing, their voices intertwining, uncomfortable to the ear. He felt Fraiser shiver beside him and he knew that he wasn’t the only one unaffected by the noise either.
The sounds continued until the small bonfire died down minutes later. When the last ember disappeared, the wailing began to subside as one by one they singers quieted, leaving only the witch doctor’s voice.
The drums started up again, silencing him. Msambaa took a small cloth from a pocket and used it to wipe the bloody streak from Daniel’s forehead. When his lover was clean, the rattle came out again and the chanting began. The drumbeats slowed, the chanting stopped, the rattle was given a last, vigorous shake, and the beats stopped.
The dancers fell to the ground, exhausted. The villagers got up and began leaving. Several went to the dancers, helping them up and escorting them back to what Jack presumed would be their homes.
Msambaa stood up and said something to Teal’c. He took the doll from his hands and threw it into the nearest fire. For a moment Jack tensed, expecting Daniel to begin writhing in pain as the flames engulfed the small figurine. But Daniel continued to lie quietly in his arms.
Azubike stood and came to stand before them, nodding and smiling. He and Teal’c spoke a moment and Msambaa joined them.
“DanielJackson should awaken now,” Teal’c translated.
“Hey, time to wake up,” Jack said to the sleeping man. He shook him gently, but Daniel didn’t respond. Msambaa crouched beside them and slapped Daniel’s cheek. He repeated the action when Daniel’s still didn’t react, the second time a little less gently. Then he turned to speak to Azubike, and Jack didn’t like the tone he used.
“Doc?” Jack said to Fraiser who was continuing to monitor Daniel.
“I don’t know, Sir. Without knowing what he just drank…”
“Teal’c?” Jack said, hoping for a translation of the dialogue going on between chief and witch doctor.
“They are concerned, O’Neill. DanielJackson should have woken by now.”
“Not again! Damnit!”
“Can we move him to the house?” Fraiser said. “I can barely see in the dark, and he’d be more comfortable on the couch.”
“Yeah, let’s do that.” He shifted, and they all helped him hold Daniel up. Teal’c folded Daniel over his shoulder and they made their way back to the house.
Soon Daniel was lying flat on the cushions and Fraiser was doing the blood pressure, stethoscope, wrist holding thing. The chief and witch doctor continued to talk together, and Jack figured they were trying to work out what had gone wrong.
Fraiser shrugged as she set her instruments aside.
“Everything appears normal,” she announced as she pulled a penlight out and flashed it into his eyes. “Oh.”
“What?” Jack didn’t like the sound of that one little word.
“His pupils aren’t reacting to light. It must be a side effect of the potion Daniel was given. Sir, we need to get him to the SGC, I need to run tests…”
Jack nodded, and gave the order that everyone begin packing up. He leaned over Daniel, watching the younger man sleep.
“Daniel, will you just please wake up,” he pleaded quietly.
Daniel’s eyes popped open at the command.
“Doc!” Jack yelled, moving away as Fraiser rushed to his side. For a second he was elated that Daniel had finally opened his eyes but then he got a good look at the expression they held. They reflected no life, no animation. Daniel was breathing, his heart was pumping, but his eyes weren’t seeing. His face was slack, his appearance emotionless. If anything, they looked like the damned zombies that walked around the village.
“He appears to be awake,” Fraiser said, “but he’s still non-responsive.”
Msambaa pushed through SG-1 who had crowded around Daniel to get a good look at him. He spoke to Daniel, and Daniel raised his arm. He spoke again, and Daniel lowered it. The witch doctor turned to Teal’c and began speaking quickly.
“Msambaa says that the spirit of Ayza has not released DanielJackson’s life essence,” Teal’c translated. “I believe he means that which you would call a soul. He says he has never seen or heard of this occurring. He cannot understand why the spirit guardian wishes to hold onto it.
“This had rendered DanielJackson into one of the Nzambi, that which you called a zombie, O’Neill. But Msambaa says it is impossible. That requires a totally different ceremony, and these are rarely performed, and only when the person requires severe punishment. There are only three Nzambie in the village at the moment.”
“Teal’c,” Fraiser said as she stood up. “Tell Msambaa that it has nothing to do with the spirit holding Daniel’s soul. The drugs he gave Daniel probably reacted the same way as the doll did. Although they seem to work fine on the people here, they were probably too strong for him.”
“Damn, we shouldn’t have let him drink that stuff,” Jack said. He knew it had been Daniel’s decision. He knew Daniel had wavered over whether to take the potion or not, but they should have foreseen this. He’d been so stupid! “Do you think maybe they’ll just wear off?” Jack said hopefully.
“I don’t know. It’s a possibility, Sir.”
“Let’s get him home,” Jack ordered.
“There is another thing,” Teal’c added. “DanielJackson will respond to simple commands if you mention his name before. Observe.” Teal’c turned to Daniel.
“Daniel, please stand up.”
To everyone’s surprise, Daniel pushed off the couch and stood, swaying slightly. Jack put a cautionary hand to Daniel’s arm, but the younger man steadied.
“Okay, let’s go. Daniel, walk with me,” Jack said and took a step forward. Daniel followed, his face totally void of expression or feelings. It was with a heavy heart that they began making their way to the Stargate.
- - - - - -
“There’s nothing in Daniel’s blood work to indicate the cause of his affliction. His ECG shows very little brain activity, just enough to register autonomic activities. There’s a small flare of activity whenever he obeys a command, but it dies the moment he stops. All other tests show that he’s in a deep coma, or totally catatonic. It’s been two days, and although we’d hoped Daniel would simply sleep it off, there’s been no change in his condition. Honestly, Sirs, I don’t know what more to do.”
Fraiser looked despondently down at the file sitting closed on the table before her. Jack knew she’d been trying her best to find out what was wrong with Daniel. Every time Jack had come by to see his lover, Daniel had been going through one test or another.
“We tried asking Msambaa for a sample of what he had Daniel drink, but he refused. He said it was taboo, that only those who’d devoted their lives to Damballa were permitted the secrets and that he’d be struck dead if he ever divulged the ingredients. Without even knowing what the potion contained, I can’t even begin to hazard a guess as to what it’s done to him. It’s like the portion of Daniel that makes him, him, has been taken away, leaving only the shell in its place.”
“Msambaa did say that the spirit would take possession of his soul while he removed the curse.” Teal’c looked at Fraiser, and she nodded.
“If you believe all this hocus pocus, yes. But in all likelihood, it’s the drugs and not the spiritual aspect that’s the cause of all of this.”
“Doc, you can still say that after we saw what that doll did to him?”
“Then again, Colonel, you’re right. I know little enough about how their magic worked, whether it was based on drugs, or on some other level that nobody here can appreciate.”
“Doctor,” Hammond said. “You stated earlier that you were somewhat familiar with the Voodoo rituals? Do you think that there could be a priest here on Earth who could help Doctor Jackson?”
“No, Sir, I said I grew up with stories about them, but these were mostly based on old wives’ tales and horror movies. Vodun is still practiced in many parts of the world; Africa, the Caribbean, South America, but it’s not the pure form of the religion as the Bandelens observed. There might be some places in Africa that still follow, but I believe it would be difficult to find a priest who could equal Msambaa. And even if we did, the drugs Msambaa used are probably native to his planet, and nothing here would probably counteract them.”
“So, what are you suggesting?” Jack said, sitting up straight in his chair. “That we just leave him that way?”
Fraiser shook her head slowly. “There’s nothing more I can do for him. All we can hope for is that the drugs wear off in time.”
“And leave him a bloody helpless zombie in the meantime?” Jack shouted. Images of Daniel coursed through Jack’s mind. He’d come into the private room yesterday morning where Daniel had been placed, only to see his lover sitting on the side of the bed, staring at a wall. A nurse had been patiently feeding him his breakfast, ordering Daniel first to chew, then swallow his food. It took an eternity to get him to eat a meal, trying to gauge whether the food was chewed up enough for him to swallow safely. Then apparently they had forgotten to order him to use the facilities as his bladder and bowels had emptied themselves of their own accord.
Shame and remorse had swept through Jack, knowing that Daniel would have been horribly embarrassed by his body’s functions and the subsequent need to be cleaned up. He had had to leave the room, thereby piling on more guilt for abandoning the dirty task to the people caring for Daniel. He saw where all of this was leading, and he didn’t care for his and Daniel’s future. Not one bit.
“Colonel, what would you have me do? The person responsible for Daniel’s condition doesn’t even know what went wrong, or how to cure it. I can’t do anything for Daniel when I don’t know what’s wrong with him. There really is nothing more to do except wait. And pray.”
Jack chewed on the inside of his lip, forcing himself to not say something he would regret. It wasn’t her fault anymore than it was his. They both could have stopped Daniel from drinking the stuff, but who’s to say that it wasn’t the grease that had been applied to his forehead. Or even something fed to the bird and contained in its blood. Or a combination of all three.
He realized that the General was dismissing them, and he stood as the man took his leave. He was off duty in ten minutes, he figured he’d just go and sit with Daniel for a while and try to think things through. He ignored Carter and Teal’c’s sympathetic looks as he made his way to the infirmary.
- - - - - -
“Daniel, chew,” Jack said as he expertly slid the last bite of stew into Daniel’s mouth. The strong jaw began moving, teeth grinding the food to bits as Jack placed the now-empty bowl aside. He counted silently, and then said, “Daniel, swallow.”
The tedious task now finished, Jack was ready to give Daniel his shower. He removed the clean clothes from the bureau, and made sure there were dry towels in the bathroom.
“Daniel, come here.”
Daniel got up and moved mechanically to where Jack was waiting for him inside the small room. He shut the door and with simple commands and with his help, had Daniel strip. He turned the shower on, removed his own clothes, and got Daniel inside the small cubicle. He quickly shampooed Daniel’s hair and washed Daniel’s body, making sure Daniel wasn’t in danger of drowning from the flowing water. The first time Jack had done this two weeks ago, he hadn’t realized Daniel’s face had been directly in the stream until he’d begun to cough and choke.
When he’d finished with Daniel, Jack took a moment to wash himself, then turned the water off. He reached for the towels and first dried Daniel off, then himself.
“Daniel, lift your right leg,” Jack ordered. He slipped the clean scrubs over Daniel’s right foot, then the other, before lifting the thin cotton pants over the lean hips. Jack drew a hand over the familiar body, noting that Daniel was beginning to lose muscle mass. Even with physical therapy, three weeks of inactivity was beginning to take a toll on Daniel’s physique.
He grabbed the top and began threading his lover’s arms first through one sleeve, then the other, letting them drop limply by his side when he’d finished. He took the toothbrush and squeezed some toothpaste over it, and taking Daniel’s hand, closed his fingers over the brush.
”Daniel, brush your teeth.”
Slowly and methodically, Daniel did as ordered. The small commands Daniel obeyed had to be very simple, and he would continue performing them until someone told him to stop. Unlike the zombies on the planet, who appeared to function at a somewhat higher level, Daniel was a total automaton. They, at least, would eventually be released from their life of servitude. Daniel, merely existed.
Jack sighed and took the opportunity to change into clean clothes as Daniel continued to brush.
“Daniel, stop. Daniel, rinse your mouth,” he ordered as he took the brush away to rinse, and placed a glass of water to Daniel’s lips. When Daniel straightened from the sink, Jack ran his fingers through Daniel’s damp, spiky hair, patting it back into place.
Three long weeks of hoping and praying each time Jack came to visit Daniel, that today was the day that he would wake up. But there hadn’t been one iota of change during that time, and Jack had begun to take up all the tasks of Daniel’s care, in preparation of what he was going to have to do. Fraiser had brought the subject up once or twice, but Jack had begged for more time. But he knew Daniel’s time had just run out.
He’d overheard a discussion between the doctor and the General earlier today. She’d been asking the General to sign transfer papers, and had informed Hammond that she’d be approaching Jack today and force him either to choose a facility that would take Daniel in, or she would.
So Jack had been hiding out and deliberately staying away from her, trying to make the problem go away. But he knew deep down it was a childish reaction, a responsibility he’d been shirking for the past three weeks. So this evening he came to Daniel’s room to give him his supper and shower, like he’d done for the past eighteen days.
He expected Fraiser to show up any second; hell, she could be out in the room right now waiting for him to come out of the bathroom. He gave Daniel’s hair a final pat, then instead of taking his hand away, he traced the familiar face lovingly with his fingers. He stopped at the full lips which were slightly parted. There was a trace of toothpaste below the bottom one. He wiped away the minty residue with his thumb, and unable to help himself, leaned forward and gently kissed the unresisting mouth.
Somewhere deep inside, Jack hoped that his kiss would awaken the sleeping prince from his unearthly sleep. It was an insane idea, but still he pressed his lips harder against Daniel’s. His lover’s jaw was partly open and Jack thrust his tongue inside the warm, moist, clean-tasting, mouth; teasing, cajoling, trying to elicit a reaction.
But it was like kissing an unfeeling stranger. Daniel stared straight ahead, his breathing slow and even, his tongue relaxed in his mouth.
Angry with himself for even trying to kiss Daniel in this state and angrier still with Daniel for not responding, Jack jerked the door open and walked out. “Daniel, come here,” he ordered, his voice curt. He stopped short when he saw Fraiser sitting on the edge of Daniel’s bed, waiting for him.
She had a piece of paper in her hand and Jack knew they were the names of the facilities she wanted him to choose from. Before she could open her mouth, Jack spoke up.
“I’m taking him home with me.”
“I’m not placing him in an institution. I’m handing in my resignation and I’ll take Daniel home. Daniel, sit on the bed,” he ordered as Fraiser stood up and walked to Jack.
“Sir, you can’t, you have no idea how huge an undertaking this will be. He’ll need round the clock supervision and care. I have the names of three of the best facilities in Colorado—”
“I don’t need them, and I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for. But I can’t just dump him off somewhere and wipe my hands clean of him. And that’s what I’ll be doing if you make me choose one of the names on that piece of paper there. This is Daniel we’re talking about. Someone I care for, and I’ll be damned if I abandon him and give others the dirty work.”
“No, Sir, this isn’t Daniel. Not the Daniel we know. There’s nothing left inside to be Daniel. This is just his shell that we’re caring for.”
“You don’t know that and there’s no way I’m going to have him committed somewhere.” Jack moved to sit on the edge of the bed and picked up Daniel’s hand. He squeezed the warm fingers, so familiar to him, and sighed. The anger he’d felt at Daniel had left him, leaving him feeling ashamed for having felt it in the first place.
“What about the SGC?”
“What about it?” Jack asked.
“You’re going to abandon the Stargate? Abandon SG-1?”
“Since you just said taking care of Daniel is a full time job, it kinda looks that way, doesn’t it?”
“Sir, I can’t tell you what to do, but please, think about this before jumping to a decision which you might be sorry later. We can probably work something out, have caretakers come to your home during the day.”
“And what happens when I’m offworld or laid up from an injury? Who’ll take Daniel in? No, that won’t work, doc. It’s all or nothing.”
“With all due respect, Colonel, I think you’re making a mistake here. You’re vital to the Stargate program, and losing both you and Daniel at the same time is going to make it difficult on General Hammond.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’m just tired of it all. Tired of seeing people I care for hurt or killed, or worse,” Jack said, staring at the floor. He could feel the warmth of Daniel’s arm and thigh against his own, and he could hear Daniel’s breaths. He missed his lover’s presence, his dry wit, their arguments, his teasing. The blank eyes would never look at him with affection again, his fingers would never roam over Jack’s body as Daniel made love to him. He missed the feel of Daniel’s lips, the sounds Daniel made when he and Jack made love.
“I’ll inform the General about your decision, Sir,” Fraiser said as she moved towards the door. “But I don’t believe this is what Daniel would want. I think you’re doing this to punish yourself for letting him go through the ceremony. I’m sorry, Sir,” she said quickly before Jack could interrupt, “it’s how I feel.”
She left the room, shutting the door behind her and leaving Jack alone with Daniel. Jack sighed deeply. She was right, taking care of Daniel would be difficult. But not in the manner Fraiser had meant. To see Daniel this way every waking moment was something Jack had to get used to. He wondered fleetingly if she was right and he was doing this in order to punish himself.
He buried his head against Daniel’s neck, breathing in the scent of his lover. “God, I love you, Danny,” Jack murmured against the warm skin. “I miss you.”
It took Jack a second to realize that Daniel had moved on his own, the fingers beneath Jack’s had twitched, and that his breathing had changed from slow, deep breaths to sharp, little gasps. Daniel shivered, and Jack suddenly pulled away. Daniel was looking at him, really, truly looking. Jack pulled away from his lover and ran to the door, yanking it open and bellowing down the hall.
He heard footsteps rushing towards him and he ran back to the bed. Daniel had turned his head to follow Jack’s movement. There was intelligence once more behind those eyes, a small frown creasing his forehead as he watched Jack approach. Daniel’s eyes were glassy, however, and Jack cupped Daniel’s face with his hands, hoping by his touch that Daniel would stay with them.
“Colonel, what happened?” Fraiser asked, somewhat breathless as she approached his side.
“He’s awake, he’s looking at me.”
“Oh my God! Daniel, can you hear me?”
Daniel shifted his gaze to look at her, and his mouth opened and closed several times, as if he wanted to speak.
Suddenly Daniel hunched sideways, retching. Before they could react, he vomited. An oily substance splattered on the bed sheets. He retched once more, gasping and coughing, then straightened up slowly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Here,” Jack said, getting some water from the bathroom. Daniel accepted it with shaking fingers and took a sip.
He shivered again, and Jack grabbed the folded blanket at the foot of the bed. He wrapped it around Daniel’s shoulders. Fraiser flashed her penlight into his eyes and Jack saw his pupils contract. Oh God, his pupils had reacted to the light.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Jack crooned, as Daniel tried to turn away from the discomfort of Fraiser’s examination.
“Daniel, can you tell me your name? Do you know where you are?”
There was intelligence in Daniel’s face, and Jack could see the frustration brewing as Daniel frowned, turning from Fraiser to Jack.
“Easy,” Jack said. “It’s okay, just take it easy. One question at a time. Do you know where you are?”
A quick nod answered him. Jack smiled.
“Do you remember what happened?”
Daniel frowned, his gaze falling on the wet puddle on the bed.
“Let’s get that cleaned up, okay?” Fraiser said as she pulled at Daniel’s arm. Jack stood and they moved the somewhat confused man into a chair.
“What did you feed him?” Fraiser asked quietly as she bundled up the soiled bedding.
“Beef stew,” Jack answered.
“That’s strange,” she said, looking at the liquid saturating the sheets. “This looks oil-based. There doesn’t appear to be any trace of food in it.” She looked over at Daniel. “I think I’ll have this analyzed. I need to run a few tests. Keep him there until I come back. I’ll have someone come and change the bed in a minute.”
She left the room and Jack took the opportunity to kneel beside his lover.
“Danny, can you understand me?”
Oh how he’d missed Daniel’s voice. That one, small, softly spoken word caused tears to pool in Jack’s eyes. He blinked them back, but not until Daniel raised a hand to cup Jack’s cheek.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here.”
“No, don’t leave the SGC.”
So Daniel had somehow been able to hear their conversations. Jack wondered how much of the past three weeks he actually remembered.
“Well, if you’re back for good in the world of the living, then there’s no need for me to leave, is there?”
“No.” Daniel’s slight, tremulous smile had Jack grinning from ear to ear.
A nurse accompanied Fraiser into the room and they ended their conversation. Once the bed was made, Daniel was made to lie down and Fraiser began her tests.
- - - - - -
An hour later, Hammond, Teal’c and Sam had all heard the news and were gathered in Daniel’s room, waiting for the latest prognosis. Daniel felt a little anxious at the looks they kept giving him. He knew he’d been out of it for a little while, but he felt like he needed to allay their fears somehow and he didn’t know how.
He yawned, trying to shake the drowsiness and fatigue.
“How are you feeling now?” Fraiser asked as she removed the leads from the ECG.
“A little disoriented. A little shaky. Tired, but good.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
He frowned, trying to get his thoughts together. “It’s all muddled, like a dream. But I remember the ceremony, drums, dancers, then drinking something, all mixed with images of you, Jack, the nurses. It’s all very confusing.” He made a pointing motion with his finger, indicating he wanted to sit, and Fraiser nodded. “Oh,” he said, his eyes widening as he sat up, cross legged. He turned to Jack. “Did the ceremony work? Did Msambaa sever the connection to the doll?”
“Yes, it worked. The doll’s just a pile of ashes. Nothing there for anyone to get a hold of.”
“Good.” At least that was one less worry.
“So you could hear us talking?” Sam said as she sat on the bed beside him and took his hand. Daniel squeezed hers gently and she smiled up at him.
“Sort of. It’s all distorted, the sounds, the faces. Just one big huge mess. Some things are clearer, like the feeling at one point that I was going to drown.”
Jack coughed, and cleared his throat. Daniel sort of remembered Jack pulling him out of the water, but he wasn’t sure why he’d been in water and how he’d gotten out.
“Sorry, that was me.” Daniel smiled at Jack’s sheepish look and Janet’s glare. “First time in the shower, okay? I didn’t make that mistake twice.”
“Can I go home?” Daniel asked Janet, stifling a yawn.
“Maybe tomorrow. You never really slept as your brain never produced beta or delta waves, and now that you’re back to being yourself, your body is trying to make up for it. You’ll be dreaming more than usual for the next few nights. Don’t worry, it’s normal. Otherwise, apart from exhaustion, everything reads normal, but I’d really rather keep you under observation a little longer.”
“Oh, okay.” He looked at Jack, but there wasn’t any sign of disappointment in his face. “I understand. I mean, I know I was a little spaced out for a day or two, I guess you don’t want to take any chances.”
“Try three weeks,” Jack said.
“What?” He turned to look at Janet, who was nodding.
“I could swear I’m not missing more than two days.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to take everything in. Three weeks? The enormity of it all suddenly hit him and he understood all the anxious glances he’d been subjected to.
“Why don’t we let Daniel get some rest now?” Fraiser suggested. She slowly herded everyone except Jack out of the room, leaving the two alone.
“Five minutes, Colonel,” she warned as she closed the door behind her.
“Three weeks?” Daniel asked again.
“Twenty two days. But who’s counting.” Jack took the spot that Sam had vacated, placing a hand on Daniel’s knee.
“You know, there were other things that I remember,” Daniel said, twining his fingers with Jack’s and laying their hands on his leg. “One is of you kissing me. The look on your face nearly broke my heart.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. But I kind of hoped that…”
“You’d wake up sleeping beauty?”
“Something like that.”
“I was screaming inside, wanting to kiss you back. But there was a wall between us and I couldn’t get through.”
“It felt like you didn’t know, that you couldn’t feel. You just weren’t there, with me.”
“I knew every time you were with me. I know you were taking care of me, but it’s all one big blur. I can’t distinguish any particular meal or day from one another.”
“What made you come back, Daniel? What made you finally go through that wall?”
“You. The look on your face when I couldn’t kiss you back. The sound of your voice when you got mad at me because of that. The thought of you leaving the Stargate program because of me. Somehow I had to stop you, I didn’t want you to give up something you love just to be stuck taking care of a burden.”
“But that’s just it, Daniel. I wasn’t giving up something I love. That’s why I was ready to leave everything here to be with the one thing I love the most.”
“But I wasn’t me. From what Janet described, I was just an empty body. How could you love something that wasn’t all me?”
“Because there was always the hope that you’d come back. That you were lost inside your head, trying to come home. And see, you did.”
The door opened slowly, giving them enough time to disengage their joined hands. Fraiser walked in while going through sheets of papers attached to a clip board.
“I have the results from the lab of the substance you vomited, Daniel. It appears that it’s a mixture of herbs, mixed with an oil base. The lab has matched three of the five herbs to samples that SG-1 brought back from its initial trip to Bandele, but there are two plants that they can’t identify. Even the oil is alien in origin. And there was no sign of beef stew in the vomitus. None at all.”
“You’re saying Daniel threw up something that he drank over three weeks ago?” Jack asked, his voice incredulous.
“I know, it sounds incredible, but that’s what the lab results show.” She hugged the clip board to her chest. “Now if I put my medical profession aside and simply say that maybe Msambaa’s protector spirit let Daniel go, it might make more sense.”
“So what made the spirit let me go? Or whatever,” Daniel asked, his head whirling at Janet’s words.
“You tell me. What was the last thing you remember hearing?”
“You and Jack arguing. Your words, actually. That Jack was punishing himself by leaving the SGC to take care of me. It’s still all a jumble, but I remember the emotions clearly. Like a dream, where the details have faded but your heart is still pumping in fear and your testicles are trying to crawl up and hide behind your kidneys.”
“So by experiencing strong emotions, Daniel managed to pull himself out of whatever trance the herbs put him into?”
“Possibly, or it could simply be that their effects began to wear off. The important thing is that Daniel’s back. And it’s time for him to get some sleep,” she said with a smile.
“I’ll be back in the morning to see if our new resident witch doctor here might be willing to let you go home then,” Jack said as Daniel settled himself in the bed.
“You watch it, Colonel,” Janet said with a laugh. “My grandma’s curses were pretty scary and I can probably remember a few to dole out during your next physical. And they all come with big, sharp needles.”
“Sorry Danny, you’re on your own till morning,” Jack said in mock horror, rushing for the door. He paused in the doorway, and said, “Sleep well.”
“Night Jack,” Daniel replied as he snuggled under the blankets.
- - - - - -
Jack watched as Daniel sat at the kitchen table, struggling to finish chewing the last bite of his sandwich. His head was propped up against his fist, blinking furiously in an attempt to keep his eyes open. Although Daniel had slept most of the day in the infirmary in between batteries of medical tests, Fraiser had warned Jack that he would be pretty tired for the next day or two. At least she had let Daniel come home; thankfully all the tests had proven to be normal.
“Something’s been bothering me,” Daniel said as he swallowed. He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I understand why you chose to want to resign from the SGC and take care of me, and I’m truly, truly grateful. But I want you to promise me, if anything should happen to me and I’m in the same situation, I don’t want you wasting your life taking care of me.”
Jack looked at the serious face of his lover, and shook his head. “I can’t promise that, Daniel. I’m sorry.”
“But…” Jack stopped Daniel’s protests by placing a finger over his lips. “What would you have done if the roles had been reversed?”
“I’d have… Damn. I don’t know what I would have done.”
Taking pity on his lover as Daniel yawned again, Jack decided to put him to bed. “How about a shower and bed, or do you just want to skip the shower and go straight to bed?”
“No, shower sounds good.”
“Okay, let’s get you washed up and settled.”
As Daniel walked into the bathroom, Jack turned down the bed and got Daniel’s sleep apparel out. He made sure Daniel had a clean towel and then went to clean the kitchen. By the time he finished the dishes, he heard the shower turn off.
Daniel was sitting on the side of the bed, naked, drying his hair. Jack stood watching, leaning on the doorjamb a moment, indulging himself, when suddenly it hit him. Last night at this time, he’d fed Daniel, gotten him showered and changed and had been planning on taking him home today. Tonight Daniel *was* home, but not in the manner Jack had expected yesterday. The relief of the events of the past twenty-four hours suddenly hit Jack and he felt his knees begin to tremble in reaction.
Daniel looked up and met Jack’s gaze. He stopped drying his hair and furrowed his brow.
“Jack, are you okay?”
“Never better,” Jack said, forcing his rubbery legs to walk over to Daniel. He took the towel from him and took up the task of drying the short strands. Daniel made a sound of contentment as he leaned his forehead against Jack’s abdomen.
“Better put those on,” Jack said with a final swipe of the towel as goose bumps spread down Daniel’s arms. He handed him the tee shirt and sweats. “You don’t want to catch a chill.” He stepped into the bathroom and threw the wet towel over the shower curtain to dry as Daniel slipped the clothes on and slid under the covers.
“You’re not, um…?” Daniel asked as Jack sat down on the bed.
“You need to rest, and you’ll sleep better if I’m not here to distract you.”
“S’not true,” Daniel said, yawning mightily while rubbing his eyes. “At least stay until I fall asleep.”
Jack grinned. That would be all of two minutes. He toed off his slippers and slid beneath the covers. Daniel turned onto his side to face him, and his hand came up to caress Jack’s cheek.
Daniel eased forward slightly until their lips met, and he kissed Jack gently. The pliant mouth was warm and inviting and welcomed him home. Sweet, languid kisses were exchanged until they were interrupted by a yawn.
“Sorry,” Daniel said, a second yawn following the first.
“Go to sleep,” Jack said, smiling at his tired lover. Daniel settled his head on the pillow, and looked back at Jack sleepily.
“I remember saying when we were on Bandele,” Daniel said, “that I wanted you to sleep in my arms when we got home. C’mere.” He tugged at Jack, coaxing him to lie against him. Daniel wrapped one arm around Jack’s back and the other came around to stroke Jack’s hair. Jack relaxed into Daniel’s hold, enjoying the feeling of being held. Daniel lifted his leg over Jack’s, holding him in place.
“You know?” Daniel said after a moment, “tonight I was thinking how strange it felt that I’ve missed three weeks of my life. And then it hit me. Those three weeks must have been hell for you.”
“You didn’t know. None of us realized what that stuff would do to you.”
“I knew. I suspected things wouldn’t go as planned before I drank the potion. I almost didn’t, but I didn’t want to live with the fear of the curse, or whatever it was. I’m sorry, Jack. For what I must have put you through.”
Anger flared through Jack for a moment, and then he realized he couldn’t blame Daniel. The past three weeks *had* been hell, but the week before those, with the incidents of the doll, had been just as bad, if not worse.
Daniel’s hold on him tightened, he must have felt Jack tense. Jack relaxed, snuggling his face against Daniel’s shoulder. He inhaled the scent of soap and Daniel, and licked the skin beneath his mouth.
“I understand. Go to sleep,” he said softly.
“I love you,” Daniel answered.
Daniel’s arms soon grew heavy against Jack’s back and he began making soft buzzing sounds that weren’t quite a snore. Jack knew he should get up and shut the lights and lock up, shower and change, but he was too comfortable and content. Daniel shifted in his sleep and swallowed, his breathing turning into a louder snore.
Jack couldn’t believe how lucky they’d been. He sent a swift prayer to whatever force had been looking over Daniel, whatever guardian angel or spirit that had sent him back to the world of the living. He knew how quickly life could be snuffed, his own son’s death had proven that, his work was testament to it. But it was miracles like the one that had just happened to Daniel that were to be treasured, never forgotten. And he intended to treasure Daniel for the rest of their lives.
Author's Comments: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KALEE!!!
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