Wayward Son/Sarah Connor Chronicles:
"Hey, is that snow?" Cassie stopped walking and pointed towards the edge of the trail where occasional flecks of white fluttered down, bright against the drab green of the fir trees on either side.
"No, you asshole. It's God sprinkling his dandruff down on us." Corey moved past John and Cassie, taking the lead. "Of course it's snow."
Daniel shivered as a gust of wind blew through the trees and across the path. "You sure it's not the wind blowing through your brain, Corey?"
"I'm cold." Alexandria, walking in front of Daniel, slowed and turned towards him. "Maybe we should turn back."
"Come on, we're nearly there," Corey yelled over his shoulder. "I promise you, the view at the top is worth all this."
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea." Alexandria grabbed Daniel's arm and pointed behind him. He turned, and his stomach dropped as he saw that the once sunny sky was now a drab grey. And what wasn't grey, was dark and menacing.
"Cory, we should turn back. There's a storm coming." As if to punctuate his words, the wind and snow suddenly thickened and intensified, wet and cold against his face. "And we're not dressed for this."
"Come on, we're almost there. Five more minutes." Cory's voice floated back amongst the trees. "You won't be sorry."
"We better go after him," Cassie said, voice filled with resignation. "The sooner we see this lake, the sooner we can turn back." She raised her shoulders towards her ears. "Why the hell did we decide to stop and come here anyway? We were going for a drive, not a hike."
The snow was thick and wet. The two couples increased their speed, hurrying along the trail, trying to catch up with Cory. The steep path they'd been following for the past forty minutes had led up a mountainside. They'd caught glimpses of a valley between the branches of the fir trees on their way up, but it was only when they reached the plateau that the panorama opened up before them.
"Told'ja," Corey beamed as they filed out of the woodsy trail and stood gaping at the sight of a lake nestled in a sunlit valley. The snow hadn't reached that far yet. Flanked by majestic mountains, the vista was something seen only on postcards or tourism websites. Daniel had gone hiking in these mountains often with his dad but he had to admit this had to be one of the best scenic places he'd ever seen. With the approaching storm clouds, the contrast between light and dark made it all seem even more incredible.
"Wow." Alexandria leaned against Daniel, shivering.
"Incredible, huh?" Corey stood there smiling proudly while everyone took in the range of mountains, lake and sky, shuffling their feet in the growing chill.
Then as they watched, the sun faded as the storm clouds came between it and them. As the sun disappeared, the snow thickened even more.
"We better go." John reached a hand to Cassie, urging her forward.
"Wait. There's a shortcut back to the parking area." Corey, wet snow already beginning to stick to his leather jacket, cut away from the trail.
"Corey, we're going to freeze to death up here." John caught Corey's arm.
"It's okay. There's another trail just over here. It's easier to go down it than climb up, which is why I chose the longer one to get up here." He shook off John's arm and started walking again.
John looked to Daniel in exasperation.
Daniel could only shrug. "I dunno, man. I've never been up this way. My dad and I go hiking further south."
"Come on, guys!" Corey waved at them, then pointed into the trees. "I found the trail."
By the time they were filing into the trees, the snow was coming down fast and hard, making the ground under their sneakered-feet slippery and treacherous.
"This doesn't look like a trail," John said after five minutes of slipping and sliding over roots and rocks. He stopped, blocking the way for the rest of them. "I don't like this."
"It gets better a little ways down." Corey, still descending, never looked backwards.
"Corey, stop a minute." Daniel grabbed his cell phone, his fingers cold and red as he tried to speed dial his father's number. "Maybe my dad knows how bad the snow's gonna get."
"What?" Corey sounded exasperated as he climbed back up to them. "I'm telling you, it's faster this way. My dad and I have done this several times. The trail follows a stream; there's this old abandoned log cabin halfway down the mountain. We'll come out on the other side of the parking lot and we'll be closer to Dria's van than the other trail."
"Shit. No signal." Daniel snapped the phone shut and shoved it into his pocket.
"You guys gonna stand here and freeze or are you coming down off this mountain?"
"Corey, if you're wrong about this, we could be in trouble." The snow was so wet and sticky that Cassie's hair and jacket were white. "Nobody knows we're here."
"We're already in trouble. We gotta get out of this snow." John stamped his feet, wrapping his arms around his chest.
"Don't you think I know that?" Corey looked and sounded angry. "I know where we are. You don't trust me, do you? Thanks a lot, buddy." He glared at John, then glowered at Daniel for good measure.
"We gotta get off this mountain," Daniel said, blinking as a snowflake snuck under his glasses and fell directly into his eye. "Either way, we gotta head that way, right?" Daniel pointed towards the direction Corey had been heading with his chin.
"Come on, let's just keep moving." Alexandria moved forward, crowding John and Cassie.
Corey was right. Several dozen feet later, the opening turned into a clear-cut path.
While the trees gave them a bit of protection from the wind, they didn't do much for the snow. Daniel had to constantly clear the snow from his glasses, his sneakers had no traction to speak of on the snowy trail and he found himself sliding uncontrollably, as did the others, coming to a heart-pounding stop when he finally managed to dig the edge of a sneaker against a root or rock.
"There's the cabin." Corey pointed smugly to a small shack in a clearing halfway down the mountain. Daniel peered at it through fogged-up glasses; he couldn't see clearly but it looked uninhabited. "I told you I knew where we were."
"And there's the stream," Corey announced five minutes later. The sound of running water came to them as the snow-covered path twisted along the mountainside.
"How far are we from the parking lot? Shit." John grabbed a tree, stopping his downward skid in the snow.
"About twenty minutes. Whoa." Corey slipped several feet before coming to a stop.
"Some shortcut," Cassie groused, loud enough for Daniel to hear.
He finally gave up on his glasses when, foggy and snow-spackled, he realized he could see better without them. He stopped a moment, sticking them into the pocket of his jacket and then fumbled with the zipper with fingers that were clumsy with cold. Ironically he wasn't that cold; his pants were damp but his feet, even with sneakers, weren't chilled. Snow melted off his hair and dripped down his neck, making him uncomfortable, but as long as he kept moving, it was really only his fingers and ears that felt the brunt of the storm.
Glasses finally safely ensconced in his pocket, Daniel looked up and found himself blinded by a sudden gust of wind. Snow swirled so thickly that he couldn't see more than a few inches in front of him. He panicked and froze for a moment before managing to take a deep breath and call out. "Alexandria! Corey! John!" He took a tentative step forward, then another, fingers clenched tightly and pulled up into his sleeves, shoulders hunched against the wind.
"Daniel." Alexandria's voice came slightly to his left so he turned just enough to compensate, and took another step forward. He was moving blindly, slowly, carefully, following first Alexandria, then his other friends' voices.
"Where are you?"
John seemed closer than the rest, and Daniel yelled, "Here. I'm here." Anxious to be with the others, he took several careless steps, found himself slipping and then dug in desperately until his sneakers found traction. His hand smacked against a tree and he realized he was on the edge of the trail.
"Daniel. Don't move." John appeared suddenly before him and Daniel reached for him, but that movement was enough to send him skidding again.
John threw himself forward and for a moment, their fingers touched. But before John could grasp his hand, Daniel's foot slipped and he was sliding down an embankment. He yelled in surprise, and heard John echoing him.
One moment he was sliding on his side and the next he came to a bone-chilling stop in several inches of water. He gasped in shock, the cold of the stream forcing the air out of his lungs as John landed next to him with a splash.
Immediately he began to shudder, his body so wracked with cold, it prevented him from getting a proper lungful of air.
"You... Okay?" John huffed.
Daniel couldn't catch his breath as he floundered in the water, struggling to get from his back onto his knees, away from the cold. Panicked, he frantically crawled out of the water, barely feeling the rocks scraping his frozen hands. On hands and knees, he reached the edge and huddled, arms wrapped around his knees, shuddering. Down here, the squall wasn't quite so bad and he could see the trail they'd made when they'd slid down the embankment.
"We g-gotta... g-get back... up there." John's gasping voice was strained as he crouched next to Daniel.
"John! Daniel!" Corey, Alexandria and Cassie were screaming their names.
"We're fine," John yelled back.
"Oh my God!" Cassie's voice was full of shock.
"Stay there," Daniel managed to yell, afraid that someone else would end up in the water. "We're n-not f-fine," he said to John, teeth chattering so badly he could barely get the words out.
"We g-gotta keep m-moving." John stood up and took a step upwards.
"Don't climb up," Corey yelled. "Follow the stream. It'll be easier to get back onto the trail further down."
"Okay," John yelled back. "C-come on, D-daniel."
Daniel nodded, steeling himself to stand. The short time he'd been hunched over, parts of his body, despite being wet and cold, were warmer than others. Standing up exposed his chest, abdomen and thighs to the unforgiving wind. They gasped for air, struggling to breathe as the wind buffeted them as they traveled alongside the stream.
Their friends kept calling down, keeping pace, but Daniel was too hard pressed to simply put one leg in front of the other and not slip and slide in the snow. Yelling took too much energy. It was only when Alexandria called his name several times, desperation in her voice, did Daniel call out that he was okay.
"My d-dad's gonna k-kill me," Daniel moaned. He was cold, but they were moving, they'd be at the parking lot soon and Alexandria would start the van, turn the heat all the way up and he'd be able to warm up. Soon, soon, he'd be warm.
"Sorry. M-my fault. C-couldn't grab you fast enough."
"N-not you. I'm the k-klutz." His legs were stiff, muscles stiffening up, forcing him to stride with an awkward gait. "I c-can't believe I d-did this. My dad's gonna k-kill me."
"We d-did this. And your d-dad's not g-going to kill you."
"Oh yeah, he will. J-just b-before your mom k-kills you."
John, walking in front of Daniel, hands stuck beneath his armpits, shoulders shrugged up as close to his ears as possible, slowed down so he could look back at Daniel. "She d-doesn't give a shit." He turned and kept walking.
"She wouldn't notice if I d-didn't come home tonight."
"That's n-not true." Shocked, Daniel hurried forward to grab John's arm. At the same time his foot slipped in the snow and he felt himself sliding sideways, right back into the water.
The second dunking wasn't quite as bad as the first because he was already so cold. Or so he thought for a few seconds, until he couldn't catch his breath. John grabbed his arm, more or less hauling him out of the water. Daniel fell to his knees, gasping and wheezing, having no control over his breathing mechanism that was fighting the shudders wracking his body.
"What happened?" Cassie yelled.
"We're okay," John yelled back, wrapping an arm around Daniel as they crouched near the edge of the stream. "C-corey, how much further?"
Resting his forehead against John's shoulder, Daniel expected Corey to tell them they were almost there. They'd been walking for forever; they had to be almost there, right?
"Another ten minutes, maybe."
Daniel wanted to cry. "John... I c-can't—"
"Nearly there. T-ten minutes. That's n-nothing, right? C-come on, g-get up. It's better when we k-k-keep moving."
Exhausted, Daniel stood, walking on legs that felt numb and unresponsive.
"Look, we need t-to start c-climbing up now, before we c-can't..."
Daniel nodded numbly. John was right. Even now, he could barely feel his feet or his legs. They changed direction, starting up the mountain, using trees to haul themselves forward. The climb became a nightmare for Daniel. Brace one foot against a trunk, grab another trunk with leaden arms, move forward, brace foot, grab trunk, climb. He moved doggedly, aware of John next to him, until suddenly someone grabbed his arm, pulled him forward and hugged him.
"Oh God, you're soaked," Alexandria cried out. "You're freezing!"
"Let's keep moving." Cassie, her arm around John, began urging him along the trail. Moving here was harder, the wind was stronger than at the bottom of the embankment where they'd had some protection. Snow blew into his face, into his eyes, blinding him. He walked forward numbly, trusting Alexandria to guide him, unable to garner the energy to see where they were going.
"Are you okay, man?" Corey touched his arm.
"C-cold," Daniel mumbled.
"We're almost there. You'll be fine. We're almost there." Corey hurried over to John, asking him if he was all right.
"Corey's right, we're almost there." Alexandria brushed the snow from his face and he jerked in surprise; the heat from her skin was warm. "I think I can see the parking lot. Look." She pointed through the trees.
Daniel squinted through the snow but all he could see was a blur.
He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, turned his face away from the wind when they stepped out of the protection of the trees and into the parking lot. He stood there numbly as Alexandria fumbled with the keys trying to get the door to the van open. He climbed into the back and sat in a seat, disappointed when the promised heat of the van didn't appear as Corey turned to him and began unzipping his jacket.
It was Alexandria swearing and smacking her hand against the wheel that pulled Daniel from the dulled confusion he'd been lost in.
"What's wrong?" His mouth wasn't working right. His lips, jaw and tongue didn't seem to want to move properly and his words sounded thick, slurred. Corey pulled his jacket down, trying to tug Daniel's arm from one of his sleeves.
Alexandria was crying as she turned towards him. "The van won't start."
"Here. You help Daniel take his jacket off, I'll see if I can start the van."
The door opened and a flurry of snow and wind filled the van until Alexandria climbed in next to him.
"D-don't c-cry." He tried to raise his hand to wipe a tear that was dripping down her cheek and he was surprised to find his jacket hanging from his arm.
The sound of an engine that wouldn't turn over and catch filled the van.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Alexandria leaned against him, catching his arm, trying to tug the sodden material away from him.
"Not. Your. Fault."
The sudden silence was deafening. A foreboding clicking sound replaced that of the motor.
"What are we going to do?" Alexandria clutched his jacket in her hands, as if she didn't know what to do with it.
"We can't stay here," Cassie said. "Can we go back to that cabin? Does someone live there?"
"I don't think so," Corey answered. The radio came on, loud enough that Daniel jumped, startled. "We need to know how long this storm's going to last. Maybe if it stops soon, I can walk out, get some help."
"John and Daniel need help now," Cassie hissed. "We need take their clothes off, get them warm."
Corey was changing the radio stations, static, music, voices all blurred into one until he found a news report. The words blurred as Daniel leaned forward, head pressed against the seat in front of him, trying to preserve heat.
"Shit." Corey's expletive followed the silencing of the radio.
"We can't stay here." Cassie sounded adamant.
"We can go to that cabin, build a fire, melt snow for water." Corey sounded as determined as Cassie.
Daniel lost the rest of the conversation as Alexandria began trying to get his jacket back onto him. The wet materials of jacket and sweater weren't playing nice, added to that were uncooperative limbs that were shaking so badly, that Daniel wasn't able to help her at all.
She tugged on his arm and he stumbled out of the van and back into the snow, confused. "Where are we going?" While it had still been cold in the van, at least there had been no wind. He turned to go back inside, seeking its comfort, but Alexandria stopped him by shutting the door.
"They're saying we're going to get at least a foot of snow. We have to find some shelter."
She tugged on his arm, forcing him to walk. Corey took the lead and Daniel walked blindly, keeping his eyes on the back of Corey's legs. The falling snow was finer now, not quite as wet but falling faster. It was already up to their ankles in places.
Alexandria walked next to him until they reached the path, and then she fell back to follow him. Daniel turned to see where John and Cassie were. He caught a glimpse of John walking behind Alexandria, followed by Cassie, but the movement made him dizzy and he lost his balance and fell.
"Come on, keep moving." Corey and Alexandria dragged him to his feet and forced him forward.
The nightmare began again, this time with the added indignity of being unable to stay on his feet. Time and time again he stumbled, only to be picked up, brushed off and set to walking again.
Dria was hard pressed not to cry when they finally slogged through the snow and made it to the cabin. It was clearly abandoned, one window hanging from a broken hinge, the door ajar. Corey hurried forward, opened the door, peered inside, then waved the girls and their precious burdens inside.
The cabin was just one room; no furniture, grafitti on the walls, dirt and debris covered with a fine layer of snow blown into the corners. She sat Daniel down against one wall, not liking the way he just collapsed onto his side and curled into a shuddering ball.
He waved her away with one hand. "M-m'okay."
Encouraged, she hurriedly helped Corey pull the window closed, wedging it with a piece of wood to make sure it didn't open again. She kicked the snow that had blown in into a pile under the window.
Cassie had sat John next to Daniel, and he sat there in a stupor. "There's a fireplace." Cassie went to examine the small fireplace in the corner of the room. "We need wood. Dry wood."
"I'll go get some wood." Corey was out the door before Dria could tell him that everything out there would be soaked.
"Bring the blankets," Cassie ordered even as she shoved debris from the floor, cleared a space before the fireplace.
Alexandria grabbed the plastic emergency packet that held the two scratchy woolen blankets that her mom had kept for emergencies in the van. One she spread on the floor, the other one she put aside.
"We need to get their clothes off."
"What about the fire?" The blankets were thin; they wouldn't give them much protection from the cold.
"Fire or not, we need to get them warm. First things first, get them dry. Second, get them warm."
"They're not shivering as much," Dria said as she began to tug on Daniel's jacket yet again.
"I don't think that's good. I really don't think that's good."
Daniel was a dead weight. Dria pulled him upright and he sat there, his attempts at pulling one arm out of the jacket's sleeve weak at best. Dria realized she wouldn't be able to do this by herself. A quick glance at Cassie showed she was having the same problem with John.
"It'll go faster if we do this together." She left Daniel and helped Cassie pull John's clothes off. She was shocked at the chill of John's skin as she quickly patted him dry with her scarf. When John was down to only his boxers, she gave Cassie an embarrassed look. Neither of them seemed to have the courage to pull off that last piece of clothing.
"We'll get Corey to do it later," Cassie announced. "John, come on, I need you to move onto the blanket." While Cassie coaxed John to move from the wall and onto the blanket in the middle of the small room, Dria went to Daniel. She managed to get his jacket off and his sneakers while Cassie covered John with the second blanket and came to help.
Five minutes later, both boys were lying next to the fireplace, nearly naked and covered by one thin blanket.
"I don't think the blanket's warm enough." Dria could feel the cold coming through the floor even as she knelt on the edge of the blanket.
"I think we're supposed to get under the blankets with them. I read that in a book."
"Oh, right. Body heat. I remember reading about that."
"How do we...?"
"Take your coat off." Cassie was already unzipping her jacket. "Lie next to Daniel and put the jacket over both of you." She shrugged out of her sweater and quickly wrapped John's feet in it.
Dria took her jacket off and followed Cassie's lead, taking her sweater off to wrap around Daniel's feet. Immediately she began to shiver, her bare skin erupting in goose bumps.
She slid under the blanket, trying to maneuver her jacket over her with one hand while inching closer to Daniel. She gasped when her bare ribs touched his arm. He was freezing!
She slid her legs against his and Daniel moaned softly, turning clumsily onto his side, reaching for her.
"Oh God, you're so cold." She shuddered as Daniel fell against her, one leg reaching between hers, seeking her warmth. He began shivering suddenly, his whole body trembling violently.
"Gramma? 'S c-cold," Daniel mumbled. His face nuzzled her neck, his nose sharp and cold against her skin. "Wha... 'Lexan...dria?" His hair dropped against her shoulder and she had to brush the wet strands away.
"Shhhh. It's okay."
She started to shiver also. Even with her jacket draped over their shoulders, Daniel wasn't much warmer than the cold wooden floor underneath her. She glanced over Daniel's shoulder and saw that John had curled up similarly around Cassie.
Dria teased the edge of the blanket up and over, making an almost tent over the top of Daniel's face, remembering how she'd curl up in winter when she was cold and her mom would bring the blankets up and fold them just right over her head.
Daniel's frigid fingers pressed suddenly against her ribs and she jerk in shock. He brushed against her breasts, and she reached down and caught them, held them against her skin, gritting her teeth at how cold he was.
The door opened and a blast of cold swept through the room as Corey came in. "Shit, man, you started the party without me."
While Dria ignored Corey, Cassie sounded upset. "Well, you took your sweet time getting back here. We couldn't exactly wait for you."
Corey stomped around them, tracking snow. He dropped the large armful of wood with a loud clatter right next to them, and snow spilled from the logs onto the blanket.
"Be careful. We just got them dried off. We don't need more snow."
"Ex-cuse me." Corey bent down and brushed at the snow. He squatted there a moment, looking at them. "That blanket doesn't look all that warm."
"It's not." Dria shivered again, and Daniel made a small noise as he shifted restlessly.
"The wood's all wet. We'll need to let it dry off a bit before we can try to start a fire with it."
"Dry off where, Corey?" Cassie argued. "We need warmth to dry things off, and if you haven't noticed, it's freezing in here."
"Well, what do you want me to do? It's snowing outside! Everything's covered with it."
"Cassie," Dria began, trying to get her friend to calm down.
"I have to go deeper into the woods and try to find some dry tinder. Too many people have culled from the area, there's nothing that'll burn easily." Corey was playing with a small piece of wood, using it to shovel a small pile of snow back and forth.
"Is that a good idea? What if you get lost? What if you fall into the water?" Gone was the anger; Cassie now sounded worried.
"I won't get lost. I might be gone a while; I don't want you to worry."
"How long?" Dria was already worried.
"If I'm not back in an hour, I'd suggest sending out the St. Bernards."
"Cassie's right. What if something happens?"
"It won't. I got you guys here, didn't I?" He stood and began arranging the wood he'd gotten in around the fireplace, brushing the snow aside into a pile with his foot.
He stopped, looking down at Dria.
The smile he gave her was self-assured. "I will. Don't worry." He stepped around them, heading for the door, and stopped. Slowly, he bent down and picked up a piece of clothing they'd taken off one of the boys. "You took their clothes off?"
If the situation hadn't been so dire, the expression on Corey's face would have been hilarious.
"Cassie read that in a book. It's the best way to warm them up again."
"You guys are crazy." When Corey shut the door behind them, Dria suddenly giggled.
"What's so funny?" Cassie shifted around and looked at Dria over John's shoulder.
"Nothing." She giggled again. "Corey. The clothes."
"You'd think he didn't know basic first aid."
"Cassie, I don't know what we're doing. What if we're not doing this right?"
"I'm cold. Am I supposed to be this cold?"
Cassie was silent for a moment. "I don't know."
"What did the book say?"
"It wasn't that kind of book. It was, sort of, you know..."
"Not a medical book?"
"No. This girl fell into a freezing river and her boyfriend pulled her out and got her clothes off and got into a sleeping bag with her and it was, you know..."
"It was what?"
"It was hot," Cassie whispered. "Really hot and romantic and..."
"Really?" Dria brushed her lips across Daniel's temple. "Can I borrow it when we go home?"
"Mom's reading it. I'll lend it to you when she's through with it."
"I wish I had a sleeping bag right now." Pockets of cold snuck under the edges of the blanket. In the ensuing silence, she could hear wind whistling through cracks in the walls.
"I can see daylight."
"Huh?" Dria frowned at Cassie's comment.
"In the wall. I can see daylight in at least three places. This place is never going to get warm."
"Can we fill in the holes?"
"Maybe. I don't know."
Dria let go of one of Daniel's hands to touch his face. "Daniel's not warming up."
"Neither is John. But they're shivering; that's a good sign, I think."
"Maybe we need to get them up and moving around. Maybe lying here is making things worse."
"No. I think this is right."
"But you're not sure."
"Maybe we should have stayed with the van. At least it'd be warmer."
"Do you think we should each take a blanket and wrap ourselves up in it instead of sharing—"
"I don't know!" Cassie yelled. "I don't know, okay? I'm doing the best I can and I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Cassie, I'm sorry," Dria whispered, blinking back tears. "I know you are. I'm just as scared as you are."
"I know. I'm sorry. I don't know. Maybe it'd be better if we each took a blanket. Let's wait till Corey comes back. Maybe we'll be able to start a fire."
John was too preoccupied in trying to leech all of Cassie's warmth into his body than to try to participate in the conversation around him. He knew he should be helping; maybe he'd get up in a few minutes and try to start that fire so they'd be warmer. In a minute, though, because right now, he was just soooo tired. "S-s-sorry."
"What?" The blanket shifted and Cassie's breath was warm against his face. "Why are you sorry?" Her voice was soft, gentle, almost as if she was whispering.
"M-m-my. Fault." His jaw and tongue weren't moving right; the words were hard to articulate past his clacking teeth.
"It's not your fault. We didn't know it was going to snow."
"Should. Have. Known. Ch-ch-checked."
"Don't blame yourself, okay? Just try and get warm."
"C-c-cold." He felt Cassie press tighter against him. Her body felt so warm, he just couldn't seem to latch onto the heat. "Why. So c-c-cold? Start. Fire."
"We will. When Corey comes back."
Corey returned with another armload of firewood; this time with twigs, branches and small pieces of wood. "God, it's awful out there." He dumped the wood next to the fireplace and then moved away from them to brush the snow from his hair and clothes. "How are they?"
"No change." Dria was freezing and envied Corey his jacket and own personal heat. Daniel was slowly leeching all the heat from her. And the cold was starting up another problem; she'd have to get up soon to go pee. "It's too cold in here. I'm freezing, I'm not doing them any good."
"Well, hopefully we'll get them warmed up as soon as I get this fire started." Corey crouched before the fireplace, stuck his head inside to look up the chimney, then began stacking the branches and twigs. "All those summers camping out at Scouts is finally going to pay off."
A strong gust of wind howled outside and snowflakes drifted inside the cabin, settling slowly on top of their blanket.
"It's snowing inside!" Cassie exclaimed. "Corey, we got to fill in those cracks."
"Hold on, I can't do ten things at once. I'll look at those cracks as soon as I get this fire going." He grabbed a long strip of white bark. "We got lucky. For a while I thought I'd have to burn our dollar bills as kindling, but I found some birch trees." Corey separated the bark into smaller pieces and interweaved them between the twigs. "I just got to get this in right."
"Come on, hurry up."
"Don't push me, Cassie, I'm going as fast as I can."
"And we're freezing here. John's freezing, Daniel's freezing and you're worried about making a bunch of wood look good?"
Corey spun around and yelled. "Don't you think I know that? Don't you think I don't know this is all my fault? I'm the one who wanted to go hiking. All John wanted to do was go for a drive. This is all my stupid crazy idea and they're going to die because of me."
"Core..." Daniel shifted, trying to raise his head. His movements pulled the blankets awry and cold air burned against Dria's bare shoulder and back.
"Daniel. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, man."
"Not your fault." His teeth were chattering badly.
"Yeah, yeah, it is my fault."
"Shut up, man, and ssssstart d-d-damn fire."
Dria tried to right the blanket again as Daniel snuggled up against her, shuddering harder than before. Corey had gone quiet and when she finally looked up, he was kneeling there, staring at the unlit fire in the fireplace.
"Corey?" Dria asked softly.
"Matches. We don't have matches."
"There's some in the emergency pack."
"No, there aren't any."
"I'm sure there are."
"I just went through it." Corey raised the plastic bag that the blankets had been stored in and picked up each item as he named them. "Candles. Hot chocolate. Chocolate bars. Cup-a-Soup. First Aid kit. Granola bars. And see? No matches."
"There were. I know there were. My dad's anal like that."
"Check John's clothes. He's like MacGyver," Cassie suggested. "He probably has matches there somewhere. The waterproof kind."
Dria watched as Corey went through the pockets of John's discarded pants. "Oh." Corey held up a pocketknife. "I think this thing's illegal," he whispered, giving it an admiring look before putting it down and digging deeper. "Seventy-three cents. Paper clip. Hmm, what's this?" He held up two small pieces of metal. "Lock picks?" Corey said with a grin. They were placed with the growing pile on the floor. "Condom."
Cassie made a strangled coughing sound and Dria reached under the blanket to rub her arm in sympathy.
"No matches." Corey tossed the pants aside and reached down for another piece of clothing, then froze and picked something up from the floor. He held out a small baggie filled with wooden matches. "You were right, Dria. The matches must have fallen out of the bag."
He hurried over to the fireplace and within seconds, the sound of crackling flames filled the room.
"I have to go out and get more wood and find something to fill those cracks in. But one of you girls will have to come and feed the fire until we have enough embers to start burning the bigger pieces of wood."
"I need to pee. I can take care of the fire, but what about Daniel and John?" Dria untangled herself from Daniel and rolled out from under the blanket. The sweater she'd wrapped around Daniel's feet was lying discarded at the edge of the blanket; Daniel had dislodged it when he'd curled up against her. She pulled it on and leaned close to the small flames.
"Just keep it going." Corey placed a piece of wood on top and the nest of twigs collapsed in a flurry of sparks. "Don't put too much on it at once, and make sure it doesn't die."
She nodded, leaning as close as she could to the bit of growing heat as Corey grabbed John's knife and left the cabin once again.
The heat felt great against her face and right arm, the rest of her body, the parts that weren't in close proximity to the flames, were cold. Really cold. Almost as cold as she'd been under the blanket with Daniel.
Corey came back in a few minutes, carrying several branches he'd hacked off fir trees. She watched as he cut the branches up with John's knife and stuffed them into every visible crack. After a while the sound of the wind whistling inside the cabin stopped, but she could still feel the air circulating as the wind found smaller areas to sneak into.
"I think that's the best I can do." Corey dropped the knife on the ground and knelt next to her, reaching his hands towards the flames.
"I need to go pee."
"Oh." Corey scratched his head, looked around the cabin and grimaced. "There's a small area out back that's sort of sheltered from the wind. You could go there and—"
"Pull down my pants in a snowstorm?" Dria hissed.
"Well, I had to... you know." He scratched at his neck uncomfortably.
"Isn't there an outhouse or something?"
"I don't believe this." She stood, then held a hand out imperiously. "Give me your jacket."
"Oh. Right. Okay." Corey quickly fumbled the zipper down and shrugged out of his jacket. It felt like heaven; warm from his body heat.
Dria took a step towards the door and stopped. Corey was huddled close to the fire. "You should get under there with Daniel. He—"
"Don't go there."
"He needs warmth."
"You can get back in there with him when you come back."
"Corey, I'm freezing. We're going to need to take turns. You're nice and warm. Get under there, now, before you get too cold."
"Corey." Dria stamped her foot. "Get under the blankets. Now."
He raised a finger in warning. "If this ever gets out that I was in bed with Daniel—"
"Everybody will say you're a hero because you helped save his life."
"Yeah, right." He went reluctantly, mumbling under his breath. But when he slid under the blanket and reached for Daniel, his "Holy shit, man. You're a block of ice," quieted any further comments from him. Dria tossed another small log on the fire, which was giving a bit more heat now, at least it felt that way but maybe it was just due to the warmth from Corey's jacket. She zipped it up and with both trepidation and anticipation, stepped out into the storm.
The wind had picked up, whipping her hair into her eyes. She slid and slipped around the cabin and found the bush Corey had mentioned. Desperation had her sending a quick prayer that frostbite didn't occur in the time it took to empty her bladder. She reached for the buttons on her pants, and steeled herself.
Dria used the knife to cut away the tops of the two empty Pepsi cans she'd found out back. After wiping them with Daniel's sweater, she went back outside, filled them with snow and placed them next to the fire. The area around the fireplace was starting to warm up but she suspected it would be a while before the cabin got nice and cozy.
"Sweet or salty?" Dria asked, sorting through the stuff in their emergency kit.
"What?" Cassie stuck her head out from beneath the blanket.
"Hot chocolate or Cup-a-soup. Which should I heat up?"
"I'm melting snow." She raised one of the cans to show Cassie.
"Hot chocolate sounds good."
"Aren't you supposed to give chicken soup to someone who's sick?" Corey asked.
"Yeah, that's true." Dria left one of the packets of soup aside and put the rest back into the bag. "Soup it is."
"You should let the water boil first," Cassie suggested.
"Good idea." Dria peered into the cans; the snow was slowly melting but was leaving her with very little water. It took forever before she'd gathered enough snow to fill one can and almost all of the dry wood to get the water to simmering. In the meantime she spread all the wet clothing as close to the fireplace as she could in the hopes of drying them out.
She used her scarf to pick up the can and placed it aside, letting it cool a little first and got more snow to melt.
"The storm's not letting up," Dria said worriedly as she added the last of the smaller pieces of wood to the fire. "I think we're going to be stuck here overnight."
"I can try to walk back to the van—"
"No, Corey. That's a stupid idea." Cassie's cry startled John, and he shifted under the covers.
"Maybe I can get it to start. I can drive out and get help—"
"Not while it's snowing. We can't chance you getting sick, too." Dria was just as adamant as Cassie.
"What if someone finds the van? They won't know where we are. We should have left a note inside or something—"
"We'll worry about that when it stops snowing," Cassie said in a softer voice.
"And if it doesn't stop until tomorrow morning? Daniel and John sure as hell can't walk out of here in this snow. Not like this."
"And neither can you. You won't make it to the van before it gets dark. All of this isn't your fault so stop trying to be a martyr. Like Cassie said, we'll worry about it in the morning." Dria stuck a finger in the water; it had cooled off a little so she tore the packet open and added the soup mix to it. She folded the envelope into a thin strip and stirred the mixture with it, then dipped a finger in and out quickly. Maybe it was just a tad too hot still.
"I'm not a martyr." Corey sounded like he was sulking.
"I know," Dria said softly. "And I want to get out of here as much as you do. I want to go to Zestos and have some Greek for supper. I want to go take a hot shower, and then curl up in front of the TV to watch last week's episode of Grey's Anatomy. I want Daniel and John to be okay and I hate snow." She turned her head, staring at the dying flames, trying not to cry.
"You need to put in another log." Corey gave her an apologetic smile.
"I know." She turned her head and wiped her eyes. Carefully she picked up one of the larger logs and put it on the embers. There was a hissing sound as water dripped onto the fire.
"Corey, can you wake Daniel up?" She tore open one of the granola bars, picked up the can of soup and kneeled next to the two boys.
Daniel was still shivering as he opened his eyes lethargically.
"I got some hot soup. Think you can drink?" She dipped the granola bar into the soup an stirred it once more.
Daniel mumbled something, the words distorted by his chattering teeth.
"Oh, that's gross," Corey exclaimed when Dria pulled out the dripping granola bar.
With the can wedged between thumb and pointer finger, and with Corey holding Daniel's head up, she was just bringing the can closer to Daniel's lips to help him when Corey let out a curse.
"Shit," Corey yelled, jerking his head from side to side. "Wait, wait, wait," he stuttered.
Startled, Dria jerked and it was quick reflexes that saved Daniel from wearing the soup instead of eating it, but the granola bar fell back in the soup with a plop, sending droplets flying. "What the—"
"The can." Corey pointed to the makeshift mug she held in her hand. "The edges are too sharp to put in his mouth."
Now it was Dria's turn to issue an explicative. "Shit, you're right." She sat back on her haunches. "What the hell are we supposed to do?"
"Give me a second." Corey crawled over to where he'd piled all the contents of the survival kit from her car and rooted hurriedly through the stuff. "Yes!" He held up a plastic wrapped packet, a smile splitting his face in two.
"You did good, Core," Cassie said trying to rein in her own enthusiasm," now get your ass over to Dria before the soup de jour freezes over."
Dria spoon-fed Daniel several sips and then handed Corey the soggy granola bar. She went to John before the soup got too cold. "Make him eat some of that," she ordered Corey over her shoulder while she settled by John.
"It's all sticky." Corey watched with disgust as a piece fell off the bar and landed on his pants. "And gross."
"Yeah. And it's soft, too. Easier to eat that way."
Cassie took the can from her and spoon-fed John while Dria supported his head. Then Corey passed her a sodden chunk of the granola bar while Dria went outside to rinse the can and get more snow.
When she got back, she found that the last log she'd placed on the fire, however, wasn't cooperating. It sat there like a wet lump, sending up steam and smoke and making hissing sounds while the embers beneath it slowly cooled and died.
"Corey, I think we have a problem."
Daniel wasn't asleep; the shivering had kept him from dozing off completely but he kept losing time somehow. But now, the soup and the few bites of granola bar he'd eaten earlier were making him nauseous.
A warm hand touched his cheek and he opened his eyes to see Cassie leaning over him with a lit candle. It was funny, he thought dreamily as she smiled at him, that she hadn't quite mastered Janet's skill of hiding her worry.
"You should come lie down," Alexandria said softly from somewhere behind Daniel. There was a faint scent of wood smoke in the air; he remembered a fire and teasing warmth at some point.
"I'm okay." Cassie scrunched into a ball and wrapped her arms around her knees. Her jacket was huge, and it took Daniel a few seconds to figure out that it wasn't hers. Corey's; it was Corey's jacket.
"You're gonna get cold," Corey said sternly next to Daniel.
"Core's... right," Daniel said with difficulty. "Here." He patted the ground behind him with a lethargic arm.
"Hey." Cassie leaned forward and he got a kiss on the temple for his efforts. "That's an offer I can't refuse." She dropped her jacket quickly and stepped between them.
The blankets were displaced as Cassie tried to slide in on his other side, sending coolish air down his body. His body rebelled. He found himself shuddering so hard, he couldn't catch his breath. He was sandwiched between Cassie and Corey and for several minutes he felt hemmed in as they pressed against him, trying to share their body heat. He was so afraid he was going to be sick, to throw up on top of them that he tried to move, tried to get up.
"It's okay," Cassie whispered in his ear. "It's going to be okay." She wrapped her arms around him, holding him closer, preventing him from crawling away.
He gave up the fight and burrowed under the blanket.
"Shouldn't they start getting better now?" Alexandria sounded worried. "I mean, it's been hours."
"I don't know."
"I'm freezing. Is it because it's cold in here? Because we're lying on the ground?"
"I don't know."
"Would it help if we put our clothes on them?"
"I don't know, Dria," Cassie yelled. "I'm not my mom, okay? I don't know what else to do."
"B-better." He was lying, he wasn't feeling better, but hell, he'd say anything right now to stop them from yelling at one another.
"Yeah, right, Daniel. Tell me another. I know how cold you are; I've got your ass digging into my stomach."
"But he is warmer." Someone's hand skimmed over his back. "His skin's not as cold as before." Sandwiched between Corey and Cassie, Daniel still didn't feel any warmer.
"I know. I don't understand it."
"What did they do in the book? Are we missing any steps?"
"It was a stupid romance novel." Cassie suddenly sounded like she was close to tears. She eased away from Daniel's back, and he was sure she sniffled softly behind him. "It wasn't Gray's Anatomy."
"But the author must have researched, right? The guy warmed up the girl by getting into bed with her. We're doing that."
"He took off their clothes," Cassie said in a small voice.
"We did that, too." Alexandria sounded exasperated. "Well, some of us did."
"All their clothes. Both of them. They were both naked under the blankets."
At Alexandria's small, "Oh," Corey burst out laughing.
"It's not funny." Cassie reached over Daniel and smacked Corey's arm.
Daniel grabbed a handful of Corey's sweater. "D-don't. You. D-dare."
"Hell, this is bad enough with my clothes on. If you breathe a word of anyone about me being under the covers with you..."
Plastered as he was against Corey, Daniel would sell his soul if it meant that his heat source didn't move away.
"Not. A. Word." He let go of Corey's shirt, bringing his hands back between their chest. "Thanks."
"Hey. Friends, right?"
He nodded, too tired to answer.
"Did Daniel ever tell you how we met?"
"No," Alexandria answered.
"It was Halloween. He was wearing a bunny outfit Grandma Rose had made him and a neighbor was giving him a hard time."
Daniel nodded. He'd loved that bunny outfit and had cried when he'd outgrown it the next year.
"Why was he giving Daniel a hard time?"
"Daniel didn't talk when he first went to live with Colonel Jack."
"Didn't talk? Went to live with Colonel Jack?" Dria sounded confused.
"Uncle Jack adopted Daniel. I thought you knew that." Cassie twisted behind him, shifting so that her back was against his. The movement displaced air and he shivered harder again.
"No, I didn't know," Dria said softly.
"Oh, I'm sorry. It's not a secret, I thought Daniel had..."
"Mom was going to adopt him, like she did me. But Daniel would have none of it. I remember the night he came to stay with us."
Daniel groaned, hearing the change in Cassie's voice that warned that she was about to go into a long, convoluted, embarrassing story again about how he'd screamed all night until his dad had come and gotten him.
"Hey, you okay, man?" Corey lifted the blankets and the dim candle light showed the worry on his friend's face.
"D-don't let her t-tell that story. Please. I'm s-s-suffering enough."
"I wanna hear," John stuttered.
"I'll tell you another time, okay?" Cassie whispered.
"You said Daniel didn't talk..." Alexandria prompted.
"He wouldn't talk to anyone for months. Mom called it... Damn, I forget."
"Selective mutism," Cassie offered.
"God, th-that's hard t-to believe," John chuckled weakly.
"Not funny." Daniel smacked Corey on the chest. "Look at what you s-started."
"Me? What'd I do?"
"You were telling me about Daniel. Don't listen to him, Corey. Tell me," Alexandria wheedled.
"Mom babysat and the first few times Daniel didn't talk, but he had no problem making himself understood. Then one day I remember he came over and he was talking a mile a minute, going on and on about everything, as if he'd never been mute before. And from that day on, he's never shut up."
"Fuck you, M-middleton." If he wasn't so cold, he'd probably be sweating bullets out of embarrassment.
"Watch your language, Jackson. Considering the only thing separating you from me is a damp pair of briefs."
Cassie popped her head up. "Hey, do you hear something?"
"Just Daniel's pride cowering in fear."
"Shush, Corey. I thought I heard something."
"What? A wolf? Coyote?"
"A motor, asshole. I thought I heard a motor."
"They won't fly planes after dark—"
Daniel tensed his muscles, stopping the non-ending shivering for a few seconds and strained to hear what Cassie had heard. At first all he could hear was his breathing, and then he heard it. The faint putter of a motor.
"Holy shit." Corey clambered to his feet so fast that the blanket barely hit the ground before he was up and running to the door.
"It can't be a motorcycle. There's no roads," Cassie exclaimed, sitting up and letting the cold air rush under the blanket.
"I see lights. Headlights," Corey yelled from the opened door. "Hey, it stopped snowing."
"What is it? Is it coming this way?"
"It's coming right for us." He was hopping up and down, trying to get his sneakers on. "I think... it's a snowmobile."
"Oh, thank God." Cassie stood, grabbing one of the jackets that had covered him and hurried to the door to peer over Corey's shoulder. "Is it the police? I can't see, the headlights are blinding me."
The motor sounds got louder, and then cut off suddenly.
"Howdy," a stranger called out. "Are you kids all right?"
"Hey, can you help us?" Cassie was jumping up and down on the balls of her toes.
"How many of you are there?" A flashlight winked past them, illuminating the floor for a moment.
"Five. But two of my friends fell into the stream and got wet. We can't get them to warm up."
A man entered the cabin and flashed his light over Daniel. He blinked, turning his head away, pulling the blankets closer to his chin as the man kneeled next to him.
"How're you doing, son?" He placed a hand on Daniel's cheek. It was warm, not as warm as Corey or Cassie's had been, but warm nonetheless. He eased his hand down Daniel's neck, touching his shoulder and chest.
"I'm a little c-cold."
"That's quite the understatement," the man said with a smile. He turned to Corey. "There's blankets in the box on my snowmobile. Grab them and the bag of heatpacks and bring them here."
The man shifted over and gave looked at John. "How about you? Are you cold also?"
"How long have you kids been here?"
"Since just before lunch." Cassie nervously paced back and forth from the door to the blanket. "We tried to build a fire but the wood was too wet."
"Looks like you kids did pretty good with what you had."
Corey hurried inside, carrying an armful of blankets.
"Good. Thanks." He took the blankets from Corey and within seconds, Daniel was wrapped from head to feet in a thick, fluffy blanket, with heat packs stuck in folds around his body.
"How'd you find us?" Alexandria asked as the man handed her her jacket and urged her to put it on while he wrapped the second blanket around John.
"I saw your van in the parking lot and decided to have a look see in the area, see if I could find any stragglers." He stood and gave the others a careful look. "What about you three?"
"Bet you're cold and hungry."
"A little. We shared a couple of granola bars, but that was a while ago."
"Well, sit tight a minute while I go radio for some help. With a bit of luck, we'll have you out of here in an hour or two."
"Thank you," Alexandria whispered. She stood next to Cassie; both girls looked like they were giving each other support. Daniel wanted to tell them that it would be all right but he was just too tired.
John hated the feeling of helplessness. Bundled up like a mummy, strapped onto a stretcher on skis, pulled behind a noisy snowmobile, the drooping snow-laden branches against the dark sky floating by were making him queasy. And watching Cassie's back where she rode double on the snowmobile in front of him with the Park Ranger who'd found them wasn't helping his stomach any, either.
He'd much preferred when she'd lain next to him. At least his stomach had been the least of his worries then.
He wanted his bed. He wanted a hot shower. He wanted to sleep.
But most of all, he wanted his mother. Wanted things to be the way they'd been before.
Shoving the childish yearning aside, he closed his eyes.
A touch against his neck startled him awake.
One of the rangers was crouched next to him, and Cassie was peering over his shoulder.
"How're you doing?" The man continued pressing against his neck until eventually, John's sleep-befuddled brain caught up.
"I'm ok-kay." He shivered as the ranger pulled his hand away and rearranged the blankets. "What's g-going on?"
"We're about halfway to the main road. We should be there in another twenty minutes." The man gave John a pat on the shoulder and stood. He glanced to his right, where another snowmobile sat idling, a second stretcher trailing behind and someone bent over Daniel. Alexandria was standing next to the snowmobile, her hands tucked into her pockets. Corey was sitting on a third snowmobile, watching from a distance.
Cassie leaned over him, cutting off his view of everyone else. Her hand was warm where it cupped his cheek, her lips even warmer as she pressed them against his. "I called my mom. She's going to meet us at the hospital."
"Hospital?" John would have reared out of the basket he was in if he hadn't been strapped down. "I d-don't wanna g-go to a hospital. I just wanna g-go home. Shower. B-bed."
"Shhhh." Cassie pressed her lips against his again. Her breath was warm and chocolaty. "You're still too cold. They need to help warm you up. My mom's going to call everyone's parents—"
"D-doesn't matter," John said dully. "My mom d-doesn't c-care anymore."
"What do you mean?" Cassie whispered.
John realized suddenly that he'd let slip the hurt that he'd been holding inside for weeks.
"This is what's been bothering you. Something between you and your mom—"
"Come on, Miss," the ranger yelled. "We're ready to go."
He pressed his jaw tightly together, not only to hold back the nausea and still his chattering teeth, but also to clamp back the pressing pain and confusion of a life turned upside down.
"This conversation isn't over, John Baum." Cassie gave him another slow kiss and then slogged through the deep snow to straddle the snowmobile. They took off with a lurch and a blast of foul-smelling exhaust, the feel of Cassie's lips still against his.
Time dipped, shifted, elongated and skipped. One moment John was still thinking about Cassie's kiss, the next he was surrounded by EMTs, the swirling lights of emergency vehicles giving the whole area a surreal look. People were talking to him, talking over him, lifting and then shoving first his stretcher and then Daniel's into the back of an ambulance.
The cocoon of blankets was pulled away and hands touched him even as voices demanded answers from him and Daniel.
He had difficult focusing but he managed to answer their questions, concentrating on their voices as opposed to the sound of the nagging noise of the siren. He dragged open heavy eyelids as the ambulance lurched to a stop and the doors opened. Bright lights blinded him and he shut his eyes again, only to open them at the sound of his mother calling his name.
She appeared next to him as he was wheeled under a blur of overhead fluorescent lights.
"I'm here, John. I'm right here." She squeezed his arm through the bundle of blankets.
"G-good thing you d-don't need me t-to save the world anymore."
Yet more people swarmed around him and he lost his mother in the confusion.
Jack had been expecting the worst. He and Sarah Connor had arrived at the hospital and rushed to Emergency, where he found Fraiser, Gina and Steve and the Montalbanos. He barely managed to ask for details when an ambulance pulled up. He stood there by the doors with the other parents, trying to pretend his legs weren't shaking when EMTs removed two gurneys from the ambulance. He barely recognized Daniel as he was wheeled past, covered in layers of blankets. He hurried to his son's side.
Daniel opened his eyes, looked around unfocused for a moment and then caught sight of Jack.
"Dad." His eyes closed lethargically ending any conversation Jack had hoped to pull out of Daniel.
He listened to the EMTs brief both Fraiser and the doctor who'd stepped up to meet them. While he didn't get everything the EMTs said, he did catch the fact that Daniel's body temperature was pretty dammed low.
"Cassie said they were hiking when they got caught in the storm," Fraiser said as they wheeled Daniel into a cubicle, while John Connor was wheeled into the one next to his. Fraiser gave him a condensed version of what had happened as he watched Daniel being transferred to a bed and the blankets removed. Jack stepped back, out of the way, trying to listen as the assessment process began.
Daniel lay on the bed, naked except for his underwear, shivering so hard that it was painful to see. He observed as they removed his son's boxers, started an IV, affixed leads to his chest and wrapped him in several layers of blankets with heat packs under his arms and around his groin.
"You're going to be fine, Daniel," the doctor treating Daniel said as a nurse pulled the edge of the blanket up over Daniel's head like a hood. "We're going to slowly let your body rewarm itself over the next few hours. We don't want to do this too quickly because it could cause problems to your heart because it can't handle all the blood flow at once." The doctor smiled kindly at Daniel and waved Jack over. "Your father's here."
"He's going to be miserable for a couple of hours," the doctor said to Jack as approached the bed, "but he'll be fine. There's no sign of frostbite, just a bit of bruising on his ribs and right hip. He was given a warmed IV in the ambulance. We're keeping that going and slowly trying to get his body temperature up to normal over the next few hours. Do you know how long ago this happened?"
"The kids were out hiking earlier today and got caught in the storm. I don't have all the details yet."
"Several hours, at least," Fraiser said. "They found shelter after Daniel and John fell into a stream and from what I understand, they took John and Daniel's clothes off and tried to warm them up with their body heat."
"They did good. It probably kept their situation from deteriorating."
Jack pulled up a chair and sat by Daniel's bed as the doctor left.
"He's right," Fraiser said as she leaned over Daniel to caress his cheek. "He'll be fine. If you'll excuse me, sir, I'll go see if I can round up my daughter and get some more details out of her. She was a little hyper when she called me from the police car."
"If you see my mom... She was visiting friends when I called..."
"I'll keep an eye for her, sir."
"So..." Jack rubbed a hand down Daniel's blanket-covered arm. "Sounds like you guys had quite an adventure."
"Yeah. A fun t-t-time was h-had by all."
"What? Cuddling on the floor half-naked with your girlfriend—"
"And C-c-corey. He helped. Kept us warm. Found shelter. Started a fire."
"I think I'm going to have to treat those guys to a home-cooked meal as a thank you."
"How about Cheese c-cake Factory?"
"What, you don't like my cooking?"
"D-dont wanna g-give them food poisoning as a thank you."
"Damn. You're right." Jack forced himself to smile at his son. He watched Daniel shiver uncontrollably, feeling helpless.
His mother appeared at the cubicle's opening. He caught a glance of Fraiser behind her who gave him a quick nod and a smile.
"How is he?" She hurried to the bed and leaned over Daniel. "Mhuirnin. How're you feeling?"
"I'm fine, G-grandma. Just really c-cold and tired."
"He's going to be fine, Ma." Jack stood and gave her his chair before stepping outside to look for another. When he came back with one, she was leaning over Daniel, rubbing her fingers over his cheek.
"And they g-got under the blankets with me and John," Daniel was saying as Jack sat down. "I was scared." He turned wide eyes towards Jack. "Really scared. I g-got so tired and cold and I just c-couldn't walk anymore."
"Daniel thinks we should take the kids to the Cheesecake Factory as a thank you." Daniel seemed much more animated, and there was a bit of color in his cheeks, and his eyes had a sparkle they hadn't had just thirty minutes ago when Jack had first seen him.
"I think that's a great idea."
There were degrees of coldness, and the one surrounding John had nothing to do with the fact that his body temperature was still several degrees below normal.
His mom had been polite to the doctor and was now making courteous noises to the nurse who had come to check on him. She had on her concerned face as she sat next to him. The concern he was pretty sure was heartfelt, it was the anger he could see simmering in her eyes that projected the chill in the room.
Once the medical staff left them alone, it didn't take her long to let him know of her displeasure.
"What the hell were you thinking?" she hissed. "You went out hiking in the middle of a mountain range without checking the weather beforehand? You, of all people, should have known better. All it would have taken was one small click of a mouse before leaving the house. Or listening to the radio. You kids listen to music; I can't believe you couldn't find a station with a weather report."
"We didn't plan on g-going hiking. It just happened." Lame, Connor, really lame. But it was the truth and the only excuse he had. "We went for a drive and d-decided to stop on the spur of the moment. Corey knew a spot with a g-great view and we d-decided it would be neat to go see."
His mom stared up at the ceiling for a moment, took a breath, as if steeling herself emotionally, and glared at him. "All those years of training... You're supposed to be a leader, John. You couldn't even talk your friends out of going out into the wilderness—"
"There was no reason not t-to," John yelled. "The sun was out and it wasn't that c-cold, at least not while we were walking." He lowered his voice when he realized he was losing control. "This isn't fair. You know I'd have tried t-to talk them out of it if I'd known."
"That's just it. You should have known."
"Oh, right. Now I have to memorize the weather for the whole state on a d-daily basis in case I step out of the house. What d-difference does it make? It's not like you need me anymore. You're just pissed because you were called away from whatever top secret project you're working on today."
"What? Why the hell would you say that? You know I was worried."
"Never mind." John turned his head, sulking.
"John, you know I was worried," his mom repeated, more softly this time.
"And why would you say I don't need you anymore?"
He closed his eyes. "I'm tired."
"John, look at me." Her voice was soft and demanding. He managed to ignore her words; it was her fingers grasping his jaw and tugging gently that compelled him to look at her again. The chill was gone, the old warmth and caring was back. "Talk to me."
"Nothing to say."
"Are you upset because I've been spending time at the... Of course you're upset." She let go of his chin and sat back. "I'm sorry, I didn't see... I thought you were okay with me working with the military."
"I am." Or he'd been okay with it, until it had become his mom's new obsession, leaving him totally out of the loop with all the top-secret projects. For sixteen years he'd been the sole focus of her attention; now, he was just a superfluous tool. He'd been feeling increasingly alienated over the past weeks. Maybe now was the time to confess to his fears. He had her full attention. "But sometimes I just feel that—"
"John." Cassie burst into the cubicle, one hundred twenty-three pounds of nervous energy. "My mom said I could come see you for a few minutes. I just finished getting looked at by the doctor, he said I was okay. Dria and Corey are fine, too. I haven't seen Daniel yet, the doctor's with him right now. How are you doing?" She turned to John's mom. "How's he doing?"
"He's better," his mom said. "He's starting to sound like his old self again."
"He's right here," John spat, pissed at the interruption. "And he's still c-cold."
"You look better." Cassie leaned down over him and gave him a quick kiss.
He could smell coffee on her breath. Now he understood why she was talking a mile a minute. He decided to give his mom a bit of her own medicine. "My mom's pissed that we didn't check the weather before leaving."
"Oh." Cassie gave his mom a deer in the headlights look. "We really hadn't planned on going hiking, Mrs. Baum."
"And I didn't plan on going for a dunking," John added quickly at Cassie's obvious discomfort. "Neither did Daniel. It just happened, Mom."
His mom raised her hands in defeat. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still in shock hearing that my son was being rushed to the hospital suffering from exposure when I thought he was at home hanging around with friends."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Baum."
"I'm just glad everyone's all right." She stood up and motioned to her chair. "Do you mind sitting with John for a few minutes while I go get some coffee?"
"Sure." Cassie sat down, fidgeted a moment, shifting the chair closer to his bed. The moment his mom left the cubicle, she embraced him, leaned against him and rested her cheek against his. "I'm sorry you got in trouble," Cassie whispered.
"You didn't. I seem to be able to do that wholly on my own."
"You do look better."
"I'm still cold."
"But you're not shivering anymore."
In reply, John's body shuddered once.
But she was right; he hadn't noticed when the shivering had eased off. But he still felt cold, and was beginning to think that maybe he'd never feel warm again.
"Oh, that's cruel," Jack whispered to Daniel as John's mother lit into him.
"It wasn't John's fault," Daniel whispered back as the doctor took note of Daniel's vitals.
"I know." Jack rubbed Daniel's shoulder, wincing as Sarah Connor continued her tirade. Even with lowered voices, it was clear she wasn't happy with her son.
"I should go speak to her." His mom went to stand but Jack reached a hand out to stop her when they heard Cassie's voice. "Then again, maybe not."
"Dad, do you have my glasses?"
Jack perked up. Daniel asking for his glasses meant his son was alert enough to want to know what was going on around him. "No. I'll go see if any of the kids are still in the waiting room and ask."
Two minutes later, with Dria and Corey flanking him, Jack returned to Daniel. He stood back as his friends surrounded the bed. His mother got up and came to join him. Together they watched the three of them talking.
"Daniel's glasses are apparently in the pocket of his jacket," Jack said to his mom. "And said jacket is apparently in the cabin with the rest of his clothes. Oh, except for his underwear. That he was wearing when they brought him in."
"Is there any way of getting them back?"
"Montalbano's going to go get his van from the parking lot tomorrow. I'll go with him, see if I can make a trip to the cabin and get the clothes."
"Maybe you should wait."
"Temperature's going up above freezing tomorrow, so it shouldn't be too much of a struggle."
The kids said goodbye and stopped in front of Jack. To Jack's surprise, Corey gave his mom a hug while Dria wrapped her arms around Jack.
"He looks a lot better," she said into his shirt.
"He's going to be all right."
"I'm sorry, Colonel Jack."
"Sorry for what?" Jack took her arms and gently pulled her away. "From what I heard, you guys were wonderful. Virtually heroes."
"We couldn't get them to warm up," Corey said from within Rose's embrace. "I started a fire but there was no dry wood to burn."
"And that's your fault?"
"I was a Scout. I learned these things. I should have been able to make a stupid fire."
"A-hole," Daniel said from his bed. "You only learned how to sell popcorn at Scouts."
Cassie half-giggled, half-sobbed at Daniel's comment.
"Even my dad would have had trouble with that stupid fire. Quit it, okay?"
"He's definitely feeling better," Corey stated as he pulled away from Rose.
Jack rubbed a hand over Dria's back as she wiped her eyes again. The smile she gave him, though, was clear and bright.
"Tell your dad I'll go with him tomorrow to get your van. I want to get up to the cabin and get Daniel's stuff."
"Okay. I'll tell him to call you tomorrow morning?" She straightened and Jack dropped his arms.
"Daniel, I'll call... Oh, your cell..."
"Is probably crap anyway," Daniel said morosely. "It got soaked when I fell in the water."
"We'll get you a new one. Don't worry," Jack offered.
"Can I have an iPhone?"
"Those the expensive phones that do everything but your homework for you?"
"What's wrong with a phone like your old one?"
"But if I'm getting a new cell, why can't it be better? I can get all these great things on the iPhone. I can even download books and music—"
"Wow, really?" Jack jumped when his mother poked him in the ribs with her elbow. She frowned at him when he raised her eyebrows at her.
"And then I can get all these cool apps." Daniel's face became animated and he rose onto one elbow. "See, if I combine my iPod and my phone, it's just one thing that I have to carry around. Then I can—"
"But it'll save money in the long run—"
"Tell me how you're going to talk on the phone and read a book at the same time."
"Well, you don't read and talk at the same time—"
"So why bother having two, huh?" Jack was proud of his logic. "You can just as easily hold a book while you talk to your friends with your brand new phone that Grandma will choose for you tomorrow." He turned and arched an eyebrow at her. She had better not come home with that expensive phone after all this.
Daniel sulked, barely perking up when Dria gave him a last goodbye kiss.
Jack glanced in the rear-view mirror, checking to see if his mother was still following behind him, then over at Daniel, who was busy fiddling with his new semi-charged cell phone. "You're going to wear that thing out before you get home."
"I'm almost done. Now I just need to download a few things from my laptop and I'll be all set." He gave his father a sidelong glance. "I still think an iPhone would have been a better deal."
"And I still think Grandma made a great choice in phones. It's got all the same options as your old one, right?"
"Yeah." Daniel didn't sound convincing as he pressed a few buttons, turned the cell off and dropped it in his lap.
"Did you thank Grandma for the phone?"
He sighed loudly and laid his head back. "Yes, Dad."
"You okay? Are you cold?" Jack reached for controls of the truck's heater.
"I'm fine. Just glad to be going home."
"Sure you're not cold?"
"I'm sure, Dad. I'm fine. The doctor said I was fine. Janet said I was fine. I spent the whole day at the hospital under observation even though I was fine. I just want to, you know, do my own thing."
"Well, how does doing your own thing with Greek sound?"
He got a quick smile. "Sounds great. I'm starving." He touched a hand to his glasses. "And thanks for going back and getting my glasses and stuff."
"You know, your friends did a pretty bang up job with that cabin." Honestly, Jack could have sent Carter or Teal'c to pick up the boys' belongings, but he'd wanted to see firsthand what Daniel had gone through. He'd been pretty impressed.
"Most of the credit goes to Corey. He really was great. They all were."
Jack pulled into his driveway, maneuvering alongside Carter's Volvo.
"She brought the Greek. And Teal'c."
"Really?" Daniel had his seatbelt undone before Jack stopped the truck. He was up and running into the house, slipping and sliding on the slush-covered steps while Jack waited for his mother to park behind him.
"Where's the fire?" his mom asked, sliding out of her car as the door slammed behind Daniel.
"Either he's really hungry, or he's happy to see Carter and Teal'c."
"I never get that kind of reaction. I'm going for hungry." She grinned at Jack as they made a more dignified entrance.
"More snow?" Daniel sounded angry at Teal'c's comment of the long-range forecast.
"Indeed. Over the next few days we may expect colder temperatures and several more inches of precipitation."
"That's just so not right." Daniel dragged a fry through his yogurt sauce and stuffed it into his mouth.
"It is winter." Jack's comment earned him a glare.
"Technically, sir, it's spring." Carter was sporting a mischievous grin.
"Just because you're on spring break doesn't mean balmy weather. Snow and cold are the norms for this season."
"Yeah, but come on, can't we get a break?"
"Maybe you need to visit a warmer place for a few days." While Carter said this, she stared straight at Jack. It took him a second to catch on.
"Oh no, no way."
"What?" Daniel glanced from him to Carter, then to Teal'c. "What, no way? What warmer place?"
"Sir, it might do him good."
"Do me good what?"
"Not a good idea, Carter."
"Grandma! What are they talking about?"
"Sorry, mhuirnin, I'm as lost as you are."
"Rodney's going to Abydos for a few days to try and see if it's feasible to mine the naquadah safely. I just thought it might do you good to go somewhere hot, considering what just happened and—"
"Abydos?" Daniel's face suddenly fell.
"I'm sorry, Daniel." Carter reached across the table and touched his wrist. "I didn't mean to upset you. I know you'd talked about visiting since you saw Kasuf and..." She grimaced. "I should have talked it over with your father before bringing it up."
"No. You know, it sounds like a great idea. You just caught me by surprise."
"No, Dad. It's something I think I need to do and maybe it's something I should do sooner than later."
Daniel was tearing apart his gyro bit by bit. Jack reached over and cupped his son's neck, pulled him over so that he could reach and kiss the top of his head. "We'll talk about this later, okay?"
Daniel nodded as he popped a piece of lamb into his mouth. He swallowed, yawned, and slid a finger under his glasses to rub his eyes.
"Tired?" Jack examined Daniel carefully, remembering the doctor's warning to be on the lookout for signs of illness over the next few days.
"Yeah." He yawned again. "Sorry," he mumbled, blinking back yawn-induced tears.
"Yeah, just tired." Daniel dragged three fries through the yogurt sauce and ate them. He looked up and seemed to realize that everyone was staring at him. "I'm fine," he said, ducking his head self-consciously. "Really." He took a large bite of his gyro and chewed energetically, as if trying to show everyone that he was fine.
"Perhaps you should retire early tonight." Teal'c stated the obvious; Daniel definitely was dragging. "Your body has sustained a shock and it needs to recuperate."
"That's what the doctor said," Daniel mumbled with his mouth full.
"He is a wise man."
The moment Daniel finished eating, he pushed away from the table. "I think I'm going to take a hot shower and go to bed." He went to Carter and gave her a kiss and a hug. "Thanks for supper, Sam."
"You're welcome, Daniel. Sleep well."
Daniel did the rounds, hugging and kissing everyone before heading to his room. A minute later, Jack heard the shower go off.
"What a crappy way to start spring break." Carter picked up Daniel's dirty dishes and brought them, along with hers, to the sink. "Sir, I'm sorry about bringing up Abydos."
"It's okay. Daniel's mentioned going there a couple of times. I just don't know if he's ready emotionally for that visit. Although the change would probably do him good for all of fifteen minutes before he started complaining about the heat but..."
"I know. But the offer stands – I'm sure I can get General Hammond's approval to let him come along with us if he wants to go."
"I'll let you know." Carter was right; a warm destination was what Daniel needed right now. Maybe he should start looking into Club Med instead, might be easier on his kid.
Guests gone, house cleaned and locked up, Jack paused outside Daniel's bedroom door. Normally at this time of night, either Daniel's voice or the electronic beeps of his chat filtered into the hallway. But tonight, his room was silent and dark. Jack opened the door slowly and peeked inside.
Daniel was curled up on his side, out for the count. Jack tiptoed to the bed and eased a finger between the blanket and his son's cheek. While the skin was slightly warm, when Jack kissed Daniel's forehead, the skin there was cool.
"Sleep tight, Icky. Stay warm." Jack pulled down one of the blankets Daniel had piled on top of his comforter. It was one thing to be afraid to be cold again; it was another to wake up in a pool of sweat in another hour or two.
"You know, maybe taking Daniel away from this temperature for a few days might be a good idea," Jack told his mother when he joined her in the living room. "Someplace where he won't use up all the hot water to try and warm up."
"Daniel always hogged the hot water."
"Yeah, Ma, but he didn't sleep under every blanket in the house."
"Are you considering Sam's offer? Is it safe?" She looked at him over her cup of tea.
"Abydos? Yeah, I think it would be safe; the system lords have no reason to go back there. That's not what worries me."
"Oh. That's right." His mom put her teacup down and leaned forward. "Has Daniel spoken of her at all?"
"No, not really. I told him a few months ago that she and Skaara were fine but he never really brought her up since his memories came back."
"What if he wants to go?"
"I don't know." Jack exhaled loudly and stared up at his ceiling. Why did life have to be so complicated? "Daniel's been through enough and going back will do nothing but pour salt on the wound. But knowing my son, now that Carter's put a bee in his bonnet, I'm sure come tomorrow morning he's going to be dead set on going."
Come morning, Jack ate his famous last words.
"I don't wanna go." Daniel's answer was short, to the point and delivered with an attitude that brooked no further discussion when Jack brought up Carter's invitation.
Relieved, Jack picked up his newspaper and went back to the crossword, putting the whole Abydos trip out of mind. Except that thirty minutes later, Daniel put his section of the paper down and leaned back on his chair.
"Do you think John could come, too?"
"Come where?" Jack asked, glancing over at Daniel, struggling with the paper's crossword puzzle. Daniel had brought his feet up, balancing his heels on the edge of the seat and his chin on his knees.
"To Abydos. He'd probably enjoy the heat."
Jack stared at Daniel in surprise. "I thought you said you didn't want to go."
"I don't, not really. But..." He dropped his feet noisily to the floor and drew his index finger across the kitchen table in a figure eight. "I guess I need to explain to Kasuf what happened to me. It's only fair."
"But it's not the same. I have to tell him that I still remember him, and that I'm grateful for everything he did for me when I lived there. He must think I'm some sort of stuck up kid who never cared enough to go and say hello."
"Hey, it's not like Abydos is just a bus ride across town."
Daniel rolled his eyes. "I know. But he deserves to hear it from me and not from some stupid messenger."
"That stupid messenger was me, by the way." The words came out more harshly than Jack meant them to. But he still remembered the haunted look on Kasuf's face when he'd told him about Daniel's downsizing.
"Oh." Daniel gave Jack a quick, sidelong look. "Sorry."
"What about Sha're?"
"What about her? You said she was fine."
"If you go, you'll most likely see her."
"That won't bother you? You were married to her for over a year."
Daniel started to answer and Jack could see the lie forming in his son's face. But then his face fell, and he shook his head as he stared at the table. "Yeah, it will. It'll be embarrassing as hell, if nothing else."
"She thinks you're dead."
"Kasuf decided to not tell her and Skaara what happened to you. He figured the stress of getting the snakes out of his kids and then their trying to come to grips with all the things they'd been forced to endure was more than enough to deal with. Unless he told them recently, as far as I know—"
"That's why Skaara never recognized me."
"I guess so."
"So I can go and pretend to not be me." He pushed his chair back noisily.
"Who are you going to be, then?"
"Well, I can be your son, can't I? That is who I am." He stood and grinned.
"And you think the moment you introduce yourself, they won't know?"
"I can go by what Derek calls me. They can call me DJ."
"Daniel, it's not a good thing to start lying—"
"I know. If they ask, I can say that's my nickname. And that you named me after your friend Daniel." Daniel grabbed his cell off the table. "I'm going to call Sam and tell her I'm going." He waved the phone towards Jack. "I can go, can't I?"
"Yeah. Tell Carter to plan for two more."
"John can come?"
"John? No, I was talking about me."
"You're coming?" Daniel's smile widened, nearly illuminated the kitchen. "That's cool!"
"Yeah, well, I could use a change in scenery."
"Maybe John doesn't want to go to a desert planet where the temperature doesn't dip below ninety at night."
"Are you kidding? Dad, it's going to snow again."
"Fine. I'll call Sarah and Hammond. In the meantime, don't get your hopes up."
"You want to go where?" John walked through the house, heading for his bedroom.
"Abydos. That desert planet we went to when we were trying to get home after the—"
"I know where Abydos is." John climbed onto his bed, grabbing his bedspread with his free hand and tried to spread it over his shoulders. "I also remember you didn't like that visit very much."
"That was because I wasn't feeling so hot. This would be different—"
"You are one really weird dude, man. Do you really want to go and visit your in-laws? Aren't there closer and less stressful places we could go to? Somewhere where we could bring the girls?"
"If you don't want to come, just say so." Daniel sounded miffed and John sighed.
"Sorry, man. I didn't mean to come down on you. I have to think on this." John huddled under the bedspread, wishing he could get warm and stay warm. There was a chill in the air that just wasn't going away.
"Don't think too long. They're leaving at three this afternoon and we need to be at the mountain by one for a briefing."
"I thought you lived there for a while."
"I did. But Sam's not sure what I remember and what I don't so I need to go over survival tips. Actually the whole team will be at the briefing."
"One?" John checked the time on his phone. It was ten. "That doesn't leave me much time."
"So go talk to your mom, pack a few books and sunscreen and come join the party."
"I know I'm going to regret this," John said as he slid off the bed.
John's mom was in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, staring out the window. John balanced a hip on the kitchen table, rubbing his hands over his arms, trying to erase the chill in the air. He frowned at his mom's short-sleeved shirt.
"You're going to get cold," he nagged, putting off asking the question. In just the few minutes it had taken him to hunt her down, John had gone from mildly interested in accompanying Daniel to downright against the idea. He had a week off; he'd hoped to spend it with Cassie.
"It's not that cold in the house."
He stopped rubbing his arms as him mom's expression turned to one of concern. "I have something to ask." Here was his chance; his mom would nix the idea and he'd save face and not have to lie to Daniel that going back to Abydos for his family reunion wasn't exactly how he wanted to spend his time. "Don't freak out, but, Daniel asked me to go with him to another planet."
His mom nodded. "The trip to Abydos?"
"Yeah. You know?"
"Sam mentioned she thought it would be a great idea to bring Daniel along. You want to go?"
"You're letting me go?"
"You're obviously not enjoying the spring weather." She looked at his arms and he found himself rubbing them against the chill again.
"I just can't seem to get warm," John admitted.
"That's understandable. It's probably more a fear of feeling that cold again."
"Do you know how hot it gets on Abydos?"
"Hotter than Central America, I bet."
"I'm not sure I want to go, Mom."
"Why not? You keep saying you'd love to go through the Stargate and visit some other planets."
"Yeah, well, not this week."
"You have plans?"
John shrugged. "Not really. I just thought me and Cassie might, you know, hang out."
"And what about Daniel? He asked you to go with him. You're just going to walk away and let him down?"
"What about me? What about what I want? Do you even care anymore?"
His mom pushed away from the counter and stared at him with disappointment. "Of course I care. I'm sorry that I thought my son put his friends' feelings before his own. Because I thought Daniel was your friend and from what I hear, he's going to need one over there."
She left the kitchen, leaving him there, dripping with guilt. "Shit." He slammed his palm on the tabletop. She was right – Daniel needed a friend.
"Mom!" He hurried after her. "Can I go with you to the SGC?"
"Changed your mind?"
"It's not that I don't want to go," he lied, "I just didn't want to go this week."
"So you said. Go pack. I'll tell the tin miss to pack as well. I'll wait for you."
"You're making Cameron come with me?"
"You don't think I'm going to let you go by yourself, do you? Not with the luck the two of you have when you're together." The smile she gave him took the bite out of her words.
He was ready to go in less than ten minutes. He sat down on his bed, next to his packsack and picked up his cell. It was with a bit of trepidation that he called Cassie's number.
"John. I was just going to call you."
"Yeah. I just got off the phone with Dria. We're all going to a spa for the next three days. I went there with my mom last year, it was great. You wanna come?"
"To a spa? Like, in massages and mud baths and pedicures and stuff."
"Yes! We're leaving tomorrow and coming back Thursday night."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun."
"Cassie, I really like you and everything, but I am not going to a spa." He hid his disappointment; why did he feel cheated because his girlfriend wasn't even going to be missing him. Hell, if Daniel hadn't invited him, he'd be spending the next three days home without his girlfriend.
Her laughter was immediate. "Chicken."
"Actually, I have plans."
"Daniel asked him to go with him to Abydos. You know where that is, don't—"
"Abydos?" Cassie squealed. "You're kidding me, right?"
"I'm serious." John spent the next couple of minutes bringing Cassie up to date, and then spent the next fifteen minutes listening to Cassie bring him up to date about Sha're, daughter of Kasuf, sister to Skaara, and the years she'd spent under the control of Amaunet. By the time he hung up with Cassie, he was ready to switch alliances and head to the spa with the girls.
John wrinkled his nose at the robe Daniel was trying to foist off on him. "I'm not wearing a dress." He thrust it onto the table, away from him.
"Come on. Trust me, it's a lot cooler and comfortable than whatever you've got packed." Daniel shoved the robe back towards John. "Just bring it along; you can decide to wear it once you're there."
"Is Doctor McKay going to wear those robes? Or anyone else on his team?"
Daniel burst out laughing. "Just one person would be willing to wear them. Actually he has his own. But nope, I don't see my dad willingly getting into one of these—"
"Didn't your mom tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"SG-1 requested the privilege of escorting Rodney and Doctor Lee to Abydos. So on top of Cameron as our guardian, we've got Teal'c, Sam, Colonel Mitchell and a couple of other marines, as well as my dad."
"But your dad's not on SG-1 anymore."
"Nope. But he asked General Hammond as a special favor—"
"Unauthorized Gate Activation." The announcement reverberated in the small meeting room where they waited, killing time.
Both of them looked at one another. Daniel tensed, waiting to see if there would be a further announcement but when the pulsating red light shut off, he relaxed.
"You always seem to worry when that happens." John shot a look at the light over the door to make a point.
"Do I?" Daniel thought about it a moment. "Yeah, I guess I do. SG-1 used to rush to the Control Room every time someone came through the 'gate. I think maybe some old habits are harder to squash."
"Hey." Sam knocked on the door and came inside. "Aren't you two going to be late for the briefing?"
"Oh shit," Daniel exclaimed when he checked his watch. "We'll be right there, Sam." He picked up the robe John had pushed aside and tossed it at his friend when Sam went on her way. "Pack it. At least if you change your mind, it'll be there."
"I won't change my mind," John stated as he shoved the dull brown robe into a corner of his backpack.
"Did you pack your iPod?"
John shot him a long-suffering look as he slipped a strap over his shoulder.
"Just checking. Did you bring your cable? Because Sam and Rodney have laptops so we can recharge." Daniel waved to the pile of equipment belonging to the rest of the team members strewn around the room.
"No," John said as he stepped out of the room. "But I can always borrow yours – What the—" John ducked as something big and grey streaked by in mid-air, nearly colliding with him. "What the hell was that?"
There was a loud cheep and the grey blur came flying back down the corridor just as Daniel peeked around the door.
"Holy shit!" He grabbed John, pulled him out of the way and back into the room, only to have the two of them shoving one another in their rush to get out of the room when the flying object, which looked like a combination of balloon and snake, flew past them and into the room, circling and crying excitedly.
"Wow," John said as the creature came to a stop, hovering in the room, its little sharp head moving back and forth, its nose working as it obviously sniffed the air. A delicate blue tongue slipped out to swipe at its nose as it descended to the packed gear and began rooting around the bags.
"Hey, stop that." Daniel waved a hand to try to get it away from the equipment.
He got a soft chuffling sound in reply, but otherwise the creature ignored him.
They heard footsteps running up the corridor and Rodney, breathing hard, entered the room. "Scarlett," he gasped even as the creature let out a happy sound and circled around Rodney excitedly. "Hey, calm down. Yes, yes, I know, I'm happy to see you, too." Rodney rolled his eyes to show the boys that he wasn't exactly as happy to see Scarlett as it was to see him.
"You know that... thing?" John stuttered.
"Better yet, it knows you?" Daniel asked, totally mesmerized as the little alien wrapped itself around Rodney's neck and licked his cheek.
"Yeah. Unfortunately. We saved Scarlett and a few of her kind a couple years ago and since then she comes for a visit whenever she takes a fancy." He scratched the side of Scarlett's neck and she rubbed her cheek against his.
"Through the Stargate?" Daniel exclaimed.
"They're pretty intelligent. Stole a GDO and used one of our old codes."
"You're trying to tell me that that thing can dial a Stargate, use your security devices to punch a code through, and come visit the SGC whenever it feels like it?" Apparently, from John's tone of voice, he didn't believe any of what Rodney was saying.
"Yeah. Actually, that's exactly what they do. Didn't I mention they were intelligent?"
"Can I touch her?" Daniel took a step closer.
"Yeah, sure. She loves people."
Grinning, Daniel petted Scarlett. Her fur was short and soft, her body warm. She sniffed his hand and then licked his fingers, giving a happy cheep when he moved his fingers to rub her forehead. Her eyes closed in bliss, and Daniel couldn't help compare her to a cat, even though her head looked more like a tiny fox.
"You wanna...?" Rodney asked John, almost impatiently, wagging his fingers towards the living fur stole around his neck. "Everyone usually does."
"No, not really." As if to emphasize his words, John stuck his hands behind his back.
"She's really soft. Yeah, you are, aren't you? And cute," Daniel crooned. "Yeah, you're cute and I think you know it." He changed hands to pet her when she began licking his fingers, stroking her forehead while her tongue flicked around his fingers.
"Look, I'd love to stand here and let you waste my time and yours while you amuse yourself, but considering that we're all late for that briefing, I think we should get a move on." He flapped a hand in Daniel's direction and moved away the moment Daniel lowered his hands. As Rodney walked out of the room, Scarlett raised her head and stared at Daniel, craning her head until they turned into the corridor and disappeared from sight.
"He doesn't deserve her," Daniel said behind Rodney's back.
"Yeah, no accounting for taste." John rolled his eyes as they followed Rodney into the corridor, hurrying towards their assigned briefing room.
John really didn't want to sit through what promised to be a boring meeting. He listened to Rodney chatter away to Daniel with half an ear, wishing instead he were somewhere else. Hell, even Cassie's spa sounded better than this.
He wasn't really paying attention when he followed Rodney and Daniel into the briefing room. It was pretty full and he began glancing around for seats when Scarlett let out an angry-sounding screech. She shot into the air, moving so fast that she was a blur, and began zipping around the table, circling around one person.
It was evident to all who had upset her.
"Is it a bird?" Cameron asked, head upturned as Scarlett continued her fit.
"No. Don't hurt it," Daniel yelled, even as John hurried past feet and legs to get to Cameron.
"Scarlett," Rodney shouted. "Stop it. Come here."
"Are you sure? I can kill it if it's bothering you."
"Don't kill it." John stood protectively in front of Cameron, watching the little alien spin around. "Don't hurt it. Don't make a move."
By now Rodney had followed John and was standing next to Cameron. With his arms extended, he tried to coax it back down.
"Maybe she should leave," someone called out.
"Who? The robot or the alien?" someone snickered.
"That's enough." Sam's voice cut through the jibes. "Scarlett, that goes for you, too. Come on." She reached an arm up into the alien's path. To John's surprise, Scarlett slid down her arm and wound herself around Sam's neck. Snakelike, she stuck her head forward and hissed at Cameron.
"Enough. She won't hurt you."
"I won't hurt you," Cameron echoed.
Apparently Scarlett disagreed because she hissed again. Sam nudged her with her shoulder. "Behave, or I'll have you thrown out. I mean it," Sam added when Scarlett opened her mouth to hiss again.
To John's surprise, Scarlett quieted, although she kept giving Cameron glares as Sam walked away. Once back at the main table, Scarlett slunk off Sam's shoulders and repositioned herself around Rodney's, not without letting go a few soft chitters aimed in Cameron's direction.
After all the excitement, once the meeting started, John's mind started drifting. Even the pertinent data about Abydos was boring because Daniel had already told him all about it. They needed to watch their water intake and not get dehydrated, sunstroke, heatstroke, use sunscreen, and so on. In other words, it was hot. Been there, done that, got the sunburn.
He found himself watching Daniel watching Doctor McKay, or was it the alien Daniel was watching? John had to admit the little guy was pretty cute. Once the Major who'd been droning on about the planet's weather finished talking, Rodney stood up and grabbed Scarlett from around his neck, eliciting a startled meep as he literally dropped her onto the table, giving her no choice but to hover in place. She gave Rodney a dirty look which had both John and Daniel trying to smother their laughter as she floated there, looking lost while Rodney began firing up a PowerPoint presentation on the mining methods on Abydos and how they were going to try and find a safer way to mine the ore they wanted.
Maybe it was their laughter that caught Scarlett's attention, or maybe she was just as bored as they were. But she flew to them and slowly circled both him and Daniel. Her body rubbed against his and it felt to him like a cat rubbing at his legs for attention. "Maybe she's hungry," John whispered to Daniel.
"What do you think she eats?"
"Bats are flying mice—" John waved his hand. "Never mind."
Moving swiftly, she caught Daniel by surprise when she suddenly pounced on his ponytail. He yelped, apologized quickly when Rodney stopped talking and tugged his hair back down flat against his neck. John couldn't help grinning; and he could have sworn that the darned alien was smiling back.
"She wants to play," John whispered.
"Not with my hair!"
John held still when Scarlett approached him, winding down his neck, shoulders, arms, then to his surprise, she head butted his hand. When he began rubbing her face and neck, she settled on his lap, her body spread out between him and Daniel.
Both of them gave her their undivided attention, marveling at how she would slowly rise up a quarter inch into the air to rotate her body. Twice she raised her head to peek over John's shoulder and hissed softly in Cameron's direction. Each time, John shushed her softly. "I know, she probably doesn't smell right," he whispered the second time Scarlett showed her dislike, "but Cameron won't hurt you."
The meeting couldn't have ended soon enough for John. When everyone stood, Scarlett yawned, wriggled a little and rose into the air. She hovered over them, then cheeped happily when Colonel O'Neill came their way.
"Made new friends, didja?" he asked as Scarlett happily twined herself around him. "Hey, girl. How ya doin'?"
"You know her?" Daniel let his fingers slide over her body as she moved around his father.
"Yeah. I was there when we saved one of her flock, and she's come to visit a couple of times to say howdy."
"How come you never told me about her—" Daniel's almost-whine changed the moment his dad arched an eyebrow. "Oh, right. Sorry. Top secret and all that."
"To be fair, you were just recovering from the Lam incident the last time she visited."
Scarlett hissed as Cameron approached.
"Hey, none of that." Colonel O'Neill stuck a finger in front of Scarlett's face and she meeped in surprise. She gave him a puppy-dog look, gave Cameron a glare, and then promptly ignored both of them, giving her fur a quick lick.
"We're lucky she came alone this time." Sam clapped a hand on both John and Daniel's shoulders. "Sometimes a bunch of them come over for a visit. I think the last time one of Scarlett's children came with her."
"She has children?"
"The Colonel didn't tell you about when she decided to give birth to twins in the middle of Rodney's lab?"
"McKay was having kittens himself afraid she was going to ruin half his experiments," Daniel's dad said with a sly smile.
"Those were important experiments," Doctor McKay said as he packed up his laptop. "I still don't see why she couldn't have gone and had her babies somewhere a little less disruptive."
"What would've been the fun in that?" Sam was grinning at Doctor McKay and Scarlett seemed to catch her mood because suddenly she was flitting all over the place, one moment twisting between Sam and John, the next trying to grab one of the pens by Doctor Mckay's hand, then tugging at Daniel's ponytail again, and finally grabbing a balled piece of paper from the table and tossing it into the air with her mouth. Sam caught the paper and took several steps backward in the now empty room. Scarlett cried out in excitement and rushed towards Sam, who tossed the balled paper at Daniel's dad. Colonel Jack caught the paper, backed up and tossed it at John. John fumbled the catch and nearly got a face full of fur as Scarlett braked in mid-air and twisted sideways. Grinning, John stepped back and then tossed the paper to Sam, who tossed it at Daniel.
They continued the game for a few minutes before Scarlett finally caught it in mid-air. Snuffling with satisfaction, she raced around the room several times before bringing it over to Rodney and dropping it on top of his laptop.
"Yeah. Thanks." Rodney flicked the ball of paper over his shoulder and she dived after it happily.
"We got time for a bite to eat; you guys hungry?" Daniel's dad rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "It's Monday; they've got pecan pie."
"Did you call your grandmother?"
Daniel, busy trying to stuff several chocolate bars into his backpack and quickly losing patience, rolled his eyes in his father's direction. "No." He was nervous as hell and beginning to have reservations about going.
"Don't you think you should?"
"I saw her yesterday." Daniel swore under his breath when he only managed to get half the chocolate bars in and the rest were in danger of being crushed.
"And you're going away for a couple of days. The least you can do is say bye."
"I don't have my cell. It's not like I'm gonna be able to use it trans-galaxy." He debated shoving the chocolate bars in regardless, but he really wanted them all in one piece.
"Don't get smart. Go use the phone in the Control Room."
Anger warmed Daniel's cheeks. "Fine." Tossing the last chocolate bars on top of his packsack in frustration, Daniel stomped out of the Gateroom and into the Control Room. He asked permission to use the phone and called his grandmother.
The conversation was short; she told him to be careful, to have fun and to let her know the minute he got back.
He told her he loved her, that he'd be careful and he'd bring her back a souvenir.
By the time he returned to the Gateroom, he'd calmed down enough that he was able to fit his treats into the corners of one of the backpack's pockets.
"Those are going to be useless blobs of melted chocolate in no time." John eyed the candy wrappers sticking out of the pocket as Daniel picked his backpack up and shouldered it just as the Stargate started to rotate.
He wiped sweaty palms on his pants. "It doesn't matter."
"You're not wearing your robes?"
Daniel shook his head; to be honest, he was nervous enough about going through. The last thing he wanted was to bring attention to himself and wearing native clothes was sure to do that.
"Come on, you really don't want to come with me." Rodney's voice carried loudly into the Gateroom. He entered, walking quickly, with Scarlett flying circles around his head, chittering excitedly. "Honestly, it's going to be hotter than hell and we don't have any food with us for you. You're not coming with us."
"Don't sweat it, McKay." Daniel's dad looked up as Scarlett zoomed over him. "She'll get one whiff of Abydos's sun and head straight for the DHD and home."
When the Stargate exploded into the room, Daniel obediently took his place with John in the center of the group, directly behind Cameron, and stepped through the 'gate.
John thought Daniel looked nervous. A welcoming committee was waiting for them when they came through the Stargate, headed by the Chief's son whom John had met a few months ago when he and Daniel had escaped to Abydos on their way back home.
Scarlett immediately took off to investigate, obviously not fazed by the intense heat.
"Don't shoot, she's a friend," Rodney yelled as the guards waiting to greet them raised their weapons.
Someone barked a command in a language John didn't know and the men lowered their weapons. but they kept a wary eye on Scarlett as she zipped around.
It hadn't been this hot when he and Daniel had sheltered here; John wondered if they'd arrived during the night that first time. They'd never really gotten to see anything except this room. With a morbid sense of curiosity, he glanced at the wall where he and Daniel had hunkered down for those interminable hours but there was no sign that they'd been here.
To his surprise, Daniel's father greeted Skaara boisterously with a warm hug. Skaara, who'd seemed cold to John on their last visit, smiled and laughed as he also greeted Sam and Teal'c.
"And now I want you to meet my son, Daniel."
Skaara froze and stared at Daniel for a long moment.
"Hi," Daniel said nervously, sticking his hands into his jacket pocket. "My dad's told me all about you." The smile Daniel gave was obviously forced.
"I am glad to see you and your friend are well."
"Thanks." Daniel couldn't hold Skaara's gaze and he ended up staring at his boots.
"I did not know you had a son, O'Neill."
Jack put his arm around Daniel and gave him a quick hug. "I hear you got kids of your own."
"Yes. Two." The spell seemed broken and Skaara burst into a proud grin. "You will see them soon, as well as my Amee'ra. She is looking forward to meeting you."
"We're all looking forward to meeting your wife." Sam walked around John and put a hand on John's shoulder. "This is John Baum. He's Daniel's friend, and this is his sister, Cameron. You heard that both boys had a bit of an accident?"
"Yes." Skaara waved them forward and they began filing out of the huge cavern. Torches lit the corridor, sprinkled liberally amongst the pillars. "And while I have seen many incredible things, good and bad, during my time as a Klorel's host, I still cannot believe a planet can be cold enough that it would endanger someone's life."
"Maybe you'd like to come visit Earth," Mitchell called out from behind Daniel. "They're expecting snow tomorrow. Bring the kids, I'm sure they'd enjoy making snowmen or having snowball fights."
Skaara flashed Mitchell a smile. "Do not speak of fighting before Amee'ra. My sons have been pestering me to begin teaching them the skills of a warrior and my wife believes they are yet too young."
"Children are never too young to learn survival skills." Cameron turned to John. "Why didn't you show me how to fight with snowballs?"
"Are you a warrior? Like Major Carter?" Skaara asked Cameron.
The pillared room they were in was getting brighter; windows allowed sunlight to stream in, and there was a blinding light at the end of the room which was their exit. John stepped out of the cavern and into sunlight so brilliant that his eyes teared. The heat was almost unbearable as he fumbled for the sunglasses the SGC had provided him while Daniel affixed clip ons to his glasses.
"God, it's hot," John said as he pulled a boonie hat from his pocket and plunked it on top of his head.
"Well, if you'd been paying attention at the briefing, you might have been forewarned." Doctor McKay frowned as he put his sunglasses on. "Do you think we hold those because we like to hear ourselves talk?"
Daniel's cough sounded suspiciously like laughter. John had to turn away from his friend as he tried to control a smile.
"You will come with us to Nagada for the mid-day meal?" Skaara made eye contact and nodded to everyone in the group.
"Actually," Rodney said quickly, "if you don't mind, I'd like to go straight to the mines and start working. We've only got two days here and even with the days being thirty-six hours long, there's still not enough hours to get all the data we need."
Mitchell cleared his throat noisily.
"Of course, if that's all right with you, Colonel?" Doctor McKay's voice was sarcastic.
"Rodney's right," Sam said, giving Doctor McKay a warning glance. "You should get going. Shouldn't waste the daylight."
"Of course. Emil will take you to the mines." He nodded at a tall, skinny man with balding hair and bad teeth who waved at them to follow with a gap-toothed grin.
"Major Lorne, take your men out and keep Doctor McKay happy." Colonel Mitchell ran the back of his hand across his forehead. "We'll head out to the city and go say howdy to Kasuf."
"Great. Thanks. See you tonight. Don't wait supper on us." Doctor McKay started walking in the deep sand, then froze. "Oh, shit. Scarlett. I can't just leave her in there..."
"Don't worry." Daniel's dad put two fingers to his lips and whistled loudly. A few seconds later, a grey blur sped out of one of the windows and zipped towards them. Tongue lolling out of her mouth, she went straight to Jack and flopped bonelessly around his shoulders.
"Oy. It's too hot to be wearing a fur stole." He gently prodded her until she rose into the air. It was then that she seemed to realize Doctor McKay was moving in another direction. She whined softly.
"No, girl. You're better off staying with us. There's gonna be shade where we're going."
"You may travel with me if you find the heat too taxing." Teal'c patted his shoulder and Scarlett exchanged shoulders, wrapping herself around Teal'c.
They walked slowly in the deep sand. The sun was brutal and John's instincts were to take his shirt off. But he knew, as hot and uncomfortable as they were, they offered protection.
"How far is the city?" John asked Daniel. All John could see were sand dunes.
"Not far. A few more minutes and we'll be able to see it."
Daniel was right. As they topped the rise, the city lay before them. Square clay buildings interconnected by rope bridges, surrounded by an enormous wall, the city looked drab and imposing as well as foreign, but at least the front gate was open and inviting.
The moment they stepped through the gates, the heat seemed to lessen. John attributed it to the shade they, and the buildings, provided.
Up close, the city was incredible. Skaara led them through narrow streets, up and down and across bridges that connected the city together. John looked around curiously, until he caught a glimpse of Daniel. His face seemed pale and tense, and his head was lowered as he stared at the cobbled stones at their feet and not at the wonderful, exotic city they were in.
"You okay?" John whispered.
"I'm fine," Daniel whispered back.
"Memories?" he guessed.
"No. It's hard to explain. When I remember things, it's like I remember an old dream. But this, I've been here, lived here. It's like being brought inside a dream and you're afraid you're never going to wake up."
"We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."
"Yeah, exactly." Daniel pressed his lips together.
"Daniel, it's not a dream. It's okay."
"I know. My mind knows that but..."
"Maybe it's like culture shock. You'll get used to it."
"Do you want me to tell your father?"
"No." Daniel raised his head to look at John. "I'm fine. It's just a little weird."
Weirded out was a better description. This was almost as bad as the hallucinations he'd had when he'd first gotten his memories. He'd see a landmark – a building, a doorway, a statue or a fountain – and would get vivid flashes of memories. Here he helped a family repair damage caused by the udajeets when Ra's Jaffa had attached. Here he slipped on mastadge dung and landed on his ass. Here he helped his wife gather water every morning. Here he stopped nearly every evening to help the elderly widow herd her pilleas into their coop. Here he spent time talking to the old men, learning the people's history.
"Hey. You okay?"
Daniel shook the near-hallucination away and stared into his father's face. He'd stopped walking at some point and from the way everyone was looking at him, had been standing there like an idiot, lost in his memories.
"Sorry." His mouth was dry and pasty, but sweat was running down his back and ribs.
"We're almost there."
His father handed him a canteen and Daniel answered softly, "I know," before he took a sip of the tepid water.
"Maybe this was a bad idea."
Skaara moved into Daniel's sight and looked him up and down. "Heat is hard on the body. It took me a few weeks to adapt when I returned to Abydos. We are nearly there. Can you continue?"
"I'm fine." Embarrassed, Daniel shoved the canteen at his dad and straightened his shoulders. "We can go now."
"Freezing to death one day, dying of heat the next. Whose bright idea was this?" John gave Daniel a gentle shove. "You know, we could be at the Spa right now getting a facial."
"Shoot me now." Daniel pushed John back. "I think I'll take heat stroke over a pedicure."
"Heat strokes are lethal." Cameron, the only one of their group other than Skaara not wearing sunglasses, gave Daniel a confused look. "Why would you want to endanger yourself—"
"Pedicures are for girls," Daniel snorted. "Guys wouldn't be caught dead getting one of those."
"Oh. Thank you for explaining." She was quiet for a moment.
"Spas aren't all that bad." Mitchell, in the lead, turned to grin at Daniel. "Lots of half-naked women parading around and—"
Daniel's dad cleared his throat loudly.
"Wearing housecoats. Long, fluffy housecoats," Mitchell added quickly, "that cover you from neck to toe. And fuzzy slippers."
"Hang out at the spa, do you?" Sam gave Mitchell a friendly punch in the arm.
"Actually, no. I just dated someone who worked there. She, ah, told me all about it."
"Sure, she did." She flashed a grin in Daniel's direction just as they came up to the front door of Kasuf's house.
Daniel's breath caught in his throat as he entered; very little had changed. A different woven tapestry hung on the wall in the main room, there were several new cushions added to the multitude spread on the floor. Dishes were laid out on a table before the cushions and Daniel's mouth watered as he recognized the pungent herb-laden food.
"Welcome. Welcome." Kasuf breezed into the room, arms spread out in greeting. He bowed to everyone and Daniel swore there was a twinkle in his eye as he smiled directly at him. "Oh. What's this?" he asked as Scarlett lazily uncoiled herself from Teal'c's shoulders.
"A friend. I hope you don't mind. Eh," Jack said sharply as Scarlett began sniffing the food on the table. "Manners, please."
"Are you hungry? Please, please, sit." Kasuf waved at the table, taking his place at the head, waiting for everyone to sit before lowering himself to a cushion.
Abydonians never waited on protocol. Skaara was already eating, but Kasuf, anxious to please, watched as everyone chose a few morsels and tasted. Daniel, however, as he had always done when he'd sat at Kasuf's table, waited until the man himself took a bite before reaching for a piece of bread and dipping it into the thick paste at his elbow.
The spicy food was almost more than he could bear. The taste threw him back in time; flashes of his previous life superimposed itself over him for a moment and he saw Sha're, a younger Skaara, and Kasuf sitting with him at this very table eating this very food, laughing, talking and arguing.
His dad's voice pulled him back and he opened his eyes, swallowed with difficulty what he'd popped into his mouth, and tried to control his breathing. "Sorry."
"Are you okay? Do you want to lie down?"
He felt a nudge against his arm and he looked down at Scarlett, who was sliding into his lap and trying to lay her chin flat against his forearm.
"I'm fine, Dad. I—"
Two young children ran into the room, yelling loudly as they rushed to Kasuf. Both threw themselves on top of him, and Kasuf eagerly hugged them as they slid to sit on his lap.
"Jak'neel, Dan'yel, leave your grandfather alone so he may eat in peace." A young woman, speaking Abydonian, entered the room, clapping her hands sharply. Both boys, twins, around four or five, Daniel guessed, pouted as they reluctantly stood.
"Amee'ra, my wife." Skaara smiled up at her as his sons sulkily went over to their mother. As introductions were made, with Kasuf and Skaara translating, Daniel was able to breathe more easily. Scarlett and the children had chased away the ghosts.
"What does she eat?" Daniel asked his dad as Scarlett settled so that she could stare mournfully at the table.
"Mostly leaves and branches from a tree on her planet, but she'll do okay with fruits and vegetables."
Daniel picked up a grape-like fruit and offered it to Scarlett. She sniffed it, gave it a look and then carefully teased it from between his fingers and chewed noisily.
One of Skaara's sons walked over and offered Scarlett a large chunk of flat bread.
"No, Jak'neel." Skaara motioned to the boy to come to him.
"Here." Daniel's dad held out a piece of fruit to the boy. "Just one." He held his finger up and Skaara translated. Dan'yel ran to Daniel's dad, anxious not to be left out, grabbed the fruit and shouldered Jak'neel out of the way, offering his bounty first.
Daniel thought Scarlett would follow them when they went back to sit with their father but she seemed happy to stay where she was and beg from him. He and John took turns feeding her; and she took turns staring up at them adoringly.
"You didn't eat much."
Daniel shrugged, accepting his father's touch, knowing he was checking for fever. "I'm just tired, I guess."
"Looks like you're not the only one." He glanced over at Scarlett, who was curled up in a pottery bowl on a side table.
SG-1 was talking with several visitors; Skaara and Kasuf acting as interpreters again. Daniel felt left out; if he were adult, he'd be the one doing the translating.
"Make sure you drink."
Daniel nodded. The heat was hard to get used to. They'd shed most of their clothes and he had on only a tee shirt and pants. He picked up the mint-flavored tea that Amee'ra kept pouring into their cups and sipped as his dad went back to the discussions. He couldn't help wonder where Sha're was and why she wasn't here.
"This is all screwing with your head, isn't it?"
Daniel shrugged, not answering John's question. To those who knew him, it was pretty obvious something was bothering him.
"Can we leave here? Go for a walk? Change of scenery?"
"Not now, not for a few more hours." Daniel pulled the tapestry hanging in front of the widow and winced at the brightness outside. "The sun's too strong right now. We're not acclimatized."
"Hey. Heads up," John hissed.
Daniel released the tapestry and saw Kasuf heading for him. John made a face at him as he moved away, and it took everything for Daniel not to tell John to stay.
"Good father." He found he was clenching the cup and forced himself to relax. His stomach was in knots and the meager meal he'd eaten wasn't sitting well.
"Your father came to me eight seasons past and told me what had occurred. I must admit that at the time, I did not believe him. I thought you had died and he had devised some tale to attempt to assuage an old man's pain."
"I'm sorry." He couldn't seem to meet Kasuf's eyes and he looked around nervously, searching for something to calm him, distract him.
"Do not apologize. I am relieved you are well. It is true you remember?"
"Yes. Up until a year ago, I had no idea of who I'd been. Then I remembered everything."
"It must be difficult."
Daniel swallowed thickly and nodded, staring into his cup. "Sometimes."
"Like here. Now."
He nodded again, then jumped when Kasuf touched his arm. His fingers were cool against his skin.
"You are ill at ease. You never were uncomfortable with me."
"Dan'yel," Kasuf said softly. "There is nothing to fear. My children will not hurt you or embarrass you."
"Skaara didn't recognize me. You didn't tell them?"
"They believe you are dead. When my children were freed of the parasites and returned to me, I told them that you had died."
"They were injured, here." Kasuf pounded his chest. "I did not wish my daughter to suffer more, knowing her husband was now a child. I was afraid she would go searching for you. It was easier to tell her that you were dead."
"Yeah, I can see where it would be a little awkward for her to raise her husband as her son."
"You see my dilemma."
"Yeah. I understand."
"You are happy? With O'Neill?"
Daniel glanced at his dad, who was watching him. He gave his dad a small nod, then smiled up at Kasuf. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm happy. He's my dad. I couldn't ask for anyone better."
"Then I am happy." Kasuf laid his hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Do you wish me to tell my children?"
"Tell them what—" Daniel's face grew red. "About me? No." He didn't think he could deal with their emotions right now. "No. They're happy. They don't deserve more grief."
"Thank you, Good son."
"Sha're... She is happy, isn't she?"
"She is. She has a husband to provide for her and her children."
"A daughter and a son."
He thought it would hurt hearing about Sha're's children, but it didn't. Oddly, he felt relieved.
A squeal of a child's voice interrupted and a tiny body ran through the room and hugged Kasuf's leg. "Kasuf, Kasuf," the little girl cried, laughing up at her grandfather.
This had to be Sha're's daughter. There was no mistaking the sparkling eyes and determined look as she tugged on his robe to be picked up.
"This is Iriela." Kasuf took the little girl into his arms. "Say hello to Dan'yel."
"Not Dan'yel. Dan'yel there." She twisted and pointed to her cousin who was sitting in a corner playing with his brother.
"No, this is another Dan'yel."
Iriela stuck her thumb into her mouth and studied Daniel with large, brown eyes.
"She looks like Sha're."
"Yes. She has her temperament also," Kasuf laughed as he tickled the girl before putting her down. The moment her feet touched the ground, she ran over to her cousins.
Sha're was in the room, a baby in her arms and she was laughing as she greeted everyone. Kasuf nodded at Daniel and went over to join her.
"Wow." John, who'd been standing out of earshot while he and Kasuf had talked, came back to stand with Daniel. "She looks just like Dria. She could be her big sister."
Daniel nodded. His dad had once said something about Daniel being attracted to brunettes with long, curly hair. He watched Sha're as she handed her son to Kasuf, watched as she interacted with SG-1, then froze as his dad put a hand on her shoulder and pointed in his direction.
"She's looking at you," John whispered.
"Yeah." His heart began beating so hard and fast, for a moment he thought he was going to pass out.
"Yeah," he squeaked as Sha're walked in their direction with his dad next to her.
"And this is my son, Daniel."
Sha're started, gave his dad a hard look as the smile faded from her face.
"You're Skaara's sister, right?" Daniel said, speaking Abydonian. "I'm pleased to meet you," he continued in English.
"Yeah. That's right. This is my friend, John. You met his sister Cameron over there."
He forced himself to meet her gaze while she scrutinized him. Her voice was gentle, though, when she spoke. "You remind me of someone who I hold dear to my heart."
"Oh." Daniel glanced nervously at his dad.
"His name was Dan'yel also."
"It's a common name, just like mine." John shifted his weight, moving closer to Daniel. "Dan, John, lots of kids with those names in school."
"Skaara named his son after my Dan'yel."
"That's nice," Daniel said lamely.
"You speak our language well."
"Teal'c taught me." Daniel felt tongue tied, his mouth was dry and his palms damp with sweat.
"Ah, that would explain much."
Daniel felt that the room was too bright, the sounds too loud.
"Are you unwell? You appear pale."
"She's right. You do look pale. You want to go lie down for a while?"
Suddenly the idea of peace and quiet was appealing. He nodded at his dad, eager to be away from everyone.
"Come on." His dad put an arm around his shoulder, drawing him away from Sha're. As they moved towards the door, Kasuf hurried over to them. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah. I think Daniel just needs a bit of air. He's going to lie down for a while."
"Yes, yes, of course. Come with me."
While they'd been shown to the room he'd be sharing with John earlier, neither Daniel nor his dad objected as Kasuf led them back there.
Kasuf pushed back the material covering the doorway, allowing them to enter. Daniel went immediately to one of the pallets and sat, knees bent, forehead resting on his knees.
"You okay?" his dad asked as he sat beside him, one hand on Daniel's nape. "You're shaking. Are you cold?"
When his father pulled him close, Daniel didn't resist. He'd tried to be grown up out there. He'd held it together but now, he didn't think he could anymore. He threw an arm around his dad and rested his face against his chest. Neither of them said anything.
There was a soft cheep outside the curtained door. Then the curtain wavered as Scarlett tried to bat her way through. This time, her cheep sounded frustrated and an imprint of her snout moved from the top down to the bottom.
"I better let her in before she starts eating the material." His dad got up and tweaked enough of the material to let her in. She shot inside, stopped, then slowly descended to the pallet next to Daniel.
"Why don't you lie down? Get some rest?"
Daniel did exactly that, stretching out on the surprisingly comfortable bed. He put his glasses on a small, low table within arm's reach. Scarlett moved with him, snuggling up against his chest so that her head was next to his throat.
"If she's too warm, push her away. She likes to snuggle but you have to set her some limits."
"I'll get you some water. Try to sleep."
Laughter and conversation drifted into the room, but the sounds were muted and he closed his eyes, relaxing for the first time since their arrival.
A minute later the curtain was pushed aside again, and Daniel opened one eye, but this time it was John who came through. He plunked a pitcher of water between the pallets. "Your dad ordered me to take a nap. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Just tired."
"I know." John stretched out on the pallet next to Daniel. "I don't know why the heat is getting to me like this."
Daniel slept. He probably snored, drooled and farted for a good three hours. But when he woke up, he felt a helluva lot better.
John was still asleep as Daniel stretched on the pallet and picked his glasses up. Scarlett, who'd at some point moved up to the pillow, yawned, watched him get up, then slowly flew over to John's bed and curled up next to him.
Smiling, Daniel waved at Scarlett before ducking out of the room. He headed for the bathroom, which he remembered being down the hall. He peed into the open hole in the floor, then tipped a handful of sand into his palm and rubbed his hands together, letting the sand drift down into the hole – the Abydonian way of sanitation.
He found his dad alone with Skaara, both of them sprawled on cushions, talking and enjoying hot tea.
"Sleep well?" His dad picked up the teapot and poured Daniel a small cupful without asking.
"Yeah. Where's everyone?" Daniel sat next to his dad, accepted the cup and sipped the overly sweet concoction.
"Mitchell's taken the team to check up on McKay's preliminary findings. Kasuf's walked Sha're home and Amee'ra's taken the kids back for a nap."
"Are you feeling better?" The look Skaara gave him seemed more of one of concern than the earlier scrutiny.
"Carter thinks the heat's affecting you two because of the shock your body had with the hypothermia. She suggested you take it easy."
"You won't see me playing any soccer games anytime soon." He finished the tea in a couple of sips and helped himself to more. The heat of the liquid had him sweating and a moment later, he felt cooler.
John wasn't sure if it was the nap or supper's less stressful atmosphere, but Daniel looked much more relaxed. It was their people who filled Kasuf's dining room now, all of them sitting around the low tables. The food wasn't bad; some bland, some spicy, together they made a pretty good mix.
Scarlett mooched from everyone, flying sluggishly back and forth between people.
"Heat's gotten to you, hasn't it." Colonel O'Neill offered her a deep green, stalky vegetable and she flew away with it into the bowl she'd appropriated earlier.
"Is she okay?" John watched as she curled around the stalk and devoured the tip.
"Yeah, I think so. She's just a bit slower than usual. Sleeping a lot more."
John exchanged a look with Daniel, who replied, "Just like us, huh?"
"Just be glad you weren't out at the mines with us today. That heat's brutal." Doctor McKay broke off a piece of bread and using it as a spoon, grabbed some sort of salsa-like dip with it. "This stuff's amazing," he said with his mouth full. "I wonder if we can get the recipe, try and recreate it at home."
"You need only ask." Kasuf waved one of the women serving the food and said something to her.
"Oh." Doctor McKay looked intrigued as he pulled the bowl containing the salsa in front of him and hogged it. "It's really great."
"Are you going back to the mines tomorrow?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah. We only managed to map out a small portion but even with that, we found a couple of rich deposits of Naquadah. I think we can make this work." Rodney huffed and shook his head, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Let me rephrase that," he said, driving his point home with a wave of a slice of bread, "I know I can make this work."
"There was never any doubt in my mind, Mckay." Mitchell leaned over and stole a slice of fruit from Rodney's plate, ignoring the glare he received.
Scarlett came back to the table and sniffed at the bowl Doctor McKay was methodically emptying. She peeled her lips back, obviously not enjoying the smell, and went looking for more handouts.
The woman Kasuf had spoken to returned with a tray holding five different fruits or vegetables. She kneeled next to Rodney and began chattering, picking up each piece and handing it to him with a long explanation, probably in the preparation of the dish he so loved.
"Oh, thank you." Rodney eyed each piece of produce, examined it politely, and put it down on the table. Suddenly he blanched as he sniffed a plum-sized, bright orange fruit. "This is citrus." He dropped the orange fruit and it rolled along the table until it fell off the edge. "I'm allergic to citrus." He grabbed his throat with his hand. "Deathly allergic." Eyes wild, he looked around the room. "I'm going to die."
"Take it easy, cowboy." Mitchell licked the juice from the stolen fruit off his fingers. "Are you feeling any symptoms?"
"Well, no, not yet." He dropped his hand and shoved the nearly empty bowl away. "But it could just be a delayed reaction." He cleared his throat noisily. "I think my throat's beginning to swell."
Someone whispered something about maybe his throat matching his swelled head. John coughed, trying not to laugh. He heard Daniel snicker and he avoided looking in his friend's direction.
Sam had gotten up and now she crouched next to Rodney. She had the piece of fruit he'd dropped, and gave the poor woman who'd offered it to him a reassuring smile. She pulled her knife from her belt and cut the fruit in two. She gave it a sniff, and then put her finger to its juices and tasted it. "It's not citrus; the peel just smells like a lime. You're fine, Rodney."
The serving woman patted Sam's hand and then urged her to take a bite. Sam did, and she grinned. "It's actually pretty good. Really good."
"It's not citrus?" Doctor McKay's voice came out as a squeak. "You're sure?"
"Pretty sure." She handed him the other half, which he took carefully, trying not to get its juices on his fingers.
At first it was amusing but John quickly got bored of McKay's antics. He got up to stretch his legs and went to look out a window.
"Wanna go for a walk?" Daniel had gotten up and followed him there.
"I thought you said it was too hot."
"Sun's setting; it's going to cool down pretty fast over the next couple of hours. We could walk around; I could show you the mastadge stables."
John shrugged. "Whatever."
Daniel was right, it was cooler outside. The shadows were long, the sunlight flitting through the buildings here and there. He hadn't realized Scarlett had followed them out until she zipped past him.
They walked for a while, keeping to the bridges for the most part, neither speaking. John wondered if when Judgment Day came, how many people could evacuate to this world; there was no technology except for what SG-1 had brought with them. If terminators never got wind of the Stargate, at least these people would be safe.
A couple of kids ran past them, grins plastered on their faces. That had been him once upon a time, hadn't it? Running around without a care in the world? John shook his head, kicking a pebble out of his way. No, he'd never been carefree like that because his entire life had been a training session, preparing for Judgment Day, no carefree allowed.
They walked through a gaggle of some sort of birds, sending them squawking and running in all directions. Scarlett came to investigate, chasing one of the goose-like birds until it turned, hissed, and began chasing her. She screeched, zoomed straight up in the air and scolded that bird like there was no tomorrow. John and Daniel glanced at one another and burst out laughing.
Their mirth didn't last long and soon both were lost in their own thoughts.
John smelled the mastadge corral long before he saw the huge, hairy beasts. They stopped a good distance away, watched them for a moment, and in silent agreement, continued walking.
He thought for a while that Daniel was just leading them haphazardly through the city but when they reached the city gates, John saw where he'd been heading all along. It took them only a moment to climb the ladder and perch on a ledge at the top of the thick gate.
The setting sun cast shadows on the desert landscape, turning the barren wasteland before them into a thing of beauty. The slopes of sand turned golden, the shadows emphasizing a beauty that a few hours ago had been deadly. Scarlett flew out into the desert, her elongated shadow easier to keep track of on the sand than her airborne body.
"You okay, man?" Daniel's question came out of the blue.
"Something's been bothering you for the past couple of weeks. It's not Cassie, is it?"
John tried to wrap his brain over the fact that his friend, with all his problems dealing with this place, was worried about him. "No, not Cassie. It's nothing."
John sat there, staring at the incredible wonderland before him, and found himself confiding in Daniel. "It's my mom."
"Actually, no, that's not true. It's me."
"I don't know who I am."
"Do you want me to tell you? I've got a pretty good memory."
"I'm supposed to be the savior of mankind. But my mom's sort of let that title fall by the wayside."
"Judgement Day is still on schedule, isn't it?"
"As far as I know, yeah, it is. But she hasn't done anything to try and stop it since she started working for the SGC. She hasn't asked me to do any research for her. Discussed strategies. Training. She's got these top-secret agendas which she or Cameron won't discuss. Derek's even more tight-lipped than she is. Shouldn't I be involved in all of this?"
"You're feeling left out." Daniel hit the nail on the head.
"Damn straight I am."
"I can ask my dad if he knows what they're working on."
"Wouldn't do any good. Even knowing wouldn't get me involved."
"Isn't this what you always wanted? A normal life?"
"But it's not normal. Judgment Day is still coming, whether or not I'm involved. We got the turk back, but then again we stopped Cyberdyne three years ago and look what happened. It's like a damned self-fulfilling prophecy and everyone is ignoring the pink terminator in the middle of the room."
"Maybe they're not ignoring it. Maybe they're trying to find ways where it might happen again. Maybe there's really nothing for you to do right now except sit back and relax."
"It's in the genes, I'm not good at sitting back and relaxing." He found himself tensed up, leaning forward, and he rolled his shoulders, trying to get the kinks out. "There was always something to do, something to learn, something to look for. If it gets too quiet, I start getting nervous."
"Did you talk to your mom about how you feel?"
"She won't listen."
"She says there's nothing for me to do except to enjoy being normal."
"Sucks being a kid, doesn't it?"
The sun was nearly hidden behind a sand dune, and its residual glow was the only thing illuminating the sky. Scarlett had disappeared a long time ago and John wondered if she'd gone back to the Stargate and had returned home.
It was fully dark by the time they climbed down the ladder. Someone had lit torches and oil lamps so the streets weren't completely dark, but their shadows made the uneven ground feel even more unstable. Lamplight and candlelight in nearby windows helped illuminate a little but he had to trust in Daniel to get him back to Kasuf's because the dark hid all the landmarks he'd made out.
"Where's the alien?"
Daniel let out a small yelp when Cameron stepped out of the shadows.
"Were you following us?" Daniel turned to John. "Was she following us?"
"You're on an alien planet. It's my mission to make sure you're safe."
"She was following us," Daniel accused.
"You didn't answer my question. Where's the alien?"
"I don't know," John answered. "She took off."
"It wasn't wise to let her fly off by herself. There might be predators."
"There's nothing around the city that'll hurt her, unless she lands on the ground in the desert." Daniel led the way. After a few minutes they passed an open area with a fountain in the center which led John to believe they weren't going the same way they'd come. Ten minutes later Daniel stopped in front of a house, staring through the open and well-lit windows.
"Are we going to go inside?"
Cameron took a step towards the door but Daniel grabbed her arm. "No. No, we're not." He let go quickly. "Sorry. I just... this is where I lived with Sha're."
As if his words had called her, Sha're walked past the window with her young son in her arms. John saw Daniel swallow before he turned away and kept on walking.
John hurried to catch up, it was time to return the favor. "You okay?"
When Daniel didn't answer, John sighed. They were a couple of fucked up kids and they were supposed to save the world?
He recognized Kasuf's house but they walked past and around it and into a small courtyard. There was only one burning torch near the back door whose light barely reached the small garden Daniel was leading them through. John tried not to trample anything, then when Daniel sat down with his back against a stone statute, John slid down next to him.
There was a wisp of air next to his face. For a moment he thought a bat or something similar had flown past, until he heard a soft cheep, then felt Scarlett's warm, furry touch as she brushed his face with hers before moving onto Daniel's lap.
"She's back." Cameron sounded surprised.
Scarlett answered with a hiss.
Daniel woke up with a gasp, the orgasmic pleasure that had pulled him from sleep immediately turned to embarrassment and shame when he remembered it had been Sha're and not Alexandria in his dream.
And then he realized where he was, and that he was sharing a room with John. He'd had wet dreams before but they'd been in the privacy of his own home.
There was a hint of daylight peeking through the curtained windows and his memories informed him that the sun was still low in the sky. He stretched slowly; he felt sluggish, heavy, more tired than when he'd gone to bed.
Smells of breakfast reached through the curtained door. He contemplated going back to sleep but his stomach growled, making the decision for him. He got up, grabbed some clean clothes and shuffled to the bathroom to wash the evidence and change.
His dad was already up, as was all of SG-1 and Rodney. The marines had camped somewhere in the city because Kasuf didn't have the room to put all of them up. Scarlett was watching the coming and goings from the top of a cabinet.
"Hey, Daniel, sleep well?"
Daniel nodded at Sam, fighting the residual embarrassment of the dream as well as the fatigue he'd woken up with. Suddenly he missed Alexandria and his grandmother something awful. He sat down and grabbed a piece of pita-like bread, tossed a few pieces of cooked vegetables and scrambled egg on top of it, and folded it into a wrap.
"John still sleeping?"
Mouth full, Daniel nodded again. He caught Scarlett's gaze and when she licked her lips, teased a piece of veggie from his wrap and held it out to her.
She pounced on the morsel in a flash, and promptly laid herself across his shoulders, staring at him with huge, begging eyes.
"Don't give her any more; she's already made a pig of herself." His dad poured sweet tea into a cup and pushed it across the table to him.
A crying child heralded the entrance of either Skaara or Sha're. Iriela ran into the room howling loudly, stopped, looked around and then started crying even more loudly. Daniel tensed, knowing her mother would be following. Scarlett gave a startled meep and flew from Daniel's shoulders, seeking shelter on top of a tall curio cabinet. Sha're arrived a moment later, gently admonishing the baby for having scared Scarlett but Iriela would have none of it, and stood clinging to her mother's skirt, crying loudly.
"I'm so sorry." She flashed a smile at everyone in the room. "Iriela is not feeling well today. She wishes comfort from her grandfather."
"Kasuf's in the courtyard. Anything I can do to help?" His dad made a funny face, and Iriela's cries diminished to whines and sobs as she stared at him, transfixed.
"Thank you, but she'll be fine. She has a touch of piric fever." She took Iriela's hand. "Come, we'll go see Kasuf."
"Kasuf," the little girl sobbed, going willingly with her mother.
"Poor kid," his dad said.
Daniel took another bite, chewed and swallowed, and felt his stomach do a slow roll. He exchanged the wrap for the tea, hoping the liquid would ease the slowly growing nausea.
"It's just a common kid sickness, like chicken pox." Daniel remembered the name but none of the details of the illness. "I think that's the one that's really contagious before the kids get sick."
"Come on, you big chicken." Rodney waived at Scarlett, who was still cowering on top of the curio cabinet. "Fine, stay there. Suit yourself." Rodney gulped down the last of his tea and looked around the table. "Well, is everyone ready?"
"Tell me again why we're doing this?" Mitchell got up and a groan. "It's going to be another scorcher."
"We'll see you tonight." Sam gave Daniel a wave as she left the room. Suddenly it was just him and his dad.
"She's outside with Kasuf."
Daniel finished his tea. He tried another bite of the wrap, and a few seconds after swallowing his stomach let him know that food, for the moment, was out of the question. Or at least not until Sha're left and he could relax.
Trying to distract himself, he thought of his conversation with John last night. "You know, John said that his mom's not actively trying to stop Judgment Day anymore."
"Really." His dad raised an eyebrow and Daniel knew he was treading on top-secret ground.
"I guess," Daniel said slowly, thinking his words through, "that by having found the turk and gotten the software, you stopped Judgement Day temporarily. At least until the robots try something else." Scarlett slowly descended from the cabinet and nudged his hand.
His father didn't comment.
"John said he felt odd being left out of the loop." Daniel absently ran his fingers over Scarlett's head and she coiled her body in his lap.
"It's not his fight anymore—"
"But it is. Judgement Day is going to happen, isn't it? No matter what we do, the robots keep coming and they keep trying to make sure it does."
"And we'll keep trying to make sure it doesn't." His dad's voice was curt, and Daniel got the message that he wanted him to drop the subject. He didn't know why he kept arguing, it wasn't even his fight.
"It doesn't matter. John's going to have to fight them, no matter what. They keep bringing the fight to him."
"Shouldn't we be trying to see if we can find them? Find out what they're planning next?" Daniel broke off when Kasuf came back inside, Iriela in his arms. Sha're and Cameron followed behind, talking. He felt stupid having brought the conversation up in the first place. He could see why John's mom wouldn't listen, his dad obviously didn't want to discuss this with him either.
"Hey. How's she feeling?" His dad was full of concern, ignoring Daniel as Kasuf sat down at the table with the child in his lap.
"She'll be fine. Zetalis controls the fever but the child remains out of sorts until the illness goes away."
Scarlett kept her eyes on Kasuf and his granddaughter and hissed at Cameron as she took up a watch near a window.
Daniel felt just as jumpy as Scarlett did. He stood, giving an excuse that he wanted to get some air before it got too hot.
"Aren't you going to finish eating?"
"I'm not hungry," he called over his shoulder.
He went to the courtyard and wandered around. It looked smaller in daylight than it had at night. He recognized most of the plants growing there, including the zetalis bush that had probably contributed to the medication Sha're had given her daughter. He leaned against the edge of the fountain and looked out over the small garden.
"I make you uncomfortable."
Startled, Daniel twirled at the sound of Sha're's voice and nearly tripped over his feet.
"I..." Her sudden nearness brought too many memories. He was filled with guilt, felt like he was cheating on Alexandria.
"You are so like someone I knew." She smiled, her eyes shadowed. "But I told you that already."
"Yeah, um. My dad told me about him. I saw pictures of him. He wore glasses, just like me. He was your husband, wasn't he?"
"Yes. He was a wonderful man. And it is not the glasses. It is your eyes, your smile..." Her voice drifted off as she stared at him.
"You still love him?" He cringed inwardly, sorry he'd asked and almost afraid of her answer.
She didn't answer right away. "Yes. Although sometimes I wonder if it is the memory of who he was that I hold most dear." She shook her head, then brushed her hair behind an ear, so reminiscent of Alexandria that Daniel felt almost like he was having a hallucination right now. "I am sorry. Do you have a woman you hold dear?"
"Yeah." He forced a smile. "She sorta looks like you." He pointed to his head. "Your hair, your eyes. Funny, isn't it?"
"It is good that you have someone. You appear to be a gentle soul, just like my Dan'yel. She is a lucky woman."
"No, I'm the lucky one," Daniel whispered when Sha're went back into the house.
"Dad?" Half asleep, Daniel squinted into the sun as his dad squatted before him.
"Yeah. I'm fine."
"Sleeping outside in the sun isn't such a good idea. Come on inside."
"Wasn't sleeping," Daniel grumbled as he got up. Actually he'd been hiding out, hoping that Sha're would be gone by the time he went back inside. He was relieved to see only John sitting on the cushions, nursing a cup of tea with Scarlett curled up on a pillow next to him.
"She's gone," his dad said as Daniel furtively glanced into the hall as he went to pour himself a cup of tea. "You can relax."
"What?" He feigned ignorance, embarrassed that his emotions might be so obvious.
"Sha're. She went home."
He didn't say anything, concentrating instead on pouring the steaming liquid. As tasty as the tea was, right now he'd give anything for a huge jug of iced tea or ice-cold lemonade. Even better, he'd give anything to be standing outside his home in a snowstorm. Anywhere but here and all the emotional baggage. Wrinkling his nose, his skin felt tight and dry. Figured; he hadn't put any sunscreen on this morning.
He walked to the window and looked outside. Cameron was striding down the street, moving at a faster clip than most of the people, even at this hour of the morning. She glanced at him as she walked past and came into the house.
"I found something," Cameron announced as soon as she entered the room.
"Let me guess. King Solomon's Treasure." John sounded out of sorts.
"No. A hidden room." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she turned to John. Daniel couldn't help wondering why she wasn't sunburned. "It contains writing on the wall and—"
Daniel closed his eyes, letting the memories come forth. "On the far southern edge of town? Just behind the smith, in front of the tanner?"
"It's not a hidden room, at least not anymore. The Abydonians wrote their history there and kept it hidden from Ra and his Jaffa. For centuries they had no idea what it all meant, they were forbidden to learn how to read and write."
"Kasuf told me about his people's past. But that's not what I meant. There's another room hidden behind one of the walls."
"There's a secret room?" Excitement coursed through Daniel, chasing away his fatigue.
"That's what I said."
"What's in the room?" John didn't sound as excited.
"How'd you find it? How did you know?"
"Artifacts. The room's full of artifacts," she told John. "If you know what to look for, the signs that something was once hidden are obvious," she said to Daniel.
"Well." His dad got up with a grunt. "I'll go find Kasuf and we can go have a look at this secret room."
The sun's heat was nearly unbearable, and for someone who'd spent his formative years in the jungles of Central America, John was still fading fast. He hoped that whatever stupid treasure Cameron had found would be something unimportant so that they could go back to Kasuf's house where it was marginally cooler and comfortable.
They walked single file into an alley; Cameron leading, Kasuf, then Skaara, who Kasuf had gotten hold of by sending a young boy to the barracks where he'd been training with his militia, then Jack, Daniel, and he was bringing up the rear. Scarlett, who'd flitted back and forth as they'd tramped through the city, zipped to the front and disappeared into the dark building right behind Cameron. The torches Skaara lit didn't do much to illuminate the narrow room and the jumping shadows made John nauseous.
"Oh my God." Daniel was staring at a part of the stone wall that had been pretty much flattened; and John had a pretty good idea who'd done the demolition. Much of the rubble on the floor had the remains of carvings on it. "You destroyed it all." The distracted look Daniel had sported all the way here was gone. All his anger was focused on Cameron. John knew Daniel was right but he just couldn't muster the energy to agree.
"I had to break the wall down to get into the other room."
"You could have waited and we could have done this without destroying all this—"
"What?" Daniel snapped as his father stuck his head out of the room he, Skaara and Kasuf had entered.
"Come and see."
Carefully they walked through the rubble. Inside were piles upon piles of furniture, paintings, urns. It looked like pictures he'd seen of King Tut's tomb when Howard Carter had unearthed it. Scarlett was hovering high up in a corner, overseeing the whole mess.
"My people must have hidden this from Ra." Kasuf was holding a painting in his hands which showed a wall with symbols on it. Skaara held a wooden box which had similar symbols. "When Ra forbade them to write, they must have hidden these treasures here so they would not be destroyed."
Daniel was rummaging among the urns. He tipped one sideways and it made rustling sounds. "There's something in here."
With his knife, Colonel O'Neill slowly pried off the waterproof seal on the urn. When Daniel reached inside, he pulled out a thick scroll.
"Wow." Eyes glowing, Daniel began to unfurl it. Row upon row upon row of symbols filled all the thick paper. "This is incredible." Scarlett came down to investigate, sniffed the papers and sneezed loudly. She gave a grumbling cheep and started nosing around the artifacts.
"What does it say?"
"I'm not sure." Daniel tilted the top sheet and peered at it. "But I think it's a list of your ancestors," he told Kasuf, his voice full of awe.
"Do you think all these hold more of those?" John waved a hand at the dozens of urns piled one on top of another.
Colonel O'Neill held his torch over the urns. "Looks like all of them are sealed. There's a good chance they do."
"This is an archeologist's dream." Daniel's voice was tinged with regret.
"It is a waste of time." Skaara flicked a finger at the papers Daniel was still going through. "What use is a list of names from centuries past?"
"Some worlds place a lot on family lines." Daniel's dad handed Cameron the torch and took the scrolls from Daniel, easing the fragile papers back inside with care. "Depending on how complete these are and how old, I bet they could even be traced back to people living on Earth." John didn't miss how he glanced at Daniel, giving a tight smile when Daniel gave him a slow nod.
"There is art here; I have never seen some of the objects in these paintings. These plants, these trees, they are not of Abydos. And the workmanship on the furniture; it is different. Our people could learn from how our ancestors lived." Kasuf was crouching, examining paintings of palm trees around what could have been the Nile on the top of a table.
"These will not put food on the table, protect our families."
"No, my son, but it may make their lives more comfortable, enrich the knowledge of their families." His knees popped as he stood. "Thank you. This is a gift indeed."
Cameron gave him a simple, "You're welcome."
"There are a few young men who once studied with a learned scholar who lived with us several years ago," Kasuf said with a gentle smile in Daniel's direction, "I am certain they would be thrilled to study these treasures."
The sun blinded John the moment he stepped outside and he had to stop for a moment, hand before his eyes, squinting through tears, giving him an immediate headache. It took a few seconds before he could see enough to move.
Kasuf was chattering away excitedly with Daniel's father and Skaara. John was happy enough to follow behind, anxious to get back indoors, out of the sun. Skaara left them halfway there, promising to send back people to catalogue and remove the room's contents.
Daniel stared at the food on the table, but nothing appealed to him. Actually, nothing on Abydos appealed to him anymore. He'd come, exorcised his ghosts, and just wanted to get away because they still kept haunting him. He spoke quickly, before John and Kasuf came in to eat.
"Dad, would you hate me if I said I wanted to go home?"
His father reached for a piece of bread and placed it on the plate before him. "I've been wondering how long it would take you to ask that."
"Hey. Don't be sorry. What you did took a lot of guts."
"No, I'm a coward. I'm trying, but it's not working. I keep seeing the way things were when I lived here."
"Maybe this was a bad idea."
"I think you said that already."
"And you said you were fine."
"I thought I was."
His father cupped a hand around his nape and tugged gently, pulling Daniel sideways. "I know it's been hard." His dad stopped tugging and his fingers moved from his nape to his forehead, then down to his chest. "You're sick."
"You've got a fever."
"No, I'm just hot."
"I don't think so. How do you feel?"
"I'm fine. Just tired."
"Um, that's a no."
"It's the food. It's just too spicy."
"You love spicy food. And if memory serves, you loved the local food here." His dad stood up, pointing at Daniel. "Stay. I'll be right back."
Cameron and John came in before his dad could leave.
"John's sick." Cameron didn't even let John sit down before blurting out the news.
His dad stopped. "How sick?"
"Temperature elevated. Constriction of blood vessels causing headache. Nausea."
"Go check out Daniel. He's running a fever."
Daniel caught John's gaze as he tried not to wince as Cameron ran two fingers across his neck and shoulder. "His temperature is elevated. Headache." She glanced at Daniel's empty plate. "Nausea. Decreased saline output with high midday temperatures most likely indicates dehydration." She took her fingers away. "Daniel's sick also."
His dad reached for his radio. "Mitchell? Come in, SG-niner."
"You should drink." Cameron poured Daniel a cup of tea and put it in front of him. "You. too, John."
"Go ahead, Colonel," Sam's voice came through the radio.
"The kids are sick."
"How sick, sir?"
"Fever, nausea. I'm guessing they picked up some local germs. Any of your team feeling out of sorts?"
Daniel rubbed his neck. His headache was growing worse, the pain slowly moving down to his neck and shoulders.
"Not that I know of. But I'll spread the word. Janet did say the boys' immune system might be weakened so they could have been exposed to some bug even before we came here."
"I don't think it's a cold. Sha're's oldest is sick. They could have caught it from her."
"Are you heading back to the Stargate?"
"I'm going to wait till this evening and see how they're doing then. It'll be a couple degrees cooler then."
"Tell the boys I hope they feel better soon."
"Thanks, Carter." His dad released the radio and looked at the boys. "I'm going to go get some Tylenol, and then you two are going to lie down for a while."
Tylenol or not, Daniel couldn't sleep. His headache was still there, his joints hurt and he was thirsty. He should be tired. He tried to do the math but couldn't quite come up with the exact hour on Earth but it was probably early into the evening.
Two hours after lying down, he got up.
"Where're you going?" John rolled onto his back and looked at him. Scarlett, who was stretched out alongside John instead of curled up into her usual ball, opened an eye and meeped inquisitively at them.
"To get something to drink. It's too hot in here." And it was. Their small bedroom was stuffy; even with the curtain pulled tight against the sun, it was beating down on the outside wall and heating up the room. He felt like it was suffocating him.
"I know." John sat up, then got to his feet. Scarlett yawned and slowly rolled over onto her belly, then onto her back. "I can't sleep."
"I still feel lousy," Daniel confided to John. "Do you think we caught piric fever?"
"You're the expert on this place. You tell me."
"I don't know. I'm not a doctor." Daniel shoved the door covering aside and went through.
"Hey, I'm sorry." John hurried after him. "I thought maybe it had certain characteristics, like, you know, mumps or measles."
"I don't know. Babies usually get it. They get sick for a few days and then they're okay."
"So we'll get sick for the rest of our vacation and we'll be okay just in time to go back to school?"
Daniel sighed. "Sounds about right." He headed for the main living area, but then got an idea. "If this is piric fever, then we need the cure for it. "C'mon."
He headed for the courtyard and braved the mid-day heat as he went to the zetalis bush and plucked several leaves. He wiped them on his shirt and handed half to John.
"What am I supposed to do with this?"
Daniel stuffed all three leaves into his mouth and bit down on them. "Chew them." The taste was acrid and he made a face. He'd forgotten the taste of these until just now.
Daniel shook his head, swallowed the bitter mouthful of saliva and chewed some more. "It's good for fever and headaches. Usually they make a tea or use drops, but this is just as good on short notice. It just tastes damned awful."
"Do you even know what you're doing?"
Daniel swallowed the leaves, regretting having nothing to wash it down. His wife had made him chew the leaves and then had handed him a cup of sweet tea laced with Skaara's moonshine when he'd caught a fever.
He contemplated chewing on more of the leaves but the urge to puke at the thought convinced him he'd had enough. "I've used this before." He ran his tongue over his teeth, then picked off the pieces of leaves with his fingers and flicked them to the ground.
John waved the leaves he still held in front of Daniel's face. "Yeah? Did you even think that maybe you just poisoned yourself?"
"No." He needed something to wash the taste away, and he needed it now. He hurried towards the house. "Only zetalis tastes this awful."
Daniel was gulping his third cup of tepid tea from the pot in the kitchen when Kasuf came in, alerted to their presence by one of the women working there. "Daniel. Your father told me you were not feeling well. And you, John. How are you now?"
"He ate some of this." John tossed the leaves onto the table in front of Kasuf.
"Zetalis? My servants would have prepared a tea had you but asked."
"This works faster." Daniel stuck his tongue out and rubbed his fingers over it, hoping to get rid of the residual taste.
Kasuf laughed. "Yes, it does, but the tea is easier to drink. How many of the leaves did you eat?"
"I remember Sha're gave me five when I was sick so I ate three, because I'm smaller now."
"Yes. Three is enough." Kasuf took the leaves from the table and turned them over. "Are you still feeling ill, John? Would you like some zetalis tea?"
"The leaves, they really work?"
"They do. They will ease the ache in your head, lower your temperature and ease the aches and pain of illness. They will help you sleep."
"Don't bother with the tea." Slowly John took the leaves from Kasuf and took a bite. Daniel would have applauded John if they'd been alone in the room because except for a tightening of his jaw, he showed no reaction to the taste.
Kasuf poured him the cup of tea himself. "Drink." He handed the tea the moment John swallowed the leaves.
As John downed the drink, Daniel handed him his own cup while Kasuf refilled John's.
"Oh, God, that's nasty stuff."
Already, the vice around his head was loosening and the stifling heat didn't feel like it was going to suffocate him. Now if only he could get rid of the taste in his mouth.
While earlier sleep had been elusive, now Daniel was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. He watched without interest as his dad played senet with Kasuf. He finally gave in, letting his eyes close.
People talking excitedly around him woke him up. For a moment he couldn't understand anything they were saying, until his brain woke up and made the words out.
"What's going on?" John, sprawled on cushions next to Daniel, looked at him sleepily.
"They found something in that room Cameron discovered," Daniel translated.
"They found something in the hidden room Cameron found."
John rolled his eyes, "I know that." He didn't even make an effort to hide his exasperation. "What did they find?" he said slowly as if Daniel were an idiot.
"Huh?" Daniel blinked at John in confusion. Then his brain kicked in again. "Oh." He grimaced. "Sorry. Something about finding the Tok'tao'qua."
John raised his eyebrows.
"Um, I'm not sure. It sort of translates into something like, the undead?"
"And? Why're they all excited?"
Three men were chattering excitedly, barely letting Kasuf ask questions.
"How would I know?"
"Aren't you the one with the memories of an archaeologist who lived here for a year?"
"What do you think I am, a walking encyclopedia?"
"Hey, that's enough, you two." Daniel's dad's voice was sharp enough to rise past the chattering men.
The men bowed to Kasuf and ran breathlessly out of the room. Kasuf turned to them, eyes shining with excitement.
"They have discovered what they believe to be Tok'tao'qua."
"Wouldn't happen to be a local snake, would he?"
Kasuf laughed. "No, my friend. It is said Tok'tao'qua was a man of great wisdom who lived for years without growing old."
"Sounds like a snake to me."
"The legends say he sleeps until it is time for him to wake and walk once again amongst men. His body was hidden and kept safe until that day."
"And your men think they found him? Any chance he's been kept safe inside a sarcophagus all these years?"
"He is not a false god, O'Neill. Come, you shall see. They wait for us." Kasuf's gaze included them all.
"You boys up to going for a walk?"
Daniel shrugged. He got up, feeling a bit woozy from the zetalis. He suffered his dad's hands on his cheeks and forehead, testing for fever. He must have passed the test because his dad didn't order his ass to bed.
Scarlett raced out of the house but by the time they'd traveled two blocks, she was hanging limply from Daniel's shoulders.
He'd felt more or less fine in the house but once outside, the sun and heat built a fire under his headache, teasing it until by the time they were halfway there, he had a full blown migraine.
With every block they'd walked, John regretted tagging along, wishing he were back in Kasuf's house stretched out on the cushions instead of walking in the intense late afternoon heat. They turned a corner and he saw the sky had a weird yellowish-red color to it, as if a storm were brewing.
Everyone stopped and stared at the sky.
"We must hurry." Kasuf's voice changed, becoming one of urgency.
Everyone started moving again, and the men who'd come to get Kasuf actually pushed him to move faster.
"Whoa, take it easy." Daniel's dad's voice grew hard as he grabbed the man's arm who pushed John. "What's the rush."
"You do not understand. It is not safe."
"What's not safe?"
"You must contact the others at the mine and tell them to seek shelter."
"What's going on?" Daniel's dad demanded.
"Sandstorm," Cameron said, standing legs apart, staring at the sky between the buildings.
"Yes. Yes. There is not much time. We will be safe in the hidden rooms, but you must tell those at the mine to seek shelter."
"Shit." His dad reached for his radio. "SG-niner, come in."
"Colonel O'Neill. I heard you had a problem," Mitchell said. "How're the boys?"
"Actually, you're the one with the problem. There's a sandstorm on its way."
"Say again, Colonel?"
"Sandstorm, Mitchell. Get your people into shelter ASAP."
"Tell them to go into the tunnels at the lower end of the eastern section of the mine." Daniel's face had gone slack, as if he were looking inside himself. "They're newer, they should be more stable than the older ones."
Colonel O'Neill slapped John gently on the arm to get him moving. Their group began walking through the city again, and people were running and yelling up and down the streets, probably warning about the coming storm. Others were tightening curtains against windows, a few were installing wooden shutters.
"How often do these things happen, anyway?"
"Not often." Daniel walked with his face up towards the sky. "This is the fourth time I've seen one here."
A whiff of wind brought the scent of chalk.
"Well, considering that half of those times I've been here with you, I'm beginning to think this planet doesn't like me." His dad looked worried as he constantly glanced at the darkening sky.
The hidden room was now more or less empty. At the far end of the small room, there was a pit about four feet deep in which rested a stone sarcophagus. John didn't miss the Colonel's expression when he first caught sight of the sarcophagus, hand on his weapon until he got a closer look.
"It's not Goa'uld." There was relief in the colonel's voice.
Hieroglyphs covered the far wall. Daniel was standing in front of them, head back, staring at them. Only because it was cooler in the room, John went to look at the sarcophagus. It was sealed shut and the men had been trying to pry it open, without success.
"Can she open it?" Daniel's dad glanced at Cameron.
John nodded at the stone lid. "Open it."
The men stepped out of the pit so Cameron could get in. They muttered amongst themselves until she pushed the cover easily, exposing the innards of the stone coffin.
A rush of wind echoed down into the room, bringing a fine powder with it. The sound was loud in the room, as if a freight train had just sped by.
Together, everyone, including Daniel, stepped up to the pit to peer into the sarcophagus.
John gasped, even as one of the men reverently muttered, "Tok'tao'qua," and fell to his knees. The face was familiar; dark blond hair, craggy face, heavily muscled body. He'd seen it when he was thirteen. It had been sent back in time to protect him. He'd heard his mother talk about it for years before that fateful day when he'd found proof that his mother wasn't crazy after all.
He took a step back, half-expecting the ghost to sit up and come after him. His heart was racing and his head was pounding at the same speed. Scarlett sped off Daniel's shoulders with an angry hiss, flying in tight circles around the sarcophagus, chittering loudly.
"It's a T-800 series," Cameron said without emotion.
"It's a cyborg?" Daniel exclaimed.
"Yes." Cameron's eyes moved up and down, examining it carefully.
"How the hell did a terminator get to Abydos?" John couldn't believe it. "Is it active?"
"It's on stand-by mode."
"How long has it been here?" John turned to Daniel, who seemed to be hurrying to finish reading the ancient writing on the walls. His attention flitted between the writing and the sarcophagus.
"It shouldn't be here," Cameron said with finality.
"I've seen it before," John said softly.
"He looks familiar." Daniel began to lean over the sarcophagus but his father grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back.
"Does any of that tell us anything about him?" John pointed to the hieroglyphs.
"Um, yeah, I think so." Daniel turned from the T-800 and pointed at the wall. The torches flickered in the wind coming through the opening, and the room was becoming thick with what looked like powder floating in the air. Daniel squinted. "It says that this man, Tok'tao'qua, came through the Stargate from Earth searching for Ra—"
"How long ago?" Daniel's dad demanded. "Hey, that's enough," he yelled at Scarlett, who hadn't let up with the hissing and scolding.
"It doesn't... um, a few thousand years. I think this was just before the uprising on Earth."
Scarlett quieted, giving a few soft hisses as she retreated to a corner of the room, watching them with an obvious sulk.
"So the metal got stuck on Abydos and couldn't go back to Earth?" Daniel's dad reached out to poke the sleeping android but Cameron caught his hand.
"Yeah. I think so. He became a wise and revered man, never aging, living in the caves of Kaleemah until one day he came to the city and created this cave in, um, I think an hour. He told the people he would sleep until, ah, I can't quite make out the math—"
"What?" Daniel squinted at Cameron as he adjusted his glasses.
"Given the length of an Abydonian day, the math in the pictograms represent Judgment Day."
"The terminator put itself in standby mode for a few years so it could wake up on Judgment Day and return to Earth?" John's head was pounding so bad he was feeling light-headed and nauseous.
"Not a few years. A few thousands years," Daniel corrected as he rubbed at his forehead.
"It can do that?" Daniel's dad was still peering closely at the thing in the sarcophagus, so when the T-800 opened its eyes and sat up, he back-pedaled with a clipped yelp even as he brought his weapon up.
The terminator glanced at each one of them and John knew, just knew, it was looking for him. Its eyes glowed red for a split second as it lithely jumped out of the sarcophagus. His legs weak, John backed up until his back hit the wall. Cameron stepped forward, putting itself between him and it while Colonel Jack kept his gun pointed towards it.
"Run," Daniel's father shouted.
John was out of the opening even as the order came out of the Colonel's mouth. He could hear Daniel right behind him and he sped through the passages, marginally aware of the dusty sand flying around him as the walls shook as Cameron and the T-800 fought.
It was dark. Not only was he immediately blinded and choked by the blowing sand, but the storm hid the sun, turning day to night. He was forced to turn away from the storm, putting his back to it. Arm raised to his face, trying to protect his eyes, he struggled down the street even as Kasuf and his men rushed out. He heard Kasuf call his name, call Daniel's name, but when he glanced over his shoulder, he'd already lost sight of them.
"John." Daniel grabbed his shoulder and yelled into his ear. "We have to find shelter."
"We can't. We have to run. It's going to find us."
"We're going to die in this storm. We have to get inside." Daniel tried to drag him towards the nearest entrance of one of the houses.
"We can't. It'll kill them when it finds me." John pushed Daniel towards the door. "Go. It's me it's after."
"You don't know that." Daniel bent over and coughed.
"No, I don't. But we can't stay together." John found himself gasping for breath.
"John!" Cameron's voice was faint over the wind.
Daniel coughed again, and fell to his knees.
"Daniel." John grabbed Daniel's arm and tried to haul him upright.
"John." Cameron's voice was right behind him. He turned, afraid it was going to be a six foot two giant with her voice that would appear out of the murk. "You have to get to shelter." Her small form seemed to come out of nowhere.
"The T-800?" John coughed, long and hard, and his lungs and throat hurt. He knew he had to move but he couldn't breathe.
"Daniel. John." A wobbly light appeared in the dark and Colonel Jack's voice carried over the wind.
"Over here!" Cameron grabbed John's tee shirt by the neckline and tugged it upwards. "Hold this over your mouth and breathe through it." While John fumbled for the material, she crouched over Daniel. "Get up."
Daniel's reply was a harsh cough.
She succeeded where John had failed and got Daniel to his feet by the time Kasuf and the Colonel reached them.
"Come. We must get to shelter." Kasuf had the hood of his robe up over his head, holding it tightly closed with one hand except for a small slit to see through. "Sha're's home is not far."
Cameron kept a tight hold on his arm as he struggled through the wind. Daniel's dad had an arm around Daniel's shoulders while Kasuf held the military issued flashlight, which danced around in the reddish-tinted darkness as he led them. Eyes tearing, he could barely see. Still he kept glancing behind; even with Cameron accompanying him, he still expected the T-800 to come charging out of the shadows when he least expected.
Off balance, he stumbled and only Cameron's hold on his arm kept him on his feet. He had a feeling by the time they got to their destination, he'd have a bruise around his bicep in the shape of her fingers.
Jack had no idea where they were going. His son could barely stand and Jack didn't like the way he was coughing. If they didn't get out of this storm in the next sixty seconds, he was going to go to the nearest house and break down the door.
"Here." Kasuf turned into a small alcove which gave them slight protection from the blowing sand. When he opened the door, the bright lamplight inside was like a beacon.
"We can't stay here. What if it's not really dead?" John froze in the doorway, blocking Jack and Daniel from going inside.
"John. Get in." Jack coughed and spat, feeling grit between his teeth.
"We don't know if it's really dead. It could be out there searching for us." Eyes red and tearing, John looked around wildly. The panic on his face was more than apparent, and Jack didn't have the time to deal with it.
"Get. In." He shoved John, causing him to stumble backwards and literally dragged Daniel inside. Cameron slammed the door shut behind him and suddenly Jack could breathe.
Eyes streaming and burning, Jack tried to look at Daniel, who was coughing harshly. But his own eyes were blurry, irritated from the sand. Adding to the cacophony was Kasuf who was yelling as Sha're ran into the room.
Sha're called out loudly, and three women rushed to help them, babbling together; John was alternating between yelling and coughing, and Cameron was trying to calm him down; Daniel was coughing and gasping for breath. It was the hiccupping gasps that finally clued Jack in that his son was crying.
"It's okay, we're safe." Jack let Daniel slide to his knees, going down with him as he pulled him against his chest. Daniel clutched at him blindly, falling forward so he was sitting half on Jack's lap. Jack took Daniel's glasses off, which were coated with a film of dust as one of Sha're's women crouched next to them. Daniel's eyes were tightly closed and tear tracks were stark against his dust-covered face.
"John," Jack barked as the boy tried to circumvent the woman babbling at him as well as the robot in his attempt to get to the door. "John," he said even more loudly. Startled, John looked down at Jack. "That thing's not coming after us. I saw her disable it. Stand down."
"It's safe, John." She held out her hand and Jack could just make out the memory chip in her palm. "Colonel O'Neill stopped it long enough with the zat'nik'tel that I was able to remove its chip."
Emotions flitted over the boy's face; disbelief, then hope, then finally, when the robot nodded, acceptance. "It's..." His voice broke and he tried again. "It's safe?"
He finally calmed and let the robot and the woman lead him to a corner of the room.
Someone stuck a cup of water in front of him; Jack shook his head. "Tea," he told her, one of the few Abydonian words he knew. Sha're rattled something off and the cup disappeared. Tea was safe to drink, the water was boiled; plain water, on the other hand, they couldn't always trust. However, Jack did accept the dripping cloth from the woman crouching next to Daniel and let her wipe his son's face with another.
His eyes felt like they were full of grit and his mouth, nose and throat were dry, coated with powder. Sand crunched beneath his teeth when he ground them together.
The woman looked up at Jack, alarmed, and said something he didn't understand.
"What," he demanded sharply. Jack kept from cursing; he hated being in situations where he couldn't understand the lingo, and Daniel was in no shape right now to translate.
"She said he is feverish." Kasuf, being administered to by his daughter, rattled something off to the woman.
"What?" Jack repeated, pressing a wet hand against Daniel's nape. The woman was right, Daniel was hot. Really hot. How the hell had he missed this just now?
"So is John," Cameron stated from her corner of the room.
Sha're left her father's side and came to kneel next to Jack and Daniel. She pushed back Daniel's hair and cupped his cheek. His son opened his eyes and squinted at Sha're. The look on his face nearly broke Jack's heart as he half-whispered, half-sobbed her name.
Sha're's smile was gentle. "My father says my Iriela has given you piric fever. Your exertions in the shei'sheya tai'yu has brought out the fever." She took the cloth sitting in the bowl of water and wiped more of the dust from his face. His hair, his skin and his clothes were all of the same orangey color, same as him. Same as John, Kasuf and Cameron. Daniel's face was pale where Sha're wiped it clean. "I will give you zetalis; you will be better soon."
She turned to Jack. "Dellara will be back soon with the tea. I will have her prepare beds for you. You will stay here tonight." She went to John, placed a hand on his face. "I will get the zetalis."
Daniel had stopped crying and he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, smearing dust again across his cheeks. "Sorry." He shuddered and curled up against Jack.
Daniel stared up at his father, his reddened eyes filled and for a moment Jack thought he was going to cry again, until he wiped at his eyes again. "Embarrassing you, what do you think?"
"You didn't embarrass me." Jack reinforced his words with a kiss to Daniel's forehead, then frowned at the heat he felt against his lips.
"I embarrassed me. I lost it out there."
"Um, humor me, kiddo, but I think being out in a friggin' sheesheeyouyou," he said, deliberately mispronouncing the Abydonian word for sandstorm and which he probably would never be able to properly pronounce anyways, elicited a weak giggle from his son, as he'd hoped. "And being chased by that sonofabitch of a robot and sporting a fever of at least 102, I think you're entitled to losing it. Hell, another minute and I'd have been pounding on doors, begging people to let us in."
Daniel coughed, a dry, nagging cough that all of them were doing as the dust settled in the back of their throats. He shivered again.
"Hey." Jack raised his voice, looking at Cameron. "How the fuck did that thing get here, anyway?"
"You mean the T-800?"
"I mean that honkin' sonofabitch of a murdering robot hiding out in that sarc. Yeah, I mean the T-800, or whatever the hell you call it. How did it get here, on another planet, for cryin' out loud?"
"I don't know."
"The hell you don't." Jack ground his teeth together, hating the grit that was still stuck in his mouth.
"Dad, the writing said he'd been there for centuries. Cameron can't know what happened."
"When we get back," John cleared his throat noisily, "I can access the chip's memory files and it'll tell us what happened."
"Are there any other surprises waiting for us out there?" Jack said sarcastically to Cameron.
"I don't know."
"Stupid machines," Jack said under his breath. He was saved from sharing any further comments as Sha're stepped into the room, followed by the woman she'd sent for tea and who was bearing a tray with the typical large pot and small cups.
Sha're knelt next to them, holding a small, blue bottle. She dipped a thin reed into it and with her index finger stoppering the top of the reed, she held it out towards Daniel. "Open your mouth."
Daniel did as he was told and Sha're held the open end of the reed over his tongue. She pulled her finger away and several drops dribbled onto Daniel's tongue.
Daniel made a face as he tried to swallow the medicine with an obviously dry mouth.
"Here. Sip it slowly, it is hot." Sha're took a tiny cup from the tray and handed it to Daniel. She gave Jack a cup of tea and he took it gratefully. Sipping the overly sweet drink, he watched as Sha're gave John the same medication.
The tea didn't ease Jack's thirst but it helped get rid of the gunk in his throat. He alternated between dabbing Daniel's eyes with the cloth and his own, then forced a second cup of tea on Daniel, then a third.
"Water," Sha're announced as her three women entered the room, each carrying a large basin, "to bathe with." John and Cameron got one, Jack and Daniel the second, and Kasuf the third. "I have clean clothes, if you do not mind wearing that which belongs to my husband."
"No, not at all." Jack eyed the neatly folded robes she placed next to them and tapped Daniel on the shoulder. "C'mon, Icky."
Kasuf, without any hint of embarrassment, stepped out of his robe, knelt before the basin and stuck his head into the water. He straightened, and with water dripping down his chest, he began washing with a thick cloth.
Jack stripped, keeping an eye on Daniel who reluctantly took his clothes off. Jack motioned for Daniel to do the first ducking. Immediately the water turned red as Daniel swished his fingers through his hair, splashed some onto the back of his neck then rose, gasping, fingers twisting the water from the ends of his hair before allowing it to fall onto his neck. Jack held his breath, squinted his eyes closed and ducked his face into the water.
They washed the dust off and Jack watched goose bumps rise every place Daniel passed the cloth on his skin. By the time they finished, the water was an orangey red, with a layer of sand littering the bottom of the basin.
They probably could still have used a long shower but the worst of the grime was gone. The women had left the room, allowing the men their pride as they cleansed bits of themselves that had no business coming close and personal with sand. Only Cameron hadn't bothered washing, remaining in her dirty clothes.
By the time the women came back into the room laden with cushions, all of them had struggled back into their dirty underwear and were wearing clean, loose robes. The women took off with their clothes, including their boots.
Jack walked over to John, who was sitting on the floor with his arms around his bent knees, ignoring the comfort of the cushions. Cameron was standing a few paces away, watching him approach John. "How're you doing?"
"I'm okay." He stared straight ahead at the wall.
Jack crouched next to the boy and put a hand on his forehead. "Doesn't feel like you're doing too great."
"Still worried about the terminator?"
He gave Jack a frantic glance. "You said it was disabled."
"It is. I just wanted to make sure you know that it was."
John's gaze returned to the wall. "It doesn't matter. Skynet knows about the Stargate; the machines are out here. We're not safe. No one's ever safe."
"We don't know that yet."
"How else did it come to be here? Skynet sent it."
"Don't jump to any conclusions before we know what happened. We'll look at that chip; we'll get the answers."
"We have to destroy the T-800. Does this world have thermite? There can't be any trace of him left."
"Tok'tao'qua?" Kasuf's voice filled with incredulism. "You cannot destroy him. We have just found him."
"He's not a god, Kasuf. He's not even human." Hell, they'd gone through all this years ago with Ra. "He's a machine. Made to look like a human."
"But he sleeps. He bleeds."
"Believe me, he's as bad as the Goa'uld."
"Tok'tao'qua was said to rise again one day and—"
"He just rose. Nearly killed John. I think we can consider him dead now."
"Those men who ran when the T-800 came online. They might come back and find his body." Cameron shifted and her boots scuffed noisily on the sand-strewn floor. "I have to go back and make sure nobody takes it away."
"Go," John said listlessly.
She turned to Jack, her gaze suddenly changing. He'd have sworn it was full of concern. "You'll look after John?"
Jack nodded. "I'll look after him."
"We need to find a way to destroy the body," she repeated.
"We can use the Stargate." It was awkward but the 'gate's backwash was always a great way to get rid of stuff.
Cameron nodded sharply. "Yes, the Stargate will do fine." She turned and was out the door, leaving a whiff of sand-encrusted wind into the room in her wake.
Sha're returned with her women yet again, bearing trays of food. Jack's stomach grumbled loudly as he caught the scent of the heavily spiced foods.
The trays were placed on low tables between them. Kasuf dug eagerly into the food, then motioned for Jack and the boys to help themselves.
"Perhaps John and Dan'yel would prefer to drink the juice of the ulee?" Sha're poured steaming golden-colored liquid into a bowl and offered it to John, who took it reluctantly.
Daniel shook his head when Sha're held out a bowl to him. He was curled on the floor, his head and shoulders resting on a cushion.
"It's broth." Jack took the bowl from her and tried to hand it to Daniel.
"You need to eat, Icky."
"No, I don't."
"Come on. John's drinking the stuff."
Daniel rolled his reddened eyes towards Jack. "Don't patronize me, Dad. I'm not hungry."
Jack sighed, trying not to roll his own eyes towards the ceiling. "Oy. I'm not. But you're sick, and you're exhausted, and you need to keep your strength up and you know the best way for doing that is to eat, and then sleep. You know what Grandma would say if she were here—"
"She'd say, leave the boy alone. He'll eat when he's hungry."
Jack couldn't help smiling; Daniel had his mother's tone and inflection down to a T. "Yeah, she would. Unless she were the one stuck on a planet in the middle of a sandstorm with her sick son. Then she'd be trying to coax said suffering son to drink some broth so he could go to bed and wake up better in the morning."
"You're patronizing again."
"No. I'm coaxing."
"It's not working."
"Do not force me to go looking for a spoon so I can make airplane noises while I spoon feed you."
Jack grinned and held out the bowl.
"You would." Daniel sat up with a loud huff and took the bowl from Jack. He sniffed the contents and slurped a sip.
"It's ulee broth."
Satisfied that Daniel was at least going to have a little something in his stomach, Jack looked to filling his own. He picked those foods he was familiar with, the ones that wouldn't burn a hole in his stomach after setting his mouth and throat on fire.
Jack was gnawing on a thighbone of some sort of bird when Daniel slammed the bowl of broth down.
"What?" Jack asked, nearly choking as he swallowed the mouthful of meat.
"Um..." Jack looked around stupidly, checking the corners of the room for the little alien. The last time he'd seen it, it hadn't been happy when they'd opened the sarcophagus.
Daniel jumped up, running for the door. Jack yelled his son's name, struggling to his feet, hoping to head him off before he ran pell mell back into the storm. Thankfully Daniel had some sense in him, or maybe the memory of being out there was enough to stop him from doing nothing more than opening the door and yelling Scarlett's name.
Jack grabbed Daniel by the shoulder and pulled him back, but he did take the time to whistle a couple of times before shutting the door. Jack turned and came face to face with John. "She's probably gone to ground somewhere. She's okay."
"But you don't know that," John argued.
"Her instincts are for survival. There's a lot of places an animal her size can wait out the storm."
"But what about water? Food?"
"Daniel, she'll be fine."
"Whistle again. Maybe she heard you. Maybe she doesn't know where you are."
"Please, Dad. Whistle again." Daniel gripped his arm tightly.
Jack opened the door just enough that the sound would carry. He whistled once, twice, three times, and listened. All he heard was the sound of the wind. "Daniel—"
"It's no use. She can't hear us with the wind."
"Again. Please." Daniel leaned against him, his body heat still high, leeching through the cloth.
As Jack whistled again, Daniel rested his forehead against his arm while John leaned against the wall next to the door. "Sorry, Icky."
Two things happened simultaneously as Jack went to close the door; one was Daniel suddenly tilting sideways and taking a header for the floor and the other was an orange streak dashing past Jack just as he made a grab at Daniel. "Whoa."
Daniel grabbed at Jack's arms, his legs wobbly as Jack held him up.
"Easy. You okay?"
"Um, yeah. Dizzy."
"Let's get you off your feet." Slowly, he led Daniel back to the others. "John, you okay?" Jack craned his head and John was right behind him, a very dusty Scarlett held carefully in his arms.
"I'm fine." John passed them, heading for the cushions he'd been sitting next to earlier, then belied his words by tipping sideways as he sat down. He caught himself with one hand as he glanced around fuzzily.
Jack got Daniel onto the cushion where his son swayed a moment before remaining upright.
"They are fine." Sha're gave Jack a reassuring smile as she knelt next to John, examining Scarlett. "The zetalis works quickly."
It was Scarlett's dry cough that got Daniel's attention. He stared at her fuzzily, blinked, then looked at Jack, confusion marking his face. In the lamplight, his eyes seemed huge; his pupils dilated.
"She came in just as you nearly keeled over."
Daniel reached out to pet her and nearly overbalanced. "How is she?"
"Probably very thirsty," Sha're said as Scarlett coughed again. "I'll get some water. You, and you," she pointed to John and Daniel, "drink your juice of the ulee."
Scarlett lapped up the water thirstily from the bowl Sha're held for her, content to stay in John's arms. Even after Sha're wiped her down with a damp cloth, she lay limply. She sniffed a piece of fruit Sha're offered and ate it without appetite, obviously too exhausted to even eat.
Pretty much like the boys, who hadn't even picked up their broth. Jack broke off a piece of flat bread, spread a mixture of a thick, tasty paste he was pretty sure was made of beans, and handed half to Daniel and the other to John with orders to eat.
"Icky, let's go."
Something lurched against him and Daniel realized he was leaning against his father's side, and that it was his dad's shoulder nudging him awake. He forced himself to sit up and focus on his dad's face. He hated this weirded out feeling, like his brain was a second behind his eyes and ears. At least his headache was mostly gone, and he'd stopped shivering a little while ago.
"Go where?" His mouth was dry and he looked around for more tea. The small table was empty; hadn't it been filled with food just a moment ago?
"Bed. Sha're's fixed a room for you two." His dad held his hand out. "Come on."
"John?" He looked around and saw John staring back at him with barely-opened eyes. Scarlett was nowhere to be seen. "Where is she?"
His dad pointed to his right with his chin. Daniel peered around his dad and saw Scarlett curled up in Kasuf's lap. Her eyes were closed; she seemed to be sound asleep.
Getting up was like walking on a boat that kept going up and down in storm-induced swells. If he concentrated enough, he found he could walk a straight line but the effort was tiring.
Sha're led them to a small room where two low beds, blankets pulled back invitingly, were situated on either side of the wall. From the toys strewn about the room, it was obviously her children's bedroom. It was an inner room with no windows and the sound of the wind was faint here.
Daniel chose one bed and collapsed on it while John took the other. His dad pulled the thin blanket over Daniel, then did the same with John while Daniel turned onto his side. It felt wonderful to stretch out.
"Where are you going to sleep?" Daniel asked as his dad leaned over him to kiss his cheek.
"Don't worry about me."
"But there's only two beds." He yawned, fighting to keep his eyes open.
"Plenty of pillows in the other room. I'll make a nest in a corner when it's time for bed."
"It's not bedtime?"
"It's dark out," John said sleepily. "Oh. Storm. Right. Dumb answer."
It took Daniel a few seconds to process John's words and make sense of them. He watched as his dad cupped John's cheek with his palm before getting up.
"Your fever's down. Looks like the stuff Sha're gave you is working."
One of the women entered the room carrying a pitcher and two wooden cups.
"There's water if you need it." Sha're poured water into the two mugs and placed one by each of their bedsides. "The water is from our well. It is safe to drink. It will not make you sick."
She smiled down at Daniel and for a moment, he was lost in the past and thought she was going to climb into bed with him. Then he blinked and she turned her smile to John. He suddenly felt lonely and cold.
"If you need anything, just call out." She paused by the door a moment, gazing down at them, as if they were her children, an analogy Daniel certainly wasn't comfortable with.
"Hey. Looks like you got company."
Scarlett floated in and made a beeline for Daniel's bed. She flipped her head under the blanket and curled up in the space between his knees and his chest, with her head right up under his chin. She flicked her tongue once against his skin, gave a heavy sigh, and relaxed.
Feeling a little less alone, Daniel closed his eyes.
It was one thing to be stuck on an alien planet with sick boys; it was another to be stuck on an alien planet with sick boys during a sandstorm and staying at said sick boy's ex-wife's home. Jack was bored out of his gourd. With Sha're and Kasuf conversing quietly in the far corner of the room with his grandson sleeping in Kasuf's arms and the older, crankier and sick granddaughter trying to climb onto her grandfather's lap, Jack tried for a normal conversation with Cameron. He tried to ignore the blanket-covered body of the cyborg in the corner of the room which she'd brought back with her earlier.
"Any theories how that, what did you call it? T-800? Get from Earth to this world?"
Jack tried not to huff in exasperation. "It had to go through the Stargate. But if what Daniel read in that tomb—"
"It wasn't a tomb. A tomb implies there's a body buried. There was no body."
"Not a human one. But there was a sarcophagus in that tomb and someone in it."
"The T-800 would have had to go through the Stargate several thousand years ago."
"And we know for a fact that the Stargate on Earth hasn't been operational for several thousand years."
"The power expenditure for Skynet to send a cyborg that far back in time would be enormous. Skynet wouldn't waste that much power for something so meaningless."
"So having that robot waiting for us to show up here—"
"If Skynet knew about the Stargate, it would have sent a machine back in time just before Catherine Langford's father discovered it in Giza."
Jack craned his neck to watch as one of the boys left the bedroom and wandered down the hall. John entered the small room that served as a bathroom, coming out a minute later.
"How're you feeling?"
John collapsed onto the cushions next to Jack, hugging his knees. "It's the middle of the freakin' desert and I'm cold."
"It is the fever," Sha're said as she hurried to her feet. "Go back to bed. I will get you some more blankets." She left the room with her daughter running after her.
A touch to John's forehead proved Sha're right. He was hot, and he was shivering. "Damned sandstorm. At least if we were stuck at Kasuf's, there'd be Tylenol from the First Aid kit. Usually I keep some in my pockets but," Jack opened his arms to either side of him, "I'm not wearing a jacket."
Sha're and Iriela returned, with Sha're carrying a blanket and the little blue bottle from before and the kid carrying some sort of homemade doll. Sha're wrapped the heavy blanket around John's shoulders and poured him a cup of tea. "Open your mouth." Again she measured out a few drops of whatever she'd given them earlier and urged John to drink the tea to rid himself of the taste. She gave her daughter a much smaller dose and then told her to see her grandfather for the tea.
"You should return to bed." She ran her fingers over John's cheek. "Sometimes piric fever makes older children sicker than the younger ones if they do not rest."
John glanced at the young girl who was walking around Kasuf, including him and the doll in some sort of make-believe tea drinking ceremony. "Wish I were as sick as she was."
Sha're smiled. "The resilience of youth."
They escorted John back to his room; Jack because he wanted to check on Daniel and Sha're, probably because she wanted to give Daniel another dose from the blue bottle. Except that Daniel was sleeping soundly and his fever wasn't that high so she decided to wait before dosing him. She left Daniel a blanket folded at the foot of his bed, while Jack stood there a while watching both boys sleep.
It wasn't the cold, the thirst or the general body ache that forced Daniel out of bed, but the urge to pee. He gently pushed Scarlett aside as he sat up and grabbed the blanket sitting at the foot of his bed, wrapping it around his shoulders as Scarlett floated over to John and curled up with him. He did his business and then followed the lamplight back to the main room where everyone was gathered.
He paused in the doorway a moment, feeling a pang of jealousy when he saw his dad playing with Sha're's daughter. She was leaning against him, showing him something and his dad was laughing. Laughing in a way that Daniel remembered from when he was a child.
They hadn't laughed like that in years.
"Daniel." Kasuf motioned imperiously to Sha're, who got to her feet and came over to him.
"Do you require something? How do you feel?" Her fingers were all over his face as she pushed his hair back and tucked it behind his ears. "Come and sit."
"I'm fine." He gave her a tight smile despite his wooziness as she tugged on his arm, trying to push back the hurt of seeing his dad enjoying himself so much with a child. He felt a moment of uncharacteristic satisfaction when his father put the baby down and went over to him.
"You sure as hell don't look fine." His dad pulled him into a hug and Daniel buried his face against his dad's chest.
"Come and sit, Dan'yel, so that I may make some tea and give you more zetalis for your fever."
"You heard the lady." His dad relaxed his arms and led Daniel to a bunch of free cushions, sitting down next to him. Leaning against his dad, he tugged the blanket tightly against his neck.
"Not feeling too great, huh?"
Daniel only shook his head from side to side as his hair fell forward into his face.
"Storm's starting to die off; the wind died down a lot as soon as the sun set. I think if you two aren't better by the morning, if the storm's over, we'll head out to the Stargate and go home before it gets too hot."
The thought of walking any distance further than here and a bed made Daniel want to cry.
As if reading his thoughts, his father continued. "Kasuf said you could ride a mastadge if you're not feeling up to walking."
He put his head on his dad's shoulder, content to sit there with his dad's arm around him, slowly rubbing his back.
"Although one time up on those things was enough for me, thank you very much."
"They're not so bad," Daniel said softly.
"Yeah, well, you they like."
Daniel gave a soft snort and buried his face deeper against his dad, enjoying the feel of his warmth. "Can I punch the numbers on the DHD tomorrow?"
"Do you remember them?"
"Yeah," Daniel sighed softly.
"Don't go to sleep," his father said after a minute, pulling him from a near doze.
"Yeah? Could'a fooled me."
"Do you think Grandma's gonna be pissed?"
"Because I'm coming home sick again."
"I think your grandmother is going to be totally understanding and concerned. It's me she's going to be pissed at."
"That's what I meant."
"Oh. It's not Grandma I'm worried about. It's John's mother."
"Yeah. She's probably gonna tear Cameron limb from limb because she brought John home sick."
Daniel chuckled tiredly.
He opened his eyes, never having heard Sha're approach.
"I made some tea. I have medicine." She held a blue bottle up.
He took his dose of foul-tasting drops and drank down two cups of tea. Funny how it tasted worse than how he remembered it.
"Wanna go back to bed?"
For an answer, he cuddled up against his father again.
"You'll feel better lying down."
The sounds of conversation, children's laughter and occasional gusts of wind became a background noise, helping the zetalis lull him to sleep. He woke up just long enough to note that he'd somehow gotten back to the bedroom and was in the middle of climbing into the bed, and the worst part was that that the sheets were cold. Then his father whispered for him to go to sleep as he tucked him in, and he did.
Jack pretty much tossed and turned most of the night; the nest he'd told Daniel he'd make for himself was not exactly the most comfortable place because the pillows kept shifting underneath him, upsetting his horizontal balance, adding to that the fact that he was worried about the boys. Each time he'd checked on them during they night, they progressively became hotter and hotter as the stuff Sha're had given them wore off.
So it was with relief that Kasuf sent someone for their gear and Jack was finally able to give them each a healthy dose of Tylenol, get them dressed and piled them up onto a mastadge waiting in front of the house. Obviously knowing the person in charge of the city made him eligible for curb side service.
He'd forgotten the stench those beasts gave off. And how high off the ground they were as he nervously kept an eye on John and Daniel as they swayed on top of its back while he walked through the city alongside Kasuf and Scarlett flew dizzying circles around them. Cameron walked next to another mastadge who was carrying the well-wrapped body of their mysterious terminator.
The only sign of the sandstorm were piles of sand in the corners of some buildings. People were everywhere, busy sweeping the street and collecting the sand in wheelbarrows, where they dumped it outside, past the gates.
The kids were definitely sporting a tinge of green by the time they reached the pyramid. They slid off one by one, John stumbling a little while Daniel's experience years ago made him a little more sure-footed. Cameron had her terminator off the beast and hanging over her shoulder even before the boys were ready to go.
"Almost home." Not much in the way of encouragement, but Jack's words were rewarded with tight, relieved smiles as they struggled through the sand and towards the ramp leading into the pyramid. Kasuf reached the ramp and was climbing long before the kids managed to get to it.
"O'Neill. Wait." The words were faint, but unmistakeable. Jack stopped and looked back at the mastadge galloping towards them.
"Skaara? Something wrong?"
Skaara slid off the mastadge and from the way he walked towards Jack, it was obvious that he was angry. He positioned himself in front of the ramp, blocking their way. "My men say you found Tok'tao'qua."
"We found something. Not your soothsayer."
"You are taking Tok'tao'qua with you. You do not have the right."
"My son." Kasuf came back and placed a hand on Skaara's shoulder. "Tok'tao'qua attacked without provocation. He is not who the legends say he is."
"Tok'tao'qua rose again and you destroyed him. And you take him with you." He glared at Cameron.
"You always trusted me, Skaara." Jack was well aware of the sun rising slowly in the sky and how long the boys had been out in it. "Believe me when I tell you that this holy man is not what you think he was, just like Ra was not your god."
"He tells the truth, my son. Tok'tao'qua is not human. I have seen it with my own eyes. They take his body to destroy it. The Tau'ri are at war with Tok'tao'qua's kind; evidence of his being here must never be found."
"I want to trust you." Skaara's body language belied his words. "But it is only your word that says Tok'tao'qua will not rise and help our people once more."
"My word used to be good enough."
When Skaara said nothing, Jack turned to Cameron. "Show him," Jack ordered.
Skaara's face suddenly changed into a frown as Cameron dropped the body onto the ground and pulled back the material to expose the T-800's face. The hole in his head was more than evident that what she was carrying wasn't human. Scarlett took that moment to dive bomb the body, screeching for all she was worth.
"You are right." Skaara looked spooked, something that Jack had never seen even when he'd first met him as a teen. "There was a time I would have trusted you implicitly. What has changed?"
"Klorel's hatred of us; its memories are clouding your judgment."
"Yes, yes, I cannot believe I did not trust you." He stepped away, moving aside to let them pass. "I apologize."
Jack touched the man's arm. "There's no need. Having had that thing in your head's gotta be a bitch to live with."
"I cope. I have no choice."
They finished the climb in silence, only the sound of their boots scuffing on the stone and the boys' harsh breathing breaking the quiet.
The town's militia met them inside the pyramid and escorted them to the Stargate. Skaara went straight to the DHD and began punching the glyphs. Belatedly Jack remembered Daniel had wanted to do the honors. He glanced at his son, wanting to give him a sign of apology but Daniel wasn't even paying attention. Eyes unfocused, hair stringy and unkempt, face pale except for red spots on his cheeks and on his nose where the sun had burned him, he seemed exhausted.
John wasn't faring any better.
Cameron positioned herself next to the Stargate and when the backsplash filled the room, she tossed the terminator into its depth. Nothing remained when the vortex stabilized, not even a scrap of material. Scarlett came to hover next to Jack and let out a satisfied little cheep.
Skaara swallowed visibly at the loss of his hero. While Jack punched his code into the GDO and then contacted the SGC, giving Hammond a head's up about the boys' condition, Skaara turned to Daniel.
"I am sorry you are ill and that you have to leave. We did not have time to talk." He offered his hand to Daniel, who took a long moment before shaking it. "You must come again, Dan'yel, your visit was too short."
"Daniel," his son said curtly.
"It's Daniel. Not Dan'yel."
Skaara spoke very softly, leaning close to Daniel. "No, Dan'yel. I know who you are. I do not know how or why, I only know you are returned to us. Please do not take me for a fool. It is bad enough my sister discovered the truth before I did."
"Sha're knows?" Daniel looked around at Jack, wild-eyed and unbelieving.
"You were her husband for a year, how could she not?"
Daniel hung his head and Skaara wrapped an arm around him and hugged him, nearly pulling him off balance. "You must return soon, if only to tell me your story. I am glad that I was able to tell you before you left."
Jack sure as hell wasn't delighted that Skaara dropped this bombshell on Daniel at this point in time. It was more than apparent that Daniel was shocked, both from the way he kept averting his gaze from Skaara and how he had his arms wrapped around his chest.
"Ready to go?" Jack moved next to his son, giving him unspoken support as Skaara let go of him.
Sweat, fever and sun had flushed Daniel's face. He nodded, keeping his head down. His steps were slow, lethargic and his usual Energizer Bunny of a son was in dire need of a power boost. Or a nice, hot bowl of his mom's chicken soup after a quick shower and more Tylenol.
His son wasn't cornering the market on looking like crap, because John was coming in a close second; head down, he plodded after Daniel. Jack waited till both boys, robot and alien went through the Stargate, gave Skaara and Kasuf a nod and a jaunty wave, then stepped through at a half jog. Only to come up short with both boys on their knees, heaving over the sides of the ramp.
Fraiser was already there next to them, probably having been alerted by Hammond when Jack had given him a heads' up on the boys' condition at the last check-in. He crouched next to Daniel who was dry heaving so hard, his arms were trembling in his attempt to stay upright. Jack caught his shoulders, helping to support him while Cameron did the same with John.
He tried to answer Fraiser's rapid-fire questions as Daniel trembled against him. She was multitasking, giving both boys a once over while absorbing Jack's answers. It seemed like forever before the retching stopped and they were able to get both boys up onto their feet and moving towards the infirmary.
While the boys showered, Jack made two phone calls. It wasn't until he heard his mother's sleep-thickened voice did he realize that it was the middle of the night here.
The second call went unanswered. He'd have to find out where John's family was, and if they were even on Earth.
Okay, two of his wishes had come true; shower and Tylenol for the boys, but an IV replaced his mother's chicken soup. Both were huddled and shivering under piles of blankets, exhausted, miserable and cranky. Jack couldn't tell which of the two Scarlett was curled up with but he was sure she made up part of one of the lumps under the covers.
"I'm pretty sure this is nothing more than what you say it is." Fraiser, hands in the pockets of her lab coat, walked slowly towards him, her eyes on the fitfully dozing boys. "I think, right now, the most serious problem is the fact that their systems went through a shock with the hypothermia so their immune system might be somewhat vulnerable."
"And that means..."
"Your guess is as good as mine. I don't know how this particular virus acts so I can't tell you what the boys' vulnerabilities are at the moment. Right now I'm going for making them as comfortable as possible, which means dealing with the fever and headache and keeping them under observation. And by the way, I think that sudden bout of nausea was a combination of fever, sun, riding on those beasts compounded by going through the Stargate."
"Yeah. They didn't look too great when they got off those things in the first place."
"And speaking of beasts, you might want to go and shower. You smell like a horse."
"Actually, Daniel once likened it more to a yak."
"Whatever. You still stink." She wrinkled her nose, then glared over at Cameron standing on the other side of the beds. "You, too. Shower."
Cameron's reaction was almost funny. Her eyes opened and she brought her arm up to her face and sniffed. "Oh. I'll be back."
Jack waited until the robot was out of earshot. Then waited another few seconds. "Any idea where John's mother is?"
"Yes. She went to P87 523 to check out the gamma site."
"P87... I thought the Stargate there wasn't operational."
"It's not. The Daedalus ferried them over. They're not expected back for another day or two. Maybe three."
"Poor kid. Bad enough he's sick but to not have anyone around..."
"You know, if they're not contagious, I don't see why I can't move them to the Academy Hospital tomorrow. They don't need to stay here; they can be under observation there just as well. And they can have visitors, other than Cassie and Rose."
"That might be a good idea."
"What's a good idea?"
Startled, Jack jumped at his mother's voice behind him. He glanced at his watch; she'd obviously burned a few red lights to get here.
"Moving the boys to the Academy Hospital tomorrow. Might make it easier on both of them without having to explain, again, why they've been sick and nobody knew about it."
"That's a wonderful idea, Janet." His mother wrinkled her nose, and sniffed the air. "What the hell is that stench?"
"That, would be me." He took a step back hurriedly, and then kept moving when his mom's forehead furrowed in a frown. "I'm going to shower now. I'll be back in a few minutes."
He was halfway down the corridor when he remembered about Scarlett. He had just turned back to warn his mom, picturing her leaning over Daniel to kiss his cheek, when he heard her shriek.
"Shit," he muttered. He turned around and kept walking, moving faster and faster, changing to a quick jog, then running all out as if his mother was one step behind him waving a cast iron frying pan at his head.
He peeked into the infirmary ward, trying to gauge his mother's mood before actually going in. To his surprise, not only was she sitting between the two boys' beds, but Scarlett was wrapped around her, chin tucked against his mom's shoulder as she petted the stuffing out of her.
"Hi." Jack came bearing a cup of tea and a toasted bagel complete with peanut butter. He waved the peace offering towards his mom. Scarlett, who appeared to be in total heaven, merely rolled her eyes, following the movements of the cup and bagel. She licked her lips, seemed to contemplate between food and obvious bliss.
"I think you forgot to mention a small detail before you left."
"Mom, meet Scarlett." He put the food down near his mom, noting again how Scarlet followed his hands. Hearing her name, Scarlett chirped at him.
"Yes, so I've been told. Daniel and John told me all about her."
The conversation must not have lasted too long because both boys were sleeping.
Jack scratched his bristly cheek, not having taken the time to shave. "I'll be right back. I think she's hungry and I don't think peanut butter and bagels are a good idea."
"Oh. What does she eat?"
"Leaves. Fruit. Vegetables. Do not feed her."
He typed up a quick request and left it on Hammond's desk; with luck, Scarlett would have some real food in a few hours if Hammond allowed a team to go through the 'gate to her planet and bring some back. Then he detoured back to the commissary and got a bottle of water and some fruit salad.
All that remained of the bagel when he got back were the crumbs in the plastic plate, and the few sesame seeds caught on the edge of Scarlett's snout.
"Mom!" Jack hissed. "I got her food."
"What? She was hungry."
Jack shook his head. He rinsed out the empty Styrofoam cup that had held his mom's tea and filled it with water, then spread the fruit on the plastic plate. While Scarlett ate and drank, Jack watched Daniel sleep.
Scarlett raised her snout from her food and gave a happy cheep. Jack realized that John was awake and was watching him.
"Hungry? Thirsty?" he asked, holding up the half-empty bottle of water.
John shook his head. "Where's my mom?"
"She's not here, John."
"Is she okay?"
"I'm sure she's fine," his mom said quickly, glancing over at Jack.
"She's fine, but she's out of touch so she doesn't know you're here."
"Then how do you know she's fine if she's out of touch."
He ignored the snippy voice. "Your mom's fine, John."
"She went offworld?"
"Yeah. No Stargate so she's on the Daedalus. Just a recon mission. Nothing hazardous."
"When can I go home?"
"I don't know. Fraiser wants to keep an eye on you two—"
"I don't have to be here." He sat up and began tearing the bandage holding his IV in place.
"John, stop that." His mother tried to grab John's fingers and he pulled away, twisting his body so she couldn't reach him.
"You know Fraiser'll tie you down if she has to."
John glared at Jack over his shoulder.
"And she won't let you out of this infirmary until she's satisfied you're fine."
"I'm fine now." He tossed the IV cannula onto the bed, surprising Jack that not only did he know how to remove it but actually had the guts to do it himself. With one hand clamped over the entry site, he slid out the far side of the bed.
"Is John better?" Cameron seemed to appear out of nowhere behind Jack. Hair damp from a shower, she looked less like a robot than she ever did.
"No, he's not better. And the only place you're going is back in that bed." Jack hardened his voice, knowing instinctively that a fatherly role wasn't going to cut it at the moment. He hoped John would respond to authority instead.
"John. Get back in bed." Authority-wise, Cameron sounded like a sixteen-year old ordering her younger brother around. And the kid didn't listen to her any more than he did Jack. He stomped away from them, bare feet slapping noisily on the cement floor.
"Get Fraiser," Jack snapped at Cameron as he went after John. "Tell her to sedate him if she has to before she ties him to the bed."
"I'm going home," John tossed over his shoulder, heading for the door. He stopped suddenly, nearly knocking Fraiser over as she entered the ward.
"No, you're not. You're getting back into that bed."
"Like hell I am."
"Like hell you are." Fraiser stood her ground, chin up, daring John to go past her. Jack stood next to her, backing her up. Now there was nowhere for him to go.
"You can't keep me here."
"Like hell I can."
"I'm not one of your people that you can order around." John spat that last one at Jack.
"But I can," Fraiser repeated. "First of all, the virus that's making you sick is alien. For that reason alone, I can lock you up and throw away the key until I'm satisfied you're not a danger to anyone."
"You wouldn't dare." He glared at Fraiser, then turned sideways, towards Cameron.
"You wouldn't dare," Jack warned, expecting him to sic his robot on them.
"John, get your ass back in bed, man. I'm trying to sleep here." Daniel was up on one elbow, watching them. His mom, with Cameron standing next to her, looked on with worry.
"I've had it, Daniel. I'm just tired of the whole thing. I just want to go home, bury my head under the blankets and sleep for a week."
"You can bury your head right there and sleep." Daniel pointed to the bed John had just vacated.
John raised his chin in defiance.
"She's not going to give in, you know."
Fraiser raised her chin, seconding Daniel's words.
"Trust me. Sleeping without restraints is a helluva lot more comfortable."
Fraiser nodded, backing up Daniel's implied threat.
While the IV and the meds Fraiser had fed the boys had helped make them look a little less like they were sponsors for terminal illnesses, they still looked like shit. And most likely felt like shit because John suddenly looked exhausted. Beads of sweat were breaking out on his forehead and it now looked more like his jaw was clamped tightly in an effort to keep it all together rather than the earlier defiance.
"Come on," Jack said softly, taking hold of his arm and pulling gently. He half expected John to pull away and was relieved when he went with him willingly.
Fraiser started a fresh IV while John lay there with his face averted. When she finished, she removed her gloves and wiped away the sweat with her fingers. He turned startled eyes to her.
"I know you don't feel great. Bear with me, okay? This is the best place for you right now."
"I really can take care of myself, Janet," he mumbled.
"Yes, I'm sure you can. But I can take better care of you." Her smile was gentle as she tucked him in. "Now, I'm not promising anything, but Sam brought me back some blood samples from Abydos and if I can determine you're not contagious, how does being moved to the Academy Hospital sound?"
"The hospital?" This time it was Daniel's turn to frown. "Why?"
"Because she thought you two might enjoy having visitors instead of lying here with just two old farts to keep you company—"
"Hey, who you calling old?" His mother smacked Jack's arm in retaliation.
"Does that mean Alexandria can visit me?"
Fraiser nodded, her smile growing as did Daniel's. "And Corey as well as any of your friends as long as you don't overdo it."
"Wow. I think that'll be a first." Grinning up at Jack, Daniel snuggled into the pillow. "For once I won't have to lie."
"Nope. The official diagnosis will be that you're both run down and caught a virus. Which is essentially the truth."
"What got into you?" Daniel hissed at John the moment his father and grandmother left the room, knowing that John was awake.
"Wasn't I clear? I thought I was pretty damned clear." John was on his back, staring at the ceiling.
"You were pretty damned childish. That tantrum surpassed even my own performances, and I have to admit, a couple of them have been doozies. I mean, man, you stood up to Janet. You have a death wish or something?"
"I'm just fed up, you know? Anyway, it's not like anybody cares."
"What the hell?" Daniel sat up and looked over at his friend, ignoring the aches and pains the motion caused. "Your mom cares. Derek. My father. My grandmother. Cassie. Janet. Alexandria—"
"No, they don't. They care about John Baum, born in Lawrence, Kansas, son of Sarah and brother to Cameron. But he's not me, he's just yet another fictional character drummed up to hide the real me. Nobody knows me, nobody cares about John Connor, the son born to Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. John Connor, a warrior who once upon a time had a destiny that would save the world. Now? He's just a nobody with a working mother whose job takes her off planet every so often."
"Wow, who pissed in your IV?" Daniel dropped back down onto the bed, stretching out his legs, trying to ease the pain in his hips.
"Well, it's true."
"Yeah, man, I know. But you can't let it get you down. We can talk to my dad or to General Hammond, find out about Judgment Day and if—"
"You don't understand." John turned to glare at Daniel. "Everything I was, everything I trained for, worked for, it's changed."
"Yeah, we've been over this already. And I do understand."
"How the hell can you underst—"
"Ten years ago I was in my forties. A year ago, I thought I was nothing but a thirteen-year-old geek whose biggest problems were zits and girls. Then I remembered everything. My previous life. The Stargate. The Goa'uld. So don't you tell me I don't understand."
"It's not the same thing. You don't have the weight of the whole world sitting on your shoulders," John yelled.
"Like hell I don't," Daniel yelled back. "I'm going to be right out there with you, remember? Oh, but wait, I don't count, do I? Because this is your pity party."
Daniel jumped at the sound of someone clearing their throat. He turned and saw Sam standing next to his bed, looking somewhat embarrassed as she smiled at them. "Hi."
"Hi, Sam. When did you get back?" He forced himself to calm down. He was shaking and his head was pounding.
"A little while ago. I had to bring back some blood samples for Janet and I thought I'd stop by to see how you two were doing before I went back to Abydos."
"Really?" Sam walked up to the chair nearest his bed and sat. "You didn't sound fine just a second ago. What's going on between you two?"
"Nothing," Daniel said sullenly. Great, now he'd caught John's bad mood.
"Bullshit. Do you guys think I'm deaf? I could hear you two all the way into the hall."
"It's my fault, Sam. I should have just stayed home and not gone with you guys."
"Oh, great, it's my fault now for asking you to come with me?" Daniel turned to glower at John.
"I didn't say that," John spat back, his eyes flashing in anger.
"No, but it's damn clear you meant that."
"Will you stop putting words in my mouth."
"Will you stop whining already?"
A loud whistle drowned out John's retort, startling Daniel. Sam sat there, fingers still in her mouth, looking at both of them angrily. She wiped her fingers on her pants. "Thank you. Do you know Sha're said one of the symptoms of this piric fever is crankiness whenever temperatures begin spiking. Janet's comparing blood samples with yours to confirm that's what you guys have, but you know, I don't need to wait for her diagnosis. Seeing you right now, I'm convinced that's what you caught."
Daniel lowered his chin to his chest as he brought his knees up closer as the shivering got worse. Sam's hand on his neck was wonderfully warm.
John answered before Daniel could. "She went with Colonel O'Neill. He had some work he had to take care of."
"Good. Rodney was worried about her." Sam's fingers skimmed down to his shoulders before she pulled the blanket up to his chin. "I'll go tell Janet your fever's up." She pushed back locks of hair that had fallen into his face. "I hope you guys feel better soon."
"Sam?" Daniel stopped her before she could leave, remembering something he needed to tell her. "There was a terminator on Abydos."
"Cameron has its chip. Could you have a look at it when you have a minute?"
"Does General Hammond know?"
"I don't know. I don't know if Dad spoke to him yet."
Sam checked her watch. "Yeah, the General's probably on his way in now. Your dad's in his office?"
"I don't know."
"She said she had something to do," John supplied.
"A terminator with an errand. That's a new one." Sam rubbed her forehead and Daniel realized she looked tired. He hoped it was just 'gate travel. "I'll go get Janet."
"Sorry," John said the moment Sam left.
"Me, too," Daniel added grudgingly.
A nurse came by a few minutes later, took their temperatures, fed them Tylenol, gave them more blankets and told them to try and get some sleep.
If only he could get warm. The extra blanket helped a little, but barely took the edge off. Then his joints and muscles burned, forcing him to stretch his legs, which only made him feel colder. He tucked his feet into the folds of the blanket, trying to capture any scrap of heat there.
John was fidgeting as well. One moment Daniel heard the plastic covering of John's mattress squeaking and the next, he found himself back in the cabin, so cold he could barely move, so cold the pain of it was almost unendurable, so cold he thought he was going to die. He wanted out of here. He wanted to go home. He wanted his father.
Surging up in the bed, Daniel tried to escape the frigid entrapment that the cabin had become. The painful tug of the IV on his arm brought him back to the here and now.
Infirmary. Not cabin.
Fever. Not hypothermia.
"Yeah, sorry. Dream." He fell back onto the bed and pulled the blanket up, kicking his legs weakly to get them back under the covering.
He dozed off again, found himself in the same fever-dreams, this time fighting to get out of the frigid water. He shuddered awake to see his grandmother leaning over him worriedly.
"Hi," he said lamely.
She brushed his hair back, just as Sam had done. "Hi, mhuirnin. Jonathan, his fever's worse."
"I'll get Fraiser."
He missed his grandmother's touch as she went around his bed to check on John. He closed his eyes as they spoke, miserable and sick of being miserable.
The sound of Cameron's footsteps were unmistakable as she strode down the hall. "I found the T-800," she stated as she approached their beds. She had a laptop in her hands which she placed between the two beds.
On the screen was a photo of a news report, with the face of some high government official smiling at the camera. The same craggy face that had tried to kill them the previous day.
His father gasped loudly. "Holy shit! Is that—"
John exclaimed right on the heels of his father's outburst. "He's the governor of—"
"Wait," his grandmother exclaimed.. "This is the man who attacked you on Abydos?"
"Yeah." Daniel squinted at the picture, too lazy to reach for his glasses.
"Yeah, I see it, Mom."
"See what?" Daniel whined.
"The picture was taken last night," John said without emotion, "at some fancy do."
"But how can he be..." It took Daniel a second but he finally caught on. "Oh shit. That means he hasn't gone back in time yet."
Jack fiddled with a piece of plastic from Carter's worktable as she got the chip Cameron had given her up and running. Trying to stave off nervous energy, he lobbed it into the air and tried to catch it with his hand behind his back, turning as he did so to stop Scarlett from going after it. He missed the catch, picked it up off the floor, and repeated the attempt.
Bored, he picked up the phone and called Hammond's office.
"Any luck locating the governor's whereabouts?" he asked Hammond's aide.
"Not yet, sir. He's apparently temporarily out of communications range. His office won't give out any information without higher authority. We're trying to get hold of the President."
Jack hung up and tossed the piece of plastic back into the air repeatedly, teasing Scarlett until Teal'c, who'd been standing serenely next to him, turned and gave him the evil eye.
In retaliation, Jack tossed the plastic even higher. Before he or Scarlett could catch it, the plastic disappeared in the big guy's jug of a hand.
"Hey, I was playing with that."
"You are no longer." He ignored even Scarlett's pathetic cheeps as she tried to get him to open his hand and hand it over to her.
"Boys, be good," Carter said distractedly, typing away at her laptop.
"He started it," Jack whined, then raised an eyebrow in retaliation to Teal'c's raised one.
"Okay, I've got video."
Jack immediately brought his attention to the monitor, stepping up to peer over Carter's shoulder while Teal'c and Cameron watched from where they sat.
The footage was jerky, disjointed, and overall confusing.
"I can extract the information from the chip if Sam's busy," John said for the umpteenth time to anyone he thought would listen. Daniel's dad, Sam and Teal'c had gone to some meeting and Rose had gone home to get some rest. General Hammond was busy, or so his aide had informed him.
The earlier excitement had died down, or it had died down for everyone else but him. He was raring and ready to help. Hell, the whole puzzle was driving him crazy.
"I'm sure the debriefing is nearly over." Janet gave a visibly forced smile. "Sam should be free soon. You can discuss it with her then."
"But you're sending us to the Academy Hospital. I won't be able to help her with the chip. I can go to her lab now and have the information extracted by the time she's free." The fact that he was no longer tethered to the IV surely was no longer an excuse to keep him in bed?
"What?" he snapped at Daniel.
"Fiddling around in Sam's lab isn't that great an idea."
"I gave her my equipment. I just have to connect it to a laptop. Five minutes, tops."
"It's a bad idea, John."
Janet made a fluttering motion with her fingers towards the hallway. "There's a tour of the SGC under way for a dozen government dignitaries. For that reason alone, you need to stay in the infirmary. We're not on their itinerary but I wouldn't want to be in General Hammond's shoes when he tries to explains why two teenage boys were roaming the corridors, considering this is a top-secret military establishment."
"So we sneak around them. Won't take long, honest."
"Look, I know you're feeling better right at the moment and you're bored, but I'd rather you stay put. You're far from cured and your fever can spike any time."
"Janet, can't we at least have our cell phones?" Daniel swung a leg over the side of the bed and moved it back and forth restlessly.
"I'm not expecting Cassie home until later tonight." She gave John a teasing grin.
"Thursday?" John exchanged a glance with Daniel and they shared a quick shrug. Where the hell had the time gone and he began to do a mental run through, trying to figure out how he'd lost a day or two or three.
"She doesn't need to be home for John to call her," Daniel said, picking up the slack.
Janet rolled her eyes at Daniel. "Yes, of course. What was I thinking?"
"And our clothes?" John asked.
"Actually, believe it or not, you sleep better when in pajamas. The clothes can wait."
"You call these pajamas?" John plucked at the green cotton of his scrubs.
"Actually, they're pretty comfortable," Daniel admitted.
"Shut up, Jackson, you're not helping my cause any."
"Hey, I was just saying."
"Cells, yes. Clothes, no." Janet crossed her arms, daring either of them to argue with her.
"Then we can go get our cells from the locker room?"
"But you said—"
"I said you could have your cell phones. I'll ask Colonel O'Neill to get them from your lockers when he's free."
"Oh, come on!" John yelled as Janet walked away from them.
Both of them sat there for a few minutes, John fuming and Daniel still kicking his foot against the side of the bed.
Daniel kept kicking. "We could make a run for the lockers."
"Get our stuff?"
"What about Sam's lab?"
"No. I promised her years ago I would never go in there without her. The chip's not that urgent."
John, if he'd been on his own, would have gone to the lab but he would respect Daniel's wishes. "Lockers it is."
"Somebody please explain to me what's so important that I couldn't go see my son first?" Sarah Conner demanded as she stormed into Carter's lab with Reese right on her tail.
"The boys found something on Abydos—" Jack started.
"John was attacked by a T-800 series," Cameron interrupted. She ignored Sarah's exclamation and Reese's expletive and impartially recounted the story.
Jack watched Sarah's face go white as a sheet as she listened. When Cameron finished, Sarah and Reese were quiet, probably trying to come to terms with the puzzle facing them.
"While the life and times of a terminator is interesting as hell, can't we speed it up a little?" Jack had found a pen and was twirling it between his fingers.
"I would if I knew the timeframe we were looking for, Colonel. This isn't exactly filed by date order. I'm sorry," she said, tapping the keyboard with more force than she had thirty minutes before, "but other than jumping all over the place and praying I get a lucky hit, I need to work this systematically using an algo—"
"There." Teal'c leaned closer to the monitor. "You have succeeded."
Jack caught a glimpse of what looked like a hazy picture of the SGC's corridors before the static hid it. "Son of a shit."
John couldn't help but feel all eyes were on him and Daniel as they walked down the corridor wearing scrubs and slippers. Head up, eyes straight ahead, shoulders back, he pretended he was wearing boots, jeans, a tee and a hoodie.
"Stop it." Daniel smacked the back of John's head with the tips of his fingers.
"What? I'm not doing anything."
"You're acting like you're walking to a firing squad."
"I am not."
"You're so damned stiff, you could give Cameron a run for her money."
John tried to relax his neck and shoulders, still feeling ridiculous. By the time they got to the elevators, John was trembling. He hadn't realized how damnably weak he was.
"Maybe this isn't such a good idea." Daniel leaned against the wall, wiping sweat from his forehead with shaking fingers.
With no pass key in hand, travelling surreptitiously by elevator meant that someone would have to get in while they were there and punch in their floor. It was a haphazard and time-consuming way to travel. John was about to agree with Daniel when the elevator doors opened and a technician stepped out. He and Daniel locked eyes for just a moment, undecided, then Daniel made the decision and stepped into the elevator.
Daniel greeted the young woman who shared the elevator with them, and when she got off on the 19th floor, they were forced to follow her out.
"Maybe it's a sign?" John said hopefully, looking down the hallway towards Sam's lab.
"Don't even think it." Daniel grabbed his arm and pulled John several feet down the hallway, and they stood there, trying to act as if they belonged, and trying to pretend that their legs weren't shaking.
Several minutes later, they were sharing the elevator with two marines. When one of them pressed the 21st floor, right back where they'd started from, John began to think that maybe it was a sign. A sign that the whole idea was stupid from the start.
But the second marine was going to the 25th floor, one floor short of their goal. That convinced John to press on. He gave a quick headshake when Daniel looked at him behind the marine's back. They were nearly there.
John leaned against the wall once they got out of the elevator. "Think we can take the emergency stairs?"
"Are you kidding?" Daniel hissed. "We'll set off all sorts of alarms."
"I know the code."
Daniel blinked at John. "How did you get the code?"
"You mean you don't know it?" John couldn't help but grin smugly.
"Of course I don't know it."
"Tsk, tsk, Jackson. And how long have you been hanging around these corridors?"
"Someone will still know we used the emergency stairs, even with the code."
"Yeah, unfortunately, you're right." John's scrubs were uncomfortably damp with sweat and he pulled the material away from where it was sticking against the small of his back. "Look, if we can't get there with the next elevator, let's just head back."
"Yeah. Janet's probably got a search party out for us by now."
"Oh, God. Maybe she's sitting in the locker room waiting for us."
Daniel shuddered and made a face. "Okay, that's it. Let's just go back."
The elevator doors opened and John and Daniel faced a sea of people. They stepped back hurriedly as men in suits filed out, looking at them with perplexed looks. As the Colonel accompanying them began talking, John realized belatedly that this was the political guided tour that they had been warned to avoid.
Caught red-handed, all he and Daniel could do was stand to the side and wait till the elevator emptied. He caught Daniel's nervous glance, then stared at his scuffed slippers. The group finally moved away and he was about to slink into the elevator when he realized they weren't alone. He looked up, right into the face of the T-800 that had tried to kill him on Abydos.
"John Connor." Its words were accented, just like the T-800 that had saved his life a lifetime ago. "Prepare to meet your fate."
"Fuck you, asshole." And John did the only thing he was capable of dressed in scrubs and slippers, he ran.
"Fuck you, asshole." John's voice came through the laptop's speakers as defiant despite the fear on his face, seen through the T-800's point of view. The video skipped, broke up, and reintegrated several seconds later as John and Daniel flitted between the suits, running for their lives as the robot bowled through the people as if they were twigs.
"When is this? When does this happen?" Jack shouted.
"I don't know," Carter shouted back, then controlled her voice. "But the boys are wearing scrubs so it has to be soon."
The video skipped again and an SF was shooting at the T-800. Bullets didn't slow it down. The gunfire stopped and the ominous silence was testament to the soldier's fate.
Carter stopped the video, going back to the command structure of the chip, desperately searching for the information they needed.
"We need John." The words were barely out of Cameron's mouth when the klaxons went off.
"Threat Level Delta Alpha Six. All security teams to level twenty-five."
"It's here." Cameron's words were unnecessary as they all hauled ass out of the lab.
Jack was the first to reach the armory. He handed Cameron the most powerful weapons they had, tossed her several clips, and prayed she got to the terminator before it got the boys. Working quickly and efficiently, his training wasn't quite able to shove back the minute shaking of his hands as he slipped on a bulletproof vest, grabbed one gun and one zat, and ran after the robot.
Daniel had only been down here a couple of times but he recognized the room up ahead. He grabbed John's arm, pulling him through the open doorway. The large room was littered with bulky pieces of equipment: F.R.E.D.s, M.A.L.P.s and tons of other stuff he didn't recognize. They skirted around many of the pieces, desperately searching for a hiding place.
It was too obvious, the place they'd chosen to hide, but it might allow them a few seconds of breathing space while others came to their rescue. Crowding in the front and to the side of the small spaceship whose alternate universe's twin had brought him to meet his older self not once, but twice, Daniel tried to control his breathing.
He was shaking. Head down, he strained to listen past his thudding heartbeat and too-loud breaths. The ship had undergone some repairs; wires were hanging out, diagnostic devices and tools littered the floor and chairs. He reached for a screwdriver; it made a lousy weapon but at least he felt better with something in his hand.
The footsteps echoed loudly and he could make out the terminator's circuitous route as it searched the room. Realization came to him the moment it hit John; they were sitting ducks in here. Like an oven, there was only one exit, and if it found them, their gooses were cooked.
"Let's make a run for it," John breathed. "Wait for it." The door was to their right, and the T-800 was circling around, heading for their left. Daniel tensed, getting ready to sprint when suddenly the footsteps stopped.
He looked at John, who looked back at him. They waited nervously, and Daniel's legs shook harder as he fought the urge to run blindly.
Moving slowly, John eased his head over the large console and began to peer through the windshield. Daniel watched John, anxious to know where the T-800 was. But before John's head could clear the top of the console, a shadow behind them blocked the entrance to the ship.
Face scored by wounds, the metal endoskeleton gleamed where bullets had grazed its skin. Its suit was shredded in places, blood pockmarked the torn material. A red glow twinkled beneath a damaged eye as it scanned the interior of the ship.
Its damage was apparently superficial; it moved fluidly, steadily. The ship shook as it stepped inside and skirted the weird contraption right inside the door that Sam had once told him housed the time machine.
He and John scrambled to their feet. Daniel wondered if they could run around it but it was too big, dwarfing the already small ship. He and John crowded against the consoles; for a moment Daniel wondered if he could break the windshield but then they were out of time. And luck.
John could smell the stink of fear on himself. He was going to die, there were no ifs, ands or buts about it. But he'd be damned if he brought Daniel down with him. "Run," John hissed at Daniel as he tried to lock his knees. But either the illness or the fear had turned his legs to jelly so he reached back with his hands, steadying himself on the console.
"Where?" Daniel snapped back.
"It's after me. Run when you get the chance." This wasn't where he was supposed to die, but then, the future was always fluid. Maybe by going to Abydos, they'd screwed with their timeline. Jinxed their mojo. Tweaked their fate. But if he wasn't going to be the one to lead the people against the machines in the future, then it had better be Daniel who did.
The machine had taken three steps into the ship and it was almost within reach. John had a fleeting thought of his mother's reaction when she learned he'd died, and he felt regret that he hadn't told her lately that he loved her. Then anger flared through him.
The ship vibrated again as the T-800 took another step. But this time the vibrations continued, almost like an engine had started. John stared defiantly at the T-800 as it raised a hand and reached for his throat. This wasn't how it was supposed to go down. That thing was supposed to end up in the past, in Egypt, when the Stargate was active and the Goa'uld were in control of the planet.
"Fuck you, asshole."
For a moment, John thought that was Daniel's answer to his ordering him to run, but to his utter shock, Daniel grabbed a handful of the loose wires hanging from an overhead console, slipped off the protective caps from the ends and rammed them against the terminator's nape.
The electrical shock half-blinded John as it tossed the terminator backwards. It fell hard against the metal floor and remained unmoving. Unfortunately, at the same time it fell, its hand brushed against Daniel just as he zapped it and Daniel went flying backwards from the shock, fell against the bulkhead and slid to the floor in a heap.
The blinding light remained, and for a moment John wondered if he'd also been electrocuted. Then he saw the blue sky through the open doorway. He twirled around and through the windshield saw a sight he never expected to see in this lifetime.
The pyramids of Giza.
Well, okay, two of them were pyramids, the third was... damned huge.
That was a Goa'uld mothership, he'd seen enough photographs of it to recognize one. It was parked on top of the pyramid, right next to the Stargate.
"Shit. Shit. Shit."
He prayed that Daniel was okay as he stumbled to the downed T-800 and grabbed its arm. He tugged, but it wouldn't budge.
He struggled, pulling for all he was worth, and it moved an inch. He was running out of time. How many seconds already? Fifteen? Thirty? Sixty? He didn't know how long he'd been staring outside.
"Move, you fucking asshole!" he screamed as he set his legs and pulled. To his surprise, its body slid across the ship's floor and with teeth grit tightly, he dragged it step by step around the odd contraption in the middle of the ship, and then let go. He stepped over it and squatted, trying to push it over the edge of the door, but he couldn't get leverage. He sat down, put his back against the wall, and shoved it with his feet.
He was seeing spots. For a moment he didn't think it would work, then it slid, inch by inch, until a leg, an arm, and then a hip were hanging over the threshold. He kept shoving until gravity caught it and it began sliding by itself.
Relief filled him as the machine disappeared. Only to have his heart leap into his throat when a hand reached out at the last second, grabbed the lip of the doorway, and held on.
John scrambled to his feet and carefully peered outside. It was hanging there, looking up at him. Its face expressionless, it began reaching for a handhold with its other hand.
He knew he wasn't getting a second chance this time as he watched the hand rise up and reach deeper into the ship.
And he was proven wrong yet again when a loud, bright flash of light severed the hand cleanly. In a blink of an eye, the terminator disappeared from view. Without thinking, John kicked at the lone hand still hanging onto the door's lip until it followed the mechanical body. A small ship flew past with a loud whine of engines, circled around and came back towards their ship. John rushed away from the open door, stumbling to the console.
He wasn't stupid, the ship he was in had moved through time and space when he'd touched the console. So he slapped his hands on the lit screen and wished himself back at Cheyenne Mountain. He caught a glimpse of several more alien fighter ships racing towards them. His heart thudding in his chest, he closed his eyes, concentrated, and then...
They were home, hovering over Cheyenne mountain, a frigid wind blowing into the open door.
Landing right there, right next to the main entrance, would be perfect. John willed the ship to go that way. When it didn't move, he then tried to picture it in his mind, moving and landing right where he wanted it. When that didn't work, he swore for thirty seconds and kicked the chair.
The air was freezing inside the ship. He had no idea how to shut the door, and he needed medical help for Daniel. He looked away from the perfect landing site and glanced at his friend who hadn't moved, his face turned away. John couldn't even tell if he was breathing.
"Daniel. Come on, man, wake up. You gotta tell me how to fly this thing." His voice sounded desperate, and he was on the verge of tears. He nearly took his hands off the console and slammed them back down when he realized the ship had started moving while he'd been looking at Daniel. Faster and faster, it sped towards the base's open door and the sentries staring up at him. For a second he thought it would crash, but it stopped seconds before impact and settled with a gentle thud.
The moment they were down, he raised his hands from the console and ran to Daniel.
"Daniel, you okay?" He touched Daniel's arm, then with shaky fingers, found his wrist and felt for a pulse.
"Thank god," he whispered when he felt it beating strong and fast.
He heard the sounds of voices, feet running towards then and he stayed put, not saying a word when soldiers burst into the open doorway, quickly raising his hands in the air when they pointed their weapons at him.
"Colonel, they're here," the point man yelled over his shoulder. "Sir, we need a medic." A few seconds later, Scarlett flew into the ship, Daniel's father and his mother seconds behind.
Jack's heart leaped into his throat when he saw Daniel down and unconscious. He hurried to him, then checked his step when John yelled, "Careful, the wires are live."
He took a moment to slap his hand on the console and powered down the ship, then shrugged out of his jacket and wrapped it around his son's chest, even as Sarah did the same for John. Scarlett was in his way, butting at Daniel, obviously trying to wake him up. Glasses askew, face white as a sheet, Daniel was unresponsive.
"What happened?" He tried to keep his voice neutral but apprehension made his question short and demanding. He pushed Scarlett aside and found Daniel's pulse, then checked his breathing.
"Electric shock. Daniel zapped the T-800 but it touched him and he got knocked out."
He was just about to order Cameron to do a scan when Fraiser brushed past everyone just as Daniel gasped softly and opened his eyes.
Daniel blinked a couple of times, awkwardly fumbling at his glasses as he searched visually for Jack. "Dad?"
Scarlett cheeped loudly, zipping overhead between Daniel and John. She finally calmed when Reese put a hand out and stopped her wild flight. She let herself be coaxed into his arms and stayed there, watching everything with an occasional comment.
"How do you feel, Daniel?" Fraiser asked as she crouched next to him.
"What happened?" Daniel shivered as he pulled his legs up to his chest.
"What do you remember?"
Daniel's eyes went wide. "Oh shit." He sat up, staring around in fear. "Where is it? John? Did it get John?"
"I'm here. I'm okay."
Daniel grabbed John's arm. "You sure?"
"I'm sure. What about you?"
Fraiser grabbed Daniel's chin and turned it so he was looking at her. "How do you feel?"
"My head hurts. I'm cold." The last was a pathetic whine.
"Someone get some blankets!" Fraiser shouted. "We'll get you inside in a minute. Let me just have a quick look at you first, okay?" She turned to John. "How about you? How are you doing?"
"I'm okay. It didn't touch me. Daniel's the one who got shocked."
"Colonel, take a look at this." Carter, standing at the opened door, beckoned him over. Leaving Fraiser to give the boys a once over, he went to see what Carter had found. Jack's throat filled with bile at the sight of fingerprints crushed into the metal of the ship.
Cameron crouched next to the marks and placed her fingers over them. The thing that did this had a span nearly double of hers. It would take the engineers days to get the door working again.
One of the SFs hurried into the ship, clutching blankets. Jack grabbed them and went back to the boys. "You guys mind telling me what happened?" He handed Sarah one of the blankets. Together, they wrapped their sons up, protecting them from the cold.
"It recognized me." John's voice was shaky and he cleared his throat. "Cameron once said if one of them didn't know who I was, he'd walk right by me. But he recognized me. We ran. It came after me. Daniel, I'm sorry," John said, turning to Daniel, "I shouldn't have dragged you with me. It wanted me—"
"Shut up, John. You know I wouldn't leave you alone with that thing."
"I told Daniel to run. In the ship. It was after me and he didn't run. It... It..." John shuddered violently, and buried his face against his mother when she wrapped her arms around him.
"It's okay," Sarah whispered. "I got you."
Daniel took up the story, filling in details until he'd been knocked out. Everyone listened, Jack matching their escapade with what they had seen recorded on the chip up until the alarms had gone off.
"Well," Fraiser said, packing her equipment into her bag, "other than a mild burn on his palm, "Daniel is showing no symptoms of electrocution. Their fever is back, however, and I'm sure they're pretty exhausted."
The boys' silence pretty much confirmed Fraiser's statement. John continued to lean against his mother, although he'd gotten control of himself, and Daniel was looking downright awful.
"If it's okay with you, I'm going to transfer them to the Academy Hospital right away."
Jack heard what Fraiser wasn't saying; with the mayhem caused by that terminator, the infirmary wasn't the place for John and Daniel to be right now. He nodded his agreement.
"Dad, I'm sorry. We just went looking for our cell phones."
"That's not why we're moving you, Icky." Fraiser had gone to make the arrangements for a transport vehicle and he was left trying to find an excuse.
"Many men were either killed or injured by the T-800." Still standing next to the crushed door, Cameron stared down at the boys. "The infirmary will be busy and there won't be anyone around to take care of you."
"That's not true." Jack winced inwardly at the stricken looks on the boys faces. "Well, at least the part of nobody being around to take care of you. But yeah, the infirmary's going to be busy and it's probably best for everyone concerned if you were at the hospital."
"How many?" John's face was white.
"We don't know yet," Sarah said softly as she lied. "The final count hasn't come in."
"Seven confirmed dead. At least four critically injured and twelve less seriously—"
"That's enough," Sarah snapped at Cameron.
"Okay," Fraiser said, coming back into the ship. "We're good to go. Can you walk?"
"Yeah." John stood shakily and his mother put an arm around his shoulder as she led him out.
Jack helped Daniel up. He was wobbly but made it outside without a problem. The ambulance was parked only two feet away. Fraiser quickly bundled the boys up onto gurneys.
Jack thought of the mayhem left inside the base and his next words were difficult to articulate. "Daniel, I won't be able to go with you."
Daniel's face fell and he made an obvious effort to rein in his emotions.
"I'll call Grandma. And I'll be over as soon as I've finished up here."
"Don't worry, Jack," Sarah said as she got into the ambulance with the boys, "I'll keep an eye on Daniel."
"I'll bring your things with me, okay? Clothes? Cell phones."
Biting his lower lip, Daniel nodded sullenly.
"Oh, no, you don't." Reese, hands suddenly full of squirming alien, tried to keep hold of Scarlett as she attempted to join the boys in the ambulance. Jack reached over and took her from him. She quieted, but kept her eyes glued on the kids.
"I'll see you soon." Jack stepped back, watched as the door was closed and the ambulance headed away before going back into the mountain.
Scarlett made a low whine in the back of her throat.
"Yeah, I know. Me too," he told her. He cleared his throat and addressed the people waiting for his orders. "So, we got damage control, people. Officially, we got a senator who went off the deep end in a killing rampage and is now missing. Let's make it work."
Dria peered nervously into the hospital room, then paused at the sight of two people stretched out in the beds inside. Every time Daniel had been sick, she'd heard of it after the fact. Now he seemed to always be in the hospital, and she was scared as hell.
John's mom, standing with Rose next to the door, turned towards then, smiled, and waved Dria and Cassie inside.
Cassie's fingers touched hers, squeezed her hand, and then tugged gently. Together, they went in.
Rose greeted both girls with a hug.
"How are they?" Cassie whispered after she pulled away from Rose.
"Feverish and cranky," John's mom answered. "Virus got them good; Janet says they were run down thanks to the hypothermia, but they'll be fine in a couple of days."
"Don't look so worried." Rose pushed a curl of hair behind Dria's ear. "Really. They're fine."
"They're in a hospital, Grandma Rose. They're not fine."
"It's just a precaution, honey. Janet thought their fever was too high for comfort this morning." She tugged at Dria's scarf. "Go say hello."
Dria gave Rose and Sarah Baum a wobbly smile and stepped further into the room.
John, closest to the door, was watching them. Eyes glassy, face pale except for fever-bright spots on his cheeks, he found the energy to smile at her.
Dria walked past John, trailing her fingers along his arm in a silent greeting, her attention fixed on Daniel. He looked as bad as John did. She thought he was asleep, but must have sensed her presence because he turned his head and opened his eyes.
"Hey." His lips curled up in a faint smile but his eyes didn't light up.
"Hey, yourself." She leaned over the bed. "Are you contagious?"
Daniel furrowed his forehead. "I don't think... No, I'm not."
"Good." She leaned over and kissed him, nearly pulling back at the heat and dryness of his lips. "I'm sorry you're sick," she said after a moment.
"So'm I." Licking his lips, this time his eyes sparkled as he smiled again, producing a dimple.
"You girls going to be okay for a little while here?"
"Yeah," Cassie answered as she took her coat off. "No problem."
"Sarah and I are going to go stretch our legs and get a bite to eat. We'll be back in twenty or thirty minutes. Do you want a coffee or some pie?"
"Pie and coffee would be good," Cassie answered. Dria nodded when Rose glanced her way, although she wasn't sure if she'd be able to eat anything.
Dria looked at the hard, plastic chair, then at the narrow bed. It didn't take much forethought to make her decision. She tossed her coat and scarf on the chair, leaned over, one hand on the bed for balance, and unzipped her short boots. "Move over."
"Move over." She kicked her boots off and began to climb in the bed. Daniel realized what she was doing and he inched backwards, turning onto his side, giving her space. Stretched out on top of the covers, she lowered her head onto the pillow and rested her hand against his cheek. God, he was so hot. "You look awful."
"You look beautiful," Daniel countered.
"You must be delirious," she whispered as she ran her index finger up and down his jaw.
"If I am, then I'm having a wonderful hallucination."
She couldn't help smiling. "I'm sorry you're sick," she said again as Daniel shifted his legs restlessly.
The bed next to them creaked and the plastic mattress covering rustled loudly. She glanced over her shoulder to see Cassie mimicking her position in John's bed.
"You smell good." He moved his face closer to her, breathing deeply.
"It's the stuff from the facial. I... When we heard you were sick, Cassie and I came straight here instead of going home first."
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
"What?" She pulled her attention back to Daniel as he tugged on one of her curls.
"At the spa. Did you have fun?"
She hesitated. She had truly enjoyed herself and hated to admit to it, knowing now that Daniel had been sick for most of the days she'd been away.
"It's okay. I'm glad one of us had a good time." He wrapped his finger around her curl, smoothed the hair with his thumb, and released it.
"It was okay," she admitted almost reluctantly.
"Tell me about it."
"Nothing to tell."
"Did you have a massage?" Daniel captured the curl again and slowly straightened it.
"It was okay."
"Daniel, I don't—"
He stopped playing with her hair and put a finger against her lips. "Tell me about the spa. What kind of massage did you have?"
She closed her eyes for a moment. "A hot rock massage."
Daniel's lips quirked. "Sounds kinky."
"It's not. It actually was wonderful." She'd come out of the massage so relaxed she hadn't quite been firing on all cylinders, so out of it to the point that Cassie and Lena had teased her for the rest of the afternoon.
"Tell me about it." Daniel picked her curl up again and wrapped it once around his finger, then brought the smoothed end to his mouth and absently rubbed it against his lips.
And she told him, described how wonderful the warm rocks had felt, how incredible the massage with the different rocks had made her feel, and as she spoke, the tenseness she'd felt began to ease and she relaxed.
Daniel's eyes were closed when she finished speaking. She watched him for a moment, thinking he was asleep, then his fingers moved, curling themselves around her hair yet another time.
"What else did you do?" He shifted restlessly, and his voice was thicker, sleepier. She deliberately softened her voice and slowed her words.
"A lot of the time we just sat around and talked." She continued to describe her activities, watching and listening as his breathing slowed and deepened. His fingers finally stilled, caught in her hair. She touched his face, remembering how the last time they'd lain like this, his skin had been so icy to the touch compared to the abnormal heat he was generating now.
John was marginally aware when Cassie slid off his bed and kissed him goodbye. Aware enough to know he should open his eyes and tell her goodbye, but too exhausted to actually will himself to do it. He fell asleep again to the sound of her talking with his mom.
He woke up again with a jerk, his heart pounding, adrenaline coursing through him as he sought to escape from the approaching terminator.
He jumped again at the feel of a cool hand against his bicep. His mom's face came into view and from her expression, he realized he wasn't in any danger. He flopped back onto the bed, trying to bring spit back into his mouth and the blankets up to his neck to ward off the chill of the room.
"Here." She held a glass of water with a straw sticking out of it. Gratefully he stuck a hand from his cocoon of blankets to take the glass and sucked the water.
"More?" he asked when he came up for air.
She filled the glass from a plastic pitcher and this time, he drank it down more slowly. He began to shiver as he glanced around the room. Daniel was a covered lump in the bed next to him, and Cameron sat, prim and proper, in the chair that Rose had been using earlier.
"Stretching her legs."
"How long?" His sense of time was skewed; he vaguely remembered Cassie leaving, a nurse giving him pills to swallow, someone putting a blood pressure cuff on him. Snippets of conversations. But everything was disjointed, dream-like.
"How long has Rose been gone or how long have you been here?"
John didn't find his mom's joke funny. "How long have we been here?" He turned onto his back, trying to ease the ache of fevered joints and muscles, and wishing he could do the same with his pounding headache.
"Give or take eleven hours." She stroked his temple with her thumb. "Colonel O'Neill's on his way."
"It wasn't all a dream, was it?"
"Actually, more like a waking nightmare, if you ask me."
He closed his eyes and leaned into his mom's massage.
Jack leaned over Daniel's bed, examining his son's sleeping face, watching him sleep. "He looks worse."
His mom placed a comforting hand on Jack's back. "His temperature's about the same. He's been sleeping all day; the doctors say that's exactly what he needs."
Tenderly, he placed the back of his fingers against Daniel's hot cheek. "Was he this hot this morning?"
"He's no worse, Jonathan."
"But he's no better." Mentally and physically exhausted, Jack carefully sat on the edge of Daniel's bed.
"You don't look that great yourself."
"I'm just tired."
"Did you eat?"
He shook his head. "I'll eat something later."
"You'll eat something now. Come on, I can use a cup of tea."
"Ma, I just got here."
"And Daniel's sleeping. He'll still be here when you come back with a stomach that's not making so much noise."
Food hadn't done much except exchange a growling stomach for one that felt like acid was burning a hole through it. Jack contemplated asking his mother before she went home if she had any antacids in her purse, but figured the discomfort was easier to bear than his mom's worry and scrutiny.
He brought back a coffee for Sarah, who took it from him with a quiet thanks and a smile in deference to her sleeping son.
Daniel, however, opened his eyes just as Jack took his seat.
"Where're you going?" Jack asked as Daniel fumbled blankets to slide out of bed.
"Gotta pee." Eyes at half-mast, he stumbled towards the bathroom, bouncing off the edge of the doorjamb as he walked in. A minute later, Daniel came back and instead of getting into bed, he parked a butt cheek on the mattress and leaned against Jack, letting his face fall against Jack's shoulder.
Wishing that Daniel was small enough to take into his lap, he hugged his son. "How're you doing?" Jack could feel the fever-heat through the hospital scrubs.
"When can I go home?" Daniel's voice was muffled, his breath hot and dry against Jack's skin.
"As soon as the virus runs its course."
"Day or two, hopefully."
Daniel sighed as he straightened and sat properly on the bed. "Doesn't feel like it's going anywhere."
"That's because you're run down." Jack patted the pillow. "Come on, you need to rest."
"Where's Grandma?" Daniel lay down on his back, squirmed and winced in discomfort before turning on his side to face Jack, pulling the blankets up to his chin.
"She went home. She'll be back first thing in the morning." He leaned over Daniel, pulled the blankets down and his scrub top up. The bruises he'd half-expected were vivid against his pale back. "Did the doctors see this?"
"I don't know."
Jack pressed lightly against the bruises, hating the feel of Daniel's heated skin. "Do they hurt?"
Daniel squirmed at his touch. "A little."
"This happen when you fell against the ship's bulkhead?"
"What is it?" Sarah got up and leaned over to look at the bruises.
"Carter played the rest of the chip's vid. Daniel went flying against the bulkhead when he nearly got electrocuted." He felt a shiver of anxiety go up his spine as he remembered the chilly footage from the T-800's bird's eye view as it went after John. Jack hadn't stopped sending prayers of thanks that both boys were as resourceful as they were.
"They don't look too serious. Do they hurt?" Sarah traced a finger along one of the bruises.
"Just a little if I lie on my back."
Jack sent another prayer flying as he pulled down Daniel's top and readjusted the blanket while Sarah took her seat again.
"Did you bring my cell phone with you?"
Jack raised an eyebrow at his son. "Grandma told me Dria came to visit."
"I'll see about getting a phone set up for you tomorrow. Tonight, how about you try to sleep some more."
"What time is it?"
"Too late for you to start calling Dria," Jack lied.
A shadow in the doorway caught Jack's attention. Gina and Corey Middleton were peering into the room. Jack waved them over.
Corey looked uncomfortable as he stood awkwardly at the foot of the bed, clutching a paper bag. Gina looked worried as she went straight to Daniel.
"Hey, Daniel." Gina leaned over to kiss Daniel's forehead. "Oh, poor baby. You're so hot."
"Hi, Gina," Daniel croaked. He gave Corey an embarrassed glance. "Corey."
"Hey, Daniel." Corey gave Daniel a quick finger wave.
"Dria called to tell Corey you were sick, honey." She fiddled with Daniel's hair, slowly finger combing strands away from his face.
"Thanks for coming over, Gina." Jack motioned to a chair in the far corner of the room. "You can pull a chair up, Corey."
"That's okay, Jack. It's late. We're not going to stay long. Corey thought Daniel and John might appreciate a couple of magazines to read so we picked some up on our way here."
Corey put the magazines on the table next to the bed. "Starlog, new one just came out yesterday. GamePro and PC World, but you or John might already have those."
"Thanks, Corey." Daniel looked at the magazines without much enthusiasm.
"Nice sunburn. Is that from the fever?" Corey touched his cheek for emphasis.
Jack, who hadn't really stopped to think of an excuse to explain away Daniel and John's obvious red cheeks, nose and forehead, found himself at a loss for words.
"The doctor tried some sort of anti-viral," John said from his bed. "The only thing it did was make me sick to my stomach and make my face all red."
"Doctors said the virus has to run its course," Jack said lamely.
"The redness will fade in a few days." John scrunched his nose.
"Cool. I only end up with cold sores when I get sick."
Gina shook her head and smiled apologetically at Jack, who winked back at her.
"I hope you're feeling better soon, sweetie. You look tired. Try to get some sleep, okay?" Gina kissed Daniel's forehead again and stood. "You too, Jack. You look exhausted."
"Long day at work."
"Do you need a hand with anything? Groceries? Housework? Shoveling? I'm sure Corey wouldn't mind lending a hand around the house or yard."
"Thanks, Gina, Corey, but we're good." He hadn't missed Corey's quickly hidden frown as his mother offered his services. "Appreciate the offer, though."
Despite the kid's momentary displeasure, Corey hurried to add, "Really, Colonel Jack. If you need me to run errands or shovel snow or something, I'd be more than happy to help. Rose, too."
They exchanged awkward and sympathetic smiles, and then Gina and Corey turned to leave.
"Thanks for the mags, man," Daniel called out as they reached the door.
"No problemo," Corey answered back. Then a few seconds later, they heard his voice in the hallway, "Oh man, they look awful."
"I think I was better off being sick in the infirmary," Daniel sighed tiredly.
"Well, you do look awful."
"It's not my fault I got sick."
"I never said it was."
A nurse came in to check on the boys. She went to Daniel first and Jack sat back, watching and waiting as she took his temperature and other vitals. Jack pointed out the bruises and she examined them and made a notation in his chart. After dosing him with more Tylenol and a glass of juice followed with water, she moved on to John.
"I shouldn't have gone to Abydos," Daniel whispered, turning restlessly onto his back.
"I'm sorry, Icky. I thought that was what you wanted."
"You knew I really didn't want to go there." He started to raise his voice and lowered it mid-sentence.
"I thought you wanted to make things right with Kasuf."
"Kasuf, yeah. Sha're and Skaara... I don't want to go back there. Ever."
"Are you moaning about Abydos because you got sick there? Or because Sha're and Skaara figured out the truth?"
"I get sick anywhere." He hesitated, then whispered, "I don't want to face Sha're again."
Daniel averted his face. "Because she doesn't see me. She sees him. They all see him. They'll expect me to be that Daniel."
"Do I treat you like that Daniel?"
"No. They don't treat me like you treat me." He turned to Jack, eyes brimming with tears. "I don't want Sha're to pity me, thinking I lost my old life."
"You didn't lose anything, Icky. I'm the one who found a son."
The tears brimmed over as he looked at Jack pleadingly. Jack didn't hesitate. He leaned over, his own eyes more than damp as he hugged his son to him.
"Where's Scarlett?" Daniel sniffed as he wiped at his eyes once Jack let him go, obvious in his attempt at changing the subject.
"Moping around the mountain. I think she misses you guys."
"Really?" There was surprise and hope in Daniel's voice. "She does?"
"Nope, not even going there, Icky."
"I know I can't keep her, Dad." Daniel rolled his eyes at him. "I just thought it was kinda cool that an alien liked me."
"Dria likes you."
"She's a girl."
"At your age, there were times I thought girls were aliens."
"Ha, ha, funny."
"Damn. Two years ago you'd have thought that was funny."
"That was before I knew better."
"That your jokes are all groaners."
Jack grabbed his chest. "Oh, stab me through the funny bone, why don't'cha?"
Daniel gave him a sleepy and sloppy, one-sided grin.
"Go to sleep, Icky."
"Are you going home soon?"
Jack shifted restlessly. "I don't know. You tell me."
"You'd spend the night here?"
"If you want me to."
Daniel stared at him for a long minute. "Gina's right. You look tired."
"Pot. Kettle. Black."
Daniel snuck a finger from beneath the blankets and tapped it twice against his lips. "Go home, Dad."
"I can stay a while longer."
"You can go flake out on the couch with a beer, watch some TV and sleep in your own bed."
"Or I can stay a while longer." Guilt would prevent him from enjoying that beer in front of the TV.
"Or you can go home, take a shower and go straight to bed."
"Now that sounds like a plan."
"You sure?" Jack repeated.
Daniel turned his head to look at Cameron and Sarah only a few feet from them. "Cameron's gonna stay, right?"
The robot nodded once at Daniel.
"So if I need you, she can call, right?"
"You know it."
"I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Bright and early before I go to the mountain."
"I love you, Daddy."
"Love you too, Icky."
John had overhead bits and pieces of conversation as he'd dozed. One thing had bothered him, but he waited to ask his mom until Jack had left and he was sure Daniel was asleep. "Did you see the memory files of the T-800's chip?"
"I saw part of it. Where he attacked you at the base—"
He'd been ready to die. That was the last thing he wanted his mom to see. "Please, don't watch the rest of it."
His mom stared at him for a long moment.
"Any particular reason?"
"Is the fact that it's probably going to stress you out good enough?"
"It's dead. Destroyed. Cameron disposed of its body. It can't hurt us anymore. I'd rather you not see how..." John swallowed and looked away, too embarrassed to go on.
His mom gripped his chin gently and urged him to look at her. "You'd rather I not see how scared you were?"
Feeling like he was baring his soul, he nodded slowly within her grip. Her fingers loosened and shifted to cup his cheek. She shook her head and smiled at him. "I think I want to see how brave you were."
"Mom, please. Don't."
Her jaw clenched and John saw at that moment how tired she looked also. "Okay." She took her hand away.
He swallowed again, blinking back the prickling sensation in his eyes. His eyeballs burned but he refused to rub at them.
"I won't look at what's on the chip unless I find out there's something there that's important."
She gave him a quick quirk of her lips in answer.
"Are you going home soon?"
"What, ready to get rid of me already?"
"No. I just think you look tired."
"Well, I'm fine." She sat back in the chair, arms crossed.
"John's right. You look tired."
"Hey, no comments from the peanut gallery." His mom's voice was light but the look she gave Cameron was far from cheerful.
"She meant she doesn't need your opinion," John said.
"Oh. Thank you for explaining."
"Mom, I'll be fine. Just go home and get some sleep."
"I'm not tired." She gave him her patented Sarah Connor smile, the one where she usually fooled most people while lying outright.
"Mom, please, go home and get some sleep." Even as he insisted, he couldn't understand why he wanted her to leave. All he knew that right now, he wanted some alone time with his thoughts, to try and deal with everything that had happened in the past days. His anger at his mom. Nearly freezing to death. Sandstorm. Terminator. Alien virus. Terminator. He needed to compartmentalize everything and the fever and constant headache was making it hard, especially with his mother sitting next to him.
"Colonel O'Neill went home to sleep."
"Peanut Gallery, remember?" His mom glared at Cameron again.
"You're guilting me here, Mom. It's not like I'm really sick."
"You look and feel pretty damn sick to me."
"But I could be at home in bed with a fever and you'd be sleeping in your own bed."
"This is different?"
"Yeah? How so?"
She gave him a quick smile. "You really want to get rid of me, don't you?"
"I really want you to go and get some sleep."
"Okay." She nodded once.
"But I'll be back early tomorrow."
It was John's turn to nod. She kissed his cheek, lingered over him a moment, and turned to Cameron.
"I'll call if he needs you," Cameron said before his mom could say anything.
His mom turned to look at John a moment, grabbed her jacket, and left.
John shut his eyes, wondering why he suddenly felt bereft and alone after he'd fought so hard to get her to leave.
Sarah had no remorse about lying to John. Knowing she wouldn't be able to sleep, she'd made a beeline for the base and was now sitting at Major Carter's computer while Doctor Lee searched the chip's database for any and all files pertaining to John Connor.
With the little furry alien wrapped around her shoulders like a stole, teeth clenched tightly together to avoid showing any emotion, she watched again as the T-800 first spotted her son and gave chase. By the time the android was in the ship and coming for John, she knew why her son hadn't wanted her to see this clip. His fear-filled face slowly calmed and she knew, then and there, he was giving up.
John Connor never gave up.
The relief she should have felt when the android stared up at John while hanging one-handed was replaced with dread. Even when the video clip broke off and she knew John was safe, she knew her son truly wasn't. Physically, yes, he would be, but mentally, she was afraid that something had snapped.
While Doctor Lee fiddled with the laptop, she put her head in her hands and tried to think what had happened to her son. He'd been sullen lately. Quiet. Hanging around with his friends instead of with her. She hadn't pushed, for once she was glad he was able to have some time for himself and not caught up in their life-long fight for the future. He'd deserved some time off.
"Here we go." Doctor Lee had another clip playing. This one was dark, and there was a loud background noise that was irritating. It was only when she saw Cameron, Colonel O'Neill and a bunch of strangers in robes did she realize this was the attack on Abydos. It was difficult to see, but from the sudden fits and starts, she realized Cameron had surprised the T-800 and had prevented it from going after John. The fight didn't last long; it went offline and she presumed it had been destroyed not long after.
"And that's it. At least the part that involved the boys. The rest of the footage is kinda boring. It skulks around for a while before going after some of the Jaffa that had its severed hand in their possession. Funny when you look at the scene with Colonel O'Neill and your cyborg fighting with it, it doesn't look like the hand had been damaged. I didn't realize they're able to heal. I did peek ahead, though, and it sorta looks like the T-800 played a large part in the rebellion on Earth and burying the Stargate. I can play those parts if you'd like."
Sarah stood abruptly. "Thanks for the show." She began to leave the room, barely hearing Doctor Lee stutter a farewell when she stopped just as suddenly. "What you just showed me. Can you copy that?"
"Burn it onto a DVD. Can you make me a copy of what the boys went through?"
Doctor Lee gave a small shrug. "Um, yeah, technically I could. It'll take me a while to actually write a program to make it compatible with a typical DVD player but I should be able to do it."
"How long will it take?"
He blinked at her several times. "Um, a couple of hours."
Sarah glanced at her watch. It was nearly ten. "I'll be back by midnight for it."
Someone dragged Daniel out of the depths of hell.
Or at least if felt that way. The pounding in his head made focusing on things difficult. For a few seconds he thought was back on Abydos, stuck on a sand dune, leeched of water, burning up under the killer sun. A blurry shape leaned over him and placed a wonderfully cool hand on his cheek.
"Come on, honey, can you wake up for me?"
"M'wake." His mouth was dry and his saliva thick, his words sounding slurred even to his own ears, barely audible over the ringing in his head.
"Can you swallow some pills? Can you do that?"
Someone off to the side mentioned something about suppositories if he couldn't swallow. When his brain managed to process the words and the encompassing visual they brought, he opened his eyes all the way. "I can swallow." The shadow coalesced into the form of one of the nurses who he vaguely remembered seeing earlier.
She gently slid her fingers against the back of his neck, raised his head off the pillow a few inches, and one, two, three pills were delivered into his mouth followed by sips of water. For this, he needed no prompting. He drank greedily after he'd swallowed the last pill, even raising a heavy-hand to the glass, trying to tip the water faster into his mouth.
"More?" he begged when he was lowered back to the pillow.
"I'll go a step further," the nurse said with another smile. "I'm going to start an IV so we can make sure you get all the liquids you need." She took his hand in hers and the sharp tang of antiseptic reached his nose, followed by a sharp pinch.
"There we go. That wasn't so bad, was it?" The nurse taped down the needle and fiddled with the IV.
"It's cold." Daniel stared at his arm, which within seconds was feeling colder and colder.
"I know," the nurse said sympathetically. "Your temperature is pretty high so it's going to feel a little more uncomfortable than normal."
The chill grew quickly until his whole arm felt cold. He pressed it close against his chest, wrapping his other arm around it. He shivered once, twice, and the Hell he'd been pulled from was quickly extinguished as he went into full body shivers.
"Okay. Let's see if the Tylenol brings your fever down, honey." She pulled the blankets he'd kicked off at some point and covered him with them. Their weight felt good but did nothing to chase away the chill. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes to check on you, okay?"
The curtain between his bed and John's was pulled halfway, preventing him from seeing his friend. A shadow moved slowly across the room, backlit behind the curtain.
"D-dad?" he called out hopefully.
The shadow moved past the curtain and into his side of the room. Cameron stared at him a moment. "Do you need your father?"
"Where's my d-dad?"
"Do you need me to call your father, Daniel?"
"C-call?" The snowstorm outside the cabin was so bad, he didn't think his dad could get to him until it stopped.
Cameron reached out to slowly run her fingers across his cheek, down to his neck beneath the blankets. "You're dehydrated due to the sudden spike in temperature." She straightened, removing her fingers. "The dehydration and high fever are causing confusion. Your father should be told you've reached a crisis in your illness."
"The turning point of recovery or deterioration in an acute disease or fever."
Daniel stared at her, shuddering uncontrollably, trying to make sense of her words.
"Let me know if you want me to call your father." She left him, moving past the curtain again. A moment later, Daniel heard her say, "Do you want me to call Sarah?"
Sarah rubbed at her burning eyes with one hand, a cup of coffee in the other. She had watched the DVD so many times during the night that she knew every sound, every move, every nuance of expression on the boys' faces.
She stopped rubbing and hit the pause button on the laptop's DVD's controls. There was nothing more she could glean out of this by herself. She needed a fresh perspective. Glancing at the time in the bottom corner of the laptop, she checked it against her watch.
If she left now, she could probably catch Colonel O'Neill before he left his house. Moving quickly, she unplugged the laptop without powering it down, grabbed her keys and made a beeline for the Jeep. She had just turned the engine over when her cell rang.
Ringing phones in the middle of the night were never a good thing. Ringing phones in the middle of the night when your son was sick in the hospital, was definitely a heart stopper and better than any alarm clock.
His worst fears confirmed, Jack was dressed and out of the house within five minutes of getting the call. He turned the engine over and speed dialed his mother at the same time.
"What happened?" Apparently phone calls at four in the morning woke his mom just as fast as they did him because she didn't sound the least bit sleepy.
"It's Daniel. They said his fever's up to 105. I'm heading for the hospital right now." He backed the Avalanche into the street and it took all of his control not to press the gas pedal to the floor.
"I'll meet you there." His mother disconnected the phone.
Twenty-five minutes later, Jack was half-running down the hallway, heading for his son's room.
"Colonel O'Neill." The nurse caught him right outside the door. He fidgeted, wanting to go inside and see Daniel for himself.
"How's Daniel? Is there any change?" He kept his voice low, in case the boys were sleeping inside.
"I'm sorry, there's no change. We were hoping antipyretics would bring his fever down but so far it's not working. Doctor Lever thinks once the fever breaks, the boys should be pretty much over the virus. It's just getting there that's taking a little long."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"The boys are pretty uncomfortable from the fever. I think just knowing you're there will be a big help."
"Boys? John's sick, too? Does his mother know?"
The nurse nodded. "She's on her way." She nodded towards the half-opened door. "I'll be in shortly to check on them."
Cameron was standing near the window, turning her head to watch him enter the room before turning back to stare outside. He stopped next to John first. The room was dimly lit, but he had no problem seeing that John was asleep so he moved on.
Daniel had his eyes closed but he jumped when Jack leaned over to lightly touch his forehead. The heat coming off his son was worrisome.
"Hey." Jack forced a smile when Daniel looked up at him with glassy eyes.
"Dad?" Daniel said lethargically.
"Heard you weren't doing so hot." He brushed back a strand of hair that was lying across Daniel's nose and frowned when he felt dampness beneath his fingers.
"It's okay, Icky." He brushed the tears away, then kissed the still-damp cheek as Daniel grabbed his hand. The hot, dry skin against his lips was even more worrisome. Clasping his son's hand, Jack reached blindly behind him until he felt the back of the chair and then lowered his ass into it. He leaned close to the bed, one hand holding Daniel's hand, the other caressing his son's face.
"I wanna go home." Daniel blinked, and more tears raced down his cheeks. "You said I could go home soon."
"As soon as you're better. We'll go home as soon as you're better." Jack wiped the tears again with his fingers.
"Hey." He waited until Cameron turned from her star-gazing to fix him with her unreadable expression. "Think you can find me some cold water and a clean cloth?"
"Yes." Cameron didn't say anything else as she left the room.
"Grandma'll be here in a little while."
Daniel's gaze was slightly off-focus. "Sha're," he whispered. "Not Grandma."
"Sha're has medicine. She can make us better."
"I think the doctors here have things pretty well in hand."
"I'm sick. Does it look like they know what they're doing?" The tears were gone and the lethargy was replaced with a restlessness that portrayed the pain and discomfort of a body in the throes of a microscopic battle.
"Just hang on a little longer, Daniel." He tapped his thumb against the back of Daniel's hand that he was still holding on to.
"I have water." Cameron brought him an emesis basin filled with water and a face cloth, put it on the roll away table and pushed it next to Jack.
Letting go of Daniel's hand, Jack dipped the cloth in the water, wrung it out slightly and then gently ran the cloth against Daniel's face.
He washed away traces of the tears, then wiped down all visible bits of too-hot skin. He'd dipped the cloth twice in the water when Sarah Connor came rushing into the room.
Sarah had often seen John die in her nightmares. Filled with hopelessness and despair, never had she seen him sick or injured. Helplessness was something she wasn't good at. Give her a problem, she would solve it. Hand her son a problem, he would solve it even faster. Sitting next to her feverish son, however, was slow torture.
A parent's nightmare.
Within minutes of her arrival, the nurse had come in and had woken John up to give him a dose of Motrin, hoping this would hopefully kill the fever. Cameron had gotten her some water and a cloth, and now Sarah was mimicking Jack O'Neill in a sorry attempt at trying to make their children more comfortable.
"How are they?"
Sarah looked up to see Rose standing in the doorway. Hair quickly pulled back in an uncharacteristic low ponytail similar to what Daniel always wore, Rose went straight to Sarah and gave her a hug.
Holding the wet cloth in one hand, she held it away from Rose's body, but pulled Rose into a one armed hug. "Their fevers are so damn high," she whispered in Rose's ear.
Rose pulled back and leaned over John. With a tender touch, she stroked his jaw. John, who'd barely woken up enough to swallow pills and water, opened his eyes at Rose's greeting.
"You're going to have to stop hanging around Daniel," Rose said with a gentle smile. "You're picking up all his bad habits, fever and all."
"Fever isn't a bad habit. John's sick," Cameron said in an almost affronted voice.
"She meant Daniel's got a habit of getting sick often." John's voice sounded slurred, thick. "And by association, I'm getting the same bad habit."
"All your recent illnesses have been due to extenuating circumstances. The nanocytes, the Stargate—"
Sarah hurriedly held out the almost-empty emesis basin. "Get me some more water."
Thankfully the tin miss broke off and did as ordered. Sarah dropped the cloth on the table and shoved damp fingers through her hair.
"Did you get any sleep?" Rose's hand cupped her cheek and Sarah blinked back tears at the concern in the woman's voice.
"I'll sleep later. When John's better."
"Trust me. It doesn't work that way. He'll need you later when he's better."
When Rose moved on to see Daniel, Sarah inexplicably felt a little more hopeful than before. Maybe it was just hearing someone say that John would be better.
How many times had they done this scenario with Jack sitting with Daniel while he burned with fever? Jack sighed softly. As if sensing Jack's anxiety, Daniel opened his eyes to look at him.
A forced smile and a touch of fingers to Daniel's hot cheek were enough to send his son back to dreamland.
His mother sat on the bed next to Daniel. Without a word, she took the wet face cloth from Jack and continued dabbing at Daniel's face and neck.
"How's John?" Jack glanced over Daniel's bed, at Sarah who was leaning over her son.
"Looks the same as Daniel. What do the doctors say?"
"They can't bring the fever down. Sounds like they think when it breaks, the boys will be over the worst. We just gotta get them over that hump."
She dunked the cloth in the basin, wrung it out and continued.
"You've got too much water on there," Jack pointed out when water dripped down Daniel's face after she passed the cloth.
She paused, dabbed at Daniel's face, trying to mop up the extra water, and dabbed again, without any success. "It's not me," she said with a large grin. Suddenly water seemed to come out of every pore on Daniel's body, dripping down his face and neck, down his arms, peppering his scrubs, then soaking within seconds. Daniel batted at his face, trying to wipe the sweat away with an uncoordinated hand. With a loopy grin, his mom continued washing down Daniel, this time washing away the sweat.
Jack sat back, eyes closed, sending another one of those prayers winging skyward.
It was hard for Sarah to stand back and watch as nurses removed John's sodden scrubs, washed him and put on fresh ones. She wanted to be in the middle of it all, taking care of her son herself instead of letting a bunch of strangers do it. She'd have at least felt vindicated if John had fought them, called for her, tried to do for himself but he was so leeched of energy that he let them move him around like a rag doll.
That he wasn't meeting her eyes, though, told her how much he was embarrassed over all this. And it only occurred to her after he was settled, clean, dry and nearly fever-free, that maybe it had been her watching over his helplessness that had embarrassed him so.
She moved from where she'd been standing out of the way, and retook her seat next to the bed. John was staring at the grey sky that was visible through the window. She put a hand on his arm, just to assure herself that his fever really and truly had lessened. Still damp, warmish skin under her fingers was a hell of a lot better than dry and burning hot.
John's eyes drooped, nearly closed, and then opened again with obvious difficulty.
"Why don't you try and sleep?"
"Not tired." He shifted around in the bed, pulling his shoulders up more onto the pillow to get a better view of the outside.
Sarah felt her eyebrows rise up at the obvious lie. "I guess sleeping in a hospital isn't exactly the most restful of places."
John kept his eyes on the window. "Why are you still here?"
"Where else would I be?"
John made a face but still didn't look at her. "At the SGC?"
"But you're here, which is where I need to be."
"Didn't seem to stop you all the other times."
"What other times? John, what are you talking about?" She took his chin between her fingers and forced him to look at her.
"It doesn't matter." His gaze, no longer sleepy-looking, flitted over her as he twisted in her grip and turned back to the window.
"It matters. If I don't know what's wrong, I can't fix it."
John gave a huff of dry laughter. "If I have to explain it to you, then you sure can't fix it."
Sarah hadn't wanted to get into it now, not while John was sick. But exhaustion and worry took control of her emotions and ran with them before she could reel them in. "Is that why you gave up?"
"Gave up?" John gave a slight headshake and shoulder shrug as his glance slid to her.
"On the ship, with the T-800. When you told Daniel to run. You just gave up."
"There was nowhere to run," John exclaimed. "We were boxed in."
"You should have known better. Should have checked the exits before climbing into the ship—"
"You weren't there, Mom." John's voice rose even as hers got quiet. "We had no time—"
"And all of this because you couldn't sit still. How the hell do you expect people to obey your orders when you can't obey them yourself—"
"I wouldn't know, Mom, because you never give me a chance to do things myself. You're the one who's always off on missions. What about our mission, huh? Judgment Day? Remember that? Skynet? Machines taking over the world? Don't you even care about what's going to happen then? Or are you too busy finding a way to save yourself on another planet when the big bang—"
She grabbed his arm in anger, not realizing she'd hurt him until he winced. His jaw was set, his eyes blazing, anger giving color to his otherwise pale face. She loosened her grip but didn't let go of his arm. "Is this what's been bugging you? Do you have any idea what I've been doing?"
"No, Mom, I don't. Because you haven't exactly been sharing. Hell, you haven't even been home for the past several weeks except to sleep." He pulled away from her hold as he sat up.
With a heart-stopping pang, Sarah realized John was right. She'd been so caught up in exploring all the options the military had at their disposal, she hadn't even thought about involving John because there had been no true direction. Too many options, too many possibilities.
"We were searching for answers, John. Searching for signs of Skynet. For escape routes, both here and offworld, weapons caches. Supplies. The possibility of capturing metal and reprogramming their chips. Trying to contact a people called the Asgard in the hopes that they'd have weapons that would stop them."
John continued to glare at her, but the fever had taken so much out of him that he couldn't hold on to his anger. She saw the fight slip away from him as his face slowly turned the same color as the pillowcase.
"I thought you were content," she continued, lowering her voice even more. "School, friends, Cassie. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe working with the military wasn't the way to go. You lost your edge; I've gotten careless."
John's face paled even more. "We're not leaving—"
"Sarah." She hadn't heard Jack come up beside her until he spoke her name. He put a hand on her shoulder. "Can I have a word?"
"Mom, we're not leaving here. I'm not leaving here."
"We'll talk about this later, John," Sarah said, getting to her feet, wondering if she was going to get a scolding for talking about top-secret stuff in a public place. She stomped out the door, ready to jump down Jack's throat.
"Mom." John's cry followed her into the hallway.
"I know it's not my place but I think the doctor did say the boys should rest."
Sarah pursed her lips together. Jack was right; John had gone from fighting sleep to angry and yelling in five seconds flat. And all because she hadn't been able to watch her temper.
"You're right." She ran a hand through her hair, which did nothing except cause it to fall into her eyes. "I'm sorry. Did we wake Daniel?"
"Daniel's fine. It's John I'm worried about. What was all that about his giving up?"
"I was coming over to see you when the hospital called about John. I saw the playback of the chip—"
"Yeah. Those things need to upgrade their videotaping software. Kinda staticky and jumpy."
"You saw the playback?" When Jack nodded, she kept talking. "Just before Daniel gets knocked out, did you see the expression on John's face?"
"I saw two boys who were fighting to stay alive."
"That's just it, Jack. John didn't fight. He just gave up."
"There wasn't anything they could do. And he gave Daniel the time to figure out a way to stop the thing—"
"He had no idea what Daniel was doing. It shows on his face. He didn't even try."
"They were in a pretty hopeless situation."
"It's not the situation I'm concerned about. It's John's body language."
"Sarah. If I had been in John's place, there's nothing I could have done differently. Or you, for that matter."
Sighing wearily, Sarah leaned against the wall, crossing her arms, staring at her feet. "I trained him to survive, no matter what. He didn't—"
"It looked like he was going to sacrifice himself so Daniel could survive. You should be damn proud of your son. I know that I am." She looked up and he was looking at her intently. She nodded slowly as she let her arms drop away from her body.
"What you saw on that tape is a parent's worst nightmare. I totally understand where you're coming from. John, on the other hand..."
"Yeah. He's the one I should be apologizing to. I know."
John's gaze was lethargic when she took her seat next to the bed. "We're not moving," she said after several long seconds. John's eyes closed in obvious relief.
Funny how Rose had found her appetite once Daniel had found his. Breakfast had been served; eggs, toast, sausages, juice. Daniel had devoured everything on his tray after the nurse had woken him up from a deep sleep to serve him his food, and even had the nerve to eye the untouched apple and cinnamon muffin Jonathan had brought her a few hours earlier.
"Don't even think about it," she mock-growled even as her stomach grumbled hungrily, as it had done as she'd watched him eat.
"But I'm still hungry." He scratched at the band-aid covering the pinprick where the IV had been. Still pale and tired-looking, Daniel looked tons better than he had earlier.
"You're always hungry," she shot back as he ran a finger through the toast crumbs on his plate and licked his finger.
"Knock, knock." Cassie and Dria, looking fresh and perky and way too energetic, burst through the doors, each carrying a plastic bag. "Hey, you guys already had breakfast? Damn. We stopped at Mickey D's for a couple of Egg McMuffins. There's plenty for everyone."
Dria began taking out Styrofoam containers of food and coffee and laid them out on the roll away table. Rose grabbed the muffin. "Here." When Daniel turned to look at her, she tossed the muffin at him and eagerly reached for a hot coffee and an Egg McMuffin.
Sitting next to Daniel on the bed, Dria shared her breakfast with him. He'd abandoned the poor muffin and was more interested in pulling pieces of bacon from the half McMuffin instead of eating the sandwich itself.
Cassie had joined John, but he seemed content with her company rather than with her food. Sarah's appetite seemed to be as voracious as Rose's; both of them finished their breakfasts before the girls and Rose was now eyeing her original breakfast menu.
She reached for the discarded muffin and tore bite-sized pieces from it, watching as Dria chatted on and on while Daniel began to fight to stay awake. She hid her smile behind her muffin, watching as Daniel's head slowly listed to the side, resting more and more against Dria's shoulder, until he lost the bottle.
Dria kept chatting about nonsense, and Rose wondered if it was nerves. Dria had been so quiet when she'd come over to visit before. She finished the muffin, wondering when Dria would realize she'd lost her audience - when he'd begin to snore or when the wet spot of drool on her shoulder registered.
It ended up being neither. Cassie waved, catching Dria's attention, and pointed at Daniel. Dria turned stiffly towards Rose. "Is he okay?" she whispered, holding her coffee mid-air in one hand. "He looked fine just a minute ago."
"He's fine, honey. Hold on."
Rose wiped muffin crumbs from her hands and stood, reaching over to support Daniel's head and shoulders while Dria slid off the bed. She eased Daniel back down, took the remaining bit of McMuffin from his lax fingers and tossed it into the garbage.
Dria stood next to the bed, both hands clenched around the coffee cup. Rose cupped Dria's face, pulling her into a hug, knowing the poor girl needed reassurance. "Daniel and John had a bad night. But their fevers broke early this morning and they just need to catch up on sleep."
"Oh. We thought coming over for breakfast would have been better since they'd have slept all night. I'm sorry." She clutched at Rose, resting her face against her shoulder.
"Shhh. You fed two starving women and lulled the poor boy to sleep. You done good and it's barely nine." While she spoke, Rose watched as John valiantly fought to stay awake. Cassie and Sarah were talking while John's head kept bobbing up and down on his chest.
Dria giggled and Rose felt some of the tension leave the poor girl.
"Honest, he's fine. No fever, right?"
"No, no fever." Pulling back, Dria wiped her eyes with the back of her fingers.
Rose pointed to John, who after one, two, three more attempts, lost the battle and stayed down for the count.
"Nothing new here," Sarah said softly with a smile as she and Cassie made John more comfortable. "Fill their stomachs and entertain them and they'll thank you by snoring in your face."
"Not sleeping," John mumbled as he clutched a blanket and pulled it up, tucking his hands under his chin.
"Sure you're not," Cassie mumbled back as she stood with Sarah, watching him sleep.
"I don't understand why you didn't bring my iPod," Daniel grumbled for the umpteenth time since he'd woken up from his four-hour nap. Since then, boredom, lunch, another nap, supper and more boredom had been whittling at Daniel's patience. "You went home and got my clothes but didn't bring my iPod?"
Sitting cross-legged in the bed, hair stringy and straggly and for once not tied back, he looked younger than his fourteen years and was acting even more immature.
As she'd done every other time he'd complained, Rose ignored him and tried to concentrate on the book Cassie had made her promise to read. She wasn't getting very far in the story, however, interrupted sleep and boredom made for a sleepy grandma who was becoming just as cranky as her bored and cranky grandson. Plus, vampires really weren't her genre in reading material.
"Knock it off, Jackson," came the just as surly reply from the other grumpy teen, who was leafing through one of the magazines Corey had brought the day before.
"When can we go home?" That question had been raised as often as the iPod complaint.
"You still have a fever." Cameron, as she had every time Daniel had whined this particular protest, answered the same thing. "The doctor won't let you go home until your temperature remains normal."
"Having a temperature of 99 doesn't constitute a fever. Here. Look." Daniel thrust his arm out and with chin held high despite the lock of hair hanging over his cheek, he waited while Cameron strode to the bed and brushed her fingers over his skin. "See? No fever."
"Your temperature is 100.2. It's up nearly a full degree."
"The sun's setting." Rose kept her eyes on the printed words even though they had stopped making sense a while ago. "It's normal to have a fever at night if you're sick."
"Then I can go home, right? Since it's normal? You got my clothes, right? Maybe the doctor will change his mind and let me go home when Dad gets here."
Rose lowered the book just enough so she could glare at Daniel over the top of it. "Why don't you call Dria again?" She tried not to grind her teeth together in frustration.
Daniel huffed, blowing the strand of hair out of his eyes. "She's not home."
"She was going to the movies with Cassie and the others. I guess falling asleep on them doesn't quite make it appealing for a return visit." Daniel blew at the hair again, then shoved it back impatiently with his fingers when it didn't cooperate. He picked up the TV remote, clicked it on, channeled through several stations, and clicked it off.
"Why can't I go home?" Daniel whined. He tried to balance the remote on the tips of his fingers, catching it several times as it tipped over. "I can be sick in my own bed instead of in here."
On the fifth attempt, the remote flipped over and Daniel missed the catch. It tumbled off the bed, landing on the floor with a thud.
Giving up on the book, Rose bent down to pick up the remote and put it out of Daniel's reach. When she turned to look back at him, he had taken his glasses off and was rubbing his eyes with his palm. That was when Rose realized his crankiness wasn't just from boredom and fever, but was fatigue.
"How about," she said, putting the book aside and patting the mattress, "you lie down and try to get some sleep."
"I've been sleeping all day, Grandma!" he nearly shouted when she grabbed the bed's controls and lowered it. "I don't wanna sleep. It's bad enough I slept through Alexandria's visit, I don't wanna sleep through Dad's."
Rose tried to keep from smiling. Yeah, Daniel wanted to see his father, all right, most likely to try and talk him into bringing him home tonight. Although after Daniel's high fever, she knew his pleading would fall on deaf ears.
"You know," Rose said as she straightened the bed sheet that had pulled loose with Daniel's fidgeting, "Honey bunny had a pretty damned boring life compared to you two."
Daniel pummeled his pillow, then folded it in half as she spoke. "That poor little beast got lost in the woods, went adrift at sea, found a giant carrot that was too big to eat and gave him a stomach ache..."
"He never got caught in a snowstorm or in a sandstorm. Lucky bastard."
"You used to love those stories." She sighed softly, remembering the phone calls during those first days he'd come to live with Jack, before she'd moved to Colorado Springs.
"Grandma, I was a kid."
"Mhuirnin, you're still a kid."
"Ha. Says you."
"No, says Honey Bunny." She sat back, racking her brain for the rhyme and tempo of those long-ago told stories. "Oh my, oh my, oh my," she said in a rushed, falsetto voice, "Honey bunny can't believe his peepers."
She ignored the roll of Daniel's eyes, hiding a smile as she kept going. "Is that Johnny badger and his little prancing pony Cammie over there?" She glanced in John and Cameron's direction. "Oh yes, yes, it is. Johnny badger, over here, over here.
"Honey bunny, whatever are you doing in the hospital? Johnny badger asked." She changed her voice to one much deeper than Honey bunny's.
"Grandma," Daniel whined, rolling onto his back while covering his face with his pillow. "Please don't do this to me."
"Why, Johnny badger, I'm sick. I'm lying here in this bed, and I have all these nurses that come to check on me and give me food and water and medicine to make me better."
"You're kidding me, right?" Daniel peeked from behind the pillow.
"What are you doing here, Johnny badger? And why have you brought your prancing pony Cammie with you to the hospital?"
"I'm sick, too, Honey bunny, Johnny badger said with glee, because he was very glad now that he wasn't the only one who was sick."
"Argh!" Turning onto his side, Daniel thumped his head onto the pillow as Rose continued to weave the childish story. After another minute, Daniel stopped fidgeting, and a small smile curled at the edges of his lips. Another minute, and he took his glasses off and carelessly handed them to her, the way he'd done as a child.
After another minute, he reached out and clasped her fingers, his hand resting against her knee. She kept up with the story, weaving Johnny badger and his pet pony's adventures with Honey Bunny's, all the while rubbing her thumb along the back of Daniel's hand. She was able to gauge his slow slide into slumber by the heaviness of his hand, the several false starts through the twitches of his fingers, and the complete surrender of the weight of his hand against her leg.
While she'd told the story, she glanced around the room. Cameron watched her with utter fascination, while Sarah had sat back on the chair, her face expressionless. John had lain on his back, eyes closed. She couldn't tell if he was sleeping, but he opened his eyes when Cameron spoke out.
"Don't stop. What happens to Honey bunny and Johnny badger? Does Cammie the pony lead them out of the maze of tunnels?"
Rose shook her head. "I've bored Sarah and John enough for the day."
"No. That was kinda cute," John said sleepily as he turned to look at her. "I'd like to know if Cammie the pony saves the day." He grinned almost mockingly in Cameron's direction.
A little embarrassed now, Rose continued the story, expanding the adventures of the three friends until she was pretty sure she'd bored John to sleep. She saved the intrepid explorers from their fate, gave them a happy ending, and sat back with an relieved sigh.
"You've got quite the gift for storytelling." Sarah stood and stretched her lower back.
"I've had two grandsons to placate; I learned fast."
"Two?" The look of wonder had gone from Cameron's face which was now registering shock. "Daniel has a brother?"
"No." She was surprised that nobody had told them about Charlie. "Jack had a son, before he adopted Daniel. He died when he was nine."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Cameron said quickly.
John had enjoyed Rose's storytelling; her voice was soothing, the narration was simple enough for him to keep track with the least bit of effort. Although he had dozed off a few times and had resurfaced with the adventurers in yet another conundrum.
He listened, half-asleep, as Daniel's dad arrived, greeted the women and checked on Daniel. From seemingly far away, he listened as the three of them made plans to go for grab something to eat.
Half expecting to feel his mom's caress before she went, the disappointment he experienced when she walked out without any farewell took away all the good feelings Rose's story telling had given him. So when he felt hands on his brow, he jumped, opening his eyes in surprise.
"Sorry," Jack said softly. "Didn't mean to wake you up."
"I wasn't sleeping."
"We're going to go for a late supper. Want us to bring you something back?"
He wasn't sure what he wanted, so he went with what he liked. "Maybe a bag of those cheese things? The crunchy ones, not the puffy ones."
"You got it. We'll see you in an hour or so."
John lay there staring at Cameron, watching Cameron stare back at him.
Next thing he knew, he was lying on his side, facing a large bag of orange puffs on the roll away table and a nurse was taking his blood pressure.
"How are you feeling?"
"Um, okay." Disoriented and half-asleep, he took the pills she handed him and swallowed them down with a mouthful of lukewarm water.
"You've still got a touch of fever but everything else is looking good." She made a notation in his chart and smiled at him as she left the room.
John turned onto his back and blinked at the last person he'd expected to see tonight sitting next to his bed. "Cassie?"
"That's me." She leaned over him, her hair falling to caress his cheeks as she kissed him. "About time you woke up."
"Sorry." He sat up when she pulled away, sliding his legs over the side of the bed. He put his head in his hands, feeling dopey and achy and feverish. "All I'm doing today is sleeping."
"That's all right." She left the chair and joined him on the bed. The privacy curtain had been drawn shut.
"Is just fine." Dria's voice floated past the curtain, making Cassie giggle.
"My mom..." He sat up, looking around the room, thinking if he'd missed seeing Cassie while the nurse was taking his vitals, he might have missed his mother and Cameron as well.
"Has gone home for the evening, same as Uncle Jack and Grandma Rose. We told them we'd stick around until visiting hours were over, and then let you guys have your beauty sleep."
"Went for a walk." Cassie gave him a pleased grin. "A long walk."
"How'd you manage that?"
"Your mom kinda suggested it." She leaned against John, bumping his shoulder. "So, you hungry?"
Cassie grabbed the bag of cheese snacks and shook it. "Hungry?"
"Um..." He wasn't, not really. "Maybe later. I think I want something to drink."
"Water? Juice? Snapple?"
"Lemonade? Iced Tea?"
"Lemonade sounds good."
"You got it. Daniel, you want anything?" she asked as she slid off the bed.
"Lemonade sounds good, Cass."
He went to the bathroom while Cassie went to get the drinks from a vending machine. He peed, washed his hands, brushed his teeth and splashed water on his face. His reflection staring back at him looked awful; bags under his eyes, he'd gotten sunburned at some point in Abydos and his nose was starting to peel. Now he knew why Corey had made a comment. The skin on his face was dry and he needed to shave.
Stepping out of the bathroom, he got a glimpse of Dria and Daniel sitting together on the bed, side by side, legs dangling over the edge. Dria had an iPod in her hands, leaning against Daniel's shoulder and both were sharing an earbud.
Daniel's eyes were closed, his hair half-hiding his face. Dria looked at him and smiled. He waved before he disappeared behind the curtain and returned to his bed.
The next three hours were pleasant as he and Cassie enjoyed quiet time together. A few kisses and a lot of cuddling, when visiting hours ended and the nurse chased the girls out, he was feeling better than he'd felt since he'd gotten sick.
"I want to sleep in my own bed," Daniel grumbled as he paced in the small room.
"Don't look at me. Last time we left the infirmary, look where that got us." John was lounging on the bed, watching Daniel's restless energy.
"At least there's one less terminator around." He slowed, nearly stopped, then kept moving as something obviously came to him. "How are they going to explain a missing senator?"
"Dunno. Don't care. Not my problem." Stretching, arms above his head, John yawned. "Think we're getting out of here tomorrow?"
"I feel fine. We could go home right now—"
"What's your problem, Jackson?"
This time Daniel did stop. "I don't know. I mean, we had a week off from school and look what happened. Spring break is over and what did we get out of it? One drive and one hike, before we were broadsided by that snowstorm, hypothermia, sandstorm, terminator, virus. I'm not even sure what today is and when school's starting."
"In one day. Today's Saturday."
"Shit." He threw his hands up in the air. "Why even bother giving us days off? None of this would have happened if we'd just had school."
"Then let's hope summer vacation doesn't come around too quick."
"Oh. Funny." Daniel fell onto his bed, then thrust his fingers into his hair, pulling it out of his face. "Damn it. I should just chop it off."
John ran a hand through his short hair and shuddered at the remembered emotional pain he'd endured when his hair had been sliced off. "Dria likes your hair."
"So do I, most days."
Conversation was cut short when Cameron strode into the room and flipped the overhead lights off.
John sat up, affronted. "Hey—"
"The nurses say it's time for lights out."
"Oh." His eyes adjusted to the dimness. He could see fairly clearly from the illumination leaking in from the corridor. He turned, grabbed the blanket and pulled it up over him.
"It's going to be a long night. I'm not tired."
Daniel's answer was a soft snore.
Jack busied himself in the kitchen, listening to Daniel talking on the phone. The moment Daniel had come home an hour ago, he'd made a beeline for the living room couch, getting back in touch with all his friends.
"I don't know," Daniel was saying to Corey, "maybe I'll be back tomorrow, maybe Tuesday."
"Try Wednesday," Jack mumbled to himself.
"The doctor said to see how I felt. I got till Wednesday but if I feel okay, I'll go back tomorrow."
"No way in hell," Jack continued as he drained the pasta and tossed it back into the pot. Pouring the cheese mixture over the pasta, Jack stirred and dumped three quarters of it into a bowl.
"Gotta go," Daniel said as Jack went down into the living room with bowl and a fork in hand.
He sat up, shoving the blanket over his lap as Jack handed him the mac 'n' cheese. "Thanks."
"How're you doing?" Jack sat on the coffee table, watching as Daniel teased two pieces of macaroni onto the tines of his fork.
"I'm fine. Glad to be home." He ate the two pieces, then shovelled a large forkful into his mouth. "This is exactly what I wanted," he said with his mouth full.
"Thought so." He stood, rubbing his hands on his pants. He had one foot on the first step when Daniel called him back.
"What happened to Scarlett?"
"McKay brought her home yesterday."
"Oh." Daniel stirred the macaroni around, looking dejected.
"I was hoping I could have said goodbye to her."
"Well, considering she pops up once a year or so, I'm sure you can say hello the next time she drops by."
"Cross my heart. She did seem a little put out when she went. Maybe she wanted to say goodbye to you guys, too."
"Do you really think so?"
Jack shrugged one shoulder. "It's possible." Actually the critter had been haunting the hallways ever since they'd come back from Abydos, and McKay literally had to coax her through the Stargate. She'd never acted that way before so Jack was pretty sure she'd missed the kids, but he wasn't about to admit that to Daniel, in case something happened and she never came back.
"Can I go visit her some day?"
Jack quirked an eyebrow.
"Come on, Dad. You sent me to Abydos. Why can't I go visit her planet?"
"And look what happened on Abydos."
"So there was a sandstorm and a terminator. I'm sure next time will be better."
"Next time?" Jack's other eyebrow came up. "I thought you never wanted to go back to Abydos."
Daniel lowered his head, staring at his still full bowl of mac 'n' cheese. "Maybe I spoke too fast."
Jack moved away from the stairs and sat back down on the coffee table. "Second thoughts?"
"Maybe one day... I'd like to go back and say thank you."
"But not for a few more years?"
Daniel looked up and gave him a wobbly smile. "Yeah. Maybe when I'm older and wiser."
"Older, maybe. Wiser, I think you got your moments, kid." Jack stood, leaned over and kissed the top of his son's head. "Now, eat your lunch before it gets cold."
"Yes, Dad," Daniel said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.
Sarah put the plate of reheated frozen French fries and chicken fingers in front of John. "There's brownies for dessert." She helped herself to a fry and ate it as she sat down next to John at the table with her own healthier salad and baked chicken.
John grabbed a handful of fries and dumped them next to her chicken. "You need some fat in your diet." There was the slightest bit of a smile as he turned to his meal.
"And you need to eat more vegetables." She speared a strip of lettuce and put it in her mouth.
"Potatoes are veggies."
She swallowed the lettuce. "Let me rephrase that. More vegetables without all the fat."
"Then what's the fun of eating, then?"
Sarah had to agree with John. The fries tasted so much better.
"What are you doing here?"
She frowned at John. "Making you lunch."
"I mean, what are you doing here, at the house? You should be at the mountain."
"Mom, you've gone to the mountain every single day for the past five weeks."
"Not true. I've spent several days in the infirmary and hospital with you while you recuperated from hypothermia and an alien virus."
"Just so you know, the infirmary is in the mountain." John was holding a piece of a chicken finger and was tapping it against his plate.
She made a face at him. "Smarty pants."
"So, why are you here?"
"I'm here because I'm spending time with my son."
"Because he's been sick. So, your guilt is keeping you home?"
"Guilt?" She felt a pang and at first wasn't sure if it was anger or guilt. She decided it was the latter. "Yes, actually, it is. Because I nearly lost you so yes, guilt me if you have to, but I want to spend some time with you to try and make up for it."
"Because the T-800 nearly killed me." He dropped the chicken piece in disgust.
"No." She tried to word her thoughts carefully. "Because I did my son an injustice. I alienated him and made him feel like he was irrelevant, both in our fight with the machines and in my life. And nothing could be further from the truth."
"Oh." John lowered his head to his chest.
Sarah reached to him and raised his chin with her fingers. His eyes met hers.
"So eat your lunch before I start telling Johnny badger what a bad boy he is."
John snorted and ate the piece of chicken.
"John. Even if you don't see it, I'm there, working to stop Skynet. I never lost track of that. Not once."
"And I'm sorry for what I said earlier, about you losing your edge."
"Because I couldn't find a way out of the ship."
"Some situations are no-win. Your father knew that. If I'd been the Super hero I accused you of not being, then I would have found a way to save your father's life. We're just human."
"Yeah. But I've got you and Cameron and Daniel and Derek. And the military as well as the SGC. The machines haven't got a chance."
"That's my boy."
"And Mom, I didn't realize it then but, Daniel's got my back. Always."
"I do, too, John. Never forget that."
The Cheesecake Factory was packed, so the kids ended up sitting at one table, and Jack, Sarah and Rose at another. Which was fine with Rose. She twirled her wine glass on the napkin, waiting for her Ranch House burger and fries.
"Kids seem to be pretty much recovered," Jack observed as Daniel teased Cassie mercilessly.
Corey said something and John and Dria burst out laughing. Cameron laughed a second too late; her timing was off but her smile made her, for a moment, appear to be a normal teenager.
Sarah took a sip of her beer. "I appreciate the invitation. It's nice to see them enjoying themselves." There was an odd undertone to her statement, and Rose watched Sarah watching the kids. She seemed sad, and Rose couldn't help but wonder if there was still tension between the two of them.
"We're fine." Sarah glanced at Rose, apparently aware of her scrutiny. "We talked, worked things out." She gave a small nod and somewhat self-conscious smile. "I told him he's not alone, never alone."
"Sometimes the only thing you can give them is your unconditional love." Rose reached for Sarah's hand. "And when you need more, just remember, you're not alone either. You've got me, and Jack. We're here for you, if you need us."
Sarah squeezed Rose's hand. "Thanks."
"And you," she said to Jack as she sat back, "God help you. Because I don't have any answers except to love the crap outta that kid."
"And remember that he's going to grow up and do you proud. Both of them. They're going to make both of you proud."
"He already has, Ma. He already has."
Author's Comment: Huge hugs and kisses and heartfelt thanks to Sid and Keith who answered all my questions with tons of patience. You guys rock!
And a cartload of virtual gummy bears and pretzles for devra, who prodded when I got stuck and tossed words, sentences, paragraphs and ideas around for me to keep going with this.
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