Jmas Fan Fiction

T

WARNING: This fic is rated R, for for graphic violence and language,
and contains violent images of a nature which some readers might find
quite *disturbing* and/or offensive.

TITLE: Hand In Hand

CO-AUTHORS: Jmas and Jb

STATUS: complete

RATING: R, please see above warning

ARCHIVE: we will contact you when it is all done

SPOILERS: minor for Forever in a Day; any others TBA as / if they
come up

CATEGORY: Action/Adventure; Drama; H/C

SUMMARY: Survival is a cooperative venture...

MANY THANKS: to Brenda, for the beta-ing, to Dee, for being our lab
ra... uhh, test subject, and of course my personal thanks to Jmas for
putting up with me.

DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate
SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc.,
Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc. No
infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes
only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended.



Hand In Hand

by Jb and Jmas


Ch. 1: Jb

It's... beautiful.

Small and perfectly formed, it fits the palm of my hand just like Sha... Well, it fits. Funny how an increase in acuity during times of stress can express itself. The things you notice when under pressure. Speaking of pressure, maybe I ought to let up a bit on this now and check it out. No... it's still bleeding too freely. Press on it, harder. Whoa... maybe that's too hard; her fingers are turning a bit blue. Can't have that. Not these fingers. So long and slender, the skin so soft even where it's stretched taut over small knuckles.

Fine lines on the tips, an intricate spiral dance of soft touches and intimate sensation. Fingernails like oval pearls. A palm which yields so easily to my grip, but which I know to be so very strong. Just like the person, all at once soft and yielding while powerful and capable. I guess that's how I've always seen her... as being so strong and so very adept at just about everything. Just like this perfect, pale, slender -- this beautiful -- hand I hold in my own.

It's really amazing just how observant you can be in time of crisis. I never noticed, before now, that Sam has the hands of a woman.

Looks like the bleeding has slowed down a bit. I wish I could reach the pack for the medkit. Hell, I wish I could reach into my own pocket... for something to use as a bandage, for something to wipe the blood away from this perfect palm. For anything. Christ, for that matter, just to be able to do it. But I can't. I can't move my left arm at all and I hurt and I have to hold on. I can't let go.

God. It's so small, so light. Even limp like this, its form and precision are just so... Four fingers and a thumb, perfectly proportioned, resting in a gentle, graceful arc. I want to trace the delicate folds and lines on her palm with my finger, to feel the strength and chart the paths of life, to impart whatever I can of my own flagging strength. But I have to keep the pressure on. I'll have to settle for a gentle motion of my thumb across the knuckles on the back of her hand. I will not let go.

The hand of a woman. Sized just right, the perfect fit. Warm and soft. So much like the hand of my love, the hand I will never again hold in my own.

I won't let go of this hand. I won't let go of this life.

God, please. Jack, Teal'c, hurry. Please.

 

Ch. 2: Jmas

Eyes look at me from the shadows.

Startlingly intelligent eyes that have so stubbornly argued with me in the past. I don't know that I've ever taken the time to notice just how amazingly distinctive they are, the pupils so dilated in this darkness there is a corona of blue fire blazing into me...willing me to hold on until help arrives. There is a force in those eyes...something beyond the intellect and gentle humor I've come to know and rely on. It is the force of 'Daniel,' a personality as strong and unique as the hand holding pressure on the wound on my palm.

I want to tell Daniel to hold on to that strength he keeps trying to force into me. I can see the lines of pain between his expressive brows, the little wincing blinks as he struggles once again to reach for his backpack. He's hurt a lot worse than he's telling me. Wish I could get up and see for myself...can't seem to move.

Daniel's eyes.

The old adage about eyes and mirrors was surely invented because of someone like Daniel, someone whose soul could shine from his eyes like a living entity in and of itself. Eyes that reflect a myriad of thoughts and feelings in the blink of an observer's own eyes. Eyes that make you wish you didn't have to blink at all because you'll surely miss something of vital importance.

I learned very early on to watch Daniel's eyes if I wanted a true measure of what he's feeling or thinking. Like that squinty tension revealing he doesn't entirely believe the words he keeps repeating to me, words of comfort and of help not too far away. The way he looks off into the darkness after studying my hand for so long speaks to me of other hands he's held in this amazingly tender yet strong grip. Sha're was a very lucky woman to have held this man in her heart. Moisture forms across the blue-blackness staring down at me, heightening the impression of unknowable depths within, he's feeling very vulnerable right now...worried, remembering. It's been awhile since I've seen that look in his eyes...

I hate that look more than any other I've ever seen there.

The glittering proof of a spirit pushing itself beyond limits, lacking only the overflow to seal the deal. I don't want that look to be there for my sake. I force myself to tell him I'm fine...I don't exactly feel fine, but it doesn't hurt as much right now. He looks away again, composing his face into calm sureness...but it doesn't quite find its way into his eyes.

I don't think either of us has much time.


Ch. 3: Jb

She says she's fine. However soft, her voice is strong; the words clear and confident. Her lips curl up at the corners, prompting the appearance of that fine rounded indentation in her left cheek. A valiant attempt at a smile.

How many times over the past three years have those lips, that mouth, offered much appreciated reassurances? Too many to count. Everything from gentle caring words and commiseration, right on up to vehement expressions of unconditional support. Everything from small, tentative twitches of her lips to full blown, face-cracking smiles which rival the sun for brilliance. She's been there for me... so many times. Have I ever told her? Have I ever let her know just how grateful I am?

She's never lied to me, either. Until now.

The dimple disappears and there's a flash of white as she bites her lip. Perfect white teeth draw back across her full lower lip, leaving short tracks of deep scarlet. Dark red. Like the blood on my fingers, on her hand; like the pool on the ground right under my shoulder... Oh hell. If I can see that against the stone... A light source. It's getting brighter here. And if I can see it then she'll be able to see it as well.
I try to shift my weight, to move forward enough cover it with my chest, hoping the movement won't reveal the source of the bleeding to her. It's hard, though. I feel the cold on the back of my bare shoulder - the breeze against the wetness - and it hurts so bad. She's reared up as I tried to move and while I can't lift my head enough to see her eyes now, her mouth tells me that I wasn't fast enough. Lips parting into a tense oval, the lines at the corners of her mouth lengthen and I can just barely hear the quiet exhalation of surprise and worry. She's seen it.

There's definitely a new light source somewhere above, its glow filtering down here through the cracks, into our hole. It glints off her teeth, and as her tongue darts out in a quick swipe I can see the fresh moisture on her lips glistening. Glistening. Shining. My vision blurs out and back again and I can see...

I can see full red lips near to my own, feel warm breath and soft words against my cheek. I feel the moisture and pressure and tingling and want and need and it's all right everything is all right.

But it's not.

It's not real. It was once but not now. Never real, ever again.

Sam says it again... that she's okay. That we're okay. That it's going to be fine. It doesn't sound like it did before. It's all deep and slow and it doesn't sound like her. Lifting my head as best I can, I peer at her mouth to see why. She's talking to me, I can see that. But I can't... I can't hear her. The only thing I hear now is a low growl in my ears, rapidly turning into thunder.

I can see her lips moving, red and soft, a delicate dance of shape and motion. It's captivating, and I fight to hang onto it with my eyes and my mind for as long as I can as the dance slows and softens and blurs...

 

Ch. 4: Jmas

It's a strong back.

Capable of taking on the weight of the world...or the weight of bodies no longer able to carry themselves...

Stop thinking like that, O'Neill...

Teal'c's not going to be carrying any bodies today...

We're going to get there in time...we have to.

My own damn fault, I should never have let them go so far from base camp alone. They aren't kids...but two damn scientists run a pretty close second...

That's not fair. Trouble never seems to need an invitation to drag us all in...just once I wish it would.

So here I am, in the gathering darkness, watching the ripple of Teal'c's muscles under the cotton shirt as we jog across the rocky ground...afraid to stop, afraid of being too late...

And I know Teal'c feels the fear just as strongly as I do. It's more than evident in the too stiff backbone, the subtle tensing and flexing far more revealing than words could ever be. Teal'c's commitment and spirit are every bit as strong as the massive back blocking my field of vision. Teal'c will continue onward, regardless of obstacles...meeting said obstacles with all the potential power inherent in the impressive physique.

But there's so much more beneath the surface...

Honor, caring, a protective instinct a mile wide and ever prepared to act in defense of his friends...

There's strength in Teal'c that has nothing at all to do with the physical. Something we've all come to rely on. Strength of character, a wit that's not always as clueless as he'd have us believe, strength of resolve that has seen us through more than one seemingly hopeless crisis.

I'd follow the man in front of me into hell itself...we all would...secure in the knowledge he would provide every protection within his power to see us all through.

I just hope that's not what we're headed into now...

We'll make it...

They're counting on us.

Ch. 5: Jb

In a morbid sort of way, it's appropriate.

If Daniel has to bear visible scars, it seems appropriate that they be in the form of those penetrating slashes.

It was a shock at first, seeing just what was hiding behind those strong shoulders. But I know it's there now, and just like with the myriad other traumas he's stoically shouldered - all the awful things he's had to claw his way past - there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

I know that if he comes to - no; when he comes to - I'll need to pretend it's not so bad. He wouldn't want me to know just how desperate it is, just as he's never wanted anyone to know in the past. Daniel carries the weight of the world, the pressures of so many tragedies, on those shoulders.

Normally stooped, rounded into a characteristic slouch, you'd think they couldn't possibly be capable of bearing the load they do. But they are like a barometer of how he's coping; the worse the trauma the taller he stands, the straighter and stronger his shoulders become.

I've come to understand that with Daniel, "I'm good" really means 'I'm coping', "I'm fine" means 'it hurts', and "I'm okay" hides a silent cry into the darkness. It's with the "I'm okay" that he shrugs his shoulders back most firmly and raises his eyes to gaze into the distance, willing himself to find the path that will lead him back to being 'fine'. Maybe even to 'good'. Over the years I've watched as he's reached and struggled and clawed up from depths I'm afraid to even try to fathom... and he refuses to let us see that the wounds are more than skin deep, that the losses have ripped right through him.

Just like the claws of the beast above us. Torn right through all three layers of clothing to claim the soft skin, the firm muscle and bone which has withstood so much up until now.

Levering myself up slightly, I can see it all through sodden shredded cloth. Deep gashes and ragged edges extend from the point of his left shoulder across his back to the right. A shadow quickly flits across in front of the light from above, turning a momentary glimpse of pale grey bone to a muddy charcoal and causing the wetness on the ground and his shoulder to seem to flicker.

It's still up there. They're up there. It... they... haven't quite worked up the nerve to come down after us, but it's probably only a matter of time.

The light - it has to be the moons rising, sending that faint illumination through the opening above us. It must be hours, gone by. Hours since Daniel managed to send off that single quick message, a burst of rapid-fire instructions into the radio, as he placed himself between me and it - as once again he took all the weight and pain onto those generous shoulders.

We don't even know for sure that they heard it.

Movement. He's awake. Watching me, his eyes narrowed. Even as he lays here only just barely back with me, I see the willingness - no, the intention - to accept my pain as his own, his shoulders slowly, carefully straightening in preparation to bear the load.

I whisper to him, ask him how he's doing, and he whispers back.

"I'm fine."

I know, Daniel. I know it hurts.

 


Ch. 6 : Jmas

O'Neill is afraid.

As am I.

One must look deeply into his face to recognize the fear that lives there, but I have come to know it well. I have seen it before as we waited together for Major Carter and Daniel Jackson to find a means of defeating the orb holding him prisoner. I have seen it as we drove away from Daniel Jackson, leaving him alone when Machello's device made him appear insane. I have seen it many times in the past, and will likely see it many times in the future...but I would wish never to see it again.
O'Neill looks somehow...older. Weighed down by the knowledge of danger to our friends. The lines on his face seem to grow deeper by the moment, the weight of guilt and responsibility for the fate of our friends pulling stronger than that strange force Major Carter calls gravity. It is a force which makes his eyes burn with the fire of determination, his mouth set itself in a line that will allow no negative words to come forth, his shoulders set themselves solidly in preparation to bear the burden which comes with accepting command...and its consequences.

Yet, beneath it all is fear...fear for the lives that have come to mean so much to him despite his often confusing words that might convince a stranger otherwise. I am no stranger, nor so easily confused by his words as I once was.

O'Neill tries to smile at me, but the gesture does not reach his eyes. He knows it is futile to attempt to convince me of that which we both know is true. Our friends are in trouble, perhaps are already dead, and we can do nothing until we reach them.

Nothing except worry.

I have learned to do that quite well in my time with SG1. O'Neill is an excellent teacher in the way he carries responsibility for those he cares for...and I have learned well from him.

I look back again and see O'Neill looking beyond my shoulder, at the ruins that are our goal...still so very far away across the plain. It will be several more hours before we reach the outskirt, and still we will have to locate them.

I know it is not practical, but I quicken my pace nonetheless...

Ch. 7: Jb

While my own lips part and contort with the effort of drawing breath into overtaxed lungs, his are set as immutably as I've ever seen. It's the look. Strength. Determination. Competence personified.
To the uninitiated the expression on Teal'c's face would seem as impartial as ever, the steady gaze and practically immobile mouth surrendering nothing, allowing not even the most tenuous detection of opinion, attitude... of emotion.

But I am initiated, and I know better. He's afraid, and worried... and he's trying to believe.

I can see the worry in the slight downturn at the corners of his mouth; the fear is in the barely noticeable tremble of his lower lip. The will to believe, the hope that we can do this? It's that brief light in his eyes as he looks back at me, encouraging me on, to run, to keep up with him. A light that flicks off like a snuffed candle flame as we stop for a breather and stare out over the moonlit expanse of brush ahead of us.

It's still a long way away. Sucking air like nobody's business, bent over trying to force my lungs to believe, my hand goes to my comm without even asking my brain. I coulda told it, no way. I can't even breathe, never mind talk into the damned thing. And I don't even know if there'd be anyone hearing anything on the other end. Feeling the bulk of it under my fingers, his voice comes back to me. The urgency, the desperation.

Jack Teal'c, help... Sam's hurt... predators... 15 klics southeast, the ruins... under attack... too many too big I can't...

A transmission that ends with Carter's distant scream under a godawful snarl-shriek and, up close and personal, a cut-off guttural cry that tells me a lot more than I want to know. Teal'c's hearing him again, too. I can tell by the way his lips press together to match the narrowing of his eyes. Then those lips are moving, speaking quietly into his comm. They open and close, wait, do it again, saying the words I still can't quite get past the heave of air.

There's no answer.

Even the uninitiated would see straight into the man's soul as he looks from me toward the ruins and back again. Full lips part and twist, the strength of the concern and indecision lending them a mobility I've rarely seen. Pretty clear what's happening... unspoken anxiety vying with eighty years of careful schooling... but the outcome is a no-brainer. He won't place me at risk by going on ahead alone... and he won't burden me with his own worry. He knows what I'm going through.

The lips move one more time to ask me if I'm ready to move on, and then it's back again. The look - strength, determination, competence.

But I'm one of the initiated.

 

Ch. 8: Jmas

I'm fine...

Fine enough to lie to Sam, evidently...

No, that's not right. I'm not exactly lying...She always says I'm too optimistic. That's it, I'm being optimistic...

Right, Daniel...tell yourself another one. She doesn't believe it anymore than you do.

If I could just sit up a little...

Well.maybe in a little while...

Sam's looking at me. She knows. We aren't fooling each other at all here, maybe it's time we stopped trying. I saw the shadows moving around up there, I know as well as she does what it means.

Time's running out in more ways than one.

I'm cold...

Shock, I know...I've felt it often enough. Too much blood gone. There's too much blood on the ground at the bottom of this alien pit on this forsaken, barren world devoid of human sweat and blood for countless generations. If my head were a little clearer I could probably come up with some appropriate blood ritual from some obscure culture...

Surely this isn't all going to be for nothing, the two of us fading away in this darkness to no purpose...

Stop thinking like that, Daniel...

I can't seem to decide if it's too cold or too hot down here...

Hot right now though...hard to breathe...

Sam's still looking at me, saying something I can't quite seem to focus on...

I reach out to touch her hand, squeezing gently in a reassurance I think we're both a long way from feeling. Feeling her blood mingle with mine...Too much blood from both of us. Appropriate that it mixes so freely here and now, just before...

I'm sorry, Sam...I don't want to leave you alone with this, I'll stay as long as I can. Won't let it get you. I'll stay til Jack comes...

I didn't mean to, but I think I actually said that out loud, her eyes are huge with concern...

Jack...God, Jack...please hurry...

I don't know how much longer I can hold on.

Shadows moving...

That isn't right...

Oh, God...it's here...

My hand reaches out, finding a stone. It'll have to do, everything else is out of reach. I push myself up as far as I can, bracing against some rubble, feeling something tear away and wetness flowing down my back.

Bleeding again...

 

Ch. 9: Jb

Oh, God... it's here...

So it wasn't just my imagination playing tricks on me when Daniel was unconscious. He was out long enough that I was afraid of being... that he was... that I was...

I thought I heard something - a distant, small avalanche of dust and rock, a faint scrabbling noise - but it went away and I discounted it as a product of a scared mind alone in the dark. Stupid. I am so stupid. I should have told Daniel about it the minute he woke up.

It's a dark splotch against lesser darkness, erratically moving this way. Hard to track it by sight when it stops, but it's close enough now that we don't really need to see it. We can hear it, and smell it. A scraping dragging noise, ragged panting, and the same overwhelmingly acrid stench that first warned us of their presence topside. Not nearly enough warning, though. They were so quiet, and so damn fast.

I've smelled bad things before, but this... the dead Linvris were like a bouquet of flowers compared to this.

Daniel's gagging. He's trying to hold it back, but there's no point. It already knows we're here. He's thrown himself back off his chest, supporting himself on his right elbow. There's something in that hand... what? Oh. A rock. I don't know what he thinks he's going to be able to do with that; his right arm is pretty much the only thing he can move freely, and that's what's propping him up.

I'm not much help It's coming, and I'm trapped under this rubble; what used to be the ground above is now my prison down here. Beyond moving my left arm, I can't even turn over. The best I can do is lift my head and chest up off the ground to keep my nose out of the dirt. To see... things I never wanted to see. But I can't see it anymore; Daniel's pushed himself over, up against a pile of rock, and now my view is of his front instead of his back. And of apology written huge on his face, in his eyes.

As the Colonel would say if he were here right now... Dammit, Daniel! Why does Daniel always expect so much of himself?

The noise is louder, the shadow larger. And the smell is... rancid. Daniel's retching now. Looks painful; I don't think I want to join him. There's only one way to deal with this sort of odour. To deny it. To replace it, before it convinces you the very air you are breathing is poison and it's tainted everything inside you. Concentrate; replace it. Springtime, fresh baked bread, baby powder. Oh God. It's so close. Overpowering. New leather upholstery, freshly mown grass, the dark rich smell of expresso brewing. Coffee. Daniel - the smell of coffee, aftershave, sometimes chocolate, always an underlying faint male musk... all blending together into the unmistakable scent of Daniel.

Oh, God... it's here...

Right here, now, its huge snout lifted and quivering, it sniffs the air not five feet in front of Daniel. There's something wrong... something about it... about the way it's moving so slowly, so low to the ground, about the noises it's making...

It's hurt... definitely injured. I can see it now. Raw wounds, leaking yellowish pussy-looking fluid. It's one of the ones we got with our guns, above. That's probably why it's down here... it probably fell, maybe into a sinkhole like we did, and couldn't climb out. But it's still lethal. Its claws and teeth are just as sharp as they ever were, and it's more mobile than Daniel and I put together. We have two unreliable limbs and one rock to share between us. Not much of a defence. I suppose Daniel could always puke on it... looks like he's about to do that any time now, anyway.

Ah, God. Its head is right here. It's smelling the ground in front of me and it's smelling up the place so badly I'm not sure I want to keep breathing. What... what is it doing? It's... it's... licking... Oh God oh oh no, no, no. The blood. Oh I am going to be sick...

It didn't like that. I moved, turned my head. It's snarling, sticking it's snout under my nose. I can feel it's hot breath... Oh! Ahh - Claws. Claws... swiped at me, raked across my head... Pain. Black spots in my vision and wetness dripping into my eyes. Feel sick.

Noise. Somebody... yelling. It's turning away. Roaring. It's roaring; it's deafening.

Daniel. What's he doing? He's thrust himself forward to right in front of me, between me and it, and he's rolling... He screams once with the pain and he's rolling over in a quick movement. As he goes I see the fresh blood covering his back, thick, soaking through everything, extending down past his waist... and I can smell it, this sharp new Daniel-odour of sweat and pain and sickly sweet blood.

He's facing me, inches away. Gently touching my cheek. Whispering to me... telling me - oh please somebody help him - telling me to close my eyes.

There's a sound - a quiet wet, vile, noise. On, no... don't. Don't do that. No no no no...

As my eyes close I see him in my mind's eye, rolling to muster the only defence he had for me and I smell him, his scent, both as he usually is and as he is now... and I see one other thing, in my mind's eye...

I see what's still there against the small of his back, now turned away from me... on his belt...

 

Ch 10: Jmas

Hot. Wet.

I can't suppress the moan low in my chest at the sensation of being...tasted...lapping at the blood on my clothing like some perverted tabby cat cleaning up the proverbial spilt milk.

The creature may be injured, but it's gaining strength...through me. Strength to finish what it started.

Strength to kill. Me...then Sam.

I feel her hand reaching out to mine. Slowly. Trying not to draw the attention to the thing at my back. I move my own hand to still hers. It's too risky. Don't move, Sam...don't let it notice you, don't let this be for nothing...

I look up into her eyes, the right one clouded now by blood from the shallow scratches across her forehead. More blood. More strength for the beast...at the cost of our own...

She's whispering something softly, too softly. It's hard to concentrate beyond the sickening sensation of the hot, gritty tongue lapping at me, working its way deeper through the layers of my clothing seeking the source of the flow...

God...

I really don't want it to end like this...

If by some miracle Sam survives, I don't want her to live with the memory of...

Please, Jack...where are you?

I look up again. Sam's still trying to tell me something. I can't seem to focus, all I can hear is my own pulse beating fiercely in my head and the weird echo of every scrape of the creature's tongue, the prickling heat setting raw nerve endings on fire. It takes every ounce of resolve I can muster not to move away, but I can't. Right now the beast is just idly feeding its own waning strength...God...I don't want to give it a reason for aggression.

Time. We just need time.

Jack? Teal'c?

Please...

A tear falls from Sam's eye, mingling with the blood to form a perfect pink track down her high-boned cheek. It helps to focus on that... It would be so easy to just lose myself in that image, drown in it and never return, but I promised. I have to stay until Jack comes.

I won't leave Sam alone with this...

Sam's hand touches mine, squeezing tightly, helping me to stay...

Her fingers shift, moving over my palm and tracing a pattern...a letter...

'K'?

I blink at her in confusion. What is she trying to tell me?

'N,' 'I,' 'F,'...

Knife? I look into her eyes, they flicker down and back toward my belt

My knife. I still have it.

Great.

I still have my knife. At the back of my belt...inches away from the tongue worrying at my soul as much as my flesh...

It might as well not be there at all...


Ch. 11: Jb

This can't be happening. Not happening; can't be.

Is happening. Oh, it is, it really is and I don't think I can stand it. Please, surely not all the Gods are false ones, because right about now I really need to believe that a higher power exists and will help us... will help Daniel. The Colonel and Teal'c. They're coming... they'll show up above us any minute now. They're almost here. They have to be.

I can't see much more of that hellcat than the very edge of its head just above Daniel's side... and a set of sharp claws erupting from the huge paw that's clamped onto him, curving over his hip, terminating in four spreading stains on the front of his BDO's as they slowly knead in and out, back and forth...

Schrodinger used to do that. He'd curl up in my lap and purr and settle his front paws onto my leg and the instinctive ritual would begin - first one paw and then the other, digging in, pulling back, rising and falling... rolling... rocking...

I can hear it, sounding just like it looks. I imagine I can feel it, but the expression on Daniel's face tells me that I'm not even coming close. Even so, through the pain and revulsion, he made room for me. He focused on me and he understood what I tried to tell him. The hope I tried to engrave onto more than just the palm of his hand. I saw the realization flood his face...

And saw it recede just as quickly as he mouthed to me, "Can't. Sorry". He can't try to reach his knife.

He's given up on himself.

His eyes search my face, seeking my understanding, apologizing yet again. He shakes his head ever so slightly and there's a quick flicker of an ironic smile as he squeezes my hand and once more his mouth moves in silent entreaty - for me to close my eyes. Oh, no, Daniel. Don't. Don't die for me. Not like this. Please, try. You have to try...

That's stupid, Samantha. Don't punish him by asking the impossible. He couldn't have done it even before, with just one hand, with the limited range of motion of his arm. That almost-smile he just gave me - I remember now. The Colonel's always telling him to move that knife further over to the right, stow it over his hip instead of way along there almost at the small of his back. Can't get to it nearly fast enough with it way back there. Nope, no place for it, move it along, move it over...

I can hear the typical rapid-fire argument right now, in my mind, just like I've heard it for real so many times.

Jack, it's in my way there. It gets caught up on stuff.

Get used to it, Daniel. Work on it.

No. It pokes me in the butt every time I twist at the waist.

Daniel, that knife needs to be accessible. It could save a life some day. A few extra dimples are a fair trade off.

I don't have any dimples there to begin with, Jack, and I don't want any.

My hand is suddenly caught in a death grip. My eyes snap open - when did they close? Daniel's face is twisted into a grimace and his eyes are full of pain. And panic. In a ghastly parody of the rapid give and take of the voices in my head, he's pushed forward and back as the gruesome ebb and flow of sound and motion momentarily turn into a roar and the impact of a heavy head.


He gives in to the fear, his body going rigid and eyes squeezing shut as the tears finally break free.But he doesn't cry out. He sucks it back. For me.

The beast behind him settles and as the primal massage resumes, the tension in Daniel's body slowly dissipates. His hand releases my own. He's passed out. So maybe there is a God.

It's all up to me, now.

 

Ch 12 : Jmas

Lungs are on fire...

Fire urging me onward...and pleading with me to stop.

I can't stop...won't...

The crumbled walls of the formerly great city are tantalizingly close...twenty, thirty minutes and we'll be there...

Moon overhead now...strange noises penetrate my exhausted brain between breaths that sound harsh even to me. The animals in Daniel's frantic communication?

Teal'c is puffing heavily ahead of me, his seeming limitless strength stretching and flexing as much as his muscles... We both know we can't stop...We feel it in a visceral, elemental, totally inexplicable way...

No reason to talk about it. It's there. It's real. And time is running out...

It's like we're in a race more vital than any we've ever known. A race against time, against the nature of this desolate world...and the pay off is the lives of our friends...

A pay off too precious not to win.

The thought gives me still another burst of adrenaline. I'm going to pay later for pushing my body beyond its limits... I'm not a kid anymore and even intense workouts won't make up for that simple fact. But it doesn't matter. Nothing matters except getting to Daniel and Carter...

Just run, Jack...

The mindless, driving motion leaves way too much room for my mind to wander. To create awful scenarios with one inevitable conclusion...

They're dead.

Breathe, Jack...

It can't be, it can't be...

Daniel, Sam...

We've been through too much together...

Breath rasps in my head...

Almost there, almost there...

Clouds moving over the moon, how do we find them in the dark...?

A sharp intake as my foot hits a rock...

Not going to happen, can't let it happen...

They're alive...

Hell, Daniel can't die...it's a proven fact...

He'll keep Carter safe, no matter what. He would die before...

I nearly choke on the thought...

Hang on 'til I get there, Danny...

Hang on...

 


Ch. 13 : Jb

The ground is alternately solid and crumbling, the scrub barely rooted in this narrow wash. Foothills rise to either side. Dark channels score the slopes and the ground under our feet. Dry now, they are clearly the product of strong runoff from the hills in wetter times. Our progress toward the open plain ahead, toward the towering monoliths of stone which once were home to a civilization, is made difficult by the need to avoid the eroding edges of the channels.

O'Neill's strength falters. I cannot allow that.

He cannot hear what I hear.

There are faint unfamiliar noises in the night which mingle with our own; the sound of our boots against the ground, dirt and small stones scattering, the harsh rustle of our clothing and faint creaking of utility belts... and the ragged panting of a man driving onward, through sheer stubbornness alone, well past the point at which his body demands to give out. All these things, I know O'Neill hears.

But he cannot hear all that I hear. That which is ahead... only just ahead.

And he does not know what I now know. He cannot detect the faint scent on the breeze, that which underlies the stronger foulness of what is just ahead, nor see the many subtle cues on the ground under our feet.

I cannot permit this to continue, this desperate race against an unknown fate into a now very imminent danger. We must stop, rest and regroup. O'Neill will require his strength in order to face the challenge which is soon to be upon us. We must prepare for battle.

They are not in Daniel Jackson's ruins. They are here.

Reluctantly he relents to my voice, to my hand on his arm, the warning in my eyes. I can only allow him a few moments to regain his breath and gather himself. Now that our own discord with the night has been silenced, the danger is much more evident. O'Neill begins to understand now. He attends to me with an intensity borne of sharply honed instinct... and just as sharp-edged fear. Yes, O'Neill. I too am afraid for this delay, for what it may mean for our friends.

The realization dawns on his face scant seconds before my hand signals provide warning, and his eyes narrow in unwavering concentration - one, some fifty yards ahead; two, very close on our right.

Now O'Neill can hear them, smell them... but I fear he is not yet fully aware, does not yet comprehend all that I know. I cannot tell him right now. They are ever closer, on the right. I do not believe they are aware of our presence. I do not dare speak aloud for fear of drawing them to O'Neill. He is not yet fully recovered from the run.

There is something wrong here. I do not understand why these beasts are unaware of us. For some reason their progress is sporadic and unfocused. Daniel Jackson said he and Major Carter were attacked by predators. These creatures do not seem attentive, are not stealthy, as are most predators.

A clatter of rock and a snarl float across the distance from ahead. I sense the beasts to our right startle. They become silent, motionless. Ah. I see. They are the hunted. By their own kind. Cast out?
The noise from ahead diminishes. That beast is retreating. The two on our right advance once again, toward us. They are noisy for predators. Noisy and inconsistent in their approach. A rank odour drifts across to us. There! Two dark shapes against the low hill to the right. Awkward movement. Sizeable four-legged creatures... even in its crouch as it attempts to slink along the ground, it appears the larger of them may almost reach my hip in height.

O'Neill signals to me to proceed in their direction. Clearly he does not believe it is in our interests to attempt to avoid the beasts, to make our way around them and continue on toward the ruins. He understands we must hunt the hunted, or risk becoming the prey ourselves. Once again, as with many times before, my faith in O'Neill is proven warranted. Even not yet aware of that which is most important, he makes the best judgement.

I am concerned that he may not yet be up to this challenge, however I concur with his decision. It is a correct strategy, for more reasons than he realizes. For he does not understand as yet... it is here, in this area, where we must remain.

He still does not know what I do. That our friends never made it to the ruins.

They are here. Somewhere.

 

Ch. 14: Jmas

In, out...in, out....

The image in my mind would be almost funny if this overgrown excuse for a tabby cat wasn't using my back as its own personal scratching post...

In, out...

Must've passed out...

Sam's eyes are on me, the little crinkle between her eyebrows tells me she's got a major plan in mind.

In, out...

The major's got a major plan...

Bad puns are Jack's thing. Must be shock. The big cat's smelly body is probably helping as much as it hurts. It's shifted around while I was out, covering my lower body like a perverse security blanket. The warmth of it is as soothing as the constant, double-clawed kneading is disturbing...

At least it's not...feeding...anymore...

In, out...

Sam gives me a look as I swallow hard against the thought of being grateful to the creature that brought us to this impossibly macabre impasse. I try to nod a little, let her know everything is still okay...

Well, maybe okay is a bit optimistic...

Everything still is though. We're still alive. The night is half over, the moon shadows have shifted to the other side of where we lay.

In, out...

Jack and Teal'c have to be close by now...

They have to be...

I just hope they don't pass us by. Hopefully Teal'c's incredibly well-honed tracking skills will see our footprints up there, see we didn't quite make it to the ruins, see where the ground opened up and swallowed us whole dumping us into our own silent, intensely private version of hell...complete with feline Cerberus...

In, out...

God, that one hurt.

My back and shoulders are going to look like a pincushion if...when...when dammit...we make it home...

I can hear Jack now...wanting to get a look at these scars...He's like an adolescent that way. Hell, he's like an adolescent in a lot of ways. But I know he'll hurt with us. It's Jack's way...hurt us, hurt him...One of the things I respect most about him.

He's coming, I know it...

In, out...

Sam is making little hand signals at me...She knows I can never get those things straight. Funny, a linguist who can't decipher simple military hand signals...Of course they could have them make a little more sense...

I must be delirious, those two concepts rarely go together...

She's going on about something...

She wants to what...?

In, out...

I shake my head...the hellcat's not being aggressive...really...

We should wait.

A yowling scream from above stills all motion...even that of the cat...

More of them. Coming here. Scenting our presence and wanting to share...or take...our captor's spoils...

Damn...

The cat grumbles deep in its throat, attention focused upward as it sniffs the night air...
I think time just ran out for us.

 

Ch. 15 : Jb

Uhm... why is Daniel so calm?

No. That's not the right word. Not that he isn't calmer all of a sudden... he is. But somehow it's different than just seeming calm. He's... he's almost tranquil, in an incongruous sort of way. His eyes are actually smiling at me...

Sure, the Daniel I know can run contrary to canon sometimes; I don't always understand his take on things. He goes his own way and not infrequently, while I admire the traveller and the journey, his chosen destinations are not even on my list of marginally acceptable places to go. But this... this isn't a matter of him putting a novel spin on our situation. This is something different. Not more than fifteen minutes ago I thought I had lost him, when he broke down and then gave out entirely. And now..
Shock. It has to be shock. I know he's lost a fair amount of blood, that the longer this goes on the more the risk of physiological shock... but this, isn't that. This... wry expression that I see on his face, the almost-acceptance in his eyes - this is emotional shock.

I thought I had lost him when he broke down and passed out...

..and I guess I have.

I'm putting everything I can into transmitting my message through my face and eyes, but he's just watching me with an enigmatic look and fleeting inappropriate amusement in his eyes. No way I am going to get him to cooperate with what I want to do. I need to get at that knife... and soon. Although the cat is consecrating Daniel's offering in an entirely different way now - and anything has got to be better than what was going on before - it's still very dangerous.

Maybe that's part of what this - this newly placid Daniel - is all about. About pain? Its paw is pretty low on his back right now, and the one against his hip isn't actually forcefully pinning him in place anymore. Its claws are probably only just making it through the fabric of his vest and jacket... probably beats the hell out of the scrape of its tongue against the exposed wound on his upper back.

As much as I'm glad it doesn't seem to hurt so bad, God - I don't know what to do. While it's... so contentedly occupied... I need him to help me, to slowly - oh so so slowly, carefully - do a little roll forward. So I can just as slowly snake my hand in there, in the space right in front of its chest. I can't move and I can't reach all the way over him to the small of his back, from here. And we need that knife.

But he's not entirely with me here. Even now, I can see the wandering path taken by his mind reflected in his eyes... dazedly straying off over my shoulder as he no doubt mulls over some stray thought. I redouble my efforts, staring at him with what I know must be a huge frown, and thankfully the precise movements of my hand catch his attention.

But... oh damn. No matter how obvious I try to make my signals, he's just not with me.

Or... maybe he is? He just shook his head, and the purposefulness of that gesture is clear. Oh Daniel, please, help me out here! If you aren't going to work with me, then I don't know what I can possibly do.

Oh God! Loud... chilling... above us and oh sounding much too close for comfort.

It's not so pleasantly occupied anymore. It's alert, tense, ready for anything...

And now I really don't know what to do.

 

Ch. 16: Jmas

Shadows.

Creeping, slipping here and there in the darkness left by the now hidden moon...darkness against a deeper darkness. I've counted eight, no telling how many there actually are.

Teal'c is tensed up, his head cocked as he obviously listens for the movements in the shadows...pattering of rocks shifting, scrape of claw against stone, snarls and yowls as if they're fighting among themselves.

Wish I had a set of night goggles...

Or some...

Light.

Light against the shadows.

That's it.

I scramble in my pack, pulling out two flares. Should be enough...

Enough or not nearly enough...

Either way we have to do this. Now. We can't have these things lurking on our six and if...when...we find Carter and Daniel, we don't need to worry about these beasties giving us trouble on the way out. So we get them.. now... and don't give them the chance.

I try to signal Teal'c in the darkness, hoping he can make out enough to realize what I plan. I see the vague hint of a nod, his hand tapping my arm to let me know he understands. He knows as well as I do to close his eyes at the initial flash to help our eyes adjust more quickly. I pull the zat from my belt, tucking it into my elbow as I make ready to strike the first flare.

Now or never. Light against the darkness. Death so our friends might live...

I pause just a minute to catch my breath. I've had to do a lot of things in my life, bought things worth a lot less than the lives in the balance here at a far higher price. This price isn't much at all by comparison. These things attacked, maybe killed, our friends...

I'm ready.

I whistle a soft warning to Teal'c, then strike the flare...

And open my eyes to a scene from hell...

Six of the... things... are less than twenty feet from us. I don't even hesitate, firing the zat as fast as I can... trying to hit them twice... three times if possible.

In the guttering flare-light I get impressions of scruffy, filthy fur... Teeth, damn big teeth... Green-luminous eyes that help us spot them in the shadows...

Six are down, but I see more glittering eyes among the rocks...

Teal'c is in rapid-fire mode... pulling off shots so quickly I can't even hear the individual bursts. I send up a word of thanks once again for Bra'tac and his incredible training. We owe that old Jaffa master our lives a dozen times over...

The flare is down to a bare glow now.

I don't see any more eyes. I look at Teal'c, listening again...

He shakes his head and we raise up, I fire off a few disintegrating shots, these things were pretty stinky alive... don't want dead ones lying around.

When I'm sure they're all gone, I start to head out toward the ruins again.

I hear two things simultaneously...

Teal'c's voice, "O'Neill..."

And another ear-splitting howl, just before the light goes out.

Ch. 17: Jb

What...

What was that? Up above... sounded like...

Augh! No! Don't...

Oh God no... standing on me get off me... claws in my hip... oh too heavy, hurts, hurts like hell get the hell off me!

So fast. Moved so fast. Sam, I'm so sorry. Oh God if you're out there anywhere please, help me - it's hurting. Please let it be quick.

Get it off. Push at it. Trying. Can't feel my arm too good. Screaming at it. Goddamn stinking pissing... if you're going to kill me then just get on with it - or else get the fuck off me!

Roaring. A roaring in my ears. Drowning out even my screams. This thing on me, punctuating the sounds from above with it's own.

Stinks. Sudden wet-warm on my face. What... what is it? Slimy. Dripping. Oh shit! Get it off... Get it off!

Its throat. Not a foot above my face. Its attention going back and forth between the new threat from above and its prize pinned below. Flashes of yellowed incisors amidst black and red, releasing a reeking blast of decay with each snarl and roar and - drooling. Oh God. I'm gonna puke. Need to puke. Noise... huge noise. Claws digging in. Slime. Get it off!

Not ready yet. I'm not ready! Sam... haven't saved her yet. Sam, please help me, no, please forgive me for - Wha...? Something else on my face. What else? God please nothing else... it's on my face something hot touching my face - No! Oh no no no! Not yet!

Pressure. Pressure on my jaw... wait... wait, it's her. Fingers trapping my chin. Hot. Why are they so hot? What? She's telling me to... to... what? I can hear her. Why can I hear her? I'm screaming, shouldn't be able to hear her over my own noise - get it off me oh God please, I tried Sam but we ran out of time... I'm sorry I tried please Sam please just close your eyes...

Lay still? I'm not? She wants me to lay still. Whispering to me. Something... Panic? No. Saying... don't. Whispering, don't don't don't panic Daniel. It's okay. Telling me, something... saying Daniel, listen. Don't move. Listen. Okay. Trying, Sam, I'm trying. Hurts. Listening. Whispering. Screaming... screaming oh God slime I can't do this, thought I could handle it - get it off! - thought I could but I can't anymore too sick too tired let this stop please screaming...

So fast. Everything in one instant, way-far too fast. All at once - shrieking from above, snarling and roaring in my ear, weight impossible weight on my side claws in my hip foul spit on my face Sam whispering can hear her whispering, blasts above us, my own screaming...

I can't be screaming.

I hear Sam whispering, hear this cat and the ones above, hear the sizzling streams of energy and the blasts. Can't be screaming. Am. I am. No. I'm not - can't be. But... Oh God, how? Confused. Chest hurts, my head is going to explode from all the screaming inside it. All at once. Too much all at once.
Sam's hot fingers, her breath on my face, whispering. Try! Yes, trying. Listen, work... what? Work with her here? What? Need my help? Oh God Sam... oh Sam, yes! Anything! Tell me what you want...

Wait. Above. Sizzling? Blasts?

Oh holy goddamn... Jack and Teal'c! Oh Pleeeze!

Hot, insistent, bruising pressure points on my jaw. Sam. Whispering above my screams. What? No time left... yes, Sam, I already know that.

What? Do it now? No! Wait, I don't understand yet... what do you want me to do? Wait for me!

She's not waiting.

Her fingers are gone from my face and out of the corner of my eye I track her hand down to my side... see it grab at my vest just above my hip and yes yes yes I know what she wants. Her tense whisper of

"Now Daniel - roll!" is all but lost under the outraged screech of the cat, and as it ducks it's head right at my face in warning I feel its snout and fangs swipe my cheek...

Fuck you, shithead.

I'm rolling.


Ch. 18: Jmas

The darkness comes so suddenly I am surprised by it.

The only sounds now are O'Neill's slightly accelerated breaths and the quickening breeze now blowing over the rocky landscape. The moon reappears from behind the clouds, bathing the area in a gentle glow. The danger of the past few minutes seems remote, hardly reconcilable to this peaceful moment.

O'Neill takes a deep breath and once again gathers himself to start walking toward the ruins. He has gone a dozen steps before he realizes I am not following.

He turns back with a confused look. "What...?"

"They are here, O'Neill."

Again I see the perplexed expression in the blue glow of the moonlight. He sighs, deeply as if gathering patience and waits for me to explain.

"Daniel Jackson and Major Carter are here, not at the ruins."

"Uh... okay... Where?"

I am struck once again by O'Neill's acceptance of my skills, it means a great deal to me that he does not question.

"I am unsure now," I admit reluctantly. "I had only just discovered their trail when the... felines... attacked. The battle has obliterated them now. We must search."

He scans the shadowy surroundings. "Uh huh..." His tone is doubtful. Sarcasm, I have learned, conceals little to those who know to listen beyond it. He is concerned with our chances of locating our friends in this dark rocky place.

"Listen," I advise.

He closes his eyes, as if doing so will help his concentration... perhaps he is correct. I hear the sound of insects chirruping gently, the distant scrabble of rocky soil... night creatures, but too distant to be of immediate concern. The soft whirr of wind through the low brush...

MMMRRRRRRRROOOOOWWWWRRRRRR...

One of the felines. There. Fifty meters and...

Below us?

O'Neill removes his flashlight from his vest, scanning the ground around us as we advance slowly toward the place the sound originated from, dread slowing our footsteps as much as the terrain.

There.

Ten meters below us.

A deeper blackness against the ground.

A hole...

We sink to our stomachs beside it, the light O'Neill holds barely penetrates the utter darkness below...

A glittering, liquid coats the ground... muddy, red... Blood?

The narrow beam of light moves over a lump of... something...

Something alternately furry grey, smooth green, shiny black, liquid red...

We have found them.

Ch.19: Jb

Oh no, oh damn. It's going to kill him. Any second now it's going to get fed up with the feeble resistance underneath it and lash out... and Daniel will die. And then it'll be my turn. Stop it, stop stop stop - Please Daniel, be still!

I'm not stupid, I know it must feel like he's being crushed. But that doesn't matter... he has to stop trying to move. He's distracting its attention from the noises of the fight above, onto us.

The fighting above. They're here. They're finally here. God, what a bad joke... there's hysterical laughter building in my chest, threatening to bubble up to the surface and escape. This is so damned ironic. The Colonel and Teal'c are right above us, they found us... and it's looking like their arrival is going to be the catalyst for our deaths.

Unless...

Maybe we can still pull this off, somehow. But I need you, Daniel. I need you to help me. Please, settle down... look at me, feel my hand on your face and look at me... dammit...

Eyes. Mine, rapidly flitting back and forth between the two other sets of eyes that I am equally drawn to out of necessity. To Daniel's, to catch his attention and calm him... and to those of the beast, to try to anticipate it.

The eyes of the cat, huge black pupils with a sliver of bright gold around the outside, full of cold anger and incredibly alert and active for an animal that took a round of 9mm shells. Rage in those eyes... and a hunger. Will it tell me through those black holes, hey lady, it's time now, you die now? It's scaring me almost beyond reason.

Okay then, so don't look. Don't look into them any more, Sam. But... then, how will I know when it's time? Oh God I am so afraid.

It keeps switching its stare from Daniel to the surface and back again. I think it's more or less ignoring me; it's Daniel's attempts to get out from under that are drawing its attention. Damn! He really needs to stop pushing at it like that. He's annoying it. Distracting it. Stupid. Dammit Daniel, listen to me!
God what a stench, and it's teeth are... Saliva dripping from the corners of it's mouth, huge incisors, so sharp - Daniel! Knock it off or you'll get us both killed! Good... he sees me, feels my fingers on his face... but, oh hell! He's not listening to me. Pay attention to me Daniel, to me! Well, at least he's got the sense to have stayed quiet, giving me half a chance of somehow being heard, of getting it through his thick skull... he's not yelling at it or anything... even when the damned thing shifts its position like that and the claws dig in and with that slime dripping on his face...

Oh, Sam... oh you idiot! Oh, God. What was I just doing, what was I thinking - Daniel, please hear me,

I'm so so sorry. Not your fault! God knows I could never keep it together like you are. I'd be screaming the roof down by now... you're brave, so strong... I'm just so scared, I'm sorry...

But please, I need your help. Please, Daniel, work with me here. I really need you to listen to me, work with me here, help me...

Yes! Yes yes yes! Yes, I'm here Daniel and yes, I need you to do something... Yes! That's the look I wanted to see return to this face... awareness, comprehension, intelligence. We can do this, Daniel, you and I, we can do it!

Okay, ready? Time's run out. We have to go right now. On my count, all right? Oh hell, he's looking panicky again, shaking his head - but we can't wait. Never mind; can't stop, can't wait. The hell with the count, just go! He can do it. He has to be able to do it.

I lock a stare onto his face and move quickly, letting go and darting my hand down to where it needs to be. His eyes follow it and yes, thank God! There's sudden realization on his face just before I say the words... and God love him, as I actually say them and the cat screams and swipes at him in protest, the courage and defiance, the powerful determination and single-mindedness that make Daniel who he is erupt from him and sweep across me, envelope me, encourage me...
We can do this! Move! Reach! With a cry of effort and pain he's rolling to me, and there are fangs slashing through the air an inch from his head as the cat is thrown off balance from the sudden change in position. It's snarling, spitting... mad...

So, big shit. Be mad. Enjoy it. It's the last thing you'll ever - Reach, Sam, reach for it... there! The belt, now just slide along the belt until... there... quickly unsnap and pull! Daniel's pushed right up against me, almost right over onto his stomach... hurry, he's telling me to hurry... Oh God! It's going to go at him... at his back...

Got it! I've got it... shift it grab it the other way and squeeze it... don't drop it... Movement; in my way can't get my arm up... front leg swiping at me blocking me - what? Daniel. His elbow, coming up, flying backward... perfect hit, right on the snout! Yes! Way to go Daniel!

No! No! A great shrieking howl... t's pouncing, front legs ramming him screaming against me... pushing on him its weight against his back pressing him to me he's crying out wait... head's up... its throat working at an ear-splitting caterwaul head up its head is up...

Now! Strike now into the upturned throat! A quick jab with all I have in me and I know I'm in, can feel the resistance, the jitter of the knife scraping through fur and flesh, against sinew, the hot gushing wetness down my arm. I know I'm in but it's shrieking at me, pulling back...

Ah God, pushing on him, working to throw its head back... I have to finish this now - Oh! Hurts! Sharp pull along the underside of my arm as it rears up and scrabbles backward, taking the knife lodged in its throat with it. Can't let go... can't... hang on... hang on but don't pull it out... rockslide holding me in place... hand, my grip, slick... shoulder feels like it's going to fall apart... hang on...

Movement in front of me, pushing against me making it harder - No! Leave me alone I have to hang on... Daniel stop pushing at me! Get out of my way! It's shaking it's head, solidly bunched muscles trapping the knife in place, yanking my arm around like some limp rag. Oh can't stand it... huge pain down my arm, around my shoulder, down my side... I can't I can't hang on can't finish it I've lost I can't do this...

Whaa... sudden inches of space in front of me... something fiercely strong on my hand and a forceful jerk upwards and sideways a powerful slash severing muscle and gristle a burning tearing sensation in my arm my shoulder - ah God lancing heat in my arm - I'm hearing not only my own strangled cry of pain but two others...

The cat-beast-monster - its final protest intended to be a howl but emitted as a gust of hot whistling air coming out of the wrong place... or, the right place.

Daniel. Strength scraped up from God only knows where, sheer guts and determination overriding the physical reality, demanding and directing the final stroke.

His hand on mine, my hand in his...

We did it.

Ch. 20: Jmas

Pressure...

Pain...

Wet...

Sam?

As the pain and noise fade, I realize several things at once...

The hellcat is dead, the dead weight of its body collapsed across my legs... pushed there by the force of our final stroke...

I'm lying with my head on Sam's stomach... short puffs of air tickle my hair, cooling the sweaty dampness. I hear the hitch of pain in her breathing, the final stroke was too much for her, she's hurting again.

I'm so sorry, Sam...

Our hands are still joined around the knife, becoming even more so as the cat's blood dries. I know I'm holding her hand too tightly... can't seem to make my muscles relax...

Quiet now...

Painful weight on me, how much more for Sam who lies beneath us both...

Can't seem to find the strength to push it away... Give me just a minute, Sam... I'll get it off...

Tired. So tired...

A light, a voice, above us...

Jack?

Jack's here...

I want to call out to him, can't seem to find the energy...

Jack's here...

Calling down...He sounds worried...

Jack's here...

I said I'd stay 'til Jack came... kept this promise...

Maybe I can sleep now. Jack'll take care of everything. Sam will be okay...

She moans softly underneath me... Need to move, damn it...

Jack heard her... He says to be still, they're coming...

Still... I can do still... Hurts to move, hurts to think about moving...

Sam's hand shifts in mine. I can hear her barely stifled hiss of pain as she alters my grip, shifting a few fingers from under mine, enclosing it in a trembling gesture of comfort... letting me know it's okay not to move...

I nod my head a little against her stomach, trying to answer... Can't... She squeezes again, understanding...

Our hands... Hard to tell where hers ends and mine begins beneath the blood and grime... S'okay, though... Doesn't really matter. The creature is dead. We did it.

Tired, want to sleep...Somehow I know it's not a good idea, but...

Sam's whispering something now...

"We made it. We did it. Everything's okay now..."

Her voice wavers; reaction setting in after the adrenaline rush. S'okay, Sam... We've been here before...

Well.. .not exactly here... but you know what I mean... Of course you don't know what I mean, I'm not speaking out loud...

With a grunt of effort Sam shifts, she's really hurt her shoulder bad... .gasping in pain at the movement... I try to tell her to be still, but can't seem to do much more than shake my head...

Light shines over us again. Jack. A rope coming down the hole...

Gonna need more than a rope to get us out of here, Jack...

Rock and soil rains down in a fine shower...Sam leans over to shelter our faces. Be still, Sam...

Jack... barely recognizable except from the glitter of his silvering hair in the reflected light of the flashlight clipped to his vest. Closer, closer...

Jack's here...

I can rest now...


Ch. 21: Jb

What a mess. I need to know just how bad it is, but it's hard to tell where one body leaves off and another starts. Ah, Jesus. If I'd have just picked up the pace a little... whatever happened here since the attack we heard on the radio, obviously just happened, with that shrieking howl. Damn. I slowed us down. Too slow...

Okay, can the garbage, O'Neill. First things first. Focus... on what we got, what we need.

We got two living breathing bodies - the right ones - and one totally dead body, also the right one.
What do we need? First thing we need is to get rid of the chaff here.

Ugh. This thing is revolting. And it's gotta be really heavy. Daniel stirs a bit as Teal'c hauls the carcass off him, but I don't know if the movement is really his, or just... artifact, from the jostling. He was awake before... saw him look over at me. Ah God, please Daniel, stay with us here.

Carter is looking more than just a bit pasty but she's awake, nodding at us, trying to smile. Not talking audibly, though. She's twisted awkwardly, the rubble pinning her on her side from the waist down, Daniel's weight pushing her upper body backward. Need to fix that. Teal'c gently rolls her shoulders forward and climbs in behind her, supporting her back and head. It hurts. She's hurting. Daniel? Time to find a new pillow, buddy. Hey, big guy, you with us here?

No. No, he's not. His eyes are half-open and his body is tense... so tense... but he's not responding to me. I don't know if he's awake and overwhelmed, or if he's actually out of it. As Teal'c gets ready, his light playing over Carter, the beam inadvertently strays across Daniel's back and I'm not sure which I want it to be. Ah, geez... but, we've got to move him off of her.

Just need to... slide... just grab onto his belt and guide his shoulders... gently...

Okay... now I do know. Unconscious. Completely and totally in another land. I want him to be unconscious. But he isn't. Damn. Oh, damn. Sorry, Danny, sorry. He's not made a sound, but... starting to tremble all over... oh hell, his face, his expression...

Carter? Wait... what's wrong? Carter... God! What's wrong?

"O'Neill..." Teal'c's low rumble barely penetrates her cries of pain. "Wait. You must not move him yet."

Why not? She's hurt - well yeah, they're both hurt but he's the only one with the obvious bleeding, so whatever this is with her, it's hidden and we need to get him off, check her out...

The light shifts, following her arm, and I can see what he's talking about. They're... attached. She must have some sort of injury to that arm, and I pulled on it when I moved him away. Teal'c is still behind her, supporting her head and shoulders, talking to her, telling her to pull her hand out from his.

She's... not.

No point asking Daniel to let go.

I'll need to do it for them. Just move his arm a bit and let her hand slide free - Okay okay, okay... sorry buddy, I know, it hurts... sorry. Christ... he's got ahold of her like there's no tomorrow. He always did have trouble letting go of things - like a dog with a bone, our Daniel. Okay so, just reach forward, here...

Jesus. He's not even really all here, and he just doesn't want to let go... Come on, Daniel, a little bit of teamwork here... work with me...

What the... Oh, My. A quick glance from their joined hands, from the bloody knife and Daniel's still white-knuckled grip to the carcass behind me tells me all I need to know.

Talk about teamwork. Way to go, guys.

Ch. 22: Jmas

The scene before us is one of utmost horror. I can only imagine the sort of pain our friends have suffered in the hours it has taken us to reach them. Once again I have failed in my chosen duty to protect them. They are not helpless... their actions here prove that, but I am nonetheless regretful they had to endure it alone.

O'Neill is holding Daniel Jackson very carefully... his many wounds making it difficult to brace him without causing more pain. I use some water from our canteen to wash the blood from the hands joined around the knife. It is a chilling scene... an odd tableau at once victorious and tragic.

They worked together to achieve their survival, for which I am most grateful... but at what cost to their spirits?

It is quite obvious much more has happened here than the death of the predator. Major Carter seems somewhat dazed, accepting my support and reacting to the pain of her wounds, but decidedly uncommunicative.

Daniel Jackson looks as if he is uncertain he is even still alive...

I fear he believed he would not... may still not... live.

As gently as possible, I wash the drying blood... attempting to ease Daniel Jackson's grip and release that which he holds. He seems unaware of my efforts until the knife drops...

His grip tightens further on Major Carter's hand and she winces at the pressure of it. O'Neill frowns deeply and shifts his position, directing me to once again loosen the joined hands.I do so with utmost care, not wishing to cause either of them any further pain. When I have nearly freed Major Carter's hand, O'Neill slips his own beside hers. I understand his intention now and quickly remove hers... watching as Daniel Jackson accepts the substitute... comfort, anchor... of O'Neill.

Whatever has happened here has hurt our friends much more than physically.

I remove my jacket and lay Major Carter carefully against it. She nods to me... letting me know she is aware of what we are doing. Her eyes move to Daniel Jackson and she whispers, "Okay?" I cannot answer her question, but answer, "We are here now. All will be well." I am not happy with the lie...

O'Neill gestures toward the stone and debris which hold our friends so firmly in place. I carefully begin to remove it, using my staff weapon as a fulcrum to shift the larger pieces. I have them free quite quickly and return to Major Carter's side. O'Neill has covered her awkwardly with one of the lightweight blankets and is attempting to raise Daniel Jackson's shirts and jacket to attend the bloody wounds. There is a slash... obviously a claw mark... from his shoulder to his lower back, it appears oddly clean... but is surrounded by a myriad of small puncture wounds.

O'Neill raises a hand over the marks, hand subconsciously mimicking the shape of...

I look at the creature and back to Major Carter. She nods, confirming thoughts I prefer not to consider...

I finger the zatnikatel at my belt, looking to O'Neill in mute request. I receive a tight-lipped nod in return and fire upon the creature which brought so much pain upon my friends...

Major Carter sighs deeply in approval as the predator disappears into nothingness.

I put away my weapon and return to my work.

Major Carter's shoulder is not dislocated, but it is damaged... I bind it snugly to her as Doctor Fraiser has shown me in her 'first aid' instruction. There is a very deep wound in the major's palm, I cleanse it carefully and bind it as well. Using a bit more of the water I clean her face and other hand as gently as possible and am rewarded by a bright smile.

"Thanks, Teal'c..." She seems to be having difficulty remaining awake, but shares my fear for Daniel Jackson.

As I move to assist O'Neill in the cleansing and bandaging of our friend's many wounds, Major Carter softly relates their experiences with the creature. I feel extreme anger and helplessness at what occurred here and see my own feelings reflected in O'Neill's dark expression. O'Neill's hand tightens in Daniel Jackson's... imparting some silent message.

Daniel Jackson still seems lost in some twilight place... his eyes vacant but not totally unaware. It is as if he lacks the energy... or the purpose... to allow himself to return.

I finish my task as gently as possible and O'Neill pulls Daniel Jackson closer to him... whispering something we cannot hear. For many long moments there is no response...

Then slowly, carefully, Daniel Jackson smiles.

"Jack...?" Daniel's voice is raw, but definitely aware.

O'Neill smiles in return. "Welcome back, Danny..."

Daniel Jackson nods, "Um hm... I stayed, Jack... Said I would..."

O'Neill looks confused, but nods. "Glad you did, Daniel... glad you did."

Daniel Jackson gives a bare smile and closes his eyes..

Ch. 23: Jb

"Hey there, Daniel... when we get home, remind me never to drop in on you uninvited."

Ah. Is that a smile? So now I know just how bad off he really is. Daniel never shows the slightest appreciation for my brilliant humour, never mind actually cracking a smile. Well, almost never. There was that one time with the comment about the sushi... God. That was one of the times we thought we'd really lost him for good.

What? What is he saying? What does he mean, he said he'd stay? Never mind. It doesn't matter.

"Glad you did, Daniel... glad you did." Damn right.

Daniel? Hey, don't go anywhere on us now... we just got here. You got guests here now; we were in the neighbourhood, just dropped in to check out the lovely decor. Okay, it's okay... he's okay. Just closed his eyes is all, O'Neill. He didn't mean anything by that comment. He's not going anywhere.
Ah shit. Another damn right. Neither he or Carter are going anywhere until we get some help from home. Which means that someone is gonna have to go back to the Stargate. A quick glance up through the impromptu skylight - they're all the rage now - tells me that the moon isn't quite as high overhead anymore. Really short day here, but there's still a long way until dawn. But hell, those things attacked Carter and Daniel in the daylight. So it probably doesn't make any difference how much more night there is and when one of us sets out.

The sooner, the better. The skimpy bandages we managed to layer over the deepest part of the slice in his back are already almost wet right through... small spots of bright red surrounded by large spreading stains of pinky-yellowy-watery stuff. Shit. Serum. He may not be bleeding so actively now, but he's losing fluid all the same. The end result will be just the... different. The end result of all this will be just, fine. Just fine.

Carter isn't looking any better than she was when we first came down here. The injury Teal'c revealed when he cleared away the rubble - the gash to her lower leg; must be what Daniel meant, over the radio, about her being hurt - isn't nearly as bad as Daniel's back, but it's bad enough that no way is she going to be walking anywhere.

Daniel is a bit more relaxed. I think it's probably okay to repo my hand now.

"Sam!"

Ah huh... maybe not. I lean forward to tell him it's okay, but before I can form the words she's jerking herself forward so fast she's jarred her shoulder. She bites back the cry and talks to him, telling him she's right here, that Teal'c and I are right here. That it's over. That's it's gone. She tells him it won't - it can't - hurt anybody anymore and his whole body shudders with one big convulsive tremble that carries through his hand into mine and seems to travel right on up my arm and into my throat.
Okaayy... maybe this is, not good.

"S-sam... safe now." It's barely a whisper. I've got the words right there on the tip of my tongue, yes Danny, you're safe now, but this time it's his weak voice that pre-empts me. "Promised. Didn't... go." He sounds exhausted. Sam... close..."

"I know, Daniel. You did it." What? Carter? Damned if she didn't just interrupt him? "We did it, we made it, and you can make it the rest of the way you can do it Daniel... it's over the hard part is all over..." Her voice is louder and almost urgent. I don't know where she's getting the second wind from, but if she thinks she needs to draw on it, then beyond the obvious bloody trauma there's maybe-definitely something not good going on here?

His mouth is moving, he's whispering something else. Teal'c stills Carter's almost frantic voice with a gentle hand on her arm, but the panic stays in her eyes. What is he saying? Whatever it is, he's repeating it. Can't hardly hear him; the words are getting softer and slurring together.

Teal'c's eyes meet my own and I know he's thinking just what I'm thinking. Bad Shit happened here. She told us - told us the bulk of the damage to Daniel's back originated topside, and they crashed down into the sinkhole. That's what saved them, up there - moving into this hell-hole of a playhouse. She told us it came, attacked them and Daniel put himself in the middle, but then it got distracted by our battle up above and she managed to get the knife...

What happened after that is clear. Crystal clear.

But now I'm thinking maybe we got the Reader's Digest version.

I can make it out now... just barely. He's trying to tell her... what? Okay, he's a bit out of it. He's in pain, it's blood loss - confusion. Not making any sense.

Ah crap. I whisper in his ear, trying to confirm what I think I heard, and get a slight nod. I nod too, because although I wish I didn't, I'm pretty sure I get it now. Oh yeah. Bad Shit.

"Sir?" Carter's way of asking me what he said.

This one, this comment, doesn't confuse me like the other did. The condensed version just got an enhancement. His shoulders shake slightly with a gentler tremour and I can't help but reach out with my free hand to cup his cheek. But I don't think he can feel it. Nope, can't. He's out now, in a deeply relaxed state and I can finally pull my hand free of his. But now I don't want to.

"Sir!" She's scared. He's out cold and she's worried, and she thinks she wants to know what he said.

I can't hold back the rough edge in my voice. "He said, he wants you to... close your eyes, Carter."


Ch. 24: Jmas

In the dream I watch the hellcat.. .or rather some grotesque, inflated nightmare version of it... devour Daniel...

In the dream Daniel suffers horribly... eaten alive... Finding no haven in unconsciousness, screaming my name until nothing remains of him but the echo of his voice...

In the dream I am alone with the memory of death... and the heavy weight of failure...

In the dream I close my eyes...

..and Daniel dies...

My eyes snap open quickly... Can't wake up fast enough, have to be sure...

Yes.

Daniel is alive.

Sleeping, but so frighteningly still and pale...

Alive and breathing shallowly with one hand still wrapped so tightly around the colonel's...

The sterno Teal'c set up before he left to go back to the gate for help flickers dimly... almost taking me back to another place and time.

Almost, but not quite...

The colonel's free hand strokes through Daniel's hair, furrowing through the damp strands with a gentleness born of the deep friendship the two of them share. I saw the colonel's expression when Daniel told him to have me close my eyes...

The colonel knows... maybe not all the details... but he knows how awful this night has been, knows it on a level that doesn't really require words...

Even with the cat gone, the horror and despair linger in the air... palpable and cloying. The shadows are tense with it. Daniel embodies it...

I'm afraid for him.

Not just for the physical injuries and the infection evidenced by the small shivers and sweat-soaked forehead, but for the wound to his soul... to the amazing spirit which has held on through so much...

Will this be the final straw? The breaking point?

It can't be, we can't let it be...

The colonel looks up at me, perhaps sensing my thoughts... or simply my eyes on him and Daniel... but doesn't cease his calming gesture. He smiles a little, a smile that says many things...

He isn't giving up on Daniel. Won't allow Daniel to give up. Won't let us... his team... fall apart because of this...

The colonel's will is a force all its own any time he chooses to exert it. He wants things to happen and they do... sometimes simply on the strength of a look. I've seen it too many times not to believe in it. Where Daniel's concerned... the colonel will *not* accept anything less than all it will take to see his friend through. It can't happen any other way.

But the colonel didn't see...

Utter hopelessness... resignation... a will pushed beyond limits no one should ever know exist... heart and soul driven to the edge and beyond... teetering ever so carefully on the jagged edge between sanity and madness...

Daniel has survived so much, come out of the other end of a myriad of personal hells and become the unique spirit that he is. But I can't help wondering if this time is going to be the last time he manages to rise above, the last time he finds the strength to try...

As I watch, Daniel shifts slightly, whimpering low in his throat at the pain in the small movement, hand tightening almost to the white-knuckle stage around the colonel's. The colonel's eyes narrow for moment, his other hand pausing briefly in its gentle ministrations before resuming the slow steady stroking. Daniel settles immediately, sighing deeply and returning to sleep.

I shake my head and feel my own heart lift as I watch the magic of wordless communication as it pertains to these two. Reassurance asked and received, comfort given and accepted...

No words needed, no questions asked...

In my dream Daniel was lost...

In reality... I think he's finding his way back...


 


Ch. 25: Jb

It was a nightmare.

When Carter's eyes snapped open like pinballs released from the shute, it just confirmed what I already knew. The trembling, the strangled noises she'd made as she dozed - not pain, but something a lot worse. Night terrors... borne of a living nightmare.

Ah hell, Danny. Not you too. It's okay. It's okay now - ouch, watch the merchandise, buddy; don't squeeze my fingers quite so hard - the nightmare is over, it's all over... I'm here now... just, go on back to sleep. The movement of my hand through his hair seems to help; he's settling.

His hair is wet. Sweaty, all tangled and dirty as hell. Guess he's gonna need some help to wash it. Don't look at me. I'm willing to go the distance to make all this... go away... but I don't do hair.

Don't do windows either, and that thought makes me glance up at our skylight. It's gotten a bit darker since the moons began their descent. Sure hope Teal'c will be all right out there on his own. He's got his staff weapon plus Carter's MP5 that we found buried in the rubble... but no telling how many of them are still roaming around out there. At the very least, there's still those two that were on our flank before the others came. We never did get the chance to deal with that pair... no way of knowing where they got off to or where they'll show up next...

Speaking of not knowing where things might show up - Wiping the grime from Daniel's hair off on my pant leg, I pick up the zat gun from my lap and heft it. Carter said the fucker that got her and Daniel down here didn't come through the skylight. So... there's gotta be a back door to this pretty little vacation cottage from hell.

That could be a bad thing, or a good thing. Bad... because I don't know just where it is and what visitors might try entering without knocking. And since the workmen didn't install any glass on the skylight I can't leave Carter and Daniel alone and go check it out.

Or it could be good, because maybe it's an easier way to the surface - an easier route to evacuate Daniel. Carter will be okay in a body sling, but Daniel... we're going to need to use the plastic Sked stretcher to haul him vertically out of here. The thing's pretty lightweight and it slides along like shit through a goose, but even so it's going to be damned awkward. Not to mention, a rough ride. Painful.

Carter's still watching me, the relief which replaced the horror now edging out of her eyes, being replaced in turn with... what? Worry? No, not that, something more complicated that I can't seem to read. She's looking from me to Daniel to the zat... Damn. She's just woken up from a bad dream after making her way through a worse nightmare, and here I am playing with the zat and eying the far reaches of the dark hallway into nowhere. Really smooth move. Colonel Jack O'Neill the glowing ball of insight here. But you can just call me Mr. Sensitive.

"It's okay, Sam... it's over with." Her eyes widen a bit at the use of her first name, but then there's this grateful little twitch starting to play at one corner of her mouth and the worry-alarm-apprehension-whatever in her eyes backs off a little. But only a little. Not nearly enough.

She licks her lips and whispers, "Yes Sir." Looks right at Daniel and her voice cracks a bit. "Everything's going to be fine." Her eyes stray past my shoulder to look into the darkness beyond and I know she's looking down the same imagined corridor I was just staring into. Maybe even imagining the same dark shape hiding there that I was.

Whoa, look at that... Uh, not. Don't look at that. She's turned her head, muffling the noise in the jacket she's using as a pillow. Doesn't want me to see or hear it. In the last three and a half years I've seen Carter with tears in her eyes only four times, and not once did they actually spill over freely, like this. Bad bad bad, Bad Shit happened here. Look away. Give her some privacy... a chance to recover her composure. Which is rapidly spinning out into an uncontrolled nosedive from 10,000 feet...

Ah hell... Sam...

Well, the truth? The truth is, right about now I don't really give a rat's ass if she doesn't want me to see her cry. She needs something... or she wouldn't be crying in the first place. And I'm the only other conscious person home right now. I don't know what it is, exactly, that she needs or just how to give it... but I can take a guess and I'm willing to try to provide it.

A quick movement and the damned zat gun ends up a good three feet to my right. I need that hand.

Carefully, I extract my other hand from Daniel's and slowly move his arm so it's supported on his side. Luckily he only stirs a bit, just for a moment, with the stimulation. Doesn't wake up, or cry out, or screw up his face in pain. Don't think Carter could've stood that right now. Not me, either.

I've got her now. Gently lifting her shoulders... which hurts her for a second but good things sometimes hurt...

Cradling her against my chest, I whisper to her that it's over now, that I'm here, I'll protect them, that she's going to be okay, that Daniel's going to be okay...

And with that last one she shudders violently and spits out her nightmare. "Oh Sir, I couldn't do it I would've failed - He, he... he saved me..." She looks up at me and then over to Danny. But she can't look at him and ducks her head, choking out the rest of it. "When I... close my eyes, I see - Oh God. He can't die... not now... not here like this..."

No. She's right about that. No dying here. About the guilt part, though, I start feeling a bit pissed off at the universe that she feels that way. I'm not blind, I know what happened here and I know it took the two of them, together, to do what had to be done. She's a Major in the goddamned United States Air Force and she did a goddamned fine job and... I hug her more tightly to my chest and tell her so. That it's the trauma talking, and the fear, that she did a great job here and she should be proud...

She cries for a couple of minutes more and then stuffs it all back into its hiding place, giving me a weak smile that says she's both thankful and thoroughly embarrassed, and that she's okay now. I doubt it's just going to take a few hugs and strong words to make her all okay... but whatever she needs, hey, I'm here.

As to the other thing... she glances at Daniel again and asks me, "You think he'll be able to hold out until they get here, Sir?" She's looking for more than just empty reassurances.

And I'm not really sure what to say, because I honestly don't know. Physically, he's probably not as far gone as we fear; even though he's lost a lot of blood and is still losing fluid, his pulse is stronger than it seems to have any right to be. But then again, there's always a chance of injuries we don't know about, from the fall. Like, that swelling I'm only just now noticing under his pant leg, at his knee.

But it's that bit earlier that worries me the most, those comments he made.

Daniel never gives up, or at least has never given up in the past... not even when I abandoned him to die alone. There's a chill wrapping itself around my heart that forces its way outward, provoking a shudder. Dammit, I hate it when really Bad Shit happens.

"Sir?" It might sound like a question, but it's more an outcry. I'm holding her against me and she can feel it, my momentary case of the shakes... I'm scaring her again. Mr. Oh-So-Sensitive. Maybe I can just blame it on the lack of heating in here. The least they could have done was dropped into someplace which had a few more amenities.

Shit. "It's okay, Sam. Just a bit cold."

Right, like she'll believe me. She whispers her best and most dutiful, "Yes, Sir," and I know she knows I'm full of shit. And then she does it... looks right at me and then right at Daniel and reverses the roles.

"He'll make it, Sir."

Yeah. I follow her gaze, not wanting to but not being able to help but see both the soiled bandages that can't hide the physical damage, and the deep lines in his face that I'm afraid are the portend of something even more lasting. But I have to believe it'll be okay. Especially, Carter has to believe.

My eyes travel over the filthy ground and stone walls before I turn them back on to her. "He'll be okay, Sam. Some iodine paint, a little designer stitching... "

Bad Shit. I really want to get my team the hell out of here.



Ch. 26: Jmas

 

Pressure, pain, cold...

Hand, still holding on...

Strong fingers card through my hair in a way remembered from childhood...

Feels good, helps hold back the darkness of memories I'm trying my damnedest to keep away...

But they don't want to stay away...

The smell, the feelings, the creeping horror...

Won't go away...

Sam?

I hear her voice on the edge of my consciousness... at least the part of it that's working so damn hard to keep the dreams at bay. It's like I'm hovering in this twilight place... neither here nor there... me, but not me...

Right now I really don't know if I want to be me...

No, that's not right... I don't want to quit... just escape for awhile. Rest, regroup, dip down into what few reserves I have left and reach a level of reality that can hold me together long enough to quietly go nuts in the safety and comfort of my own home... not this god-forsaken hole...

Jack shifts me, leaves me...

No...

Sam needs him.

Okay... I can hold on. Go help her...

She's crying. Sam never cries... soldiers don't cry, she told me that. Supposed to stay detached...

Hell, if I were any more detached I'd be floating...

Jack's saying all the right things... a little rough on the delivery there, Jack... but good. You're learning...

Die? Me?

No. At least... I don't think so...

Hard to tell right now, I just feel numb...

Somebody help me hold on...

Jack?

Please...?

I hear... something...

The cat... No, more than one. I know it on a level way beyond certainty...

Coming back...

No...

Can't come back it's dead...

More of them.

Jack, can't you hear that?

Got to hold on... to warn them...

Can't feel, can't think...

Jack? Sam?

They're coming... can't you hear it?

I hear myself make a small sound... Progress, I suppose...

C'mon, Daniel... You're a damned linguist for God's sake, coherent speech shouldn't be this big a stretch...

Can't seem to find my way back alone...

I concentrate harder on the simple task of moving my hand than I ever have on any artifact or translation...

Jack's voice... concentrate on Jack's voice.... Nonsense words, something about paint and stitching... Funny Jack... Sam actually gives a little laugh, well... sort of a laugh... I like hearing that... Keep talking guys... don't leave me alone in the silence and the darkness without something to hold on to...

Hurry...got to hurry...the sounds are closer...

C'mon, Jack...where's that famous O'Neill instinct?

I feel my finger twitch. Wow...talented guy, aren't you Jackson?

Two fingers... impressive...

Three, four...

C'mon guys... pay attention here...

Thumb... good...

Hand...

Amazing...

Please...

Another sound from deep in the darkness...

I need to open my eyes, see what's going on...

Shit... this is harder than moving my hand. A blink. Well that might be a tad optimistic... It's like my eyelids are glued together... Maybe Jack finally figured out a way to make me stay asleep when I'm supposed to be...

God, this isn't the time for an O'Neill humor transplant...

Okay, eyes aren't cooperating....

Maybe voice... A harsh breath isn't going to cut it.

Hand's still working though... Maybe if I... push myself over a little...

Shit! That hurt...

"Danny?"

God... it's about time, Jack...

His hand is on my cheek, the other pulling me back gently to my side...

Keep touching me Jack... Need to feel, to know you're there...

I move my one cooperative hand to grasp his wrist... hang on... got to hang on...

My breath is coming faster now... I'm almost there...

Maybe Jack understands because he isn't giving me the 'go back to sleep' spiel... He's hanging on to me now... pulling me back, grounding me with a strong touch...

"Ja..."

Pitiful, Jackson... keep trying...

"Com..."

I actually manage to open an eye now... Jack looks scared to hell... Sorry Jack...

Hang on... Just hang on...

"Cat... here..." I let my hand fall away in a vague gesture toward the dark tunnel and Jack nods in understanding.

Finally...

God, my heart is racing like I've just run a mile...

The sounds are closer, Jack reaches for his belt... looks confused...

Too late...

They're here...

Ch. 27: Jb

I have made an error.

A terrible error.

It was my decision to take several moments to seek out Daniel Jackson's sidearm. We were unable to locate it anywhere in the sinkhole, therefore it must be up here, on the surface. Concurrently, it was my intention to scout the immediate vicinity for the route taken by the feline which attacked my friends. I had thought to arm my friends with both the additional weapon and that information.

My intent was subverted. Attempts to draw them out, or to circle around behind them to become the hunter, were unsuccessful. They kept both their distance and their purpose consistent. However, their clumsy attempt at stalking me was more than simply a distraction. It was welcome reassurance that these two predators, at least, would not remain in the vicinity of the narrow wash... as long as their intended prey did not.

My options seemed simple. To remain in the area and attempt to carry out my intention - perhaps, in the process, inadvertently leading them to the hidden route taken by the other of their kind - or to leave as swiftly as possible, drawing them away and determining the best means of disposing of them without slowing my progress too greatly.

I did not have time for what O'Neill would call 'cat and mouse games'.For time is a much greater enemy to me than these... creatures.

Their progress was easy to discern, their steady presence some twenty yards off my left flank obvious as I left the vicinty of the narrow wash and entered the open plain which leads to the Stargate.But I could not actually see them, and whenever I turned or slowed, they separated and altered their paths... only to rejoin one another and resume their pursuit as I resumed my run.

I was reassured.

I was foolish.

They no longer hunt me. I do not know for certain which direction they took as they left, however I do know at what point they left... and, therefore, why.

I am more than halfway to the Stargate now. I cannot go back; I am past the point of a timely return. I must press on.

I have been very unwise. The truth echoes through my head with each footfall, with each impact of my weight against the now hard packed ground. Unwise. Error. Foolish. Fool... fool... fool...

I must increase my pace. My ankles are beginning to ache, my thighs burning with the need for more oxygen than my lungs can draw. It is not nearly penance enough for my stupidity. I should have dealt with them earlier, no matter the time involved.

From my current position, at my current running speed, it is just one more hour to the Stargate.
I will make it in half that.

I must. Because I made the wrong decision and in doing so, I have left O'Neill and my injured companions alone to face those which so cunningly escorted me out of their territory.

Ch. 28: Jmas

My fault...

Damn, damn, damn...

If the colonel hadn't been catering to my emotions, he'd have been ready for this...

The cats... two of them... emerge from the dark tunnel with stealthy grace. Unlike our previous companion, these two are strong, healthy... and obviously hungry enough to take on the three of us.

Maybe... somehow... they sense only one of us is a serious threat to them.

Somehow Daniel knew they were coming...

After so many hours in such intimate company with one of them maybe the smell or the sound permeated all the layers of exhaustion and pain, sparking the too-fresh memory of danger.

I'm glad he's awake... glad he's here, but I hope he didn't come back just in time to relive the same nightmare...

The colonel's got his 9mm in his hand, tracking the cats with eyes he can't spare to find the zat. I heard it fall when he came over to me, but...

Damn...

I know as well as the colonel that firing a pistol down here is a risk. The earth above us is unstable; the noise of a shot... any too-loud noise... could bring what's left of the roof down on our heads.

The cats are working their way closer, each of them slinking in its own lazy half-circle... I can see their nostrils flare in the guttering sterno light. Scenting us... our blood...

The colonel is edging back by slow, nearly imperceptible, degrees, still trying to bring himself closer it the zat. Daniel reaches out with what looks like an immense effort... stilling Jack's movement with a hand to his back.

What's he doing?

Daniel's hand loops around Jack's belt, pulling himself over and up with a gasping breath...

Reaching, reaching...

The zat is there; I can see it now... just below and beyond Daniel's right knee. He's going to try for it, using the colonel as leverage.

God, Daniel...

My own hand closes around a stone... how familiar this seems... hefting it carefully just in case...
Daniel stretches for the zat...I can see bright splotches of blood as the slash on his back rips open beneath the bandages. He reaches further bringing more blood as he bites his lip with the pain it causes.

One finger touches it, two...

He's got it...

As if sensing the new threat, the cats surge forward...

Daniel pulls roughly against the colonel, swinging his barely cooperating arm into the line of fire...

The colonel gives a hoarse shout, startling the cats and I throw my rock, distracting them for a bare moment...

It's enough...

The colonel relieves Daniel of the zat, discharging it quickly between the two threats to his team...
In the space of seconds, the cats are gone.

Daniel collapses heavily against the colonel's back, hanging on and breathing heavily. The colonel looks over his shoulder in gentle concern, "Y'okay there?"

Daniel nods, a bare movement that nonetheless makes both of us smile. "I'm good... You?"

The colonel smiles broadly, with just a trace of a shadow in his eyes. He knows the meaning of Daniel's reply as well as I do...

The colonel reaches a hand to touch Daniel's, still locked in a death grip on his flak vest.

"I'm pretty damn good myself, Danny..."


Ch. 29: Jb

 

"That was our very first mission together, Sir. I don't think it's fair to use..."

"Oh? Fine. No sweat, Carter. There's lots of other times I can pick on. C'mon, admit it... it's his own personal SOP; it's habitual. Hell, it's like a religious observance. Tradition."
"I think you're exaggerating, Colonel."

"Oh? Okay, well, let's just count them. In addition to the one you just banned, there was the time on... uh, P3... P-whatever... the Cart-place with that Cory-why thing...

"Cartego, Sir. The Cor-ai."

"Right. Then there was... uhh... uhm..."

"Yes?" She's giving me this little grin that says it's working. I'm keeping her occupied, keeping her mind off the pain in her shoulder and arm, not to mention the memories. Mind you, it's at Daniel's expense, but that's okay. I'm sure he wouldn't mind... if he knew.

"Wait for it. I'm thinking..."

"Oh, yes Sir. I can see that."

"Oh?" I can't help but grin back at her. "What gave me away?"

"Well, Sir, mostly it's that constip..."

"Whoa there, Carter. Don't say anything you might regret. Okay! I've got another one... remember when the Reetu were on base? The bit I told you about, with the doorway behind us?"

"Oh, well, you can't really use that one. After all, he was right... you did leave that door open and unsecure..."

She stops speaking as Daniel shifts slightly and coughs. We wait in silence for him to settle again.

"Then, there was Kyra." His voice is quiet, the words slightly slurred.

Damn. I feel my eyebrows raising in perfect harmony with Carter's. I bet I even have the same look of apology-embarrassment-guilt on my face that she does. Damn, damn, damn. We both thought he was still unconscious, passed-out, in druggy-la-la land, asleep, whatever. "You be quiet. You're not supposed to be awake."

"Yeah, well, my ears were burning."

I reach forward to muss his hair - a redundant act if ever there was one - and feel a huge frown coming on as my fingers brush his forehead. His ears aren't the only thing burning. But I guess it's to be expected, in this filthy place, with open wounds. I catch Carter's eyes widening out of the corner of my eye, and stifle my look of concern. The plan these last few hours was to distract her with idle banter, not end up adding to her worries.

She bounces back as well as she can, softly asking Daniel how he's doing... and in reply to his identical question, reassuring him that she's okay. He's asking her how long he was out of it... and she's looking to me for the answer.

Too long.

Long enough that I was getting worried that I'd tipped him over the edge with that shot I gave him.
But, not near long enough.

I just gave Carter the last of the oral pain killers, and I don't think it's wise to give him another shot this soon.

"Close to three hours, Danny. It's just about sunrise. I figure Teal'c should be back with help in an hour or so."

He tries to roll a bit, to lift his shoulders, and can't quite hold back the hiss of pain. "Jack?" He's looking confused, the lines on his forehead and between his eyes deepening as he scans the sinkhole.

What? What's wrong? I scoot over right next to him, and when I'm close enough to see the barely concealed panic edging into his eyes, I understand. "They're gone, Daniel. I zatted them off to never-never land. It's been three hours... there haven't been any more. Suns are coming up. We're going to be okay."

The confusion is still there and, if anything, his anxiety is deepening. The need to know for sure is written huge on his face. Carter's nodding... she understands this better than me, that's obvious, so I settle back and let her handle it.

"Daniel, what's the last thing you remember?"

He hesitates, his eyes flitting around the cavern and then coming to rest on me. I can see him thinking about it, considering it, and a ghost of a smile plays at the corners of his mouth. "I remember... shoving a body part right into Jack's line of fire." The ghost solidifies into a quick grin and then just as quickly vaporises. "Again. Sorry, Jack."

What? What the hell is he sorry about? Surely he has to remember more about it than... Oh. No. Not sorry about passing me the zat, but about - Our stupid conversation. Passing the time with don't-we-all-love-Daniel-anecdotes, thinking he was so far under he probably wouldn't be coming up for the duration. Didn't mean any harm.

Carter's asking him if he remembers anything else. Yeah, Carter. He remembers me launching my big mouth not five minutes ago. He remembers... Plunkett dying. Kyra-Linea. How did I ever get to be sooo smart?

He's answering her. He doesn't recall me taking the zat from him and making the kill. No wonder he was looking so panicky there for a minute. He doesn't remember talking to us, telling us he was doing... good. And thankfully, he doesn't remember collapsing in a heap right after that, and me putting all that pressure over his shoulder blade trying to stem the fresh bleeding - causing him so much pain that I couldn't get the damned syringe out of the medkit fast enough.

But he knows now. He understands that hours have gone by, that the cats are gone, and he can see Carter isn't so scared anymore. More than anything else, more than anything I could ever say to try to reassure him, I think it's her mood that has him relaxing - has him believing - now. And I understand his concern and his apology now. The last thing he actually recalls is sticking his arm out in front of me, and even though we all know it wasn't intentional - Carter says that's the first time that arm did anything for him throughout this whole thing; it's a miracle he used it at all - well, there we were inanely making a list and counting it twice...

"So. What did you get up to?" He's looking at me, his eyebrows raised. Huh? Did I just miss something while I was... constipating?

Carter notices my confusion. "I think he's asking about the count, Sir."

Nope. No more off-colour conversations for me. "I don't know what you're talking about." Moving around behind him, I mutter about checking his back and gently lift my jacket off his shoulders. Jesus.

The bleeding hasn't started up again or anything, thank God, but... what a mess.

"Look bad?"

Honesty comes in many forms. "Well, it looks a whole lot more like Picasso than DaVinci. But I'm sure Fraiser will enjoy getting her hands on it."

There's a brief silence as I carefully replace the jacket, then Carter speaks up. "Well, she did tell me once that she was partial to Cubism. She said following all those short lines and right angles that don't match up is good practice." The good humour in her voice sounds just that bit forced... just enough so I know Daniel won't miss it.

I break the longer silence by leaning over him. "You okay?"

A strong nod accompanies his answer. "Yeah. I feel... great."

Great? Okay, that's... new. Wonder just what that one means?

"But I gotta tell you, Jack, I agree with Sam. You tend to exaggerate. It's not fair to use the one with the priests on Chulak, and it was you that turned on me with the Reetu."

"Daniel..." Okay, as sick as he is, how does he get his voice to do that? To be so annoyingly earnest? I'm kneeling behind him. I can't see his expression, but I can see Carter's face...

"And it's not fair to use this one, either. So really, there's only a few times in over three years..."

..and she's almost smiling...

"...and I hardly think that two or three times over three years constitutes 'religious observance' or anything even approaching..."

..and now she's almost laughing...

And if it weren't for the fact that he had a honking big dose of joy juice a few hours ago, I'd be feeling like laughing too. But I'm not, and I don't.

Then there's a quiet squawk in my ear and a tinny voice... and suddenly, I am, and I do.

And it feels... great.


Ch. 30: Jmas

I'm getting way too damn old for this...

After hearing Teal'c's report though... I had to come.

These are my people... in ways that go as far beyond commander and personnel as that concept can go...

Looking around this... carnal pit, dark as any dungeon I ever read about as a kid, at the faces... drawn, shuttered... holding on only for the sake of each other, at the blood drying all over the ground...

I'm glad I came.

Dr. Fraiser's puttering around her patients with that frozen face and wide-eyed stare I've come to recognize as her mask for dealing with the really mile-deep shit...

And this more than qualifies...

Major Carter is bundled up and ready to be pulled out in the sling. She's drifting in and out on us, courtesy of the good doctor's magic needle, but her eyes never stray from Dr. Jackson as the corpsmen heave her gently to the surface.

Dr. Jackson.

Damn.

He smiles for Major Carter as she's drawn up out of this dark prison, but I can see his hand clenching tightly onto Colonel O'Neill's... trying to hold back the pain, not let her see...

The boy looks like de--well, he looks bad...

Teal'c told us what happened, but...

Well... Teal'c has a definite talent for understatement and I'm not nearly as adept at reading between the lines as the rest of SG1...

I expected it to be bad, fought off every sort of scenario during the hours-long hike to get here... but nothing in my imagination could come close to the utter... hell... I see in Daniel Jackson's eyes when he thinks no one is looking...

Colonel O'Neill is looking...he hasn't taken his eyes off Dr. Jackson since we got here. He isn't missing the forced steadiness and the effort it's taking just to stay with us.

Without stopping to think about it, I stoop down beside him, brushing back the fever-damp hair.
"How're you holding up, son?"

Dr. Jackson looks up at me, too tired or too surprised to hide the shock in his eyes that I'm not only here, but down on my knees beside him in this godforsaken hole.

"General? Why... uh... what are you doing here?"

I really need to get out in the field more often...

"Heard about your little vacation spot... thought I'd check it out for myself."

He nods at that, giving me half-smile... acting like he knows I expect him to.

The colonel smiles awkwardly, he's hovering pretty close to an edge himself. "Yeah, I was just telling Daniel earlier... we really need to work on the overall ambience of the place."

Dr. Jackson smiles again, gripping Colonel O'Neill's hand even tighter as a wave of pain washes over him.

Damn...

Dr. Fraiser is there in seconds. "It's alright, Dr. Jackson. The shot should be taking effect any time now. Then we can get you loaded up and out of here."

Dr. Jackson nods briefly through his shaky breathing, trying to get himself back under control.for us. A rough scrabbling of rocks at the other end of the tunnel makes him jump, setting off a new round of pain...

Teal'c and Ferretti...just coming back from their search for another way out of here, an easier way for Dr. Jackson. I can tell from the look on their faces...

"The passageway is too small." Teal'c's eyes slide to Dr. Jackson's... apology, sympathy... then shutter themselves off again.

Colonel O'Neill forces the lightness into his voice. "Looks like it's up and out for you, Daniel."

"Fun... 'member I don' like heights, Jack..."

I look up at Dr. Fraiser and her nod confirms that the shot she gave him is finally putting him out. I'm so damn glad of it. I don't think any of us could bear to cause our favorite civilian... hell, our friend... any more pain. I know I can't.

"That's okay, Danny. Doc's already given you a ticket to ride. You won't know a thing until you're back at the infirmary being waited on hand and foot by all her nurses."

Dr. Jackson smiles drowsily. "Um hm... Poking, prodding, tests, pills..."

"You knocking our service, mister?" Dr. Fraiser teases as she surreptitiously takes his pulse.

" Nah... best sponge baths known to man..."

Ferretti laughs outright at that. "Damn straight, Daniel."

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel..."

"Can we go home?"

I look around at the assembled corpsmen waiting by the Sked, Dr. Fraiser, Ferretti, Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill...

"You heard the man, let's go home..."

 


Ch. 31: Jb

Gonna be a hot one. Already is.

But we won't be hanging around to endure it. Nah-nah. I feel like turning and sticking out my tongue at this godforsaken world, in a petulant show of disdain. Maybe taking off my boots and socks and waving my overheated sticky feet in the air... a parting gift. Eau d'O'Neill.

The suns are settling into their morning climb, and already the sweat is dripping down my back. The reason for that, though, isn't entirely the rising temperature and the heavy load of medical supplies I'm carrying. Bright orange. Who in the hell decided that the medical emergency field kit should be bright orange? Never in my life have I been accompanied by bright neon orange. Like a big walking signal flare... hey, if there's any enemies out there, just aim for the fool staggering along with the honking big orange box...

I don't wear red shirts, either.

But no, the morning heat and the weight of whatever's in this thing isn't the whole reason I'm in such a sweat here. All right, so this is a secret, okay? Nobody knows this but me and my mom... but, when I'm afraid, I sweat. Most people go all cold and shivery and their skin and mouth dry up - or at least, that's what I'm told - but me, I get all hot and tingly and I start to sweat like a goddamned stuck pig... Where does that saying come from, anyway? A stuck pig. Sweating. Stuck in what... oh, wait, no, it's probably stuck with what, like maybe a rotisserie blade or...

Hell, I bet pigs don't even sweat at all. What a stupid saying.

Okay, so there it is. I'm afraid. I admit it. It's all right, no one else can see it... I'm safe. Sure, they can see the concern and the worry, and the anger. I don't mind displaying that stuff. But I won't let them see how scared I am. No way. So it's a good thing that when most people get scared they get all cold and dried up - or so I'm told - because it's getting to the point where the sweat's gonna start rolling down my forehead and nobody will know why, because thankfully it's all just a big fallacy... pigs don't really sweat. Stuck or otherwise.

The Doc has been walking right up cozy with Daniel's Sked since we hauled him up out of the hole and set off. She's got that look on her face... the cross between carefully cultured professional competence and contrived nonchalance. Yeah, that one, the I-refuse-to-give-anything-away look that's scaring the shit out of me. The only times she dropped the distant facade was when she was talking directly to Carter and Daniel, and even then she called him Dr. Jackson. Not Daniel, not... friend...
She called Carter, Sam. Why the hell couldn't she have called...

What? What's she doing? They're stopping... she's bending over... what's wrong? Oh shit! Remind me to get her check out my lower back later. You just can't turn on a dime when carrying a billion pound bright orange metal box. Doesn't work too good.

With four guys to a stretcher, I can't see past them all to see what she'd doing there with Daniel.

Dumping the box, I'm skirting the crew carrying Carter's Sked and heading over there, my heart in my throat, before the rest of the gang is even aware they've stopped. Hammond sees me coming and straightens up, raising his hand in a take-it-easy gesture. He's smiling. The Doc looks up at me now too, and damned if that pinched professional ethics look doesn't slip just a little. So it must be okay.

Everything's okay.

Doesn't slow me down, though. I'm there beside them in a flash, and I see now that she's stripped off the blanket and the jacket we'd laid overtop of him, and unfastened the safety straps. The medic is stripping off Daniel's t-shirt, cutting along the sides of both arms and pulling it off from the front 'cause they already cut it all the way up the back before, when the Doc re-bandaged him. Why? Why are they doing that? There's something wrong... must be something wrong and she needs to get at him to check him out...

There must be something wrong but Hammond's smiling and Fraiser's relaxed and this clown is stripping Danny down and I'm far too tired to make sense of anything and maybe pigs do sweat after all...

"It's all right, Colonel." Did she just give me a quick smile? She gestures first to Daniel and then over to Carter. "They're going to be fine."

What? Well, that's nice, but why... Okay, now her small smile is back, but this time the reassurance is tinged with a bit of amusement. Okay, yeah, Lady, so the Hugo-Jerk was right. I get confused. Bite me.

She points to the mostly empty IV bag, the second they've hung so far, and the correspondingly empty smaller bag hanging with it, that are swaying from the short pole attached to the side of the Sked.

"The extra fluid and the medications have helped, Colonel. His circulation is adequate. I'm not worried about hypovolemic shock."

Hypo... what?

"The blood loss appeared severe." A deep bass, on my right. Teal'c.

Fraiser nods at him, a slight frown replacing the amusement. "Well, Teal'c, you're right, he bled a fair bit. Maybe even enough so that if we hadn't gotten here when we did..." Then she smiles, and this time it's one hundred percent encouragement. "But it's not life threatening, now. His blood pressure is still on the low side, but it's acceptable. We'll likely need to give him a couple of units of blood when we get back and we'll need to deal with the infection, but I'm pleased for now. All things considered, he's doing relatively well."

Ohhh, hypovolemic. Right, I knew what that meant. That's good to hear. But it doesn't explain why Roger The Medic has Daniel's shirt all the way off and is now extending the slice in his pants, on his right hip, all the way down the leg. Thankfully, the bandages covering the abraded punctures on his hip are pristine. So, if it's not to get at a problem...

Hammond speaks up, and the furrows between my eyebrows feel like they'll go straight on through to the back of head. "It's still a long walk back to the Stargate, Colonel." Uh, yeah, I know that, Sir. Hugo was an annoying chunk of technology, but he got me right... as relieved as I am that nothing's gone sour here, I am still confused. Okay, so it's no great wonder of the universe that Hammond might complain about the distance. He's not exactly an athlete. We've only been walking for just under two hours, doing trade-offs on the Skeds every half hour, but his face is as red as a beet and he's rubbing his palm where the the Sked handhold has left a red mark. But what has the walk got to do with - wait, why is Rog taking Daniel's boots off?

"Doctor Fraiser, can we afford to take a few moments for a break?" She nods at Hammond and says she'd like to check on Carter anyway. A quick handsignal from the General, and both Skeds are settled gently down to the ground, everyone not on stretcher duty shucking whatever gear they're loaded with. And I still don't understand.

I'm standing here, my mind turning in exhausted but dizzying circles and my body moving round in a much slower circuit, taking in the two Skeds housing my sleeping teammates, Fraiser kneeling down next to Carter, scattered equipment and tired people sitting, standing, clumping into groups of two or three, Ferretti and two of his team sweeping their eyes and weapons across the terrain... Teal'c standing right next to me, Hammond staring down at Daniel with an unreadable expression on his face... ..vaguely aware of time both passing in a blur and standing still, when I feel I slight tap on my arm. Fraiser. She tugs on my jacket then moves back over toward Carter, telling me to come join her. God, I hope there's no problem with Carter.

"It's okay, Colonel. They'll both be fine."

Yeah, you said that already. Thing is, Doc, I know something you don't...

She explains to me that Carter is doing well. Tells me her vitals are good, the gashes to her leg aren't so deep as to be overly worrying, and although her shoulder and her arm are showing signs of some swelling, the Doc thinks it's probably just some muscle and ligament stress... perhaps a rotator cuff injury to her shoulder, at worst.

Well... peachy. But there's a whole part of her you haven't examined yet, Doc.

She tells me, her hand gently on mine the whole time, that Daniel isn't as bad off as he seemed. That the rapid infusion of IV fluids and the drugs have helped to stabilize his low blood pressure without any complications. He'll make it the rest of the way back just fine. Oh God, thank God. She tells me they stripped him down because now that she's not worried about poor circulation and shock, considering his fever and the hot weather, she wants to be sure he doesn't overheat.

She tells me I have nothing to fear. I look at her sharply at that. I'm not afraid... okay well maybe I am but no one can tell, I am just too damn good at this for anyone to be able to tell. It must be a lucky guess, that's all. I wipe the sweat off my face, and she smiles at me again and tells me it's okay... that Carter and Daniel will recover physically, and in another lucky guess, she tells me that for all the rest of it, they have us.

She says it again. That I have nothing to fear. And you know what? I think I'm starting to believe her.

But I gotta ask her... 'cause maybe it's not just a lucky guess. Maybe there's something she knows that I don't...

"Doc... do pigs sweat?"


Ch. 32: Jmas

 

Whatever happened down in that hole must be some pretty heavy-duty stuff. I haven't seen the colonel look this lost since before the first trip to Abydos... Unless you count the time he almost got the Goa'uld... or the time Daniel died, any of them... or the time Carter got the Goa'uld...

Okay, Ferretti, so maybe that's not a good comparison...

One thing's sure...he's going to be in super 'hen' mode for the foreseeable future...

Daniel's come a long way since Abydos...

I've always figured there are two kinds of guys, the kind who lose it under pressure and the kind who toughen up. Contrary to everything I believed when we went through the gate the first time, Daniel is tough. Not tough like me, or even like the colonel, with a hard edge of cynicism, but tough like...' Daniel'. Even in this he's his own kind of guy. He's toughened up all right, but somehow underneath it all he's held on to that quintessential realness that will never allow him to become like us.

That's a good thing...

I just hope it's enough to get him through this.

The colonel, Teal'c, Hammond, even Fraiser... look like a funeral party. No one has died here. Nothing is lost. I refuse to believe that.

It was bad, even a dumb military goober like me can see that. It's gonna be bad for awhile...but I've watched Daniel go through too much, losing nearly everything that mattered to him, to let go over something like this. It won't happen. He's lost a lot sure, but he's also found something good...

A home, a family, people who care about him. We just have to make sure he knows it, and doesn't forget it...

He'd be as embarrassed as hell if he were awake right now. For a guy with the kind of looks he's got, Daniel's as shy as a teenager on prom night. From the look on Fraiser's face even the alterations to Daniel's fatigues aren't helping to cool him down much. Poor kid...

Carter's perking up a bit, the sedative must be wearing off some. I can hear her talking to Teal'c, real quiet, but sounding better. She looks uncomfortable but solid... already dealing with stuff. That's one of the things I like most about her... for all she's a science nut, underneath it all she's Jake Carter's military brat. She's got nerve she hasn't even touched yet. Hell, anybody who liked Matt Mason can't be all bad in my book...

The colonel's watching them...a little smile just barely touches is eyes. One less weight, or maybe just a lightening of one. Then his eyes slide back to Daniel. Worrying, wondering...
I move up beside him and tap him lightly on the shoulder. "Bet the first thing Daniel asks for is one of those sponge baths, eh, Colonel?"

I get a pretty good smile for that one. "Yeah, Ferretti, right after the extra large coffee."

I give him a wink. "Think we can slip one past Fraiser?"

He actually laughs at that one, sliding a glance toward the doc in question. "Maybe... it'll take a lot of teamwork, but I think we can do it..."

"Well if any team can do it, yours can..." I meant for that to mean coffee, but suddenly realize I mean a whole lot more.

The colonel understands, his eyes slide over his team again and he nods.

"Damn straight, Ferretti. Damn straight."

The colonel smiles broadly and his back straightens. He's actually bouncing a little as he moves to catch up with the corpsmen carrying Daniel. I see his hand go out a little to touch Daniel's forehead, like he's checking the kid's temperature.

Uh huh...

The hand slips through the Daniel's hair. A gesture of friendship, a promise of support, an affirmation of presence and life...

Yeah.

This team will make it.

Not a doubt in my mind.

 

Ch. 33: Jb

Well this is... mildly embarrassing. Now that I'm feeling a bit better, anyway.

From what Ferretti tells me, though, compared to Daniel I have it good. At least Janet left my clothing intact. Still, lying here helplessly in this thing, being rocked and jolted and tilted in all directions, while four guys port me across hill and dale...

The seam of Captain Clarke's jacket, under his arm there, is starting to give way. And look at that... seems Paulson missed a spot under his chin when he was shaving.

It sure is getting hot. The suns are beating down on me. I know the shadow that's falling across my face and upper chest is there by design. Teal'c. Trying to shelter me from the glare as the suns rise higher in the sky, to our left. I never thought it would've been possible, but from this angle Teal'c looks even better built than...

Wait a minute, he's moved over too far now. Damn this thing. I can look up and slightly to the side, but the shell comes up too high for me to actually see over the its lip. And I really need to be able to see more than just the underarms and lower jawlines of the team carrying me. I need to occupy myself. To keep my mind busy. Janet said I should try to sleep some more, and I guess she's right, but now the disconnectedness which goes along with the drugs is more or less wearing off, I'm scared there's no way on this planet or any other that I can safely close my eyes.

I think I'm going to have to have a little sit down with Daniel over this. I guess I need to talk it through with him. Maybe if I see close up that he's okay and I'm okay and we can talk about it together, whatever it is in my subconscious that's convinced the minute I close my eyes I'll be giving up on him and he'll give up on himself and...

Anyway, maybe it'll sink in that it's okay, that the night watch is truly over and there's no need to stand guard. Nothing that doesn't belong is threatening to get in anymore... and nothing that needs to stay is threatening to leave.

I feel alone. So stupid, Sam. You're not alone, just look up, there's two sets of nostrils and two more sets of the backs of earlobes right here... and Teal'c is right here and there's Ferretti and the Colonel talking to each other, over to the right somewhere, and Janet and the General, they're somewhere here too. Not alone, not, not alone.

I raise my good arm, reaching above the edge of the Sked shell... for what, I am not sure. I'm just glad Janet undid the restraint straps, that I can lift my arm and reach out for... for... for something to ground me, everything seems so surreal from down here. The whisper comes of it's own accord. "Teal'c..."

There's rapid movement and a touch on my hand and he's here, beside me, looking down at me with concern. He heard me. I didn't mean for him to hear me, I didn't even say his name aloud intentionally, really... but he's here now and I can see him and he's talking to me, and I'm so grateful.

"Do you wish me to call Doctor Fraiser over for you, Major Carter?"

I can see he knows I don't need her, that I am not in pain - well, not so much, anyway. He knows I want to hear his voice, though, that's clear from the look of compassion on his face and the small nod of his head as I force a smile out. He just doesn't know what else to say. I tell him no, but that I'd really love it if he could just walk up where I can see him. In an instant he's smoothly relieved Paulson of his handhold on the Sked and is irrevocably in place right at my shoulder, looking at me with a smile in his eyes, perfectly willing to bear more than just the load of my physical weight. I can see that he didn't miss any spots shaving.

I ask him if he knows how Daniel is doing. He looks off to the right as he answers me, respecting me enough not to give me any platitudes. Damn this thing. I want to see over there too.

"He began to stir some time ago, and is becoming somewhat restless. Doctor Fraiser has prepared another injection for him. She seems satisfied with his condition."

Oh, well, that means we'll probably be stopping for a break again, then. So she can check him out and give him the medication. That's good. Keep him comfortable. I didn't see them settle him into the Sked. When they brought him up he was in the thing, lying flat on his back. I know it's pretty much the only way they could have positioned him, but all the same I know what this rocking and rolling is doing to my shoulder...

Speaking of which, maybe I should ask Janet about giving me something as well. "Teal'c, when we break, then, could you ask Janet to come see me when she's done with Daniel?"

The smile in his eyes is threatening to spread openly to the rest of his face. "We will not be applying another brake, Major. We are but a few minutes out from the Stargate. She intends to administer the injection while we dial the DHD." Then the smile does spread and erupt, and seeing it I feel a contrary stinging in my eyes. Oh God. Home. We're just a few minutes from home, Daniel, and...
... and, we did it. We made it here. We will make it, all the way.

I squeeze my eyes closed, determined that not a single more tear will fall over this, and by the time I am able to open dry eyes, my porters have stopped and lowered the Sked. I feel the bottom of my chariot gently bump and then slide on the ground. Reaching up to Teal'c. I tell him to help me to sit up. I have to see it, the Stargate, and the others, and Daniel. He gives me a concerned look, the question and the protest visible on his face before a word can reach his lips.

"Teal'c, please... I want to watch Daniel go through the Stargate..."

And I'm sitting up. And he didn't even hurt me.

There everyone is. The other Sked, just being lowered to the ground not ten feet away, immediately next to the DHD and there's the Colonel... getting ready to dial, I think. And Ferretti and the rest of SG-2, fanning out around the perimeter. Janet... holding a syringe, looking over to me, seeing me sitting up; she's frowning but she's not going to tell me to lie back down.

"Major Carter. Should you be sitting up like this?" General Hammond appears at my side, kneels down next to me. I want to tell him how much I appreciate his coming, how I realize this was a difficult trip for him to make... how amazing a man he is... to tell him a General shouldn't be sweating it out on an interminably long hot hike like this, shouldn't be kneeling in the dirt, not for me...

But Colonel O'Neill is dialing now and the intention to tell him, with all the due respect owing to his rank and his humanity, is all but overwhelmed by the massive flood of relief at the welcome hum and clank as each glyph panel is activated.

I hear it - the sound underneath the noise - but it takes a minute to register, to figure out what it is. The sudden look of concern on the General's face, and Teal'c, moving to jump up and leave, are the things which really clue me in. My hand grabs a hold of Teal'c's vest and thankfully he stays with me. So soft at first it's almost buried under the noise of the DHD, by the fourth glyph it's plenty loud enough that the Colonel momentarily stops dialing and turns to Janet, a mixture of anger and worry on his face, telling her to "give him the goddamn stuff already". Her voice is loud and tight as she tells him she already has.

I'm struggling to stand up, but my legs don't want to work. It doesn't help that Teal'c and the General are tactfully trying to force me back down. Daniel is calling my name. And... the Sked... it's rocking. Oh, God. I need to get over there. It must be the drugs, he's disoriented... and the DHD, dialing again, the noise... Going home can wait a few more minutes. The activity and the noise are disturbing him.

Daniel is upset...

They don't understand and try to reassure him by patting him on the shoulders and touching his face. He yells out, once, and I'm whisked up into the air and across the ten feet, Teal'c's strong arms bearing me effortlessly, before I have even had a chance to decipher just what Daniel said... but suddenly I am here and I see him and my heart is choking me. Daniel is reliving it and no I can't handle that please no that's got to stop right now...

Struggling against the forced immobility, his knees rising and straining against the leg straps and his shoulders and arms heaving against the upper body safety harness, Daniel is alternately whispering and calling out, saying that he's here, that he won't let it get me, saying my name over and over... saying he's sorry so sorry. Janet is talking to him, her hand firmly pressing down on his arm, determined to protect the IV insertion site. The Colonel is standing over them, swearing under his breath. The General shows up next to us and plops himself down next to Janet, telling "Dr. Jackson" that it's okay, that he's just about home, as he places his hands against Daniel's shoulders...
They don't know... they think he's just disoriented, in pain... but they're just making it worse.

I think I am going to explode.

They don't understand. They have to release those straps.

Teal'c understands. But just as he reaches forward and snaps the clasps on the upper harness open, Janet places her hand on Daniel's face, the Colonel loses all patience and slams his hand down on the centre crystal, and the Stargate activates with a noise far too reminiscent of a roar in the darkness...

Daniel surges up against Teal'c's hands, finally letting out the expressions of revulsion and horror he'd suppressed for my sake. He screams, "Get it off! Feel it... wet, hot. Sam! Don't watch... sorry... tongue... hot... hurts... it's on me on me... " I feel the tears threatening again and my mouth is open as I knock Janet's hand from his face and grab for his hand, but somehow I can't seem to force any words out.

As Daniel falls back down onto the Sked, he's not calling out anymore but moaning, speaking softly, disjointedly. But I can't seem to find my voice. I'm not the only one. The Colonel's soft rhetorical question, "tongue?", is the only spoken word other than the ones Daniel is mumbling. The faces of everyone around me are stark white with the realization of exactly - exactly - what happened to us in that dark place last night.

Teal'c is the one who does it first, soothing Daniel without touching him or trying to restrain his weakening movements, allowing just the steady sound of his voice to penetrate the fog. He tells him it wasn't the beast, it was the Stargate. I repeat it, telling him that we're safe, we're at the Stargate, and at the sound of my voice he turns his head toward me, opening his eyes for the first time... and sees me. He looks around, obviously recognizes Teal'c and Janet... and stares at the General with an unbelieving look on his face which would be comical under any other circumstances.

Full realization dawns... and the choice he makes is in his eyes. Taking another look around at the grim, shocked faces, Daniel raises his eyebrows and says, "What? What'd I say?" and makes some crack about letting sleeping beauties lie.

He's beginning to fade a bit as the drug finally starts to take hold, relaxing into the Sked. He squeezes my hand and mumbles, "feels good enough to take home."

You bet.


Ch. 34: Jmas

Daniel Jackson sleeps.

I am gratified my presence seems to ease his rest. I am honored to accept his trust. I am most... happy... he is recovering.

It has been difficult. Many days of fever, many nights disturbed by dreams... 'ghosts' of memories and sensations best forgotten, but unwilling to release him...

We have not left him alone. If I am not here, O'Neill is. Major Carter has come as often as Dr. Fraiser will allow, sitting quietly in her wheelchair... taking comfort as well as giving it. Her eyes have lost many of the shadows I saw there when we found them. She will be released later today and I have no doubt she will join us in our vigil.

It seems such a small thing to offer, yet it seems to bring our friend peace. Daniel Jackson has not awakened often, Dr. Fraiser's medications have seen to that... yet he does not seem uncomfortable when he does... when he sees...

He knows now we are aware of everything that occurred in the pit; Major Carter told us what Daniel Jackson's words and actions at the gate did not. I believe he accepts that we understand... if not in fact then in form... the essence of what he experienced. Every drop of blood taken by the creature drained more than his physical energy...

The concept of 'soul' was not something the false gods would have encouraged... they did not see Jaffa as self-aware creatures, did not believe us to be capable of higher thoughts or feelings. Daniel Jackson has explained many things to me in our acquaintance... including the belief that humans have this 'soul'... an inner essence that allows them to change and grow on many levels. I have come to accept that belief... I have seen it in Daniel Jackson.

The creature has wounded Daniel Jackson's soul, but I will not stand aside and allow it to be lost to him. Nor will any of his other friends. General Hammond spent several hours in my place last night, as did Major Ferretti the night before. Dr. Fraiser has also given much of her free time to give O'Neill and I time to eat and sleep. I believe Daniel Jackson would be most surprised to discover how many people's lives he has touched... continues to touch....

Much as his hand touches mine now...

It is very small compared to my own. The fingers almost absurdly long, something one does not notice often because they are so very rarely still. I have seen them touch a fragile artifact with utmost gentleness, work themselves into painful cramps to decipher ancient words, learn to wield weapons they are still uncomfortable holding, gesture in ways as eloquent as his words as he argues for some purpose he has given his heart and mind to. Yet they bear strength one would not expect... the strength to grasp... and the strength to let go...

The fingers stir restlessly in mine, tightening as another dream tries to pull him away. My own fingers encircle his, nearly hiding them within my much larger hand... he settles with a sigh back into restful sleep...

He knows he is not alone... will not be alone until he is ready, will not be alone even then. Even without the physical connection, Daniel Jackson knows we are joined with him. I had not expected, so long ago, to find another family with the Tau'ri... in truth the word does not entirely encompass what I have found, but I know of no better one. I must ask Daniel Jackson, he will know a word. I know he will understand... I have seen it in his eyes, an odd combination of pleasure and surprise.

Dr. Fraiser's nurse comes to check the intravenous fluids with a whispered word, a lingering touch. Another of our unusual honor guard. And it is an honor. One accepted without question, for reasons unnecessary to explain.

Our hearts know.

It is enough.

O'Neill comes. Bringing with him the promise I see in his eyes, the silent vow echoed in my own heart. O'Neill does not speak of it; he does not need to. His hand slips between Daniel Jackson's and my own, taking my place without disturbing our friend's rest.

I stop at the door, as I have many times, watching as O'Neill settles himself in the bedside chair. I have learned O'Neill's actions reveal much more of him than his words. He comes and sits, fingers eloquently expressing themselves in the perfect silence of the moment. He looks up at me now, eyes smiling gently before glancing down upon Daniel Jackson's hand, wrapped securely around his own. O'Neill's head shakes a little before lapsing into a shrug, accepting the changing of the guard.


I nod and turn to leave, taking with me the image of two hands... two hands comforting one another through hopelessness, two hands locked together in a battle both tragic and victorious, two hands holding relentlessly to a tenuous reality, two hands holding back the darkness until the light can find its way again.

*fin*


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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