Jmas Fan Fiction

The Wealth of a Soul

By Jmas

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The wealth of a soul is measured by how much it can feel;

its poverty by how little.


   -- William Rounseville Alger

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They were screwed…

Not literally, Jack amended for the sake of pragmatism, but as damn close as he ever wanted to get and still be breathing.

The DHD had been damaged when one of the many skeletal trees surrounding the gate had fallen across it, struck during another of the frequent lightning storms this planet seemed plagued with almost hourly. So not only were they stuck on this godforsaken excuse for a planet, but Daniel was looking worse by the second. Between storms, they had holed up in the shelter of a rock overhang near the cliffs located a few hundred yards from the Stargate. Carter and Teal’c were dashing back and forth regularly, assessing the damage, discussing repairs, and carrying equipment to the shelter while Jack worked at making Daniel as comfortable as possible with the few supplies they had on hand.

It had been on their first dash for shelter that Daniel had quietly gone ‘ooph’ and nearly keeled over. Jack had been in the lead, but even he had heard the sound he always dreaded hearing - one of his kids in pain.

Fearing at first they were under attack, he’d had Carter grab onto Daniel and help him into the rocks while he and Teal’c guarded their six. There had been no attack; as far as they knew from the UAV readings the planet was long deserted. It wasn’t until they had gotten Daniel settled under the shelter that they had realized the problem was physical.

Carter suspected appendicitis, and they all prayed for something less serious given their situation. But with each passing hour Jack was more and more convinced Carter was right.

Daniel couldn’t even straighten out his body or legs, the nausea had graduated to full out vomiting of stuff that looked nothing at all like recycled food any longer, and Daniel’s temperature was rising higher seemingly by the second. He hadn’t complained about anything that day, though they had all noticed he had been quieter than usual when visiting a new planet. Jack had ascribed it to the creepiness of their surroundings, or maybe the lack of significant artifacts to capture Daniel’s interest. God, he’d been so wrong. After three years he knew Daniel pretty damn well; he should have noticed.

They still had had six hours before they would officially be considered overdue and the SGC would dial in. Sure they could ask for one of Carter’s handy-dandy naquada reactors when they did, but those things took time to set up, not to mention the hour or more just hand dialing the big ring would take. Daniel might not have that kind of time.

For now they could only wait. They couldn’t even let Daniel drink water to soothe his tender throat, though Jack had urged him to rinse his mouth of the bilious fluids he was hurling during the increasingly infrequent pauses between bouts.

It was getting dark…

Carter must have noticed too; she and Teal’c were packing up the last of the supplies they would need to get them through the night and heading over. Jack threw another piece of the dead wood they had gathered on the fire. The area all around the gate was full of it. The entire planet seemed dead in fact. There was nothing they had seen to indicate recent life of any kind. The thought made Jack shiver in spite of the warmth in the shelter.

Jack scooted over toward Daniel, replacing the now dry cloth on his forehead with a fresh cool one. Daniel didn’t look up but nodded a brief thanks, biting his lip against the pain they could do little to help alleviate. This was supposed to have been a day trip, a quick in and out; they weren’t equipped to handle this kind of medical emergency. External enemies they were prepared for, internal ones - unfortunately not even close.

Carter arrived, setting her cases of supplies against the rear wall before coming over to check on Daniel. She didn’t have to say a word; Jack could see in her eyes that his sense of urgency was more than justified. Teal’c saw it too, his lips thinning and his brows drawing in what Jack recognized from long experience as utmost concern.

With an almost collective sigh of frustration, they bent to the task of preparing dinner and settling the shelter for the night. It wasn’t as if they could do anything else. Jack noted Carter setting aside the coffeepot and nodded approval. It was bad enough Daniel was ill, there was no way they would torture his already sore and deprived stomach with the smell of coffee. He wished Daniel could rest, but the morphine didn’t seem to be doing much of anything for the pain. Jack remembered something from a long ago first aid prep class that made him think the pain would ease just before things got really dangerous. He hoped he was remembering wrong.

Having no choice but to wait, Jack decided they would sit with Daniel in shifts of two hours each…not that he believed any of them would get much sleep this night. Still, if the worst happened, they all needed the time just to be together with Daniel, to ease his suffering as much as they could and to feel useful in a pretty damn helpless situation. They had six hours to get through - perhaps one of the longest nights any of them had ever known.

 

 

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Hot, then cold, then hot again…. nothing seemed to be working right.

Blankets on, then off, throw up a little more - or less if he wanted to be completely accurate - then cool moisture as one of his friends tried to help him recover enough to face the next round as it all began again…

He’d been hurt enough times in the past to be more than a little familiar with pain, but he’d never known anything like this. Despite his allergies and a childhood spell of catching every virus coming and going, probably due to the fact that he had grown up in Egypt and never been exposed to any of them, Daniel had always been fairly healthy. Serious illness was not something he knew very well at all, and something he could now safely say he hated.

His team had been great. He hadn’t had to ask for so much as a tissue, but he hated being a worry to them. And he had no doubt at all they were seriously worried. He could only pay attention to his surroundings in bits and pieces as he struggled to keep the pain under control, to not shout out with each and every stab to his gut, to not make more noise than he could help so he didn’t have to see his friends jump with concerned empathy. He didn’t have to be told to know every one of them would take his pain if they could; knowing helped. As much as anything could help.

None of them were sleeping; he wasn’t quite sure why they were even pretending. Or rather, he had a guess, but it was one he preferred not to pursue considering…..

He wished he had the breath and the words to tell them…things they probably wouldn’t like hearing, but things he had never taken the time to say. Now…it might be too late. After the first time he had died, after the Nem thing, he had written letters that were still at the bottom of his desk drawer wrapped up with his folders of important and necessary documents should the need arise again for someone to set his affairs in order. It was rather morbid really, something he put out of his mind entirely unless he ran across it looking for something else. But Daniel remembered how he had felt on Oannes knowing he might never return home again, remembered the feeling of being cut off from the only people in the universe who really cared about him, other than his Abydonian family safe at the time behind the barricade on their gate…and Sha’re effectively lost to him then and now forever. He was glad he had written the letters…glad that now, if the worst happened, his friends would know how much they meant to him.

Maybe once this was over with he might rewrite them a little, add in the small and large ways they had become even more important to him over the years than in those younger, more innocent days when they had not been quite so affected by the things they had done and seen through the Stargate. When they had all been so much more innocent.

When, he wouldn’t say if, he got back he would do it….

Sam was with him now, whispering words he could barely make out as he struggled to empty a stomach long since drained to the dregs.

It hurt so much…

He finished and let Sam rearrange him on his sleeping bag, though both of them knew it wouldn’t last long. Nothing seemed to help…

Sam mentioned it was time for another shot, and he didn’t argue with her. Maybe this time it would let him sleep, if only for a few minutes. He patted her on the hand, unable to concentrate enough to actually form words. He just wanted to say thank you, say a lot of things he hoped she understood without the words. As he closed his eyes, feeling the shot take hold and carry him off on the waves of drugged exhaustion, he felt the light touch of her lips on his forehead.

She understood.

When he woke again Teal’c was with him, wiping at his forehead with surprisingly gentle hands. Teal’c had a lot of usually hidden talents, not the least of which was his tender caring that usually got its only outlet with them.

He actually felt a little better, well…not quite as bad…than he had the last time he had been aware. He was fairly sure that was not necessarily a good thing. Sam was sitting in the back of the shelter, ostensibly adjusting a piece of totally unnecessary equipment. Jack was on the other side of Daniel, not even pretending to be doing anything other than what he was doing, watching over Daniel.

It was…worrying.

He wet his lips, wanting a drink of water so badly he would give anything for it at this point, but he knew as well as the rest of them did it wasn’t possible. Instead he asked what time it was; at least he tried to.

Rather than telling him, Jack just said. “One more hour.”

One more. He could do that.

He hoped….

For Jack’s benefit, Daniel tried to smile. He had no doubt it came off badly, but he was inordinately relieved when Jack’s troubled eyes crinkled in response. He needed Jack - all his team really - to be the strong one right now, as he so often was. Nothing else in the pain that had so quickly become his existence seemed nearly as solid. That was Jack, solid as a rock and twice as steady when push came to shove. There was no one trusted more to watch his six - or his stomach, so to speak.

It was storming again, great waves of thunder echoing endlessly around the rocks that made up their shelter, bouncing back out to roll in nearly continuous waves across the valley. Daniel idly wondered if it ever rained here. He would have liked rain; closing his eyes, he could almost feel the cooling, soothing moisture against his heated skin, his parched lips…

Then Jack was there, offering him a sip of water they both knew he couldn’t swallow, but it helped. Moving didn’t hurt as much; the nausea even seemed to have gotten better.

That really couldn’t be good. Could it?

 

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Someone was dialing in.

Only three minutes past schedule. With a grateful sigh, Jack reminded himself to thank Davis at the first opportunity.

Leaving Carter with Daniel, Jack and Teal’c ran for the gate and prepped the MALP for transmission. They had no time at all to waste.

General Hammond’s voice was the first they heard, unusual for the time of night Jack knew it was on Earth. With a silent apology, Jack cut his commanding officer off mid-sentence and laid out their situation. After a pause that seemed ages long, Fraiser came on demanding details and Jack reported the cold facts as briefly as possible.

Fraiser didn’t answer but the general came back on. “Expect a visitor within the next ten minutes, Colonel. Everything you’ll need to get home is being gathered even as we speak. Sergeant Siler will come through as soon as possible to assist Major Carter in getting the gate powered and dialed so you can get our boy home. Give him our best, Colonel.”

Jack had to swallow hard against the lump in his throat. “I will. Thank you, sir.”

“Anything else we can do to help, Jack?”

With a long, anxious sigh, Jack could only find one thing they really needed at the moment. “Pray?”

“Consider it done, Jack…Doctor Fraiser is on her way.”

Jack signed off quickly, getting ready to help the doctor as soon as she appeared. Daniel was dying, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind, and right now Fraiser was his only hope.

Surprisingly a FRED preceded Fraiser from the gate, loaded down with a bunch of silver travel cases marked medical supplies, among other unfamiliar words Jack knew only a medic would recognize; it was enough for him to know they were things that would save Daniel’s life. Fraiser stepped through a few seconds later, Siler and one of the male medics, Miller, Jack believed, at her side. Before Jack could even ask, Siler explained he was there to set up the generator Doc would need to run her machines. The equipment they would need to get home again would be on its way as soon as possible. Fraiser had drafted him, in other words, a notion supported by the fact Siler was not dressed for gate travel.

The diminutive doctor with the legendary attitude cut to the chase and asked where her patient was. Jack led her and Miller off the platform toward the shelter at a run, leaving Teal’c and Siler to bring along the equipment.

Carter moved out of the way as they entered the shelter. Jack noted approvingly that she had used the time to clear away everything surrounding Daniel, making room for the doctor to work.

As Fraiser approached, Daniel looked at her blearily. As he had earlier with Jack, Daniel tried to smile and reassure - then as now, it only came off looking like goodbye. Jack shivered in the night air, making an effort to shake off the feeling of dread and doom the very atmosphere of the planet seemed to engender. Fraiser was here; Daniel would be fine. It was one of the constants of the universe...Doc worked miracles, and one of the people she worked them on the most was Daniel. Like a law of nature, it had to happen.

Jack barely noticed Carter leaving to help Siler, he was far too focused on Fraiser’s poking and prodding of Daniel’s bare abdomen that was bringing forth the first real shouts of pain they had heard from him. Jack’s first instinct, as always, was to stop anything causing pain. Knowing it was necessary seriously didn’t help much. The worried frown on Fraiser’s face helped even less.

With a few soothing words and a promise to stop the pain, Fraiser began digging in her medical case, retrieving a vial and syringe she loaded in one smooth movement. She pulled back Daniel’s sleeve to inject the drug, then finally stood to face Jack.

She didn’t have to say anything at all for Jack to know his feeling had been right all along - this was really bad. In a low quiet voice she explained that she was as sure as se could be under the circumstances that Daniel’s appendix had ruptured and surgery couldn’t begin to wait for the gate to be prepared.

Jack nodded acceptance, and with a long worried look at Daniel he asked, “What do we need to do?”

With her usual calm efficiency Fraiser set Miller to work prepping Daniel and led Jack out to the FRED, pointing out the equipment she needed inside next to Daniel. Siler and Teal’c already had the generator unloaded, and Carter was stringing the power hookups toward the shelter. With all of them working as quickly as they could, they soon had Fraiser’s monitors powered up as well as bright lights strung around the walls of the shelter. While they had been getting everything else ready, Miller had cut away Daniel’s outer clothing, leaving him only in his boxers with a thin sheet covering his lower body. Daniel was well and truly out of it now, something Jack wasn’t sure he should be worried about or not. Bright white sheets were now spread all around the inside of their shelter, for cleanliness Jack supposed, though he didn’t take the time to ask. Fraiser was using some kind of fluid to clean the entire area around Daniel’s abdomen, from ribs to just short of being indecent, something else Jack didn’t want to ask about...not that he really had to. He knew what was coming. In a very few minutes, Fraiser would be cutting into Daniel’s body, deliberately causing a wound in order to save his life.

For the third time since she had arrived, Fraiser asked Jack if he was going to be okay with assisting her. For the third time his heart said no even as his head nodded an affirmative. As their resident experts, Teal’c, Carter and Siler were needed at the gate. Ready or not, like it or not, Jack would get through this.

For Daniel.

When they finally settled in to get to work, Fraiser slipped a mask attached to a portable oxygen tank over Daniel’s nose and mouth. The monitors had already been attached to his chest by electrical wires she had taped out of the way across his lean shoulder. The beeps and numbers were all too familiar to Jack - none of them looked quite right to him now.

Miller would be acting as anesthesiologist and surgical assistant it seemed; beside him sat a tray of instruments and needles. He and Janet were talking now about dosages for infiltrative local anesthetic, which Jack tried hard not to make sense of? Infiltrative anything was never good in his experience.

Jack’s job was to watch Daniel, notice if he started coming around, watch the monitors and report every two minutes on the big three - pulse, respiration, heart rate - and to lend an extra hand if Fraiser needed one.

He had seen a lot of injuries in his time, too many in fact, but Jack dreaded this worse than just about any of them. Emergency care in the field was one thing. Adrenaline generally carried a person through the usual mental and physical reactions they would ordinarily have to the gore factor. Jack knew without having to be told that this would be different. There would be no artificial rush to help him get past the immediacy of the situation. This time he could not help Daniel with his weapons or his physical strength as he had so often in the past. This time it would be up to his ability to listen and simply to be there, to act when called upon by Fraiser. While this was a war they all wanted to win, the battle would entirely belong to Fraiser and to Daniel. Only the victory - and Jack couldn’t allow himself to believe it would be anything less - would belong to them all.

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Something hurt, not like before though….

Even with his eyes closed, he could tell there was too much light, and the smell was terrible, pungent and coppery all at once. He could tell his clothes were gone as the chill air brushed over his skin. It was a pleasant feeling after being so hot for so long, even though his lower half did seem to be covered.

Actually something weird was going on down there…a pushing pulling something…

Daniel opened his eyes to see Jack hovering, gaze focused worriedly on the lower part of Daniel’s body. If he had been up to it he would have made a joke about comparisons…but why was Jack wearing a surgical mask?

Glancing over to his other side he saw Janet, face similarly covered. Her hands were moving over him and he felt the push-pull again. He made a sound he meant to be a question and Janet looked up in alarm.

“This is not a good time, Daniel…”

Time? Good time for what? Did he really want to know?

Then someone he didn’t recognize was moving toward him - where’d he come from? - and Daniel felt something move against his inner arm…didn’t hurt…

“Night, night, Daniel…”

What?

Daniel felt the pull of sleep dragging him down again, breathed out a slurred “Night…” and was gone.

When he opened his eyes again he was swinging, realized how out of place that was, and looked around to see two faces looking down on him. Jack and Sergeant Siler. A dark hand on a rail by his head told him Teal’c was there, and he could hear Sam’s voice saying something about the equipment being gone already. Blue light wavered just in front or Jack’s head, giving him a weird halo that looked so out of place it made him giggle.

Jack looked down and smiled, shaking his head.

“Feeling no pain now, are you?”

Daniel shook his head. He really wasn’t. Funny, he hadn’t noticed until Jack had mentioned it.

Jack’s eyes went all hard and serious, “Just hang on, buddy, we’re going home.”

Home sounded good, great in fact, but he’d have to tell Jack later that home for him was where his team was…the place didn’t matter.

The wormhole made him slightly nauseous at the best of times, so he closed his eyes just before they stepped though. It still made him nauseous and the swinging didn’t help.

He had a great team, but as stretcher-bearers they really needed work….

He risked opening his eyes when they stopped, and almost jumped when he found General Hammond nearly nose to nose with him. Or maybe it was just the drugs that made it seem like he was. The general looked worried. The general had a great worry face; you could see everything in it. Daniel hated that the general got worried so much, but he really did like that face….

He tried to smile, hoping to erase some of those lines on the general’s features. It worked too; everything went kind of soft…

Then they were moving again, Janet was yelling - too loud - that they needed to get him prepped. Daniel wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that. ‘Prepped’ didn’t sound very restful at all. But anything that wasn’t moving would be really nice about now.

As they moved Daniel noticed a lot of blurry faces standing on both sides of him. Maybe it was a team about to leave on a mission, seemed like an awful lot of them.

“Sam?” he whispered, or at least tried to.

Sam bent down beside him, so close her hair brushed his cheek. “What do you need, Daniel?”

“What are all these people waiting for?”

“You, Daniel.” She whispered back.

“Oh…” He didn’t really understand, but if Sam wasn’t worried then neither was he.

A jumble of images made up the next few minutes of his life, moving back and forth, then up and down, and then, blessedly, all was still. Someone put another warm blanket over him, one of the fluffy nice ones Janet used if you were stuck in the infirmary for more than a day. Then there were people all around, sticking things on him and - damn - in him. He just closed his eyes through it all, sort of hovering on the edge until the humiliating parts were over.

He really, really hated being sick. Then a hand ruffled his hair, Janet’s voice threatened to return in a few minutes, and all was quiet again.

Footsteps approached, familiar footsteps, and he didn’t have to open his eyes to know his team was there with him. One of those things stuck in him must have been more drugs because he found opening his eyes a lot harder now, but he needed to if only for a minute. They were all there, like he knew they would be, looking a lot less worried than they had most of the other times he had seen them the past… however many hours it had been since he had felt the first hard pain hit while they were running from that storm.

He liked this a lot better…

He still felt a little hot but figured that would pass now that he had more tubes attached to him than he had in his fish tank. The pain was almost negligible in comparison to what it had been and they were all home in, mostly, one piece.

His team gathered around him, small touches telling him they felt the same way, telling him they were glad he was okay. He already knew they understood he returned their feelings and more, but he promised himself he’d take the time to tell them so when he had time to catch his breath a little.

He’d also find those letters, add a few things to them, then put them away again and forget about them. He might never need them, but when things had gotten so bad he feared he might be dying it had been comforting to know they were there. That his words on paper would remain if he didn’t make it home, that even if he were gone they would still know how he felt. At this moment surrounded by his friends, he was the richest man in the world. Hell, in the whole damn universe.

The drugs were pulling him down into sleep again and he was way too tired to fight them. He yawned and closed his eyes, muttering an apology.

“Night, night, Daniel…” Jack’s voice, edged with relief and laughter.

Night, night?

Jack had said that before…when?

As he sank into healing sleep Daniel had a flash of memory, of Jack assisting in his…

Jack?

Oh, shit, he’d never hear the end of this one…

*fin*

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

'There's got to be a better way of doing this.'

"Daniel, you're thinking out loud again," Jack complained.

Daniel looked back at his commanding officer in surprise, as if unaware that he had spoken and mumbled an apology. The kid looked tired, but Jack knew Daniel would keep going as long as the rest of them did. Daniel had sprained his wrist in their rough tumble through the 'gate and Carter had wrapped it, but he had to be constantly reminded to keep it in the sling.

'This mission is turning out to be a real pain,' Jack thought wearily.

After they'd literally been thrown through the gate at high speed, SG-1 had stared helplessly as the 'gate and the DHD had disappeared. Carter had theorized that it was either some sort of spatial shift or that somehow, hopefully, the 'gate had been teleported elsewhere on the planet. Stargates just didn't make a habit of disappearing. Jack had his own, less benign and much less popular theory that perhaps the 'gate was being hidden from them purposely. Of course, Jack admitted, his theory was based on years of distrust of all things unexplainable.

Considering the shape the team was in, Jack had opted to spend the first night on the 'gate site, on the vague excuse that maybe the 'gate would reappear just as mysteriously as it had disappeared. Actually, it was the best way he could ensure that his team got a good night's rest. None of them had come through the 'gate unscathed this time.
Carter had a nasty-looking scrape across her forehead from plowing up against Teal'c's pack when they'd been so rudely ejected from the wormhole. Teal'c had a gash on his upper arm from Carter knocking him to the ground. Daniel's wrist was, thankfully, only sprained and he also had a gash across his left cheekbone. Jack himself had felt his shoulder wrench painfully upon impact with the rocky ground.

Now, three days later, footsore and rapidly running out of essential supplies, Jack was glad they had taken that short break. P3J050 was as desolate a planet as he had ever seen, rocks and more rocks...geological-type rocks not Daniel's artifact-type rocks. They were heading in the direction of still-distant snow-capped mountains. At the very least, it was their best chance for water.

They had left a message at the original 'gate site. If it should reappear and if Hammond sent through a rescue team they would know the direction they had followed and how they had marked their trail. 'Too many ifs,' Jack thought. From long experience he knew that ifs were the basis of defeat and that he needed to take action to ensure the survival of himself and his team.

So the first order of business had been water and food; their best hope for that lay in the still distant mountains. Jack estimated another two days to reach them. The water in their canteens would only last one more under normal consumption, but he had noticed all of them were reducing their intake, as if they too realized the necessity of conserving the precious fluid and had silently agreed to make it last. Jack realized once again how lucky he was to have such a team.

Captain Samantha Carter was the physics expert and metaphorical heart of the team, her quick wit and courage had saved them all on more than one occasion. Teal'c was the stalwart strength and the steady will that saw them through the best and worst of times. Daniel was the soul and the conscience which, when combined with his vast knowledge of language and civilizations, had gotten them out of many situations without so much as a shot being fired. Not that Daniel couldn't fight, he just firmly believed that in most situations there were always alternatives. Jack liked to think he himself was more like the guiding force of the team, he knew his 'kids' and their unique abilities and he firmly believed that a leader's greatest strength lay in making use of the strengths of his people.

As the sun was sinking low, Jack began to turn his mind toward the coming night. He knew it would be cooler to travel through the cool darkness, as he also knew his team would do it if he asked them to. Looking at his team he could see Carter's head drooping as she silently plugged onward. Daniel's eyes were a little glazed and Jack could see him holding his arm close to his chest as if in pain, but he would never complain. Teal'c, as always gave no outward sign, but Jack knew the Jaffa well enough to see the unease in his eyes. Jack made a quick decision,

"Guys, lets break and take off again at first light."

The made camp in the relative silence of long experience; they'd done it so often that it was second nature. Teal'c got the wood, Jack laid the fire, Sam and Daniel pitched the tents. They alternated cooking and cleaning duties and tonight was his and Teal'c's turn.

Sorting through their meager supplies Jack put together a couple of the MRE's to make a sort of journeyman's stew. It was something he'd learned a long time ago in a place he preferred not to remember, you could make a stew out of anything.

As Jack prepared the food, the others finished their tasks and settled around him. Daniel lounged back against a stone outcropping, moving painfully, his hand still held close to his chest. Jack looked at Sam who had also noticed and she silently passed Daniel a couple of painkillers. He nodded gratitude and swallowed them dry, closing his eyes for moment.

'Jack looks tired.'

"We're all tired, Daniel."

Daniel opened his eyes quickly, staring at Jack in confusion.

"Jack, I didn't say anything."

"Well, maybe you were just thinking too loud," Jack quipped, but the look on Daniel's face told him that the young scientist was serious.

"Maybe we've just been around each other so long we're starting to read each others' minds." Sam joked.

Daniel just nodded, closing his eyes again.

Chapter 2

Daniel was asleep before dinner was ready. The combination of exhaustion and the mild painkillers easing him into much-needed rest. Jack was reluctant to wake the younger man, but realized that Daniel needed food every bit as much as he needed rest. Jack decided to give him a few more minutes as he separated the stew into equal portions.
Suddenly, Jack was gripped by a vision of hot, sandy desert stretching as far as the eye could see. As his point of view shifted, he could see the outline of three moons above a pyramid and a figure wrapped in burgundy robes approached. This vision was accompanied by a feeling of loneliness so intense that Jack dropped the spoon in his hands into the pot with a loud rattle. Jack blinked in confusion as the vision faded, leaving a lingering desolation.

Within moments, Daniel stirred and awoke.

"Jack? What's wrong?" he asked, sitting up carefully.

Jack shook his head briefly, inclined to let it pass. "Nothing...nothing. You ready to eat?"

Daniel nodded and accepted the bowl he was given with a nod of thanks.

Jack smiled a moment at that. Daniel must really be tired if he wasn't talking. Jack was generally inclined to think that speech was as vital as breathing to the young scientist. Jack called for Sam and Teal'c and they all ate dinner in companionable silence.

Once again Jack studied his team. Sam looked much more rested and alert now; the paleness from earlier was gone. Teal'c had meditated and seemed positively revitalized. Daniel, though, still looked bone tired and Jack noticed the swelling of his injured hand around its wrapping.

Not wishing to cause alarm, Jack said casually,” Carter after you eat, why don't you play medic change everybody's bandages?" He looked significantly at Daniel and Carter understood the words he wasn't saying.

"Yes, Sir!" she said in her best chipper Airman's tone.

Daniel started to protest, but Jack treated him to his C.O. 'look' that said he would accept no arguments on this one. Daniel had learned the hard way that this was one look his best arguments couldn't defeat.

When Carter finished eating, she retrieved her medkit from her pack and sat down next to Daniel who held out his hand to her. Jack could see the swelling more clearly now and wondered if maybe they'd been mistaken about it only being sprained. But as Carter unwound the last layer of the bandages, something dropped out of them onto the ground.

"Whoa, what is that?" Jack moved closer and saw that it was a small beetle-like insect, emerald green in color with nasty looking pincers protruding from its mouth. It appeared to be dead.

Carter pulled the rest of Daniel's bandages off quickly, confirming their fears. There on Daniel's wrist, directly over the large vein was a bite mark with red-purple streaks radiating several inches around it.

Carter looked at Jack in alarm, reaching for the small bottle of alcohol in the medkit. Daniel had gone a few shades paler at the sight of his arm, but just watched Carter work on his arm with a kind of detached fascination.
Out of reflex, Jack reached out to check Daniel's forehead and discovered the young man was burning up with fever. "Dammit, Daniel! Why didn't you tell somebody you weren't feeling well?"

Daniel looked at Jack with a look of sheepish confusion, " I don't know, Jack...It just came on all of a sudden...."

Daniel swayed a little bit as Carter poured on the alcohol and Jack cursed and moved to support his friend. Carter finished quickly and rebandaged the arm.

"Sir, he needs to stay off his feet to keep the poison from spreading any faster."

Teal'c moved to help Daniel to his tent and laid him down. Jack could hear the young man weakly apologizing for causing them trouble. Jack smiled ruefully to himself. Whatever happened, he could always be sure that Daniel would find a way to assume the blame. Jack had often wondered if it was because Daniel was so smart; did he think he was duty bound to foresee all possibilities?

Carter looked at him with concern shining out of her eyes. Jack knew she could anticipate his next question, so he didn't ask it.

"It's an unknown, Sir. We don't know if this 'bug' is fatally venomous or will just make him ill. Either way, with that fever, he's going to need water and soon..." Carter's voice trailed off as she looked off in the distance as if she could see the mountains...still two days distant.

Teal'c had walked up behind them quietly. "Daniel Jackson sleeps. If you will permit it, O'Neill, I will go and retrieve water for us all."

Jack knew from experience that Teal'c possessed strength and endurance that exceeded that of his teammates. But it was so far to send anyone alone....

As if reading his thoughts again, Carter chimed in, "I'll go with him, Sir. None of us should go it alone in this place."
Jack hated the thought of splitting his team, but he also knew that Daniel couldn't make it to the mountains and the water they hoped was there. He knew his kids, he knew they would do it or die trying, he knew he didn't have to tell them to be careful....but he did it anyway.

Teal'c poured their meager supply of water into two canteens, leaving the larger portion for O'Neill and Daniel, then gathered every empty container he could find and put them into his pack. While he was doing that, Carter emptied her pack of everything except meals for three days and a minimal medkit. The two of them rolled up their sleeping bags, not even bothering to pack up the tents. When they were ready, they looked towards Daniel's tent and then at their commanding officer.

Jack felt an odd mixture of pride, concern and impatience.

Carter pointed out the obvious; the sooner they left, the sooner they'd be back. Jack nodded agreement.
"Just be careful and remember you won't do anybody any good if you get hurt out there. Radio check every two hours."

Jack did something then that he rarely did with this particular team, he stepped back and saluted, trying in his own awkward way to express the feelings he could never vocalize.

Carter nodded as if she understood. "We'll hurry, Sir. Take care of him..."

Teal'c echoed her sentiments, saying, "We will return soon, O'Neill." His glance toward the tent spoke louder than words of his concern for the young man he had taken on as a personal responsibility.

Jack watched them until they faded into the darkness then turned back to the tent and Daniel.

Chapter 3

Jack had situated his own sleeping bag next to Daniel's and was dozing with one hand on his assault rifle and the other on Daniel in a sort of resting guard. He was alert enough to react quickly, yet resting his mind and body in preparation for what might come. It was a soldier's reflex, born out of a keen sense of survival and too many nights spent in dangerous territory, Daniel had barely stirred in the few hours since Carter and Teal'c had left. His breathing was regular and even and Jack had felt it was safe enough to rest awhile. He'd spent enough time waiting for Daniel to pull out of things like this that Jack knew he should conserve his strength while things were calm.
Jack dreamed...

Alone...so alone. A grief that possessed no voice threatened to pull him irretrievably into its depths. There was nothing he could do...no one left to turn to...Like when they had died but somehow worse....at least then there was no hope....Now the hope was almost as impossible to bear as the loss....

Jack started suddenly and awoke.

"Where in the hell did that come from?" Jack found himself shuddering in the darkness trying to shake that unbearable alone-ness...

Twice now he had felt a party to memories and feelings he knew were not his own...

Daniel stirred next to him and whispered something in his sleep that Jack couldn't quite hear. Reaching out to touch his friend's forehead once again, Jack muttered a soft curse. Daniel's fever was dangerously high. Somehow, Jack knew, he had to find a way to cool Daniel down before they ran the risk of febrile seizure...or worse.
Moving quickly, but as gently as possible, Jack dragged Daniel out of the tent seeping bag and all. Once out under the cooler night sky, Jack unzipped the sleeping bag and removed Daniel's shirt, then his shoes and socks. Daniel shivered a little, but when Jack checked again Daniel seemed much cooler.

Jack retrieved their half-empty canteen and touched Daniel gently on the shoulder.

"Danny..." he had barely whispered it, but Daniel's eyes shot open and once again Jack was caught up in that deep, pervasive loneliness....

Daniel blinked and the moment passed.

"Jack?" Daniel's voice was plaintive and desolate, almost a reflection of that feeling that Jack had just experienced.

Jack was beginning to form what even he would have called a hare-brained theory, but just now Daniel needed him.

"You need to drink a little bit, Danny..."

Daniel nodded understanding and raised himself up on his uninjured arm. Taking only a small sip, Daniel fell back...none too gently.

"Christ, Danny, sorry about that. Never claimed to be much of a nurse."

Daniel smiled at the lame joke and seemed only then to notice the fact that he was now outdoors. His eyebrows raised in the question he lacked the strength to ask.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, I...uh...thought it would be cooler out here. Too hot in that tent to sleep."

Again those expressive eyebrows quirked in a way that told Jack that they recognized a lie when they heard one.

Jack grimaced in apology. "Your temperature's been getting pretty high, Danny."

Daniel nodded, forgiving the white lie. He looked around then back at Jack. "Sam? Teal'c?"

"They went for water. If we're lucky some food..."

Daniel tried to raise himself up again in alarm. "No, Jack...Too dangerous...not for me..." The effort of animation was just too much for Daniel and he fell back again, but this time Jack caught him and eased him back down.

"Daniel...damn...Not just for you....We're all gonna need it and soon...."Jack tried to explain, trying to head off the guilt he knew Daniel would try to take on for placing his friends in danger.

Daniel nodded again in acceptance, but his fever bright eyes spoke of friends, family...so many gone due to his actions.

A heavy weight...dragging him down...down...

"Daniel!" Jack spoke more sharply than he'd meant to, but that palpable thought...which Jack now knew was not his own....could not be ignored. "They'll be okay, Daniel. It's not your fault, none of this is..."

Daniel looked into Jack's eyes as if seeking something...and finding it. He arched those expressive eyebrows again and then....

If you say so, Jack.

Jack nearly jumped as he realized he had been looking straight at Daniel...but Daniel had not spoken those words out loud. As he watched Daniel's eyes close again, Jack shuddered.

'This is getting a little too weird.'

Chapter 4

Jack spent the majority of the next hour wondering what could possibly be going on inside his friend that suddenly his thoughts and emotions were broadcasting all over the place like a bad AM radio station.

'Sure wish I could change the channel for him, " Jack thought to himself, still bothered by the waves of pain and loneliness he'd felt earlier. He had always understood that Daniel missed Sha'uri, but had never fully grasped how deeply the younger man still felt the loss.

Two years or two hundred would be the same to Daniel, Jack realized. The wound of separation was just as raw now as the day it was made. Jack guessed that Daniel had just become more adept at hiding those feelings. Jack envied Daniel, in a way, his ability to give his heart and soul so completely, but also pitied him for the same reason.
Daniel's fever was spiking again, sweat poured off his skin now and he was starting to grow restless...

Pain!...pain like he'd never known...Questions...no answers, got to find the answer....Jack?...I don't

know...Sha'uri?...help me, Jack...

Pain!...Shot?...Got to stay awake...They'll hurt Jack...got to stop them here...

Jack felt himself fall too his knees, the impact jarring him out of the haze of Daniel's nightmarish memories.

'God, so much for one kid...man...to...'

And Jack knew that this was only a small portion of what Daniel had been forced to deal with since that long ago day they had first stepped through the Stargate. The suicidal soldier and the allergy-ridden geek. Jack knew that he'd always tended to think of Daniel as a kid, but deep down he knew...had always known...that Daniel was as much, or more, of a man as those swaggering military heroes he'd always admired. It took more than strength of body to be a man; it took strength of character and a strength of spirit that Jack hadn't realized the full measure of...until now.

Jack knew he had to pull Daniel out of these fever-driven memories before they were both caught up and unable to function. Each time Jack felt himself drawn into Daniel's psychic backlash, it seemed harder and harder to separate from it.

"Daniel!" Jack practically shouted it, shaking his friend forcefully. "Daniel, you've got to wake up!"

Jack, Sam...gone...can't be gone...got to find...Jack ...my friend...my fault....

The substance of those thoughts rattled Jack enough to enable him to pull out of Daniel's delirium and in desperation he struck Daniel across his uninjured cheek, apologizing to his friend even as he did so.

"God, Danny, I'm so sorry..."

Jack? Why?

Jack guiltily recognized the source of that question...the last time he had hit Daniel, but he swallowed hard against the bitter memory and slapped Daniel again.

Daniel raised his hand then in a defensive gesture, his fever-bright eyes snapping open in confusion.

"J-jack? What's happening?"

Jack sat back on his heels, shaking his head. "I dunno, Danny. Seems like you're going through every bad thing that's ever happened to you...and sharing."

Daniel looked at Jack so strangely that Jack laughed and ruefully tried to explain what had been happening over the past several hours.

Daniel's brows furrowed in concentration. "The ...bug?"

Jack shrugged helplessly and grinned. "Stranger things have happened...mostly to us."

Daniel smiled weakly and nodded, "Don't know if I like this one, though..."

Jack understood what Daniel meant; Daniel only shared his personal thoughts and feelings with three other people on Earth...Jack, Sam and Teal'c.

"I'm not real happy about it either, but look at it this way, at least I'm the only one around..."

Jack didn't finish, but Daniel nodded as if he had. Jack knew more intimately than anyone all the little hells that had been Daniel's life...before and after the Stargate, but he had always respected the barriers that the younger man had placed around certain areas of his life, just as Daniel had always respected Jack's. This seemed too much like an invasion of trust...like reading Daniel's diary without permission, only worse.

Daniel smiled apologetically, "I'm sorry..."

Jack sighed and shook his head in consternation. "Will you stop apologizing! This isn't your fault..."

Daniel shook his head, "No, Jack. Not for that...."

"What, then?"

Daniel looked up at his friend in perfect earnestness. " For what I'm going to put you through if this doesn't stop," he whispered.

 

Chapter 5

Jack decided to use a little of their dwindling water supply to make some coffee, they both needed something to keep them awake. By unspoken agreement, they were trying to keep up a running conversation...anything to stay alert. Jack could see the strain in Daniel's eyes as the young man fought to stay aware and in control, now , as always, putting his friend's needs ahead of his own.

Jack had redressed Daniel's hand while they had waited for the coffee. The red streaking seemed to be spreading, but slower now. Jack hoped that it meant they'd have a break for a while. At the last radio check, he'd told Carter about everything that had happened. She'd sounded worried, but could offer no theory. She said that she and Teal'c were making good time and should reach the mountains by midday. Jack had cautioned them once again to be careful and broken the contact.

'The kid looks like shit.' Jack thought.

"Not a very nice thing to say, Jack."

Jack looked at Daniel in alarm.

"Uh-oh," Daniel said, realizing what the look meant. "No...Jack, I..."

Jack shook his head, "Don't worry about it, if it happens...it happens." He busied himself pouring the coffee. "Nobody else I'd let peek in there..."

When Jack turned to pass over the coffee, he could see that Daniel was struggling to maintain his composure. Between the fever and the venom's effects, Daniel's emotions were very near the surface right now.

Daniel took the coffee in his good hand and drank deeply, sighing. "What are we gonna do, Jack?'

"What do we always do? We deal with it," Jack said with his usual rock-hard certainty. A certainty he didn't necessarily feel right now.

Daniel looked at Jack and nodded. "Okay," he whispered, exhaustion plain in his voice.

"C'mon, Danny...stay with me here."
Daniel nodded, sitting up a little straighter. "Jack..."

"Yeah, Danny?"

"If something happens..."

Jack nearly spilled his coffee as he reached over to shake Daniel's shoulder. "Don't talk like that Daniel! Nothing's gonna happen to you...not while I'm around."

Jack could see his own fear reflected in Daniel's eyes and tried to clamp down on his feelings as Daniel reeled in confusion.

"Can't...can't block it out..."

Jack moved to support his friend, not knowing if the contact would make things worse; only knowing that Daniel needed to feel reassured...he needed Daniel to feel it.

Waves of fear...comfort...all jumbled together...Jack...gotta hold it together... for Jack...don't leave me alone again...

In the confusion of their intermingled thoughts, Jack realized that things were going both ways...

God...Danny...not alone...never again...promise...

It seemed to Jack like he could no longer tell where Daniel's thoughts ended and his began. It was like a dam breaking, once begun it couldn't be stopped. All the large and small thoughts, memories and feelings that made them what they were eddied from one to the other....

*The coverstone fell with a resounding crash as the little boy watched in horror...the sound of their screams forever etched in his memory...A hand struck out in anger...the boy realized that the man didn't want to hear talk of feelings...he never made the same mistake again....A hand struck out...grief had no welcome here...nor did the frightened lonely boy so full of sadness...A hand struck out in anger...the boy/man cursed and left the house that was no longer a home...had not been in a very long time...he would make his own way now....They didn't know what to do with him...send him on...He didn't know how he would survive...just that he would...Isolation...again...it was getting to be a habit...worse yet, he was starting to like it...easier not to try...Determination drove him onward...sheer stubbornness...nothing could or would stop him...The search...the need to know...so much....Joy like a golden thing....a promise to be a better father than his own...Happiness was a fleeting thing...people leave you...hurt...don't let them get close...She'd been right...she'd had a feeling about this mission...this is gonna be bad...
Too old...couldn't be right....everything he'd been taught was a lie...they won't listen... The shot...the sound echoed forever...slow motion...it would never be the same again...he'd broken his promise...It was over...they'd never believe him again...he'd failed...A chance...something to end the pain...A chance...probably his last...they've got it all wrong...Who was this runny-nosed kid...doesn't have the sense to come in out of the rain...but he did it when nobody else could....He knows it's a long-shot...he wants this as much as I do....Why?...he barely knew this boy-genius...didn't think he had it in him...why?...more blood on his hands...Wife?...I have a wife...what does she see in me...

I owe him...a lot of things...hope he'll be okay...He looks better than he did two days ago...hope he'll be okay...He looks like he belongs here...happy...still thinking too fast...what have we done...Gone...but not gone...should have done something...he said we'll find them...trust him. What have we gotten ourselves into...Got to stay strong...can't give them a reason to make me quit....Had to make him do it...had to be his choice...looks like he's losing her all over again...Got to...for my friends...but it hurts so much....Gone?...he can't be gone...Help me, Jack...Kid's a mess...how can a smart guy be so dumb...like he hadn't been there himself...God...so sorry...can't make up for this one...stupid...stupid....Looks like a zombie...what the hell...she was here...baby?...that had to hurt...Gone...again...so sick of people leaving....They can't be gone...they're his kids...his friends...God...not again...not Jack...He should be doing this...not me... Educated...articulate...Jack said that?...He can't be losing it...he's been so strong...

Don't leave me in this place....

*note: Capital letters start a new thought.

Chapter 6

Jack awoke to the sun beating low on his left. 'Setting?' he questioned himself. Daniel was laying across his legs, unconscious and so still for a moment that Jack hesitantly reached for a pulse. Steady, not necessarily strong...
Jack just sat there for a moment absorbing what had happened over the past night and day. Had they really come that far? It seemed like a lifetime ago... A ghost of Daniel's loneliness and grief lingered even now and Jack tightened his grip on his friend for a moment, as if to assure him that he wasn't alone. Nobody should have to suffer so much in one short life, Jack thought. Nobody as intrinsically good as Daniel deserved to. Granny O'Neill used to say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger...well Daniel must be awfully strong, he'd suffered through all this stuff and it had killed him...twice.

Jack had always felt a deep kinship and respect for Daniel, which was strange considering their diverse backgrounds, but now he realized just how deep those feelings went. Over the past two years, nobody had stood by him like Daniel. Through the good times and the bad....Jack wondered if he'd done enough to return that support.

Jack felt his sleeping friend's forehead. Cooler, definitely cooler. He realized he was thirsty and the canteen was an arm's length beyond his reach. He started to shift Daniel over so he could get up, but Daniel awoke with a jump.

"Jack!" he shouted looking around him, clearly unsure of his surroundings.

"Here, Danny, I'm here..."

Daniel turned to look at Jack for a long moment, bright blue eyes unguarded and full of tears.

"Daniel, what's wrong?" Jack asked in gentle concern, almost sure he already knew.

Daniel dropped his head into his hands, "Hurts so much, Jack..."

"What hurts?"

Jack almost couldn't hear Daniel's muffled voice, "You..."

Jack had guessed that his own feelings had filtered through to Daniel. 'Like the kid needed any more grief...'

"Daniel...I...I'm sorry."

But Daniel was shaking his head, " 'S'okay...I...just..."

Jack nodded in understanding. "Yeah...I feel like a peeping Tom."

Daniel gave a hoarse breath of a laugh, nodding. "Yeah.."

"Head still hurt?" Jack asked as Daniel put his hands to his temples again.

"Like somebody dropped a pyramid on it..."

Jack retrieved the medkit and pulled out a couple of painkillers for both of them. On his way back over to Daniel, he grabbed the canteen. Daniel accepted both with a grateful sound and drank just enough to help the pills down. Jack urged him to take more, but Daniel shook his head. He could read the situation as well as Jack could.

Checking his watch and doing the math, Jack realized they'd missed eight radio checks, they'd been out of it for sixteen hours. Carter and Teal'c must be worried sick about them by now. The next check was due in 20 minutes. Even at best speed, with no rest, it would take them until well into the next day to return.

Daniel shifted a little, pulling the light sleeping bag around him.

"Cold?" Jack asked, a bit concerned. The sun was still quite warm on his back.

Daniel shrugged, trying to make light of it. "Just a little..."

Jack reached out once again to check Daniel's temperature, it was warmer now than before. Evidently the venom was not yet out of Daniel's system. Jack stood up and stretched, with night approaching he needed to get a fire started and food prepared. As he worked, he kept one eye on Daniel. The younger man seemed distracted, as if trying to work something out in his head. It didn't take Jack's newfound insight into his friend for to realize that when Daniel had things figured out he'd talk about it, it was something Jack had come to understand a long time ago.

Right on time Carter answered the radio check. "Sir? Sir? Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, Carter. For now everything's quiet." Jack proceeded to explain what had been happening to them, skipping over the personal details.

"But you're okay for now?" she asked, even over the staticky connection the concern in her voice was evident.

"Yeah, we're fine. How's the water situation?" He didn't have to explain to her that they were fast running out.

"Found it six hours ago, we're on our way back."

Jack sighed in relief and told Carter,” Great job. Are you two okay?"

Carter's laugh was audible. "Yes, Sir. We're tired, but traveling at a good pace. We should be back around noon tomorrow."

"We're aren't going anywhere," Jack responded, making Carter and Daniel laugh.

Jack signed off on that note, reminding them again to be careful.

Jack dished out the food, took the plates over and sat down beside Daniel.

"Not the best job I've ever done, but it'll fill you up." Jack apologized.

Daniel nodded, still distracted, and started to pick at the food

"Daniel? What is it?"

The younger man shook his head. "Jack, what if it happens again? They'll be back tomorrow...We'll all be in a mess...I don't think I...I can go through that with anybody else..."

Daniel ducked his head again, embarrassed at the depth of truth in those simple words.

Jack had to admit that he, too, would have found it difficult too share the intimate and private details of his life with anyone but Daniel. After all, even though they'd known each other only a relatively short time, he'd come to regard Daniel as his closest friend. From Daniel's side of things last night, Jack knew that his friend felt the same kinship with him. They were more than friends, more than brothers. It was something Jack didn't possess the words to explain. He'd described it once as 'family,' but even that wasn't enough; Jack felt that way towards all of his team. But with Daniel it was different. It was a closeness born of shared experience and shared pain, of common goals and disparate viewpoints, of deep respect and trust earned through hardship, and of mutual support through the worst and best of times.

"What makes you think it'll come back?" Jack asked, knowing even as he did so what the answer would be.

Daniel blushed a little, looking embarrassed again. "I..uh..I've 'heard' every thought you've had since the fever came back."

Chapter 7

Jack didn't know what to make of that statement. His first instinct was to feel uncomfortable, but just as quickly he decided it didn't really matter. There wasn't much in Jack's life that Daniel didn't already know...or hadn't guessed at...especially after the past sixteen hours. Jack knew, somewhere on an almost elemental level, that he trusted

Daniel with his life...literally and figuratively.

When Jack looked up Daniel was looking at him with an intensity that told Jack that the message was received and appreciated. Just as quickly Daniel looked away as if trying to leave Jack some measure of privacy inside his own head.

"I'm sorry, Jack..."

Jack felt a twinge of anger at the quiet, level tone. "Daniel, I thought we had this guilt thing worked out. This isn't your fault. For once, it wasn't something you touched, tasted or jumped up and asked for."

Daniel grinned that small self-deprecating grin that was usually a precursor to that sharp biting wit. "No," he admitted, "but we've got to find that trouble magnet."

Jack stared at his friend for a moment in disbelief, recognizing his own past description for Daniel's singular talent for discovering misfortune...or having it discover him. Jack realized they were laughing together; the quick, rueful laughter to which the only alternative is to cry. And Jack knew neither of them was the type to indulge in that other alternative, which was one of their shared strengths.

"Or weaknesses..." Daniel finished the thought, obviously not realizing what he had done.

Jack let it pass with a sigh. "So, what now? You don't seem to be 'broadcasting' anymore. Maybe the two-way stuff is over..."

Daniel shook his head slightly. "No...I'm trying real hard not to, but it, " Daniel paused a moment, rubbing his forehead, "it makes my head ache..."

Jack smiled tightly in sympathy and had a sudden insight. "Maybe you shouldn't try, then."

Daniel looked up sharply in surprise, wincing at the pain it caused.

Jack raised his hand to forestall the argument he could see coming. "No...no, listen...When you let go on me the last time, you felt better...fever went down and everything. When the fever started coming back..."

Daniel grasped Jack's train of thought instantly, "...I started 'hearing' you again and the harder I try to stop it..."

"The worse you feel," Jack concluded with a 'there you go' gesture.

"So," Daniel began in that I'm-about-to-form-a-hypothesis tone that Jack knew so well...and sometimes dreaded, "maybe this...thing...has to be 'released' somehow in order for it to run it's course." Daniel frowned then, looking up at Jack as if to have him confirm the logic of his reasoning.

Jack grinned at the irony. 'He wants my opinion on a theory?'

From Daniel's nod and sardonic smile, Jack knew that thought had definitely been 'heard'.

With a deep, sobering breath, Jack tried to sort through the facts as they knew them. The basic, and most important, fact remained...Daniel had gotten better, if only for a short time.

The two men looked at each other, blue eyes meeting brown. As they had done so long ago on Abydos, they reached the same conclusion simultaneously.

"We have to do it again."

Chapter 8

Daniel was trying to talk Jack into leaving.

"Dammit, Daniel. I am not leaving you alone with this!"

Daniel sighed, all too obviously trying to talk over the pain in his head. "Jack...please...I don't want you to go through that again...not for me...." Daniel's voice trailed off in pain that was not entirely physical.

Jack felt a sudden gut-wrenching sympathy for his friend, but remained adamant "Will you get it through that thick, over-educated skull of yours...I'm not going anywhere. Besides if no one else is around, how do we know it'll work. What if there has to be a 'receiver'."

Daniel was holding his head constantly now, the effort of shielding Jack showing plainly in the barely focused eyes and sweat-drenched face.

"Better...be sure, Jack." The soft voice was both a warning and a plea. Jack knew all too well that Daniel didn't want to be alone, but he was also warning Jack that things could, and probably would, be worse this time.
Jack had the good sense to weigh the full meaning of that. He could make a fair guess at what some of it would be, but...this was Daniel...his best friend.

Daniel looked up then, eyes shining in the firelight; a mixture of pain and a gratitude beyond the ineffectual ability of words to express.

Jack busied himself with building up the fire and bringing the water and other necessities over to their sleeping bags. He found his hands were shaking a little. This was going to be bad, he knew that, and yet...as he watched Daniel trembling with the effort of protecting him, Jack knew there really was no other choice.

When all was prepared, Daniel moved unsteadily to his sleeping bag and collapsed with his back against the stone outcropping. He leaned his head on his raised knees, rubbing his neck with both hands to ease the pain.
Jack looked around a moment, making sure he hadn't forgotten anything, then sat down beside the younger man.

"Ready?"

Daniel made a sound that wasn't...quite...a laugh. "No..."

Chuckling noiselessly at the plaintive tone, Jack reached out to knead Daniel's tight shoulders, hoping his friend could relax enough to let go...

Pain...darkness...falling...falling forever....was dead...try to remember...breathe...how?

Jack felt a jolt at that. His own experience with resurrection had been almost gentle, thanks to the Nox. Evidently a sarcophagus provided no such comfort.

Jack felt less overwhelmed by Daniel's rapid-fire thoughts this time....at least so far. This was not like the steady give and take they had gone through before. This was purely Daniel, full to overflowing and unable to stem the tide...

God...somebody make this go away...what have I done...she...made me...could have fought harder....don't...can't...Sha'uri....never forgive me...never forgive myself...sick....this won't ever go away....
Jack felt a shudder of revulsion and self-loathing echoing from Daniel to himself. Along with Daniel's thoughts Jack was receiving brief visions of memory, like a strobe effect, each carrying its own attendant emotion; pain, anger, hate, self-hate, grief, despair...

My fault...my fault...my fault....should have been able to stop it....

Jack wasn't really surprised by Daniel's tendency to take on every burden as a personal responsibility, but he hadn't really fathomed how ingrained that 'universal conscience' thing was...

Don't believe me...just 'flaky Daniel' off on another tear...got to make them see....was real...we'll all die...Skaara...little brother...my fault...Jack had to choose...

Jack was aware that tears were flowing down both their faces and decided he didn't care. Daniel had fallen against Jack and the older man wrapped arms around the vulnerable young man in a gesture of fierce protection. Something about his young friend tended to bring out paternal instincts in Jack that he had thought long since buried...along with Charlie.

Goodbye...my good friend....let them make it...less than ten minutes....a chance?...just want to sleep...no...got to try....for Sha'uri...for Jack....make that look go away...that look...like before....

Jack remembered all too well the 'look' that had stared blankly back at him in the mirror every day for months after Charlie died. Something akin to that look must have shown up again as he tore himself away from Daniel on Apophis' ship, leaving his best friend in the world alone to die...

Me?...not me...old...so terribly old...so tired...can't sleep...may not wake up....Sam...she won't let me give in...no....he's taking away my only hope...no...

Jack heard the cry echo through his head. He fought to keep a hold on his own emotions. He knew the memories were pressing inexorably onward and he knew what was coming...

Gone...no...alone again...all of them gone...you promised, Jack....no, not gone...she lied...used again...no!...never again...help me, Jack....tired...so very tired....

Jack wasn't sure if that last was a thought of the present or a memory of the past, but he could feel the waves of exhaustion, mental and physical, flowing from Daniel. Two years worth of pain and constant struggle threatened to pull Daniel under...

Jack began to wonder if his friend would survive.

Chapter 9

Madness...so this is what it's like to lose it....no!...don't lock me in....Jack...don't leave me here alone...think...why can't I think...only feel...feel afraid...can't they see it's not me....got to make them understand...Jack, got to trust me...please let him trust me...why...you left me here alone...alone....

The word reverberated through Jack like a physical blow. He'd always thought he had a good idea of the loneliness and isolation that Daniel had always felt here on Earth, but he could see now that the depth of his friend's sorrow was a tangible thing...soul deep and never ending....A man cut off from the best part of himself...

'Like when Charlie...'

Jack squelched that thought before it could find its way to Daniel and drag him down even further. To Jack it seemed that Daniel was caught up now in an ocean of despair, surrounded and carried along by that cold, hopeless alone-ness.

Not stopping to think about what he was doing, Jack took a deep shuddering breath and 'dove' into Daniel's mind....

'Weird', he thought, 'so this is what it feels like to be Daniel.'

It was, to say the least, an odd sensation. The mind raced far too rapidly, bypassing the routes that Jack found necessary to cognitive function, yet arriving at a solution with a speed and clarity that were almost frightening...

'Too much stuff in here..."

Jack could only wonder how one person could learn so much in such a short time. Languages, modern and long-dead; cultures, more dead than modern; civilizations, long-dead, modern and otherworldly. Dial-up codes, hundreds of them, Daniel must have memorized every working address. The sheer, unyielding will of the man was enough to boggle the mind. Jack felt like nothing could ever distract Daniel from the pursuit of knowledge, except perhaps the pursuit of Sha'uri...

Jack had never felt anything so intense in his life...

Not that he hadn't loved Sara, he always had, maybe always would, but this....

This was something so completely overwhelming that it threatened to drown Jack for simply observing it. It seemed that Daniel gave his heart with the same passionate focus that he gave to everything else he did...

Beyond that shining point came darkness...That place in the mind where child and adult meet; the child clinging to fears and comforts of the past, the adult struggling to rise above them ever aware that, in the great scheme of things,

it was a probably a futile battle.

Dark...don't leave me alone in the dark...

Jack 'moved' toward that child-like plea...

Didn't mean to...my fault...always my fault...please...don't lock the door...

Jack felt anger rising and quickly stilled it. Somewhere someone had made Daniel believe that he was to blame for every bad thing that had happened and had punished him by locking him in a darkened room...a closet?
Moving 'onward,' Jack came to a place of ghosts. It was a place all too familiar to him. All the deep regrets lived in this shadowed place. The lives lost, the abiding terror of roads not taken...and roads taken that never should have been...

Jack passed beyond the ghosts into the realm of nightmare. Images of friends and loved ones dead, decaying...crying out in entreaty and accusation. Jack recognized some of these as the source and substance of Daniel's infamous demon-driven dreams...

**At the moment of impact, the child-Daniel saw the stone shatter...saw the blood...bright and sluggishly flowing from beneath the stone...

**Sha'uri, accusing...beseeching, forever beyond his grasp...

**Her...Her face...Her voice...touching him...invading his senses...pushing away the haze of forgetfulness....leaving him raw and sickened by what he'd done...

"Okay, not a fun place to be," Jack thought as he pushed on to a place where every large and small action had been analyzed and categorized by what should or could have been done to make it better, to have seen it sooner... A vicious cycle of self-doubt and recrimination.

Jack knew that Daniel's intuitive nature had often allowed him to act on instinct and resolve situations thought beyond hope. Jack was more than familiar with the power of should haves and could haves...he'd been caught up in it for far too long himself making life miserable for himself and everyone around him.

Daniel, it seemed, kept his demons to himself...

Chapter 10

Dark...

Jack 'dove' after that fleeting thought, coming to a place devoid of emotion, of hope...empty of everything but that cold, pervasive solitude...

'Daniel?'

Jack couldn't see anything in this darkness, but somehow he knew this was where Daniel had retreated. A place of punishment...the punishment that had become a refuge...a place to go when the pain became too great to bear.

'?'

Though nothing was 'spoken,' Jack knew that Daniel was surprised by his presence there. 'Like I go sight-seeing inside people's heads everyday?' Jack thought.

'Danny? It's me. It's Jack...'

'Here...Jack...help...'

The mind-voice was weak, confused...

'Daniel, you've got to let me take you out of here...now.'

'Tired...hurts...'

'I know...but we need you...out there...'

'Can't...too tired...can't find the way out...'

Jack mentally shuddered, realizing what could have happened if he'd left when Daniel had wanted him to.

Jack reached out with his mind, enclosing Daniel's bone-weary soul with his own protective spirit.

'We'll find the way...trust me?'

'Always...have...' A weak glimmer of his friend, but strengthening now.

Jack began drawing Daniel back with him through the shadows and the nightmares, through the doubts and the fears...trying in some instinctive fashion to project reassurance to his friend as they passed through the dark places.

Then, Jack hesitated...

He couldn't find his way back to himself.

They paused there on the edge of the darkness and Jack started to feel like he'd been set adrift, cut off from the things that made him "Jack."

'Colonel!'

A light mind-touch...sweet, concerned, insistent...drawing him upward. He tightened his 'hold' on Daniel and plunged toward it.

Jack felt himself gasping, as if he had been under water for too long a time. Someone was rubbing his back, easing the painful breathing. Jack opened his eyes and realized several things in rapid succession: it was daylight, Carter and Teal'c were back and staring at him like they'd seen a ghost, and Daniel's weight across his legs had long since cut off his circulation.

Daniel...

Jack tried to force his hand to his friend's throat to check for a pulse, but Carter stopped him.

"He's alive, Sir...The fever seems to be gone."

Teal'c raised a canteen to his lips, allowing Jack to take only a few small sips. Carter was saying something about dehydration, but Jack was having trouble focusing on the world around him. Part of him was still overcome by the experience of being inside Daniel's mind.

Carter was asking him something. "Sir? What happened to you two? When we got here I thought you were both dead."

Jack just shook his head and his eyes drifted shut in exhaustion. "Not dead, just...visiting..."

Chapter 11

The next time Jack woke up, he realized he was lying on the ground beside the fire. Something was cooking and he distinctly smelled coffee. Jack opened his eyes slowly, expecting it to hurt...it did.

It was dark now. Carter and Teal'c were talking quietly on the other side of the roaring fire, but he couldn't quite focus yet on what they were saying. As glad as he was to be alone with his thoughts again, a part of him felt...bereft.

It was as if he'd lost something...

'Daniel?'

Jack panicked a moment when he didn't see Daniel. Slowly, he became aware of a warmth against his back and realized it was Daniel. Evidently Carter and Teal'c had just pulled them over to the fire, sleeping bags and all.
Jack raised up gingerly, acutely aware of dozens of little aches and pains, waving away Carter's gesture of assistance. Teal'c poured a cup of sweetened coffee and passed it over to Jack. As he took a deep drink, resisting the urge to gulp it all down, Jack reached out with his other hand to check on Daniel. Cool, he was still cool after...how long?

"Nine hours now, Sir."

Jack could see plainly that Carter was dying to hear the details of what had occurred here. He filled them in quietly, carefully glossing over the non-essential, in other words personal, details.

"Next thing I knew, you called out to me and I was able to...reconnect...somehow..."

Carter's eyes darkened at that, " And Daniel was really...lost...in there?"

Jack's eyes closed a moment, remembering darkness...

"Oh yeah..."

Jack reached out again to touch Daniel's forehead, as much to reassure himself of his friend's presence as anything else. Still cool.

'Just wish he'd wake up.'

"What about his hand?" Jack asked roughly, slightly embarrassed by the gesture.

Carter shrugged, "The swelling is gone, just some discoloration around the bite itself. We'll just have to wait until he wakes up to see if everything else is back to normal."

Jack nodded and laughed as his stomach grumbled, loudly. "so, what's on the menu?"

"What else?" Carter grinned. "MRE stew."

"Probably...no better than yours, Jack."

The hoarse, barely audible voice caused them all to jump.

Daniel was lying there watching them out of eyes nearly drained of color by exhaustion. Carter smiled brightly and brought over the canteen, but her expression darkened a little as she had to help him raise himself up enough to drink. Daniel simply didn't have any energy to spare right now. Daniel raised two fingers in thanks.

"Wh-what's up?"

Jack smiled at the casual, albeit drained, tone. "Like he's making small talk at a party.' Jack thought. Daniel looked up at him then and Jack understood that it was only the younger man's considerable will that was holding him together right now. Jack nodded as if the thought had been spoken aloud. They'd been here before and Jack didn't need telepathy or some kind of psychic-bug to tell him that Daniel needed a touch of normalcy right now.

"Hey, Carter...bring Daniel some of that stuff you call coffee."

Carter caught on to what Jack was doing and responded with a rude remark. Teal'c moved over to gently help Daniel into a sitting position against the rocks. Jack noticed the way Teal'c handled the younger man, fussing, but without making it look like he was fussing. Jack realized he wasn't the only one whose protective instincts kicked in where Daniel was concerned.

Daniel thanked Teal'c with a slight nod, taking the coffee cup in trembling hands, taking a small sip. He raised an eyebrow at the sweetener, but made no comment. He seemed lost in thought...as if trying to digest the events of the past few days and decide how he felt about it.

Carter brought the food over and Jack dug into it, rediscovering his appetite with a vengeance.

Daniel picked at the food as if he were unsure what it was he should do with it.

"C'mon, Danny...It's not that bad." Jack joked. "Even if it is Carter's cooking."

Carter protested, "Hey., Sir, it's your recipe."

This exchange drew a small smile from Daniel, who took a small taste. " She's right...just as bad..."

They kept up the light banter so common to their quiet-mission camps. Jack didn't think that Daniel was even aware that he'd finished nearly half of his stew before setting it aside. Jack knew how he felt, after going three days with only one small meal it didn't take much to feel full.

Daniel had drifted off after that, his head inevitably landing on Jack's shoulder.

Jack saw Carter smile at the familiar scene. This wasn't the first time Daniel had used Jack for a pillow. Carter gently touched Daniel's forehead again, the smile broadening at the lack of fever.

Jack felt himself relax then and vaguely felt someone remove the cup from his hand as he sank deeper into sleep.

Chapter 12

Daniel slept through until late the next morning. Jack had awakened fairly early, moving stiffly, but none the worse for the events of the past few days. Carter and Teal'c had taken turns watching over them through the night, as Jack had known they would. Sometime in the night, one or both of them had a erected a canopy over the sleeping pair to keep the sun from waking them.

A cup of water for each of them had been set aside for washing and/or shaving. It didn't seem like much, but Jack definitely felt better for it.

Over breakfast, Carter explained that at the base of the mountains, near a small river, they had found a stone structure with writing on the inner walls.

Jack realized that this writing could provide a clue to the missing Stargate . He looked over to where Daniel still slept. If all went well, it would still take several days to make the journey on foot. Days they didn't really have to spare; the food and water wouldn't hold out more than two or three days. They didn't have time to camp here and let Daniel recuperate...

Jack made a decision. They would fashion a travois out of one of the tents and between them they would carry Daniel to the mountains, while at the same time Daniel could rest and regain his strength.

'Oh, boy..." Jack thought sarcastically, 'Daniel's just going to love this."

"Jack, I can make it!" Daniel protested, trying, unsuccessfully, to raise himself up on trembling arms.

Jack just looked at the younger man and reached out quickly to catch him before he could fall back. "Uh-huh."
Daniel fixed his eyes on Jack with a look that promised retribution...later.

Jack sighed, "Look, Danny...I know you hate the idea, but who knows what we're gonna run into later. Besides without you that writing isn't going too help us much."

Daniel closed his eyes a moment and Jack knew the battle was won. After a few seconds, Daniel opened his eyes and nodded. "Okay, Jack."

To Jack it was a major accomplishment. He had actually won an argument with his stubborn friend and he hadn't even had to pull out the team leader look. Jack smiled and looked down to see those intense blue eyes staring back at him, full of things left unsaid.

"Jack, I ..." Daniel's voice trailed off, not yet able to find the words.

Using that gentle tone that Jack reserved for children and close, close friends, he tried to tell Daniel that it really didn't matter right now, it really didn't have to be said at all...

"Just rest, Danny...we'll talk about it later."

Daniel nodded acquiescence, even as his eyes closed.

"Thanks, Jack..."

Epilog

Close against the rocky ridge a pair of eyes watched as SG-1 packed up their camp and moved out, pulling their ill comrade on the travois. They were heading directly toward the distant mountains...as expected. As the off-worlders moved beyond sight over the next ridge, the observing eyes glowed....

note: This is far from over...sequel to follow in the next few weeks. Hope you liked it, Jmas

 

 

 

 

 

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