No Such Thing
Fighting the equilibrium-disrupting effects of traveling via wormhole, Daniel Jackson stumbled down the wide stairs and prayed he wouldn't fall. He really wasn't in the mood for any ribbing from a certain Air Force colonel who delighted in inflicting just that at every opportunity. Fortune smiled on him, allowing him to reach the MALP and lean on the big machine for balance the same moment Jack O'Neill catapulted out of the event horizon, arms windmilling. He couldn't help but smile as the colonel noisily landed on his butt several feet away.
"Amused? Glad I could entertain you, Jaundice Boy! Get over here and help me up," Jack grumbled, beckoning with an impatient waggle of his fingers. "When we get back if Fraiser finds my bruised ass and determines extra prodding is necessary, she'll lose another couple of inches off of her already miniature stature."
"Threats generally don't work unless you're actually making them to the intended victim, Jack," Daniel gently chastised, loping over to help SG1's team leader to his feet. He sneaked glances at Captain Carter and Teal'c, who both appeared amused to witness Jack's fall but wisely kept their mouths shut when he finally registered part of the remark. Glaring at the other man, he asked, "Jaundice Boy? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Take a look around. You figure it out."
Automatically switching his focus from Jack to his surroundings, Daniel discovered the cause for the other man's somewhat derogatory name. Quite frankly, he was embarrassed he'd missed it - the sky on P0X 413 was an intense saffron color, lending its odd color to everything. He vaguely remembered seeing the MALP's video playback while still on Earth and thinking the strange coloration to be some technical glitch. Apparently that assumption was incorrect. While a little disorienting, the different visual environment was actually a softly nice change from the customary blue.
"What an unusual color," Sam Carter spoke at last, pointing at a nearby grove. Daniel smiled as he noticed the yellow didn't make her look sallow, instead giving her a warm, golden glow. Jack and Teal'c both looked sick in the strange light, and judging from the colonel's earlier remark, so did he.
"Oh, yeah. Delightful as always. I'll never tire of the tree filled worlds we always seem to come across. Conifers aplenty," Jack sarcastically commented. Hands brushing butt, the colonel moved in front of him and stretched his arms wide. Daniel scowled at the back of his friend's head as a hand nearly hit him on the nose. "Trees, trees, wonderful trees."
"I wonder if what we're seeing is just the sky playing off the natural color," Sam continued, calmly ignoring Jack. She walked to Daniel's side, where she paused. "Let's go find out."
"Does it matter what color they are?"
"No, I suppose not, sir. They are really beautiful, though."
"Ah, yes. We may have just discovered the perfect world to farm Earth's Christmas trees."
"They're a little big for that, Jack. Besides, they're blue," Daniel wryly remarked as he drew near the copse. Lifting a low-lying branch, he flipped it to emphasize his point. "The light spectrum must play on our optical nerves from a distance, but once we get close enough we can see the actual color."
"Funky Dr. Seuss Christmas trees, then," Jack amended with a quirk of his eyebrows. "For giants."
"I do not believe I have ever encountered a species large enough to call giant, O'Neill. Though if such exists, they would be formidable opponents to the Goa'uld."
"Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of a snaky man?"
"I wonder what other strange things we'll run into? Sam, did the MALP give us any indications?" Daniel asked, wanting the colonel to get down to business. Joking was all well and good, but Jack could take it too far and too long sometimes. He wouldn't mind making this mission as quick as possible, thinking back to the piles of work on his desk. Not that he preferred paperwork to missions, but every day he spent off world seemed to make the work back home multiply. He hoped General Hammond would seriously consider his latest request for additional personnel.
"Nothing but the usual plant life. This should be a milk run mission for us - no signs of sentient beings. Of course, the equipment has been wrong on that count before." She swatted at a tree once before moving back to her supplies. "We have plenty of time for exploring whatever effects the sun has had on this planet."
"In other words, Teal'c, Daniel and I are going to be bored."
"Speak for yourself, Jack. I'm looking forward to giving Sam a hand," Daniel instantly retorted, internally wincing at the half-truth. He didn't mind helping her, but to say he was excited about it was a slight exaggeration.
"Thanks, Daniel," Sam gratefully said, the annoyance with her CO barely masked on her face. Daniel shot her a smile, secretly pleased she was becoming more open and assertive with Jack.
"I, too, will endeavor to make myself useful, Captain Carter. It appears only you will be bored, O'Neill."
"The UAV picked up some interesting readings - either coincidentally structured rock formations or possibly remnants of a past civilization," Daniel added, shooting Jack a hopeful look. The trek was only five kilometers but he knew the other man wouldn't be happy if they walked all that way for no good reason. "It showed some fairly significant rifts and fissures. I think at the very least there's an extensive network of caves there."
"Think? Shouldn't the UAV be able to confirm this stuff?" Jack asked with a scowl at Sam.
"We're still having a few problems with it, sir. Sergeant Siler is working on it as we speak," she informed them, sheepishly shrugging her shoulders. "Budget cuts won't allow for outside help. But I'm pretty sure the readings are accurate."
"All right, then. We'll walk as you gather, Carter. Kill as many birds as we can."
"Why should we wish to kill birds, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, eyebrow tipping up.
Though Teal'c had made great strides in learning the ins and outs of vernacular English, there were still some phrases he had trouble understanding immediately. Nine out of ten times, the words came directly from Jack's lips. Daniel sometimes felt he was a dog owner, carrying a shovel and plastic bag in preparation to clean up some of the colonel's unintentional confusions, except explaining things to his Jaffa friend was actually something he enjoyed. He shot an exasperated look at Jack, picking up his pace to catch up with Teal'c.
"It's just an expression, Teal'c, and it's actually 'kill two birds with one stone'. It means to take care of a couple of things at the same time," Daniel quickly relayed, suddenly not feeling like delving into the complete history of that particular idiom.
"I see. We have a similar saying on Chulak."
"Daniel, could you come here for a second?" Sam called.
He slowed and pivoted around to find the captain crouching next to a large shrub. He knew virtually nothing when it came to the botanical samples Sam gathered, but always found it interesting. Sometimes he had to remind himself that biology wasn't her field either, and that working with her to figure out what they needed to was rewarding in its own right. Jack and Teal'c continued slowly as he backtracked a few steps. Taking several seconds to study the habitat more closely, he was surprised to find it didn't seem too dissimilar to Earth's. Reaching his friend's side, Daniel leaned down to see what she was indicating.
It looked like an ordinary plant to him. If he had to guess, he'd say it was a Venus's-flytrap. Giving her an inquisitive look, he suddenly realized how alive Sam looked. For a long time, Daniel had wondered if she would ever be able to pull herself from the depression that Goa'uld had left her in. More selfishly, he had wondered if he would ever stop seeing Sha're's face overlay his friend's. He smiled with satisfaction as no ghost made its presence known - in the form of his lost wife or Sam's all consuming depression.
"What's up, Sam?"
"Well, you'd think the plant would snare its prey like the ones back home, right? When I was preparing to cut off a chute, it didn't react at all. I admit it doesn't sound like much, but it points to the fact that significant variations might be present in other things as well."
Studying the plant more carefully, Daniel involuntarily shuddered at the somewhat notorious reputation it held - both a fascination and a terror. An overactive imagination could envision a giant sized plant devouring something quite larger than an insect. He tore his gaze away, snapping himself from his strange train of thought.
"So we bag one of them, take it back to the SGC and try and determine its purpose there?" Daniel asked rather than stated. He wasn't quite sure why, but the thought of being around the plant gave him an uneasy feeling. Undoubtedly a case of one overactive imagination having its way with his mental condition. It was just a plant.
"Now, Daniel, you know the rules about that," Jack's voice sounded in his left ear, coming from nowhere. The older man's shoulder brushed lightly across Daniel's.
He jerked upright at both the unexpected intrusion into the conversation and into his personal space, the top of his head catching the colonel square on the jaw. Sam leapt to her feet in synchronization with him, her arms reflexively jerking slightly before she clutched at her MP5. Someone screeched, and he couldn't totally rule himself out as the guilty party. God, he hoped it hadn't been him! Spinning toward Jack, he forced the startled look off of his face and attempted to replace it with indignation. The other man moved several steps back, one hand cupping an abused jaw and chin.
"Ah, jeez. That's gonna leave a mark."
Daniel disbelievingly stared at Jack. With eyes covered by sunglasses and face obscured by the brim of a baseball cap, he couldn't tell if his friend was serious or not. What he could tell was the damage inflicted to his own skull, which was now throbbing harshly. He snapped, "How do you think I feel? It isn't every day I run into a big slab of granite! You shouldn't sneak up on people like that!"
"I can't help it, Daniel. It's what I was trained to do." Jack shrugged, amusement now apparently overcoming any discomfort he'd experienced. The colonel looked from him to Sam and back again, smirk growing from barely discernable to downright cocky. "Like I was supposed to know you two were afraid of your own shadows?"
The words were a cold, feather-thin sliver slicing straight through his insides. Twitching slightly, Daniel swallowed and edged backward, jumping when he ran into Sam. She reached out a steadying hand, laying it on his forearm. Warmth seeped through his jacket sleeve and he latched onto the feeling, letting it pull him out of whatever had taken control. Looking into Sam's concerned eyes, he managed a small smile.
"Give me a break, Jack. It was reaction - like when stupid people ask if you're afraid of a man this big," Daniel finally found his voice. Lifting his hand, he held his thumb and index finger about half an inch apart. "Then laugh hysterically when you blink because they shove their hand in your face."
"Sure. That's exactly what it was," Jack drawled, shifting his sunglasses down to peer over them.
"O'Neill, had either Captain Carter or Daniel Jackson sabotaged you in such a manner, would you have not also reacted similarly?"
"Really, sir. Teal'c has a point. Scaring people like that is a little juve..." Sam trailed off, suddenly becoming flustered when Jack glowered at her. She bent back down to focus her attention on the plant specimen.
"Whatever. Can we just get going?"
Now apparently bored again, Jack impatiently shuffled his feet and looked the direction they had been traveling. Daniel realized any form of apology was unlikely and he sighed deeply. He couldn't count the number of times SG1's team leader had pulled the exact same joke, and he'd never once shown regret. Of course, Daniel had never gotten so disturbed by it before. Several minutes after the fact, his heart was still racing and palms still clammy. He really should cut back on his coffee intake. Before missions, anyway.
"Daniel, give me a hand?" Sam requested. She peered up at him, but her eyes frequently darted to check the surrounding, shadowy woods. His own nervousness increased with every furtive look she gave. "I don't think we need an entire plant, just this chute here."
"Hurry up, will ya? Teal'c and I are going to get started again. Don't lag too far behind," Jack ordered, shoving his sunglasses back up.
Without waiting for an answer, the colonel strode away, leaving him and Sam to complete their task. As he held the sample bag open for her to deposit the single branch she'd extracted, Daniel noticed her hands trembling slightly. He frowned at the plant as he sealed it into its container, still apprehensive about being around it. Shaking his head as if to dislodge the irrational feeling, he rose and followed Sam to catch up with his other two teammates.


Even though he'd managed to appear self-satisfied and smug at scaring Daniel and Carter, Jack hadn't really taken any enjoyment from it. In fact, he felt slightly repentant about the whole thing - their intense reactions were so uncharacteristic he was actually concerned. Normally, each of his team members swallowed the majority of the reaction when he scared them, giving only the barest sign. Damn, Carter had yelped. He thought perhaps he could attribute some of her jitteryness to the whole Jolinar thing, but he noticed both of the scientists had stayed on edge for a lot longer than they should have.
"Teal'c, did Carter and Daniel seem kinda off to you just now?" he casually asked, swinging a hand at nearby branches and surreptitiously checking on the huddled figures behind them.
"Off?"
"You know...jumpy. Nervous. Off."
"I did notice both appeared abnormally bothered by your attempt at amusement, O'Neill, thought I do not know if it signifies anything of importance."
"Maybe I'm just getting better at scaring them."
Teal'c's response to that was to arch one eyebrow to a height Jack had never seen it reach, which he interpreted as a sign of extreme skepticism. He tried not to take it personally, agreeing with the implied assessment. If anything, he'd been less careful than usual and hadn't minded when Teal'c had purposely made no attempt at all to move with stealth. Daniel and Carter should have heard them coming. Well, Carter should have.
Shrugging his shoulders, Jack peered up into the golden sky. His teammates might find the atmosphere intriguing, but all it did for him was mask the obviousness of how this world was exactly like nearly every other planet they'd visited. While he typically complained about such a thing, and had just done so, he was actually not that irritated by the mundane, uninhabited world. He'd never admit this to anyone, but he was still having a hard time dealing with the too recent near loss of his 2IC. Too recent and too near, he'd argued with Hammond for more down time, as much for his own state of mind as Carter's.
None of them had been up to par since the body-snatching incident - Carter depressed and non-responsive, Daniel nervous and twitchy, Teal'c...well, Teal'c just looked more dour than usual, which couldn't be a good thing. As for himself, he hadn't slept more than three hours each night for a solid week, the sight of Carter's inanimate body haunting him. Long story short, if he and his team absolutely had to be off world, he'd rather be bored than running from Goa'uld or indigenous life. He'd still prefer to be home, though.
He covertly sneaked another glance back at Daniel and Carter, who had finished collecting their plant and were walking slowly toward him and Teal'c. Smiling, Jack saw them chatting a little and was happy to see his captain was getting back to normal. Or as back to normal as one could get after being possessed by a snake. That thought brought a frown as he scanned the man next to her, disconcerted by what that meant for Sha're. And Skaara. He had a suspicion that was what was causing the archaeologist's nervousness, though neither of them had approached the subject.
"O'Neill, it is not necessary for you to disguise your actions. Neither Captain Carter nor Daniel Jackson are aware of us at the moment."
Startled, Jack jerked his head to gawk at the bigger man. Teal'c was very obviously not looking anywhere but straight ahead, ever vigilant. How the hell... Chalking it up to Jaffa super-sense, he muttered, "You say that like it's a good thing."
"I meant only that they are focused on completing their specimen gathering. Is it not a good thing that they clearly have no desire to seek retribution for your prank?"
Teal'c's tone was so even, Jack couldn't be sure if the Jaffa was teasing. To use the word humor when referring to his friend was almost oxymoronic, and that was a generous way of putting it. Still, the longer he was around Teal'c, the more he got a feeling that the other man both understood more than he let on and held a very subtle wit. He rolled to a stop, glaring just in case the remark had been intended as a kind of slight.
"Can we hurry it up, kids?" he yelled, scowling when his shouts caused the scientists to start. "I'd like to make this trip in one day. Gotta catch the game."
"What game?" Daniel asked as he and Carter caught up. Despite the casual manner both of his teammates exhibited, Jack could feel their tension.
"Oh, you know. The BIG game," he nonchalantly said. There was no game, he just suddenly really didn't want to be on lovely P0X 413 anymore. "Why? Want to come over and watch it with me?"
Daniel blessed him with a dry smile, mouth opening to make an undoubtedly witty retort. Taking a step back as a loud choking snort resonated in his ears, Jack gaped at the younger man, who gaped right back.
"Ahem. Sorry, I must have swallowed a bug or something," Carter chirped, rushing by them to stand next to Teal'c.
Jack grinned at the ease in which they seemed to flow back into a light-hearted banter session. He felt infinitely more relaxed just knowing Carter was finally - officially in his book - on the way to recovery. This was the longest time she'd held a spark of life in weeks, and she showed no signs of withdrawing from them again. Aside from his ill thought out scare, she was being a typical astrophysicist. Or whatever. In the past year, she'd taken on so many different scientific tasks he wasn't sure what the heck to call her.
"Did the yellow light have an effect on its taste?"
"Sir?"
"Never mind. Let's book, shall we? I was serious about heading home early. I can only take so much tediousness."
"Can't guarantee that, sir," Carter cheekily said, surveying the landscape. "Daniel and I agree that we need to examine everything very closely. That plant showed no physical dissimilarity to a Venus's flytrap back home - it was only after minute study that I discovered the separating factor."
With that, she exchanged a long look with Daniel. The archaeologist nodded slowly, stroking his chin thoughtfully. Leaning slightly toward him, the younger man lifted a hand, index finger pointed, and opened his mouth. He just stared at Jack for a moment, then sauntered after Carter. Rolling his eyes, Jack hung his head low and moved a step to draw up next to Teal'c.
"It appears I was incorrect about Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson's need for reprisal, O'Neill."
"Yeeah, got that," he muttered. It was going to be a long walk. He couldn't stop the weary sigh from escaping as he saw Daniel whipping out his rubber gloves, an intent look upon his face. "So got that."
Disinterestedly taking up the path toward the rocky ruins...or the ruined rocks...Jack fiddled with his sunglasses. He had to admit it was pretty damn cool how everything seemed so much more vivid and sharper due to the yellow light. Unfortunately, that small amusement wasn't going to get him through the mission any more quickly.
"Carter, Daniel. Teal'c and I are going to go at a non-scientific pace and scout out whatever it is at the end of the yellow brick road," Jack announced. His 2IC's face went slack for a moment, eyes widening, and then returned to a neutral expression. The little alarm buzzer in his head started to go off again.
"Uh, I object."
"You object? What is this, People's Court?" he scoffed, keeping an eye on Carter as Daniel moved in front of him.
"Wouldn't it make more sense for me to go to the ruins? I mean, hopefully there's something there in need of translating and who are you going to get to do that if not me? And it'll save you precious time."
"All right, then. Teal'c, you and Daniel scout up ahead. I'll hang out with Carter."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow, which Jack interpreted as disbelieving. He was getting good at figuring out that particular facial expression of his Jaffa friend. And, yes, he knew he was condemning himself to sheer, utter, complete, undeniable, total torture but he just had a feeling he should stay close to Carter. He nodded and impatiently waved them off, turning to find the captain already kneeling and digging some moss from a tree.
"Do we really have to collect all of this stuff?"
"It could prove important, sir."
Again glancing up at the sky, he noted with resignation that the sun already looked too low to make it back home today, no matter how quickly they walked. He rested his back on a tree, watching Carter as she worked busily but unhurriedly. Even if he had asked for it, Jack was feeling the agony of her and Daniel's chosen revenge. It burned him that his buttons were so easily pushed.
"Important for what?" he asked at last, hoping at least some conversation would help.
"Well, as I've said before, plant life accounts for a huge portion of the world's medicinal resources. If something here has developed just slightly differently than at home, it could make a normally useless item invaluable."
"Oh."
"Sir, I wouldn't be collecting these things if I didn't believe that."
"Okay."
"I'd rather be back at the SGC too. I really would," she said pensively, darting her eyes to the dense forest.
That admission alone was enough to make him wish with everything he had that Daniel didn't find anything of interest. On a good day, he was less than excited about the archaeological thrills and wonders richly abounding the galaxy and frequently let his stance be known. All of a sudden, digging in the dirt with Carter sounded like a mighty fine idea. He pushed off from his tree, joining the captain with an outstretched hand.
"Let's see if we can speed this up, shall we?"


"Sir?" Sam stuttered, a little taken aback by the colonel's intention of lending aid. Not once in their time as a team had he offered to give her or Daniel any type of help when it came to the scientific aspects of missions. Not that he was lazy; she thought perhaps it had more to do with his stubborn belief that science was a waste of time.
"What, I can't be your lab assistant?"
"Of course you can, sir. It's just you've ne...never mind. Here, can you hold this open for me?" she asked, tossing him a vial.
Getting right to work, she found herself now motivated to take care of the least glamorous aspect of each mission, uneasy by her CO's apparently benevolent participation. More than that, though, she was nervous at his insistence on getting back home. There was no deadline, no danger, but ever since the colonel had scared her and Daniel earlier, she'd been on edge. It was silly, but she felt as though she was being watched.
Sam sighed, rubbing her forehead with gloved fingers. It was not unlike the sensation she'd had ever since Jolinar, of both being outside her body and being probed mentally. Even if the Goa...Tok'ra was gone, its effects to her psyche were still yielding their power. That was probably it. Residual eeriness from that event. She deposited the moss sample into the bag the colonel was patiently holding for her.
"I find it really hard to believe the cure for the common cold is going to be in this stuff," he grumbled, shying away from the fuzzy plant.
Make that impatiently. Giving her CO her best exasperated look, Sam mentally shook her head. The colonel's decision to stay with her wasn't based on any military reasoning whatsoever. It was a lose-lose situation for him as far as she could figure: bored out of his mind with Daniel or bored out of his mind with her. As much as she might like to think the choice had been made because he enjoyed spending time with her, Sam thought it more likely that he stayed for the same reason he'd been watching her every move since they set foot on P0X 413.
"But what if it is, sir?"
"Yeah, yeah. We've been over this. Look, even at a normal pace, it's going to be dusk by the time we make it to Daniel's rocks. What are the chances I can convince you to just head right there? Once we determine that's a bust, we'll mosey on back to the Stargate tomorrow and collect until your pack is full of fascinating things. Hell, until all our packs are full."
He had a point; the sun was descending quickly and taking with it the already mellowed light. Her and Daniel's plan had worked already anyway. No big game for the colonel tonight. Smirking, Sam looked up and was greeted by a flash of movement beyond her CO's left shoulder. She stiffened, face freezing as she reached for her MP5. The colonel was already rolling, weapon in hand. Ducking behind the tree, she felt her heart racing, her palms sweating. She was right - something had been watching her.
"Carter? What is it?"
"I saw movement behind you and to the left, sir. I don't think it was very big, but there may have been more than one," she hissed. More than one what? And why was she so freaked out?
"Okay. Stay put. I'll see if I can flush it out toward you," he whispered, stealthily slithering into the woods.
Even as he left, Sam wanted to call him back. She didn't want to be all alone out here, where the trees seemed to have eyes. She sure as hell didn't want whatever was out there to come charging at her. Gasping breaths as quietly as she could, she clenched her eyes shut and leaned into the tree bark so hard it was probably leaving an imprint on her skin. She didn't care. All alone, she was all alone with whatever was out there, and even if she didn't know what it was, she knew she was scared of it.
Exhaling shakily, she tried to calm herself. Air Force captains did not have nervous breakdowns in the middle of missions. She'd survived Desert Storm; she could handle a little romp in the woods. No way could she let her CO see how close she was to losing it, not after the past month. She was more than ready to move beyond it - Jolinar would not ruin her life posthumously. He wouldn't have wanted...what the hell? How did she know what a Goa...Tok'ra , it was a Tok'ra...would have wanted?
Sam snapped her eyes open again, confused by the jumbled emotions now flickering through her. Part of her screamed in terror while another previously unknown part of her sought rationality of thought. It wasn't the battle between woman and soldier, at least not in the sense she knew. No, this was different, but she just didn't know how.
Everything was so different now, and it would never be the same. Sam saw how everyone at the SGC looked at her - expressions filled with fear and relief and distaste in equal measure. Even her teammates gave her the kid glove treatment, afraid she would break or something. She didn't blame them for their concern, but she found it was inhibiting her from moving on. All her life, whenever bad things happened, she just forged ahead and those around her permitted it. When her mother died, her dad hadn't known how to deal with his own guilt, let alone her blaming him. He'd receded from her and Mark for a long time. It had been easy to get on with life without him around as a constant reminder.
Only she realized that that hadn't necessarily been a good thing. She and Mark were not exactly on speaking terms. And her father? Well, she would describe their relationship as tentative, at best. She may not be able to fix what was already wrong in her life, but she could prevent the same thing from happening again. When the colonel looked at her as thought she was going to vanish off the face of the planet, she'd make sure he knew that wasn't going to happen. If Daniel started nervously rambling around her, she'd talk him down and make him comfortable with her. Teal'c...Teal'c would be more difficult to diagnose, but she'd watch for any signs of uncharacteristically apparent concern and ease it.
Calmed a little by her thoughts, Sam straightened her shoulders and felt the tension in her muscles relax. She was fine, safe with her teammates. If the threat in the woods was great, they would be there for her and she for them. Confidently holding up her weapon, ready to fire upon whatever the colonel sent her way, she smiled slightly. The irrational fear subsided to a tolerable level, but refused to disappear completely.
"There's nothing out there, definitely not lions and tigers and bears."
The whispered voice in her ear was like gunfire, explosively destroying the shield of comfort she'd just attained. Leaping away from the tree, Sam instinctively brought her gun around with her and aimed it at the intruder.
"Shit, Carter! It's just me! Don't shoot," the colonel quickly said, hands raised cautiously in the air. He stared at her with wary eyes, slowly rising from his crouched position. Sam dropped the MP5 as if it were hot. "You okay there?"
Damnit, there it was - the look. Heart still pounding, she raised a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. So much for her assuring him she was fine. At least she hadn't screeched that time. Lions and tigers and bears, the colonel's words repeated in her head, bringing with them a strange feeling of panic. Mark used to taunt her with that phrase when she was a little girl, delighted in the terror it created. It had been years since she'd thought about this, why was it suddenly popping up again?
Feeling a light touch to her shoulder, Sam jumped and opened her eyes to find her CO standing directly before her. She swallowed and gave him a smile she intended as reassuring, but given his returning grimace, she imagined she'd fallen short of the mark. She tried again, gladdened to see his shoulders loosen a bit. An awkward look began to appear across his features as they stood in relative silence, her rapid breathing filling the air. For a moment, she was afraid he was going to ask her to explain her reaction and she frankly had no idea what to say. But then his expression changed to his 'let's get down to business' one.
"Are you sure you saw something? There weren't even any tracks for me to follow," the colonel said at last, moving back a step. "In fact, I'm noticing there's a distinct lack of any animal life on this rock."
Pulled out of the lingering shock by his no-nonsense observation, Sam realized he was right. The only sound was the rustling of leaves in the breeze. No birds. No bugs. No nothing. Scrunching her eyebrows, she looked at him thoughtfully, hoping her voice wouldn't betray her unease. "You're right, sir. That might explain why the plant didn't react to my attempts to engage it - there's nothing to foster that instinct."
"Plants have instinct?"
"Function," she revised. With each word she uttered, she began to feel better and she saw her CO also returning to his usual relaxed but ready stance. "I wonder what happened to the inhabitants of the planet? Human and animal. I mean, the ruins suggest there was a civilization here at one point."
"Rumored ruins. I still have my doubts about them," the colonel inserted quickly, holding up a finger as she opened her mouth to protest on Daniel's behalf. "Speaking of, now that we know there's nothing bad lurking out here, let's catch up to the others. Sun's way too low now, and even if there's no threat I don't like to hike in the dark."
She looked to the sky, a bit surprised to see the sun had descended so low its view was blocked by the trees. She hadn't realized how long the colonel had been separated from her; he must have searched very thoroughly. Embarrassed that it appeared to have been her overactive imagination, Sam was about to offer an apology when she caught the concerned look flashing again on her CO's face.
"Just let me gather my things," she mumbled, disconcerted she was failing to hide her emotions. "I'll be quick."
"Do that, Carter," he said, not offering his help this time. He kept his eyes alert to their surroundings, despite his earlier proclamation that SG1 appeared to be the only sentient forms on the planet. "Do that."
Gathering her supplies quickly, Sam wasn't reassured by the colonel's guard. It made her even edgier, if that were possible. She swallowed the lump in her throat and blindly shoved everything into her pack. Walking back to her CO's side, she noticed he hadn't removed his sunglasses in the dim light. She could see her pale face staring back at her in their reflective lenses, and she saw how...young and small she looked. That would explain his behavior.
"Let's go."
Sam followed him, eyes pinned on his back. A few feet later, she suddenly realized the colonel hadn't used humor at all to diffuse her tension and fright. With a shudder, she could only imagine what that meant.


Carefully watching Daniel Jackson's face as they moved from O'Neill and Captain Carter, Teal'c saw the young man still struggling to control his emotions. There was an underlying presence of disquiet that remained well beyond the time it should have faded, and it was not solely the archaeologist who displayed it. With a frown, he turned his head to study Captain Carter's fluttering hands begin gathering samples again.
O'Neill was correct, though Teal'c did not know exactly what was causing the fearful reactions. Glancing to his left and right, he wondered if perhaps the lack of life was somehow impacting his human friends. None of them had mentioned the strange quiet that enveloped P0X 413, almost as though they had not noticed it. Above all else, these things caused him alarm - it was not natural for a world to be teeming with plant life and no animal, and it was not natural that his companions had not perceived the phenomenon immediately. He did not know why he had not made mention of it earlier.
"Teal'c, I just noticed this," Daniel Jackson burst, words tripping from his mouth rapidly. He turned his full attention on his teammate, not surprised to find arms flying in the air. "It's really quiet here, isn't it? Very odd, I would have thought there would have been birds or something. There's nothing here, is there? Can you tell?"
Teal'c knew the younger man was asking if he could sense something the others may not, and he wished he had a different answer. Tilting his head, he replied, "Your assessment is correct, Daniel Jackson. There does not appear to be animal life on P0X 413."
Stopping, the archaeologist looked around as if searching for something, his brow creasing. "That doesn't make any sense. There has to have been life at one time or there wouldn't be ruins. Unless Jack is right and they're just rocks. We haven't come across any signs - no bones or remains. This could be a complete waste of time."
"I have seen many strange things, Daniel Jackson. While it may not be apparent, we should not rule out the possibility this world once housed life."
"Maybe, but why doesn't it anymore? The plants are thriving, why didn't animal life?" Daniel Jackson mused.
"Perhaps the answer lies in the ruins we seek to reach," he suggested, beginning to walk again.
The light was weakening, the shadows darkening around them. He could see the trees thinning ahead, and knew they would soon be out of the woods. It was abnormal for the Stargate to be situated in such a manner - surrounded by dense forest. If this world was once a Goa'uld planet, it had not been so in quite some time. It gave him a small degree of comfort to know his friends would not have to be worried about that threat.
"Teal'c, wait for me!" Daniel Jackson called, jogging to catch up. Teal'c did not realize he had increased his speed, leaving the younger man trailing behind. "Oh, we're almost out."
Hearing relief in the tone, Teal'c turned to find the archaeologist's gaze once again surveying the woods apprehensively. Though he still could not ascertain the reason, he was certain Daniel Jackson found something alarming in the harmless forest. The inexplicable behaviors he had been exhibiting were indeed...off, as O'Neill had described. Not having a basis from which he could aid his friend, Teal'c thought it the best he could do to escort him into the clearing, and subsequently away from that which disturbed him.
"Indeed. The UAV revealed a barren area spanning three kilometers around the stone structure."
"Right, I remember that now. That'll make the walk much faster, don't you agree? Although by the looks of it, the grasses here have grown pretty high," the archaeologist rambled.
Following Daniel Jackson's pointing finger, he saw the grass encroaching into the treeline was quite tall. It neared shoulder length, and appeared rough and thick. Teal'c hoped it became less so as they progressed, or his friend would have considerable difficulty traversing through it. The younger man pushed by him, moving out of the woods and onto the savanna.
"No, look, it's only up to my knees out here," Daniel Jackson announced as he walked farther onto the plain, turning around to wave Teal'c toward him.
As he had predicted, Daniel Jackson's entire countenance changed once away from the trees. Teal'c wondered if he should inquire about the change in body language, but reconsidered when he realized that might provoke an unfavorable reaction, possibly even bring the return of tension. Dismissing the idea, he strode up next to the scientist. An unsettling feeling edged around the corners of his mind, unnamable but potent.
The past several weeks had held much of which to be concerned. While the Tok'ra had possessed Captain Carter, Teal'c had stoically told O'Neill to look at her and not see a friend. However, upon visiting the young woman, he had found himself unable to set up the barriers necessary to follow through with his own advice; had seen his teammate and friend, imagined her suffering. Now it was the opposite - he could not see her for her, only the image of her posture and demeanor while Jolinar resided within her. Even knowing the Tok'ra to be good, he could not separate that fact to make what had happened to his friend acceptable. It was unfair, both to Captain Carter and to the mysterious renegade Goa'uld, and he was unaccustomed to the sensation of being unable to control his emotions.
Teal'c had been forcing himself to frequently look upon the captain in the hope he could overcome his difficulty. Unfortunately, his practice had been observed by her on more than on occasion, and had served only to cause her discomfort. He did not know how to explain to Captain Carter the reasoning behind his actions, and had subsequently attempted to avoid such a confrontation, a tactic employed by Daniel Jackson. It provided no relief.
"Let us continue, then, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, pulling himself from his sobering thoughts. "I am certain Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter are not far behind us. They will not be able to gather samples in the fading light."
"Teal'c, do you think..."Daniel Jackson said, pausing before completing his inquiry. He darted a look around them as they treaded through the field, the corners of his mouth turning downward. "Do you feel strange?"
"I do not," Teal'c instantly responded as his infant Goa'uld suddenly swirled nauseatingly in its pouch. Unconsciously lifting his free hand to rest on his abdomen, he frowned. "What has prompted your inquiry, Daniel Jackson?"
There was a long pause, as if the younger man was debating how to reply. Teal'c's fist clenched on his staff weapon as he recognized he had spoken a mistruth to his friend. Strange would be an accurate word to describe the sensations running in him. Sighing deeply, Daniel Jackson ran a hand through his long locks, and then let his arms swing loosely at his sides. Teal'c thought to amend his assertion but could not explain the feeling he was experiencing, nor pinpoint a cause for it. When he was a child, it had been ingrained in him that speech was to be used only if there was important information to reveal, a habit he was quickly losing among the Tau'ri. On this occasion he took heed to his upbringing, telling himself he did not want to cause further agitation to his friends.
"Nothing. It's nothing. As much as I was looking forward to discovering signs of civilization here, now I just want to get it over with. That probably doesn't make any sense."
The statement may not have held any concrete evidence to support it but Teal'c found it suited his own thoughts perfectly. He bowed his head once to demonstrate his understanding, remaining silent. Once again increasing his pace, Daniel Jackson matched him stride for stride. The journey was uneventful, the land as barren of landmarks or varying terrain as the UAV had indicated. He found the younger man's anxiety seemed to dissipate somewhat with each footfall away from the forest, while his own seemed to increase.
Neither man spoke for the remainder of the jaunt, and Teal'c was grateful for the quietude. His mind fought between focusing on completing the mission and attempting to squelch the uneasiness roiling through him. He was pleased when their destination came into sight, rocks standing alone on the horizon and shadowing in the deep yellow sunset. To his surprise, Daniel Jackson slowed as they approached. It was uncharacteristic for the archaeologist not to rush forward to begin a cursory exploration.
"Daniel Jackson, we have arrived," he declared unnecessarily, perturbed when the other man flinched and then squared his shoulders as if bolstering himself.
"Yeah, let's go. If this turns out to be nothing, we can radio Jack and Sam not to come and head back tonight after all," Daniel Jackson breathed, voice sounding dull and unenthusiastic. Teal'c frowned again at the strange reoccurrence of apprehension in his young friend. As if influenced by the archaeologist's mood, his trepidation soared.
Daniel Jackson looked terrified at the prospect of returning through the woods, yet there was underlying hope coloring his tone as well. Teal'c understood that hope as desire to return to Earth, an idea not adverse to him either. There may be great botanical and medicinal resources here, and possibly cultural findings but he did not care about such things. Normal tolerance of the secondary objectives to each missions disappeared as he selfishly hoped to make this trip a brief one. His skin prickled with gooseflesh as he followed Daniel Jackson into the ruins.


Trying to push his unfounded misgivings aside, Daniel ventured closer to the rocks. Despite wanting to get home, he couldn't stop the disappointment creeping into him. Rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. The grass gave way to stone almost completely, making the site unrewardingly sterile, with no signs of past or present life. There was no reason to stay here. Reaching for his radio, he noticed how big some of the boulders were, how elongated their shadows were becoming with the sun's setting rays. Extending toward him from every direction, they seemed to inch closer with each passing second.
"There is no life here," Teal'c intoned from behind.
As when Jack had sneaked up on him and Sam, Daniel launched into the air and spun toward the voice. Hoping Teal'c hadn't noticed, he drew in a deep breath and nodded. "Jack was right."
"However, I have discovered something that bears investigation," the Jaffa continued, giving him a tiny glance complete with inclining eyebrow.
"Really? What? When?" he asked, curiosity teasing despite his nervousness. He was getting control of his breathing and relaxing a little. Nothing to be afraid of. Teal'c was here.
"We have been here for several minutes, Daniel Jackson. I immediately set out to check the perimeter of the area, and in doing so located a small pond, which I believe is not naturally occurring. Also, I have found an entrance to an underground tunnel."
Several minutes? God, how long had he been standing there? Sneaking a quick look at his Jaffa friend to try and get some indication, he realized the move was futile. If Teal'c noticed his preoccupation, it didn't look like he was going to mention anything. Daniel wished he could identify what was making his nerves resonate so badly; the latest news of possible sentient life vanishing from the face of this world certainly didn't help.
He didn't know which was worse - to find no traces of life or to find evidence that there once had been. It was definitely ominous to think about what might have caused a populated world to become quite the opposite. In the twilight, the yellow sky had deepened to a mustard color and it stained Teal'c's features surreally. Daniel looked away from the now gruesome visage, unable to find strength or relief from it as he usually did.
"Where?" he asked at last, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
"We must cross to the other side of the rocks. The pond is located in a small dell, the tunnel hidden among the stones there," Teal'c said, his expression indecipherably blank.
Scanning the distance, Daniel unhappily noted the entire path was littered by darkness and shadow. He nodded, ushering Teal'c to lead the way with a sweep of his arm. As his friend began moving, he reconsidered. It'd be safer for him to be in front, with the other man behind him to safeguard him from the shadows getting him.
Shadows getting him? What was he thinking? He wasn't a little kid anymore. But the thought of voluntarily walking into the shade-infested area was enough to chill the blood in his veins. Teal'c was already a good ten paces in front of him, fearing neither man nor beast as usual. Bracing and calmly reminding himself that there was no such thing as ghosts, Daniel briskly walked to his friend's side. He had to concentrate on something other than absurd, vague feelings that were probably due to something as ordinary as lack of sleep. Too many fitful nights disturbed by thoughts of Sha're and Sam and Jolinar and...this wasn't helping. Unfortunately thinking about what might have happened to the inhabitants of P0X 413 wasn't much of an alternative, even for an archaeologist.
He couldn't think of a thing to prevent the feeling of claustrophobia as the night closed in all around him. Daniel rotated between warily watching the surrounding darkness and keeping track of Teal'c, protecting against...something. His friend walked purposefully by his side, never faltering in gait, and he managed to look beyond the sick, yellowed tinged countenance to find a scrap of his own backbone from it. If anything were wrong here, the Jaffa on his left would definitely make him aware of it. Reassured by that simple fact, he loosened up by degrees until he was almost at ease.
The moment he looked down into the glen and saw the pond, Daniel knew Teal'c's assessment had been correct. Perfectly circular, the small expanse of water dully reflected the departing sun's rays and was absolutely still. Upon first glance, he thought it looked like a cesspool, dead and rotting, but then he took in the plant life surrounding it. It was as abundant and flourishing here as the rest of the planet. The incongruity of this evidence of civilization combined with the complete lack thereof anywhere else had him puzzled. If the tunnels did turn out to be manmade, he had to wonder why the indigenous people built a pool on the surface when they lived underground.
"I think you're right, Teal'c, this is definitely manmade. I just can't think of a good explanation for it. Maybe when we check out the tunnel I'll find a clue about the civilization," Daniel said, a little startled at the loudness of his own voice. He waited for the other man to give some sort of response, but got none. "Teal'c?"
Pulling his eyes away from the water, he glanced over to his friend. Teal'c stood slightly hunched over, right hand fisted over his abdomen and face displaying shock or distress. Daniel felt a corresponding wave of cold splash over him at the sight of Teal'c in such an emotionally unguarded state; there were so few times he could recall where his friend allowed any reaction broadcast for everyone to see. None of them overwhelmingly positive instances. Bad. This was so not good.
"Teal'c?" he whispered, jerking a hand up and placing it on the other man's shoulder. "You okay?"
Half expecting it, Daniel quickly jumped back as Teal'c came to life in volatile motion, arms swinging to raise his staff weapon. He instantly put his hands out in front of him, hoping the Jaffa would recognize it as a sign of his non-aggression. Furious and fearful brown eyes glared over to him, clearly not fully recognizing him.
"Teal'c? It's me, it's me," Daniel calmly said, lowering his hands to his sides and inching a step closer as Teal'c's grip on the staff slackened. He slid the weapon away, all the more troubled when the action was tolerated. "You okay?"
"Daniel Jackson?"
"Yeah."
"I was experiencing a very unusual sensation; it has passed," Teal'c said, voice and face still ghosted. "It was not my intention to harm you."
"I know that, Teal'c," he assured his friend, strangely and unsuitably comforted to know that Teal'c was feeling off as well. "Feel like talking about it?"
"I do not."
"Didn't think so," Daniel conceded, not altogether happy to let the issue slide. Something had seriously spooked Teal'c, and anything that could do that had to be terrible. He couldn't ignore what had just happened, or his own unfading agitation. "Teal'c, when I asked you before if you felt strange..."
"I did not reveal the entire truth, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c unexpectedly interrupted. "The longer we remain on P0X 413, the more the feeling of unease magnifies within me. I did not make mention of it earlier because I cannot give cause for such a reaction."
Taken aback by the admission, Daniel stared at the man in front of him. He could understand himself, Sam or even Jack not calling attention to the bizarre atmosphere seeming to sheath the planet - hell, he had withheld from the rest of them - but Teal'c? Never. If there was only a remote possibility of danger, Teal'c always made it known to the rest of them. It was an invaluable tool of sorts, a gauge to assess every situation. Now he was faced with the fact that the Jaffa didn't say a word about his own sense of foreboding and had made no mention of the lack of life on P0X 413, which he certainly must have noticed right away. Daniel continued watching Teal'c carefully avoid direct eye contact with him, jaw muscles working nonstop.
"But you know the cause now, right?"
"I do not," Teal'c hastily shot back. "This is not relevant, Daniel Jackson. We should examine the tunnel entrance before the light completely dissipates."
Firmly reclaiming his weapon, Teal'c pivoted and began walking away. Daniel knew he'd just been lied to and dismissed. The light was already too far gone to be of any use; his friend was simply avoiding him and the uncomfortable discussion. Suddenly alone in the gloaming, his own fear began creeping back like a shadow. Dj vu. Like Teal'c, he hadn't been able to find a cause for the feeling, but now he thought he could identify a certain familiarity about it as though he'd already experienced it and moved on. He just couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Teal'c, I think it can wait until morning," he called, relieved when the other man stopped only a few feet away. "Let's just get camp ready. Jack's probably irritable and hungry - we can head off that monster before he makes his full presence known."
"Perhaps you are correct."
"We can go back ov..." Daniel faltered when he thought about crossing the dark, rocky terrain again. Swallowing, he continued, "Over to the grass where Jack and Sam will see us right away."
"There is more vegetation over here. We should first gather material enough to sustain a fire," Teal'c suggested, sounding much more like his usual pragmatic self.
Daniel gave a slight nod, reassured at the return to normalcy. Fire was a good idea. A warm, bright fire. He joined Teal'c and they made their way closer to the thick brush growing on one side of the pond, searching for suitable kindling. It was becoming nearly impossible to see more than a few feet in front, and he started groping for his flashlight.
"Teal'c? Daniel? Come in."
Jack's voice blared over their radios, obliterating the silence they had fallen into. Daniel's hand jerked and missed the flashlight completely. Now thankful for the darkness' ability to mask his physical reaction, he corrected his hand's path and latched onto the flashlight. With a flick, the area was bathed with brightness.
"We are here, O'Neill."
"Yeah, I see that now. Whatcha doing?"
"Gathering wood for a fire, Jack. We'll be there in a bit," Daniel said into his radio, turning to locate his other two teammates. He could see flashlights bobbing toward them. Shrugging his shoulders, he mumbled, "Or you could just come here."
"This is also a good area for an encampment, Daniel Jackson. The proximity to the water is favorable."
Daniel said nothing, just looked back down to the ground for branches. He didn't particularly care where they slept and his sarcasm had come from frazzled nerves. Whether they stayed by the water or not, he had a sneaking suspicion his night would include anything and everything but sleep.


Sparing a sidelong glance to his walking partner, Jack could see how pale her face was despite the poor lighting. Carter had been very anxious to leave the woods, and had gathered her scientific doo-hickeys in record time. She'd seemed to calm somewhat during their brisk hike across the flatland. Still, though, there was an aura of twang about her entire person; the grip she had on her MP5 left her knuckles white. He had no idea what to think of it, but found himself suffering a similar feeling as a result of constant association.
Arriving at the location where he'd expected to find Daniel and Teal'c present only to find them absent hadn't helped matters at all. Carter had instantly assumed there was life on the planet after all and the rest of the team had been 'gotten' by it. He'd choked back a snigger at the sheer childishness of her conclusion before remembering that if the captain guessed at something it usually turned out to be accurate. Fighting the urge to turn over every rock in a search, Jack had thumbed his radio and called for his team members with well-disguised apprehension that turned into embarrassingly obvious relief when an answering flashlight suddenly illuminated and Teal'c's voice answered.
Guided by dual beams of yellowed light, he and Carter jogged over to join their teammates. As they approached, Jack thought he saw a glint of another light sparkling in the blackness. It took him only seconds to identify it as a small lake or pond, and only seconds after that to be overcome by an intense sensation of dread. He slowed his pace, allowing his 2IC to get a couple of feet in front of him as he tried to contain on the emotions inflicting him. He'd bet a million dollars Carter had been feeling something very familiar to this for hours now...
"Hey, Sam," Daniel's soft voice floated over to him, and Jack was finally able to tear his eyes off of the rippling, menacing water.
He brought himself up with the rest of his team, gathered around the beginnings of a fire pit. Teal'c was crouched down, arranging the tinder with Jaffa-y meticulousness while Daniel swiftly moved to Carter's side. The archaeologist's hands skated all over the place, messing first with his hair, then glasses and finally rubbing down the front of his thighs. Jack ignored the scientists and aligned himself with Teal'c in creating the perfect habitat for fire, plagued by a need to do something to occupy his mind. Not that flipping sticks used all that much brain matter, but anything was better than letting that cold fear take a stronghold.
"So, you guys find anything fascinating...other than a bunch of old rocks?" he dryly commented, dropping to his rear as Teal'c added the finishing touches to their masterpiece and lit the first match.
"Actually, Jack, yes. You probably can't tell in the relative darkness, but this pond was definitely made by someone or something. Teal'c also found entrance to an underground tunnel, presumably leading to the network of caves I mentioned back at the 'gate," Daniel said, though his words held no note of victory or interest.
Unaccustomed to the lack of enthusiasm at the discoveries, Jack whipped his head up to find Daniel hunching as close to the growing fire as he could get without being in it. The archaeologist darted repeated looks behind him, calling up the memory of Carter's earlier behavior. Continued behavior, he amended as he saw his captain following Daniel's eyes. Disregarding his own mounting internal trepidation, he replaced it with worry for his team. He realized what being so wired for so long could do to a person - hell, spending all afternoon with Carter was a prime example. Now he had an almost legitimate reason to get out of Dodge and couldn't make it happen.
"So you're saying there're people here?" Jack asked, fairly sure there wasn't anyone here and positive he didn't like the implications of that.
"It appears this world is no longer inhabited, O'Neill. Daniel Jackson and I had not yet explored the tunnel when you arrived," Teal'c answered, slightly bent at the waist and as close to the fire as Daniel.
"I'm hoping there will be some indication of what happened to the civilization inside. And hopefully the rest of the animal life as well. Whatever it was, it must have happened a very, very long time ago."
"Otherwise there would be more apparent signs," Carter added, stating the obvious.
"Right."
"Any idea on how long that might take?"
"Not without seeing what I have to work with," Daniel patiently said.
"Okay, then," Jack muttered.
Quiet befell the small camp, the sound of the crackling fire the only noise in the eerily silent air. Jack turned to stare at the dead pool of water, suddenly feeling they were too close to it. He was too close to it. Rising, he joined Carter and Daniel on the other side of the blaze, facing the pond. He ignored their startled looks and began digging thought the packs in search of the MREs and canteens.
"Anyone else hungry? I could eat a horse."
When his inquiry was met with no verbal response, Jack shrugged his shoulders and yanked out rations for all of them anyway. Truth was, his stomach was doing somersaults for some reason. If he managed to choke something down, he'd be lucky if it stayed put. It was damned unnerving to be this spooked without due cause. The resurgence of uneasiness reminded him that he was not alone in the feeling; at least two of his team had been suffering something akin to what he was only now experiencing. That they hadn't made any mention of it bothered him to no end.
"So," he began, eyeing all three of his team members. They all felt it, even Teal'c, judging from the odd look on the Jaffa's face. "You guys would tell me if there was something wrong, wouldn't you?"
Daniel's head popped up so fast, Jack thought he heard his neck crackling. Leaning away from him, the archaeologist nearly took a header into the campfire before he caught himself and landed clumsily on his butt. Jack took that as an emphatic sign something was definitely wrong in Jacksontown. Normally, after he'd swallowed the fear of near disaster, he would have had a good chuckle at the younger man's expense. He felt no such compulsion tonight.
"You okay, Daniel?" Carter hesitantly asked, skittering closer to the fallen man.
"Fine. I'm f-fine." Daniel brushed the woman's hand away, slight stutter nearly inaudible. "Just lost my balance."
"Really? You seem kind of edgy to me," Jack probed. Damnit, someone had to root out the issue. "Know the feeling."
"I'm just tired, Jack, I think. I've been a bit preoccupied today."
"Me, too, sir," Carter offered without being solicited.
Refraining from an adolescent 'duh', Jack simply looked at the thus far silent fourth member of his team. Teal'c still sat stiffly, hand opening and closing over his abdomen, gaze on the flickering flames. Apparently the Jaffa hadn't been listening to the conversation - he could always count on the alien to be forthcoming with any intelligence.
"Teal'c?"
"Jack, he..." Daniel whispered, halting. Jack threw the younger man his best 'TELL!' look, which faltered when he saw a terrified expression peering back at him. "He did that before - spaced out. That's not something Teal'c usually does. What's going on here?"
"You're asking me?" Jack hissed. "I just asked you."
"Teal'c?" Carter stood and walked over to the Jaffa, gently placing a hand on his shoulder.
The physical touch finally prompted Teal'c out of his trance. He pulled his eyes away from the fire and pinned them on the pale hand on his shoulder. Straightening, the Jaffa looked around at all of them, looking befuddled. Jack's frown deepened at the evident disorientation, again wishing he could get the hell off this rock. Yesterday.
"I am sorry. I must meditate," Teal'c blandly stated, giving Jack a slight headshake when he offered an MRE.
Without ensuring it was okay for him to do so, the Jaffa got to his feet and stalked away. Meditate. Maybe that was it - it had been a hell of a boring day. And this was, after all, their longest jaunt through the 'gate since Carter was okayed for duty. They just needed to get back into the groove again, that's all.
"You go. Meditate," Jack mumbled. He snagged his dinner, popping it open without zeal and stirring it with his fork. Daniel and Carter watched Teal'c solemnly construct his tent while he fiddled with his food. He could see how tired they were. "Actually, we should all get some rest. Since there's nothing else alive here, I don't see the need for watches."
"Sir, are you sure?" Carter immediately asked, alarm ringing in her voice. "I mean, what really do we know about this place?"
"Well, I'm no expert but I'd say not a whole helluva lot."
"Jack, what Sam's saying is that even though all the evidence points to the contrary, there's always the chance that it's misleading."
Dropping the MRE to the ground, Jack ran a hand down his face. It was a valid argument, but he really didn't relish the idea of spending quality alone time when there wasn't even the sound of crickets chirruping to fill the silence. "Fine. I'll take the first shift. Carter, you'll take the next and wake Teal'c for the third. Daniel, you get sunrise duty - you make the best coffee."
Glum faces bobbed up and down, then the pair moved away from the fire to get their tents ready. Jack couldn't help but notice they both clasped their flashlights like they were little kids unwilling to give up their favorite toys. Or was a better analogy that their flashlights could serve as weapons against...what? There. Was. Nothing. Here. Scowling, he kicked his uneaten MRE into the fire and knew he'd regret not forcing it down and forcing his team to follow suit. They'd all be ravenous by morning.
The noises of his teammates died down as they all quickly settled into their tents, and he was left in the unnatural hush. Hair on the back of his neck prickling, Jack remembered precisely how suffocating silence could be. It set him on edge like almost nothing else.
Sounds of water lapping ominously from the mirror-still pond were a definite exception. Jack kept his eyes fixed on the pool, waiting in abject horror for something to happen. He didn't know what, but the thought chilled him straight through.


She had no idea what had possessed her to convince the colonel watches were a good precautionary measure. Sitting in the asphyxiating quiet, it was all she could do not to monitor the second hand on her watch to make sure it kept on revolving and pushing the minute hand along. Blessed breaks came when she added wood to the fire, but they came too far apart and didn't last nearly long enough. In the vacuum in between, Sam sat poised and ready. The feeling of being voyeured mounted at a harried speed when there was literally nothing to distract herself with.
Ten more minutes, that was it. Sam messed with the fire, inching closer as if it could alleviate all of her worries. She was struck by the fact that something that could sometimes be so deadly and fearful could also be so warm and secure. Nine more minutes. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Oh, my. She checked the tents huddled nearby for signs of movement from any of her teammates - preferably Teal'c graciously rousing for his turn, even if he hadn't stuck around to know it was his turn next. Nothing. God, why couldn't there be any blasted crickets on this damn planet? The quiet was killing her.
As if reading her mind, the dense brush on the far side the pool rustled with almost calculated force. One the barely noticeable breeze couldn't possibly have caused. A shaft of cold coiled around her spinal column, snapping her upright with weapon ready. Her already wide eyes felt as though they were bursting from her head as she shakily stood and peered into the night. There. Something was definitely out there. And it would get her first, before heading for her sleeping and helpless teammates. Sam opened her mouth to scream out a warning but her vocal chords seemed frozen, as did her legs.
"No, NO! Stop it!"
Unfrozen legs sent her shuffling backward a step, her foot nearly landing right in the middle of the flames, the loud cry echoing through the dead air. For a moment, Sam confusedly kept her eyes on the threat in the bushes until she realized the voice was not that of her would-be attacker. The blue-green plants waved harmlessly and soundlessly in the gentle wind, mocking her with their absolute innocence. Fairly vibrating with adrenaline, she realized the words were not ones that would come from an assailant but rather from a victim. And it had come from the colonel and Daniel's tent.
Heart in her throat, Sam spun to find flashlights had been switched on in both tents, making them glow faintly. They looked like giant murky green eyes, staring right back at her. She could see fluttered activity in both of them as the men of SG1 flew into action, their silhouettes dancing against the canvas. Rushing away from her own fear, she almost collided with Teal'c as he barreled out of his small tent. He took her elbow and they reached the other two-man tent side by side, the colonel's muffled voice emerging.
"Daniel...Daniel, wake up. You're dreaming, wake up!"
"Sir?" Sam anxiously called as Teal'c unzipped the tent's door. "Everything okay?"
"I'll give you three guesses, Captain. Damnit, Daniel, will you wake up?" her CO ground out, grunting as he apparently struggled to quell the other man's thrashing.
She took in commotion within the small enclosure, concern gnawing through her. This was the first time anyone on the team had suffered from nightmares on a mission, which said a hell of a lot to her. It wasn't as if their lives had been blessed by wondrous things, personally or professionally, but they'd all been able to control whatever emotions coursed through them to the point she'd heard scuttlebutt that the whole of SG1 were heartless SOBs. Surprisingly, that had included Daniel. Nothing could be farther from the truth; they were just damn good at internalizing. Incidents of emotionality were few and far between, and none on this scale. Sam fretted, knowing that being in a dream state would not be a valid reason for the outburst.
"O'Neill, perhaps this will be of assistance," Teal'c rumbled, handing the colonel an uncapped canteen.
The colonel tipped the canteen, splashing a little water onto his fingertips and proceeded to douse the squirming man's face with droplets. Daniel came awake violently and intensely, spluttering and raising his arms in defense. Confused and frightened blue eyes stared at each of them in turn, looking a touch on the wild side. Looking just as Sam had felt only a few minutes ago. Instinctively, she twisted her head to check outside the tent briefly.
"Um, hey, guys. What's, um, going on?" Daniel asked in a sleep-addled voice, easing his arms out of the colonel's grip and sitting up. His hair was unkempt and fell across his face, partially obscuring his expression, though Sam could see it was still very guarded. "Why are you all in here?"
"You don't remember?" the colonel pressed, narrowing his eyes as he dropped his hands to his sides.
"Would I have asked if I did?"
"Probably."
"Huh?"
"You were having a nightmare, Daniel," Sam cut in, swinging her gaze from her scan of the perimeter to the archaeologist. "The colonel couldn't wake you up. Do you remember what it was about?"
"No, I don't even remember dreaming," Daniel muttered, brushing the hair out of his eyes and ducking his head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry I woke everyone."
"I wasn..." the colonel began with a wave of his hand. He paused, looking a little discomfited. "I wasn't sleeping too deeply, don't worry about it."
"I was no longer meditating, Daniel Jackson."
Sam's ears perked up, startled to learn her other teammates hadn't been sleeping. Coupled with Daniel's episode, those assumptions made her feel slightly better, knowing she wasn't the only one experiencing the heebie-jeebies. She let out a huff of air at the highly technical term she'd just mentally used, and found herself the focus of her companions' attention.
"Something on your mind, Captain?"
"No, sir. I guess I'm just glad I'm not the only one who..." Sam started, suddenly uncertain if she should continue with her confession.
"Who what?"
"Has had a creepy feeling for hours?" She tentatively asked her response, hoping someone would pick up her lead. When they all gaped at her wordlessly, Sam braved on, "I mean, if you couldn't sleep, sir. And you weren't meditating, Teal'c...Daniel's nightmare... I just assumed you feel it too."
Good. Very clear and succinct. She couldn't even string together an intelligent sentence. Now they probably all thought she was nuts or messed up from the mental exchange from the Tok'ra. Sam sighed again and determinedly met the three blank faces. Crazy or not, something was riling her enough to cause concern. Waiting for any confirmation or denial, she refused to look away from them and kept her eyes on the colonel. His returning gaze didn't waver.
"There does indeed appear to be a feeling of ookiness pervading the atmosphere of P0X 413, Captain Carter."
The stanch brown eyes stabbing into her suddenly blinked, and the colonel whipped his head toward Teal'c, mouth dropping as the odd comment seemed to lighten the tension. Biting back a smile, Sam relaxed a notch. She couldn't have put it better herself - and Cass would be proud of the Jaffa's word usage. She didn't think Daniel or the colonel realized just how much time Cassie and Teal'c had been spending together, mostly pursuing greater understanding of pop culture. Apparently both the young girl and the seasoned warrior had become rabid fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, evidenced by the colorful but accurate term just used.
"Um...I don't, uh...ookiness?" Daniel looked both relieved the attention was off of his nightmare and extremely confused.
"I'm guessing..."
"Creepiness," Sam clarified for the baffled men, flashing Teal'c a quick smile. "I don't know exactly what it is about this place, but I can't seem to relax."
"Ya think? Didn't we already establish that?"
"Yes, sir. But..."
"Then what's the problem?" her CO snapped irritably.
The tension again elevated as they all stared at him, confused by the force of his words. Frowning, Sam exchanged a glance with Daniel, now kneeling. The archaeologist raised his eyebrows, creating deep grooves on his forehead. Not really wanting to be the animal placing its foot in a trap, she inclined her head a bit to tell either Daniel or Teal'c to take the initiative. Neither looked pleased to do so, but the point was moot anyway as the colonel examined each of them and loosened his shoulders.
"Okay, so *that's* the problem."
"I would still like to check out the entrance Teal'c found. Maybe find something to explain why we're all so..."
"Ooky?"
"I was going to say jumpy. There doesn't appear to be anything malevolent here, so there's no reason not to stay and check it out, right?" Daniel asked, sounding almost as though he wanted someone to refute his suggestion.
"Right. So, you and I will venture into the great unknown while Carter and Teal'c gather the rest of her samples. Then we make like bunnies and hop back to the Stargate and home."
"Actually, sir, I think I should go with Daniel. There may be more than just archaeological information to be gleaned."
"I have assisted in procuring mineral and botanical samples on many occasions. I should not have difficulty completing that task while Daniel Jackson and Captain Carter study the interior of the caves," Teal'c offered.
"Sounds like a plan. Now let's at least try and get some rest. We've got half the night left," the colonel brusquely said, shooing her and Teal'c out of the small tent with a flourish of his arms. "I know this is contradictory, but I also want you all to be on alert. If something more concrete than a vague inclination of something not being on the up and up here happens, I want to know about it. Immediately."
"Yes, sir," Sam automatically replied.
God, she hoped none of them would come across anything to solidify the ice churning through her veins. She shivered and leaned closer to the blaze.


It did not surprise Teal'c when he saw Daniel Jackson emerge from the tent halfway through his watch. He was not altogether convinced the younger man had told the complete truth regarding the nightmare that had had him so in its grips he could not be roused. The entire team, himself included, were behaving in a manner that was somewhat altered from the norm, a fact now acknowledged openly. Yet they could not seem to prevent the changed conduct from recurring. On cue, his larval Goa'uld swirled within his belly and he fought to keep himself from pressing his hand on his abdomen. Such action was useless, he knew, and yet it seemed to settle the creature. Unfortunately, it also brought his companions' attention.
"Hey, Teal'c," Daniel Jackson whispered as he moved into the firelight.
"Daniel Jackson, it is not yet your time to post guard," Teal'c reproached, though he was not displeased for the company. It was not often he was bothered by the solitude accompanying late night watches, but that was not the case on P0X 413. Another presence at his side did much to calm his symbiote, and in turn his own tension.
"I couldn't really get back to sleep, and I didn't want to disturb Jack. You don't mind, do you?"
"I do not."
The archaeologist gave a tight smile, shifting closer to the fire. He crouched down, unobtrusively edging so close their thighs practically touched. Unconsciously arching an eyebrow at the close proximity, Teal'c thoughtfully surveyed his friend. Daniel Jackson appeared paler than usual, though that could be attributed to the dim lighting. Despite the obscurity, he could see smudges beneath dull eyes, a definite slump to the shoulders, and their nearness was such he could feel the tautness in which the other man held himself. The environment was having an increasingly adverse effect on all of them, and he felt it wise for them to take their leave as quickly as possible upon daybreak.
"Hasn't been anything out here, has there?" Daniel Jackson quietly asked, cautiously glancing around.
"There has been only silence. I have found it to be overpowering at times," Teal'c admitted, wondering if he should also divulge that on several occasions he had believed the stillness had been interrupted.
"Really?"
Flavored with doubt, the response prompted him to again look to his companion. Daniel Jackson's countenance was troubled, so he decided it would not be judicious to reveal any further information. To admit he had heard the rapid flutter of multitudes of wings in the black sky, so real he had scoured the perimeter with excessive energy. To acknowledge the terror such a thing summoned in his very soul. He had not felt anything so intensely since he was but a small child.
"Teal'c?"
Realizing he had again allowed his mind to wander, Teal'c cursed under his breath and looked at Daniel Jackson's worried expression. Denial was an enticing temptation, though he suspected the other man would easily see through his front. Nodding once, he said nothing for long moments.
"I think I understand what's causing my restlessness," Daniel Jackson hesitantly said just as he was about to speak. Uncertainty continued to flood his friend's tone and appearance, but also an underlying need to relay whatever was on his mind. Teal'c waited. "This is going to sound crazy. It sounds crazy to me, and it's happening to me..."
"I will bear no judgment, Daniel Jackson," he interrupted to assure, pleased when the words garnered a slight relaxation in the other man.
"I wouldn't be so sure about that. But okay. For the better part of the day, I've had this unclear feeling of apprehension...like everyone else. It's gotten worse and worse, and when Jack woke me from my nightmare, I finally realized what it was. It always did get really bad at night. I remember my mom or dad spending hours with me after each incident. I'd just refuse to close my eyes, because if I did they would come and get me."
"They?" Teal'c asked when the story stopped. An incredible sense of familiarity was beginning to fill him at Daniel Jackson's revelation of something from his youth.
"When I was seven, we moved to New York from a dig in Egypt. They were planning to stay once the exhibit was set up, so my parents enrolled me in school and I started to get really comfortable. I don't know how much you've learned about the social structure of educational systems in America...probably not a lot," Daniel Jackson rambled in his round about method of explanation. Unlike O'Neill, Teal'c enjoyed the meandering quality and he found himself soothed. "Have you ever heard of a bully, Teal'c?"
"It is someone who uses their size and strength to intimidate those smaller, is it not?"
"Yes." The younger man paused, shuddering slightly and leaning closer to the fire.
It was easily discernable that Daniel Jackson was uncomfortable with the subject material, and Teal'c assumed that meant he fell under the category of those abused by such a coward. On Chulak, this was also a common happenstance among the ranks of the young Jaffa trainees until they had been fully instructed to suppress such emotions and urges. The playing field was leveled. He felt a swell of compassion, and almost told his friend to speak no more.
"Bruce Dexter. He was the worst bully I've ever experienced, because he didn't use physical force to strike fear in us. His technique was one hundred percent psychological, and he was good at it. He'd root out every kid's worst, most hidden fear and use it. Not to get lunch money. Not completely for the power. Because he enjoyed it. I knew what he was about, and I wasn't afraid of him."
"What was it that you feared, Daniel Jackson?"
"He said they watched all day; learned every move. At night was when you'd really be in trouble. I don't think I was ever really afraid until Bruce put the idea in my head. I had friends, but I usually kept to myself. Read a lot. One day, at lunchtime, I was concentrating so hard on my book I got startled when Bruce walked by me. That's when it started - he'd tease me about being afraid of my own shadow. It didn't stop there. He went on to elaborate and tell me that everyone's shadows were really bad thoughts and pure evil. During they day, they could only hurt you if you were alone. But at night," the archaeologist continued without emotion. "At night is when they came. Silent and dark and terrible."
"These shadows were in your dream."
"They're here now."
"They are not."
"I know! I know that," Daniel Jackson cried, voice rising in pitch. The younger man ran both hands through his hair roughly, shaking all the while. "It's childish to think anything else. But I also know they're here."
Startled by the vehemence in the other man's assertion, Teal'c did not know how to respond. Daniel Jackson obviously knew what he was experiencing and feeling was illogical, but was unable to use that knowledge to dispel the fear. Nothing he said could change that, and he did not believe it was his friend's intention to seek aid, only some form of comfort. He was not positive he could provide that either. Now that he understood the origin of the younger man's concerns, though, he could help reduce the severity of panic by infusing logic.
"I will serve to assist you, Daniel Jackson. Our time here is short; I am certain that upon your return to the SGC, you will overcome these feelings."
"God, I hope so. I do feel a little better knowing you know. I wonder what...shouldn't we all let each other know what's been bothering us? Kind of a group cleansing?" the archaeologist muttered with a derisive snort. "Has it even affected you?"
"I believe you know the answer to that, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied, disregarding his trepidation at sharing any sign of weakness, "Though I do not believe it has reached the same level of intensity as you."
"What..." Daniel Jackson began, interrupted by a piercing cry all to reminiscent of the nightmare-induced cries earlier in the night.
Intuitively jerking to his feet, Teal'c was five steps away from the fire before he even realized it. He stopped, turning to ensure Daniel Jackson was secure, finding his friend mere inches from his person, eyes wide. He bowed his head slightly before returning his attention to the new disturbance. His symbiote swam sickeningly, his heart rate increasing in tempo. He could not determine if the alarm was due to the fact that another of his companions was suffering or of his own growing fear. This was most difficult. How could he be of assistance when his own stability was in question?
As an answer, Teal'c felt something brush his left ear. He automatically brought a hand up, swinging with force and connecting with something large. Large? That did not seem correct. A loud grunt sounded from behind and below, and he slowed. Torn between continuing to the tents and investigating what he had struck, he froze. O'Neill dashed out of his tent at the precise moment as Captain Carter, crashing into her in a jumble of limbs and curses. Chaos reigned as the still air filled with rapid movement and loud imprecations, and he rotated his head to the creature, cold dread now stilling his symbiote.
There was no truth to the tales. He was not a child. Like Daniel Jackson, he must battle against irrationality and focus on reality. Keph'atar were false creatures. They existed only in stories. He had not just encountered one. Foolishness. Here he stood while his friends were in distress. Ignoring the need to verify his own hysteria, Teal'c proceeded to O'Neill and Captain Carter. Even up close, he could not establish which of them had initiated the current activity. Both appeared excessively agitated as the struggled to regain their footing.
"Daniel Jackson, you should assist Captain Carter. I will aid O'Neill," Teal'c ordered, distraught at how erratic his voice sounded. Leaning over, he made to steady O'Neill when he noticed the archaeologist was no longer at his side. Frowning, he pulled O'Neill to his feet and glanced around to locate his other teammate.
"Jesus, Teal'c! Why did you hit him?" O'Neill swore, shoving by him.
Teal'c followed the team leader's departure, eyes lighting on a sprawled form on the ground. He had been correct. It was not a Keph'atar that had touched him, and that he had hit.
It was Daniel Jackson.


It made no sense.
Frantically yanking himself free of Captain Carter's flailing limbs, Jack felt Teal'c's strong hands lifting him. Already tense from his 2IC's outcry, he pulled away from the Jaffa with a harsh glare. He shot Carter a quick glance, and while she was frazzled, she seemed physically fine. The same could not be said for Daniel.
"Jesus, Teal'c! Why did you hit him?" he blurted, moving rapidly to the unmoving archaeologist. "Daniel?"
Not expecting any response didn't make the lack thereof any less disappointing. Teal'c couldn't have meant to smash Daniel's face like that; no matter how annoying he himself might find the archaeologist, Teal'c never showed anything but patience. As he neared the slumped man, Jack saw a trickle of blood trailing from the nose and winced in sympathy. Visually scanning for any other obvious signs of injury, he followed up with his hands. At his touch, the younger man emitted a soft moan.
"Daniel? C'mon, wake up," Jack coaxed. "I'm getting a dj vu feeling here. Daniel?"
"Sir? What's...going on?" Carter called, sounding out of is. Jack could only assume she had had a nightmare similar to Daniel's. "Daniel? What?"
He quickly decided he preferred a Carter who knew everything to a Carter who babbled on incoherently. Sparing a look over his shoulder, Jack saw her approach with Teal'c straggling behind. The expression on the Jaffa's face was not as unreadable as usual, and he was shocked at the relief mixed with regret there. Making room for his 2IC, he scooted back and kept his eyes on Teal'c, letting the captain do her stuff with Daniel.
"Care to explain it to her, Teal'c?"
The other man's jaw muscles clenched for a good minute. Jack wondered if there really was a valid explanation as he remembered how extremely long his watch had seemed to take - how he hadn't been able to tear his eyes off the water or relax from his attack-ready stance. Had anyone approached him, he might have taken action before realizing who it was. Like Carter had almost shot him earlier in the day. Shit, they were in trouble. Scowling, he glared at the pool of water, muscles strangely flexing for flight. Duty to Earth and the SGC had to come before trivial, silly feelings of unexplainable fear. Right. He'd just keep repeating that until he believed it.
"I cannot. In the confusion, I believed there was a...hostile presence by my side. It was an error, and I must have struck Daniel Jackson."
"Daniel sneaked up on you?" Jack asked, sure Daniel had left the tent at least ten minutes prior to Carter's nightmare.
"No. Daniel Jackson was at my side."
"But you just said you didn't know it was him!"
"That is correct, O'Neill. Captain Carter, how is Daniel Jackson?"
"He's fine," a thick, non-feminine voice said.
"Daniel!" Jack's attention immediately returned to the archaeologist.
"Jack."
"You okay?"
"I don't think anything's broken. Headache. What hit me?" Daniel dazedly inquired, struggling to sit.
"It was I, Daniel Jackson. I am sorry."
"'S'okay. Um, why?"
"I will explain momentarily. Perhaps we should move closer to the fire."
Grabbing Daniel's arms, Jack heaved the unsteady man to his feet and tentatively released his hold. After a shaky step or two, Daniel appeared to have his muscles under control. He whipped his left wrist up and checked the time, irritated to find they still had several hours before daybreak. With any luck, the nights here were shorter than on Earth. And hopefully he could get Daniel and Carter to give up the science this time around.
"As much as I would like to get out of here, Colonel, I don't think there's a valid cause," Carter murmured as they all collectively sank down around the warm fire. "There is no physical threat."
Huh? Had he spoken aloud? And what about mental threat?
"Teal'c and I were talking before about how we all seem to be suffering from escalated nervousness...which in itself should not be difficult to deal with. It's odd. I feel exactly like I did when I was seven years old. Not just a feeling vaguely reminiscent; actually seven. What I was afraid of then, I am now," Daniel admitted.
"We speculated whether sharing the root causes for each of our fears might enable us to successfully manage them in order to maintain a level of functionality," Teal'c somberly explained, looking at each of them. "Daniel Jackson has revealed his fear of shadows to me."
Instantly, Jack remembered making a flip comment after scaring Daniel and Carter, and the reaction it had garnered. Shit. The idea that he might have unintentionally fed the archaeologist's apprehension tore at him and he automatically turned to make an apology. It stuck in his throat as he witnessed Daniel's whole body shiver at Teal'c's revelation. No. They couldn't stay here.
"No valid reason? I'd say the fact that we're all openly a bit...no, a lot rattled and off of our game is enough to make immediate return to Earth number one on our objectives list," Jack snapped more harshly than he'd intended. Both Carter and Daniel promptly put on their protestation faces. "And no, I *don't* care to find out what's causing it. I just want to be gone."
All three of his team stared at him, apparently dumbfounded at his words. Why was he the only one to see the logic in retreat? He sure as hell didn't want to stick around for the nasty rodents to emerge from the shallow pool he knew they lurked in. Just thinking about it caused Jack's insides to curl up, and he could smell the foul stench of their breath on his face.
"Uh, Jack?"
"What?!"
"Sir, I think you should point that somewhere else," Carter whispered, the terror in her voice tearing into him.
"Point? What?" Jack stuttered stupidly. Then he realized his hands were cramping around his MP5, which he had up and aimed at the water. More accurately, at his very stunned 2IC, who was directly between him and the pool. He hadn't even realized he'd picked the weapon up. He unwrapped his fingers. "Oh, shit."
"Okay, so I think Jack has a good point," Daniel hastily mumbled, fisting his hands before wrapping his arms around his chest. "And I think we just discovered a physical danger."
"Indeed."
"Maybe we should head out now?" Jack tentatively suggested, eyeing his spooked teammates.
Daniel immediately took on the look of someone trying to swallow his tongue, Carter paled even further, and if he could trust the firelight, Jack would say even Teal'c turned a sickly green color. Damnit. He was the only one who would benefit from getting away from the water's edge and into the woods, effectively ruling out that proposal. No matter how brightly their flashlights could shine, they'd not be strong enough to allay the terror each of them felt. The only positive he was feeling at the moment was the fact that if he could keep his mind occupied long enough, his brain avoided conjuring up crazy apparitions and ideas...rats. A spasm ripped through him.
"Okay, then I suggest we spill. Maybe even attempt to complete the sample gathering and chicken scratch deciphering, if there is anything to decipher. Daniel's got a shadow problem," he reiterated, knowing there had to be more to that story. He just didn't want to cause any of his team any more pain. "What about the rest of us? Teal'c?"
"On Chulak, there is a flying creature known as a Keph'atar. It is as small as a hummingbird, but fiercely territorial. As a child, I was separated from my father during a hunting excursion, and stumbled on a covey of them, resulting in a large number of Keph'atar retaliating against my intrusion. By the time my father heard my screams, the creatures had succeeded in drawing much blood. From that point until the death of my father, nightmares plagued my sleep, and I refused to go alone anywhere. Upon his death, the need for me to be a man effectively eradicated my fear."
He didn't know why, but Jack had thought a Jaffa warrior would have more...exotic childhood issues. Despite this surprise, however, he stored away the glimmer of knowledge regarding Teal'c's past. His father must have died when he was very young. Just like Carter's mother and both of Daniel's parents. He wasn't sure if that particular tie inadvertently binding his team together was such a good thing. Like death and loss were ever really good.
"Carter?" he prompted at last, and waited without anticipation for the captain to tell her tale.


As Teal'c spoke, Daniel watched him closely and noticed how the bigger man hunched over as though there was a need to protect his Goa'uld larva. He couldn't help but wonder if the thing was responding physiologically right along with Teal'c. Odd. And disturbing on several levels. While he loathed the Goa'uld, he had to admit the relationship between Jaffa and symbiote was interesting. Catching himself staring at his friend, he jerked back slightly and tried to disguise his rudeness. Thankfully, Jack heaved a deep breath and broke the silence that had spread over them yet again.
"Carter?"
Giving Teal'c one last look, he was relieved to see that some of the strain was gone from the other man's bearing. In fact, thinking about it, his own burden of fear seemed reduced now that everyone else knew what it was. It wasn't, however, entirely gone. Sitting in the shadowy dark, his heart was pounding as if he had just run a mile or two and his palms were sweating. Nothing to fear. Daniel unclenched his hands and spread his fingers around his ribcage, a subconscious means of self-preservation.
"You have to swear not to laugh," Sam unevenly said, gaze riveted on the fire. Laughing was the furthest thing from his mind, and Daniel was confident by Jack's tenseness the same could be said for him. Having never heard Teal'c laugh, he doubted it was even possible. He bobbed his head, even though she wasn't looking at him.
"You've all seen The Wizard of Oz, right? People always say it's supposed to be this great kids' movie. I never thought so. The first time I saw it, I was fine until Dorothy landed in Oz and came across the Munchkins. In my mind, those things were anything but friendly and jovial. They looked so diabolical, cunningly evil. I just knew that lurking behind the false cheeriness were fangs and big claws.
"My brother Mark saw how upset I was by them. He started to chase and taunt me until I cried. My parents thought the best thing to do was sit me down and make me watch the rest of the movie. It didn't work. Actually, all it did was give Mark more ammunition. Any mention of that movie had me in tears - and he got a lot of tormenting out of it. I had kind of an overactive imagination, I guess. I could actually see the little buggers lurking in my closet and under my bed, just waiting for the perfect time to come and tear me apart. Stupid, huh?" Sam finished, finally drawing her face away from the fire to peer over her shoulder.
"Shit..." Jack murmured, so low Daniel didn't think anyone else caught it. He turned to the other man to find a look of miserable guilt spotting his features. "That puts a whole new spin on a classic film, doesn't it?"
Despite the dismissive remark, Daniel could tell Jack was troubled at Sam and Teal'c's stories. He was glad he'd only had to relay his specifics to Teal'c, fairly sure SG1's team leader didn't need to feel the weight of yet another account. Frankly, he didn't even want to hear Jack's, which was inevitably going to be revealed. The other man resolutely kept his eyes averted from the rest of them, swallowing repeatedly and looking at the still water. Reflexively, he followed the gaze.
"You guessed it, Daniel," Jack spoke again, making him jump. Daniel turned back to stare into brown eyes. Running a quick hand across his face, the other man shook his head. "Well, part of it, anyway. It started out with pools - at the torture known as swimming lessons. The baby pool was no problem, but once I advanced into the big pool I started developing an aversion. The water itself wasn't the issue. But the drains, those were different. I'd heard stories about giant rats in the sewers. Who hasn't heard about them?"
Pausing, Jack was visibly pale with a bare sheen of sweat glistening on his upper lip. Daniel felt the chill running through him increase as he realized how profoundly each of his teammates was impacted. These were not things any of them would normally air in public, yet they had all just mechanically exposed deeply personal parts of themselves. More than the actual words, this fact frightened him.
"Then it grew. Pretty soon, I couldn't even go into the shower. Hell, lakes became taboo. Imagine that - living in a state renowned for its sky blue waters, and I was too afraid to go near any of them. Oddly enough, regular storm and street drains were safe. Funny how a kid's mind works, isn't it?"
All of their secrets revealed, Daniel wasn't surprised when they again fell into silence. Silence and fear seemed the two constants plaguing P0X 413, and like Jack he really didn't care if they discovered the cause. However, he didn't think that was the safest route to go either. What if this...condition was permanent? Jack and Teal'c had already proven they all were dangers to each other. Going back to the SGC without knowing more might simply exacerbate the problem to the extent of bringing a potentially contagious and deadly disease back with them. It seemed a classic six of one, half dozen of the other to him.
"So, what do we do now?" he asked, knowing the rest of his team had likely reached the same conclusion as he.
"First, we all give up our weapons; put them somewhere we can't get at them easily," Jack said right away. "Even though we all seem to be functioning normally now, we don't know how long it will last. The last thing we need to is to worry about killing ourselves."
"We could dismantle the tents and bind them up in there?" Sam suggested. "We couldn't bring them home with us, but we shouldn't need them anyway."
"Right. We'll collect as many samples as we can and send them back for Fraiser and your people to study, Captain. I'm afraid we're not going anywhere until we know for sure we're not contagious. Daniel, you can do your stuff inside the caves like we initially planned. You going to be okay with that?"
Daniel froze. He hadn't thought of all the dark corners and crevices found in the confines of the underground. Where the fear had subsided somewhat with concentration on getting out of here, it spiked again. Rubbing his clammy palms on his ribcage, he nodded at Jack. From the return look, he knew Jack understood how un-okay he was with spelunking. Ultimately, it didn't matter. The answers they needed were very likely in those tunnels.
"Just as long as the batteries on the flashlights don't die out," he lamely joked, regretting it when the thought of how that could easily happen whammed him upside the head. He literally felt all of the blood draining from his face at a dizzying rate.
"You can have them all, Danny," Jack said lightly. "Teal'c and I won't need them."
Somewhat reassured, Daniel listlessly nodded but caught Jack's face grimace. Oh, man. While he and Sam were inside the earth fighting against their demons, Jack and Teal'c would be out here...where it was just as treacherous for them. Can't win for losing. None of them. He was really beginning to doubt whether they could keep each other sane long enough to make it home. No. Thinking like that was counterproductive. He had to keep his mind occupied with ANYthing besides failure. And the shadows he swore he could feel wrapping tendrils around him, ready to snatch him into the night when his friends weren't looking.
As if by unspoken agreement, they all started moving at once toward their packs. Daniel had left his sidearm and knife on until he'd gone into the tent, and he eyed the dark enclosure warily for several seconds before taking a deep breath and proceeding toward it. Repeating to himself over and over that there were no such thing as shadow monsters helped slightly, but made him feel incredibly foolish. He hoped they wouldn't have to wait long at the 'gate before being authorized home. Doctor Fraiser would just set up the Haz Mat quarantine procedures and send for them. They wouldn't have to spend another night here.
Bending to enter the tent, Daniel felt something grasp his right elbow tightly. Heart stopping, he instinctively shoved at it and heard a subsequent grunt of pain. They wouldn't get him, not if he had anything to say about it. He lay aside his fear of the tent, lunging for the spot where he'd placed his weapons. Crippled by fear, his hands refused to work properly and with each passing moment his anxiety increased. Time wasted. Time that would prove his downfall.
"Daniel, it's just me! Calm down," a deceptively warm voice called in to him. Was it a trick? He couldn't be sure, but it made him pause. "Sir, can you come over here? I can't get through to Daniel."
Sir...sir. The voice sounded so familiar, so in control. Sam. Oh, God. Daniel twisted and peered toward the entrance, finding a distinctively human form crouched there. Reality reasserted itself in a flash, as disorienting as the increasingly potent panic attacks. He finally realized just how big of trouble they were in.
"I'm okay. I'm fine," he mumbled, shakily scooping up the sidearm and knife and thrusting them toward Sam. "Here, take them. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Daniel. Come on," she whispered, looking scared and small. Her eyes were huge in the flickering, dim light and he could see them constantly surveying their surroundings. And now him. "Back to the fire."
Daniel quietly followed her, sickened by the loss of control he'd just experienced, at how quickly he'd succumbed to craziness. Tripping, he lurched into Sam's shoulder and felt her tense up at his touch. Mumbling an apology, he moved to her side and stumbled toward Jack and Teal'c.
"Kids? Everything okay?" Jack asked, outwardly casual. Daniel saw the concern blazing from the team leader's eyes, and barely contained dread. "Under control again?"
Grateful for Jack's downplaying, Daniel didn't answer. Sam quickly deposited her and his weapons on the pile stacked next to the fire and sink to the ground. He wished they would just hurry up and dispense with the things already.
"I was thinking, sir. All we really need to do is get rid of the extra clips of ammunition. We can throw them, the knives and Teal'c's staff into the water. At least then General Hammond won't have to explain the loss of our weapons."
Teal'c looked insulted that his staff was going to be interred under water but apparently agreed with Sam's suggestion, gathering said arms and calmly walking to the shore. As he watched each knife and round of ammunition sink below the surface, Daniel should have felt reassured. He didn't.
And he was beginning to wonder if he ever would again.


Sam lost track of how many pots of coffee they'd gone through. Judging from her trembling hands, they probably should have laid off of the stimulant intake. It kept them awake like they all needed, but she was edgier than ever. Her three companions also showed signs of increased jitteriness, making her worry they'd only compounded the problem. Thankfully, dawn was fast approaching, the darkness lifting to reveal more clearly the sallow, almost gaunt looking features of her friends. She shuddered.
"Screw this waiting. Teal'c, can you see well enough to start rummaging through the woods?" the colonel abruptly snapped out, tossing the dregs of his coffee onto the fire. It hissed in protest, sending up miniature flares of anger.
"I can."
"Good. Carter, Daniel, you comfortable starting into those caves?"
"Ready to get it over with," Daniel answered for both of them.
"Right. Here, take these. And the first sign either of you are...losing it, I want you back out here," the colonel ordered.
Doubting it would be so simple, Sam merely took the lamp Teal'c proffered and stood up. Since her powerful, thankfully unmentioned, nightmare, she'd been pretty successful keeping from anything worse than the pervasive unease. Doctor Fraiser might disagree, at least based upon her now normal rapid heart rate and heavy perspiration. Actually, all of them could use a dip in the pool. Except that would likely throw the colonel right over the edge. Kicking herself her mental focus, she moved closer to Daniel. The lines cutting her CO's face deepened, and she automatically stepped away.
"Yes, sir," she said, hoping again there was nothing to explore. The thought of being in an enclosed area with multiple hiding places was making her stomach churn. She swallowed dryly. This was such a bad idea. "Sir?"
"Carter?" he snapped, making her flinch.
"Nothing...how long do you think we should stay in there?"
"Till Daniel has what he needs on tape."
"Jack, if our radios don't work inside...I think we should have a set time. Like we usually do when we split up," Daniel quietly said.
It was times like this Sam remembered how important and downright nice it was to have a civilian on the team. No, how important it was to have Daniel. He didn't have to worry about military protocol, though she suspected that even if he did, he wouldn't let that stop him from expressing his opinion. Or stepping on toes, as the case may be. Clearly the colonel was under strain, and only protests from Daniel were acceptable. She was beginning to think, though, that someday she'd have a similar freedom. Almost.
"An hour. Then we're out of here."
"Okay, Jack," Daniel agreed, tugging on her sleeve and backing away. His nervous fingers flicked on both the flashlight attached to his vest and the one in his hand. As they moved from their teammates, Sam caught him murmur, voice detectibly tremulous, "An hour."
"I don't think it will take that long, do you? I mean, you can videotape any evidence that's there and send it back to the SGC with the samples. It'll be there for you to study more thoroughly once we're cleared," Sam rambled, aware she sounded scatty and cursed herself for it. When she was scared, she prattled.
"I agree. History is just that - history. Better to figure out the why and fix it, right?"
Feeling she should be disturbed at how readily Daniel seemed willing to forego any in depth archaeological and anthropological studies, Sam's footsteps faltered slightly. The hesitation lasted a moment before she realized he wasn't acting any differently than the rest of them. Of course, there was always the fact they were all acting completely...insane. She decided the colonel's estimate of an hour was generous. She was sure they could be done in half that. Maybe less.
By the time they'd completed the twenty steps to the tunnel entrance, the sunshine was already losing its morning opaqueness and Sam could see how narrow the black slit was. She had serious doubts anyone could get through it. Except maybe someone really petite. Or a child. Daniel pushed ahead of her, seeming to relax and regain some natural curiosity now the sun had dispelled some of the shadows. She wondered if she'd ever get to hear the complete story about that. She wondered if she really wanted to.
The archaeologist shined his flashlight into the crack, stooping closer to peer in. Out of the darkness, a tiny, brightly clothed being jumped at him. Recoiling, Sam watched it latch onto Daniel's neck with long, sharp teeth before he could do anything to stop it. Her friend's screams pulled her from her shock, propelling her toward him. Revulsion and fear bit into her but she knew she only had seconds.
"Daniel!" she called, both of her hands wrapping around his shoulders desperately. She could see the blood spraying all around. So much. Too late. Oh, God. Daniel...
"Hmm?"
Sam blinked into Daniel's bemused face, no sign of any attacker. No blood. She blinked again, giving her head a small shake. Covering, she said, "I think I should go first, just in case we were wrong about life on this planet."
"Okay," Daniel easily said, shifting over so she was directly in front of the opening, which was wider than she'd first thought. She glanced at him to see if he was aware of her terror and saw no trace of concern on his face. He handed her one of his flashlights. "Here."
Peeking into the enclosure, Sam thought perhaps the reason Daniel wasn't hyper sensitive to her emotions was that his were probably running amok themselves. The flashlight cut a narrow path into the dark, shadows flickering enough to make her nerves jangle. His must be all over the place, which would also explain why he was so quick to let her go first. Normally, he'd get bullish when it was implied he might not be the best at defending himself. This was a bad idea. Bad. She was sure she'd said that at one point or another. Hadn't she?
"Sam?"
"Huh?"
"Well, in order to explore whatever's inside the caves, we have to be inside the caves."
"Right," she said, still not moving.
"It looks like it widens out a bit a couple of feet in. You lead the way, and then we can go side by side."
Nodding, Sam finally inched into the cave. She was extremely conscious of Daniel's presence behind her, using it as a mechanism to keep her grounded. As long as she could remember it was him and not some rabid apparition she'd be just fine. The archaeologist's light added to the dim glow, easing her fear. She could see the far walls of the cave and the emptiness of the chamber. Sliding over when the width of the cave allowed, she smiled at Daniel in relief and encouragement. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Moving deeper into the cave, they encountered nothing through the first couple of turns. The absence of the yellowed natural lighting from the slit in the rocks had a huge impact on the atmosphere. Sam was reminded of her vacation to Scotland when she was younger, more specifically the tunnels under St. Andrews. Cold and dank, she'd been able to feel the blood, sweat and fear of people long dead. The same feeling here chilled her straight to the core.
"Sam, wait up a second," Daniel whispered, slowing his pace. "I think I see something down there."
Instantly acquiescing, Sam stopped and looked down a deviating tunnel. Her flashlight flickered as if it were running out of juice, and she tapped it against her left hand. Illuminating the area, she saw what Daniel was indicating. Oh, crap. Was that...
"Oh, God, I think those are bones."
"Humanoid bones," Sam grimly concurred, her stomach flipping over. Lots and lots of them. Fingering her radio, she spat, "Colonel, we've found something. Do you copy?"
The only sound she heard for several long minutes was Daniel's accelerated breathing. Flicking her eyes over the ancient, but still horrific scene in front of them, Sam caught sight of scratches on the walls. Daniel moved toward them automatically.
"Colonel, do you read?" she called again, panic starting to rise with accompanying claustrophobia. She looked at Daniel with a shake of her head. "I think the rocks must be blocking the transmission."
"Well, there's not much Jack and Teal'c could do in here, anyway, except take up room. Shine your light on this writing, will you? I think we'd better do this fast," Daniel nervously said, eyes narrowing.
"Can you interpret any of this?"
"Let's just say these people didn't die naturally. The pictographs start out very concise and logical - a detail of daily life, I think. But there's a definite progression into chaos. I don't know what, but something here caused these people to lose their lucidity. Incrementally and ultimately fatally. I think."
As he spoke, Sam found herself growing sicker and sicker. The skeletons on the ground were gruesomely shaped, mouths agape. In some cases, skulls had very obviously been crushed. She couldn't pull her eyes away, barely registering Daniel's continued murmurs. Her eyes gravitated to the bodies closest to her, and she saw one of them clutching a crude knife in twisted ivory fingers. Without thinking, she reached for it.
Skittering footsteps sounded from her left and Sam twirled, propelled by self-preservation instinct. Knife up, she stared with horror at the approaching demons. Cheerful, bright clothing belied the malevolent expressions twisting the faces of three small figures creeping toward her. Glancing down at the instrument in her hand, she fisted it tightly and brought it up in front of her. They wouldn't get her. She was stronger than them, and she wouldn't give them the chance to get the upper hand.
"NO!" she screamed, lunging for the closest one with her knife swinging. It crumpled onto the ground as the other two jumped on her. "No, no, no, no!"
Swiping her arm wildly, Sam prayed it would contact her attackers and was satisfied when one of them howled in pain and she felt hot liquid splash on her hand. She knew she couldn't relent as the three multiplied into a dozen. They wouldn't get her. They wouldn't get her! They wouldn't...too many. God, they were all over her now, tiny fists pummeling her midsection until she couldn't breathe.
Sam choked out in denial, felt a powerful blow to her jaw and fell into the horde. Darkness threatened, and she gave in to it.


"What's taking them so long? Was I not clear in my between the lines hurry it up instructions?" O'Neill muttered under his breath, glaring unhappily at the water's edge. "I mean, look at us. Don't quote me but I think we set some type of sample gathering speed record here."
Teal'c only half listened to his companion's irritated rambling, the bulk of his concentration devoted to retaining control of the battle waging within his mind. The only thing keep him from losing himself in the throes of fear was the knowledge that if he felt it so deeply, his human friend undoubtedly felt it in far excess. He must ignore the Keph'atar he saw on every periphery of brush and rock. If he did not, they all might suffer a terrible fate. He did not know why, but he was certain of this truth.
"Captain Carter? Daniel. Come in," O'Neill snapped into his radio, giving it a shake when no response was gained. "Damnit. Why won't they answer?"
"It is likely the stones are preventing the radio signals from reaching them, O'Neill. Perhaps we should enter the cave and locate them."
Inside would be safer than out here. Keph'atar did not inhabit enclosed spaces, building nests only in the open. No. There was no life on P0X 413. No Keph'atar. Teal'c struggled to keep that thought foremost in his mind. Inside would be better. Rising, he glanced down at O'Neill's huddled form. The team leader was becoming less proficient at hiding his distress, eyes always reverting to their paranoid perusal of the water. Unconsciously, Teal'c followed the gaze as if to witness for himself the horrors he believed were playing out for O'Neill.
"Yeah, I'm for that. Let's go."
They traveled five steps before both seemed to realize at once that they were without light. The interior of the caves would prove difficult to sojourn in complete darkness. Halting, Teal'c turned to O'Neill at the same moment O'Neill turned to him.
"Shit. Light. Fire?"
He turned back toward the camp and the ashes that were the only remnants of the fire. Teal'c knew he would have less difficulty in the dark than O'Neill, his eyesight enhanced by the larva swimming more and more erratically in its pouch.
"My eyesight will function without assistance. I will locate Daniel Jackson and Captain Carter, O'Neill. You may remain out here."
"But Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.s?" O'Neill hoarsely whispered.
"My name is not Westley, and I do not believe I have heard of an R.O.U.S.," Teal'c confusedly turned to O'Neill, worry for the other man's sanity winning out over his own fear.
"Joke, Teal'c. Rodent of Unusual Size. Bad joke. I can't, uh, I can't stay out here alone."
O'Neill's voice suddenly sounded as though it were coming from a small child on the verge of panic-driven tears. Clenching his jaw, Teal'c swallowed past the anger rising in his throat. His friend's reaction should not have been unexpected, though the note of base, childlike fear filling the tone shocked him. Irrationality as an adult was a significant challenge to overcome; a child's even more. If their mental conditions eroded so completely, there would be little hope of returning to the SGC undamaged. He understood what childish defensive measures could do when fuelled by adult and adrenaline strength. Especially in his case.
"Indeed. We will go together."
"You get the fire started. I'll find branches big enough to use as torches."
Relieved that O'Neill once again appeared to be in control of his emotional state, Teal'c quickly gathered some dry twigs and piled them within the circle of stone. Searching his pack for matches, he carefully kept close watch on his friend and the sky. Keph'atar were guileful creatures. They could attack at any moment. The yellowness of the atmosphere taunted and teased; warned of impending assault. He snapped a match in two.
"Shit, shit, shit. Figment of my imagination. It's okay," O'Neill murmured to himself, pulling Teal'c back to reality. "Not real. Not real."
Teal'c mentally repeated the other man's mantra, a sense of foreboding returning. Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson's separation from them became all the more troublesome. Striking a match, he furiously fed it to the pile and was pleased when the first attempt garnered success. He blew gently on the small flames until they were large enough to make torches.
O'Neill came to his side, an uneasy expression on his face. "Teal'c, I don't know if we should use these. Fire plus big sticks equals weapons to me."
"What do you propose as an alternative, O'Neill?"
"We wait another five minutes and hope they come out on their own?"
Disbelief at the suggestion made Teal'c raise an eyebrow. To consider leaving their companions alone while the potential for hazard mounted was not acceptable. For a moment, he stared at O'Neill before he became aware of a high-pitched, recognizable shriek infesting his ears, blanketing him. Keph'atar! Ducking down, he covered his head with his arms as the flock appeared out of nowhere and set upon him and O'Neill. Pecking and beating wings against his flesh, he was barely aware of his companion's cries of pain. Where was his father? It hurt. So many, the flutter of their wings an ominous melody.
"Teal'c! What? What is it?"
"Father, you must help me!"
"Father? Shit. Not father, Teal'c!"
Shit? This was not a word in his father's vocabulary. The horrible cacophony of wings disappeared, and Teal'c peeked out from under his ineffective shield. O'Neill stared at him, face lined with worry and tinged sickly yellow. He could not prevent a shudder. Nodding at the other man, he clamped his teeth together and averted his eyes in embarrassment.
"You okay?" O'Neill asked, sounding strangely breathless.
"I am we..." Teal'c stopped. There was something he was missing. The wing beats of his hallucination had vanished but not the shrill calls.
"Teal'c? Buddy? You're getting me worried here."
Inside the cave. The cries came from inside. Dread settled coldly even as he turned to O'Neill. "Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson are in danger."
"What?! How do you - "
"There is no time!" Teal'c shouted, running for his distressed teammates.
At the entrance, the screams abruptly halted. Teal'c paused mid-step, O'Neill slamming into his back and prompting him to continue. Foolish. His foolishness might have resulted in something terrible. The silence was thick, the dark oppressive as he led the way deeper underground. A nervous hand clutched his right shoulder and, despite the urgency, he slowed. Stumbling down the slight decline of the ground, he strained to hear and see anything that would lead him to Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson. Unburdened of his own fear, he felt command returning. Vision sharpening, he saw the dim glow of flashlight beams in a narrow offshoot of the main tunnel.
There was no movement, barely any sound. Shallow but rapid breathing was the only indication of life. Suddenly afraid of what they might find, Teal'c stopped. O'Neill let go of him and moved toward the light.
"Oh, God. Carter? Daniel?" the colonel cursed, rushing into the enclosure. "Teal'c, give me a hand!"
Taking one step forward, Teal'c saw the blood.


They were here; he could feel them. Goosebumps broke out on his arms, the hair on the back of his neck standing to attention. He didn't know what to do. Sam was here. Maybe if he just concentrated on the wall, focused on telling his teammate the story unfolding awfully in the images, the shadows would leave. They couldn't get him when he wasn't alone. Sam was here. He was safe.
"See here? This was obviously the last survivor," Daniel commented with a shiver. He didn't want to imagine what it must have been like for that poor person. For any of them. "The stories are all very similar, thanks to a child's tendency to fear terrible, dark and very solid things. But you, ah, you know...that."
Sam remained silent, and he felt his terror rise. What if they'd already gotten her? What if he was alone here in this dark place? Spinning around, Daniel's heart sped up as he realized his suspicion was correct. Sam was gone. He was alone, except for the grisly skeletons. And the shadows. With only his two flashlights, the cave was dimly lit. More dark than light. More dark coming right at him, transforming into physical creatures.
"Not real," he whispered to himself. "Not real. Can't hurt me."
Even as he spoke, the monsters belied his assertion. Angry howls filled the air as they descended upon him, sharp teeth snapping. Fixated on their glowing red eyes, Daniel was frozen for a moment before coming to life. Kicking and fighting with all of his might, he dodged his attackers but there were too many. Surrounding him, hot breath on his neck and saliva trickling hungrily from their mouths. Flailing his arms, he tried to hit them but his swings contacted only air.
Razor-sharp pain tore into his left shoulder, searing and hot. Panicking, he stumbled back into the wall and knew he couldn't win. His left arm refused to work, agony flaring in his attempts to use it. Daniel wildly punched with his right, fear adding force to the blows and he felt his knuckles collide with one of the monsters strong enough to make it crumple to the ground. Reverberations shot up his arm as he fell backward, satisfaction fading as the shadows continued to encroach upon him. His head contacted with the wall, and he saw stars.
Wet, sticky heat flowed down his chest and useless left arm, dripping slickly between his fingers. Consciousness faded, and he cowardly hoped it would take him away from the horror of being eaten alive. Slumping, Daniel gave up and let the shadows surround him in heavy, suffocating cover. It was so cold. His limbs tangled with strange protrusions on the ground, a hollow rattling sound underlying the cries of the monsters. Cold. Inevitable dark. He closed his eyes, shuddering.
"Teal'c, give me a hand! I can't tell who it's from."
Shocked at the familiar voice, so out of place, Daniel opened his eyes. A dark shape approached, back lit by the bright light filling the cavern again. Moaning, he closed his eyes. This wasn't real. Cold. He just wanted it to end, but couldn't help reflexively bracing himself for a continued attack. Hands probed him, different than before. Gentle and warm. Fighting was futile, so he sagged limply and played dead; maybe they would be convinced and leave him alone. Daniel felt himself lifted off of the hard ground, warmth seeping through the layers of clothing. The hands harshly prodded his shoulder, eliciting an involuntary groan. At his noise, the shadow froze and silence fell for a moment.
"Shit, we have to stop the bleeding," the voice swore as his face was enveloped by something. Daniel shuddered, expecting violence and cold. Confused when the touch was the opposite, the tone soft and oddly concerned. "This was a bad idea. Is she okay? Daniel? Can you hear me?"
Jack?
"It appears Captain Carter received a minor injury to her jaw, though I do not believe it to be the cause for her unconsciousness."
Teal'c?
Not real? No shadows? What? Daniel fought to open his eyes, sluggishness assuming all power over his body. With supreme effort he tried to regain the use of muscles that were quaking all of a sudden, fishing around slightly. The motion caused a resurgence of pain and he hissed.
"Don't move, Daniel. You're fine. You're going to be fine."
"Jack?" he uncertainly whispered, afraid this was the illusion, some devious ploy.
"Daniel?"
"Jack."
"Damnit, Daniel. Open your eyes," Jack ordered, grip around his shoulders tightening. "Thanks, Teal'c."
Jack pressed onto his wound again...wound? Daniel managed to crack one of his eyes open, staring right into the other man's frowning face. Blurry. His glasses were gone. Wound? He couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. He tried to sit up but Jack wouldn't let him move. Blearily shifting around, he was embarrassed to note he was...cradled on the colonel's lap, a massive black lump encompassing his left upper chest and shoulder. Teal'c, T-shirtless, hovered above and to the left, and beyond that he saw a body. Sam!
"Happened? Sam?"
"You don't know?"
"I'm not sure," he said, though he was getting a pretty good idea. He'd apparently just had another hallucination. It had felt so real; the burning in his upper chest seemed to indicate that it had been real. Oh, no. Daniel remembered hitting out, hitting something. "Is Sam okay?"
"She will be fine, Daniel Jackson. Your condition is more severe."
"I hit her, didn't I?"
"Looks that way," Jack confirmed with a nod, adopting a pained expression. "But I'm guessing you didn't..."
"Know it was her," Daniel finished, unsteadily trying to extricate himself from Jack's hold to go check on Sam.
"Damnit, don't move. I'm not hugging you for the pleasure, you know."
Daniel stilled at the gruff command, sinking back down weakly. He half smiled and raised his eyebrows. "No?"
A short burst of laughter told him he'd at least partially succeeded in breaking through what he thought was Jack's self blame but the accompanying slight jarring resulted in ripples of pain. Daniel stiffened and bit down on his lower lip, waiting for it to recede to a dull throb. The light mood made a rapid disappearance, and Jack very gently squeezed his left arm.
"Sorry, sorry," Jack whispered in his ear, uncharacteristically emotional. Daniel frowned, but the oddness only lasted for a second. "You may have KOed Carter. She skewered you. It was bleeding pretty heavily before but we've stopped it as long as you don't loosen the bandage. Doesn't look too bad now."
"Doesn't feel too bad anymore either," he said, speaking half truthfully.
"I regret utilizing medication to ease your pain would serve to interfere with the mental degradation we are experiencing. We should return to the surface and the Stargate immediately," Teal'c intoned, apparently not convinced Daniel was being honest.
"Agreed. Mental degradation - that's putting it mildly. Teal'c, you go get Carter. Why the hell hasn't she woken up yet? Daniel, did you get everything you need before...?"
He nodded. The pain in his shoulder really did seem to be reducing to tolerable levels, only shooting sparks of irritation every once in a while. Twisting in Jack's arms, Daniel watched, his own guilt flaring, as Teal'c leaned over Sam. He couldn't have hit her that hard, not when the shad... Shuddering at the memory, he again tried to scoot out of the imposed embrace. Jack didn't protest this time, instead helping him gain an upright, if wobbly, position. Pressing on the swathe of gauze wrapped up in Teal'c's T-shirt, he looked around for his camera and found it beneath a pile of bones that had once been a skeleton. Bending and reaching for it, he lost his balance and almost toppled onto his face.
"Careful. I don't think you should be letting up on the pressure quite yet. Actually, you probably should be moving around at all," Jack warned, catching him before he fell. The other man propped him against the wall, looking weary as he retrieved the camera. And afraid.
"It's just a scratch."
"Sure it is, Daniel. But just to be on the safe side, work with me a bit. Okay? Stay put. Teal'c and I will figure out the best way to get you out of here with minimal activity on your part. Enjoy the ride."
Muscles turning gelatinous, Daniel realized the validity of Jack's words. It was as if someone had unplugged his power cord all of a sudden and he slouched back, resting his head on the wall. Jack studied him for a second, handed him the dented video camera, then moved to join Teal'c. Sam was still unconscious, a fact that disturbed him. He almost wished he could remember exactly what happened. The progression of their...illness was acute and rapid. And they had no idea what to expect. What if Sam had reached another stage? He looked down at his hands, noticing the camera light was still flashing red. Recording.
"NO!"
Starting from his thoughts, Daniel lurched away from the wall and looked over to his three teammates. Sam was moving, hands flying out as she unexpectedly sat up, catching Jack's chin with her forehead. He weaved his way over to them to help get her calmed down, remembering just how disoriented he had been when he woke up.
"Ah, damnit. If you guys keep ramming into me, I'm going to end up with a concussion. And don't you take another step, Daniel."
Pausing, he deliberated for half a second before continuing on his path. He was fine. A little lightheaded but the pain was easy to regulate, concern for Sam overriding his own soreness. By the time he reached them, Teal'c had his hands clamped on Sam's shoulders and was shaking her slightly. Her eyes were wide open, though Daniel couldn't say what she was seeing. He was positive it wasn't them. Thinking to kneel next to her, he began an awkward descent. Halfway down, he realized he'd miscalculated how fit he was. Fuzzily feeling himself lose control over his limbs, Daniel gracelessly slid to the cold ground.
The last things he heard were the clatter of metal bouncing on rock as the camera slipped from numb fingers and Jack issuing forth language that would shock any sailor.

part 2


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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.