Salvage Operation

"Why does this always happen? No, let me rephrase that. Why does this always happen when I end up stuck with you?"
"Stuck with me? I'm going to try really hard to disregard that."
"Why? It's true. Put me with Teal'c - sunshine and roses. With Carter - sunshine and...boredom. Both of which are about two hundred percent more acceptable than our current situation."
"For the record, I could say the exact same thing about you. Archaeology was never hazardous to my health until I met you. And besides, oh great team leader, who decides the breakdown of the groups? Whose fault is it, really?"
"What?!"
"You heard me."
"Shut up, Daniel, and find something to get me out of here!" Jack growled into the upside down, sullen face glaring at him.
"Do I really have to remind you I can move about three feet in any given direction and that there's nothing within my reach to help you?" Daniel muttered back, and Jack swore he heard the archaeologist mumble something about how blood in the brain was supposed to increase its function.
He had known something like this was going to happen about a millisecond before it actually had, and was too slow to prevent Daniel from touching what he had no business touching. The space between them had been enough to keep them apart and subsequently suffer differing means of capture. He was quite sure he'd gotten the short end of the stick.
Groaning in frustration, Jack hit his radio again. "Carter, Teal'c, do you copy?"
"I really don't think they can..." Daniel prudently trailed off at Jack's intense, angry glower.
Yeah, he knew radio contact was down, out, blocked or something. Glancing at his watch, Jack wondered if his head would explode from the pressure before Carter and Teal'c realized there was something amiss. They weren't due to officially check in for another forty-five minutes, and he'd already been swinging by one leg for about an hour. He was just thoroughly pissed and needed to do something to keep his mind from wandering onto homicidal paths. He stared at his P90 lying uselessly forlorn at the entrance of the temple, then flicked his gaze to the sidearm at his...head. At Daniel's feet but just out of reach.
"Daniel?"
"Jack?"
"Do you happen to have your sidearm?"
"Of course I do."
"Here's an idea. Why don't you try and shoot at this rope thing to get me down? Then I can get you out of your box." Had it really taken him an hour to think of that?
"Uh...I'm not sure that's such a good idea."
"And why not?"
"I'm in a box, Jack. Invisible shield type of thing. If I can't simply crawl out, why would a bullet pass through it?"
Crap. Daniel was right, of course. Blood shirruped aggravatingly in his ears and he pulled his arms against gravity that seemed far too strong to rub at them, surprised when they didn't come away covered in red. Surely vital fluids would start leaking out of his cranial orifices soon. Damnit to hell, why couldn't Carter just finish up early for once? Would it be too much to ask? Like that would ever happen. Jack sighed.
"Had any luck figuring out why this happened? Other than you touching things you shouldn't have?" he asked, not feeling an ounce of regret as Daniel cast him a reproachful look.
"I didn't actually touch anything, Jack," the archaeologist wearily said. "Not to place blame here but I had stopped when you ran into me and pushed me onto it."
"I did not! If I had done that, wouldn't I be in there with you?" His words were petulant and sophomoric, a grown up 'nuh-uh'.
"Judging from the force with which my face impacted the wall, I'd say chances are good you bounced back a bit," Daniel snapped, rubbing an upside down hand on his upside down cheekbone.
This is what they had been reduced to over the years - snaggy, ill-tempered arguments. Jack suddenly wanted to turn back time, erase the irritation that inherently came whenever he was around Daniel and replace it with the camaraderie he was positive they had had at one point. The problem with that idea was he had no clue when it had gone wrong between them. Oh, he still liked Daniel, still considered him a friend. But there was always that underlying feeling of wrongness and withdrawal he didn't know how to fix. Worse, he didn't know if he wanted to. It was easier to accept the new status quo, acknowledge he and his teammate were on differing sides on every subject. Maintain a tolerance of sorts, nothing more, nothing less. It was the nothing less that bothered him every time.
"Back to the question," Jack harped, refusing to concede Daniel was right once again. If the archaeologist hadn't looked as though he were about to touch something dangerous, he never would have overreacted. "Ideas? Helpful hints?"
Daniel stared up at him for long moments, expression bordering both on extreme dislike and extreme frustration. And he knew; Jack knew they had to fix this. That look made his friend look like his enemy. Without knowing how their relationship had become so skewed, though, the repairs would probably be lengthy and painful. 'Nothing less' loomed over his head like an ogre, and he was ashamed it had taken him so long to realize Daniel's friendship was important enough to fight for. More than important enough. Trying to make his expression contrite, Jack wondered how successful he could possibly be when his face was beet red and flipped over from the other man's perspective. To his relief, a bit of the archaeologist's tension seemed to diminish.
"I hate to say it, but no. This place is definitely alien, though I'd venture a guess this building isn't a temple like I'd first thought," Daniel softly said, shifting uncomfortably in his small enclosure.
"What gave it away - the box cage or the swinging upside down by one leg thing?"
Damn. That came out so much more harshly than he'd intended. Jack cautiously watched Daniel's reaction, hoping he hadn't hung himself even worse. No pun intended.
"Actually, it was the lack of any type of statuary or altar that usually go hand in hand with religion, but now that you mention it..." Daniel looked doleful as he banged a fist against his nearly invisible trap, wincing a little. "The only other assumption we can make is that whomever constructed these things is fairly advanced. Your knife didn't do a thing to the cord and this thing reminds me of Aris Boch."
As Daniel spoke, Jack had a terrible thought. He tried to dismiss it but it kept at him like a nagging wife refusing to be ignored. Nervously, he checked his watch and bit back the urge to try and hail Carter and Teal'c again. Closing his eyes, he saw them compromised just as he and Daniel were, or worse. No. Stupid to think like that. It served no purpose but to make his agitation mount, and he had a feeling being calm, cool and collected was going to be essential. Soon.
"Do you suppose these...people, for lack of a better term...are hunters of some sort, and if so, when do you think they're going to check their traps again?" Jack asked, hating to vocalize the thought.
"Your guess is as good as mine, though I hope it's after Sam and Teal'c come for us."
"Yeah."
Mentally reviewing their track record, Jack figured they were pretty well screwed. Some nice, peaceful alien race wouldn't exactly be inclined to set booby traps. All he could do was hope it was a planet-bound type of group, not a spread-mayhem-throughout-the-galaxy type of group. Cringing at the jinx, he slapped his forehead. Hand slightly deadened from its awkward position, it hit him with more force than he'd planned and he grunted.
"Careful there," Daniel said laughingly.
"Shut up," Jack good-naturedly retorted. "Did I ask for your input?"
This. This was more like how it was supposed to be between him and Daniel. Why couldn't they seem to maintain this for longer than a few lousy minutes? Little interludes of how it used to be sprang up intermittently, coming less and less frequently and with less and less power to remind. He knew the guilt was not his alone to shoulder but would be damn sure not to let that fact impede the reconstruction. Fixing. Repairs. Reconstruction. Jack huffed out an impatient breath, irritated he'd been thinking of the friendship as though it were a hole in the wall needing a quick patch job. Hell, that was probably part of the problem right there.
"Do you ever?" Daniel asked.
Did he ever? Though the younger man didn't sound as though it were a serious question, Jack couldn't deny the validity. There had been a time when each member of SG1 held equal positions in regards to influencing a final decision. He honestly couldn't say that was the truth any longer. He was the team leader, it fell on him to make the ultimate call in every situation. But somewhere, somewhen, he had stopped listening to his team. The Eurondan and Enkaren situations instantly came to mind as the most obvious examples, but there had been more. Too many to name or think about. Okay, so his responsibility in the state of his team was now in question, not just his relationship with Daniel. First things first. Work on the interpersonal before moving to the bigger picture.
"Not as often as I should," Jack muttered.
"What?"
"Carter and Teal'c getting here soon would be good, I said."
"Oh...right." Daniel looked baffled. And cramped. "Any minute now, I'm sure."
"Yeah, me too."
Head throbbing again, Jack closed his eyes and tried not to move. The swaying was making him nauseous. As the pendulum effect slowed, he couldn't help but think his own comfort wasn't the only thing hanging in the balance.


Daniel relied heavily on intuition in both his job and his daily life; for the most part, it served him well. Unfortunately, intuition was failing when it came to understanding one Jack O'Neill. He remembered very clearly becoming friends with Jack, but he couldn't recall when that friendship had started to erode. And it had eroded over the years, crumbled away after too many strong winds, floods, rainstorms...whatever. The man had gone from a pretty even temperament to swinging irrationally from resigned apathy to cranky, ill nature. Frankly, Daniel didn't quite know what to expect every time he attempted conversation. So he stopped attempting.
Today was the perfect example. He should have known something like this was going to happen. Jack was right on that count - trouble was a raging bull and either he or his upside down companion must have a red flag sewn on his ass. Daniel flipped up his watch guard, willing time to have sped up; his legs were getting twitchy. Sighing, he realized there was still a good half an hour before Sam and Teal'c were to check in, and chances are at least an hour for them to make it to his and Jack's unexpected prison. He was selfishly grateful he wasn't the one who'd ended up swinging from the rope.
"Screw this. There has got to be a way down from here!" Jack growled, face a deep maroon. "My head can't take it anymore."
"Jack..."
"Daniel, shut up and help me think of something."
"We've tried everything we can, given our limited freedom," Daniel snapped back, stung at the harsh command.
He rocked back slightly as Jack opened his eyes and glowered down at him. Well, apparently Mr. Hyde was putting in another appearance. Sighing, Daniel tried to dismiss the other man's caustic words as resultant from the undoubtedly uncomfortable position Jack was in. Too often lately, he knew he was guilty of fighting fire with fire when it came to dealing with the ever-changing moods of his friend, and that obviously wasn't a great method. He couldn't blame the other man for the whole of their faltering friendship. Instead of reacting negatively or not reacting at all, Daniel knew he had to try to change himself before he could have any hope at all of salvaging even a working relationship with Jack.
"There's always something else to try."
"Sure, Jack. Let me just start digging a hole in the ground and tunnel beneath this energy barrier. That'll work."
Sadly, changing himself was easier said than done. And clearly Jack wasn't the only one with a flighty personality. If Daniel had to describe to anyone exactly what was going through his mind and body, he'd have to equate it to his unpleasant experiences with Sha're when she was suffering PMS. Gone was his loving, beautiful wife. In her stead, a furiously bitter hag, of whom he was not embarrassed to admit being afraid. Extremely afraid. It had taken him four months to figure out a remedy - saying yes to everything, no matter how ridiculous. He just had to find a similar remedy for Jack, and for himself. Right. It was safe to say neither of them could possibly become yes men with each other.
"Damnit, Daniel. Stop being so sarcastic. It doesn't suit you and it's extremely unattractive and my fucking head is going to fucking explode!"
O-okay. That was a little bit of the pot calling the kettle, but Daniel wisely let it pass because of the extenuating circumstances. However, it was very apparent to him the only way out of the situation was to wait. And wait and wait. He nervously fingered his watch again. Damnit.
"I'm sorry, Jack. I just don't know what you want me to say. There is no way out of this, bar you chewing your leg off. Correct me if I'm wrong in thinking that's not something you want to do," Daniel tiredly said, bracing for the rebuttal by scooting back an inch. Colliding with the invisible force penning him in, he shuddered at the now familiar but still painful tingling shooting needles into his shoulders. "Augh, damnit."
"What?" Jack asked.
Daniel looked up at Jack's soft question as he jerked away from the wall, unsurprised to see the other man's expression was as soft as his voice. If only that happened more often. He wiped the grimace off his face and tried to school his features to reassuring.
"Every time I touch the shield, I get a small shock."
"How small? Or should I say how big?"
"Ever touched an electrified fence? Like that."
"Ooh, ouch," Jack sympathized with an answering grimace, which hardened into suspicion. "Wait a minute. You're telling me every time I ordered you to try and get out of there you went ahead and touched it anyway?"
"Well, you weren't exactly open to my opinion at the time, Jack. Besides, you had more important things on your mind," Daniel ruefully admitted, giving a tiny smile to try and brush it off as not a big deal.
"Jeez, Daniel. You should have said something! My own situation is no more important than yours."
Genuine surprise flooded him at the statement, followed closely by extreme shame. Yes, Jack had been...crankier than usual lately, but one thing he never did was truly put his own concerns before others'. Unbidden thoughts of some of Jack's command decisions popped into his head. Euronda. The Enkarens. Merrin. No, Daniel corrected before the ill thoughts could take seed. Those instances weren't Jack looking out for number one at all, even if it sometimes appeared that way in his memory. Angry with himself for even thinking it, he scowled and had to look away from his friend.
"You don't believe that?" Jack whispered, clearly wounded and taken aback.
Damn. Jack had seen his face and misinterpreted the expression. Way to go, Daniel. Instantly turning his face back up, he twitched at the stark hurt on Jack's features, readable despite the awkward positioning and the discomfort that went with it. If he could kick himself, he would.
"Yes, I believe that, Jack. I have to be honest, though, it sometimes doesn't seem that way. At least not at first."
Honesty was the best policy? Not always, but Daniel knew if they didn't start actually voicing insecurities and thoughts, he and Jack would always be on a slippery slope. And he knew a person could only struggle on that slope for so long before giving up and sliding right down it into the muck. With a start, he realized how desperately he didn't want to land in the muck when it came to his friendship with Jack.
"That's really nice, Daniel."
"No, I didn't mean..." Daniel trailed off, suddenly at a loss as to how to explain what he did mean without causing further misunderstanding and hurt. He could almost feel the rift between them getting bigger, even though they were only four or so feet apart. Scrubbing a hand through his hair, he cleared his throat. "It's not you. People tend to leap to their own conclusions in any given circumstance, Jack, and I've been guilty plenty of times."
"What does that mean, exactly?"
"It means that...I don't know what it means."
Cowardice, plain and simple. Daniel didn't want to go through all of their dirty laundry at the moment, a little afraid at the reaction he might garner if he gave Jack the examples he was looking for. They needed some distance from this latest grand adventure, some time to settle frazzled nerves. That, and there was no place to escape to if things got too ugly here. Massaging the bridge of his nose, he huffed a short laugh. He really was an idiot; planning escape routes wasn't exactly the best way to foster the 'regaining the friendship' campaign.
"Look, Jack..."
"No, forget it."
"Jack, I don't think we should forget it," Daniel argued, waving his hand around at the invisible box and the rope the other man was swaying from. "What else are we going to do?"
"You could try that digging thing you mentioned."
The conversation was apparently over, the room silent except for an odd hissing noise. Jack closed his eyes, folded his arms painfully across his chest and did an amazing impression of a sleeping bat. To add to Daniel's own misery, his left calf tightened in an excruciating charley horse. Rubbing at it vigorously, he tried to contain any indication of hurting. The last thing he needed was for Jack to think he was using less than straight up means to start talking again. As the muscle cramping eased up, he became aware his self-ministration had made him break out in a fine sweat. Crinkling his eyebrows, Daniel thought he'd better start working out more, if such a small amount of exertion made him overheat.
And become breathless. Damn, he was huffing like a chain smoker trying to tackle two flights of stairs. Wiping at his upper lip and rubbing the moisture off on his pant leg, Daniel frowned at how lightheaded he was beginning to feel. This was not normal overexertion. It was definitely getting warmer in his cubicle, and each breath seemed to bring in less oxygen. Eyes snapping up to Jack, he could feel his panic increasing and he tried to tame it. Hyperventilating would be a Bad Thing. Oh, yes, it would.
"Jack, I think I...have a...problem here," he gasped, alarmed at how much effort it took to get the words out. Vision blurring and twisting, Daniel couldn't be sure if his friend was swaying somewhat erratically or if his eyes were playing a trick on him. "Jack?"
"Problem here, too," Jack called back, grunting as his body impacted solidly with the wall. Swaying erratically it was, then. "Goddamn thing seems to have a mind of its...ugh...own. What's your situation?"
"Warm. Can't...breathe."
"Shit."
"You can...say that again."
"Stop talking. Take short, even breaths, if you can," Jack coached, twisting his body so he was facing Daniel. "Look at me, Daniel. Focus."
Uh oh. That was Jack's alarmed voice. Daniel wished he could see the other man, but his vision was now virtually useless, gray fuzz occupying the entire field. Went nicely with the static in his ears, humming, buzzing and crackling like a bad AM radio station. Instinctively bringing his hands up to his shirt collar, he clawed at it as though it were choking him.
"Daniel! Daniel, stay with me!"
Oh, how he wished he could comply with that particular order. His arms dropped, knuckles grazing on the cold floor, and he was falling. Daniel knew it was going to hurt and tried to brace himself as he thudded into the shield. The electric surge lasted a fraction of a second, then he was blessed by darkness.


He wondered if anyone had got the license plate numbers of the truck that had run over him. Various body parts ached and cried out for immediate attention, each one more vocally than the last. Shifting his position from an unnatural, face down and twisted sprawl, Jack rolled over, regretting the action a second later when sharp pain cracked through the back of his head. Groaning, he turned his head and lifted a heavy hand to massage a good-sized lump. Bits and pieces of just how that had happened started to assault his memory. Better late than never, he realized he was no longer elevated off the floor by one leg, the last thing he remembered was swinging violently and impacting with the wall while attempting to... A sick feeling overcame him as the memories formed one terrible image.
"Daniel?" Jack croaked pathetically, knowing he wouldn't get an answer. If Daniel was with him here, wherever here was, the archaeologist would have been at his side at the first signs of awareness. Of course, he also knew Daniel could still be unconscious. Please, just unconscious. Nothing worse. Vivid blue eyes, wide with distress, haunted him. Snapping his own eyes open, he called again, "Daniel?"
Silence. Slate gray dinginess encompassed his entire range of vision. A wall, he realized, different from the one he'd collided with. Smoother. Jack cautiously shifted to his hands and knees, muscles and joints creaking in unison. Quickly scanning his surroundings, he discovered he was very much alone, and in a shallow, boxy cell of sorts. Three walls made of large stone blocks, and one that appeared completely open. He wouldn't bet money it truly was. Bright, fluorescent light glared down on him, incongruous with the primitively constructed walls. Nothing else. No bed, no sink, no rubbish on the floor. And no Daniel. His friend's absence was ominously conspicuous, sending a surge of dread through his mind. Stomach full of icy lead, he shakily crawled toward the open wall.
Expecting an invisible barrier to prevent his exit, Jack was stunned when he easily left the alcove. Once out, he clambered to his feet and managed a couple of stumbling steps. Vertigo made the going rough, slightly blurred vision not lending a hand either. Carefully probing the goose egg on his head, Jack cringed and guessed he had at least a minor concussion. Thinking around the headache was proving difficult, though a multitude of questions clamored away despite the pain. Closing his eyes and willing his head to stop hurting for just a minute, he heard soft sounds floating toward him - water dripping, something rustling and a low buzz. Instinct made him open his eyes and aim his body the direction of the noises, taking in as much information as he could while proceeding.
Glancing ahead, he realized he was in a wide hallway. The walls he'd thought were stone before looked...wrong, too smooth. He dismissed that as irrelevant and noted every five feet or so, a doorway like the one forming an exit to his alcove dotted both sides of the corridor, twelve on each side. Jack turned his head back the direction he'd come from, finding the same scenario there as well, briefly wondering if he should turn around and check those cells before investigating the noise. Energy flagging, he decided to skip them and press forward; when he was feeling better he could come back. He flicked his gaze to the ceiling, which was low, a narrow beam of intensely white light running down the center of it. Frowning, he started walking again. Staggering, actually. His legs were beginning to feel vaguely mulish and rubbery, apparently about ready to refuse to operate.
His need for information kept him going. He needed some clue as to his new location, how he'd got there, and what happened to Daniel, Carter and Teal'c. He didn't know whether he should really want to find any of his team members here or not. After a moment's consideration, Jack revised that thought. Daniel could be here, and alive. Hope, no matter how slim, was still hope.
Each doorway he passed earned a swift perusal of the interior, and each cell was thankfully yet frustratingly empty. After passing the fifth such recess, Jack's legs finally gave up, demanding he rest. Depositing himself in an awkward heap, he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes again. His mind wouldn't permit the small reprieve, instantly noting the wall behind his shoulders was strangely warm and vibrating slightly. Sighing, he ran a hand down its surface and determined it was metal, not stone. He shivered despite the odd warmth emanating from it, wrapping his arms around his bare chest. Bare? Snapping his eyes open with alarm, he realized he was practically naked, clothed only in loose fitting drawstring pants made of coarse brown cloth. Damn, that should have been the first thing he noticed.
The constant shimmy of the wall could also be felt through the floor, and he could think of only one cause for it. He couldn't be absolutely certain, but he was pretty damn sure he was in some type of moving vehicle. Possibly taking him away from all three of his teammates. Shit. Suddenly inspired to continue his slow but sure exploration, Jack rubbed at his temples and climbed to his feet. Running his left hand along the wall for balance, he concentrated on the sounds while he walked. Still surreptitiously checking the cells as he stumbled by, he could tell he was approaching a large open space, the rustling noises seeming to echo unnaturally. Frowning, he was so intent on reaching the end of the hall he almost walked right by it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flesh colored shape lying crumpled in a cell on the opposite side. It snared his attention, and he easily identified it as a body. An almost completely naked, face down, and definitely human body. Heart freezing, Jack automatically pushed away from the wall and staggered toward the unmoving person. It wasn't going to be Daniel or Carter, just some other poor slob, stuck God knew where like him. Even as he thought that, he knew he was deluding himself. Before he'd come within five feet of the figure, he knew who it was. He could see an appendectomy scar on the partially twisted torso.
Oh, God. Daniel.
Jack swore he'd take back every rude comment he'd made to the archaeologist if only he were alive. Had to be. Aliens wouldn't have any reason to bring him here if he were dead, right? Fervently needing that to be true, he fell to his knees beside the still form, ignoring the resulting pain shooting up to his hips. Reaching his hands out to flip his friend over, he drew back in sudden hesitation. He didn't want proof of death, didn't know if he could take that. No, Daniel wasn't dead. They still needed to work on some things; the younger man knew that and wouldn't let a little thing like death get in the way. Therefore, Daniel wasn't dead. Reassured by his illogic, he gently laid one hand on a bare shoulder and trembled his other to rest just below Daniel's jaw line.
The chill of the flesh beneath his fingertips almost made him retract his hands, did make him hunch over as fear contracted the muscles of his stomach lining. Cold seeping into his being as if through osmosis, Jack fumbled for a pulse and held his breath. Transubstantiating his muscles into lumps of rigidity, the cold was everywhere. He couldn't find a beat. Not even a slight fluttering. Panicking, he manhandled Daniel onto his back and shook him.
"Daniel! Daniel, come on!" Jack pleaded, aware of hysteria inhabiting him with unusual vigor.
Calm. He needed to calm down. Daniel was NOT dead. Not even close. He was just a little high strung. Replacing his hand on the archaeologist's neck, Jack willed a pulse to be there and slowed his own breathing as if that would somehow infuse life into his friend. Slowed it to the point he stopped, sagging when he still couldn't find life. No, there. He swore he saw the chest rise and fall, if only minutely. Giving up on the carotid artery, he snatched up Daniel's right arm and groped the wrist.
And sagged again, sucking in a great lungful of air. His head throbbed with the resurgence of blood into it, but he didn't care. Daniel was alive. Jack allowed himself a second of intense relief, running both his hands through gritty hair before he unconsciously switched the action into rubbing Daniel's shoulders. He made a quick assessment of the still man, frowning at the very abbreviated skivvies made of the same rough fabric as his own pants. That would account for the coolness, but he didn't like that Daniel was so scantily clad. There didn't appear to be anything outwardly wrong with the younger man, a fact made less soothing by the frightening pallor. He ran his hands along limp arms, searched the head for signs of trauma. Nothing. Letting out a relieved breath, he moved to the legs.
Hands sliding over Daniel's thighs and down his calves, Jack scowled when his left bumped into something hard at the right heel. Lifting the limb gingerly, he bent down to get a closer look. Damn. Attached by means he really didn't want to think about was a small cream-colored plastic box. On the front of it, a small orange light glowed. Setting Daniel's leg back on the ground, he hastily yanked up his own pant leg and discovered an identical device. Taking into consideration the vaguely prison-like setting, he could only guess the things were tags of some sort. Like the kind a flight risk ex-convict had to wear while on parole. Correct assumption or not, he didn't like the implications that came with it.
Shaking his head, he continued checking Daniel over, patting down his chest and torso. He halted when he noticed several tiny, almost imperceptible puncture wounds around the navel. Instantly reviewing the rest of Daniel's body again, Jack was disturbed to find similar marks in assorted locations - one on each thigh and bicep, one over his sternum, another in the center of his neck. Swallowing, he carefully ran his hands through Daniel's hair and clenched his jaw tightly. One at the base of his skull, bigger than the rest. It was second nature to check himself over, and he was stunned when his self examination yielded nothing; aside from the knock on his head, he was untouched. Dread injected into him with less finesse than any of Doc Fraiser's nurses.
He lightly slapped Daniel's face, hoping to gain any type of response. When none came, he crazily looked around the small room for something to aid him. As where he had awakened, the place was barren. Water. That's right. Daniel would be okay until he could come back. Stiffly rising to his feet, Jack shuffled to the door with his original mission in mind. A wordless, sighing mewl stopped him in his tracks.
Back at Daniel's side before he even registered moving, he anxiously watched the archaeologist for continued signs of awareness. Cupping his left hand over a cool cheek, Jack massaged it with his thumb. It seemed to work, as Daniel furrowed his eyebrows and leaned into the bare embrace. Warmth effused through him, banishing the cold grip of fear still there. As if needing to share the sensation, he again started to rub the younger man's shoulder.
"Daniel," he coaxed, this time truly believing he'd get a reaction.
"Mmmm," Daniel breathed, the last bit coming out as a squeaking gasp, eyelids twitching and finally opening a crack.
"Hey, nice of you to join me."
Confusion, fear and pain chased each other's tails in Daniel's eyes, which widened at Jack's greeting. There was no recognition in the gaze, and for a second he found himself panicking again. Then Daniel nodded once and closed his eyes. As much as he hated dragging his friend to full consciousness, he was all too aware of how little he knew about where they were. And what had been done to at least one of them. He wanted the other man mobile. Pronto.
"Sorry, Daniel," Jack muttered, grasping both of his friend's shoulders and tugging him into a sitting position. Daniel groaned, but seemed to understand his intentions because he could feel muscles trying to work beneath his hands. "That's it. Open your eyes again."
Dutifully, if sluggishly, complying, Daniel peered at him blearily. Not pleased at the persistent disorientation and apparent inability to focus his eyes, Jack maneuvered the archaeologist and propped him against the wall. Hot bursts of air dampened his shoulder as he leaned in to try and situate the other man as comfortably as possible. Worried about Daniel's unusual acquiescent silence, he pulled back and studied his friend closely.
"You with me?"
An uncoordinated head bob; another loud sigh.
"Can you talk? This may come as a surprise, but I'd really like to hear you say something right about now," Jack jokingly said, trying to disguise mounting concern. Daniel's eyebrows quirked, though he couldn't be sure if that meant anything or was merely residual muscle spasms. Plastering a reassuring smile on his face, he scooted back further, keeping a loose grip on the other man. "And the wonders will never cease."
To Jack's dismay, Daniel simply blinked at him, closed his eyes and slumped to the side.


Trying very hard to do as Jack asked, Daniel blinked to focus his blurry vision. The face in front of his was still a featureless blob, so he blinked again and found he couldn't reopen his eyes. The trace of control he had over his muscles evaporated, leaving him limp and slowly tipping over. Knowing landing was going to hurt, he braced himself, suddenly struck with an indistinct memory of recently doing the exact same thing. And failing.
"Shit," he heard Jack murmur, then he was involuntarily changing direction mid fall. His face landed not on hard ground, but something soft. There was a strange vibration rippling through him as Jack continued, "I'll take that as a no."
After several disorienting moments, he realized Jack had caught and was cushioning him. Daniel wanted to open his eyes and let his friend know he was fine, just a little muddled. Nothing seemed to want to work, though; he could barely feel his arms and legs, let alone use them. It was as though he was waking up after surgery, his brain and body still affected by the anaesthetic. But he hadn't had surgery, had he? Scouring a spotty memory, the last thing he remembered with any clarity was he and Jack arguing. Feeling boxed in.
"Well, it's not like you can hear me, but I'm going to set you down and go see if I can find some water or something, okay?"
Jack apparently didn't expect an answer, because Daniel was again moving without any effort on his own part. The motion, while amazingly gentle, made the contents of his stomach swish and spin with such forcefulness he started breathing heavily in an attempt to settle the nausea. It didn't work.
"Guh..." Daniel gasped, then dry heaved. For some reason, he really didn't want to vomit all over Jack. "Puke."
"Crap!" Jack exclaimed, quickly and dizzyingly whirling him to his side.
A strange part of his mind wanted to teasingly correct Jack there was no danger of crap but his mouth was suddenly filled with bile and acid, taking away the option. Spitting out the foulness, Daniel coughed, each paroxysm actually seeming to return some of the feeling to his useless limbs. The spasms lasted for several minutes after his stomach was emptied, tearing into him and reminding him why it sucked so much to be sick. Through it all, hands kneaded his back and shoulders, and words he couldn't really decipher filled his ears.
Jack. Confusion set in, a clear image of the other man hanging upside down back on...P-something. He couldn't remember. Didn't matter, really. Shivers sent goosebumps across his body, which Daniel slowly realized was disproportionately exposed to cold air. The massaging hands picked up their pace, attempting to supply warmth through friction. Pleasantly surprised when it worked, he sighed and felt his stomach stop its queasy tumult at long last. Scratching noises and a soft grunt warned just prior to another shift in position, and he was back on something warm and soft.
"It's okay. You're okay now."
Worried tone, very nearly scared. Daniel frowned at the incongruity of both things coming from his usually stalwart companion. The need to understand where they were and what was causing Jack's concern prompted him to try to open his eyes again. Unwilling eyelids fluttered briefly, letting in snaps of raw brightness and he squinted to minimize the discomfort. A pinkish mass hovered directly over his face, and he drew back from it until he realized it was a hand, shielding him from the worst of the fluorescent rays beating into his retinas. He switched his gaze to locate the source of the warmth behind his left shoulder and back, finding Jack examining him. Relief replaced apprehension as the predominant emotion expressed on the other man's face when Daniel nodded haphazardly.
"Where..." Daniel started to ask around an abnormally thick tongue, clearing his throat before continuing, "Where are we?"
"Don't know. I woke up in a different, uh, room and was heading out for recon when I found you. My guess is we're not in Kansas anymore."
"You mean not on P...not on the planet?" God, he wished his head would get up to speed.
"I can't be sure, but yes. I'm getting the feeling we're in some kind of ship."
"How..."
"Did we get here?" Jack finished, apparently not wanting him to talk. Daniel couldn't argue. "Again, don't know. The last thing I remember was you, uh, passing out. Then my head smacked into the wall and bang, I woke up here. Do you remember anything?"
Tension, irritation and arguing, followed by asphyxiation and fear. Gulping in a deep lungful of air, Daniel had hazy recollections of waking and losing consciousness again. Of something invading his personal space, stripping and poking and hands. Hands on him, not with a reassuring touch. Losing self-control, he stared up at Jack and opened his mouth to speak but only a weak croak came out. He didn't know what it was he was remembering, only that he felt violated in some way. Shuddering, he looked away from his friend and took a scant survey of the room they were in. A prison cell, only too sterile.
"Daniel? What do you remember? This could be important."
"I don't. Something...what happened?" he choked, trying to stem the horrible feeling from rising. Jack sighed an angry curse, his arms tightening, and Daniel turned back toward him. The horrible feeling conquered his ineffectual attempts, leaving him cold with unnamable fear as he took in the sick expression on his friend's face. "Something happened?"
Jack sagged, taking on the appearance of someone much, much older. Ancient and aged and drained. Daniel wasn't sure he wanted to know what he already partially suspected. Studying the other man, he searched for indications Jack was hurt in some way. Muted pain creased the corners of Jack's eyes, but it didn't appear unmanageable. Hit his head. Nothing else had happened to his friend. Him, whatever it was.
"Jack?"
"We're both fitted with a device I think is meant to keep tabs on us," Jack grimly said, averting his eyes. "It took you a lot longer to wake up than me, almost like you'd been drugged. Obviously a source of concern."
"There's more, isn't there? Tell me," Daniel prompted, brain abruptly turning back on. His unsettled return to consciousness had reminded him of post op recovery. God, what if that were the case? Frantically, he tried to sit up, eyes darting across his bare torso for signs or scars.
"Hey, hey. Relax. You're okay, Daniel. I swear." Jack took a long pause, mechanically patting his shoulder again. Easing into the embrace he should feel awkward about, Daniel calmed down a bit with the knowledge Jack would tell him if something were truly wrong. "I don't have any idea what they mean, so don't panic. I found multiple puncture wounds scattered around your body, but I don't think they're dangerous."
Stripping and poking and hands, hands on him. Shuddering, he closed his eyes. "Punctures? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Not a mark on me," Jack said angrily, causing Daniel to stare up at him.
Feeling stronger, Daniel pulled out of Jack's grasp, scooting away from the other man and sitting under his own power at last. The room did a half loop before straightening into gray dampness, and he quelled another surge of nausea by using Jack as a focal point. Alarmed when he thought he read guilt staring back at him through his friend's eyes, he shook his head. He didn't even understand what had happened, but he knew this was no one's fault. Not his own for springing the traps, not Jack's for bumping into him and unintentionally causing him to spring the traps, not Sam or Teal'c's for...
"Sam? Teal'c?" Daniel squeaked, afraid they were here and Jack had found them. That they were dead and that's what was making Jack look so upset.
"Haven't seen them," Jack said quickly, remorse filling his eyes as he ran a hand across his mouth. The other man paused, tilting his head to one side. "Actually, I haven't seen anyone other than you."
"We're alone?" Half glad and half disheartened his other two friends weren't with them, Daniel's confusion nonetheless grew with that information. It didn't make sense for them to be the only ones here. Where were their captors?
"Don't think so. There are sounds of activity coming from down the hall."
"We should go check it out, then."
"*We're* not going anywhere, Daniel," Jack snapped, jerkily rising to his feet and pacing the small room. Daniel didn't miss the off-kilter hitches in the other man's normally fluid stride. "You're secure for the time being. I'll go see what I can find out, then come back for you."
Taken aback by the brusque delivery of Jack's orders, Daniel climbed to his feet to show both of them he was fine, if that was the issue. Of course, he wasn't fine. Once standing, he discovered his legs were still pretty unsteady, and the action made his head throb, vision distort. Determined not to let that stop him, he braved one step and instantly knew it was a mistake. Quickly groping for the wall, he leaned against it as casually as possible, as if that had been his intention all along and not simply a byproduct of severe dizziness.
"I should come with you," Daniel announced, defiantly glaring at Jack's wavering form.
And suddenly Jack was right in his face, jaw tightly clenched. Startled, Daniel jumped and lost his already precarious balance, slipping gracelessly down the smooth wall. Landing on his rear, he scowled in irritation at his body's betrayal. He knew he needed to be with Jack, no matter what manner of beast might be lurking out there. Crouching down in front of him, his friend smiled grimly but gone was the frustration he'd witnessed before.
"Not this time, Daniel. You can barely stand, might have been injected with a foreign substance at one point from there to here, AND," Jack raised his voice as Daniel started to claim complete healthiness, "AND if this is a prison of some sort, that get up is the last thing you want to go traipsing around in. No, I take that back - it's the second to the last thing. You're staying here. That's not debatable."
"But Jack, what if - "
"Anh! Not. Debatable. I'm going, and I'll be back as soon as I can. You will be here and you will not have set foot from this room."
Then Jack practically flew away from him, agility apparently restored as if through some miracle, leaving Daniel openmouthed, confused and unheard. He felt like a child reprimanded for something he hadn't done, yet hadn't been given the chance to provide any defense before punishment was doled out.
Back to the basics, then.


As thankful and heart trippingly happy he was Daniel was alive, Jack was filled with aggravation at the younger man's unwillingness to follow orders. Going from thinking his team member was dead to being overwhelmingly annoyed with said almost dead team member in a matter of minutes made his head feel like a slab of marble being chiseled by an inept artist. An inept and careless artist. Every couple of feet he turned around, expecting the archaeologist to be doggedly following him as if it were his sole duty in life to be a pain in Jack's mik'ta.
Progress stilted by frequent Daniel checks, he passed only four more cubbyholes in the same amount of time it had taken him to find his friend. Damnit. He had to let his anger go, not let it hinder his task. Daniel could hardly move; he wouldn't be foolish enough to disregard the logic in Jack's reasoning. Resisting the urges to turn around, he continued on for a couple more paces when he came upon a larger alcove housing ten strange bowl shaped, chrome fixtures, low to the ground and evenly spaced. Five on either side of a bigger piece of equipment. Dumbly staring at it for a second, it finally dawned at him that this room was apparently a communal bathroom. Duh. It didn't take an archaeologist to figure that out.
Archaeologist. Right. Setting aside his lingering ill will toward Daniel, he sauntered over to the big basin thingy, hoping it was a sink or shower or something useful like that. No faucet or spigot was blatantly obvious, so Jack notched one step closer, launching himself backward as a deluge sprang forth and frowning when it immediately stopped. Okay, so the thing was motion sensitive. The problem of lack of water solved, he relaxed a little. No, not solved at all. He paused, looking around for a container to fill. Finding nothing but the ten odd urinal/bidet things. Which were so not an option. Sighing, he edged back into the hallway and tipped his head toward the noises he had originally set out for.
A twinge of hesitation hit him. Militarily, he knew it was best for him to do the information gathering while the possibly physically and chemically impaired civilian waited behind. However, not knowing what or who he was about to run into, Jack also figured having an archaeologist/anthropologist/speaker of many tongues at his side wasn't such a bad thought either. Damnit. That was probably what Daniel had been trying to tell him. So, forge ahead and hope for the best, or admit he hadn't considered all the options and retrieve his still recuperating teammate?
The image of Daniel's dumbfounded expression as he'd left made the decision much easier but he couldn't use that as the solitary basis for it. So far, no threat had made its presence known, a gift Jack knew he shouldn't waste. And he also knew he couldn't rely on it, and quickly determined it would be better to face the unknown together instead of individually. He had no idea who had brought them here, and leaving his friend alone and sick was, in hindsight, not the smartest thing to do. Rolling his eyes, Jack swiveled and began the laborious trek back to the other man. He just hoped Daniel wouldn't make him grovel.
Had he found Daniel in the room where he'd left him, he might have been happy to grovel. Instead, all he found was the puddled evidence of an upset stomach and three blank walls pointing their imaginary fingers and laughing at his stupidity. Damnit, Daniel. Anger quickly replaced shock, and was then replaced with fear. He didn't know for sure the archaeologist had ventured from the cell. For all he knew, the critters responsible for bringing them both here had somehow taken him somewhere. The one thing he did know was Daniel had not gone in the same direction as he, so Jack exited the room and briskly walked down the hall, back toward his original alcove.
His journey only lasted three cells, where he found Daniel hunched over, back toward him. Crying a mental 'argh', Jack jumped to his friend's side. The archaeologist twitched violently at his arrival, turning stricken eyes up to him. What? Puzzled, Jack crouched down and placed a hand on a cool, bare shoulder.
"Daniel?" he prompted, gaining only a headshake and averted eyes. He followed the gaze and finally noticed he and Daniel weren't the only two people in the room. Dear Go...what was that thing? "Shit."
"I think it's dead."
Biting back a reaction-induced caustic comment, Jack just nodded, squeezed the clammy shoulder and tugged at Daniel to get him away from the corpse. Their situation just became a little clearer and a lot direr. Whatever that thing was, it had obviously been tortured. Because he knew it might prove valuable, Jack did a quick examination of the body. It was small and vaguely humanoid in shape, but there any similarities to humanity ended. A fine layer of brown fuzz covered the entire, unclothed body and its one remaining hand was more accurately described as a paw, a familiar device attached to it with the orange light no longer illuminated. The remaining five...arms ended in stumps, none of the injuries recent. A multitude of ragged, hairless lines indicative of scarring marred its torso, also not recent. There was no way to tell what exactly had killed the poor thing, though Jack had to figure repeated trauma might have had a hand in it.
Harsh rasping and distressed gagging interrupted his investigation, pulling his attention to his companion. Daniel hovered behind him, eyes fixated on the creature with horror. The archaeologist blinked, looking at him at last and stating woodenly, "About a minute after you left, I heard a soft scraping noise, then crying. Or something. God, it was alive when I got here, Jack. I tried to talk to it, but the few words it managed were completely unfamiliar to me. I couldn't do anything for it."
"No one could have," Jack assured, rising to his feet and grabbing the other man's shoulders to hoist him up. "Come on, let's get out of here."
Daniel mutely nodded, accepting his help and staggering toward the exit. Disregarding the fact the other man had patently gone against his directive, Jack turned his inquisitive eyes onto him. Satisfied to see his friend moving much more steadily than he had been before, he watched Daniel quietly for a few moments before his gaze landed on additional puncture marks dotting his back, big enough to be visible even from a distance. Gritting his teeth together, he spared one last look at what he hoped was not a precursor to their own experiences and jogged to catch up with the archaeologist. Gleaning facts about their whereabouts and captors was more important than ever.
Silently moving down the wide corridor a few steps, Daniel suddenly stopped and turned to him with a pained expression. Blood solidifying in his veins, Jack lightly touched his friend's arm, not sure what was wrong and not wanting to provoke unintentional hurt. To his surprise, Daniel's eyes narrowed suspiciously before he said, "Wait a minute. Why did you come back, and aren't you going to yell at me?"
"Don't think I'm not pissed as hell your interpretation of 'don't leave this room' was more along the lines of 'don't leave this room unless you hear unusual, possibly threatening sounds of which investigating alone in a weakened state would be dangerous'. I am," Jack calmly said, which was the truth. "But this once, I'm willing to cut you a little slack, what with your brain being addled and since no harm came to you."
Obviously, that wasn't the right thing to say. The pained and confused look disappeared from Daniel's face in lieu of indignation. Oh, boy. Wishing he could backpedal a couple of minutes, Jack just sighed and started talking again before his garrulous friend had the chance to tirade, "Okay, look. We don't have time for this right now. I was coming back to get you because I found water but no container to put it in."
Silence.
"You're looking much better, by the way. Did I mention that?"
More silence.
"Fine, and I figured if I were to encounter some alien...things, you'd be better at opening the lines of communication. If you were feeling up to doing recon," Jack hastily admitted, feeling ten times the idiot for having been forced to confess his shortsightedness. Which he never should have let happen in the first place.
"Huh?" Daniel stuttered, features morphing into flustered stupefaction. "Really?"
Clearly the other man had expected a firm dressing down, and one probably riddled with inappropriately boorish comments. Jack barely contained a wince of distaste at the reminder of how piss poor their friendship had become that his admitting error was such a shock. Impatience and irritation was now aimed at himself for not acknowledging culpability sooner, and for not taking the time to make repairs along the way instead of waiting until things were so bad a total overhaul had to be done. This, however, was neither the time nor the place to do it, and yet Jack had a feeling there may be little choice in that regard. His gut told him he and Daniel were in a whole world of trouble, the corpse they'd just left more than enough confirmation of that.
"Yes, really."
"Oh. I'm, uh, you know, sorry. For not listening to you."
Daniel looked green around the gills as he unconsciously darted his eyes back to the cell and the body. Jack had no doubt the younger man wouldn't be able to forget that particular image any time soon, a far worse punishment than any reproof on his part would have been. He couldn't take any satisfaction with the knowledge, and he didn't think he'd likely forget it either. Now he could only hope something worse didn't come down the pike to replace it. Something like that mutilation happening to Daniel...or finding Carter and Teal'c already in that condition. No. He couldn't let his mind wander down those particular paths, not when they were still relatively clueless. Things might not be as bad as they seemed.
"I know," was all he told the archaeologist, cupping an elbow and guiding Daniel a few paces before letting his hand drop. "Let's go get that water."
"Works for me," Daniel agreed, fingers stroking one temple.
"Head hurt?"
"Oh, yeah."
"You could be dehydrated."
Jack thought it infinitely more likely leftover side effects from an anaesthetic, but he didn't want to voice or think about that in any great detail. He just let silence fall as they slowly picked their way closer to the bathroom. His own headache seemed better, but still banged away. Scowling at their slow advancement, he regretted their less than top rate conditions. Despite the improvements, Daniel was still shaky and white-faced, and he felt only slightly less horrible than his friend looked. Eyeing the box on Daniel's leg with suspicion, he was reminded of the other man's near nakedness. Finding clothes got bumped up on the already huge to do list.
They were almost at their destination when a loud, hollow ringing filled the air in two long bursts. Daniel skittered back toward him, wary anxiety in his entire countenance. Ready to assure him everything was fine, Jack heard many sets of feet heading their way from the end of the hall. He blinked stupidly as several creatures skulked into cells. Daniel tugged his arm in query, and he just shrugged and moved into the closest alcove, bringing his friend with him. There was nowhere to hide.
"What do you think is going on?"
He ignored the question, too busy watching the grotesque procession now moving past them. Finding a place to hide or an escape suddenly became a great idea, and Jack quickly snapped a glance at Daniel. Shaking the younger man from the stupor he had fallen in, he took one step forward to lead them out of their cell. Daniel's hiss of pain sounded in his ears before the electricity dancing over his own nerves was felt, and they both fell back from the now not so open doorway to land in a jumble of arms and legs.
"Crap," Jack groaned. They were boned again.
"Jack, can you..." Daniel gasped, wriggling underneath him.
"Sorry."
Rolling away from what might have been construed as a compromising position, Jack again studied Daniel for signs of further injury. That blast had knocked them all the way across the room, packing quite a punch. His friend only had eyes for the parade, visage becoming more disturbed with very new abhorrence passing by. He reluctantly joined in the spectatorship, his own sickness growing. If this was a prison or prison ship, he really didn't want to be here. Really, really. Would strongly consider selling his soul to get him and Daniel so far away from this place its existence would become a distant, erroneous figment of their collective imaginations.
One by one, downtrodden and disfigured aliens trooped toward open cells. None of them bore any resemblance to the human form, and he couldn't even tell if any of them belonged to the same species as each other, their afflictions were so horrific. Some hobbled on only one leg, others missing hands, fingers, eyes. As with the creature Daniel had discovered, multiple jagged scars covered each body, and Jack didn't need a lot of creativity to understand internal organs were also missing. Daniel made tiny retching noises next to him, the sounds portentous despite being slight. There was no way he was going to allow that to happen to them. No.
They sat in stunned silence, back up against the far wall as the last alien limped by. The air around them was filled with low keening, wails held in for fear or necessity. Turning to his friend, Jack signaled for him to remain quiet, though he could see the questions in Daniel's eyes. Something in the atmosphere and the behavior of the other prisoners suggested something else was about to happen, and it wasn't good. The rest of the people on board this vessel had obviously been here for a long time, so Jack thought it wise to mimic their bearing until he could figure out what to do. If he could do anything at all. To this point, he had failed to complete any given task.
Another lone metallic toll sounded, lower in pitch than before. The alien residing across the way from them stood to attention, its head brushing the ceiling. Jack tried not to stare at the gigantic praying mantis type thing, which would normally have been considered a threat. Missing half of its limbs and locked away from him, he felt only pity for it. He took its lead, scrambling to his feet and ushering Daniel to do the same. Side by side, they waited. The apprehension from the archaeologist was palpable, and his own muscles twanged in return. He risked grasping Daniel's forearm, hoping to give and gain reassurance. The other man's muscles flexed under his fingers, and the arm was moved closer to him. He nodded.
The wait wasn't long. About a minute after the resonance of the bell had subsided, Jack heard more footsteps approaching. Not as many, and very steady. Unharmed. Their mysterious kidnappers, it would seem. Glancing at Daniel, he squeezed his hand once and then let go. No need to demonstrate their feelings to an unknown enemy. Daniel nodded, hesitantly stepping away from him. Jack didn't know why, but the move set his hackles on edge. He found out why a few moments later.
It was almost laughable. Stalking closer to them down the center of the corridor, with grandeur and bluster far bigger than they themselves were, came five miniature, robed beings. First appraisal pegged them at about four feet tall, with translucent skin, fine blond hair, pale green eyes and dainty, long fingered hands. Actually, everything about them screamed frailty, and he incredulously shared a look with Daniel. Then common sense reasserted as he remembered the much larger aliens being held by these sprites. Best not to judge a book by its cover. From what he could tell, they were just checking to ensure all of their captives were safely contained.
One of them excitedly pointed directly at him and Daniel, the rest following the finger. Rapid chattering immediately arose and he had a feeling they weren't saying nice things, their green eyes darkening with eerie menace. All five scurried to stand before their cell, staring at them with expressions blank, except for the green sparks blazing from their large eyes. He had no idea what he and Daniel had done to piss them off, but their ire was apparent. Three of them abruptly moved forward, breaching the barrier with no adverse effects. Jack instinctively stiffened, the action proving unnecessary as they ignored him and aimed straight for the archaeologist.
"Hey," he objected, lifting his arms to bat away the hands intruding upon his friend. Daniel helplessly stared at him as the aliens prodded him closer to the door, looking as though he were afraid to strike out at the small creatures. No way. Bad things happened when the pair of them were together; worse when separated. "He stays here!"
"Jack, I don't think - "
Lunging forward, his hands brushed Daniel's shoulder before the aliens swept the other man farther away. A sharp burning sensation rocketed up his right leg, intensifying until it seemed to make his muscles atrophy. He buckled, slamming down face first onto the floor. He faintly heard Daniel's protestations but couldn't move as the shield was apparently turned off and the archaeologist pushed out. The pain abruptly cut off, leaving him breathless. Jack forced his head up in time to hear a sizzle, which he assumed was the shield turning back on, and see Daniel's legs stumbling away.
He lifted himself up, catching the desperate look in Daniel's eyes, then saw gray as his head fell back down.


He could do this; it was just for a few short hours. He and Jack had been free when they'd awoken, so it stood to reason this lockdown was only for the night. Closing his eyes and trying to forget the awfulness lurking there with him, Daniel bit his lip to keep from calling out to Jack again. Immediately after being deposited in his new, very separated from his friend, quarters, he had shouted down the house, terrified of the last sight he'd had of Jack, prone and convulsing from some unseen pain. He'd learned quickly how inadvisable that particular tactic was, a jolt of pure fire cutting off his voice and bringing him to his knees. Shortly after that, the lights had dimmed to give the illusion of night, but not enough to block out the reality of his situation.
Pulled as far in the corner as he could get, Daniel stared at it and wondered why he hadn't heard Jack make any sound. Not that he wanted his friend to get electro shock therapy, which he suspected had already happened, but he was damn worried. It wasn't like Jack to go quietly against any adversary. The longer he sat, the more his mind wandered to the fateful speculation that the dose of juice Jack was exposed to when the aliens had taken him away was more damaging than the zap he'd received. No. Jack was fine and he could do this. Just a couple of hours.
Shuddering, he moved his eyes to the mockingly empty cell directly across from his holding pen. He had the feeling the strange little beings had intentionally put him here; that somehow he and Jack had broken the rules by being together. What better punishment for that infringement than being locked up with a corpse, all the while taunted by a luxuriously barren room? Daniel drew his legs even closer to his chest, as though that position offered safety. It didn't. God, why wasn't Jack making any noise? He'd be happy with a message banged in Morse code on the wall. Resting his head on his knees, he wrapped his arms around his legs. At least it was warmer all huddled up like this. The air seemed cooler than before, his skin constantly prickled with gooseflesh.
He had to stop thinking about his own physical discomfort and the uncertainty of Jack's fate. Okay. What did he know? It didn't take him long to come up with the answer to that question: next to nothing. His brain had only just started working properly again when he'd stupidly left his first cell and found his present roommate. Then he had shut down for a little while again, until Jack showed up and confused him with a bizarre lack of exasperation. Throw in a macabre cavalcade of maimed aliens, being yanked away from his friend by innocent-looking-but-definitely-not-innocent brownies and finally being tossed in with a cadaver, and you got one perplexed Daniel Jackson. The only thing he knew for sure was he would give anything to be back with Jack.
Which wasn't going to happen until this forced rest period was over. Rest period. Daniel rocked his forehead from knee to knee, imagining exactly what these poor creatures were being given respite from. Slave labor? Hardly likely, given the sad shape they were in. Sexual servitude? Eww, and again their physical states contested that. Head throbbing, he screwed his eyes shut and lifted it off of his knees, tilting it back against the wall. None of this made any sense.
Okay, back to the beginning. P...damnit, why the hell couldn't he remember the planet's designation? It really didn't matter, but he was frustrated to no end at his inability to recollect that trivial piece of information. Gusting out an angry breath at his foolish mental tangent, Daniel tried to think if there was anything back at their initial entrapment that might be of any use. Nothing except the obvious advanced technology. That was a start. Whatever these aliens wanted from them, they had to rely on brainpower rather than brute strength. And so far, they were doing a bang up job.
Wait, technology.
Snapping his eyes open, Daniel had a flash of insight. He stretched out his right leg, twisting it a bit so he could get a clearer view of the gadget affixed to it. Squinting through the dimness, he couldn't tell exactly how it was held in place. He needed light, and he needed to be able to get closer to compensate for his uncorrected vision, neither of which he was going to get. Growling in frustration, he glared at the carcass full on for the first time, as if it were the source of all his aggravations. And his eyes settled on the one pathetic paw, the device still attached.
There it was, then. He could do it, had to do it. If he could figure out how the damned apparatuses worked, or possibly even how to remove them, that would significantly help him and Jack get the hell out of here before they fell victim to whatever it was these aliens were doing. That, and concentrating on that task would distract his mind from pondering possible atrocious scenarios for whatever it was these aliens were doing. He preferred not to risk his own limb in the process, and his test subject had been neatly handed to him.
He clumsily crawled toward the body, drawing up short when he distinguished a major problem with his plan - he could hardly look at the gory thing without being overcome by revulsion and a resurgence of dread contemplating what had finally killed the poor creature. Daniel swore under his breath, knowing he was without choice. It was an artifact, needing thorough inspection. He was back at the SGC, under the harsh but soothingly familiar fluorescent lighting of his office and General Hammond had issued a deadline for his study. He had three hours to make a complete evaluation, then he'd turn it over to Sam for further analysis and a hypothesis on the purpose for the small machine.
Shit. Sam. Teal'c.
Daniel straightened his shoulders and rued his ridiculousness. Buffering his own sense of comfort was not important, not when lives were at stake. He didn't think he was being melodramatic at all in thinking if he and Jack stayed here they'd end up hacked apart like this poor monster. The reminder that Sam and Teal'c might be undergoing the same treatment had his hands moving toward the distasteful job he had imposed upon himself.
He was puzzled at first that the minute orange light wasn't lit, but quickly figured it was because the alien was dead. Shivering, Daniel lifted the paw up into the air, bringing his face closer to it. Surprisingly heavy in his hand, he jostled the limb once as if the box would simply fall right off. When it didn't, he sighed, set it back down and pushed the creature around so the arm was spread out toward him. Kneeling next to it with a grimace, he probed around the edges of the device, swallowing heavily as the flesh obligingly gave under his inspection. Well, it wasn't strapped on that he could see. Nudging his face even closer, he poked at the skin again, pulling it away from the box and peering underneath it.
Several glints of dull silver caught his eye, but he couldn't really determine what they were. One hand grasping the arm tightly, he employed the other to wiggle the box slightly. The bits of silver moved in conjunction with it, and Daniel got a better view of them. Thin bars, apparently securing the device directly to the muscle or bone. Frowning, he dropped the arm and looked quickly at his own contraption. Why didn't it hurt? He would have thought there would be some discomfort. Counting the lack of pain as a blessing, he refocused his attention. He really needed to get the device off so he could disassemble it. Already knowing part of its function was to inflict pain, he had a suspicion that was not the only thing it was capable of. Jack could be right about it being a tracking mechanism.
Either way, removal was key. Wincing apologetically at the creature, he set about his study again. He pinned the limb to the floor with one of his feet, using both hands to pull at it. It gave a little, but was held firmly in place. Adding extra strength, he tugged harder. His efforts resulted in a high-pitched squeal emitting from the previously defunct machine, and he dropped it to cover his ears. Through the ruckus, he heard thumps on both walls of his cell and low cries of suffering. If he hadn't already realized he'd made an error, he certainly did now.
The orange light on the dead body's box suddenly glowed to life, flickering spasmodically and warningly. Shit, shit, shit. Instinct drove him to the corner, where he cowered with his arms protectively flung over his head. The screech diminished to a soft hiss, and he uncovered himself in bewilderment. Relieved his assumption had been incorrect, he started to crawl back toward it when the room was unexpectedly filled with bright light and big noise. An explosion of fluid, hair and body parts shot right at him. He stumbled back with a croak, landing on his butt. What was left of the device skittered across the floor and landed at his bare feet. Daniel stared at it stupidly, fighting nausea as he felt the thick, cold blood of the creature drip off his hair, onto his shoulders.
He barely had time to shake off a small portion of his shock before the consequences of his investigation manifested itself as another treatment of crippling pain originating from his right ankle, this time escalating to the point even the ends of his hair hurt. Toppling over onto his side, his body quivered violently for what seemed like forever, then the torture ended and he was left panting, throat raw as though he'd been screaming. His fingers twitched, creeping toward his right ankle in an unconscious desire to rid himself of it, though he now knew it couldn't be taken off.
"Daniel? Daniel! Damnit, ans...agh!"
Jack. Relief and dismay assailed him with equal force at the introduction of his friend's voice at long last, and the plain result of the eruption as that welcome voice choked off. With horror, Daniel realized he must have screamed out loud, causing Jack to call out. It was his fault his friend was now in pain. Scrunching his eyes shut, he knew what he had to do.
"Don't talk, Jack. I'm fine, I'm okay," he hurriedly imparted, voice ragged.
As expected, the pain started again, thankfully in a lesser increment. Chewing on his bottom lip, Daniel refused to utter a sound as he rode it out. Further exclamations from him would only make Jack endure more, he was sure. The hurting dissipated quickly, but he found he couldn't do anything more than concentrate on his breathing. Okay, so disturbing the peace during the night was a big no-no. Weakly pounding a fist into the floor, he gritted his teeth. He hadn't learned a damn thing about the stupid tags, and was responsible for Jack's pain. Lesson learned. He wasn't brainless enough to make another mistake.
Shakily hauling himself upright, Daniel surveyed the mess of stickiness covering both the walls and most of his person. Gagging as the foul stench of blood filled his nostrils, he was relieved his stomach was empty of anything to vomit. He opened his mouth, breathing in and out through it to avoid the smell now saturating the cell. Block it out. He had to block it out. Slamming his eyes shut, he put up a mental image of sunshine and...roses. Pretend the horribleness he was stuck with hadn't just gotten much, much worse. Think about anything but what would greet him when he opened his eyes again.
The device was still there, partially intact. He wasn't Sam, but he could still see if there was anything left that might give a little clue as to how to remove the damn things. Without having them blow up, of course. Fortifying his resolve, Daniel cracked his eyes open and tried to maintain the illusion he'd created. His eyes briefly scanned the room, landing at last on his goal. Don't think. Don't think about the gore. Scuttling over to it, he cursed his trembling fingers as they fumbled it around, dropping it back down to the floor. He cringed, suddenly afraid the alien gaolers had a means of monitoring each prisoner and would unleash more misery upon him. He wasn't afraid of the pain, but if there were a choice in the matter, he'd take the pain free route. He kicked the box away from him, sending it bumping into a dark puddle with a sick, sucking noise. Grinding his teeth, he looked away.
Unfortunately without the device to focus on, the stomach churning streaks of blood on the wall and the chunks of a body torn violently apart couldn't be imagined away. Just a couple of hours. Wearily easing down onto his back, he stared at the ceiling light. An odd, malformed eyeball staring right back at him. Daniel knew he should try to sleep; doubted he would tonight or however many nights they were stuck here. Rolling onto his side, he pitched his body away from the worst of the wreckage that was once a life, catching sight of the empty cell. Where only a short while ago it had tormented him, now it provided him an escape, and he kept his eyes pinned on those three clean walls. Just a couple of hours.
His thoughts drifted down the hall to Jack. Since the minor excitement had passed, he hadn't heard anything from any of the prisoners. Certainly not his friend. Having spent much of the past five years wishing the other man would just not speak at all in tense situations, not make himself the center of attention as a means to protect his team, Daniel suddenly longed to hear a flippant remark. Something. Anything to keep him sane. It was ironic if he thought much about it. Jack would get a kick out of his need, especially considering yesterday both of them wanted to be as far away from each other as possible. Yesterday? God, he didn't even know how long they'd been here. It might have been days already. Sam and Teal'c were probably frantic. As much as he didn't wish them that anxiety, it was better than the alternative that kept popping into his mind. Horrific images of them being sawed into...Daniel choked loudly, shoving a hand over his mouth to prevent more noise from escaping.
An answering cough came back at him, intentionally rough and he knew it was Jack, asking him if he was really okay. Daniel smiled at how absurdly strengthened that cough made him feel. He was okay; everything was going to be fine. He cleared his throat, earning an unconvinced snort.
Daniel wasn't sure when he'd closed his eyes but they were thankfully so when the lightly abruptly gleamed back on. Brilliant red flooded his eyelids the same instant another bell...morning bell sounded, pulling him from a semi-conscious state. Keeping his shutters, er, shut, he heard an uneven scraping sound within his cell, and identical ones from throughout the ward. He really, really didn't want to open his eyes to see the blood and guts and damnit. He aimed his face the direction he thought the scraping had come from, a point near the door, to his right and hopefully away from the worst of it. Through slit eyes, he saw his prediction was correct - he was looking at a thin shelf ejecting from the wall, a tray. On it were a metal mug, a hunk of something he assumed was breakfast, and a bundle of coarse material.
Refusing to let his eyes settle on anything else, he got to his knees and crawled toward it. The hunk turned out to be bread, which he didn't even consider eating. The cup of water was a more difficult decision. He really didn't think either would be dangerous to consume, but better safe than sorry. No. Jack had found water before and had seemed fine with drinking it. Grabbing the cup, he greedily gulped it and moved to the last item. He fingered the cloth for a second before lifting it off the tray. Pants. Thank goodness. He pulled them on, frowning when the fabric snagged on his sticky skin.
Grimacing, he knew he couldn't avoid it anymore. Looking down at his arms and chest, he found them as he suspected - covered with blood. Actually, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The blood was deep brownish maroon, dried and flaking off in areas and there was still a good portion of his skin showing through. Who was he kidding? Daniel felt disgusting, repulsed to the point of gagging again. God, he needed to get this stuff off him and to be so, so far from this room. His legs took him to the shielded doorway, operating on their own will. Any second now they'd be let out to do...whatever. He danced from left to right foot, impatiently waiting.
Two tolls let him know it was safe to leave, and he bolted across the hall to the empty cell. He decided he'd remain behind until the rest of the occupants made their way past the bathroom Jack had found. As harmless as the other prisoners seemed, Daniel didn't relish the idea of baring himself to them. The procession moved more quickly than it had the previous evening but still at a rate unhurried enough for him to scan the tortured bodies for any scrap of information he and Jack might need. Nothing stood out, and he found he had to look away after only a few minutes anyway. Leaning his head against the wall, he closed his eyes and listened as the footsteps receded.
Stepping out into the passageway, he started toward Jack and the showers, following a couple of stragglers. The bulk of the parade was still in the corridor, moving in a ripple. Narrowing his eyes at how softly they went, Daniel wondered what the reason for the forced quietude was. Other than the blazing pain wreaked out for speaking in a loud tone. There was a faint rumble running throughout the crowd, which he thought might be some of the aliens talking softly amongst themselves. One in the last group turned its head to peer at him curiously out of its only eye, quickly snapping its head back around when he gave it a strained smile.
Drawing his lips tightly together, Daniel saw one figure bucking the crowd and heading toward him. Shit. Jack. He was such an idiot. Immediately, he started walking faster. After his the hellish night, the first thing he should have done was to locate his friend, who was probably going to kill him for not doing just that. A smile of relief began as Jack finally came into sight. The other man looked tired as hell, dark circles under his eyes and unruly hair, but he was fine. Raising a hand in greeting, he stopped it halfway up when Jack's face turned gray. Puzzled, Daniel turned around to see if there was something behind him to make his friend upset. Finding nothing, he spun back.
And was greeted with one raging Colonel Jack O'Neill, who grabbed him with unnecessary force, kicking his feet out from underneath him and knocking him in a dazed pile onto the floor.


The past hours had just made it onto his list of those that he would love the chance to rub out from memory. Once he'd got his wits back about him after the zapping incident, Jack had been ready to howl for his teammate to be brought back when the praying mantis thing across the hall hissed at him. Startled, he'd stared at it stupidly as it shook its head and brought an arm up across its mouth. He thought. It had been a tad difficult for him to really tell if he was interpreting the body language correctly, given the unusual body and its unusual...health problems. Watching it closely, he'd opened his mouth as if to speak again and his action gained the same response. And an additional swipe of an arm indicating first the creature's tag, then his own.
Then he'd sensed the near, almost fearful silence of the rest of the prisoners and made an intuitive leap. Like it or not, he hadn't even been able to give himself peace of mind concerning Daniel's safety. Nodding his thanks to the mantis, he'd slumped wearily against the wall in resignation. Those buggers had looked royally pissed. Like 'hack the insubordinate heathen to pieces' pissed. The only comforts he'd been able to snatch were the lack of pained noises from the archaeologist and the fact he'd been taken deeper into the bank of cells instead of out.
Still, the silence had been torturous, made even more so when the five little alien freaks had practically sauntered by him with smug smiles. His stomach had knotted and had stayed that way for at least an hour as his imagination took off in bounds, placing Daniel in about a thousand appalling scenarios. The need to know had become unbearable when all of a sudden a piercing siren had erupted, sending a cacophony of reaction throughout the hall and ending with a resounding boom and a flash of light he could see from his location. It had come from the same way Daniel had been taken, instantly sending alarm bells of his own into alert. The words had already formed in his mouth as another, more terrible sound replaced the boom. Screaming.
Daniel screaming. Long and terribly, ending with a low groan after almost forever.
Calling out had been a reflex action, the consequential zappage acceptable when his outcry gained a shaky response. After that he had willed himself to be satisfied with the small blessing for the remaining of hours of separation. A strangled cry easily recognizable as Daniel an hour or so later had cut Jack cold, a clear demonstration of how rough a time the other man was having. It killed him that all he had been able to do was cough an inquiry. The clearing of the throat he got as an answer had done little to assuage his worry but it had been better than nothing. And then the silence had returned. Oppressive and suffocating.
But he had made it. Both of them had. He knew that had to be true, but he still wanted physical proof. Pushing against the flow of the mass, Jack bobbed his head up in an attempt to locate Daniel. He couldn't see any sign of the younger man, the knot that had persisted through the night tightening again. Cursing under his breath, he elbowed several of the creatures aside, feeling slightly remorseful for picking on the maimed. The regret only lasted a second as he glimpsed a familiar head of hair nodding toward him. Grinning with relief, he took one step and then it was as if someone had taken a vacuum to his lungs and a cane to his legs.
Blood. That was blood. So much of it, covering Daniel's entire body. Oh, God.
He couldn't move or breathe for an immeasurable amount of time, too horrified. Then he was magically in front of Daniel, seizing the smaller man and unceremoniously conducting him to the floor. His hands rapidly, involuntarily patted every square inch of the archaeologist down. Daniel squirmed at his touch, drawing back with a yelp. Nothing. He couldn't find the source of the injury anywhere. Sagging down, hands still clamped on his friend's shoulders, Jack let out a shaky breath. Confusion quickly set in, and he whipped his eyes up, staring directly into equally bewildered blue ones.
"Jack? What're you doing? Let go," Daniel mumbled, his words tripping out so fast they ran together. The archaeologist wrenched free, warily sliding away from him with his hands raised.
Gaping at the odd reaction, Jack just stared at Daniel for a while, still not convinced the other man wasn't injured in some way. There was so much blood. Not Daniel's? The moment of thought stealing fear passed, he suddenly started to feel a bit self-conscious for his frantic, uncontrolled actions. Looking away, he could feel the archaeologist's eyes following his every move. He shouldn't really need to explain it.
"Blood. I thought..." Jack tried at last, swallowing thickly instead of continuing. He gazed at Daniel, shrugging his shoulders slightly.
Beneath the dark streaks, Daniel's face went completely colorless, eyes widening in realization. His mouth flapped a couple of times, a hiss of air the only thing to come forth as he shook his head. Finally, the power of speech returned, "Oh, God. I'm sorry. It's not...it's not mine."
Nodding, Jack started to believe it as the shock wore off. Daniel's distressed face reflected more than concern for his mental well being, and if he had to guess it would be because of the sticky, gruesome mess coating him.
"Want to tell me what happened?" he gently prodded.
Daniel struggled to his feet, shivering visibly as he held out his arms and stared at them. Jack finally noticed the younger man was now wearing pants, the same drawstring kind he had on. Score one grudging bonus point for the aliens for that. Speaking of, he half expected their captors to punish them for lollygagging around. He joined Daniel in standing, spreading an arm out toward the bathroom facilities. The other man looked puzzled but started walking with even, uninjured steps. Sickening blood. God, he wanted that stuff off his friend.
"I, um, was... they put me in with the corpse we found," Daniel fumbled to explain. Jack winced at the haunted tone. Those sadist alien Munchkins would so get theirs if he had anything to say about it. "I think to really hammer home the point that cells are single occupancy only. Anyway, I couldn't seem to sleep, and started thinking."
"About?" he asked, knowing the younger man had probably not been able to stop thinking. Defense mechanism. And Jack was beginning to get a good idea on his own about what had gone down. The big boom and the gore all over Daniel were good indications.
"The devices on our legs."
They reached the bathroom, the rest of the inmates gone from sight and no sign of their captors. Jack frowned. What the hell had they got into? It made no sense - strict nighttime rules, but run around all you wanted during the day? His head started to hurt again, turning into a dull throb when Daniel stepped out of his pants and he saw more blood there. Damnit. He was ill just thinking about spending hours in that condition, what effect had it really had on Daniel?
"I, uh, thought you said there was water?" Daniel blankly stared around the room.
"That thing over there. It's motion sensitive," Jack said, pointing vaguely. He looked away to give Daniel some privacy and himself respite.
"Oh." Jack heard the splatter of water on the floor and relaxed a little. Daniel continued, "So, anyway. I thought that if I could figure out how to get it off the...body, we could remove ours as well. It, uh, didn't work out as I had hoped. Apparently, they're meant to stay on. I must have triggered some kind of self destruct, which also seems to take the person wearing the device with it."
So first Daniel got stuck with a dead body for a roommate, and then its...parts sprayed all over and around him. He was instantly reminded of Daniel's horrified expression back when Graham had blown himself up during that Zantax debacle. Jack's gut roiled at the thought, and at the matter of fact way Daniel was relaying all of this information. Defense mechanism number two. Bad. So bad.
"We're stuck with them, huh?" Jack growled, angry that Daniel had gone through all that for nothing, and got a nightmare inducing bloodfest to boot.
"I'm not sure. It actually survived somewhat intact, but I was afraid to mess with it anymore," Daniel softly admitted, making Jack turn around. The archaeologist was scrubbing furiously at his arms and legs, though the blood had already washed away. Shit. "The shock they gave me for tampering with it at all was...unpleasant. I thought perhaps they were still monitoring."
Daniel screaming. Long and terribly, ending with a low groan after almost forever.
"Something I, for one, would like to avoid in the future," Jack commented with a mental shudder. For himself and Daniel. Mostly so he didn't have to ever, ever hear Daniel screaming like that again. "You think it's still worth checking out?"
"Maybe." Daniel finally stepped out from the spray of water, dripping all the way to stand next to him. He looked around, deep line creasing in between his eyebrows. "No towels? What kind of joint is this?"
The comment was so unexpected, Jack didn't quite know what to do with it. He hoped Daniel meant it as a signal he was really okay. He mutely stared at the other man, feeling his eyebrows lift toward his hairline. Daniel peered right back at him, eyes suddenly pleading with him for something.
"I don't know. You pay big bucks for a fancy hotel and what do you get? Lousy service. Management's so going to hear about this."
He tried to infuse as much flippancy in the remarks as possible, not wholly certain this was what Daniel needed from him. Normality. Laughing in the face of misfortune was his forte, something he did to make himself feel more in control. Jack had always hoped his levity was also a source of support for the rest of his team and he waited tensely for the archaeologist to prove him right. The beginnings of a smile teased, stopping just short of fully breaking out. The other man abruptly turned and yanked his pants back on, water darkening the fabric in spots.
"Or we could leave without paying the bill," Daniel said jokingly. His face was serious, and Jack couldn't agree more adamantly. "That would show them."
"Okay, we'll go with that plan then," Jack concurred. "Since we seem to be on free time at the moment, we're going to take the opportunity to go get the device from your...friend. Then we check out where the rest of the lucky souls have gone."
Daniel nodded, expression decidedly miserable at the prospect of revisiting his night quarters. There was no way in hell Jack was going to let him actually go back there, see what he'd been forced to endure. But neither was he going to let them be separated. Clapping the other man on the shoulder, he double-checked the hall before heading out. There was a long pause before he finally heard Daniel's footsteps begin to follow, and he bit back the urge to tell his friend to stay put. Contrasting to his hesitation, Daniel quickened his pace and drew up right alongside, matching stride for stride. Which faltered, the archaeologist tensing so much Jack could feel it from a foot away.
"Hey," he casually said. "Why don't you wait here? I'll go get it."
"It's on the left," Daniel whispered, letting out an immense breath and stopping immediately.
Preparing for the worst, Jack continued on. Preparation was a waste of time, he quickly discovered as he spotted the first tracks of blood on the cell wall. His years of covert service in the military had made him hardened; blood and guts didn't usually affect him. But this made his stomach twinge. He scanned the small room, eyes taking in the complete brutality in which the alien had been destroyed. There didn't seem to be an inch of space not covered, an abnormally large amount of damage inflicted from such a small body. Swallowing, he finally located the tracking device lying in a thick pool. No wonder Daniel hadn't really wanted to touch it.
Crouching down to pick up the object, Jack's eyes landed on a distinct shape on the ground. A bloody outline of a body curled up in the fetal position. God, Daniel. Anyone would have been hard pressed to bear a night in this horror. Daniel had done it with barely any indication of distress. He sometimes forgot just how strong his friend truly was, despite how outward appearances seemed on occasion. How he could ever forget such a thing was beyond him.
No, actually, it was pretty easy to figure out. Daniel's strengths included an immeasurable stubborn streak, a primary source of his own irritation. An irritation he was guilty of letting get out of control, until it had become the only thing he could see in the younger man. He couldn't really expect his friend to change his personality, or ask him to weaken his strength.
Of all the inconvenient places to have an epiphany. Jack pulled his eyes from the smudged silhouette, gathering up the charred machine and shaking it in the hopes some of the congealed blood would come off. None did, so he scraped it on the floor several times, grimacing at the new smears he added to the dcor. He hoped to hell Daniel wasn't forced to spend another night in here. He hoped to hell he could prevent it from even being a possibility. Standing up, he eyed the device with his full attention and knew it was a dead end. The inner workings he could see were melded together, and burned beyond recognition. If they had time, perhaps they could figure it out. Or if Carter were here.
Carter and Teal'c. God, he'd nearly been able to rid himself of that recurring thought. He was almost one hundred percent certain they weren't here. Okay, it was more like seventy percent. Since they weren't around when he and Daniel first woke up, they would have been part of the alien walking wounded brigade. Right? Unless this ship was bigger than this small section, and they were just in a different section. No, that couldn't be. He was seve...fifty. Fifty percent sure they weren't here. The other fifty percent he allotted to being sure wherever they were, they were fine.
"Jack? Are you okay?" Daniel's voice interrupted his mental melee, way too close in proximity. Shit, how long had he been standing here? "Jack?"
"Be right there," Jack murmured, tossing the ruined box down and hightailing it back to his friend. At Daniel's puzzled expression, he shrugged. "It was pretty much shot."
"Oh."
"C'mon." Jack tipped his head and lightly touched Daniel on the arm. "Let's go find a way out of this hole."
Squaring his uncovered shoulders, Daniel immediately fell in step with him. A reminder of determination that had always been present and would never go away. It was fact, and facts were something to deal with, not barrel around. Jack needed to modify his own attitude enough so that he and Daniel could work together the same way they had in the past. Butting heads was definitely ineffective, and the dissention it created was far too detrimental. He wasn't sure he could change any more than his friend could; they had to find a middle ground. Both of them had to give a little. He believed that objective was very attainable.
That newfound optimism should have made him feel better but Jack couldn't shake the feeling they were being watched, not just monitored by means of the equipment attached to their legs. If that proved to be the case, he and Daniel were going to have an incredibly difficult time in successfully escaping. Another fact he couldn't circumvent. As they neared the end of the hall, he decided he needed to locate the cellmate that had been housed across from him. The sign language had been rudimentary at best, but it was a place to start and if he could figure out even a little of what had been communicated, then chances are Daniel would have a better time of it. Now knowing where the threat was coming from also helped matters - he was confident none of the other prisoners would hurt them. He just wasn't sure he could count on them for help.
The walkway led into an expansive chamber and a quick inspection showed there were three other entrances, one on each side of the room. They were unguarded, though none of the prisoners went near. Jack narrowed his eyes at the number milling about, definitely more than had fit in the bank of cells they'd just come out of. He had counted fifty rooms, and there were easily over one hundred captives. He couldn't discern the new additions from the old and was disappointed none were humanoid. Relieved none were Carter or Teal'c. Daniel let out a low breath, mirroring his feelings precisely.
"Teal'c and Sam aren't here," Daniel said as though he needed to hear the words aloud to truly believe it. "That's good."
"Very. Knowing them, they're already on their way after us. Wherever we are. Speaking of, what say we go see what we can find out?"
"Yeah. I'm not so sure we'll be able to get any information from anyone, though. At least not verbally."
"You're probably right, but last night one of them tried to help me out. You could try sign language or something, right?" Jack urged with a smile. "Actually, I'm kind of surprised you didn't try that."
Daniel blinked at him, face blanching as he looked away. "I couldn't see anyone else."
"What do you mean? The lights weren't that dim. There was a bug-looking thing across from me, and it very clearly told me to shut up if I knew what was good for me."
"There wasn't anyone in that cell for me to communicate with, Jack."
Oh...oh.
Those goddamn bastards. They were apparently as proficient in psychological torture as they were physical. Shoving his rising anger back down, Jack clenched his jaw once and shook his head. Nothing he could do about it in retrospect, but his resolve to get them out of this grew even bigger. He waded through his fluctuating emotions while continuing to scan the room. There didn't appear to be a specific reason for them to be gathered here; the aliens were simply roaming aimlessly about.
Waiting for something.
He and Daniel had to find out what and deal with it. If he were honest with himself, he'd admit he already had a pretty good idea what they were here for; he just didn't want to give credibility to the terrible implication. His eyes lit upon the praying mantis, tucked away in a corner by itself. He aimed right for it, Daniel in tow, hoping to get some much-needed but not-really-wanted answers.


Daniel didn't know if he should be glad or sickened that the deformities surrounding him were easier to stomach than they had been the previous night. As Jack tugged him along in a manner he was really trying not to think of as a man taking an unruly puppy for a walk, he tried to look past the outward monstrousness in the aliens to find the truth of their natures. What he saw in their expressions was infinitely more disquieting than the physical appearances. Pain. Bewilderment. Defeat. He wondered how long it had taken for them to be beaten in spirit so thoroughly, kicking himself a moment later for the stupid thought. It didn't take much to understand the horrors being inflicted, his own experience already demonstrating undue cruelty.
Jack's forward movement stopped rather suddenly, catching him so much off guard his left big toe stubbed on the device at his friend's ankle. Recoiling in pain, he hopped backward a step and fought the urge to swear. No injury he'd received in his entire life could compare to the agony of a stubbed toe. Maybe a paper cut. Daniel found that oddly funny, his need to curse quashing under the upsurge of laughter building in his chest. Jack would think he was insane if he let it escape, though, so he cleared his throat and looked into annoyed brown eyes.
"Sorry," he mumbled, taking the opportunity to see where Jack had led them. Beyond the other man was a gigantic bug, which towered over them even though it appeared to be sitting. "Whoa."
"This is the critter I told you about," Jack brusquely said, waving his hand up and down the length of the alien.
"Critter? Jack, maybe you should be a bit more polite."
"What for? It can't understand us."
"We don't know that. Just because we can't grasp its language - which, by the way, I have yet to hear so we can't really make an informed decision on that- doesn't mean that it can't understand ours," Daniel immediately rejoined, remembering Nem and how quickly he had adapted to English.
"For crying out loud, Daniel, we don't..." Jack paused, face transforming from impatience to weary understanding. "You're right, you're right. Want to give it a shot?"
Floundering at the abrupt, uncharacteristic turnaround, Daniel took another step back. The other man flinched at his reaction, lines on his face becoming deeper for a moment. With an apology in his eyes, he returned to Jack's side. The alien was looking fearfully between both of them, and he thought he detected a higher level of ease when it focused on Jack.
"You should first, since you had the chance to speak with it last night. Once we're a little more settled, I can try."
"Good, because I'd like to take a walk around the perimeter of the room. Check out options." Jack turned to the alien, looking at a loss for what to say for a moment before he started, "Uh, hi again. Remember me from last night? I don't know if you can understand a word I'm saying here but I'm Jack. This is Daniel. New to these parts, in case you couldn't tell. We're a bit confused about why we're here and are hoping you can shed some light."
Not the approach he would have taken but it was very Jack-like. Daniel was suddenly struck by the fact that only a couple of hours ago, the thought of his friend being the diplomatic liaison in any given situation had set his teeth on edge. The irony that he'd just reversed his preferred policy that he handle things did not escape him, and he acknowledged Jack wasn't really all that bad at interpersonal relationship building. Just different. His instant negative reactions in the past likely had exacerbated what might have ended up being successful encounters had he given Jack a chance. Watching the alien closely for any sign of comprehension, he could see they weren't going to have much luck in this case. It stared at Jack and didn't utter a sound.
"Daniel, I'm getting nothing here," Jack redundantly said, running a hand through his hair. He dropped his hand for a second then tried again, using erratic hand gestures. "Can you tell us where we are?"
Still the alien didn't move. Daniel bit the inside of his cheek as the older man flashed his middle finger at it, turning to stare at him. Consternation swung up at the other man's intolerance for anything that wasn't quickly gained. Answers didn't always come right away, especially when dealing with a previously unknown species and culture; Jack should know that. Jack did know that, yet it didn't seem to lessen his impatience. So far they weren't in any real danger and time could be spared to delve a little more deeply in fishing out the who, what, why and where so they could work on the how.
"Jack," he warningly said, pretty sure it would be interpreted as censure.
"Daniel?" Oh, yeah. There it was. The spiky, edged tone Jack used to enunciate his name when he was approaching exasperation.
"Why don't you go check out the rest of the room while I keep at it?"
"Fine," Jack growled, brown eyes shooting unwarranted sparks at him.
Daniel automatically glowered right back, refusing to shrink from it. He couldn't figure out what he could possibly have done to piss his friend off and he'd be damned if he'd let bully tactics get to him. Jack's annoyance was not a little distressing anytime; when it was so inexplicable it really set off his internal alarms. Studying the stiff face in front of his, he was taken aback when he thought he read something other than anger flying at him.
Fear. An iceberg replaced his stomach at the realization. Jack never really got scared. Worried and chary, yes. Understanding the cause for his friend's behavior incongruously helped him relax to some extent and he softened his defensively combative expression. He suddenly remembered Jack usually did fine in diplomatic situations until he became too emotionally involved in the subject matter. Well, this fit that.
"I'll be fine here for a while, I think," he quietly said. "These aren't the people we need to be worried about."
The other man dipped his head once, touching him on the arm before moving off. Daniel curiously looked down at the point of contact, still retaining residual feeling. Jack had been touching him an awful lot since they'd arrived here. More than necessary, if he thought about it. Little brushes, as if to assure his safety; clues to Jack's true state of mind regarding their confinement that he should have picked up on instantly. While it was comforting to know his friend cared, at the same time it was troubling and told him how very wrong Jack thought their situation was. Or might become. Even without the benefit of concrete information from their fellow inmates, the idea that had formed in the back of his mind he neither wanted to believe nor think about. If he was remotely correct, the magnitude of wrongness here was unimaginable.
Nervously, he sought Jack's location and found him already on the other side of the big area. The absence of his glasses didn't disguise the fact his friend was maintaining visual contact of him while scouting the room and the three possible exits. Daniel didn't have much hope for one of them; the number of creatures in here outweighed the number that had come from their corridor and it was logical to assume at least one of the doorways led into a similar chamber. That left two, which he urgently hoped would be their ticket out. Shivering slightly, he rubbed his cold hands on equally cold arms and looked away from Jack to refocus his attention on the alien. He didn't think it was necessary for him to keep an eye on the other man, for which he was relieved.
He hadn't fully turned when a sharp prick to his neck made him yap in surprise and jump away. Whipping his hand up to rub at the sore spot, Daniel tensed and darted his eyes around to find the cause. The mantis inserted itself directly in his path, two of its arms raised in entreaty. He thought, or rather, hoped. It made no further move toward him, head twisting back and forth. Letting his hand drop, he nodded at it with a tentative smile. Jack had better not have seen that, or he'd...
"Daniel, you okay?"
Rush over here needlessly.
"I'm fine. I think it...she?" The alien shook its head emphatically. "He just wanted to get my attention."
"Oh," Jack breathed, suddenly awkwardly shifting from foot to foot. The other man furtively glanced at his neck, shoulders loosening a bit. Apparently there wasn't a gaping wound. Again Daniel found himself soothed and perplexed at his friend's concern. "I'll just get back to what I was doing then."
Reading Jack's body language, he chose to ignore the not so subtle inspection of his neck and let the other man depart without saying a word. Jack was very, very jumpy. That was very, very bad. Daniel's sick thought solidified the iceberg in his stomach into Antarctica. As foreign as the face gazing down at him was, he thought he could describe it as bleak. The fact the mantis had reached out to him was as exciting as it was frightening. He just wasn't sure he wanted to learn what it wanted to teach him. It still hadn't uttered a sound.
"You can obviously understand me," Daniel mused, furrowing his eyebrows in concentration. "But I'm guessing you're not physically capable of reproducing my speech. Is that right?"
Good. A nod. Yes or no questions seemed the only way to go. The trick was going to be asking the right ones.
"Okay. Where should I start? Uhm, are we on a planet? No. On a ship? Yes, okay, good. Are we going to a planet? What was that...you're uncertain? It's possible?"
Daniel rubbed the back of his neck as he realized how long this was going to take. Time they might not have, now that he thought...knew...he understood why they were here. He stopped the question session, eyes focused on the empty spots on the alien where limbs should have been. Shuddering, he had a vivid image of Jack without a finger, a hand, an eye. That was not going to happen. He wasn't right.
"Are we slaves?" he diffidently asked, though he was sure that wasn't the case. The mantis again gave him a partial affirmation, partial rejection. "How can you not be sure? God, this is not going well."
Muttering under his breath wasn't going to help at all, he knew, and his frustration was coming off as irritation with the being in front of him. Sighing, he perused the room again. Jack was nearing the exit that was directly across the way, face readily showing his apprehension now. He wondered if the other man was having better luck than he. Stupid. Now he was the one desperate for quick answers. He needed to get himself under control instead of inconsiderately blaming the language barrier for being just that. There was no way to tell that time was of the essence; the atmosphere of the crowd was not one of tension. Not that it was a day in the park either.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to be impolite."
A benevolent nod. Good, at least someone had presence of mind here.
"So, we're on a ship, possibly going to a planet. But for what? Are our captors responsible for your...injuries? Okay, that was a very brainless question. Obviously, if not them, then who else? Do you know why they're doing this to you? Yes, of course you do. Now if only you could share that with me..."
The mantis leaned in closer to him as if it thought that motion would help it communicate more effectively. Suddenly feeling intimidated by the intensity of the other creature's stare, Daniel slid his own eyes away. It was then he noticed they were not alone, two other misshapen prisoners guardedly stood on either side of the mantis, somewhat removed. Swallowing, he noted the one on the right looked familiar. Too familiar with its light brown fur, three remaining pawed hands and vaguely canine appearance calling back the memory of his corpse/roommate.
Well, that answered a question - there were multiple members of at least one species. Not that that really made anything clearer. The inmate on the left was in sad shape, missing an eye and both of its arms. Gaps in what appeared to be a soft claret exoskeleton revealed numerous surgical scars. With a start, he realized he recognized it as well. The prisoner that had looked back at him earlier with frightened curiosity.
"Give."
Tearing his attention from the bipedal lobster-looking alien, he jerked back when he came almost eyeball to tortured eyeball with the furry one. It took him a moment to realize it had just spoken to him in English, and then a moment longer to remember what had been said. Give? What did that mean? Clearing his throat, Daniel felt anxiety return. If he had misjudged the non-aggressive nature of the rest of the inmates, he might be in a spot of trouble.
"Give," it unwaveringly repeated.
It was ridiculous of him, but he ardently wondered why the hell it was taking Jack so long to get over here. Before he hadn't even been able to complete a thought and now it appeared markedly more like he were being physically threatened, the alien punctuating its one word statement with another step toward him. Daniel had no choice but to countermeasure the action, taking a step back and colliding with something both hard and soft. Oh, boy. Surrounded. He tried a smile, failing to convince even himself with it.
"I'm sure we can talk about this, whatever this is," he rambled, raising suppliant hands.
The creature let out a huff of hot air, so close Daniel felt his eyelashes bend with the force. Trying not to choke on the sour breath, he flitted his eyes around the room without moving his head. Damnit, where was Jack? He reflexively winced as the alien raised one of its arms and brought it toward him, preparing for a blow that did not come. Instead, he felt a slight tap on his shoulder, as if to reassure. Blinking stupidly, he looked more closely at the fuzzy face and was surprised to find a combination of exasperation and concern there.
"That's what you're trying to do," Daniel mumbled, feeling like a moron. He switched his gaze to each of the three aliens in turn, greeted by nods from all of them. "Sorry. You can't blame me for being jumpy."
Three head shakes. Good. This was good. They clearly understood and wanted to speak to him and now that one of them seemed able, he counted it as progress. He smiled again, this time with more confidence.
"You said give. I don't understand. Give what?"
"Give...away," the dog-one said. Oh, that was so much clearer. He apparently looked baffled, as it shook its head again and shook one arm. "Take."
And suddenly he knew unequivocally his theory was correct. He and Jack needed to be out of here, sooner rather than later. The chill in the air seemed to increase, sending shivers through his entire body. He was jumping to conclusions; he couldn't be absolutely certain. Denial warred with truth, and even as he knew it was foolish to cling to it, he did. Stupidly and desperately. Shaking out of his horrified trance, Daniel opened his mouth to seek unwanted clarification and was embarrassed when a croak came out instead.
"Daniel?" Jack's gruff voice sounded from behind him, breathless as though he had been running. Spinning around, he brushed by the armless alien to draw up to Jack's side. A trickle of blood seeped from the corner of his friend's mouth, making him halt in concern. "Daniel, what's going on? You look kind of...off."
"Jack? What happened, are you okay?" he ignored the inquiry, too centered on the crimson striping Jack's chin.
"Huh?"
"Your lip's bleeding."
"Oh, it's nothing. Had a little altercation with one of our prison buddies. We reached an understanding," Jack explained, wiping his mouth with one hand. He did a double take when he caught sight of the furry alien. "Want to introduce me to your friends?"
"Jack, we need to get out of here now," Daniel blurted, not what he'd intended to say at all. Jack didn't appreciate unsubstantiated assertions, even in the tensest of times. Besides that, it was clear the other man had already reached that conclusion and his statement was superfluous. "I know. Sorry. I've got an idea of what's going on here, and let's just say that if we want to stay whole we should find a way out."
"Care to give me a little more than that?" Jack hissed, looking as though he already knew and didn't want to, much like his own mental rejection. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that whatever's going on with these folks might just happen to us, Daniel."
"Right. Jack, I think -"
He didn't get a chance to finish explaining, interrupted by a familiar bell tone. The aliens immediately started moving back toward the cellblocks, hustling him and Jack right along with them. The silence was broken by a buzz of low voices, which gave the impression of heightened agitation. The effect on his own composure was instantaneous, and it was coupled with separation from Jack. Shit.
Pivoting around, he sited Jack the three aliens' lengths away, pushing at the canine one's attempts to guide him along. Daniel tried to wade his way over to his friend, cut short by a spindly arm. Opening his mouth to protest, he gasped when that same arm slashed upward to cover his mouth. Damnit. He really needed to let his friend know what was going on...before it was too late.


The timing couldn't be worse. Jack gritted his teeth as the alien that looked too damn much like a ghost tried to shove him along faster. Daniel's trepidation made all of his senses go on high alert, compounding the apprehension already a common prickling in the back of his mind. He was pretty sure he'd found the key to their captors' motives as well as the most likely way to escape.
Unfortunately, before he could actually confirm anything, a big monster of a creature had literally picked him up and plopped him on his ass. It was unnerving to get trounced by a guy who had suffered major, extensive trauma. In all fairness, the thing had still been twice his size. Rolling around on the ground to retain his feet, he had glimpsed Daniel being surrounded by three very intense looking inmates, and his own search had become secondary.
It was obvious Daniel had also discovered something. Jack just wished they had time to compare notes before act three of this drama played out. Without a watch, he had no way of really knowing how much time had passed since they had been let out but he knew it couldn't have been more than an hour. So, it was safe to assume this was not simply back in the cages for another riveting night caper or two. His pessimistic inclination was that it was for something worse. Much worse if his friend's harried expression had any credence, which he knew it did. A couple of years ago, he would have dismissed the younger man's anxiety as merely a civilian scientist's freak-out in an abnormal situation. He'd learned the hard way Daniel didn't customarily get worked up over nothing.
Shirking off Dog Boy's insistent paws, he shuffled closer to Daniel while the younger man conducted the same maneuver with the mantis. They ended up sandwiched closely together, and he felt extraordinarily victorious for a mad moment until he remembered the bigger picture.
"Daniel..."
"Jack..."
In stereo. He waited a protracted second for the other man to continue, taking the lead when Daniel didn't say anything. "Two of the exits just lead into similar banks of cells, from what I could tell. I didn't get the chance to go down them but judging from this set up, there's no way out there. When I approached the third, though, a very persistent king-sized thing blocked me. It seemed very certain I shouldn't go down that road, if you know what I mean."
"You think that's the real exit?"
"Either that or where the little green eyed things are holed up," Jack confirmed, nodding slightly and looking over his shoulder. He just couldn't shake the impression everything they said or did was observed. They were they only ones speaking, and he didn't want to break protocol and get him or Daniel electrocuted again. "It's our best bet at this point, unless you found out something else?"
Steering through some of the slower moving prisoners, he looked for two empty cells directly across from each other. If they couldn't be in the same one, he'd at least be able to see Daniel; small comfort was better than none at all. The other man opened his mouth to speak, sick expression making him look older than his years, but was prevented from doing so by one of the mantis' stick-like appendages briskly coming across his mouth. It sharply stabbed Daniel's cheekbone, eliciting a bark of pain and a spot of blood. Jerking, Jack glared at the offending being but saw no ill will had been intended. Quite an eclectic band of guardian angels they seemed to have picked up, apparently genuinely concerned for their welfare. Daniel shook his head, emitting a frustrated grunt and crunching his jaw shut audibly. His eyes spoke volumes, admonition and unease warring for dominance.
Well, shit.
Hustling into his cubby, Jack kept his eyes trained on Daniel as the mantis eased the other man into his. He willed the younger man to go with the flow, his body language threatening rebellion; whatever he had to tell him, it was going to have to wait. The lights in the cells brightened all of a sudden, making him squint in reaction. He hadn't even realized how dim it had been, the darkness lending to the glum atmosphere. The reversed effect now made him feel as though he were on display in a collector's box of sorts. No fine jewelry, no crystal. Just monsters, malformed and miserable. With a start, he gulped down a swell of disgust as another analogy popped into his brain - they were selections at an intergalactic deli counter, and he and Daniel were the freshest salads in the place.
Oh, God how he wished he hadn't thought that. Jack stared nervously from his cubicle, watching for the greenies to come back, observing Daniel's nervous shuffling out of the corner of his eye. If past experience bore true for this case, he thought it wise the other man stop moving before the little buggers arrived. Staring at Daniel, he swiped a hand across his throat and shook his head in warning. The archaeologist froze on the spot, pivoting to stand with his hands behind his back and facing out. He nodded in approval, mirroring the stance and giving the illusion of complete calm. The blue eyes firmly fixated on him were anything but, radiating so much dread Jack thought he'd cave under the pressure. He schooled his own eyes to reflect nothing, pleased when Daniel managed to tone down his giveaway appearance.
This time, there were only two of their captors making the rounds and he thought for a moment this was just a scheduled body count. Pipe dream. Following closely behind the lead two, four more of them came and they were not alone. Cloistered in the hub of the group were three disturbingly human-like figures, the only visible difference being a faint bluish tint to the skin tone, snow white hair and nearly colorless eyes. The entourage aimed directly for their locations, breezing to a stop. A fair amount of chatter was going on as each of them carefully examined both him and Daniel, as if making a comparison between them. He sneaked a glance at his friend, who had his eyes engrossed on one of the new guys. Automatically turning to check it out for himself, Jack swore under his breath.
One of them seemed different than the others, its skin greenish and eyes yellowed slightly. He was no doctor, and he couldn't be sure the same would be true for an alien species but it looked to be suffering from some sort of liver dysfunction, the blue skin making jaundice appear green. Oh, no. No, no, no. Reality slapped him with a vicious fist. It made sense, all of it. The walking wounded, the missing limbs, the scars. Their captors really were purveyors of fine, undamaged body parts, serving up hapless aliens on the black market. His suspicions had been right. Jack snapped his eyes back to Daniel as if the other man would be able to refute what he knew to be true and allow him to hold onto fantasy. He was a fool. The only thing he saw reflected in Daniel's face was unconcealed fear, mask slipping dangerously as the younger man opened his mouth to speak.
"No! Don't! Me, take me!" The cries were nonsensical for an instant, all too clear the next. The cluster of aliens were headed right for him, one of them fingering a switch on its wrist. Daniel kept shouting. "No!"
The inevitable result of the archaeologist's outburst came with shocking succinctness, his denials garbled with pain Jack knew all too well. Everything moved in slow motion as he watched his friend crumple to the floor, howling in agony and clutching at his right ankle. Simultaneously, a strange hissing sound began all around him, and his head began to swim. Breathing became more difficult, and he vaguely wondered if this is what had happened to Daniel back on the planet. He felt himself falling limply to his knees, the jarring making his consciousness and vision sharpen again. Daniel's screams had either turned silent or his ears had stopped working, the younger man writhing frenetically with mouth agape and face reddened.
Something moved into his line of sight, at once a relief and a frustration. A tap on the top of his head directed him to look up, into narrowed green eyes. Without thinking, he lashed out at the smaller creature, his movements uncoordinated and futile. His arm swung uselessly back down and he wanted to rail against the unctuous thing, but his mouth wouldn't work. Staring dumbly at the jailer, Jack frowned when it motioned for him to rise. Right. His limbs were deadweights, head thick and confused. He couldn't even do what he really wanted - scramble toward his companion. He did manage to poke his head around the obstruction to catch sight of a now motionless Daniel. Bastards, bastards.
His mind seemed to be clearing slightly, though his body was reluctant to catch up. The alien still partially blocking his view slapped him sharply across the face, punctuating the blow with a string of vehement, unintelligible words. Damnit. Anger surged, adrenaline pumping through him. He swatted at his attacker, taking a moment to gloat as it crashed to the ground. Triumph was short lived, replaced with a familiar discharge of electric pain shooting up his leg and into his entire body. Groaning, Jack slumped heavily onto his ass and the sensation stopped. It seemed cooperation was mandatory, not remotely voluntary.
"They wish you to assist your friend," one of the blue guys whispered, startling Jack with its use of English. "Though it is only you we need, his presence might aid in keeping you docile. You would be wise to do as they request."
Request. Yeah, plenty of asking going on around here. Jack struggled to his feet, calmly ignoring the aliens surrounding him. His heart beat faster at the information given, not sure he should be relieved Daniel and he weren't going to be separated. Something told him it would have been better for him to go alone, keeping his friend as far away from the line of fire as possible. And that was not simply an expression. A cool hand laid upon his forearm prompted him to walk haltingly out of his cell, legs still faintly obstinate. The closer he got to Daniel, the more he could see the other man wasn't inert at all, rather his entire body shook with residual tremors. Glaring at the gamekeepers, he entered the alcove and crouched down.
"Daniel?" Jack softly inquired, placing a cautious hand on a bare shoulder. Shuddering vibrations still wracked Daniel's body, and he unconsciously tightened his hand to shake the other man. An impatient huff from behind made the need for his friend to arouse all that more urgent. "Daniel, you should really wake up now."
Brilliant, sure to work. Nervously twisting his head around to check the patience level of the aliens, Jack kept gently nudging at the quivering man. Damn, it was disconcerting to be so intimidated by a bunch of pint-sized critters. Clearing his throat, he turned back to Daniel to find open blue eyes confusedly looking back up at him. He jerked his hand away in startlement, falling on his rear. Recovering quickly, he shifted to his knees and worriedly leaned closer.
"You going to be okay?" he asked stupidly, pulling at the other man's shoulders to navigate him into an upright position.
Daniel wasn't okay, and judging from how the quaking hadn't subsided, he wouldn't be for quite a while. Damn freaking vicious mongrels. He snapped his mouth shut before he uttered curses at their captors, knowing such an indulgence would only bring more pain. Keeping his hands firmly planted on the archaeologist's shoulders, Jack carefully searched for any kind of answer from his friend. Daniel managed a rough nod, breath easing a bit but still coming in shaky rasps. He really wished he could allow the other man more time to recuperate from the excruciating hurt that had been inflicted but he knew they wouldn't be afforded that luxury.
"Let's get you on your feet. Apparently we both won free passes to the fair, compliments of the Lollipop Guild here."
"No, Jack," Daniel gasped. "Can't -"
"Choiceless, Daniel. Seems I've got something they want; I've been told not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Guess what? You're the gift horse. Two for the price of one means you get to keep me company."
"You k-know what..." Daniel's voice choked off suddenly, his muscles spasming under Jack's hands as the torture was re-ignited. It only lasted a second, but it left the archaeologist gasping harshly again. "God..."
Gift horse apparently equated to whipping boy in this particular slum of the universe. Jack growled under his breath at the oh-so-subtle reminder for haste and silent cooperation. Enfolding as much of his friend into his arms as he could, he awkwardly climbed to his feet. Praying Daniel could walk at least a little, he took a step forward, spitting, "All right! We're coming."
Every shudder rippling through Daniel was indication of how his hands were tied, and as much as Jack really didn't want to play Operation with these things, he thought it far and away a better option than letting anything else happen to his friend. He felt Daniel's head bump into his shoulder once, twice, and on the third pass it settled. Warm gusts of air flitted across his chest as the younger man turned into him as if seeking comfort. He held on tighter, taking as much of the burden as he could; his own legs were still wobbly from whatever had been pumped into his system.
The stubborn scientist acquiesced easily, chilling Jack thoroughly. He and Daniel had always been alike when it came to accepting assistance; this sudden about face was so not good. Biting his lip, he spared a glance down at his charge, gladdened to see the color on the cheeks returning to a normal tone. Actually, Daniel wasn't shaking so hard Jack was afraid he would fly apart anymore either. Puzzled that the other man's need for support had increased instead of diminished, he loosened his hold a bit.
Slumping into him, Daniel stumbled. Apparently he *didn't* have his land legs quite yet. Frowning, Jack clumsily moved his arm from around the shoulders to around the waist, at the same time studying the backs of the aliens leading them out of the hall and into the main room. Daniel coughed raggedly, turning his head away from Jack's shoulder and tripping again. Even with a good grip on the younger man, he couldn't win against gravity and Daniel fell to his knees. Before the green-eyed mini-monsters could punish his friend for the discretion, he began hefting Daniel to his feet.
"Wrist," Daniel whispered into his ear as he clutched at Jack's arms and torso. "Control. Watch them."
Huh? He sneaked a questioning look at his friend, whose eyes were darting from his face to one of the aliens. Oh. And Jack swiftly understood the odd inconsistencies in Daniel's symptoms. Damn stubborn SOB... and thank goodness for that. While he'd been busy fretting, the other man had been examining their captors' every move and sure enough, each of them was equipped with a handy deely-bop on their wrists. As he expected, he and Daniel were being led straight to the hallway he'd tried to enter earlier.
When they arrived, one of the group momentarily messed with its wrist before they continued on. He didn't see what it did, but it was clear whatever that thing was, it controlled the shields and probably even the shock devices on their legs. A universal remote. Nice. They'd definitely need to get one of those in order to vamoose. He gave the younger man a squeeze to demonstrate he saw and knew the importance of the information. Unfortunately, it didn't look as though they'd have the chance to snag one of them any time soon.
This hallway was shorter and more brightly lit than the cellblocks, and was apparently obstructed by one of those invisible shields. Jack fingered his swelled lip and belatedly thanked the alien responsible for it for saving him a jolt. Rather than being lined with many individual alcoves, there was simply one main set of doors at the end and they steadily proceeded toward it, each step making him more and more nervous. Daniel reallocated some of his weight, lightening his load quite a bit but Jack kept his hold firm.
The aliens chattered softly around them, and he looked to his friend to see if he was able to interpret any of it. Head tilted to the side, Daniel was concentrating hard but Jack couldn't see any hint of recognition alighting his expression. Not that he needed to know what was being said, per se, but something beneficial might be gleaned from casual conversation. If only there were a way to make the new blue guys use English.
They stopped briefly at the closed double doors, Jack holding his breath at the almost sinister possibilities lying in wait for them. For him, at least. He morbidly wondered if the...surgery would start right away once they crossed the threshold into the room or if he had a few minutes to work himself up into a uneasy wreck first. And he still hoped, desperately, that he was wrong. Very wrong. He wouldn't even mind if it were Daniel to correct his error; hell, he'd welcome a divergent opinion right about now. Please.
Not going to happen. A tiny prodding fist pushed him in the butt and propelled him into the room, Daniel stumbling alongside him. Contrasting the gloom created by the dank and dirty gray construction of the rest of the ship, this room was bright and gleaming silver, polished metal. He instantly saw an unadorned table to the right, low to the ground and surrounded by numerous tall lamps. Off to the side, a bench held tools of some sort. Shit. Not tools. Surgical implements. Clean, though, he observed with a cynical, internal laugh. Hell, if he survived at least he wouldn't have to worry about infection. He and Daniel were guided into the center of the room, where they were circled, and Jack was again struck at how intimidating the petite creatures were. He thought perhaps it had more to do with the ever-constant silence they demanded. Screw that.
"So. Nice place you've got here," he drolly commented, smiling when they all jerked in alarmed astonishment. "Though I have to say if the inmates get wind of how good you've got it, you might be looking at a mutiny. Oh, wait. They do know, don't they? I bet they've been in here lots and lots of times for afternoon tea."
"Jack, I really don't think we should antagonize them," Daniel breathed into his shoulder, tugging slightly away from him. Jack let him stand under his own power at last.
Daniel was right, of course. He knew that but he also knew he needed to keep the focus on himself and this was the only method he'd ever known to be tried and true. Deliberately taking a step from the younger man, Jack assessed their captors to see if he could figure out if there was a leader he could piss off. Nope. Seemed like there was no clear-cut command structure among this particular group. There had to be more than six of them running the place. He took another step, stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
"What are you doing? You can't think this is actually helping."
"Daniel, just leave it," he hissed back, not turning around. "I'll be fine."
"No, you won't. I can't let - "
"You can and you will."
"Jack - "
"Daniel."
To Jack's relief, the other man stopped his protests with a discontented grumble and they were once again surrounded by silence. Scowling at the circle of aliens, he was thrown to find them staring at him and Daniel with amused, bizarrely tolerant faces. The afternoon entertainment, eh? He growled low in his throat, waiting for them to make the next move.

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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.