Unveiling the Dawn
There's so much blood.
The smell pollutes the air and I can't help but gag. Teal'c's just sitting there with Jack encompassed in his huge arms. Jack looks small and frail. So, oddly, does Teal'c. There has to be something I should be doing, but for the life of me I don't know what it is. For the life of Jack. He's so positive he's dying it scares me.
What scares me more is I think he's right.
I wanted to be excited about this mission. Tried my darnedest to reject that uneasy feeling in my gut. I thought it was residual emotional backlash from Sam's way too recent near death. Even while expounding about cross comparing this Minoan culture to The Land of Light's and proving the need to explore PX9 763, I couldn't help but think we'd all be better off staying at home. I wanted to lock myself in my apartment and hide out for just a few more days. I've been a terrible friend to Sam. She's seemed so...empty since that entity stole her life. I could...can still...see her diminishing and instead of offering my help, I ran. Couldn't deal with my part in the whole thing.
Fooling myself into thinking if we could just get through this harmless meet-and-greet, things would go back to normal. Now it's too late. I don't know why I didn't realize what was happening sooner. I should have seen the glaring indications, but I was too busy trying to feign interest in Alekos' chatter to pay attention. For a while, I actually did get caught up in the mysteries he was unraveling; the answering of questions archaeologists have been debating for years.
I left watching the surroundings for danger to Jack. Really not wise, since I know Jack's been thinking of only one thing for the better part of a month: how he killed Sam. Doesn't matter that she's alive and pretty much well. I know him pulling the trigger is eating Jack from the inside out. He doesn't know it, but I've been witnessing the self-inflicted torture he's forcing himself to endure. Every time he's looked at Sam these past weeks, his face reveals he's not seeing her at all, but death. So he stopped looking; focused on anything and everything but her. I didn't.
His vision of death isn't that far off - I feel like Sam's fading right away. She's more reserved than ever. Jumpy. Uncertain. So uncharacteristic for her it rattles me even more. A huge portion of me wants to pull her into a massive hug and remind her of who she is to us. And who she is to herself, though I don't think I have the right to dictate that to her. The other, darker part of me can't handle that. Instead of hugging her, I hug myself with a blanket of denial. I should have been the one to communicate with the entity. It's my job and even though it selected her, I should have done it.
It's senseless to dwell on something I can't change. I have to do something here, now, for Jack. Because I'm terrified he won't wake if he loses consciousness, I keep prodding him to open his eyes. Demanding he follow my command. I'm met with a completely typical Jack response.
"Why do I have...to follow your...orders when you...won't follow mine?" he puffs with frightening weakness.
Huh. Why won't he get it through his thick skull we're not going to leave him here to bleed to death, all alone? None of us will be happily tripping through the 'gate anytime soon. Where the hell is Sam? It seems as though she's been gone for hours. I hope Jacinta allowed her to get a daypack. It's the closest thing we have to hope, and if it takes Sam much longer to get here, I'm afraid that will disappear as well.
There I go, pointing the finger. It's me. I should have seen. The second I found out the Mother Goddess figure had at one point been the living and breathing Hathor, I should have insisted we get out of here. An ominous prickle of fear cut through me and I know Jack felt it too. If I had said something about my concerns instead of ignoring them, we might be home right now. As it is, we're stuck. I know I am, for sure. The people of Cretine won't let me leave until I've done my duty as an 'older' male and prove to the Mother I'm worthy of life and service to Her. Hathor must have been a lot more discriminating in her choice of men in her younger days, as she didn't seem to have a problem with older men when we met up with her before. I shudder.
"Totally different, and you know it," I admonish Jack, trying to pull myself from the dark, useless thoughts as though it will help him by being argumentative.
He blinks groggily at me a couple of times, a witty comeback valiantly attempting to be devised. It's taking too long. His ripostes are usually so automatic I'm almost flinching from the delay.
"Not even," he finally wheezes.
Oh, God. I have to admit to myself how bad this is. Like the huge pool of blood he's lying in isn't enough of a clue, Jack being unable to throw a verbal barb is the equivalent of a death toll in my mind. His face tells me he's as disturbed by his lame remark as I. Even Teal'c raises his eyebrow dramatically. Jack suddenly lets out a whimpered attempt at a laugh and bends over from pain, so I grab his shoulders and lean in as close as I can get to keep him immobile. He goes limp in between mine and Teal'c's grasps.
Where the hell is Sam?
I look over Jack's head to stare at Teal'c. His face is set in one of recrimination and heavy remorse. The recrimination is directed at himself. It shouldn't be. Both he and Jack were the only ones to actually voice their misgivings, which were disregarded. If anyone is to blame here, it is most definitely not Teal'c.
When we viewed the MALP and UAV footage of PX9 763, I could tell Teal'c was having issues. I couldn't determine the depth or the cause, but I saw them in his eyes. His expression didn't change, but he kept shifting his eyes to Sam, then back to the monitor. Of the three of us, Teal'c has been the only one to offer Sam any type of physical reassurance. He's stuck so close to her side, I've heard people commenting on her new, larger than life shadow. His reactions at the briefing should have clued us in to the fact he thought it might be better to forego off world travel, for the sake of Sam. No, for all of us. But, in all fairness, Teal'c's a hard man to read. Isn't that always a great justification to keep in the back pocket? Never know when you'll need to use it.
"Your friend is dying," a solemn voice announces, making me start.
Really? No. Hadn't noticed that. Thanks for the update. I really have been hanging around Jack too much. The thought that might no longer be slaps me more harshly than any hand ever has.
I turn quickly to see Alekos drawing up to us out of the dimness. He has this look of regret washing across his dark eyes, which are focused on Jack. It seems incongruous. This man gave us a walking tour all afternoon, sugaring us with niceties, all the while knowing we'd like as not be killed here. Invited us into the community as if it was an honor, not a curse. Flashes of anger rise to the surface and I instantaneously reject his statement, essentially telling him 'nuh uh'. I know it's a childish way to act, but I can't help it.
Jeez, now he's whipping out a big, sharp blade and I stare at the vile thing as if it's the devil. I'm not prepared at all for his 'it's better for Jack if we help him die' speech and it takes me too long to figure out he's actually serious about killing Jack here and now to end his suffering.
"You think...no," I blunder through my horror. No way. I know it's considered merciful in many cultures to end life when a person is suffering so. It's even true back home, to some extent. But I can't let that apply to Jack, not when he's been through worse and survived. "That may be a custom for you, but it certainly isn't for us."
Alekos shakes his head, murmuring, "You are Cretinian now."
He sounds so damned innocent and sincere I almost feel bad for him. If there was more time, perhaps I could look past all that's happened and integrate into this community as openly as I did on Abydos. It won't ever happen. I bark a laugh at his assertion, "Not entirely. We are still who we are. You can't change that. Don't even think about it - put that thing away. But tell me, have you seen Major Carter?"
"I'm right here, Daniel."
Thank goodness. Relief at Sam's appearance overwhelms me and I pretend Alekos isn't standing there with his mouth agape. I think I might have insulted him. Sam's running forward, determined and strong. She looks more 'Sam' than I've seen in far too long.
"Major Carter, it is good to see you were able to retrieve aid for O'Neill."
A quick perusal of Teal'c is all I need to see he's as happy to see her for herself as for Jack. I rock back on my heels as Sam drops to her knees beside me. She sets to work, methodically going through the daypack with surgical efficiency. Calm and steady. She's back. I think it'll only last if Jack doesn't die here.
Sam shoots Teal'c and I worried looks before asking Jack, "Sir, how are you holding up?"
Really dumb question, Sam.
"Really...dumb question, Carter," Jack rasps.
Did I say that out loud? Weird. Jack's eyes are all over the place and he's shaking worse than ever. Sam soothes him, telling him to rest after she's pumped about a gallon of morphine into him. Once she's done, I watch her closely. The assurance she's exhibiting is based on fear and adrenaline. I can see doubt festering in the back of her eyes. Jack's suddenly flailing around. I don't know where he's getting the strength.
"Go...you have..." he drunkenly slurs.
"You cannot leave," Alekos chimes in from behind.
I slay him with my glare, before turning to Jack, "Take it easy, Jack. We already told you we're not going anywhere."
He seems to accept that, slumping in Teal'c's arms. So white and still, he looks like a corpse. God.
"It is your time, Daniel," Alekos speaks again.
Shit. Somewhere along the line, I've forgotten all about this little ritual I'm the last of us to endure. I should be thankful the Cretinians didn't make me go right after Jack - I think quite a few...competitors have gone in the time we've been nursing Jack. I tear my gaze from Jack's quiet form and see only five terrified men remain besides me. Alekos interprets my unasked questions.
"We are not an unmerciful people, Daniel," he explains, pointing at Jack. "We have allowed you to attend your friend, but we must insist you take part in the Rite of Vigor."
Sam's on her feet instantly, stalking up to Alekos with anger. She sticks a vehement finger at his chest, so stiff she's actually taller than he. I'm pettily glad to see the Cretinian quake back several steps. You don't mess with a pissed Sam Carter, especially not one who's been through an emotional wringer. I learned that very early on in our friendship.
"No, absolutely NOT!" Sam shouts at him.
"I am sorry," Alekos tries to placate again, but he's motioning for the men behind him to come forward.
I don't resist as several men surround me and guide me to the gate. Sam is being restrained, the men responsible for her looking fearful. Teal'c is moving behind Jack, readying himself for action. A quick headshake halts him and he settles, cushioning Jack carefully. He bows his head in both an informal acknowledgement and as good luck. I try and catch Sam's eye, but she's too irate to notice. The men jostle me more abruptly, causing me to stumble. Pulling upright, I keep my eyes on Sam. I have to calm her down.
"Sam, it's okay. I'll be okay," I call softly.
My voice does the trick. She yanks from her retaliatory stance and lets her swinging arms fall down, pivoting at the sound of my voice. Our eyes finally connect. Hers are stricken with dread - it seems to span the distance between us and strikes me in the heart.
"Stay with Jack," I ask. "Please, Sam. I'll be fine."
I can't have her watch what might be about to happen. I don't have a clue how I think I'll be able to do this - my athletic prowess is not among my more notable attributes, though I like to think I can hold my own. There's no way for me to tell if the bull will already be riled up or not.
"Daniel!" Sam lets out one last cry.
She's pushing her way to the gate just as I'm shoved through and it snaps shut behind me. Oh, God, this is really happening! My brain is still with Jack. Good. Think of Jack. I need to do this. Maybe if I succeed, they'll let us bring him home. I sneak a look at Sam's blue eyes shining through the narrow windows. Emanating as much confidence as I can muster, I spin to face my luck. I wish Sam wouldn't watch. Can't think about her. I have to think about Jack.
I didn't think it was possible for a human heart to beat so fast without exploding. The blood is gushing through my veins so loudly, I can't hear anything. I realize there's nothing to hear. The arena has gone eerily silent, which surprises me. I'd have thought they'd be really worked up by now. I take a quick look around me, note the location of the men leaning on the high walls in case I need help getting to safety.
Then I see the bull. Shit. I can't. I don't...how am I supposed to do this? Negativity surges up like bile. No, actually. I think that really is bile. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, grimacing as I realize my sleeves and hands are slicked with Jack's blood. A breeze flutters around me, chilling the wetness in my clothes and skin. It goes far deeper than the surface, deep into my entire body. Choking, I spit onto the ground and look up just as the bull is released. No room for negatives.
The animal doesn't look too angry and I think it's smaller than the one Jack and Teal'c had to jump. My brain automatically takes over, determining what exactly I need to do to stay alive. All the while furnishing me with terrible images of Jack and blood and death. The only physical thing I've ever been really good at is running. Jack would say it's a result of running from so many Goa'uld. He wouldn't be far off. A geek's best defense is quite often flight. If I can get enough speed going, I should be able to use that momentum to carry me over the bull. From there, I'm clueless.
I really wish Sam wasn't watching.
I have to move now. The bull is coming at me fast. It's bigger than I thought. I don't...I have to, have to. I feel like I'm in a high stakes game of Chicken, where my pride and fifty bucks aren't nearly the most valuable things on the line. Spurred suddenly, I run. Try to shut my brain off for a few seconds. Doesn't work.
God, it's right on top of me. Now have to jump now waited too long not going to make it. Hands...put my hands out and they're slamming into something smooth and rough at the same time. The horns. I jerk as the bull rears its head, instinct makes me let go. I land on its back, where I stay for all of a half a second before I'm bucked off.
On the ground now, knees throbbing from the impact. Ohmygod I did it. I'm stunned and squat on the hard and bloody dirt, unable to think. Now's not a good time for the brain to shut off. I have to get up, get out of here. Before my blood joins that already seeping into the ground. The crowd is screaming, chanting. Stumbling to my feet, I take a staggering step in the wrong direction. Toward the women. More screaming so confusing. Hesitation costs me. I veer back toward the men, whose arms are frenetically beckoning me to them. Everything's a blur, my glasses are gone, but I can see their faces are anxious, not on me. On the big animal. Shit. I have to-
A bus hits me, going 75 and I'm tossed in the air. No bus. Sheer torture scores through my left side, across my back and down my legs as I hit the ground with a sickening thunk. The Cretinians are either really quiet again or I've somehow lost my hearing. Lost something else, too. Can't feel my legs. Nonono, there they are. Gotta get up.
My face is pressed into the gritty earth and I'm getting more dust than oxygen into my lungs. Coughing, I'm wracked by surging pain across the left side of my lower back. It radiates stormily down my legs, wraps around to my stomach and squeezes like a vise. Can't breathe. Chest seizes again from the dust. No, can't cough. Hold breath. Get up, get up. I raise my head a degree, see the bull with ropes around its neck. Moving away from me, pulled by Cretinian men who are screaming at me. Get up now!
Wrestling my arms under me, I push up and nearly collapse again as fire slices through me. Not good. Think I'm in trouble. Tell myself to concentrate on something else, but it's so hard. Agony envelops every inch of my body. Jack. Focus. Jack. Sam. Teal'c. Have to move. I brace my arms and force my legs to work, get them underneath me and walk. Crawl, actually, to the wall where rough hands pull me up and over.
Biting down on my lip, I taste blood and hold in the scream wanting to burst from my throat. I'm crumbling on my right side onto the floor, hissing as the pain resurges. Eyes clenched shut, I feel the world tilting. Hands are patting me down, checking for injury. I don't know why, but I don't want them to know. Don't want Sam or Teal'c to know. Just have to get Jack home. Worry about it later. It's not as bad as his injury.
Through the intense white noise filling my ears, I hear a woman's voice, "Daniel! Daniel, open your eyes!"
Sam, sounding frightened. Please, please, please don't let her have seen the bull kick me. Her voice is all I need to compartmentalize my pain, tuck the physical torment aside to prevent more emotional stress for her. And Teal'c. Sucking in a huge breath, I hope I can give the impression I'm lying here shaking like a bowl of Jello because I'm scared and relieved. If I can pull this off, I fully expect the SGC equivalent of an Oscar for my performance.
I open my eyes as Sam requested and am greeted by her ashen face. I smile and hope it doesn't look like a grimace. She relaxes a notch, sinking back on her heels. Must have worked. I reach out my left hand as steadily as I can and try my luck at speech, "Hey, Sam."
With my words, she breaks out in an answering smile. It lasts only briefly, fading back into a grim line. She's thinking about Jack. Her head turns away from me for a second and I see Alekos standing behind her. He looks pleased at my success, though he doesn't say anything. Sam peers back at me, scowl for Alekos changing to another smile for me, "You did good, Daniel."
She didn't see. There is a god. I correct her as she takes my offered hand and eases me into a sitting position, "Liar. I'm sure it was less than graceful."
"Doesn't really matter what it looked like. You sure you're okay?" she asks worriedly, her eyes slitting.
Her hands begin their own assessment, but I pull away from her. I lie to her with a nod and stumble to my feet, keeping my face to the ground so she won't be able to see if I cringe. The old adage of mind over matter must hold true in some cases, as now that I'm standing the pain seems more bearable. Alekos reaches out a congratulatory hand, which I refuse to clasp. Instead, I start walking to where we left Jack, next to the door of the arena. My legs are tingling strangely, as if they're asleep. Sam matches me stride for stride, still examining my face. I have to get her attention off of me. I know just the thing. Though it hurts to do it, I ask, "How's Jack?"
I get the reaction I was hoping for, cruel as it is. Sam's face tears from me and turns toward the dark corner where Jack lays dying. God, she looks torn. Guilty for not being at his side. I'm positive our expressions are nearly identical. I have to think. There must be a way out of here, a way to get Jack back home before it really is too late. We draw up to our friends, Teal'c still cradling Jack and looking grimmer than usual. Think, think, think. Sam's already tried several times. What can we use to get the Cretinians to listen?
Sam falls to her knees in front of Teal'c and Jack, her hand instantly reaching to check Jack's pulse. I can tell by her face it's not good news. Not like I expected it to be, but I'm still shocked. I want to join her on the ground, but I know I'll never get up once down. My body is trembling in its struggle to stay upright. I ignore the need to collapse in a pitiful heap and stiffly turn to Alekos. He's been trailing us around, looking troubled. Think, think, think. When Sam pled our case before, it wasn't to let us go, it was to forego our participation in the Rite of Vigor. The Rite of Vigor. Ritual is important. Ritual.
"Alekos, we've done all you asked and consider it a great honor to be members of your community," I begin, coloring the truth to suit our needs. Honor? Hardly, especially not for Jack. "However, I have a request to ask of you."
"Request?" Alekos parrots.
"Yes. We have our own customs and rituals, which must be obeyed. One of the most important to us is for the dying. It is very crucial we get our friend back home so he can be properly prepared for his death."
The words kill me, like I'm betraying Jack for suggesting he's going to die. Betraying him and making it actually happen. By the time I'm done speaking, I have almost no strength left. I feel cold sweat trickling down my back. Shivering, I take shallow breaths to control the sharp stabs of pain. It's getting worse. I can't keep it at bay much longer. Can't, but have to. Can't give in to it now. Have to get Jack out of here. Alekos becomes pensive, contemplating my words. I attempt to read the emotions flitting across his face, but the loss of my glasses impedes me. Behind us, I hear the crowd cheer as another man endures the Rite. I wince at the ugly sounds.
"Please, let us take him home so he can die with peace in his soul," Sam takes the ball I've tossed and runs.
I give her a grateful glance, returning my attention promptly to Alekos. He's nodding slowly, rubbing his chin. I think he's going to agree. How can he not? These are obviously people whose beliefs are deeply rooted in ritual. My heart is racing as he opens his mouth to speak.
"I will discuss it with Jacinta," he noncommittally responds, spinning away quickly.
Tracking him for a few steps, Teal'c's voice pulls me back to Jack, "We have little time."
From my vantage point, I can see Jack is barely breathing. I hope it's just the morphine influencing his system. It looks like the bleeding's stopped, or at least slowed considerably. Not really sure. I don't want to think about what lies below the pressure bandages. Sam had to use all of them. Don't think about the gaping hole in Jack's abdomen. Feeling faint now, head spinning.
I think I must be swaying a bit, or the world really is shifting. Sam rises and steps to my side, grabbing my arm tightly. Shit. I feebly smile, looking pointedly at Jack's inert form and hoping she doesn't need me to elaborate. Somehow confusing the truth isn't as painful as out and out lying. Luckily, she buys the excuse, closing her eyes in understanding. She frowns and kneels back down. A sigh escapes me and I think her back stiffens at the noise, but before I can be sure her shoulders slump again.
"Do you think they'll let us go?" she asks me and Teal'c, running a shaky hand through Jack's damp hair.
"Despite what we have undergone on this planet, I do not believe these people to be malicious. They will let us leave," Teal'c confidently whispers.
"They'll understand our need to get Jack home, Sam. If we've learned anything about Cretine, we've learned it's a world where faith runs strong. If they don't allow us to follow our own 'faith', they'd essentially be going against their own belief system," I assert, feeling only a pang of guilt for misleading the Cretinians. I shouldn't even feel that, really. Jack doesn't have time for moral dilemmas.
I've become breathless from the speech. Dizziness seizes me again and I trip toward the wall. Casually leaning against it, I look down at the top of Teal'c's sweaty head. Why is he sweating? It's freezing here.
Sam looks heartened by our declarations. I just hope we're right. What's taking Alekos so long? A simple yes or no is all he needs from Jacinta. I close my eyes and struggle to keep my attention off the fierce pain in my side. He really needs to hurry. The longer we stay here, the less likely I think it'll be that I can make it back to the 'gate. I'm already not looking forward to it. Already thinking I'm not going to make it. Will. I will.
"I hope you're right. God, what is taking him so long?" Sam hisses. There's a long pause and then I feel her gaze on me. "Daniel?"
"Just tired, Sam. I really want off this planet," I murmur. I open my eyes and vow to keep them that way. I avoid direct eye contact with her, studying the darkness behind her instead. I see movement. Alekos' figure rolls out of the shadows. "He's back."
The Cretinian's face tells me all I need to know. We're going home. Alekos jerks his arms, calling, "Cirilo, Jaycen! Open the door."
Two boys appear out of nowhere, opening the door to the black night. The sky appears almost starless, the moon a mere sliver. Sam fumbles in the daypack, withdrawing a flashlight and a GDO. She stands without a sound, glaring at Alekos and motioning for me to help Teal'c with Jack. I know we should thank Alekos, but the words fail me. We shouldn't have to thank him for giving us our freedom. Bitterness takes up ugly residence and I join Sam in her glare, as does Teal'c. Alekos cringes and simply swings his arms to the open door.
Bending over proves excruciating and I can't prevent a grunt from crossing my lips. I give a weak cough, hoping to disguise the sound. Teal'c stares at me, then looks at Jack. He shifts slightly, halting when Jack groans. Oh, no. Jack shouldn't be feeling a thing right now. Expedience becomes paramount. Easing out from behind Jack, Teal'c takes the right arm and leg, using half of his chest to brace Jack's back. He's moving stiffly, probably from sitting still so long.
I mirror his grip on Jack's left side, willing the splitting pain back just a little while longer. Not even a kilometer. I can do this, I can do this. Together, Teal'c and I lift Jack. I'm trembling instantly. Jack weighs a ton, and every pound is like a stake into my back, my side. Everything. I can't do this, I can't do this.
Must. Can. Will.
"Have you got him?" Sam calls, already outside.
Neither of us speak, simply move forward. The first couple of steps are awkward as we try to find a rhythm and try not to jar our charge. We find it quickly enough and are out of the arena, into the cool night air. Sam keeps urging us, shining her flashlight ahead to make sure the path is clear. Alekos and a few of the other men follow us outside, but stop when Teal'c growls at them. We should accept their help, yet I agree with Teal'c. We'll find our own way, thank you. You've done enough.
We get about two steps out of the arena when Jack begins stirring. The fact he's no longer deadweight helps my straining muscles, but his actions are also causing ripples to spread into them. Wave after wave travel into me, up my arms and down my back. Directly into the source of my agony. Something's definitely wrong, deep inside. I can't. Shit. Stop, he has to stop moving. Teal'c curses in Goa'uld and fortifies his hold. Wish I could do the same. Each breath draws an ever-increasing amount of pain. I'm gasping for air shallowly, sweating profusely. At least it feels that way to me. Jack continues to fish around between us.
Teal'c and I struggle with the animated form and I can feel my strength dissipating. It's evaporating like the sweat upon my skin, and I'm getting colder and stiffer with each step. Sam forges on, possessed of determination I'm finding bittersweet. This is the Sam I've missed over these weeks, and now I can't encourage her. Can only think, feel, breathe this rending, insidious throbbing.
"Sam, I don't ergh-" I gasp as Jack manages to shove an elbow in my stomach. Oh, God. Red-hot daggers sear me. "I don't think this is going to work."
She doggedly keeps walking as Teal'c and I try to damper Jack's flailing. He's going to hurt himself. I look down at him, see the bandages. Even in the dim light I can see they've loosened and I think there's fresh blood.
"I think he's...bleeding again, Sam. We need to stop," I beg again through gritted teeth. This stops her, but she doesn't agree with me like I need her to.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Daniel. There's no time," Sam cries as she spins around, running a hand through her hair. The flashlight catches me in the eyes and I'm blinded, but she leaves it there while continuing, "It's only a little way. If we stop now, he'll die!"
I know the risks. I also know I physically cannot go any farther. My vision has gone from blurry to almost non-existent, and it's not because there's a flashlight stuck in it. Even with the white glare beating into my retinas, there's a persistent gray around the edges. My muscles won't work, lungs are burning with effort. I can't.
I'm sorry, Sam. I'm sorry, Teal'c. But I can't.
God, I'm so sorry, Jack.

Jack's head solidly hits my chest and I fight against crying out. I tilt my head to rest it on the tree trunk, but the muscles in my neck have lost their snap and I bang into it with a thud. The action brings more pain, but it's nominal and insignificant. Oddly necessary.
He's given up. I can tell. I know I need to keep him talking. Keep him awake. Torture him. I just can't seem to make my own mouth work quite yet. I deceive myself he's just tired, just needs a few seconds of rest. I'll give him a few minutes and then I'll get him fighting again. Indulging in the seemingly contagious weariness, I squeeze my eyes shut and try not to think about the very real possibility of Jack dying in my arms. And of me following him.
Unfortunately, my mind wanders to equally unpleasant things. Teal'c concealing his own injuries to make sure Jack, Sam and I get home. I want to be angry with him for the deception, for making that kind of decision, but that would make me a huge hypocrite. I'd be condemning him for doing the exact same thing I've done. God. Teal'c can't die, too. I hope they figure out Junior's hurt before he foolishly comes back for us.
I don't...I don't know if I can hold on any longer. Pain is constant now. It can only cease if I pass out. Or if I die. I can't do either, or Sam will kick my ass. Oh, God. Sam's face flashes before me, accusing me of abandoning her, giving up on her. Sam's strong. I haven't given up on her - believe she'll be okay if we don't make it through this. Another image of her skewers me, robbing me of precious oxygen. Sam lying on that gurney, motionless except for the mechanical rise and fall of her chest. An empty husk. I think this particular image is what Jack's been seeing. I'm over dramatizing. Sam will be fine, won't she?
"Sam," I involuntarily sigh.
Jack stirs at my voice. Not gone yet. He leans in closer and murmurs, "Yeah."
Then his body goes totally limp, making me grapple for a hold which I can't seem to gain. Cursing, I fight as Jack's body sags in a strangely graceful slump. His head is off my chest and I frantically call it back, cupping the side of his face before inflicting a sharp slap. I might as well be slapping myself, very real hurt scoring through me with each impact. There's no reason to hide emotion and pain anymore, can't hold it in anyway. So I'm shouting out and crying, the tears coming without permission. I'm not sure if I'm sobbing for my pain or for Jack's as I press on the bandage across his belly. He chokes a groan and jerks in my arms. Oh God, Jack please.
"C...come on, Jack," I stutter, "You have to wake up."
He keeps spasming, but doesn't answer. Each time he twists, agony rockets through me and the gray in my vision turns darker. Can't pass out now. Can't. What this must be doing to Jack!
"Ungh, Dan..."
Yes! Semi-euphoria flows through me, banishing the ache for a few seconds and turning my sobs into laughs. They cause as much pain, but somehow it's so much easier to tolerate. I want to crow victory, but I know it's too soon for that. Instead, I keep coaxing him, "Jack, stay with me, okay?"
"Dan...iel...don't make..." Jack shudders.
What? I don't like what I'm hearing or feeling. Wincing at Jack's resultant groan, I scoop him back to my chest. Firmly planting his head on my shoulder, I cross his arms and draw them in tightly, keeping two fingers of my right hand on the underside of his wrist where I can feel his faint pulse. It's an awkward position, but I put my left hand on his stomach to keep as much pressure as I can on his wound. All this moving around can't have done him any good. He's deeply in shock, tremors jackhammering into me.
"Oh, I will make, Jack," I hiss, stunned when my own teeth chatter. It's so cold here at night. Don't want to think I might be slipping into shock as well. "I don't want S-Sam to...get a hold of me if I let you go. Strict...orders."
A glimmer of a noise greets my ears, a laugh? Good, it's working. Just have to keep it up. It's getting more difficult to think, like my brain is numbing from the cold. I pull Jack closer, hoping the increased contact will give both of us the warmth we need. It feels as though we've been here for hours, though I know it can only have been a few minutes. I hope it's only a few minutes more.
"Don't...mess with...Carter," Jack mumbles, his breath warming a tiny spot on my chest. The heat disappears almost instantly, leaving only icicles in its wake.
"Should have...seen her with...Alekos," I joke. "Thought she was...going to rip his head off."
He doesn't remember? Shit.
"She went to get...help. With Teal'c," I remind him.
"Right," Jack sighs, sagging again.
I scrunch my eyes shut, dispelling a few remaining tears. Can't move my arms, so I can't brush them away. My cheeks are cold from the wetness. Everything is so cold. Leaning my head down, I rest a cheek on the top of Jack's. I wish I could do more. I'm helpless here and Jack's pulse is getting steadily weaker.
"It wasn't your...fault, you know," I whisper suddenly. I don't know where that came from. Not sure why, but I think Jack needs to hear it.
"Wh...at?" Jack starts at my inexplicable comment.
"Shooting Sam," I explain. "Not...your fault."
Don't know why I'm doing this, absolving Jack of his presumed sin. Not my place and I know it. Jack apparently feels the same way.
"Like...hell," he rasps.
If nothing else, I'm keeping him aware. And it's not just for Jack that I keep at this line of conversation. When I'm reiterating to him his guiltlessness, I'm somehow trying to forgive myself for what happened to Sam. No one could have controlled those events.
"You did what you...had to do. Would have...done the same if it was Teal'c or me," I persist.
"Doesn't make it...right," Jack argues.
"What else could...you have...done?" I simply ask.
Listen to me, argue with me, damnit.
"Jack?" I fearfully call, my heart pounding a rapid beat in my chest.
I lift my head and peer down at him, squinting as if doing so will improve my vision. His eyes are closed and he looks... Groping for a better hold on his wrist, I probe for his pulse. Anything to tell me he's alive. I can't feel anything; can't feel his breathing anymore. God.
"Jack!" I call again.
Finally, movement. Jack stirs his head in a weak shake, mumbling, "Nothing...nothing else to be done."
Thank God he's still alive. His words register and I'm both pleased and distraught by them. I can't tell if he's accepted and forgiven himself or if he's just too tired to think about it anymore. I have to keep him on target somehow.
"Sam knows, Jack," I tell him, though I'm not certain she does. "Doesn't blame...anyone."
Not even me. As I'm saying it, I find myself believing. What happened with the entity probe wasn't my fault. Wasn't Jack's. Or Teal'c's. Or Sam's. It just happened. Nothing anyone can do about it now, except get past it. If we can't, then its mission to destroy us was successful.
"Positive," I pledge.
"Rest...now?" he pleads suddenly.
Damn. He's giving up again. Can't...won't let him.
"No! Not...yet, Jack," I refuse his request. "Stay here. Doctor Fraiser's going to have a nice, warm bed ready for you. Wouldn't want to...disappoint her, would you?"
"Doc..." Jack whispers, voice fading into nothing.
God, what if I can't do this? Why aren't they back for us yet?
"Why do you insist he remain, Daniel?" a strong voice filled with confused anger bursts from the dark. It seems to pick up where my unanswerable questions left off. Jack and I jerk as one, groan as one. Alekos emerges from the blackness all around us, approaching with a scowl. "It is clear you are tormenting him by not allowing him to pass over."
Great. He followed us. Wonder how long he's been hiding out there, listening. Anger gives me renewed strength. Anger at him. At his people. At Hathor. Everything. I lean my head on the tree again, boring my eyes into the Cretinian as he crouches over Jack. His arms are filled with something I can't quite make out until he tosses it over mine and Jack's bodies. Blankets. My anger recedes again.
"Told you before," I grind out, "Have to get him home."
He doesn't buy the ritual thing this time. Hazy vision notwithstanding, I can see his mind whirling. He's not a bad man, really. Wish I could have spent more time here. Kind of.
"That makes little sense to me, as you are obviously here alone. I witnessed the woman and the Jaffa leave. Why would they do so if you truly require your friend to be brought through the Elysian Circle?" Alekos pesters.
I don't have time for this. Ignoring him, I place my cheek back on Jack's hair. I think it's getting warmer now. Feels good. I'm floating away from the pain. Can't feel it anymore. I'm drifting toward sleep. Want nothing more.
"Daniel!" Alekos snaps, pulling my head off of Jack and staring me right in the eye. It should cause pain to stem, but I feel nothing. "Why do you not answer my question?"
Because I don't care. Fail to see the point.
"What...what's your point, Al?" Jack retorts.
Good, he's still with me. And he took the words right out of my mouth. Doesn't matter anymore where it happens. Alekos' grip in my hair tightens with frustration and his eyes are desperate for something. I'm not sure what.
"I am curious. I told you knowledge is important to us," Alekos lamely comments.
Think I realize the point. Alekos is trying to help us. The blanket. The stupid question. He's not a bad man at all. Wish I could put forth the effort for him. Should try. Have to try.
"Fine...though I don't see this as being...useful to you. They went for help. I couldn't..." I answer irritably. "I couldn't go...any further. Hurt...too."
"I see no injury," Alekos chides, looking at me skeptically.
He lets my head go, though, and it flops back down. Cheekbone clashes with Jack's skull. Felt that. Alekos studies me, raking his eyes from top to bottom, of what's visible behind Jack.
"Though you do not look well, that is true," he finally states. "Why did you simply not ask for assistance?"
What is he, nuts?
"Th...think about it," I try to say snidely. I fail miserably, my voice instead taking on the quality of a bagpipe losing air. Not musically.
"Oh," Alekos murmurs after a long pause. Is he really surprised? "I wish to offer my sincere apologies for what has happened. Our ways should not have been imposed upon you."
Huh? That seems a bit out of the blue. And a bit late.
"That is why I wish to learn of your customs; your way of life. The Mother is wise, but if she permits you to live such a long life without having to drastically prove your worth, why does she impose these rules upon us?" Alekos excitedly exclaims, speaking more to himself than us.
I'm only half listening, but his words bring hope that Cretine will be able to change its customs. Certainly opens the possibility of someone coming back here to fully see Hathor's influence on Minoan civilization. Pretty sure it won't be me.
I think it's getting lighter out. I can see the outline of trees and Alekos' face is much clearer. We made it though the night, but Jack hasn't moved for a long time. My hand is cramping from the hold I have on his wrist. Not sure if there's a pulse. Fingers are numb, like the rest of me.
Alekos stops talking for a moment to tuck the blanket closer around my shoulders. Shouldn't it be helping with the chill? I shiver against the warm palm draping over my forehead. Its warmth contrasts the cold of me, but instead of bringing relief, it only brings discomfort.
"Please, Daniel. I hear voices. Your friends return. You must stay awake," Alekos leans down and whispers in my ear. He withdraws abruptly and shouts, "Hurry! You must help them!"
Funny he's now so adamant to keep us alive when before he wanted to kill Jack. But who's he shouting at? Voices? I can't hear anything, but could it be? I force my eyes to open and find the light has increased. Beautiful pink and orange fill the sky, replacing the dark blue of night. I can hear the voices now, but I don't recognize them. Muffled, but I know Sam is one of them. Blinking slowly, I try and raise my head but it won't work. Muscles are putty. Eyes want to stay shut, lids so heavy. I let them.
The warm hand moves from my forehead, its absence missed instantly. A smaller, slightly cooler hand replaces it and I open my eyes to see who it is. It's not Alekos anymore. Sam. Is that Doctor Fraiser? I can see both of their mouths moving, but I'm not receiving the signal. Something must be wrong with my radio. Thoughts all jumbled. Not making any sense.
Doesn't matter, because Sam's here. Sam's here. I can rest now. Jack can rest. Dawn has arrived and I think Jack and I will be around to enjoy the day. Somehow I know Teal'c will be, too.
Pressing my cheek into Jack's damp hair, I close my eyes and smile.
The End

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  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
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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.