Another Crappy Day

 

Colonel Jack O’Neill was not a happy camper.  The day was shaping up to be a very crappy one.

“I can’t believe Daniel is the only one who packed insect repellant,” he grumbled, liberally applying the lotion to his neck, face and hands.

“Hey, go easy on that stuff,” Daniel frowned, grabbing the bottle from Jack.

“The damn bugs aren’t even bothering you,” Jack groused.

“They are.  I’m just not complaining like some,” Daniel countered, passing the lotion to Sam.

“I prefer these bugs to your mosquitoes, O’Neill,” Teal’c stated, earning a scowl from Jack.

“That’s because they’re ignoring you ... sort of,” Jack amended, as Teal’c swatted a bug on his cheek.

“I’m just glad somebody brought lotion,” Sam said.  “Thank you, Daniel.”

“You’re welcome,” Daniel smiled.

“The naquadah better be worth it,” Jack grumbled.  “There sure as hell isn’t anything else worthwhile on this rock.”

“Jack, we’re just looking at a tiny fraction of the planet,” Daniel said.  “It’s not fair to condemn the whole thing.”

“I call them as I see them.  Let’s speed this recon up.  Carter, Teal’c, you head over there.  Check in every two hours, sooner if you see anything.  Daniel and I will take this way.”

“You just want me for my insect repellant,” Daniel accused.

“That and the scintillating company,” Jack grunted.

Sam stifled a giggle and mouthed ‘good luck’ to her teammate as she headed off with Teal’c.

                                                **************

Jack was not a patient man at the best of times, and the little patience he presently had was rapidly running out.  The oppressive heat and the swarms of annoying insects were bad enough, but the continued silence of Daniel really set his teeth on edge.  Not for the first time, he wondered what the hell possessed him to pair up with Daniel instead of Carter or Teal’c.  He wiped the sweat out of his eyes and glared at the younger man, a futile act considering the latter was completely ignoring him.

“What the hell are you trying to prove?” Jack growled.

Daniel stopped and cocked his head as if listening for something.

“Damn it, look at me!” Jack demanded.

Daniel turned, a look of feigned surprise on his face.

“You talking to me?”

“You know damn well I’m talking to you!” Jack snapped.

“What do you want, Jack?” Daniel asked, swinging his pack off one shoulder to ease a kink out of it.

Jack’s anger rose further at Daniel’s blasé attitude and his fingers curled into fists

“You haven’t said a fucking word in the last two hours,” he accused in a low, even voice.

Daniel blinked slowly and frowned in thought.  “Let me see,” he mused.  “Now, what was the last thing you said to me?  Ah, yes,” he smiled.  “Daniel, shut the fuck up.”

“Wipe that smirk off your face,” Jack hissed.

“Or what?” Daniel countered, throwing his pack down.

It might have been Daniel’s tone, his defiant action, or the superior look on his face, but whatever it was, Jack had enough and his fist lashed out, knocking Daniel to the ground.

Before Daniel could comprehend what happened, he felt himself jerked to his feet, slammed up against a tree, and pinned there with rib-crushing force by the broadside of Jack’s gun.  

“Jack, what—” he croaked, his voice ending in a strangled gasp as Jack’s forearm pressed hard against his throat.  Daniel’s eyes widened in surprise and fear as he realized he’d pushed too far.  He batted uselessly at Jack’s arm and then clutched the sleeve, trying to get Jack to make eye contact.  Slowly, black soulless eyes looked at him and Daniel moaned low in his throat

Jack watched in a kind of stupor as brilliant blue eyes faded to a dull, listless grey.  He heard a strangled gasp, blinked the red haze out of his eyes and saw the bloodied face of his best friend.  He jerked back in horror and revulsion. 

Daniel fell to his knees, coughing and gagging.  Stumbling to his feet, he gulped in air as he backed away from Jack.

“Daniel,” Jack mouthed wordlessly, unable to comprehend what just happened.

“Colonel, this is Carter, do you copy?  Colonel O’Neill, please respond.”

The urgent voice of his second pulled Jack away from the nightmare tableau in front of him.

“Carter,” he mumbled into his radio, turning away in shock and shame from Daniel.

“Sir, are you and Daniel okay?” Sam asked.

“Okay?” Jack echoed.

“Colonel, have you and Daniel been, well, at odds?”

<i>At odds?  Christ, yes!  I wanted to kill the bastard!</i>

Jack winced at his violent and irrational thought and he turned to look apologetically at Daniel, but the younger man was gone.

“Daniel?” Jack murmured, looking around in confusion.  “Daniel!”

“O’Neill, is everything all right?” Teal’c’s voice cut in.

“No, Teal’c, it isn’t,” Jack ground out.  “I hit Daniel and now he’s gone.  I have to go after him before the son-of-a-bitch—”

“O’Neill, you must not go after Daniel Jackson!” Teal’c boomed.  “You are not yourself!”

“Teal’c’s right, Colonel.  You have to wait for us,” Sam said.

“Who the hell’s the colonel here?” Jack snapped.

“Sir, please,” Sam entreated.  “There’s something on this planet affecting our emotions.  Teal’c’s symbiote is protecting him, and to a lesser extent, Jolinar’s marker is protecting me, but you and Daniel are on your own.”

Jack closed his eyes and tried to concentrate.  They were right.  He was the last person who should go after Daniel, and, no doubt, he was the last person Daniel wanted coming after him.

“Carter, what do you mean by a lesser extent?” Jack asked, rubbing his eyes, and swatting listlessly at the insects around his head.

“I kicked Teal’c, sir,” Sam replied quietly.

“Bad move, Carter.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Get here as fast as you can,” Jack said hollowly, terminating the transmission.  He turned around and his eye caught a glint of gold on the ground: Daniel’s glasses.  He bent over, picked up the glasses and tucked them safely into his vest pocket.

“Crap,” he muttered, as he sank to the ground to wait.

                                                *************

Daniel stopped running and hunched over, his breath strained and ragged, his ribs screaming.  The brush was getting too thick and he had no idea where he was, or where he was going.   Worse, he didn’t have his glasses, thanks to JackThe ugly scenario played over and over in his mind.  In spite of his fear at Jack’s sudden attack, he had taken perverse pleasure in the look of horror on Jack’s face.  He just wasn’t sure if it was because he was glad Jack felt guilt and was hurting, or because Jack felt guilt and was still his friend.  His thoughts were so muddled.  Or was that the after-effects of being choked?  Whatever it was, as soon as he had heard Sam’s voice and Jack turned, he had taken his chance and got the hell out of there.  Did he tell Sam what happened?  No, if he had, he would have heard the conversation.  Daniel glanced at his radio.  Not only was it turned off, but he was on the wrong channel.  <i>Great, another thing to piss off Jack.</i>

Daniel switched on his radio to the proper channel then slumped to the ground, massaging his bruised windpipe.  “God, Jack, what the hell happened?” he murmured

Fighting with Jack was something he always did and oftentimes enjoyed, but this fighting, this white-hot rage, was at a whole new level and Daniel never wanted to see that look in Jack’s eyes again.  Daniel stared at his radio.  Maybe he should call him. 

“Daniel?”

Daniel jerked in alarm as Jack’s voice filled the air. “Shit,” he murmured, willing his nerves to stop jangling.

“Daniel, if you can hear me, you have to listen.  Carter and Teal’c say there’s something on this planet screwing with us and making us go nuts.  Junior’s protecting Teal’c and Teal’c’s helping Carter.  I figure it’s kind of like that planet with the naked white guys, only worse.  A lot worse,” he added absently.  “Damn it, Daniel, answer me!  Crap, I’m not mad.  I’m just … listen, just stay put, okay?   I’m waiting for Carter and Teal’c, and when they get here we’ll come and find you and get off this fucking planet.  Just…just don’t run any more.”

The radio fell silent and Daniel chewed his bottom lip.  Should he answer Jack?  He sounded normal and remorseful, but would the mere sound of his voice set him off?  Or, was it a trap?  Is that why he contacted him?  To find his position?  Maybe Jack was sneaking up on him right now.  Daniel shut his radio off, his heart pounding.

“Damn it, you’re not thinking straight,” he muttered, fighting to think coherently.

Jack said it was like PJ2-445, but Daniel didn’t think so.  He wasn’t experiencing the mind-numbing headaches, and his head was full of dark and paranoid thoughts.  Jack was trying to trick him.

“No, damn it,” Daniel growled.  “It’s this planet.  He said it was worse than 445, much worse.”

Daniel groped for his radio and switched to Sam’s channel.  “Sam?  Teal’c?  Are you there?” he whispered.

“Daniel!  Oh, thank, God.  Are you all right?” Sam demanded.

Sam sounded genuinely concerned, and Daniel felt a rush of relief and gratitude.

“That’s debatable, Sam.  Were you just talking to Jack?”

“Yes.  I told him we have to get off this planet.  Something’s making us aggressive towards each other.  Teal’c’s not affected so we assume his symbiote is protecting him and we think Jolinar’s marker is helping me.  Teal’c is being very patient with me, if you catch my drift.”

“That means Jack and I are on our own,” Daniel said wearily.

“I am afraid that is correct, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c’s voice thrummed solemnly.

“Great,” Daniel muttered.

“Daniel, the colonel said he hit you.  He feels terrible.  He—”

“He feels terrible?  He’s not the one with a bruised windpipe and ribs, not to mention a split lip,” Daniel countered incredulously.  “That bastard—”

“Daniel Jackson, you are not yourself,” Teal’c interjected calmly.

“And when the fuck did you become an expert on me, Teal’c?  Killing my wife makes you—”

“Daniel, you have to fight this!” Sam demanded.

<i>Shitshitshit.</i>

“God, Teal’c, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that,” Daniel said morosely, rubbing the bridge of his nose. 

“You are ill, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said gently.  “Your words are not your own.”

“Daniel, just try to relax.  We have the colonel’s position.  Keep your frequency open and we’ll find you,” Sam said.

“Jack hasn’t moved?” Daniel asked.

“No, Daniel.  He promised to stay where he is and you have to do the same.”

“Concentrate on breathing, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said.

“Breathing, right,” Daniel muttered.  “That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it? Damn it, Teal’c, I didn’t mean that.”

“Rest easy, my friend.  We will find you soon,” Teal’c promised.

“Okay,” Daniel nodded.  “Soon,” he murmured, closing his eyes and trying to relax.

                                                            *********

Jack angrily poked a stick into the ground.  He hated waiting.  He hated Daniel for making him wait.  Hell, he hated Daniel.  SG-1 was no place for a damn civilian.  “Son-of-a-bitch!” he cursed as his irrational thoughts threatened to take hold again.  None of this was Daniel’s fault.  None of this was his fault, either; it was the damn planet.

Jack grabbed his radio.  “Carter, where the hell are you?” he demanded.

“Sir, I estimate we’re forty minutes away,” Sam’s voice replied.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m peachy, Carter, and if I blow my fucking head off I’ll be even peachier.”

“O’Neill, are you experiencing headaches?” Teal’c inquired.

“Yeah, a bit, but it’s these damn thoughts that are driving me nuts,” Jack sighed.

“Colonel, we talked to Daniel.  He said he’d stay where he was,” Sam relayed.

“You talked to him?” Jack asked, feeling his anger re-emerge.

“Yes, sir.  He, um, called us.”

“Are you apologizing for him, Carter?” Jack asked quietly.

“No, Colonel.  I just don’t want you to think—”

“Think what?  That you’re conspiring against me?  Going behind my back with that—”

“Colonel, you’re not yourself,” Sam said firmly.

“Tell me something I don’t know, Carter,” Jack sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.  “Look, why don’t I come and meet you guys.  I’m going nuts sitting here.”

“You’d just have to double back to get Daniel, sir,” Sam replied.

“Right.  Always waiting for Daniel,” Jack grumbled.

“O’Neill.”

“I know, Teal’c, I know.  I’m not myself,” Jack muttered.  “Just hurry up.  O’Neill out.”

Jack hung his head. <i> I can do this.  Just a few more minutes.  No big deal.  They’ll get here, we’ll go and get Daniel, assuming the moron hasn’t gone into hiding.  Damn it.</i>

Every annoying thing about Daniel paraded itself through Jack’s mind in a distorted parody of ineptitude, making a mockery of the last five years of their steadfast friendship and of Daniel’s remarkable achievements.

“Enough!” Jack shouted, pressing his hands to his temples.  “That’s not the way it happened!”

                                                ********

Daniel slammed his fist on the ground.  He hated this waiting.   He didn’t mind the heat, but the bugs were getting really annoying, and there was no way he was going back to get his pack just for some insect repellant.  Worse yet, his head pounded.  It began as a dull ache at the base of his neck, but soon pushed upward until his head felt like it was filled with lead.  He closed his yes and tried to steady his breathing, but each breath seemed to infuse his eyeballs with shards of glass.  His eyes watered as the pain increased.

“God, Jack, help me,” he murmured helplessly.

Asking for Jack’s help suddenly struck Daniel as funny and he began to laugh, a high-pitched giggle teetering on hysteria.

“Get a grip!” Daniel growled to himself, ramming his fists into his temples.

The sharp snap of a twig forced Daniel’s head up.

“Jack?” he whispered.

Silence answered him, and Daniel’s heart skipped a beat.  Jack was coming after him.  He scrambled to his feet and ran deeper into the forest, cursing himself for his knee-jerk reaction because now he’d definitely given his position away.  No wonder Jack thought he was useless.  He stopped his blundering escape and leaned heavily against a tree, catching his breath, and, hopefully, his sanity.

<i>It wasn’t Jack.  It was just a twig.  Probably some poor woodland creature I scared half to death.</i>

Daniel’s mind was not rational however, and he crept deeper into the tangled woods.

<i>This is stupid Jackson.  You don’t know where the hell you are, and you’re getting further away from rescue.  Rescue.  From Jack?  From myself?  No, from this damn planet.  Jack’s sick.  Just like me.</i>

“Jack’s my friend.  Jack’s my friend,” Daniel repeated over and over to himself.  His throat, mouth and ribs began to throb in counterpoint to his mantra, mocking his naiveté.  The black rage he’d seen in Jack’s eyes burned an image in his brain that no pathetic mutterings would vanquish.

“No.  No.  No,” he hissed, stumbling blindly through the brush to escape the image.  The pounding in his head increased and he screamed in frustration; a scream suddenly cut off by a startled yelp as he stepped into nothingness.

The feeling of weightlessness surprised him; the sudden impact of solid ground silenced him.  His arm at an unnatural angle, blood seeping from lacerations, and running freely from a deep gash on the back of his head, Daniel lay deathly still, oblivious to the small, hairless creatures venturing out of nearby caves.

                                                            ******

A hoarse scream rent the air.  Jack shivered involuntarily at its intensity and the suddenness of its conclusion.

“Daniel?  Shit!” Jack said, snatching his gun and jumping to his feet.  Images of his teammate being attacked by a wild animal pushed aside his earlier thoughts of denigration, and he ran in the direction of the scream.

Minutes later, Jack’s concern for his teammate’s welfare rapidly dwindled as he slogged through the thick brambles.

“Damnit!” he cried, as his palm tore on a thick thorn.  “Daniel, where the hell are you?” he shouted.  “I swear to God, if you’re hiding,” he growled, swiping stinging sweat out of his eyes.

“What are you looking at,” he snapped, as a small, hairless creature peered out of the brush and eyed him curiously.

The alien creature hissed and arched its back like a cat.

“Yeah, well same to you, buddy,” Jack muttered.  “I’m not having a good day,” he sighed, struggling with his emotions.

Perhaps it was the tone of Jack’s voice, but for whatever reason, the animal didn’t run.  Instead, it sat on its haunches and leisurely licked its paws.

Jack watched the creature warily then frowned.  It looked like blood on the animal’s paws, but it didn’t appear injured or stressed in any way.  In fact, it looked quite content licking at the blood.    Jack’s stomach clenched as Daniel’s scream echoed in his mind.

“Daniel,” Jack whispered.  “No, no way,” he murmured, shaking his head. <i> It’s too small and too nonchalant to be a threat, even to an idiot like Daniel.</i>

“For crying out loud, he’s your friend!” Jack snapped, disgusted with his thoughts. 

Jack crouched down and gently extended his hand toward the strange animal.

“Here, buddy.  Do you know where Daniel is?”

The little creature stopped licking its paws and stretched out its neck towards Jack’s hand, twitching its nose.

“Come on, Lassie.  Tell me where Timmy is,” Jack coaxed.

The animal’s ears swivelled and its head cocked to the side.

“Yeah, I know I sound crazy, but you’ve been where he is, haven’t you?  Come on, take a sniff.  I won’t bite,” Jack crooned.

As if in understanding, the creature creeped forward and sniffed Jack’s outstretched fingers, and to Jack’s surprise, began to lick his hand.  Actually, it began to lick the tear on his palm.

Jack winced as the abrasive tongue scraped over the sensitive skin, but he didn’t withdraw his hand.  If it bit him, then this was no Lassie, but a Cujo, and sudden moves would not be prudent.  After a few more licks, the animal sat back on its haunches and continued grooming itself.

Jack slowly withdrew his hand and looked at it curiously.

“Holy crap,” he murmured as the scratch began to heal before his eyes.  “What are you?  Who are you?” he inquired of the animal who was now gazing at him. 

Jack stared at the animal’s bloody paws.  If that was Daniel’s blood then his friend had some major wounds.  His friend.  Not some lame ass excuse of a soldier, but his best friend.  Jack looked at his hand, the wound now merely a scratch, the gash gone, along with the angry thoughts that caused him to strike Daniel.

“Jesus, Daniel.  I’m sorry.  You wouldn’t have run if I hadn’t jumped you like that,” he murmured.

Jack clutched his radio.  “Daniel, can you hear me?  Daniel, please respond.  Damnit,” he muttered, staring at the silent radio.

“Daniel!” he shouted into the air, startling the creature, which quickly dashed into the brush.

“Sorry little fella, but my friend is out there and he needs my help,” Jack apologized. 

“Daniel!” he yelled again.  “If you can hear me, hang on, okay?  I’ll find you!  And you better be okay because I’ve got some major sucking up to do,” he added under his breath.

Jack took in his surroundings.  “You’re Special Ops, O’Neill.  If you can’t find one sick and injured archaeologist in this bush, you’re a disgrace.”

His thoughts now focused on rescuing Daniel instead of degrading him at every opportunity, it didn’t take Jack long to find signs of his friend’s panicked flight.

“Shit, Daniel, could you have picked a more treacherous route?” Jack muttered, narrowly missing skewering his left eyeball on a large thorn.  “Damn it,” he cursed, as his sleeve caught on brambles, and he felt his skin tear underneath.  “Where are you when I–oh, there you are,” he said as he heard a rustle and spotted his alien friend watching him from above.

“Enjoying the show?” Jack asked sarcastically.

The animal barked in response, although it was more of a squeak with oomph.

“Yeah, well you try getting through this stuff with human skin instead of that leathery hide you have,” Jack groused.

In reply, the creature glided effortlessly to an adjacent tree, high above the brambles.

“Show-off,” Jack muttered, as he continued hacking his way through the thick undergrowth.

The animal suddenly emitted a piercing yowl, eliciting the same response from Jack as fingernails on a blackboard.

“Christ!  Don’t do that!” he growled, his skin still tingling.  He started forward only to stop and grimace as another yowl rattled his nerves.

“What?  Am I going the wrong way or something?” he snapped.

The creature jumped to another tree and clung to the branch.  It looked at Jack and barked.

“Look, this is Daniel’s department.  He’d love to stay and chat, but right now he’s—” Jack stopped and stared.  Could it be?

“No, this is nuts,” he muttered.  “You don’t really understand me, do you?What Daniel wouldn’t give to see this,” he murmured.Okay, Danny boy.  For you, anything.”   He walked purposely to the tree and its occupant.  “Which way?”

The creature yipped and jumped lithely to the ground and scurried off, opposite to the direction Jack had been going.

It felt all wrong to Jack.  He was positive he’d been following Daniel’s trail, but now he was going to go further away.  He knew he should radio Carter, but what the hell would he say?  <i>It’s all right, guys.  I’m cured, and I’m following this hairless fox who healed me and it’s leading me to Daniel. </i> They’d think he’d gone round the bend, and rightly so. <i> What would Daniel do?</i>  “Follow the yellow brick road.  That’s what he’d do,” Jack mumbled.  “Okay, little guy, you’re on.”

The creature trilled and led Jack into the woods.

                                                            *****

 Daniel was in a dark place.  A dark, cold place.  Nightmarish images of Jack striking out at him, jolts of pain, and agonizing questions plagued him.  Why did Jack hit him?  Had he really pushed him that far?  Why had he pushed him?  Did Jack hate him?  He tried to move, but his limbs would not respond.  His eyes flickered open.  Two black eyes stared into his own.  Daniel blinked and saw two sets of eyes and two pointy snouts, and then there were three … four …

<i>Oh, God.  Scavengers.</i>

Daniel flinched as a tongue suddenly lashed out toward his face.  The movement sent a blinding stab of pain into his skull and he passed out.

 

                                                *******

Jack’s apprehension over following the animal lessened considerably when he realized he was being led in the direction he wanted to go, albeit an ass backwards approach.

“Daniel!” he shouted.

The strange animal chittered, and Jack felt like he’d just been reprimanded.

“Give me a break. I had to try,” Jack grumbled

Jack frowned as the animal shook its head and trotted off into the bush.

“You’re not channeling Daniel, are you?” he muttered, as he dutifully followed his guide.

Jack emerged into a clearing where several of the small creatures were scattered about.  Upon seeing Jack, they scampered to the edge of a chasm.

“I’m not going to like this, am I?” Jack murmured, slowly advancing to the edge.  He looked down and his stomach lurched at the sight on the rocky bottom.  Even from this height, Jack could see an ominous dark stain around Daniel’s head.  At least, he assumed it was Daniel.  There were several of the hairless creatures perched on his body.  A spasm of panic swept through Jack as he thought they were dining on his friend, and he whipped out his binoculars.

“Yes,” he whispered when he saw the animals licking various wounds.  Daniel had to be alive.  Why would they bother healing wounds on a corpse, or did they just enjoy the taste?

“Daniel!” Jack suddenly shouted, hoping to seek confirmation his friend was alive.

His shout startled the creatures, and in a flash they disappeared into various holes in the cliff-face.

Jack barely registered their flight, his eyes focused on Daniel, willing the still body to move.  He cursed at the lack of movement and frantically looked for a way down.  From his vantage point he had an all too clear view of where Daniel had gone over.  There were stumps and outcroppings all the way down.  “You probably hit every damn one of them, didn’t you?”  he said softly.  Jack felt sick.  Daniel had been running from him.  He did this.  He got down on his knees and peered down, searching for anything resembling a path.  His companion scampered past and over the edge, and Jack tracked its progress down a path resembling nothing more than a goat trail.  It was steep and treacherous, but compared to where Daniel had gone down, it was a virtual staircase.  Without hesitation, Jack lowered himself over the edge. 

                                                **********

Sam and Teal’c surveyed the area recently vacated by their CO.

 “O’Neill must have gone in search of Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c surmised.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Sam replied, picking up the abandoned pack. “It’s Daniel’s,” she murmured, as she reached for her radio. 

“Colonel, this is Carter.  Do you copy?  Colonel O’Neill, this is Carter.  Please respond.”  She switched her frequency and tried again.  “Daniel, this is Sam.  Are you there?”

She looked at Teal’c, her expression grim.  “Try yours.”

“O’Neill, what is your location?” Teal’c inquired.  “O’Neill, can you hear me?  Daniel Jackson, please respond.”

“Something may be interfering with their radios,” Sam suggested, but her eyes betrayed her thoughts.

“We will find them, Major Carter,” Teal’c vowed.

Sam nodded, but what would they find?

                                                ***************

“Damn it, Carter.  Now is not a good time,” Jack muttered through clenched teeth as he clung precariously to the rocky wall. 

Jack had modified his previous impression of his proposed descent.  Compared to Daniel’s, it was still a staircase, but several steps were missing.  He swung over to a sorry excuse for a ledge and paused to catch his breath.  He stared through his binoculars and studied Daniel for any signs of life.  Nothing.

“Come on, Daniel.  Give me something,” Jack entreated.

Daniel lay still as death.  The only movement was from the little sentries whose curiosity had brought them back out of their caves to watch the crazy man coming down the cliff.

Jack heard a scratching and looked down at his guide.

“You still here?”

The animal cocked its head and blinked.

“You really remind me of an archaeologist I know,” Jack said, smiling in spite of his discomfort and his worry.

The animal chattered and Jack waved his hand.

“Give me a second.  I have to make a call.  Carter, Teal’c, do you copy?”

“Colonel, where are you?” Sam’s voice replied instantly.

“I’m going after Daniel.  He—”

“Sir, you can’t!”

“O’Neill, that is unwise.”

”No, no, it’s okay.  I’m not … nuts anymore.  Don’t ask me why, just listen.  Daniel’s hurt.  It looks like he fell off a cliff.  There’s a lot of blood,” he reported grimly.

“You should wait for us, Colonel,” Sam said.

“No time, Carter.  Daniel can’t wait.”

“Where are you, sir?  We’re at your last location.”

“Head due south for a quarter mile and then head west,” Jack replied.  “You’ll see my path.  It may look unorthodox, but follow it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and if you see any hairless fox-type animals that try to lead you, let them.”

“Sir?”

“It’s complicated,” Jack said.  “Just do what I say, Major.”

“Yes, sir.  We’ll be there as soon as we can.  Carter out.”

Jack flicked off the radio and took a deep breath.  “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.”

                                                *********

Several minutes later, Jack was pleasantly surprised to find the going considerably easier.  Jumping the last few feet, he touched ground and ran to Daniel.

Heart in mouth, Jack knelt beside his friend.  “Daniel,” he whispered, reaching out to touch Daniel’s neck.  Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and willed himself to feel a pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when he felt one.  He opened his eyes and looked grimly at the blood pooled around Daniel’s head.  He deftly probed behind Daniel’s head, careful not to move his neck in case of injury, and felt the sticky wetness.  It felt bad, but the wound was no longer bleeding.

“Shit, Danny, you’re gonna have a helluva headache,” he whispered.

Jack quickly checked for other injuries and soon had a mental list: left arm broken, wrist sprained and possibly fractured; bruised ribs, also possibly fractured; right knee, hot and swollen; bruises and contusions, too many to count.

“You’re going to be okay, Daniel.  I’ll get you home,” Jack promised. 

Jack looked around for the indigenous animals with the strange healing powers.  He felt vaguely nauseous about enlisting their aid by having one of them lick Daniel’s head wound.  Their saliva seemed to contain antiseptic properties, but what other alien organisms could they be introducing?  A hand was one thing, but the head?  The brain?

“Better stick to the old-fashioned method,” Jack murmured, dampening a cloth and applying it gently but firmly to Daniel’s head.

Absorbed in his task, Jack yelped at a sudden sharp pain in his calf.

“What the hell?” he snapped, whipping his head around to see his little alien buddy.  At least, he assumed it was the same one.

“You bit me!” Jack cried indignantly.  “What the hell did you do that for?”

<i>To get your attention.</i>

“Well, you could’ve just barked or—” Jack’s eyes widened and his mouth gaped.  He stared at the creature warily.  “Did you just talk to me?”

<i>Yes.</i>

“Your lips, er, mouth isn’t moving,” Jack said.

<i>That is correct.</i>

I’m reading your mind?”

<i>In a manner of speaking.  As I am yours.</i>

“But I’m talking,” Jack said.

<i>I hear your thoughts before you speak them.</i>

Jack frowned and sent out a thought.  “Did you hear that?”

<i>I did, but I am not familiar with ‘crazy shit’.</i>

“That’s okay,” Jack said.  “You don’t mind if I still talk, do you?  I’m more comfortable that way.”

<i>Vocalization can be invigorating.  We, too, enjoy vocalizing.</i>

“This guy could vocalize your ears off,” Jack said fondly, nodding towards Daniel.  “I can’t imagine what his thoughts could do.”

<i>I can help him.</i>

“The licking thing?” Jack guessed, trying not to look ill.

<i>Yes.  </i>

“Okay,” Jack agreed.  “Just don’t enjoy it,” he added in a low mutter.

<i>Your blood is strangely nourishing, but we do it only to alleviate pain and infection.</i>

Jack shivered at the words, ‘strangely nourishing’, but he carefully maneuvered Daniel’s head to allow the alien creature easier access to the wound.  “While you do … your thing, I’m going to take care of his other injuries,” Jack said.

Jack tried to block out the licking sounds while he worked.  He tried to hide his disgust, but he doubted he was successful.

<i>Your ways are disagreeable to us as well.</i>

“Definitely not successful,” Jack murmured.  “What ways?” he asked, tying off the splint on Daniel’s arm.

<i>This one you call Daniel.  You care deeply for him, but your actions earlier were violent and angry.</i>

Jack stiffened.  “You were there?”

<i>No, I see it in your mind.  The emotion is very intense.</i>

“That’s not the way we are,” Jack said defensively.  “Something on your planet is screwing with us.”

<i>You do not have these feelings now.</i>

Jack wasn’t sure when the violent feelings disappeared.  He was just glad they had.

“No,” he whispered, “and for Daniel’s sake, I hope to God they don’t come back.”

<i> They will not.</i>

Jack met the steady gaze of his new friend.  “How do you know that?  Did you do this?” he asked warily.

<i>The healing, yes.  Our bodies carry a natural antidote that has been passed onto you and Daniel.  Both of you are now immune to the effects of the manii.</i>

“The maneye?” Jack queried.

<i>Indigenous insects attracted to salt from your sweat.  The emotions you felt were your own, but extremely enhanced by the secretions of the manii.  We have seen this phenomenon in others.</i>

“Others?  Like us?” Jack queried.

<i>All kinds, except for the ones called Goa’uld.  They were not affected.</i>

“Of course not,” Jack spat.  “Do they still come here?”

<i>They do not.</i>

Jack wondered if that was because there was little naquadah left.

<i>The naquadah is abundant.</i>

“Thanks,” Jack winced.  He really didn’t like the mind-reading shtick, especially when it was so one-sided.

<i>The effect will wear off soon, unless you wish me to bite you again.</i>

“You’re all heart,” Jack drawled, and he was sure the little creature’s eyes just twinkled.

                                                ********

Daniel was dreaming: dreaming of running … falling … and voices.  He jerked awake and gasped as pain shot up his arm.

“Daniel?” Jack said, startled by the sudden movement.  “Easy, lie still,” he soothed as the younger man continued to struggle.  “Daniel, you have to lie still,” Jack insisted, restraining his friend with more force than he liked. 

“Jack?”

“Yeah buddy, it’s me,” Jack said, grasping Daniel’s good hand.  “Crap, you just scared the shit out of me.”

Daniel stared at Jack, breathing hard.  “So did you,” he panted through cracked, swollen lips.

Jack stiffened and swallowed hard.  He knew the bruised jaw and swollen lip was from his fist.  He licked his own suddenly dry lips.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“So am I,” Daniel grimaced, closing his eyes.

Jack looked down at Daniel’s hand, lax in his.  What right did he have to clasp his friend’s hand?  “I’m sorry,” he repeated and loosened his grip, but Daniel’s hand clenched and held firm.  Even though the grip was weak, Jack felt like his hand was in a vice. 

“We’re okay now,” Daniel said softly, looking at Jack earnestly.

“Yeah, we’re okay,” Jack replied, his voice hoarse. 

“Good,” Daniel whispered, closing his eyes again.

Blinking back tears, Jack closed his fingers over Daniel’s and indulged in a few moments of silence as they re-connected. 

“How are you feeling?” Jack asked, breaking the silence.

 “Kind of numb and strange,” Daniel mumbled.  “Almost like I’m drugged.  You didn’t give me morphine, did you?  No, you couldn’t have.  Head hurts too much,” he frowned.

“No, I didn’t, and you’ve got a nasty crack on the noggin,” Jack explained.

“Figures,” Daniel muttered, closing his eyes. 

“How’s your neck?  Can you move it okay?” Jack asked, placing his hands either side of Daniel’s head.

With Jack’s guiding hands, Daniel slowly moved his head sideways.  “A little stiff, otherwise fine,” he reported.

“Good.  One less thing to worry about,” Jack said with relief.

“Are Sam and Teal’c okay?” 

“They’re fine and they’ll be here soon.”

Daniel frowned and looked at Jack.  “Who were you talking to?”

“Talking?  Oh, um … him,” Jack said, gesturing behind his back.  “At least I think it’s a him.”

From Daniel’s point of view, the only ‘him’ he could see was Jack.

“I thought I was the one with the head injury,” he frowned.

Jack chuckled and rubbed Daniel’s good arm.  To hear Daniel joke was the best thing he’d heard since they came to this planet.

“I don’t blame you for thinking I’m crazy, but this is something right up your alley,” Jack said.  “Here, these might help,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out Daniel’s glasses.

“Thanks,” Daniel murmured as Jack helped him put them on.

“Okay, now turn your head this way,” Jack said, carefully turning Daniel’s head until he was eye to eye with a small, hairless creature.

Daniel blinked a few times then said, “You’re kidding me?”

“Nope.”

“Thought I was dreaming,” Daniel said, frowning in memory.  “I saw several.  They were licking me … I think.”

“They were helping you,” Jack said.

Daniel studied the strange creature.  “He really understands you?  Will he talk to me?” he asked, glancing at Jack.

“It’s not that simple.  He has the ability to read my mind and understand my thoughts,” Jack explained.

“That’s amazing,” Daniel said.

“Tell me about it,” Jack agreed.  “And the really weird part … wait a minute,” he frowned.  “When you said, ‘amazing’, did you mean that in a good way or in a bad way?”

“Bad way?” Daniel queried, wrinkling his brow.

“Yeah, in that it’s amazing anyone could understand my thoughts, never mind read my mind,” Jack said.

Daniel gazed at Jack then laughed, which caused him to wince.  “Ow,” he muttered, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Head?” Jack guessed, wincing in sympathy.

“And ribs,” Daniel whispered.  “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Sorry.”

“What’s the really weird part?” Daniel asked, opening his eyes gingerly.

“I can read his mind, too,” Jack replied.

Daniel looked incredulously at his friend.  “You did hit your head.”

“No, really, I can,” Jack insisted.

“How is that possible, and if you can, why can’t I?”

“Daniel, don’t pout,” Jack grinned.

“I’m not pouting.  I’m … concussed,” Daniel said.

Jack smiled and looked at the creature who was now sitting beside them.  “You think it’s safe?” he asked.

“Is what safe?” Daniel asked, his brow furrowed.

“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t talking to you,” Jack said.  “I was talking to him.  He’d like to talk to you, but—”

“Great, because I—”

“He has to bite you,” Jack cut in.

“Bite me?”

“It’s an exchange of fluids or something.  It only hurts for a few seconds.”

Daniel looked at the hairless creature who was quietly watching him.  He could see the intelligence in its eyes.  He glanced up at Jack, smiled then looked back at the alien. “I’m ready,” he said resolutely and offered his hand.

Jack watched as the creature immediately began licking Daniel’s hand.

Daniel looked puzzled, but Jack smiled in understanding.

“It will reduce the sting,” he explained.  “He doesn’t want to cause you any more pain.”

Distracted by Jack’s words, Daniel didn’t have time to anticipate the ensuing bite.  Two sharp pricks, followed by an almost immediate numbness, and it was all over.

Daniel gazed at his hand in fascination as the two small punctures oozed blood before magically sealing themselves.

Jack’s gaze, however, was fixed on Daniel.  He knew the instant Daniel made contact with the alien.  The surprise and joy on his young friend’s face was a dead giveaway, and a delight to behold.  He grinned and patted Daniel’s shoulder.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” he said, standing up, “and remember, you asked for it,” he added, addressing the alien.

“Jack,” Daniel chastised absently, his eyes locked on the eyes of the animal.

Jack smiled, but there was a hint of sadness in his eyes.  His link with the creature was gone, and on some obscure level he equated that with Daniel as well.  He felt out of the loop and he walked away, feeling strangely dejected.

“Jack.”

Jack stopped and turned.  He saw the concern and understanding in Daniel’s clear, blue eyes.

“I won’t be far,” he said, touched and grateful for his friend’s compassion.

“You never are,” Daniel replied quietly.

It wasn’t a complaint, but a solemn observation that made Jack’s heart swell.  He smiled, gave a mock salute, and left his best friend and his newest friend with their thoughts.

Daniel watched Jack leave, and in spite of his eagerness to communicate with the alien, he couldn’t take his eyes off his friend.  He knew that look.  He knew that walk.  He knew Jack.

<i>He blames himself,</i> Daniel thought to himself.  <i>He always does.</i>

<i>He cares deeply.</i>

The alien’s thought pulsed gently in Daniel’s mind.  <i>Can you help him?</i> he asked, slipping easily into non-verbal thought.

<i>He has all the help he needs with your own love and friendship.</i>

“It’s not enough,” Daniel murmured, unconsciously vocalizing.

<i>It is more than enough.  You underestimate your strength and passion.  The link I share with you is strong, but it is fleeting and on an intellectual level.  The link you share with your friend is unbreakable and at a level far deeper and complex than I could ever go.  It is a joy to see such loyalty and commitment in another species.</i>

Daniel finally dragged his eyes away from Jack. <i> I’m sorry.   You heal my wounds.  You share this wonderful gift with me, and I ignore you.  Please, forgive me.

Your friend warned me you would talk my ears off.  Please, my ears are very large.</i>

                                                            ***********

“Carter, Teal’c, you there?”

Jack glanced at the silent radio, shook it, and then winced as a loud crackle pierced the silence.

“Sir, can you hear me?”

“Yes!  Where the hell are you guys?”

“We, um, hit a little snag, sir,” Sam replied.

“Snag?  Daniel fell off a cliff, for crying out loud.  We don’t have time for snags.  What kind of a snag?”

“Major Carter was not acting like herself,” Teal’c answered.

“Crap,” Jack muttered.  He looked back at Daniel and shuddered.  He never wanted to experience that horrendous feeling of anger and hate again.  “You okay now, Carter?” he asked, rubbing his forehead wearily.

“Yes, sir.  I’m sorry—”

“Don’t, Carter.  Don’t apologize for something beyond your control.  Are you following my trail?” he asked.

“Yes, O’Neill.  It is very unique,” Teal’c replied.

“Any strange little guides?” Jack asked, smiling to himself, as he glanced up the cliff, expecting to see his team any second. 

“Indeed.”

“Good.  They won’t lead you astray, but watch your step.  The last one’s a doozy,” Jack advised.  “Listen, Carter, do you have any scratches?”

“A few,” Sam replied, sounding puzzled.

“Let them lick you,” Jack said.

“Sir?”

“Trust me, let them lick the scratches, preferably a fresh one.  They have an antidote in their saliva.  It will get rid of those … irrational thoughts,” Jack explained.

“Understood, sir.  Carter out.”

Jack looked back to observe Daniel and he smiled at the sight of Daniel’s good hand waving back and forth in animated conversation.  The poor guy has so much to say he’s probably speaking with his voice, mind, and hands.  His smile faded.  How the hell was he going to get Daniel out of here without causing him even more pain?

                                                ***********

<i>The Goa’uld tried to destroy you, </i>Daniel stated in his mind.  He had ceased using words or gestures to conserve his energy, but even thought was now depleting his reserves.

<i>Yes, we were of no use as hosts as you can well imagine.  We were merely pests who got in the way of the naquadah they desired.  We underestimated the extent of their evil and greed.  They poisoned the land, the water, even the air, to get rid of us.  The soil is rich with the bodies of my kind.

I’m so sorry.

We have survived.   You, too, have been deeply hurt by the Goa’uld.</i>

“Yes,”Daniel whispered, as an image of his beloved Sha’re flashed in his mind.

<i>We, too, grieve for the hosts.  We are not savage creatures, but we have learned to defend ourselves.  The Goa’uld have not been here for many generations and we do not fear their return.  We are grateful you fight our enemy for us. 

It is we who are grateful.  You honour us with your trust, friendship and help.  I doubt I would be alive if not for you. 

I regret we cannot heal all your injuries, Daniel.  You are suffering.

I’m just tired.

Have you forgotten I can hear your thoughts?  Even those you are not aware of?

Ah, those ones.

Jack will be angry I have exhausted you.  You need to rest.  There is still hardship ahead.  The journey to the Stargate will not be an easy one.

To be honest, I don’t think I can go anywhere.

That is unacceptable, Daniel Jackson.</i>

Daniel laughed out loud then waved his hand apologetically.

I’m sorry, but you sounded just like Teal’c,” he said aloud.

<i>You have great admiration and fondness for the one you call Teal’c.  I will take that as a compliment.  But now, you must sleep.</i>

                                                *************
Jack, Teal’c, and Sam approached their sleeping teammate.

“That is so sweet,” Sam whispered.

Jack smiled.  It was sweet, indeed.  Daniel was snoring gently, his good hand curled  loosely around the hairless creature, also snoring gently.

<i>Talked the little guy out, didn’t you, Danny?</i> Jack thought fondly.

Jack gestured to his companions and they moved away where they could talk without disturbing the sleeping pair.

“How bad is he, sir?” Sam asked.

“Not as bad as he should be,” Jack replied.

“Sir!” she chastised, looking at Jack sharply.

“For crying out loud, Carter, that’s not what I meant.  I meant Daniel would be in a lot worse shape if it weren’t for our little friends here.  He fell from up there,” he said, pointing to a spot above the sleeping pair.

Sam and Teal’c looked up to see recent evidence of broken branches and fresh rock slides, a testament to Daniel’s rough tumble down the cliff.

“There’s a lot of blood in the dirt, but you’d be hard pressed to find any serious lacerations on him.  There were about six of those critters all over him when I found him,” Jack said.

Sam looked back up the cliff.  Her friend and teammate had gone through a harrowing ordeal.  Worse, his ordeal was not over.  She shivered in spite of the warm air. 

Jack watched his second and he saw the uncertainty, fleeting as it was.

“I didn’t push him, Carter,” Jack said quietly.

“Sir, I never—”

“You thought it,” Jack stated.  “You probably both did, and with good reason.  I may not have pushed him, but he wouldn’t have been running if I hadn’t done a number on him.”

“You are not responsible for Daniel Jackson’s injuries, O’Neill,” Teal’c said emphatically.

Jack glanced at Teal’c.  He appreciated the words, but they both knew there was no absolution.  He was the CO, and anything that happened under his watch was his responsibility.

“However, moving Daniel Jackson will be extremely difficult,” Teal’c stated.

“And painful,” Jack sighed, putting on his sunglasses and gazing up at the ridge.

“There’s a lot of wood up there, Colonel.  It should be easy enough to make a travois,” Sam said.

“Do it.  I’ll check on Daniel,” Jack said, anxious to get back to his friend..

 

                                                **********

“What is troubling you, Major Carter?”

Sam looked up at her teammate with worried eyes.

“It’s Daniel and the colonel,” she said.  “I can’t help it, Teal’c, and I hate myself for even thinking it, but … no,” she said, shaking her head and resuming her task of tying knots.

“You fear O’Neill may have caused Daniel Jackson’s injuries,” Teal’c observed.

Sam stopped her work and looked up.  “I know the colonel said he didn’t, but do you think it’s possible?” she asked, relieved someone else voiced her thought.

“I do not, Major Carter.  I have seen both O’Neill and Daniel Jackson when they have not been in their right minds.  I have seen them exchange angry words and even physical violence, but what you fear is not possible.”

“I’m not so sure, Teal’c,” Sam said sadly.  “You don’t know what it was like.  If what I felt was just a fraction of what the colonel felt …” Sam shivered again as horrid images of Daniel being pushed off the cliff flashed through her mind.

“Daniel Jackson is not afraid of O’Neill.  If what you say were true, that would not be so,” Teal’c said reasonably.

“How do we know he isn’t afraid?” Sam countered.  “We haven’t seen him conscious.  I admit he looked pretty peaceful down there in his sleep, but is he?”

Teal’c walked over to the edge of the gully and looked down.

“There is something you should see, Major Carter,” he said.

“What is it?” Sam asked, as she joined him at the edge.

“Are your fears not allayed?” he asked.

Sam looked down and saw the colonel offering Daniel water in a way that was obviously annoying to the younger man.  Even from this distance, she could see the playful interplay between them.

“I admit, he does look pretty relaxed,” Sam said, “but what if it’s because he doesn’t remember what happened?”

“You remember,” Teal’c said.

“Yes, but … you’re right, Teal’c.  I’m just being paranoid.  Maybe I need another dose of saliva,” she sighed, swatting absently at the insects buzzing around her head.  “Come on, let’s get this finished.  The sooner we get home, the better we’ll all feel.”

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed, bowing his head.

                                                ***********

Jack sat quietly with Daniel, watching him sleep and periodically checking for signs of fever or infection.  He was elated to find neither.

“Looking good,” he murmured, tucking the blanket in around Daniel then carefully placing his injured arm on top.

The abrasions on Daniel’s face had all but disappeared and Jack wished they could vanish just as quickly from his mind.  Fat chance.  Those images were going to haunt him for a long, long time.  Jack’s gaze went from Daniel to the cliff they had to ascend.  It wouldn’t be easy, and he hoped to God Daniel didn’t have internal injuries.

“Ouch!  Damn it,” Jack hissed, glaring at the little creature who just took a bite out of him.  “Warn a guy when you’re gonna do that,” he growled, rubbing his leg.

<i>I thought it would hurt less if you were not expecting it.</i>

“That’s not the point,” Jack muttered, wincing at the voice in his head.

<i>I have seen the device your friends have built for Daniel.</i>

“They’re finished?” Jack asked, glancing up to see if he could see them.

<i>They are very close.</i>

“You bit me to tell me that?” Jack groused.

<i>I bit you to tell you of another route to the Stargate.  One that will be easier for Daniel.</i>

“Why the hell didn’t you say so in the first place?” Jack groused.  “Sorry,” he winced, glad Daniel didn’t hear him snap at their friend.  “What’s your plan?”

<i>The device your friends have made will float.  There is a river not far from here.  </i>

“River?” Jack queried.  “The UAV didn’t show any rivers.”

<i>I do not know what the UAV is, but I assure you there is a river.  It is underground.  Daniel can be floated a good deal of the way.  It is not deep.</i>

Jack’s eyes brightened and he impulsively scratched the creature’s head.  He smiled when his little friend closed his eyes and hunched up, enjoying the rub.

                                                *******

Daniel felt a presence, cracked open one eye and smiled.

“Hey, Sam.  I was wondering when I’d see you.”

“I’m sorry, did I wake you?” Sam asked.

“I was just resting,” Daniel said, shifting into a more comfortable position.  “Not a lot else to do,” he added ruefully.

“Would you be more comfortable lying down?” Sam asked.

“No, no, it’s good to be sitting up.  After the effort it took to convince Jack likewise, I’m not going to start complaining,” Daniel said.

“Even if it kills you?” Sam smiled.

“Not even then,” Daniel grinned.

Sam laughed, but her eyes betrayed her feelings.

“I guess we shouldn’t joke about dying,” Daniel surmised.

“No,” she whispered, shaking her head.

“How was it for you?” Daniel asked gently.  “With Teal’c.”

“It was horrible,” Sam said, sitting next to Daniel and drawing her knees up to her chest.  “The things I thought.  The things I said to Teal’c.  It felt so real, but now, when I think about it, I can’t imagine ever doing or saying those things.”

“It wasn’t us, Sam,” Daniel said softly.

“Something of us was in there,” she said.  “I can’t help but wonder what I would have done if you’d been with me instead of Teal’c.”

“Well, considering you tried to kick Teal’c, I’m kind of glad I was with Jack,” Daniel teased.

“I hate to think about what you and the colonel must have gone through,” Sam lamented.

“It’s over, Sam,” Daniel said.  “We’re still a team.”

“How can you say that, Daniel?  The colonel could have—”

“I don’t know what Jack was thinking,” Daniel interrupted.  “All I know is, I irritated the hell out of him and he’d had enough.”

“But that’s no reason to attack you,” Sam insisted.

“It is when your mind is all screwed up by alien interference,” Daniel said.  “We all know what chemical imbalances can do.”

“I know, but …”

“Are you worried I’ll never trust Jack again?” Daniel asked. 

Sam, embarrassed, looked away. 

“Hey,” Daniel said softly.  “Sam, look at me, please.”

Sam looked at Daniel with tear-filled eyes.  “I hate seeing the two of you at odds,” she admitted.

“We’re always at odds,” Daniel laughed.  “Seriously, Sam, what happened here isn’t going to affect how I feel about Jack, or how he feels about me.  We’ve gone through too much together.  I trust him with my life, and I know he trusts me with his.  It’s the same with you and Teal’c.  We’re all in this together and something like this only brings us closer, don’t you think?”

Sam nodded, but she needed more.

“After my fall, and it was a fall,” Daniel stressed, “I woke up and saw these strange animals. I was scared,” he admitted, “but when I woke up later and saw Jack, I knew I was safe.  Jack is a protector, but more importantly, he’s my friend.  I can’t put it any simpler than that, Sam, and you better buck up because he’s coming this way,” he added in a whisper.

“Carter, you keeping Daniel from his beauty sleep?”

“Uh, no sir, he was awake,” Sam said.

“Good, because we’re going to head out soon,” Jack said.  “Teal’c and Carter built you a spiffy stretcher, Daniel, and we’re going to float you down a river,” Jack explained.

“That sounds, um, interesting,” Daniel said.

“Our buddy says it will be an easy walk for the rest of us,” Jack smiled. 

                                                ****

“Easy walk if you’re a munchkin,” Jack muttered, easing the kinks out of his back when he finally reached a spot where he could stand up semi-straight.

“Is it not Daniel Jackson’s comfort we are concerned with, O’Neill?” Teal’c inquired.

“Doesn’t stop a guy from griping,” Jack replied, “and you can’t tell me your back is enjoying this.”

“My comfort is of no consequence,” Teal’c replied.

“Carter?”

“Sir?  Ouch!  Damn it,” Sam muttered as she inadvertently bumped her head.

Jack grinned.  “Never mind.  So, how’s Sleeping Beauty?”

“Kiss me and you’re a dead man,” Daniel murmured.

Jack chuckled and adjusted the flashlight to light up Daniel’s face.  The younger man looked exhausted, but there was a spark in his eyes that did Jack’s heart good.

“What’s the skipper say?” Jack asked.

Daniel locked eyes with the alien creature sitting comfortably on his stomach then he smiled and looked at Jack.

“He says he hopes you navigate the stars better than the water,” Daniel relayed.

“Everyone’s a critic,” Jack grumbled.  “I haven’t dunked you yet, have I?”

“No, and I thank you for that,” Daniel said.

“So, how much further?” Jack asked.

“Well, if he’s correct in his estimation of our concept of time, another hour, maybe two,” Daniel answered.

“Piece of cake,” Jack quipped, trying not to think of another two hours hunched over in the dark.

“This can’t be easy for you guys.  I‘m sorry to be a burden,” Daniel muttered.

“Hey, you are not a burden,” Jack said roughly.  “You never have been and you never will be.  Got it?”

“Got it,” Daniel acknowledged quietly after a short pause.

Jack nodded then looked ahead into the darkness, his face inscrutable in the subdued light.

Sam glanced at Teal’c.  She couldn’t discern his features in the gloom, but she suspected he, too, felt they had just witnessed a very private exchange between their two teammates.

“Jack?”

“What?” Jack replied, not turning around.

“Um, the skipper says he’s not getting any younger,” Daniel said.

Jack snorted and looked back at Daniel.  “You sure that’s him talking?”

Daniel smiled and shrugged.  “We are kind of on the same wavelength.”

Jack scanned his injured friend with the flashlight, ensuring himself he was keeping dry.  “You really feel okay?”

“I’d kill for a coffee,” Daniel replied.

“That good, huh?”

“My head aches, but that’s probably from caffeine withdrawal,” Daniel said wryly.

“Right,” Jack said dubiously.  “That goose egg on your head couldn’t have anything to do with it.”

“And my arm, of course,” Daniel added, blithely ignoring Jack.  “Ribs are sore, knee’s throbbing, but everything feels pretty much normal inside.”

“We really owe these guys,” Jack said.

“Are you kidding?  They haven’t had this much excitement in ages,” Daniel said.  “Now they’ve got something to tell their grandkids.”

Jack laughed.  “Well, if you think of anything we can do for them, let me know.”

“I will.  Thanks, Jack.”

Jack patted Daniel’s leg and said, “Let’s get this show on the road.”

                                                ********

“O’Neill, we cannot follow the river much longer,” Teal’c announced, sloshing back through the water to report.  “There is a passageway not far from here, bearing upwards.  It is narrow, but the slope is gradual and the ceiling high.”

“Hallelujah,” Jack said, anticipating the thought of standing fully upright.

“Jack, maybe I could–”

Don’t make me tie you down,” Jack warned.

“Or not,” Daniel sighed, resigned to his fate.

“Once we get to the surface, we’ll get you on your feet, okay?” Jack promised.  “It’s too dark down here and we’re not sure of the footing.  Any one of us could take a tumble.”

“I know,” Daniel said softly.  “I just …”

“I know,” Jack replied, squeezing Daniel’s shoulder   ‘You still tuned in with our friend?”

“No, do you need me to talk to him?” Daniel asked hopefully.

“If you wouldn’t mind getting bit again,” Jack said.  “I’d do it, but–”

“No, no, I’ll do it,” Daniel insisted, perking up.

“Great.  Find out what you can about these caverns up ahead.  I’m sure he’d warn us of any dangers, but I’d like to hear it from you,” Jack explained.

Daniel eagerly turned his hand over and presented it to the little animal still sitting on his stomach.  He smiled as a raspy tongue licked his hand, followed immediately by the sharp prick of teeth.

<i>It is good to speak with you again, Daniel.  I miss our conversations.</i>

“Me too,” Daniel replied, winking at Jack.

Jack grinned and patted Daniel’s shoulder.  “Don’t get carried away,” he warned.

Jack was confident they weren’t being led into any danger, but he understood the helplessness Daniel was feeling.  Communicating with the alien would occupy his friend, and Jack was sure the mental exchange would be beneficial to both.  It didn’t sound like their new friend got many visitors and Daniel, well, Daniel loved to talk.  Teaching, sharing knowledge, and learning were his passions.  It was the least Jack could do for both of them.

                                                **************

After a few more twists and turns, the members of SG-1 breathed a collective sigh of relief when they entered a large, dry cavern with light filtering down from above.

“Daniel?” Jack queried.

“It’s the surface, Jack,” Daniel replied, his voice expressing his own sense of relief.

“Hot damn,” Jack said.  “So, we’re almost there?”

“Almost,” Daniel confirmed.

“Take five everyone,” Jack said as he and Teal’c lowered Daniel to the ground.  “Carter, do you have any bars left?”

“Looking now, sir,” Sam replied, shouldering off her pack.

“Still doing okay?” Jack asked, crouching beside Daniel.

“I just want to get off my butt and on my feet again,” Daniel replied.  “Can I have one of those, Sam?”

“Enjoy it while you can,” Jack said, “and I’m sorry, but you can’t eat anything.  Fraiser would string me up.”

“It’s not for me,” Daniel said, gesturing to his alien companion.

“Well, in that case.  Carter?”

“Coming right up.  This is one planet I don’t care to re-visit,” Sam said, breaking open an energy bar and handing it to Daniel.

“Hey, you’ll hurt the little guy’s feelings,” Jack whispered, gesturing to the alien eating out of Daniel’s hand.

“I didn’t mean that, sir,” she replied, creasing her brow.

“He’s not offended, Sam,” Daniel smiled,” but if you have any more bars, he’d be very grateful,” he added, breaking off another chunk of his bar and giving it to the delighted creature.

“I know what you meant, Carter, and I agree,” Jack said quietly, “but I think our intrepid explorer here is actually enjoying this planet.”

“Daniel can always find the good in something,” Sam smiled.

“Or someone,” Jack added.

Sam looked at her CO and blushed.  “Colonel, I’m sorry for–”

“Carter,” Jack interrupted, waving a finger.

“Yes, sir,” she smiled.  “I’ll go and give this to our friend,” she said, waving the bar.

“You do that,” Jack said.

 

                                                ********

“Yes!” Jack said, sitting down with a relieved sigh on the planet’s surface.  No more rivers, no more caverns, and no more stalactites and stalagmites threatening to either knock him out or trip him up.  Better yet, the sky had clouded over and the air was refreshingly cool.

“Um, Jack, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but …,” Daniel said, pantomiming his desire to get up.

“I will assist you, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said.

“Fill your boots, T,” Jack said, waving his hand, “but Daniel, if you take a nosedive, I’ll chain you to that stretcher myself,” he warned.

Daniel glared at Jack, but he knew to take the threat seriously.

“I just need to stand for awhile,” he said reasonably.  “You know, get the blood circulating again?”

Jack nodded, but he watched Daniel like a hawk as Teal’c helped him to his feet.  He held his tongue as the effort of merely standing appeared to cause the younger man considerable discomfort.  Daniel didn’t utter a sound, but his pallor and sweat-sheened face spoke for itself.

“Lean on me, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said quietly.

“If I lean any more, you’ll be carrying me,” Daniel hissed through clenched teeth.

“Perhaps you are not yet ready,” Teal’c observed gravely.

“I just … need a minute,” Daniel murmured, gripping Teal’c’s shoulder tightly.  “Is Jack watching?”

“He is.”

“Damn,” Daniel muttered.

Jack wasn’t the only one watching.  Their new friend was watching Daniel just as closely.

“Stubborn’s his middle name,” Jack drawled, his eyes flickering with amusement as the creature turned and winked at him.  “Guess I better go and save him from himself.”

Jack stood up and approached his teammates.  “I’ll take it from here,” he said to Teal’c.

Daniel looked dubiously at Jack, but relinquished his grip on Teal’c.  “Thanks, Teal’c” he murmured.

“You are welcome, Daniel Jackson.”

Daniel transferred his hold to Jack’s shoulder and visibly relaxed when a strong supporting arm immediately wrapped around his waist.

“Nausea gone?” Jack asked.

“That obvious, was it?” Daniel asked sheepishly.

“Oh, yeah.”

“I may have gotten up too fast,” Daniel reasoned.

“Ya think?”

“It’s good to see daylight again,” Daniel commented, changing the subject.

“Can’t argue with you there,” Jack agreed, gazing up at the sky, “although I’m looking forward to seeing the gateroom ASAP.”

“If only I hadn’t run, we could spend more time here,” Daniel sighed quietly.

Jack glanced sideways at Daniel.

“For crying out loud, you’re not trying to take the blame for any of this, are you?”

Daniel shrugged.  “I should have—”

“Should have nothing, Daniel.  We were all affected.  Hell, Carter tried to take on Teal’c,” Jack said.

“And I just ran,” Daniel said glumly.

“Oh, I get it,” Jack said.  “You think because you had the savvy to get the hell away from a deranged Special Ops soldier, instead of engaging in hand to hand combat, that makes you, what, a coward?  Christ, Daniel, I could have killed you.  Carter took on Teal’c because, hell, I don’t know why, but Teal’c was in total control and she was in partial control, so there’s no comparison.  She had nothing to fear, but you and I were batting zero in the control department.  Correction, you had the control to run, which means you and Teal’c were the only ones who kept their cool.”

Daniel gave Jack a grateful smile.  “It sounds better when you tell it.”

“Damn straight,” Jack said, “and that’s what my report will say, too.”

“Speaking of reports, when are we due to check in?” Daniel asked.  “I’ve kind of lost track of time.”

“Soon.  Teal’c is taking a quick break and then he’s going to hightail it to the ‘gate.  We’ve missed two check-ins already, and I don’t want Hammond sending a team through and having them going through what we did.”

“No,” Daniel said softly, “but it hasn’t been all bad,” he said, nodding towards the alien creature, grooming itself.

“No, it hasn’t,” Jack agreed, but he couldn’t honestly say making a new ally was worth the pain Daniel was going through.  He shifted slightly as he felt more of Daniel’s weight lean against him.  “Do you want to walk for a bit, or do you just want to fall down here?” he asked, his voice gentle, but serious.

“Falling’s good,” Daniel nodded, looking at the ground wistfully.

“Okay, let’s get you settled,” Jack said, steering Daniel towards a level spot.  “You need to rest, and I need to dry out.”

“Rest?  I’ve been flat on my back for hours,” Daniel complained.

“And you tensed up the whole time, afraid I was going to dump you in the river,” Jack smiled, carefully easing Daniel to the ground.

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Did not …, well, maybe a little,” Daniel conceded, lying back and closing his eyes with a sigh.

“Get some sleep,” Jack urged, patting Daniel lightly on the chest.

“Maybe just a few minutes,” Daniel murmured, his head lolling to the side. 

Jack smiled and waited until his friend’s chest rose and fell in the gentle rhythm of sleep, or as gentle as it could be with ribs taped tight.

“He must be exhausted,” Sam whispered, crouching next to Jack.

“You’re supposed to be resting yourself, Major,” Jack said, his eyes still on Daniel.

“Just getting out of wet boots and socks is rest, sir,” Sam replied, flexing her toes in the still warm sand.

Jack looked at his second and smiled.  “Let’s start a fire to speed up the process.”

“Teal’c’s already on it, sir.”

Jack peered behind Sam to see the first sparks of a fire.

“We can move Daniel over there when the fire is nice and warm,” she said.

Jack nodded and he felt a tightness in his throat.  He was damned proud of his ‘kids,’ and he loved every one.  When one was down, the others rallied with no thought to their own discomfort or possible danger.  He couldn’t imagine a better team.

                                                *********

Daniel slowly became aware of his surroundings: the soft murmur of voices, the fragrant smell of wood smoke, the crackling and comforting warmth of a fire, and … coffee?  He stirred and blinked the sleep and heaviness out of his eyes then winced as forgotten injuries manifested themselves.

“It’s alive.”

Daniel turned a baleful eye towards Jack.

“I’ve got something to put the twinkle back in those baby blues,” Jack smiled.

Daniel huffed and sat up with the help of Sam, leaning back against her pack for support.

“Thanks, Sam.  How long was I asleep?”

“Almost two hours,” she replied.  “I hope we didn’t wake you.”

“No, no, not at all,” Daniel assured her.  “I feel … rested,” he said with a sloppy grin.

“Okay, now before you get this,” Jack said, waving a cup of coffee under Daniel’s nose, “drink some water,” he added, handing him a thermos.

Daniel scowled, but drank the water readily.  He was thirsty and his throat was very dry.

“Good, now here’s your rot gut,” Jack said, handing over the coffee.

Daniel inhaled the beverage and shrugged.  “Smelled worse,” he said, before taking a big gulp.

“You’re welcome,” Jack said good-naturedly.

Daniel smiled and took another swallow.  “It’s great,” he amended.  “Where’s Teal’c,” he asked, taking another gulp.

“Easy on that stuff,” Jack cautioned.  “Teal’c’s gone to the Stargate, remember?”

Daniel furrowed his brow in thought then nodded.  “To warn General Hammond not to send anyone through.”

“Got it in one,” Jack smiled.

“Does that mean I get another cup?” Daniel asked eagerly.

“No, Carter said one was your limit.”

“Sam?” Daniel said plaintively.

“Sir!” Sam scolded.  “Daniel, I said no such thing.”

“Alright, alright, but only half a cup,” Jack acquiesced, topping up Daniel’s mug.

“Where are our friends?” Daniel asked, craning his neck to look around.

“I don’t know.  Probably doing whatever it is they do,” Jack replied.

“Well, that clarifies things,” Daniel drawled.

“What have you learned about them, Daniel?” Sam asked.

“Not too much, actually,” Daniel frowned.

“For crying out loud, you’ve talked for hours,” Jack groused.

“Exactly,” Daniel agreed.

“What?” Jack frowned.

“Sir, I think what Daniel is saying is, he did most of the talking,” Sam said helpfully.

“So they know everything about us, and we know nothing about them,” Jack summarized.

“Well, I wouldn’t put it that way … exactly,” Daniel said.  “I did learn some things about them, other than their encounter with the Goa’uld.”

“Such as?” Jack asked.

“There used to be a humanoid race here, eons ago.  Long before the Goa’uld,” Daniel said.

“Well, that explains the Stargate,” Jack said, “but what happened to them?  Where are the buildings?  Something must have survived.”

“They were nomadic.  They had no need for permanent structures,” Daniel explained.

“So, there’s nothing here now but vegetation, bugs, and animals,” Jack said.

“They are very intelligent creatures,” Daniel corrected.  “They have no desire to showcase themselves.”

“Doesn’t it strike you as odd?” Jack asked.  “Intelligent creatures living like, well, animals?”  

“Maybe these creatures are the Furlings,” Sam said excitedly.

“The Furlings?”  Jack cried incredulously.  “Hell, they don’t even have, well, you know…”

“Fur?” Daniel suggested.

“Hey, you said it,” Jack huffed.

“They’re not the Furlings,” Daniel stated.

“How do you know?” Jack challenged.

“Because they call themselves Pims,” Daniel said.

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place and what the hell kind of name is Pims?” Jack asked.

“What about Earthings?” Daniel challenged.  “Named after dirt.  That’s something to write home about.”

“We’re named after the planet,” Jack corrected.

“Yes, the planet dirt.  Still not doing anything for me,” Daniel said.

“Aren’t you supposed to be concussed?” Jack asked, narrowing his eyes.

“I think A…uh zapped me with some happy juice or something when he bit me,” Daniel said.

“A-uh?  That’s his name?” Jack asked.

“Um, nooooo,” Daniel said slowly.

“Well, what is it?   He never told me.”

“Did you ask?”

“Had other things on my mind,” Jack explained, looking pointedly at Daniel.

“Fair enough,” Daniel said.

“So, what is it?”

“What’s what?”

“His name!  For crying out loud, it’s less painful listening to Carter techno-babble … uh, no offence, Major,” Jack added, glancing at Sam.

“Of course not, Colonel,” Sam said dubiously.

“I’d rather not say,” Daniel replied.

“What do you mean, you’d rather not say?” Jack frowned.

“I’m anticipating your reaction,” Daniel explained.

“Jeez, come on, Daniel.  How bad can it be?”

“You’ll laugh,” Daniel said.

“I won’t.”

“You will.”

“Daniel!”

“Jack.”

“Daniel, tell me and I’ll be the judge,” Sam suggested.

Daniel pondered Sam’s request.  “Okay,” he finally agreed.

“Okay?”  Just like that?  You’ll tell her, but you won’t tell me?” Jack cried indignantly.

“You could get bitten again and ask him yourself, sir,” Sam said, tongue-in-cheek.

“Thank you, Major.  All right, hurry up and tell her,” Jack said impatiently, waving his hand.

Sam leaned over and Daniel whispered in her ear.  Her eyes widened and she looked at him in shock.  “Really?”

“Really,” Daniel said.

“Oh, my God.  You have to tell him, Daniel,” she said.

“Tell me!  Tell me!” Jack said eagerly.

“I don’t know, Sam,” Daniel said doubtfully.

“Daniel,” Jack said, warning in his voice.

“Okay, but promise me you won’t make fun of him,” Daniel requested.

“Give me a little credit,” Jack said, looking hurt.

“Jack.”

“I promise already,” Jack said impatiently.

“Okay.  I’m trusting you, Jack,” Daniel said seriously.

“Daniel, for crying out loud,” Jack sighed.

“Hisnameisapu.” Daniel said quickly.

“Hizza-who?” Jack frowned.

Daniel sighed and took a deep breath while Sam stifled a giggle.

“His name is Apu,” Daniel enunciated slowly.

Jack stared, open-mouthed.  “Apu?” he said incredulously.  “Apu, as in The Simpsons Kwik-E-Mart Apu?”

“I’m afraid so,” Daniel replied.

Jack was truly stunned.  “No way,” he said, shaking his head.  “You’re making that up.”

“Come on, Jack.  Even concussed, do you really think I’d make that up?” Daniel asked seriously.

Jack stared at his friend and smiled.  “No, I guess not.  Apu,” Jack repeated, savouring the sound of the name.  “Damn.  I knew the little guy had class.”

“I knew it was a bad idea,” Daniel groaned.

“I gave you my word,” Jack said quietly.

Daniel looked at Jack and saw genuine concern and the need for his trust. 

“I know,” Daniel said softly.

“At least we agree on something,” Jack smiled.

“It happens,” Daniel shrugged.

                                                ****

“We’ve had some pretty interesting send-offs, but this one takes the cake,” Jack mused.

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed, gazing with bemusement upon the army of sentinels gathered around the Stargate and the DHD.

“I don’t think Daniel wants to leave, sir,” Sam said, nodding towards their teammate.

“Some things never change,” Jack lamented, but he smiled at the sight of Daniel who was deep in silent conversation with Apu, his good hand flying and his head nodding.  “Time to be a hard-ass,” he sighed, heading off in Daniel’s direction.

                                                ****

<i>It’s the least we can do for you and your brethren, Apu.

We will be forever grateful for your aid, Daniel, and we look forward to seeing you again.</i>

“Daniel, I hate to break up the party, but General Hammond is a wee bit anxious to have us back,” Jack announced.

“Jack, they want us to destroy the dam,” Daniel said, turning to his friend.

“What?”

“The dam.  They live in caves.  The Goa’uld couldn’t enslave them so they tried to destroy them by damming the main river.  Thousands perished when the valleys were flooded.”

“Bastards,” Jack muttered.

“Restoring the river to its natural flow would give them back their homes,” Daniel explained.

“Wouldn’t that be dangerous?” Jack asked.  “They’ve obviously adapted to their new environment.”

“They’ll adapt again,” Daniel said, “but this time they’ll know and be prepared.  They don’t want any reminder of the Goa’uld.”

“That’s understandable,” Jack agreed.  “I’ll talk to Hammond when we get home.  I don’t see a problem.”

“He doesn’t know if we’ll still be immune to the manii, but as long as they know we’re coming, they can be waiting for us and, well…”

“Bite us?” Jack said, quirking an eyebrow.

“Puts a whole new meaning on ‘bite me’, doesn’t it?” Daniel grinned.  “The next time we come, they’ll allow us to take blood and saliva samples, and maybe we can synthesize our own antidote, or better yet, duplicate the healing effects of their saliva,” Daniel enthused.

“Fraiser’s gonna love that,” Jack said.  “Hammond, too.  Okay, tell Apu I’d like to talk to him.  God, I love that name,” he snickered.

“Really?” Daniel said, looking hesitant.

“My word, Daniel,” Jack reminded him.

“It’s your mind that concerns me,” Daniel murmured, but he passed on Jack’s request then limped slowly away to give him some privacy.

“O, ye of little faith,” Jack smiled, “and don’t hobble too far,” he added as he offered his hand to Apu and winced at the initial bite.

<i>I was hoping we would converse again, Jack O’Neill.</i>

“Couldn’t leave without a proper goodbye,” Jack said.  “Daniel tells me you’d like us to destroy a dam for you.  I give you my word, I’ll do what I can to see that it happens.”

<i>We thank you.  Daniel tells me your leader, General Hammond, is a very fair and reasonable man.</i>

“He’s the best, and I’m certain he’ll only be too happy to oblige,” Jack replied, glancing around quickly to see where Daniel was.  He leaned down and whispered, “Daniel means the world, hell, the universe to me, and if you hadn’t helped us …” Jack’s voice trailed off as he dared not even think what might have happened.

<i>I wish to put your mind at ease.  Take solace in the knowledge, Daniel bears no ill will towards you.</i>

“Yeah, well, Daniel has a history of not knowing what’s good for him,” Jack said quietly.

<i>He sees the good in you, as do I.  He is wise beyond his years.</i>

“Tell me about it.  He outgrew me a long time ago,” Jack said sadly.

<i>On the contrary, he needs you very much, as you need him.  Together, you are much stronger, and, dare I say, much happier.</i>

Jack couldn’t confirm Daniel’s need, but he couldn’t deny his own, and he knew there was no point in even trying.

“How do you know all that?” he asked curiously.

<i>It is the way we are.</i>

“Ah, cryptic.  My favourite,” Jack drawled.  “Then I guess you know we’d like to mine your naquadah,” he added guiltily.

<i>Yes.  I have talked to Daniel of this.  I will consult with the others, but I do not see foresee a problem in negotiating a temporary agreement with your people.</i>

“It won’t interfere with your lives?” Jack asked worriedly.  The last thing he wanted to do was to screw up the lives of the very beings that saved their hides, so to speak.

<i>If we cannot co-exist in peace, we will simply cease to cooperate.  We will not be oppressed.</i>

Jack didn’t know how to respond to that declaration.  The creatures seemed benign, but so did the Nox.

“I believe you,” Jack said quietly.  “Look, we should really be going,” he said, nodding towards the Stargate.  ‘I just want to thank you again for all you’ve done for us, especially Daniel.  Speaking of Daniel, I better let him say goodbye or there’ll be hell to pay.”

<i>Goodbye, Jack O’Neill.  I look forward to future meetings and perhaps you can then explain to me what Kwik-E-Mart means.</i>

“Uh, right,” Jack murmured.  “Goodbye … Apu.  Daniel, you’re up!” Jack called, anxious to get away before his mind betrayed him further.

“How’d it go?” Daniel asked quietly as he limped towards Jack.

“D’oh,” Jack muttered.

“Oh God, you didn’t?” Daniel asked in dismay.

“I swear, I didn’t say anything, but you know how my mind works,” Jack said defensively.

“I knew it.  What did you … no, no, don’t tell me anything.  The less I know the better,” Daniel said, waving his hand, afraid Jack’s words would invade his mind and embarrass him.

“Okay, but make your goodbyes quick, Daniel.  We’re on borrowed time.”

                                                ****

Much to Jack’s surprise, Daniel did as requested and made his farewell quick.

“Okay, campers, saddle up,” Jack ordered.  “Daniel, dial us out.”

Daniel looked at Jack in surprise, but his face lit up, grateful for the opportunity to be useful.

“Take your time,” Jack said quietly, as Daniel walked unaided to the DHD.  Jack knew Teal’c and Sam were just as ready and anxious to assist their teammate as he was, but he also knew his friend was suffocating under their constant care.

Daniel leaned heavily on the DHD and began to press the coordinates for Earth.  He smiled as Apu suddenly jumped onto the DHD to watch his progress, and he scratched the creature’s neck affectionately.

“Before we return, we’ll send a MALP through to let you know we’re coming,” Daniel explained, talking aloud for his team’s benefit.  “It’s a small machine which moves slowly, and it will only come as far as this, the DHD.

<i>That is the machine, which came here before your arrival.</i>

“Yes.  We use it to take pictures of the area around the Stargate to ensure it is safe and to make sure there is a DHD present to get us back home,” Daniel explained.  “Of course, it doesn’t tell us the whole picture,” he added dryly.

<i>I am sorry our planet was so inhospitable to you, Daniel.</i>

“No, no, no, please don’t apologize,” Daniel said quickly.  “I’m glad we met.”

<i>We look forward to your return.</i>

“So do we,” Daniel said, as his hand hovered over the crystal. <i> Thank you for everything.

You should allow Jack to help you through the Stargate. 

I’m fine, really.

It will make him feel useful.

Useful?</i>

Daniel looked over at Jack and saw his friend was practically vibrating, eager to help.  He turned to Apu, smiled and depressed the crystal, engaging the wormhole and the event horizon.

“See you soon,” Daniel said, giving the little alien a wink and a final pat before walking in Jack’s direction.

“You okay?” Jack asked, quickly closing the gap between them.

“I’m good, but I think I could use a little help,” Daniel admitted.

“You got it,” Jack replied, settling Daniel’s arm around his shoulders and wrapping his own arm around Daniel’s waist.  He then turned and waved to the strange aliens.  “See you in the funny papers!”

“Jack,” Daniel hissed.

“Sorry,” Jack grinned.

Daniel sighed and looked apologetically at their hosts.  “I’ll leave him at home next time.”

Jack laughed and pulled Daniel tightly against him.  “In your dreams.”

                                                *****

“Yes,” Jack murmured when his boots hit the gate ramp, Daniel secure at his side.

“It’s good to be home,” Daniel admitted.

“Welcome home, SG-1,” General George Hammond said.  “Dr. Jackson, Dr. Fraiser is expecting you,” he added, indicating the wheelchair and medical attendant at the bottom of the ramp.

“Yes, sir,” Daniel murmured.

“Your chariot awaits,” Jack whispered, ushering him down the ramp.

“Colonel, you and the rest of your team may escort Dr. Jackson to the infirmary for your own check-ups.  We’ll debrief at 1400 hours.”

“Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir,” Jack said, leading his team out the door.

                                                ****

“You’re a very lucky man, Daniel,” Janet declared, looking at his chart.  “One broken arm, one sprained wrist, a few bruised ribs, a sprained knee, and multiple bruising and contusions.”

“What am I doing here then?  I should be out buying a lottery ticket,” Daniel quipped.

“I’m serious, Daniel.  The kind of fall you took could easily have broken your neck or your back, and God knows what kind of infection you’d have if ‘those critters’, as Colonel O’Neill calls them, hadn’t helped.”

“Believe me, Janet, I know,” Daniel replied.

“You are also grounded from gate travel for two months.”

“Two months?” Daniel cried.  “I don’t–”

“I can make it three,” Janet warned.

Daniel sighed and looked down at the floor dejectedly.

“I’ll review your progress after a month,” Janet relented.  “If you listen to the physiotherapist and do your exercises diligently, I may let you resume travel in one month.”

“Thank you,” Daniel said, mustering a smile. 

“Have you and the colonel talked about what happened?” Janet asked.

“Not really.  We’ve kind of danced around it,” Daniel admitted.  “It’s not something either of us really cares to remember, let alone discuss.”

“When a senior officer strikes–”

“It wasn’t Jack’s fault,” Daniel interjected.  “If I hadn’t irritated him so much, it wouldn’t have happened.”

“Are you saying you deserved to be struck?” Janet inquired.

“No, I’m not saying that.  Actually, I am saying that, aren’t I?”   

Janet smiled and nodded.

“It’s no secret I drive Jack crazy,” Daniel said, “and getting bitten by those bugs exacerbated things.  I wanted to annoy Jack.  In fact, I took great pleasure in annoying him.  Things just got out of hand.  He was being an ass and so was I,” Daniel shrugged. 

“Colonel O’Neill feels it was his fault,” Janet said.  “He feels he should have been stronger and been able to fight the effects.”

“That old song and dance,” Daniel sighed. 

“Every time one of you gets hurt, he feels responsible,” Janet said.

“I know, and I also know he wouldn’t like you telling me this,” Daniel said warily.

“Are you going to tell him?” Janet inquired.

“:No, of course not.”

“Then we don’t have a problem,” Janet smiled.  “Besides, I’m not afraid of the colonel.”

“That’s because you’ve never seen him … ” Daniel shut his mouth, having said too much already.

“Never seen him, what?” Janet asked.

“Nothing,” Daniel mumbled, shaking his head.

“He frightened you, didn’t he?” Janet asked gently.

Daniel averted his gaze then looked up at Janet and nodded faintly.  “It was like he was possessed.  I know in my heart it wasn’t Jack back there,” he said.  “I’ve seen Jack angry, and God knows, I’ve been on the receiving end of that anger more times than I care to remember, but as angry as he’s been with me or others, I’ve never seen hate in his eyes.  For a moment, I thought he might kill me,” Daniel admitted softly.

“Daniel, you have to remember you were also affected, and what you saw, or remember seeing—”

“May have been more like a hallucination,” Daniel interjected hopefully.

“More like a misconception,” Janet clarified.  “From the reports I’ve read, it’s obvious you were both acting out of character.”

“What you’re saying is, I shouldn’t lose any sleep over what happened,” Daniel summarized.

Janet smiled fondly at Daniel.  “What I’m saying is, you and Colonel O’Neill need to talk.”

“I figured we’d get back to that again,” Daniel said dryly.

“I trust you’ll take the initiative in this?” Janet inquired.

“We’ll talk,” Daniel promised.

“Good, now let’s discuss your physiotherapy.”

“This should be fun,” Daniel murmured, settling in for the long haul.

                                                ****

Jack signed off on his latest paperwork and closed the file with a resounding snap.  He’d procrastinated long enough.  It was time to move on to more important things.  He needed to talk to Daniel because he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep otherwise, and he suspected Daniel wouldn’t either.

                                                ****

Daniel looked at his watch and frowned.  He wanted to talk to Jack before the afternoon briefing, but he wasn’t leaving himself much time.  He logged off his computer and downed the remains of his coffee.  Standing up quickly, he winced at the pressure on his injured knee.  He scowled with distaste at the cane lying on the floor, picked it up with a sigh and limped to the door.

                                                ****

Jack went over his game plan in the elevator, which took all of three seconds because he didn’t have a plan.  With any luck, Daniel would take the ball and run with it.  All Jack had to do was bring the ball.  Mulling this scenario over, the door slid open and Jack rushed out, almost knocking over an invalid who had no business moving that fast.

“What the … Daniel?”

“Jack?”

“Where are you so hell bent on going?” Jack asked, steadying his friend.

“Me?  I was just standing here, minding my own business, and you came out like a bull elephant,” Daniel replied.  “You’re lucky I didn’t whack you with my cane in self defence.”

“Oh, come on, I barely touched you,” Jack countered, knowing full well Daniel was correct.  “So, where are you going?”

“I was coming to see you.  Where were you going?” Daniel replied.

“To see you, actually,” Jack said.

“Oh,” Daniel said, surprised.  “Did Janet say anything to you?” he asked warily.

“No, why?”

“No reason.”

“Is there something I should know?” Jack asked.

“No, no.  Well, you do know she’s grounded me for two months, right?” Daniel asked, figuring he better give Jack something.

“I heard,” Jack grumbled, “but you may get out early on good behaviour, and you better be good.  Two months stuck on this mountain and I may go nuts.”

“The rest of you can still travel through the Stargate,” Daniel said.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Jack groused. 

Daniel smiled and ducked his head, touched by the sentiment.  “I don’t think General Hammond will accept that as an excuse,” he replied, looking up.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Jack said sagely.  “So, what were you coming to see me about?”

“Oh, well, I thought you might want to talk about … what happened,” Daniel replied.

“You did, huh?”

Daniel shrugged then asked, “Why were you coming to see me?”

“Oh, well, I thought you might want to talk about what happened,” Jack replied with a self-deprecating smile.

“My office is closer,” Daniel smiled.

“But you need the exercise,” Jack said, gesturing to Daniel’s cane.  “Let’s get some coffee in the commissary.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Daniel agreed.

                                                ******

“Grab a stump and I’ll get us coffee and a donut or something,” Jack said as the two men entered the half-empty feeding ground.

“Okay,” Daniel replied, scanning the room and spotting a quiet, corner table.  He limped over to the table and sat down, relieved to get the weight off his knee.  Massaging the sore joint, he watched Jack get their coffee.  He was genuinely surprised to hear Jack wanted to talk.  Concerned, too, because that meant Jack was feeling way too much guilt.

“We’re in luck,” Jack said, setting his tray on the table.  “Cheesecake,” he grinned.

Daniel eagerly reached for his coffee and dessert.  “Eat first?” he suggested.

“Either that, or watch you salivate,” Jack replied, already tucking into his cheesecake.

The two men made short work of their desserts and then Jack took their mugs back for refills.  Once he sat down again, Daniel took the bull by the horns.

“I told you before what happened to me wasn’t your fault, and I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Jeez, Daniel, don’t beat around the bush,” Jack drawled.

Daniel smiled and sipped his coffee.  “I’m serious.  Our body chemistry was altered by the manii, and we were victims of its effects.”

“That’s too cut and dry, Daniel, and you know it,” Jack said.  “Yes, we were affected by those damn bugs, but they didn’t alter our emotions, they enhanced them.”

“The fact remains, that enhancement wasn’t of our choosing,” Daniel pressed.  “I’ll be the first one to admit I sometimes annoy you on purpose, but it’s to make a point.  Never, never would I deliberately push you like that for the sheer joy of it, and that’s what I did.” 

“I almost strangled you to death,” Jack said, his voice full of self-loathing.

“But you didn’t, Jack.  You stopped, and that’s what’s important.  In spite of your hormones being whacked out, there was enough of you, the real you, to take control and stop,” Daniel said earnestly.

“You were afraid for your life,” Jack said quietly.  “That’s why you ran.”

Daniel stared at Jack then glanced away.  He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then looked back at Jack.

“I won’t lie to you, Jack.  I was afraid.  There was a darkness in your eyes.  A deadness worse than the anger … and the hate,” Daniel added softly.

“Ah, crap,” Jack muttered, leaning on the table and rubbing his eyes.

“Don’t beat yourself up, Jack,” Daniel said gently.  “I know you don’t hate me.  I wish I could explain to you how I felt when I woke up and saw you; the relief that flooded through me.  How safe I felt, knowing I wasn’t alone and you were there with me.”

Jack looked at Daniel, his eyes tired and moist.  “If you had died,” he whispered.

“It would have killed you inside,” Daniel said softly.  “I won’t make you say it, Jack,” he added with a smile, “but suffice it to say, I know you love me.”

“For crying out loud, Daniel, not so loud,” Jack whispered.

Daniel laughed.  “I hate to break it to you, Jack, but it’s no secret.  You love Sam and Teal’c, too.  We’re your kids.”

“What am I going to do with you?” Jack groused.

“I don’t know, but we’ve got years to find out,” Daniel smiled.

“I’m assuming that you, you know,” Jack said, arching his eyebrows and waving his hand between them

“Love you, too?” Daniel guessed.

“Damnit, Daniel,” Jack winced.

“You assume correctly,” Daniel smiled.  “Of course, I can’t speak for Sam or Teal’c,” he shrugged.

“You really are a pain,” Jack said.

“It’s a dirty job,” Daniel sighed.

“But someone’s gotta do it,” Jack drawled.

“And who better than me?” Daniel smiled.

“Indeed,” Jack grinned.

 

.

link image
link image
link img
link img
link img
link image
isis link
Eilidh17
DennyJ
Amberfly
Carlyn
Winterstar
LadyD
Isis
   
  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
link img
link img
link image
Marzipan
JAJJAJ
Gemsong
Cancer
Taylyn
GateGremlyn
Pough

 

 

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.