The Last Dance

“Jack, I’ve been thinking about that…thing we went through,” Daniel said carefully.

“Well, don’t,” Jack grunted, handing Daniel some water.  He didn’t want Daniel thinking about it because he knew exactly what his teammate was trying to get him to do and there was no way in hell he was going to do it.

“What if it was something like a Goa’uld transport ring?”  Daniel pressed, taking the water and placing it on the ground beside him.

“You should eat something too,” Jack said, giving half of his energy bar to Daniel and studiously avoiding eye contact.

Daniel sighed and took the bar although he doubted he’d be able to eat it, never mind keep it down.  He was feeling sicker by the minute.

“There might be more of them,” Daniel said.  “You should try to find one and go through it.  You could end up back at the Stargate.”

“If what you say is true then I could just as easily end up under thirty feet of water,” Jack remarked dryly, his back to the younger man.  “But if you want to try to find one of those things and go through then we’ll do it together when you’re feeling better.”

Daniel closed his eyes and fought the rising nausea.  Soon the pain and spasms would follow.  He wasn’t going anywhere, and Jack knew it.  He opened his eyes and stared at the rigid back of his best friend.  He licked dry, chapped lips.

“Jack.”

“No.”

Daniel took a deep breath, too tired and too weak to argue but knowing he had to try.

“Jack,” he repeated wearily.

“I said, no, Daniel,” Jack reiterated firmly, whirling to face his injured teammate.  “I am not leaving you here, and nothing you say is going to make me change my mind.  They’ll find us.”

Daniel laughed: a short, hollow bark lacking in mirth.  “Jack, we don’t even know where we are.”

“All the more reason for us to stay together,” Jack said reasonably, sitting next to his friend.  “If we split up they’d have to search twice as long for us.”

Daniel looked up with pain-ridden eyes.  “I must be worse than I thought,” he said with a weak smile.  “That almost made sense.”

“Carter and Teal’c will have gone back to the SGC by now to rustle up a search party.  We just have to sit tight.”

“What if they encountered one of those things as well?  They could be just as lost as we are,” Daniel countered, his forehead creased in worry as well as pain.

“Daniel, that’s my problem, okay?  You just concentrate on getting your strength back.”

“Jack, we both know I’m not going to—”

“You’re going to be fine, Daniel,” Jack interrupted gruffly, swallowing the lie for the umpteenth time.

“No, I’m not, Jack.  I’ve been poisoned, remember?”

“Damn it, of course I remember,” Jack said, angry with his helplessness and frustrated with Daniel’s stubbornness.  His mind instinctively flashed back to the accident three days ago that had injured his friend.   Initially, Jack had told Daniel he was lucky he hadn’t broken his leg or his neck when he tumbled down the ridge, and that he was lucky to come away with just a grazed calf.  Well, that was before they realized the shrub he had landed in was poisonous.  It was also before they went through that damn…thing and got separated from the rest of SG-1.

“Jack, all I’m saying is—” Daniel didn’t finish his remark as a jolt of pain shuddered through him.

Jack rolled over onto his knees and clasped Daniel’s shoulders.  “Easy, it’ll pass.”

Daniel’s face scrunched up in pain.  “Oh, God,” he gasped, clutching his middle

“Daniel,” Jack murmured, wrapping his arms around his stricken friend.  “Ride it out,” he whispered.  “That’s it, just like last time,” he soothed.  “Ride it out.”

“I can’t,” Daniel gasped.

Jack’s heart clenched in fear and pain for his friend.  “Yes, you can, Daniel,” he encouraged, tightening his arms.  “Damn it, you’re the strongest, bravest man I know,” he said, his voice a warm whisper in Daniel’s ear.

Jack felt the subtle change in Daniel’s muscles, a further tensing that had nothing to do with pain.  That got your attention, didn’t it?

Daniel mumbled something that Jack didn’t quite catch.

“What’s that?”  Jack asked, lowering his ear to Daniel’s mouth.

“Poison…must be contagious…affecting your brain,” Daniel mumbled.

Jack chuckled and ruffled the sweat-soaked hair affectionately.  “It’s you that’s contagious,” he chided.  Addictive is more like it, he thought soberly.  Life without Daniel Jackson would be intolerable, and the fact that Daniel’s life was slowly ebbing away was scaring the hell out of him.  He unconsciously clutched the precious soul tighter to his chest and rocked gently.

“We’ll get through this, Daniel.  You’re gonna be fine,” he soothed, feeling each spasm as it ripped through his friends’ body.  “And Carter and Teal’c will be fine, too.”

After several minutes, Jack felt the tension in the younger man ease, and he leaned back to give his friend some air.

“Okay, now?”  Jack asked.

Daniel nodded weakly.  “Better,” he rasped, breathing in carefully.

“How’s your leg?”

Daniel thought of lying, but he was tired of his false bravado.

“Hurts like hell,” he whispered, stretching out his leg gingerly.

“It’s time to change the dressing,” Jack said, carefully easing out from behind his friend.

Daniel thought of saying, ‘What’s the point when the poison was going to do him in before any leg injury?’  He didn’t though.  He knew what this was doing to Jack, and if changing his dressing helped the older man, well then, he could put up with more discomfort.

Daniel leaned back against the pack Jack had placed behind him and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on anything other than what Jack was doing.

Jack carefully but efficiently began unwrapping the gauze from Daniel’s calf. 

Daniel clenched his teeth in pain as Jack got closer to the open wound.

Jack knew what he was going to find.  He could feel the unnatural warmth even before he touched the leg.  Worse, he could smell the injury.  He shifted around in order to shield Daniel’s vision from the leg.  Jack’s nostrils flared at the putrid smell, and he opened his mouth to breathe.  He should have been prepared.  He’d seen gangrene before.  He’d seen limbs hacked off in the chaos of battle.  But this was Daniel, not a soldier in the middle of a firefight.  His friend, Daniel.  A soft-spoken, inquisitive, do-anything-for-you archaeologist who deserved none of the crap that so often befell him.  Jack swallowed the bile in his throat as the seeping wound was exposed.  Damn it, it shouldn’t be this bad.  What the hell’s in there?

“Jack,” Daniel rasped, gritting his teeth as the gauze pulled away flesh.

“I’m sorry, I’m going as fast as I can,” Jack said.

“Jack, I can smell it,” Daniel said weakly.

“Just lie still,” Jack ordered sternly.  “This is going to sting.”

Jack felt his young friend stiffen, and he felt like a shit.  This is no time to be soft, O’Neill.

“The wound’s infected, Daniel, but it’s not spreading,” Jack explained, the lie sliding easily off his tongue.   He liberally applied antiseptic to the gaping sore, willing it to do its damn job.

Daniel’s back arched, and he inhaled sharply, his eyes squeezed shut.

“I’m almost done,” Jack murmured, packing fresh gauze around the wound and wrapping it tightly.

“How much…how much morphine?”  Daniel panted.

“Not enough,” Jack said bitterly.

“Not enough, period, or not enough …to cut off my leg?”  Daniel pressed stubbornly.

“Damnit, Daniel, just let it go,” Jack said irritably, gathering up the soiled bandages.

The utter silence behind Jack was more painful than any staff blast.  He turned to see two weary, scared, pain-filled eyes.

Jack scooted up and cupped Daniel’s face between his hands.

“It’s bad, Daniel, but I’ve seen worse.”  I just can’t remember when.  Crap, it spread so fast even with the antibiotics.   “You’re not going to lose your leg, okay?” he said gently, his thumbs caressing the fevered cheeks.  “I promise.”

Daniel nodded.  That’s because the poison will get me first.

“Forget it, Daniel,” Jack said firmly.  “The poison’s not going to get you either.”

Daniel managed to produce a weak smile, and Jack patted his cheek gently.

“That’s better.  Here, try to drink some water,” Jack said, placing the canteen in Daniel’s hand.

Daniel still had a lot of strength in him, and Jack took heart in the simple sight of Daniel drinking deeply from the flask.

“I’ll get rid of these,” Jack said, indicating the bandages, “and find something to make you a better crutch, okay?”

“Okay, Jack,” Daniel said gratefully.

“Do you want to lie down?”  Jack asked.

“No, this is fine,” Daniel said, blanching at the thought of moving his leg.

“Okay, I won’t be long,” Jack said, his hand lingering on Daniel’s shoulder.

“Not going anywhere,” Daniel smiled.

“See that you don’t,” Jack smiled in return, squeezing the shoulder affectionately.

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

Jack went deeper into the forest then was necessary.  He needed to hit something before he exploded, but he didn’t want Daniel to hear.

“Goddamnit!” he cursed under his breath, as he slammed a harmless tree with his open palm.  “What the hell has he done now?” he asked savagely of the air around him.  “Saved too many civilizations?  Donated too much to fucking charity?”  He wanted to scream.  He wanted someone tangible to rant at.  Someone or something to blame.  Then he saw the shrub.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” Jack snarled at the harmless-looking red-tipped shrub.  He stood there, glaring at the foliage and breathing heavily.  He had an absurd image of impaling himself on the twig-like stalks, and dying alongside Daniel.  His vision blurred, and he swiped angrily at his tears.  Fucking coward.  Daniel needs you helping him, not giving in.

Jack stared at the bush and frowned.  He blinked rapidly to clear his vision.

“What the hell?” he murmured, stepping closer to the shrub.  He stared at the tips, scarlet and shiny.  He jumped when one moved.  Crap, what is it?  He inched closer and tentatively reached out a hand.  He grasped a single stalk and shook it.

A cry of alarm had Jack whirling, his P-90 aimed and ready.

A young woman was frantically shaking her head and jabbering.

Jack relaxed his grip and felt a surge of hope.

“This plant,” he said, gesturing to the deadly shrub.  “You know what it is?”

The woman jabbered some more, gesticulating wildly, urging him to move away from the shrub.

Jack refused to move which aggravated the young woman even further.  He took a step backwards as she rushed forward then reached past him, deftly plucking one of the stalks from the shrub.  He watched spellbound as she plunged the stalk into the ground.  Seconds later, she withdrew it and held it up to his scrutiny and education.

Jack noticed immediately that the red tip was missing.  He looked down and grimaced at the sight of a red, multi-legged, scaly beetle burrowing into the ground.

“Jesus,” he whispered.  Is that what went into Daniel?

“My friend,” Jack said frantically, tapping his chest.  “My friend’s been hurt by one of those.”  He grabbed his leg and pointed at the shrub, desperate for her to understand.

The woman frowned and shook her head.

“No, no, not me,” Jack said.  “Someone like me.  Over there,” he said, pointing off to the distance.  “Look,” he said, rushing over to the pile of bandages he hadn’t burned or buried yet.   “These,” he said, holding up the fouled wrappings.

The woman gasped and shrank back from the vile smell.

“Please,” Jack said, holding his hands up in supplication.  “Please, come with me to see my friend.”

Jack didn’t know if it was the desperation in his voice or his face, or both, but she came hesitantly towards him.  He smiled and nodded gratefully, moving slowly so as not to startle her.  He made his way back to Daniel, looking back every so often to see that she was still following him.  As soon as they entered the clearing, she shot past him and ran to Daniel.

“Wait for me!”  Jack yelped in surprise, hurrying after the strange woman.

                                           **********

Daniel’s eyes opened at the commotion, and they widened in surprise at the sight of a young woman bearing down on him, Jack at her heels.

“It’s okay, Daniel!  She’s here to help!”  Jack called.

Daniel eyed the woman curiously as she looked him up and down, murmuring softly to herself.

“I saw one of those damn shrubs,” Jack explained.  “She came out of nowhere and warned me not to touch it.  She knows what it is, Daniel,” he said in a rush.  “Can you understand her?”

Daniel looked back at the woman and concentrated on the words.

“I-I don’t know.  She’s talking so fast and low.  I think…”   Daniel frowned.  “I think…maybe…”  He began to speak, a few words, soft and gentle.

Jack held his breath when the woman stopped and stared wide-eyed at Daniel.

Bingo!  I knew you could do it, Danny.

Daniel smiled and repeated his words softly.

Jack wanted to scream ‘Yes!’ to the heavens when she answered back.

Daniel looked excitedly at Jack.  “I only know about half of what she’s saying, but there’s definitely some ancient Egyptian.  It’s similar to Abydonian.  The other language, I’m not sure.”

“Abydonian?  Do you think they know Ra?”  Jack asked.

The woman whirled and backed away from them both, wariness in her eyes.

“Oh, crap.  Answers that question,” Jack mumbled.

Daniel spoke quickly and soothingly.  As he tried to explain that Ra was dead and that they were enemies of Ra, he leaned forward and inadvertently jarred his leg.  The resulting jolt of pain drained the color from his face.  He slumped back in agony, his teeth clenched and his eyes squeezed shut.

Jack immediately knelt beside Daniel and spoke soothingly.  “Easy, Daniel, easy.”

The young woman stared at the two men, torn between her desire to help and her inherent fear of Ra.  She stepped back slightly as the older man looked back at her, his eyes and voice pleading.

“Please, help him.  We won’t hurt you.”

She didn’t understand the words, but the message was clear: they would not harm her.  She approached the two men and placed her hand on the younger man’s cheek.

Daniel felt the cool, soft hand and opened his eyes.  He smiled weakly, grateful for the caring gesture.

The woman smiled and patted his arm reassuringly.

“Daniel,” he said, tapping his chest.  “Daniel,” he repeated.  He gestured to Jack and said, “Jack.”

The woman repeated the names.

“Jack.  Dan-yel,” she said hesitantly.

Jack glanced quickly at Daniel and saw the brief flicker of sadness at the familiar pronunciation of his name.

The woman looked uncertain, but Daniel nodded encouragingly.  “Yes,” he said.  “Dan-yel.”

Jack heard the sorrow in his friend’s voice, and he clasped Daniel’s shoulder firmly.

The woman smiled and pointed to herself.  “Morah,” she said.

“Morah,” Daniel repeated.  He smiled and said a few more words which caused her to blush and look away.

Jack smiled and shook his head.  “Can’t help yourself, can you, Daniel?” he chided affectionately.

“Jack,” he protested.  “I just said her name was lovely.”

Jack chuckled.  “Well, while you’re making brownie points with her can you try to find out where the hell we are?” 

Daniel scowled at Jack and then looked at Morah.  He tried to convey their situation to her, but the effort it took was taking its toll.  He collapsed back, gasping for breath.

“Help him,” Jack beseeched, angry at himself for pushing Daniel.

Morah looked at Jack and again saw the desperation in the older man’s face.  She nodded, gestured and spoke rapidly.

“I don’t understand you,” Jack said, shaking his head. 

“I-uh-think she wants us to stay here,” Daniel murmured, his eyes still closed.  “She’ll come back…with help…I think.”

“Tell her to hurry,” Jack said.

“I think she knows that, Jack,” Daniel replied, as Morah suddenly ran off

“Right,” Jack said, watching her swiftly disappear into the woods.

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

“Jack?”

“Yeah?”

“I think I have to go to the bathroom,” Daniel explained apologetically.

Aw, jeez, Daniel.  Don’t look like that.

“Sure,” Jack said, getting up to retrieve Daniel’s crutch.  “Sorry, I haven’t made the new one yet.”

“s’okay,” Daniel said, sitting up gingerly.  “You’ve been preoccupied.”

“Grab my shoulder,” Jack said.  “Ready?” he asked, as he placed a supportive arm around Daniel’s waist.

“Not really, but…”

Jack smiled grimly.  “Just put all your weight on me.  On three.  One…two…three.”

They moved as one, and Daniel stifled a cry as Jack swiftly brought him to a standing position.

“Catch your breath,” Jack said, feeling his friend’s muscles trembling under his hands.

“Not…as bad…as I thought,” Daniel panted.

“You’ll be dancing in no time,” Jack said brightly.

“Let’s see…if I can walk first,” Daniel said, gathering his strength.

“We don’t have to go far,” Jack said.  “We can stay right here.”

Daniel smiled appreciatively, but shook his head.  “Uh, no, I think I should go.  Maybe in another forty years I’ll need you to clean up after me.”

“Crap, Daniel.  In another forty years I’ll be pushing up—”

“You’ll be rocking on the front porch,” Daniel interjected.  “Well, okay, you’ll be sitting, and I’ll be rocking you,” he corrected with a twinkle in his tired blue eyes.

“Something to look forward to,” Jack laughed.  “Come on, let’s see how you do,” he said, transferring Daniel’s weight from his shoulder to the crutch.

Daniel bit his lip, but he held his own.  He leaned into the crutch and adjusted to his new position.  His head swam sickeningly, and he lowered his head, waiting for the vertigo to pass.

Jack hovered nervously but kept his hands to himself.

“Well, here goes,” Daniel said, paling at the thought of moving his leg.  He took a tentative step.  The pain was bad, but bearable.  He looked up at Jack’s concerned face.

 “Piece of cake, he said, the light sheen of sweat visible on his forehead belying his levity.

“Just take it slow,” Jack cautioned.  “This isn’t a race.”

“Easy for you to say,” Daniel grumbled, trying not to think about his bladder and bowels.

“Think you can make it over there?”  Jack asked, gesturing to the trees a short distance away.

Daniel looked and thought, Oh, maybe by next week, but replied, “I can make it.”

“Okay, I’ll set something up,” Jack said, and sprinted off into the trees.

Daniel began his slow trek, pleased that he was progressing better than he thought he would.

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

Jack surveyed his handiwork.  He’d set up hundreds of makeshift latrines in his time, but this one was special.  He looked up as Daniel hobbled into view.

“What do you think?”  Jack asked happily.

Daniel stared open-mouthed at the set-up.  Tears pricked at his eyes at Jack’s compassion and understanding.

“Yeah, I’m kinda proud of it, too,” Jack said, acknowledging Daniel’s silent appreciation.

“You forgot something though,” Daniel said quietly, his brow furrowed.

“I did?”  Jack frowned, checking the facility and shaking his head in confusion.

“There aren’t any books,” Daniel said plaintively.

Jack looked back at his friend and grinned.  “Asshole.”

Daniel smiled and said, “If I’m not out in half an hour, come and wake me.”

Jack cuffed Daniel affectionately on the head and said. “Give me a shout if you need a hand.”

Daniel nodded gratefully, touched by the knowledge that Jack was being literal and deadly serious.

“I’ll be fine, Jack.”

Jack reluctantly left Daniel to his own devices and scouted the vicinity to ensure there weren’t any more ‘buggy’ plants.  Satisfied, he pulled out his radio and once again tried to make contact with Carter and Teal’c.  He sighed at the resulting static and hoped to God they were faring better than he and Daniel.

                                           **********
Major Samantha Carter strode up a small rise and stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the ruins.

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Teal’c,” she muttered.

Teal’c cocked an eyebrow and Sam smiled apologetically. “It’s an expression.”

“I have heard O’Neill use it many times.”

“That spatial distortion, or whatever it was, it’s like it just picked us up and deposited us somewhere else,” Sam said, frowning at her less than satisfactory assessment.

“Indeed, this is not Kansas,” Teal’c added helpfully, standing at her shoulder.

Sam smiled, and felt grateful for the stalwart presence of her Jaffa teammate. 

“Let’s check it out,” Sam said, walking down to the ruins below.

They wandered through the decimated city, carefully sifting through the debris.

“Teal’c, does any of this look familiar to you?” Sam asked.

“Indeed it does, Major Carter.  I have seen this type of destruction many times,” Teal’c replied.

“What do you think happened?” she asked, scowling at the chaos.

“The Goa’uld happened,” Teal’c said darkly

Sam looked sharply at her companion, but his expression was inscrutable.

“Have you been here before, Teal’c?”

“I have not.”

Sam nodded, knowing she would not get anything else from her companion.  “Well, it looks like whatever happened here occurred a long time ago,” she said, picking up a shard and turning it over in her hands.  “I wonder if Daniel’s rummaging through something like this right now,” she mused.  “He’s probably driving the colonel nuts.”

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

“Worse, Jack,” Daniel rasped, curled on his side while his insides twisted viciously.  “It’s getting worse.  God,” he moaned as he curled up tighter.

“Danny,” Jack murmured, rubbing his hand along his stricken friend’s back.

“How long?”  Daniel asked hoarsely.

“How long?”  Jack asked, confused.

“These…attacks,” Daniel panted through gritted teeth.

Jack lowered his head onto Daniel’s back and squeezed his shoulder.

“About two hours since the last one,” Jack replied.

Daniel nodded.  There was no need to say anything else.  They both knew the frequency of the attacks was increasing.  The poison was spreading.

Jack felt like a bastard for not alleviating Daniel’s pain with morphine, but he only had two vials.  Daniel would let him know when the pain became unbearable.

“Help me up,” Daniel whispered, snapping Jack out of his morbid thoughts.

Jack quickly helped to ease Daniel into a semi-prone position.

“Lean on me,” Jack said softly as he gently maneuvered Daniel in between his outstretched legs. 

“It’s better,” Daniel whispered, trying to offer some reassurance.

“She’ll be back soon,” Jack encouraged, wrapping his arms loosely around the younger man.

Daniel’s head lolled onto Jack’s shoulder.

“My dance card will be filled in no time,” he said weakly.

Jack laughed and rested his forehead on the top of Daniel’s head.

“Save the last dance for me?” he teased.

“Only if it’s a tango,” Daniel grunted.

Jack felt his eyes burning, and he held his friend tighter.

“You’re gonna be fine,” he whispered.

Jack felt Daniel’s hand grope for his own, and he grasped it greedily.

“I promise, Danny, you’re gonna be fine,” he reiterated, gently kissing the damp hair beneath his chin.

 

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

“Major Carter!”

Sam looked up, the urgency in her companion’s tone sending shivers up her spine.

“Teal’c?”

“It’s coming this way.  We must move now,” Teal’c declared.

Sam looked and saw the familiar tornado-like disturbance coming their way.

“It’s not going to hit us, Teal’c.”

“You misunderstand me, Major Carter.  There is no time to explain.”

“Teal’c what are you—”

Sam felt her arm gripped tightly, and she was jerked off her feet as Teal’c ran towards the disturbance.  She was barely able to squawk in surprise an irritation before the ground fell away from beneath her feet.  Her stomach lurched and she felt like she was on the roller coaster from hell, but through it all, she never lost awareness of Teal’c’s relentless grip, and she focused on that one tangible piece of reality.  The wild ride ended as abruptly as it started.  Sam hit the ground with teeth-rattling force and rolled up against a large, immovable object.  Her head spun crazily and she squeezed her eyes shut.  The immovable object shifted and rumbled.

“Major Carter, are you injured?”

“Teal’c?” she said dazedly.

“I believe we are back in Kansas, Major Carter,” Teal’c said.

“Wha-?”  Sam sat up, half supported by Teal’c.  Her eyes widened in astonishment.  The DHD was less than 100 meters away.

“Oh, my God,” Sam breathed.  “Teal’c, what just happened?”

“I am not certain, but I believe this planet may be equipped with devices similar to the Goa’uld transport rings, only much more sophisticated and unpredictable,” Teal’c replied.

“You mean we just…caught the Express?”  Sam asked.

“It would appear so.”

“How did you know we’d end up back here?”  Sam inquired.

“I did not,” Teal’c replied.  He looked at her placidly and said, “O’Neill would call it a gut instinct.”

Sam nodded dubiously and then quickly fingered her radio.

“Colonel O’Neill, do you copy?  This is Carter.  Colonel, Daniel, please respond.  Damn it, still no response.”

“If they have encountered similar devices they may have been transported far beyond the reach of our transmitter,” Teal’c said.

“Maybe they’ve already gone back to the SGC,” Sam said hopefully.

“They would not leave without leaving us a message,” Teal’c stated.

“I know,” Sam sighed as she looked back at the Stargate.  “I hate to say it, Teal’c, but I think we should gate home and inform General Hammond.”

“I concur, Major Carter, although it grieves me to leave O’Neill and Daniel Jackson behind,” Teal’c intoned somberly.

“We’re coming back for them, Teal’c,” Sam said adamantly.

Teal’c bowed his head slightly and prayed silently for the safety of their friends.

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

Daniel clung desperately to Jack.  The pain in his gut came in waves that threatened to drown him in agony.  Only the sound of Jack’s voice and the strength of Jack’s arms kept him afloat.  He was not going to die.  Jack would not allow it.  Besides, he was too damn stubborn to die, as Jack was so fond of reminding him.

Jack’s shirt was soaked with sweat and tears: Daniel’s sweat and Jack’s tears.  Daniel was getting worse, and Jack couldn’t deny it.  Not anymore.

“I’m going to give you some morphine now, okay, Daniel?” he whispered hoarsely.

Daniel nodded his head then shook it.  “No.  Not yet,” he gasped.

Jack blinked back fresh tears and hugged his sick friend tightly.

“Stubborn son-of-a-bitch,” he murmured thickly.

“Learned from…the best,” Daniel panted.

Jack took heart from the faint, but cocky retort.  Daniel was fighting, and as long as Daniel fought, this current horror could be beaten.

Jack looked at his watch.  Hours had passed since the strange woman had left.  God, how far did she have to go?

Daniel kept his face buried in Jack’s shirt, his fingers twisting the wet material as another wave of agony washed over him.

Jack tightened his arms around Daniel.

“She’ll be back soon.  They’re going to fix you up just fine,” Jack soothed, his voice breaking under the emotional strain.

Daniel couldn’t manage anything more than a pained whimper, and Jack thought his heart was going to break.

“Come on, let’s get you lying down,” Jack whispered, easing Daniel gently to the ground.

Daniel curled onto his side, gasping for every breath.  He was beyond reacting to any new pain. 

Jack could only take so much.  He cleared his blurred vision, reached into his pocket and pulled out an ampoule of morphine.  This is not defeat.  This is not defeat.  Mentally running the mantra through his mind, Jack administered the drug to his friend.  He sat close beside Daniel, running his hand continuously up and down the younger man’s back.  Where the hell are they? 

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

Jack’s head jerked up at the sound of voices.  He looked towards the woods and saw Morah and several others emerge from the trees.  He grasped Daniel tighter and whispered, “She’s back, Daniel.  You’re going to be okay.”

“Dan-yel?”  Morah questioned, running up to Jack.

“Not good,” Jack said as he carefully stood up and eased Daniel onto his back.  He stepped back to allow Morah and an old woman with her to examine Daniel.

Daniel was unnaturally quiet and unresponsive. 

Morah frowned and looked at Jack.

Jack shrugged and showed her the empty syringe.  He placed his head on his hands, feigning sleep.  It was the best he could do to describe what he had done.

Morah looked at the strange object and then conversed with the older woman, mimicking Jack’s gesture.  The old woman nodded and immediately ran her hands up and down Daniel’s body.

Morah carefully unwrapped the bandage on Daniel’s leg.

Jack stifled a gag at the sticky mess underneath.  He nodded in admiration as Morah didn’t even flinch, but then scowled as she proceeded to scrape away the gangrenous tissue.

“Wait!  What are you doing?”  Jack hissed, as he reached out to stop her.

Morah looked at him in sympathy, but her companion looked thoroughly disgusted.  Jack didn’t know if she was pissed at him for interfering, or pissed at him for allowing Daniel to get into such a condition.  Either way, it didn’t improve his disposition.  No one could make him feel worse than he already did.

“You can’t just hack chunks out of him, for crying out loud.”

Morah spoke rapidly to her companion, obviously placating the woman.  The latter nodded gruffly and spoke sharply to the men and women gathered nearby.

Jack watched in surprise and then fear as they all turned and vanished into the forest.  Oh, God, did I just blow Daniel’s last chance?

Jack looked fearfully at Morah, but she simply smiled and patted his arm gently.

“Jack?”

“Daniel?”  Jack said, quickly cradling his friend’s face.

“Feel funny,” Daniel murmured thickly.

Thank God that’s all you feel, Jack thought as he glanced at Daniel’s leg.

“That’s just the morphine, Daniel.  Morah’s here and she brought help.  Lots of good-looking women here.  I might have to fight someone for the last dance,” Jack teased gently.

Daniel smiled and gave a little laugh.  “Not a chance.  You’re mine, flyboy.”

“Try to get some sleep, Daniel.  You’ll need your strength,” Jack said softly.

“All those dances,” Daniel murmured, nodding faintly.

Jack’s heart burst, and he barely stifled a sob as he caressed the feverish brow.

The two women witnessed the gentle exchange and were moved by the compassion and fragility of the older man.  Morah had taken a liking to the younger man immediately.  He had a gentle soul that shone brightly out of his vivid blue eyes.  The older man’s soul was darker, and guarded, as were his eyes.  She had been nervous of his presence until she had witnessed his obvious compassion for his companion.  She looked at the old woman at her side and saw her own feelings mirrored in the aged eyes.

Jack was vaguely aware of the women conversing, but he was too busy concentrating on Daniel to take much notice.  The morphine had done its magic and the archaeologist actually looked at peace.  Jack shifted his position so Daniel’s head was resting on his lap.  He figured he was far enough away from the women so as not to interfere with their work but close enough to act if things got out of hand.  He glanced at Daniel’s leg and tightened his mouth at the sight.  There was a lot of blood, but the gangrenous swelling had diminished.  He looked down at Daniel’s face and absently caressed a pale cheek.

“I don’t know if we’ll laugh about this one, Daniel, but we sure as hell won’t forget it, will we?”  Jack murmured gently.

“Mmm…nice,” Daniel sighed, rubbing his cheek against Jack’s fingers like a contented cat.

“On second thought, Danny boy,” Jack chuckled softly, “you could be in big trouble.  Lucky for you Carter and Teal’c aren’t here to witness this.”

“Wha-?”  Daniel asked sleepily.

“Nothing,” Jack whispered.  “Go to sleep.”

                                           ************************
While Daniel slept, the villagers helped Jack to carefully build a shelter around the sleeping man.  Jack knew they were welcome to stay in the main camp, but he didn’t want Daniel exposed to too much excitement.  He knew his friend well, and if there was a chance for Daniel to talk and learn he’d take it and not give a second thought to his health.

Jack was extremely pleased with the shelter and he tried to convey his appreciation with lots of smiles and bowings.  It seemed to do the trick because everyone seemed happy.  Jack bowed one last time and entered the shelter to sit with his friend.  He was thankful when the men went back to their own camp and left him in peace.

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

“General Hammond, we have to go back.  The colonel and Daniel—”

“Will have to come back on their own, Major Carter,” Hammond said patiently.

“But, sir—”

“Major, you yourself said these tornadoes appeared from nowhere and you were seemingly transported to another part of the planet,” Hammond said.

“They’re not tornadoes, sir,” Sam said disheartened.

“You know what I mean, Major.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can we not send a MALP through, General Hammond?”  Teal’c asked.

“Yes, Teal’c.  We can do that and we will.  I’m not abandoning the colonel and Doctor Jackson.  I’m just not going to allow anymore of my people to get lost on that planet,” Hammond said firmly.

Teal’c bowed his head respectfully.

 “Yes, General.,” Sam said.

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

The sound of excited voices drew Jack’s attention from his sleeping charge.  The villagers were coming back, and from the sounds of it, whatever quest they had been sent on had been successful.  He looked at Morah anxiously.

She stood up and tugged on Jack’s arm, gesturing to the woods.

Crap, now what?

It was clear she wanted to show him something.  He reluctantly agreed after she bundled up her cloak and made a pillow for Daniel’s head.  He took the cloak and gently slid out from underneath Daniel, carefully placing it under his head, and lowering him down.

“Don’t go away,” Jack ordered quietly, patting Daniel’s chest.

Jack followed Morah into the woods and watched warily as she deftly plucked a red bug off the deadly plant.  He grimaced as its body unfolded and its legs scuttled in the air.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked in alarm when she placed the bug on the exposed skin of her arm.

Morah smiled calmly as the creature immediately burrowed into her flesh, leaving only a small drop of blood as evidence of its presence.  She turned to a young boy who eagerly held out a small leather pouch.  Thanking him, she took the pouch and pulled out a small black, glistening worm.

Oh, crap.  More bugs, Jack thought disgustedly.  Nevertheless, he looked on in fascinated horror as Morah placed the worm on her arm. The worm immediately reared its head, or what Jack presumed to be its head, and slithered unerringly to the small puncture wound.

“Christ,” Jack muttered as the worm slipped into the hole and vanished.  He looked up and Morah smiled and said, “Dan-yel.”

“Aw, Jesus.  You want to put one of those things in Daniel?”

Morah suddenly winced and stifled a small cry.

Jack felt sick.  If that thing was hurting her, what would it do to Daniel?  He’s had the damn thing in him for four days.

Morah looked a little pale, but she continued to smile and held out her arm.

Jack winced at the undulating movement under her skin.  It reminded him too much of a Goa’uld invading its host, and he really did feel sick.  He didn’t want to be here.  He wanted to be with Daniel.  He had to remind himself that this would help his sick friend.

Morah spoke again and another villager stepped forward and slathered a sticky substance on the puncture mark.  She looked at Jack and practically shoved her arm under his nose to get his attention.

Jack took the hint and watched the drama unfolding under her skin.  He couldn’t see the worm anymore and he jumped when its ugly little head or ass popped out of the hole. He watched as it seemed to get stuck, and then, with an audible ‘pop’, and a fair bit of blood, it was out, looking much fatter than when it went in.

“God, that’s disgusting,” he muttered.

“Dan-yel,” Morah repeated, her eyes set and determined.

Jack swallowed and nodded.  “Dan-yel,” he murmured.

The young woman’s eyes lit up and she plucked the sated worm from her arm and handed it back to its proud finder.  He then clamped some moss over the wound to staunch the flow of blood.

“I’m going back to Daniel,” Jack said, pointing to himself and to his friend in the distance.

Morah nodded in understanding and watched Jack quickly lope back to his ill teammate.

Jack knelt next to Daniel and tried to ignore the seeping wound on his leg.

“Daniel?” he said gently, placing a cool hand on the archaeologist’s fevered cheek.

Tired, pain-heavy blue eyes slowly opened.  Daniel smiled weakly.

“Hey,” he rasped.

“Hey yourself.  How ya feeling?”

Daniel seemed to ponder the question and then frowned.

“I don’t know.”

Jack smiled sadly and said, “That’s okay.  The morphine’s still working.”

“You built this?” he asked, suddenly realizing he was in a shelter.

“With some help.  Folks are real nice here,” Jack smiled.  “I think we’ll be staying for a while.”

“Is Morah still here?”  Daniel asked.

“Yeah, Danny,” Jack replied, gently patting Daniel’s face with a damp cloth.  “She’s got, uh, something that will help you.”

“Medicine?”  Daniel asked weakly.

“Sort of.”

“Jack?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s wrong?  Am I going to lose my leg?”  Daniel asked faintly.

“No,” Jack said firmly.  “You are not going to lose your leg, Daniel.  She has a cure.  It’s just a little…unorthodox,” he explained awkwardly.

“Unorthodox?”  Daniel repeated.

“Yeah.  A little,” Jack confirmed.

“Can’t be worse than leeches.”

“Um, funny you should say that,” Jack said hesitantly.

Daniel’s brow crinkled in puzzlement.

Just let it go, Danny.  But Jack knew that if Daniel had any awareness left in him he’d want answers and he’d want the truth.

Daniel’s hand twitched feebly as he tried to lift it.

Jack grasped the slender hand and squeezed it firmly.

“Tell me, Jack,” Daniel said weakly, his blue eyes burning into Jack’s.

Jack licked his lips and nodded, his hand still firmly clasping Daniel’s.

“Remember that shrub you landed in and those red pointy things?”

“Poisonous barbs,” Daniel murmured.

“Well, you’re half right,” Jack said.  “They are poisonous, but they’re not barbs.”

Daniel frowned.  “What are they?”

Jack swallowed uncomfortably and said, “Well, Daniel, they’re, um, bugs.”

“Bugs?”

“Yeah.  Red, shiny, crawly bugs,” Jack said, suppressing a shudder.

Daniel grimaced as the implication of Jack’s words registered within his drug-induced haze.

“But it’s going to be okay, Daniel,” Jack assured him.  “Morah knows how to get them out.”

“Them?”  Daniel croaked, his voice higher than usual.

“There might be more than one inside you, Daniel,” Jack explained, dabbing the flushed face gently with a damp cloth.  “But we’ll get them out.”  Please, just don’t ask me how.

“How?”  Daniel asked obstinately.

“Don’t worry about how, Daniel.  You let us worry about that,” Jack said soothingly.

Daniel shook his head.  “Have to know, Jack.”

“Why, damnit?  Why do you have to know?”  Jack asked irritably, releasing Daniel’s hand.  Damnit, Daniel.  Just accept it.

“Because,” Daniel insisted, instantly feeling the loss of contact and regretting his stubbornness that caused it.

Jack looked away from the blue eyes, intense even under the influence of morphine.

“Tell me, Jack.  I’m going to find out sooner or later.”

“All right,” Jack said sharply.

Daniel winced at the harsh tone and Jack cursed himself silently.

“Sorry,” the older man apologized softly.

“That bad?”  Daniel guessed, trying to put his friend at ease.

Jack smiled grimly and replied, “You tell me.  They have these worms that, well, eat the bugs.”

“Worms?”  Daniel repeated dully.

“Yeah.  Worms.”

Daniel grimaced and asked, “Honkin?”

Jack chuckled and rubbed his young friend’s shoulder.  “No, but they’re flexible.”

“Gross,” Daniel whispered as his mind grasped the implication.

“But effective,” Jack assured, squeezing Daniel’s shoulder.  “Morah’s coming.  Maybe she can explain it better,” he said, moving aside to let the young woman kneel beside her patient.

Jack stood up and left Daniel and Morah to converse.  He needed to clear his mind and to stretch his legs.  After a few minutes of walking he pulled out his radio.

“Carter, Teal’c, do you copy?”

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

“You need to rest, Major Carter.”

Sam looked sideways at the dark figure beside her.

“I can’t, Teal’c.  Not when the colonel and Daniel are out there somewhere,” she said, waving towards the quiet Stargate.

“General Hammond will let us try the MALP again in four hours.  Worrying will not help O’Neill and Daniel Jackson, or yourself,” Teal’c said mildly.

“I know,” Sam sighed, “but it’s the only thing I can do.”

“Then I shall worry with you,” Teal’c said solemnly, clasping his hands lightly behind his back.

Sam looked at her teammate fondly.  “Teal’c, that’s just silly.”

“Indeed,” he acknowledged, his feet rooted to the spot.

“All right,” Sam conceded with a smile.  “I don’t think I can sleep, but I think could eat something.  Will you join me?”

“It will be my pleasure, Major Carter,” Teal’c said, bowing slightly.

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

“This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”  Daniel asked quietly before gritting his teeth as a painful spasm assailed him.

“Yeah,” Jack replied, loath to tell the truth, but even more unwilling to lie.  He’d done enough of that already.

“One of those, ‘if the disease doesn’t kill you, the cure will’ things, I guess,” Daniel said, taking a cautious breath.

“Just think of the stories you can tell around the campfire,” Jack said.

Daniel’s eyes suddenly widened, and his face went paler.  Jack looked back to see what he was staring at.

Morah was holding a think piece of leather-bound wood and mimicking biting down on it.

“Crap,” Jack muttered, taking the object from her hand.  He looked apologetically at Daniel.

“We still have one dose of morphine,” Jack said.

Daniel shook his head.  “I don’t think drugged up worms will do me much good.”

“No, I suppose not.  Damn it, Daniel,” Jack said in frustration, clearly angry at his helplessness.

“Give it to me, Jack,” Daniel said gently, holding his hand out.

Jack clutched the piece of wood and then reluctantly placed it into Daniel’s open palm.

Daniel hitched in another pained breath and gripped the wood and Jack’s hand at the same time.

“Easy, Daniel,” Jack said, clasping his other hand around Daniel’s.  “We’ll get those bastards out of you.”

“Let’s do it,” Daniel gasped, placing the wood in his mouth.

Jack felt a sick sense of dread when two muscular villagers squatted next to Daniel and lightly placed their hands on the injured man’s arms and legs.  Immediately, Jack   positioned himself behind Daniel’s head, his hands firmly, but protectively pressing down on his shoulders. 

The old woman beside Morah nodded to the two men.

Daniel felt strong hands press down on his arms and legs and he closed his eyes.   Oh, God, this is going to hurt.  He was aware of one of Jack’s hands leaving his shoulder, and then he felt a gentle caress on the side of his face.  He glanced up and saw Jack leaning over him, his brown eyes warm and confident.  Daniel blinked and nodded gratefully.

Jack smiled encouragingly.  “Let’s get this show on the road,” he whispered.

Daniel took a deep, shaky breath and prepared himself as best he could.  He felt Jack’s hands once again grip his shoulders.  He shuddered involuntarily.

Jack looked grimly at Morah and nodded.

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

Everyone in the control room watched intently as the wormhole was established and the MALP activated on the other side.  The previous two attempts had produced nothing.  Maybe this would be the one.

“Transmission coming through,” Sergeant Davis said, his tone anxious but professional.

“Scan 90 degrees to the right,” Sam ordered quietly.

Davis responded promptly.  “Scanning 90 degrees to the right,” he confirmed as he felt Hammond, Teal’c, and Sam lean over his shoulder as they searched for any clue as to the whereabouts of their missing comrades.

“Scan 180 degrees to the left,” Sam said.

Davis adjusted the MALP’s probe.

Four sets of eyes widened, but not as wide as the dark, startled eyes staring back at them through the transmission.

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

Daniel’s muffled, agonized screams would haunt Jack for the rest of his life.  Daniel never screamed.  Not like that.

Jack suddenly pushed one of the villagers aside.  He needed to be closer to Daniel.  He needed Daniel to be able to see him.  One hand firmly pressed on his friend’s chest, the other cradled the sweat-soaked face, he fought for Daniel’s attention.

“Look at me, Daniel.  Look at me.”  Jack ordered firmly.

Daniel swallowed convulsively as he tried not to gag on another hoarse cry.  Gasping, he opened his eyes.

Jack’s soul was pierced by the tortured, blue gaze, but he tried to convey reassurance.

“You’re doing great.  It’s almost over,” Jack encouraged.  “Those slimy little bastards are doing their job.”  All five of the freaking buggers, he thought grimly.  “Doc Fraiser’s going to be following you around for days, hounding you with questions.

Jack didn’t know how he did it, but Daniel managed to roll his eyes in a martyred expression.  He felt his eyes sting as he smiled and wiped the sweat from Daniel’s face.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll keep her on a short leash, I promise,” Jack said.

Daniel managed a weak smile, then arched his back as another violent spasm coursed through him.  His fingers clawed at the ground as he fought the pain.

Jack was almost knocked over as the man he had pushed aside resumed his position and his grim task.

“Damn it, how much longer?”  Jack muttered, glaring at Morah.

Morah ignored Jack, but talked slowly, gently and persistently to Daniel.  Whatever she was saying, Daniel seemed to be trying to respond.

Jack could feel Daniel’s breathing slow down and even out.  He nodded apologetically to Morah.  “Thank you,” he said quietly.  He then began rubbing Daniel’s temples in soothing circles, glancing every now and then at the injured leg, now slathered in the sticky ‘homing’ substance.  He willed a damn worm to pop out, looking fat and sated.  Crap, those damn bugs could be anywhere, he thought grimly as he looked down at Daniel’s tortured face.

An excited whisper got Jack’s heart racing and he looked back at Daniel’s leg.  Even from his awkward position he could see the undulating mass under the skin.

Yes, come to Poppa.

A quiet murmur of excitement rippled through the group as an obscenely fat worm wriggled and popped out of Daniel’s leg.

“Jesus,” Jack muttered.  “Way to go, Danny,” he said softly.  “You just gave birth to one honkin’ worm.”

Pained, but disgusted looking blue eyes looked balefully at Jack.

Jack laughed and patted Daniel’s cheek affectionately.

“You can get me back all you want when this is over,” Jack promised.

Another excited group murmur resulted in the expulsion of a second fat worm.

Morah and her companion looked extremely pleased and Jack took great heart in their pleasure.

“Twins, Daniel,” Jack teased gently, his spirit soaring at the look of mock indignation directed his way.

Unfortunately, for Daniel, there was still a lot of pain to come, and he bore it as he always did, stoically and with quiet resignation.

Jack didn’t know whether the intensity of pain Daniel felt had diminished, or whether he just didn’t have the strength to react any more.  He hoped for the first, but expected the latter.  An unexpected movement caused Jack to look up.  The men pinning Daniel gently, but firmly to the ground, released their charge in a single motion and silently stepped back.  Jack looked inquisitively at Morah, who smiled, nodded, and then pointed to her mouth then Daniel’s.

Jack nodded his own understanding and quickly removed the block of wood from Daniel’s mouth.  He gently wiped the spittle, and unfortunately, blood, from his friend’s mouth.

Daniel carefully, but thankfully stretched his jaw muscles, and dared to believe it was over.

“Is it over?” he asked hoarsely.

“I’m not sure, but I think we’re close,” Jack replied truthfully.  “How do you feel?”

Daniel blinked tiredly.  “Better.  Not great, but definitely better.”

Jack smiled fondly and said, “That’s good to hear.  Are you thirsty?”

Daniel nodded and Jack helped him sit up slightly, just enough so he could manage the canteen.  As Daniel carefully sipped the water, Jack glanced over to Morah and the old woman.  He grimaced as two more worms, looking as slim as when they went in, slithered out onto Daniel’s leg.  He shivered and looked back at Daniel who was, thankfully, oblivious to what just happened.

Morah moved up alongside Jack and began speaking to Daniel.

Tired, blue eyes watched her intently as she spoke slowly.  It was obvious Daniel was having a hard time staying awake, but after a few questions and some repeated answers, Daniel got the gist of her words.  He smiled and mumbled something which caused her to blush and pat his chest gently.

Jack could only imagine what his young friend had just said, but judging by her reaction, it was both complimentary and grateful.

Jack nudged Daniel’s arm and said, “You should get some rest.”

Daniel blinked wearily.  “How does it look?”

“Your leg?”  Jack queried.

“Yeah.”

“Hell of a lot better than it did.  They’ve slathered some goop on it and are just wrapping it up now.”

Daniel frowned.  “I can’t feel a thing.”

“There’s probably a natural pain-killer in whatever it is they’re using.  Ten to one, Doc scrapes every little bit off and studies it ad nauseum,” Jack said.

“Maybe when she’s finished, Sam can make an energy source out of it,” Daniel murmured sleepily.

Jack laughed and cuffed Daniel gently on the side of the head.  “Get some sleep,” he ordered.

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

 “The inhabitants do not appear to be a threat, General Hammond,” Teal’c observed, watching the MALP transmission intently.

“Nervous, but curious,” Sam added, as she watched the three young males tentatively reach out and touch the screen.

“Do we have audio?”  Hammond asked.

“Yes, General,” Davis answered.

Hammond leaned over to speak into the radio.

“This is General Hammond speaking to you from the planet Earth.  Do you understand me?”

“Well, they can certainly hear you, sir,” Sam commented as the aliens suddenly jumped back startled.

“We have lost contact with two of our people,” Hammond continued.  “Colonel Jack O’Neill, and Doctor Daniel Jackson.”

The three young men staring into the MALP seemed to lose their fear and began to talk excitedly amongst themselves.

“I believe you have their attention, General,” Teal’c stated.

“Sir, try saying their names again, only slower and just the first names,” Sam suggested, her voice anxious.

“This is General Hammond,” he repeated, emphasizing his last name.  “We are looking for Jack and Daniel,” he said slowly.

“Dan-yel?” the oldest-looking of the trio repeated, cocking his head curiously, and tapping at the screen.

“Yes, Daniel,” Hammond repeated.  “And Jack.”

The young men began talking all at once, Daniel’s name being repeated several times.

“General, it’s clear that at least Daniel has made contact with these people, “Sam said smiling with excitement.  “With your permission, sir, I’d like to return to the planet,” she said, imploring him with her intense gaze.

“They are leaving,” Teal’c said somberly.

“What?”  Sam said, looking back at the screen.  “Damn it,” she muttered, as they watched all three men disappear into the woods.

“General?”  Sam pressed.

“SG-3 will accompany you and Teal’c, Major Carter, but you will remain at the Stargate until further notice,” Hammond ordered.

“Thank you, sir,” Sam said with barely concealed excitement.

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

Jack marveled at the change in Daniel’s appearance and behavior.  He was definitely getting better and Jack couldn’t be happier, or more grateful.  He looked at Morah and tried to convey his thanks.

Morah could readily see the emotion in Jack’s dark brown eyes, and she smiled and bowed her head in acknowledgement.

An excited babble of voices drew their attention as three young villagers burst from the trees. 

Morah leapt to her feet.

Oh, crap.  Now what?  Jack thought.

“Jack?”  Daniel murmured, opening his eyes.

“I don’t know, Daniel,” Jack said, placing a reassuring hand on the young man’s chest.  “Something’s got them all a-buzz.”

“Jack, help me sit up,” Daniel insisted, a sudden urgency in his voice.

“Daniel, you’ve been through—”

“Jack, I think they’re talking about the Stargate,” Daniel explained breathlessly.

“The Stargate?”  Jack said, looking back at Morah and the villagers.

“Morah!”  Daniel called weakly.

“Easy,” Jack cautioned, as he helped Daniel to sit up.  He could feel the nervous energy emanating from his friend.  “Relax, Daniel.  She’s coming back.”

Morah knelt beside Daniel, pulling down with her one of the young men who had just arrived.

Jack watched intently as a three-way exchange took place.  The words were meaningless, but he was adept at body language and speech patterns.  His ears perked up as something struck a familiar chord.

“Daniel, did he just say ‘Hammond’?”  Jack asked in disbelief.

Daniel, his pain forgotten, concentrated on the man’s words and prodded Morah with questions.  He turned to Jack, his face beaming.

“The MALP, Jack.  He saw the MALP.  Sam and Teal’c must have gated home and Hammond sent a probe through,” Daniel explained hurriedly.

“We’re close to the Stargate?”  Jack asked in even more disbelief.

“Yes.  I think…I think it’s less than a day’s walk away,” Daniel whispered, trying to listen to the alien conversation, while talking to Jack at the same time.

“A day?  Daniel, as much as I like the sound of that, it doesn’t make any sense.”  There’s no friggin’ way I screwed up that much.

Daniel looked at Jack, his forehead creased in thought.

“You’re right.  It doesn’t make any sense,” he said dully.  “We walked for days.  Unless…” he said, his eyes widening.

“Unless?”  Jack prompted.

“Jack, what if…what if those things we saw really are like transport rings?  Something that enables them to travel from one part of the planet to another.  Think about it.  That way they could—”

“Open your eyes, Daniel.  Look at these people.  They’re hunters and gatherers, not techno-wizards for crying out loud.”

Daniel’s ebullient expression vanished, and Jack felt like he just smacked a puppy.

“You’re right.  What was I thinking?”  Daniel said dejectedly, aware of his physical pain once again.

“Hell, anything’s possible, Daniel,” Jack said apologetically, doing an about face.  “Look at what we do for a living,” he smiled.  “Maybe the technology was already here, abandoned by some former inhabitants,” Jack said, determined to put the spark back in Daniel’s eyes.

Daniel’s blue eyes zeroed in on Jack.  “Of course.  That’s it,” he whispered, trying to sit up straighter.  Jack—” Daniel sucked in a breath as pain radiated through his leg and chest.  “Bad move,” he gasped, clutching Jack’s arm.

“Damn it, Daniel,” Jack whispered, grasping his friend’s shoulder with his free hand.

“I’m okay, I’m okay.  It’s passing,” he said weakly, patting Jack’s arm placatingly.

“No, Dan-yel,” Morah warned, pushing him gently back down. 

“Jack, show them the Stargate,” Daniel rasped.

“Come again?”  Jack said, arching his eyebrows.

“The dirt, Jack,” Daniel said impatiently.  “Draw the Stargate in the dirt.”

“Daniel, I can’t draw.”

The baleful glare directed his way drew a chuckle from the older man.

“Okay, okay,” he said appeasingly.  “One Picasso Stargate coming up.”

Daniel spoke haltingly to Morah and then gestured to Jack. 

Morah cocked her head to the side as she listened.  Her eyes brightened and she looked expectantly at Jack.

“That’s my cue,” Jack muttered as he scratched out a pretty accurate looking Stargate into the hard ground.  He judged by the excited murmurs around him that they knew exactly what it was.

Daniel craned his neck to see Jack’s handiwork and was visibly shocked.

“Jack, that’s…that’s good,” he said in surprise.

Jack shrugged, inordinately pleased with his friend’s praise.

“You said you couldn’t draw,” Daniel accused.

Jack saw a familiar look in the blue eyes, and he held up a warning finger.

“Don’t get any ideas, Daniel.  I am not following you around old temples and scribbling in a book.”

“We’ll talk later,” Daniel said dismissively, his eyes sparkling with a mischief that Jack was delighted to see.

“Morah,” Daniel said, gesturing to Jack’s drawing.  “Stargate,” he said, repeating the word slowly.  “Chaapa’ai”

“Chaapa’ai,” she murmured, as if remembering something long forgotten.

“Yes,” Daniel said.  “Chaapa’ai…Stargate.”

Morah tried out the unfamiliar words.  “Stargate.”

Daniel smiled.  “Yes.  Stargate.  Jack,” he said, looking at the older man.  “Can you explain that we came through the Stargate and we need to go back?”

“Piece of cake,” Jack said glibly, clearing his throat.

Daniel relaxed to conserve his strength while Jack went through the pantomime of explaining how they had come through the Stargate and how they needed to go back through to get home.

“Draw it,” Daniel whispered, in response to the puzzled stares.

Jack glanced at Daniel and was disturbed to see his eyes closed and a fine sheen of sweat on his face.

“Daniel?” he said in concern.

“I’m fine, Jack.  Just a little too much…excitement,” he said softly.

Jack looked to Morah for help.

Morah placed a cool hand on Daniel’s face and then called a young girl over.  She spoke to the girl who nodded and hurried off to do as requested.

“Daniel, we don’t have to do this now,” Jack said quietly.  “Besides, you’re not ready to go anywhere,”

“You can go home, Jack,” Daniel whispered.

“I am so going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Jack chastised.  “Now, what did you say?” he asked, placing his hand on the warm forehead.

“I said…I said we can go home when I feel better,” Daniel said, a faint smile on his lips.

“That’s what I thought you said.  Good thinking, Daniel,” he praised, patting the side of the young man’s face lightly.  “But what I can do is send a message.  If there is a MALP there then someone’s going to come through pretty damn soon.  Tell Morah I’m going to write a message and if she can have it delivered to the MALP or someone who’s there, they won’t have to worry about us back home.  Can you do that?”

“Jack, why don’t you take the message yourself?  I’m sure they’d take you.”

Jack knew Daniel was right and it did make more sense, but there was no way Jack was going to leave Daniel.  Right now, things were going their way, and he just didn’t want to let Daniel out of his sight.  Call it superstition or gut instinct; he was not leaving Daniel’s side.

“Tell her, Daniel,” Jack repeated quietly.

Daniel stared at Jack and then nodded and slowly explained his request to Morah who readily agreed.

Jack looked up to see the young girl returning at a run, carrying an earthenware jug.  She gave it to Morah who poured a good portion of the contents into a large cup.  She touched Jack’s arm and made a drinking motion towards Daniel.

Jack nodded and placed his hands underneath Daniel’s shoulders.

“Come on, buddy.  Time for your medicine,” he said, easing the injured man up.

“Not more bugs?”  Daniel said worriedly.

“Not unless they’ve been pureed.”

“God, Jack, that’s disgusting,” Daniel grimaced as he leaned heavily into the older man.

“Sorry,” Jack chuckled, taking the cup from Morah’s hand.  He sniffed it cautiously and his eyes widened in surprise.  “It smells like coffee.”

“Really?”  Daniel asked, his interest piqued.

“Yeah.  Smell.”

Daniel sniffed it and smiled.  “You’re right,” he beamed.

  “Probably tastes like shit though,” Jack said.

“Did anyone ever tell you you’re fun to hang around with?”  Daniel asked grumpily as he tentatively sipped the lukewarm brew.  “Wow,” he gasped, after swallowing the first mouthful.

“What?”  Jack queried.

“I think I know where Kasuf got his recipe,” Daniel explained.

“You’re kidding?”  Jack said, sniffing the contents with interest.  He went to take a sip when Morah swatted him on the arm.

“No,” she said emphatically.  “Dan-yel.”

“All right, all right,” Jack grumbled.  “Guess it’s all for you,” he said, holding the cup to Daniel’s lips.

Daniel took another swallow.  “This stuff’s pretty good,” he said, reaching up to hold the cup himself.

“Let’s just hope you don’t get a hangover,” Jack quipped.

Daniel looked apprehensively at Morah, but she merely smiled and encouraged him to drink up.

While Daniel got pleasantly sloshed, Jack wrote a note for General Hammond explaining their situation and the peculiarities of the planet.  He gave the note to Morah, who in turn, passed it to two of the young men who had seen the MALP.  They ran off at once on their mission.

Morah crouched next to Daniel and checked his fever. 

“He’s still sick, isn’t he?”  Jack asked quietly.

The young woman wasn’t sure of the words, but she could tell by Jack’s worried countenance of his concern.

She nodded, but smiled reassuringly.  “Time,” she said.

“Time,” Jack echoed hollowly.

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

The next six hours were not the worst in Jack’s life, but they definitely were not at the top of his list either.  He watched Daniel drift in and out of consciousness, alternating between chills and fever.  He constantly bathed his friend’s face, chest and arms when he was feverish, and tried to keep him warm when the chills claimed him.  The care of Daniel’s leg, he left to Morah and her silent, old companion.

Once Daniel finally awoke and seemed alert, Morah plied him with another medicinal drink.

Jack watched Daniel quickly succumb to the effect of the medicine.  The younger man made a valiant effort to stay awake, but it was a losing battle.

“Pleasant dreams,” Jack whispered as Daniel’s eyes finally closed and remained closed.

Satisfied that his friend was indeed sleeping, and not in pain-induced unconsciousness, Jack sat back and lowered his head to his arms.  He was bone tired.  The crisis of keeping Daniel alive had passed, but it had taken its toll on the older man.  Once again, Daniel had defied the Grim Reaper and, once again, Jack felt like he had aged ten years

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

A gentle nudge roused Jack, and he looked up to see Morah holding out a mug.  He took the mug, sniffed it and looked at her skeptically.

Morah urged him to drink the cup’s contents.

Jack sniffed it again.  It wasn’t what Daniel had drunk.  This one smelled like beef broth.  Morah and her people had offered nothing but help since they had first met so Jack shrugged, and drank the dark, salty liquid.

Morah smiled approvingly and held out a bowl containing what looked like some sort of grain.

Jack took the bowl and spoon and stared at the bowl’s contents.  Unpleasant memories of his mother’s porridge swam in his mind.  Steeling himself, he took a tentative mouthful, chewed and swallowed.  His eyes widened in surprise, and he gratefully devoured the contents.  He couldn’t remember when he had eaten last, and it tasted delicious.  He ate so fast an appreciative burp escaped before he could suppress it.

“Excuse me,” he murmured, patting his stomach.

The old woman who had helped treat Daniel gave him a wide, toothless smile which caused him to blush.

“Good,” he said.  “Thank you.”

Jack placed the bowl on the ground and drew a picture of the Stargate next to it.

“The Stargate,” he said slowly to Morah.  “You’ll take us?” he asked, indicating himself and Daniel.

Morah nodded affirmative, but she mimicked sleeping.

“Right,” Jack said.  “Sleep first, Stargate later.”

Jack couldn’t deny he could use some sleep, and he was loathe to wake Daniel from a well-deserved rest.  However, it went against all his training to sleep without someone he trusted on watch.  He knew what Daniel would say.  ‘Trust them, Jack.’  Jack did trust these people, but that didn’t mean a snakehead wasn’t lurking in the grass.  There was too much at stake.  As a compromise, he agreed to lie back and rest. 

Curiously, Jack found watching Daniel sleep almost as restful as sleep itself.  The taut features and lines of pain which had been Daniel’s constant companions for the last few days had all but disappeared.  Daniel twitched and smiled in his sleep, eliciting a smile of his own from Jack.  He reached over and fussed with the blanket that the younger man had managed to dislodge.  Satisfied that Daniel was wrapped up tight, he allowed his fingers to linger on the exposed face, relishing the relative coolness of the once fevered skin.  Jack patted Daniel’s face affectionately and then settled back to his vigil. 

A few hours late, Morah joined him, carrying two cups of something hot.

“Thank you,” Jack said, sniffing the contents of the cup.  He supposed it was their equivalent of coffee or tea.  He had noticed several other adults drinking the same beverage.  He took a sip.  The liquid was black and slightly bitter, but with the addition of the local honey she provided, quite palatable

“Mmm, good,” Jack smiled.

Morah smiled in return and then put her cup down to check Daniel’s bandage.

Jack watched for any sign of awareness from his friend, but Daniel continued to sleep peacefully through the gentle and swift inspection.

Satisfied, Morah sat back down and looked at Jack.  “Dan-yel good,” she said.

“Very good.  Thanks to you,” Jack said, clasping her hand in his.  “Thank you.”

She smiled and lowered her eyes, her cheeks flushing nicely.

Jack smiled.  She was young, attractive, intelligent, and she had saved his best friend’s life.  Suddenly, feeling uncomfortably warm, and all too aware of her hand in his, he gently released her hand.  He was relieved when two boys approached them, the older one pushing the younger one ahead of him.  They obviously had something they wanted to show Jack.

Morah tried to shoo them away, but Jack said, “No, no, it’s all right.”  He motioned to the boys to come forward, and they practically tripped over themselves to see who could get to Jack first.

“Easy,” Jack laughed when they almost tumbled head first into his lap.

Morah was less amused and whispered sternly to the boys, motioning to Daniel.

The boys looked suitably chagrined as they bowed their heads and shuffled their feet in the dirt.

Jack leaned towards Morah and said, “Yours?”  To clarify his question, he pointed to the boys, to her, and then mimicked rocking a baby in his arms.

Her eyes lit up in understanding, and she nodded vigorously.

“That’s nice,” Jack said, not sure if he wanted there to be a husband too.

Morah pointed to Jack and then made her own rocking motion.

Jack lowered his gaze then raised his eyes slowly.  He nodded and then shook his head.

She saw the deep sadness in the brown depths, and she bowed her head in acknowledgement and condolence.  She felt a nudge on her arm and looked up.

Jack pointed to Daniel, then to himself, and then made a big rocking motion.

Morah giggled as Jack hoped she would.  This was a time to be celebrating life, not mourning loss.

Jack smiled approvingly then motioned to the boys to come over.  The latter looked at their mother hesitantly, awaiting permission.  She gave it, and Jack was suddenly surrounded by two energetic and chatty young lads.  He didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but no one seemed to care.

The boys had both carved an animal of some sort, and Jack made a big fuss over both boys’ efforts.  They were obviously delighted with his praise, and Morah joined in the fun.

Daniel heard laughter, from both children and adult, but it seemed so far away.  He concentrated on the sound; it seemed to get louder.  He slowly emerged to awareness and opened his eyes.  He turned his head and saw something he had only seen in his imagination:  Jack, flat on his back, holding a laughing, squirming youngster up in the air.  Unlike in his imagination though, there were two boys.  The older one was tickling Jack’s ribs trying to get him to drop the smaller boy.  Daniel heard a whispered admonishment, and he finally registered the presence of Morah.  He smiled at the family scene, but his heart ached for what Jack and Sara had lost, and for what he and Sha’re never had the chance to have. 

Morah noticed Daniel and quickly silenced her children.

Jack looked at her in surprise and then at Daniel.  Guilt rushed through him when he realized he’d awakened his ailing friend.  He quickly put the younger boy down.  He put a finger to his lips and ruffled the boy’s head to stifle any protest.

Morah talked quietly to her sons as Jack quickly went to his friend’s side.

“Sorry,” Jack apologized.

“No,” Daniel said, shaking his head, “don’t apologize.  It was nice,” he murmured.

Jack looked back at the young family and nodded.  “Yeah, it was.”

Daniel heard the wistfulness in the older man’s voice.

“Are you okay, Jack?”

Jack looked back, startled.  “Am I okay?  Jeez, Daniel.  After what you’ve just gone through, and you’re asking me if I’m okay?”

“Yes,” Daniel replied patiently.  “I was watching you.”

Daniel’s implication wasn’t lost on Jack.

“I’m fine, Daniel.  For awhile there, I just…you know,” he said, unable to articulate his feelings.

“It never goes away, does it?”  Daniel asked quietly.

“No,” Jack agreed, smiling sadly.  “It’s not supposed to.”

Daniel closed his eyes and sighed.  “That sucks.”

“Yeah,” Jack laughed, “but it makes us stronger.  Speaking of which, how do you feel?” he asked, placing his hand on the cool brow.

“Hungry,” Daniel responded, acknowledging Jack’s request to change the subject.

“Sweetest word I’ve heard in days,” Jack said approvingly.  “Do you want to sit up?”

Daniel nodded and cautiously tested his limbs.  His eyes lip up with pleasure, shocked by his improvement.

“Whatever they did, Janet would kill for it,” he commented as he sat up with Jack’s assistance.

“Maybe we can work out some agreement with them,” Jack said, “although it’ll be hard to top what they’ve already given us,” he added as he carefully positioned Daniel’s leg.

Daniel blushed in response to Jack’s pronouncement.

Jack grinned at his friend’s discomfort then asked, “Want to meet the kids?”

Daniel glanced over at the two boys who were clearly not happy with the invisible short leash their mother had them on.

“As long as they don’t jump on me,” Daniel said nervously.

Jack whistled sharply, and the two boys turned in unison.

“Over here!”  Jack called, waving in invitation.

The boys rushed over with Morah in their wake.

“Easy, easy,” Jack said, holding his hand out.

The boys skidded to a stop.

“This is Bairn,” Jack said patting the shoulder of the oldest, “and this little guy is Hari.”

“Hi, Bairn.  Hi, Hari,” Daniel said in their own language.

The youngest shyly held out his carving to Daniel.

Daniel’s eyes lit up with genuine interest as he took the proffered object.  He held it reverently in his hands, causing the boy to bury his face bashfully in his mother’s skirt.

“Jack, as crude as this is, it has all the earmarks of an—”

“Oh my, look at the time,” Jack said suddenly, looking at his watch.

Daniel scowled and said, “Point taken.”

“He’s back,” Jack quipped, grinning at Morah.

Before long, Daniel was exchanging a few words with the boys.  Unfortunately, since Daniel was conversing with them, they assumed Jack could as well, and they were merciless in their chattering.

Jack covered his ears in mock surrender, and Daniel and Morah laughed as the boys pounced on him again. 

Jack scrambled out from underneath, initiating an impromptu game of ‘tag’.   He ran off with the two boys in hot pursuit.

“Morah?”  Daniel said quietly, after the rowdy bunch had left them alone.

The young woman turned and listened intently as Daniel asked her about the boys’ father.  She seemed to be familiar with the Abydonian word for husband, and Daniel breathed a little easier when he ascertained that her husband was alive, but away with a hunting party.  Her eyes shone when she spoke of him, also ensuring Daniel that she was still very much in love.  Daniel knew he was probably being over-concerned, but there was a look in Jack’s eyes whenever Morah was around that disturbed him.  Maybe Jack was just having flashbacks to Laira on Edora.  Or, maybe I’m just totally out to lunch, Daniel thought.  It certainly wouldn’t be the first time he had misread something.

Morah suddenly laughed, and Daniel turned to see what was so funny.

He grinned widely.  Jack had managed to get the boys and the rest of the children in the camp into a game of ‘frozen tag’. 

Daniel and Morah watched the entertainment and laughed when Jack made a quick escape and came towards them, Bairn hot on his heels.

 

part 2

 

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