Title: The Well of Souls

Author: Winterstar

Rating: PG-13 for language

Warnings: Daniel whumping, minor Sam whumping. Team angst

 

Part 1:

Against her cheek, his head lay like a lover’s, close, tender, touching. Yet he did not move. His breath streamed over the curve of her neck, chilled her flesh, brought heightened senses alive.

            Alive.

            She was alive. She loathed to move, did not move for the creeping ache began deep in her bones warning her of the injuries she received. But she needed to move, to take charge of the situation. She was military, a Major in the Air Force and the responsibility to get them out of their current situation pressed down on her more powerfully than the force of the shaft collapsing about her.

            She lifted her head, a groan escaping her lips both as a result of the pain pounding in her head and from the loss of contact with Daniel.  Daniel. She needed to assess their situation, evaluate the risks of movement and motion in the confined mining shaft. Her arms were a tangle about Daniel’s head. The compression of the dirt and the mine shaft around her made it impossible for her to move more than her forearms and hands. She could not even touch his face to rouse him, to check his injuries. The push of broken wooden beams that had once constructed the shaft grated against the small of her back, was obviously responsible for the scrape of blood smeared across her brow. She was able to turn her head a few inches to her right but upon doing so decided against such action since nausea nearly overwhelmed her. The dark of unconsciousness threatened, oozing up from the edges of her perception, shutting out the light leaking from above the collapsed shaft. She took a few stabilizing breathes and was pleased the creeping darkness receded.

            “Assess, Sam, assess,” she whispered to herself. The need to discover how precariously she and Daniel’s position wedged in the fallen shaft of the ancient mine became a frantic anxiety. With care, she shifted but realized her body was stuck as if she was the proverbial square peg in a round hole. In some ways that could be good, she reasoned. The likelihood of the mine crashing further downward was small, unless they jarred whatever rock and ground held them in place. What she was more concerned about was the ten to fifteen feet of loose gravel, dirt, rocks and splintered beams above their heads.  Even now small pebbles trickled down like a dribble of rain showers upon their heads. They needed help and they needed it now. If she could manage to get to her radio she might warn the Colonel and Teal’c of their situation. But with her elbows perched on Daniel’s shoulders, her hands were imprisoned above his head and far from the radio switch. She tried to pull her arms closer, down toward her body but the small shift caused a minor cascade of gravel into her eyes and onto Daniel’s head.

            A grumble issued from her teammate in response to the tiny rockfall.

            “Daniel?”

            His groan answered her and he started to move against her, grappling to free himself. She clamped her elbows and head against him, attempting to stop him from endangering their position.

            “Daniel, don’t move.”

            “What?” His voice sounded like a rasp as if he chewed on the gravel dusting them.

            “Don’t move.” She rubbed her cheek against him. “We’re stuck in a mine shaft. Do you remember what happened?”

            Actually this was a critical question for her as well. The last thing she recalled was staring out over the geographic forms of mountains, wondering if earthquake, plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions, or ice age carved out the beautiful horizon of peaks.

            “Um, yeah, we fell into this pit.”

            Well, that was obvious to the most casual of observers. She cursed herself, no need to channel the Colonel now. “Daniel, open your eyes.”

            He did but his glasses were long lost and even though she was closer than a lover he squinted at her. “Tell me what you remember, exactly what you remember.”

            He grimaced and stifled another groan before he answered, “You were sampling the soil, up one of the foothills.”

            “The Colonel and Teal’c?”

            “Setting up the perimeter, Sam. You know that – standard operating procedure.”

            She did. Damn, what was wrong with her. Her brain kept fuzzing out on her. “Right the perimeter.”

            He swallowed, grunted against some pain, and continued, “I was checking the ruins at the base of the foothills, checking out the architecture, the language. Trying to get a grasp of the culture and origin.”

            “Daniel, on track here.”

            “Yeah, yeah right.” He groaned again and her panic radar heightened a notch. He did not look hurt but she could really only see the top of his bandanna wrapped head and his face, mainly those blue blue eyes.  “You called me,” he was saying, “Said a platform, yeah a platform was on top. Top of the hill.” His words were short, clipped, not elegant as a linguist and not a stream of words jumbled into one as he normally spoke. “Joined you. Saw the platform. We started, started to study it.” He stopped, swore under his breath. “Somehow, not sure, it collapsed into this pit.  That’s all I remember.”  He panted with the effort, shuddered then quieted.

            “Daniel?” she cried out.

            “Sam?” he replied immediately. She inhaled and silenced her fears. He was exhausted – that was it – just like her. It was exhaustion. He expressed her desires. “We need to get out of here.”

            “Yes, can you move your arms?”

            “Not sure.” He stopped, frozen for a moment.

            “Daniel, how badly are you hurt?”

            He laughed low in his throat.  “Just a bit.”

            “A bit?”

            “I’m fine.”

            “Right, since when does fine mean crap that hurts?”

            He gave a genuine laugh but stopped as it turned into a moan. “Means there’s nothing you can do about it now, so don’t worry about it.”

            Even as he spoke, she catalogued the feel of his body next to hers. It was then Sam realized she could feel a warm wet patch stain her chest and abdomen. “Christ, Daniel, you’re bleeding.”  She knew except for the minor scrape on her brow she wasn’t bleeding.

            “Not really,” he gasped out. “It’s not bleeding now, I don’t think.”

            “You don’t think?”

            “Um.”

            He and their circumstances gave her no choice but to accept his evaluation of his status.  She made a note that he was probably still bleeding to some degree but it couldn’t be too bad; he was awake, responsive, capable of thought.

            “Okay, then we focus on getting out of here.”

            “Sounds perfect to me.”

            “Can you move your hands?”

            A low sound escaped his lips and she felt a shiver of coolness caused by the warmth of his breath steal across her neck. “Maybe.”

            “Try, we need the Colonel and Teal’c. You have to get to the radio.” She did not mention that she had no idea if her radio even worked.

            She felt a rumble as his right hand clawed its way toward her left shoulder. She wondered why he hadn’t tried for his own radio, realized then his left arm was wrapped around her waist. He must have tried to catch her as she fell. Then a glimpse of Daniel kneeling on the platform, his fingers tracing over the inscriptions there, flashed before her. She stood over him, watching his long fingers touch the history he so revered. The ground shifted then and the solidity under her feet disappeared. His arms reached out for her and then they fell, into the pit, into oblivion.

            “Daniel, I’m sorry.”

            “About what?” He paused a moment and a shudder quaked through him. She said nothing and he persisted, his hand slipping onto her shoulder.

            The shaft rebelled at his movement. A large rumble warned them and the shaft released a breath, opening its maw to free them of its hold. Daniel’s left arm grabbed her around the waist. Skidding, falling through the narrow shaft, Sam wrapped her arms around his head, cried out as wooden beams smashed against her shoulder, her back. Her voice was silenced though when Daniel screamed out and a gush of warm blood flowed from him and spread out against her. They halted their descent, timber beams clattering down, smacking her in the head. Small rocks and pebbles filtered down filling in all the empty space. A rock collided with her temple and her last thought as darkness claimed her repeated over and again. Buried alive, they would be buried alive.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            The noise exploded out of him, bursting out in uncontrolled fury as the pain ripped through his shoulder. The beam once impaling him jolted free as they descended down the mine shaft, rendering injured flesh, shredding muscle and tendons from ligaments and bone. He did not want to scream out, to reveal his pain and his weakness to Sam. But the tearing sensation was dizzying and overwhelmed his inhibitions to curse him to cry out.

            The descent slid to a stop but the gravel, rocks, and shattered beams piled on top of them.  Frantically, he yanked his left arm away from Sam, not caring if he dislodged them further, and shoved it upward, pushing open an air way. He stayed like that with Sam’s arms about his head and shoulders, his right arm hanging near her shoulder and his left arm stretched upward to dig open their one air way.

            With a gradual flow, the shaft settled and the resulting silence caused his heart to throb in a pounding echo in his ears. Like the grave, it was like the Goddamned grave.

            “Sam,” he murmured close to her ear but she did not respond. He withdrew his left hand from above his head, taking care not to disrupt the tiny tunnel to the outside world. He touched her head and his fingers came away wet and sticky. He muffled a curse.

            If he needed someone to be concerned about his welfare, he needed it now. The hole through his shoulder freely released his life blood, but he needed to stay awake, aware and help Sam, even if he couldn’t help himself. At the rate he was bleeding he estimated little time before he lost consciousness and found his way to death.

            Moving toward her left shoulder, Daniel grasped the radio and hit the switch. He mumbled a prayer to whatever deity who chose to listen that the radio worked. A fine  buzz answered him as he flicked the switch.  Each small movement jarred his shoulder, radiating pain through his chest.

            “Jack.”

            No answer.

“Jack, come in. We’re in trouble.” He depended on Jack, leaned on Jack to trust him, to debate with him, to disagree with him. He depended on Jack to save them, or at the very least Sam.  He didn’t think he had enough time for anyone to save him. Dying was becoming a bad habit of his. “Jack, please. Jack!”

            He paused. Sweat beaded then poured over his temples. As he prepared to squeeze the switch again a crackle came through followed by Jack’s razor voice. “Daniel, you’re breaking up. Repeat.”

            “Jack, we’re in a shaft. We fell.” Damn, he wasn’t making any sense. His brain fogged in and out. Was it the loss of blood or the piercing headache threatening to overcome him? Make it simple.  Simple.  “Sam’s hurt. You have to”

            “Daniel, I can’t make you out. What the hell is going on?”

            As he reached for the radio again, a distinct moan issued from him and he gasped when his injury took hold of him.

            “Christ Daniel.  I heard that, what the hell is going on?”

            “Help, Jack. Just help.” He could not add any more. His fingers fell away from the radio and a numbness crept over his arm to his fingers.

            In the distance, he heard the radio fizzle again and Jack’s voice calling to him. “Daniel, we’re coming. Hang on, you hear me, hang on.”

            Daniel inched his right hand to his vest pocket.  He managed to pull the Velcro open and, straining his fingers, he tugged out a wad of tissues. He routinely kept them for his allergies, though he rarely used them anymore due to the prescribed medicines he took. He stuffed the wad into the hole in his shoulder, trying not to think of the contamination nightmare he caused. Hell dirt already clogged into parts of his torn shoulder, a little tissue couldn’t hurt that much.

            A cry alerted him to Sam’s awakening. She cried out again, her mouth drizzling saliva down the side of his face onto his shoulder.

            “Crap,” he said. “Sam, don’t you dare puke on me.”  The ludicrous remark did the job of bringing her to awareness.

            “Daniel, sick.”

            “Yeah, I know. Just don’t puke.”

            She nodded but moaned from the motion. He had to distract her, keep her mind away from the pain and the spiral of nausea assaulting her.

            “Sam, I need your help.”

            “Sick, I feel sick.”

            “Well, it’s probably because of that good smack you took to the head.”

            “Think I’m going to be sick.”

            He wanted to shake her, get her to focus her energy outward instead of inward to the rolling pain. He had only one choice, to get her to concentrate on something else – anything else. “Sam, please. If you don’t give me a hand, I’m dead.” It wasn’t a lie. He needed help.

            Her pants stilled, her breathing became regular and she took a few calming breathes. “Okay, okay. I’m okay.”

            “I need you to help me.”

            “The Colonel and Teal’c?”

            “Coming.” God, he thought he’d been distracting her with his pleas   for help but his thoughts drifted, his brain scraped along raw and edged. His bad habit was rearing its ugly head again. “Sam, I need you to take the bandanna off my head and stuff it into the back of my shoulder.”

            “Shoulder? What?” She huffed a bit as if attempting to get rid of the lingering nausea.

            She swam away, the tunnel, the shaft darkened. The sense, the feel of the gravel about his shoulders and legs started to fade, fall, disappear. He clenched his teeth, let out a muted scream and said, “Take the bandanna and stuff it into the hole in the back of my shoulder before I bleed to death.”

            “Shit, Daniel.”  She rotated her arm around his head, tore off the bandanna and, with care to the unstable shaft about them, shifted her arm so that she might reach the back of his shoulder.  “Christ, Daniel, your back is soaked.”

            She didn’t need to tell him that; he followed the stream of blood from the hole down his shoulder blade to the small of his back where it pooled. “Just stuff it in.”

            With a single sniffle, she pushed the rag into the puncture wound. He cried out seeing flashes of white and dark all at once. “Daniel, please don’t leave me.”  She looked down into his eyes, then to the small hole he’d made for their one air way and one connection to the outer world.  Just a tiny streak of light illuminated the passage. She returned her attention to him and said, “Please don’t leave me here alone.”

            He frowned, squeezing up his eyebrows.  Old bad habits die hard, he thought but he said, “Never, Sam, never.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            Daylight narrowed, closed in about him as he strode to the ruins, the foothills he last saw Carter and Daniel.  Teal’c climbed up the hill, bracing against the jagged rocks, using his staff weapon as more of a walking stick than a weapon. Jack glanced about the ruins, sighting Daniel’s open journal, his backpack and tools left without regard as if the archeologist vanished. He reached down and picked up the small fine bristled brush that Daniel often used to clean out the inscriptions he tried to decipher. He would never leave these precious tools, these tools of his trade so carelessly discarded.

            “O’Neill, here.”

            Jack jogged up the hill; no mean feat considering the rough terrain and crumbing gravel beneath his boots.  He joined Teal’c and immediately saw the hole, the pit in the platform.  He made to step forward to examine it but Teal’c shoved an arm across his path and stopped him. “We do not know if it is stable enough to hold our weight.”

            “Christ.”  He flicked the switch of his radio and called out, “Daniel, tell me you are not in the hole we just found.”

            “Would that be the hole on the platform on top of the foothill you’re talking about?”  His voice sounded distant but not because of the tinny chime of the radio but because of the gasps of air the man fought for between each word.

            “That would be the one.”  There was silence. “Daniel?”

            “Just trying to decide if lying would help at all.”  He gave a short chuckle but it came out as a mutter laced with pain. “Yeah, yeah, we’re in there.”

            Jack turned to Teal’c. “Get back to the ‘gate. Have Hammond send engineers, as many SG units as possible and a med unit asap.  Don’t go through the ‘gate, don’t take no for an answer.”

            Teal’c bowed silently and, with a grace only the Jaffa could manage, left to fulfill his orders.  Jack turned back to the radio, pinched the switch and said, “Carter with you?”

            “Yes sir, right here sir.”

            “Give me the low down.”

            Daniel answered, quipped but tainted with pain, “We decided we weren’t getting enough of one another.  Decided a tight enclosed space would help out.”

            “Nice Daniel.  Now Carter, give me the real McCoy.”

            “I resent that Jack.”

            “You can resent it as much as you like, now shut up and let Carter do the talking.”  He paused and then added, “Major tell me like it is.”

            Her voice hesitated for just a moment and he recognized the hints of pain staining it as well. “We’re about 20 to 25 feet down, sir.  Can’t give you a better estimate than that since debris from the mining shaft is piled up on top of us.  We have a small air way but it could collapse in on itself fairly easily.  The stability of the shaft is questionable, sir. I don’t think the hills are made of granite but probably of soft rock like”

            “Ack!” He stopped her. “Status?”

            “I probably have a concussion, some bruising on my back, probably a fractured rib or two. Not bad overall.”  She stopped and he knew that Daniel was the reason.  The archeologist was probably lecturing her on not telling Jack his true injury report.

            “Carter, give it to me straight about Daniel.”  He flicked off the radio and then turned it back on again. “And don’t listen to any of his crap.”

            “Sir, from what I’ve been able to gather so far Daniel has a head injury that knocked him unconscious when we first fell. He might have other injuries but the most critical is his shoulder.”  Sam paused then explained. “Seems he was impaled in the shoulder by one of the wooden beams.” Jack cursed as she continued, “It would have been fine except we fell again and the beam pulled free. He’s lost a lot of blood and can barely use his hand.”

            “Have you been able to stop the bleeding?”

            “Yes, Jack.”

            “Shut up Daniel.  Carter?”

            “Somewhat.  We used his bandanna and tissues and packed it.  I’m holding it with my hand as best I can but the injury is both back and front.  I can’t apply the needed amount of pressure on both sides.”

            Impaled.  Daniel had been impaled. Shit. He bowed his head and cursed. It was a mission with little risk, little worry.  The mountains and foothills had decreased the number of trees and he thought this was a good sign when he first set foot on the planet.  No trees, no problems.  Right?

            “Shit.” He walked toward the perimeter of the platform and leaned toward the hole.  He could only make out the loose gravel, the stray pebble dislodging and sputtering downward toward his teammates, toward his kids, toward his friends. “Carter?”

            “Sir?”

            “How is he, really?”

            “I’m fine Jack.”

            “Weak sir.”

            He pursed his lips and bit back the blasphemy on his lips remembering the lessons his Catholic grandmother instilled in him at a young age.  Glancing at the planet’s sun, he noted it would be only an hour or two before night fall and they would be in the pitch dark sooner than that as the rays of light crested the horizon.

            “Teal’c, report?” Jack said as he switched channels.

            “I am currently engaging the dialing sequence, O’Neill.”

            Jack rolled his eyes and shook his head.  Just once it would be nice if one of his team gave him a simple, quick answer.  Then he realized that Carter just did.  Weak, she’d said and in that one word she implied so much more.  Crap.  “Tell Hammond, we need a doctor here asap.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            “How long?” he asked as he blinked his eyes open to the absolute darkness shadowing them. He licked his dry, cracked lips and used the rest of his strength to stifle the urge to cry out from the increasing pain.  His head spun and a chill rushed through him. Fever, infection. 

            “A few hours, Daniel,” she answered. “I couldn’t wake you. I was frightened you’d.” She didn’t finish, let her sentence hang suspended as they did, precarious and dangerous.

            “I promised, Sam.”  He coughed but it turned into a growl as shooting pain arched through his shoulder and into his chest. “That isn’t going to happen.”

            Her one hand brushed his cheek and he leaned into it, grateful for the contact. As he found the solace his torn body longed for, he noticed decidedly mechanical sounds coming from above and a vibration below his feet. His senses must be off, he reasoned.  With the screeching pain in his head, the agonizing throb in his shoulder and chest plus the other various bruises and scrapes in his legs, on his torso and on his arms, it was no wonder he couldn’t figure out the different sensations assaulting him.

            “I can’t see you,” he said and realized how stupid a comment it must be to her.  Of course, night had fallen and darkness descended upon them as he had fallen into an unconscious stupor.  Even the thought of being alone, trapped in this confining space as the day dropped away caused an anxious lump to strangle his throat. What it must have been for her.

            “It’s okay, I’m here.”  She leaned into him with her whole body and he knew the comfort she sought was also one she gave to him.

            “We’re going to make it, Sam.”

            She nodded in silence and said nothing for a long moment. She remained curled around him closer to him than a lover.  He thought of his time and relationship with Sam.  It ebbed and flowed like the ever changing sand dunes of Abydos.  First she was the excited scientist to share discovery and the mysteries of the universe, then she was the sister to be a confidant and supporter, but then she dropped away.  In those seconds right as the ground dropped out from under her, Daniel had visualized her literally disappearing from his life, separating away from him as she had done in so many ways in actuality.  Maybe that was why he lunged for her, desperate not to lose one of his precious little odd family.

            “Sam?”

            “Daniel?”

            “You were afraid weren’t you?” He was sure the past tense would trouble her, confused her yet her brilliant mind traced his own and they came upon the same shore together.

            “You died, Daniel. Died.”  She wrapped her arms around his head nearly suffocating him. “You know I sat by your bed and wanted to tell you so much.  But I couldn’t, not even then.  And you know what I did?  I buried myself in the damned quest to get the naquadria from Kelowna.”  She hissed at herself and continued, “Then you left us and I wanted to tell you so much.”

            “Tell me what?”

            “Tell you that you were, are important to me.  Yes, I’m one of the lucky ones, I have a family.  But the SG-1, you, the Colonel, Teal’c.”  She stopped and he knew words failed her again and he swore he could feel the heat rise to her cheeks because she could not find the courage to say what she wanted to say.

            “Sam, you all mean the world to me too.”

            She laughed a bit, but then asked, “How come you never visited me when you were Ascended?”

            Scowling he wished he could answer her truthfully.  He knew no truths though concerning the time he was ascended, he knew only that he was one of the Fallen.  Did that make him an angel, a demon or just human? Down deep in his gut though he realized he would never have abandoned her and so he said, “I never left you, I was just harder to find.”

            Sam nodded but again had no reply. Finally, she added, “When you came back I was frightened to even get close to you again.  When you were captured in South America, I was relieved to have another mission to go on.  I couldn’t think about how elusive I’d been to you and how I was going to lose you again.”

            “No one is going to lose anyone again.  Not right now.”  His voice faltered and he knew the strength was draining out of him.  He would have guessed by now that he should be dead from the blood loss.  Then he realized something was haphazardly taped to his chest. “Pressure bandage?”

            “Yeah.”

            “How the hell did you manage that one?”

            “They used a snake – you know the same kind you use to clean up your drains and sent it through the hole here.  I was able to get it off and using a little imagination got it clamped to your shoulder.  Not a great job, I still think some of your injury is exposed in the back, but I did what I could.”

            “Thanks, Sam.  I owe you one.”

            “You sure do. I know I’ll be picking pressure bandage out of my teeth for weeks to come.”  She fell into silence and the rumble of machinery hit him again.

            “Jack and Teal’c?” he asked.

            “Above us, I think.”  He felt her swallow and knew something bad was coming, something he did not want to hear. “Daniel, they can’t get out us from above.”

            “What, what?”  The words confused him and he wondered if he was drifting off into another stupor. “Can’t get us out?”  Did they leave them? What was Sam not saying?

            “No, not from above. The ground is too unstable.  The machinery they would need to pull us out or to dig a parallel tunnel may cause the entire shaft to collapse and close in on us.” She sounded so reasonable, so logical as if there was nothing to worry about but to him she’d just pronounced their death sentence. “They’re going to try from underneath us.”

            “Underneath?” 

            She only nodded but did not pursue the explanation.  He didn’t know if he wanted an explanation, all he understood was that some maniacs were going to try to extract them from a vertical shaft by digging a hole underneath them.

            “It’s called controlled descent, Daniel.”

            “It’s called they don’t know what the hell they are doing.”

            “They’re engineers, Daniel.”

            He forced his numb hand forward, grimaced as he squeezed the switch and called, “Jack?”

            “Daniel, glad you could join us.”

            “Sam tells me we’re going for a little ride.”

            “As soon as we work out all the kinks, that’s what they tell me.”  Jack’s voice sounded strained as if he’d been screaming for the last few hours, as if the stress of the situation was scraping at his throat and vocal chords like sandpaper.

            “Has anyone thought of how this might not be such a great idea?”

            “Daniel, sometimes your brilliance alarms me. For Christ’s sakes Daniel what the hell do you think we’ve been doing up here, having a tea party?” Jack seemed to grunt into the radio before he released the switch.

            He bit his lower lip and willed away the pain pulsating from his shoulder into his chest.  A cough overcame him and he surrendered to it.  He wiped away the spatter from his lips, knowing without having to see that it was blood.  He didn’t report it to Sam, she didn’t need to know that he was bleeding into his lungs now.  Great that the pressure bandage had helped in one regard but it didn’t fix all the internal damage.

            “Sam?”

            “Yes.”

            “Don’t let me drift off again,” he said it in a low calm voice as if he was telling her the color of the sky.

            “What, Daniel?  What is it?”  Her hand cupped his cheek and he realized she felt the fever raging from the rapidly spreading infection in his shoulder.

            “Just don’t, okay?”  He hated sounding like a petulant child and hoped he didn’t.  He hoped he relayed what needed to be said with a bit of courage and a bit of dignity.  He did not want to drift to unconsciousness and then death without saying good-bye.

            “Okay,” she said. “Now rest.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            The planet’s sun peaked over the jagged tops of the mountain range, throwing colors both brilliant and translucent across his field of vision. The clouds to the east of the range though threatened and he watched with guarded optimism the extraction of his teammates and friends from the mining pit.  If he looked upon the mountain range, its hues blue, magenta and green, he could depict in his mind those early summer months with Master Bra’tac in the lush mountains of Chulak.  His mind overlaid those training days, his younger days when his mind was more malleable and Bra’tac recognized the spark of independence and yearning to be free within him, with these desperate hours. Those days set him on his path, those early, formative years drove him and transformed him into the warrior he was today.

            Although for all of his strength and cunning as a warrior, he lacked the ability to administer any assistance to his friends’ plight.  He observed O’Neill scream orders until he was hoarse and depleted of energy to stay upright. He watched the engineers and SG-3 construct and deconstruct system after failing system.  Teal’c’s patience eroded as the clouds to the east obscured his view of the sunrise and he contemplated the fate of his teammates.

            He heard O’Neill call for coffee and an airman scrambled to their temporary encampment to get the requested hot beverage. His own hands were chilled and a mug of the steaming hot brew may increase the circulation in his limbs, but he did not move. He remained still as the dawn matured.  Glancing down, he looked at his powerful fingers, his massive hands and saw only the weakness he so despised.  A warrior. A powerless warrior.

            “We need you back at the ranch.”

            The words startled him out of his reverie but he did not jerk in reaction only turned to his commanding officer and raised an eyebrow.

            “I want you to be in the cave.”  O’Neill nodded to the partially hidden opening to the cave below the foothills.  Yesterday it was a simple notch in the hill, as the morning emerged, it became a cave and a means to extract his teammates.

            “I do not believe this course of action to be the right one, O’Neill.”

            “I have my doubts too, T.”  He laid one hand on Teal’c’s shoulder while the other cupped his hot tin cup of coffee. “But the rig they tried to use to get them topside nearly brought down the whole Goddamned hill.  They took their time drilling out the tunnel to get underneath them with only a minor rockfall last night.”

            “Have we heard from Major Carter or Daniel Jackson this morning?”

            O’Neill hesitated, his facial muscles twitching to expose his emotions. “We heard from Carter.”

            “What of Daniel Jackson?”

            “We finally snaked a light and camera down there,” he started but shook his head.

            “Does Daniel Jackson yet live?”  Nothing betrayed the rapidity of his heart as he asked this question yet he hung on every word of the man next to him.

            “We think so, yes.”  O’Neill took a long drink of his coffee and added, “It looks like Daniel’s been coughing up some blood.  He has an infection and has been in and out since late last night.  Not sure if he’ll wake up again.”

            Teal’c perceived the glimpse of fatigue and pain in his friend and commander’s eyes. He felt the same lost of hope, the same sense of helplessness and bitter vulnerability that no warrior should experience. Daniel Jackson was like a brother to him and a brother he owed much to in many ways.  He spoke, “How may I assist in the extraction of Major Carter and Daniel Jackson.”

            “Get in that damned cave and make sure they’re careful.  Those are our people we’re talking about. I don’t want any mistakes, any problems. I want them out of there and I want them out of there now.”

            Teal’c bowed and with a passing glance to the darkening clouds made his way to the cave.  He would not give up hope, of this he was sure. Even in the darkest hours of the rebellion he did not give up hope and now in these hours as a storm grew on the horizon he refused to lose the last strands of hope in this hazardous plan.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
“Crap,” he swore as he walked into the cave. He swallowed the last of the bitter brew and fisted his hand around the tin cup, wanting to crush it.  Damn.  This was supposed to be an easy mission. First the fall, then the gravel hill, now this.  It seemed the notch in the hill that the engineers had excavated was truly not a notch, but probably a cave in from some ancient time. He heard the engineers and Doctor Bill Lee mumbling in the corner of the room.  Glancing around in the dim light, he made out the sheen of mold that clung to the walls, the half hidden inscriptions chiseled into the stone that made up the walls and the ceiling.  Crap.  “Ideas people, we need ideas.”

            Lee fumbled over to Jack and he was the last person the Colonel actually wanted to talk to him. The round archeologist squeezed finger over finger as he said, “Doesn’t look like that was a mining shaft at all and now that we look back on it seems it would be a stupid place for a mining operation anyhow.  Who would try and mine in a hill made of soft rock anyway, just doesn’t seem like a good thing to do.” He peered up at Jack and saw the exasperation that must have been written all over his face. “Yes, yes. But this seems to be some type of under ground temple or something.”

            “Or something.”

            Lee gave a weak half smile, nodded his head and looked around the small cave. “Or something,” he murmured then retreated to the corner to play with the other idiots in the cave.

            “Teal’c,” he called and as he waited for the Jaffa to jog over to him, Jack surveyed the underground structure again. The masonry on the walls dripped of green mold, there were cracks and crevices streaking the face of the inscriptions. Alarm bells kept ringing in his head and though he tried to ignore them he knew the place was not safe, was not stable.  His gaze drifted upward to his unseen teammates.

            “O’Neill, progress has been hampered considerable by this unanticipated development.”

            “You mean finding a temple instead of just a hollowed out cave?  Yeah, I’d say so.”

            “May I inquire about your plan of action?”

            “You may, you may.” But he didn’t say anything to Teal’c about his formulating strategy instead he said, “Get outside and get Carter on the radio, we need Daniel awake and we need him now.”

            “O’Neill?”

            “If we’re going to get through that wall to get below them, we’re gonna need some help.”  He pointed to the inlaid wall at the far end of the structure.  Etchings written over the surface of the stone might lead to a clue or might be nothing.  Right now, he wasn’t willing to risk it being nothing. Dollars to doughnuts, that wall lead to something and that something had to do with Daniel and Carter.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            All he had to do was focus. It seemed simple enough.  Focus on the rhythm the pattern of the strokes, the etching on the wall. She held the flashlight above his head as he peered at the photo clutched between her teeth.  Even though Sam thought it would be impossible, Daniel’s eyes never strayed from the photo, never eased in their tension to reconfigure what he looked at from a puzzle to a pattern.

            He groaned low in his throat like an animal caught in a trap before he spoke. “I recognize it. Bill doesn’t know it. Not one of his areas of expertise.”

            She reached for the photo with her hand holding the flashlight and momentarily blinding Daniel. “Sorry.” He only squeezed his eyes shut for a minute as if he knew that the next time he closed them he wouldn’t wake up. “Can you translate it?”

            The wince he made went right through her like a cleaver slamming through bone. He murmured some reply and when she couldn’t hear it he repeated, “Yes, yes. I can. Not now, Sam, I’m sorry. I just can’t.”  She saw a trickle, a tear escape the corner of his eye. “I wanted to try harder.”

            “No, Daniel, no.”  A fist grabbed her heart and wrenched it hard, then twisted it. “You can’t leave me.”

            “Carter, any word from Daniel yet?” The tinny echo vibrated through her.

            “He knows the script but,” Sam paused; she refused to face the reality herself how could she verbalize it for her commanding officer.

            “Carter, talk to me.”

            In a low voice without panic, without edge, she whispered, “He’s not good, sir.”

            Through the silence that answered her, Sam felt the heavy weight she placed on his shoulders force the Colonel downward like the draft of an undercurrent pulling a swimmer into the depths of the ocean.  She allowed him this space, this time not to answer, not to give her the way out.  While Daniel’s life hung precariously both literally and figuratively and could end within seconds, she realized hers swung on the same raw eaten thread.  Her commanding officer was contemplating losing not one but two of his team members.

            Through the darkness and the growing fear holding her, another voice sounded and gave her the hope she needed, the spark that might save at least one of them.  “Tell Bill it is a derivative of the Furling language. He can break it down from there, maybe get a clue.”  The words fell out of his mouth in a stream as if there was no dam to stop them or curb them. “He has to reference the Furling original written language and derive from there using later influences of the Asgard. He should use the reference materials from Ernest’s planet. He knows, we call it Rosetta two.”

            When Daniel stopped she wasn’t sure if it was because there was no more knowledge to impart or if it was because the oxygen no longer penetrated his lungs. Without sound, he mouthed ‘tell him’ and she nodded.  Relaying the information to the colonel she added, “Hurry, he doesn’t have much time.”

            “Understood and Carter?”

            “Yes Colonel?”

            “Hang on, both of you.”

            She only nodded, knowing he could not see her.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“He’s gonna kill me.”

            “I do not believe Colonel O’Neill intends to perform any violence on you, Doctor Lee.” Teal’c turned to the small scientist crouching by the wall. “You should defer from these distractions and concentrate on the translation before you.”

            “Easy for you to say,” Lee mumbled and huffed as he sat down next to the mold laden stone. He picked at the mold and started again. “I just don’t want this to be on me, you know?  It isn’t easy trying to live up to this grand vision people have.”

            “Grand vision, Doctor Lee?” Teal’c turned his attention to Lee. “May I ask to what you refer?”

            “You know, people around the SGC see me differently now.”

            “Different? How would you define this difference Doctor Lee?” Teal’c raised an eyebrow awaiting the explanation.

            “Well ever since I, you know, went through all that in South America. You know, people look at me as some kind of – you know – Rambo type.”

            “Rambo type?”

            “Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen the way people look at me now. Did you see how Siler looked at me in the briefing the other day?  Like I was some kind of movie star or something.”

            “Indeed.” Teal’c narrowed his eyes on the man, considering him.  He bowed his head and stated, “I believe, Doctor Lee, it would behoove you to put aside these issues and concentrate on the task at hand.”  He paused just long enough to stare at the man in dead silence.  It spoke volumes to the scientist.

            “You’re, you’re right, of course.”  He nodded and then called over to his assistant for reference materials.

            Teal’c did not move away immediately, but stalled to force the scientist to refocus his energy not on his delusional dreams but on the wall before him.  Once he was assured the scientist had immersed himself into the translation, Teal’c walked to the entrance of the cave and joined O’Neill.

            “We’re gonna lose them.”

            “We will not.”

            O’Neill reverted his attention from the horizon of jagged mountains and turned to Teal’c. “You seem damned sure.”

            “Indeed.”

            “Crap.” O’Neill stated and glared at him. “Give me a break here, T. Some false hope, throw me a line, anything.”

            “False hope would be a waste of our energy O’Neill. There is hope, a true hope.”

            “How can you say that, they’ve been stuck down there for the better part of a day. Daniel is practically bleeding to death and Carter has to be dehydrated and suffering from the effects of a concussion.” O’Neill clenched his P90 then rubbed the rim of his cap. “False hope is about all we have.”

            “O’Neill, it is very trying to be around you sometimes.”  At this remark, his commanding officer glared at him. “It seems you forget about the talented members of your team and do not put faith in Daniel Jackson’s abilities.”

            In a low growl, O’Neill answered him. “If you haven’t already noticed, Mister T-man, Daniel is half dead, no let me re-phrase that, almost dead at the bottom of some pit dug by some ancient aliens that our current expert has no idea how to figure out how to translate. I am making a perfectly good assessment of the situation when I say there’s no hope.”

            Teal’c regarded the man before him, eyeing him with a cool but caring glance. He turned away then to look at the ever growing dawn and said in a whisper, “It is Daniel Jackson himself who is guiding Doctor Lee. I have no doubt in Daniel Jackson’s abilities. Perhaps you should re-assess the situation and realize that it is your friend you need to believe in and then you may believe in hope.”

            He walked away from the Colonel, allowing the man the time and the space to understand that hope blossomed not from cold facts but from beliefs deep within the well of the soul.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            Afterward as he lay on the stretcher under a foreign sky, Daniel would not be able to hear the words Jack spoke to him. With unfocused eyes, he glanced around to see Sam on another stretcher and a medical team bent over her. He wondered if she was okay, he wondered what Jack was saying. He could only hear the cacophony echoes of their fall, their descent as the well dropped out from under them.

            Controlled Descent - that is what they called it.

            If chaos was controlled, it would have been considered orderly, planned. The shattering fall deafened him with the remembered din of sounds; splintering wooden beams, cascading rocks and dirt, tearing screams as they fell. It happened without hesitation as soon as Bill Lee asked him the last of the translation questions. A second’s pause and then the groan of ancient machinery like a slumbering beast coming to life yawned through the shaft. The grumble was their only warning then they plummeted.

            Simply, soundly, fell.  He grabbed Sam as they plunged, as they slammed through the rocks and debris, as the very walls of the shaft collapsed in on them. She let out a cry and he realized he mimicked her and yelled out as the beams smashed into them. Dust and dirt choked him, muffling his voice. Sam coughed and sputtered as the very shaft around them buried them. With a sudden explosive force they hurled from the shaft to the freedom awaiting them below.

            An embrace of cool wind touched him yet the caress of freedom lasted only mere seconds when the stone floor of the inner chamber greeted them. There were pads placed and ready to catch them, cushioning their impact, but the finality, the solidity of the stone broke through to scatter and jolt him. Though he tried to shelter her, Sam’s head struck with a resounding thump and she blinked and then closed her eyes.

            “Daniel, Daniel?” Jack’s voice pulled him out of the re-occurring nightmare. “Can you hear me?”

            He opened his mouth to respond, to ask if Sam was okay when he heard the zipper. Looking over to his team mate again, he moaned when he saw the black body bag being adjusted to cover her.  Dead? Sam died? How, why?

            “Jack,” he murmured and felt the splattering on his face. Drops, wet and cold prickled his skin. The name barely sounded, barely crack the surface of the air.

            “Daniel?”

            He gasped, opening his mouth and gulping in the cool air as he attempted to answer. Again he heard the zipper sound and he averted his attention to Sam but no one tended to her. Her head was still free of the bag, pale and silent as she lay in repose. No, she wasn’t dead, Sam couldn’t be dead.

            Rough hands tugged his body to shift his shoulder and jerk his wound. Arching, he cried out against the pain as a hand touched his face and words were whispered to him. “It’s all right, Daniel. We’re just getting some cover for you. It’s starting to rain.”

            The hiss of a zipper cut the air and he looked down to see an airman tucking his arms into a body bag.  Struggling, he thrashed at the airman but the weight of his arms hindered him. He felt as if he swam through thick vicious liquid. His mind wandered, strayed as they moved his body to put him into the death bag.

            He must be dead again, he thought. Surely that must be it. He couldn’t recall ever feeling so much pain when he was dead. How was it this time the pain was sharp and cutting. Maybe he always forgot this part of the ordeal, the pain, the degradation, the preliminary decay of his body.

            “Dead,” he whispered and the sting of tears burned his dirt encrusted eyes. How could it hurt this much? The reverberating sound repeated again in his head, colliding with the reality of death. He would relive his last moments over and again, the torment of being impaled, the suffocating still air, the final jumbled fall from grace.

            Pain lanced through him again as his death shocked him back to reality. Someone was talking close to him, probably speaking of regrets and final words of comfort. He cared not to listen but the words drifted into his consciousness.

            “Daniel, Daniel.” It was Jack’s voice, grating through the cooling air, through the sigh of rain.  How is it he felt the rain if he was dead? “Listen to me, Daniel. We’re bringing you and Sam home. We’ve got five klicks to the gate, you have to hang on. Can you do that? Can you hang on and not get dead again and all sweet with that Oma chick?”

            “Not dead?” He forced reluctant eyes open. “Not dead?”

            “No. God, Daniel what did you think?”

            He tugged with fumbling hands on the body bag.

            “Jesus, no. We didn’t have anything else to use as protection against the rain. Both you and Sam are snug as a bug in a rug, well if a rug was a body bag and snug meant being zipped up in a death Ziploc sandwich bag.”

            “Jack,” he cut into Jack’s explanation.

            “Um, yeah Daniel?”

            “Sam? How is Sam?” These were the last words he could muster the strength to say for a while and so he spoke them as if they were precious jewels.

            “Sam’s a helluva lot better than you are.” Jack put a hand on his uninjured shoulder. “You don’t look so good. But promise me not to do the dead again thing.”

            He nodded. He mouthed, sure. Trying to clear his throat, Daniel lifted a hand only to have the bag prevent him from gesturing. He met Jack’s gaze and then looked to Sam.  Somehow Jack understood and guided the stretcher over to her side.

            “Not much time, we’re off to the gate.”

            Sam turned to him then and smiled. “Miss me already Daniel.”

            He nodded.

            “I don’t want to miss you again Daniel.”

            He shook his head in reply.

            “Remember your promise, Daniel.”

            He nodded as a shadow fell over them. He glanced in its direction.  Teal’c and Jack stood over them.

            “You are still alive Daniel Jackson.” He smiled in response to the Jaffa. “I would appreciate it if you could please remain so.”

            Jack snickered when Daniel agreed silently. As Jack went to pick up the weight of the stretcher, Daniel heard him murmured to himself, “Thanks Daniel, you did it again. Somehow you pulled it off. Don’t really get how you translate and try to die at the same time, but you did it again.”

            The stretcher rose and began its long journey to the stargate. Daniel smiled as he looked at Teal’c then at Sam. The clamor of their descent disintegrated, dissipating and fading in its power. He spared a smile at his team and then drifted off with their memory as his only lullaby.

         

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