"So, tell me, Captain, why is it that we always end up in jail, and Daniel gets carted off and treated like royalty?" Jack questioned petulantly, his arms folded across his chest, an expression of annoyance crossing his features as he lounged against the rough brick wall of their cell.
Carter shrugged. "I don't know, sir. Maybe he's just lucky."
"I do not believe luck has anything to do with it," Teal'c solemnly intoned. "Daniel Jackson's knowledge of ancient cultures and languages -- "
Impatiently interrupting the Jaffa with a sharp gesture, O'Neill snapped, "Yeah, yeah, whatever. It's just not fair."
Jack looked up, listening with interest as the sounds of a heated argument rang out from down the long, narrow corridor.
"That's Daniel," Sam exclaimed, exchanging puzzled glances with her commanding officer.
Surprised, Jack realized Sam was correct. Jack would've loved to have known what the fight was about, but both men were speaking in this planet's odd, incomprehensible dialect. Moving closer to the cell doors, Jack and Sam peered down the dark corridor in the hopes of catching a glimpse of their teammate.
Daniel and the guard suddenly rounded the corner. The slight archaeologist yanked his arm out of the man's grasp, gesturing animatedly with both hands as he drove his point home, whatever that point may be. With an amused grin, Jack realized Daniel was winning. Their teammate was using his considerable persuasive abilities -- meaning, Jack reflected with a wry grin, that he could talk and talk and talk -- to sway the guard to his way of thinking.
"Go, Danny..." the colonel urged quietly, rooting for his teammate. He wasn't totally sure what the archaeologist was up to, however.
Pausing in his conversation with the guard, Daniel suddenly shot a quick look at Jack. Figuring that Daniel had a plan, greatly surprised by that fact, Jack nodded his head once, and Daniel returned his attention to the other man.
The guard moved to grab Daniel's arm again and propel him toward the locked cell door. Daniel would have none of it; instead, he muttered, "I'm really sorry about this," and decked the guard with a solid right cross. The villager crashed to the tile floor, lying still.
Jack stared in amazement as the archaeologist crossed to the cell door.
"I couldn't think of any other way to get you guys out of there," Daniel admitted, pushing his glasses back on his nose. He looked down at the man sprawled on the floor, a look of regret on his face as he rubbed the sore knuckles of his right hand.
"Uh, Daniel?" Jack looked at his friend, one eyebrow raised.
Turning to look at the team leader, Daniel replied, "Yes, Jack?"
"The keys, Daniel? You might want to get his keys so we can get out of here," the colonel suggested, gesturing pointedly at the man lying on the floor.
"Oh, right. The keys." Daniel bent to retrieve the key ring from the prone man's belt, then quickly opened the door to SG-1's cell.
Jack stepped out into the corridor. Grinning, he lifted the archaeologist's right arm into the air.
"Fatigued, but still the undefeated champion..." At Daniel's perplexed look, he rolled his eyes. "Never mind. Good work, though. I didn't think you had that in you."
"Uh, thank you, I think," Daniel stammered, blushing slightly at the unexpected compliment from the normally caustic soldier.
Following on Jack's heels, Sam added, "Nice job."
Teal'c shot the smaller man an approving glance as he joined the team out in the hall. The Jaffa bent to help Jack carry the unconscious guard into the cell.
As Jack closed and locked the door, he turned to the archaeologist. "We need to get out of here quick. Which way, Daniel?"
Daniel gestured absently with his left hand. "Um, this corridor joins another about a hundred yards up that way. I think that one leads to the guard's quarters and the kitchen."
"Gosh, when did you get to be so darn observant?" Before Daniel had time to form a reply, Jack instructed, "I'll take point. Teal'c, rear guard. Let's go."
SG-1 hurried up the corridor, heading for the kitchen. They burst in on the surprised cooks as they made a break for freedom.
As the team bolted out the back door, one of the women alerted the guards to their presence, pointing frantically after the escaping prisoners.
"Come on, let's move!" Jack bellowed, heading across the town square toward the open field surrounding the settlement. Past the field was a dense forest; the colonel's plan was to get his team into the trees where they at least had a chance to elude their captors.
As they crossed the newly cultivated field, Jack realized they had a better chance of escaping if the team were to separate, making the villagers divide their attention between the two groups.
Over his shoulder, he instructed, "Carter, you and Teal'c head east and double back to the Stargate. Daniel and I will head west. Whoever gets there first should wait for the other team for one hour, then dial home."
"And if the other team doesn't make it back?" Samantha questioned, her eyes searching her commanding officer's.
"The other team will dial home on their own if we are not reunited within the hour time frame."
"Yes, sir. Luck," Carter responded, heading off in the direction Jack had indicated, Teal'c on her heels.
"Let's go!" Jack hissed to Daniel, gesturing for the scientist to follow him into the forest.
"You're sure you know where you're going?" the younger man questioned but obediently trailed behind the colonel.
"Why, do you know a better way?"
Daniel shook his head. "Um, no, I was just asking..."
Turning a glare on his companion, Jack warned, "Get a move on, Daniel, before they spot us."
The colonel snagged the smaller man's sleeve and pulled him toward the dense bush.
As they made it to the tree line, an angry shout rang out behind them. Bullets tore into the ground, sending up plumes of dirt and rock into the air.
Pointing out the obvious in true Daniel fashion, the archaeologist commented, "I'd say it's a little too late to worry about them spotting us."
The colonel rolled his eyes in a silent plea for patience. "You know, you really are as smart as they say you are," he retorted. He ducked instinctively as more bullets flew in their direction.
"Don't you just hate it when the bad guys turn your own weapons on you?"
Jack let go of Daniel's arm, stooping under some low branches. Bullets sprayed around them again, sending both Jack and Daniel diving for cover.
"Ow!" Daniel hit the ground hard as a burst of gunfire came a little too close for comfort. He quickly crawled into the bushes beside O'Neill, panting hard.
"You okay?" Jack wasn't able to spare his companion a glance as he watched for the villagers.
Through gritted teeth, the archaeologist answered, "Um, yeah, fine."
"Okay. Let's go. I think I hear water up ahead," the colonel informed his friend.
"Yeah, water. With any luck, we can use it to cover our tracks. Come on." Jack scrambled out of their makeshift cover, keeping a low profile as he darted further into the forest.
Reluctantly, Daniel followed on Jack's heels, his left arm pressed tightly to his side as he bolted after the colonel.
Several minutes of hard running later, Jack called a halt, ducking behind a huge pile of rocks.
"Sit tight, Daniel. I'm going to look around."
Breathlessly, Daniel nodded, sagging against a large boulder, immensely grateful for the chance to rest for a minute. He watched as the colonel splashed through the ankle-deep water and cautiously peered around an outcropping of trees as he looked for signs of pursuit.
"Okay, the coast is clear, for now. Let's go." Jack gestured for Daniel to follow as he started downstream again.
The archaeologist tried to straighten up, nearly blacking out as a sharp stab of pain tore through him. Winded, he slumped back against the rock. "Jack?"
"What is it?" Jack called over his shoulder. He frowned, seeing the younger man still resting against the rocks. "Get moving, for cryin' out loud."
"Jack, I -- I can't go any farther," Daniel gasped in explanation. He bent forward and rested his hands on his knees, breathing hard with a sudden desperate need for air.
"What are you talking about? We can't stop now. They're probably right behind us
Daniel shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jack. I need to rest for a minute."
"Daniel, get your butt in gear! That's an order!"
The archaeologist's eyes swept up, catching the glare O'Neill shot in his direction. He shrugged apologetically, dropping his eyes once more, unable to face the anger he saw on the other man's face.
"Don't make me come over there, Daniel," Jack growled, taking a threatening step toward the scientist.
Feeling utterly humiliated, disappointed with himself that he'd let Jack down again, Daniel tried to find some way to placate SG-1's commanding officer. "You -- you go ahead, Jack," he tried again, not meeting his friend's angry gaze. "I'll -- I'll catch up in a bit."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud." Jack muttered uncharitable sentiments under his breath, hurrying back to the other man's position. He observed Daniel's pale, sweat-slicked face, his expression unforgiving as he faced the other man.
"I think you and I oughtta talk about setting up some sort of fitness program for you," he snapped. "Your stamina really leaves a lot to be desired." As he spoke he moved away from Daniel and scanned their surroundings.
His pulse pounding out a staccato rhythm in his ears, vision starting to darken around the edges, the younger man protested weakly, "This -- this has nothing to do with my stamina..."
The last of his strength abruptly left him; with a groan, he sank to his knees in the shallow water, weakly propping himself up with his right arm as he leaned against the cool rock. Daniel's left arm hugged his chest tightly; gasping, he folded up on himself and coughed harshly.
Jack spun at the sound, disturbed by the severity of Daniel's cough. He was stunned to see the man on his knees, hunched over, chest heaving as he fought for breath. Alarm bells clamored in Jack's head; he prayed he was wrong, but the combat veteran had no problem recognizing the painful sound. He'd heard it countless times before, coming from soldiers on the front line, soldiers with internal injuries.
"Daniel!" Crossing the distance between them in four quick strides, ignoring the chill of the icy water, Jack dropped to his knees in front of his friend. Catching the man's shaking shoulders in his hands, he bent to look at Daniel's face. "Daniel, you okay? What's wrong?"
The coughing spell over for the moment, the scientist weakly reached up and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. Jack was shocked to see the smear of bright blood on Daniel's hand when he was through. The younger man was obviously in distress, each inhalation a shallow, painful-sounding gasp.
Jack studied his friend, spotting the blood on the archaeologist's jacket. He wondered how on earth he had missed such an obvious sign. Dragging his eyes back to Daniel's ashen face, the colonel squeezed his shoulders. "Geeze, Danny. What the hell happened?"
Daniel managed a small, sickly smile. "Guess I'm not real good at dodging bullets..."
Jack's face paled at the quiet admission, his mouth dropping open in shock. "You got hit back there?" he demanded, jerking his head in the direction they had come from. Daniel nodded weakly. "Why didn't you tell me?" Reaching down, he fumbled with one hand to unzip Daniel's jacket and check his injury.
"We -- we had to get away from the villagers," Daniel reminded Jack as he pushed the hand away. A wave of painful shivers caught him and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut.
Concerned by the man's sudden trembling, Jack renewed his grip on Daniel's shoulders. "Damn it. How bad is it?" Jack asked, forcing his voice into a semblance of composure.
Daniel took a short, shallow breath, wincing into the pain that movement caused. "Bad enough... that I think you should leave me here... and get back to the Stargate before... before they catch you too..."
Lifting his eyes, the archaeologist bravely met Jack's gaze, firm in his resolve to get the colonel to leave and get himself to safety.
As the meaning of the request sunk in, Jack's expression grew hard and he squeezed the shoulders still grasped in his hands. He gave Daniel a gentle shake. "Like hell I will.
I'm not going to leave you here like a sitting duck."
Worriedly, Jack cast a quick look over Daniel's shoulder, weighing his options. He had to get the archaeologist back to the Stargate, but couldn't risk going back the way they had come in case they ran into the villagers. Making a quick decision, he climbed to his feet and looked down at his friend. "C'mon, let's go. Let me help you up."
Ignoring Daniel's objection to his plan, Jack carefully took his arm, pulling the protesting man to his feet. The archaeologist gasped in agony, leaning heavily on Jack as the colonel snaked his arm around his waist and pulled him forward.
Feeling lightheaded, rapidly losing control of his own limbs, Daniel stumbled on the uneven footing of the creek bed. "Jack -- I can't." He groaned, swaying weakly on his feet.
"You don't have a choice, not while I'm in charge of this operation," the colonel reminded his friend, relentlessly dragging him along the creek bed.
Clutching Jack's arm in a weak grasp, Daniel pleaded, "Jack... please... You can't carry me back to the Stargate, and I -- I won't be able to walk that far. " He paused, wide blue eyes imploring Jack to do as he asked. "Just -- just leave me here and go."
Swallowing hard against the heart-wrenching look on the younger man's face, the colonel resolutely shook his head. "Not a chance, so you may as well stop asking me to do that."
The archaeologist suddenly shuddered convulsively, stumbling again and making Jack scramble to adjust to the shift in weight. Daniel coughed painfully, choking as bright, frothy blood spilled from his mouth and down his chin, staining the collar of his jacket. Jack barely had a second's warning before Daniel's knees buckled and he passed out. He would've gone down if Jack hadn't frantically grabbed for him, dragging the limp form into a rough embrace as he struggled to keep them both upright.
"Hang on, Danny. Hang on," Jack urged worriedly as he cradled the archaeologist against him.
With no time for delicacy, Jack hefted Daniel up into a fireman's carry and hurried down the creek bed. Blood spoor was easy to track, Jack knew; he made sure to keep to areas where the obvious sign of their progress wouldn't show.
Breathing hard from exertion, Jack left the creek bed and hiked into the forest. Several minutes had passed without sign of further pursuit, so the colonel decided to find a hideout so he could tend to his friend. He stumbled across a small, somewhat sheltered clearing and eased Daniel onto the forest floor, carefully positioning the young archaeologist with his head slightly raised and turned to one side.
"Danny? You still with me, buddy?" Jack questioned worriedly. As he spoke he unzipped the prone man's jacket and pulled the bloody tail of his tee shirt out of his pants. Taking a deep, calming breath, Jack bent to examine the injury. The sight that greeted him wasn't reassuring; Daniel's belly was smeared with blood, and more of the life-sustaining fluid welled at an alarming rate from the small hole in the younger man's torso.
"Damn it!" Reaching into his vest pocket, Jack pulled out his personal survival kit and opened it, dumping the contents out onto the ground. He grabbed the kit's only pressure dressing, clumsily tearing at the plastic wrap before finally using his teeth to open the stubborn package.
Jack quickly tended to the profusely bleeding injury, wrapping the bandage around Daniel's torso, snugging it in tight against the wound. His ministrations brought a low moan of pain from the younger man.
"Easy there, big guy. I gotta get the bleeding stopped or you're going to be in trouble," Jack explained gently, talking more for his own benefit than for Daniel's. He doubted that the young man was aware of anything but the pain coursing through his side. 'Dumb, Jack. He's already in trouble. If you don't get him back to Earth ASAP you're going to have to bury him for real this time.' Jack swallowed hard at the unbidden thought, remembering the despair he felt when SG-1 had returned from a mission minus one team member. After they had retrieved Daniel from Nem's clutches, Jack vowed to himself that he would never lose another team member again. Now, though, it looked like there was a distinct possibility he would break that promise to himself.
Dragging his thoughts away from the painful memories of the past, Jack watched in dismay as the heavy bandage began to spot through almost immediately. Cursing, he placed his hand over the thick dressing, pressing hard, adding his own efforts to stop the bleeding. Daniel moaned again, his long fingers clenching into fists as he fought against the sudden flare of pain Jack's actions caused.
Reaching out his other hand, Jack placed it on Daniel's shoulder, patting gently. "Sorry, Danny. I know it hurts, but it's the only way to get the bleeding stopped."
The soft voice didn't sound much like Daniel, but Jack was still happy to hear it. "I'm here, buddy. Just relax, okay? I'm going to get you fixed right up."
Daniel didn't respond, slipping back into the welcoming void of oblivion. O'Neill was immensely grateful for that fact; he knew Daniel's continued unconsciousness was dangerous, but he couldn't bear the thought of hurting his friend, even inadvertently, as he administered first aid.
Shoulders cramping painfully from his hunched position, Jack lifted the hand holding the bandage, a hand now tingling from lack of circulation, and observed his progress. The colonel was relieved to see the bleeding had slowed. He tightened the bandage a little to keep the pressure on the wound, then carefully ran his hands over his friend, checking for other injuries now that the most obvious one had been dealt with. Thankful that there were no more nasty surprises waiting for him, Jack pulled the black tee shirt down over the bandage and zipped up Daniel's jacket to conserve his body heat. Absently resting his hand on Daniel's shoulder, patting reassuringly, Jack sat back on his haunches and took stock of their situation.
'Why is it that damn near every planet we go to has pine trees?' he wondered. 'Somebody must've gotten a helluva deal on the seeds...' For once, though, he was grateful for the profusion of trees; it made hiding from hostile natives easier when there was a lot of vegetation to use as cover.
A low rumble of thunder echoed in the distance, interrupting his musings. The colonel glanced up at the darkening sky, swearing colorfully under his breath as he noticed the threatening rain clouds overhead.
"Well, isn't this special," the colonel muttered. He looked around the clearing and quickly assessed the possibilities for shelter. Thanking his Special Forces instructors for drilling survival skills into him, Jack got to work stripping large branches from the nearby trees. After setting up a quick, crude framework out of some of the larger branches and fishing line, Jack draped his survival kit's only mylar emergency blanket over the frame. He stacked branches on the framework, making a primitive but dry shelter that would serve as a makeshift home-away-from-home. The branches would keep out the freshening wind while camouflaging the waterproof blanket from prying eyes.
With a wet splat, a large raindrop landed on the colonel's cheek. As he wiped the moisture off his face, Jack looked up, uttering a heart-felt curse as the skies began to open up.
Scrambling back to Daniel's side, the colonel hooked his hands in the prone man's armpits and dragged him inside the shelter. "Easy, Danny," Jack murmured.
After Jack got Daniel settled once more, he glanced at his watch. Guessing the amount of time it would take for Carter and Teal'c to get back to the Stargate, the colonel figured he had a few minutes to contact the other half of the team. Jack reached for his radio and turned the knob on the small device, hoping to contact Sam before she took the Jaffa back to earth.
"Carter, come in."
The captain's voice crackled over the tiny speaker. "Carter here, sir."
"Captain, what's your location?"
"We're near the Stargate, sir. We can see it from our position."
"Good. Take Teal'c and go back to SGC. I'm going to be delayed for a bit."
Sam heard the unspoken concern in her commanding officer's voice. "What's wrong, sir?"
"Daniel's been shot. The villagers were on our tail, searching for us, but I think I've lost them. We're going to hole up for a while until the heat's off."
"Understood. How bad is he, sir?"
Jack cast a quick look at the archaeologist, his eyes sweeping over the young man lying pale and still on the forest floor. When he spoke, he couldn't keep the worry out of his voice. "Bad. He's unconscious right now; I don't know if he's going to make it, Captain."
"Yeah, you said it," the colonel agreed softly.
"Sir, Teal'c and I can double back and find you. We can help you get Daniel back to the Stargate," Sam blurted worriedly.
"Negative!" Jack barked. "My orders stand, Captain. I won't have you and Teal'c endangering yourselves for Daniel's sake."
"But sir, we can help -- "
"Captain, I'm ordering you and Teal'c to go back to SGC. I'll try to bring Daniel back to Earth as soon as I can."
Realizing this was an argument she was not going to win, Sam responded, "Yes, sir." She paused, just for a moment, gathering her composure about her. Jack wouldn't appreciate her falling apart right now. "Be careful, sir. Carter out."
"Out." Jack switched off the radio, turning to look at his companion. "Well, Danny, it looks like it's just you and me. Somehow I have the feeling you're not going to be very good company for the next little while..."
Sighing, Jack lifted a hand to Daniel's forehead, checking him for signs of fever. His hand lingered on the younger man's brow, his touch gentle as he smoothed a stray lock of hair from Daniel's face.
"Guess you won't be needing these for a while," Jack murmured, carefully pulling the archaeologist's glasses from his face. The colonel tucked them away in his breast pocket for safekeeping. Sighing wearily, he settled back against a tree trunk, hoping against hope his turn at watch wouldn't end up a deathbed vigil.
Jack lay on his belly, chin resting on his crossed arms as he peered out at the world through the end of the small shelter. The dark, depressing day matched the colonel's dark, depressing mood perfectly; Jack reflected that the rain, now coming down in a steady downpour, just added to this planet's all-round wonderful ambience.
A low groan snapped him out of his gloomy reverie; Jack turned to the sound, surprised to see Daniel struggling back from unconsciousness. He crawled over to his friend's side, watching intently as Daniel's eyelids flickered. Another quiet groan came from deep in the injured man's throat.
"That's it, Danny. You can do it," Jack whispered in encouragement.
His voice seemed to be what Daniel needed to pull him back to consciousness; a minute later blue eyes opened and peered up at the blurry face above him.
"Hey. How're you doing?" Jack asked, resting a hand on the archaeologist's shoulder. The light touch revealed Daniel was still shivering; the colonel schooled his face into a neutral expression to hide his concern.
"Of course. Who were you expecting? A redhead, maybe? Or a blonde?" the colonel teased.
"Actually... I'm partial... to brunettes..."
Jack grinned at the unexpected comment. "I'll keep that in mind for future reference."
"What... happened?" Daniel asked in a tone of hazy confusion.
Scrubbing at his short hair with one hand, Jack sighed, "You got shot, remember?"
"I did?" The archaeologist moved to sit up and investigate but Jack quickly intercepted him, easing him back against the ground.
"Don't move, Daniel. You'll start bleeding again."
Daniel nodded his understanding. He licked at dry lips. "How -- how bad?"
"Don't talk, Danny. Just take it easy, okay?"
Blue eyes gazed determinedly up at Jack. Pinning the colonel in place with unflinching scrutiny, Daniel whispered, "Jack... tell me..."
Jack shrugged, tearing his eyes away Daniel's probing gaze. "It's not that bad," he answered vaguely. He looked down, surprised, when Daniel's hand grasped his arm in a weak grip.
"Jack..." the younger man admonished.
Jack placed his own hand over Daniel's, patting reassuringly. "Look, Daniel, I'm not a doctor."
"I ... know that..." Daniel rasped. "How bad... does it look?"
"Ya want the truth? Or should I sugarcoat it?"
Daniel bravely met Jack's eyes. "The truth."
"Okay." Jack blew his breath out in a gust, contemplating the best way to explain what had happened without panicking the younger man. "The bullet hit you on the left side, just under your ribs. There's no exit wound, so the little gaffer's rattling around somewhere inside you."
Daniel winced. "Is it too late for the sugarcoating?"
"Actually, that was the sugarcoating," Jack said gently.
"On the plus side, I think it was a ricochet that got you. If it'd been a direct hit -- well, from that close range the bullet probably would've done a lot more damage than it has."
The matter-of-fact explanation sent a wave of nausea crashing over Daniel and he shuddered weakly. Jack hadn't thought it possible, but his friend's ashen face went paler.
"I think I've got the bleeding stopped, though. And you're awake, which is a good sign," Jack rambled on, hoping to allay the other man's fears.
The colonel leaned in close, patting Daniel's shoulder in calm reassurance. "What?"
"I think it's time... for you to go..."
Hearing the resignation in Daniel's voice, Jack felt like someone had punched him in the guts. His fingers tightened on the slim shoulder as he suspiciously asked, "Go where?"
"Back... to the 'gate..."
"I'm not going without you," Jack snapped. "Look, Daniel, you just need to rest for a little while. I figure after dark we can make our way back to the Stargate and get you home."
"You think so...?"
Trusting blue eyes peered up at Jack; forcing an unconcerned expression on his face, the colonel nodded and bravely met that open regard. "Yeah, I do," he fibbed. It took all the courage he possessed to smile at the younger man. "Why don't you try and get some sleep? I'll wake you if anything exciting happens, okay?"
Daniel stared up at the colonel for a few seconds, his eyes boring into Jack's, assessing the man beside him. What he was looking for Jack had no idea, but he forced himself to meet Daniel's gaze. Seemingly satisfied by what he read in Jack's dark eyes, the archaeologist smiled faintly and let his eyes drift shut.
"That's it," Jack soothed, watching as Daniel surrendered to his obvious exhaustion. He continued to rub the shoulder under his hand until Daniel's painful inhalations changed to the deeper rhythm of sleep. The colonel breathed a ragged sigh of worry as he watched the boyish face relax. The release of sleep didn't do much to ease the deepening lines of pain etched into the young features.
Frowning, Jack reached up and lightly smoothed his hand over the creased brow.
"Hang on, my friend. You've got to hang on."
Long lashes fluttered before slowly lifting; fever-bright blue eyes locked onto the worried face above him. With a depth of strength that Jack never suspected he had, Daniel managed a faint whisper of a smile.
"Hey, Danny. It's about time you decided to wake up again," Jack scolded lightly. "I thought you were planning on sleeping the whole day away."
Jack's affectionately teasing tone brought another weak smile to the young face. "Hi..." he whispered. "You're... still here?"
Jack was alarmed by the breathless query but masked his worry with a casual smile. "Of course I'm still here," he confirmed. "Where else would I rather be? This planet is a paradise: beautiful scenery, nice sunshine. You know, I was hoping to catch some more rays while you were napping."
Daniel mustered his remaining strength and lifted his head to peer out the end of the small shelter, noting the steady drizzle of rain with a puzzled frown. Lowering his head, he turned to Jack once more; his eyes caught Jack's, holding them in a remarkably perceptive gaze. "Thanks..."
Jack nodded his acknowledgment, shrugging uncomfortably. "Didn't have any other urgent engagements." He reached out and pressed the back of his hand to Daniel's flushed cheek, checking the progress of the fever that gripped the younger man. "How are ya doin'?" he questioned gently. "Does it hurt much?"
"No... Not that much..." Daniel mumbled. "I'm c-cold..."
Jack studied his young friend; Daniel's shivering was growing in intensity, his teeth chattering together as his body was caught in the grip of a chill. Whether it was from the cool temperature inside the small shelter or from shock, Jack couldn't begin to guess. He just knew he had to deal with the situation soon or Daniel wasn't going to make it to nightfall.
The impending darkness brought its own concerns, but the colonel pushed that worry aside to deal with the immediate problem.
"Okay, buddy. I'm going to see how your wound's doing, then I'll get you warmed up." The colonel carefully unzipped Daniel's jacket; despite the chill of the air, the black tee shirt underneath the jacket was soaked with sweat. Daniel shivered harder as the cool air caressed his damp skin.
With quick, efficient movements Jack checked his friend's injury. He was relieved to see the wound had finally stopped oozing, but a dark, purpling bruise spread across the pale skin. For a moment, Jack's eyes closed in helpless frustration; he guessed he had stopped the external bleeding, but Daniel was obviously bleeding inside. The colonel gently placed his hand on the injured belly, feeling the slight distension of his friend's abdomen, as well as the disturbing heat of his fever.
The archaeologist moaned softly as the light touch sent a stab of pain through him.
"Sorry," Jack murmured, snatching his hand back from the discoloured skin.
Pulling the tee shirt back over Daniel's stomach, Jack contemplated the best way to warm his friend. A fire was out of the question, even if it hadn't been pouring outside. Their only blanket was keeping the rain from penetrating the small lean-to. Searching for a solution, Jack thought back to the numerous first aid courses he was forced to sit through as part of his military training, finally coming up with a plan of attack.
As carefully as he could, Jack slipped Daniel's jacket off the young man's shoulders and eased his arms out of the sleeves. Pulling the sweaty coat from under the trembling form, he covered Daniel's legs with it; the damp material would at least help to preserve some body heat.
Moving quickly, Jack slipped off his own jacket and set it down on the ground. Kneeling beside Daniel's shoulder, he warned, "Danny, I'm going to move you a little bit. It's probably going to hurt."
Daniel had closed his eyes tiredly as Jack checked his injury. He nodded his head, answering weakly through chattering teeth, "...'K-kay..."
Gently, Jack slipped his arm under Daniel's shoulders, easing him up off the ground. Despite the colonel's efforts to be careful, though, the younger man groaned, biting his lip to suppress a cry of pain. His face blanching at the unexpected response, the colonel scooted in behind Daniel, one leg on either side of the smaller man, and settled back against the tree trunk at the rear of the shelter.
Lowering Daniel against his body, Jack carefully positioned his friend, cradling the shivering form against his chest and pillowing the blond head on his shoulder. The colonel gently placed his jacket over Daniel's torso and tightly wrapped his arms around the man.
After a few minutes of body-to-body contact, Daniel's shivering eased, replaced by occasional small tremors of pain.
"Danny? Feeling any warmer?"
The man cradled in his arms nodded once. "Yes."
"Good." Jack paused, a slow grin spreading across his face. "I just want you to know that all those stories about lonely sailors at sea do not in any way apply to members of the Air Force."
It took Daniel several moments to process the wisecrack. Finally he smiled, chuckling lightly as the meaning of Jack's words hit him. The laugh wasn't a good move; his body stiffening against Jack's, he dissolved into a paroxysm of coughing.
"Easy, easy," Jack soothed, holding the shaking form tightly until the coughing spell had run its course.
Jack reached for one of his jacket's sleeves, using it to wipe the blood from Daniel's mouth.
Contritely, he murmured, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't make you laugh."
"'S all right," Daniel rasped, short of breath from the sudden exertion.
"Try and get some rest. I'll be here when you wake up."
The archaeologist obediently closed his eyes and drifted off into a troubled doze.
An hour later, Jack felt Daniel stir against him; he watched curiously as the young man moved his hand out from under the coat. The archaeologist sketched a figure in the dirt with one finger.
Daniel's weak tone made Jack pause. Swallowing hard against the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat, Jack murmured, "I'm here, buddy. What are you up to?"
"Here's... the point of origin... You'll... need this... to get home..."
Jack closed his eyes against a surge of panic, suddenly very afraid that Daniel was going to die. His friend sounded resigned, almost as if he knew how desperate the situation was becoming. And the situation was desperate; the longer Daniel was away from proper medical care, the weaker he became. Jack was surprised every time Daniel managed to bring himself back from oblivion.
Forcing his voice into a gently chiding tone, Jack said, "Don't you dare think that you're not coming back with me, Danny. Not for one minute."
Daniel sighed weakly. "Jack..." he said in mild admonishment. "It doesn't make sense... for you to stay here... with me..."
Jack tightened his grip on his friend, resting his cheek against Daniel's temple. Shocked by the heat he felt radiating off the younger man, it took him a moment to regain his voice. "I don't leave members of my team behind." Especially when they're in this condition, he thought.
"Please, Jack..." Daniel murmured. "It's... not worth it..."
Jack heard the unspoken "I'm not worth it" in Daniel's voice as clearly as if the man had uttered the words. Silently, he railed at the circumstances in Daniel's life that had robbed him of his sense of self-worth.
"Damn it, would you stop talking nonsense? Don't you know that this is what friends do for each other?" Jack asked harshly, his voice tight with barely suppressed pain.
The archaeologist managed a faint smile. "...Friends...?"
"Yes, friends," Jack repeated.
Daniel gulped, his body stiffening as a new wave of shivers caught him. "I never thought..."
"Thought what? That I consider you a friend?" Jack questioned softly, carefully tucking his jacket around the man he held tightly against him so his hands had something to do.
"No... That you'd admit it... out loud..."
One corner of Jack's mouth lifted in a wry smile. "Yeah, I guess I'm not all that forthcoming with the touchy-feely stuff."
Daniel snorted. "That's... an understatement..."
"Hey. It's not like it's a character flaw, ya know. We military types don't exactly go for great shows of emotion. It's... well, it's undignified."
Again, the faint flicker of a smile. "Ah. Undignified..."
"Yeah. Undignified. You don't see too many of us going off to war with our hearts on our sleeves. It just makes us better targets for the enemy," Jack joked uncomfortably.
That admission made, the two men fell into an uncomfortable silence, broken only by the steady pitter-patter of raindrops on the metallic blanket over their heads and the sound of Daniel's painful breathing.
Finally, Daniel broke the uneasy silence that had settled between them. "Promise me something?"
"Anything, Daniel. Name it."
The younger man opened his mouth to speak but gasped instead, his back arching as a dull wave of pain washed over him.
"Hang on, Danny." Jack held the younger man tightly as the pain crested.
"Oh, God, Jack... it hurts..." Daniel whispered raggedly.
"I know, buddy. I know." Jack's hand came up to lightly stroke Daniel's hair, offering what little comfort he could with the gesture, wishing there was more he could do. "Fight it, Danny. Don't give in."
Several long, agonizing moments after the spasms hit, the man in his arms abruptly went limp. Daniel shuddered, breathing a sigh of exhausted relief as the pain diminished back to an almost-manageable level.
Jack was almost afraid to speak, his heart hammering in his chest. "Danny? You still with me?" he croaked.
Gathering the remains of his shattered control about him, Daniel grated, "Yeah."
"Good. Don't you even consider giving up. Not for a second. I know you, Daniel. You're damn stubborn when you want to be. You're going to need every bit of that stubborn streak to get through this."
"I... don't think I can, Jack." The normally spirited voice was flat, almost monotone.
Jack tightened his grip on the younger man. "It sounds like you're giving up on me. I won't accept that, Daniel. I won't."
"I'm... so tired..."
"I know you're tired, but you have to keep fighting," Jack urged relentlessly.
Daniel's voice caught in his throat as another wave of agony crashed over him. Powerless to stop them, twin tears of misery slipped from under his clenched eyelids, tracking down his pale cheeks.
Jack reached up trembling fingers to wipe the tears away. "Hang on, buddy, just a little longer, then I'll get you home. I promise."
"Please, Jack. Just leave me and go..."
"No! Don't talk like that. I'm not going anywhere. I thought I made that clear to you."
"Jack... let me go..."
The soft request hit like a physical blow. Jack felt dizzy, lightheaded, as the words registered. Harshly, he growled, "I won't let you go, damn it. I need you in my life; I've lost too many people already, and I'm not going to lose you too."
"We both know... I'm not... going to make it..."
"Says who? The 'd' word isn't permitted, not while you're under my command. Do you understand?" Jack continued sternly, using sheer force of will and pigheaded stubbornness to coax the other man into fighting for his life.
Finally, the soft voice whispered, "I... understand."
"Listen to me, Daniel. You wanted me to do something for you. Can you remember what you wanted?"
Daniel remained quiet for a long time, his breathing a harsh rasp that seemed to echo off the mylar walls of their shelter. The colonel wished he could cover his ears to drown out the sound.
Jack was convinced Daniel wasn't going to answer when the archaeologist's voice continued faintly, "Jack... when you rescue Sha're... tell her... tell her I... love her... okay?"
Sorry he had brought the topic up, Jack exclaimed, "For cryin' out loud, Daniel. You can tell her that yourself."
"But... you asked."
"I know I did. I thought you'd maybe ask me to feed your fish or water your plants or something."
Daniel refused to let Jack off the hook. "Promise...?"
His eyes misting with tears, Jack leaned his head against his friend's, hoarsely whispering, "I promise, Daniel. I promise you I'll tell her that you love her."
Jack felt Daniel relax slightly against him; the archaeologist knew that once the promise was made, Jack would never go back on his word. "Thank you."
"Shush. We both know that's a promise I won't have to keep, Daniel. You're going to be okay," Jack said, trying to force his voice into a lightness he didn't feel.
Sucking in a short, painful breath, Daniel chastised, "God, Jack... don't pretend... this isn't happening..."
"Why? Can't I be optimistic? I know that's usually your assigned task, but it seems like you're not doing a very good job of it right now," Jack shot back angrily.
"Damn it, don't you apologize. You have nothing to apologize for." Reaching his hand up, Jack lightly patted the top of the blond head. "You save all your energy for fighting, all right?" When Daniel didn't respond, he demanded again, "All right?"
No answer was forthcoming and Jack was instantly alarmed. Daniel stiffened again, a low moan of pain torn from his throat before he slipped into unconsciousness once more. Jack had never felt so utterly helpless in his life, unable to think of anything further he could do to help his friend. From the sound of Daniel's rapid, laboured breathing, Jack knew his situation was worse, much worse, than he had thought.
With that realization came an overwhelming sense of rage. The cruel irony of the situation wasn't lost on Jack; gentle Daniel, the team member who despised guns and violence, the man who never drew his own gun unless there was absolutely no alternative, was injured by their own weaponry.
Biting back a sob at the unfairness of it, Jack gathered the young man tighter in his arms. All he could do was hold his teammate, sharing warmth and whispering soft words of comfort in Daniel's ear as he waited for his friend to die.
The afternoon passed with unbearable slowness. Jack lost all track of time, caught up in the here and now as he listened to his friend's agonized breathing. The sound was both his damnation and his salvation; as long as Jack heard that painful sound, he knew that Daniel was still holding on, but the cost to the colonel's sanity was immense. Was it selfish of him to want his friend to survive when he was in such obvious pain? Did he want Daniel to live just so he wouldn't have to face the pain of losing someone he loved? At what point did the price become too great?
A sudden loud, tinny voice shattered the desperate silence in the small shelter. "Colonel O'Neill, it's Carter. Come in, sir."
Startled, Jack grabbed for the small radio tucked in his vest pocket, quickly turning the knob.
"O'Neill here. Damn it, Carter, I thought I gave you strict orders to go back to Earth," he growled.
"We did, sir. We've brought back-up and a medical team with us. Keep talking, sir, and we'll pinpoint your radio signal."
With Carter's cheerful voice echoing in the small shelter, realization dawned: help was on its way. The smile obvious in his voice, Jack asked, "Did General Hammond send you back?"
"Yes, sir, he did. How's Daniel?"
"Not very good. I don't know how much longer he can hang on, Captain." Jack paused, gathering his composure about him. "How are we doing? Have you locked on to us yet?"
There was a slight pause as Sam digested the news of her friend's condition. When she spoke again her voice was professionally military, a sure sign that she was upset. "All right, Colonel, we've got your location. Looks like our ETA is twenty-five minutes."
"Roger that. Twenty-five minutes. I'll roll out the welcome mat."
Checking his watch for the tenth time, waiting for the cavalry to arrive, Jack swore it was the longest twenty-five minutes of his entire life. One ear listening for signs of the approaching rescue team, he murmured encouragingly to his friend.
"Ya hear that, Danny boy? Help's on the way. Carter and Teal'c came back and brought a medical team with them," Jack rambled. "You listen up; you'd better hang on. I don't want you dying before they get here. I'll be some pissed off at you if you give up now when help is so close..."
"Colonel? Colonel O'Neill?" Carter called from the edge of the clearing.
"Over here, Captain."
Moments later, the blonde head appeared at the end of the shelter. Jack smiled tiredly at his young subordinate. "Glad you could make it, Captain."
Carter's eyes swept over the two men, her gaze lingering on the archaeologist's face for a long moment before returning to her commanding officer.
"Glad to be here, sir," Sam responded in the same light tone. She looked up, smiling grimly as Frasier knelt down beside her and looked inside the lean-to.
"Doc! What are you doing here?" O'Neill was surprised to see the young woman.
"The things I do for you and your team, Colonel," Frasier teased lightly. Her expression hardened when she saw the still figure cradled against Jack. "How's Dr. Jackson?"
Jack dropped his eyes to the pale face still resting against his shoulder. "He's not doing very well."
"We'll see what we can do about that," Frasier promised, ducking into the shelter. Reaching under the jacket for Daniel's wrist, checking his pulse, she asked, "Think you can put him down?"
Jack shrugged sheepishly. "I would, except the whole left side of my body has gone to sleep."
"I'm not surprised. How long have you been holding him like that?"
"I'm not sure. A few hours, anyway. He was cold."
"Doctor, the tent's up," a voice called out.
"The colonel needs a hand with Dr. Jackson, Corpsman," Frasier instructed. "Colonel, we're going to take your shelter down."
Protesting, Jack gestured to the rain still coming down outside. "But it's raining. He'll get wet."
Frasier smiled reassuringly. "He won't melt, Colonel." Nodding to the two men outside, the young woman gave the go-ahead. The small shelter came down rather rapidly, allowing the corpsmen to relieve Jack of his burden. The two men quickly carried Daniel into the tent, Frasier hot on their heels.
Carter hurried to her commander's side, offering him a dry jacket and a rain poncho. "How are you doing, sir?"
Wincing as circulation slowly and painfully returned to his left side, O'Neill shrugged into the coat and rain gear; he shivered lightly, suddenly aware of how damp his own clothing was. "I'm okay."
"You looked played out," Carter corrected.
"Okay, I'm played out," Jack confessed. "It's been a very long day." He gratefully accepted the mug of soup Teal'c poured him from a large, stainless steel thermos.
"So what happened to you two?" Carter's casual tone couldn't hide her concern.
Sighing contentedly as the soup's soothing warmth spread through his belly, Jack looked at the young woman. "We barely made it into the trees when he got hit. He didn't tell me he'd been shot until he was almost going to pass out from blood loss."
"Dr. Frasier will get him fixed up," Sam said confidently.
"I know." Jack's calm response was belied by the fear in his expressive brown eyes.
Frasier ducked out of the tent, searching for O'Neill. Spotting the man talking with his team members, the petite woman headed across the clearing toward him.
Jack paused in mid-sentence as he saw the doctor approach. O'Neill drew himself up straight, steeling himself for whatever news she had to give him.
Frasier noticed the reaction, smiling reassuringly as she stopped beside the colonel.
"How's he doing?"
"All things considered, he's not doing as badly as I expected. He has lost a lot of blood. We're just getting some fluids into him; once he's stabilized we'll take him back to the infirmary."
"He's going to make it?" Jack questioned.
"I think so. He's having some trouble breathing; I think he has a collapsed lung, but I can't deal with it until we get him back to the base."
Jack let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "He kept trying to get me to leave him," he blurted.
"Well, if you had, he would probably be dead right now," Frasier supplied. She turned a bright, comforting smile on the worried colonel. "Keeping him warm like you did helped a lot. You probably saved his life."
Jack smiled at the statement. It had all been worth it after all.
"We should be able to leave within the hour. I want you to take it easy. Have some more soup and just relax for a bit. I don't need two patients," Frasier said sternly.
Jack grinned his patented O'Neill smart-alecky smile. "Yes, ma'am."
Smiling in mock exasperation, Frasier ducked back inside the tent to check on her patient.
Too professional to keep up the pretense of unworried small talk, Jack, Sam, and Teal'c kept a silent vigil, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the damp ground, watching the door of the tent with anxious eyes. As Frasier's hour deadline drew near, they silently willed the doctor and her team to emerge from the nylon shelter.
At last, the zippered door opened and two corpsmen emerged, bearing a stretcher gripped in their strong hands. Daniel lay quiet and still on the stretcher, snugly wrapped in a sleeping bag and covered by a ground sheet to keep the rain off.
Leaping to his feet, Jack rushed to the stretcher, pausing beside it to observe the young archaeologist. Sam and Teal'c hung back for a moment, allowing the colonel a moment of privacy to check on his friend. Visibly gathering his composure, Jack smiled at the doctor as she joined him.
"He's doing better," Frasier informed him.
"I knew he would."
"Daniel Jackson is a fighter," Teal'c's deep voice rumbled behind him. Jack turned, seeing his other teammates standing close in silent support.
"That he is, Teal'c," Jack grinned.
Sam added her two cents. "He's going to be okay, sir."
Making light of his earlier comments, Jack asked, "Was there ever any doubt?"
"Move out," Frasier ordered, gesturing for the two corpsmen to begin their trek back to the Stargate. Teal'c took point, carrying Frasier's large medical case. Carter took up the position of rear guard, her finger resting lightly on the trigger guard as she watched for signs of trouble.
Despite a soul-deep weariness, Jack kept up a rapid pace as he walked beside the young men carrying Daniel's stretcher. His manner was fiercely protective; Frasier had tried to get him to take it slow as he was obviously exhausted from the ordeal, but he would have none of it. Nothing mattered except getting Daniel home. Once the archaeologist was safely tucked into bed in the infirmary, Jack would allow himself the luxury of relaxation, but not until then.
The hike back to the Stargate was thankfully uneventful. Carter strode up to the dial home device, activating the artificial wormhole that would send the rescue party safely to Earth. Jack hung back for a moment, waiting expectantly for the medical team to proceed through the event horizon first. Teal'c cast a questioning look at his commanding officer as he mounted the stone steps to the Stargate; Jack saw the slight hesitation and made a broad 'after you' gesture with one hand.
The Jaffa nodded, striding up to the Stargate and stepping through. Carter respected O'Neill's privacy, quickly following on Teal'c's heels.
Alone, Jack turned around and cast a final look at the landscape surrounding the Stargate. He allowed himself a moment of regret; this planet would be etched indelibly into his memory as the place where his friend had almost died.
Sighing, Jack turned back to the Stargate and the pulsing blue-white wash of energy that swirled within the dull metal ring. Spine ramrod straight, shoulders thrown back in a proud military bearing, Jack marched to the Stargate and stepped through. He was finally going home.
Thoughts? Email me.