By: sharilyn (eggscentric)
Category: gen fic, h/c
Rating: PG15 for language
Summary: Jack and Daniel find themselves in another bad situation offworld
Disclaimer: Stargate SG1 and its characters are not the property of this author and no copyright infringement was intended; the characters were merely 'borrowed' for a bit of h/c this time around!
"I won't let you do it, Daniel."
Jack's voice was a low growl in the darkness, the raw rasp of those seven simple words grating along Daniel's nerve endings like jagged shards of slivered glass embedding themselves in his skin. Daniel couldn't hold back the small, weary snort of disbelief that slipped past his lips in response to Jack's obstinate statement; Jack's wordless, answering grunt a second later told the archaeologist just what his c.o. thought of such insolence. But at this point it didn't really matter. Jack was in no condition to make demands or to halt the equally stubborn machinations of a determined friend. Nothing the older man said could matter now, Daniel reflected on a slow rise of muted pain; all that mattered now was the doing--the one, last-gasp effort left to him to salvage something from this mission, to salvage the only thing that was really important...
"You're such a stupid son of a bitch, Daniel," Jack tried again, strain and suffering evident in every syllable he pushed up from his ravaged throat. "You could have been gone from here already--you had an EASY out! Stupid of you to stay, so goddamned, fucking STUPID!--"
"You're wasting your breath, Jack," Daniel sighed patiently, moving with the slowness of epochs, of glaciers, listening as he moved to the sound of the last, desperate grains of sand falling through the narrowed aperture of the hour glass of their lives. Their lives, his and Jack's...together as always when everything turned to shit. What does that say about this whole relationship, exactly? a tired little voice snarked somewhere far back in his head, but he wasn't in the mood to meditate on such things right now. Just shut up, he told the voice flatly, and it did.
No one has ever moved this slowly, he thought to himself with a vague sort of wonder; no one else but me has this strange, dreamlike ability to crawl through thickening amber with limbs made langorous and heavy from blood loss and trauma, from the relentless undertow of time sliding inexorably away...I'm almost invisible now in the darkness, this battered body trembling in the face of the unforgivable sin I've committed.
You let yourself get distracted at the most crucial moment possible, he excoriated himself as he tried to remember how to breathe, how to finish this. You've probably killed Jack with your failure to pay attention, to think on your feet; you ARE a stupid son of a bitch...
And now this is my penance, he mused silently as time slowed and slowed again and his body kept moving--or at least deluded itself that it moved. This is the shape of my heart, thudding dully inside my chest, pressed here against the cold, gritty floor of this dark place, each beat immeasurably slow and remorseful as Jack curses again, his voice weaker this time. This is what it means to choose, to listen to my soul instead of my traitorous body, a body wanting nothing more than to escape, to survive...and to hell with anyone else.
But I am not my body, Daniel mused obstinately; or at least not JUST this body. I am spirit, thought, intention...and I won't let it end this way. These thoughts flowed smoothly into his mind now, anchoring him to this particular reality, grounding him for the task still ahead; some part of him even found the strength and humor to acknowledge the fleeting impulse he felt to kick Jack's ass when he finally did reach him, in indignant retaliation for the Colonel's aggrieved suggestion that Daniel should have left Jack to those...creatures...and made good his own escape.
"I'm coming to you, Jack," Daniel murmured softly now, his voice sounding strangely like a caress across the clammy dimness separating them. "Stop talking now and rest; just let me hone in on the sound of your breathing..." God, keep breathing, Jack; just keep breathing for me...
"Stupid son of a--" Jack muttered fitfully, tenuously, something suspiciously like a sob wavering in his faint voice. "Daniel..."
"Won't be long now, Jack," Daniel soothed him, lying flat on his belly and inching one long, slender index finger across the pitted cavern floor in front of him. Gritting his teeth, he poured all his strength and will into that unremarkable digit so that it had no choice but to pull his whole body along, cleaving a path through the viscous morass of lethargic minutes oozing away, sinking down and down into the porous cavern floor never to be seen again, never to be re-lived...
"We'll both...die...of old...age...before you make it...this far..." Jack sighed, the words spilling from his lips like rough stones, the faintest nuance of wry humor adding sheen and luster to the last syllables as they dropped silently to the ground and were absorbed into nothingness.
"Yeah, well, I'm still faster than you, old man," Daniel grunted a reply, both hands reluctantly joining his finger's valiant effort to haul his carcass across four measly, impossibly distant feet of unyielding space, over to the broken body of the man wheezing scornful laughter into the darkness, spitting that unmistakable O'Neill defiance straight into the teeth of hopelessness and defeat.
"You're gonna...eat those words...someday," Jack snorted, choking immediately afterwards on wet, squishy exhalations of blood and mucus that had Daniel clutching spastically at his own chest in silent, horrified empathy. "I'll show you...old. Run rings round your ass...Make you a...wager, flyboy, when we're...home. Fifty yard dash...sucker...You'll...be doing my paperwork...next five years..." Jack groaned that last with great effort, and then the ominous sucking sound of something vital tearing loose in the older man's chest deafened Daniel to any other noise in the cold ether surrounding them.
"Just breathe, Jack...c'mon, you can do it...breathe, keep breathing," Daniel soothed as he half-crawled, half-dragged his way through hell, mind screaming OH GOD, HELP HIM, SOMEBODY HELP HIM! even as his voice held steady, his calm exhortations for Jack to breathe settling placidly in the air around the both of them, voiced as casually as if he were merely asking his friend to pass the salt or turn down the radio, perhaps. And Jack tried, he really tried; but Daniel could hear how much it was hurting him, how hard it was for the other man to keep sucking in oxygen and expelling bloody froths of carbon dioxide.
"Dammit, Jack; if I have to drag my ass all the way over there to where you are, the least you can do is still be alive when I get there, you selfish bastard," he heard himself muttering darkly now, his soul freezing in abject shame at the words spewing from his mouth. But he was helpless to call them back,helpless to make sense of the terrible fear and frustration surging behind the words and pushing them relentlessly out into the chilled air of the cavern before he was even fully aware he'd spoken them.
"Oh, God, Jack, I'm sorry; I didn't mean it," he groaned quietly, his head sinking onto one outstretched arm in exhausted chagrin. But Jack's frantic, slushy gargling for breath had become a strangled choke of admiring laughter instead, and Daniel waited with every muscle stressed to maximum tension as his partner's terrible, drowning mirth settled at last from agonized humor into fatigued hitches of shaky, effortful respiration.
"I'll live...you just get...scrawny ass over...here," Jack wheezed, and for a moment the surreal shine of amused brown eyes glittered through the darkness straight into Daniel's soul. "Think you're...so smart, huh?" Jack grunted, and Daniel caught the feral grimace of a blood-stained smile as the Colonel's trembling hand stretched across the nebulous darkness toward him.
"Smart enough not to antagonize my rescuer," Daniel huffed back, panting a bit in the tremulous after-rush of nerves and fear that Jack's terrible coughing fit had evoked in him. "So why don't you just shut up and let me...well, er...rescue you, already."
"Good one, Danny...rescue me...God, don't make...me laugh...you sadist," Jack whispered, lungs whistling wetly as he hunched in on himself and struggled to control his breathing again.
"You're the one who's gonna owe ME bigtime, Jack," Daniel retorted stubbornly as his legs fought against inertia, his booted feet weakly digging into the hard surface beneath them in an attempt to gain leverage for pushing his body along the floor. "After I win the race, I figure you'll be out a sizeable chunk of cash buying my lunch for the foreseeable future...and I think my tastes are becoming a bit more epicurean as we speak."
"Epi--like hell...you'll eat burgers...and like it," Jack gritted, his voice heavy with pain and the struggle to hold most of it in check. "IF you win, that is..."
"Well, of course I'm going to win, Jack," Daniel grinned without humor as his traumatized nervous system gamely attempted to get with the program and override the merciless constraints of time working against his and Jack's survival. "After I get us out of here, that is. I mean, I don't see YOU jumping up to haul us out of this hole," he shot back daringly, assured he'd said the right thing only when he heard the short bark of pained laughter Jack released as the linguist's words sank into his consciousness.
"Just taking...little rest break," Jack retorted weakly, and Daniel snuffled soft laughter into the darkness.
"You know, you're unbelievable," he offered wryly to his companion as he forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand--on moving forward-- rather than on the increasingly sterterous sound of Jack's breathing. "I mean, here we are, trapped in this damned hole in the ground after those...whatever the hell they were...beat us half to death and tossed us down here, probably to save us for dinner later...and all you can do is try to wrangle some stupid bet with me to get me to do all your paperwork for the next millenium. What the hell IS that, Jack?"
"Balls, Daniel," Jack mumbled thickly, his reply ending on a breathless moan as another paroxysm of agonized choking spasmed his lanky frame into helpless shudders. All Daniel could do was increase his pitiful efforts to move to his friend's side, his blunt-force trauma'd spinal cord resisting his brain's beleaguered efforts to transmit the appropriate signals for motion to his shocky nerve endings.
"Got myself...big, honking set of...balls," Jack gritted out several excruciating respirations later, and Daniel felt tears of mingled worry and affection pricking at the corners of his eyes.
"Taking that on purely metaphorical terms, I guess I'd have to agree," he murmured somewhat roughly just as his right knee suddenly spasmed tightly beneath him, smacking against the hard ground with enough force to make Daniel bite down hard on his lower lip to keep from crying out. This is good; this is a good thing, he panted silently to himself as uncontrollable tremors started up in both thighs. This means things are trying to come back online, right, that my nervous system is rebooting itself after the sudden impact of falling twelve feet onto hard ground? Please let this be a good thing, he exhorted whichever gods might be listening. Please help me get Jack out of here before those things come back! Oh, God, where the hell are Sam and Teal'c, they should be heading back from their check-in at the MALP by now...
"Daniel?..." Jack's voice was weary, so incredibly drained and weary now; but Daniel heard the faint, determined scrabbling of fingers against stone and lifted his bowed head to peer myopically through the gloom, eyes squinting fiercely enough to make out the amorphous outline of his friend attempting to pull his bowed, badly injured body upright against one wall of their prison. Something indefinable in the air between them had clued Jack in to the true extent of Daniel's pain, and Daniel silently cursed himself for not being better able to suppress his own discomfort.
"I'm fine, Jack, just fine; I--uh--took a bit of a jolt to my back when we fell, but it's clearing up; everything's in working order, just moving a bit more...slowly than usual," he tried to reassure the other man. "Nothing to worry about, I'll have us out of here before those things come back--"
"Dammit, Daniel, you're hurt," Jack rasped angrily, his tone rising with a mix of anger and frustration. A good portion of it was directed at himself for what he perceived to be his own failure to take care of his friend and team member. "Stop moving, lie still! Shit, do you want to end up permanently crippled or paralyzed?!"
"I told you, I'm fine," Daniel argued stubbornly, his own voice lowering in an exaggerated show of strained patience. "And you're the one who needs to lie still; sounds like broken ribs, you've probably collapsed a lung, maybe incurred other internal injuries..."
"Who died and made you chief medical officer?" Jack coughed thickly and tried to pull himself fully upright, a tortured groan of agony cutting his breathing short as he collapsed bonelessly back onto the unforgiving floor of the underground cavern.
"I am SO going to kick your stupid, stubborn Colonel ass when I get over there, Jack!" Daniel hissed furiously, his heart pounding with fear for the man writhing weakly three short feet away from him. "God, Jack, just...lie still, please? Don't move anymore, promise you'll lie still..."
"You first," Jack gasped, a thin string of bloody saliva trickling down his chin in the darkness. "We--we're fucked, Daniel...fucked royally. I can't...can't believe I never saw them coming, never heard..."
"I saw them," Daniel retorted softly now, his voice barely audible even in the deep silence enclosing them here underground. "I turned, and I caught a glimpse of these bodies, slinking along...but I didn't react fast enough, Jack, didn't get a warning shouted to you in time; before going for my gun, I froze up just long enough to give them the advange over us...it's my fault, Jack, all my fault we're in this mess."
"Bull...shit," Jack wheezed breathlessly, each successive inhalation growing more and more shallow, his lungs sounding wetter and thicker. "I sensed...when you turned, when...you first...saw. Saw them...no time, Daniel, you had...no time. Neither one...of us...time. Nothing...to be done...no choice...but you could've run when they hit me, should've run...escaped..."
"Don't talk, Jack; please, don't talk any more," Daniel begged, laboriously pulling himself the last two-and-a-half feet to Jack's crumpled body. "It doesn't matter now; all that matters is getting you home, getting you some help. We can hope that Teal'c and Sam will come and find us before those things come back and they run into them, too; but if they don't get here in time..."
"Rest, Daniel...just rest, now," Jack sighed, and his ghost-white hand crawled weakly from the darkness to close around Daniel's right wrist. "Sam, Teal'c...they'll come...I believe. I..feel it. We'll be...okay."
"I thought you just said we're royally fucked, oh mighty leader," Daniel murmured with gentle irony as he struggled to manipulate his still-wooden, benumbed limbs into some semblance of order prior to heaving himself to a shaky sitting position alongside Jack's limp body.
"Must've been...delirious," Jack snarked tiredly in reply, and Daniel couldn't hold back the small, mournful smile of affection that briefly twitched at his lips as he managed to reach out a trembling hand and rest it on Jack's salt-and-pepper hair.
"Maybe so," he murmured fondly, closing his eyes and concentrating hard on coaxing full sensation back into his clumsy fingers. Suddenly it seemed very important that he be able to feel every nuance of the texture of Jack's hair beneath his touch, that he rediscover the ability to bend his fingers and run them gently through the softness of every silvered strand as Jack's breath bubbled moistly, ominously in and out of his straining lungs.
"Be...okay...we'll be...fine," Jack moaned, barely conscious; and Daniel found that his arms worked well enough now to awkwardly but carefully wrap them around Jack's hunched shoulders, drawing the injured, shivering man as close to his own tenuous body heat as he could. Even this slight rearrangement of their bodies caused the older man to groan deeply, stiffening against Daniel's hold in helpless pain; and Daniel felt a renewed rush of hot tears flood his eyes as he swiped a clumsily gentle hand down the left side of Jack's face and whispered meaningless sounds of comfort into the air around them.
"Just hang in there, Jack; I'm right here, watching over you. You can sleep now," the younger man urged the older, and as Jack slid reluctantly down into full unconsciousness, Daniel cautiously rested his forehead against the crown of Jack's head and cradled his friend against his chest, closing exhausted blue eyes and envisioning in his mind a protective bubble settling over the two of them.
If I could just meld with him, just flow like warm wax and morph my body over his like a seal to keep those things away from him, to keep him safe till help comes...he found himself thinking wistfully as his own injuries crept back into his conscious awareness and fairly stole his breath away. If only I could teleport us out of here; if only this had never fucking happened to begin with!...And as Jack gurgled and gasped and seemed to grow steadily colder and heavier in his arms, Daniel cocked his head wearily to one side and listened for salvation; listened just as attentively for the approach of certain death overhead as Jack breathed and moaned and Daniel's legs went numb again beneath Jack's slack weight. Long time till morning, Daniel thought fuzzily as the darkness closed in further, snaking clammy fingers down the back of his neck; long fucking time till morning. But because Jack was his best friend--and because he'd promised to watch--he kept his eyes resolutely open, waiting for the sun. Waiting for rescue.
(to be concluded in "Retrieval")