To Absent Friends

By Annie

EMAIL: Annie

By the time we've left the cave and Daniel's newfound buddies behind, Daniel starts to flag. He'd looked okay when we'd reached him, yelling at us not shoot, then bidding what looked like a fond farewell to the latest alien to be taken in by the famous Jackson charm. Hey, if you've got it, flaunt it, right?

"We've got a long walk back to the gate," I remind him. "You sure you're up to it?"

He gives me a tired smile, then nods. "Not much choice. You gonna carry me if I say no?"

I shrug. "With these knees? Nah, but Teal'c might."

Teal'c gives us an infinitesimal smile, that Teal'c special that's so fleeting you wonder if it was just a figment of your imagination. "I would be happy to oblige, if you feel the need, Daniel Jackson," he says.

"I'm fine," Daniel replies. "I'm kinda tired though. Chaka could give endurance training. He did let me rest once or twice, mostly because I fell down and couldn't get up again."

He's rubbing at his wrists as we walk and I make a mental note to check them out as soon as we're far enough away from Fred Flintstone and his cavedwelling buddies.

Two klicks on and Daniel's beginning to stumble over his feet. I suggest we stop for a few minutes, telling him my knees need a break even if he doesn't. He gives me a grateful smile and sinks down on the ground, resting his back up against a tree.

Carter's at his side almost the minute his butt hits the ground, reaching for his hand, rolling up his sleeve. "God, Daniel, these look infected already. Why didn't you say something before?"

He smiles tiredly at her, shrugging. "I was preoccupied with putting one foot in front of the other," he says.

She digs through her backpack, coming up with some sort of salve that she wipes over the abrasions. He winces as she wraps them in bandages then grimaces as she hands him a couple of pills and a water bottle. "Antibiotics and a painkiller," she says, closing his fist around the tablets.

"I'll take the antibiotic," he replies. "Which one is it?"

"Daniel," I say warningly. "Carter's our medstaff offworld. If she thinks you need the pain pill, take it."

He looks up at me, and for the first time, I can really see the weariness etched into the drawn planes of his face. "I'm not sure I can stay on my feet if I take it," he tells me.

"So, Teal'c can carry you." I grin down at him and watch as he puts both the pills into his mouth and gulps them down with a swig of water.

Carter has her hand on his forehead now, frowning slightly and I can't help smiling as he wriggles away, like a kid whose mom is checking him out before the big game.

"I'm fine, Sam… Well, not exactly fine, but I'm sure I can survive till we get back home." I see him swallow hard at the last word and I realize then just how close he knew he came to never being there… never being here.

Swallowing down my own emotion at how close we'd come to losing him, I reach a hand down to haul him to his feet. "You okay to get moving?"

He nods, takes my hand and lets himself be pulled up. I keep my hand on his as he wobbles for a moment, his face paling. "Daniel?"

"Fine, I'm fine." He turns back in the direction we were headed and walks off, his gait ungainly and heavy.

I catch him up and take up position next to him, close to his shoulder. Teal'c moves on ahead of us, glancing back now and then as if to check that Daniel's still vertical, while Carter's got our six. Momentarily, I give thanks to a being I rarely acknowledge, for having my team… my friends back together, more or less in one piece.

By the time we make it back to the river, Daniel's barely on his feet. I sneak a hand under his elbow as he stumbles to a halt, his eyes fixed warily on the water in front of us.

"Um, Jack, we need to stay away from the river," he says.

"Yeah, I know."

"You know about the-"

"Baby snakeheads?" I finish for him. "Yeah, found out about them the hard way."

He fixes his eyes on me. "Who?" he asks tightly, "Who got taken?"

God, this was one conversation I'd hoped we could postpone till we got him back safely in Fraiser's clutches… until after he'd had at least a day's sleep…

"Jack?"

"We'll talk about it when we get back, okay? We need to get you home-"

"The Colonel's right, Daniel. Those abrasions on your wrists are infected, you're exhausted and you probably have a concussion," Carter chips in from his other side and I mentally bless her for coming to my rescue.

Daniel pulls his arm free of my hand, wincing a little. "Who?" he asks again. "For God's sake, Jack, just tell me what happened?"

Crap! I snag his arm again and lead him up the bank, away from the treacherous waters and push him down to sit on the ground. He doesn't resist, which makes me realize he's probably hurting a lot more than he's letting on. I hunch down on the ground in front of him and look him over. His face is sheened in sweat, and there are bruises beginning to show on his forehead and his cheek. I reach out and touch a hand to his forehead. He's burning up.

Carter pulls a water bottle off her belt and hands it to him, nudging his hand as he hesitates. "I didn't fill it from here," she says.

He nods and drinks, water dripping down the sides of his mouth as he gulps it down.

"Slow down," I warn.

He obeys, taking smaller sips then hands the canteen back to Carter. "Tell me," he says then, his gaze fixing me in place.

"Hawkins and Rothman," I say quickly.

"Robert?" His eyes go wide at that. "Where is he?"

"He's dead," I say flatly. "I shot him. I'm sorry, Daniel. He was a Goa'uld-"

Suddenly, Daniel's on his side on the ground, retching violently. All I can do is move round next to him so I can slip a hand across his forehead to stop him falling face-first into the mess. I stay there while he empties his stomach, not that there was a lot to empty, I notice with a grimace. A few minutes later, he coughs, swallows hard and lifts a shaky hand to wipe his mouth. "Sorry," he mutters.

"Forget it." I help him sit back up and hand over my canteen, waiting till he takes a few sips then hands it back. "You up to walking?"

"Where are they? The… bodies. Did you send them back?"

I shake my head. "Griff and the others said they'd take care of it." I shake my head again, hating how impersonal my words sound.

"Help me up." Daniel holds a hand out and I haul him up, keeping an arm around his waist as he wavers for a moment.

"Let's get you home," I say.

"Not yet. I want to- Where did they… bury them?"

"Daniel, come on, you're out on your feet-"

"Jack!" The sudden bite of his tone stops me trying to urge him forward. "Please," he says, more softly now. "Robert was my friend. I need to do this."

"The graves are over here," Teal'c says from behind me. He points his staff weapon at the clearing among the trees.

"Thanks." Daniel pulls away from me and walks over to where Teal'c has indicated. He stumbles as he goes, his head bowed, looking impossibly weary.

"Oh for crying out loud!" Muttering under my breath, I follow him, sensing Teal'c and Carter either side of me.

By the time we reach him, Daniel's standing in front of the two mounds of freshly turned earth. He reaches out to the makeshift marker on one and I can see where a name has been carved into its rough surface. "Hawkins," he says. "He was a good man."

"Yes, he was." I reply, moving up to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he moves around to the other grave.

Teal'c and Carter take up position either side of us as Daniel touches the second marker. "Robert was a good man too," he says quietly, "a good friend."

I can hear the tears in his voice and I place an arm around his shoulder then bring the other up into a salute, seeing Carter mirror my action, while Teal'c bunches a fist across his chest in the age-old Jaffa sign of respect.

"Goodbye, Robert, rest in peace," Daniel says.

"May the journeys of Doctor Rothman and Major Hawkins to the place of heroes be swift," Teal'c intones gravely.

I break the salute and we simply stand there for a long moment, letting Daniel say goodbye, then I turn him back toward the Gate and we head, finally, for home.

The End