The Hunted

Daniel�s hands and feet were cold. A weight lay on his chest, warming him but making it a bit difficult to take a breath. He cracked open his eyes, a heavy lethargy invading his body. Greenish yellow eyes stared at him two inches from his own. He stared back, confused as to why they weren�t a familiar soft brown or sky blue. He didn�t remember yellowish eyes.

The eyes blinked and suddenly Daniel realized that their pupils were slitted, not round. He managed to focus on the greyish black markings on the fur surrounding the fixed gaze, then noticed the perked ears. A loud purr interrupted his scrutiny as a pink tongue flicked out and scraped along his stubbly cheek. He jerked his head aside, the movement causing his stomach to roil.

He swallowed thickly and tried to get his blurry eyes to focus on the spacious, dimly lit room in which he found himself. He felt strange, lethargic and unable to think clearly. A stranger was squatting before a large fireplace, feeding bits of wood to a small but cheerily burning fire. The only illumination came from the fireplace. A petite person dressed all in white, shoulders bent with age and carrying a heavily laden tray, entered the dark room.

She deposited the tray on a table near the door and simply stood there with head bent, arthritic hands wringing nervously, glancing fearfully towards the man who was now watching the fire. The stranger finally lifted his face and with a simple glance at the table, sent the servant scurrying towards him.

Daniel watched the scene with dispassion. The woman was obviously terrified of this man, whom Daniel hadn�t yet been able to see clearly. Should Daniel feel afraid that he was lying here at the mercy of what could be a vicious or sadistic host?

She took a long piece of kindling from the man�s hand and held it to the flames before using it to light a lamp sitting on a table near Daniel.

The resulting brightness sent shards of pain flicking through Daniel�s head and he grunted, turning his head instinctively to avoid the light. He heard footsteps and moments later, the glare behind his eyelids was reduced to a tolerable level. He cracked his eyes open once more and peered at the man who now stood near the table, the lamp extinguished. The man flicked his hand towards the woman in white and she scuttled out of the room.

Daniel tried to wet his lips in preparation of asking where he was, but his mouth was so dry. He realized that one arm hung over the edge of the chair in which he half sat, half lay. His other hand was lying alongside the cat curled up on his chest, the soft fur of its tail occasionally brushing his fingers. His feet were propped up on a footstool.

A large dog padded into the room and stopped beside Daniel. It was nearly three feet high and had the wide chest and slim hindquarters of a racing dog. It sniffed at him a couple of times then growled at him. The cat hissed at the dog, the cat�s subsequent low warning growl vibrating in his ear.

Daniel stared at the dog, realizing belatedly that his hand lay inches away from the sharp teeth and salivating mouth. He couldn�t seem to manage the energy to lift it out of harm�s way. And worse, here was a dog growling at him with a cat lying smack on his chest.

The man approached Daniel, snapping his fingers at the dog. The animal slunk away immediately, disappearing into the shadows. Daniel wished he could lift his arm back onto the chair but he felt too listless to move. He realized he hadn�t yet seen his teammates so he searched the room looking for them. There were a few other sofas and lounging chairs similar to the one he was situated on, but they were all empty.

The man stopped beside Daniel, looking down at him. He was tall and slim, but stood with grace and exuded power. His eyes were hidden in the gloom of the room, but his long dark hair was pulled back from his face by a silver circlet set high on his forehead.

�My friends?� Daniel finally managed to ask, his voice sounding strange and thick to his ears.

�Friends? There were no others. You were found alone in the maze,� the man said, frowning.

�No� was a booby trap,� Daniel tried to explain, remembering the whir of metal flying by his face and the sudden influx of a noxious odour in the underground room. Sam screamed, everyone was coughing, choking� then he remembered� nothing till he�d woken up a few minutes ago.

�Yes, you triggered a warning device,� the man said as he returned to the flickering fire, feeding more wood to it. Daniel could hear the fuel popping as the flames consumed it. �It delivers a gas which puts intruders to sleep. I am sorry for that, but it is the only way we know how to defend ourselves against marauders.�

�No, there were four of us, not just me,� Daniel argued, unable to understand why he alone had been brought here. �Sam was hurt, you have to help her.� He wanted to get up, but the more he tried, the more exhausted he became. The stranger hurried over to where Daniel struggled to move.

�Do not move. It exacerbates the effects of the gas. You must relax; I will send searchers for your friends. They must have become lost in the maze; it is very easy to lose one�s way. Do not worry yourself, my people will find them. Rest, and you will feel more yourself when you awaken once more.�

He stared down at Daniel, the light of the fire reflecting in those dark, hooded eyes. For a second, Daniel thought he was staring into an abyss, and felt himself falling down into its depth.

The man turned and strode out of the room, breaking the strange spell and leaving Daniel alone. The fire wasn�t generating enough heat and he shivered in the damp air. The cat raised its head from where it had lowered it between its paws and stared at Daniel a moment. It laid its head down once more and closed its eyes. Daniel wondered where the dog had gone.

He looked at the fire a moment and tried to think back to where he was. P4� something� a planet where the air wasn�t quite pure and stank horribly, but had shown signs of much sought after minerals in the mountains. The MALP had shown the entrance to an ancient mine close to the Stargate and they�d entered it.

They�d come to a dead end after following a dark and twisting tunnel for ten minutes. They had entered a large room with many symbols with script appearing below them on two of the walls. Daniel had been sure that there were hidden entrances to other tunnels in that room. He�d examined the pictures and had deciphered them easily, the writing similar to one he�d come across a year ago. He pressed the correct sequence and that was when� he�d sprung the trap.

A slab of wall had moved aside, revealing a dark tunnel. They�d entered the passageway and almost immediately came to a place where it separated into three paths. They�d discussed which one to take, decided to split up, when Daniel stepped on something that had moved beneath his foot and�

Sam had gone down, he was sure she�d been injured. He had to go find her, find his friends. He tried getting up again, his movements disturbing the cat and causing it to get up and jump off the chair. Pain erupted in his head. Gasping, he relaxed, lying weakly in the chair. He heard a scrabbling sound coming from behind him and heard the dog�s hot panting breath. He wanted to turn around and look but he couldn�t concentrate� the sound reverberated in his ears, echoing down a long corridor as his eyes slid shut and he fell down into oblivion.

- - - - - -

The next time he woke, he found he was able to move more easily. Someone had placed a heavy woolen blanket over him. A cheery fire now warmed the room and the gloom had been chased away by several lamps. A tantalizing smell tickled his nose; warm bread, stew or soup� his stomach growled in anticipation.

He managed to raise a hand and rub his eyes. He blinked sleepily and looked around. The stranger suddenly rose from one of the sofas; Daniel hadn�t seen him there until he�d moved.

�Are you feeling better?� the tall man asked politely as he picked up Daniel�s glasses from a table beside him.

�Yes, thank you,� Daniel replied as he put the spectacles on, not remembering taking them off. Actually, he was feeling a little better. �My friends?�

�We are still searching, word will be sent as soon as they are found. Now, are you hungry? I have kept some food aside for you.� The man motioned impatiently towards the door and the lady in white scurried inside, spooning what appeared to be a thick stew into a bowl from a pot sitting near the fire. With quick nervous movements, she placed the soup and some bread wrapped in a napkin on a tray and brought it to Daniel.

He managed to sit up, his muscles feeling very tired and heavy. He accepted the tray, thanking her as she placed it on his lap. A startled look caused him to suspect that she was rarely thanked for her efforts. Her wrinkled face then broke into a tentative smile before she scurried off quickly as the man cleared his throat. Daniel brought his attention to the food before him. There was soft cheese and butter, bread, several pieces of fruit and a hearty looking stew. He looked up at his host who smiled, indicating with a wave of his hand that he should eat.

Daniel took a cautious bite of the hot concoction and found it to be delicious. He slathered some cheese on the bread and ate that. The woman returned with a cup and he sniffed at the liquid. Wine. His head and stomach certainly weren�t up to the alcoholic drink and so he put it down, untouched.

�It is not to your liking?� the man asked, himself accepting a cup of wine from his servant.

�Thank you, I�m sure it�s good but I don�t think I�m up to it. Could I have some water?�

�I�m afraid our water would be unpalatable to you,� the man said with regret. �Most of our visitors dislike the taste of the minerals that permeate our water table.�

�I don�t know, I�ve drank my share of some pretty vile tasting water,� Daniel said as he took another bite of stew. Swallowing, he realized that he didn�t know his host�s name. �Oh, my name is Daniel Jackson.�

�I am Sergei,� the man said with a nod of his head. It wasn�t until Daniel heard the man�s name that he�d realized they�d been speaking Russian. He brought his palm up and rubbed his forehead. His head was so fuzzy he�d not even been aware he�d been speaking something other than English.

The woman appeared with another cup and handed it to Daniel. It held water. He sniffed it and found it had a very strong sulphurous smell. A small sip confirmed that he wouldn�t be able to drink it. He placed it on the table beside the wine with a sigh, avoiding the smug look Sergei sent his way.

The woman returned after several minutes with yet another cup, and with a fearful look at Sergei, approached Daniel shyly with the ceramic mug when her master nodded his permission. Daniel took the mug and peered inside. A yellowish liquid sloshed onto his hand as he raised it up to smell it. He licked the sticky juice from his hand and found he liked what he�d tasted. It was a mix of something similar to orange and grapefruit juice, a little tart� not too sweet. He smiled his appreciation and took a long gulp. As much as the stew was delicious, he had been very thirsty.

The woman was by his side as soon as he finished the last bite, removing the tray and bringing him another mug of juice. He smiled, thanked her again and was rewarded with another tiny smile from her.

Daniel was feeling better, but his head still felt heavy and fuzzy. He looked around the room curiously. It was lavishly furnished with many paintings and tapestries hanging on the wall. He noted two small braziers sending wads of thick smoke into the air situated in two corners of the room.

�I am curious as to how you managed to enter the maze,� Sergei said as he poured himself another glass of wine. �It has been many years since someone has managed to understand the symbols and discover the hidden entrance.�

�I�m afraid that was me,� Daniel confessed. �I�m a linguist and I�d seen the writing before, or at least something similar. I was able to figure out how to open the doors� well, I guess I missed the part that mentioned the gas and the booby trap, huh?�

Sergei laughed and set the glass down before him. �As I said, it is an old defence system. The tunnels lead to the castle, they were built mainly as an escape route by my forefathers, with many twists and false turns to make it impossible for an enemy to find their way inside.� Sergei leaned forward and looked at Daniel intently. �If you were able to read the writing so easily, perhaps you could look at something for me? I have old scrolls, a family legacy, if you will. They supposedly speak of treasures and such, but no one has been able to decipher them. I myself have spent many hours poring over them and some of the symbols are similar to those in the room near where you were� rendered unconscious.�

�I�d be happy to look at them, but right now I�d like go and see if I can find my friends,� Daniel said as he pushed himself up from the chair. He swayed as his head swam and Sergei was suddenly there, grasping his arm and holding him steady. His legs felt shaky but he refused to show weakness.

�You will not be of any assistance to your friends,� Sergei said, his dark eyes flashing. �You do not know the ways of the tunnels and we would waste our time looking out for you, which would delay the search for your friends.�

For a moment Daniel couldn�t look away from the man�s eyes. They were ancient, foreboding, sending shivers down his spine. Then Sergei blinked and Daniel realized the man was right, and so he acquiesced.

�Come, I will show you to your room. If you wish, we can stop and look at the scrolls. It is on the way, and will perhaps take your mind away from your concern over your friends.�

Daniel nodded, not really wanting to look at the ancient scrolls, but not wishing to be rude to his host. He followed him out of the room and into a long corridor. They entered a large open area, with a staircase at the opposite end. There appeared to be braziers everywhere in the house, burning some kind of incense. Daniel had been peripherally aware of the scent, but as he walked by one the smoky containers, he got a whiff of something spicy, earthy.

�Offerings to Vozduzhni,� Sergei muttered with an apologetic shrug as Daniel stopped beside one to examine the burning embers.

�Vozduzhni,� Daniel muttered, the name sounding familiar. �I�ve read that before� she�s a spirit of air?�

Sergei nodded. �Offering incense and herbs keeps the servants happy with their superstitions,� Sergei explained. �Some dislike the aroma, but I prefer my home to be comfortable.�

Memories rushed through Daniel, of stepping through the Stargate and being overwhelmed by a noxious smell. Sam had warned them before going through that they�d get used to the smell eventually, but breathing the polluted air would become difficult the longer they remained on the planet. They had gotten somewhat used to the smell after a while, but not after Jack had made comment after comment of being on a planet occupied by skunks and teasing his teammates about �not being able to hold it in�.

Damn, where were his friends?

As Daniel began to climb the long winding staircase, he found himself having difficulty placing one foot before the other. Before long, he was panting and gasping for breath. He finally reached the top of the stairs, pulling himself up with the help of the banister. He had to stop a moment to catch his breath. Sergei looked at him and for a second Daniel thought he�d seen a look of disgust, but the man�s features soon schooled themselves into concern.

�Are you well?� he asked solicitously.

�Yeah, just out of breath,� Daniel panted as he wiped the sweat from his face. He straightened, indicating he was okay to go on but really wishing he could just drop to the floor and rest. He wondered if this weakness was due to the foul air or to the gas he�d been exposed to.

Sergei turned and led him down another dark corridor and opened a door, inviting Daniel inside. Daniel stepped into the room and stopped in shock. Animals of all shapes and sizes were on display everywhere. Several of the creatures were set out more prominently, obviously being exhibited as a matter of pride. Daniel approached a beast the size of a small horse and realized it wasn�t a replica, but something that had once been alive, stuffed and posed to show teeth and claws. Very sharp looking teeth and claws.

�Do you hunt?� Sergei asked curiously.

�Um, no, only snakes,� Daniel replied a little absentmindedly as he continued to examine the various creatures. There must have been at least fifteen different dangerous-looking creatures in the room, all of which he wouldn�t wish to meet face to face. He stopped in shock when he saw an Unas at the end of the room.

�You� um� hunted these?� Daniel asked, wary of upsetting his host.

�Of course,� Sergei answered as he stopped to look at the enormous creature posed before them, its teeth bared in a hiss and its claws extended as if it were trying to gut its prey. �This one gave me a pleasant challenge,� he said admiringly, �although the hunt ended too quickly. They have no imagination, these beasts.�

�Are there any around here� I mean, is that why you hunted it?� Daniel asked, wondering if there might be wild Unas in the caves. He�d need to warn Jack if�

�Of course not. There are very few creatures here that pose a threat to me. Most of these were brought at my expense, for my pleasure.�

�Through the Chapp�ai?�

�Of course. But come, we can admire these another time. The library is through here,� he said as he opened a door beside the Unas. Daniel followed Sergei after glancing back at the macabre collection.

- - - - - -

Daniel rubbed at his forehead, willing his headache away. He�d tried to sleep but had kept tossing and turning, so instead he�d decided to reread the scrolls Sergei had permitted him to bring into his bedroom. He couldn�t seem to shake the muddled feeling in his head; he constantly felt dopey, almost sedated. And the least amount of exercise tired him out, although he eventually remembered that was due to the low oxygen content on the planet. Janet had said that it was safe to visit, but they couldn�t remain there for too long before feeling its effects. And Daniel wasn�t sure how long he�d been here� at least two and a half days, probably longer.

He�d asked for his pack and vest that first day, hoping to contact Jack or the others on his radio. When he�d been told that he�d been found without his stuff, he�d become suspicious. He�d been rendered unconscious by the gas while wearing all of his gear, so someone had to have relieved him of his vest and supplies. And why hadn�t whoever found him seen the others? Sergei�s answers were always too glib, but whenever Daniel asked his questions, the man�s responses seemed to satisfy Daniel at the time. It was later when he was alone that he�d start to question the answers.

He coughed and followed with a sneeze, the smell of the incense tickling his nose and throat. Servants came in every so often to throw a handful of the stuff onto the glowing embers. It was always more potent for the first hour, making it even harder to breathe.

He�d had no trouble translating the scrolls during the past two days, although he�d lied to Sergei, telling him although the writing was similar to those he�d seen on the cavern walls, there were many words he couldn�t understand. They�d hinted to a treasure all right. If Daniel read this right, there was both a library and a Goa�uld arsenal located somewhere in the mountains surrounding the castle. Daniel wasn�t sure if he wanted this man to have access to that kind of power.

Sergei appeared to be the Lord of the medium-sized city and surrounding area. Daniel had a great view of the village from his bedroom window. What worried him more was the strong presence of guards dressed in Sergei�s colours wandering the city and beating the people into submission. He�d seen it happen twice from his window. The same brawny guards were posted at various places in the castle, none of which permitted him to leave.

When caught by Sergei� as he�d tried to leave the castle earlier this morning, Daniel explained again that he wanted to help search for his friends. In actuality he�d wanted to see if he was being held prisoner. The fact that the guards had prevented him from leaving and his host had arrived moments later in a foul mood had confirmed his suspicions. The man obviously wanted him to translate the scrolls� then what?

And what had he done to Jack, Sam and Teal�c? Were they even alive?

He massaged his temples, wishing he could just get a couple breaths of fresh air and clear his head. He�d tried opening the windows but the foul smell was almost worse than the incense.

He just wished he could think clearly, or take a deep breath of relatively clean air, or stand up without his head swimming, or walk to the dining room without feeling that he was going to collapse. But most of all, he wished he knew where his friends were.

- - - - - -

Jack tightened his hold around Carter�s waist, feeling her legs give out once more. Teal�c stopped, turning and flashing his light back towards them as Jack lowered the fainting woman to the ground. She�d lost a lot of blood from her shoulder wound and all of this moving around wasn�t helping her any. She�d bravely kept on despite her pain and weakness, not wanting to hold them back.

He sat down on the damp stone floor, cradling Carter�s feverish body close to his. She moaned softly as he tried to make her comfortable.

They�d woken up some two days ago in a dark, dank tunnel and not in the spot where he remembered them being overcome by some type of gas. Daniel had been missing, the only evidence that he�d been with them was his backpack and vest that they�d found discarded beside Teal�c.

The three of them had been wandering around ever since, trying to find their way out, using only one light at a time to save batteries. And to make matters worse, the lousy air quality was making them all more tired than usual.

Jack checked her shoulder once more and was relieved to see her wound hadn�t started bleeding again. She was weak from blood loss and was now running a fever. They needed to get the hell out of this maze and get her to the Stargate and into Fraiser�s hands ASAP.

He waved to Teal�c to sit and take a breather. He�d give Carter a couple hours to rest; it wasn�t worthwhile pushing on when he didn�t even know if they were heading in the right direction. And, he hated to admit it, but he needed the breather too. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes as Teal�c turned the light off.

A sound came down the tunnel, echoing in the close quarters. Jack opened his eyes, trying to see what he�d just heard despite the total darkness surrounding him. He wasn�t sure if he�d imagined the noise until it was repeated. He felt Teal�c stiffen beside him. A faint glow reflected off the wall of the tunnel to their left, slowly getting brighter as whoever was holding the light source neared.

Jack gently placed Carter onto the ground and fingered his gun, pointing the barrel in the direction of the possible threat. When the diminutive stranger spotted them, she slowed, then approached them hesitantly. Motioning with her hand for them to follow, she turned the way she�d come. Shrugging, Jack woke Carter and helped her up. They had nothing to lose; if this person could lead them out of the tunnels, so be it.

Two hours later, after following the strangely silent woman through twists and turns and camouflaged tunnels, they finally found themselves in the room where Daniel had originally opened the hidden door. It had indeed been a maze they�d been lost in and Jack assumed they could easily have never found their way out. Jack had questioned the old woman about Daniel�s whereabouts but either she didn�t know, didn�t understand him or refused to say. He was afraid that Daniel was back in there, lost, alone, without supplies or a light source.

The foul odour was stronger out here; it had been less evident in the tunnels. The woman extinguished her lamp and waited patiently by the doorway as they left the building. Jack could see the Stargate about a mile away.

As she silently accompanied them to the Stargate, Jack wondered if she was doing so to make sure they left the planet or simply wanted to help them. As Teal�c dialled the �gate address for Earth, her wizened face watched him curiously.

�Please,� Jack tried one last time. �My friend, Daniel. Daniel Jackson. He was with us in the tunnels. You found us in there; you must know where Daniel is?�

She glanced nervously towards the mountains where the entrance to the maze was and Jack sighed, discouraged. As glad as he was to get out of that labyrinth, he suspected he�d need to go back in to find his friend.

�Daniel, da,� she said softly, her first words telling Jack that he�d probably need a Russian translator.

But then Jack remembered what was *behind* the mountains. The UAV had photographed a large town and an enormous castle just beyond the valley in which the Stargate was located. They had debated going into the town or exploring first; Carter and Daniel had argued back and forth, and Jack had finally decided on the nearest of the two evils. Right now he wished he�d listened to Daniel and had gone to the village instead.

�Okay, Teal�c, here�s the deal,� Jack said as he turned towards the shimmering Stargate. �You get Carter to Fraiser, see if Hammond will send another team out with you to come and meet me. Make sure you bring back someone who speaks Russian. I�m going to that town to see if I can find Daniel.� The woman watched the conversation, and Jack suspected she couldn�t understand a word he was saying. She definitely knew Daniel and hopefully knew where he was.

�I will endeavour to return quickly, O�Neill,� Teal�c said as he assisted the injured Major towards the Stargate. Carter was clearly exhausted, the effort of placing one foot in front of the other taking all of her willpower.

Jack waited till they disappeared through the �gate and began walking towards the town. The woman followed several paces behind him, as silent as she�d been in the tunnels.

An hour later, Jack gazed up at the castle. He had no idea where to start looking for Daniel, knowing only that his friend was close by, somewhere.

- - - - - -

�So, have you translated my scrolls yet?� Sergei asked. Daniel jumped, not having heard the man enter his room. He waited a moment for his heart to stop racing before steeling himself to lie.

�No, I�m sorry. I�m having a very hard time with this part, especially,� he responded, pointing to the writing in front of him. Actually, he had finished deciphering the scroll hours ago.

Sergei leaned over and examined the part Daniel had pointed to.

�Hmmmm,� he simply said.

Daniel dropped the pencil he�d been holding, and turned to look up at his host.

�Have you found my friends?� he asked hopefully.

�I am sorry,� Sergei said, his eyes still on the age-yellowed paper. �There is still no sign.�

Daniel wondered if people were actually out there searching. He only had this man�s word and if his host had any inkling what the scrolls contained, he might have been using Daniel all this time.

�Tell me, Daniel. If you haven�t been able to decipher this, then why have you written so much?� He pointed to the pads of paper Daniel had used to decipher the writing. Initially he�d translated the stuff into English; which was what he�d been familiar with in the first place. He�d been going to translate the English into Russian later, at least that had been his plan until he�d discovered what the scrolls contained.

�Just scribblings, Sergei. I�ve been using different variations of words in the hope that I could find a pattern,� Daniel lied. Jack had always told Daniel that he was a terrible bluffer and liar. He hoped that Sergei wasn�t seeing through this pretence.

Sergei straightened and looked at Daniel carefully. �I see,� he said. �Come,� he continued after a moment. �I wish to hunt.�

�Um� that�s okay, if you don�t mind, I�d rather not,� Daniel said, thinking of the trophies in the room he�d seen.

�Actually, I do mind.� Sergei snapped his fingers and two of his guards came in, roughly grabbing Daniel by the arms and forcing him to his feet.

�Hey!� Daniel exclaimed as he was dragged behind Sergei. No amount of struggling could loosen their grip and he had no choice but to walk where they forced him.

They dragged him down the stairs and into the back of the house, where he hadn�t yet explored. They passed through opened patio doors, a lush garden and into a large empty field behind the castle.

Sergei had disappeared when Daniel had been forced outside, but he soon joined them carrying a crossbow. He had a tight smile on his face as he looked at Daniel.

�I wish to hunt. I give you twenty minutes and then I shall follow. If you elude me for twenty-four hours, you will be free to go. But I warn you, my longest chase was eight hours. I foresee your body with my taxidermist in no more than one hour.�

�You can�t do this!� Daniel exclaimed as Sergei removed a pocket watch.

�Nineteen minutes, Daniel.� He made shooing motions with his weapon. �I would suggest you go now.�

Daniel took a few steps backward, staring at the man incredulously. Sergei held the weapon in his arms as easily as Jack held his P-90. He realized that the man wasn�t kidding; he was going to hunt him down. Like he�d done all of those victims in that display room. Oh God, even the Unas hadn�t been able to escape Sergei.

He turned quickly and began to run for the trees. As soon as he�d gone twenty feet inside the wooded area, he immediately turned left and ran in that direction; desperately trying to remember where the Stargate was situated.

He glanced at his watch. Five minutes. He needed to find some place where Sergei would have trouble tracking him� a stream, packed soil, rocks. He continued to run, his breath burning in his lungs, his legs trembling underneath him.

The sound of baying made his run blood cold. The dog, he�d set the dog on him! Daniel picked up speed, knowing that he was already on the verge of collapse, but yet forcing more out of his tired legs. The dog�s excited cries quickly got closer and Daniel slid to a stop, looking for a weapon. His breath wheezing in his throat, he rummaged through broken branches. He picked up a sturdy branch, wielding it as a club.

The dog burst through the bushes and Daniel swung. He hit the dog�s ribs as the animal bit into Daniel�s thigh. He swung again and again, but the dog held on firmly. He could see the dog�s eyes and they changed somehow. Deep, black, unending. Ancient. He�d seen the same eyes at the castle, the day he�d woken up, when Sergei had looked at him. Those eyes scared him more than what the dog would do to him if it let go of his leg and went for his throat.

The pain in his leg was incredible and he dragged his gaze from that of the dog�s. He changed the angle and aimed for his snout. He felt its teeth tear at his leg with the blow. He hit the dog one more time. The dog made a muffled yelp and finally let go.

His leg burned painfully and nearly folded as he took a step backwards. He could feel warm blood flowing down his leg. Growling, red-coloured saliva dripping from its mouth, it lunged again. Daniel swung again and hit the dog in the head. It fell onto the ground, dazed. Daniel hit it again and again, until he was sure it was dead. Then he turned around and threw up.

- - - - - -

Daniel ran endlessly through the woods, not sure exactly where he was. Finally seeing a fairly large stream gurgling before him, Daniel splashed into it, slipping and sliding on the submerged rocks. The water was freezing and his legs were wet up to his knees in seconds.

He took a moment to get his bearings. He looked upstream and thought the castle was in that direction, which meant he had to go downstream towards the Stargate. He froze after a moment, thinking Sergei knew he�d go straight for the Stargate. He turned and began going upstream, thinking he�d try and backtrack when he realized that was what Sergei expected him to do. He looked back the few yards he�d traversed, standing undecided in the frigid water.

Damn it, he didn�t know what to do! His feet were already numb from the cold, the water having seeped into his boots. He looked around, trying to decide.

Stargate. He�d go straight for the �gate.

He began splashing his way through the cold water, keeping to the middle of the stream so there would be less chance of leaving an exposed footprint. The rocks were slimy and slippery and his injured leg kept threatening to give out on him.

Soon he was shivering, the spray from his exertions having soaked his pants right up to his thighs. He slipped suddenly and landed belly first in the water. Spluttering, he got up, totally soaked. He forced himself on, wiping his hands on his sodden pants and ignoring the stinging of his scraped palms and bruised knees.

Finally the cold forced him out of the stream, and he began half running, half walking on his numbed feet. He went in the general direction of where he hoped the Stargate was, unable to spot any landmarks in the woods.

- - - - - -

Jack walked quietly through the woods, following the twin set of footprints that led from the castle grounds. The woman had secreted Jack into the enormous castle through a cleverly concealed back entrance and had shown him a room in which he�d seen very disturbing things. He was sure more than half the creatures on display in there weren�t from this planet. The Unas was a given, but some of those more exotic beasts� the one with the five inch fangs and barbed tail, for example. How sick could one be, to have these things stuffed so one could just sit back and admire?

She had managed to get Jack to understand her master hunted these creatures for amusement, spitting out the word �leshyi� several times. She was almost crying in frustration by the time Jack finally figured out that Daniel was her master Sergei�s latest prey. He�d wasted time in there, time that Daniel might not have. His friend was out here, unarmed, with a madman chasing him.

When she�d nervously led him to these woods, Jack had turned and murmured a quiet �spaseeba.� A quick smile at his thanks and she disappeared back towards the castle.

When he�d seen the dead dog, flies already swarming around the corpse, Jack had hoped that it hadn�t injured Daniel before his friend had managed to kill it. As he glanced at the huge beast, he prayed that this Sergei didn�t have more of them.

The trail brought him to a stream. Daniel�s footprints led into the water, Sergei�s going upstream. Jack contemplated a moment. Daniel wasn�t stupid; he knew he was being hunted. He looked around, making sure that he hadn�t missed any signs and then went in the opposite direction of Sergei�s. He hoped that Daniel was heading directly for the Stargate and hadn�t attempted to backtrack his way to it.

He walked quickly, searching for where Daniel might have left the stream. He knew that he would probably overlook something if Daniel exited the stream on the other side, but he had to take that chance. Finally after fifteen minutes he saw a smudge which could be a footprint leading out of the stream and into the woods. He sped up, hoping to catch up to his friend before dark.

- - - - - -

Daniel sat huddled out of the wind, shivering in the damp cool evening air, one hand pressed down on the still-bleeding puncture wounds in his thigh. The sun had set an hour ago and Daniel had had to go to ground when his leg refused to hold his weight. His whole body felt heavy and exhausted, his lungs burned as they fought for oxygen in the miasma of alien air. His clothes were still damp; he hadn�t had a chance to dry off completely since he�d fallen in the water.

He�d been running for hours, but had refused to admit to himself that he was lost. It was only when he had come back to the stream an hour ago that he�d concluded that he had no idea where the Stargate was, or the castle, for that matter. He wasn�t even sure if it was the same stream he�d followed earlier that afternoon.

Finally, he had painfully climbed a tree and had tried to get his bearings. He was miles away from the castle; he could just make out the rooftop in the darkening sky. So okay, he knew that he had to head southeast, but he didn�t dare do so in the dark. He�d have to wait for morning and hope that Sergei wasn�t able to track him at night.

Had he seen more dogs at the castle? Daniel could only remember that one beast, but it was more than likely that the madman had more in a kennel somewhere. He listened carefully, holding his breath so that his ragged breathing wouldn�t cover any approaching sounds. He relaxed when all he could hear were what he assumed to be the normal nocturnal cries of creatures around him. That was good, nothing close by to spook them.

He lifted the bloody bandana and peered at his wound in the dark, trying to see if the bleeding had finally stopped. The dog�s teeth had not only punctured his leg, but had torn the flesh of his thigh when he�d hit the animal with the branch. Finally he had to use his fingers and gingerly probe the wounded area, wincing at the pain the touch elicited. It felt dry� dry and hot. That wasn�t a good sign, was it? The constant motion had kept the wound open; he just hoped he hadn�t left a bloody trail.

Digging a hole beneath him, Daniel buried the blood-spattered cloth and tamped it down carefully. He curled up on his side, trying to stay warm. He�d have to try and stay awake during the night; he didn�t want Sergei sneaking up on him.

He kept nodding off and starting awake. Each time he�d listen carefully, afraid he�d heard someone creeping up alongside him. He�d relax after several minutes, too tired to keep up the vigil until the next time he imagined a sound.

Troubled thoughts coursed through his tired brain and he suddenly realized that Sergei could have spent the past few days hunting his teammates! As apprehension gripped him he stiffened at the thought. No, the man hadn�t left the castle for long-enough periods of time. All three of his friends were soldiers, they�d easily keep Sergei at bay had he tried hunting any one of them. Which meant Sergei was either holding his teammates prisoners somewhere or else they were still lost in the tunnels, like Sergei had said they were. Or he�d killed them out of hand.

Daniel had to get to the �gate and bring back a search party. They could storm the castle; the people on this planet were armed with nothing more sophisticated than swords, knives and bows and arrows. The SGC�s technology could quickly overpower the people here, but with a sinking heart he knew that it meant a lot of bloodshed.

Maybe they could just infiltrate the castle and town, go covert, undercover. Jack was good at that stuff. Maybe Jack and Teal�c�

He rubbed his aching head, confused. He needed the SGC�s help to search for his teammates; he�d forgotten that for a second. That was why he needed to go for help. What was wrong with him� he was so tired. Maybe if he closed his eyes just for a second.

- - - - - -

Jack waited out the night with barely controlled patience. He felt more tired than usual and was having trouble breathing. Damn this planet.

He had caught up to Daniel�s pursuer a few hours before sunset. He had become the hunter, following his unsuspecting prey. He had noted the man was armed with a crossbow, carrying it easily as if it were a part of him. Jack had contemplated his options, then had brought his gun up and took aim. He�d cursed silently when his gun didn�t fire. Carter had warned them this might happen. The air was full of heavy stuff he couldn�t pronounce, but which could play havoc with his lungs, his gun and any electronic equipment they were carrying.

He�d managed to lay several false trails, thereby confusing the man and hopefully buying Daniel some time. He�d almost gotten caught at one point when he�d accidentally frightened some wildlife and the man had suddenly turned and fired something at him. Jack had barely time to throw himself to the ground as a missile went flying, almost hitting him.

When he�d raised his head, all was quiet. He had lain there, knife in hand, for several minutes until he�d realized his assailant had gone. He�d hoped the man had mistaken Jack for Daniel and hence confused the trail he�d been following. Jack had gotten up and began to slowly and quietly circle his way around, aiming once more for Daniel�s true trail.

Afraid now to turn his flashlight on and give away his position, Jack decided to wait out the night. He�d eventually heard something moving to his left, going back in the direction he�d come from. He smiled to himself, glad that he�d managed to confuse their pursuer and give Daniel some time. He settled back and began taking his gun apart.

- - - - - -

Daniel moved as quickly as his injured leg permitted. He�d woken up stiff after having fallen asleep despite his best efforts at trying to remain awake. He knew he was feverish, he�d woken up chilled but now he was so hot he was perspiring freely. His head ached abominably and his joints and muscles hurt. He was forced to stop more and more often to rest, and the rest periods were getting longer and longer in length. He�d been sitting now for fifteen minutes, and was still breathing heavily.

He could see the puncture wounds through the holes the dog�s teeth had made in his BDU pants. They were red and swollen, hot and sore to the touch. He tried not to think of rabies; he was in enough trouble as it was without adding any more thoughts to worry about.

He�d been heading southeast for several hours and was sorry he wasn�t following a water source, as he was desperately thirsty. He�d happily drink that foul smelling water right now. His eyes kept playing tricks on him, causing him to constantly freeze or hide until he�d realize what he�d mistaken for a man was only a tree or a fluttering leaf. He wasn�t sure if it was the lack of pure air or the fever and exhaustion. He tried telling himself at least he�d lost his pursuer, he�d not seen hide nor hair of him since he�d killed the dog.

He glanced at his watch. Five more hours and he would have survived the twenty-four that Sergei had graced him with. Except he didn�t believe the man and was sure as soon as he found Daniel, he�d kill him without hesitation no matter how long he�d been hunting him.

Daniel wondered how Sergei had tracked down the Unas in so short a time and hadn�t yet managed to get close to Daniel. Of course the man could have lied, but Daniel didn�t think so. He�d enjoyed bragging about his abilities too much.

Daniel had no compunctions about his own hide and seek abilities; he sucked at them. Jack, Sam and Teal�c had all tried to impart their knowledge to him, but he admitted he�d rather be the seeker rather than the seekee.

He was so tired. He wished he could just put his head down and go to sleep, but he had to keep moving. He was just about to stand up and continue on when a flock of birds suddenly erupted from the woods behind him. On hands and knees, he quickly scampered through the brush and threw himself behind a large fern-covered boulder. He soon heard the slow, quiet tread of someone cautiously approaching.

Damn, he was so close to the Stargate� he was sure he was only an hour or two away. Why now? Why hadn�t he tried to move a little faster? Why had he been stupid enough to stop and rest?

Desperately he searched for a weapon. As the footsteps came closer, Daniel lowered his head, almost lying prone on the damp soil. He slowly reached for a rock which lay a foot away from his hand. Fingers stretched, he eased his arm to the side and scratched in the dirt, trying to dislodge the fist-sized rock where it lay partly buried. The rock was too deeply caught in the soil and wouldn�t come out.

His breath whistling painfully in his ears, he tried to slow his breathing, seeing spots form before his eyes. He had to control his respiration before he passed out.

He was aware of a shadow walking by going in the same direction he�d been headed for. Daniel held his breath and waited. The person hadn�t seen him and kept on going. As soon as he was out of earshot, Daniel got up and limped away from where he�d been hiding.

Nearly panicked now, he half ran, half stumbled, knowing he was making noise despite his efforts to try and keep quiet. He thought he heard someone call his name and he put on a burst of speed, frantic to escape. He finally was forced to a stop as he burst out of the woods and found himself at the edge of a river. A wide, fast flowing river.

To make matters worse, he could now see the Stargate. On the other side. What the hell?

Knowing that he had no choice, he stepped into the current, gasping as the cold water made contact with his overheated skin. His leg began burning ferociously as the water covered his wounds.

Ignoring the pain, Daniel kicked off and began swimming across. The stench of the water so close to his nose made breathing even more difficult. At first he fought the current, but he was too weak to get much headway and so concentrated solely on trying to get across. He was barely halfway when the rushing waters brought him vis-�-vis the Stargate, and carried him beyond. He began having difficulty keeping his head above water. His injured leg no longer obeyed him, and his arms felt leaden.

Panicking, knowing he was so close to reaching home and getting help for his friends, Daniel suddenly found himself going under.

- - - - - -

Jack heard someone running wildly through the brush behind him and quickly turned. It had to be Daniel; he could hear his laboured breath as he stumbled noisily. He yelled out his friend�s name and started running after him.

Jack reached the shore, not believing that Daniel�s trail led to the water�s edge. He quickly scanned the river and saw Daniel�s head bobbing in the water to the left of him. He was trying to swim across. Jack had no choice but to dive in and swim after his friend.

He was still several hundred feet away when he saw Daniel go under. Fear drove him to kick and swim furiously, cursing as his P-90 dragged him down and at the increasing weight of his backpack as water slowly filled it. Thankfully the current propelled him in the right direction. Daniel came back up, coughing and sputtering, but went back under before Jack could reach him.

They were nearly to the shore and Jack stopped swimming and looked around, trying to spot Daniel. His foot miraculously hit something soft and Jack took a deep breath and dove, ignoring the burning in his chest. He caught Daniel�s tee shirt and pulled, heaving his friend out from the murky depths. Keeping a hold on him, he made for the shore.

Gasping for breath, his body exhausted and nearing the end of his strength, Jack dragged Daniel up and out of the water and continued on till they were out of sight of the opposite shore. He collapsed beside his friend, hoping that he wasn�t too late. Thankfully Daniel was still breathing. As Daniel�s chest began spasming, Jack turned him onto his side as Daniel vomited the water he�d swallowed. Jack supported Daniel�s head as he coughed and gagged, struggling for air.

Jack put Daniel�s head back down onto the ground as the man groaned weakly, clearly spent from his near drowning. Jack crouched down and made his way back to the shoreline, examining the other side carefully. He couldn�t see any sign of Daniel�s pursuer; he hoped that the man had lost their trail for good.

He left the shore and returned to Daniel, glad to see him beginning to stir.

�Daniel,� Jack said softly as his friend rolled onto his back. He knelt beside him and put a hand to Daniel�s cheek, tapping it gently. His friend had lost his glasses, either in the water or during his foray in the woods. Daniel�s eyes popped open and suddenly he batted Jack�s hands away, struggling to get away. His eyes were huge as he frantically searched for an escape route and began scrabbling backwards, towards the water.

�Daniel,� Jack said more sternly, staying on bent knee and holding a hand out towards his friend. Jack knew that if he were to lunge after him; Daniel, in his current condition would probably panic and dive right back into the river. At the sound of his voice, Daniel�s eyes suddenly focused on Jack�s face and he stopped his backwards movement.

�It�s me, it�s Jack,� he said quietly.

�Jack?� Daniel whispered, not seeming to believe his eyes.

�Yeah,� Jack said with a smile. He motioned for Daniel to come towards him, wanting Daniel to be the one to make the first move. �Come on, let me look at you.�

�Sergei,� Daniel said, still seeming bewildered as he crawled towards Jack. �He�s looking for me� hunting.�

�I know. I�ve been following him, laying down some false trails. I think I�ve bought us some time.� He motioned towards the leg that Daniel was holding stiffly before him. �That looks painful. Ya wanna let me have a look?�

Daniel nodded, relaxing as Jack moved forward to examine Daniel�s leg. �Dog bit me,� he said as explanation.

�Dog looks worse than your leg,� Jack said as he began cutting the material around the puncture wounds.

�You saw?�

�I saw. Good job, by the way.�

�I got lucky,� Daniel said in a small voice.

�This is infected,� Jack said as he continued to examine the wounds, ignoring Daniel�s gasps of pain. He pulled out a small bottle of disinfectant from his soaked pack and poured it liberally over the wounds. Daniel gasped in pain and Jack held his leg down as Daniel tried to pull away. He finished up by placing a small bandage over it, grateful that it had been wrapped in waterproof packaging.

He�d felt the warmth coming off of Daniel�s skin as he�d cared for his injury. When finished, he laid his fingers to Daniel�s cheek, confirming the fever he�d suspected.

�Anything else I should know about?� he asked, fishing through the sodden contents of his pack and handing Daniel antibiotics and Tylenol along with his canteen.

His friend shook his head, not meeting his eyes. �I�m fine,� he said, washing down the pillows with a few sips of water after weighing the amount of water remaining in the container. �Jack� Sam and Teal�c?�

He saw Daniel�s worried look and quickly answered, fiddling with the canteen Daniel had handed back. �Carter got injured by some kind of arrow. She�s okay,� he said quickly as Daniel�s eyes widened. �She lost a lot of blood and the damned wound got infected, but you know Carter, she�s tough. Teal�c took her through the Stargate and I came back here to look for you.�

�How�d you find me?� he asked as Jack replaced the water bottle into its holder.

�Some old lady came looking for us in the tunnels. She led us out of there and to the Stargate. When I asked about you she seemed to know who you were. With a bit of persuading, I got her to take me to the castle. I saw the� things� that that man hunted. I could think of better hobbies to spend my time on, actually.�

He saw Daniel shudder slightly and he rubbed his friend�s arm in support.

�His servants think he�s a demon,� Daniel said quietly, staring at his hands.

�He�s a madman,� Jack corrected. �Think you can walk a ways?� He figured that they�d gone at least two miles past the Stargate, probably closer to three. Jack looked at the sky, trying to estimate how much daylight was left. In the short time it had taken to bandage Daniel�s leg, the sun had lowered perceptibly in the sky. He figured they had a half hour�s worth of daylight, tops.

Daniel nodded and managed to stand with Jack�s help. He swayed and Jack grabbed his shoulder, holding him steady. Wrapping his arm around Daniel�s waist, they began making their way through the woods, following the river but staying away from the water�s edge.

Jack could hear Daniel�s rasping breath as he limped alongside Jack. He could feel Daniel�s muscles trembling underneath his hand as Daniel forced himself to keep pace. Jack knew that there was no way Daniel could make it to the �gate tonight and they were in too great a danger of losing their way in the dark.

He finally found what he was looking for after twenty minutes; a large enough clearing where they could both lie down comfortably and out of sight of the river. They still couldn�t afford to light a fire, but they could at least get some rest. Sergei had no way of knowing exactly where they�d come ashore; and as far as he was concerned, he probably thought Daniel was still out here by himself.

He helped Daniel lie down and after emptying his backpack, tried to make him comfortable by placing it underneath Daniel�s head as a pillow. His friend lay on his side and Jack could see that he was shivering. He sat beside him, his hip resting against Daniel�s back.

With quick efficiency, he began taking his P-90 apart once more, needing to clean and dry it as soon as possible. It was a job that he could do with his eyes closed; and in this instance the moment the sun went down, it was just as well.

When finished, he shook off as much water as he could from the supplies he�d removed from his pack. He ate an energy bar without appetite. He was exhausted, his muscles leaden, his chest hurting with each breath he took. He knew most of these symptoms were due to the lousy air� they�d been warned not to stay too long on the planet and to try and avoid vigorous activities� Jack hoped that they hadn�t done any permanent damage to themselves.

He made himself comfortable and with his gun sitting in his lap, began to keep watch.

- - - - - -

Daniel woke up with a muffled cry as he felt a hand touching his face. In his fevered dream, he�d seen claws reaching for him, the Unas wearing Sergei�s fathomless eyes. He batted at the hand, his heart racing and his breath wheezing in his ears.

�Shhh, it�s all right,� he heard someone say close by.

Unas don�t speak English that clearly� so that had to be� �Jack?�

�Yeah, you were dreaming,� his friend replied, moving his hand to clasp Daniel�s shoulder. Daniel looked around, seeing only darkness. He could hear the leaves in the trees rustling as the wind blew through them, the sound of running water coming from close by.

He found that he was curled on his side huddled against Jack. Embarrassed, he pushed back, gasping as the movement jarred his injured leg. Jack took his hand from Daniel�s shoulder as he sat up with a groan. He was hot, everything hurt and he was desperately thirsty.

�Water?� he asked, vaguely remembering Jack giving him some the night before.

He heard rustling sounds and then Jack�s hand found his arm.

�Here,� Jack said, pressing his canteen into Daniel�s hand. As he raised the container to his mouth, he noticed that it was less than a third full. Taking only a few small sips, which did nothing to ease his thirst, he carefully replaced the cap with shaking fingers before handing it back.

�Thanks,� he said. His throat felt raw and swollen, and when he swallowed, he realized that the painful sensation went down into his oesophagus. He was breathing heavily, each inhalation felt like he had to use twice the force to draw in air.

�Try to relax,� Jack said. �The air�s pretty bad tonight. I think the cloud cover is making things worse.�

�The air does feel thick,� Daniel agreed as he lay down again. As soon as he was lying down, however, the effort to breathe became even harder so he sat up again.

�Come here,� Jack said, urging Daniel to move closer to him. Jack was leaning back against a tree and Daniel put his back up against it beside his friend. He let Jack pull him close, pushing Daniel�s head down onto his shoulder. He relaxed into his friend as Jack wrapped an arm around Daniel�s torso, holding him upright. He could smell Jack�s sweat this close up, but it was a more familiar and pleasant smell than what the planet exuded.

He closed his eyes, feeling Jack�s hand gently kneading his nape, relaxing muscles he hadn�t realized were tense.

�What time is it?� he asked.

�I�m not sure, a couple hours before sunrise,� Jack answered, clearing his throat. He could hear Jack�s breathing, not quite as wheezy as his own, but obviously Jack was experiencing discomfort also.

�He wanted me to do translations,� Daniel said quietly, knowing that Jack must have been curious as to what had happened to him. �He said he had people searching for you guys in the tunnels, so he kept me occupied with a treasure map of sorts.�

�Treasure map? Did you manage to decipher it?�

�Yeah. It *was* a treasure map� to a Goa�uld armoury somewhere in the mountains. And there was no way I was going to give him that kind of information. At first I didn�t realize who or what he was, but I saw how his servants were afraid of him, his guards patrolling the village. He was power hungry, there were rumours of his trying to take over neighbouring towns and villages� and then I realized that he might have been lying to me, that he wasn�t looking for you after all.

�I think I was drugged� there was incense� it made the house smell better than outdoors, but it was strong. It�s probably used to keep the staff compliant. Sergei didn�t seem affected by it, but everyone there seemed to just walk around in a daze half the time; the other half, they were so nervous around him that they ended up dropping things.�

�So how�d he manage to pick you out of the four of us? How�d he know it was you who knew how to translate whatever it was he had?�

�Remember I�d written everything down in my journal? He could have gone through my packsack and seen it there once we were unconscious.�

�Yeah,� Jack said softly.

Daniel sat quietly, listening to the wind sighing in the trees. He realized he�d tensed up when he felt Jack give him a little shake.

�What?� Jack asked.

Daniel shook his head, realizing he�d unconsciously been listening for footsteps.

�Nothing,� he said, willing himself to relax. The servants had called Sergei a �leshyi�, a devil. Master of the forest and wild animals. He could take the form of a familiar person, a beast or even something as innocuous as a mushroom. Daniel recalled the strange appearance Sergei�s eyes sometimes had, that the dog had taken on just before Daniel had killed it. The thought made Daniel uneasy. If this were true, he could be anywhere, spying on them now.

He shook himself mentally, thinking that he was simply spooked. He was hot and uncomfortable; Jack�s body heat was making him want to pull away. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the comforting sound of Jack�s heartbeat beneath his ear.

A hand clasped over his mouth and his name whispered in his ear brought him to wakefulness with a heart-stopping jerk. Jack�s face was leaning close to his own, but he could see Jack�s eyes staring off to the side.

He nodded to show he was awake. Jack, his gun cocked and ready, motioned for him to stay put as he slowly moved away from Daniel. He could hear something big moving stealthily towards them. The sun was just rising, illuminating the woods just enough that Daniel could make out shadows, whereas before everything had been a black wall.

He tensed as something as big as a horse crashed into their clearing. He didn�t get a clear look at it as it snorted loudly when it spotted them and turned tail and galloped away. Daniel caught a glimpse of two smaller versions trotting behind it; poor things were probably more surprised than he and Jack had been.

He saw Jack still on bent knee, his gun resting on his leg. Jack turned and grinned at Daniel before getting up and moving back beside him.

�Think you can make it to the �gate?� Jack asked him as he handed Daniel a few more pills.

He took the medication and the proffered water, swallowing the pills with difficulty before nodding, forcing himself not to finish of the water.

�How far?� he asked, realizing he had no idea where they were.

He struggled to his knees, his leg hurting abominably. Jack grabbed his arm and pulled as Daniel forced himself to stand. He could hardly put any weight on his leg and he realized that it was going to be a long walk to the Stargate.

�How far?� Daniel repeated as he took a few tentative steps.

�Two miles, maybe three,� Jack answered, his hand squeezing Daniel�s arm painfully to prevent him from colliding with a tree when Daniel�s leg nearly gave out beneath him.

Daniel hung onto the trunk a moment, the few steps having left him breathless and dizzy. He felt Jack�s hand come around his waist and he snaked his own around Jack�s shoulders.

�Only a mile or two?� Daniel said. �Piece of cake,� he added, his heart sinking when he realized that he�d barely walked four feet and was already exhausted.

- - - - - -

Jack heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the glint of metal through the trees. Another five minutes and they�d finally be there. His friend appeared to be at the end of his endurance. Daniel could barely put any weight on his leg, Jack worried that this was more than a simple bite.

They were both gasping for breath in the fetid air, the humidity causing them to sweat, but affording no relief at cooling them off. On top of that, Daniel�s fever refused to relinquish its hold; and Jack was worried by the fact that Daniel was sweating so profusely that he was quickly heading towards dehydration.

Daniel was leaning heavily against Jack, head lowered and blindly trusting him to lead him home. Jack would have liked to push on to the Stargate, but he wanted to scope out the area before approaching it. For all he knew, Sergei was hiding nearby, waiting for Daniel to approach unsuspectingly. At least that�s what Jack would do in Sergei�s place.

He stopped at a thicket of trees, shifting his hold on Daniel. As Jack grasped his friend�s arms to lower him to the ground, Daniel looked up, appearing dazed. Jack knelt beside his friend as he made sure Daniel was resting securely against a tree.

�Daniel,� Jack said, placing his palm to Daniel�s hot cheek, making sure that he was looking at him. �I�m going to go have a look around. I want you to stay here, okay?�

Daniel nodded his understanding, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the tree. Jack took his canteen and gave Daniel the last of the water before standing and making his cautious way towards the Stargate.

Jack�s view of the large structure was somewhat obstructed by trees and branches, but he froze when he spotted movement. He hunkered down behind some shrubbery and took out his field glasses.

There were four persons standing near the �gate, and try as he might, he couldn�t get his eyes to focus properly through the viewfinder. He blinked and rubbed his eyes before trying again. He thought they were wearing fatigues� still unsure, he moved forward several yards, looking for a better vantage point.

He took another look and waited for the men to turn towards him, recognizing two of SG7�s team members when they did. If they were guarding the �gate, there had to be at least one or two other teams out searching for them. Grinning wildly, he keyed his radio, intending on making contact.

Nothing, not even static. He realized belatedly that there should have been chatter on his radio. He took the radio out of its pocket inside of his vest and examined it carefully. Everything appeared to be functional. But Carter had warned that the gases in the air might erode some of the metals in their equipment. He figured that must be what had happened to the radio.

He stood up and began walking towards the �gate. When the men spotted him, he waved to get their attention and then motioned to them for help. He saw Major Wilson, SG7�s Team Leader, speak into his radio and Jack signalled his wasn�t working. When two of the men began jogging over to join him, Jack turned around to return to Daniel.

He�d almost made it to the copse of trees when he saw Sergei standing off to the side, a crossbow cocked and aimed at Daniel. A look of triumph was spread over the man�s face. Daniel lay slumped against the tree, either asleep or unconscious. Either way, his friend was totally unaware of the danger that he was in.

Jack raised his gun and took aim, squeezing the trigger when he had the man in his sights. Nothing. Wanting to curse his luck, Jack yelled for Daniel to wake up.

Sergei looked up when Jack yelled, startled. Jack saw Daniel�s head jerk up as Sergei brought the crossbow towards Jack. Jack felt something whiz by his face as he threw himself into the bushes, the projectile missing him by millimetres.

Jack rolled and landed in a crouch, trying to get his bearings. He could see the glint of another bolt loaded in the crossbow, its sharp tip slowly searching for a target. He stayed down, hoping against hope that Daniel was out of sight.

Knowing help was on its way but realizing that it might arrive too late, Jack discarded his P-90 and drew his knife. He peered carefully around the tree behind which he was sheltering. Sergei had disappeared, as had Daniel. Jack remained where he was, searching and listening desperately for signs of both the hunter and his prey.

Someone was running towards him, the sound of footsteps seeming unnaturally loud in the wooded area. As the two SGC members approached, he cautiously stood up, keeping his eyes peeled for Sergei. He signalled *enemy* and silently ordered them to cover the area. Immediately, the men slowed down and drew their weapons, fanning out. Jack still couldn�t see Daniel, so he moved to where his friend had last been. Standing there, he could just make out Daniel�s wheezing breaths despite the man�s attempts to keep them short and shallow.

Daniel had rolled from his seated position and behind several small bushes, out of Sergei�s direct line of fire. He now lay curled up on his side, trying to make himself as small a target as possible. He stared wild-eyed in Jack�s direction, obviously aware of his vulnerable position. Jack approached him slowly, alert for any sign of Sergei.

Jack knelt beside his friend and placed a hand on his shoulder, hoping to reassure him while keeping guard and waiting for his two men to return. When Daniel made to sit up, Jack helped him and ended up keeping a hand on him to keep him from toppling over. Jack was worried over the amount of heat Daniel�s body was giving off.

Within five minutes the first of the two returned, reporting that he�d seen no sign of the enemy. Two minutes later the second returned conveying the same information.

�Stargate,� Jack ordered. The men nodded, one moving to Daniel�s side and giving Jack a hand with him. The other remained a few steps behind, watching their sixes. Daniel was soon a dead weight between them; he was trying to move his legs but they obviously weren�t obeying him.

By the time they reached the large metallic-looking transportation device, it had already been activated. The way home beckoned sweetly, but Jack had an obligation to the remaining SG teams who had obviously been sent as S&R. Jack looked for someone to come take his place in helping Daniel through the �gate.

He sensed someone approach him and turned his head to blearily focus on Major Wilson.

�Colonel O�Neill,� the man acknowledged. �I�ve recalled SGs 3 and 9. Their ETA is approximately ninety minutes. You and Doctor Jackson are clear to go through the Stargate, Sir. There�s a medical team waiting.�

Relieved that he didn�t have to stay behind and anxious to get his friend home and into Fraiser�s care, Jack acknowledged the Major�s instructions as he led his friend to the Stargate�s sanctuary. He took Daniel�s full weight when the Captain helping him let go of his friend in order to remain at the wormhole�s periphery.

Jack allowed their momentum on the metallic ramp to carry them down several steps before easing Daniel to the ground. Fraiser and two medics rushed towards them as Jack dropped onto his butt and supported Daniel against his chest.

His friend�s head lolled lifelessly and Jack suspected Daniel had passed out after the strain of going through the wormhole. After a cursory examination by Fraiser, an oxygen mask was slapped over Daniel�s mouth and an IV quickly started.

�Doc,� Jack said as he irritably waved away the medic who was trying to place a similar mask on his face. Fraiser�s glare had Jack instantly removing his hand and permitting the treatment. After a moment, he grasped the offending item and voluntarily took a couple of breaths before shifting it aside and attempting to continue the conversation as the medics moved Daniel onto a gurney.

�He�s got a bite on his leg, I think it�s infected,� Jack informed her. Fraiser moved to Daniel�s leg and lifted the bandage, examining the wound.

�You�re right, it is,� she said as she discarded the soiled bandage.

�He mentioned he�d been drugged, some kind of incense.�

Fraiser nodded, intent on changing the dressing.

�He was being hunted. He�d been running for at least twenty hours before I found him.�

�On that leg?� Fraiser stopped what she was doing and looked over at Jack in shock.

Jack nodded.

�Anything else you have to tell me, Colonel?�

�He almost drowned.�

Fraiser threw Jack an exasperated look before giving orders.

�Okay people. Let�s get Doctor Jackson to the infirmary, stat!�

As they began moving Daniel away, Jack felt the overwhelming exhaustion he�d been fighting hit him like a two by four. He closed his eyes, leaning against the side of the railing. He didn�t fight the hands that replaced the oxygen mask. He was aware of voices around him and when someone tugged at his arm, urging him to get up, he didn�t resist. He found himself lying on a gurney, being wheeled down the corridor. The movement made him dizzy so he closed his eyes.

- - - - - -

�Colonel?�

�Colonel O�Neill.�

Jack cracked open his eyes, not really wanting to wake up but recognizing the steely insistence in the voice. He saw Fraiser�s concerned brown eyes looking at him, a gentle smile gracing her face.

�I know you�re tired, Sir, but you�ll feel better if you eat something.� She motioned towards the roll-away table beside him, and Jack turned his head to see a covered tray sitting on it. He pushed himself up on the pillows and Fraiser raised the head of his bed a bit more so that he was sitting comfortably.

�Daniel?� Jack croaked, wondering why his throat felt raw. He looked around the infirmary and saw Carter�s slim form sleeping on the bed to his right.

�He�s doing better,� Fraiser said as she moved out of the way, allowing him to see Daniel on the bed to his left. �He�s already responding well to the antibiotics and his fever has come down by two degrees already. We�re hoping that neither of you have developed any permanent damage to your lungs by staying on that planet for such a lengthy time.�

Jack realized that the invasion of the nasal cannula in his nostrils meant that there had been some damage. That, plus the fact that his chest still hurt when he breathed.

�I�m also hoping that Daniel doesn�t develop pneumonia from his near drowning. His lungs are already compromised by the foul air.�

That thought worried Jack more than his own discomfort.

She pushed the table over his lap and removed the cover.

�Eat,� she ordered with a smile.

The soup and sandwich looked unappetizing and Jack listlessly picked up a spoon and stirred the broth. He wondered if he should just skip the meal and jump to the milk and pie.

�What about Carter?� he asked, glancing towards the form which was all but buried under the covers. All he could see was a bit of her blond hair peeking out from underneath.

�She�ll be fine. She lost a lot of blood and developed an infection; but the antibiotics are taking care of it. She�ll probably be going home in another day or two.�

�Teal�c?� he queried as he put the broth-flavoured spoon to his mouth and tasted it. The mouthful suddenly woke up his appetite and he quickly spooned some more into his mouth. Swallowing, he realized that he was starving.

�He just finished debriefing General Hammond when I reported to the General a short while ago. Teal�c had gone back with the S&R team to look for you two. He should be here any minute,� she assured him before walking over to check on Daniel.

Jack took a bite of his sandwich, waving to Teal�c as the Jaffa entered the infirmary seconds later.

�Hey,� Jack said in greeting, swallowing quickly.

�O�Neill. I am pleased that you have returned.� He smiled at Jack before turning his attention to Daniel. He gently touched the sleeping man�s shoulder before sitting down in the chair between the two beds. Jack got a whiff of deodorant and soap. He realized then that he smelled pretty ripe as opposed to his friend.

He made quick work of the meal, relaxing against the pillows as he ate. Doc was right, he did feel better now. She showed up as he was swallowing the last bite of pecan pie, washing it down with the milk.

�Colonel, do you feel up to a shower?� Jack looked down at his dirty and crumpled BDUs, thinking that a shower would be the next best thing to heaven. Smiling, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The movement brought on a coughing spell and he ended up sweating and gasping for air when it was over. He swallowed a few times to keep his lunch where it belonged.

He saw Fraiser frown and he pushed himself off of the bed, removing the nasal cannula before she changed her mind.

�Do you mind if Teal�c supervises, Colonel? I wouldn�t want you to pass out in there.�

Jack nodded, better Teal�c than the good doctor herself.

The hot shower was more than he�d hoped for, easing tired and tense muscles. The Jaffa stood just outside the cubicle, giving Jack enough privacy to wash and relax. The soap and water cleansed away the stench that he hadn�t realized until then had followed him through to Earth, a legacy of the fetid air and water.

He towelled himself off and put on the scrubs that had been handed to him. He figured that meant he was being kept in the infirmary overnight, if not longer. As much as he hated the idea, the thought of driving home at the moment exhausted him.

He walked back to his bed and stopped by Daniel�s side. He placed a tentative hand to his friend�s cheek, checking for fever. Fraiser was right; it was lower. Jack could see the slight fog as Daniel�s breath misted up the oxygen mask. His breathing was still laboured, but he seemed to be having less problems.

�He was in a lot of discomfort so I gave him something to help with the pain,� Fraiser said as she stepped up beside him. �He�ll sleep for a while, which I suggest you do also.� She picked up the plastic tubing of the cannula and waited till he settled back in bed before replacing it.

He dozed on and off, waking up when his chest wracked in a painful coughing spasm. Teal�c handed him some water, the cool liquid helping ease the fire in his throat.

�Did you find the Russian guy?� Jack asked.

�We did not. We saw no sign of any hostile inhabitant, then returned to the SGC per General Hammond�s orders.�

�The guy was good,� Jack admitted grudgingly. He knew, though, that Daniel would probably not have been able to evade Sergei before getting to the Stargate without Jack�s intervention. It wasn�t that Jack didn�t have confidence in Daniel�s abilities, but the alien hunter had sent a dog after Daniel, for crying out loud. That, in Jack�s books, was dirty.

�But Daniel held his own,� Jack said with pride, realizing that Daniel *had* managed to stay alive despite both his physical injuries and illness. He turned to look at his still slumbering teammates, both of whom he was glad were on his side. He saw Teal�c staring at Daniel, and knew the Jaffa felt the same way he did.

But Daniel had killed the dog, which had to have been one hell of a difficult thing for him to do. Jack was sorry he hadn�t been able to kill that bastard Sergei. Had his gun not jammed the first time, he might have been able to get Daniel home earlier.

He closed his eyes, feeling tired, and attempted to sleep.

He didn�t know how long he�d slept. He woke up aware that something� a sound� had disturbed his rest. He lifted his head off the pillow, freeing his ear to be able to listen better. Then he heard it again, a soft moan coming from his left.

He turned and saw Daniel stirring restlessly on the bed, sheets twisted around his legs. Jack sat up and pushed off the bed, ignoring the cold floor beneath his bare feet.

�Sir?� he heard Carter call softly.

As he bent over Daniel, he realized that his friend was dreaming.

�Just a bad dream,� he told Carter as he glanced back towards her. She had raised herself onto her good arm, the injured one tightly strapped to her body. The worried expression on her face quickly disappeared, but she got up and padded over to stand beside him.

Jack placed a hand on Daniel�s shoulder as Carter sat down on the bed beside their friend, pulling the twisted sheets one-handed from underneath Daniel�s leg.

�Shhhh, Daniel, wake up,� Jack said softly. As Daniel muttered something in Russian, Jack shook his shoulder gently. With a gasp, Daniel�s eyes popped open. The inhalation caused him to start coughing and Jack reached over and hugged Daniel to him, supporting him until the spasms stopped.

When Daniel was breathing somewhat normally, Jack pushed him back onto the mattress. His friend was still a little breathless; Jack knew his lungs and throat were probably very sore from the coughing.

�Hey,� Jack said as Daniel finally looked up at them with red-rimmed eyes.

�Hey,� Daniel replied weakly, his voice muffled and faint beneath the oxygen mask.

�Bad dream?� Jack asked. Daniel nodded, his eyes closing at the memory.

�Well, it�s over now,� Jack stated, meaning both the dream and the nightmare that Daniel had experienced on that planet.

�Hammond�s going to� want to go look� for the weapons,� Daniel panted.

�Probably,� Jack admitted. �Can you tell us the location?�

�Don�t know,� he replied. �Mountains� tunnels� no map.�

�Weapons?� Carter asked.

Jack turned to her. �Daniel translated some old writings, said there was a Goa�uld arsenal in the mountains somewhere back on that planet.�

�Then there isn�t much chance of us finding the arsenal, is there?� Carter said. Jack looked up at her, noting that she looked pale and there were dark circles beneath her eyes.

�Not if the tunnels leading to the arsenal are anything like the ones we were lost in,� Jack admitted. In any case, he was glad. No way did he want Daniel back on that planet with that madman out there.

He saw that Daniel was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.

�Go to sleep, Daniel.� Glassy blue eyes turned towards him. �I�m in the bed next to you and Carter�s next to me. You won�t be alone, okay?�

Daniel nodded as his eyes closed. After a minute Carter carefully got off the bed.

�You okay?� Jack asked with concern. She smiled wryly at him.

�Yes sir. Just a little tired.�

�Yeah, me too,� Jack admitted as he sat on his bed. Carter glanced at Daniel once more before returning to her own.

�Teal�c told me what happened to Daniel out there. Sir, why didn�t you��

�Take the guy out?� Jack asked. At her nod, he admitted that he�d tried. �You were right about the guns jamming. Twice I had him in my sights� and the bastard almost got me both times.�

�Daniel was lucky,� she stated, staring across Jack�s bed at their sleeping friend.

�Yeah, I�m glad he�s out of that Sergei�s clutches.�

- - - - - -

Sitting cross-legged on the bed, Jack took a sip of ice water as he watched Fraiser finish checking Carter�s shoulder wound. The only signs of discomfort were the beads of sweat on his second�s forehead. She smiled gamely at him when she became aware of his scrutiny.

He�d accused Teal�c of being a coward a few minutes ago when he�d left the infirmary, teasing him that he was afraid that ol� doc was gonna get her hands on him next. Actually Teal�c hadn�t looked that good; he�d said that Junior had been acting up and he was gonna go Kel-no-Reem. It looked like that planet was seriously going to take a bit of time to get over.

Fraiser removed her gloves and snapped on another pair as she approached Daniel�s bedside. Jack watched his friend�s face as Fraiser began removing the bandage on his leg, expecting him to wake up at any moment from the discomfort. Yep, there went the forehead bunching up into a frown, a twitch of an eyelid, his head turning.

Daniel opened his eyes and looked at Fraiser. He began to smile a greeting despite the fact she must have been hurting him as she checked his wound. The look on Daniel�s face suddenly turned to horror and he tried to pull away from the doctor.

�Doc?� Jack asked, wondering what she had done that had hurt Daniel so much.

�Daniel, stay still,� Fraiser ordered as she tried to hold Daniel�s leg down, then realizing something was wrong, she moved to the head of the bed to try and calm him down.

�Nyet! Nyet!� Daniel yelled, batting Fraiser�s hands away. Daniel inched away from her towards the far edge of the bed.

�Daniel!� Jack called as he uncurled his legs, intending to get up and help Fraiser soothe his friend.

A wild punch caught Fraiser in the face and she went down. Jack caught her by the arms and stood her up, surprised at how light she was. He was used to Carter, who was 5 feet 10 inches of solid muscle. Fraiser had a hand to her eye and she was unsteady on her feet. While he had his hands full of the petite doctor, he heard a loud crash. Daniel had toppled off the other side of the bed.

He sat the dazed doctor onto his bed and rushed around to Daniel�s side. His friend lay on his back, stunned; one leg up in the air, still caught in the blankets on the bed. He was staring straight up, weakly trying to disentangle the sheet wrapped around his calf by pulling on it. Blood gushed from his hand where the IV had been torn out and there was a red scratch on his cheek where the oxygen cannula had pulled away.

As Jack knelt beside Daniel, his friend finally managed to extricate himself from the sheet and lowered his leg. Jack put a hand to his arm and at his touch Daniel jerked and began trying to move away blindly. He grabbed Daniel�s shoulders and leaned over the terrified man.

�Danny,� he said quietly.

�Jack,� Daniel said, his eyes finally focusing on him. He grabbed Jack�s arms and gripped him painfully. �He�s here, Sergei�s here!�

�Daniel, you were dreaming��

�No, no no! I saw him! His eyes� he�s here!� Daniel�s voice grew louder as he struggled to sit up, his eyes searching wildly for someone who wasn�t there.

Jack helped Daniel sit up, but kept a secure hold on his arms. �Daniel, Fraiser woke you up. You were dreaming and thought you�d seen that� �

�No!� Daniel yelled. �I saw Janet, but then his eyes� he�s here, Jack. He�s here.� Daniel stopped looking around the enclosed space and focused on Jack. Daniel was breathing heavily, perspiration dotting his upper lip and forehead.

Jack heard footsteps and saw Daniel�s eyes widen as he looked towards someone behind Jack. He glanced back and saw that a nurse had approached the edge of the space between the beds. Jack saw she was holding something off to the side and realized that she was hiding a syringe. Knowing that they were probably going to have to force the sedative into Daniel, he nodded and prepared himself. As she stepped up to them, Daniel began struggling and yelling. Jack grabbed hold of Daniel and held him tightly as another medic came to give him a hand while the nurse injected the medication.

He heard Daniel gasping for air beneath him as they waited for the sedative to take effect. He hated this, it reminded him too much of the time that Mackenzie had sedated Daniel when he�d been suffering from Machello�s mind-altering bugs. He�d seen the bruises on Daniel�s arms where the personnel of the psychiatric ward had held him down and stuck needles in him, knowing that Daniel had fought them each and every time.

Fraiser came to kneel beside them. Jack took a look at her face and realized that she was going to have one hell of a shiner. She caught his look and shrugged as she put a shaky hand to Daniel�s wrist, monitoring his pulse. At her touch, Daniel began trembling.

When she finished she took a tissue and put pressure to the bleeding gash where his IV had been. With her other hand she gently pressed her fingers over Daniel�s skull. At his wince, Jack realized Daniel had probably bumped his head during his backwards tumble off the bed.

It took several minutes but his friend�s muscles began to soften and loosen up. His body soon sagged against Jack as his breathing slowed. Fraiser quietly asked two medics to put Daniel back up onto the bed. As she reaffixed the IV, Daniel turned onto his side, curling up on himself.

Carter stood beside the bed, large worried eyes in a too-pale face. Jack sat in the chair and looked at his friend. He lay quietly, his eyes half opened, staring at nothing. Jack reached over and took Daniel�s hand, feeling the cold fingers beneath his own sweaty ones.

Carter seated herself once more on the bed beside Daniel and slowly carded her fingers through his damp hair. He didn�t react to her touch any more than he did to Jack�s.

�Daniel,� Jack said tentatively. The dull, blue eyes slowly shifted and moved to look at Jack sadly. �I�m sorry,� Jack said, not knowing what more to say.

�He�s here, Jack,� came the quiet, almost slurred words.

- - - - - -

Jack and Sam continued to sit with Daniel, and he knew they were watching him. Let them, he couldn�t be bothered. His head ached and his leg throbbed and he thought maybe he should tell Janet, but the effort was too great so he just endured.

Janet. There had been something about Janet� oh yeah, he remembered now. He�d glanced up at her and had seen Sergei looking back at him. His eyes had been hers. He was still following Daniel. Still hunting. Still chasing. The twenty-four hours had to be up by now, why was he still coming? He�d tried to tell Jack but he hadn�t believed him. Now Daniel didn�t care.

He sighed softly.

Jack�s hand squeezed his fingers. It felt good, knowing someone was there. He wanted to simply forget everything and sleep, but the discomfort he was experiencing kept him just on this cusp of wakefulness.

Sam was sitting on the bed with him, her fingers playing through his hair and the back of his neck. The gentle massage was soothing and Daniel closed his eyes.

Pain flamed in his leg and opening his eyes, Daniel lifted his head to see what was happening. Doctor Warner was doing something to the wound on his leg. Why wasn�t Janet�? Oh yeah, �cause Sergei got her. He grimaced as the doctor finished up, making his leg throb even more.

Daniel could hear voices talking around him, but it was too much trouble to listen to what they were saying. The pain in his leg began to ease and he floated away on the currents of their voices, unaware of passing time.

Dreams plagued him. Sergei�s eyes followed him everywhere. Every time he�d force his eyes open, one of his teammates was sitting with him. Teal�c leaned over him and told him he was safe, and Daniel believed him. Jack whispered that everything was fine, and Daniel went back to sleep. Sam said she�d take care of everything, and Daniel let her.

He woke once more to see Doctor Warner standing off to the side, talking with Jack and Teal�c. Jack wasn�t wearing scrubs anymore. Daniel remembered he�d been lying in the bed beside his earlier, so Jack must be feeling better now.

He felt dopey, lethargic and his mouth felt thick and dry. Daniel licked his lips, wishing he had some water.

Daniel wasn�t sure what had happened and couldn�t seem to separate fact from dream. He�d been taken prisoner, hunted, Jack had found him. He was pretty sure that these things had actually happened. The dog had bit him; his leg reminded him of that constantly.

Sergei had been hunting him� had crept up on him while he�d fallen asleep. He remembered Jack�s shout and waking up to see the man aiming a weapon at him. His eyes had had that strange abyss behind them, and that more than the fear of being killed by the crossbow�s bolt had been what had prompted Daniel to throw himself to the ground and out of harm�s way.

He�d seen those eyes again recently. He raised a hand and massaged his forehead, trying to remember. He couldn�t quite recall; this was where his memories were all jumbled together. Daniel remembered the shock and fear of seeing the Russian here, and then his frustration when Jack didn�t believe him.

�Hey,� Jack said. Daniel opened his eyes and looked at his friend. Warner had gone and Teal�c was standing beside Jack.

�Hello,� Daniel said warily. He vaguely remembered fighting Jack and Janet and some medics, but he wasn�t sure if it had really happened or if it was yet another drugged dream.

�Feeling better?�

The tone of voice Jack was using had Daniel thinking the question had to be a loaded one. Was Jack simply inquiring about his physical health or had something really happened that he couldn�t quite put together?

�Yeees,� he drawled, his mind working furiously.

�You gave Fraiser quite a scare earlier,� Jack said cautiously.

He knew it! Something *had* happened. He saw a pitcher of water off on the side and tried to reach for it, trying to kill time while his brain worked feverishly to remember. Teal�c quickly took it and poured him a glass of water.

�So it wasn�t a dream?� he finally asked, smiling his thanks and taking a sip of water.

�You mistook DoctorFraiser for someone else,� Teal�c explained.

�No, I saw Janet, and then I saw that bastard inside of her.� He was surprised at the emotions the words invoked and Daniel put the glass down before his shaking hand caused it to spill.

�Inside of her?� Jack asked as he rolled a chair forward and sat down beside him.

�Her eyes changed,� Daniel said, staring intently at Jack, trying to see if he�d believe him.

�And that�s a bad thing because��

�Geez, Jack. I don�t know,� Daniel said, getting angry now. He�d been through hell and back and now that bastard had followed him to Earth, and Jack was making fun of him. �Maybe because humans� eyes don�t change unless they�re Goa�uld? And then those ones glow. Hers did the opposite!�

//You mean, like this?//

For a second Daniel couldn�t figure out why Jack had spoken to him in Russian until he saw the bottomless black voids that had replaced Jack�s eyes. Before he could say anything, Jack had his hands over Daniel�s mouth, pinching his nostrils closed, effectively cutting off his air. Daniel bucked and struggled, his hands coming to grasp Jack�s as Daniel tried to pull them away from his face. He saw Teal�c come behind Jack and his hands joined Daniel�s in trying to force Jack away from him.

Somehow Jack had gained inhuman strength. He managed to lean forward and bring his knee up on top of Daniel�s injured leg, bearing all his weight onto the injury. Daniel would have screamed with the agony had he been able to get a lungful of air.

Those fathomless orbs slowly neared his face. A mirthless grin spread out over Jack�s face, making a parody of his best friend�s features.

Dark spots appeared before Daniel�s eyes and he felt himself losing strength. His hands lost their grip and only Teal�c�s were now desperately trying to free Daniel from Jack�s grip. Daniel could no longer see anything, but his senses still picked up the desperate sounds of Teal�c�s breaths as he valiantly tried to save Daniel. The whooping sound of an alarm assaulted his ears.

He heard a loud shriek, the sound fading to almost nothing as he lost his tenuous grip on consciousness. Suddenly there was air! His chest heaved desperately as he gasped for the precious gas. He had no strength left except to simply lie there and breathe. He became slowly aware that someone was holding an oxygen mask to his mouth, and gentle hands were touching him, searching for injuries.

He forced his heavy eyelids open, his head aching abominably. Teal�c was standing over Daniel, holding the oxygen mask to his face. Daniel looked around wildly, looking for danger. Jack was sitting on the floor beside the bed, a scalpel sticking out of his arm. He appeared to be dazed or unconscious, his head lolling back limply. Sam was standing over Jack and as she turned towards Daniel, he jumped in shock as her inhuman eyes stared at him with the same black chasm.

�It�s okay, Daniel,� he heard Janet say from the other side of his bed. He realized it was her hands that were on him, and he looked down to where she was trying to stem the flow of blood where Jack�s knee had opened the puncture wounds. He felt the sting of a needle in his leg.

�No, he tried to kill me,� Daniel gasped, trying to pull the mask away from his mouth. Teal�c took his hand and gently held it back. He could hear his voice muffled behind the mask, frustrating him.

�There are two separate beings, DanielJackson.�

�T..t..two?� Daniel stuttered.

�This one saved your life. She stabbed O�Neill, and although it is a minor wound, it was enough to render him unconscious.�

Daniel raised himself on his elbows, grateful when Teal�c sat behind him and helped support his weight. Daniel turned to look at Jack who still hadn�t moved, and then looked at Sam, who was still staring at him with those other-worldly eyes. He wasn�t surprised when Russian flowed out of her mouth.

�Leshyi has broken the stability of our world by attempting to gain access to the old weapons,� she said. �When I saw what he was attempting, I followed. We must return soon or else the equilibrium will never be regained.�

�You�re Vozduzhni,� Daniel said, �spirit of the air.� She nodded regally. �And he�s� Leshyi?� She nodded once more. Daniel was feeling a little better, he wasn�t gasping for air anymore and the world was looking a little steadier around him.

�What are you?�

�Spirits, energy, ghosts, demons. Your world has many names for us. We exist on the planet in harmony with the people. But Leshyi is one who is headstrong and occasionally forgets that we must maintain balance, or else we gain chaos.�

�What�s going on here?� General Hammond demanded as he strode into the infirmary with several SFs following behind.

�We have intruders, GeneralHammond,� Teal�c stated calmly. He saw the General visibly start as Sam/Vozduzhni looked up at him. The SFs raised their weapons but Hammond motioned to lower them.

�The metal in your world makes it difficult at best to maintain contact for long periods,� Sam/Vozduzhni said. �This small weapon will hold Leshyi for a short time.� She indicated the scalpel in Jack�s arm. �We must return at once before he escapes this body.�

�What about Sergei?� Daniel asked, recalling the hours of horror the man had inflicted upon him.

�He is merely a man.� She dismissed Daniel�s horror-filled hours with a shrug.

�He tried to kill me! He hunted me!�

�Perhaps he was persuaded by Leshyi. It is of no consequence.�

Daniel glared at her for a moment before turning to update General Hammond.

�General Hammond,� Daniel said, this time pushing the oxygen mask from his face successfully. �They have to go to back to the planet now,� Daniel translated, �before the being inside of Jack wakes up. Vozduzhni here,� he said, pointing at Sam, �followed Leshyi when she discovered he came back to Earth with us.� He tried remembering what he knew about the old Russian myths that he�d read about. �They�re vulnerable to metal� iron� cold iron can kill them. That�s why the scalpel incapacitated Jack� I mean Leshyi.�

General Hammond glanced at them all before racing to the telephone to give the order.

�I shall accompany them,� Teal�c stated. He bent over and picked up Jack, wary of the medical implement still stuck in his arm, and slung him over his shoulder. Sam/Vozduzhni followed them while General Hammond and the SFs escorted them out of the infirmary.

Daniel turned to look at Janet, realizing then that he didn�t feel any pain in his leg anymore. She was finishing up replacing the stitches that Jack must have torn. Seeing her face clearly for the first time, he exclaimed, �Oh my God! I did that?� Self-consciously, she brought a hand up to her cheek, her right eye nearly swollen shut and her cheek badly bruised where Daniel had struck her. �I�m so sorry, Janet,� he apologized, not knowing what else to say.

�It�s okay, it wasn�t your fault. She was in me at the time and I guess she surprised you.�

�She?�

�Yes, she�s female, and Leshyi is male. I thought you knew that.�

�I did, I do� I just forgot. I�m just so� tired. I�m really tired, Janet,� he whispered as he realized what had nearly happened.

�I know,� she said softly, moving to the head of his bed and placing a hand on his forehead. �Get some rest. They�ll all be back before you know it.�

He nodded, worried about his friends but too exhausted to stay awake and wait for their return. �Wake me?� he asked.

�I will,� she promised.

He closed his eyes, knowing she would.

- - - - - -

It was actually Jack�s grumbling that woke Daniel as he was escorted into the infirmary. Daniel cracked open his eyes, seeing the trio of friends approaching him. He turned onto his side to face Jack as he hopped onto the bed next to Daniel. The waft of the planet�s stench surrounded his friends and Daniel wrinkled his nose at the smell.

�You okay?� Jack asked as he tried to look around the nurse who was cutting off the bandage wrapped around his arm.

�I�m fine,� Daniel replied, smiling at Sam as she came to perch on his bed. �What about you guys?�

�Peachy, if you consider waking up on a reeking planet with no memory of how I got there and with a knife sticking out of my arm.�

�It was a scalpel, Colonel,� Janet corrected as she approached them, �and as to the smell, you�ll just have to put up with it for a little while longer.�

�I got possessed by a ghost,� Jack whispered to Daniel conspiratorially after glaring at Janet.

�I know,� Daniel whispered back.

The bandage now removed, Daniel saw the wound looked puffy and inflamed, and more of a burn than a stabbing.

�That�s gotta hurt,� he said in sympathy.

�Ya think?� Jack groused, wincing as Janet began examining the wound.

�It�s not serious, Colonel,� Janet told Jack after a moment. �It looks like the wound was cauterized. I guess the metal in the scalpel reacted adversely with the alien being.�

�What happened out there?� Daniel asked.

�The beings released both ColonelO�Neill and MajorCarter seconds after we arrived on their world,� Teal�c explained. �O�Neill regained consciousness immediately afterwards and we returned to Earth.�

�Umm, not wanting to be a party pooper or anything, but how do we know they really left?�

�I don�t think Vozduzhni would have let me go if Leshyi hadn�t left the Colonel,� Sam said.

�You remember?� Daniel said, surprised. Sam nodded. He looked at Janet and she smiled also, nodding. Jack shook his head, which didn�t surprise Daniel.

�Nope, don�t remember a thing,� he added.

�Vozduzhni was a gentle being and although I could hear her, she had trouble keeping contact with me,� Janet said.

�And I hit you for that,� Daniel said, wincing inwardly at the sight of her face.

�It looks worse that it feels. Don�t worry about it, Daniel. And you couldn�t have known what was happening; although I wish she had been able to talk to you, it might have saved you a lot of grief.�

Daniel sighed, recalling the gleeful look on Jack/Leshyi�s face as he slowly smothered to death beneath his friend�s hands.

�They told me, Danny,� Jack said to him, his face shadowed in sorrow. Daniel closed his eyes, wishing that small fact could have been kept from his friend.

�Leshyi was a demon, Jack. It wasn�t your fault, you were under his control.� He closed his eyes, feeling the fatigue begin to overwhelm him once more. He let the conversation flow over him, content that his friends were safe and not badly injured.

He heard Jack complain when Janet told him she wanted him to stay for observation. The mattress shifted slightly as Sam got off the bed and he felt the brush of her hands on his face before she walked off. There was a heavier set of footsteps beside hers and he guessed that Teal�c had gone too.

He drifted for a while, heard Jack return to the bed, smelling of soap and disinfectant. The smell of the planet was gone, and Daniel was glad of that. The hunt was over, Sergei or Leshyi or whoever it was that had plagued his nightmares for the past few days had lost his prey. The victory this time was Daniel�s, with the help of his friends.

�You sleeping?� Jack asked softly, interrupting his musings.

�Yes,� Daniel answered, smiling and turning to look at Jack, who was sitting up in bed watching him.

�You do know Fraiser�s gonna get back at you for that shiner,� he teased.

�And what about you? You managed to pull out her stitches in my leg. You know how women are about sewing.� He fingered his leg, feeling the bandages wrapped around his thigh. The area was still frozen; he couldn�t feel anything yet.

�Think she�s gonna hold a grudge for long?� Jack sounded apprehensive, so Daniel began to worry.

�I don�t know. When�s our next physical?�

 

FINIS!


Author's Comments:

 Thanks to Kat and Ximeria for the wonderful beta, and of course thanks to the gang (devra, babs, MajelB, DebA, Darcy and Kahlee), who constantly keep me on my toes.

 

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DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.