"Looks like a dead end."
Daniel frowned at Jack's words as he cautiously stepped onto the long, wooden quay. It bobbed up and down with each step, threatening to tip him into the water. As he neared the end, the quay suddenly dipped to the right as someone stepped onto it behind him. He quickly adjusted his balance and then stopped and turned as Sam followed him out over the water.
Jack and Teal'c remained on land, peering towards the island far to their right. Daniel turned to look at their goal, squinting into the brightness of the setting sun.
"I guess the natives forgot to tell us we needed a boat to get there," Daniel said with a gamely grin. Then he twitched his nose, trying to ease the familiar itching that was a prelude to a sneeze.
"I don't know about you, but I get the feeling they don't really want us to go to their sacred island." Sam sighed softly. "I really don't feel like going for a swim."
"I think their reluctance may be from their fear of Teal'c." Daniel wiped the back of his arm against his nostrils, hoping to tease the sneeze away.
"We've gone to a couple of planets where the inhabitants were afraid of Jaffa. These people didn't seem afraid as much as angry." She sniffed the air and looked around. "Do you smell something burning?"
"I don't think they were angry, Sam." He sniffled loudly, wishing the itching and building pressure would go away. "I don't smell anything."
"Are you sure? I'm sure I smell something�"
"I mean I can't smell anything." He sniffed again and rubbed a finger under his eyes, which were starting to tear.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, fine. I think my allergy pills aren't working. There must be something around here that's pretty potent." He brushed the subject off with a wave of a hand, finishing with another swipe under his nose. "So why would they bother telling us about their holy temple and give us directions to where it is if they were afraid of us?"
"I don't know. I just have this strange feeling that�"
Sam turned quickly, causing the wooden quay to bob in the water again. "There's no sign of any boats, sir." She knelt and pulled a length of rope out of the water, which was still tied to the edge of the quay. "Although I'd say a few might have been moored here, I think it's more than likely they were all moved before we got here."
"You sure those traces of Naquadah are coming from the island?"
Sam stood and removed a scanning device from her vest pocket. It beeped as she turned it on. As she pointed it towards the smudge of land in the lake and studied the readings, Jack stepped onto the quay. Despite his slow steps, the wooden platform moved up and down, making Daniel a little queasy. His eyes watered as the sneeze threatened even more.
"Definitely coming from the island, sir."
Jack stopped behind Sam and gazed out over the water. "You know, this kind of reminds me of this place I inherited from my�"
Teal'c's warning cry came as a dozen men suddenly stepped out of the trees. Several had blowguns held to their mouths. The sneeze that had been building suddenly exploded from him. Jack and Sam lunged to the side, throwing Daniel off balance as he sneezed consecutively. Something grazed his arm as he fell onto the quay. Cold water splashed over him, harsh contrast to the sun-warmed wood beneath his hands.
He pushed up onto his hands and knees, instincts taking over despite the hours of training the military had forced him to undergo. Movement was difficult, his body slow to respond. He raised his head and saw, to his shock and surprise, Jack and Sam lying unconscious on the quay. Teal'c was moving sluggishly, trying to raise his staff weapon and aim it at the men who were still standing on the shore, watching them.
Fumbling for the gun strapped to his thigh, his fingers suddenly felt thick and clumsy. He finally managed to get a grip on the weapon but before he could pull it out of the holster, the quay exploded in a shower of splintered wood with a thundering boom.
The shock of the water was cold, almost ripping the breath from him. He flailed, not sure which way was up. He looked around, trying to get his bearings in the murky water, until he saw the seaweed below him. He kicked off in the opposite direction and nearly gasped in alarm when his shoulder hit something.
He twisted in fear, not sure what was next to him. He had visions of sharks and their hungry maws coming for him despite a small section of his brain telling him that this was lake water, not salt. To his horror, he saw Sam's lax and unconscious body floating before him. He grabbed her and kicked hard. He broke to the surface, gasping for breath and hurriedly raised Sam's head out into the air.
The quay was in shambles, the water strewn with pieces of wood. Daniel looped an arm around a large chunk that still retained several planks and glanced towards shore. The men were still standing there, looking out over the water. Daniel ducked down, trying to hide behind the planks of wood while he checked on Sam. Lowering his ear close to her mouth, he uttered a soft "Thank God" when he heard her breathing.
Then he realized... Jack. Teal'c. He glanced around frantically for his friends in the quickly darkening evening. For a long moment he didn't see anything except debris, then off to his right, maybe, just maybe, those dark forms were Jack and Teal'c's heads as they clung to a larger piece of the destroyed quay. He squinted through soaked strands of hair, not quite able to focus. He'd lost his glasses but the fuzziness was worse than usual.
Daniel didn't dare call out. The sun was setting quickly behind the trees and he was floating in the shadows, hopefully out of sight of the men who still watched the water. With one arm gripping onto the slab of wood and the other hanging onto Sam, he stayed low in the water. He shivered as he kept an eye on the blurry shoreline and the other on what he hoped were his friends. He couldn't even tread water in an effort to try and stay warm because the last thing he wanted was bring attention to himself. So he hung on, floating as much as he could while making sure Sam's mouth and nose were safely out of the water.
The shock of the cold water and the explosion was starting to wear away, leaving him feeling shaky and tired. Despite watching the shoreline and their assailants, Daniel found his eyelids growing heavy. He shifted his grip, trying to force himself to stay alert. He realized the sting he'd felt in his arm during the attack must have been from whatever had knocked his friends out. He must have moved just as the projectile hit him and he'd gotten only a partial dose of the drug.
The shoreline was growing dark now, difficult to make out, and seemed farther away than before. He'd wait just a little while longer before securing Sam to the piece of wood he was clinging to and then he'd swim over to check on Teal'c and Jack. He surveyed the area, counting the men, hoping they would leave soon.
Suddenly Daniel found himself spluttering and coughing, the cold water enveloping his face and head. He jerked, kicked himself upwards and realized he'd lost Sam when he'd nodded off. He thrust his arms forward and touched her arm. Thankfully when he'd gone under, she'd continued to float, unharmed.
He couldn't wait any longer; they had to be out of sight by now so he grabbed Sam by the armpits and heaved mightily. Her upper body landed onto the pieces of wood, her hips and legs still dragging in the water. With shaking and heavy arms, Daniel managed, with difficulty, to roll her onto her side and boost her legs out of the water.
Satisfied she wouldn't roll off, he left her and swam in the direction he thought he'd last seen the piece of wreckage where Jack and Teal'c had been hanging onto. It was very dark by now, the sky was mostly overcast and there was very little starlight to see by. Within a few strokes he lost sight of Sam. He hadn't gotten very far, feeling exhaustion dragging at him as he realized that he might not find Sam again if he kept going. He stopped swimming and tread water, trying to decide what to do. Then, fearful of losing Sam, he turned and swam back to her.
Even the little distance he'd swum exhausted him. He clung onto the wood and cursed the drug that was making him so tired. He rested a moment, trying to catch his breath, and then moved to the far end of the debris and began kicking his legs, moving both himself and Sam towards where he hoped his friends might be.
Using his legs felt like a huge effort. He kicked nevertheless, praying that what he thought he'd seen were really his teammates because the alternative was something he was trying not to think about. He became short of breath quickly, but he continued doggedly, kicking as silently as he could and hoping he was aiming in the right direction.
The piece of flotsam, when he came upon it, looked like driftwood. A fairly long section of the quay was intact, with several smaller pieces of wood tangled up on top, effectively hiding anyone who'd tried to climb up onto it. Daniel let go of his own piece of wreckage and swam over. To his relief, he found Jack lying on the debris, and Teal'c, who'd managed to half climb onto it, alive, although both were unconscious.
He quickly checked their pulses, his fingers were numb from the cold water and it took more time than usual to find their heartbeats. He swam over to Jack and fumbled through his pockets until he found the plastic tie wraps he always carried.
Once he had several in his hand, he swam back to Sam and pulled her piece of the quay over to Jack and Teal'c, then used the ties to fasten the fragments together. When he was sure they were secure and wouldn't drift apart, he got hold of Teal'c and pushed him up alongside Jack, up out of the water where there would be little danger of him falling back in and drowning.
Breathing heavily from his exertions, Daniel looped a hand through between a missing plank and rested a moment. Everything he did felt like two or three times the effort and he didn't think it was attributable solely to the chilliness of the water. Most likely it was due to the drug, combined with the cold water, that was making him tired and weak.
He had to get out of the water. He pushed and pulled his friends around on the raft, trying to make room for himself. The earlier explosion had been powerful enough to destroy the quay and send everyone into the water. The drugs in their systems would ensure they didn't swim away. But there wasn't enough left of the debris for all of them to lie on. Still, he had to try.
He managed to clear a bit of space beside Sam by pushing her closer to Teal'c. With difficulty, he surged out of the water and tried to pull himself up beside her. But the wood beneath his hip cracked and the wooden slats tilted alarmingly, sending Sam rolling back towards the water.
Quickly he slid back in, easing the equilibrium once again so Sam stayed high and dry. Unfortunately in doing so, he brought part of the raft into the water with him. Something sharp dug painfully into his outer thigh and hip as he fell back in. He went under momentarily and rose, spluttering and coughing. He lunged forward and wedged an arm into a gap between two broken slats of wood and felt alongside his thigh with his other hand. A flare of pain warned him that there was a piece of wood jabbed into his flesh. With numb fingers he grabbed the wood and pulled the large splinter out.
"Just great," he mumbled to himself. He fingered the wound through his pants but felt only tenderness where he'd just been jabbed. Wearily he lay his chin on the floating piece of wood, shivering, and tried to figure out what he needed to do next as he bobbed in the water alongside the raft.
He stayed there for a while until the wind picked up, creating small waves and causing the water to slam against the raft and spray into his face. He was cold, he knew he should move, but the drug's lethargy had him in its grip. All he needed to do was close his eyes and he knew he'd be out of his misery. Asleep, no longer having to worry about the wet, the cold. His friends were safe for the moment; he could allow himself a few minutes and�
His eyes flew open at the sound of voices, his heart beat frantically at the danger he realized they could all be in. The rush of adrenaline woke him, sent energy surging through his body. For a moment he thought they might have drifted close to shore, but then he heard the slap of an oar striking the water, and realized there was at least one boat out there, quite possibly looking for any survivors of the earlier attack.
He looked around anxiously, trying to see but darkness surrounded them. He needed to get both himself and his friends to shore and out of the water. The problem was he had no idea where he was. Ideally he could aim for any direction and eventually hit land, but he'd prefer, if he had a choice, to go towards the closest point of land.
Until he could see where he was going, he figured he may as well just start moving and hope for the best. The exercise would hopefully keep him warm, and awake. He extended both arms, got a good grip on the raft, and began scissoring his legs, being careful not to make any noise.
Moving was difficult; his legs were heavy and his clothes were dragging him down. Still he kept moving, the realization that someone might be searching for them being motivation enough to keep kicking. The wind continuously sprayed water onto his face and hands, whipping his long, wet hair into his eyes. By now his hands were cold and cramped. He lowered his face, seeking shelter from the wind and needing to rest a moment. He could feel the gusts turning the raft until the wind was at his back.
He heard a far-away rumble of thunder and realized he didn't want to be in the water if a storm broke. He kicked out tiredly, having trouble getting into a prone position in the water. His body seemed to want to stay upright. Kicking more energetically than before to get moving, Daniel began racing for land. He kept hoping lightning would light the sky and allow him to get his bearings, but when the sheet lightning did flicker, it was at his back and not close enough to give him a clue to how close he might be to shelter.
Head lowered, teeth gritted together, he forced himself to kick harder. His forehead was pressed against someone's wet jacket and he breathed heavily through his mouth. His wet hair dripped into his face, forcing him to keep his eyes closed half the time. His thigh muscles were burning and his right calf was threatening to cramp. Thunder continued to grumble around him and lightning lit the sky as bolts jumped from cloud to cloud.
He didn't think he could go on, and yet he did. His energy diminishing with every kick, he gasped for breath and cursed at the people who'd done this to him and his team. He hadn't had any time to think any of this through and his brain was just muddled enough to keep him from figuring anything out.
The thunder got louder suddenly as the wind picked up. Water splashed against his shoulders and the back of his head. A blinding flash of lightning lit the sky, penetrating behind his closed eyelids. He raised his head and looked up just as the glare faded. And saw something straight ahead.
Another flash of lightning coming on the heels of the previous one showed Daniel that they were heading straight for a cliff. He barely had time to brace himself when the raft stopped suddenly. He rammed into the wood shoulder first then fell back into the water. To his surprise, there were rocks underneath him. Still, he floundered underwater for several seconds until he managed to get onto his hands and knees and thrust his head and neck up out of the water.
From the flashes of lightning, he could make out a small, rocky beach only a few yards away. From his kneeling position he pushed the raft over the rocks, then scrabbled over their slippery surface until he was facing the opposite direction. He grabbed the ends of the wooden slats and pulled, slipping and sliding backwards, his hands scraped raw from the splintered wood.
When his legs gave out on him, he fell back with a gasp. The storm was almost on them; the water-whipped wind whistled past him, causing him to shiver. He leaned down and reached for his nearest teammate, struggling with the limp body until he could get his hands beneath their armpits. From the weight, he figured it was Jack.
Breathing in harsh gasps, Daniel dragged Jack up the beach, away from the water and finally collapsed between two large boulders near the cliff's edge. He staggered to his feet and stumbled back to the raft, nearly tripping over it when he misjudged the distance. He grabbed someone and tugged them off the raft, onto the sand. This person was much lighter and he had less trouble pulling Sam up to safety. He placed her on her side, next to Jack, and then made his way back for Teal'c.
Battered by wind, half-choked by the driving rain and blinded by the subsequent flashes of lightning, Daniel hurried to the water's edge, only to find that the raft had moved. Without the weight of the others, it had drifted back into the water. Daniel staggered back into the surf and grabbed the edge of the wooden slats, pulling it back to shore. He managed to bring it up past the rocks and onto the beach again. He dropped to his knees, his lungs burning as if he'd run a marathon. Shaking from cold and exhaustion, he grabbed Teal'c and pulled him off the raft and up to his friends.
He collapsed, unable to go any farther. Teal'c lay half on top of him, his weight uncomfortably heavy. He stayed there for a moment before pushing Teal'c aside. He was tempted to curl up beside him and go to sleep, but he realized that even though the rocks protected them from the force of the wind, they needed shelter from the rain.
With a grunt that sounded almost like a sob, Daniel got up and went back to the water's edge a fourth time. He grabbed the raft and began pulling it back. He stumbled at one point and fell, the pieces of wood slamming into his legs and ribs. He lay there under the wooden slats' protection for several seconds, enjoying the respite from the slamming rain, then awkwardly slid from beneath it. He stood and continued pulling it, then realized he'd misjudged how far he'd come when he tripped over someone's foot. He went down again amidst legs and feet.
He thrust a shaking arm beneath him and pushed himself away, then curled up in the raft's shelter, shivering and gasping for breath. He'd never thought a human body could feel so exhausted and keep on moving. He wondered if Jack were in his place, whether he'd be having so much trouble. Daniel wasn't a soldier, despite all the training both Jack and General Hammond insisted on. He knew he was their weak link physically and the knowledge grated on him every time they went through the Stargate.
The temptation to just stay there was too great and if it were just his life at stake, he'd probably not have gotten up again. But he had to help his teammates, and it was with an extreme effort of will that he sat up and reached for the wooden slats again. He pulled the raft, which had fallen on top of the large rocks, up further above his friends. When it was directly overhead, he shoved the ends into the sand, trying to anchor it in place.
Hands scraped raw from wood and sand and hurting more than they should due to the chilled condition of his skin, Daniel gave a final push and then crawled away. He moved next to Teal'c and curled up against the man's back. Even through the layers of wet clothes, he could feel the warmth of Teal'c's body and he plastered himself against him, trying to leach as much heat as he could from him.
Sudden realization came that they were finally safe, at least for the moment. His body took that instant to begin shivering so badly that his breaths came in ragged gasps through chattering teeth. He existed for the here and now, wanting so badly to just give in to his exhaustion and knowing yet that someone had to keep watch. He had no idea where they were; he'd have to get up in a minute and try to get his bearings before the storm moved on. Even now the rain was easing off slightly.
He'd get up in just a minute, he promised himself. He'd just try and get a little warmer, maybe wait for the rain to slack off just a little more. He pressed his hands between his chest and Teal'c's back, trying to get some feeling into them.
Thunder continued to growl in the background and lightning flashed occasionally. He'd get up after the next clap of thunder, playing a game he'd played when he was younger and hadn't wanted to get up and face the kids in school, procrastinating while setting a goal for himself. The next car that went by, the next cry from the baby next door, the next bird that cheeped. More often than not he'd play the game for several minutes and get up. A few times he'd fall back asleep, only to be woken up by�
A clap of thunder crashed overhead, the last hurrah of the storm as it swept by, causing Daniel to startle awake. He'd fallen asleep, still shivering uncontrollably. Slightly ashamed for his lapse, he pushed himself into a sitting position, adrenaline giving him a little more energy.
Daniel ground his teeth together to stop their chattering and listened carefully in the ensuing silence. Other than the faint sounds of water lapping against the rocks, he couldn't hear anything. The rain had stopped and the wind had died down with the passage of the storm front. Then he froze. He wasn't sure, but he thought he heard voices. He moved away from Teal'c and patted his thigh, making sure his sidearm was still strapped to his leg. Then he twisted past the wreckage, sliding along the rocks until he was facing the water.
With a hand on his holster, he made his way as carefully as possible to the water's edge on shaky legs. Then he crouched beside a rock and listened. Lightning lit the sky to his left, illuminating a shoreline that looked to be at least a mile away. There didn't seem to be anything in the water, but he'd only had a few seconds of clarity.
He heard the voices again, somewhere to his right, and the creak of an oarlock. Slowly Daniel pulled his sidearm from its holster and then swore under his breath. The gun had been submerged in water, the bullets were useless. He replaced the gun and patted his pockets, looking for the extra bullets Jack always insisted he carry on him for emergencies. He found them, sealed in a small, waterproof Ziploc bag. He took the gun, eased the clip from it and with numb fingers, replaced the damp bullets with dry ones, eternally grateful now for all the exercises Jack and Sam had forced him to undergo. He'd known at the time that this could mean life or death for himself, but it never really sank in until just this moment.
While he was doing this, the voices began to fade. A distant glimmer of sheet lightning lit the water, and Daniel saw a large boat heading away from him. Staying low, he replaced the clip, holstered the gun and patted the rocks and sand around him, searching for the useless bullets, wondering if they could be dried out.
He stuffed the Ziploc bag back into his vest pocket and waited, arms wrapped around his knees, trying to get warm. He glanced around and to his surprise, saw that the sky was light beneath the departing storm front. He canted his watch to the side, waiting for more lightning to illuminate the watch face. When it came, he tried to calculate the amount of time since the explosion. His brain couldn't seem to do the math; he came up with either 6 or 8 hours. Both numbers were incredibly unbelievable � because it meant he'd been in the water for close to that amount of time and he couldn't seem to account for most of it.
When he could no longer hear either the sounds of voices or oars, Daniel stood, arms wrapped around him for warmth, and looked around. The sky was definitely getting brighter; night was gone and dawn was breaking. No matter the math, he had been in the water for the majority of the night.
The rising sun reflected brightly on something metallic across the river. Daniel squinted, trying to make it out, hoping to get his bearings. It took several long seconds for his brain to figure out what the object was.
He looked back towards the rocks behind him, then over to the right, then the left. He laughed softly, then cleared his throat before the action turned into a cough. Fate was ironic.
They were on the island they'd wanted to get to in the first place.
He returned to his friends, realizing he should check them out now that he could see. He squeezed beneath the wooden planks and crawled next to Jack. He took Jack's wrist in his hand and felt for a pulse, but his fingers were still too numb to feel a heartbeat. But Jack was breathing, slowly and deeply, his chest rising rhythmically.
Then he turned to Sam, who looked like she was sleeping peacefully despite occasional shivers. She was on her side, her breathing movements weren't as obvious as Jack's but when Daniel placed a hand beneath her nose, he felt warm air on his fingers.
Daniel turned to Teal'c, also lying on his side. Daniel took up his previous position, lying against Teal'c's back, searching for warmth. He brought a hand up and over onto the Jaffa's chest and felt the deep expansion of his ribcage. He'd rest, doze a little, just for a little while. Breathing a sigh of relief, Daniel relaxed his arm and laid his forehead against Teal'c's back.
Only to draw back suddenly as Teal'c turned and sat up in a fluid motion. He turned his head, looked at Jack and Sam, then turned towards Daniel.
"What has transpired?"
"Teal'c, you're awake." Daniel stared at Teal'c unbelievingly, then realized he wasn't alone anymore. The relief was nearly overwhelming, causing him to gasp for breath.
"I do not recall going to sleep." Teal'c reached over and placed a hand on Sam's neck, mirroring Daniel's earlier action. "They have been drugged."
"Yeah. We were attacked at the water's edge. Do you remember?"
Teal'c turned to Daniel and looked him up and down with a searching gaze. "I do. Were you not also affected?"
The nod Daniel replied with turned into a full body shiver. Teeth chattering, he stammered, "The d...dart just grazed me, d...didn't knock me out."
"You are chilled."
Suddenly embarrassed to show weakness, Daniel shook his head. "No, I'm fine."
"You are trembling."
And he was. He laughed out of discomfiture. "I'm freezing," he admitted.
Without a word, Teal'c peeled his jacket off and wrapped it around Daniel's shoulders. The material was still wet but for a moment Teal'c's lingering body heat penetrated through the layers of his clothes and it felt wonderful. "Thanks." He pulled it tight, keeping his fingers inside the jacket against the quickly dissipating warmth.
Teal'c looked around their enclosure, his eyes following the contours of the makeshift raft. "You did this?"
Daniel brought his knees up to his chest and leaned sideways against the rock wall. "Yeah. You got Jack onto one part of it and I had Sam. I managed to get us all together onto one raft and the current brought us here."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
"Um, here, to the, um, sacred island... you know, where the Naquadah traces we were supposed to investigate are? Remember?"
"I remember. Have you searched the island?"
"Search...? No." Daniel smiled, glancing away in embarrassment, realizing how lacking his actions were compared to what the others would have done in his place. "The sun just c...came up and it took most of the night to g...get you guys out of the water. I was just going to try and warm up a moment... before..." He stopped, not wanting to admit that he'd actually thought about lying down and napping instead of doing what they'd been assigned to do in the first place.
Teal'c's hand snaked out and caught Daniel's jaw. As he forced Daniel's face to the side, all Daniel was aware of was how warm Teal'c's fingers were against his chin and cheeks. He squinted in the bit of dawning light that snuck in past the raft and Teal'c turned his face a fraction more so that the sun wasn't blinding him.
Teal'c pressed his face close to Daniel's. "You are still affected by the drug."
"How can you�?"
"Your pupils are dilated." He let go and Daniel couldn't help but glance into Teal'c's eyes, looking for dilation. For a moment he couldn't see anything and then Teal'c moved and Daniel saw that his teammate's eyes looked normal.
"You're not... um... your eyes look normal."
"My symbiote has effectively counteracted the drug, although my body feels extremely fatigued."
Daniel offered Teal'c a sympathetic smile. "Yeah, I know that feeling well."
Teal'c turned his head and stared at Jack and Sam a moment, then rose to his knees. "Rest. I shall reconnoitre the area and stand guard."
Daniel pulled the jacket tighter. He'd lost the warmth and the extra layer wasn't helping anymore. "I can't... I mean, they're out there looking for us, I heard them in a boat a little while ago. I can't just let you go out there while I pass out." Daniel pressed his lips together, realizing he just admitted to Teal'c how tired he was.
"You are still affected by the drug and must be feeling its effects more than I. You require rest, DanielJackson. By doing so you will allow your body to heal and recover." Teal'c turned his head as if listening beyond the cover of the raft. All Daniel could hear was the occasional lap of water striking a rock.
"If they are out there, it is more than likely they are searching for our bodies. To drug us thus and then propel us into the water is by no means less than an act of murder. Perhaps I can locate a safer area where you may recover." Teal'c's gaze raked over Sam and Jack again, indicating that he meant all three, and not just Daniel.
As much as he wanted to lay his aching body down, Daniel didn't want to let his teammate go out there alone. He had complete faith in Teal'c's abilities to protect them all; it was himself he wasn't so sure about. And if he didn't trust himself, he wondered after working with Teal'c all these months, what the Jaffa thought about him. Their work relationship had been just that � work-related. After Daniel's difficulties of getting past Teal'c being the one responsible for Shau'ri's abduction, he'd finally been able to accept him as part of the team. But he didn't know the man; Teal'c held himself aloof and separate, making very little effort to do more than observe. Jack was the only one who seemed comfortable around Teal'c while off duty, even Sam's conversation skills were stilted around Teal'c, and that was saying a lot.
Daniel pulled himself up onto his knees, only to lose his balance when chilled and drug-weakened muscles didn't obey his command to stand. He fell against the rock, scraping his arm. Even through the double layers of cloth, the graze stung his cold skin.
And he realized Teal'c had probably recognized how badly off Daniel was at the moment. He shifted his leg to get to his holster, trying to pretend that this was the action he'd been going for in the first place. He pulled his sidearm and handed it to Teal'c.
"Bullets are dry," he said when Teal'c felt for his own holstered weapon. With a nod, Teal'c took the gun from him and exchanged it for his own.
Daniel took the gun and holstered it, intending to rummage through Jack's things and find his spare waterproofed bullets. But first, maybe he'd just lie down, here, beside Sam, and do what Teal'c suggested. He curled up into a ball and closed his eyes as Teal'c squeezed past him. His clothing scraped on the wooden slats, and then Daniel listened to the scuff of his boots as he walked onto the rocks on the shore. He was asleep before the sound of Teal'c's footsteps faded.
"DanielJackson, wake up."
With a gasp, Daniel opened his eyes. Memory of his struggles throughout the night hit him and he thrashed, thinking for a moment he was underwater again. Then a hand caught his arm and he stilled, realizing he was on land. He took a shaky breath and looked up at Teal'c.
"I have found shelter but I require your assistance."
"Um... okay." Trying to wipe the fogginess from his eyes, Daniel looked around their small enclosure, recalling his efforts in dragging his friends to safety. "Sorr�" His tired brain suddenly realized something was wrong. Jack was missing. He grabbed Teal'c's arm, again vividly aware of the Jaffa's heat against his cold fingers. "Where's�"
"I have brought O'Neill to safety. I require you to accompany me now while I convey CaptainCarter."
"Safety?" Daniel tried to get up onto his knees, but his body had finally succumbed to both physical and drug-induced exhaustion and didn't want to comply. "Where?" He struggled to his feet, holding onto the wall while Teal'c effortlessly sat Sam up and pulled her over his shoulder. "How long was I asleep?" He envied the ease with which Teal'c stood even with the added weight as he himself took a few stumbling steps forward. He limped, his right thigh hurting from more than chilled and stiffened muscles.
"Away from the water's edge. There is an ancient building inland that I believe at one time housed a Goa'uld stronghold. The entrance appears to have been undisturbed for some time, and you have been asleep for approximately three hours, fifteen minutes."
"Jack and Sam have been unconscious for over twelve hours. I'm starting to get worried." Daniel paused, unsure whether to go left or right, then turned left at Teal'c's nod. He was shivering so badly that his movements were unsteady. The nap he'd had hadn't done much for recovery or for helping him get warm. He fingered his thigh, remembering the splinter from the raft.
"As am I. Whatever this drug is, it is extremely potent."
It was only as Daniel slipped and slid on the cliff's edge that he realized he hadn't seen his makeshift raft. He stopped, breathing heavily from the exertion and with a hand held against a large boulder for steadiness, he turned to look back at the way they'd come. There was no sign of wood, anywhere.
"Teal'c, our raft...?"
"I dismantled it and returned it to the water. If they are still searching for us, they will discover only pieces inadequate to carry a person to safety."
"But�" Daniel turned to stare at Teal'c's back. The man continued walking, having spoken over his shoulder. "How are we going to get back to shore?" Daniel searched the water for a moment, thinking that if he could find the pieces floating, he could reconstruct another raft. But the water yielded nothing except the sun's reflection off the tips of small waves.
"I believe there are teleportation rings. They will return us to the Stargate."
"And if they don't work?"
"Then we will swim to shore."
"Hey, I just did that swim to shore thing. Believe me, swimming is overrated," he complained to Teal'c's back. With a sigh, Daniel straightened and followed.
Several minutes later, Teal'c turned and began clambering over the rocks, following a small channel that had cut through the steep incline and soil by runoff water. When he reached the top, the sun's heat hit him almost like a warm blanket straight from the dryer. Daniel looked down and realized the cliff and trees had kept the shore below mostly in shadow. He stopped a moment in the clearing, hand on the trunk of a tree, face lifted, and drank in the heat.
"DanielJackson, we are not yet safe. We must go farther inland as we are still visible from the far shore."
Reluctantly Daniel shook off the lethargy the warmth was instilling in him and hurried after Teal'c into the dark woods. They walked in silence for about twenty minutes, Daniel watching Sam's limp arms sway back and forth as Teal'c continued to follow a trail only visible to him. Daniel lived for those few seconds when the sun broke through the trees and shone down on him. He slowed down for those scant moments, trying to enjoy the warmth, then would have to hurry to keep Teal'c in sight.
So when he was concentrating on a patch of sunlight on his right and counting the steps that would take him there, he never noticed that Teal'c had stopped until he bumped into him. "Sorry." Then he sidestepped into the circle of sunshine before turning to face Teal'c. "Something wrong?" Daniel asked in a low voice when Teal'c continued to stare at the woods ahead of them. "You lost or something?"
"Something." Without further explanation, Teal'c began walking again.
Daniel reluctantly left the sunshine and hurried after Teal'c, moving so that he was walking beside him. "What?"
"I thought there was movement. I was most likely mistaken."
"You thought you saw something? Maybe a bird? Or a squirrel? A snake?"
"It was merely a shadow. Most likely nothing."
Daniel knew Teal'c enough to know the man wasn't skittish. He'd seen something. Daniel would have to trust Teal'c's instincts right now to believe they weren't in any danger. Or at least, immediate danger.
"You said there was a Goa'uld here at one time? Any ideas which one?"
"A minor Lord defeated at the hands of Ra many years before my birth." Teal'c suddenly turned right, walked behind a large tree, and knelt to lower Sam to the ground. As Daniel followed, he realized there were large pieces of hewn stone around them; Teal'c had been right, there'd been some old building here at one time. The forest had expanded over the centuries, encroaching into the manmade structures and crumbling them at their foundations.
Curiosity and fascination competed with his fatigue, enough to tease him forward to examine a nearby remnant. These were merely outbuildings, he decided as he looked past the trees. Of course the massive structure looming over the forest had to be the stronghold Teal'c mentioned. He took a few steps towards it, then stopped when something shifted in the trees.
Daniel peered intently, squinting at the shadows, but couldn't see anything. He decided it must have been a bird or some small animal; there was very little wind now so that ruled out moving branches. He turned, pulled Teal'c's jacket up when it started to slip, and went to join Teal'c.
Jack and Sam were lying in a patch of sunlight, which Daniel eyed enviously. He circled around them to sit at the edge of the clearing, leaning back against a sun-kissed rock and raised his face to the sun.
"We are safe here. You may rest."
Turning his head to squint at Teal'c, Daniel felt ashamed to feel the need to give in to sleep so badly. "Where are the rings you mentioned?"
"Inside the stronghold."
"You went inside?" Daniel accused, knowing exactly what Jack would say to him had Daniel gone exploring alone, without backup.
"The building is deserted," Teal'c said in a manner that implied the explanation was simple and clear. "The power source for the transport rings is depleted but I am confident we will be able to find a replacement."
Daniel merely raised an eyebrow, the heat of the sun slowly penetrating into the chill buried deep inside his bones.
"Goa'uld habitually maintain a hidden reserve for emergencies. It is well hidden and only few Jaffa know of this. I am confident I can locate it." He squatted beside Sam and placed a hand to her neck, then did the same with Jack. "You should rest," Teal'c repeated as he turned his gaze on Daniel.
"I...um, I don't think I can stay awake," Daniel admitted reluctantly, not quite able to meet Teal'c's eyes.
Teal'c's gaze gentled, giving Daniel a little more self-assurance. "There is no need to stand guard, DanielJackson. This location has been abandoned and undisturbed for many years. I do not believe the inhabitants frequent it and judging from their reactions to our questions, I suspect even that they fear it."
"I could... rest my eyes... for a few minutes." Daniel slid further down, trying to stay in the sunshine. He rolled onto his side and buried his face against Jack's shoulder. The material was damp and sandy and Daniel shifted slightly a few times until his cheek was resting comfortably on clean material.
There was a gentle touch on his shoulder, then Teal'c pulled his jacket up slightly, covering the back of Daniel's neck. He felt he should at least acknowledge the action but knowing they were safe for the moment and given permission to sleep, he couldn't fight both the remnants of the drug and his exhaustion. He was asleep before Teal'c stood up and walked away.
He'd gotten the good stuff.
At least that was what his head and stomach were telling him. Nausea and pounding headache, yep, the good stuff, all right.
Jack groaned as he tried to raise his right hand. After a bit of a struggle he realized it wouldn't move, so he tried his left. It felt double its normal weight as he brought it up to his forehead and tried to rub the pain away. And he immediately regretted the action when his hand fell heavily against said forehead, sending spikes of electric pain lancing deep into his eyeballs.
"Oy, vey," he muttered, smacking his lips, trying to get some fresh saliva into his mouth to wash away whatever was growing inside of it. He was desperately thirsty but unsure whether his stomach could actually handle anything at the moment. And thinking of water made him realize how badly he needed to pee.
Suddenly the urge was more overpowering, taking precedence over his hangover. He opened his eyes a crack, wondering vaguely where he was and how far the toilet was. Immediately he shut them when the sunshine upped his headache a couple of notches.
At least his brain was starting to work - it was too bright for the infirmary, too noisy for his house. Damned birds; he wished they'd shut their twittering. He realized that if he had passed out drunk outside, then most likely he was very far from home. Like several hundred light years far.
Then he remembered his hand that was still lying heavily against his forehead. He moved it over an inch, blocked the sun, and tried again. Through his fingers, he saw blue sky and trees. He turned his head slightly to his left and caught a glimpse of blond hair. Carter.
There was a weight lying against his right side. He turned his head towards it and realized it was Daniel, snuggled up against him. Since Daniel was closer, Jack eased his hand away from his eyes and down the back of Daniel's skull. It took a few seconds of fumbling but he found the spot on his neck just below his jaw and stilled his fingers. After a second, he felt the strong pulse beating below the skin, which was cool to the touch.
Satisfied that Daniel was alive, Jack rolled over away from him, moving towards Carter. His knee nudged her leg and she moaned softly as she shifted away restlessly. Okay, two of his team were accounted for and alive. That left Teal'c.
Him he'd go look for, but after he'd peed.
Once he was on his knees, it was a fairly easy matter to grab the trunk of a tree and pull himself up. He simply took a step to the side, leaned a shoulder against the trunk for support, and unbuttoned his pants as quickly as thick, numb fingers would allow him to. Then for a moment he thought he wouldn't be able to go, the need was so great, then the stream began and his eyes watered momentarily from the relief
Bracing himself, Jack looked around, searching for signs of what might have happened to them. It wasn't until he'd finished and was turning back towards his team that he noticed that someone had left footprints, moving away from them. The footprints were very familiar, similar to his own except they were two sizes larger.
So the big guy was around, somewhere. Junior, most likely, had fixed whatever it was that had affected them and Teal'c had gone to scout around. Jack shrugged inwardly. At least that scenario made the most sense. Now if only he could figure out what it was that had caused that scenario in the first place.
Bladder emptied, a lot of Jack's discomfort disappeared. Yeah, sure, the head was still pounding and his stomach was cowering at the bottom of his spine somewhere when he thought about water again, but at least his legs were beginning to feel a little less like wet noodles and a little more like muscles, bones and sinew. And for some odd reason, his clothes were wet. The front was damp and sun-warmed; the back was wet where he'd lain against the ground. Then he remembered the grass he'd been lying on was damp, most likely it had rained at some point.
Immediately Jack knew he had no idea where they were, and that he'd never been here before. There were lying among some kinds of ruins which he was pretty sure would have made Daniel ecstatic if he were awake to admire them. And there was a honkin' huge building which he could see through the trees. And that was the direction that Teal'c's footprints headed for.
Jack reached for his radio but before he could flick it on, he froze. Something had moved in the woods, low to the ground. He squinted, trying to see better, but the dappled sunlight seemed to make everything an arrangement of shadows and sunshine.
He watched for a moment, and when the movement didn't repeat, he turned the radio on. "Teal'c? You copy, buddy?" Jack waited, listening to static, hoping Teal'c had thought to turn his own radio on.
Jack turned towards Carter, who was sitting up, her head low on her neck as if it was too heavy to hold up. "Carter?"
"What happened, sir?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." He went up to her and gave her a hand up. She brushed past him, muttering a "Gotta go," as she headed for the nearest cover. Jack understood exactly how pressing her need was.
He went to kneel beside Daniel, who still hadn't moved. "Hey." He poked his friend in the shoulder, expecting to see a reaction, but Daniel was still dead to the world. Not even a flutter of eyelid or a twitch of cheek.
"Daniel, you okay?" Jack pulled away an extra jacket covering Daniel... Teal'c's, he presumed, and eased his friend onto his back and quickly checked him out for broken bones or worse, but other than his skin feeling cool, Daniel appeared to be in one piece. His pulse was slow and steady � he was simply unconscious � except that usually there was no simple to unconsciousness.
"I think Teal'c's gone thataway." Jack nodded towards the building with his chin. "He's not answering his radio."
"Should we go after him? Do you want me to�?"
"No." Although Carter looked torn between going after Teal'c and staying with Daniel, he didn't want her scouting around by herself until he knew more about their situation. "Do a perimeter check; see if you can figure out where we are."
As Carter started off into the woods, Jack eased onto his butt beside Daniel. The one thing he hated most was the unknown, so he tried working backwards in his head.
They'd 'gated to P8N 779 where the M.A.L.P. had found traces of Naquadah. The locals weren't very helpful, and it was more than obvious they'd been leery of Teal'c. They'd been directed down a path, which had led to a pier and...
Jack rubbed his hand over his face, then froze, surprised at feeling stubble.
Suddenly the intense urge to pee he'd woken up with made sense. He checked the sky and figured it was late morning, maybe an hour away from high noon. If his last memory of looking out over the water was correct, then he'd been unconscious for close to fifteen hours.
Jack's radio crackled. "Colonel, I think you should come and see this."
"Where are you, Carter?"
"About a quarter klick from your position, due east."
Jack glanced down at Daniel, figured if Teal'c had left all three of them sleeping, there had to be little danger here. He stood, wiping the seat of his pants with one hand while his other keyed the radio.
"I'm on my way."
He hurried through the woods, following a vague path that showed people had walked next to a gully, their footprints visible occasionally in the drying mud. Teal'c had gone in this direction at least once, and had twice gone back towards where Daniel was sleeping. His prints were deep in the mud, as if he'd been carrying something... Duh! Teal'c had carried them here, obviously. But there was a second set of boot prints, not quite as deeply imbedded, and occasionally moving away from the trail, as if whoever it was had stepped over there to look at that rock...
Daniel had been up and walking at one point. For some reason that knowledge eased some of the apprehension he'd felt for his friend.
Jack could see the end of the woods right before him. He stopped, still under cover of the trees, and looked around. There was a cliff about twenty feet in front of him, and water beyond that. He could see land at the other side of the lake. Carter was kneeling next to where the ravine ran down the cliff, staring out over the water. He went to join her. "Looks like a dead end."
"Sir." She waved a hand out over the water. "I think we're on the island..."
Startled, Jack immediately began searching for the island that had become their goal yesterday. It didn't take him long to realize that the land he was on was surrounded by water. Yep, somehow they were no longer on the mainland, and not a boat in sight.
He hated when that happened.
"So you think maybe Teal'c...?"
"I have no idea." He scrubbed a hand on his damp pants. "At least I know why we're wet." The radios were still working so they couldn't have been in the water for very long... unless they'd gotten wet in a downpour since the grass had been damp where he'd lain. Aware that Daniel was back there by himself, Jack motioned to Carter to precede him. "What's the last thing you remember? Looking this way from over there?"
"Looking for a boat, actually," Carter said with a tight smile. "We were on a quay, and we needed to cross."
"I guess you didn't see who or what got us, huh?"
"No, sorry." Carter must have been worried about Daniel because she set a fast pace. Someone had brought them here to the island and Jack was sure Teal'c hadn't swum them ever one by one. They walked quietly for a while until Jack spotted something that didn't seem quite... right.
He pointed at the dark shadow that undulated at the edge of a spot of sunshine. It was just over a foot in diameter, not quite round as it moved in the gloom. Even as he watched, the shadow rose off the ground as if a gust of wind lifted it. It rippled, shifted, and floated ahead of them, landing on the trail only to glide smoothly along once again. It reminded Jack of a flounder he'd seen when he'd taken his family to the beach ages ago. Moving so effortlessly, gliding on the ocean floor, then sinking onto the sand and blending, unmoving, until someone moved too close to it and disturbed it into motion again.
"What is that? Is it alive?"
"I dunno and I think we'd better get back to Daniel." He spotted more movement behind him and made a sharp motion for Carter to start walking again. The shadow before them had moved off the trail, leaving the way clear.
"O'Neill, do you hear me?"
"Teal'c, buddy. Where you been?"
"There is danger. Do not go into the woods. Remain in the sunshine."
"You talking about those floaty things, looks like a big, black shadow? Sorta flies, without wings?"
"The Bri'ri do not fly. They have powerful muscles with which they propel themselves into the air and float on air currents for short distances. They are extremely mobile and deadly in huge numbers. Do not approach them, O'Neill."
"What are they?"
"Parasites. They will attach themselves to living creatures and feed off your energy. One or two are merely a nuisance. Several of them will cause confusion and extreme discomfort. They are marginally intelligent, but their hunger at times force them into a feeding frenzy, in which case the victim may die an extremely painful death."
Suddenly the woods on either side of them was brimming with shadows, hiding unknown alien parasites. As if the snakes weren't bad enough. Jack walked quickly, trying to stay wherever there was the most sunshine.
"Will our weapons kill these Bri'ri?" Carter asked.
"They will not. Fire is sometimes effective against small numbers and they will drown in water, but the Jaffa have always utilized sound waves to deter them. As a precaution, remain together and do not separate."
The clearing where they'd left Daniel was up ahead. Jack broke into a jog, only to come to a skidding stop when he realized the clearing was empty except for Teal'c's jacket.
"Teal'c, you know what you said about staying together? I think they got Daniel." Jack glanced around quickly, looking for signs of where his friend had gone.
"The Bri'ri are susceptible to fire."
Before Jack could answer Teal'c, Carter called out to him.
"Sir, over here." Carter pointed towards some broken branches and hurried back into the woods. Jack glanced towards the old building and saw that Teal'c was running towards them. Jack signalled that they were heading into the woods and followed Carter, confident that Teal'c would catch up to them momentarily.
It was evident from the footprints that Daniel had been running. If Jack were to guess, he'd say Daniel was panicked. He wasn't going in a straight line, seeming to trip over things as if being chased. His worry began to escalate and he trusted to Carter to keep track of Daniel's trail while he kept an eye out for something combustible.
He stopped a moment and grabbed some moss growing in the crook of a branch. A little farther, he grabbed some dried branches, then put on a burst of speed to catch up with Carter. He was aware of the occasional fluttering movement in the woods, but so far, nothing had approached. If anything, the Bri'ri were moving away from them.
"Holy Hannah." Carter stopped so suddenly Jack nearly careened into her. Then he saw what she'd seen. A huge, seething shadow on the ground, roiling in darkness as the creatures attempted to get to what was underneath. And Jack had a horribly sinking feeling he knew what they were feeding on.
"Here." He thrust a handful of moss and sticks at her, searched his pockets for matches and plastic ties. The matches he found, the ties, he didn't. Teal'c caught up with them, saw his predicament and handed him some of his own. Working quickly, they fastened the moss onto the sticks. Jack's fingers were shaking so badly that it took him several tries to get the matches out of their waterproof container.
He got two torches burning and Teal'c grabbed them before Jack could do anything. Teal'c ran directly into the mass, whipping the torches from side to side. Pieces of smouldering moss dropped onto the creatures, causing them to recoil and skim away. One glided up Jack's leg just as he put a match to another torch.
"Yaaaa!" Jack yelled. Wherever the creature touched him, he felt cold and slimy, even through his clothes. He tried to bat the Bri'ri away but it clung tenaciously to his leg. Changing tactics, he waved the torch at it and it flitted off, leaving him with a residual feeling of yuckiness for which he was barely able to suppress a shudder.
Two of them had attached themselves to Carter so Jack waved the torch at them until they let go, grabbed three more torches, lit them and passed two to Carter before hurrying to help Teal'c.
The heat of the torches forced many of the Bri'ri away, causing them to flow onto the ground and circle around them and their writhing victim. Jack had to divide his attention between those still attached to Daniel and those trying to get back to him. Several had moved past their defences, and Jack had to ignore the awful sensations they gave as they attacked him, concentrating on freeing Daniel instead. One person alone would never be able to force the Bri'ri away from their victim, and would soon have succumbed to them. Three of them, working in tandem, were having a difficult job of it.
"O'Neill, CaptainCarter. Raise the volume of your radios. The frequency will help deter the creatures."
In a quick move, Jack grabbed the second torch with his left hand and continued waving both of them around while flicking the volume to its highest. The whine of static was loud in his ears but it seemed to work. The circle of darkness around them moved farther away and those creatures that were feeding off Jack quickly glided away.
There were still plenty on top of Daniel, who was tiring quickly. Earlier he'd been writhing underneath them, rolling on the ground as if attempting to grind them away. Now he'd curled up onto his side, leg or arm jerking occasionally. His breathing was loud and forced and it was obvious he was exhausted.
"Teal'c, the torches are almost gone." The moss had burned itself out, and the fire hadn't been hot enough to catch the wood. Only a few small strips glowed red, soon to extinguish.
Teal'c bent down, grabbed Daniel's hand, and without warning, began to drag him through the woods. Jack wanted to help but he was too busy using the last of the fire to keep the horde from closing in again. He and Carter followed, bringing up the rear as Teal'c broke through the circle. Immediately Jack stepped forward to Teal'c's left while Carter took the right. The moment they were through, Teal'c leaned down and with a loud grunt, threw Daniel over his shoulder. Then he started running.
Jack and Carter were right on his heels. He was aware of the fluttering dark behind him, moving almost as one entity. There was daylight ahead of them; the edge of the woods was near. Very near, and yet so damned far. There were still several Bri'ri attached to Daniel, a few stationery, a couple more moving around, apparently taking their time to glide over Daniel and move onto Teal'c.
And then they were out of the woods and in the sunshine. Jack would have kept on running, but Teal'c quickly put Daniel down and the dozen remaining Bri'ri feeding on Daniel immediately detached themselves and made a beeline for the trees. Jack felt movement and shook himself as two slid down his leg, hurrying after their brethren.
"They will not attack us here in the sunshine. We are safe until the sun sets."
The last of them disappeared into the wood's gloom but Jack could see hundreds skulking in the shadows. Trusting Teal'c, he turned his back on them and went to check on Daniel.
Teal'c had gotten down on the ground, Daniel supported against him. Daniel's eyes were wide and panicked, his mouth gaping as he fought to draw in breath. Jack was pretty sure Daniel had no idea where he was at the moment, possibly had no inkling that he was safe. He was shivering, possibly from shock, and Jack couldn't blame him when another Bri'ri flitted down Jack's arm and tried to perch on his MP5. Jack shook the weapon and the shadow threw itself off the gun and sailed several feet before reaching shade.
The critters were still abandoning ship, causing Daniel to jerk and wince every time one slithered off him. Carter joined Jack, both of them flanking their two teammates.
"Daniel, are you all right?"
Daniel jerked slightly at her voice, but he showed no other reaction except to fist his fingers convulsively in Teal'c's vest.
"Hey." Jack reached up and cupped the back of Daniel's head, feeling the sweaty strands between his fingers. Daniel's trembling reverberated against his palm, but his touch seemed to catch Daniel's attention. The wild movements of his eyes stopped and he turned his head to look towards Jack. His mouth opened a few times, as if he wanted to say something, but no sounds came out except for the chattering of his teeth when he shut it again.
"Teal'c?" Jack looked up to the Jaffa, who had an arm held firmly against Daniel's ribs, holding him securely against his chest.
"He will recover. He requires rest; that he was first fatigued in his attempts to bring us here to safety did not help."
"Daniel brought us here?" Carter placed a tentative hand over Daniel's fist which had a death grip on Teal'c's vest.
"He did. I only recall attempting to place your unconscious body, O'Neill, on a piece of debris so that you would not drown. DanielJackson managed to not only save us all, but kept us together and out of sight from our attackers. When I awoke here, on this island, it was to find DanielJackson standing guard while also fighting the drug's influence. He was exhausted and suffering from the chill of the water."
"That's why he didn't wake up?" Jack gently squeezed Daniel's nape, glad to see most of the wildness gone from his face. "When Carter and I woke up, I mean? He was just dead to the world. I thought... we... I left him because I thought it was safe. You left us sleeping, I thought it was okay."
"As did I. I did not know of the Bri'ri until exiting the stronghold. These gonach most likely arrived here with Jaffa many years ago. It takes only one; they will survive on most living organisms, and multiply without any apparent sexual inference."
"Like an amoeba? That's almost what they look like. A giant amoeba." She grimaced at Teal'c's raised eyebrow. "A single cell organism which divides by binary fission when the conditions are favourable. They�"
"Ack," Jack interrupted as Daniel's eyes lost their focus and his head slipped forward. "Skip the biology lessons and let's figure out what to do." He eased Daniel's head back so it was nestled against Teal'c without strain on his neck.
"Do not sleep yet." Teal'c gently shook Daniel, then eased an arm beneath his shoulder. "We should move closer to the stronghold. I was attempting to fix the transport rings when I discovered the Bri'ri."
"Rings? To where?" Jack jabbed an arm under Daniel's armpit, stood up and pulled. Daniel came up, and nearly went down again when his knees buckled. "Whoa, there." Jack grabbed his friend and held him while Teal'c raised Daniel's arm around his shoulder. Jack slid underneath Daniel's other arm and together, they began walking the man towards the building in the distance.
The way there would take longer as they had to circumvent the woods, but it was better than what was waiting for them inside the shadowy gloom. The wall of darkness followed them, the woods' base black with Bri'ri as they bided their time. Jack ignored his shaking legs, forcing one foot in front of the other.
"Hopefully to the Stargate." Teal'c paused when Carter yipped, and a lone Bri'ri slid from beneath her jacket and down her leg, heading for the woods. "The power source is depleted but I found a replacement. I was attempting to remove it from where it had been secreted and discovered the Bri'ri along with it."
Jack wondered how many were still lurking under their clothes. His skin was still crawling from the earlier attack and he couldn't tell if any were still attached to him. He hoped they wouldn't have to strip before he could rest assured they were clear.
"So we just have to get the power source connected to the ring device and we can get out of here?"
"Just so. But the Bri'ri will make our task difficult; we must first construct torches. Even though the sun now shines, the entrance to the stronghold will soon be in shade." Teal'c swept a hand ahead of them and Jack could see Teal'c was right. The sun was moving behind the building and soon there'd be dark shadows stretching up to the woods. "We may be able to barricade ourselves inside but the Bri'ri also infests the corridors."
"To replace the power source? A matter of minutes. To make our way to the transport rings? That will be somewhat more difficult as I was unable to assess the number of Bri'ri infesting that part of the building. They are alerted to our position; they may attempt to attack within the confines of the building."
"Not goin' in there," Daniel muttered, shaking his head drowsily. His feet were dragging, his weight mostly on Jack and Teal'c's shoulders, but still he gamely tried to walk, his movements lethargic and ungainly.
"We're not going inside until we have to," Jack assured him. "Carter, see anything you can use for torches?"
"Wood, sure." Carter picked up a broken branch and waved it around. "But I can't see anything that'll burn long enough to be useful. We could use our clothing but we'd need something to help it burn... pitch or some resin."
"There may be supplies inside the stronghold. I did not have time to search."
"Well, we still need the torches to keep those things away. Maybe some of the leaves or vines will burn." Carter nodded and began searching the area, keeping well away from the edges of the woods.
Jack felt Daniel sinking and they stopped, rearranged their holds around his waist, and half dragged, half carried the nearly unconscious man the rest of the way to the side of the huge, stone building where the sun still shone strong.
They turned around so that Daniel would be leaning against the wall, and slowly lowered him to the ground. By now Daniel was limp, and he began sliding sideways when they tried to prop him up against the building.
"Hey." Jack caught Daniel's shoulder and grabbed his chin. Daniel's eyelids fluttered. "Try to stay awake." Jack tried to think of something, anything, to keep Daniel's mind occupied and alert. He reached for his water bottle and unclipped it from his belt. "Go," he told Teal'c. "I'll stay with him."
He uncapped the bottle with one hand, still holding onto Daniel's chin. "Hey, Daniel. You thirsty?" He dribbled a few drops of water onto Daniel's lips, his own thirst coming to the fore like an angry lion at the sight of water. Daniel's tongue drifted out and licked the drops away. Jack tilted the bottle to Daniel's mouth and was rewarded with Daniel's eyes opening as he sipped a few mouthfuls.
"That's it, stay with me."
"Sorry." Daniel licked his lips again and stared at Jack, his lids heavy and drooping.
"You got more of those things inside your clothes?" Jack patted Daniel's stomach.
"Dunno. Everything feels numb."
"Okay, I'm just gonna do a quick strip." Jack took hold of the bottom of the tee shirt and pulled it up to expose Daniel's chest. Seeing only bare skin, he pulled Daniel forward and let him lean against him while he checked his back.
He let go, easing him back, and motioned towards Daniel's pants. His friend stared at him a moment before rolling his eyes, but he unbuttoned the pants and pulled them down a few inches. A quick glance showed only skin, no shadowy hitchhikers hanging on for a free meal.
While Daniel fumbled with the buttons to his pants, Jack took the opportunity to shrug out of his vest and lifted the back of his tee shirt for Daniel's inspection.
"Well?" he asked when he met only silence. He craned his neck around to look at Daniel, who had closed his eyes. "Daniel."
"What?" He blinked owlishly, then moved his gaze to Jack's back. "Oh." It seemed to take a long time before Daniel answered. "You're clean," he finally replied.
A quick glance at his chest and then down his pants and Jack was able to sit beside Daniel with a little more confidence and less of that squirmy feeling that things were crawling over him. He took advantage of the lull and drank down some water.
Daniel was losing his battle fighting sleep, and as much as trying to carry him if he was unconscious was going to make their flight harder, Jack didn't have the heart to force him to stay awake. When Daniel began to list towards him, Jack eased him down to the ground, discarding his vest and thrusting it under Daniel's head as a pillow.
Carter and Teal'c returned, arms laden with branches and various plants. They started a small fire in order to preserve matches and began experimenting with the vegetation. It didn't take long to discover a type of vine that burned slow but hot. Combined with strips of material from a jacket, it should make for proper torches.
Working quickly, they constructed over a dozen torches. Then all three gathered as much wood as they could find and tied several large bundles together with vines, then dumped the rest of the wood just inside the entrance. The shadows cast by the building they were sheltering against were slowly creeping closer towards the edge of the woods. Pretty soon the Bri'ri would jump the gap and come swarming. Just as Jack finished wrapping a length of vine around the last bundle, one of the Bri'ri glided into the sunlight. The distance was still too far and it quickly turned back, but the fact that they were thinking of attempting to cross made it clear.
It was time to go inside.
Jack knelt beside Daniel, placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a shove. "Daniel, wake up." Daniel's eyes flickered once beneath closed eyelids. "Daniel." He shoved a little harder only to have Daniel reach out and flap a hand at him, eyes still closed.
"C'mon, up and at 'em." Jack grabbed Daniel by the edges of his vest and pulled him up. He expected the motion to wake Daniel up but the man just kept on going, limp and dead weight, falling against Jack. They toppled sideways together, Daniel now lying partly on top of Jack.
"Maybe we should just carry him inside."
Jack didn't miss the fact that Carter wasn't even trying to hide her smile.
"Yeah, maybe." He pushed Daniel off so he could slide from beneath him. "Teal'c, you wanna get his feet?"
"One moment." Teal'c got down on one knee and put a hand to Daniel's cheek. He spoke in a soft voice. "DanielJackson, it is now time to wake."
"What?" Daniel came awake suddenly, total confusion reflected in his face. His eyes fixed on Teal'c and some of the alarm faded. "Hey, what's goin'... on?" His eyes fluttered closed and Teal'c took that moment to place another hand beneath Daniel's shoulder, pulling him up into a seated position as Jack had earlier, except the hand on Daniel's cheek slid to his nape to support his head.
"We must go now. You must wake."
" 'M up... 'M up." Daniel smacked his lips and raised a knuckle to rub his eyes. Jack met Teal'c's gaze as he picked his vest up and put it on, and together they each grabbed an arm and got Daniel to his feet. Jack got a good grip on Daniel's arm and aimed him towards the entrance. "I got him."
Teal'c and Carter quickly gathered up the torches and put them to the fire, lighting half of them. Jack handed one of the torches to Daniel, who looked at it in confusion, while Jack wielded one in his free hand. They entered the building and lit the huge pile of firewood they'd stacked in front of the door earlier just as one of the Bri'ri finally bridged the gap and came floating towards them.
"That won't hold them for very long." Carter kicked a few stray branches towards the flickering flames, holding the spare bundles of firewood far from her torch. She had rigged a strap of sorts and wore the bundle of wood as a backpack. Teal'c did the same with a larger load.
"There are doors farther inside; we will not have to worry about these Bri'ri. There are sufficient numbers already within this building to pose a threat." Teal'c reached over and turned up the volume on Carter's radio, which they'd lowered earlier to conserve the batteries. Jack did the same while Teal'c adjusted his own. Then Jack fumbled for Daniel's radio, which after a moment, he realized it was dead.
"This way." Teal'c turned and led them to the right. There were Bri'ri here, all right, but between the torches they carried and the static from the radios, they obviously didn't feel inclined to attack. Most of them flitted away at their approach while a few braver ones simply watched them pass.
"They most likely will not attack while we progress. We will be at our most vulnerable when we attempt to replace the power source for the ring device."
"Is that why they attacked Daniel? Because he was sleeping?"
"The Bri'ri normally feed on their prey during the night, while they sleep. We have encountered them only on a handful of occasions; most times Jaffa were unaware of the infestation until many days later. At which time the Bri'ri would become simply a nuisance, especially if it escaped detection while travelling on a Ha'tak.
"But there was one planet which Apophis wished to conquer where they ran rampant, as they do here. They attacked many Jaffa during the dark of night, so vast were their numbers that the Jaffa were weakened, the symbiotes hard pressed to maintain their energy levels so that they could fight, night after night, day after day."
Jack thrust his torch before a Bri'ri that refused to budge, forcing it back a few feet while they made their way past it. Daniel was dragging, his weight heavy, and Jack had a feeling his friend didn't have the first inkling as to where he was and what they were doing. Daniel still had hold of the torch but was holding it loosely at arm's length. Jack kept thinking that any moment now, Daniel would trip over it.
"How did they come here? Do you think they're all over the planet?" Carter waved her two torches ahead of her methodically, clearing a path.
"I do not believe so. Given the amount of Bri'ri here on this island, there would be no humans or other living creatures left alive on the planet were they as plentiful elsewhere."
They passed through a doorway and Teal'c stopped to shut a heavy metal door behind them. Okay, so now they could forget about the gang of Bri'ri that had gotten a taste of them and were waiting outside for the fire to burn down while figuratively rubbing knives and forks together. So now all they had to worry about were the ones inside the building which could be amassed anywhere, hiding in the darkness, waiting around a corner, ready to pounce.
Teal'c's words cut through Jack's macabre musings as he took up the rear. "The natives fear this island. I believe it is not the island itself, but the Bri'ri they are fearful of. It is most likely that the first Bri'ri was conveyed to this planet through the Stargate many years ago, travelling with an unsuspecting Jaffa. It would only take one, and enough time and a lack of predators for them to multiply."
"They got enemies?" Jack shifted his weight when Daniel stumbled. Carter paused and waited until the two of them were moving again.
"On one planet I witnessed insects devouring the Bri'ri. On another, the environment was similar to that of Abydos. It did not survive long in sun and heat."
"And here, there's a nice, dark woods, a huge, creepy castle they can flitter around in and... hey wait, what about food?"
"Insects. Fowl. Rest assured, O'Neill, were they to escape the island and move onto the mainland, they would propagate at unbelievable speeds."
"There's no chance they can escape from here, is there?" Carter was looking around worriedly, rubbing the tip of a torch against her abdomen. Jack knew exactly how she felt. Even though the creepy crawly feeling still hit him occasionally, he had no way of knowing if it was his imagination or one of those things getting through his defences.
The corridor they were following split in two; to the left it continued into the dark, to the right was a stone wall.
"It's a dead end." Although Carter stated the obvious, Teal'c moved past her and pressed on part of the wall, and a door began to grind open.
"Nice." Jack pulled on Daniel to get him moving and they all entered a large, dark room. Once they were all inside, Teal'c pushed the door shut. There were a couple of shadowy twitches just outside the ring of light from their torches. Teal'c led them to the far wall, where a panel had been pulled out, exposing a bunch of colourful crystals.
Carter and Teal'c dumped the loads of wood onto the ground and Teal'c pulled out a small metallic device from his vest and placed it in a slot between two crystals. He moved to a console next to the panel and pressed a button.
"This will take longer than I had expected." Teal'c pulled the device out and examined it. "The power source must be damaged."
Carter leaned over his shoulder. "Maybe I can help. It could be the connections. Let me see." She craned her head past Teal'c's shoulder, poking at the various crystals.
Jack pointed to the wall, even though neither Teal'c nor Carter looked at him. "We're just gonna take a load off." He turned Daniel so that his back was to the wall, went to grab the torch from him and realized Daniel had lost it somewhere along the way. Jack held onto him and let him slide down to the ground. He leaned his still sputtering torch against the wall and offered Daniel more water, but got a weak head shake in response.
"Looks like it might take a while," Jack said sarcastically as Carter and Teal'c began taking not only the power source apart, but was pulling out the whole innards of the panel.
"I think a couple of them are burnt out." Carter's voice was muffled.
"Then we must replace them."
"There are spares?" Carter stopped to look at Teal'c, a blue and a red crystal clutched in her hands.
"There are. But I believe the problem lies not only with the crystals, but with the power source. I can repair this but it will take some time."
"I can get the spares if you tell me where to go."
"It is not far. You need only follow the corridor until�"
"Ack, so not going out there alone, Carter."
"We'll save time if we split up, sir. If Teal'c can fix the power supply, I can go and get the crystals and be back here in no time."
"How far?" Sighing, Jack grabbed the torch as he stood.
"Half the distance from here to the entrance."
Jack grabbed a fresh, unused torch and lit it while walking to the closed door. "How about showing me the doorknob?" When Teal'c raised an eyebrow, Jack pointed to the door with one of the torches. "How do we get back in?"
Without a word, Teal'c walked to the door and pointed to a small protrusion. He pressed it and it opened. Immediately there was a scurry of darkness that moved well out of the ring of torchlight.
"God, I hate those things." Jack took a deep breath and with Carter following on his heels, he stepped out into the hallway.
Daniel watched Jack and Sam walk out of the room, not quite understanding where they were going. Everything kept fading in and out and he couldn't understand the bits of conversation going on around him. He did have an idea that they were trying to get to the Stargate; but how had they gotten underground when a short time ago he'd been sitting in the sunshine?
The need to sleep was overwhelming and he fought it. His eyes blurred, then focused. He cleared his throat, looking around but seeing nothing but a dark blur.
"Do you require assistance, DanielJackson?"
It took him a moment to realize Teal'c was talking to him. "What?" He tilted his head sideways so he could look at his teammate without lifting his head. "No, I'm fine." He forced a smile. "Thanks."
To his surprise, Teal'c moved away from where he'd been standing and sat down next to him. He was fiddling with a small box in his hand, his fingers seeming too large for the delicate bits inside. Daniel watched, his vision fading as he felt himself slipping closer to sleep. He forced himself to focus, feeling his eyes cross as he concentrated.
"I did not thank you for saving my life."
Daniel jumped, startled at Teal'c's voice. The shock woke him up slightly, making him a little more alert.
"Um, I, ah, didn't do anything, really. You'd, um, already..." He stopped, realizing he was babbling. "I was kind of acting on instincts. I didn't have much time to think." He gave Teal'c a small, embarrassed smile.
"Your instincts served you well." Teal'c drew his knife, made an adjustment inside with the point, flipped a few toggles and put the box back together again. He sheathed his knife and stood. Halfway to his feet, he hesitated. Normally Teal'c moved in a fluid, graceful manner and it looked almost odd when Teal'c reached out with a hand to steady himself against the wall. Before Daniel could ask what was wrong, Teal'c straightened and placed the box into an open panel in the wall.
"We need only await the replacement crystals." He teased the box with a finger, moving it until it he was satisfied with its position.
"You really think we'll be transported back to the Stargate?"
"Indeed. The Goa'uld would require efficient transportation back and forth if he did not utilize a ship." Teal'c pressed down on the box and it clicked into place. He turned back to Daniel and bent a leg to sit again, when suddenly, he doubled over, his hand clutched to his abdomen.
Grunting in pain, Teal'c fell to one knee. Even in the dim torchlight, his face was grey with shock.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Instead of answering, Teal'c scrabbled at his abdomen. Without thinking, Daniel struggled to his knees and pushed Teal'c's hands and vest aside. For a moment he'd thought Teal'c had been shot but there was no blood. He pulled on his tee shirt, tugging it out of his pants and exposed his abdomen. He knew Teal'c carried his symbiote in a pouch, but Daniel had never really seen the opening up close. He felt his face screw up in a grimace and was immediately contrite at the visible show of disgust. He glanced up at Teal'c's face but Teal'c was thankfully looking down at his belly.
Waves of dizziness assaulted Daniel but he ignored it. He grabbed the torch and held it closer, trying to see if there was a visible wound. As the torchlight illuminated Teal'c's abdomen, there was a sudden ripple in the pouch's opening. A flap of skin fluttered, and Teal'c gasped as a dark shape darted out and slid quickly down Teal'c's leg and out into the darkness.
Daniel yelped and jumped back, dropping the torch in the process. He recognized that dark thing. It had attacked him. He remembered the pain and fear and his inability to stop them. There'd been hundreds of them. He rolled away and curled himself against the wall, cowering in the dim light of the torch which was sputtering on the ground.
He stared at the darkness, seeing movement everywhere. They were there; they were watching. Oh God, they were�
Teal'c collapsed forward onto his hands and knees, his breathing loud and gasping. Seeing Teal'c brought to his knees snapped Daniel out of his panic. Moving jerkily, he grabbed the torch, remembering how the creature hadn't seemed to like the light. He moved closer to Teal'c and put a hand on his shoulder.
"I am unhurt," Teal'c said through clenched teeth. "My symbiote, however, is weak." He shifted so that he could bring his legs under him and sat, leaning heavily against the wall.
"It was inside your pouch?"
"It attacked my symbiote. I have never heard of this happening." Teal'c drew a deep breath and took the torch from Daniel.
"You didn't know it was... you couldn't feel it inside you?" Daniel shivered, recalling the awful sensation of those things crawling all over him.
"I assumed what I felt was a residual sensation from the earlier attack and that my fatigue was an after-effect of the drug. I apologize, DanielJackson, my negligence could have endangered the team and could have caused possible infestation of the planet, and possibly Earth."
"You couldn't have known." Daniel glanced apprehensively towards Teal'c's belly, the X-shaped opening now hidden by his tee shirt again. "There aren't any more in there, are there?"
"There are not." Teal'c placed a hand against his abdomen.
"I am." Teal'c removed his hand and motioned towards Daniel. "You should rest."
"I'm fine. Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked despite the dizziness and exhaustion he felt.
Teal'c glanced at the bundles of wood next to the door that Daniel hadn't noticed before. "You may help by resting."
When Teal'c didn't move, Daniel relaxed, leaning against the stone wall. He'd love nothing more than to close his eyes and doze, but the memory of that thing coming out of Teal'c's pouch had spooked him and he kept glancing around the room, looking for moving shadows.
Despite his nervousness, he must have dozed off because he opened his eyes to see Sam and Jack hurry through a hole in the wall, Jack brushing the ground with two torches as he backed into the room. Teal'c stood up and quickly shut a door as Sam moved towards the panel. She stopped a moment, then walked past the panel to kneel beside Daniel.
"How are you feeling?" She looked at him intently, making him feel slightly awkward.
"I'm just tired." Daniel quickly glanced towards Teal'c, who was talking with Jack. "Could you look Teal'c over?" Daniel whispered. "There was one of those things inside his pouch. I think his symbiote might be sick. Or hurt."
Sam's eyes widened and she turned to look at Teal'c. She nodded. "We'll need to make sure we're clean before we use the rings. They're getting bolder. The Colonel and I were attacked several times; it's like they know what we're trying to do."
"The Bri'ri have limited intelligence, CaptainCarter. They react like a hive; what one knows, the others know. It is most likely some of them remember the transport rings � and humans."
"Intelligent?" Jack looked around the room, then moved a few steps closer to Daniel. "Why didn't you mention that before?"
"I believe I did."
"He did say so, sir."
Jack and Sam's conversation ended with a series of looks. Daniel would have found it amusing if he hadn't been so tired. His head felt too heavy on his neck so he laid it back against the wall, knowing that soon after it'd be his eyelids that he wouldn't be able to keep open. He hated how the fatigue kept hitting him in waves.
"How much longer, Captain?"
"Just about got it, sir."
There was a click, and a hum became audible from the panel.
"So, you sure this thing's gonna take us back to the Stargate?" Jack looked up, staring at the ceiling. Daniel sleepily followed his gaze. All he saw was rock hidden in shadow.
"I am confident it will."
"Confident? That's not exactly the same thing as certainty." Jack spun on his heel to look down at Daniel. "Right?"
Not feeling like getting into a debate about the meaning of words, Daniel tried to change the subject. "Are we leaving now?" He made to get up and was surprised at how weak he actually felt. He fell back against the wall when Jack waved him down.
"We have a few things to finish first before we go."
"Right." Sam began kicking the bundles of wood around a circular area in the floor. Once they were spread evenly, she cut off the vines holding them together and scattered them around. "Sir, we need to make sure we don't have any hitchhikers before we go."
"Ah, right." He got down on one knee beside Daniel and made a motion with his fingers. Daniel blinked at him uncomprehendingly, until Jack gripped his tee shirt and pulled it up. After that, they took turns check one another, making sure there weren't any spots of darkness affixed to their skin.
"Okay, let's blow this joint."
Jack took two torches in each hand and went to stand in the middle of the circle while Teal'c helped Daniel stand. His legs were numb but he locked his knees, taking uneven steps until he had stepped over the branches and was standing next to Jack. Sam came to his other side and took hold of his right arm, her other hand holding a torch, while Jack leaned over and lit bits of vine affixed to many branches.
Daniel felt totally helpless and couldn't help feel he was a liability. He should have a torch in his hand, help fight off these alien parasites. Instead he fought to stay upright and tried to hold back his revulsion as the light of the flames revealed the creatures waiting in shadows.
The wood caught quickly, turning the area around them into a ring of fire. Despite their fear of the flames, the Bri'ri suddenly surged out of the shadows, circling the flames. Teal'c hurriedly punched the controls on the panel and leaped over the flames. Several seconds later, the rings came down. The last thing Daniel saw were the Bri'ri throwing themselves at the flames, trying to get to the rings, and Jack and Sam waving their torches at them, keeping them at bay.
Teal'c had been right; the rings did bring them back to the Stargate. The second their feet touched the uneven ground, Daniel's knees buckled. Sam caught him as he found himself falling and eased him down onto the grass. He sat there, partly leaning on Sam, unable to gather the energy to get up. From his vantage point he could see Teal'c and Jack's legs, which were in constant motion as they circled the two of them.
"We were successful. None of the Bri'ri travelled through the transport rings with us."
"You sure?" Jack made an exaggerated shivering noise. "I swear, I still feel them crawling all over me."
From his vantage point, Daniel could see that they were only a short distance from the DHD. Much closer than the three men who were running full tilt down the trail, towards them. "Um, Jack? I think we're going to have company."
"Shit. Teal'c, dial us out of here." Jack grabbed Daniel near the armpit and hauled him not so gently up onto his feet. The movement caused vertigo and Daniel had to grab Jack's arms to stay upright. There were several long moments of his trying to get his feet to hold him up while Jack did his best to stop him from going down again.
"I gotcha, don't worry." Jack shifted his hold so that Daniel was partly leaning against him and then forced him to walk. Something caught his eye and he looked up to see the Stargate shimmering in front of him. He realized he must have greyed out momentarily because he didn't remember hearing or seeing it activate.
"We didn't bring any of those... things with us, did we?" His skin crawled at the thought and he struggled to rub his hand over his stomach.
"No, I'm pretty sure we didn't. But just to be on the safe side... Sir?"
Daniel missed the exchange between Sam and Jack, but Jack keyed his radio and called the base. A moment later, General Hammond's voice came through.
"Go ahead, SG-1."
"Request medical assistance and initiate code one alert in the Gateroom until medical clearance has been received."
"Understood, Colonel. Code one alert will be initiated in sixty seconds."
"Thank you, sir. Can we also have a couple of flamethrowers?"
This time Daniel didn't miss the look Jack threw Teal'c, who inclined his head and responded, "That will be adequate."
"Colonel? Did you just say�?"
"Flamethrowers, sir. A couple of heavy duty, instant-char BBQ-in-a-can flamethrowers." Jack turned to Daniel, a slight smile on his lips. Daniel couldn't help but smile in response. He could picture Hammond's face as he tried to come up with a reason why Jack was requesting such an item.
Still leaning heavily onto Jack, Daniel tried to move away and stand on his own, but Jack tightened his grip. "Hold on, we're almost home," Jack said, probably misunderstanding Daniel's attempt at returning through the Stargate under his own steam. Too tired to struggle out of Jack's grasp, he allowed his friend to support him, wishing he were sitting down, at least, so he could rest his head. He closed his eyes, only to open them quickly when General Hammond's voice came through the Stargate.
"SG-1, you're clear to come through."
"Thank you, sir." Jack took a step forward, pulling Daniel with him. It wasn't far to the 'gate, but every step felt like he was going uphill against a gale-force wind. Sweat was pouring down his back when they finally made it to the puddle. He stumbled going into the 'gate, and was spat out inside Cheyenne mountain, and would have tumbled onto the metal ramp if not for Jack's grip on him.
The descent down the ramp was difficult, his exhausted legs fighting the pull of gravity. He saw a gurney just off to the side of the ramp and made a beeline for it. Well, okay, it was more of a stagger and a limp, but no matter how embarrassing it was to have to be wheeled to the infirmary, the thought of lying down was extremely luring.
"Daniel, wait." Jack pulled him back just before he sat down. "Strip first."
Blinking in confusion, Daniel realized they needed to be checked for parasites one last time. Janet was there, beside the gurney, watching them, or rather him, with a practiced eye. Nodding, Daniel began to take his clothes off. He glanced at the half dozen SFs guarding the two doors, at Siler who was holding the flamethrowers, and then up at the Control Room window, where General Hammond and a couple of technicians were watching.
He bent down to untie his boots and the next thing he knew, he was half sitting, half lying against Jack while Janet removed his boots. Muscles quivering, beyond exhaustion, Daniel allowed Jack and Janet to help him stand and shuck his pants and the rest of his clothes, while Sam and Teal'c stood nearby, flamethrowers in hand, aimed in his direction. Sam was talking quickly, explaining the situation. Finally naked except for his shorts and socks, he stood, shivering from the chill in the mountain, and waited for Teal'c's inspection.
When Teal'c nodded, Daniel collapsed onto the gurney. Janet quickly pulled a blanket over him and began to examine him. In his peripheral vision he was aware of Jack stripping next. Half his attention was on his teammates, the other half was on trying to stay awake long enough to answer Janet's questions. The knowledge they were now safe and just the fact that he was lying down was enough to loosen the last of his defences, and his body demanded sleep in order to recuperate.
A loud squeal echoed in the room. He turned his head and watched, almost dispassionately, as a dark shadow flew down Sam's leg, who was swearing loudly as she threw her tee shirt after it. The Bri'ri buried itself in the pile of discarded clothing. Immediately flames shot out of the flamethrowers and the stench of burning fabric filled the room. The Bri'ri sailed across the cement room, followed by bursts of flames as Siler pursued it, until he caught it and the parasite disintegrated into a cloud of ash. Danger over, Daniel closed his eyes and knew no more.
Jack had slept long and deep, woken up long enough to eat something, and had slept like the dead for a while longer. He hadn't realized how much the drugs and the aliens had taken out of him until he'd gotten horizontal on an infirmary bed. Before he knew it, he'd joined Daniel in La-La land.
Now staring at the remains of his supper with both Carter and Daniel sleeping on either side of him, Jack was bored. Fraiser had yet to come and see him since he'd woken, although he'd been fed and given permission to shower. He felt fine; he felt... well, okay, he was stiff from having spent so much time sleeping and he had a borderline headache which could be attributable to the sleep or the drugs or the bugs but overall, he felt fine.
Carter stirred under the blankets, stretched her legs, and yawned. He watched as she slowly turned her head to get her bearings, blinking up at him when she saw him watching her. Suddenly her eyes widened and she sat up in a rush, shoving the bedding aside while jumping out of bed and brushing at her clothes in a panic.
Alarmed, Jack sat up but she got hold of herself, the memory of the last Bri'ri that had tried to piggyback to Earth fading as the alarm faded from her face and actions. She sat back onto the bed, giving Jack a little self-conscious smile.
"Well, that worked better than coffee." She pulled the blankets up to her waist and adjusted the pillow behind her head before glancing over at the remains of Jack's supper. A nurse showed up and spoke softly with Carter while checking her vitals. Jack turned to watch Daniel again, giving Carter a bit of privacy.
Daniel was sporting a helluva lot more tubes and wires than he and Carter. Curled up on his side, he was just a lump on the bed, his nose buried under the sheet with whorls of bed head exposed near the crown of his head. Daniel hadn't budged a muscle when Carter had jumped out of bed, and Jack wondered if he was just sleeping or whether Fraiser had flavoured his IV with happy juice.
Jack waited for the nurse to finish with Carter and as she returned her chart to the foot of the bed, he asked, "Is he okay?" He'd questioned another nurse earlier but he needed confirmation.
"Doctor Jackson? He's suffering from extreme fatigue and exposure, but there don't appear to be any complications, sir. He'll probably sleep for a while longer." She smiled at Jack before moving to adjust the line of Daniel's IV, which disappeared beneath the blankets.
Jack checked his watch, scratching his head as he tried to figure out how long he'd been sleeping. Too long, he figured, from the pressure in his bladder and the smell of his body. Grateful that the IV was gone, Jack slid from the bed and hurried to the bathroom. First stop � toilet: second -shower. Hopefully third would be home.
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again. But the print on the paper continued to blur no matter what he did. With a deep sigh, he put the paper aside, realizing he'd have to finish proofreading it when he could concentrate better. He felt bad; Hammond's aide had taken the trouble to type up his dictated notes, and now Daniel couldn't even muster the energy to finish reading them through. Plus, he realized as he'd reread it how disassociated his thoughts had been. And probably a week from now, he'd shake his head and wonder what had he been thinking when he'd read it through again.
Maybe he'd have a look at it later today. When he could think more clearly and had a bit more energy. He sighed again as he closed his eyes, listening to the familiar sounds of the infirmary and wondering where Jack, Sam and Teal'c were. He vaguely remembered hearing their voices, barely waking up long enough to eat a few bites of food, knowing he was safe if they were close by. But he hadn't seen neither hide nor hair of his friends except for Teal'c last night, who had stopped by just as Janet was coming to check him over. Truth be told, he was feeling a little... abandoned.
Sure, they'd probably been sent home to recuperate, but a telephone call would have been nice. A little upset now at the direction of his thoughts, he turned onto his side and thumped the thin pillow, trying to fluff it up a bit. Janet had told him some of the emotions he was feeling at the moment were from his body recuperating from the Bri'ri's feeding off him. Knowing why he was feeling this way helped his mind acknowledge that the emotion wasn't normal; it still didn't help his soul from feeling hurt.
Then of course every time his thoughts turned to being deserted by his friends, he ended up feeling guilty for thinking this way, which escalated his misery. Maybe sleeping a little would help, maybe he'd feel a little more chipper when he woke up. Maybe he wouldn't even wake up�
Whoa, where had that thought come from? After having fought so hard to get back home, giving up now certainly didn't feel right. He had to have hit rock bottom, right? So which meant he'd be feeling better soon. Because if he didn't, he'd begin to believe that this was more than his body recovering; maybe he was experiencing some sort of breakdown, which would lead to time with Mackenzie and a visit back to the padded room�
"Hey, you sleeping?"
The familiar voice surprised Daniel. He turned so fast in the bed that the metal railings jangled loudly as the bed shook beneath him. "Jack?"
"Yeah." Jack smiled at him as he rolled a chair closer to the bed. "Sorry I didn't come sooner. Fraiser made it clear I wasn't to come within ten miles of the base until she gave the okay."
"She said okay?"
"No, she left for the night." Jack grinned sheepishly. "Actually I had to give Hammond my report."
"You could have emailed it to him."
"Yeah, but it's such a lovely evening. I figured I'd take drive, stop for some ice cream on the way and see if you were awake."
"Ice cream?" Daniel licked his lips, wondering if maybe Jack was just teasing or�
"Chocolate Fudge Brownie," Jack stated proudly as he produced container, plastic cups and spoons. He helped Daniel raise the bed and removed the cover. To Daniel's surprise, there was a large portion missing from the container.
"What?" Jack asked, glancing up at Daniel as he began dishing out the ice cream into the plastic cups.
"You decided to give it a taste test on your way here?" He stuck a finger into the container, dug out a dab of ice cream, and stuck the cool goodness into his mouth.
Um, actually, I used it as bribery."
Daniel raised an eyebrow in question.
Jack glanced towards the back of the infirmary.
"Janet? You talked to Janet before�I thought you said she'd left for the night."
Jack handed Daniel the cup of ice cream, then continued spooning more into the second cup. "She has."
Daniel picked up a spoon and dipped it into the Chocolate Fudge Brownie. He stared at the chocolaty goodness a moment and said, "This is great."
"Yeah, Fraiser thought so, too." Jack was licking ice cream that had dripped onto his finger. He quickly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I had to check with her to make sure it was okay for you to have some, okay?"
Suddenly the pleasure of the unexpected treat vanished. He dropped the spoon into the cup without tasting it.
"Hey, something wrong with it?" Jack scooped up some of Daniel's ice cream and tasted it. "No, seems fine. Wouldn't have wanted to give Fraiser something that was off. She'd probably change her mind and keep you here in the morning."
"Ch... change her mind?" Daniel frowned at Jack.
"Oh, didn't I tell you? She mentioned you could leave here in the morning, as long as there was someone looking out for you for a couple of days. I just thought I'd offer up my home, seeing as I'll be sitting around for a few more days with nothing to do... You know, we could rent some movies, watch the grass grow... eat ice cream."
With Jack's words, Daniel's despondency lifted. He picked up his discarded spoon and tentatively licked the melting ice cream. It was delicious. "Watching the grass grow sounds... wonderful. Especially the part with the ice cream." He put the spoon into his mouth and smiled at Jack.
Jack watched Daniel pace the confines of his back deck, his body tight and stiff, his face reflecting raw emotions. Jack simply sipped his beer, kept an eye on the smoking charcoal and the foil-wrapped potatoes baking over it, and let Daniel work out the conflicting feelings he was experiencing.
"Daniel, maybe if you�"
Quickly Jack shook his head at Carter, but it was too late. Daniel stopped, spun to face her, and exploded. "What? Went to bed? Took a nap? Sat down?"
"No... I didn't mean... It's just that you�"
"That I'm just a clumsy idiot who can't even carry a salad bowl without dropping it. It doesn't mean I need to go lie down and rest just because I made a mess."
"I didn't say that. I just�"
Jack recognized the sound of his Avalanche pulling into the driveway. The motor turned off, the door shut and Jack raised his beer and pointed it towards the house. "Teal'c's here. You two better get moving if you want to eat salad with your steak."
"I'm not hungry." Daniel sat down in a chair as Carter stood up. She glanced down at Daniel, confusion still showing on her face. "I'll go start the salad." She fled into the house and Jack watched through the patio doors as she took the grocery bags from Teal'c and quickly began washing the vegetables he'd bought to replace those that had landed on the deck.
Daniel sighed shakily and dragged his hands over his face. Jack could see he was trembling.
"I think I'd better go home," Daniel said, scrubbing his face with his palms a few times.
"Why? Because you let your temper get the better of you?"
"No, because I let my temper take it out on Sam. She doesn't deserve this."
"No, she doesn't. But she understands. Hell, she's a woman. She goes through these emotional upheavals once a month."
Daniel blinked at Jack a moment, slack jawed, before attempting a small smile. "Don't you dare compare this with PMS."
Jack smiled back at Daniel and began rearranging the potatoes, making room for the meat. "You better go get the steaks. These are about done."
The smile disappeared quickly. "You better bring them. I could�"
"Yes, you might drop them, then again, so could I. Daniel, it's okay, it was an accident. There's nothing to be embarrassed about."
"I really don't think I'm good company�"
"So you're a bit edgy. You've been holding your emotions under wraps since you came here yesterday." Daniel looked away from Jack, staring across the yard. "I can see how hard it's been for you. You're still weak and recovering, you're feeling emotions for no reason at all and now you feel you have to put on an act for us. Daniel, we're your friends. If you're tired, you go take a nap. You're not gonna hurt any feelings here."
"I'm not tired. Just... clumsy."
"Clumsy is your usual look."
Jack hoped for a smile, but got a soft sigh in response. "And if I feel the need to throw something?"
"Just don't aim for the windows, okay?"
Daniel turned to Jack and some of the tight lines faded from his face. "Okay. I'll, uh, go get the steaks."
Jack drained his now lukewarm beer and handed Daniel the empty as he stood. "Bring me a beer while you're at it, won't'cha?"
Daniel stared at the beer bottle a moment, then took it from Jack. "Um... thanks, for... um, y'know, putting up with me."
"Hey, there's no reason why you should go through any of this by yourself. In any case, I wouldn't want you to take out your frustrations on your fish."
"Ha. You'd be surprised how the little buggers fight back. They throw a mean right fin." Daniel looked over his shoulder, through the patio window. "I need to go apologize to Sam." He paused a moment, then placed a hand on the door.
Daniel paused, turning back to look at Jack.
"You didn't leave any of us behind out... there." Jack motioned with his head towards the sky. "We aren't going to leave you behind over here, even if it's until you're feeling more... yourself."
The smile he'd been waiting for finally appeared. "Thanks."
Jack nodded, smiling back. "Don't forget my beer."
Author's Comments: Funny how one's imagination can work overtime. I saw something floating on the ground one fall day, gently propelled by the wind, moving over the fallen leaves. Something black and very thin and very odd looking. Didn't take me long to put my imagination to work and come up with the Bri'ri. Right in my own backyard :)
To devra, as always, for her love and her trust in me.
Many thanks to Jmas, for trusting in me and publishing this story in her E-zine 'Ancients Gate XIV - Shadows'
If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:
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.