"I'm not hungry." Daniel's voice was soft, and Jack scrutinized his friend carefully in the waning daylight. He appeared pale, and Jack realized that Daniel had been quiet and subdued for most of the day.
"You've hardly eaten anything today."
"I'm fine. I just... food and my stomach aren't seeing eye to eye right now." He turned his head away from the steaming bowl, and Jack relented. He had thought Daniel's reticence might have had to do with the fact that one of the three prisoners they were transporting to the Tok'ra Flats jail was one of the most wanted men, but now Jack wasn't so sure.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Really, I'm fine. It's just an upset stomach."
"Maybe it's something you ate?" Sam ladled stew into three bowls, getting ready to feed their prisoners. "I warned you not to eat dad's beans yesterday, didn't I?"
Daniel chuckled, then ducked his head in embarrassment at the recollection of the gas-imbued evening they'd spent after eating Jacob Carter's infamous morning meal.
"Yes, you did warn me," he replied with a smile. "But it's not your dad's cooking. My stomach's been bothering me a little for the past couple of days."
"And you didn't say anything to us about it?"
"I made a tea this morning. It helped, a bit. I'll make more later."
Jack sighed and shook his head. True, there wasn't much they could do out here in the wilds, and Daniel knew more about plant lore than he or Sam, or even Teal'c. But if Daniel wasn't feeling better by the time they got back to Tok'ra Flats tomorrow afternoon, he was going to drag him straight to doc Fraiser and see if she had something to help his tummy ache.
Jack had expected one of their three prisoners to make a break for it before they made it back to the Flats, and he wasn't disappointed. The getaway happened quickly, catching them unprepared. Jack was still trying to coerce Daniel into eating something, Sam had her hands full with the prisoners' supper and Teal'c was busy tending to the horses. It was a mistake that Jack took full blame for; he should have been backing Sam up instead of trying to figure out why his friend had just rushed into the woods to puke.
Heru Ur, hands tied securely, swung wildly with his fists braced together and hit Sam in the face. She flew sideways and landed hard. By the time Jack had realized what had happened, Heru Ur was already up and running.
Jack fired a shot in the air, stopping the other two prisoners from doing more than jumping to their feet. Heru Ur, on the other hand, continued on without slowing. Swearing loudly, Jack made sure that Daniel, pale and shaky but alert, had the other prisoners covered, then he raced after Heru Ur, jumping over Sam's prone body. He hoped she was merely stunned and that the bastard hadn't broken her cheekbone.
Teal'c soon caught up with Jack, and they both chased after their escapee. It didn't take them long to catch him, and Jack didn't pull his punches when he finally got his hands on him.
"You goddamn sonofabitch!" Jack grabbed the man by his long, dark, greasy hair and hauled the somewhat stunned body to his feet. "You try anything like this again, mister, and I'll have Teal'c break both your legs."
Heru Ur's lip was bleeding, and his tongue flicked out to test the injury. Jack pushed the man ahead of him, his pistol aimed at the slim back, half hoping the man would try to run once more. A quick death would be too good for him, considering how two days ago he'd slaughtered two dozen Indian youths in a last ditch attempt to try to escape Mike Burell and his rangers, who along with Jacob Carter and his posse, had finally cornered them.
It had taken Jack's friend, Mike, months of planning to finally catch Heru Ur. The scumbag had been brainwashing young Indians, lying to them about a better way of life if they followed his way. Janet Fraiser had suspected he was using some kind of drug to keep his followers interested; probably a concoction made up of peyote and laudanum.
What had shocked everyone was that he had given all the youths something to drink just before Mike's rangers had gone in. They'd been greeted with the sight of dead bodies lying everywhere.
It was Daniel who had guessed where Heru Ur had gone � he'd heard of underground caves near Argos valley and he'd found the hidden entrance to them. They'd captured all nine of Heru Ur's men, including the leader himself. Seven of Heru Ur's supporters were now headed for Chulak City, escorted by Mike and his posse, along with Jacob Carter. But the jail there wasn't big enough to hold them all, so that was why Jack was taking Heru Ur himself, and the remaining two, to Tok'ra Flats until transportation could be arranged to take them to Chulak City for trial.
As Jack shoved Heru Ur to a seated position beside the other prisoners, he was relieved to see Sam was on her feet. He grabbed some more rope from his saddlebags and deftly tied the prisoner's feet together. Someone, probably Daniel, had already hogtied the other two. Then each one got affixed to a tree. Jack was making sure they weren't going anywhere tonight.
"Hey, what about our supper?" one of the two other prisoners complained.
Jack eyed the spilled stew and motioned with his hand. "Help yourselves, there's plenty for the three of you."
"We can't eat that," the other one whined.
"Then you should have made a break for it after ya ate."
Jack turned his back on them and returned to their campfire. Daniel was crouching beside Sam, holding a wet cloth pressed against her cheek. Jack joined them, noting the already darkening bruises on her cheek and beneath her eyes. He put a hand under her chin and examined her face carefully.
"You're gonna look like a raccoon come morning." He pressed against the cheekbone and she winced, but didn't pull away. "Doesn't look like anything's broken. You okay?"
"I'll live." She pushed Daniel's fingers aside, then reached to hold the cloth herself and turned her face away from Jack.
"Hey." Jack moved so he was standing in front of her. "It wasn't your fault."
She didn't look up at him, just stared past his legs. "I let him surprise me. I should have known better."
"One of us should have been there with you. If there's anyone to blame, then it's me. I was overconfident, and Heru Ur knew it, and he took advantage of the fact. We'll just be doubly cautious from now on, okay?"
She nodded, finally meeting his eyes.
"Maybe they'll be a little more cooperative in the morning and sit quiet for breakfast." He winked at her and returned to the fire for a cup of coffee.
- - - - - -
Jack came awake the moment someone touched his shoulder. He turned around and saw Teal'c looming over him.
"It is your turn for watch, O'Neill."
Jack sat up and took a look around. The prisoners were quiet, presumably sleeping. Sam was curled up to his right and Daniel behind her. They'd both done their sentry duties and were now sleeping soundly. He picked his rifle up and stood, then on second thought, grabbed his bedroll. The night was cold and damp and he'd be appreciative of its warmth as he wrapped it, cape like, over his shoulders.
As Jack made a slow perimeter check of the camp, Teal'c lay down on the opposite side of the fire. Jack peered at the sky. It would be sunrise in another two hours. He moved to check on the prisoners, the moon high enough to show their tethers hadn't been tampered with. He checked their bindings anyways. None of them woke, their snores continuing unabated.
He walked back the other way until he found a large tree to lean against with a good view of the camp and the prisoners. The woods were quiet except for a few rustles and the whine of a few surviving mosquitoes intermixed with crickets. He relaxed against the tree, his senses remaining alert for anything out of the ordinary.
He watched his friends as they slept. Sam and Teal'c were motionless lumps where they lay, but Daniel appeared fidgety. He was curled on his side, his legs moving restlessly. It wasn't any surprise when after a while, Daniel sat up and looked around.
He spotted Jack and he stood with his bedroll in his hands. He wrapped the blanket around his shoulders like Jack, then came over to join him.
Daniel leaned on a neighbouring tree and sighed. "Nothing." Daniel was bent over slightly, his hand resting on his abdomen.
"That doesn't look like nothing." Jack pointed at Daniel's hand on his stomach.
"It's just cramps."
"Sam did warn you about her dad's beans."
"Yeah," Daniel sighed, then grunted softly.
"Hey? You okay?"
"Yeah. I've just never had this kind of problem before. I can usually eat just about anything."
"So I've seen." Jack laughed softly at the remembered times when he'd raise his nose at certain food while Daniel would eat it without a second look. Jack figured it was Daniel's Indian upbringing; then again, when Jack was hungry enough, he'd wasn't usually picky. He just needed a reason to eat what he wasn't used to.
"Funny that no one else is feeling poorly." Daniel sighed as he leaned his head against the tree.
"Guess this time your luck ran out, huh?"
"Yeah. The tea didn't help much this time."
"I thought you said it helped?"
Daniel lowered his head for a moment. "It did, at first. Do you think Janet might have something�?" His face screwed up in a grimace of discomfort.
"I'm sure she does. We'll be home 'afore lunchtime tomorrow. Hopefully you'll be feeling better by then."
When Daniel didn't answer, Jack turned to look at him. The sky was just beginning to lighten and there was just enough light for Jack to see the sweat beading on Daniel's forehead and upper lip.
"Daniel? It's just an upset stomach, right?"
Daniel paused again. "You think maybe I ate preserves or something that wasn't any good?"
"You tell me. We all ate the same thing, and you're the only one who's feeling poorly. You sure you didn't sneak some Indian treat or something none of us ate?"
"No, only the tea, and that was after I started getting cramps."
Daniel grimaced and bent over a little more. When he straightened, Jack placed the back of his hand against Daniel's cheek.
"Ya got a touch of fever."
"I know. Been worse."
"Been better. This ain't no place to fall sick."
"I'm not sick. And like you said, we'll be home by tomorrow." Daniel pushed away from the tree and returned to the fire. Jack watched as he lay back down on his side, pulling the bedroll over him.
- - - - - -
It wasn't often that Daniel experienced anxiety, but the nausea and pain in his side had him worried. Jack was right, this wasn't the place or time to get sick. They had prisoners to deliver and none of them could afford not pulling his weight. He poured the last of the coffee onto the embers of the campfire, shook out the coffee pot and stuffed it into Sam's pack.
"Horses are ready." Jack finished buckling the cinch and lowered the stirrup, giving Hawk a pat on the neck as he turned towards camp. "Sam, let's go and get the prisoners."
Daniel, closer to the prisoners than Jack, motioned to him to stay where he was. "I got it, Jack." He nodded to Sam as he stepped beside her, trying not to limp as the pain worsened every time he took a step. Odd that the hurt had moved from the center of his belly down to his right side.
With Sam holding a gun on the three men, Daniel pulled his knife and began slicing through the ropes tethering the prisoners. One by one, he motioned for each to start walking towards the horses, accompanied by Sam, where Jack and Teal'c were waiting for them.
He left Heru Ur for last. As he turned on his knees and began cutting the bindings, the pain in his side flared. The agony was so great that Daniel dropped the knife and fell forward over his knees, helpless to do anything but try and hold back a groan and wait out the pain.
Through a red haze he saw Heru Ur's feet move away from him, only to be replaced by the man's bound hands. Too late, Daniel realized he was going for the knife. He reached out, trying to get to the weapon first but pain made him slow. Even as Heru Ur took hold of the knife and swept it towards him, instincts took over and Daniel threw himself to the side. He rolled once, then was unable to move, caught up in the agony of his treacherous body.
There were shouts, followed by gunshots. Daniel didn't move, not because he didn't want to get in the way of the bullets, but because he simply wasn't able to get up again. He stayed down, his legs curled up to his chest against the oppressive agony as he tried to breathe through it. Horses thundered around him and he lay there, praying belatedly that they wouldn't trample him.
"Daniel?" There was pressure on his shoulder as Jack tried to turn him onto his back. "Where'd he git ya?"
"He didn't." He resisted, knowing that lying on his back would feel worse than on his side.
A loud report of gunfire echoed through the clearing, followed by a man's scream. Daniel realized that not only had Heru Ur escaped, but all the prisoners had. "Go on," he panted through the pain. "I'm fine. Go!" he exclaimed in frustration. Not only was it his fault that the men had escaped, he was holding Jack back from doing his job. He managed to push himself up so that he was half sitting, trying to show that he really was okay.
Jack nodded reluctantly. He squeezed Daniel's arm then hurried off into the woods. Looking around, Daniel realized that half the horses had been spooked. Feather and Hawk, though, had stayed close to camp.
Daniel called Feather over, speaking softly as the Paint snuffled over him. With a lot of groaning, Daniel managed to reach up and catch the stirrup. Holding first onto the stirrup, then the saddle, he hauled himself onto his feet. Once upright, he tried placing a foot in the stirrup but the pain in his belly prevented him from mounting Feather.
Realizing there was no way he could help in recapturing the escaped convicts, he walked slowly, leaning heavily on Feather, until he reached Hawk. The Appaloosa came to him willingly, butting his arm as he tethered them both. A moment later Sam's Palomino slowly entered the clearing, followed by the gelding one of the prisoners had been riding. Both were nickering nervously as Daniel walked around Feather and reached for their reins.
He had four horses, three were still missing, and one of them was Teal'c's Sage. Like all their mounts, the Missouri Foxtrotter was too well trained to startle easily and run off very far. Which meant that Teal'c had most likely taken Sage and so hadn't gone after the prisoners on foot. Speculation was running rampant through Daniel's mind as he limped back with the horses and secured them next to Hawk. If Teal'c had taken Sage, that meant at least one of the prisoners was mounted.
Feeling next to useless, Daniel staggered to the now dead campfire and sank to his knees. He was afraid that this was as far as he could go; he doubted he could ride very far with this kind of pain. He'd need to camp here for a day or two and wait until he felt better before he could return to Tok'ra Flats.
If he couldn't get any of Janet's white man's medicine, he figured he could try and purge the bad spirits from his body. But building a sweathouse would take too long and too much effort, even if he had access to the drugs they'd taken away from Heru Ur to dull his pain, which unfortunately were in Teal'c's saddlebags.
He shifted so that he was leaning against one of the old logs they'd rolled into place before the fire last night, but it hurt too much so he lay down on his right side and drew his legs up towards his chest; this seemed to ease the pain slightly.
Time slowed, converging to the lower right section of his belly. He took small, quick breaths, afraid to breathe too deeply and wake the sleeping dragon inside of him. Lack of movement helped in that it didn't make the pain any worse. He tried to listen past the sound of his heartbeat and breaths, and after what seemed like an eternity, Sam stepped into view, prodding a bound and limping prisoner before her.
Daniel didn't miss the look of alarm when she glanced his way. Then she cursed when Terok tripped and nearly fell. She barely gave him time to catch his footing when she kicked his feet from under him and hurriedly tied his legs together.
Then she was running towards him. "Daniel."
"I'm not hurt."
"Heru Ur took the knife. Did he�"
"No. I'm not cut. It's my belly."
"Let me see�" She pulled on his shoulders, trying to get him to turn.
"There's nothing to see. I ate something that had bad spirits and�Ha-l�!" Daniel screamed when Sam pressed a hand on his hip to try and move him.
"What? Daniel, I'm sorry, what did I do?"
"Stop, stop." He panted in agony as the movement made the pain worse.
"Where's the Sheriff?" Sam had pulled her hands away the moment Daniel had yelled for her to stop. She stood, looking around the camp in desperation.
"I thought... he was with you."
"I went after Terok, he must have gone after Raknor."
"Heru Ur stole a horse. Teal'c went after him."
"I need... laudanum, in Teal'c's bag. When he comes back. Please�" He hated having to ask, having to admit he needed pain relief meant vulnerability. He met Sam's eyes, and the worry they reflected scared him more than the pain in his gut.
She nodded after a moment, kneeling swiftly and taking his hand in hers. "I'll get it. I promise, the moment he comes back I'll�"
"I'm sorry. I never meant for them to escape. I should have told Jack how much I hurt. Oh, damn," Daniel moaned as hot bile rose into his throat. His stomach contracted and he spewed, coughing and gasping for breath in between bouts of vomiting.
Sam wiped his mouth with a wet cloth, then handed him a tin cup half full of water. Daniel only sipped enough so he could rinse him mouth, then spat out the water.
"We need to get you to Janet," she whispered.
"Can't. Can't ride. Hurts..."
"I know. I know." She pushed back damp strands of hair from his face. "I've seen this before, Daniel. We need to�"
"Hey. Look who I found."
Sam whirled on her knees when Jack entered the camp, pushing Raknor past them, towards where Terok was tied. When he was done with securing Raknor, Jack hurried over to them.
"Sheriff, we need to get Janet now. He can't ride."
"What about the prisoners?"
"Daniel needs medical attention now. He can't wait. The prisoners can. Look, let me ride to Tok'ra Flats and bring Janet back. If I leave now, we can be back here before dark."
There was a quality of urgency in Sam's voice that sent shivers down Daniel's spine.
"Sam, I don't... Daniel, Wa-ya, how bad is it?"
Daniel swallowed his pride and admitted defeat. "It's bad, Jack. Sam's right, I don't think I can ride right now. You can leave me, take the prisoners with you when Teal'c comes back with Heru Ur. I can stay here, wait and�"
"There's no damn way I'll leave you here alone. Sam, go get Janet. We'll be here waitin'."
"Yes, sir." She turned to Daniel and rested her fingers against his cheek. "I'll hurry back. Just hang in there, okay?" Then she was off, running to the horses. A moment later the sounds of hoof beats thudded as she galloped away.
Jack stood and walked to the horses. Slowly, methodically, he began removing their bedrolls.
"What are you doing?"
"Setting up camp." He dropped the bedrolls next to Daniel and began unrolling them. "May as well make you comfortable if we're spending the day here."
"It'll pass. You don't have to stay�"
"Daniel." Jack stopped and raised a finger. "Decision's been made. Now, do you think you can move and get on top of this?"
- - - - - -
Torn between the urge to do something, Jack spent the day alternating pacing the perimeter of the camp and scouring the nearby woods to make sure Heru Ur wasn't hiding and waiting for a chance to ambush them. He had no idea where Teal'c was and had been starting to worry until he found two sets of hoof prints heading west. In any other circumstances, Jack would have jumped on Hawk and ridden after them, intending to give Teal'c some backup. He had no compunctions in leaving the two prisoners trussed up as they were for a day or two, but there was no way he could leave Daniel.
Even now, he'd been away from the camp for close to an hour and he found himself hurrying back to his friend. Daniel hadn't moved from where he lay curled up by the fire. Jack approached quietly, frowning at the sheen of sweat covering Daniel's face.
"I got water." Jack reached for the canteen, already knowing what the answer would be.
"Not thirsty." Daniel was trembling, and although his skin felt somewhat warm, Jack didn't think the ague was from the fever.
"You haven't had food or water since yesterday. You should try and�"
"When are they coming?"
Daniel turned his head just enough so he could look at him. Jack was appalled at the paleness of his face and the dark, sunken eyes. "Janet. How much longer...?"
Jack stared up at the sky. Those simple words tore through Jack as fear caused the spit in his mouth to dry up. The bit of leftover beans he'd eaten for lunch began to sour in his stomach.
"Not for a few more hours. Sun's still pretty high in the sky. With any luck, they'll have left The Flats about an hour ago."
"An hour... how much... before..." Pain-filled pants followed his words.
"At least four more hours."
Daniel closed his eyes and pulled his chin down towards his chest. There was a feeling of defeatism in the action, so out of character with Daniel. The fear Jack had been feeling began to escalate. He tried talking, maybe distract Daniel a little from the pain he was in. "I kinda understand why the doc likes to help folks."
An eyelid opened slightly, just enough so that Daniel could roll his eyeball and stare at Jack.
"I hate not bein' able to help you. You're hurtin' bad, and there's nothing I can do to make it better. Don't even got the laudanum to give you, it bein' it Teal'c's saddlebags and all."
"It's not your fault."
"I know that. But you knew how to help me when�" Inspiration hit and Jack swivelled quickly on his knees, lowering himself to make sure Daniel could hear him. "Is there any Indian lore that'll help you? Anything you know to ease the bellyache. Just tell me what to look for, I'll go and find it. Bring it back�"
"I tried everything I know," Daniel panted. "It's bad, Jack. It's like I'm busted up inside."
"Hang in there. Doc's coming. Carter'll make sure she gets here long before dark."
"Not heading towards town. Went t'other way, with Teal'c hot on his tracks."
"You should have gone after�" Daniel moaned softly, gasping through clenched teeth.
"Teal'c'll get him. Bring him back. Best if we stay here until he does. Never know where he might end up if we don't�"
"Jack, how much longer?"
Wordlessly, Jack placed a hand on Daniel's buckskin-clad shoulder and rubbed gently and wondered the same thing himself.
- - - - - -
"Just as I thought. It's his appendix." In the dimming light of dusk, Janet's face was cast in an orange glow. It didn't mask the worry on her face and Jack immediately felt the sour taste of fear rise up his throat.
"You got medicine for that, right?"
"No, medicine isn't going to help Daniel. I need to operate."
"Damn." Jack looked at his friend, who was curled up on his side, his arms wrapped around his abdomen, shivering with pain.
"Sheriff, you don't understand. I have to operate now or else Daniel won't make it till morning."
"What?" Sam straightened from where she'd been bathing Daniel's face.
"The appendix is inflamed. It has to be taken out before it bursts and causes a septic infection."
"You're going to cut into his belly? Doc, even I know how serious that is."
"We have no choice. I need your help. Both of you. I brought my surgical equipment; it's in the wagon. Can you get it for me, Sheriff?"
"Yeah. What else do you need?" Jack looked inside the wagon and saw the boxes that the doc had placed there.
"Water. Fire. Light. There are a couple of lamps along with blankets and..."
Jack stopped, juggling an armful of supplies. Janet didn't only look worried, she looked terrified.
"Please tell me you've done this before," Jack said softly as he placed the equipment beside the doctor.
She shook her head as she began rifling through the supplies. "I assisted in an appendectomy, but I never... I brought a book." She hurried to the seat of the wagon and came back with a huge medical tome. Immediately she leafed through it to a marked page, then lowered it to show Jack.
"She was reading that on the way here," Sam supplied.
"You're going to operate on Daniel while reading a book?" Jack's exclamation was loud and strident, and Daniel moaned softly in response.
"No. But from Sam's descriptions of Daniel's symptoms, I suspected it might be his appendix and I wanted to reacquaint myself with the surgery."
As Jack pored over some of the photos and illustrations in the book, he felt his stomach turn queasy. "You're going to do that to him?" He pointed at a sketch of what looked like someone's innards.
"Yes." She closed the book and put it aside. "Sheriff, it has to be done, and the sooner, the better."
"I knew someone who had terrible belly cramps like Daniel's got." Sam reached over and reverently touched the edge of the book's cover.
"What happened?" Jack thought back to one of their neighbour's children who'd died of colic some eight years back. He wondered if maybe it hadn't been this appendicitis thing that the doc had mentioned.
"There weren't any doctors within riding distance. She died three days later." Sam bit her lip, casting a glace towards Daniel.
"Okay, what else? Firewood? Water?" Jack got up, rubbing his hands, needing to get the surgery started as soon as possible to ensure that Daniel didn't suffer the fate of Sam's friend.
"As much of both that you can bring me. I need to start boiling water." Janet continued rummaging through the box of supplies, putting things aside that Jack didn't even want to start guessing what they were for.
"I wish this had happened in daylight. Damnit, I wish I was in my surgery instead of here," she mumbled softly.
Jack built up the fire, worry at Fraiser's last words causing his stomach to burn, and within minutes, had ridden down to the nearby stream and filled their two pots with water. He set them to boil over the fire.
"I need more light." Janet moved the kerosene lamp closer to Daniel's right hip and motioned for Jack to bring the other two closer. "Sam, I'll need you to administer the ether. Can you do that?"
Sam nodded. "Just tell me what to do."
"I will. Sheriff, I may need you to hold Daniel down when the ether is given. He may become confused and fight me."
"You got it, doc."
When the first pot of water began boiling, Janet put it aside and dumped what looked like a plethora of knives and odd looking instruments into it.
"Okay, Daniel, we're going to pull your pants off, and your shirt, okay?" As she began pulling on Daniel's leathers, Jack lifted Daniel's hips to allow her to slip them down. Even from that slight movement, Daniel cried out in pain and Jack immediately apologized.
"Sorry, I know it hurts." He moved behind Daniel and raised the man up so that Sam could reach for his buckskin top. Together they manoeuvred it over his head and a moment later, he lay there clad only in his breechclout and socks.
"Okay, Sam, I need you here, by his head."
Sam, still on her knees, shifted over to sit where Janet had pointed.
"This is ether." Janet held the unopened bottle and held it up. "I'm going to pour some over this sponge and hold it over his mouth and nose until he goes to sleep. Then I'll give this over to you and you keep it there until I tell you to take it away while I begin the surgery."
"Ain't that gonna hurt, doc?" Jack winced, remembering the pain of his own badly infected leg. He couldn't imagine how much worse the pain could be if a knife deliberately cut into a body no matter how much ether he was given.
"He won't feel a thing. Believe me, Sheriff." Janet looked at Jack and in the firelight; he saw her earnest and truthful expression.
He nodded. They had no choice. Daniel had no choice.
"Okay, here we go." She washed her hands carefully in a basin, then had Sam and Jack do the same while she fished out her instruments from the pot and laid them on a towel next to her. Once she was satisfied that everything had a place, she moved beside Sam, picked up the sponge and bottle of ether, and leaned close to Daniel's face.
"Daniel?" she said softly. She placed a hand on Daniel's sweat-streaked cheek and patted it gently.
"Janet?" Daniel opened his eyes and looked up at her, his panting and pain-filled breaths loud in the small clearing.
"I'm going to give you some ether. It'll put you to sleep; that way I can operate and take out the part of you that's infected. It won't be pleasant, but you have to breathe in the vapours. Can you do that?"
"Okay." Daniel shivered in pain, and closed his eyes.
Janet deftly poured some of the liquid onto the sponge and held it over Daniel's mouth, giving the bottle and cap to Jack with her free hand, who screwed the cap back on. "Just breathe normally."
Daniel didn't move, breathing in the ether fumes, but a few seconds later he began coughing. Janet immediately pulled the sponge back, holding it farther away from his face until the coughing stopped.
"Smells awful," he moaned as he tried to curl onto his side.
"No, stay still." She placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder while keeping the sponge in place close to his mouth and nose. Jack reached over and positioned Daniel once again on his back. She held the sponge farther away until Daniel took several breaths without coughing.
"Sam, can you take over now?" she asked after Daniel seemed to be relaxing a little.
Sam reached for the sponge, but just as her fingers touched it, Daniel gagged. Janet immediately pulled the ether away and turned his head to the side just as he vomited bile and saliva.
"Stop. No more." Daniel coughed and again tried to curl onto his side. Janet looked at Jack for help and he again tugged Daniel onto his back.
"I promise it'll be over soon," Janet said as she covered Daniel's mouth and nose with the sponge once again. This time Daniel reached up and tried to bat her hands away. Sam deftly grabbed the sponge from Janet, holding it away from his groping hands while Jack gripped Daniel's arms, forcing them down against his chest. Daniel's eyes were wild and terrified and Jack had a feeling his friend had no idea where he was. Daniel managed to twist his forearm and grabbed Jack's wrist.
"Wa-ya, it's okay. Just relax." Jack squeezed Daniel's fingers when Daniel turned to look at him. "Just relax and breathe. Doc's trying to help you. Don't fight her. Remember?"
"Want s'um biscuits... Mayor Debi's got sommin t'oven." Daniel's words were slurred, and Jack immediately looked to Janet.
"Don't worry, you'll get as many biscuits as you want as soon as we get home," she told him. "It's all right, Sheriff. It's just the ether taking effect. Sam, that's good. Just hold the sponge steady."
Sam bent close to Daniel and with her free hand, gently stroked the sweaty hair from his face. "We're right here with you. We'll be here right up until you wake up," she whispered in his ear.
"The mouse is eating the berries," Daniel slurred. He looked from Sam, to Janet, then to Jack, the wild, frightened gleam gone from his face, replaced with heavy-lidded lethargy. Jack slowly loosened his grip on Daniel's arms and instead took hold of his damp, sweaty hand, patting it a few times in an attempt at comfort.
Sam giggled softly and nuzzled Daniel's temple with her nose. "That's not a mouse, it's just me."
As she spoke softly to him, Daniel relaxed even more, the death grip on Jack's wrist easing a little despite the nonsense he was spouting.
"It's okay, you'll be fine," Jack said, smiling down at his friend. Daniel's eyelids drooped more until his eyes were nearly shut.
"That's it, just relax," Janet coaxed. By now she had a whole bunch of instruments lined up beside her and Jack was anxious for Daniel to finally pass out so he could just get the hell out of Dodge while she cut into him. No way did he want to see any of this.
Daniel's eyes finally slid shut, his breathing slow and regular as his hold on Jack went totally limp. His jaw dropped down and to Jack's surprise, Daniel began snoring. Loudly. Jack let go and began to back out of the way.
"That's it, he's ready. Sam, you can pull the ether away for a few minutes � Sam?"
At Janet's exclamation, Jack realized that Sam was hunched over Daniel, her face resting against Daniel's shoulder. Her shoulders were moving up and down and it took a moment for him to realize she was laughing. Then she tilted sideways and Jack rushed forward and caught her limp body. She raised her head as Jack pulled her away, and she began laughing out loud.
"Damnit, she got too close and breathed in some of the ether."
"She gonna be okay?" Jack put her down onto her side and looked at his deputy, who looked almost drunk as she rolled onto her back, giggling and chortling.
"She will be in a couple of minutes. In the meantime, I need you here."
Jumping at the authority in her voice, Jack hurried to Janet's side. He winced as she positioned a knife over Daniel's lower abdomen and began cutting. He expected Daniel to flinch, or stiffen and cry out in pain, but he lay passive.
"Watch him. If he shows signs of waking up, have him breathe the ether for two or three more minutes."
Trying not to look at the blood pouring down his friend's side, Jack instead looked at his slack face. "How will I know when�"
"I'll tell you. I just might need an extra pair of hands and until Sam recovers�" Jack winced when he heard sounds of retching, "you're needed here."
As gruesome as it was, Jack couldn't help but watch as Janet continued cutting. He'd skinned and gutted plenty of animals and fish in his lifetime, and always did it with efficiency and a need for necessity, but this was different. This was a living, breathing person. This was his friend.
Daniel moaned, the snoring stopped, and Janet nodded at the sponge by Jack's knee. He picked it up and placed it back over Daniel's face and held it there, careful not to breathe the potent vapours, until a couple of minutes had elapsed and Janet instructed him to remove it.
"Yes, Sam. Feeling better?"
Sam shifted until she was kneeling beside Jack, a look of awe and revulsion on her face as she saw what Janet was doing.
"Can I..." She coughed and cleared her throat. "Can I help?"
"The Sheriff's got the anaesthesia covered. But I will need an extra hand in a minute. You up to it?"
Jack saw her swallow hard, but her voice was firm and clear when she answered.
"Just tell me when."
Time slowed, dragged almost to a stop. The insects chirped, the birds roosted, the damp evening air began to settle over them.
A few moths were attracted to the luminosity of the lamps, causing shadows as they fluttered against the hot glass. With Daniel's insides exposed, Jack had the wild visual of bugs falling in amongst his guts and drowning in the bloody mess.
He didn't know how Janet did it, working so calmly as she identified the swollen and infected part of his entrails. Sam assisted, catching the blood as it dripped across Daniel's abdomen with a piece of cloth, or holding some god-awful piece of instrument so Janet could dig deeper inside of Daniel.
"There it is." Janet pointed to the small ugly piece for everyone to see. She reached a bloody hand for a pair of scissors set out next to her. Before her fingers could wrap around them, though, dirt exploded as a bullet landed barely an inch from her hand.
They all froze, helpless as they were leaning over Daniel's opened body, and stared at Heru Ur, who had a rifle pointed at them. There was only one person he could have gotten the weapon from... and that certainly didn't bode well for Teal'c.
"Well, isn't this cozy." Heru Ur sauntered into the camp, grinning as he took in the scene before him. Slowly, Jack moved his hand out of sight, slowly edging for his pistol. He froze when Heru Ur stopped a few feet from him, making a face when he saw what they were doing.
"You people sure know how to pass an evening. And Sheriff, I'd suggest you keep both your hands in plain sight, unless you're aiming to lose your friend here." The rifle shifted, the muzzle aimed straight for Daniel's head. Jack brought his hand up and laid both of them on Daniel's shoulders.
"Good. That goes for you, too, little Miss Deputy."
Glaring at the convict, Sam raised her hands into the air.
"So, where is it?" Heru Ur shifted the gun, aiming it at Janet.
"In my deputy's saddlebag. The one whose gun you're holding."
Heru Ur's eyes shifted to Carter, then came back to Jack. "Don't be an idiot. My peyote and laudanum was with your slave. Where did you put the totems?"
Daniel's snoring changed in pitch, and Jack knew in a moment his friend would be in need of another dose of the ether. He thought quickly. Even if he made things easy for Heru Ur, there wasn't any way any of them would be leaving this camp alive. The man had killed all his followers, after using them to obtain rare artifacts from their tribes that rich men back east would pay a fortune for. Mike Burell had taken most of them back with him but two of the rarest finds had belonged to a tribe only a day's ride from the Flats, and Daniel had been more than willing to return the treasures to them after they'd gotten back.
"Carter took them back to town with her when she went for help�"
A shot rang out, shattering one of the oil lamps.
"You, sweet thing," Heru Ur ordered as he waved the gun at Sam. "Get up and start emptying the saddlebags." He leered at the doc as Sam slowly stood. "I'd ask you to come help me but I really don't feel like getting blood all over me." He laughed, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin. "You just keep your hands right inside there. Keep you nice and warm. Sheriff, I'd be mighty happy if you were to slowly unbuckle your gun belt. You too, Sweet Pea."
Moving slowly, Jack did as Heru Ur ordered, tossing his gun belt out of reach. He sat there, helpless, as Sam was ordered to start dumping each saddlebag one by one. He could tell she was stalling but it was just a matter of time before she came to the totems.
He wondered why Heru Ur hadn't shot any of them yet, or released his cohorts. Even if he wanted to use someone as a hostage, the logical thing would still have been to kill everyone else. Then again, the man could just be toying with them and planning on making them all die slowly and painfully.
Daniel moaned softly. Jack took his eyes off Heru Ur and met Janet's gaze as Daniel's breathing slowly began to increase.
"Move a little bit faster, Buttercup, because I aim to have a little fun before the night's over." When Heru Ur turned a moment to watch Sam, Jack quickly looked over the medical instruments that were laid out beside Janet. There were a couple of sharp knives he could use, he just needed the opportunity and a couple of seconds to lean over, reach out and grab one and throw it.
Daniel shifted slightly as he moaned again. He still wasn't awake but Jack was fearful he was feeling the pain of having his belly cut open. They needed to finish this fast.
By now Sam had taken Jack's saddlebags and dumped the contents onto the ground. The two small totems, wrapped in furs, rolled out amidst the other contents. "Just put those back into the saddlebag, Sugar Plum, and step back to your friends."
This was it. Heru Ur had his treasure and most likely now he'd start torturing them. There was a glint of amusement in his eyes as he moved to pick up the saddlebag and followed right behind Sam.
As Sam took her position beside Jack, Heru Ur pointed the pistol at Daniel's opened belly. "I wonder what would happen if I shot up a couple of things inside there. Maybe the pretty doctor could tell me exactly what it was I was shooting up." The rifle cocked and Jack tensed, ready to grab one of the knives when the gun went off.
Instead of Daniel jerking in a fountain of blood, Heru Ur spun about, the rifle flying from his hand. It took Jack only a second before he spotted Teal'c coming out of the shadow of the woods, a rifle held at the ready at the man squirming, groaning on the ground.
"Sheriff, I need ether, now." She picked up the scissors and reached back into Daniel's belly. With quick movements, she snipped off the offending piece of tissue.
Jack grabbed the sponge and put it over Daniel's mouth while Teal'c began trussing up their prisoner. Daniel continued to moan softly.
"It's not working!"
"Is the sponge damp or dry?" Janet never looked up at him, intent on her work.
"It's a little dry."
"Add a little more ether to wet it."
Jack obeyed, then hurriedly stuck the sponge over Daniel's mouth, terrified that he wouldn't be fast enough and his friend would wake up amidst the chaos of his guts exposed to all and sundry. Thankfully he soon quieted, and the snoring began again.
A light wind started up, rifling Jack's hair. And even though it helped dry the nervous sweat beading on his forehead and down his back and sides, it caused goose bumps to spread all over Daniel's exposed skin.
"Sam, could you spread a blanket over Daniel's legs? It's starting to get a little chilly."
Sam obeyed, tucking the blanket over and beneath his feet. She handed Jack another one once he put the sponge down and he carefully placed it, still folded in half, around Daniel's shoulders and upper chest, careful not to get into the doc's way.
By now Janet was sewing Daniel's belly, the thread dark against Daniel's white skin. Jack flinched as the needle flashed; somehow this was worse than seeing Daniel's insides exposed. Although he'd stitched a wound or two in his time, it just felt surreal to see Daniel's body being treated like a slab of meat. He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the odd sensation.
Daniel stopped snoring and moaned, and Jack automatically reached for the ether-soaked sponge.
"There's no need, Sheriff." Janet stuck the needle again into the flap of Daniel' skin, pushing it through with effort. "I'm almost done. We can let him wake up now."
"That's gonna hurt something fierce when he wakes up." Jack looked at the wound, already looking slightly puckered around the edges. The smell of blood was in his nose.
"Not to worry. I have some laudanum in my bag; that'll help with the pain."
Daniel moaned again, softly.
"Doc, you sure?"
Janet looked up from her work and smiled at Jack. "He's fine. He doesn't feel anything and probably won't for a little while longer. And," she said, snipping off another piece of thread, "I'm finished."
It didn't take her long to bandage the wound and with Jack's help, replaced the bloody blanket Daniel lay on with a clean one. Sam wiped Daniel's hip and back where the blood had dripped and pooled and they slipped a bedroll underneath him and covered him up in blankets.
"So, that bit that you cut off," Jack began, refusing to look at the embers behind him, "that's what was making him sick?"
"That's right." Janet wiped her freshly-washed hands on a clean cloth, then pressed the back of her hand against Daniel's cheek.
"So he's gonna be okay now?"
"If he doesn't come down with a fever and infection, yes, he should."
Jack exhaled loudly. He stood on shaky legs, then walked over to Teal'c, who had disappeared once he'd tired up Heru Ur, and was now leading Sage back into camp, Jack's rifle held loosely over his shoulder.
"What happened out there?" Jack asked quietly as Teal'c tethered his horse alongside Sam's. He glanced at his rifle which Teal'c had obviously managed to grab while Heru Ur was busy threatening them. "He had your gun."
"Indeed. Heru Ur doubled back and caught me unawares. He took my weapon during the scuffle and managed to escape before I could subdue him. I lost his trail for a time; I regret I was unable to apprehend him sooner."
Jack clapped his deputy on the shoulder. "No harm done, T. Doc says Daniel's gonna be fine, if he don't catch a fever."
Janet walked up to Jack and Teal'c. "I need to look at the prisoners' wounds."
"I will accompany you, Doctor Fraiser."
"Thank you, Teal'c. Sheriff, I'd appreciate if someone sits with Daniel until he wakes up." She smiled; much of the earlier worry creasing her face was gone. "He should wake up in about ten minutes. I just need someone to make sure he doesn't try to get up. He won't be feeling any discomfort for a while so he may think he's a little perkier than he actually is."
"Take Sam with you." He glanced over at his deputy, who was putting their belongings back into the saddlebags. "And make sure the prisoners are secure before the doc touches them."
Teal'c's face looked fierce in the gloom. "They will not have the opportunity to move an inch."
Jack threw a couple of sticks onto the fire and the wood crackled and popped loudly as he settled beside Daniel. He was still sleeping, but the snoring had stopped. The little moans started up again, but this time they weren't quite as alarming since Daniel's belly was now sewn up. Although, Jack surmised, it would probably still hurt like the dickens.
Janet was right. After ten minutes of increasing fidgeting, Daniel opened his eyes.
In reply, Daniel began to dry heave.
"Doc!" Jack caught Daniel's flailing hands, trying to hold him in place. "Easy, Wa-ya, easy now." Janet came running back to them, sliding as her feet slipped in the dew-wet grass.
"It's okay, Daniel." She caught his shoulders and turned him partly onto his side. Daniel heaved a few more times, a bit of liquid dripping from the corner of his mouth. "Get me some water." She slipped behind Daniel and eased his shoulders onto her lap, holding him there while he coughed and retched. Jack looked around, looking for a canteen. Finally he spotted one at the far end of the fire. He grabbed it and handed it to Janet.
She had a piece of cloth in her hand and she poured water over it and used it to wipe Daniel's mouth and chin. He coughed once more and lay back in her arms, exhausted.
"He's okay, it's just a reaction from the ether." She slid from under Daniel and lay him back down onto the bedroll. She took a moment to look into his eyes and listen to his heart.
"Let him rest. I'm almost done with bandaging Terok's leg." She adjusted the blankets around Daniel's shoulders and returned to tending the prisoners.
Daniel lay quietly for a while, but at the loud pop from the burning wood, he opened his yes and turned to frown at the fire.
"Ta-wa-di?" He squinted up at Jack, seeming to have more trouble than usual to focus. But he wasn't hurting, other than the puking, and that made Jack smile.
"Yeah, it's me."
"You makin' rabbit stew again?"
"Not necessarily, unless you've got a hankerin' for some."
"You promise to save the pelts? I need a new..." Daniel's eyes closed lethargically and slowly opened again. "We catch any fish at all?"
Jack's smile spread into a grin. He realized Daniel wasn't quite awake. He acted like the day when Mz. Athene had poured some fancy liquor she'd brought all the way from England into his coffee. Danny had enjoyed it so much she'd given him the bottle and he'd finished it off within the hour, and had come back to the Emerald City saloon singing and acting all confused like. Jack laughed softly as he remembered how much he'd teased his friend about it in the following weeks.
"Not tonight. How about we try some trout in the morning. There's a stream about a half mile east of here."
"Okay. We'll set off first light..." Daniel yawned and stretched, then looked down at his bandaged abdomen in surprise. "Oh."
"No. I don't remember getting shot." He raised a hand to touch the bandages and Jack reached out and grabbed it, pulling questing fingers away from the wound.
"You didn't. Doc said you had appendicitis."
"I don't remem�" Daniel frowned. "My belly hurt. It hurt really bad."
"Doc cut you open right quick and snipped out a piece of your gut. So you don't try and move around afore she tells you you can."
"Janet cut me open?" There was shock in his voice. He sounded more awake than before and must have been feeling spry because he tried to lean up on his elbows.
"Don't!" Jack pressed gently on Daniel's shoulders, forcing him back down. Daniel finally acquiesced after a brief struggle. "Doc worked real hard gettin' you fixed, don't go repay her by pulling out any of her stitchin'."
"I don't remember anything but the hurt. And the dream."
"Hurt? While she was cuttin' you open? You near woke up a couple'a time�"
"No, I don't remember any of that. I just remember the hurt before and... an awful smell that I had to breathe."
"Ether. Knocked you out real good an' fast."
"I must have been asleep. I dreamed..." Daniel smiled and looked up into the night sky. "I was with my parents. I remember my mom's voice as she kept telling me to keep up. Then we were in wagons, moving through the prairie. Far in the distance, the sun shone bright on our goal. The closer we got, the bigger it got, until I saw it was a metal circle with pictures drawn on it." Daniel's voice became wistful. "There was a bright flash and we went through the circle and we were in a strange place. I think it was Egypt; I remember my father's description of it. It was hot, sand everywhere, and the moons." Turning his head to look at Jack, his eyes reflected the firelight. "There were two moons, Jack. It was wonderful."
"Two moons, huh?" Jack held back a grin and tossed a look at the half moon evident in the sky overhead. "You still reading those dime novels Mz Deb keeps by the baths?"
Daniel smiled dreamily. "It was a good dream. Prophetic. I'll need to talk with Walela about it."
"That shaman is gonna tell you that it was a fever-dream, and not put any meaning into it."
"Jack." Daniel rolled his eyes, but his lips turned up in a smile. "That big circle conveyed such feelings of possibilities�"
"It was a dream. Janet just cut your belly open, it's no wonder you dreamed weird things."
"I still want to talk to Walela. Do you think we could�" Daniel froze in mid-word, his eyes opening wide suddenly and his breathing beginning to quicken.
"You gonna puke again?"
"Um, no." Daniel licked his lips and slowly raised his right hand towards his hip. He rested it close to where the cut had been made, not quite at the actual site, but worrying the area.
"I'll get the doc," Jack said quickly when he realized Daniel was in pain. He stood and made to go to where the prisoners were, when he saw Janet and his two deputies coming back. He hurried to meet them.
"He's startin' to hurt, doc."
"Pour me about this much water in a cup, Sheriff." Janet squeezed thumb and forefinger close together, indicating the measure. As Jack did as he was bid, Janet took out a bottle from her medicine bag. She poured some liquid into the cup and handed it all to Daniel.
Daniel blanched visibly at the sight of having to drink something but he gamely did as she asked. Fingers flexing open and closed as his discomfort continued to increase, Daniel stopped talking, pulling into himself.
Then the laudanum finally began to kick in, because Daniel's fingers slowly eased open and his hand dropped to the blanket, next to his thigh.
"Are you starting to feel better?" Sam, who'd been sitting opposite Jack, took Daniel's hand in hers and stroked the back of it.
"Mmmm. Yeah," Daniel said dreamily. He sighed softly, then took a deep breath. "Janet, we're going to go visit Walela on our way home tomorrow." He tugged his hand from Sam's and spread his arms out to the side, slapping Jack's knee as he did so. "You can all tell him about your dreams." His voice grew stronger as he spoke, his words starting out slowly and then rushing out one after another, as if each were competing in a race and wanted to beat the next one to the finish line. "As a shaman, he has a foot into the mythical doorway of the spirit world. He can interpret your dreams, tell you if it was a message from your spirit guide and what you should be doing in order to�"
"Do you truly believe that your dreams are messages from one in another plane of existence, DanielJackson?"
"Wha�?" Daniel pulled his arms back in and frowned at Teal'c. Then he smiled. "Well, no, I don't, although I tell you I've seen and heard things that could be considered a little... strange. But I lived with The People for many years, learned and followed their customs, and even though my head tells me it's all just hocus pocus, my heart wants me to believe."
"Then perhaps you should follow your heart. Even amongst my own people, as a child, there were things I witnessed during ceremonies which even now are difficult to explain."
"I didn't take you for the religious kind, Teal'c." Jack cocked an eyebrow at the big man.
"Don't tease him, Jack."
Thanks to the pain killing effects of the laudanum, Daniel was now overflowing with an exuberance Jack was pretty sure that, if his friend hadn't been cut open just an hour ago, he'd be up and walking about, waving his hands, restless with nervous energy. He'd been gesturing as he spoke, but the movements were beginning to slow.
"Just because you don't go to prayers every week doesn't mean... others can't... can't..."
Janet captured Daniel's moving hand and held it tightly, forcing him to stop. He blinked sleepily at her, his eyes half shut.
Jack could see how much the past day had taken out of Daniel; even by the light of the fire and oil lamps, his eyes were still sunken and he appeared pale.
"Thirsty," Daniel said suddenly, blinking once more.
Sam passed Janet some water and Daniel drank greedily, then complained when she took the cup away.
"Not too much or you'll make yourself sick. Try to rest now."
They all sat quietly, waiting as Daniel closed his eyes. Not long after he was breathing deeply, sleeping peacefully. They all stood and moved away so they wouldn't disturb Daniel's rest.
"Janet, how soon before we can take him back to Tok'ra Flats?"
"I'd sooner see him in his own bed, good food at his beck and call and all the amenities of home. But to be truthful, the ride back is going to be hard on him. I think we should wait at least two days before moving him."
"Samantha and I are capable of escorting Heru Ur and the others to the jail at first light."
"Yeah, I know you are, Teal'c." Jack hated splitting his deputies up but with two of the prisoners wounded, chances are they'd be a lot more docile now. "We'll just make sure they're trussed up good and proper so they don't get another chance to escape."
"I'll take first watch," Sam offered tonight. "We can�" She trailed off when the east sky lit up, sheet lightning dancing brightly through the trees.
"Sheriff, please put up the roof on the wagon." Janet began gathering her medicines, placing everything back into her bag.
"Teal'c, wanna give me a hand? Looks like we're gonna get us a bit of wet weather."
"Maybe the storm will miss us," Sam said as she helped Janet secure the camp for the oncoming storm. Thunder grumbled as a damp breeze suddenly sprang up. "Then again, maybe not."
By the time they'd set everything up and pushed the wagon closer to the campfire, it was evident the storm was taking its time getting to them. Thunder and lightning continued to grumble far away, illuminating the sky from east to west and towards the north with spectacular intensity.
"Sheriff, it would probably be more prudent to get Daniel into the wagon before it starts to rain." She prepared a bed inside the wagon, using several blankets as a pallet, then returned to Daniel, shaking his shoulder and called his name. He stirred, not quite coming awake. "Daniel, honey, we're going to put you into the wagon. Don't be alarmed, okay?"
"Mmmm." Daniel's eyes barely opened more than a slit, and he didn't wake when Teal'c reached under Daniel's arms and raised him into a seated position. But when Jack took Daniel's legs and they both lifted him, he woke up and began to struggle.
"Easy, easy, Wa-ya, we're just moving ya."
Moving quickly, they carried him to the wagon. Teal'c placed Daniel inside as far as he could and while Janet and Sam held his body steady, he climbed into the wagon and gently pulled Daniel inside, lifting him onto the blankets Janet had spread out for him.
"You are safe now, DanielJackson. We have simply moved you into cover before the storm breaks."
"What storm?" As if in response to Daniel's groggy-voiced question, thunder ripped through the sky, sending vibrations deep into the earth.
"That storm." Janet climbed under the canvas roof and began spreading blankets over Daniel. Sam placed one of the lanterns inside the wagon and blew out the remaining one. She handed Janet her bag and several other items while the remainder of their saddlebags and belongings were tucked into a corner.
They had all taken out their raingear and Jack was pulling his oiled slicker on just as the first drops hit. The wind died just as the rain began to pour. The fire sizzled loudly before it spluttered out with a puff of smoke.
"I'm gonna go keep an eye on the prisoners." Jack headed off, water cascading down past the brim of his hat in a small torrent, half blinding him as much as the deluge he was traipsing through.
There wasn't much shelter, the force of the rain so strong that it gushed through the trees. Jack leaned against a tree trunk and kept watch over the prisoners, all of whom sat, heads lowered, miserable in the storm.
The storm continued to rage, at one point having eased enough that the rain had stopped and the thunder faded. But the thunder and lightning picked up after a short time and the rain began again, just as strong as before.
Teal'c came to relieve Jack after what felt like an eternity. Chilled and damp despite the slicker, he sloshed his way back to the wagon. Sam was sitting right at the edge, under the roof. She moved to the far side of the wagon as Jack approached, making room for him.
"Daniel's still sleeping." She had to practically yell into Jack's ear to be heard over the sound of the rain. He peered inside and saw from the dim light of the lamp that Daniel indeed was sleeping. Janet was sitting next to him and he guessed that she and Sam had been talking. "Go on in and eat something. Mayor Debi gave us some biscuits and roast chicken; never did have a chance to pass 'em out."
Jack climbed into the wagon and sighed. It was a relief to be in out of the we even if it was a bit crowded inside. The sound of the rain was still loud but at least he could now see without the waterfall flowing off his hat. He took the hat off and shook it, then tossed it aside as he accepted a basket from Janet.
He dug inside and grabbed a biscuit. He bit into it and chewed while he unwrapped the chicken and tore a bite off a leg. The food was good and filling, although he'd have preferred hot coffee to go with the meal to take the edge off the dampness. Looked like there'd be no fire tonight, unless the storm eased off in the next little while.
- - - - - -
Daniel could smell frying fish. The greasy aroma permeated the small space he lay in, making him nauseous. He opened his eyes and looked around blearily. He remembered being outside, in camp... now wood and white canvas surrounded him. His memory was a bit murky; he remembered the pain, the feeling of helplessness and vulnerability as he lay there on the ground as the prisoners escaped.
His head was heavy and had an almost-throb. His mouth was dry and thick, his eyes heavy and burning. His gut ached, but nowhere near the agony he'd experienced... was it yesterday? He was hot and his body was stiff and sore and he recognized the symptoms of fever as he shoved a blanket aside, wishing he were outside to feel the wind. Pain tugged at his gut when he used his leg to push the remainder of the blanket from him.
He moved slowly, realizing that there still was something wrong with him. He reached along his chest with his fingers, feeling bandages wrapped around his hips and lower torso. Then he touched a tender spot, eliciting a gasp from him as the pain took a second to register.
"Morning, Daniel. How're you feeling?"
Daniel raised his head slightly to see Janet standing outside, at the foot of a wagon.
"He awake?" Jack's voice was loud enough to carry inside the wagon.
"Yes, Sheriff, he is," Janet called over her shoulder. "So...?"
"Tired," he finally admitted after going through the list of ailments he was experiencing. The wagon shifted and creaked as Janet climbed on and crab walked up to him. The daylight streaming in from the back end of the wagon dimmed as Jack leaned forward to peer inside. Janet knelt beside him and put cool fingers to his cheek.
"You've got a bit of fever, but that's to be expected. You hurting any?"
"It's fine. I�"
"Daniel." There was impatience in Jack's voice. "The doc sliced your belly open like a trout and I got to see a part of you that I hope I never have to witness again. So answer the doc - you hurtin' any?"
Daniel stared at Jack a moment, knowing how well his friend knew him. He licked his lips, feeling very thirsty. "It hurts some."
"Bad enough, but not like yesterday."
"Okay, that's good. I've got willow bark tea brewing for your fever and I'll mix some laudanum in it for you for the pain. I'll be back in a moment."
The wagon shifted again as she left. Daniel shut his eyes, trying to ignore the growing headache and throbbing in his side. The wagon jostled again as someone climbed into it and he cracked open his eyelids to see Jack crawling forward to come and sit next to him. The stench of grease and fish crept in with Jack.
"Guess you're not in the mood for breakfast, huh?"
"Let me guess. Fish?"
"Yeah. There's a stream not far and they were just literally jumping after the worms. Anyways, I wanted to make sure Sam and Teal'c got a good breakfast before headin' off. We're lucky it stopped raining close to mornin', otherwise we'd have been hard pressed gettin' a fire going."
"Taking the prisoners ahead to The Flats."
"Jack..." Daniel couldn't meet Jack's eyes. It'd been his fault that Heru Ur had escaped in the first place. His face and neck felt warm; warmer than from just the fever. He concentrated on Jack's fingers, which were playing with the frayed edge of the crumpled blanket.
"We rounded 'em up before they could get very far. Two of 'em's a little bloody but they'll live. Doc said she wants to wait a couple'a days before headin' on back home with ya. Jostling about in here might be a little painful otherwise." Jack's fingers stilled, then he began smoothing the ragged ends into even little lines.
"I'm sorry about that�"
"Hey. Don't. Who knew that you'd get sick? Just be thankful we were close to home so we could get you help."
Daniel nodded, feeling the heat of blush burn his cheeks. He was relieved when Janet returned with his medicine. He wasn't used to being embarrassed in front of Jack; then again, he'd never made as bad a call as handling the prisoners when he'd been so sick.
"Here, Sheriff. You may as well give this to him." To Daniel's surprise, Janet handed Jack a cup. "Make sure he drinks all of it."
"You heard the doc. You think you can sit up?"
Daniel stared by raising his neck and shoulders but immediately the pain in his belly flared to agonizing heat.
"Okay, maybe not. Here, let's try it this way." Jack put the cup down and eased closer to Daniel. He put a hand under the pillow and raised his head and shoulders, then slid a leg beneath so Daniel's head was supported. He picked up the cup, held it to his nose a moment and sniffed, then brought it to Daniel's lips.
The tea had been sweetened with honey but he could still taste underlying bitterness of the bark. He swallowed as fast as he could, anxious to finish.
"Think you can manage a bit of soup?" Janet pushed a bowl into the wagon and the fragrant aroma of chicken soup mixed with that of the fish.
"I saved you some of our supper last night and Sam made a soup for ya with it." Jack took the bowl and then the spoon that Janet handed him and stirred the soup.
"I'm not really hungry." The tea hadn't eased his thirst and the bitterness was making him slightly nauseated.
"You gotta eat something. Keep up your strength. Last thing you ate was Jacob's beans and that was near two days ago."
"Just a few bites, Daniel," Janet coaxed.
Jack must have taken Daniel's silence for compliance because he dug the spoon into the soup and brought chunks of meat and vegetables to Daniel's mouth. Obediently Daniel opened his mouth.
The soup was hot and flavourful and he was sure he'd have enjoyed it if he'd felt better. He managed to eat several more spoonfuls when his stomach contracted and he knew he'd not be able to eat more without losing what he'd already eaten.
Without a word, Jack dropped the spoon into the bowl and pushed it back towards Janet.
"I'll keep the soup warm; we'll try and see if you can eat a little more later on."
Jack shifted, pulling his leg out and lowering Daniel back down. He tried to relax; even now his headache was gone and the throbbing was easing. His stomach calmed down and he listened to the sound of voices outside. He couldn't make out the words but he could differentiate Sam, Teal'c and Janet.
"You gonna sleep?"
"Mmm?" He hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he opened them again.
"Either Janet or me'll be close by. Just yell if you need us."
Daniel closed his eyes, nodding. The wagon shifted and he lay there, listening to his friends talking and eating fish.
- - - - - -
Daniel woke up with such a sense of impending doom that he rose into a half-seated position before the agony in his belly hit him. He cried out and fell back, trying to twist onto his side to relieve the pain.
Panting, trying to think of why there was such urgency and how he'd come to be hurt, Daniel reached out, partly in barely-held panic and partly because he needed someone or something familiar to reassure himself.
A small hand caught his and another reached out to wipe the sweat from his cheek and forehead. The fingers were cold and felt good against his skin.
"It's okay. Just relax. You're safe."
"Janet? Jack, Sam, Te�"
"They're fine. See, Jack's right here, beside me. Are you okay? What happened?"
Daniel looked around blearily, confused. He was in a wagon...
"Are you in pain? Were you dreaming?"
"I think... so." Daniel was hot; he was having trouble concentrating.
"Now just ease over onto your back so I can check your stitches." She let go of his hand and tapped his hip back so that he was lying straight. "It's about time I change your bandage anyway."
Daniel did as he was bid, his memory vague and blurry, as if the agony in his belly, the prisoners escaping and the long wait for help had been but a fading dream. But the pain was still there - sharper, different, providing proof that part of it all had been real.
When Janet pulled the blankets away, cool, damp air flowed over his overheated skin. He felt goose bumps rise on his skin as she began unwrapping bandages from around his torso.
"Sam and Teal'c have gone back to The Flats with the prisoners. Remember we talked about this earlier?"
Janet's fingers reached under his hips, pulling the bandage from beneath him. Daniel nodded at Jack as he stared at his friend for any signs of anxiety. But Jack seemed calm, concerned only for Daniel. The feeling of urgency he'd woken up with eased with Jack's words. Maybe Janet was right. Vague wisps of memory came to him, or was it a dream?
He hissed as Janet's fingers probed painfully at his belly. "It looks good. No harm done." She slathered something cold over his injury and the muscles in his belly jerked painfully. He bit back a yelp, then turned his head away when Janet apologized.
The coolness of the poultice felt good for a moment, then his body slowly began to warm it. By the time Janet had finished wrapping the bandages around his belly once more, he'd begun shivering.
"Sheriff, his fever's climbing. Could you get some more tea?"
Jack slid out of the wagon, only to return after a moment. He took his hat off and smacked it against his leg as he handed Janet a cup covered with a plate.
"It's raining so we haven't been able to keep a fire going. Drink it fast, it won't taste so bad." The willow bark tea was cold and doubly bitter and Daniel gagged once before he managed to swallow it all down. He gladly drank the water Janet gave him afterwards to chase the lingering taste away.
"Um... Jack?" The water he'd just drank made him aware of the increasing pressure in his bladder. He looked outside pointedly when his friend raised a questioning eyebrow towards him. "Can you help me outside? I gotta go..."
"Oh no, you don't." Janet reached into the far corner of the wagon and pushed a chamber pot towards him. "Here."
Daniel stared at the ceramic container, then looked helplessly at Jack, who grumbled, "It's pouring out there. Use the piss pot."
Daniel stared at the chamber pot, at the cramped quarters they were all sheltering in, and the pouring rain outside. With a sigh, he pulled the pot towards him.
"Janet, do you mind?" He made a tight, twirling motion with his finger. Janet merely grinned at him and turned her back so that she was looking outside. In the end he needed Jack's help to hold the pot at the right angle. It took him a long moment to get over the odd sensation of pissing lying down before he could convince his body it was okay to let go.
When he was done, he lay back and concentrated on the falling rain. He hadn't realized it was raining before; now that he was aware of it, he realized the air, even inside the wagon, was very damp and chill. Jack fiddled with the blankets, pulling them up to Daniel's chin.
"Sheriff, it's going to get even colder tonight. With no fire�"
"We can sleep in here, on either side of Daniel, that'll keep both him and us warm." Jack had found another blanket and was spreading it over Daniel. Despite the weight of the coverings over him, he wasn't feeling any warmer.
"If the weather doesn't clear by tomorrow morning, I think we may have to head back to Tok'ra Flats tomorrow."
Jack stopped fiddling and caught Daniel's gaze. "You think he'll be okay to�"
"If we take it slow and easy." When Daniel turned to look at Janet, she smiled. "I just don't want you jostled too much. I was hoping to give you a couple of days before we move you but with the weather and your fever..." Her smile faded. "I think you'll probably be better off in your own bed."
Daniel merely nodded; it was hard to hold back the shivers and his teeth had begun chattering. He pulled the blanket up past his chin, hoping Janet wouldn't notice how cold he really was. His back ached; not only from the fever but from the hardness of the bottom of the wagon, despite the padding underneath. He longed for his bed more than Janet could know. And he couldn't even turn onto his side to relieve the discomfort due to the cut in his belly.
He spent the next few hours dozing. He couldn't seem to stay asleep; little noises would wake him or else he'd have the oddest dreams and wake up confused. He alternated between hot and cold and his thoughts were slow to form.
Janet kept plying him with cold tea. He couldn't help wishing for something hot to drink as his teeth rattled on the metal rim of the tin cup.
"That's the last of the willow bark tea. The Sheriff's gone out looking for something to burn so we can make a small cook fire. The next time you'll have something hot to drink, I promise."
Janet laughed softly. "I'm sorry, I know it tastes awful. There's some rabbit left over from supper; I'll make you some broth. Now you just try and rest and see if you can sleep."
- - - - - -
Jack lowered the wick on the lantern so that it barely illuminated the wagon, then pushed it into the corner where there'd be no danger of upsetting it during the night. He pulled a blanket over his shoulders and lay down on Daniel's left side, then inched sideways so that his back and legs were touching Daniel. The heat coming off from Daniel was enough to keep Jack and Janet comfortable throughout the night.
He could hear Janet settling on Daniel's other side. It was raining heavily, the humidity cloying in the small confines of the wagon, accentuating the sour scent of vomit. He reached up and unhooked a corner of the canvas, allowing a hint of a breeze to circulate through the wagon.
"If his fever doesn't come down in the morning, we should start for home first thing." Janet's voice was soft, trying not to disturb her slumbering patient. Still, Daniel shifted restlessly, not quite waking.
"Isn't there anything else you can do for him?"
"Other than trying to keep his fever down? No. I was able to remove his appendix before it poisoned his body, but he was weak and dehydrated before I operated so it's not surprising he's developed a fever. But he's strong. Shhhh," Janet said softly as Daniel moaned and pushed the blankets aside. She raised up on her elbow and pulled the blankets off him before he could attempt to kick them off. "But he's going to be spending an uncomfortable night."
Then Daniel coughed and called out Jack's name in a weak and near-panicked tone. Moving quickly, Jack turned Daniel onto his side while Janet placed a basin beneath his mouth as Daniel vomited once more. "I know it hurts," Janet crooned as Daniel groaned between bouts of retching. Jack had Daniel's shoulders braced against his bent legs, his neck and head supported in his hands as Daniel trembled and coughed.
"Okay, I think he's done." Together they eased Daniel back onto the blankets and Janet quickly pulled the coverings back up as Daniel began shivering again. She moved to the back of the wagon, stuck the basin into the rain and rinsed it out. Then she held it out under the deluge, filling it with rainwater. "We should have headed out to town first thing this morning, with the others."
Too late now... Jack didn't want to admit it, but he was starting to worry. When Daniel had first taken ill he'd thought that once the doc got here, she'd take care of things and Daniel would be better. But Daniel seemed just as bad off now as before, worse, actually since his fever was higher and seemed to be in as much pain whenever the laudanum wore off.
Janet crawled back up to Daniel and dipped a cloth into the basin. She wrung it out a bit and began passing it over Daniel's chest and neck. Daniel gave a low, startled cry at the first touch of the wet cloth, but settled when Jack put a hand to his arm.
They spent the night sitting next to Daniel and watching him as he slept fitfully, or taking turns with the water and cloth, trying to lower the fever. Jack lost count how many times he filled the basin up with cold rainwater. It was like no matter what they did, as soon as Daniel's skin felt somewhat cooler to the touch, someone would stoke his internal furnace and he'd be burning hotter than before.
- - - - - -
Jack took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. He stuck his hat back on and settled his butt back onto the bouncing seat. The going was slow; the road was muddy, making it difficult for the horses to pull the wagon. Janet had asked that he deliberately keep the pace as easy as possible so as not to overly jostle Daniel but with way the wheels kept slipping in the muck, fast or slow, they were in for a rough ride.
The sun had barely been up for an hour; they'd left at first light and already the heat of the day was well established. Sweat trickled down Jack's back; the lingering humidity from the night's storms certainly wasn't helping his comfort any.
"Sha'nee. No! Sha'nee. Stop. Stop. They're getting away."
At Daniel's first cry, Jack turned around, intending to peek inside the wagon. But before he could raise the canvas, he heard Janet's alarmed cry. "Sheriff! I need help."
Immediately Jack drew the horses to a halt and slid off the bench, then ran to the back of the wagon. Daniel continued to cry out for his dead wife as he struggled against Janet's hold to keep him inside the wagon.
"Daniel." Jack jumped inside and hurriedly grabbed Daniel's shoulders. "Easy, Wa-ya. You're safe." The heat coming off Daniel was worse than before. He was drenched with sweat, his eyes unfocused as they kept shifting around the confines of the wagon. Jack elected to pull Daniel against his chest rather than forcing him back down.
Daniel slumped against Jack for a moment before pulling back and fighting him for a moment. "Sha'nee. They've got her... Heru Ur. He's escaped... gotta stop him. Sha'nee. Where is she?" Daniel slumped against Jack again, breathing quickly, muscles shaking with fatigue.
"It's the fever," Janet said hurriedly. "I can't get it down; he's out of his head with it."
"Sha'nee." Daniel pushed against Jack weakly, then fell back. The little energy he had was quickly used up by his delirium. Janet took advantage of the lull and began wiping a dripping cloth along Daniel's exposed bare back. It was close and stifling inside the wagon, hotter than it was outside.
"Ta-wa-di?" Daniel's gaze, unfocused as it was, seemed to grow steady for a moment as he turned his eyes on Jack.
"Yeah, it's me. Me and the doc. Just lie still, okay?" Jack added quickly as Daniel tried to sit up.
"Heru Ur. He got away. Sorry, sorry, I couldn't�" Daniel gasped, muscles growing rigid then dropping back loosely into Jack's hold. Wordlessly Janet handed Jack a cup with a small amount of water inside.
"I know." Jack held the cup, which she'd most likely laced with laudanum, to Daniel's mouth. As Daniel drank, Jack continued talking. "But Teal'c and Sam caught him and his goons and took them back to Tok'ra Flats."
Daniel jerked away from the cup before he'd finished drinking. "Caught... He's... I didn't?"
"Everything's fine. You've been sick. You need to finish drinking this." He put the cup to Daniel's mouth again and tipped the water in. Daniel drank greedily. When he was done, Janet poured more water from a canteen into the cup and Jack gave that to Daniel also.
"Where's Sha'nee?" Daniel looked up at Jack with haunted eyes.
"Daniel... she..." Before Jack could find the words to tell his ailing friend that his wife was dead and had been so for the past few years, Daniel tensed up in pain again, this time pulling his legs up.
"Easy, easy. Just relax, I gotcha."
"I know. Just give the doc's medicine time to work." Jack met Janet's eyes and saw the worry reflected there. He reached for the cloth she was holding laxly in her hand. "Doc, take the reins. I got this."
She hesitated a moment, then relinquished the cloth to him. She pushed the basin of water closer and slid out of the wagon. A moment later the wagon jerked, throwing him off balance. He tightened his hold on Daniel as both of them slid sideways before he could right himself.
With one hand Jack dipped the cloth into the water, squeezed some of the liquid out and then began passing it over Daniel's heated skin. The water trickled down Daniel's sides although Jack was careful to keep it away from the cut itself.
Daniel muttered softly to his breath, his garbled words occasionally intermingled with soft moans. Soon Jack's pants and shirt were wet, but at least Daniel had stopped fighting him and lay quiet, his muscles slowly loosening up with the medication's masking the pain.
When he'd used up all the water in the basin, Jack dropped the cloth and eased a hand beneath Daniel's cheek, testing the temperature where the wet cloth hadn't touched. Daniel definitely felt a little cooler than before. Daniel stirred slightly, not quite asleep but not fully awake.
Jack reached for the canteen and poured some more water into the cup. The wagon tilted and water sloshed onto the blanket.
"Can you drink some of this before you fall asleep on me?" He turned Daniel's face from where it had been resting against his chest and put the cup to his lips. Daniel drank, eyes half-open and not quite seeing.
"Let's get you a little more comfortable." Jack put the empty cup down and rolled forward until Daniel lay on the blankets.
"Jack?" Daniel opened his eyes wide, seemingly startled.
"I'm here. Go to sleep." He put a hand on Daniel's shoulder and Daniel's eyes closed into sleep. Jack backed up so that he was leaning against the far edge of the wagon. He pushed the canvas aside, trying to find a balance with leaving the roof overhead for shade but allowing some air to circulate.
"Doc?" Jack spoke into the open space behind him. "We need more water. We should be coming to a stream pretty soon."
"It's just up ahead. I can see the water through the trees. We'll be crossing it in about a couple of minutes."
Jack grabbed the now-empty bucket and half-empty canteens and slid to the edge of the wagon. He jumped off and walked beside the wagon, stretching his legs, staying clear of the muddy trail. When they reached the stream, Janet stopped the wagon while Jack moved into the woods a ways, where the water was deeper, and filled first the bucket, then the canteens.
He got back into the wagon and dipped the basin into the bucket, then reached for the damp cloth. In the few minutes he'd been gone, Daniel's fever had begun to climb again. Sweat was soaking his bangs, damp strands of long hair had come free of the loose plait during his fitful sleep.
Jack wrung the cloth out, half expecting to hear it hiss as he laid it on his friend's hot skin.
- - - - - -
"DanielJackson is not well." Teal'c stared down at Daniel before helping Jack lift him onto a stretcher. Together they eased him out of the wagon and carried him into the doc's surgery.
"Put him in here." Janet was standing in the doorway of one of the bedrooms; she moved aside as they brought Daniel in and placed him on the bed Mz. Devra had just finished putting the linens to.
"Is there anything else I can do to help, Janet?" Devra pushed back a strand of red hair that had fallen from her neat chignon.
"No, I have it covered. Thank you, honey." Janet eased the sheet over Daniel, folding it back so that his chest was exposed.
"It's no problem." Glancing nervously at the figure in the bed, Devra smiled at the sheriff. "We figured the moment we saw your wagon heading into town that you might need a hand getting things ready here."
"Here's the water you asked for." Mz Babs entered the small room lugging a heavy bucket that was still dripping.
"Could you put some in the basin over there?" Janet placed a stethoscope to her ears and began listening to Daniel's chest.
"The Mayor said she's got a couple of fresh stewing chickens for supper tonight." Babs wiped her damp hands on the folds of her dress. "She's going to put some of the meat aside and keep a broth going for Deputy Daniel."
"She also said to let her know when you're ready and she'll have supper brought for the both of you." Devra pushed at the errant strand of hair again, patting it blindly into place. She couldn't seem to take her eyes off Daniel's shivering form. "That is, if you'll still be here by suppertime. Or we could have it brought to the jail if you're plannin' on being there. With Deputy Daniel sick, though, I just thought... you might be..."
"Shush," Babs said softly as she placed an arm around Devra's waist. "I'm sure the Sheriff will let us know where he'll be." She tugged at Devra, coaxing her out of the room. "You'll let us know if we can be of further assistance, won't you, Janet?"
Janet folded the stethoscope and put it aside, smiling at the two women. "I will. And thank you for your help."
When the two had gone, the small room appeared slightly less crowded. "Teal'c, could you bring that basin over here?"
"Do you require assistance?" Teal'c asked as he moved the basin of water closer to the bed.
"I�" Janet looked up at Jack. He noted that she looked exhausted, the daylight revealing lines of stress around her eyes.
"Teal'c, I'd appreciate it if you'd give the doc a hand for a while? I need to get to the jail, check up on the prisoners, and then wire Mike that we've arrived."
"I will remain, O'Neill." Teal'c pulled up a chair on the opposite side of the bed and Janet handed him a cloth.
"We need to keep his fever down," she began to explain. Jack hurried out of the house; he needed to do his job and the sooner he got that over and done with, the sooner he could return to his friend's side.
- - - - - -
Jack stood looking out the window, one hand clasped behind his back while the other held the curtain aside. He watched as the golden glow of the setting sun slowly caressed the edge of the old woodwork of the seamstress' shop next door to the clinic, causing shadows to lengthen and distort along the main street. He listened to a bird singing in a tree nearby, which was momentarily startled into silence as a horse trotted past. As the bird began to sing again, Jack slowly became aware that the soft mutterings and restless agitation behind him had stopped. Alarmed, Jack turned towards the bed.
Daniel had kicked off the sheet and light blanket once again, one bare leg exposed, the other one tangled in the sheet which barely covered his groin. The bandage around his belly was very white against Daniel's pale skin, and it gleamed in the late evening light which shone through the gauzy curtains.
Daniel lay on his back, his head turned away from Jack, long blond hair mussed up and spread across the pillow. As Jack took the seat he'd left earlier in order to stretch his legs, he realized something was different.
Daniel was sleeping. Truly and deeply asleep, breathing strongly and deeply. Not the fevered bouts of restiveness that stopped for only a few minutes at a time before starting up again.
The sun had lowered just enough that a sunbeam fell straight upon Daniel. In the oddly surreal light, Daniel's skin glowed wet, beads of sweat illuminated and highlighted as they oozed from every pore. Tracks of perspiration covered his body as the sweat made its way to the linen beneath him.
Almost nervously, hoping this was what he thought it meant, Jack placed a tentative hand on Daniel's arm. It still felt hot and was slippery with sweat, but it was definitely cooler than before. Much cooler.
Excitement caused his breathing to quicken. Jack drew his sweat-slicked fingers to Daniel's neck, slid them up to his cheek, then his forehead. Cooler. Oh, so much cooler.
"Hallelujah," Jack whispered softly. "Good job, Daniel." He rose quickly, wiping his hands on his pants and hurried into the kitchen where Janet was sitting with Sam, drinking coffee. "His fever's broke."
Janet was up and out of the kitchen before Jack could say anything else. He hurried after her, Sam close on his heels. He stopped inside the door, moving aside just far enough so that Sam could enter. Janet was checking Daniel over, doing what she'd done many times during the past few days, but this time, there was a smile on her face.
"Sheriff, could you get me some fresh water?" she asked, speaking in a near whisper. "But make sure it's tepid, not cold. Sam?" she asked as Jack grabbed the basin and left the room. "Get me some fresh sheets."
Jack went outside to the pump in the yard and drew enough water to half fill the basin. Then he returned to the kitchen and poured hot water from the kettle that Janet had simmering on the wood stove until the water was just a little warmer than room temperature. He brought the basin back in just as Sam was handing Janet the fresh sheets.
Janet put them aside and motioned for the basin. She took a fresh cloth and began wiping Daniel with it. Daniel didn't so much as stir, arms and legs totally loose and limp as Janet quickly and efficiently wiped the perspiration from his body.
"Sheriff, can you give me a hand? I'll need you to roll Daniel so I can get these clean sheets under him."
He pulled and pushed as directed, moving Daniel from side to side as Janet and Sam first removed the sweat-soaked sheets and replaced them with fresh ones. Daniel's only reaction to the manhandling was to begin snoring softly once a dry pillow was placed beneath his head. By the time the sun had completely set and a lamp lit to illuminate the room, Janet had spread an extra blanket to keep him from catching a chill.
- - - - - -
The softly spoken word pulled Jack back from a light doze. He opened his eyes as he leaned forward quickly, bringing the front of his chair down with a loud thunk. Daniel was awake, and watching him.
"You're going to break your neck one day, sleeping like that."
"It'll never happen." Jack reached for the pitcher of water and poured some into a glass, then handed it to Daniel, remembering Janet telling him to make sure he got plenty to drink when he woke up. "If I can sleep on a horse, I can sleep on a chair. And a chair's safer 'cause it don't move."
Daniel took the glass and raised himself slowly onto an elbow. His hand was shaking but he managed to drink everything down in several large gulps.
"Can I have more?"
Jack started to nod, but remembered the broth Janet was keeping warm in the kitchen for Daniel.
"I got something better. Just stay put, I'll be right back." Jack stood and ignoring the stiffened muscles from the hours he'd spent in the chair, began walking out the door.
"Yeah?" Jack stopped and looked back at Daniel.
"Where are we?"
"Doc Fraiser's surgery."
Daniel's eyebrows went up but he simply nodded wordlessly.
Jack took the pot of broth from the back of the stove and poured some into a tin cup. The aroma was fragrant and mouth watering. He took a sip, testing out the temperature. It was hot but not overly so. He cut a chunk of cornbread from a basket covered with a cloth, then puttered around the kitchen, trying to be quiet while he searched for the butter and strawberry preserves. Janet had been up with Daniel for half the night; Jack had barely slept and two hours ago he'd cajoled the doctor into getting some rest while he stayed with Daniel.
Armed with the broth, jam-covered cornbread and a few slices of cheese, Jack returned to Daniel's bedroom. For a moment he thought Daniel had gone back to sleep but he turned his head towards him when Jack sat down.
"Smells good." Daniel's stomach gurgled loudly as Jack put the food down next to the bed. Almost as if it had heard the gurgling, a bird began to sing outside. It was still dark but the sun would be up shortly.
"Mayor Debi made the broth just for you." Jack grabbed two extra pillows and eased them behind Daniel, helping him to sit up while he adjusted them. "Mz Deb brought some peach cobbler if you're up for some later today, and Mz Amy brought the cornbread."
Jack reached for the cup and handed it to Daniel, making sure he had a good grip before letting go. Daniel sniffed appreciatively before taking a cautious sip. "Mmm, tastes great." As he drank the broth down, Jack placed the plate with the cheese and cornbread on Daniel's lap.
Some of the tension he'd held inside began to ease as Daniel ate and drank everything Jack had given him, then asked for more water on top of it all. Although by the time he handed the glass back to Jack, Daniel was having trouble keeping his eyes open.
Jack supported Daniel's shoulders as he slid the pillows from behind his back, laying him flat again. Daniel tried to move as Jack was reaching back to dump the pillows on the chair, and hissed in pain.
"You want me to get Janet?" Jack asked hurriedly as Daniel tensed and placed a hand over the cut in his belly. "She's got laudanum, helps with the�"
"No, it's okay." Daniel explored the bandaged area tentatively with his fingers. "It's not that bad." He turned to look at Jack sideways. "Janet really cut into my stomach?"
"Just about gutted you and sewed you back up."
"It's odd..." His fingers rubbed softly against the wound. "It hurts... but different than before. I can feel it's where she cut that's sore, before it was inside."
A rooster crowed, answered immediately by a second. Daniel yawned, his eyes beginning to close sleepily once more. "Sorry," he said when he yawned again.
Jack waved a hand before his mouth as he also yawned in empathy. He pushed back on the chair, tilting it against the wall. He kept an eye on Daniel, watching as he blinked heavily a few times until his eyes remained closed. When Jack was certain Daniel was sleeping, he laid his head back against the wall and shut his eyes.
- - - - - -
Daniel walked slowly along the dusty street, trying not to limp as he stepped over the deep ruts in the street made by a heavy rainfall and many wagon wheels. He was highly aware of Jack next to him fielding anyone coming their way. Daniel nodded to those who hailed him, determined not to falter this time.
"We've gone far enough. C'mon, let's turn back."
"Not yet, Jack. Janet said I should get some exercise and I can't do that sitting around the Emerald City Porch."
"You're having trouble walking. You don't want to overdo it."
"I'm fine." He was tired, his legs were shaking and sweat was trickling down his back but he had his goal in sight and there was no way in hell that he was turning back today before he reached it.
For the past three days he'd aimed for Snugbury's Ice Cream Parlour but had never made it. The first day he'd had to sit and rest after barely making it a quarter of the distance. Yesterday he'd actually seen the Parlour but knew if he pushed on, he would have been too exhausted to enjoy the ice cream he craved. Today, though, he had more stamina and he could already taste the chilled treat.
Daniel realized he was holding his hand protectively against his side. He pulled it away and used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his face. He hoped he looked halfway presentable; his shirt was already plastered to his damp skin and the ice cream was going to be doubly appreciated as he sat and rested and cooled off. He stopped in front of the door to Snugbury's, almost laughing when Jack continued a couple of steps past before realizing Daniel wasn't continuing.
"Ready to turn ba�" Jack grinned when Daniel tilted his head towards the open door. He stepped inside and realized the place was full of people. Mz Devra was talking and her accented voice slowly faded as the dozen or so women sitting at the tables suddenly grew silent as they all turned to look at him. Daniel realized belatedly that Mz Devra had been reading something from a hand-written stack of notes.
"Deputy Daniel. Sheriff Jack." The small room erupted in happy greetings as the ladies quickly shifted to make room for the two of them. Daniel shyly made his way between the chairs, heading for his regular table, which had suddenly become free when Mz Darcy and Mz Charlene decided to join Mz Aly and Mz Jmas at the next table.
"I'm so glad to see you up and about, Deputy Daniel." Mz Athene hurried up to him, wiping her hands on her apron as he slowly sat down with relief.
"I'd have come sooner but Jack didn't want me to overdo it."
"Oh, if you wanted something from Snugbury's, I would have been more than happy to bring it to you."
Daniel smiled as he stretched his legs out under the table and leaned back. "That's okay. Did you make any chocolate ice cream today?"
Athene grinned. "I certainly have. And I've also got some chocolate syrup you might enjoy." Her eyes lit up when Daniel nodded enthusiastically. "Sheriff?"
"Just the plain stuff, Mz Athene. I don't care for the fancy flavours."
"Of course, Sheriff." She waited a moment as if expecting Jack to say more, then turned to get their orders.
"Oh, would you mind putting a bit of honey over it?"
Athene paused. "Certainly, Sheriff."
Jack shooed a fly that was buzzing around a sticky stain on the wooden table. "You got nuts to sprinkle on top?" he asked before she took two more steps.
"Will chopped walnuts do?"
"Perfect." Jack glanced over at Mz Aly and winked. "And gumdrops? A couple pieces of gumdrops might not go amiss."
"I have those."
"How about a piece of brownie? I see the ladies are enjoying brownies with their ice cream."
"That's a great choice, Sheriff." By now Athene had made it halfway towards the back of the shop and half the ladies were giggling behind their hands.
"And coffee? You got coffee?"
"Just made a fresh pot. Deputy? Would you like some coffee also?"
"Yes, please, Mz Athene." Daniel smiled at the ladies, who were trying not to laugh outright. "You know, Jack, it's a good thing you like your ice cream plain."
"What?" Jack looked at Daniel with an innocent mien.
"I'm just saying."
"I do like the plain ice cream. I just like everything else that goes with it."
Athene returned with their ices and coffee and Daniel scraped off the top layer with his spoon and slowly slid the cool treat into his mouth. He savoured the flavour, letting it melt before licking a sticky dab of it that had remained on his lip. The room had grown quiet again and he opened his eyes. All of the women suddenly appeared embarrassed, not quite meeting his gaze and looking around at each other or their uneaten ice cream.
Daniel was shocked to see that even the mayor couldn't look at him. Slowly the conversation took up again as Daniel took a sip of coffee. Mayor Debi cleared her throat, looked at the melting ice cream before her and began to eat.
He sat there, content, enjoying his ice cream and listening to Mz Amy describe the latest moving picture she was going to make about Judge Hammond.
When it was time to leave, Jack went to see Athene to pay their tab while Daniel slowly stood. His muscles had stiffened and he had to support himself on the table a moment. "Can I help?"
He turned to see Mz. Deb's concerned face close to his. "I'm fine, I'm just a little stiff. See?" He took a short step, then another, becoming more confident as his legs loosened up. "Thank you for your concern." He kept walking, saying goodbye to all the women as he made his way to the door. Jack met him there just as he stepped outside.
"That was really good." Daniel turned back towards the Saloon, realizing that the walk had taken a lot out of him. He'd planned on sitting outside on the porch but suspected maybe he'd go back to their room for a nap.
He'd barely made it the several feet to the end of the street when a mangy dog trotted around the corner and almost tripped him in its enthusiasm. Daniel stumbled and caught himself, then stood still when something in his side twisted painfully. The pain eased almost immediately, leaving him with a dull ache to remind him that he wasn't fully healed yet.
"Jake, Jake, get back here." Mz Sallye came running up the street, grabbed the affectionate dog by the scruff of the neck and pulled it away from Daniel and Jack. "I'm so sorry, Deputy. I was in a rush and..." She suddenly looked down at her dress and began to frantically brush away white flour fingerprints which stood out starkly against the bright blue cotton.
Wiping her hands, her face red, she looked up at Daniel, and then glanced back the way Daniel had come. Her face suddenly fell. "I'm glad to see you're up and about," she stammered awkwardly, sounding disappointed.
Daniel looked in the same direction and saw Jack stepping out of Snugbury's. "Thank you, Mz Sallye. Were you going to join the ladies? It sounded like Mz Devra was entertaining the lot."
"Um, yes, well, I sort of heard that... Yes," she said suddenly in a determined voice. "I'm running late." She gave Jake a push when he began licking her arm. "I hope you'll be visiting Snugbury's again soon, Deputy Daniel." She smiled at him and nodded at Jack. "Sheriff."
Jack touched the edge of his hat and nodded a greeting.
"Tomorrow, Mz Sallye." Daniel smiled at her and gave Jake a small pat as he pushed his head beneath his hand. "I've missed Mz Athene's treats more than I should admit."
"You need to put more fat on your bones," Sally said as she pushed Jake aside and began walking towards the ice cream parlour. "I'll see you tomorrow, hopefully." As she hurried inside, Daniel moved forward into the street a few steps and then paused as a horse and rider trotted by. He noticed Jack smirking at him.
"You do know she wasn't hurrying to listen to the women gossip, don't you?"
"They weren't gossiping. I think Mz Devra was reading them a story."
"Yeah, but that's not why she came running into town with her bonnet all askew and flour all over her dress."
"She said she was running late�"
Jack burst out laughing and slapped Daniel gently on the back. "C'mon, Deputy-o-mine. I think you've had enough exercise for the day."
- - - - - -
"Sheriff! Sheriff O'Neill!"
Jack hurried out of the empty jail where he'd been filling out paperwork. Mz Wilma was running down the street, both hands clutching folds of material so she wouldn't trip over her dress. The moment she saw him, she put on a burst of speed, only to come almost skidding to a stop when she realized Jack was striding towards her.
He reached out and caught her as she slipped and stumbled to catch her footing, her dress spinning around his legs. Breathing heavily, she let go of the material and handed him a piece of paper. "Judge Hammond," she panted, "asked me to bring you this." She waved a hand in front of her face, trying to catch her breath. "He said it was important."
"Thank you. Are you all right? Can I get you some water?"
"Thank you, but I'm fine. Let me catch my breath first and I'll be on my way." She waved him away and leaned against the wall of the jail, fanning herself while still breathing heavily. Jack unfolded the piece of paper, which was creased from being crushed between Wilma's fingers and her dress.
He stared at the words in the telegraph message, then swore. "Sorry, Mz. Wilma," Jack quickly said when he realized Wilma was still there. She smiled at him as she ran a hand through her hair.
"Go ahead, don't let me keep you. I'll make sure Judge Hammond knows you got the message."
"Thank you, ma'am." Jack walked across town, looking for his deputies. Just when he'd thought things would be getting back to normal, this had to happen.
He spotted Teal'c at the livery and merely motioned to him to accompany him. Leaving the stable hand with a curt nod, Teal'c increased his pace until he caught up with Jack.
"I believe she had business with Dave Siler. What is amiss?"
Without a word, Jack handed Teal'c the paper. He made a right at the next street. Within moments, he could hear the clanging of steel hitting steel.
When Teal'c handed him back the paper, his jaw was set. "It is unfortunate this did not reach Ranger Burell before he left yesterday with the prisoners. Daniel Jackson will not be pleased with this outcome."
"Hey, I'm not that happy myself. Dang it to hell, why did the Indians have to go and stir up trouble now." He waved when he saw Sam, trying to catch her attention. She was leaning close over something Siler was working on. When she saw Jack, he called her over.
Sam said something to Siler, pointed something out to him and then hurried over to Jack and Teal'c.
"We got problems. You still got those totems for safekeeping for the Indian agent Daniel sent for?"
"Yeah. Is he here?"
"Damn agent got himself shot. It'll be months before they get another one out this way and in the meantime, the Indians aren't too happy about the fact that we caught the bad guys and aren't giving them back their holy stuff."
"But the government assured them�"
Wordlessly, Jack shoved the paper towards her. She began to read and exclaimed loudly, "They've left the reservation?"
"And they've already terrorized a few settlers. I figure they're just trying to make noise, get some attention so someone can deal with them but things ain't been too easy on the tribes and some of their hotheads may just get a little overexcited and cause some damage. Or worse."
"What can we do? If we don't have a government liaison with the Indians, who will they trust?"
"Daniel will probably know someone. It's late. He should be up from his nap."
- - - - - -
"Daniel, you are not going."
Lips tightly compressed together, Daniel ignored Jack and stuffed a spare blanket into his saddlebag. He gave the room a last look before shouldering the saddlebag and stepping around Jack and opening the door.
"You've barely been on your feet a week. You can hardly walk across the town and back without needing to sit and rest," Jack called out behind him, dogging Daniel down the hallway and to the stairs.
"I won't be walking, I'll be riding." Daniel put a hand to the wall for balance and support and began slowly making his way down the stairs.
"It's a full day's ride to the Tollan Plains and you'll be skirting the Abydos badlands on top of everything."
Daniel pushed back the misgivings he had with the state of his body and headed for Mz Debi's kitchen. "I'll camp overnight and get some rest." He helped himself to some provisions, making sure he filled an extra canteen with well water and ignored Jack, who was leaning against the doorjamb, watching him with narrowed eyes.
"Tell Mz Debi to put the stuff on my tab." He slung the damp canteens over his shoulder, already feeling exhausted from carrying the saddlebag down the stairs. "Sam still has the totems?"
"Damnit, Daniel. I'll tell Janet," Jack finally exploded as Daniel walked past him and headed or the back door. "I don't think she'll take kindly to you hightailin' it outta here so soon after she had to cut you up."
Daniel froze at Jack's words, halfway out the door. Janet had been worried and had mentioned he'd been pretty sick after the operation. Not that he remembered much, but she'd lost some of her composure as she'd filled him in about how he'd have died without her removing his appendix and how the fever had set in soon after. "Maybe she'll come along. Her doctoring might be needed if the soldiers decide to try and free the hostages."
He stepped outside, wishing his legs didn't feel so leaden. He'd increased his stamina from the first few days he'd been allowed outside but he still felt like any physical activity was a difficult task. It had been nine days since the operation; you'd think he'd be healing faster than this.
He kept walking, heading for the stables, not looking back. He understood Jack was worried about him but there were too many lives at stake, not only the handful of settlers the Indians had captured. No matter how civilized everyone proclaimed themselves, the people who had raised him were still treated badly.
He knew he could talk sense into the chief and return their precious relics before any blood was shed. He didn't know him personally but had heard that Broken Feather was an honourable man. He just hoped he could get there in time before things escalated out of control.
"Daniel." Jack's voice was closer and after a moment he felt Jack grab hold of his bicep. Daniel stopped and stood still, staring down the street to avoid meeting Jack's eyes. "Go with Sam, get the horses saddled."
Turning quickly in surprise, Daniel dropped one of the canteens. He hadn't noticed that Sam and Teal'c had joined them and were standing a few feet behind Jack.
"Wait for me at the stables while I get more supplies." Jack bent down and picked the canteen up, slinging it over Daniel's shoulder. "Teal'c, you tell Ferretti where we're headed before you go pack. Sam, you get the totems and your gear once you got the horses ready."
"I'm stopping off at the doc's before we leave. Just so you know, this is under protest and I don't want my hide tanned if I bring you back home in worse condition than she did last week."
Daniel smiled, suddenly overwhelmed by the caring he saw in Jack's face. He nodded, speechless, and swallowed his emotions with great difficulty. He turned and continued towards the stables, Sam keeping pace with his slower gait.
- - - - - -
Somehow he never expected his body to let him down so fast. The sun was at least two hours away from setting and it was all Daniel could do to stay on Feather's back. Not only did all the muscles in his back and legs ache and burn from riding, but the heat and sun had given him a headache. And because misery loved company, the healing scar where Janet had cut into him was pulling painfully and burning.
He was ready to slide off Feather and crumple into an undignified heap, only his pride prevented him from doing that. Jack and Janet had both insisted he wasn't ready to ride for long periods of time and he'd somehow associated riding with sitting on the mayor's porch. He'd been so used to being in the saddle that he'd forgotten that it was actually work to remain upright.
Leaning his weight on one stirrup, Daniel tried to change the stress on his right side. The saddle creaked with the movement as he shifted, but all his efforts resulted in was a painful pulling sensation in his left hip.
There was no choice. He wouldn't be able to continue much longer. He needed to stop and get off. Decision made, he reined Feather to a stop. Hawk continued on several steps until Jack realized that Daniel had pulled up.
"Daniel? Hey, what're you doing?"
Jack circled around even while Sam and Teal'c pulled up next to him as he slowly eased his right leg over the horse's rump. He grabbed the saddle horn as his foot touched the ground, half hanging onto the saddle until he kicked off with his left foot. Legs shaking, he half leaned against Feather for a moment, partly embarrassed and partly alarmed at how weak he felt.
He hadn't noticed Janet getting off her horse but she was suddenly there, beside him, a hand on his wrist and trying to look up at him as he leaned his face against Feather's neck. The horse nickered loudly and shook his mane.
"I'm fine," Daniel lied, pushing away from Feather with pained steps. He took the reins in hand and began walking along the trail. "I just need to stretch my legs." He tried not to favour his right side but he was having trouble standing straight. Not only had his legs tightened up, but the whole right side of his belly had also.
"I think we've travelled enough for today." Jack kneed Hawk close to Daniel, sandwiching him between the two horses. "We can camp by those trees over there."
Daniel pushed his hat lower over his forehead, trying to ease the glare of the sun. Still he squinted into the direction Jack was gazing at; the trees Jack had mentioned were about a half mile away. He didn't know if he'd be able to walk that far and at the moment he wasn't sure he could get back onto Feather's back.
"How about Teal'c and I ride on up and start camp," Sam called out from behind Daniel. "You and Daniel can take a short rest and we'll have supper cooking by the time you get there."
"Sounds good," Jack answered.
Daniel stared at his boots as Sam and Teal'c galloped away. He couldn't shake the feeling of humiliation that they had to make camp early just because of him. The sky was clear and there should be a three quarter moon; they could have ridden several hours after sunset before needing to stop if not for him.
Long shadows from Janet's horse played between the blades of grass at his feet. He stared at the bobbing shadowy head, watching how it seemed deformed. He realized after a while that Janet was walking beside her horse, same as him.
Both Jack and Janet were silent and he wondered if they were waiting for him to make the decision to stop and rest. There was nothing here but uneven ruts driven into the sod, proclaiming it a trail. There was grass on either side but no trees to lean against. Sitting down was going to be tiring; and if he lay down he didn't think he'd have the energy to get up.
Finally Jack broke the silence. "Stop and sit for five minutes."
"I don't need to sit, Jack." If he stopped, it'd take him longer to make it to camp. He plodded on, until the scent of smoke tickled his nose.
He raised his head again and realized that they had gotten closer to the trees. Smoke rose from a campfire; he hadn't realized he'd been lost in his own thoughts for so long. The walk had done some good, though. His legs and back had loosened slightly although the shakiness hadn't left him. Feather whinnied and Sage answered, the sound echoed immediately by Hawk, who ended the conversation with a snort.
"Hang on, we're nearly there." Jack leaned over and patted Hawk's neck.
Daniel was aware of Jack craning his neck to look back at him. "I'm fine, Jack."
"You don't look fine."
"I'm just tired and hungry." The last steps seemed unending. He looked back to see if they were walking uphill, the way his legs were straining he felt as if he were climbing a mountain. But the land behind him looked as flat as the rest of the land surrounding him. Sweat was trickling down his back as he finally made it to camp.
Teal'c met him and took the reins from him. Daniel stopped and laid a hand against Feather's side as Teal'c led the horse past him. He didn't resist when Janet pulled gently on his arm. He took a few more steps and then, hanging onto a tree, allowed his knees to bend and bring him to the ground.
Moving backwards onto his butt was hard and painful, but soon he had his legs spread out in front of him and his back resting against a tree trunk. He closed his eyes, trying to relax. Some sort of stew was simmering on the fire; it was far from cooked but already the odour of cooking beef made his mouth water.
"Are you in any pain?"
Daniel opened his eyes to see Janet staring worriedly at him.
"Let me know if you�"
"I will." Daniel closed his eyes, feeling bad about it, knowing she was worried. He was frustrated enough as it was, knowing it would take longer than he'd expected to get to the standoff. They'd be lucky if they arrived by this time tomorrow.
He listened to the sounds of his friends moving about the camp. Teal'c was with the horses; Sam was still puttering with their supper. Jack had gone off to get firewood and Janet was talking with Sam. Daniel knew he should have added his own contribution, maybe gone hunting for small game, but unless a rabbit suddenly jumped into his arms, there was no way he was going to be able to do much to help tonight.
The sun had been shining in his face when he'd sat down but now the lengthening shadows were cool on his skin. He slid sideways along the tree trunk until he was lying on his side and curled his arm beneath his head to support it.
The ground was hard beneath him but the relief of lying down was so great that the discomfort was trivial in comparison.
"Here." There was a touch of warm fingers against his cheek. "You'll be more comfortable with this." He opened his eyes to see Janet holding a small pillow. He pushed with his hands and arms to raise his head and she placed it beneath his head. "Do you want a blanket?"
"Yes, please." He definitely was feeling chilled and he suspected it had to do more than the slowly cooling evening. As Janet tucked the blanket around him, she leaned close and said softly, "You have a fever."
"Try to rest. I'll bring you something to eat when it's done."
She'd begun to stand but crouched back down.
Her smile was gentle, as were her fingers as she brushed his hair from his eyes.
"He okay?" There was a small thud as Jack dumped a load of firewood close to the campfire. Daniel could feel Jack's eyes on him but he kept his own closed.
"He's exhausted and has a touch of fever. Hopefully a good night's sleep and some of Sam's stew will put things to right by morning."
"Does he need anything? You got enough water to make that tea you�"
"He's fine, Sheriff. Let him sleep for now and we'll see how he's feeling come morning, and yes, I have plenty of willow bark."
Jack's footsteps came closer, only to stop when he was a few feet away. There was a slight rustling sound and then nothing. Daniel cracked his eyelids open and saw that Jack was leaning against the tree next to him. He was examining a few pieces of wood and finally deciding on one, drew his knife and began whittling.
Daniel shut his eyes and allowed himself to drift off to the familiar snicking sound of knife on wood.
- - - - - -
A hearty meal and a good night's sleep had done wonders for Daniel, until he'd gotten back in the saddle and had ridden for a few hours. It was now past midday, the sun was merciless and the edge of the badlands they were skirting provided no shade.
He slumped in the saddle, fighting sore joints and muscles to stay upright. He would have dozed if not for the constant painful pull in his side and the pounding of his fever-headache with each of Feather's steps. He'd shut his eyes against the glare a long time ago, trusting that either Feather would follow Hawk or that Jack would keep an eye on their progress. He realized now how unreasonable his idea of going off alone had been. He had no idea at what point in the journey he'd be at right now if he'd come alone, but he was pretty darn sure he wouldn't have made it even this far.
"Here." Something pressed against his arm and he squinted in the direction of the offering. Moving sluggishly, he accepted the proffered canteen from Jack and took a sip of the warm water. He took a second, longer sip and then a third before handing the canteen back. He ignored how the water sat heavily in his stomach, along with the bit of food he'd managed to force down at lunchtime.
He drowsed, finding himself nodding off more than he'd like. Normally it wouldn't be a problem in this heat and on a long journey but he couldn't help feeling it was an obvious sign of his weakness. And the more he tried to stay awake, the harder it was to do so.
It was the change in Feather's gait that brought Daniel from partial somnolence to full awareness. He looked around in confusion as Jack straightened up from where he'd leaned forward to take Feather's reins from Daniel's lax hands to stop the horse. He released the reins when he saw Daniel was awake.
There were several dozen men in the encampment they'd just entered. Daniel blinked, eyes dry and hot, and realized that all the people here were soldiers. The camp was situated in the shade of a small copse of trees set in a valley at the bottom of a large hill.
"Who's in charge?" Jack demanded of the closest soldier.
The man stared up at them, spat near Hawk's hoof, then scratched his cheek. "Major Crawford," he finally said, seemingly reluctant to point out the man sitting on a log at the far end of the camp and talking to two men. His attention seemed divided between Sam and Janet.
A second glance proved that the soldiers seemed in the process of setting up the camp; making it obvious that they, too, had just recently arrived at this location.
"And the Indians�"
"Camped on top of the hill." The soldier pointed upwards with his chin, towards the higher ground. "Got better positioning but most likely don't got much in the ways of guns. Most probably we's gonna raid those injuns before sunset and get on back ta business by daybreak." The man seemed to finally notice Daniel, his eyes narrowing as he took in the buckskins and his long, plaited hair.
"Jack�" Daniel said quickly. They needed to act now, before the soldiers caused unnecessary bloodshed. He knew he could talk to them, convince them to return to their homes on the reservation. Not only would the Indians otherwise be killed or injured unnecessarily, but their captives would most likely be caught in the crossfire.
"I'm on it." Jack dismounted and handed the reins to Sam.
Daniel struggled to follow. His legs felt heavy and cumbersome, as if they'd been filled with rocks. He shook aside the dizziness and nausea as he handed the reins to Janet, who was closest. Jack had moved away from the horses but was waiting for him to catch up. Daniel took two steps when suddenly everything began spinning. He staggered, unable to catch his balance, and he knew he was going down.
Strong arms caught him before he touched the ground, but the sudden awkward movement caused him to cry out in pain. "I am sorry, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c's voice seemed to be coming from far away, as if he were speaking down a tunnel. "I did not mean to cause you pain."
"He needs water." Janet's voice seemed further away. Somehow Daniel knew it was Teal'c's arms that were supporting him. As hot as he'd been earlier, he was now cold. He could feel the heat from Teal'c's body as he sat leaning against him, and he shifted, trying to get closer to chase away the chill.
His head was pulled back and something wet was at his mouth. He drank, not realizing how thirsty he was until the water was in his mouth. When the canteen was taken away he objected, only to have Janet wet a cloth and pass it over his sweaty face.
"I'll give you more water in a minute." She swiped the cloth behind his neck. The wetness felt good and he dropped his head forward, leaning his forehead against Teal'c's neck.
"Too much sun and not enough water, Sheriff. And he's got a fever. Again, he'll be fine once he gets some rest and some food. Daniel's just pushing the limits of his body."
"Daniel, I should go�"
A stranger's voice spoke close by. "Got a problem with one of your men?"
"Major Crawford? I'm Jack O'Neill, Sheriff of Tok'ra Flats. I need to speak to you about the Indians you got cornered up there."
Daniel struggled to get up, but Teal'c tightened his hold, keeping Daniel still. "Allow O'Neill to speak on your behalf. He may well be successful in allowing you an opportunity to resolve this conflict."
Daniel looked up at Jack, over Teal'c's shoulder. "I want permission to go up and talk with�" He coughed and tried to clear his throat. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded slurred. "Don't let them take the offensive. I have to talk with Broken Feather and�"
Jack squeezed Daniel's shoulder. "I think the Major is a pretty smart man who doesn't want unnecessary bloodshed. I'm pretty sure I can convince him of staying his hand until you're back on your feet."
"Sheriff? What's this about?" Major Crawford seemed to loom over Daniel and it was a relief when Jack urged the man a few steps away, talking fast and low. It was too difficult to try and concentrate on what Jack was saying; instead he focused on the canteen that Janet was holding to his mouth again.
He was exhausted, which only added to his inability to get his thoughts together. If he could only rest for a few minutes, gather his energy, he'd be good to go. And while sitting without moving was nice, what he really, really wanted to do was lie down.
He jerked, not realizing he'd dozed off. He was still leaning against Teal'c, who was now supporting most of his weight. Embarrassed, he scooted to the left. This time Teal'c loosened his hold but kept a light grip while Daniel looked up at Jack and Sam. He could barely see them; somewhere along the line, the sun had set and night had fallen.
"Sam and the doc got a camp set up a little ways from here. Think you can walk there?"
"I can walk." Moving slowly, he dragged his legs beneath him until he was kneeling. But before he could muster the energy to stand, Teal'c had a hold of him and was pulling him up. Daniel grabbed Teal'c's arms as the world tilted alarmingly. He laughed softly, trying to break the awkwardness of the situation until he found his equilibrium.
"This way." Jack walked slowly through the military camp, glued to Daniel's side. "Crawford sent a messenger to talk to Broken Feather. Told him someone was coming up first thing in the morning to speak to 'em."
"Morning? I can go now�"
"Morning's good enough. Crawford's orders are to rescue the hostages and he's hoping he can do so without bloodshed. He's willing to give you a chance to palaver with 'em before goin' in."
"Broken Feather agreed?"
"Yep. Although he probably thinks you're a government agent come to threaten him�"
"You didn't tell him who I am?"
"Crawford didn't want to give out too much info. Figured he'd let the guy stew a little thinkin' the worst."
"Jack. That's not right. If he knows I have the�"
"Those totems are our ace in the hole, Daniel. Don't forget, they took those homesteaders and are holding 'em as ransom."
Daniel nodded tiredly. They'd walked to the far edge of camp and as they approached a small fire, he heard Feather wicker a greeting from close by.
"Here, lie down."
Daniel didn't have to be told twice. He sat down on the bedroll and leaned over awkwardly to pull his boots off. He took the bowl of beans and bacon Sam handed to him and ate mechanically, not tasting much of anything. After another long pull at the canteen, he slid under the blankets and was asleep before anyone had gotten up for seconds.
- - - - - - -
Jack poked the crackling fire with a piece of wood and placed the freshly filled coffeepot on the newly formed coals. The morning air was cool enough to have him think twice about wrapping his bedroll around his shoulders. But the sun was just coming over the horizon and he knew within a short time it would be chasing the chill from the air and making things uncomfortably hot this close to the badlands.
Blankets rustled and he turned his head to watch Daniel shift restlessly. Turning onto his side, Daniel burrowed his chin beneath the bedroll. Jack waited a moment, but Daniel quieted, still deeply asleep.
Jack had slept fitfully, waking often to check on Daniel. As had the doc, as well as Teal'c and Sam. Daniel, it seemed, had slept soundly throughout the night, his fever breaking early in the morning.
The ride here had been hard on him; that much was obvious. A full night's sleep had helped but signs of his exhaustion were still evident as in the dark circles underneath his eyes. Jack only hoped that Daniel managed to bring an end to this stalemate quickly so he could go back to concentrating on himself, rather than on others.
Sam and Janet returned to camp a short while later, talking softly and laughing together. As Sam rummaged for their cooking utensils, Janet dropped several good-sized trout onto the grass beside Jack.
"Nice little stream back there."
"Good catch." Jack poked one of the fish with a stick. He'd half expected it to wriggle and flop but he realized Janet had already gutted them.
"Never leave it to men to catch breakfast when there are hungry people are around," Janet laughed.
Sam placed the two cast iron frying pans onto the fire and doled out a healthy dab of bacon fat into each. Soon the sounds and smell of frying fish began to make his mouth water.
Teal'c arrived with the horses, freshly fed and watered, just as the fish were done. By now the sun was up and the air not quite as chilly. As Sam began doling the fish onto plates, Janet went to wake Daniel.
"Wha�" Daniel raised his head and looked around blearily before dropping his head back onto his pillow. It looked to Jack that he could use another couple of hours of sleep. But after a moment Daniel pushed the blankets aside, yawning, then pulled his boots on before taking a short walk behind the bushes.
Jack poured coffee for them all and handed Daniel a cup when he came and sat on the log next to Jack. Daniel sniffed the coffee appreciatively before taking a sip, then placed it on the ground between his feet as Sam handed him a plateful of fried trout and a piece of toasted bread.
They ate in companionable silence. Everyone surreptitiously watched Daniel eat, not relaxing totally until he finished his fish.
"Sam, you have the relics, don't you?" Daniel asked as he popped a piece of bread into his mouth.
"Yeah, in my saddlebags." She put her plate aside, wiping her fingers in the grass. "What's so important about these? Other than their age?"
"Get them for me and I'll show you."
Sam stood and retrieved the two carved pieces of wood, then removed them from their protective wrapping. She handed the wooden carvings to Daniel, who placed one on the ground and took the other, turning it over and over in his hands until he found what he was looking for. He placed his fingers on specific parts of the carvings, pushed, pulled and twisted and the ten-inch piece of wood came apart in his hands.
Inside was a hollowed space, containing a smooth, oval rock, with a picture of a slightly elongated eye painted on it. An old piece of leather was strung through a small hole bored into the stone, the leather stiff and discoloured with age. Daniel held the necklace in his hands reverently, and smiled sadly. His eyes were hooded, and Jack could see an old pain reflected therein.
"It's Egyptian," Daniel finally said. "I don't know how this came to be in the hands of an Indian tribe, nor how it became such an important religious symbol for them. I remember my father telling me about the Wadjet eye." He shook the necklace lightly. "This. He had a book of Egyptian things and I remember looking through it with him when I was a boy." He closed his fist over the medallion and placed it back into the totem. "One day I'll find out the secret behind this."
"But how did you know that this was inside there?" Sam touched the piece of wood as Daniel put them back together again.
"My old Indian grandmother told me about it once. It's a well-known secret amongst the shaman and it's mostly discussed within the brotherhood of medicine men, but her sister was married to one and of course, she told my grandmother about it and�"
"What's in the other one?" Jack asked, nudging it with the tip of his boot.
"A symbol to the snake goddess Wadjet." Daniel picked up the totem before Jack could nudge it again. "It's also Egyptian. Protector of the Sun God, Ra." Daniel sighed. "I'd love to go visit there one day. I've read of a great carving that's half man, half lion, buried in the desert sands and recently discovered."
"I hear it's hot and full of sand." Jack stood, brushing off his pants, hating the sound of longing in Daniel's voice. Egypt was so far away, it might as well have been the moon, or another planet. "Hey, look, there's sand right over there past the hills. Don't need to cross an ocean to get the heat, either."
Daniel rolled his eyes at Jack as he covered the two pieces of wood once more in their protective wraps. He stuffed them into a saddlebag and slung the bag over his shoulder as he stood.
When they entered the main camp, it was obvious that Crawford was impatient with them. Jack had told the major that they'd head up at first light but he'd decided, after all, that Daniel's wellbeing came first. At least he'd been able to give Daniel time to eat and drink something before starting off the negotiations. The man gave them all hard looks, but motioned for them to go on.
Jack followed Daniel to the foot of the hill, expecting all four of them to accompany him. To his surprise, Daniel stopped and began unbuckling his gun belt.
"What're ya doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" He folded the leather and handed it to Jack. "It's better if I go unarmed. That way I�"
"You're not thinking of going up there alone." Without thought, Jack shoved the holster at Teal'c and grabbed Daniel's arm when he began moving away.
Daniel merely looked at him over his glasses. "You don't speak the lingo. There's nothing you can do to help convince�"
"I may not be able to talk to them like you do, but I can at least stand there by your side and cover your back. They might not like a white man showing up in the middle of the fracas but maybe seeing me there will how we're sincere in trying to help them."
A small smile curled on the side of Daniel's lip and he gave a slight nod. "Thank you."
Jack began unbuckling his own gun belt. "You think it's a smart idea to bring those totems up with you? Maybe we should leave them here with Teal'c and when you're ready, he can bring them to you."
"You don't trust them, do you?"
"I think they may have realized they're in a bad situation and might become desperate. You talk to them, convince the chief to let the hostages go and then return to the reservation, and they can have their little secret rock and carving back without anyone getting hurt."
"And if I go there with the totems in hand, they'll see it as a sign of trust. I know what I'm doing, Jack." He turned and began climbing up the hill. Jack hurried after him, reached over and flipped the saddlebag from his shoulder.
"At least let me carry it."
They continued on up, Jack hyper aware of the soldiers behind him in the valley and the Indians above him on the hilltop, both of which were eyeing them and one another with guns drawn. Jack's attention was on the Indian sentries, unsurprised that the Indians did have weapons after all, until Daniel stumbled and nearly went down on one knee. Jack went to help him but Daniel quickly stood and shook off his aid.
"I'm fine," Daniel said impatiently, breathing heavily.
"You don't look fine." He took a good look at Daniel and saw that the exertion of the climb was hard on his friend. His face was pale and damp with sweat. Although the grade of the hill wasn't that steep near the bottom, the summit was rough going. At one point Daniel was moving so slowly Jack thought for a moment that he was going to stop walking altogether. He slowed to keep pace with Daniel, who had one hand against his right side.
"We can't stop," he said in a low voice between pants. "They probably already saw me... all flat on my ass last night... and if I show any sign of weakness now... might lose... respect in their eyes... and my words... may not convince them... as much as�"
"That's ridiculous. Many of these people are warriors and they'll appreciate the effort it takes to do normal stuff when you've been hurt."
Thankfully they reached the summit and Daniel did stop to assess the situation before them. There were at least fifty warrior and twenty women, and a dozen or so children of varying ages. In the center were the hostages, watching them with hope in their eyes. There were five of them, two men, two women and a young child. Jack's gaze fell upon the boy, about six, who sat apart from the others with his head lowered, his arms wrapped around his knees.
Jack spotted the chief only a moment after Daniel did. Taking several quick, deep breaths, Daniel squared his shoulders and began to walk towards the Broken Feather, who stood waiting, flanked by four other warriors.
Daniel greeted them and began talking. Jack stood two paces behind Daniel and tried to look patient. After a lengthy speech, the chief interrupted Daniel and said something. He turned his back to them and walked away.
"We're, uh, going to go and sit over there, near the fire." Daniel pointed needlessly to where the chief had already taken a seat. "He said you can go talk to the prisoners, make sure they're all right. Just... don't do anything crazy, okay? We can work this out peacefully."
"Do?" Jack raised an eyebrow at Daniel. "Like what? Break them out of here?"
"Just... tell them we're trying to help and�"
"I know, I know. You go talk to the Indians. I'll go talk to their prisoners."
It didn't take Jack long to talk. One couple was Scandinavian. The young woman spoke no English and the husband's knowledge was limited. The other couple were middle aged and obviously used to hardship. They sat there and accepted Jack's news as if he'd stopped by their home and had invited himself over for tea.
Satisfied that everyone at least knew help was there, he concentrated on the young boy who was sitting as far away from the other prisoners as possible.
"Boy's not said a word since the Injuns grabbed him," the middle aged woman said with a sniff as Jack sat down next to the boy. "Won't hardly eat, and he's skinny enough as it is."
"Howdy," Jack said as he stretched his legs before him, placing the saddlebag next to him. "I bet all of this is pretty scary, huh? But don't worry. Me'n Daniel have come to talk to the chief so we can take all of you home."
The boy raised his head and looked at Jack, his face pinched with fear. Jack hadn't realized the kid had oriental blood in him. He had striking eyes, and almost pixie-like features. His slight build had make him look younger. Jack pegged him now for maybe eight or nine.
"It's okay to be scared. I'm sure your folks are scared, too, not knowing where you are."
The boy glanced over at Daniel, who was now part of a small circle of men. Jack could see Daniel's hands occasionally as he motioned, which meant he was talking and hopefully the others were listening.
"Are my momma and poppa okay?" the boy asked in a small voice.
Jack thought quickly. There hadn't been any reports of injuries or deaths, merely the abductions. "Yeah, I bet they're fine. And plenty worried about you. Don't worry. With a bit of luck, you'll be home with them in no time."
The kid lowered his eyes to the ground. "The injuns are gonna scalp us," he whispered in a conspiratorial voice. The eyes shifted quickly to the older woman sitting on the boy's other side. "She said so. And they're gonna do bad things to the women folks and make the men watch and then they're gonna�"
"Hey, hey, hold on a second. Nobody said the Indians were gonna hurt anyone. They haven't done anything bad to you or the other folks yet, have they?"
The boy glanced towards the far end of the camp where the tribe's children were gathered, watching everything with curious eyes. Then he shook his head. "No."
"They give you food and water?"
The boy shrugged.
"And you didn't eat any because...?"
"Poppa always said he'd rather starve than take food from a redskin."
"Yeah, well..." Jack bit back the anger at the prejudice he was hearing from the mouth of children. "Some Indians are bad, and I don't blame your father for saying that," Jack said after a few moments thought. "But so are some white folks. Sometimes when you�"
"You gonna kill all the injuns?" The boy's dark eyes narrowed to slits, and there was a hopeful tone to his voice as he sat up straight.
"Nah. My friend over there's talking to the chief and explaining how all of this is a misunderstandin'." Jack glanced over at Daniel and even from this distance he could see the slump in Daniel's shoulders. He was talking avidly, his hands moving along with his words, but there was a tension in his body that belied the enthusiasm he was portraying. This excursion was taking a toll out of Daniel that Jack didn't like.
"If the soldiers are here, why don't they attack?"
"Because although the Indians did a wrong thing by taking the lot of you prisoners, they've been treated unfairly also. We're trying to put things to right and killing ain't the answer."
"Don't care. My pa says the only good injun is a dead injun."
Daniel stood and when he saw he had Jack's attention, he waved him over. Jack grabbed the saddlebag and stood. He paused a moment.
"What's your name, kid?"
"Well, Shee Fu, my friend Daniel was brought up by Indians. And there's no better man in the world. Your pa may be smart, but he may not always be right."
Jack nodded at the others and walked over to join Daniel. All the Indians were standing also, watching him approach. Wordlessly he handed the saddlebag to his friend when Daniel held his hand out for it. Still talking, Daniel removed the totems, unwrapped them and handed them to one of the warriors. The man looked shocked; maybe he hadn't believed Daniel. Without a word, the warrior turned away and withdrew beside a tree. Jack presumed he was going to check and see if the goods were the real McCoy.
Everyone stood in awkward silence, trying not to look at the Indian crouching by the tree. Jack took the opportunity to look Daniel over. He hadn't missed the tremors in Daniel's hands when he'd unwrapped the totems. He was pale, his face was still shiny with sweat and there were two high spots of colour on his cheekbones.
Sensing Jack's scrutiny, Daniel turned to look at him. His eyes were fever-shiny. Closing them a moment, he took a deep breath then turned to glance at the prisoners.
"How are they doing?"
"They're holding up pretty good. Kid's pretty scared, worried about his folks. Don't think anybody was hurt serious, according to the reports�"
"Broken Feather said they didn't hurt anyone. I just... um..." Daniel closed his eyes and smacked his lips. "Uh... Jack..." He opened his eyes, swaying, and there was a definite lack of focus in his gaze.
Jack caught his arm to hold him steady.
Daniel's breathing had speeded up but after several breaths, it slowed to almost normal. "Sorry, just... dizzy."
"Hey, can we have some water? A-ma?" One of the Indians motioned to someone and Jack took it that someone was responding to his demand. "Daniel, sit." He tried to pull Daniel down to the ground, but his friend resisted.
"Don't, I'm fine." Daniel swayed again, off balance by Jack's tugging.
"You are not okay. You're about ready to pass out and I'm sure that'll look a lot sillier than you just takin' a rest."
Daniel finally acquiesced, going down to one knee, then losing his balance enough so that he grabbed for Jack's arm. One of the Indians handed Daniel a waterskin, from which he drank several deep swallows. "Wa-do," Daniel said as he handed back the water to the Indian. "Thanks, Jack." Daniel dropped his head and seemed to be trying to gather his strength. He raised his head when the other Indian finally returned, the totems clutched in his hand.
The shaman said only a few curt words to Broken Feather before walking away. Broken Feather crouched before Daniel, spoke just as briefly, and left. Before Jack could ask what they'd said, the camp broke up. With half of them on horseback, the other half on foot, all began leaving, as if they were heading out for a stroll.
"They're going back," Daniel said, watching them leave. He stood unsteadily, accepting Jack's hand up, and began walking slowly towards the prisoners. When a handful of children slowed and yelled at Shee Fu in a singsong voice, Daniel spoke out and immediately the children quieted.
Shee Fu, who had sunk into himself at the taunting, looked up at Daniel when he spoke. The boy raised his head and stared proudly at the Indian children, as if daring them to say something else. For a moment none of them moved, then one of the children giggled and they ran off to join the tribe.
"Ain't the soldiers gonna do something?" the boy demanded after the last Indian disappeared from sight. "They're getting away."
"They're going home." Jack motioned for the two couples to get up and accompany them. "And so are you." He went to the edge of the embankment and watched the Indians file down past the soldiers, who had mounted their horses, watching quietly but allowing them to pass.
"Go on," he said to the prisoners. "The soldiers will make sure you get home safe." The two couples began to hurry down the hill, but Shee Fu bent down and grabbed several rocks. It was only after he pulled his arm back and threw the first stone after the departing Indians that Jack realized what he was doing. But Daniel was faster, grabbing the boy's arm and forcing him to drop the rocks. Then he knelt before the boy and took his shoulders, forcing him to look at him.
"I know you're angry, but hurting them isn't going to help."
"They're savages," Shee Fu spat at Daniel.
"No, they're a desperate people. Instead of hating them, you should try understanding them."
"I don't want to. I hate them."
"Hate... that's a strong word." Daniel smiled at the boy. "When I was just a bit younger than you, my parents were killed by Comancheros. But the Cherokee took me in, made me part of their family, their clan. You can't judge one set of people by another, just like you can't judge someone just because he has black hair, or blue eyes.
"My Cherokee grandfather told me that hate is part of a battle that goes on inside people. It's like there are two wolves, one is evil, the other is good. The evil one represents anger, hate, arrogance, envy, regret. The good one symbolizes joy, peace, love, compassion and faith."
"Which wolf wins?" Shee Fu asked.
"The one you feed," Daniel replied. "C'mon, let's get you home."
- - - - - -
Daniel stood once more, shaking with fatigue. He'd been living on adrenaline for most of the morning, anxious about getting through to Broken Arrow and convincing them that they were here solely to help. Most of the council had thought Daniel was here to trick them, and even when he'd offered them their relics, they'd refused to even look at them at first. It had taken a lot of convincing before he'd been able to give those back. He knew firsthand how much these people had suffered over the years to be so guarded and suspicious.
But now that the crisis was over, all he wanted to do was curl up in his blankets and sleep for the rest of the day. He wondered what Jack's plans were but was almost afraid to ask. He wasn't sure if he had it in him to ride into the heat of the badlands. His foot slid as a rock twisted beneath him and he nearly stumbled. He caught his balance, but jarred his leg in the process, sending spears of pain up into his side. Okay, never mind riding through the badlands, he wasn't sure if he could ride, period.
Major Crawford was waiting for them with a small contingent of men. Daniel looked around in surprise. He hadn't realized that the majority of the troops had left, escorting the Indians back. He followed Jack as he went to meet the soldiers, then stood to the side as they talked.
His exhaustion kept coming over him in waves. As focused as he'd been with Broken Feather and his council, now he couldn't concentrate on the words spoken between Jack and the major. Then the rest of his friends joined them, distracting Daniel enough so that he caught Jack shaking the soldier's hand before he left them to rejoin his troops.
"Crawford's personally gonna take Shee Fu back to his parents," Jack said as the major grabbed the little boy and hoisted him up onto his horse.
Daniel started. He'd forgotten about the boy, who was waving enthusiastically at them. He raised a hand and waved as Major Crawford urged his horse forward. He watched until the dust hid everyone from sight.
"Daniel? Do you want to sit down?"
"Huh?" He looked down at Janet, who, standing before him, was moving slowly from side to side. The motion was making him nauseous.
Jack latched onto his arm and tugged gently. "C'mon, there's some shade over here." Daniel turned and followed on legs that were threatening to fold. He went blindly, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other on ground that kept tilting sideways, then sat when Jack bade him so. Someone handed him food, and he ate, not really tasting what was on the plate. Eating seemed to help settle his stomach, and some of the oddness he'd been feeling eased a little.
Sam took away his plate and handed him a battered tin cup full of water. He drank all of it, and also a second cupful when Jack refilled it from his canteen.
Janet unrolled one of the bedrolls next to him. "I want you to lie down for a little while," she said, smoothing out the material.
It didn't occur to Daniel to object. He merely crawled onto the bedroll and lay down obediently, relieved that they weren't riding out immediately. He'd shut his eyes for just a moment, wait until the others finished eating, and then go and saddle Feather. He just needed to rest, just for a little while.
- - - - - -
"He's sleeping." Janet gently pushed back a lock of hair that had fallen into Daniel's face after she took Daniel's glasses off and folded them. Her fingers lingered against his cheek, then moved onto his forehead. "He still hasn't shaken that fever."
"We'll let him sleep a few hours then move closer to the stream and camp there tonight."
"It should be cooler by the water," Sam said, squinting at the midday sun. "Teal'c and I could go, scout out a decent spot, get firewood and�"
"Go ahead. Maybe see if you can scrounge up something for supper." Jack leaned back against a tree, making himself comfortable. Chances were they'd be here for another day or two until Daniel got a little stronger. Sending his two deputies out to make camp would at least keep them occupied for a while. He glanced at Daniel, who appeared to be sleeping heavily. Maybe a nap wouldn't be amiss.
Tilting his hat so that it shaded his eyes from the sun, Jack leaned his head back against the tree trunk. He'd doze for a while; at least until the sun shifted and he'd lose his spot of shade.
- - - - - -
Daniel woke up with a jerk. Vestiges of his dream filled him with confusion and he looked around, half expecting to see Sha'nee next to him.
Totally disoriented, Daniel turned towards Jack's voice. The sun was still low in the sky; he wasn't sure if it was evening or morning. After a moment he recalled talking to Broken Feather, giving him back his relics and the whole tribe leaving... he glanced around again.
"Did I sleep the whole day?"
"Nah, just the whole afternoon."
He swiped a hand over his eyes, trying to chase away the crustiness that had accumulated in the corners.
His stomach gurgled.
"I take that as a yes. C'mon, Sam 'n Teal'c got a camp set up for us and most likely got supper cookin' as well. Let me just wake the doc up and�"
"I'm awake, Sheriff."
Daniel sat up and yawned. Janet sat up next to him, hair mussed with a few blades of grass caught up in the folds of her skirt. She shook the material out as she stood, then stretched her arms over her head, leaning backwards.
Daniel stood, not half as graceful as Janet, a little unsteady and a lot stiffer. Jack picked up the bedding, rolling it up as Janet gathered the rest of their gear. He glanced around, looking for the horses, surprised to see they were gone. But Jack wasn't alarmed; he began walking deeper into the woods.
Daniel followed slowly, working out some of the stiffness. He felt better � his mind was clearer and his body a little more reliable. For a short time all he could hear was their footsteps, birds twittering in the trees and the sound of insects, but after about fifteen minutes of walking, he heard the sound of running water. He could smell a cook fire with meat roasting, which set his mouth to watering.
The camp that Sam and Teal'c had set up was about fifty yards from where they came out of the woods, not too far from the stream. The horses were tethered in a large clearing nearby. Three rabbits roasted above the fire on stakes.
The sudden odour of frying fish seemed to strike a chord and he remembered eating some recently. Supper? Breakfast?
The land beside the creek was rocky and he walked carefully, his legs just unsteady enough to threaten his twisting an ankle or lose his footing. The sun was low in the sky, most of the campsite was in deep shadow. Daniel reached the fire and greeted Sam and Teal'c, then turned to the horses. He walked amongst them, giving Feather, and then Hawk, a few words in greeting before moving on to the other two mounts. Satisfied that the animals were fine, he moved around the camp, suddenly too restless to sit.
He paced slowly, enjoying the feeling of accomplishment the morning had brought, while checking out what was cooking for supper. There were greens boiling in a small pot, a few wild carrots had been tossed to the side, and there were berries for dessert.
The sound of running water was soothing; he wasn't sleepy but felt relaxed despite his need to move around. His lips curled into a small smile as he watched Teal'c turn the fish and Sam stir the greens. Jack tried sneaking a hand into the berries and got a smack on his fingers for his trouble.
"I'm the one wearing the scars for my efforts." Janet held out a hand which was crisscrossed with many tiny red scratches. "Damn prickle bushes." She lowered her hand and glared at Jack. "So nobody gets to sample those berries until I say so."
Daniel continued on past the camp to stand at the water's edge. The creek was running fast and it looked deep in the middle, but the water was clear and shallow near the edge. Leaning his hip on a tree, Daniel raised a foot and removed a boot and sock, then rolled up his pant leg. Placing his bare foot carefully on the rocky shore, he quickly did the same with his other leg.
Taking cautious steps on the sharp rocks, Daniel stepped into the cool water. The rocks there were smooth and slick so he took his time. With the water flowing up past his ankles, he stopped and took a deep breath. He could see the setting sun through the trees; a dragonfly buzzed the top of the water, the iridescent blue shining brightly when it flew through bands of sunlight. He pictured the flowing water taking away the unclean residue he felt inside of him, contamination brought about by Heru Ur's actions, from the deaths of the Indian youths to the robbing of their artifacts in an attempt to make money.
The slight edginess he'd experienced earlier was gone, and he felt tranquil. Cleansed. Possibly partly in part of the visualization he'd just experienced, but possibly also in part of the dream he'd had just as he'd woken up.
Spotting a large, dry rock next to the water, Daniel slogged over to it and carefully eased down onto it. The healing tissue in his side complained slightly then eased as he stretched his legs, keeping his feet in the water. He didn't hear the footsteps but he sensed Jack's presence just before he spoke.
Keeping his gaze on his feet amidst the multi-colored rocks, Daniel nodded.
"Plenty of fish in that creek. Figure we won't go hungry for a day or two."
"We're not leaving in the morning?"
"Nah. Doc's not happy about dragging you out here and she insisted we let you rest up a bit." Jack shifted, and a stone thunked softly under his boot. "Not many other places better 'n this to camp at, if you ask me."
"It is peaceful," Daniel admitted. It was hard to believe the badlands were just a few miles away. He was relieved they weren't leaving in the morning. He could use a bit of time relaxing here, by the water.
"Supper's just about done."
"Give me a couple more minutes?" He moved his head a fraction, then shifted his eyes sideways to look at Jack.
"Sure." There was a slight pressure on his shoulder, and Jack moved away. He could hear his friends' voices as they spoke softly together. He closed his eyes and raised his face to the dying sunlight, then thought of the dream.
Sha'nee had stood next to a large wheel with symbols written all over it. The center glittered and gleamed like the back of the blue dragonfly that had flown by earlier. It seemed vaguely familiar, as if he'd dreamed of it before. She was laughing at something he'd said, then told him to hurry or else they'd be late. He could still hear her voice from the dream; it had felt so real. She'd held a necklace in her hand and had been holding it up, admiring it. Fancier than the symbol painted on the stone that had been secreted inside the Indian's totem, this eye of Ra had been made of gold. It glinted in the sunlight, reflecting on the shiny grey surface of the ring behind Sha'nee. Then she stepped through the blue, and disappeared.
He hadn't felt alarmed in the dream; it was as if the rings were made to step through, like a door, or a gate. He wasn't sure what the dream itself meant, but the symbolism was unmistakeable. Sha'nee had moved on to a better place, where she was waiting for him.
A breeze picked up, sending leaves shimmering, their shadows flitting over the water. For a moment he saw the Eye of Ra within the shadows, then it disappeared as the wind blew the design away.
He smiled softly to himself as he stood and picked up his boots. He was hungry, and his family was waiting for him.
Author's Comments: My apologies to those who knew this story was in the works and that it took me so long to get it done. I know, two years is a long time to wait but things sort of didn't happen.
My hugs and thanks to devra for the alpha. I swear that girl's got the eyes of an eagle.
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DISCLAIMER:The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.