THE LABYRINTH

BY: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Stargate SG-1 are the property of others, mind you, if they were mine, Daniel would never have ascended. This fanfic was written for my own and other's enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

RATING: PG. A little violence and language.

SUMMARY: Searching for an injured Daniel in a strange maze, the team is stalked by an unknown violent creature.

Many thanks to Annie for the beta.

 

Daniel's office light was still on when Jack walked past on his way home. He paused outside the partly closed door, debating whether to stop in and suggest the archeologist call it a night and go home to bed. The team had been on stand down for a week now, since Sha'ure's death and Daniel's resignation and subsequent reinstatement to SG-1. It hadn't actually been a resignation, because General Hammond had not bothered to hand in the appropriate papers. Jack grinned a little at that. Seemed Hammond knew Daniel about as well as he did. Still, it had been a mind-numbing week of paperwork and boredom, and Jack was relieved that the team would finally be heading through the stargate the following morning. It was just a routine recon mission, but anything was infinitely better that sitting in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain watching the paint peel.

Daniel was never the most reliable when it came to departures. There was always one more thing he had to pack; often he'd come stumbling into the gate room, bleary-eyed from another night spent awake running through a few final notes, still slurping on the dregs of his coffee. Jack was champing at the bit to get out there again, his patience beginning to thin, and he doubted he'd be in the mood in the morning to wait around for one tardy archeologist.

He tapped lightly on the door and stepped into the doorway of Daniel's office. The other man was seated, hunched over his desk, apparently poring over the text of a thick book in front of him. When there was no response from his friend, Jack rapped a little harder and walked into the room.

Daniel finally looked up, blinking owlishly at Jack and pushing his glasses back up his nose. "Hey, Jack. Something you need?"

"Not really." Jack leaned up against the wall and pushed his hands into his pockets, gazing around the cluttered room. "Just wondered if you were going to head home, catch some shut-eye before we leave in…" He glanced at the clock on the wall. "Four hours or so."

Daniel's gaze followed Jack's and he stared in some confusion at the time. "Three AM? I got involved in these translations, didn't realize it had gotten so late."

"Why don't you cut yourself some slack?" Jack suggested, his brow creasing as he took in the fatigue etched on the other man's face. "You've been running on fumes the past week or two."

"I'm fine," Daniel cut in abruptly. "These runes were found near the gate on PXT-436. I'm just beginning to get a handle on them."

"They'll wait," Jack replied, a little more sharply than he intended. "You can take a closer look at them when we get there."

"They might be important. Might give us a clue to those tunnels the MALP picked up."

"Look, you wanted back on the team," Jack said. "And I'm as happy as hell to have you back, but you're no good to any of us if you're out on your feet. They're just translations, Daniel, they'll wait."

"Are you ordering me to go home, Jack?" Daniel stood and took a step toward the colonel, his features slightly belligerent.

"If I have to, yes." Jack sighed and crossed to stand in front of his friend. He gripped the younger man's upper arms and studied the pale face. "I know you've been to hell and back since Sha'ure died, Daniel, and believe me, I know just what you're going through. I know I wasn't as supportive as I should have been, and I'm sorry for that. I guess it brought back too many bad memories for me…"

"I understood," Daniel said softly. He reached up and gently patted Jack's cheek, then abruptly pulled away, crossing over to his desk and staring at the bookshelves on the other side of the room. "I was so close to getting her back, Jack. If Teal'c hadn't…" He shook his head and looked back, his eyes brimming with unshed tears, and a sad, forlorn half-smile on his face. "I'm not going to go through all of that again. Teal'c did the right thing, but I can't help thinking, if we'd been able to bring her here alive…"

Jack nodded. "I know, but beating yourself up over it won't bring her back, and now we've got you back on the team, I don't want you giving General Hammond or Doc Frasier any excuse to ground you. If you won't go home, sack out in one of the bunk rooms for a couple hours."

Daniel nodded. "I've gone about as far as I can with the translations anyway. I'll see you in the morning."

"0730 sharp." Jack waggled an admonishing finger at the archeologist. "Don't be late." He turned and walked to the door, his step lighter than it had been when he arrived.

"Jack? What are you doing here so late?"

* Busted. * Jack paused with his hand on the door, but didn't turn around. "Looking after my team," he replied. "I'll see you in the morning, Daniel."

"Night, Jack. Thanks."

~o0o~

He had every intention of being on time, but a last minute glance at the translations on his desk had sparked a memory, and he'd sat down for a moment to leaf through his notebooks. Grabbing up his now cold coffee, and with a last-minute frantic look at the clock, Daniel stuffed his notes into his pocket, then hurried through the corridors and made his way into the gate room. Sam Carter gave him a tolerant smile, and Teal'c inclined his head in his customary greeting, while Jack simply rolled his eyes, and motioned to Daniel's laden arms.

"Got everything?" he asked laconically.

Daniel glanced down, his brow furrowing. "Um, think so."

"You, uh, wanna leave the coffee cup, though it might be an interesting experiment. See how it comes out on the other side," Jack added thoughtfully.

Daniel simply gave the colonel a glare, deciding the comment didn't deserve an answer and handed the cup over to a surprised airman.

"Shall we?" Jack made a grand sweeping gesture toward the gate, and led the way up the ramp.

~o0o~

"Welcome to another lovely summer's day on… wherever," Jack said, gazing around at the barren desert-like planet. Sand hills stretched for miles, a strong wind gusting dust into the team's faces and hair. "God, it's like a furnace here," he said, pulling off his cap to wipe sweat from his brow.

"Sahara," Daniel said decisively, then favored Jack with a grin. "If the shoe fits," he continued. "At least until we can find the inhabitants and ask them what it's really called. These days, I get the numerical designations mixed up, there's been so many."

"It's called senility, Daniel," Jack said, heaving his pack onto his shoulders. He turned to Carter who was studying her digital read-outs with rapt attention. "No sign of any dwellings of any kind. You sure there's somebody here?"

"The MALP picked up life forms, sir," Carter said with assurance and grinned at Jack's theatrical shudder.

"Just sounds so… vague," Jack said, taking point and leading the way toward the nearest hill. "Life forms."

"Perhaps they reside in the tunnels beneath the surface," Teal's said, bringing up the rear.

"Thank you for that cheering observation, Teal'c," Jack replied, grinding his jaws together. "Remember Cimmeria, and being stalked by the Unas?"

"I do, indeed, O'Neill," Teal'c rumbled.

"Yeah, well, you all know the drill. Keep an eye out for friendlies or unfriendlies, watch your step, and Daniel?"

The archeologist had already skirted past him and was about to crest the first hill. He turned and gave Jack a tolerant smile. "Don't touch anything, right?"

"Right, and…" Anything Jack wanted to say was abruptly cut off as Daniel disappeared from sight with a startled shout.

~o0o~

"Daniel!" Jack threw his pack to the ground and had his sidearm in his hand before he'd even thought about it. He raced toward the top of the hill, slowing only when Teal'c called out a warning.

"Go slowly, O'Neill."

Jack nodded and dropped to his knees, aware of Carter flanking him. Teal'c stood at his feet, his keen eyes sweeping the area, his staff weapon primed. Jack belly-crawled the rest of the way to the top of the sand hill, grimacing as sand coated his mouth. There was no sign of Daniel and he cautiously lifted his head and looked down. "Shit!" Disturbed sand indicated Daniel's track down the hill, the path ending at a small hole. He began to stand, but paused when Carter snagged his sleeve.

"Careful, sir," she whispered. "It may be a trap or the ground might be unstable."

Acknowledging the sense in her words, Jack nodded and dropped back to his belly. Together they made their way to the edge of the hole. They peered downward, but it was difficult to see anything. Nothing moved and no sound emanated from the hole. Jack pulled his flashlight from his belt and flicked it on, then aimed it downward. Daniel lay about fifteen feet down; his body sprawled bonelessly. His head was turned to the side and blood trickled down his cheek.

"Daniel!" Jack called, hoping to rouse the archeologist. He breathed a sigh of relief as the other man shifted slightly and moaned, then slowly opened his eyes. "Daniel, stay still. We don't know how badly you're injured."

Daniel lifted his head; his fingers reaching up to gingerly touch the cut on his head. "No, I'm okay, I think," he replied though he sounded shaky and somewhat dazed. He began to push himself into a sitting position but suddenly collapsed back to the ground with a scream of agony.

"Daniel, what's wrong?" Carter's voice betrayed her deep concern.

Daniel rolled to his side, one hand cupping the other, his body curling around it. "My wrist," he ground out. "It's broken."

"I told you not to move," Jack said, worry making his tone sharp.

"Sorry," Daniel whispered, his eyes beginning to close. "Should have listened."

Jack sighed. "Yeah. Look, Daniel, we're going to put a rope on you and pull you up. Think you can help out?"

There was no reply. Jack tried again. "Daniel! Open your eyes. Help me out here."

"I'm awake," Daniel answered, but his voice sounded weaker. "What?"

"We're going to lower a rope and pull you up."

"'kay." Daniel straightened and carefully shifted himself, shuffling back on his butt until he rested against the wall. He looked up, squinting into the glare of Jack's light, still cradling his arm.

Jack wondered just how badly injured the archeologist really was. In the glow of the flashlight, Daniel's face was ashen; his lips compressed into a tight line that spoke of serious pain. "You sure you can manage?" he asked doubtfully.

Daniel simply nodded his head. Teal'c dropped to his knees beside the others. "I can pull him up, he needs only to hold on," he said, pulling rope from his pack.

Jack nodded, grateful for the unspoken understanding in the Jaffa's words. He looked at Carter. "You want to watch our backs while we get the trouble magnet out of the hole?"

Carter smiled and stood. "Yes, sir. I'll have the med kit ready. Do you want me to radio base and tell them we're aborting the mission?"

Jack thought about it for a moment. Daniel would need to go back, that much was obvious, but depending on how severe his injuries were, and he didn't entirely trust the archeologist to tell him the whole truth, the rest of them might be able to continue the mission. "Let's wait till we get him up here," he said finally. "Check him out first."

Carter nodded her agreement and Jack dropped back down to look into the hole. "Okay, Daniel, heads up."

There was no reply. Jack shimmied closer to the edge and leaned forward to try to get a better look at his friend. The archeologist sat totally still, his attention fixed to his right. Jack felt his trepidation mount. "Daniel? What's wrong?"

Daniel's voice was a hoarse whisper. "There's something in here with me."

"Fuck!" Jack swore savagely. "All right. Just stay still. Teal'c's tossing the rope…"

There was sudden explosion of deafening sound and lightening fast movement. A huge shadow loomed over Daniel, obliterating him from Jack's sight. Jack heard Daniel scream, then chaos erupted below. Dust flew up into Jack's face, blinding him and he yelled Daniel's name. By the time he managed to rub the dirt from his watering eyes and look down again, an eerie silence pervaded and Daniel was gone.

~o0o~

Daniel had no time to register what had attacked him. The fall into the tunnels beneath the planet's surface had left him stunned and with, he suspected a broken left wrist. Movement in the darkened recesses of the tunnel had alerted him he was not alone, and he'd hoped that by remaining still, whatever was there would either not notice him or at least ignore him. A strong foul odor wafted into his nostrils, causing him to gag and then there was a flurry of movement. He was slammed back against the wall, his head smacking resoundingly into the rocks. His vision grayed out and he fought to stay conscious, lashing out with his uninjured arm in an attempt to push away his attacker. A powerful hand clamped over the broken bones in his arm, and agony surged, shredding through the muscles and seeming to blow off the top of his skull. He sagged in his captor's grip, only vaguely aware of being dragged along the tunnel, Jack's voice becoming more muted. He moaned and attempted once more to drag himself away and was rewarded with a hard backhander to his head and he descended into oblivion.

~o0o~

"Daniel!" Jack leaned into the tunnel as far as he dared, waving his flashlight around, but saw only the settling of dust and a few stray rocks dropping to the ground where they'd been dislodged from the edge of the hole in the attack.

He pulled back and wiped dirt from his eyes, pulling the rope from his kit in a frantic hurry. "Carter, you're with me." He gave Teal'c an apologetic look, knowing the Jaffa had taken upon himself to be Daniel's personal protector after having been responsible for Sha'ure's capture and death. "There's nowhere we can tie the ropes off, Teal'c, and we need someone to scout around. If this is a tunnel, there's got to be a way in and out."

"Unless they used transport rings," Carter said.

Jack frowned at her. "I'm trying not to think that, Carter." He turned back to Teal'c. "Anyway, take a look around, then get back to the gate. Bring reinforcements. God knows how many of whatever took Daniel there are."

Teal'c nodded, then stepped up to take the rope from Jack's hands. Jack clambered over the side of the hole and made his way to the bottom quickly. He stood, playing his beam over the tunnel beyond and behind him, his weapon gun at the ready while he waited for Carter to join him. As she jumped down beside him, he turned to her. "I think they went that way," he said, waving to the right. "Watch our backs."

They moved slowly along the narrow tunnel, their eyes peeled for any sign of Daniel or the creature that had taken him. Drag marks were evident in the soft dirt at their feet, and Jack tried to rein in his concern when he saw several smears of blood on the rock wall. A strange hieroglyphic writing was etched on several of the flat stones that made up the tunnel walls, but Jack didn't spare them more than a brief glance. They'd find Daniel first then *he* could figure out if they had any worthwhile significance.

"Colonel?" Carter's voice echoed waveringly from the damp walls of the tunnel. "The thing that attacked Daniel. Do you have any idea…"

Jack shook his head. "None, only that it was big and pissed off. Shit!" He stopped suddenly, causing Carter to run into his back.

"Sir?"

Jack raked his flashlight beam over the solid wall in front of him. "Dead-end." He looked over his shoulder, frustration tensing his muscles. "He's got to be here somewhere. Let's backtrack."

Carter turned obediently and began to lead the way out of the passageway. A suddenly desolate howl froze them both. Jack placed a hand on Carter's shoulder as the mournful sound faded away.

"Any idea where that came from?" he asked.

Carter already had one of her gadgets out and was studying it intently. "It appears to have come from back the way we came." A small smile graced her dusty face. "I've got life readings though, could be Daniel." Quickening her step, she moved quickly back into the main tunnel, then confidently followed a second branch, leading to the left. She stumbled suddenly, saved from falling to her knees by Jack's timely grasp on her arm. "Daniel!"

Jack angled his flashlight beam downward and sucked in a breath when he recognized the archeologist's huddled form. He dropped to the ground at Daniel's side and pressed fingers to his throat. A reassuringly solid though rapid pulse thrummed against his fingertips and he sagged back in relief. Thumbing on his comm-link, he attempted to contact Teal'c but was greeted only with a burst of static. Giving up, he rested back on his heels, his gaze flitting between Daniel and the tunnel entrance. "How is he?" he asked Carter as she ran questing fingers over the archeologist's body.

"Breathing," Carter replied a moment later, "but unconscious. He's got a gash on his head, and a lump the size of Texas on the back of his skull." Her hands moved downward, cataloguing Daniel's injuries as she went. "His left wrist is broken," she confirmed. She paused as she reached his right leg, then shone her flashlight down at the appendage. "Sir, he appears to have what looks like an almost human bite on his leg."

Jack grimaced. "Maybe whatever took a chunk out of him didn't fancy the taste." He shuddered a little at what could have been the outcome. "Any chance you can wake him up? I'd really like to get out of here."

"I'll give it a try. He doesn't appear to have neck or spinal injuries that I can feel, but I'm not sure we should be moving him."

Jack's jaw clenched tightly as another melancholy howl reverberated through the tunnels. "I don't think we have a choice, Major."

As if on cue, Daniel uttered a low groan. Jack hunkered back down beside him and lightly patted his cheek. "Daniel? You with me?"

"Wha'?" Heavy eyelids fluttered, opening and closing slowly before they snapped open suddenly and Daniel drew in a shuddering breath. He pushed away Sam's gently restraining hands and attempted to shuffle back away from them.

"Daniel!" Jack used a firmer tone, hoping to shake the archeologist from his confusion. He angled his flashlight up toward Daniel's face, shielding the glare slightly with one hand. "It's us," he continued. "Carter and Jack."

"Jack?" Daniel lifted a shaky hand and swiped at the blood on his face. His frown deepened and he winced as his hand moved around to feel the lump on the back of his head. "What happened?"

Jack's brow furrowed in answering concern. "You fell down a hole, Alice. Don't you remember?"

There was no response for a long moment then Daniel slowly nodded. "My arm hurts," he whispered, cradling the aforementioned appendage in his uninjured hand.

"Yeah, it's broken," Jack said. "Carter's going to rig you a sling and then we have got to beat the feet." He paused a moment, studying Daniel's face intently. The archeologist's eyes looked glassy and didn't seem to be tracking right, giving him a somewhat cross-eyed look. "You following me?"

There was another moment's pause. Daniel winced as Sam gently lifted his forearm and placed it into a hastily constructed sling, then leaned forward to tie the ends around Daniel's neck. "Yeah," he finally whispered. "Something grabbed me." His head began to sink toward his chest. "Hit my head. Jack?"

"Yeah, buddy. I'm right here." Jack grasped Daniel's chin in one hand and pulled his head up, once more tapping his cheek. "Come on, Danny, don't go out on me here."

"'Kay." Daniel squinted myopically up at Jack. "Everything's fuzzy."

Jack shook his head. "Lost your glasses again." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a case, snapping it open and extricating a spare pair of Daniel's glasses from within. He shrugged at Carter's quizzical look. "Force of habit." Carefully he situated them on Daniel's nose, then studied him carefully. "Any better?"

Daniel blinked slowly a couple of times. "Not really, no."

Jack tried not to show his concern. "Yeah, well, your head took a beating against the wall. You probably have a concussion."

"Yeah." Daniel looked around slowly. "Where are we?"

"We're in some kind of a tunnel," Sam reminded him gently as she pulled a 4x4 gauze square from the first aid kit and taped it over the angry looking bite on Daniel's leg.

Jack straightened as another howl issued forth. "In the meantime, we have something else to worry about. Do you think you can stand and walk? Whatever that thing is, I don't want to wait around if it gets hungry again."

Daniel nodded, then blew out a shaky breath. "I can walk. Just… just help me up."

Jack grasped his hand and pulled him carefully to his feet, both he and Carter placing a steadying hand on the injured man's back as he wobbled a little. "All right," Jack said. "Doing good. Now, just lean on me for support in case you get dizzy."

Daniel did as instructed, allowing Jack to place an arm around his waist. He leaned briefly into the support then straightened a little. "Let's get the hell out of here, huh?"

Jack took up the lead position and kept his sidearm and flashlight pointed in front of him. "You bet," he said fervently.

~o0o~

"Jack?" Daniel’s voice sounded weak and dazed. "What happened?"

Restart.

Jack rolled his eyes at Sam. They'd been trying to find a way through the maze of tunnels for an hour or more now, thus having avoided the creature that had attacked Daniel, and the archeologist was becoming progressively disoriented. "He’s starting to sound like a stuck record," Jack muttered, shooting Daniel an apologetic look. "You sure he’s all right?"

Carter shrugged. "He’s confused, with some short-term memory loss. Hopefully it’s just a severe concussion but the sooner we get him back to the base, the happier I’ll be."

"Well, if we could stop going around in circles, we might have a chance," Jack grumbled. He took a good look at Daniel. The other man's face was as white as a sheet, a thin film of perspiration had cut a swathe through the dirt and blood on his cheeks and his eyes hung at half-mast. He cradled his injured arm close to his body, supported in the sling Sam had fashioned, but Jack could see that every step was causing him pain. He was beginning to shiver a little, probably from shock, Jack thought.

"What about the runes?’ Daniel asked as he accepted Sam’s help to lower himself to the ground.

Jack hunkered down in front of him. "What about the runes, Daniel?"

Daniel rubbed at his forehead. "Something…" He looked at Jack. "Something about the runes, but I can’t… can’t think."

"Try," Jack said his tone harsher than he intended. He reached out and squeezed Daniel’s uninjured arm in apology when the other man grimaced. "Sorry, Daniel. Look, what about the runes? Try to think."

Daniel frowned. "They’re a map."

"Colonel! Look out!" Carter had her weapon up and firing over Jack’s head at the same time as Jack saw a huge shadow fall across them.

The creature let out an enraged roar and Jack felt a slice of fiery agony as it slashed at his back. Whipping up his sidearm, trying to ignore the pain, Jack opened fire, shouting at Carter to get Daniel to safety. The ammunition seemed to bounce off the creature’s resilient skin, but to Jack’s relief the monster turned and disappeared back into the depths of the tunnels. Jack backed away, keeping his eyes on the darkened entrance. "We have *got* to get out of here."

~o0o~

Teal'c muttered a string of oaths in his native Chulak tongue and stood, scanning the seemingly endless desert for a clue to his teammates' whereabouts. He was growing more frustrated by the second, though it did not show on his stoic features. Coming to a decision, he turned to the team he'd brought back from Earth. "Sergeant Nichols, bring a second man and accompany me. We shall return to the place where Daniel Jackson fell and attempt to locate them below. The rest of your men can continue to search for another entrance."

Nichols nodded then turned to his men, issuing instructions before summoning Corporal Mathers and following Teal'c back up the dunes. It was easy enough this time to lower themselves into the tunnels by securing the ropes with guide pegs they'd brought from the base. Teal'c took a moment to advise General Hammond of his intentions then led the way down.

He stood for a moment, waiting for his sight to adjust to the dimness then switched on his flashlight and gestured in front of him. "I believe they went this way. Stay alert."

Slowly they made their way through the tunnels. It was not long however before they came to a dead-end. "We must retrace our steps," Teal'c said.

"Maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere," Nichols muttered.

Any rejoinder Teal'c wanted to make was cut off by a ear-shattering roar behind them. Teal'c armed his staff weapon and brought it up to bear on the huge shape lumbering toward them. "Stay behind me," he ordered the others. He took a couple of steps back, aimed his weapon at the creature's broad chest and waited. It was only a few feet from him when he saw something that made him abruptly change his plan of action. "Take cover," he shouted. When he detected Nichols and Mathers moving back against the wall of the tunnel, Teal'c angled his staff weapon upward and fired at the sizeable overhang of rock that jutted from the roof. The rock exploded with a loud bang and sent large pieces of debris raining down onto the creature. With a pained roar, it staggered and fell to its knees, then collapsed to the ground and lay unmoving.

Teal'c took a step closer and prodded it with his staff. The creature shifted a little on the ground then lay still once more but Teal'c saw that it was still breathing.

"Why the hell didn't you kill it?" Nichols asked, anger edging his tone.

"There is no time to explain," Teal'c replied, ignoring Nichols' incredulous look. "We must find the others before it regains consciousness." Moving back the way they had come, the men resumed their search.

~o0o~

Jack squatted down in front of Daniel and lightly tapped his cheek. The archeologist was steadily descending into a stupor, still muttering about runes and maps. "Daniel? Come on, buddy. Stay with me, just a little longer."

Daniel's heavy eyelids fluttered open, his pupils uneven, his gaze confused. "Jack? What happened?"

Jack bit back another groan of frustration. He paused when he heard the muted sound of an explosion and leaned over Daniel to protect him as small stones were shaken loose overhead and cascaded over them.

"Staff weapon?" Carter guessed.

"Sounded like it." Jack turned his attention back to Daniel. "Daniel, you said the runes are a map. Can you decipher them?"

It seemed to take a moment for the question to register, but Daniel finally nodded. "Pocket," he whispered. "Notes."

Jack rummaged through Daniel's pockets, discarding several tissues and a chocolate wrapper before finding a folded piece of notepaper. He shone his flashlight onto the page and squinted at it then gave up and handed it to Carter. "Any idea?"

Sam studied the hieroglyphs carefully. "Sorry, sir. I keep promising myself I'm going to take Daniel up on his offer of some lessons, but..."

Jack nodded in understanding. The thought had crossed his mind on more than one occasion when their resident linguist had been injured off-world that it probably wouldn't hurt to have a stand-by, but just the thought of sitting through one of Daniel's lectures made him unconsciously yawn with boredom. He was sure it was all… fascinating stuff, but he'd never been good at just sitting and listening to someone talk, even in school. "Daniel," he said. "If I get you over to the runes, you think you can take a look, maybe translate them."

Daniel nodded then winced. "Yeah, help me up."

Between them, Sam and Jack carefully levered Daniel upright. He listed a little, leaning heavily on Jack for support. Slowly they helped him shuffle over to the wall. Daniel leaned forward, blinking a few times before rubbing at his dust-encrusted eyelids. "Blurry," he said. "Can't see it."

Jack sighed, feeling defeated but Carter took Daniel's hand and rested his fingers over the carved rock. "Maybe you can trace it with your fingers?" she suggested.

"Like Braille?" Daniel asked.

"Yeah."

"Okay." Slowly Daniel felt the glyphs etched in the rock. He smiled a little though in his injured and dazed state, it came out looking more like a grimace. "Right ten paces, left six paces, right four." His voice trailed off to a whisper. "Four, I think… It's faded a little."

"Okay," Jack said. "Let's work with that much, see where it takes us." Placing Daniel's arm around his shoulders, Jack turned them to the right and began to walk the measured steps.

~o0o~

It was still taking too long and Daniel was steadily growing weaker. Jack felt his own injury beginning to burn as he took more of Daniel's weight. Carter had insisted on checking it a while back, shaking her head in dismay at the damage she'd found. Jack had brusquely told her it could wait until they got home but sat still long enough to let her tape a bandage over the gash.

Propping Daniel against the wall next to the latest rune, Jack frowned at his friend's pallor. It was becoming more and more difficult to rouse him as time went on. The one good thing he could find in the whole situation was that the creature had been silent for some time now and Jack hoped that meant that Teal'c had killed it.

Daniel frowned as he reached out a shaking hand and traced the rune. "S'different," he muttered. He rubbed at his forehead with the fingers of his uninjured hand. "Can't think," he sighed. "Tired."

"I know," Carter soothed. "Just stay awake a little longer, Daniel."

Daniel nodded then bent again to the task. Suddenly he slumped back against the wall. His knees buckled and he sank downward, Jack going with him to ease his descent.

"Daniel?" Jack tapped at the archeologist's face, trying to rouse him.

Daniel's hand reached up and grabbed his, stilling his movements. "It's okay, Jack. I'm still here." He gestured up toward the runes. "Press the two outer ones at the same time."

"Are you sure?" Jack eyed him dubiously. "None of the others said to do that. It might be a trap."

"One way to find out," Carter said, stepping over to the wall. "Unless we want to stay here."

Jack shook his head. "Do it." He tensed as Carter pressed the outer stones, ready to protect Daniel with his own body should something untoward occur. To his surprise, there was a muffled rumbling and the wall slid slowly back, revealing Teal'c on the other side who quickly schooled his own surprised features and inclined his head slightly, a small smile curling the corners of his mouth.

"It is good to see you, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "Are you or Major Carter injured?"

"Nothing that can't wait, Teal'c. It's good to see you too. I'm assuming you killed that 'thing' that's been chasing us."

"I did not."

Jack's eyes narrowed. "Your aim off or something?"

"That's what I want to know," Nichols muttered from behind Teal'c.

"It was a female with young in a pouch," Teal'c explained. "I sought to render it unconscious so we could escape. I assume its actions were provoked by a desire to protect its young."

"Daniel's rubbing off on you, Teal'c, buddy," Jack uttered darkly. He looked back at the archeologist who lay with his eyes closed, panting slightly. "Daniel? You ready to go home?"

Daniel opened his eyes and smiled weakly at Jack then indicated the runes above his head once more. "Now press the inner two and there's an easier way out."

Carter did the honors once more and the far wall slid slowly back to reveal the endless dunes of the planet. Jack grinned and gave Daniel a thumbs-up. "Way to go, Daniel. Way to go."

~o0o~

"Well, this sucks." Jack stifled a groan of discomfort and tried to find a position in the bed that didn't press on the stitches in his back. Turning carefully onto his side, he glared at the smile Daniel gave him from the next bed.

Daniel's face was still pale, the dark circles beneath his eyes and the cut on his head emphasized by his wan features, but he looked vastly improved from when they'd first staggered back through the gate to Earth. He'd suffered a serious concussion with some minor brain swelling, but had been on the mend quickly once Doctor Frasier's magic potions were administered. His freshly casted arm was supported on a pillow at his side, and a bed cradle beneath the sheets kept the weight of the bedclothes off the infected bite on his leg.

Daniel laughed a little at Jack's disgruntled impression. "Oh, come on now, Jack. It's not that bad. At least you get to go home tomorrow. I'm stuck here for the rest of the week."

"Yeah, but *the* game of the season is on tonight, and it's not the same watching it from an infirmary," Jack countered. "I need pretzels and pizza… and beer."

"And if Janet had let you go home, you were going to go right to bed, just like she ordered." Daniel rolled his eyes to show what he thought of that.

Jack slumped onto his back, and hissed when his forgotten wound made itself known. "Ouch! Dammit! I'm bored," he said, sounding like a petulant child and not caring.

"Not for long." Sam's voice came from the doorway. Jack looked over to see her step into the room, closely followed by Teal'c. "Evening, sir. How are you feeling?"

"Peachy," Jack muttered. He scowled at the books in her arms. "Whatcha got there?" he asked, his interest piqued despite his bad mood.

Carter set the books on Daniel's rollaway table and settled herself into a chair. Teal'c pulled over the chair from Jack's bedside and joined her.

"Are you sure you feel up to this now, Daniel?" Sam asked, smiling at the archeologist.

"I'm fine," Daniel assured her. "This'll be fun. Anyway, it'll pass the time for Colonel Grumpy over there."

"I'm not grumpy," Jack said. "Just… bored." He pushed himself up on his pillows. "What are we doing?"

"Well, sir," Sam began. "I was thinking about what happened down on the planet and thought what better opportunity would we have for Daniel to give us a few lessons in hieroglyphs and linguistics…"

"You're joking!" Jack sank back onto his bed, ignoring the flare of pain through his back. "The game'll be on in an hour."

"Plenty of time then to give you an overall view," Daniel said brightly. "You know, writing, in one form or another, has been around for…"

Jack closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift off, letting Daniel's voice wash over him. He supposed it wouldn't hurt to just listen if he was stuck here anyway. Might even pick up something useful… He snorted. Yeah, right.

FIN

September 18th 2003

Back