Thanks to Annie as always for her stellar beta and to devra and Jo for asking me to participate. This is for Jmas, a longtime friend, who shares our love for all things Stargate.
Previously published in the zine, In Times Like These.
It was supposed to be a routine rescue mission. SG-4 had 'gated to Cronon to speak to the elders and try to get permission for them to bring back some naquada specimens. Initial analysis of the planet showed the mineral was in great supply and in purer form than anywhere else they'd thus far reconned.
A scrambled, fading message two hours later from Corporal Holden, who was stationed at the Stargate, gave them the clue that things weren't quite as peachy as they'd appeared. It seemed the Cronons had a snake in their midst and a team of Jaffa had been waiting to greet the rest of the team. They'd managed to regain possession of their weapons and escape, and were headed back to the 'gate, dragging two injured teammates with them. The major problem was that the 'gate was several miles from the Cronon main city and the Jaffa were gaining on them.
Still, Jack wasn't worried. SG-1 was just back on duty, rested up after returning from blowing Apophis and his ships into smithereens, and after a couple of days downtime, were missing the action and anxious to get back in the thick of things.
"Permission to mount a rescue mission, sir." Jack didn't make it a question, and from the way Hammond was already nodding his agreement before the words were fully out of his mouth, it looked like he didn't need to.
"Sergeant, get SG-6 to meet SG-1 in the gateroom. Full battle readiness."
Sergeant Harriman gave Jack a quick grin and then saluted. "Yes, sir," and leaned toward the microphone, making the request.
Jack turned to his team, rubbing his hands together, feeling the familiar buzz of adrenaline coursing through his veins. "Let's do this."
Carter was already on her way down the stairs, fastening her helmet, with Teal'c in hot pursuit behind her. Jack made to follow then turned to wait for his lagging, remaining teammate. "Daniel, wanna get the lead out?"
Daniel nodded, pushing his glasses up his nose as he followed Jack to the stairs. "Coming. Cronon... Isn't that the one with the rope bridge leading from the 'gate to the city?"
"Yep!" Jack nodded, grinning. He knew he shouldn't make fun of a person's phobia but with Daniel, it was just too good to pass up. "Spans this huge chasm. I think Major Brown said there was a river at the bottom. Pretty deep, he said."
As expected, Daniel looked glum. "Right. But the bridge, it's safe, right?"
Jack shrugged. "SG-6 got across, no problems. Guess we'll find out."
Daniel laid a hand on Jack's shoulder. "Thank you for that, Jack." When Jack merely grinned over his shoulder at him, he squeezed a little more forcefully than necessary. "No, really, thank you."
Jack waved away the sarcastic gratitude with the nonchalance he knew Daniel expected. "De nada. Now, you coming or not?"
It had gone to hell in a handbasket from the minute they'd crossed the bridge and met up with a rapidly flagging SG-6. The sound of staff weapon fire had them all ducking for cover. Jack risked raising his head to try to get a grasp of the situation. Just ahead of him, behind a solid bush, Jim Brown was hunkered down with an exhausted looking Sergeant Gary at his side. "Jim!" Jack yelled. "How many we got?"
Brown gave a quick shrug. "I stopped counting at twenty," he called back. He didn't look much better than Gary. His face was caked with sweat and dirt, and leaves and twigs clung tenaciously to his hair and uniform.
"Always said you were lousy at math," Jack quipped. A staff blast whizzed by him, stripping bark right next to his face and he felt the sting as it grazed his cheek. He felt himself tugged back into cover. Turning his head, he nodded at Daniel. "Thanks."
Daniel shrugged, but didn't look nearly as casual as his tone suggested. "As much as I hate to say it, we should really head back to the 'gate now."
"Just what I was about to suggest." Jack looked behind him. "Carter, head for the 'gate and dial it up. Teal'c, give Brown and Sorenson a hand with their men." He stood, raking the forest in front of him with cover fire, aware of Daniel doing the same from the other side of the tree. "Let's go! Move it!"
Brown managed to get Gary on his feet and guided him forward, waiting until he saw Teal'c grab the injured man and lead him back toward the bridge, then turned back to wave Sorenson through. Fire flashed through the leaves and Brown screamed and clutched at his chest before hitting the ground.
Jack gritted his teeth and continued to fire, satisfied to hear answering screams of agony from the Jaffa on their tails. He caught movement from the corner of his eye and grabbed at Daniel's arm, hauling him back before he could break cover in an attempt to reach Brown. "Forget it, Daniel, he's dead."
Daniel stared at him, shock and resignation warring for dominance on his face then he seemed to shake himself and nodded. "Sorenson, you're covered," he called, but his voice was shaky, his face chalk-white.
A second later, Sorenson burst through the trees, dragging a young airman with him. Reilly, Jack realized. The kid looked out on his feet and a large bloodstain covered the upper part of his jacket. Jamming another round into his weapon, Jack stepped around the two men, blocking them from further harm and laid down covering fire. "Go, Sorenson. Jackson and I will bring up the rear."
He turned and motioned for Daniel to go ahead of him. With only the slightest hesitation, Daniel did so, ducking and weaving through the brush, pausing now and again to fire random shots at their pursuers.
Carter and Teal'c had reached the other side of the wildly swinging rope bridge and Sorenson and Reilly were halfway across. Jack stopped and sprayed the bushes behind them with a determined volley of gunfire, grimly ignoring the agonized shouts and screams of wounded Jaffa. He waved Daniel forward to the bridge.
Daniel's scream cut through him and he turned. The bridge swayed perilously and then the rope on one side snapped. Sorenson grabbed desperately for the still secured side, dragging Reilly with him, but the whole bridge tipped sideways. The two men clung to the rope for a moment, their bodies whipped about from the updraft of air below them.
"Reilly, hang on!" Sorenson screamed.
"I can't!" Reilly tilted his head up to look at his senior officer, his face a mask of fear.
"Hang on!" Daniel yelled. He ran forward but Jack snagged his jacket, dragging him back.
"There's nothing you can do!" Jack yelled but Daniel surged away from him, heading back on shambling legs toward the bridge. Jack heard the creaking snap of overstrained rope just a split second before the second support gave way and the two men plunged downward into the abyss below.
"No!" Daniel screamed again. He struggled out of Jack's restraining grasp and staggered forward toward the bridge.
Jack dove forward, catching Daniel by the hips and dragging him to the ground, a second before another burst of staff blasts whizzed over their heads. He hunkered down, covering Daniel's body with his own as the Jaffa rained fire on them. He leaned in, his mouth close to Daniel's ear. "Nothing you can do, Daniel. They're gone."
Daniel stiffened for a brief moment then slumped, all his fight gone. Jack could feel his breath hitching, his entire body shaking. They lay still for what seemed like a lifetime. Then the firefight stopped. Jack patted Daniel's back.
"We have to get out of here. Find somewhere to hide till Carter and Teal'c can get back for us."
Daniel nodded. "How are they gonna get back?" he whispered.
"They'll figure something out," Jack said. He raised his head slightly and took an appraising look around. "Let's get to some cover before the Jaffa figure out we got left behind."
They headed further into the woods. Daniel stopped a moment and looked back toward the bridge. Jack felt shocked and sickened too by what had happened but knew they didn't have time to dwell on it now. "Daniel!" he hissed. "We have to keep moving."
Daniel hesitated a moment longer then turned back to Jack, then suddenly he was yelling, launching himself forward and taking Jack to the ground with him. They both rolled to the side, and Jack was distantly aware of the whine of a staff weapon. He pushed Daniel away, bringing his weapon up and firing in one fluid movement. The sole Jaffa who had happened upon them clutched at his chest, his mouth open in a silent scream. Jack was up and dragging Daniel along with him before the warrior hit the ground.
It wasn't long before Jack realized that Daniel was flagging. The faint shouts of the Jaffa could be heard behind them and Jack knew they had to find a hiding place soon. "Come on, Daniel," he urged. "It'll be night soon and we'll have a chance of getting away."
"Don't think I can," Daniel panted. He pulled to a stop and leaned against the nearest tree, one bloody hand clutching his shoulder.
"Oh crap!" Jack reached out and gently moved Daniel's hand, leaning in to take a good look at the wound. "Why the hell didn't you tell me you'd been hit?"
"Didn't... didn't have time." He batted at Jack's exploring hands. "I'm okay."
"Sure you are. Sit down for a minute and let me find something to bandage it with."
Daniel shook his head and pushed away from the tree trunk. His mouth was set in a tight line, his features scrunched in pain, his flesh sallow and beaded with sweat. "No time. We have to find somewhere to hide." He staggered and would have fallen except for Jack's quick thinking and supportive arm.
Jack looked around their immediate area, his expression bleak. "Great idea, Daniel, but where?"
Jack had his weapon up at the ready, the muzzle raking the bushes at the sound of the voice. A head peeked out from a thick stand of bushes to his right, the dark hair flopping over a young man's face, reminding him of Skaara. The youth gestured for them to follow him. "There is not much time," he said in an urgent whisper. "The Jaffa know these forests well."
Jack hesitated, holding a too-trusting, woozy Daniel back. "Who the hell are you?"
The young man rolled his eyes in an impatient gesture. "My name is not important but if you must know it, I am Sazar. I am Resistance."
"You people have a resistance?"
"Of course. Does not every world ruled by the Goa'uld?"
"Some, yeah." Still, Jack hesitated. "How do we know we can trust you?"
"Do you wish to wait for the Jaffa to catch you, or for your friend to bleed to death before you decide?"
"Well, when you put it that way..." Jack wrapped an arm around Daniel's waist and followed Sazar, making sure to keep his firearm at the ready.
They skirted bushes and trees, taking a circuitous path through the forest for some ten minutes before Sazar halted at the base of a steep hill.
Daniel looked up warily, his body beginning to shudder with exhaustion and shock. "I really hope you don't expect me to climb up there," he said tiredly.
Sazar merely glanced over his shoulder at them then pulled at the rocks surrounding the base, finally revealing a small entrance. "You will need to crawl in but once you are inside, you will be able to move through the tunnel freely."
Again, Jack wavered. It was getting dark and Daniel looked out on his feet. The piece of cloth that Jack had hastily torn from his t-shirt as they'd followed Sazar was already soaked with blood. "We might be better taking our chances in the woods," he said.
"The Jaffa do not know of the tunnel," Sazar said. "It leads under the earth to the Chaapa'ai."
A glimmer of renewed hope sparked Daniel's pallid features. "All the way?"
Sazar nodded. "It is dark and rugged going but you cannot get lost within. It's safe." He waited a moment then huffed out a sigh. "Trust me or not. I must return to the village before I am missed. I am risking my own life and that of my family by aiding you."
Daniel leaned a little more heavily against Jack. "I don't think we have a choice, Jack."
Jack eyed Sazar thoughtfully. "Why help us? Everyone else here seemed happy to see us dead."
"I told you, I am Resistance. There are only a few of us now but as the word spreads about the true nature of the Gods, more will swell our ranks." He glanced about nervously. "Make up your mind! I must conceal the entrance once you are inside."
Jack gave Daniel a wary look. "I have a really bad feeling about this," he said. Getting a tighter grip around Daniel's waist, he stepped forward then lowered Daniel to the ground. Peering into the darkened entrance, he shook his head. "It's darker than Hades in there."
"There are torches," Sazar whispered behind them.
"Jack..." Daniel nudged Jack's backside. "I don't know how much longer I can walk."
"Okay." Jack shimmied forward and slid through the opening then shifted around until he faced outward and stretched out his arms. "Grab my hands and let me pull you in. Just remember, if this tunnel falls in on our heads, it was your idea."
Daniel groaned as Jack pulled him into the tunnel.
"Good luck, my friends," Sazar said, then the entrance closed over too quickly for either man to react and the darkness was absolute.
"Crap!" Jack cursed as he tripped over another rock on the narrow path. "Couldn't they leave flashlights in here?"
"Probably wouldn't know what one was," Daniel replied. He moaned softly and pulled Jack to a stop. "Sorry. Little dizzy. Can we just rest for a minute?"
No, Jack wanted to say. They'd been traveling through the tunnel for twenty minutes now and he knew Daniel was getting weaker by the minute. "Sure. You rest. I'm going to scout ahead. See how much further it is."
"You don't think..." Daniel's voice trailed off.
"That it's a trap?" Jack finished for him. "Well, he could have just yelled for the Jaffa," he said.
Daniel nodded. In the gloomy glow from the brush torch, he looked ghastly. Pale, shaking, and coated with sweat and dirt. The shoulder wound had stopped bleeding at least but Jack worried now about infection setting in.
Carefully, Jack helped Daniel lower himself to the ground. He rested his hand for a moment on Daniel's good shoulder. "Don't go to sleep," he warned. "I'll be back in just a minute."
Two things occurred to Jack as he jogged carefully through the tunnel, keeping a wary eye out for stray rocks or anything nasty that might inhabit the dark environs: how the hell they were going to get out if this end of the tunnel was blocked by rocks, and, even supposing by some small miracle, they made it to the Stargate, how they were going to get home? Carter had the GDO, which meant they were locked out. The tunnel's path now headed upward and Jack guessed the exit would be situated somewhere near the top of the hill.
Trudging up, he went over the problems in his mind, discarding each idea that came to him. Nothing seemed workable. He pulled up short, staring at the small hole in front of him. They'd made it... this far at least. Reaching up, Jack pushed aside the branches that concealed the opening. One problem dealt with at least. Sazar and his resistance buddies had managed to conceal the entrance with a thick covering of greenery. The other problem loomed its ugly head the minute Jack cleared enough space to peek out. Below him, down a gentle slope, was the Stargate. Beyond it, Jack could see the chasm that had originally been breached by the rope bridge. Pacing the platform on which the 'gate stood, were two surly-looking Jaffa.
Worrying at the problem, Jack made his way back to Daniel, who had slumped to one side, his eyes closed, his breathing harsh and sounding strained. Jack rested a hand on Daniel's forehead. He was warm, though his fever didn't appear to be dangerously high... yet. He shifted his hand to Daniel's uninjured shoulder and shook it gently. "Daniel? Come on, buddy. Time to get moving."
Daniel's eyes opened, slowly, groggily, and he looked upward, then his gaze roamed around the dim space. "I'm-" He coughed, choked, his good hand grabbing at his injured shoulder as he bent forward, gagging and gasping for breath.
"Easy, easy." Jack crouched down and pulled Daniel to him, supporting him through the coughing fit. Once it subsided, he eased him back against the wall. Pulling his canteen out, he held it to Daniel's lips. "Just a little."
Daniel nodded and sipped then pushed the container away. "Thanks," he rasped. "I'm guessing we're not home yet."
"Not yet," Jack agreed, "but almost. We do have a slight problem... a couple actually."
Daniel dropped his head to rest on his bent knees. "No GDO," he said.
"That too," Jack replied. "There's also a couple of Jaffa guarding the 'gate."
"That's a surprise. Why don't we just wait here for Sam and Teal'c to come back with the cavalry?"
"We're a ways underground," Jack said. "I'm not sure they'll be able to pick us up. Any bright ideas?"
Daniel thought for a moment then nodded and looked up at him. "SG-4 had a recon to PX4-990. They should still be there. We 'gate to there and go home with them."
Jack nodded slowly. "That'll work."
"What about the guards on the 'gate?"
"Well, I thought I could provide a little side entertainment, get them away from the 'gate while you dial us into PX-whatever."
"What if..." Daniel trailed off and he stared up the darkened tunnel. "Okay," he said, nodding. "Best shot we've got, right?"
Jack reached out and squeezed Daniel's hand, acknowledging the words left unsaid. "Best chance. At least one of us has the chance to make it." He stood and reached out a hand to Daniel. "So, you ready?"
"I'm not sure if I can make it, Jack. It might be better-"
"No!" Jack cut him off instantly. "We go together or we both stay here."
Daniel stared at him for a moment. "Don't suppose you've got any chocolate? As a bribe, when my energy's flagging, it works wonders."
Jack rolled his eyes and patted his pocket. "Nope, sorry. Besides, I'm guessing you're gonna need some surgery on that shoulder when we get back, so food's probably not a good idea." Daniel looked genuinely crest-fallen. "I do, however," Jack continued, raising a finger, "have tickets for the hockey game on Saturday night."
"I thought Teal'c was going with you," Daniel said as he took Jack's hand and struggled to his feet.
"Apparently, there's a Star Wars marathon on that Teal'c tells me he just can't miss." Jack wrapped his arm around Daniel's waist and led the way through the tunnel.
"Well, there is this exhibition I was hoping to take in on Saturday afternoon," Daniel panted out. "We could go there first and then go to the game."
"Exhibition, you say?" Jack responded. He lowered Daniel to the ground and leaned forward to push aside the branches concealing the opening. "Rocks and stuff?"
"Stuff," Daniel agreed. He leaned up to peek out of the small exit, hissing a little as he clutched at his shoulder with bloodstained fingers. "So," he continued with a wan smile, "is it a date?"
Jack frowned at him. "I'm not sure I'd put it that way, Daniel, but yes. Let's just concentrate on getting the hell out of here and I'll take you anywhere your little heart desires." He pushed his way through the mouth of the tunnel then leaned back in and held up a finger. "Wait till I give you the signal, then get your ass down there as fast as you can. I'll be right behind you."
Daniel nodded. "You'd better be."
Pressing himself against the rock face, Jack scanned the perimeter below. The only Jaffa he could see were the ones parading up and down in front of the 'gate. It could be a trap, he knew, but he figured their choices were few. They had no idea how long it would be before Carter and Teal'c made it back, and if they were stuck inside the tunnel, there was no guarantee the rescue team would be able to locate them. Daniel was getting weaker by the minute... and standing here going over their next to zero options wasn't helping matters any.
Jack took a quick glance back at the tunnel then scouted around the side of the hill. The climb down to the ground was tougher going here with no path to follow but as he reached the bottom, he saw the hill on this side abutted the forest.
Jack checked his weapon then strode around the base of the hill, keeping the protection of the trees close to his back. "Hey!" He gave the Jaffa guards a cheery wave. "Looking for me?" And opened fire.
The Jaffa were well trained soldiers, Jack knew. They hesitated only a split second before bringing their staff weapons up to bear on him. Jack managed to take one down with his first volley of shots before throwing himself back into the bushes behind him.
Staff weapons were deadly in the right hands, though clumsy and slow to fire, compared to a handgun. Fire flashed just to the right of him and bark and leaves sprayed his face. Jack waited for the moment it would take for the Jaffa to re-arm his weapon then stood and fired a long burst, catching the second man square in the chest, sending him sprawling back to collapse on the body of his comrade.
Distantly, he heard shouting. "Now, Daniel, go!"
It was a precious few seconds before he saw Daniel emerge from their hiding place and head down the path in a stumbling run. Jack turned his back on him and stood his ground, spraying the forest with weapon fire before turning and heading for the 'gate. Ahead of him, he saw Daniel stagger and go down on one knee, then pull himself back up and continue on. Jack stood at the base of the platform and laid down cover fire. There was no way to miss being hit if the soldiers gained on them before Daniel could get the 'gate open.
Behind him, he heard the welcome whoosh of the event horizon and turned, waving Daniel through. "Go! I'll cover you."
But Daniel stood his ground and Jack knew what he was thinking. We don't leave anyone behind.
"Damn it, Daniel!" Jack muttered. Racing up the steps, feeling the heat of a blast as it whistled past him, he threw himself forward, snagging Daniel with one hand as he drew level with him and dove through the 'gate.
"Hey!" Jack limped over to Daniel's bedside and lowered himself into the chair there with just a small groan. "You're looking better." It was, he told himself, a relative term, considering how Daniel had looked when he'd pulled him through the Stargate. By the time they hit PX4-990, Daniel had been unconscious, his skin grey, cold and clammy, his wound re-opened from their forceful entry to the other side.
Daniel gave him a wan smile. "Thank you. I'm feeling better." He shifted a little in the bed and grimaced. "Marginally."
Jack crossed his arms over his chest and studied Daniel. "So, how did you know?"
"Know what?" Daniel gave him an equal measure of scrutiny with a puzzled frown creasing his forehead.
"That SG-4 would be on PXY-whatever, just when we needed them to be."
"Oh, that." Daniel reached out, and Jack second-guessed him, grabbing the tumbler of water and placing it in his hand. "Thank you." He took a couple of sips then handed it back to Jack. "I remembered General Hammond mentioning it during our briefing that morning."
Jack thought a moment then nodded, remembering. "Oh, right. Just like you did on Hadante."
Daniel's brow furrowed for a second then he nodded again. "Right! Exactly! Just like when I was being strangled by that behemoth on Hadante."
Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair. "How do you just know these things?"
Daniel thought a moment, shrugged and winced. "I have no idea. It just seems to seep into my brain without me noticing."
Jack grinned. "Lucky for us, huh?"
Daniel smiled back. "Yeah, lucky for us."
Jack picked up the tumbler and took a sip of water before settling back in the chair, resting his still aching legs on the rail under the bed. "So, when's the doc letting you go?"
"Friday, she said, if I behave." Daniel grinned.
"Great!" Jack rubbed his hands together. "So, we'll make the game!"
"And the exhibition," Daniel added, nodding enthusiastically.
Jack's eager smile dropped. "Right. The exhibition. Lucky us."