SHATTERED

BY: Lyn

 

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

RATING: G.

CATEGORY: Epilogue - "Forever in a day."

His head pounded fiercely and the skin on his forehead felt tight and hot. Daniel raised a shaky hand halfway to his head, then fought the urge to scratch the annoying itch and instead pushed back the rollaway table. Just the thought of food made his stomach churn ominously, and he closed his eyes tightly and breathed slowly through his mouth until the nausea passed.

Looking around the infirmary ward, he saw that he was the sole occupant of the room, and he felt curiously adrift, cut-off from the rest of humanity as though in a dream. He had hoped the moment he'd woken again that it had been a dream, that he would wake in his own bed in his own apartment and get up and go through the Stargate once more in search of Sha'ure.

Now there was nothing left for him to go for. Skaara was back living with his father on Abydos and Sha'ure was dead, killed by Teal'c as the parasite within her fought to kill Daniel. He'd forgiven Teal'c, not just because it was the last thing Sha'ure had asked of him but also because he knew deep in his heart and soul that it was a just and right thing to do.

The boy was gone too, the only part of Sha'ure left to him, spirited away to Kheb, if indeed it truly existed. It didn't matter. Daniel wiped away a solitary tear from his cheek and bundled the covers more closely about him. He couldn't go home. He didn't want to face the reality of life without Sha'ure.

~o0o~

Jack O'Neill paused outside the door to the infirmary, uncharacteristically uncertain. He debated going back to the mess for another cup of bitter coffee, despite the fact that his bladder was threatening dire retribution over the two he'd already had in order to delay his trip. He half-turned, intent on heading back to the elevator but suddenly the doors were pushed open and the decision was taken out of his hands.

"Colonel! I'm glad you're here." Doctor Fraiser grasped his arm and pulled him toward her office. "We need to talk before you go see Doctor Jackson."

"O-o-kay." Jack didn't resist as the petite doctor steered him into an adjacent room and shut the door behind them. Crossing to her desk, she lowered herself into a chair with an audible sigh. "Long day," she said. "Does SG-11 ever go off-world and not come back banged up?" She waved a weary hand at Jack as he opened his mouth to reply. "Never mind, rhetorical question."

"What's the problem?" Jack shook his head at the offer of a seat and stood leaning against the door, his arms crossed over his chest. "Daniel demanding more coffee?"

"He doesn't want to go home," Janet said flatly. She leaned back in her chair and regarded the colonel somberly. "I mean he hasn't said it in so many words but he's using every excuse under the sun to stay here."

"Are you sure he's recovered enough to go home?" Jack asked. It was a foolish question, he knew. Janet Fraiser was the best doctor at the base and she was as protective of Daniel as SG-1 were.

"He's recovered enough to rest at home." Janet paused for a moment, then took a deep breath before continuing. "The effects from the ribbon device are fading. He's still a little nauseous and headachy but some simple painkillers will alleviate that. He needs to go home and get on with his life now. I know he's still grieving his wife but shutting himself away in an infirmary is not the way to deal with it. I suggested he might seek some counseling but he freaked out. Just about tore his IV out, ranting."

"Do you blame him?" Jack ground out from between clenched teeth. "After what Mackenzie…with what we put him through after Machello's device got into him."

Fraiser had the grace to look embarrassed. "I call myself a good doctor and I didn't even think of that."

"You are a good doctor. Now, what do I do to get him the heck out of here?" Jack held up a hand. "Actually, don't bother to answer that. I've got it covered." He turned to open the door then looked back at Janet. "Can I take him away for a few days?"

Janet nodded enthusiastically. "That might be the best medicine for him. I can give you a supply of mild painkillers for him. Where do you plan on going?"

"Little cabin I've got. Lake, fishing, peace and quiet."

"Let me know if there are any problems. The burn on his head indicates that the ribbon device was focused on him for quite some time. I'm still learning about this technology, Colonel. There may still be side effects that I don't know about. I'm guessing any complications would have shown up by now, but it doesn't hurt to be vigilant."

"Okay, I'm…we're out of here."

"Good luck, Colonel. I think you're going to need it."

0~0~0~0~0

Jack made a detour to the phone before entering the infirmary. Sam Carter picked up on the second ring, concern instantly coloring her voice.

"Is there something wrong, sir?"

"No, everything's fine. Listen, Carter, I need you to do something for me. Well, for Daniel."

"Of course, sir, anything he needs."

"I want you to break in to his apartment and pack him a bag. Just enough clothes for a couple of days."

"Sir?"

"Better pack his shaving kit too, and I think he's got some allergy stuff in his bathroom cabinet. Better throw that in."

"Colonel, I can't break into Daniel's apartment."

"Oh, come on, Carter. You know you want to. You love all that covert ops stuff."

"Why don't you just ask him for his key?"

"Because if I do that, he find any excuse not to come and if I bring him there first, I'll have to knock him out to get him out of the apartment again."

"Can I ask where you're taking him, sir?"

"I’ve got a little cabin up in the mountains. Nice fishing lake right outside the door, fresh air, little row boat…peaceful."

"Sounds just what the doctor ordered. I wish I could come with you."

"No, you don't. You're busting a gut to get your hands on that ribbon device thingy." He grinned when Carter didn't dispute the words. "Just me and Daniel for now, Carter. Sorry. I think he'll feel more comfortable, and I kind of know what he's going through right now. I know you've been there too, but this is…"

"A guy thing, sir? It's fine. I really do want to take a closer look at the ribbon device after hearing what Daniel had to say about getting messages through it."

"Good. Better grab Daniel a jacket too, it gets pretty cold up there this time of year."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, and Carter? Keep an eye on Teal'c, okay? Regardless of what Daniel said to him, I get the feeling he's going to need a little TLC himself when he comes out of Kel-no-reem."

"Got it, sir."

That sorted, Jack turned and braced himself before striding to the infirmary door and pushing it open. Daniel was seated in a chair next to the bed. He held a book open on his lap, squinting at the page, despite having his glasses on. He didn't acknowledge Jack's arrival and startled when the colonel rested one hand on his shoulder.

"Jack!"

"How are you doing? Are you ready to get out of here."

Daniel rubbed gently at the vivid burn on his forehead and shrugged. Jack looked around the cubicle. Nothing had been packed up; in fact Daniel was still dressed in his pajamas. He studied the other man carefully. "You got another headache?"

Daniel began to shake his head, then seemed to think better of it and nodded.

"Why don't you ask Janet to give you something for it?"

"I don't want anything for it," Daniel replied. "It'll go, eventually. Now, if there isn't anything else, I'm trying to do some research here." Leaning forward, he picked up a pen and pad of paper from the bed.

"That will wait." Jack went to the bedside cupboard and opened it, pulling clean clothes from within. "Ask Janet to give you something for your headache before we leave…."

Daniel was standing now, staring at Jack. "What are you doing? My head is fine. It's not that bad. Wait a minute. Leave?"

Jack piled clothes and shoes on the bed then straightened, his hands on his hips. "Yep. Now shake a leg. We don't have all day."

"I don't feel up to going home yet," Daniel said. He crossed to the bed, picked up his t-shirt and looked at it as though it was one of his artifacts.

"That's why you're coming with me," Jack replied reasonably. "So, hurry up, get dressed. I'll go ask the nurse for something for your headache and we can take off."

"No."

"What do you mean, no?" Jack reached for Daniel's arm, startled when the anthropologist jerked away from him. "Daniel, this is crazy. I know you're in pain here. I know you miss Sha'ure, but you've got to get on with your life now."

Daniel's eyes flashed with anger. "What right have you got to tell me what to do, Jack? To tell me how to grieve, how to move on?"

"I have that right as your friend. I've been right where you are and it'll swallow you whole if you let it." Jack picked up Daniel's jeans and tossed them at him. "Get dressed. I'll go get you some aspirin."

Twenty minutes later, Jack had Daniel's bag stowed in his car. Just as he was about to go back to the infirmary and drag Daniel kicking and screaming from within, the door opened and the archeologist walked out, dressed, the thick book he'd been reading in one hand.

"You ready to get out of here?"

Daniel nodded and silently followed Jack out to the car. Jack unlocked the passenger door and held it open until Daniel slid in, then closed it. Climbing behind the wheel, he started the engine and steered out of the parking lot onto the winding road that led up into the Colorado Mountains. They drove in silence for several miles before Daniel stirred and looked out the front windshield.

"This isn't the way home," Daniel said peevishly. "Where are we going?"

"My place. My 'other' place. Where I go when I need to be alone, to think things over. It's where I went after Charlie died, and after the first mission to Abydos."

Daniel glanced at him quickly, then turned his attention back to the passing scenery. "You retired after Abydos."

Jack nodded as he slowed the car and turned onto a dirt track. "Yeah. I came up here, weighed up the pros and cons. There was nothing left for me at the mountain once you made the decision to stay on Abydos. There weren't going to be any more missions through the gate, since I told them that I'd blown you all up."

Daniel turned from the window and hunched himself into the corner of the seat, his eyes looking drowsy as his body rocked with the soothing motion of the car. "I never thanked you for doing that. It was quite a sacrifice you made."

Jack shrugged. "You were where you needed to be," he explained. "You saved my life, figured out how to get us home again. I did what had to be done."

"Thank you anyway."

"Welcome."

They drove the rest of the way in silence, and by the time Jack pulled up in front of the small, rustic cabin, Daniel was asleep, his head gently lolling against the window. Jack climbed out and carried their bags and a couple of boxes of supplies into the cabin first, then returned to the car to wake Daniel.

The archeologist looked to be in pain again, his forehead creased with tight lines of tension, his eyes red-rimmed. Jack led the way through the front door and watched as Daniel gave the one large living/kitchen area a cursory glassy-eyed glance before stumbling toward the bedroom.

"How about I show you around before dinner?" Jack asked Daniel's retreating back.

Daniel stopped and turned around, eyeing him pensively. "Okay."

~o0o~

This was his favorite spot, Jack decided, for so many reasons. He watched as Daniel lowered himself to the wooden pier and dangled his bare feet in the water, a tiny smile of pleasure finally lighting up the weary features.

"Nice, huh?" At Daniel's blissful nod, Jack chuckled and leaned back, pulling open his shirt to capture the full benefit of the sun's warm rays. "I used to bring Charlie here to fish and swim," he began, closing his eyes. "Even after he died, it seemed to be the one place I could come and feel close to him, like he'd never gone. You got a place like that?"

"What?"

Jack opened his eyes and saw that Daniel was looking at him, a puzzled expression on his face. "You've lost people close to you before," he explained. "Your parents. Most people seem to have somewhere they go when they want to think about those they've lost."

Daniel nodded, one hand closing into a fist and lifting to rest over his heart. "I moved around a lot when I was a kid, foster homes, I stayed with my grandfather for a little while. He introduced me to archeology and the mysteries of the Pyramids. I learned early on to keep my memories here, inside me. That way they couldn't get lost, couldn't be thrown away like so much garbage." He paused a moment, trailing his feet through the ripples of cool water. "I never got a chance to bring anything of Sha'ure's with me from Abydos, except our marriage cup. I told you about that. Oh." He gave a wry smile. "That was in my dream. Anyway, we left too fast. Now…"

"I'm sorry we didn't get to her in time, Daniel."

Daniel nodded silently, his gaze now fixed on the far side of the lake. The sun was fading, a cool breeze gusting across the water. Jack roused himself and stood, dusting his hands on his pants. "I'm going to organize some food. If it's not too cold, stay here for a bit." His mouth quirked into a gentle, crooked smile as he waved an arm about. "Commune with nature for a while. I'll call you when chow's on."

"I might do that, thanks."

Jack made his way back along the wooden pier toward the cabin. He stood at the door a moment and looked back at his friend. "Whatever it takes to get you through this, I'll do. I couldn't save Sha'ure for you, but I can help you."

~o0o~

Daniel rolled the wineglass between his hands, watching as Jack stoked the fire to a cheery blaze. He felt weary, sleepy, a consequence of the two glasses of wine he'd indulged in with Jack's hearty stew, no doubt. His headache lingered at the edge of his mind, present but no longer overwhelming. He leaned back on the plump cushions Jack had pulled from the couch, one hand going up to rub at the burn on his forehead.

"That burn still bothering you?" Jack asked as he retrieved his own glass and settled himself in the overstuffed armchair opposite Daniel.

"Not really. It's just there."

Jack nodded, sipping at his drink. "I hope we can get some fishing in tomorrow, maybe the next day too, if the weather holds." He glanced out at the rain pattering gently against the window. "The weather forecast didn't mention rain."

"Doesn't matter. It's nice. Cozy. Jack? Do you ever think about finding someone else?" Daniel asked suddenly. "Having another family?"

Jack nodded. "Sure. I guess everyone does. The thing is, I still feel like Sara and Charlie are a part of me. Like I'd be cheating somehow if I found someone else." He leaned forward, setting his wineglass on the small coffee table in front of him. "We never thought about having another kid after Charlie, you know? Maybe we should have. Given him a playmate. I was away so much and Sara was trying so hard not to smother him." He smiled. "I'll never forget the night he was born. I'd just come back from a mission, dog-tired, all I wanted to do was go to bed. Four AM, Sara shakes me awake, then gets up and starts packing her bag. I'm running around like an idiot, I couldn't remember where the car keys were, forgot her parents' phone number and she was so calm. She ended up pushing me into a chair to wait while she called her folks and the hospital, found my keys…. I think she was ready to drive to the hospital, I was so out of it. Give me thirty Jaffa to take on any day. As we're getting into the car, she stiffened - another contraction, a big one and as she was breathing through it, I asked her how far apart the contractions were.

"Couple of minutes," she said. "Give or take."

"I tell you, I broke the land speed record getting to the hospital. Sara is sitting beside me, holding onto the dash, telling me this is her body, her baby and she knows when he'll be ready to be born and it wasn't right then." He shook his head. "Damned if she wasn't right. We were at the hospital another eight hours before Charlie was born."

Daniel snorted, then his gaze grew distant. "We'd planned on having kids, Sha'ure and I. She talked about it every day. 'When I have our son, I want him to go to Earth and become a scholar like his father.'" He shook his head, and wiped at his cheeks. "We thought we had all the time in the world."

"The boy's still out there, Daniel."

Daniel flashed him an angry look, the tears on his cheeks glistening in the glow of the fire. "Her son," he ground out. "Sha'ure's and his. A product of rape, not love."

"You know, whenever you want to talk about it, I'm here for you. So are Sam and Teal'c."

Daniel nodded and stood, walking to the fireplace to stand staring into the crackling flames. "Not yet. It hurts just to think her name, and at the same time, she's all I can think about."

"It'll get better."

"What if I don't want it to? Maybe I was blaming Teal'c when all the time I should have been blaming myself." He turned and looked at Jack, his face bleak. "If I hadn't left her there, if I'd taken her with us to the temple, Apophis wouldn't have been able to get to her."

"No, he would have taken someone else's wife. Would that have made you feel any better?"

"I’m going to ask for something from you, Jack."

Jack nodded. "A favor? Sure, I can do that."

Daniel turned and stared at Jack for a long moment. "When we meet up with Apophis again, he’s mine." Pain speared Daniel's head and he winced. He set the wineglass down on the mantle carefully, aware that his hand was shaking. "I've got a headache. I'm going to bed." He turned and walked into the bedroom, not bothering to turn on the light.

"Can I get you something?" Jack asked behind him.

He shook his head, welcoming the spark of agony the movement brought. His pain, his punishment. "Good night."

~o0o~

Jack stared into the flames, idly poking at the glowing coals with a piece of wood. The wine bottle sat beside him, empty, but even the alcohol had not dulled his musings. For all the good he’d thought they’d done on their missions, in their fight against the Goa'uld, there had been too many sacrifices. Too many lives lost, and now this.

Over the past couple of years, Jack had come to value Daniel’s voice of reason. Thinking back over these last months, Jack's mind conjured up images of Daniel backing him up, firing zat guns and side-arms with the ease of a seasoned soldier, and Jack mourned the loss of the Daniel he’d first known.

Standing, he picked up the wine bottle and glasses and carried them over to the kitchen sink, gazing out at the rain for a moment. They were making progress at least, he decided. Daniel was talking, was angry enough to fight back at those who had taken Sha’ure. He hadn’t lost him yet. It had come close.

His mouth went dry when he remembered the other times they'd thought they'd lost Daniel. Too often, way too often. It would take time but Jack wasn’t giving up on Daniel this time. He needed him… hell, the team and the Stargate Program needed Daniel Jackson out there.

He walked to the door of Daniel’s room and looked in. Through the darkness, he could discern the outline of Daniel’s form in the bed, the covers all but obscuring his head. The rain was slowing, the wind dying down. Maybe tomorrow they’d get some fishing in.

~o0o~

It was no good. He couldn't sleep. Pushing back the bedclothes with his feet, Daniel sat on the side of the bed and scrubbed a hand over his face in the vain hope that he could banish the thoughts running pell-mell through his mind. Even when he consciously tried to relax and drift into slumber, dreams of Sha'ure intruded.

Nightmares were a more apt description. Now, he was no longer seeing her whole and alive, begging him to forgive Teal'c and find the boy. All he saw was her dead body lying beside him as a last breath puffed from between her lips and her beautiful eyes slowly closed.

McKenzie no doubt, would tell him this was a good thing, that he was finally coming to terms with his wife's death, but Daniel knew he'd be wrong. While he may have to accept Sha'ure was dead, he knew he could never come to terms with it. It would be too close to forgiving Apohis for torturing her in the first place.

Standing, Daniel moved to the window and shifted the curtain aside to look out. It was still dark, but the first hints of dawn were beginning to streak the sky. He felt closed in, suffocating and still a little shaky from the last vision that had interrupted his rest. Turning back to the bed, he picked up his sweater and pulled it over his head. Picking up his shoes, not bothering to search for socks or a jacket, in case he woke Jack, Daniel crept quietly out of the cabin.

A narrow dirt trail led further into the trees from the verandah, on the opposite side to the lake. Daniel sat and slipped his sneakers on and made his way slowly along the path, a final thought reminding him to remember which way he'd come.

The air was cool, though not uncomfortably so, and the sky still looked dark and forbidding with clouds heavy with the promise of more rain. It looked like they wouldn't be getting any fishing in today. Not that Daniel was troubled by that. Fishing was Jack's scene and try as he might, Daniel had never been able to see the attraction in dangling a line into water for interminable lengths of time.

He appreciated Jack's gesture for what it was though, and now that he was here, could feel the calming effects of the peaceful surroundings beginning to work their soothing magic.

He walked slowly, in no particular hurry, not having any destination in mind, just needing to exhaust the constant what-ifs that seemed intent on consuming his every moment, awake and asleep.

He'd forgiven Teal'c and laid Sha'ure to rest on Abydos. He'd even withdrawn his resignation and rejoined SG-1. The problem was he didn't really know what he was supposed to do now, only that he'd promised Sha'ure that he'd find the boy and ensure he was safe.

The boy. Daniel didn't even know his name. In the few frantic moments after Sha'ure had given birth, Ammaunet had regained control too quickly. There had been no time for niceties, such as bestowing names. Begin at Kheb. Even that was as allusive as the dreams of Sha'ure alive. He had believed Kheb to be a myth. After what he'd seen and experienced over the past few years, the possibility that it actually existed was no surprise to him. The textbook he'd brought with him from the base was the first he'd found that gave any real clues to the reality of Kheb.

A cold, fat raindrop plopped onto his head and dribbled down his cheek, quickly followed by several more. Daniel stopped and turned back the way he'd come. At least, if it rained, he could hole up in the cabin and do some more research.

He yelped in surprise as his foot skidded out from under him on a patch of slick mud, hot pain snapping through his ankle. Reaching out to grasp hold of something to restore his balance, his heart skipped a beat as he encountered only air and his forward momentum sent him tumbling down an embankment. He somersaulted several times on the downward journey, his head and frantically flailing arms smacking painfully into the ground on each rotation of his body. Something large loomed up directly in front of him from the darkness, and even with his hands outstretched to break his descent, he was unable to stop his skull from impacting the obstacle with a loud thwack. Darkness and unconsciousness raced each other to overtake him and he gave up the battle, sinking into nothing.

~o0o~

Heavy rain thudded dully against the cabin roof, pulling Jack from a deep and dreamless slumber. Reluctantly dragging himself from the warm cocoon of bedding, he pulled on a robe and cast a glowering glance out the window. The morning sky was black, and the lake in front of the cabin almost obscured by sheets of driving rain.

Disconsolately, Jack walked into the kitchen, plugging in the coffeemaker and scratching at his morning bristles, trying to decide whether to shave or simply go native for the day. As he waited for the coffee to brew, he flipped on the small radio that sat on the kitchen counter, hoping that the weather forecast might salvage at least an afternoon of fishing before their return to the mountain the following day. The news was not encouraging. A storm front was closing in and people in the area were being advised to batten down the hatches and wait out the approaching storm.

"Little late," Jack grumbled as he poured a steaming, fragrant mug of Daniel's favorite indulgence and carried it into the second bedroom. He stopped in the doorway when he realized Daniel's bed was empty, the covers thrown back.

"Daniel?" Placing the cup back on the kitchen counter, Jack headed back to the bathroom. He knocked twice, then hearing no sound from within, opened the door. The room was empty, the air cold.

Hurrying back to the front of the cabin, Jack stepped out onto the verandah and squinted into the rain toward the small pier that abutted the lake, but even through the downpour he could see the area was deserted.

Seriously concerned now, he trotted back to Daniel's room and saw that his things were still there, including his jacket. In fact, the only items that appeared to be missing were the archeologist's sneakers. Cursing himself now for sleeping so deeply, Jack grabbed Daniel's jacket, and stopped in his room to dress quickly in jeans and a warm sweater. He pulled his own jacket and a flashlight from his bag and headed out into the driving rain.

He stopped out front, casting around for some clue to where Daniel may have gone and decided to go with the obvious approach. "Daniel? You out here?"

Only the rain and wind answered him. Giving vent to his anger and issuing dire threats of retribution on absent-minded archeologists, Jack turned and began to run back along the dirt path that led into the trees.

An hour later, he was soaking wet, shivering with cold and totally disheartened. He hadn't found any sign of Daniel and had ventured as far back into the woods as he dared. A flash of lightning skittered across the sky, followed almost immediately by a roaring echo of thunder, and he was suddenly driven to the ground as something heavy smashed into his back.

Momentarily dazed, he wiped rain, blood and dustings of bark from his eyes, feeling something sharp dig into his back from the weight that lay across it. Quickly moving numb fingers and toes, he ascertained he had no spinal injury and wriggled painfully from beneath the large branch that pinned him to the ground. Upon standing, pain lanced through his knee and he cursed the old injury that had flared once more.

Searching for shelter, he spotted a haven of sorts made from the broken down branches of trees to one side of the path. Shivering violently now, he limped toward the tiny space and huddled in as close as he could. Turning so he could lean his bruised back against the sturdy trunk, he wrapped his arms around his body in a futile attempt to keep the icy chill at bay and fought to see into the growing storm.

"Daniel? Where the hell are you?"

Time passed in a fog, as he felt himself growing sleepy and increasingly disoriented. He tried several old tricks to keep himself awake and alert, but soon lost the battle as the elements wore him down. He slept…and dreamed.

~o0o~

"Dad! Dad! You have to wake up!"

The words insinuated themselves into his brain and Jack groaned as they reverberated through his aching skull. Something touched his forehead lightly and he batted it away.

"Dad! You have to wake up. He's where I fell that last summer."

Reason broke through the cobwebs in his head and he opened gritty eyes carefully, peering into the darkness, searching for the familiar, beloved face. "Charlie?"

His voice broke on the word and he coughed, his breath rasping against the dryness of his throat. He could see no one. The sky had lightened though, and the rain appeared to have stopped, for the moment at least. Groaning at the myriad of aches that assailed him, Jack stood and staggered from his makeshift shelter.

Gazing around, he immediately recognized his surroundings. He'd brought Charlie hiking along this path in the summers before his son had died. One year, there'd been a sudden storm and Charlie had slipped on the slick edge, falling a short way down an embankment. Jack had followed him down, almost killing himself in the process. Charlie had suffered a broken arm, Jack, Sara's ire at not watching the boy carefully enough.

Now, he looked around and searched back through his memories. There had been an old, long-dead tree nearby, the unusual shape of its twisted trunk making it stand out from all the others. Gritting his teeth against the pain in his knee, Jack hobbled forward, searching. He found it within minutes. Sagging against the old tree, still shivering from the cold that seeped through his wet clothes, Jack looked down and saw a dark shape huddled at the bottom of the small hill. Casting a final glance around, he sent forth a silent summons, somehow knowing it would not be answered.

'Charlie?' He heard only the rustling of the trees. Grasping hold of the twisted tree trunk, he began a slow and careful trek down the hill toward his friend. Reaching Daniel's side, he rolled the limp body over, relieved to see that Daniel's chest still rose and fell in a steady rhythm. As he tore off a piece of his shirt and pressed it to the still-oozing wound on Daniel's forehead, he was rewarded with a moan, and then fluttering eyelids opened to reveal dazed blue eyes.

"Jack?" Daniel's hand moved up in an attempt to push away the cloth but Jack aborted the movement.

"Easy, buddy," he soothed. "Looks like you took a header down a hill. I'm going to check you out, so just lay still for a minute."

Daniel nodded, winced and closed his eyes once more. Bending over the prone figure, Jack did a systematic check of limbs, neck and head. Relieved when the worst injuries he could discover were the gash on Daniel's head and a rapidly blackening ankle, he blew out a relieved sigh.

"You hurt anywhere beside your head and ankle?"

Daniel kept his eyes closed. "Just cold and wet, bruised a little."

"A little?" Jack shook his head at the understatement as he took in the bruising already showing on Daniel's arms and chest. "Listen, I'm going to try to get you under shelter and then go back to the cabin to call for help."

"No. I'm okay." Daniel was already struggling to sit, albeit with his eyes tightly clenched shut.

"Daniel, don't be an idiot." Jack pushed against the archeologist's chest, forcing him back to the ground. "You could have internal injuries."

"I don't." This time Daniel opened his eyes and stared at his friend. "Just help me up and let's get back to the cabin. I don't want to stay here alone."

Jack frowned but reached out a helping hand and levered Daniel upright. "All right, but the minute you start feeling bad, you let me know. Understood?" He looked around them. "Actually, I think we can get back to the cabin from here without having to climb back up the hill. It'll take longer but it's less effort. You up to it?"

Daniel nodded. He was panting slightly and Jack immediately had second thoughts. "Look, Daniel, I'll be faster if I go alone and bring help back…."

"No!" Daniel raised blood-shot eyes to Jack. "Please, take me with you."

Unsure of what was troubling the younger man, but unwilling to waste more time in case the storm flared up again, Jack nodded and helped Daniel to his feet, wincing as the archeologist's extra weight tugged at the pain in his knee.

"Looks like you didn't come out of this totally unscathed," Daniel observed as they limped together toward the cabin. "Your knee?"

"It's okay, just wrenched it a little."

"Jack, I'm sorry. It was a stupid thing to do, taking off like that in the dark, not knowing the area."

"Yep," Jack agreed. "Don't waste your breath apologizing now. You can do that back at the cabin in front of a warm fire."

"Warm." Daniel's face took on a blissful expression even as his body shivered. "Sounds great."

~o0o~

It was. An hour later, after trudging through mud up to their ankles, skirting small pools of water, and sheltering beneath the trees from the insistent showers of recalcitrant rain, they were showered and snuggled into blankets before a blazing fire. As he sipped his hot toddy and toyed idly with the beef stew reheated from the previous night's meal, Jack took the time to study his drowsy companion carefully.

The left side of Daniel's forehead and cheek were a rainbow of bruises, the white square gauze secured over the gash stark against the pallor of his exhausted features. His palms were grazed from his slide down the hill, bruises peppered his chest, and his sprained ankle was blackened and swollen. Daniel's eyelids fought a losing battle against sleep and Jack reached out and rescued Daniel's cup before it dropped to the tired man's lap.

Turning his attention to his own aching body, he catalogued his injuries. His knee was banged up…again, Daniel said he had a mother of a bruise on his back where the branch had hit him and his head pounded, but they were safe and warm finally.

"You know," he began laconically, smiling as Daniel's eyelids opened and dazed blue eyes struggled to focus, "if you'd wanted to go for a cross-country hike, you could have waited until I got up."

Daniel looked away. "Sorry," he said, not for the first time since they'd arrived back. "It was stupid of me." He pulled himself up from the armchair, favoring his sore leg, and stood staring into the cheerful flames of the fire. "I needed some space. I needed to sort through everything in my head."

"Did it help?"

Daniel turned back to face Jack, a smile gracing his tired face. "Until I fell down that hill, yes. I have to figure out where Ammaunet took the boy."

"Kheb?"

Daniel shrugged. "If it exists. If nothing else, I have a focus again, a reason to go back through the gate and keep looking." His face grew thoughtful. "How did you find me in all that rain?"

Jack looked away quickly. "I'm not sure exactly. I thought I heard a voice." Truth time. Okay, he could do that. "I thought I heard Charlie."

Daniel's brow furrowed but he stayed silent.

"One summer when we were here, Charlie fell in exactly the same spot you did. Broke his arm. Sara gave me hell about it for weeks. I dreamed that he told me that's where you were."

"A dream?" Daniel queried.

"Or something," they finished together.

Jack stood and picked up the cups and plates from the table, carrying them back out to the kitchen. It was late and he felt as exhausted as Daniel looked. The dishes could wait until the morning.

Walking back into the living room, he saw Daniel had once again slumped into an armchair, his eyes closed, his breathing slow and deep. Jack reached down to tap the sleepy man's shoulder. "Bed," he announced decisively.

An impish grin crossed Daniel's bruised face. "You're not my type, Jack."

Jack managed a grin around the yawn that ambushed him. "Wise ass. Go to bed, Daniel, and stay there this time. If you can't sleep or you need to talk, you know where I am."

Daniel nodded and hauled himself upright. "Thanks. For all of this, for knowing what it's like and sharing it with me."

Jack nodded, all thought of sarcastic comebacks vanishing. "You're welcome."

~o0o~

"Sun's out." Daniel turned from the living room window, a steaming cup of coffee already clutched in one hand. "Looks like a great day for fishing."

Jack stared at his friend suspiciously. "You hate fishing," he muttered as he limped over to the coffeepot and helped himself.

Daniel nodded. "Yeah, I do." He shrugged and put down his cup. "Maybe it's time to try new things." His eyes narrowed for a moment. "I don't have to actually bait the hooks, do I?"

Jack draped a comradely arm across his shoulders. "It's all part of the thrill, Daniel. Trust me, you'll love it."

FIN

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