THOSE LEFT BEHIND

EPILOGUE TO THE FIRST ONES

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Stargate SG-1 are the property of MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Corp. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

Many thanks to my sister, Ann for the beta. Glad you've finally decided to come along for the ride, sis.

The trembling began as Chaka disappeared from sight, becoming a full body shudder, as the adrenaline that had kept Daniel on his feet thus far, depleted itself. He felt his knees buckle, and collapsed onto his butt hard, jarring his spine and setting up a fierce throbbing in his head. Weary, exhausted beyond belief, he drew up his knees and rested his aching head upon them.

A firm hand grasped his chin and lifted his head, and he smiled tiredly at the concern he saw in Jack's gaze. Lifting his still-bound hands, he cupped Jack's own, patting it gently. "I'm okay," he croaked, his mouth and throat parched. "What about everyone else?" He shifted his hands, attempted to rub the sore spot on the back of his head, but gave up when his arms protested.

Jack's gaze shifted away for a brief moment, flickering to Carter and Teal'c, and Daniel saw the colonel's frown mirrored on their faces. "What?" he asked, though he could feel dread settling in his stomach at the somber mood that suddenly pervaded. "Loder?"

"Loder's dead, Daniel," Jack said softly. "I'm sorry." He took Daniel's hands in his own, stroking over the rough rope that bound them. The thick twine had shrunk and tightened as it dried after his attempted swim to freedom, and encircled his wrists tightly.

Daniel looked down and wiggled his swollen fingers a little, gasping at the burning it incited. Jack pulled his knife from its scabbard and slid it carefully beneath the rope, keeping the blade flat against the archeologist's skin. "Let's get these off. Can you feel me touching your fingers? Looks like the circulation's been cut off for a while."

Daniel concentrated on the feathery touch of Jack's fingers along his own and tried not to wince as the knife sawed through the rope. "My hands are kind of numb," he admitted. The knife made short work of the roughened rope and Daniel hissed as the strands finally parted, the release setting up a stinging, fiery agony in both hands.

Sam knelt beside them, already searching through her first-aid pack. "Let me clean them up before we go, Daniel." She squinted down at the damage. "The rope cut in pretty deep; we should try to stop any infection getting started."

Daniel nodded, watching silently as she set about cleaning the weeping gouges encircling his wrists. He bore her attention stoically, his disquiet growing at Jack's uncharacteristic silence and lack of humor.

Once the wrists were bandaged to Carter's satisfaction, Jack reached out and helped Daniel to his feet. "We've got a long walk ahead of us," he said, motioning for Teal'c to lead the way out of the cavern. He touched the gash on Daniel's cheek, now cleaned but left uncovered to the air. "You think you can make it? You hurt anywhere else?"

Daniel shook his head carefully, then wished he hadn't as his headache surged with a vengeance. "I'll be okay. I just want to go home." He smiled. "Sleep in my own bed." Turning, he followed Sam from the cave, his legs feeling leaden.

The pounding in his head flared with new intensity when they stepped out of the dimness of the cavern into the glaring sunlight of the day. Keeping his head down, Daniel concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other; his exhaustion building the further they walked. He stumbled on a hidden obstacle and almost fell to his knees, startled by the sudden support beneath his arm that held him up from the ground. "Thanks," he managed to croak out as Jack hauled him upright and patted his back.

"Let's take a break," Jack suggested. He led Daniel toward the shady trees bordering the rough path.

"I'm all right," Daniel protested, but it seemed he had no strength to argue. Allowing himself to be steered to the side, he complied when Jack pushed on his shoulders, and then sank to the ground with a sigh.

Jack knelt in front of him and offered him a drink from his canteen.

Daniel eyed it warily, then pushed it away. "I don't think that's a good idea," he muttered. He studied Jack's face for a long moment, suddenly afraid of what he might see in the dark brown eyes. "I don't know if you know, but..."

"The water's infested with gou'ald," Jack finished for him. Again, the frown appeared and he looked away. Letting out a heavy groan, he shifted, and sat beside Daniel, holding the canteen out to him once more. "Yeah, we know. The water's safe, Daniel. We brought it with us."

Daniel nodded and accepted the flask, taking several long swallows before handing it back and leaning his head against the tree trunk at his back. He looked up as Carter approached, first-aid kit tucked under her arm.

"Let me check those wrists again, huh?" Jack offered. "Carter, why don't you and Teal'c scout up ahead? Let the others know we're headed back to the gate with Daniel?"

Carter nodded and handed the kit to Jack. "Yes, sir." She smiled at Daniel, one hand reaching out to rest lightly on his shoulder for a moment, her smile sad and sweet. "I'm glad we found you."

Daniel tried to smile back, but knew it wasn't convincing. Now he was sitting, his lethargy was increasing, and he was finding it almost impossible to keep his eyes open. He watched Carter and Teal'c move out, fighting to keep his eyes open. A sharp pain in his wrists made him jump, and he gasped and pulled them from Jack's grasp.

"Sorry." Jack reached for them again, resting them on his knees before pouring a small amount of water onto his bandana and wiping it gently across the wounds. "I don't have Carter's bedside manner, but if we don't keep these clean, they'll get infected." He bent his head closer and scrutinized the puffy, red marks more closely. "Might be too late," he muttered as though to himself. "The right looks infected already."

Daniel remained silent, relishing the coolness of the water stroking over his heated flesh. He felt his eyelids begin to close, and this time, didn't fight the oblivion that approached. A hand stroked over his forehead, and Jack's voice came to him as though from far away. "Get some rest."

~o0o~

Jack took the opportunity to examine his slumbering friend more closely. Daniel's skin was sallow, the gash on his cheek vivid in comparison to his pallor. Dark circles of fatigue underlined his eyelids, and his eyes moved restlessly beneath the closed lids.

He muttered something sub-vocally, his body shifting uneasily on the hard ground, his hands coming up, the fingers twitching as though he was pleading for something. Freedom, perhaps, Jack thought. Jack stroked a hand over Daniel's hot forehead, attempting to gauge his temperature as well as reassure the young man. "Get some rest," he whispered, pleased to see Daniel still beneath his touch, a small puff of a sigh escaping from between his cracked lips.

His medic duty done, Jack settled down beside Daniel and leaned back against the tree. He allowed his eyes to close, accepting the rest he knew his tired body needed, but keeping his mind alert to the approach of any danger. His thoughts were still in turmoil as he replayed shooting Rothman in his mind's eye, and wondered how on earth he was going to break the news to Daniel.

~o0o~

"Jack?" A gentle shaking of his shoulder prodded Jack toward wakefulness and he cursed, realizing he had drifted off after all. Sitting up, he scrubbed his hands over his face, then opened his eyes to find Daniel gazing apprehensively at him. "I'm up," he grumbled. Hauling himself to his feet, he looked around. The sun had settled low in the sky, indicating they'd been resting for at least an hour, and there was a decided chill in the air. He turned back to Daniel. "How are you feeling?"

Daniel appeared to consider the question for a moment, then shrugged. "Better now that I've had some rest."

Jack watched him fumbling awkwardly in an attempt to unscrew the cap on the canteen. Finally, his impatience and eagerness to get Daniel home winning out, the colonel reached out, removed the cap and handed the flask back. "Here. Drink fast. We've got to get back." Matching actions to words, he gently pushed Daniel toward the path and took a position behind him. Just in case… The archeologist still looked none too steady on his feet, his hands seemed more grossly swollen than before, and his face was flushed and beaded with perspiration. As he followed Daniel, Jack unclipped his radio and advised Carter of their position. He judged they were a couple of miles from the river, which meant the gate was a few more miles beyond that.

They walked in silence for some time, but Jack could see Daniel's condition was steadily deteriorating. His head sank further toward his chest with each step they took, and twice he had stumbled and almost fallen. The archeologist stopped suddenly, Jack a half step behind smacking into his back and almost causing both of them to go down. He reached out an arm and steadied the other man. "Daniel? You all right?"

Daniel nodded slowly and turned. Jack could see his chest heaving with the exertion of staying on his feet. His temperature had obviously climbed and his eyes held the glazed look of fever. He looked around frantically.

"Daniel?" Jack grabbed his canteen and unscrewed the cap, not taking his eyes off his ill friend. "Have some water."

"Where's Robert?" Daniel gasped. "He was there with me. I heard… I heard him yell out my name."

*Shit!* Jack took a step forward, one hand out to grasp hold of Daniel's; to steady him against the shock of the news… and to be completely honest, because Jack needed that contact when he told him that his old friend was dead, had been shot dead in fact by Jack. He took a huge breath in, held it a moment, then… "Daniel? Rothman's dead. I'm sorry." He felt his grip on Daniel give as the archeologist pulled away from him, staring at him with an expression of horror and confusion.

"Dead? How? Chaka?"

"Rothman got a gou'ald in him, Daniel. So did Hawkins. They attacked us. I had no choice." He looked away again, not wanting to see the sorrow in those expressive blue eyes. "I'm sorry," he said again… and stumbled backward to land hard on his butt, a small cloud of dust rising up around him as Daniel's roundhouse swing connected with his jaw.

"You son of a bitch!" Daniel was seething, his sweaty, red face shoved into Jack's, nose to nose. "You had no choice? Why didn't you try... something? Why?" Daniel's fists were pummeling at Jack's chest now, but in his weakened state, the blows were not as strong as the first one had been.

Jack caught the flailing hands, wincing when Daniel gasped in pain. *The wrists, damn it. I forgot about the wrists.* "Daniel, stop it! I told you I had no choice. It was them or us." He punctuated each phrase with a shake, hoping to get Daniel to listen to him.

Daniel suddenly collapsed to his knees, the fight seemingly gone out of him. His head drooped, and he pulled his hands from Jack's grip, wrapping them about his chest, slowly beginning to rock. "Sorry," he finally rasped. "You're right. You did what you had to." He looked up, not bothering to wipe away the evidence of tears on his cheeks. "If anything, it's my fault."

"What, 'cause you got kidnapped by a Unas? Come on, Daniel, Rothman might have been a geek, but he knew the score. He knew the risks, just like the rest of us."

Daniel stared at him for a moment, then climbed laboriously to his feet, wavering for a moment until he got his balance, then stuck out a hand to help Jack up. "How's your face?" he asked quietly.

Jack worked his throbbing jaw a couple of times. "Not too bad," he conceded. "You've got a hell of a punch."

A tiny smile twitched Daniel's mouth but quickly subsided. He ran his hands through his hair, then turned to gaze at the way ahead. "I really don't feel so good," he said quietly.

Jack was at his side in a heartbeat. "You want to lay down? I can radio Carter and…"

Daniel shook his head quickly. "I just want to go home, but first… Where's Robert?"

"SG-2 were going to bury the bodies. We thought they deserved that much."

"Thank you. I'd like to stop, pay my respects before we go back."

"Are you sure you're up to it?"

"It's what I need to do, regardless of how I feel." Daniel touched Jack's arm, then began to trudge along the path. Jack watched him for a moment, seeing the weary slump of his shoulders, regretting that his own actions had added more weight to the burden Daniel carried, then hurried to catch up, positioning himself as always at his teammate's back. "I recommended Robert to the SGC," Daniel began. "He didn't want in at first, said it wasn't his thing. Too many live people."

"Sounds like Rothman," Jack commented dryly.

"I talked him into it, told him he would never get another chance to experience all of this." He waved an arm about expressively. "Talked him right into a grave." His voice choked on the final word and Jack grabbed him, hung onto his arm this time and refused to let him pull away.

"This is not your fault," he said grimly. "I will not allow you to blame yourself for this."

"I convinced him to join," Daniel replied doggedly.

"He was a grown, intelligent man, capable of making his own informed choices. He died doing a job he loved, having experienced things that others could only dream of."

Daniel nodded. "You're right about that much. We weren't so different, Rothman and I." He started walking again, casting a sideways glance at Jack. "Did I hear you say Robert was intelligent?"

Jack sighed. *Busted, motormouth.* "Intelligent, but geeky," he finally allowed. He held up both hands in a gesture of surrender. "What can I say, he was a scientist, and you know how I feel about scientists, Daniel."

"I'm a scientist, Jack."

"Yeah, well… I like to think I've erased some of the scientist over the past couple of years; replaced him with a flesh and blood human being who likes hockey and beer."

"Microbrew," Daniel corrected.

"You're still a geek," Jack said under his breath.

"I heard that."

Jack smiled, slapping Daniel gently on the back. Daniel was still obviously out on his feet, he didn't want to knock the kid over, and Daniel looked as though it wouldn't take much more than a stiff wind to do it. Besides, the archeologist was heavier than he looked; no way was Jack risking putting his back out to drag him, buddy or not, back to the stargate. He could see the river coming into view. Maybe they'd both stop a moment --pay their respects.

FIN

17TH March 2003

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