The freezing forces of the interspacial wormhole gave way to the inevitable forested vista of another alien planet. The sun shone down on the wealth of greenery that lay before SG-1 as they stood together on the steps of the Stargate. Their surroundings seemed so tranquil and untouched, it was difficult for Daniel to believe that this planet was the current base of a Goa'uld. However, despite the total lack of activity around the gate, the UAV had shown that there was a small compound some distance away that was patrolled by Jaffa. General Hammond had authorised a reconnaissance mission to establish what the Goa'uld were doing there, so SG-1 had come to investigate.
Daniel's reverie was broken by Jack's hand on his arm, bringing him instantly back to reality. "Come on, kids, let's not hang about." Jack's words were addressed the whole team but the touch was for Daniel alone. It was only brief, and very discreet, but Daniel drew both strength and affection from it, throwing a small smile in Jack's direction as the older man moved off. Since this was a covert mission and they would not be staying overnight, they had brought with them only minimal supplies and Daniel was glad of the absence of his heavy pack. Moving quietly through the forest would have been impossible with its bulky obstruction.
Jack led the way, with Daniel following close behind, Sam coming after the archaeologist, and Teal'c bringing up the rear. They moved in silence, aware of the possibility of enemy patrols. The video playback from the UAV had suggested that the best vantage point from which to observe the Goa'uld base was a rise of land on the far side of the compound. This meant they would have to circle round from the Stargate to come at the base from the opposite direction, leading them on a long trek through quite dense undergrowth. It was hard going and it took them two hours to reach their destination. Eventually, Jack signalled backwards that they were getting close, warning the rest of his team to take extra care to be quiet. The trees opened out onto the top of a ridge, which gave a view of the enemy base below them. The four took up positions lying in the long grass, enabling them to look down on the base from relative concealment.
The compound below them was settled in a small clearing, with the forest on three sides and the slope of the ridge on the fourth. A partially constructed building in the centre was surrounded by a busy camp of tents and makeshift shelters. Jack spent a long moment studying the scene through his binoculars before handing them along to Daniel, who was lying next to him. "Recognise the symbol, Daniel?" he asked softly. Accepting the binoculars, Daniel examined the closest of the visible Jaffa, but had to admit he couldn't tell which Goa'uld they served from the unfamiliar symbol on their foreheads.
"How about you, Teal'c?" Jack then said, but Teal'c could offer no information either, shaking his head in the direction of his commanding officer.
Daniel was still watching the camp, so he was the first to notice the sudden increase in the level of activity. Laying a hand on Jack's arm, he motioned downwards with the other, whispering, "I think something's happening." Three more pairs of eyes followed his gaze to see a great surge of Jaffa emerge from the central building. The Jaffa split into groups of four or five, their leaders yelling instructions to get them in formation. Once organised, the groups headed rapidly out from the camp in all directions at a steady jog.
"Uh-oh," Jack muttered. "This doesn't look good."
"They can't have spotted us, sir," Sam pointed out. "If they had, they'd all be coming in this direction."
"Well, whatever they're doing, there are still plenty of them coming this way," Jack replied. "Let's go, kids. We'll make a try straight for the gate -- we don't want to get trapped here while the Jaffa carry out extended training exercises or whatever." He scrambled backwards away from the cliff edge, with the others quickly following him. Together, they melted back into the trees and set off back towards the gate, taking as direct a route as possible.
With guns close at hand and all senses on alert, the four members of SG-1 moved through the forest as rapidly and quietly as they could. This time, Teal'c led the way, the others relying on his excellent hearing and tracking skills to warn them of any enemies nearby. Sure enough, they had been travelling for about an hour, when Teal'c stopped suddenly, holding up one hand to signal that he had heard something. Moments later, there was a rustling in the trees off to their left and a figure emerged. It was a young man in Goa'uld style robes, and he was looking anxiously back over his shoulder.
Jack and Sam immediately brought up their rifles and trained them on the stranger, Teal'c simultaneously priming his staff weapon. At the sound, the man's head snapped round and a look of total shock spread across his handsome features. A split second later, he raised his hand and the crystal in the centre of his hand device started to glow.
"Hold it right there!" Jack hissed. "Don't even think about it, pal!"
The man froze, his expression quickly shifting from surprise to confusion. "You are not Jaffa," he observed, his voice of human timbre.
Daniel stepped up next to Jack and replied, "No we're not. And neither are you. Are you the one the Jaffa are hunting?"
The stranger looked Daniel up and down, taking in the olive fatigues before bringing his gaze to rest on the SGC patch on Daniel's shoulder. "You are Tau'ri?" he questioned, uncertainly. At Daniel's nod, the man's whole posture suddenly relaxed. "I am Tok'ra," he responded. "My name is Geighvin. I've been posing as an aide to the Goa'uld who rules here, but my true identity was exposed, forcing me to flee. Can you help me?"
Jack circled Geighvin, his gun still up and his expression wary. However, before he could make his thoughts known, the sound of an engine drew everyone's attention up to the sky. As they watched, a single death glider screamed overhead then banked in a sharp turn before flying back towards their position. The cannons protruding from underneath the cockpit loosed a pair of energy bolts directly at them, striking the base of one of the nearby trees.
Geighvin dived out of the way towards Sam and Teal'c, his sudden movement distracting Jack just as the tree began to topple. Seeing the danger, Daniel launched himself at Jack and knocked him out of the way. They landed heavily a few feet away, with Daniel pinning Jack to the ground. Daniel glanced sideways to see the massive trunk crash down on the spot where Jack had been standing, then twisted his head back to focus on Jack's face, scant inches from his own. Jack looked up at him in shock for a moment then clasped him tightly in a brief embrace.
"Thanks," Jack said breathlessly in Daniel's ear before releasing him so they could both get back to their feet. They were now separated from the other three, the tree creating an effective barrier. The commotion had obviously alerted the nearest Jaffa patrols to their location, as they heard harsh shouts in the distance.
"Colonel! Daniel! Are you alright?" Sam's voice called from the other side of the tree.
"We're both fine, Carter!" Jack responded. "The Jaffa are on their way, though. You take Teal'c and our new friend and head for the gate. Daniel and I will draw off some of the pursuit and circle round to come at it from another direction. Don't wait for us -- the enemy will be trying to secure the gate, so take your first opportunity to get the hell out of here."
"But sir..." There was anxiety in her tone, but Jack didn't let her finish.
"That's an order, Major!" he shouted harshly. "Now get going!" The sounds of approaching Jaffa were getting nearer and Jack laid a hand on Daniel's arm. "Come on, Daniel," he said much more softly. "Let's go."
The two men turned away from the fallen tree and set off once more in the opposite direction from the gate. This time, they were running, no longer worried about how much noise they were making as their pursuers closed on them. Daniel realised Jack was hoping most of the Jaffa would follow them, giving the others a better chance to make it out. He understood the logic behind Jack's plan, but couldn't help wondering how they were going to make it to the gate themselves, particularly with several Jaffa patrols on their tail.
Jack led Daniel through the forest for what seemed like an interminable length of time, but the sounds of the pursuit remained with them. Eventually, Jack made a shift in direction and they started to circle back round towards the gate. Unfortunately, this brought them closer to one of the patrols and a sudden harsh shout told them they had been spotted. Increasing their speed, they sprinted for some heavier undergrowth but the Jaffa were now in firing range. The air exploded around Daniel with multiple staff weapon blasts and he ducked instinctively to avoid being hit. Just ahead of him, Jack suddenly gave a strangled cry and pitched head first into the bushes.
An anguished shout of "Jack!" was ripped from Daniel's throat before he could silence it and he ran to where the other man had fallen. Grabbing the straps on the shoulders of Jack's BDUs, Daniel immediately dragged him further into the dense foliage, hiding them from view as quickly as possible. He found a cluster of bushes nestled up against a large tree and deposited Jack on the ground as gently as possible. Removing his jacket, Daniel rapidly tied it round Jack's unconscious body in a desperate attempt to stem the blood flow from the staff weapon wound. Then he grabbed Jack's rifle and turned his attention back to the surrounding forest.
The bark of the tree was rough against Daniel's back, the thin material of his T-shirt doing little to protect him from its texture. The contrasting smoothness of Jack's assault rifle felt alien to his unaccustomed hands. He was glad of the bandanna that was keeping the sweat from running into his eyes as he scanned the trees for any signs of the enemy. The forest suddenly seemed perfectly still, but Daniel knew there were multiple patrols of Jaffa out there somewhere.
He spared a brief glance to check on Jack, who lay sprawled in the undergrowth at his feet. Daniel tried to keep his emotions carefully under control, knowing they had no place in the current crisis, but he couldn't stop his heart from constricting at the sight of his lover's pale and unresponsive features. Moving his gaze down Jack's body, Daniel noticed that blood was already soaking through his hastily fashioned bandage.
The sound of a twig breaking brought Daniel's attention abruptly back to the immediate danger. Directing his line of vision towards the sound's source, he caught sight of a beam of late afternoon sunlight glancing off something shiny a short distance away. At that moment, he felt Jack shift against his legs before emitting a low groan. Daniel quickly crouched down and placed a firm hand over Jack's mouth, at once rejoicing at the evidence that he was still alive and cursing his choice of that particular moment to reveal it. At the unexpected restriction, Jack's military training took over and his eyes snapped open, fighting to focus through a haze of pain and disorientation. Daniel locked gazes with him and was gratified to feel Jack relax again at the sight of him. Then he used a brief series hand signals to convey the presence of the enemy and received a slight nod of acknowledgement from Jack.
The two men waited, silent and motionless, Jack battling to keep the pain of his injury in check and Daniel holding the bulky rifle at the ready, prepared to defend his lover with his life.
The tense seconds ticked onwards and Daniel strained his ears to track the movement of the enemy. Barely breathing, he held himself completely rigid, every muscle tight with a combination of concentration, fear and adrenalin. Daniel listened as the patrol approached with alarming determination. They split up and circled around the hiding place of the two men, calling out instructions and observations to one another as they searched. Daniel held his breath in agonising suspense, maintaining eye contact with Jack and trying to keep his desperate fear from showing in his expression. Jack's dark eyes were clouded by pain, and his face was twisted into a grimace with the effort of remaining quiet when he was clearly in agony. Daniel marvelled at his strength communicating his support and concern through his silent regard.
After an eternity, during which Jack and Daniel wordlessly conveyed what needed to be said in case the unthinkable happened, the Jaffa regrouped and moved away. Fully conversant in the Jack O'Neill Rules of What To Do When Hiding From Jaffa In A Forest, Daniel forced himself to wait for at least several minutes before he finally moved. Then, he knelt down and placed one hand against Jack's pale cheek.
"You hanging in there?" he asked softly, surprised to find that his voice was steady despite the turmoil of emotions whirling round in his mind.
Jack closed his eyes briefly, tears of pain squeezing out of the corners, and leaned his face into Daniel's palm. "For the moment," he replied hoarsely, the lack of characteristic sarcasm highlighting how bad things really were. "Where're Carter and Teal'c?"
As if on cue, the sound of someone opening and closing a radio channel alerted Daniel that one of their other team-mates was trying to contact them. He fumbled for his radio and sent two pulses in return, the signal meaning that he was free to talk but needed to keep the noise level down.
Sam's voice immediately responded in a soft whisper. "Colonel, Daniel, what's your status?" she asked directly.
Daniel held the radio close to his dry lips and whispered back. "We're safe for the moment, but Jack's hurt," he reported. "Where are you guys?"
"We're at the gate, but I don't know how long we can maintain control of it. How bad is the Colonel?" The concern in her voice was almost tangible.
"Bad," Daniel said simply, grimacing as he spoke. "We won't be able to make it to the gate any time soon. We're too far away and there are patrols all over the place. You'll have to go without us and we'll hole up till they get sick of looking for us."
Sam definitely wasn't happy with that plan. "They won't leave the gate unguarded while they know you're still out there," she pointed out. "Where exactly are you?"
Daniel calculated how far they'd come before relaying their position. "It's stupid for you to risk yourselves coming back for us when you're already at the gate," he said. "Head back without us -- we'll think of something."
"We're going to have to, Daniel -- I'm sorry," Sam replied, her desperation at the situation clear in her voice. "There are Jaffa closing on the gate -- stand by..."
There was a silence and Daniel wondered what had happened on the other end to interrupt their conversation. Then Sam's voice returned, sounding much less grim. "Geighvin says he's got a ship hidden not far from your location. The Jaffa won't be expecting you to head in that direction and if you can make it there, you could fly to another planet with a gate and come home from there."
"Sounds good," Daniel agreed. "Where's the ship?"
Geighvin's voice came over the radio, giving detailed instructions for finding and gaining access to his ship. "The co-ordinates for the nearest safe planet with a Stargate are pre-programmed into the ship's navigational computer," he concluded. "I was expecting to have to use it in a situation like this."
"Thank you," Daniel said sincerely.
Sam evidently took the radio back at that point as hers was the next voice he heard. "Good luck, Daniel," she whispered, her tone full of a mixture of hope and apprehension.
"You too," Daniel replied, warmly. "We'll see you soon. Out." He flipped his radio off and felt a sudden stab of loss as the connection to his friends was broken. Then he turned his attention back to Jack, who was still gazing up him, his expression unreadable.
Daniel slid one arm under Jack's shoulders and gently lifted him into a sitting position. Jack clenched his teeth and his breath hissed out from between them at the movement.
"You ready for this?" Daniel asked him anxiously.
"No," Jack said weakly, but he wasn't answering Daniel's question. "Go to the gate, Daniel. You can make it easily on your own."
In response, Daniel tightened his grip round Jack's shoulders and fixed him with a hard stare. "Nobody gets left behind, Jack," he stated with a tone of finality. "Least of all you. Now stop being stupid and let's find this ship."
Somehow, they both managed to get upright and they set off through the trees, Daniel supporting as much of Jack's weight as possible over the difficult terrain. Their progress was painfully slow, and Jack faltered more than once. They were forced to stop twice in order to avoid Jaffa patrols, all of which fortunately seemed to be moving in the direction of the gate. Eventually, Jack's determination ran out and he collapsed altogether with a cry borne of pain and frustration. Hardly breaking stride, Daniel slung the exhausted colonel across his shoulders and carried on doggedly. Soon afterwards, he came to a break in the trees and rejoiced at the discovery of Geighvin's ship, which stood sheltered by an outcropping of rock and camouflaged with thick branches torn from the surrounding foliage.
Daniel quickly got the airlock open and carried Jack through to the cargo area, laying him down as gently as possible on the floor next to the ring transporter. Then he straightened up and pulled his T- shirt over his head, exposing his upper body to the chill air of the ship's interior.
"I hardly think this is the time, Daniel," Jack's voice uttered and the younger man looked down to see a ghost of a smile playing across his lover's lips.
"Shut up, Jack, and lie still," Daniel ordered, secretly heartened by Jack's renewed ability to make jokes. He retrieved some painkillers from his jacket pocket and helped Jack to swallow them with some water from his bottle. Then, he swiftly ripped his T-shirt into strips and set to work redressing the ugly wound in Jack's side. Jack did as he was told and suffered the ministrations without protest, although he was clearly in a lot of pain. Daniel hated to be the cause of more suffering for Jack and he winced in sympathy at every indication he was hurting him. Jack needed treatment of a level much greater than Daniel was able to provide, particularly with only minimal medical supplies. However, what he could do would hopefully stabilise Jack until they got home.
By the time he was finished, Daniel had managed to stop the bleeding. He wrapped his bloody jacket around Jack again to provide some extra warmth and rocked back on his heels to survey his handiwork. Jack was still conscious, though only barely. Eyes half closed, the older man slowly reached up and laid one hand flat against Daniel's bare chest, directly over his heart. Daniel placed his own hand over it and took a moment to savour the intimacy of Jack's touch.
"Rest, Jack," he said softly. "I'll get you home."
Jack's answering smile was confident. "I know you will, Danny," he murmured, closing his eyes. A moment later, his arm went limp in Daniel's grasp, but his slow, steady breathing was reassuring.
Tearing himself away, Daniel made his way through to the ship's bridge and turned his attention to the next task -- getting back to Earth. The irony of the situation struck him; an archaeologist and an Air Force Colonel on an alien spaceship, and it was the archaeologist who had the necessary knowledge, namely the ability to read the computer panels and readouts. It was a good job, really, since Jack was hardly in a position to play pilot.
Daniel powered up the ship's systems and discovered that the computer was pre-set, just as Geighvin had said. All he had to do was tell it to start running and the sweet sound of the engines firing filled the air around him.
"There's no place like home," Daniel announced to the empty room as the ship shuddered beneath him and began to rise smoothly from the ground. He watched through the forward view screen as the bulky Tok'ra vessel gradually cleared the rock outcropping, shedding tree branches as it went. The computer informed him that the destination planet was only a short hyper-speed jump away; as long as everything went according to plan, they would be back at the SGC within the hour.
Daniel was just turning to make his way back down to the cargo area to check on Jack when a movement in his peripheral vision dragged his attention back to the view outside the ship. Something had crossed in front of them. He leaned forwards in a futile effort to see further outside the edges of the view screen.
A few seconds later, the ship suddenly shuddered as if impacted by something and the sickeningly familiar shape of a death glider zoomed across the screen. Daniel watched helplessly as the glider circled around to make another attack and the Tok'ra vessel continued on its pre-programmed route. Even if he knew how to turn off the autopilot, he wouldn't have the first clue how to direct the ship in evasive manoeuvres. Knowing that the death glider was incapable of hyper- speed, he just hoped the shields would hold long enough for them to make their escape.
Daniel stood rooted to the spot, his eyes glued to the view screen. There was nothing he could do to change the situation, but somehow he felt compelled to stay and watch it play out. There wasn't even anything to see, since most of the time the death glider remained either behind or below the steadily rising cargo ship. Daniel clenched his fists, flinching with every impact of a cannon blast, trying to will the ship to fly faster. He hadn't got Jack this far only for them to be blown up as they left the planet.
The view outside the ship gradually shifted from the darkening sky of approaching evening to the impenetrable blackness of space, but still the death glider maintained its relentless attack. By this time, there were warning lights flashing all over the control panel, but the ship was still keeping to its prescribed course and soon, Daniel prayed, it would be far enough away from the planet to make the jump to hyperspace. A particularly forceful blast rocked the ship, throwing Daniel off balance and forcing him to clutch at the control panel to keep his footing. When he recovered and looked back up at the screen, he nearly let out a whoop of triumph as the stars began to streak past before disappearing altogether and being replaced by a view of swirling colours. The ship had made its jump and the death glider would not be able to follow them. However, Daniel's relief was short-lived as a shift in the noise of the engines told him all was not well. The low rumble developed into an anguished screech and the whole ship began to vibrate as it struggled to make its way through whatever forces pressed in on it from outside.
Daniel scanned the various control panels and screens frantically, trying to identify the most important information amongst all the Goa'uld text the ship's computer was spouting at him. The flashing lights highlighted damage to nearly every major system, and Daniel quickly gave up on any hope of being able to do anything to repair any of them. Once again, he could only wait and pray that they would get through to the other side in one piece.
As abruptly as it had exited it, the ship suddenly burst back out into the blackness of normal space. The starfield was not empty, though; a huge blue-green planet, presumably their destination, loomed large directly ahead. According to the computer, the autopilot program was still running, but Daniel was sure the ship wasn't meant to be hurtling towards the planet at quite such an insane speed. He stumbled out of the cockpit with the intention of going to check on Jack before securing them both as safely as possible for the inevitable crash landing. However, just before he reached the door to the cargo area, the ship gave a sudden lurch, sending Daniel flying. He landed heavily on the ground, slid rapidly across the smooth surface of the corridor floor and slammed head first into the wall. Pain exploded in his mind and everything went black.
Daniel awoke to darkness. For a few moments, the only things he could think about were that he was very cold and that his head hurt. Gradually, the reason for his discomfort filtered back into his mind and with it returned a sense of terrible urgency. He forced himself to move slowly, though, knowing that trying to get up too quickly would probably not be a pleasant experience. The floor of the corridor was sloping slightly and silence reigned in the darkness. Daniel didn't know how long he'd been unconscious but he guessed the ship was no longer in motion. Once he had managed to sit up, he immediately reached for his radio and depressed the button.
"Jack? Are you okay?" Daniel wasn't sure if he would get a response and, when Jack's voice finally responded, he let out a breath he hadn't realised he's been holding.
"Daniel?" Jack sounded disoriented. "What happened?"
Daniel heaved himself to his feet and felt his way along the corridor through the darkness to the door of the cargo area. It was closed, and there was no response when he pressed the buttons on the keypad that operated it. Unable to reach Jack, Daniel laid one hand against the offending door and spoke into his radio again.
"We picked up company as we left the planet and the ship got damaged. We made it into hyperspace but then I think we must have crashed. The whole ship is dead -- the lights are out and I can't get the door open." Panic was gradually building deep inside his chest, but he managed to keep his voice steady.
Jack's characteristic sarcasm prompted an almost hysterical giggle from Daniel, who fought to stay calm in the face of their predicament. He knew it would be completely up to him to get them both off the ship and he couldn't afford to lose his focus.
"I'm going up to the control room to see if I can get the power back on," Daniel replied, taking refuge from emotion in practicality. "Hopefully, we landed near the Stargate, so all I have to do is get the doors open and we're as good as home. Hang in there, Jack -- I'll be with you as soon as I can."
There was no response, but Daniel refused to give in to fear. Resolutely, he turned away from the cargo area and made his way back up to the cockpit. Feeling his way across to the control panel, he found the power switch to the computer and gave it a try. There was a slow rumble from the machinery and the lights flickered on briefly before everything went dead again. Daniel took a deep breath and tried again. This time control panel lit up fully, followed by the main lights, although they only managed a dim glow. The view screen remained ominously dark, giving no clue as to what lay outside the ship, but Daniel trusted that Geighvin would have checked the planet out before designating it as his escape route.
"Power's back!" he called into his radio, jubilantly. "We'll be home before you know it!" There was still no reply from Jack, but Daniel refused to allow himself to consider what that might mean. Instead, he all but ran to the airlock and entered the code to open the doors. He was greeted by a small flood of murky water that flowed in from outside, quickly covering the floor of the airlock with mud and slime. The ship was partially submerged in what appeared to be a rather unpleasant swamp. However, leaning out to get a better view of their surroundings, Daniel let out a cry of joy as his gaze alighted on the Stargate, elevated from the surface water on a small hill some distance away.
Stepping carefully back into the main body of the ship, Daniel made his way rapidly down to the cargo area. Praying that Geighvin wasn't very imaginative, he punched in the same code he had used to open the airlock and was rewarded by the welcome sound of the doors unlocking. However, just as they began to open, the ship suddenly lurched and canted to one side, throwing Daniel into the wall again. As the movement ceased, the lights went off again and the doors to the cargo area ground to a halt, leaving a gap of only a few inches.
Cursing volubly in several languages, Daniel slid his hands into the gap and tried to prise the doors apart but they wouldn't budge. Eventually, he was forced to give up, his head pounding from the effort. He struck the door in frustration and despair and sank to his knees.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice came weakly over the radio, barely more than a whisper.
"I'm here, Jack." Daniel tried to keep his words calm.
"I love you."
Those three simple words struck straight at Daniel's heart. Jack never said that. Daniel had long ago accepted that declarations of love would not be a frequent part of his relationship with Jack. He didn't need to hear the words to be aware of how Jack felt. But now Jack had spoken them. It could only mean one thing.
"No!" Terror tore the cry from Daniel's throat as he threw himself at the door that separated them. "You are not giving up on me!" He poured every ounce of force left in his body into the words. "You are not going to die on this stupid Tok'ra ship, Jack. I'm going to get you out of here and everything's going to be alright again!"
"Nice sentiment, Daniel, but what makes you so sure?" Despite the attempt at flippancy, Jack's voice wavered in a plea for reassurance that Daniel was more than happy to provide.
"Because we've both been through too much crap to lose each other now," he said firmly. "I refuse to believe that I'm destined to have everyone I love taken away from me. You're my reward, Jack, for all the sacrifices I've had to make. You're what makes it all worthwhile and I'm not giving you up. You're not going to die, Jack, because I won't let you!" Daniel's breath caught in his throat as he waited for some kind of response, but there was none. "Do you hear me, Jack?" he called out desperately through the gap in the door. "I won't let you die!"
After another heart-stopping moment of silence, Jack's voice reached his ears once more. "I hear you, Danny..."
"Good." Daniel tasted salt and realised that there were tears streaming unchecked down his face. Tears for his parents, for Sha're, for Sarah, and even for Nick -- all combining to fuel his desperate need to keep Jack alive. He couldn't lose Jack; he didn't have enough grief left to cope with another loss. So Jack would just have to live.
With renewed resolve, he got back to his feet and ran to the airlock. The shifting of the ship had pulled that end of it out of the swamp so the water was no longer coming in. Spotting some skeletal trees off to one side, Daniel climbed out of the ship and lowered himself gradually down into the water. It reached his thighs before his feet hit the bottom, and the last few inches were made up of thick mud, making his progress towards the vegetation painfully slow. When he reached the trees, he selected an appropriate branch and set to work with his knife, sawing at the wood with a violence borne out of desperation. It wasn't long before he was making his laboured way back to the ship with his prize.
By the time he arrived at the doors to the cargo area once more, Daniel was totally exhausted, covered in mud and nearing breaking point. He allowed himself a brief moment to steady his breathing and try to calm his mind before setting the branch between the doors as a lever and pulling with all his strength. The doors gave a hideous screech and slowly edged open.
As soon as the gap was wide enough, Daniel launched himself through it and raced to Jack's side. In the near total darkness, he sought out his lover's neck with trembling fingers and nearly cried with relief when he found a weak but steady pulse. Pulling Jack to him, Daniel hugged him fiercely before picking him up and preparing to carry him to the gate.
The next half hour was a blur of freezing water, complaining muscles and evil mud that sucked at Daniel's feet with every step he took. The Stargate taunted him from its lofty position atop the hill, always in sight but never seeming to get any nearer. Finally, though, he made it to the DHD and entered the address to Earth. Without putting Jack down, Daniel transmitted the iris code with the GDO that was still strapped to his wrist and stepped into the event horizon.
The swirling blue spiral of the wormhole abruptly resolved itself into the solid greyness of the gate room at the SGC. Daniel staggered slightly on the ramp as the disorientation and intense cold of gate travel combined with his fatigue and emotional turmoil caused a wave of dizziness to course through him. He heard shouting and white-clad figures converged on him from all sides. He felt Jack's dead weight being lifted from him and replaced by the soft warmth of a blanket, which somebody wrapped around his bare shoulders.
Janet's voice cut through the confusion. "Daniel, look at me. Are you alright?"
Daniel's mind cleared slightly and he managed to focus on her face. "There's nothing wrong with me," he told her impatiently. "Help Jack!"
Then Sam was at his side, one arm snaking around his waist in a surreptitious hug. "Daniel -- god, you're freezing! Looks like you had a rough trip. We've been really worried about you."
Daniel's gaze was following the gurney that was being rushed out of the gate room. "Jack..."
"The Colonel's in good hands, Daniel," Sam assured him, guiding him down the ramp. "Come on, let's get you to the infirmary."
Daniel sat at Jack's bedside, watching the steady rise and fall of his lover's chest intently. It had been some hours since Janet had declared Jack out of danger and finally allowed Daniel to take up watch next to him. Since then, Daniel had simply sat in the infirmary, unmoving, watching Jack breathe. It was amazing how the events of one day could make someone so incredibly aware of such a small and generally unnoticed movement.
Both his hands clasping one of Jack's, his cheek pressed gently into Jack's palm, Daniel fixed his eyes steadily on Jack's heavily bandaged torso and drank in the evidence of life flowing through the still body.
Jack's fingers twitched in Daniel's grasp and the tenor of his breathing changed, alerting Daniel to the fact that he was waking up before his eyelids fluttered and slowly opened. Dark, sleepy eyes searched out Daniel's face and previously slack lips curved upwards into a gentle smile.
"Hey," Jack whispered. "What's the time?"
"Hey yourself," Daniel replied softly, a surge of relief choking his words. "About 4am. You should be asleep."
"So should you." Jack's tone was tender. "What are you still doing here?"
In response, Daniel buried his face in Jack's palm. "Silly question," he murmured shakily.
Jack shifted his hand slightly and gently brushed sudden tears from Daniel's cheek. "Hey," he said again, "what's the matter?"
Daniel remained silent for a long moment, gazing down at Jack's concerned expression. Finally, he said, "I don't think I can do this any more."
"Do what?" Jack prompted lightly.
One of Daniel's hands broke away briefly to gesture around the room before returning to its closely guarded possession of Jack's forearm. "This," he said. "Going offworld and always being afraid something like this is going to happen to you. Watching you suffer and not being able to do anything about it. Waiting for you to wake up and knowing that if you don't it'll be largely my fault. It's too hard, Jack -- I don't think I can do it."
Unexpectedly, Jack's smile widened. "Ah, so finally you get a little taste of what it's like to be me," he teased. Then he sobered and held Daniel's anguished gaze steadily. "You think you wouldn't still feel all of that if you quit the team and stayed behind here all the time while I went offworld with somebody else to watch my back? Trust me, Daniel, not being there would be far worse, and you know I'm not going to retire from the SGC just because you're worried I'm going to get hurt. Daniel, I'm alive today because you were with me on that ship. I know it's hard -- you think I don't worry just as much about you when we're on a mission? But I need you out there, Daniel, with me, not stuck here pretending you don't want to be a part of what we do. Whatever happens to us out there, it's better if we face it together, okay?"
Wordlessly, Daniel nodded, and Jack smiled again. "Good. Now, quit worrying so much, hero, and let me get some more sleep." With that, he resolutely reclaimed his hand from Daniel's jealous grasp, shifted slightly in the bed in an effort to get more comfortable, and then closed his eyes again.
Daniel sat back in his chair, and settled down once more to watch his lover sleep.
|Genres:||Action/Adventure, Established Relationship, Hurt/Comfort|
|Summary:||Daniel has to take charge of getting home.|
Author's Chapter Notes: