Daniel hugged his knees closer to rest his forehead on them, and shivered.
Darkness clung wetly to him in the not-as-damp, cold air of the bolt hole that Jack had left him in. Just a cave, shelter from the deluge outside that filled the small space with a steady hollow roar. Even the dense brush that blocked its entrance from sight failed to dull the cold patter of fat raindrops that had been falling for what felt like an eternity.
And in that time, he must have worn a path to that flimsy protection. On each approach, he contemplated leaving to look for his teammates, an end to his agony of worry for them. But his imagined apparition of Jack would ghost up before him wearing a disapproving expression that always turned him back to crouch against the cold rock as far as he could manage from that foolish temptation.
Jack wasn't safe or warm, Daniel reminded himself. No, Jack was out there looking for the rest of the team.
Daniel knew he couldn't jeopardize what his friend was trying to accomplish just to end his wait. His friend would need every advantage possible.
Rustling at the narrow opening caused Daniel to shrink back, a rock unconsciously clenched in his raised hand. The pistol strapped to his thigh not even considered. Blood pounded louder than the rain in his ears as he tried not to panic.
"Daniel," a hoarse whisper, barely heard over his inner din, louder than nature's roar.
"Jack!" Daniel blurted out in relief as the rock tumbled from his fingers, sounding like a gunshot as it struck the stone beneath him.
"Sssh, not so loud."
Jack was no more than an outline that stopped just inside the gash-like entrance, and then the sound of dry leaves echoed from the tall, too close stone walls. This was not a sound Daniel had expected -- dry leaves; they had run for miles in rain so heavy that seeing where to put the next step was more faith than fact. But before Daniel could utter a word of question, his friend was gone; back out into the roar of the deluge.
On the third rendition, Daniel asked if he should start a fire and got a firm, 'No.'
So he sat and waited, feeling cold and useless as Jack came and went, building his pile of dry leaves. Where he had found any, let alone the quantity that he was slowing swamping the small cave with, Daniel knew not. And Jack had more than once indicated quiet, so asking wasn't in the cards just yet.
In the dark, it took some time to puzzle out just how all the leaves were being transported. But eventually Daniel was surprised to find that Jack was using his jacket and BDU shirt as bags, his black t-shirt made him very hard to see even when he knew just where he stood.
Each trip took around ten minutes; there was only dense forest between the vertical wall of rock that held the cave and the Stargate. He and Jack had raced along that wall until Jack had jerked him up short to nearly shove him into what appeared to be a solid wall of brush. In his surprise, he didn't know how he wound up being pulled into the small cave rather than pushed.
Jack had made a quick and thorough circuit of the space, told him to stay put and left at a run. Intent on finding the others or misleading their pursuers, Daniel still didn't know.
Daniel was thankful that the little cave was relatively dry, even if not exactly warm. He'd been able to keep moving and his clothes were now almost comfortably damp rather than wringing wet. Both he and Jack had hidden their packs when it was clear that they weren't losing the dozen or so Jaffa that had trooped out of the Stargate minutes after they'd concluded contact with the SGC giving the all clear. He knew too, that because of that communication, they were on their own.
Teal'c and Sam had been on the other side of the 'gate when it activated. Jack had shouted to run, adding that hand-signal for emphasis before turning and running for the edge of the clearing. Daniel remembered that he could hear Jack's swift steps gaining on him just as a staff weapon bolt seared the air over their heads.
"Crap," rent the air closely followed by the rattle of Jack's P-90. Daniel glanced back and promptly tripped, Jack didn't have time to do anything; he was too close. He felt Jack's boot connect with his hip, the other bumped along the small of his back, and then scraped along his pack, but not quite over it. Eyes closed, he could only hear the woof of painfully exhaled breath as his friend hit the ground. Daniel forced himself to roll out from under the leg attached to the boot hooked up on his pack.
Reflex had caused his hand to cover his glasses as he went down, and had prevented them from going AWOL. Dirt stung his hand and pinged off those precious glasses, kicked up by a lucky near miss of another staff blast. His mind screamed for him to get up and run. Instantly he was on his feet, only to freeze.
Jack was still down, the wind knocked out of him from the sound of his strangled attempts to breathe and ineffectual efforts to rise seemed to indicate. Daniel dropped to a knee and attempted to haul his friend from the ground. He couldn't get his arm around him because of the bulk of his pack, only when he'd pulled at Jack's belt did he get him moving upwards.
More, and closer, sizzles of energy kept pushing him to run, but he wasn't leaving Jack. As soon as he figured he could push his breathless friend forward did he run, dodging the dangling P-90 tethered to Jack's chest. Daniel hoped that frantic hands would find and capture the weapon, but right now, it was all he could do to keep him upright and moving away from the shouts of "Kree!"
Jack was taller and heavier, but his hip was bony and painfully ground into his side. After a few dozen feet, his load lightened as the man's gulps for breath slowed, his drunken gait became more sure. Daniel made an effort to look into his face, and found it red and determined, those dark brown eyes met his and Jack nodded his thanks.
Daniel nearly giggled when it occurred to him that they probably looked like two fleeing Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not that Jack would appreciate the comparison, and the Jaffa wouldn't have a clue to the reference.
Both of them started to draw away from the armor-burdened Jaffa. Jack spun around at the first tree and sprayed a long burst of fire before ducking behind it, hot on Daniel's heels.
The light drizzle that had greeted them at their arrival now turned into a downpour, making the ground slippery. Daniel ran steadily ahead until the he could no longer hear shouts, and began to slow.
Thus began hours of running, jogging, fast walking, sliding, falling, tripping and just general movement away. Away... from what, Daniel wasn't sure. Jack would indicate a direction, but always motioned for silence. This was when the raingear in the packs would have been helpful, but those were behind them. Jack had hidden them when he was sure they were out of sight, if not sound of the Jaffa.
Or were they? That was the question that brought him back to the here and now, and this dark cave.
"Jack," Daniel softly questioned.
The sound of water splashing to the ground preceded Jack's low reply of, "Daniel?"
"Never made it back that far."
More water splashed. Peering into the dimness of the cave Daniel could just make out that Jack was systemically wringing out his clothes. At least that was what he was hoped he was doing.
"What's with the leaves," Daniel asked, remembering to keep his voice low.
Something about the short and to the point responses worried Daniel.
"Jack... are you okay?"
More splashing and a non-committal grunt was his answer -- so not good.
Daniel knew the man would not elaborate, so he did what he could and started to divide the leaves into two equal piles.
The cave sounded almost homey, what with the industrious sounds of their separate chores.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice startled him, and he jumped under his friend's hand on his shoulder.
"Sorry. Watch your eyes." The flash on the P-90 blinked on, and like an explosion, it made Daniel's eyes water.
Blinking rapidly and shielding his eyes with his hand for a moment soon allowed him to see in the bright light that Jack's body shielded from the cave's entrance. His friend's body seemed to suddenly spring out at him from that darkness. He was shocked at what he saw.
Jack stood before him devoid of clothing -- almost -- his obviously wrung out boxers clung to his lean form. Goose-bumped skin glowed whitely in the wane light that had seemed so bright only seconds before.
"Can you check my back?"
"I don't think I'm bleeding anymore, but I need to know how bad it is and I can't see it," Jack stated in voice with a touch of miff in it.
Daniel quickly grabbed for the light, but Jack grabbed him by the wrist.
"Point it only at the back wall, I'll move."
His friend let him go, and stepped towards the back wall presenting his back. Splotches of what Daniel took for mud erupted across Jack's sides and back as he zeroed in on the thin red line that began near the top of the right shoulder and dived diagonally towards the left hip, ending just past his last rib. It was a mere scratch across the spine but was deep enough to cause bleeding at either end. It was deepest at the bottom end, and that puzzled him for a moment, until he could see in his mind's eye a Jaffa's descending arm, Jack lunging in and then dropping down and back. He knew that the Jaffa was already dead as his knife was still slicing open his friend's back.
Bile raced up his throat, and he swallowed convulsively as he allowed his fingers to trace the cut. Jack shuddered.
"Jack, you're like ice... and covered in bruises," as Daniel realized that those weren't patches of mud that could be washed off.
"Not bleeding and only part is deep."
"Burns like hell. Here," Jack offered the little first aid kit he carried in his vest. At least they both had those.
"This is going to hurt," Daniel warmed as he tore open the alcohol-cleansing pad.
"Tell, me something I don't know."
Jack hissed and squirmed as Daniel methodically cleaned the long cut.
"What about some antibiotic salve?"
"Can't. Need to keep it clean. That salve will glue everything to it."
"Hmmm. Hadn't thought of that," Daniel admitted. "You need to put some clothes on," he added giving the flashlight back to Jack, who immediately turned it off.
"I'm cold enough. Wet clothes will make that worse."
"Oh. Is that the reason for all the leaves?"
"Yepper. Just one of those little survival skills the Air Force insists on teaching."
"If you can't wear your clothes, wear some of mine."
"Tempting, but they aren't dry either."
"Drier than yours," retorted Daniel.
"Even a little moisture will wick away body heat, Daniel."
He heard Jack's bare feet crunch across to the leaf beds, his wet clothes already stacked neatly next to the one that had the best view of the cave opening. He had used that fleeting period of light to gain a better picture of their hidey-hole.
It took a few moments to realize that Jack was doing more than just burrowing into the leaves, it sounded like he was undoing his work of dividing them into two piles.
"Jack, what are you doing?"
"Daniel, shuck out of your clothes. It'll take both of us to stay warm."
It was now rather obvious what Jack was doing.
"Ah... No," was all that Daniel could come up with.
"Daniel, don't make me shoot you."
"That would probably bring the Jaffa."
Jack gave out a slightly strangled, shrill bark of a laugh, abruptly cut off.
"I'm tired, Daniel," Jack dully continued.
His shirt was off before it sunk in that Jack 'never' admitted things like this. He was on his butt pulling his boots and socks off next. He tied each sock to its boot by a lace, as Jack was wont to do, when he did take his boots off. Usually he didn't. He lived 'sleeping with his boots on.'
Daniel stood and shuffled forward, feeling with his way with his feet, his clothes in his arms. Once he reached the communal bed of leaves, he dropped his clothing to the floor, and paused.
"Lose the shorts."
'What? How did he know?' Now it was Daniel's turn to spit out a strangled laugh. Gingerly he slipped out of his damp boxers.
"Damn, Jack I'm gonna freeze," he stated, but did move closer.
"Don't be a drama queen, get down here."
Daniel got down on all fours and crawled until a hand hit cold skin, carefully he lay down next to Jack, shoulder to shoulder.
"Cover up, before you catch your death," his friend's grin evident in the words.
It really wasn't as easy as it sounded, and then Jack instructed he spread his clothing over the top. But to be certain there was plenty of dry leaves between him and his clothes. They would hold the leaves in place and the excess body heat would help dry them also.
"Don't be shy," Jack urged him closer, chest-to-chest, he stiffen when Jack tried to get a leg between his. "Don't worry, Daniel, you're not my type."
He relaxed and let the leg in, with a little grunting and shifting, they both found a comfortable middle ground. Daniel had to admit, he was warmer. As he relaxed he became aware of Jack's shivering, this panicked him just a bit and he aggressively moved closer, pressing as much of himself to the cold body in front of him as possible.
"You've done this before?"
"You do what you have to to survive. Our idea of civilized behavior is the first casualty. This is just one of those distasteful things I've mentioned before."
Daniel mulled it over. Jack was right. He relaxed again and listened to Jack's steady breathing; it eventually deepened and slowed, as did the shudders that racked his body, until they diminished and stopped. Jack was warming up and he was glad that he was able to do this for him. It wasn't as if anyone would ever hear about, or see this -- he prayed -- embarrassed by his embarrassment.
"This is a great way to keep warm," he softly uttered, not expecting an answer. He said it more for himself than anything.
"Sex is better," a sleepy voiced Jack sighed.
Daniel snuggled in closer and giggled. Jack snorted back. They both slipped into an exhausted slumber.
Daniel rolled over and flopped out an arm, it hit something warm and soft that grunted. He almost came out of his skin when it rolled in response and snuggled closer. His disorientation quickly fled, it was Jack, and Daniel heaved a breath in self-embarrassment. He was a little ashamed with himself.
Patiently he lay still wanting Jack to get as much rest as possible. An hour later, his friend became restless and muttered softly before jerking sharply. They only had contact at the shoulder, both now warm enough to be laying on their backs, but even with that small contact Daniel could feel how stiff Jack had become.
"How do you feel?"
"Like crap. You?"
Jack checked his watch, Daniel could tell, some of the blue glow of the lighted dial escaped the hand that Jack used to hide its brightness.
"If Carter's calculations are right -- and they always are -- it should be two hours past sunup. Time to move out."
"For now, just up to the top of this rock."
Jack led the way by shaking out his clothes and dressing.
"God, I'm gonna itch."
Daniel followed his leader, and soon found himself with Jack's boot soles inches from his face as he scaled the easy climb that Jack had discovered in his travels the day before. Near the top, they both took great care to not pop up and silhouette themselves against the now cloudless, not-quite-Earth-blue sky.
They slithered on their bellies a couple of yards away from edge of the cliff, crossing the rough stone as it gently sloped upwards. A line of dense bushes grew in a dot-dash method along a crack that paralleled the line of the cliff. Here Jack stopped and began peeling out of his clothes. Daniel was beginning to really wonder about him right up to the time that his friend began to spread out his damp jacket to catch the warm sun, followed by his BDU shirt, his t-shirt, and his... Daniel decided the view was better focused elsewhere at this point.
'When in Rome...' Daniel continued to follow Jack's lead, soon the bushes held 'all' of their clothes.
Jack surprised him with half a survival bar and an explanation that he was going to the cliff edge to see what he could see.
Jack hugged the rock, letting his chilled and abused body soak up as much heat as possible. The day before he'd believed he'd never be warm again. He'd taken the necessary steps that his training dictated to stave off profound hypothermia; he'd already been well into the beginning stages when he'd gotten back to the cave.
Those trips to bring leaves for insulation had been hard, he was getting too old for the kind of abuse he'd put himself through. He'd stumbled and fell more than a couple of times, becoming more and more unable to judge the placement of his feet.
He'd almost given up when Daniel had balked about getting naked and close with him, but he'd held his cool. His friend hadn't exactly been in that position before. The only other's Daniel had ever been naked with were Sha're and Hathor. Jack didn't want his need for heat to become a twin to the Hathor nightmare, and he wasn't even gonna think about any kind of comparison with beautiful woman that was his friend's wife.
And he never wanted Daniel to know that the crack about sex being better wasn't just an attempt to shock him. He could kick himself for even mentioning it. Doing so was just a sign of how deeply he'd sunk into hypothermia. And this subject was taboo outside any unit that employed it. Civilized rules don't survive firefights. War hauled even the most upright down to the level of an animal -- only survival mattered, at any cost.
Jack carefully stretched his back, feeling the cut there. It wasn't as painful as the day before, but it was early, infection would set in before the end of day. He needed to get off this dirtball. He needed his team. He wanted -- needed -- some hard contact with the enemy.
Below him, the dense forest was like a sea of green, hiding much beneath its innocent beauty. Jack brought up his inner map of it, game trails, streams, and clearings. And that place where he'd killed that Jaffa. His back twinged as adrenaline surged at the memory of the struggle.
A flash caught his attention, and air carried just the suggestion of a shout. Cautiously he leaned over the edge to get a better look to the left along the foot of the cliff. Blocks of fallen stone kept the trees and large brushes back, leaving a clear no-vegetation zone. A Jaffa stood smack in the middle of the clearing; and were there was one there would be others.
Gingerly he squirmed back from the drop-off and worked his way back to Daniel.
Jack sure hoped his clothes were dry; he was chaffed enough.
Daniel had to admit that lying in the sun without a stitch on felt great as the alien sun warmed his still chilled skin, but also, emotionally troubling. Chewing his food, he busied himself by turning the drying garments, like pancakes on a griddle. And after judging that his boxers were dry, he slipped into them, Jack may not bat an eye at being naked among a room full of naked men, but he just wasn't used to that. Besides, it brought back long banished memories of high school gym classes.
Jack's chuckle announced his return.
"Good idea, Danny. You don't want to get sunburned there," Jack quipped as he tested his own undergarment and donned it, not even turning away. It had to be a military thing, but Daniel suspected that it had more to do with his friend's odd notion of humor in this instance. Still, having just these little scraps of cloth on did wonders for one's peace of mind -- and ended a very weird draft. He sighed in pleasure.
Despite Jack's humor, his friend was quiet while he dressed -- too quiet. His behavior was worrisome enough to get Daniel dressing, hurrying his fingers at the fasteners to be ready to move. With the last bootlace double-tied, he looked up and found Jack watching him.
Now he was really worried as there was nothing that could be read in the face that held those brown eyes. This mask he'd seen before, action usually followed.
"They're at the base of the cliff; we need to get to the 'gate, so stay close."
Daniel sprang after Jack, using long strides, following the crack in the rock, keeping the line of bushes between him and the cliff edge. They went in the opposite direction they'd come from.
Jack set a swift pace, making it hard to do more than watch his every step. He didn't want to twist an ankle or break a leg on the uneven rock, or trip over a clinging bush. Doing so would give them away; he was sure.
Three times Jack halted, never speaking, he used hand signals to relay his command to wait where he stood until he returned. Daniel watched him crawl away towards the cliff, and minutes later he would pop up out of a nearby bush and nearly scare him to death. He wished he could hear him returning, it would be easier on his thudding heart if he could.
On the fourth venture to the cliff, Jack spoke.
"I think I found a way down. Stay low and keep quiet."
"And the Jaffa?" Daniel braved.
"Didn't seem 'em, but we know that doesn't mean they aren't there," Jack turned, lowered himself into a crouch and headed for the cliff.
The Jaffa in charge was good; everywhere Jack looked there was a Jaffa. A whole string of them, each within the sight of the next, so that if one disappeared, two others would notice. And considering they were deployed in such a manner meant that their previous haven had been discovered, and with their crappy luck, they'd probably even tracked them up the face of the cliff.
Jack knew he couldn't go back, there would be someone checking the top of the cliff, and there was sure to be someone at the cave too. Heading for the gate would mean risking this Jaffa-trip wire. Doing that would place him, and Daniel, back to running for their lives. At least he would know where the Jaffa were -- behind him.
Working their way along the cliff hoping to find an end to the trip wire seemed to be their only option, and not much of one either. Out of necessity the long line of Jaffa stood with their backs to the dense forest, facing the relatively narrow open space that falling rocks had created at the very bottom of the cliff.
Sweat stung along the slice in his back, Jack's every movement was slow and unrelenting. It had to be, or risk being seen. The sun was merciless among the litter of boulders that didn't provide enough shelter to allow a midget to stand up. He'd instructed Daniel to repeat his every move, but only on his cue -- one piece of cover at a time. Who would believe moving almost a quarter of mile would take ninety-eight minutes. But they'd made it; this was the end of the Jaffa-trip wire.
Jack's head jerked up to stare at the cliff above him, then back to the Jaffa he'd been carefully working his way around and found him coming slowly in his direction. He couldn't believe this; it was like a bad piece of fiction?
"Daniel," Jack unerringly fisted his hand into his friend's jacket and pulled him close. "Run."
He propelled Daniel in the direction of the 'gate, and then exploded from the ground. Purposely he sprinted right at the Jaffa and launched himself into the warrior. He was lucky enough to knock the Jaffa off his feet, shouts from the others erupted as Jack rolled beyond his downed target, gained his feet smoothly and was at a dead run after Daniel in one seamless move.
Hopefully, he'd salvaged enough of their surprise to give the Jaffa the slip.
Daniel was tiring. Hell, he was tiring.
And that smooth move of body blocking of that Jaffa had re-opened his sliced back making it bleed; hopefully not for long, though it now burned as if acid had been poured down it. Better not to even think about it, so Jack put it out of his mind and hoped the pain followed.
The noisy Jaffa had long since gone silent. He'd bet it wasn't because of the 'huge' lead they had. More like they were being hunted. It had to be that smart one, the leader of the pack. He was gonna be a problem.
Jack just hoped that taking this direction would throw that one off, and he hadn't been subtlety pressured in this direction and into a trap. He wondered just who had trained this Jaffa. For the millionth time he checked their surrounds, straining his ears and eyes -- nothing, nada. Yet he was left with an uneasy feeling. And still with the dull burn down his back, it ignited to incandescent pain whenever a rivulet of sweat crossed it. Painful enough to make him bit his tongue to stifle his desire to yelp.
He herded Daniel along over ground he'd not scouted, and thus knew little about. They'd been lucky so far, too lucky. Jack had this unsettling feeling deep down that he wasn't in as much control as he wished he were. And besides, he didn't believe in luck, luck was a fool's paradise; he only had faith in what chances he could engineer through his own actions. He preferred a better outcome than what fickle luck could provide.
Looking back, Jack could see they were leaving a trail that a blind man could follow. His feet slipped, and he slid upright a half foot down the litter-covered hill. Ahead, he glimpsed the upper limb of the 'gate's ring in the distance. They were closer than he'd hoped.
His natural caution -- the same that had saved his butt many times -- kicked in. He began slowing, his eyes roved the trees that had opened up to allow bushes and hip-high grasses to thrive. The openness made him uneasy, as did the widening distance between he and Daniel.
Hair started bristling along the back of his neck. Insanely, 'fe-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of a Jaffa-man,' popped into his head and he couldn't shake its broken record imitation. He had to get closer to Daniel and rein him in; they needed to slow down -- now!
Picking up speed down the incline, he watched as Daniel stopped and shouted back to him."Jack, hurry up."
It was then that his bad feeling became reality. As if in slow motion, Daniel turned away with an impatient wave just as a Jaffa stepped out and swept his feet from under him with the butt of a staff weapon. The armored warrior then used the business end to pin his friend to the ground. But worse, the Jaffa showed his utter contempt by turning his back to Jack.
Instantly, using gravity, he sped down the hill. Keeping the advantage of higher ground, Jack sprang into the air, and landed hard across the enemy's shoulders. He used his arms and legs to encompass the warrior's armor like an octopus as he followed the toppled Jaffa to the ground.
Harnessed fear, and hot anger, drove his every move. Tighter and tighter, he squeezed. At every opening, he adjusted his attack. Long fingers dug deeply into a corded neck. Jack could feel the Jaffa dying. He relished it to his shame. Yet he pressed for a quick, it not painless, death.
Fingernails abruptly tore and gave way. Skin rubbed thin screamed in alarm. Ribs grunted under irresistible pressure. Jack inwardly snarled as his body was forced away from his prey. Robbed of dealing a sure death, he crashed backwards.
Well-honed reflexes turned the forced motion until a neat roll. With a flex of his legs, he gained his knees and with an infinitesimal pause, to shift his center of gravity, pushed his momentum forward into a new attack.
Only he was stopped cold. The blunt end of a staff weapon slammed itself into his chest, knocking him off-balance. Jack found himself pinned to the ground, if he'd had a feline tail, it would be switching in outraged anger. His fingers scrabbled at the shaft, hoping to gain some advantage.
It wasn't the name, but the voice that stunned Jack enough for his eyes to follow the cue the staff weapon offered to discover who knew his name, and found his heart go cold at the face that greeted him from the other end.
"There has been a misunderstanding."
Jack found it difficult to comprehend the how or why, only his need to rescue Daniel pushed him back into the struggle to rise against the relentless pressure of the staff weapon, it didn't matter if the man who held it he would die to save as much as he would Daniel, but right now there was no time to puzzle it out. His instincts screamed for him to fight back -- now!
"Do not force me to further action; enough blood has been spilled today."
It sounded like Teal'c, but that was impossible. Daniel...
"Jack, listen to him."
Daniel stepped into his sight, free and unfettered. He paused...
Carter appeared; her weapon at ease in her hands.
Jack, even as he struggled to defeat it, glanced back along the shaft of the staff for another look at his assailant. His mind, catching up with his eyes, caused him to slump sideways. He allowed his long legs to unbend, and one arm propped him up. He relented, not in defeat, but confusion. His eyes tracked from Teal'c to Carter, to Daniel, and back. The Jaffa were surrounding them. But in his adrenaline pumped system, they were too far away for him to do more than notice they existed. 'What the hell was happening?'
Teal'c let the staff weapon fall away and stepped forward to offer his hand. Jack hesitated, then embraced it and allowed his friend to haul him up from the ground.
He made a show of dusting himself off and smoothing out his clothes, right down to his mock surprise at finding his weapon holster empty and stalked in a tiny circle, appearing to search for it. His act allowed him to place and mark each threat, his mind already mapping out a tactical solution.
"So... What's happening?"
Magically one of the Jaffa stepped into Jack's path and offered up his missing 9mm. Jack stopped dead, stymied by a scenario that had not been considered.
"I shall explain, but it is urgent that we return to the Chaapa'ai."
Jack appeared to be amusing himself with his returned 9mm. It turned and twirled as it bounced from palm to palm. Each touch assured him of the working condition of the weapon.
He could feel Teal'c minutely drift between him and the Jaffa that now trooped in an orderly column towards the Stargate. Forcing Jack to change his pattern of play, the barrel pointed at the ground or into the air, not where he really wanted it pointed.
He knew Teal'c would wait until Daniel and Carter tagged themselves onto the back of the departing column. And as expected he spoke.
"O'Neill. They are not a threat."
Jack's hard eyes snapped over to Teal'c who calmly looked straight ahead as they both broke into motion down the impromptu trail, shoulder to shoulder. That didn't fool Jack. He could see he was being closely watched by his Jaffa friend in his peripheral vision."Yes. I understand your disbelief. They did attack, and pursue," Teal'c continued.
He scanned his memory of that; the placement of the Jaffa, the direction of the staff blasts that resulted in way too many misses. The way the Jaffa ballooned outwards, only a few actually seemed to be whole-heartedly in pursuit.
"They only meant to frighten us away from the Chaapa'ai."
Jack hadn't had time to review in-depth what had happened when the Jaffa had come through the Stargate. Now he rummaged through his memories, recalling just how the pursuit went down. Kicking himself for assuming what he saw as a simple tale.
"Two of the young warriors, consumed by many years of training that one must capture one's prey -- or kill it -- and new to battle, broke rank."
He knew the truth of Teal'c's words as he spoke them, if he had paid more attention to what the enemy had been doing...
"My friend, you could not have known that they were Free Jaffa..."
Sometimes it was scary when Teal'c could pick out his thoughts like that.
"...and more tragic that you were forced to kill one of them."
Teal'c's voice held no reproach, only a melancholy that hurt worse than any outright accusation. Jack knew his reaction to be unfair, but damn. He'd killed that young warrior, just a kid as Jaffa go. And that kid just wanted to be free.
Jack listened as Teal'c told of how one of the Jaffa recognized him, and together, with Sam Carter, they had chased after those chasing the two young warriors who chased Jack and Daniel, all in an attempt to prevent anything unfortunate from happening. The chase, for all but Daniel and Jack, ended where the body of the young Jaffa lay. Teal'c told of the anger, confusion and fear. Fear for the other young warrior. That fear was what had made it possible for Teal'c to gain control of the group; he became that Jaffa that had worried Jack, the smart one that frustrated his and Daniel's escape from the cliff and back to the Stargate.
It was so different when told from the side of the Jaffa. They had wanted to find the second young warrior before he caught up to the leader of SG-1, a most formidable and feared warrior by the ranks of Jaffa; a fear that had turned to respect when they reached for freedom and found the warrior of Earth on their side. Most could read for themselves how the battle had gone between the young warrior and Tauri. Hand-to-hand, with blades and sinew; the slighter, more vulnerable human had bested an armored and well trained Jaffa warrior. Though some muttered that he was young and inexperienced, perhaps it was not so great of a battle. But others reminded them that all warriors became warriors in a life and death struggle as a rite of passage to that status. Kill or be killed. This young Jaffa had killed another Jaffa, now he had been killed by a better warrior. It did not matter that that warrior was Jaffa, or not, he was just as dead.
Nothing ever went well once one got past one participant in anything, but this sounded more and more like a dark comedy, a satire... a Greek tragedy. And Jack knew he was the loser here -- him and the kid Jaffa.
It seemed that once Teal'c was in temporary charge, he and Carter had explained that their first priority was to find and stop the second young warrior; then, and only then, would they fan out and look for Jack and Daniel. Only as this tragedy went, finding the warrior also meant finding him, after all, the young warrior hunted him.
The reason for he and Daniel thinking they had outdistanced their foes was because the Jaffa had found the other young warrior first and that delayed their hunt while they explained to him what was going on. So that left only Daniel and Jack with no clue that everyone was on the same side.
'Too bad they didn't find them both sooner.'
It would not have been the first time that he'd killed for the wrong reason, and he knew that he would probably do it again. It was one of the things that he found distasteful about the necessity of violence to protect peace... or to survive. Just as this young Jaffa had fought to survive, so had he.
Shouts from further up the snaking line of Jaffa drew Jack's eyes up to see the Stargate towering above him and the trees quite suddenly opened up on the clearing where this tragedy had begun. Another cluster of Jaffa stood off to the side of the Stargate, both groups raised their staff weapons in mutual greeting.
"Sir, according to what these Jaffa say they had already been harassed by newly freed humans on the last two planets they had visited," Carter injected into the sudden silence between he and Teal'c.
"Indeed," intoned Teal'c, "Free Jaffa lives were lost to the understandable hatred of those whom other Jaffa had enslaved."
This time Teal's face turned fully to him, his eyes transmitted regret for not being able to have prevented the loss of those lives -- lives he hadn't known existed until this mess happened. His focus abruptly shifted to the other Jaffa, and Jack watched as he stepped forward to join them. Daniel and Carter continued on to the DHD and proceeded to check it. Teal'c had indicated that the Free Jaffa needed to leave this place and knew where to send them for safety -- the sooner, the better.
Jack stopped, unable to join either group. Emotions and needs still roiled beneath his skin, he was finding it hard to reconcile fact with fact. His 9mm still tumbled from hand to hand, but no longer as a distraction to those around him, but as one for his equally tumbling thoughts. Everything had gone so badly, but he kept telling himself it could have been so much worse as he examined each and every decision he made since he stepped onto the soil of this planet.
Minutes dragged by like hours as Teal'c and the Jaffa conferred, Jack hardly noticed, too occupied with his own thoughts until one Jaffa detached himself from the group. In his hands were his and Daniel's packs, long since forgotten in the flight to survive. The Jaffa carefully approached him to reveal his burden, careful to have his eyes down cast. He was afraid and Jack could feel it batter at him. Carefully he holstered his weapon and waved his empty hand towards the DHD, indicating to take the packs to Daniel and Carter. The Jaffa bowed and did just that.
As if Jack's reaction to the return of their packs had been used to gage future action the Jaffa all stepped back to reveal the dead warrior reverently positioned on the ground. Jack couldn't help his eyes fastening upon the dead youth that lay there, and also see that not one Jaffa looked at him, they only looked at Teal's as he began to speak.
"Hear, me. Death is but the end of slavery and the beginning of one's journey to Gheb," Teal'c voice rang out as he unsheathed his blade and cut into the soft underside of his forearm. "May my lifeblood sustain him on that journey," fat drops of red splattered across the motionless chest of the young fallen Jaffa.
Jack watched as each Jaffa present repeated Teal'c's salute to the newly departed. Only after they had all offered up their bloody coin did Jack slowly drew his own keen blade to advance upon his latest kill; his eyes could only see the waxen face of the young warrior as he thrust his hand palm up over the still body. Slowly and firmly he drew his blade across his palm, deep, but not so deep as to cut anything he'd need to later close that hand. Blood filled his palm then dripped and dribbled between fingers and over the side of his open hand. He stood there... and stood there -- immobile.
The blood eventually stopped on its own. Jack slowly turned his palm downward to allow it all to spill onto the chest plate of the fallen warrior. He had been oblivious to the restlessness among the remaining Jaffa who had all moved back at his approach, and to the aborted attempts by both Carter and Daniel to step in and stem the endless flow of blood offered up by their leader; attempts thwarted by a sharp, discrete stare from Teal'c.
These new free Jaffa were impressed. Hell, Teal'c was impressed. But no amount of blood would ever bring that kid back. Nor wash his soul clean.
"They will tell of your immense sorrow to all. You will be greatly respected," Teal'c solemnly stated, and bowed his head in thanks to Jack's profound offering.
"Yeah, sure," Jack muttered, not at all comforted that they would revere anyone that had killed one of their own, especially by someone like himself, someone not so forgiving.
Jack knew that if things had been reversed, he'd have buried his knife in their heart.
Original Header Information:
Title: Distasteful Things