"Just do it, Daniel!"
That said; he turned his back to 'greet' the man that stalked toward him with spear held low, its glinting tip pointed right at him. His 9mm snapped up and fired, not even a word of warning was given.
Swift scuffles in the hard surface of the forest track drew Daniel around before the native crumpled lifeless to the ground, Jack's hand still moving with the recoil of his weapon.
"I could have talked to him. Talking is better than shooting. Shooting is so final."
Jack didn't answer, but his voice rang in Daniel's head, past conversations, advice... threats. "You think too much. One day you'll miss that moment when, if you'd seen it, you could save a life, probably your own." His friend's voice had been a mixture of disgust and plea, his version of a mother hen.
Those remembered words became near prophesy, thoughts of Jack's appearance of overreaction gone as swiftly as the spear left the hand of the other native Daniel now faced, the primitive weapon headed straight for him. His friend's irritating attention to repetitive training came to the fore and Daniel's own weapon went off just before he dived for the ground as the spear whistled more than swooshed over him.
Odd, the kinds of things your mind relays in such situations. The feel of the ground; the pain of stray pebbles across a naked palm; the gurgle of the man in the dirt, how red his blood was as it gushed across the bare, almost shinny hardpan of the trail; his desperate clutching to drag himself forward, still eager to rectify his miss with the spear.
Daniel's stomach lurched at the horror. At what he had done and the fact that the man still wanted to kill him with his dying breath. Surely there must be an alternative to killing each other on sight?
Finally the native stilled and looked very, very dead. His dying took only a moment, but to Daniel the sounds went on, and on, and on. Anger built within him, higher at each percussive repetition, each a reminder of his own deed.
Jack never listened. Jack always shot first. Jack always expected him to pick up the pieces. No more.
Daniel's head jerked up off the fear-sweat slicked dirt and craned around to stare at his friend, only the empty trail lay before him... not entirely empty. He knew a man lay dead there, yet there were two bodies. What his confused shocked brain refused to accept his body knew and shot up off the ground. His mind caught up just as his knees dug twin furrows in the dusty path next to the second body. A body that should not... could not be there.
Coalescing from the dust of Daniel's hasty stop was the heft of a spear, canted back the way it had come and quivering gently. Why the slender wooden shaft moved confounded him, until he noticed that it entered Jack's back and from its remembered, though fleetingly seen length, it had struck deeply into his friend and his every breath set it into gentle movement.
No struggle. No profanity, or low moans of distress. This still silence terrified Daniel more than screams of abject agony; his fingers ached to touch Jack, to pull him close. To shout at him, rail at him, for the position his condition now placed him in. Jack, the man who had always pulled all of them out of the fire, was down and out for the count.
Jack lay sprawled on his left side and slumped slightly unto his face. His hat flopped onto the dirt beyond the crown of his head, empty. Yet it remained open and waiting. His right hand that had held the 9mm lay parallel along his side, just a little further from his hip now that the weapon smoldered its displeasure from near his booted feet. Fingers, slightly curled up around the leather-clad palm. Trapped beneath him were his left hand and arm, no doubt by his perpetual death-grip on his MP-5. This had the effect of hunching his back upward unnaturally. In fact, every line of him looked unnatural. Nothing moved, but the spear, almost as if it breathed for him.
Daniel had to know if the spear went all the way through, but that entailed actually looking. Laboriously getting to his feet, Daniel stepped widely around the still form to drop down onto his knees again, his fingers ghosted near the reddened wood of the spear, the tip buried in the ground, nearly hidden by Jack's overhanging body. A small pool of blood formed a lake at the impact point, dark, thick and oily.
White noise clamored in Daniel's head, making thought all but impossible; grief and rage burned dimly across the static. Red glistened before his eyes, poised on numb fingers that had tasted his friend's still-warm blood spilled upon the ground before him. Gently it steamed in the chill of the dark alien forest.
Almost too late he flung himself around as the contents of his stomach sought egress. Hunched over his knees, his nose almost in the mess that had been a cold breakfast a few hours ago, Daniel heaved again and again, glad for it, anything to wipe away the sharp tang that burned his nose and the soft, near inaudible struggle for breath.
His rebelling body gave his stalled mind time to recoup, to armor his sanity and throw a hasty scab over his heart. His arms tightened around his sore, convulsing, yet empty, middle, an age-old act of self-comfort. Finally he slowly straightened to sightlessly face the obscured sky, breathing raggedly.
This moment of false calm shattered as voices drifted among the surrounding trees. Frantically Daniel pushed away both the returning white noise and the vision of the quivering spear.
'Just do it, Daniel.'
Do what? Let them find us? Daniel's hand dropped to the still warm, recently used weapon holstered at his side. No. Staying here meant killing or being killed, but Jack...
'Just do it, Daniel.'
Before the thought could fully form, Daniel was sprinting in the direction of the voices, toward possible danger. The same direction he and Jack had traveled toward all day. His gut amazingly told him that going that way, pulling the natives back in the direction they came from would protect his injured friend. And maybe, just maybe Sam and Teal'c would find Jack before they tired of chasing him.
Teal'c stopped -- that had always raised at least one of Carter's antennas. Immediately she would zero in on the colonel, his reaction let her know why Teal'c stopped. Because try as she might she still hadn't learned to read the Jaffa.
Teal'c wasn't her only tough read, she was still trying to figure out her CO and he was human. When he was the subject of her intense scrutiny for some reason the word 'hot' always popped into her head, one of these days she was afraid he'd catch her sudden blush when that happened.
All of SG-1 were trying to figure each other out - that and this crazy thing called the Stargate. They had the working together part down pat; it was the insight into one another that still wasn't quite there yet. She wished it were; she needed it. Since the colonel was nowhere in sight, she resorted to just staring at Teal'c expectantly -- hoping that it wasn't some kind of cultural insult to do so.
"Side arms. Two shots."
"Daniel and the colonel."
"That I cannot ascertain, CaptainCarter."
"I didn't hear it."
"It is far."
Sam Carter raised her watch, checked its face, then the surroundings, all actions to give her time to make a decision, to weigh her options. There were none, her course of action was clear.
"Come on, let's see how fast we can shorten that distance."
She started back up the trail at a fast trot. Teal'c, typically silent, mirrored her actions with amazing grace and matched her pace. Something told her to pick it up, and she did, more than once. Teal'c stayed with her every step of the way. She hoped she could keep up the tempo; it had been a long walk.
Daniel was having second thoughts about rushing headlong toward the voices. His weapon thumped against his leg, but he didn't want to kill, not unless he had to; that he'd already done and it still burned sourly; a thick ache low in his gut that threatened to spill out and foul the air he sucked in greedily. The rush of blood through his ears nearly drowned out the voices he aimed for.
Jack had told him once that he had good instincts, that if he listened to them more often he'd not get into the messes he did. He thought that perhaps now was the time and veered off the trail and into the brush and trees, making as much noise as possible, but not using his voice.
When the voices raised to shouts he knew he'd made the right decision. Amending his direction he hoped he was paralleling the beaten track. Crashing in the brush told him he was close and pushed his stumbling run. Once he was certain they were behind him he veered again, back to the trail and crossed it at a dead run. Shouts echoed up the hollow space it made in the forest. He'd been seen.
Daniel knew he should have been watching where he was going, but he only had eyes for what might be catching up to him from the rear -- where all the commotion was. He never saw what felled him; and he didn't see much after that either. His glasses were the first casualty.
Stunned into immobility on the ground, his inner voice screamed for him to get up and run. It sounded just like Jack, and just as loud too; it almost drowned out the sudden quiet of the forest. Daniel's breath quickened in his chest, the animal part of him knew what this was; they were listening for him. He was being hunted.
As quietly as possible he scrabbled around in the litter of the forest with his hands, searching by touch for his glasses, occasionally swiping at something that leaked into his eyes. After a few fruitless minutes he stopped to squint at his sleeve. It was dark and damp. He explored his head, and found a gash awakened into painful existence by his fingers. The headache slammed into him fast on the heels of that discovery.
Daniel strained to hear through the pounding in his head; sounds began to return to the forest around him as the forest animals returned to their routine. Long minutes stretched until he heard other sounds he could not explain, these sounds drove him into the brush to hide and wait out the danger that his gut said was coming.
The hair on his arms and legs stood to attention when the line of native warriors slipped by him, his vision grayed out as he held his breath, afraid that it would somehow alert them. His respect of Jack skyrocketed; even if the man considered this mundane he had to have nerves of iron and guts of steel. Unlike his own which threatened to loosen and embarrass him at any second.
Trees and bushes bounced in her vision, and Carter was thankful that Teal'c's stride matched her own. If he had bounced differently from the rest she would heave for sure.
Carter adjusted her grip on her MP-5, hugging it close to help support her aching chest and relieve the rub of certain sensitive areas; thinking that she really was going to have to wear non-regulation bras if running remained such a large portion of this assignment.
Only minutes before she had tried the radio again. No answer. She hated not knowing; about anything, that was one of her biggest motivations in life. Usually it was about cosmic theories or equations; but at the moment she really hated not knowing if Daniel and the colonel were all right.
Carter mentally kicked herself when Teal'c pointed out what looked like bodies on the trail ahead. The colonel would have her ass if he knew she'd zoned out under conditions like this. She blushed as another thought oozed up from lower in her mind, she hoped she was red enough from huffing up the trail that Teal'c wouldn't notice the evidence of her libidinous thoughts.
Astonished that she had such reserves Carter pushed past the bodies to stop short of the trees, leaving Teal'c behind. He stood where he had stopped, just short of reaching the still figures. Neither teammate showed the least interest in them, each scanned the forest walls, alert for any movement or sound.
Carter broke the silence.
"We are alone."
"Good, let's see to the colonel," Carter knew it was him from even the quick glance she could spare while securing the area. She'd stared at that man's backside far too long to not recognize it now.
Teal'c couched down close to O'Neill's face and thoughtfully studied the unmoving man.
"He is impaled."
Carter watched the heft of the spear quiver and imagined she heard the colonel make a sound.
As if in answer the spear quivered again, and this time she was certain she heard him make a sound.
"Sir, can you hear me?"
Another spear quiver, a kind of croaking choke, and the fingers curled inward over the exposed palm of the colonel's gloved hand.
'I believe he said 'you think'."
Carter looked at Teal'c and mouthed the phrase; he nodded his head in affirmation. Maybe communication with him wasn't as alien as she was trying to make it, she mused.
"Teal'c, does it goes all the way through him?" Teal's nodded again. Carter eyed the spear, about two feet of shaft hung quivering in space between her and the Jaffa. She pushed to stand from the one knee she had rested on and moved around to face her CO, dropping to both knees to get a better look at where the spear emerged.
It looked to be about five inches of spear and tip protruding from his web-vest. He'd been paring down uniform and equipment weight, complaining that when the team needed to move they needed to move fast, this would reverse that trend. Maybe there was something new in R&D she could suggest, something that would fend off spears... arrows... knives... staff blasts. Someday -- she hoped.
"Sir, how are you feeling?" Carter didn't want to touch him until she knew as much as possible.
'Peachy. Just... resting." His voice was faint and breathy, but clearer.
"Unfortunately Sir, you picked the middle of the road for your nap."
"That's okay, Sir. I think this comes under 'rank has its privileges.' "
"Rank is overrated, Captain. Now get me up."
"Teal'c," O'Neill croaked weakly while bouncing his hand on the ground making it look like a turtled spider.
Between Teal'c and Carter they pried O'Neill to a sitting position. The spear frozen in mid-flight by its intersection with his body made Carter ill at ease.
O'Neill leaned heavily on his right hand, as his left one pressed into his side, the tip of the spear poked out from between his fingers, runnels of thick red oozed across them. His eyes were closed, his face was tilted towards the ground, and he looked as if he would slide to it at any second. Carter hovered worriedly, wanting to help, but did not know how.
"Whoa, is the ground moving?"
"No, O'Neill. It is not."
"Then... that isn't good."
"Just a little woozy is..."
"O'Neill, someone comes."
Carter watched as the colonel cracked open an eye, then the other. He appeared to be listening. He looked at Teal'c, and then briefly stared at her before peering pointedly around.
"Teal'c where are they coming from?" The big Jaffa pointed up the trail in answer, O'Neill continued. "And, where is Daniel?"
He never got his answer, the building noise from the indicated direction came on with the speed of a freight train, and just as noisily. The racket resolved into shouts from human throats, and Carter dropped to a one-kneed firing position next to O'Neill, ready to defend him. Teal'c brought up the tip of his staff weapon covering his back. Both of them missed the flash of pain as Jack's face paled even more, his hand pressed harder into his side. Yet he forced his head up to face the threat.
Carter wondered what O'Neill must have been thinking as he calmly waited for what was about to burst out of the trees. There had to number at least a dozen or so to make that much noise. A sidelong glance at her CO, with the spear bobbing behind him convinced her they weren't friendlies. Briefly O'Neill's question echoed across the torrent of thoughts this new danger engendered; just where was Daniel? First she needed to protect her injured CO and defend the team.
She sighted her weapon at that point where the trail disappeared into dense brush, Carter's finger tightened on the trigger. She was determined not to go down without one hell of a fight.
As the slight rustling faded in the distance Daniel sagged in relief. He'd succeeded in drawing the natives away. Now, could he get back to Jack without a crowd?
Snaking his way between brushes and trees Daniel crawled on his belly, adding scratches and scrapes to his growing collection. Without his glasses, his myopia transformed the forest into foggy, ghostly shapes; and avoiding them all wasn't in the cards. Just as he began to believe he had actually slipped away unnoticed, something crashed toward him. He froze, closed his eyes and thought of sweet Sha're's face. Closer and closer came whatever it was, and he soon recognized the sound of someone running -- straight at him!
Daniel gasped in pain as something hit him in the ribs, and then bucked as that something fell atop him. He fought to push up from the ground only to find himself looking into the face of a young man, almost a boy in age. The boy's dark eyes widened and became round in terror. Then it happened, the boy began screaming.
Daniel felt his mouth drop open in surprise, totally dumbfounded by the youth's reaction. His surprise was soon overtaken by panic; he lurched up and launched himself at the boy. He had to stop the screaming or the whole troop of armed natives would head in this direction. All his risk couldn't be for nothing.
Placing a hand over the boy's mouth got him bit. Laying on the youth got him jabbed and pounded with balled fists. That forced him up enough to then play host to vicious kicks from skinny legs. The boy was more panicked than him he realized.
'Just do it, Daniel.'
Jack's voice calmed him. He drew back his arm, balled his fist and swung at the young man's jaw as hard as he could, and wound up sprawled over him, breathing hard with the exertion of his punch. The screaming, yelling and fighting was gone. But the crashing of bodies hurling through the forest was back. Dropping his head to the ground he bounced his forehead a few times, wincing in pain from the gash, yet he hardly noticed in his frustration.
Many possibilities flashed across his mind as Jack's voice chanted: 'Just do it, Daniel.'
Finally he knew what he had to do. Jack might not approve, but he wasn't Jack. Soon he was free and running; jumping brushes, downed logs and imagined enemies; allowing his fear to fuel his flight, and hoping that his leaps of faith across the unfocussed landscape wouldn't end with a broken leg.
He heard the uproar of voices when the boy was found; he hoped that his knots would slow them down. That hope died as a human bray filled the air between where he'd left the boy trussed in the cording he used to measure with, and himself. Some of the natives had broken off and were in hot pursuit.
The increasing volume of noise illustrated his pursuer's slow whittling down of the distance between them.
Daniel almost fell when his boots hit the hard surface of the trail; a hurried grab at a convenient bush swung his momentum down the trail, leaving him a palm full of stickers that stung woefully.
He didn't know from where he got the energy, but as soon as he heard the slap of other feet on the trail Daniel pushed faster and harder, picking up the pace. He ignored the roaring in his ears, the added pain in his side from oxygen starved lungs and pushed for more.
Somehow Daniel knew that if they caught him he would be just as dead as the native that Jack shot, as the one he shot. He didn't want to die.
Fleetingly he thought of the weapon bruising his leg at every step. He didn't want to kill just as badly as he wanted to live. So he pushed even harder, using his hands to dive through a narrowing of the trail -- past encroaching bushes. Something hit him hard between the shoulder blades, he staggered, recovered and staggered again before finally flying headlong down the trail beyond the bushes and skidded to a stop too stunned to move.
Carter brought up the muzzle of her MP-5 and slowly swung it in an arc to cover the trail in the direction of the commotion. Teal's staff weapon buzzed, snapped and sizzled as the business end opened. Whatever appeared would be in for a hot reception.
"No. Hold your fire." Jack struggled to push himself into a sitting position; he hadn't the faintest idea why he issued that order. Carter eyed him doubtfully as the shouts and screams drew nearer, the crashing of bodies hurling through the brush was harsh and close. Teal'c stood calmly, just as Jack had imagined he would stand before his false-god if his beliefs had ever been discovered -- serenity before death. 'I die free.'
They waited; there was no sense in trying to run. There wasn't any time.
It was almost anticlimactic when Daniel staggered out of the brush-choked trail, his balance rapidly deteriorated before their eyes. And just like that, he was down and slid to a stop between them and the forest wall; and in the blink of an eye that misnamed wall erupted with screaming, spear-toting natives, all bent on getting to Daniel.
O'Neill knew they were in a tough spot, no matter how many Carter and Teal'c could stop with their weapons the others would overrun them. And as always, the strangest thoughts crossed one's mind under pressure like this. He grabbed at this one because it would snatch their collective bacon from the fire.
He'd remembered his anger at having not received their new two-ways. Now it was a genuine stroke of luck. Gritting his teeth against the almost overwhelming pain O'Neill reached over and activated Carter's radio at the same time he did his, yanking her off-balance and onto the ground in his haste to get the radios as close as possible. The screech was horrific as he fiddled with the squelch.
The electronic scream made it difficult to hang onto consciousness and focus on his simple task. He missed the natives' panicked stop and their shocked expressions. Only Teal'c actually saw the impossible widening of their attacker's eyes and wondered at why they did not dislodge and fall from their heads just before they all turned tail and ran for their lives.
O'Neill twisted the squelch a few more times for good measure -- then let go -- just stopping his slump with both arms. When his aborted move jarred the spear he swallowed the whimper that bubbled up.
Carter dropped and rolled away from him, came to her knees with her weapon at the ready, one very large grin on her face.
A blast of energy from behind him startled O'Neill; Teal'c was firing over the native's heads - barely.
Carter climbed to her feet and headed for Daniel's prone form stretched out in the dust of the trail, O'Neill let his hand flop down inadvertently pushing the pain around the spear to new heights. There was something to be said about impending danger; it made a great pain killer. He curled up on himself, dropping his head as he attempted to hug at the agony with his arm.
The man's large hand helped support him as he rode out the twinge, his breath nearly stolen from his lungs for a spilt second.
"Teal'c, you wanna pull this damned thing out for me," he couldn't help the tiny bit of whine in his voice.
"I do not believe that is advisable."
O'Neill didn't bother to answer as they both watched Carter help Daniel sit cross-legged on the trail. Sitting meant he was alive, not that either doubted that for a moment. Daniel didn't look so good. Blood dripped across his face and onto his chest from a gash big enough for O'Neill to see from his command position on the ground.
Daniel wobbled a few times after he gained his feet, but Carter was there with a hand firmly wrapped around his upper arm. She smiled.
Relief washed through O'Neill, more than he expected. He liked Daniel; the guy had saved his life and then given him a reason to keep it. And even as he reasoned that out, something deep inside him automatically filed away Carter's smile, number 277; just one more stone to build his defenses in the dark hours before dawn.
Daniel let the pen slip from his hand and drop to the blanket over his hips, his glasses joined it as he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He squinted across the darkened room to the other bed dimly lit by a similar elbowed light as his own. Jack's face was shadowed, more by the lighting than his ordeal.
He had survived very well being skewered. Janet had found the real problem, a large goose egg-sized lump hidden in his hair above his temple. The shock of the spear had sent him headlong into a rock embedded in the hard packed soil of the trail. That was why he lay insensate for so long, in part.
The spear had gone more under the skin of his side, beneath the ribs. Causing some heavy bleeding, similar to that associated with a scalp wound, as his own proved. He and Jack were stuck in the Infirmary until Dr. Fraiser was convinced that neither had suffered a concussion or slow bleed, or an infection from their wounds. Especially Jack, he'd been out for a long time. There was a possibility he had been drugged; something had been smeared on the spear. The guys in the lab were excited, enough so to demand they go back. Hammond had only frowned at them and they scattered like mice before a cat.
Someone else could go back, Daniel wanted to forget he'd ever been there. But for long minutes the scenes and horror of what he'd done and what had happened occupied his thoughts. Only a croaked demand from his sleeping roommate broke him free of the vicious cycle.
"Dwell." Daniel could see Jack's eyes glitter as he stared at him from his bed,
"Just do it, Daniel. Put it behind you. Shit happens." Jack shut his eyes and was softly snuffling in his sleep before Daniel could pull words out to do exactly that, dwell on what had happened.
Daniel snuggled further into the relative softness of the bed and quickly ran alternative solutions to what had happened. In all he and/or Jack and the rest of SG-1 were injured or killed. And a far greater death toll resulted in the native population. As much as he wished he couldn't, he had to admit it. Jack was right. Sometimes shooting first and asking questions later was the solution with the least damage to both sides.
He had survived. He knew that with life there was hope. And even Jack understood there were other solutions. Daniel was adamant that in the future he would provide those solutions for Jack before he was forced to shoot first, and then ask questions.
"I'll just do it, Jack."
With this firm resolution in mind, Daniel flicked off the light and closed his eyes. Sleep was slow in coming, but he slept without waking.
Original Header Information:
Title: Hard Lessons