Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters all belong to Sony and Sci Fi, mostly, even though I don't think they were ever properly taken care of. I just borrowed them for a few short minutes, and put them back as they were. I swear. ;)
Note: This story is old, but it's the holidays and thought I'd offer it up.
The Most Wonderful
Sometimes Jack really wished he had a normal job. He thought he'd make a mighty impressive accountant, for example, except he really didn't like number crunching all that much. A mechanic, maybe. He did like to get his hands dirty, and cars were full of possibilities. And they were safe. So, yeah. Jack wished he were a mechanic right now. A mechanic wouldn't still be at work. A mechanic would have scrubbed all the grime and grease from underneath his fingernails with some Lava soap and a vegetable brush and would be doing something...normal.
"I thought you said Merganser was not a threat," Jack said. "'She was a non-threatening goddess, Jack.' That's what you said, exact words."
The sad thing was that it should have been normal. There would have been snow. Hell, of course there would have. When they'd left on this mission there had already been a couple of inches on the ground. How long ago had that been? He couldn't remember. It probably felt longer than it actually was, because time was aggravatingly relative. There would have been food, too. Good, fattening food. There would have been drinks, liquid touched by enough fermented or distilled grain or grapes to make a person happy. There would have been some damned jolly good cheer. Most of all, there would have been days off. The whole picture, the scene in his head, was one of total normalcy. It was something they got so rarely that it was treasured.
"Meretseger is considered a minor Goa'uld, O'Neill," Teal'c answered him. Wrong person, Jack thought, not who should have replied. "There was no indication she yet remained on this planet."
Jack swiped a hand across his brow. Add a few potatoes, maybe some carrots, salt and he might be convinced their prison was actually a Crock Pot and SG-1 was the main course. It was uncomfortably warm and getting worse by the second. And he wasn't the one with a raging fever. He shifted. His entire right side was stiff and sore from holding one position too long, but every time he moved away, Daniel started to shiver and shake. He wondered if Daniel dreamt of snow, if his dreams were filled with subconscious coping mechanisms. O, come all ye faithful.
"Well, apparently that wasn't really reliable information."
"There remains no evidence that the Goa'uld is, in fact, here."
He didn't really want to take up a grand debate about the issue, not with Teal'c. Jack wasn't even sure why he'd brought it up again. It wasn't doing any good to gripe about their situation. It was just so damn hot, and he thought the air might be getting thinner in there. His head hurt as much as his heart was starting to ache.
"How's Carter?" Jack said.
He shifted again. Daniel moaned, a barely there sound from a body weakened by sickness. Jack reached for the canteen. It felt light. He shook it. There was a reason it felt light. He'd tried to ration it, but the longer they were stuck here, the harder it was to deprive Daniel and Carter of the tiny amount of relief lukewarm water on a bandana provided. He swallowed thickly, aroudn a dry throat. It had been more difficult still to not give his sick friends as much to drink as they needed. He opened the canteen anyway, and tipped it against the bandana just enough to dampen it. He tried not to think about how little good it was doing, and failed. He placed the soaked cloth on Daniel's brow.
"How much water do you have left?"
Jack sighed. He'd known the answer before he asked the question. He looked around the antechamber for the umpteenth time. It wasn't as though they hadn't tried to get out. He was afraid his and Teal'c's skill set wasn't quite geared to the type of escape that was needed here. No, the holders of that skill set were currently lying in feverish unconsciousness, as they had for at least a day. The way Jack figured it, something Carter or Daniel had touched, read or photographed had caused the wall of solid rock to slide in front of the exit and so something else inside this makeshift tomb must make the rock retract again. Because neither he nor Teal'c had done anything but stand watch, back turned to their friends, he had no idea what that might be. With no starting point and no idea what they were reading, he and Teal'c had been doomed to failure.
"I'm concerned," Jack admitted.
Neither of them had said the words, but he was sure both of them had felt it. He glanced sideways at Teal'c and Carter. Like Daniel's, her cheeks were flushed and her body soaked with sweat. He kind of wished the closed entrance had left them in total darkness, because seeing his friends suffer wasn't pleasant. The dim light did tell him the chamber wasn't completely sealed, as did the fact they hadn't run out of fresh air. He had to take the blessings along with the curses. Part of him wanted to shake the body lying limply against him, and yell for Daniel to wake up already because this had never even started out as fun.
"As am I," Teal'c said.
Now that they had said it, Jack didn't really want to go into greater detail. There wasn't much more that could be said; about as much as could be done. It was a subject hard to not think about, though. Daniel shifted against him in small, distressed movements. He reached his hand down. He felt the heat from Daniel's forehead before his hand even reached it. Something had to give, and no way was it going to be his friends. He took the hot bandana away, resisting the urge to fling it across the chamber in frustration.
"I know we've gone over this before, but are you sure you can't decipher some of this?" Jack brushed at Daniel's damp hair, not really caring what that particular act looked like. He could coddle his possibly dying team member, his friend; it was his right. "Go over Daniel's notes again?"
They had played this out too many times already, but Jack was at a loss for what else they might do. Would it be better to wallow in things missed, things normal? Wish for eggnog and turkey and festively wrapped gifts? The packages sitting in his closet were simply different kinds of boxes that they were powerless to open at this moment in time, and thinking about them didn't help.
"I regret Daniel Jackson did not have the opportunity to make notations of significant value," Teal'c said.
"What do you know about this Goa'uld?" Maybe something in its history would help them. "Anything?"
"Nothing more than Daniel Jackson shared in the mission briefing, O'Neill. Meretseger on Earth was a protector of royal tombs. She was represented as a cobra. Anyone attempting to gain illicit entrance to the tombs would be struck down by her poison."
Just like Carter and Daniel had been. He somehow didn't remember that bit from the briefing. If he had remembered, he would have stopped his friends from futzing around in there. Jack leaned his head back against the rough, hot stone. He really needed to pay closer attention to his people, not simply trust that they knew what was best. He'd made a critical error here, possibly even a fatal one.
God bless us, everyone.
"So they've been poisoned? But the Goa'uld isn't here."
"Booby," Teal'c said.
He knew what Teal'c meant, of course. Teal'c shifted Carter closer as she began to shiver violently. Jack didn't know how Carter and Daniel could have become infected with a poison while he and Teal'c remained unharmed. The truth was, he didn't really give a damn about the hows so much as the how-to-get-outs.
"Daniel Jackson also mentioned that it was said Meretseger would heal those who repent."
"How do you repent when you're incoherent?"
"I do not know, nor do I know if that claim has basis in anything other than myth."
A normal guy would be watching a football game - any football game - right now, and eating cheesy poofs and little weinies with barbecue sauce. A normal guy would...Daniel started wriggling against him, pulling Jack away from his daydreams of all things ordinary before they could really get started. Even in unconsciousness, Daniel went against the grain. He hoped that would be useful now. He looked down, hoping for signs of returning consciousness. No such luck.
"Not a creature was stirring," Jack said. "Except for this mouse."
He must be succumbing to the heat. His brain was melting or something. This was not a Christmas story he'd want to retell if he, by chance, survived it. 'Remember the year two of the people under my command got sick and died and all I did was watch it happen? Yeah, good times, good times. Pass me the bourbon.'
"Today is the day before the Tau'ri holiday of Christmas," Teal'c said, "Is it not?"
Was it? Yeah, it probably was. It felt to Jack as though they'd been stuck in this tomb for weeks, but that couldn't be true. They would have run out of water a long time ago. They would have starved. They had only left the SGC on December 22nd, he remembered now. He had to say he resented SG-11 just a little bit; this was supposed to be their gig. Alien chicken pox, chicken schmox. He reached for Daniel's forehead again, a movement already ingrained as habit.
"Yeah. I bought you something really cool, by the way. You'll love it."
Jack spoke like they were going to get out of here. Hammond would have sent help a long time ago. This was, again, something both of them knew but didn't want to say. SG1's mission was only supposed to have lasted a day. They should be at his house right now, opening those gifts.
"Of that I am certain," Teal'c told him. Jack had an overwhelming feeling Teal'c didn't really mean it. Shopping for a one hundred or so year old Jaffa warrior wasn't exactly easy. "I, too, have found most suitable gifts for you, Captain Carter and Daniel Jackson."
He smiled. Last year Teal'c had misunderstood one of the primary rules of Christmas, and Jack had received a box of rocks from him. At least Jack assumed there'd been a misunderstanding. This year, the T man was fairly bustling with holiday cheer, or had been until they got locked in their own box of rocks. It was the hap-happiest season of all.
"I only really want one thing this year," he said. His rodent of unusual size stirred some more, and so did Teal'c's. "Well, maybe three things."
"What was that?" Jack said. It wasn't like Teal'c to mumble. He looked over. Teal'c had his gaze on Carter.
"It was Captain Carter."
There really was a Santa Claus. He moved, his first instinct to go to Carter and Teal'c. Daniel made a small noise of unconscious protest, once again reminding him his time and space were not his own. Still, he shifted so his entire view was not of Daniel's sweaty hair. It's not like they were far away from each other. The damned Goa'uld trap didn't leave them with much space.
"Mmmmph," Carter said again.
This time when he moved Daniel moved back, cracking his head against Jack's lip. It was surprisingly painful. He grunted and struggled to sit up without losing much contact with Daniel. Jack gave it up, letting Daniel sag for a moment while he got himself in order. A few seconds of chill were survivable. He peered at Daniel's face, hoping to see similar signs of rousing as Carter experienced. One early Christmas gift was great, but two would be better. One and two made three, after all. Things were definitely looking up.
"Hey, Carter," he said.
Teal'c glared at him, like that was the dumbest thing he could have said. Well, Carter didn't look like she was waking up that fast. He was worried she wasn't waking up at all, only tossing in feverish fitfulness. Nudging was good sometimes. Teal'c should nudge, since he was the one closest to her. Jack glared at the other man right back.
"It is all right, Captain Carter," Teal'c said, with tenderness Jack didn't expect. "Are you able to open your eyes?"
"Mmm, don't want to," Carter said. "Hot in here."
Not the best first words he'd ever heard, but he wasn't going to argue against them either. Teal'c shook Carter gently, in an attempt to keep her partially conscious. Carter, in turn, shook her head back and forth. Like he and Sam were synchronized swimmers, Daniel suddenly became even more squirrelly. That wasn't such a bad thing. So far, their illness had matched patterns very closely. What happened with one happened with the other.
"It is indeed most uncomfortable."
"No air conditioning?"
Carter was always a bit slow to wake. They'd played musical night watches until Jack had figured out it was best for her to start off the night, then sleep until she was good and ready to get up. The same was actually true of Daniel, too, but he wasn't quite as...unpredictable if not woken properly. Even after adequate sleep, Carter tended to be sluggish unless it was an emergency situation. He had no idea how she knew one from the other. He didn't really want to know.
"Definitely no A/C, Carter," he said. "Do you remember where we are?"
That got her eyes open, if just barely. Carter glanced around the room. In the dim lighting, Jack could still tell she wasn't really focusing very well. Her eyes were fever bright. He twisted around a bit to look at Daniel, who was still frustratingly out of it.
"My right eye is a cotton ball," Carter said.
At least that's what Jack thought she said. She wasn't speaking very clearly. It didn't matter whether her speech was slurred or she wasn't making any sense, either option didn't bode well. Teal'c sat up straighter, bringing Carter with him. She stayed mostly put, which was a good thing but not a good enough thing to offset her strange words.
"Feels like." Carter closed her eyes again. Her head flopped back a little, prompting her to reopen them. "What happened?"
Ah, crap. If she didn't know and he and Teal'c didn't know, Jack wondered what the chances were Daniel would know. A betting man would say slim. He wasn't a betting man, but he thought he'd still go all in on Daniel. Mostly because there wasn't any other answer, really. Daniel had to know, and believing anything else was not on the table.
"We are uncertain," Teal'c said.
"Actually, we'd hoped you would be able to tell us," Jack said. Daniel banged his head back again, catching him on the jaw this time. He grunted. "We were busy covering the exit."
"I remember..." Carter crinkled her eyebrows together. It looked like thinking caused her pain, or whatever she was thinking about was causing pain. "Daniel said 'uh oh'."
"Generally not a good thing. What else?"
That wasn't good. The fever and unconsciousness hadn't set in right away. There should be something in Carter's memory about that in-between time.
"Are you certain, Captain Carter?" Teal'c said.
Carter became more alert at the prompt. She eased out of Teal'c's hold, shaky but determined. Consciousness was starting to be real for her. Good. Daniel moved his head again. This time Jack was prepared, and he avoided getting clocked by the unconscious man.
"Uhm. It started getting hot, I think?" Carter said. "Everything was blurry. I couldn't see very well. My head is...was muddled."
"It's okay, Carter," Jack said. It wasn't okay. "Maybe something will come to you if you don't try too hard."
And there was a bridge Jack was trying to sell to himself or anyone else who was a sucker. He didn't want to push Carter, though he should. They still had a few MREs left to go with the two swallows of water. They'd be just peachy for another day or so. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, he thought, let your heart be light. Speaking of light, he noticed Daniel didn't seem to be quite as heavy anymore. A quick glance down revealed bleary eyes looking back up at him.
"Hey." He loosened his grip. Daniel tipped away from him. Jack grappled to regain his hold, darting a look at Teal'c and Carter to make sure T at least was aware of the change in Daniel's status. He didn't really have to worry about that. Teal'c was as alert and on top of things as always. "Hey."
Daniel didn't respond, didn't even blink, and for a second Jack was pretty damn terrified. Maybe Carter's strange words and slurring weren't just her groping for awareness. Maybe Daniel had been closer to whatever had made them sick. Maybe, maybe, maybe. He took a cue from Teal'c's handling of Carter, shaking Daniel gently. It did the trick. Daniel blinked.
"You with us?"
"Well, of course." Daniel said it like he had been awake and clearheaded the whole duration of the mission.
Jack squinted, then frowned. The hollowness in Daniel's eyes persisted, a definite sign that he was still feverish. As if the heat pouring off of the guy wasn't enough of a clue. Grandma got run over by a reindeer. See, a regular person with a regular job would be listening to tacky Christmas anthems right now, like the ones that kept plaguing his thoughts. He desperately wanted to blink and genie his team home; he was tired of having his chestnuts roasted like this.
"Are you sure?"
Daniel blinked slowly again, his eyelids clicking when he opened his eyes back up. Jack watched him closely as his gaze took in their surroundings, such as they were. No holly, no mistletoe, no fake pine garland. Daniel probably didn't even remember it was Christmas, and it was about time for he himself to stop wallowing. He didn't even know why he was honing in on missing Christmas so much. Obsessing about it. He wasn't a huge holiday fanatic. Well, he wasn't before. He couldn't really say that now. Bring a torch, Jeannette, Isabella.
"It's so hot in here."
"I know. I know it is," Jack said. "We're on a hot planet, stuck in a hot chamber."
He sighed at Daniel's uncomprehending stare. Damnit all, anyway. Daniel and Carter were both too sick to be of much good. Carter might have been a bit more spry about it, but it didn't take a genius to figure out his geniuses were playing with half decks or maybe even less than that.
"Uh oh, he said, uh oh, we should get out of here."
"Daniel, sir." Carter was making sense now, yet Jack couldn't help thinking she sounded worse, random. It was probably that he didn't want to hear what she was saying. "Daniel said we should get out of here."
"I know I can do it. I just need to find the coverstone," Daniel chimed in. "Don't worry, I'll get us out of here."
Coverstone? What the...?
"Of what coverstone do you speak, Daniel Jackson?"
"No coverstone. I didn't say coverstone. Sam's right, we should get out of here."
Jack's head was starting to really hurt, increasing in pain right in time with his rising confusion. He didn't think that Carter and Daniel were simply leaping ahead of him in logic. He didn't think they were making much sense at all. That wasn't new to him, per se, but it was damned alarming.
"No, that was you," Jack said. "You said that."
Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go nuts in this conversation? Jack stared at Daniel. Oh, yeah, there was still a pretty high fever going on. This bit of consciousness must be part of the cycle, like back when Daniel and Carter had first started spouting gobbledygook.
"Daniel, I know this is tough, but you've got to focus. You too, Carter." He tapped Daniel's cheek. "I know you're hot and I know you're a lot more confused than you think you are, but Teal'c and I tried everything we know to get out of here."
"Yes," Daniel said. "Exactly."
Now, if he were at home and Daniel was saying this stuff because he'd had a drink or two, then that would be normal. Humorous, even. Mopey ol' Doc Jackson tended to be a pretty happy drunk. But he wasn't at home and Daniel hadn't had more than a few swallows of water and this was not such a good thing. Jack exchanged a frustrated glance with Teal'c.
"Teal'c read the walls and we kneeled down over there and we tried to dig out. This place is us-proof. We're hoping it's not you-proof."
"General Hammond will send help," Carter said. "I'm sure of it. The walls sure are pretty."
The walls were anything but pretty, but he'd overlook that. Carter hadn't spent the last who-knew-how-long looking them. Even imagining them decked like the halls with boughs of holly didn't pretty them up. Jack sighed. He wished he could lay off the Christmas songs.
"No. He won't." Jack thought that sounded pretty sane. He risked a look down at Daniel, who was gazing off toward the wall. "Hammond won't send anyone No help. We're all dead."
"Hey, don't talk like that," Jack said. The admonishment was a bit hypocritical, considering he was fairly certain they were all screwed. "We'll be home for Christmas."
"I feel sick." Carter dry heaved. "Am I sick?"
"Yes, Captain Carter," Teal'c told her. Jack closed his eyes. There was a slight buzz in his ears from the headache, making Teal'c's voice resonate. "You are quite ill."
"Focus, people. Focus," Jack said, putting as much authority in his voice as he could. "Daniel, Carter, is there anything we might not have thought of to get out of here? Anything at all?"
"We're not dead, dead. We're all dead becau..." Daniel paused to retch a little. Looked as though the next phase of illness, or Goa'uld poison, wasn't going to be pretty. He rubbed Daniel's arm while the guy tensed up and shook against him. "Ugh."
"You going to be okay?"
"Not really, Jack. I feel like I dra...herp...drank too much of your eggnog." Daniel coughed and groaned. Jack feared there'd soon be spewing of bile. He was pleased by the insult, though. It meant Daniel was focusing. He squeezed Daniel's arm. "We're all dead because the trap...urgh...makes it look like the temple collapsed. General Hammond wouldn't send a rescue team. He'd send a recovery team."
That wasn't what he wanted to hear. He waited. Daniel had this much information; he might just have more. He should have put money on Daniel, and he'd soon be swimming in it. He heard Carter gagging mutedly. He couldn't really look at her. The sound was enough of a reminder that time was of the essence. Teal'c said something, also muted. Jack suddenly had a realization. Christmas dinner and gifts and the scent of pine might be all he had been obsessed with, but that was a decoy. Getting home for Christmas would be fantastic. Keeping his team from being entombed here forever was much better.
"They all think we're dead," Daniel said again.
"Well, we're not." Jack knew he sounded belligerent. "And I would prefer not to be."
Daniel dry heaved some more, an intensive bout that left him gasping for breath. Jack jerked forward when Daniel did, trying to prevent the guy from planting his face on the stone floor. For several minutes, it was all he could do, except maybe wince in unwavering sympathy. Dry heaving sucked after a long spell of puking, but to start out at that stage seemed like hell to him.
"I don't know, Jack, being dead sometimes beats the alternative."
There was such wearied pain in the tone that it hurt him. He was angry with Daniel for admitting that, but he also understood. He got Daniel resituated next to him. He hated that he couldn't' do more. He hated that he couldn't let either Daniel or Carter relax. Jack visually checked in with Teal'c again, seeing immediately that he was not alone in the impossible task of providing comfort. Carter's face was ashen, a sheen of sweat on her forehead and upper lip. He couldn't bring himself to confirm that Daniel looked the same.
"Not really." He tried to sound lighthearted, but didn't feel that way and so failed miserably. He coughed. Was the air dry in here? No dwelling. He'd already wasted too much time doing that; he couldn't let Daniel or Carter do the same. "So, the Goa'uld rigged it somehow. Why?"
"To make sure whomever got suck in here would...ugh...die, sir." Carter sounded near tears - of pain, frustration, of just plain weariness. He stared over at her. "No rescue."
"Hammond would dig. They'd figure it out." Hammond hadn't dug, though, and hadn't figured it out, or they'd be out of here. "But what about the repenting thing? Teal'c said if we knelt and offered some serious platitudes, presto chango, the door would open. We tried that, and no go."
"It has to be me and Sam."
Something about this was senseless to him, but then that was nothing new when it came to the Goa'uld. Nothing they did in their power-hungry warmongering really made a lot of sense to him. Made it difficult to mount any type of offensive attack against them, which was why the SGC was so often in reactive situations like this one.
"Why make someone sick, lock them in a room, make it look like a rockslide and then provide the way to fix it?"
"Limited literacy," Daniel said, then he groaned a little Jack felt the muscles of his shoulders thrum faintly. "Anyone who could read it was trustworthy - priests, Jaffa."
"I cannot decipher the markings on the wall, O'Neill. I merely made a supposition."
"Right." Daniel moaned softly again, probably didn't even realize he was doing it. It was a terrible sound. Jack tried to tune it out along with Carter's tiny exhalations of discomfort. "It's a derivation coded specifically by Meretseger, for her Jaffa. Probably."
"What does this mean for us?" Jack said impatiently. He reached for the canteen. It might be a risk to give Carter and Daniel water, but they could probably rinse out their mouths. Carter blinked at him. He tried to smile, fell back on the Christmas thing. "Are we going to get to exchanged gifts or not?"
"Maybe. I need, ugh, to get over there again," Daniel said as he tried to sit up straighter. Oh, this was not going to be easy or fun. Still, Jack felt a tiny glimmer of hope that his last Christmas wish would come true. Provided Daniel could get mobile, stay mobile and finish his translating, of course. "I hope we're having that dressing you made last year, Sam."
The sentiment was made all the more unconvincing by the fact Daniel tried to spew up his actual stomach in lieu of the contents it did not hold. Seemed he wasn't the only one ready to invoke the spirit of Christmas just to keep from thinking about other things, though, and he took some comfort there. Daniel always was a quick study. Carter's cheeky, if weak, reply about the dressing being made by the kind folks at the deli near her house reminded him that she was pretty quick herself.
"Okay. Carter, you stay put until Daniel figures this out." The order was unnecessary. Carter didn't look like she ever wanted to move again. Wrangling Daniel over to where he needed to be, a short few feet, was going to be a challenge. "How much worse is this poison going to get?"
"I remember reading about...herp...pustules so disfiguring family members wouldn't recognize the corpses. I blacked out after that."
Ask a stupid question, get a crappy answer. Fevers and blackouts and disfiguring pustules, these were a few of the Goa'uld's favorite things. No. He was not going to watch his friends die in this newly revealed and horrible way. Jack cleared his throat, and then changed his grip on Daniel. He remembered the water, having been distracted by the oh-so-festive pain and death talk. Instead of pushing Daniel to stand, he uncapped the canteen and shoved it in front of his face. Daniel shook his head.
"Just a swallow, Daniel. You're already dehydrated from fever. Every little bit helps." Surprisingly, his friend complied right away. Jack chewed on his lip when the water intake resulted in a gagging choke. He pretended not to notice. "All right, let's get out of here, shall we?"
As he eased away from Daniel to gain his own feet first, Jack saw Teal'c shuffling around. He looked over for a better view. Carter now lay flat on her back. He hated leaving her on her own, all those five feet away, but he thought he could definitely use the extra muscle, at least initially. He started humming "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and hated himself just a little bit, even though he knew by now that none of them thought that was his only motivation.
"I have been contemplating candied yams, O'Neill," Teal'c said, as conversational as Jack had ever heard him. "With marshmallows. I favor them greatly."
Jack grunted as they lifted Daniel to his feet. He was pretty sure now that Daniel wouldn't be able to lend much assistance, and he was also pretty sure the guy was heavier than he looked. A think trickle of sweat tickled down his back.
"I don't know. I was planning more of a Feliz Navidad this year. Enchiladas. Burritos. Refried beans. The works."
"Can we please not talk..."
Carter once again heaved and blowed. He heard whatever water she had managed to get down splat onto the ground. Daniel whimpered. He and Teal'c had him at the wall in half a second, no lollygagging.
"Go," Daniel said. Jack and Teal'c looked at each other over Daniel's bobbing head. "Help Sam. I'm okay."
Jack tilted his head, another unnecessary order for Teal'c. They set Daniel down gently. He kept his grip while Teal'c went back to Carter's side. There was nothing he could do, still, except rub her back and tell her lies about how she was going to be just fine, but he thought that was better than nothing. Teal'c couldn't help Daniel translate this time.
"What happens when you guys finally say you're sorry for touching the Goa'uld's things?"
"Don't know that yet, and we didn't touch anything." Daniel coughed, ragged and dry. Jack patted his back awkwardly, pretended not to be completely disturbed by it. Behind them, Carter retched. This was getting old. "I can't believe I'm going to, uh, say this, but I miss snow."
Now that said something. Mr. Desert wanted snow. He thought the fever might be getting worse. He made a covert check of the skin at the nape of Daniel's neck; it felt hotter than it had a moment ago. The guy would probably melt a snow angel instead of just displacing snow. Jack frowned.
"Yeah? How're you at building snowmen?"
"Not very good." Daniel lifted his hand and waved it around. "Okay."
"I know it's hokey, but I thought we might do the whole play in the snow, with a hot chocolate chaser thing," Jack said. Actually, that would be...fun. He'd like to have bona fide fun with his team for once. "Or maybe Irish coffees."
"Bailey's, sir," Carter said. "Or peppermint schnapps."
He forgot sometimes that she was a woman.
"That'd work. And plain for Teal'c, naturally."
Carter and Daniel would probably have to spend Christmas in the infirmary. He bet Fraiser could be bribed into letting them decorate the place up. They could piece together something special. Idyllic setting wasn't needed if the right people were present and alive.
"It says Meretseger will heal those who deserve it, and grant access to her chambers."
"Great. Not sure I want in. Out, please."
"The doors should release and the illusion outside disappear." Daniel slumped forward, as if all his energy was now gone, but he wasn't quite done talking. "I don't know if it'll work. The healing part, I mean. Not if the Goa'uld isn't here."
"Doesn't matter. That's why we have the doc. Get us out of here and I'll get you to her."
Never mind that Fraiser might not have the means to fix this. And never mind that SG1's IDC might be defunct already. An extra stop as a safeguard wasn't ideal, but it was doable. The Land of Light might be nice this time of year, and Teal'c might even get to see his family for a second. Daniel attempted what Jack thought was a nod, but ended up being just the downward part of it. He leaned down to make sure the poison hadn't caused another round of unconsciousness. It didn't look good.
"Teal'c, maybe you should get Carter over here." Jack shook Daniel, glad to discover there was still muscle resistance. "Hey, stay with me."
"Janet's fun at Christmas," Daniel said, his eyes still closed. "Even in the infirmary. But you can't be here."
"What do you mean?"
"You and Teal'c have to stand back, as far as you can." Daniel shook, hunched over as if struck by an enormous muscle spasm, so strong Jack momentarily lost his hold. He winced at the sound of head against rock. "In case something goes wrong."
"Sir, he's, urgh, right. If this backfires, you could be infected too."
He nodded. It made sense. Teal'c deposited Carter next to Daniel, lingering at her side. She grabbed at the wall like it was the last piece of cake at the party. It made sense, he reasoned again, but no. He let Daniel go for a second, and then caught him before he smacked into stone again, just to prove a point.
"You guys think you can do this without us?" Jack shook his head, though none of them were looking at him. "Wrong. We stick together this time."
Because that was the only thing normal in this messed up scenario - him and Daniel and Teal'c and Sam. They would always be the constant under extreme circumstances. Things got screwed up when they were apart or together, but he was damn sure things got fixed better when they were together.
"'Tis the season, damnit, for togetherness."
"Okay." Daniel sounded relieved, actually. In truth, Jack knew at least Daniel, and probably Carter, knew there was no time for debate. "Okay."
Jack didn't think it possible, but his two sick team members looked even paler than they had been moments ago. He hoped to hell this worked. Daniel started to move. It took Jack a second to realize what he was trying to do; they needed to kneel in this...kneeling place. He had to do most of the work situating Daniel, and he was so terrified it was far too late. His head reminded him again how much it hurt, and his own muscles quivered, hours of supporting Daniel in various stages of consciousness presenting themselves at the worst possible time. Teal'c didn't seem to be having that much fun with Carter, either.
"Sam, put your hands...up..." Wheezing now. Like there wasn't enough air. Daniel listed to the left. Jack righted him, noticing he, too, took shallow breaths. "Jack, help."
"Where?" He shifted, pressing himself closely to Daniel, to use his torso as a brace while he guided limp arms toward the wall. He saw no marks, no indication where to go. "Tell me when I've got it right."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Teal'c watch and mimic, with Carter like a rag doll against him. Teal'c's expression was determined and desperate and a fine slick of sweat covered his face. Jack wondered if the Goa'uld had somehow rigged the chamber to lose air after a certain amount of time - insurance in case some poor schmuck survived this long. Like SG1 - intergalactic Tau'ri schmucks. He kept sliding Daniel's hands around.
He stopped. Teal'c did as well.
"Daniel Jackson, what of..."
"Down. Right next to mine." If tears could be heard in someone's voice, Jack was certain he heard them in Daniel's. He suddenly wanted to cry himself. No giving up, he thought. "There. Perfect."
Grayness at the edge of his vision. Daniel and Carter probably couldn't see anything at all. Hurry, hurry, he thought. He heard Teal'c say something, and then Daniel. He didn't understand either one of them and was pretty sure he was about to lose Daniel again. He tightened his hold reflexively. Daniel's resulting moan came through loud and clear.
"Sorry," he said.
Daniel whispered something, or it sounded like a whisper, and then there was mist against his face and a terrible sound. And then air and light and sound and something besides sweaty fear in his nostrils.
"O'Neill." Teal'c, buddy. "We are freed."
Daniel's head was heavy on his left shoulder. Jack sagged, bringing both of them to the ground. There were gusts of air all around. He thought they should move away from their prison but couldn't seem to quite do that yet. He blinked as wind became solid. And what to wondering eyes should appear, Jack thought, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Reindeer that looked like SGC personnel. Thank everything in the whole damned universe that was good and right for General Hammond. He peered at the open doorway. It was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen.
There'd been a heat wave in Colorado while they were off planet. A strange meteorological anomaly - temperatures twenty degrees warmer than usual. The snow was gone, save for a few patches of crusty, dirty stuff, residue from snowplowed piles. It was cold again, but no new snow. Jack was a bit disappointed. Carter and Daniel had big gaps in memory from their stay on P3I 487, but he really had wanted the whole cheesy Christmas picture. Snowmen included. So they'd missed Christmas. The hard date didn't matter so much to him.
He stared out the window by the front door. They were late. He checked his watch again. There was probably a very good reason for their tardiness. He had a brief twinge of worry that they'd relapsed. Both of his sick friends had professed utter annoyance at his gruff bedside hovering, but damnit, he'd spent over two days watching them deteriorate only to be brought back through the 'gate at death's door. Those were Fraiser's words. He was entitled to a little concern. Jack went over to the phone, and had the number halfway punched in when he told himself to have more discipline.
He hung up the phone. Instead of calling, Jack wandered to the kitchen. He had the main course covered. Carter was bringing the dressing...which might be the reason for the delay. It was a special order and the deli had hassled about making it 'after the holidays.' After schmafter. The new year hadn't been rung in quite yet, therefore it was still holiday time. Fraiser had the candied yams for Teal'c. Daniel had the bread. Put them all together, they'd have the perfect meal. Teal'c only had to bring himself.
There was a knock at the door, then the sound of rustling plastic and Daniel calling, "Helllllloooo?"
"Come on in," he called.
He wandered out to greet his guests, who had arrived en masse. It was like they planned it that way or something. Jack unburdened Fraiser and Carter of their wares while everyone took off coats and shoes and tromped into his house. He stuffed the side dishes into the oven to keep them warm, then went back out to join the others in the den.
"Get anyone something to drink?" he offered. "I've got a variety."
"I have brought a beverage, O'Neill. I have heard it is served with coffee."
"Teal'c, how did you get Bailey's?" Carter practically squealed. Jack looked at Teal'c with a smile and a nod. "You didn't leave base alone."
"I have my methods, Captain Carter, which cannot be revealed."
"Actually, Bailey's and coffee sounds good to me too," Daniel said.
"Just a little." Fraiser. Always a doctor. Not that he didn't welcome her presence, but she had insisted on coming to keep an eye on Daniel and Carter. "I don't want you two pushing yourselves."
"We're fine," they both said.
"Two Bailey's, anyone else?"
"White wine if you have it, Colonel."
"Water would suffice."
Jack snagged the bottle of liqueur from Teal'c and went to go prepare the drinks. Conversation and laughter followed him. He hummed to himself. He made quick work of the drinks, and then put the Bailey's in the fridge. As the door shut, he noticed Daniel had trailed after him and was leaning in the doorway, still too thin and pale to be considered back to normal. He'd made Carter and Daniel's drinks more coffee (decaf) than alcohol.
"Hey, what're you doing there?"
"I don't think I ever had the chance to thank you," Daniel said.
"I remember some things, Jack, and one of them is that you never left my side that I could sense. That really helped."
"You'd do the same."
"Yes, I would. Thank you."
Jack was a bit uncomfortable. Touchy feely conversations were better left unsaid. He cleared his throat. Daniel took the cue, coming forward to grab a couple of the drinks off the counter. Before they'd left the kitchen, he'd taken a sip of the coffee. Like moth to flame, Jack thought. He spotted Carter and Teal'c leaning close to each other on the sofa. Fraiser stood at a window. Jack still had his tree up, half decorated. He'd meant to fix that, but it hadn't seemed so important lately.
"It's snowing," Fraiser said.
They all looked out the window. He moved to stand next to Fraiser. Daniel went to her other side. Seconds later, Carter and Teal'c were also there. They stared out at the snow, silent. The flakes were big and soft and were melting on contact with the ground, but Jack had a feeling they'd start sticking. He glanced at all of his companions, their faces all rapt by the scene unfolding before them.
"A toast," he said, "To the most wonderful time of the year, and to being around to enjoy it."