Sam thought the colonel was asleep until she heard it. And she didn't believe it until she saw Teal'c look down at O'Neill and then up to her. Like the ringing in her ears, she tried to ignore it, and like the ringing in her ears, she failed. Her CO was crying. Not sobbing, just soft, broken weeping. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She glanced at Teal'c again and noticed his jaw was ticking in a regular beat.
She'd long figured out that Teal'c must have heard her and that's how he and the colonel had found her. She didn't understand the Jaffa and their mysterious ways, but right now she was simply grateful. If they hadn't shown up when they did…well, she shouldn't really be so shocked at O'Neill's state of total gloom. But Sam knew her own insecurities and emotions; as far as she'd been able to tell, neither the colonel nor Teal'c had them. Except Teal'c was scared and the colonel clearly had emotions.
"No. Daniel Jackson is a very strong runner."
That was true. Daniel didn't look much like an athlete, but he had legs. Not that she had a habit of watching him, but she had noticed he could pretty much keep up with Teal'c whenever they were running for their lives. The colonel and she were always at the rear. It was actually both embarrassing and impressive, but they were lucky they had never been separated before. Teal'c would never allow that to happen.
God, O'Neill was heavy. She let go of the arm she had strapped across her shoulders just long enough to shift her MP-5 so it poked him in the ribs. It was insubordinate and a little bit dangerous, but she didn't care. The colonel was freaking her out. This planet was freaking her out.
"What is that odor?" Teal'c said.
Sam sniffed. She smelled nothing but dead leaves and the colonel's sweat and hair. She shook her head. For all she knew, the scent was a mile away. Teal'c's senses were as amazing as Daniel's speed. He seemed positive it was important. He veered them to the right. She looked backward. The thing was still there, watching them. She still felt as though it was steering them, somehow, even though that was irrational. The only thing steering them was the path Daniel had taken.
It wasn't a mile away. It was only about fifty yards, thank goodness. Her muscles ached. She was torn between being appreciative of the distraction lugging her CO around gave her and irritated by it. Teal'c did most of the work to ease O'Neill down to the ground. Her arms shook in a reaction to overuse. She watched Teal'c crouch down over something. Sam made sure the colonel was okay – relatively speaking – and then joined him.
"What is it?" she said.
"Vomit." Teal'c turned to her. She was close enough to see the vein on his temple thrumming, a physiological signal of agitation if she ever saw one. "It appears that Daniel Jackson has also removed his jacket."
"What? It's so cold, he'll get sick."
Sick. Yeah, sick was probably the hugest threat against Daniel right now, she thought. Sick was, however, what she was right now. Her stomach ached with fear – for Daniel, of this place, of death. Sam shivered, imagining Daniel out there in this damp with only a T-shirt.
"You should avert your eyes, Captain Carter."
She smelled it then. Putrefaction. Decomposition. Daniel had also found a body part. The forest was just one goddamned huge smorgasbord for this monster, and the members of SG1 were next in line in its midnight snacking bonanza. Even without seeing the remains, Sam gagged. She turned her head away as Teal'c suggested, checking on the colonel once more. There he sat, like a lump. She doubted he'd even fight if the thing pounced…the thing. She didn't see it anymore. She grasped Teal'c on the shoulder.
"Daniel Jackson disabled his radio," Teal'c said.
"It's gone." She squeezed, then thumped him on the shoulder several times. "The thing, I don't see it anymore."
Teal'c looked at her. She looked toward where it used to be, and heard him turning his head as well. Nothing in his stance or behavior changed; Sam thought he had never seen it. It seemed she was the only one who had. She had time to think about it, and she was pretty sure Daniel had been aiming the gun at her after all.
"I don't think that's a good thing, Teal'c."
Not good. Not good at all. If fear had a smell, it would be the horrible thick smell that blanketed the area. Sickness and death, sweat and wet leaves. She might be repeating herself even internally, but they really had to find Daniel.
"No, it is not."
Teal'c agreed with her even if he didn't completely believe what she was seeing. That comfort edged into her overwhelming sense of panic for about a millisecond. Both of them started moving for the colonel again. There had to be a way to snap him out of his sluggishness.
"Sir, the thing is going after Daniel," Sam said, embarrassed at how squeaky her voice sounded. Squeaky was nothing compared to begging. "Please, you have to help us."
"Daniel Jackson will certainly perish if we do not locate him soon. Do you wish this to happen, O'Neill?" Teal'c said, really cutting to the chase.
Sam gaped at him, horrified at the implied blame. It was true, yes, but whoa. Again, Teal'c also resorted to physical stimulus, crouching down to first shake the colonel and then slap him several times.
"Dead," the colonel sobbed. "We're all going to die."
Teal'c said something in his own language, and she was no translator under normal circumstances, but she was pretty sure he'd just said fuck. Or maybe shit. Something vulgar, anyway. She, on the other hand, had turned as useless as O'Neill, standing her slack jawed and mute. Teal'c tugged the colonel to his feet and started walking without her help.
"Do you see it, Captain Carter?"
She looked the direction Teal'c was taking. The moon was bright now, illuminating the woods in more detail than she actually wanted. Except for in one spot, where it was black as pitch. That had to be where Daniel was. Sam started jogging to catch up. The colonel pulled his 'I-need-to-sit-down-and-die-now' routine just as she reached her friends. She poked him in the back. Hard.
"Ow, damnit, what was that for?"
"Sir, is that you?" she said, rather stupidly.
"No, it's Krusty the clown."
"Good to have you back, sir."
Even if it was only temporary. Before they had closed the distance to Daniel's presumed location, he was spaghetti-legs again. She wanted to punch him. She should, actually, while she had the chance. Then again, what she wanted more was to find Daniel and find him alive and damn the ringing in her ears was getting louder and louder. No, it wasn't ringing. Sam heard words amid the buzz, alien words. Chilling.
"Faster," Teal'c said. "We must move faster."
Uh oh, that couldn't be good. The colonel stirred at Teal'c's bellow. Now that was good. Sam doubted he had any idea what was going on, but O'Neill started running with them anyway. She hoped the burst would be enough. Teal'c was troubled enough that even a deaf, dumb and blind person would know it.
Their crashing around would alert it, but that might not be such a bad thing in this case. She pictured Daniel in its clutches. He didn't stand a chance. Her lungs hurt from sucking in so much cold air – colder air now than it had been before. She coughed and they felt a little bit better. They burst into a clearing. Sam froze at the sight before her.
Something held him up, but it was without solid form or shape. Utter blackness and cold. His bare arms were so white, as was his face. He was shaking. She could see that even from a fair distance. In front of him, though, in front of him was it. It, as it had continually done, just watched. She saw Daniel's lips moving, but she couldn't hear anything. A gruesome sound filled the air now, the sound of bones breaking. Sam shouted Daniel's name, or she meant to.
Teal'c growled. He probably could hear Daniel, and from his reaction she was happy to not. He let go of the colonel. Before she could untangle herself, O'Neill's weight dragged her down. She landed on her knees, his arm pulled her shoulders down slightly until she shook it off. Teal'c had his staff up and primed. Sam did the same with her MP-5, taking a moment to aim. She fired several shots, and the thing finally moved. It ran away. Teal'c fired several times. She couldn't tell if any of his shots hit the mark.
She didn't much care. The thing was leaving and the dark mist surrounding Daniel also withdrew. Without it holding him up, Daniel slumped to the ground, boneless. Sam shuddered, but began to run. They were not too late, they were not too late. Teal'c was ten paces in front of her. Belatedly, she realized they couldn't leave the colonel alone. She turned back and raced to his side.
"Sir, wake up. Daniel's right there and he needs our help," she said, trying Teal'c's tactic. It always seemed to work better than a sharp poke to the ribs. "Get up now."
"Come on, we don't have much time."
She didn't know if that was true or not, but she didn't care. She and the colonel staggered like drunkards over to Daniel and Teal'c. Teal'c sat there, unmoving and Sam almost started crying. They were too late. He looked at her, then, and she knew he was simply afraid to find out the truth. She let the colonel sag to the ground; Daniel's situation took precedence over him right now. She took a step closer to Daniel and Teal'c.
"We should turn him over," Sam whispered.
Teal'c nodded, and so they did. Daniel's skin was like ice. She nearly threw up. No, she couldn't be weak now. Later, at home, she could cry like an infant. It wasn't easy to move a limp body, especially after such a long run. Finally, they managed to maneuver him onto his back. Sam gasped. Daniel's eyes were open, staring sightless up into the sky. Oh, God. The hand she had found before had been nothing, nothing at all compared to this. Daniel…blinked.
"Sam?" he said.
Daniel's head lolled to the side. Sam cried like an infant.
The sky was overcast, but every once in a while dusky blue peeked through the clouds. Jack frowned. That didn't seem right to him. He had no idea why. His nose felt like an ice cube and the entire back of his body was wet. He wracked his memory, searching for any clue regarding his whereabouts – and how he had ended up at them. Fragments came back to him, none of them making much sense. It was as if a thick veil of grey gauze blanketed his memory, or as if he hadn't really been present for the events. He remembered wanting to sleep and never wake. He remembered Teal'c not letting him by yelling. He remembered…
Oh, God, he remembered.
Jack sat up and the world suddenly looked dim again, as it had last night. His back muscles protested the sudden movement and the night spent on the lumpy, wet ground of P0X 266. His head throbbed and his mouth felt as though a huge cotton ball had been shoved in it, depriving him of saliva. He felt as if he'd been on a bender last night. He wouldn't mind a drink or two right now, actually. Nothing cured a bad memory quite like scotch. His face itched. H reached up and scrubbed his hands across his cheeks. Something gritty came off on his fingers. He looked at his hands. It was fine salt. He clenched his hands into a fist, hating the memory that went with the salt. He glanced to the left. Nothing. He glanced straight ahead. Nothing. He glanced to the right.
"Carter, Teal'c…" he said. Oh, God. There was one thing he didn't remember at all. "Daniel."
None of them moved. Jack tried to swallow, but his mouth now seemed even drier than it had seconds ago. He gagged, forcing himself to crawl over there. Dead, dead. They were dead, and he'd done nothing. The irony of being the sole survivor – he who had wanted to roll over and just die – was not lost on him. No, it slapped him on his very aware face. He reached Teal'c first, and he was disturbed at how slack his friend's body was. If he didn't know Teal'c, he'd think he was just asleep. That was not what Teal'c did. He reached out anyway, to feel for a pulse. The skin was still relatively warm. He probed Teal'c's neck, even though he knew he wouldn't find anything.
"I do not sleep, O'Neill."
"Jeez!" Jack recoiled, pulling his hand away. Teal'c sat up. "You scared the crap out of me."
"That was not my intention." Teal'c stared at him for a moment. "Are you yourself again?"
"Yeah, about that..."
"No explanation is necessary, O'Neill," Teal'c said, voice unnervingly gentle. "This planet affected all of us."
Jack nodded, but he gained no comfort from Teal'c's absolution. He remembered enough to know both Carter and Teal'c had worked through what was affecting them, while he had not. That was unacceptable. That was also not something he could make amends for right now. He stared at Carter and Daniel. Carter's cheeks were slightly reddened. Daniel looked as though his skin was made of porcelain. Neither of them showed signs of rousing.
"Please tell me they're not..."
"They are not." Well, thank goodness for small favors, and no thanks at all to him. Jack clenched his jaw. "Daniel Jackson remains very weak."
Blackness, squeezing and pressing. He had seen it. He had felt it, only it had been inside him instead of on the outside like it been with Daniel. Oh, he remembered it all too well. Jack wondered why he didn't look like Daniel right about now, then realized he had no idea what he looked like. He nodded again.
"We were fortunate to find him when we did. We were also fortunate daybreak was quick to arrive." Jack was sure there was a link there, but he couldn't quite grasp it. He didn't really give a damn. All he cared about was that the sun was up and his head was mostly clear. "I do not like this planet, O'Neill."
"I say we get the hell out of here, then," Jack said. It couldn't be too soon. "Only, we still have no idea where we are, do we?"
They could not spend another night on this planet. It was not an option. He shuddered. He couldn't survive being a useless lump again, and he was damn certain his friends would not survive their ordeals either.
"I would not say that, O'Neill," Teal'c said. He tilted his head.
Jack looked where Teal'c was tilting, behind him. There was a minor incline, and at the top of it he saw something that was unnatural to the terrain. It was the most beautiful dirty grey arch he had ever seen in his entire life. He scrambled to his feet.
"How did we end up here?"
"It's where Daniel was, sir." He spun around. Carter was awake, but appeared as if she could pass out again at any second. "And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I don't really care about answering the two hundred thousand questions I have at this moment in time."
Good point. Teal'c was already up. Jack moved. Now that he finally could, he was going to help as much as possible. Hell, he'd carry Daniel through the 'gate himself. He crouched down and touched Daniel on the cheek. His skin was cool to the touch, despite being bundled up in Teal'c's jacket. Jack furrowed his eyebrows, trying to forget the two hundred thousand and one questions he had. Some of them he might eventually remember. He closed his eyes and saw Daniel, kneeling with his arms spread wide. He heard Carter crying. He shivered.
"Teal'c, can you give me a hand here?"
Daniel moaned. Suddenly, space was crowded as Teal'c and Carter moved in on Daniel's form. It was a bit ridiculous, but they all sat there watching Daniel as he pulled out of unconsciousness. He might not remember all of the details of their ordeal, but he knew enough about Carter and Teal'c to know the tension that radiated off of them meant it was much, much worse than his hazy memory. Daniel's eyes opened slightly.
"Geilt," he said. "Sgeun, eagallll."
Oh, shit. This wasn't a good thing.
"Daniel?" Carter said.
"I think it wanted our fear," Daniel whispered. Jack put his hand out, clasping Daniel's shoulder awkwardly, like it could somehow offer comfort. He suspected it had almost got Daniel, because Daniel had been all alone. "Feeds off of it."
"That explains a lot," Carter said. She grimaced. "I can still taste fear at the back of my throat."
"So, we were a walking, talking picnic for it, whatever it actually is. The device's only purpose was probably to get us as far away from a means of escape as was necessary," Jack said. "Yeah, let's assume it won't get us in daylight…and get out of here."
"Please," Daniel said.
Jack tugged at Daniel's shoulder, frowning at how little assistance Daniel was able to give. He shot Teal'c a glance and he got an emphatic jaw twitch in reply. They got Daniel on his feet and started heading slowly toward the Stargate. Carter took point, and she headed right for the DHD when they'd made it over the ridge. She was on the fourth symbol by the time he, Teal'c and Daniel joined her.
"I swear, sir," she said. "From now on, this is the only piece of alien technology I'll ever touch when we're off-world."
Jack appreciated the sentiment, but doubted she really meant it.
Happy Hallowe'en, to those who celebrate. Also Day of the Dead. :)