They’d had no idea what would be found the other side of the Stargate, of course, but this had been unexpected anyway.
Jack stepped through, feeling the drag of the airline behind him, his breath echoing in the helmet he wore. Was it a moment or a lifetime he hung suspended between two planets? He couldn’t tell; it seemed as though his heart had been caught between two beats, the breath frozen in his lungs, every sense straining for something, anything to try and make sense of the experience.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. He was on the other side, his boots hitting rough stone as Jack stumbled forward a little with his own momentum and found himself moving down some rough-hewn steps.
It took a moment’s fiddling to remove the helmet, the loss of that weight a welcome relief as Jack sucked air into his lungs. What was this place? Grey stone stretched as far as he could see, small slits that surely served for windows allowing only a minimal amount of light. There were archways out of the room in which he stood, one of them the other side of a dark squat blob a few feet across, the other to one side and looking like it led to steps.
Jack took a step down, then another, before bending to lay his helmet on the step. His airline tugged a little, still trailing back into the iridescent surface of whatever-it-was that filled the circular void—Jack admitted to himself he hadn’t been paying a great deal of attention to that part of his briefing. Jack turned, taking another step down as he did so, one hand latching onto the airline to pull a little more of it through behind him.
He couldn’t go far, didn’t really want to. There was a feeling of emptiness here, a feeling that this place had been unoccupied for a very long time, and it made Jack feel uncomfortable. Like an intruder, someone entering uninvited into somewhere whose solitude had been undisturbed for decades if not centuries.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the first flicker, an unexpected flash of white rippling out from one side of the Stargate to the other, quicker than lightning. Another, then another, then everything changed—the pool, so steady in its shimmering, started to shatter, the steady blueness of its surface breaking apart before his eyes.
Before he could move, before Jack could take a step back towards the gate, his airline dropped suddenly, tiny flames licking at the severed end, only to be extinguished as they hit the rough stone floor. The room seemed suddenly darker; the connection with Earth was gone.
"Dr. Langford?" There was no answer, so Daniel pushed the office door open. All he could see were boxes, some full to the brim with papers, others half-empty standing beside the desk. "What’s going on?"
Dr. Langford looked up from where he was sitting, his hands full of papers he’d obviously been engrossed in.
"Daniel," he said, gesturing with a hand full of reports. "Come in."
"What is this?"
Daniel had an idea he already knew, an idea he wasn’t going to like what Langford was about to tell him. A cold sensation took residence in the pit of his stomach.
Langford frowned. "The project is closing down, Daniel." He dropped the papers he’d been holding into a nearby box. "Effective immediately."
"What?" That cold sensation solidified, spreading outwards. "But Colonel O’Neill, the Stargate …"
"The project’s over, Daniel," Langford said, not unkindly. "Sit down, please."
Daniel cleared more folders from a chair, dumping them unceremoniously on the surface of the desk. He watched them as they slithered to a halt, wondering how many hours of work were being packed up ready to be shipped off somewhere. Would it ever see the light of day again, or would someone’s labors be destined to molder in a warehouse?
"We have to make the Stargate work again," Daniel said, enunciating carefully as if explaining the concept to a child. He couldn’t bear to think what Jack might be going through right now, what dangers he might be facing alone. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that Jack might even be dead, that possibility couldn’t be allowed to enter his mind. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms, but he’d seen something special in O’Neill, a humanity he certainly didn’t see in the man who sat in front of him. "Colonel O’Neill is still out there."
"Out where?" Langford asked. "He could already be dead; we don’t know that device definitely connects with somewhere else."
"So that’s it?" Daniel said. "We pack up shop and forget all about this?"
"You signed an agreement to keep this project secret. We all did."
"I didn’t agree to someone’s life being put at risk," Daniel said, pushing himself up from the chair. "It should have been me, after all. Nobody would have cared if it was."
"I think my daughter would have cared very much, Dr. Jackson," Langford said, bristling now. "Or have you been leading her on?"
Daniel rested his hands on the back of the chair he’d just vacated. He wasn’t about to tell Langford the truth, no matter how angry his words had made him. He didn’t deserve to know anything more than Daniel wanted him to—Catherine was another matter. He had to set things straight with her, before this went too far.
"I never led Catherine on," Daniel said. "But I don’t care for her anything like as much as she cares for me. Nothing will ever happen between us, and I intend to make sure she knows that."
"So, not content with wrecking the project," Langford said, as he stood, "you intend to break my daughter’s heart?"
"Catherine is a lot stronger and a lot smarter than you give her credit for," Daniel replied. "I’m sorry you can’t see that. You missed out, you know? She should have been the one helping you run this project, not me, but you couldn’t see past her being your little girl."
Langford said nothing—Daniel knew he’d hit a nerve. Catherine would never complain to her father, she wouldn’t dream of doing so, but he had to know how she felt. How stifled she’d been because the field she dreamed of was all but closed to women, even a woman who was the daughter of someone who’d made such amazing discoveries.
"Get out of here, Jackson," Langford said. He sat once more, his eyes falling to the papers that lay strewn across the surface of his desk. "Some of us have work to do."
He’d stood and just stared at the Stargate for a while, though he hadn’t really expected it to power up again as he watched. Then again Jack had seen the way it worked and had found himself a seat to one side of the initial rush, somewhere he could keep an eye on it even as he considered his options.
In hindsight this wasn’t looking like one of his better decisions, though he’d known when he strong-armed Langford into letting him take Daniel’s place that this wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs. As he stared at the silent Stargate, Jack was suddenly glad that he’d taken that decision, that he’d been able to try and redeem himself for how he’d treated Daniel by taking his place here—the thought of Daniel Jackson here, alone, filled him with horror.
Still, there wasn’t much for him to do, if a rescue mission didn’t arrive soon. The priorities, of course, were food and shelter—in this apparently crumbling building he had the latter, but the former still remained to be found. Water would be a necessity, too, though if all else failed he could always set up some kind of reservoir to trap the rain that was currently streaming past the nearest opening to the outside. He balked at calling it a window—it was rougher hewn than that, more like a gash in the stone or a convenient hole where a couple of slabs had slipped together.
Hopefully the storm would ease sometime soon and he could reconnoiter the surrounding area, find something edible and maybe some fuel. At the moment the temperature was tolerable, but there was no guarantee it would stay that way. And Jack knew he had no guarantee he’d be rescued before that happened, if at all.
Daniel could barely think straight. He’d left Langford’s office and headed back to his own, so angry with the other man that he knew he’d slammed the office door behind him as he left; so angry he’d been beyond words.
All he was certain of was that Jack was out there, somewhere. Alone and expecting to be rescued, waiting for help that would never arrive. And that thought was utterly intolerable.
If he’d wanted anything to shake him from his previous complacency, that realization was like a slap to the face. He’d thought he couldn’t feel this strongly about anything, about anyone, but he’d been wrong. And it was so ironic that the person who’d stirred up all these emotions, had brought back the sense of being alive, one way or the other, was now somewhere Daniel couldn’t get to him.
At least not without some careful planning on his part and a healthy dose of luck.
Jack O’Neill was expecting to be rescued, so there needed to be a rescue. Perhaps it wouldn’t be an authorized one and it wouldn’t take the form he’d expected, but Daniel had no intentions of leaving his friend somewhere to rot. And if the Army Air Force wouldn’t help him, then he’d have to help himself.
He thought for a moment, then turned to the nearby closet and pulled out the disreputable looking bag he’d used on the last few digs he’d been to. The bag itself was strong, heavy-duty canvas, but wouldn’t arouse suspicions. Daniel knew the guards had all seen him coming and going from the facility with that self-same bag, relying on its sturdiness to transport the heaviest of books, and that familiarity would serve him now.
He wondered what they would do with his things, if he didn’t come back, but the thought of leaving behind all the books he’d accumulated didn’t bother him as much as Daniel had once thought it would. Perhaps that was because some of these were the second or third copies he’d owned of those particular volumes—some of them had been charred beyond recognition when the house in London had been destroyed. Even as he ran a speculative finger over the cover of one of them, Daniel wondered whether that kind of thing changed your perspective on what was important, if only for a little while.
There were other things that were important now. Things he needed to do, before it was too late—before he left, Daniel also knew he needed to set a few things straight.
"Daniel? This is a pleasant surprise."
Daniel closed the door behind him, hoping Catherine would still feel the same way when their conversation was over.
"You’ve heard the news?" he asked. "That the project is shutting down?"
"Father told me last night," Catherine replied. "I suppose that means we’ll be heading back to California once everything’s packed." She paused, her perceptive eyes raking over Daniel. "What are you planning to do?"
"I don’t know," Daniel said. "But I do know I need to be honest with you."
"That sounds ominous."
"Catherine," he said, "I care about you very much, but I think you’ve given too much weight to how things are between us."
So, she wasn’t going to make this easy for him. Daniel couldn’t blame her. Her father had encouraged the relationship, such as it was, throwing them together at every opportunity, taken as much with the idea of his daughter marrying into the Jackson name as he was with the idea of Catherine being happy.
"There are things you don’t know about me. Important things."
Daniel knew he had to tread carefully—what he was talking about could get him prison time if he wasn’t careful, though at least the only person who knew exactly what he’d been up to was safely on another planet right now. He hoped.
"What sort of things?" Catherine was looking puzzled, but intrigued all the same.
"I’ve never lied to you, Catherine."
"Tell me, Daniel. I’ve no patience for games right now."
"I …" This was even more difficult than he’d anticipated. Daniel felt his face flame, the embarrassment of even talking about what he’d done, what he was, too much for him to cope with. "I can’t marry you. Not now, not ever."
Was that the most he was ever going to be able to say?
"There’s someone else?" Catherine had settled back into the chair, though she no longer looked as relaxed as before. "When had you planned on telling me? Had you planned on telling me?"
"I don’t plan on marrying anyone," Daniel said. "Ever." He watched carefully as that thought took root, watching for the moment of revelation, the moment Catherine would realize exactly what he meant. There. She didn’t look horrified, or disgusted, so he supposed that was a good sign.
"I’ve made a fool of myself," Catherine said, suddenly. "You let me make a fool of myself! Who else knew?"
Nobody except Jack, who wasn’t around to tell anyone, and possibly her father, though Daniel doubted he had realized just what was going on.
"I can’t believe this." She wasn’t angry, though her voice shook, but whether with frustration or amusement, Daniel wasn’t sure. "I can’t believe you let me do this."
"I’m sorry, Catherine." He was, more sorry than he could say. "I should have told you."
He didn’t have to explain why he hadn’t. She’d lived abroad, lived in California, lived in academia—Catherine had to know why he hadn’t told her what he was, didn’t she?
"Yes, you should have. I understand, Daniel." She frowned. "I’m still angry. Not because you led me on, but because you didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth."
"I’m sorry," he said again. There didn’t seem to be anything else left to say.
In the end, he was almost glad to make his excuses and leave. The atmosphere was frosty between them, though he could tell that Catherine was as much annoyed with herself for not realizing the truth as she was angry with him. Not that this really made Daniel feel a great deal better, except that he was sure she’d come to realize in time she’d had a lucky escape.
He knew there was little chance she’d ever find out what happened to him, one way or another. If he managed to break into the facility, if he managed to get the Stargate activated and go where ever it was Jack had gone, the chances of Catherine discovering what had happened were slim to say the least. Still it wouldn’t have been right to have just gone, without a word, to have left her always wondering what had happened to him and believing there could have been more between them.
At least this way Ernest stood a chance with Catherine as well—nobody could compete with the perfection of a memory.
He’d left his bag outside Dr. Langford’s house, preferring not to make the trip back home again before he headed for the warehouse. Daniel hefted the bag experimentally and decided it was fine; it wasn’t too heavy and didn’t bulge awkwardly, so it shouldn’t arouse any suspicions. After all, if the project was closing down, surely the guards would be more worried about what people were trying to take out of the warehouse than what people were taking in with them?
Sure enough, he was waved through without anyone bothering to check his bag. Which was just as well, since Daniel hadn’t figured out just how he would explain the first aid kit he’d stuffed into it, let alone the pen knife or the currently-empty water bottle? There could be no explanation for the wax-coated boxes of K rations he’d managed to get hold of.
Leaving the bag in his office, Daniel headed for the rest room to fill the water bottle. It was ironic, in this same room he’d first had an intimate encounter with the man he was again about to break the law for. But there was really no alternative, was there?
Daniel retrieved his bag, hanging the water bottle by its strap over his shoulder as he headed towards where the Stargate was kept. So far, so good. There were no guards about, though he could hear the sound of furniture being moved in another part of the warehouse and guessed that they must have been drafted into helping close things down.
The Stargate itself was clearly in the process of being packed up as well. It stood, as it always had, in the middle of the room, with a large wooden case partly-built around it. The back had been secured; the front lay open like a ramp into the middle of the Stargate itself. Now if only he could get the generator to work, Daniel figured he might just be able to get the Stargate up and running before anyone realized what he was doing.
The water bottle banged heavily against Daniel’s hip as he trudged up the makeshift ramp and deposited his bag beside the Stargate. The wooden casing bent and creaked under his boots as he walked down to where the generator stood. This was the one which had given Ernest so much trouble and there were no guarantees he could even get it to work. And if he could, would there be enough time to get the right glyphs to lock before he was discovered?
There was only one way to find out.
The sound of the generator kicking in seemed to echo throughout the entire room and Daniel’s head snapped round to the doorway—he expected to see guards pouring into the room, alerted by the sound, but there was no sign of anyone.
He’d watched them dial the Stargate last time around, but took no active part in it. As a result Daniel discovered he hadn’t realized just how difficult a task that was.
Once the inner disc was spinning, there was no difficulty in that carrying on, but to get the right glyph to lock took some finesse. Fortunately, he’d been watching the sequence of glyphs carefully and managed, despite a couple of close calls, to catch them all the first time. He didn’t like to think what would have happened if he’d been forced to try again, or the increased risk of being caught. The noise the Stargate made as it erupted into life was almost deafening, since Daniel was standing so close to the artifact itself. This time there was movement at the doorway, the sound of shouted orders to stop, but the surface of the ring had stilled and Daniel was already moving by that time. He reached the top of the ramp, grabbed the bag by its strap and dived into the Stargate, pulling it after him, a burning pain ripping across his side as he did so.
He didn’t remember reaching the other side.
Even against the sound of the storm as it raged outside the walls, Jack heard the noise of the Stargate powering up. He’d experimented for a while with the alien device that stood the other end of the long chamber, pushing the buttons and watching them light, but had never been able to make it work. No matter what combination he tried, he hadn’t been able to make that pool of light form to try and get him back home. Now, it seemed, someone else was coming.
By the time he made it back to the chamber itself, the shimmering light he remembered so vividly was already there, casting odd shadows across the uneven stone floor. Tiny ripples shuddered across its surface as the storm hit the castle, sending minute vibrations through the ancient stonework and into the artifact itself.
He’d wondered how many more storms the structure could take. They’d been almost continuous since he’d been there, and Jack had been forced to seek shelter as deep into the rock as he could, finally finding chambers where the sound was muffled enough to let him snatch a few hours sleep. The lightning strikes hit the tower on a regular basis, the familiar smell of ozone filling the chamber where the Stargate stood. None of it boded well for this being his long-term place of residence, even if Jack had wanted that to be the case.
If he couldn’t make the Stargate work, and no one else came, he wouldn’t have much of a choice, though.
Jack had almost reached the bottom of the stone steps when the surface erupted with movement, the result of someone emerging from it at speed. There wasn’t time to step aside, the newcomer’s stumbling exit from the Stargate bringing him down the steps and making him collide with Jack before there was any chance for him to get himself out of the way. A bag bounced down the steps, apparently something the newcomer had been carrying, till it settled a few feet away from where the two of them lay.
The pool of light evaporated even before it stilled, and the chamber was in semi-darkness once more, the only light the intermittent lightning strikes that dazzled Jack’s eyes.
The sound that erupted from the newcomer when the two of them collided had proved that he was alive, alive and in pain.
It took a moment for Jack’s eyes to become accustomed to the twilight once more, the darkness hiding his surprise at the identity of his unexpected visitor. Surprise that he wasn’t able to keep from his voice.
This was his worst nightmare. It was bad enough when he’d thought he was alone, when there had been the possibility that he might die here, wherever here was, and never see another human being. But for the two of them to be stuck here, together, till one or other of them met their end.
He’d managed to disentangle the two of them by now, setting Daniel back on his feet and then watching as he dusted himself down, straightening his clothing as best he could.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he snapped. Daniel’s face paled, the expression distinctly lit by a timely lightning strike, as he took an involuntary step back, away from Jack’s anger.
"I was thinking," Daniel said, seeming to gather himself to reply, the adrenaline rush of traveling through the Stargate itself doubtless wearing off, "about rescuing you."
"You’re the cavalry?" He looked up at the Stargate, now a dark looming presence above them in the gloom. "And just how are we supposed to get back to Earth?"
Daniel said nothing. Jack watched him for a moment, wishing for more light, so he could tell what Daniel was thinking—he could almost hear the cogs going round in that genius head of his.
"We can get back," Jack said, feeling concern grip him for the first time since he’d arrived on the planet. He’d been determined, focused on the idea of getting back, though he wasn’t quite sure what it was that he wanted to get back to. "We can, can’t we?" Silence. "Daniel?"
"I … Probably," was all Daniel would say.
"Probably?" He saw Daniel take another step back, but he could have cared less. In some ways Jack had managed to deny the absolute reality of his situation, he knew that now, and Daniel’s arrival had made it real. Too real. "Cut the crap, Daniel. Can we get back home or not?"
He’d crossed the small distance between them, crowding Daniel back into the wall alongside the stone steps leading up to the Stargate, until there was nowhere left for Daniel to go. If there had been more light, Jack knew what pugnacious expression he’d probably see on Daniel’s face right about now. In some ways the darkness helped, letting him keep control on his baser emotions, even as the anger threatened to overtake him.
It wasn’t until Daniel hissed in pain, and then seemed to suddenly go limp where he was pressed between Jack and the wall, that Jack realized the warm wetness on his hand was blood. Blood from Daniel’s side, seeping through the material of his shirt and jacket at an alarming rate.
Daniel was out cold, there was no doubt about that.
Jack laid him down carefully on the stone floor, unwilling to move his unexpected visitor any further despite how uncomfortable it must be, until he’d had a chance to see how badly Daniel was injured.
The bag had partly opened, and Jack recognized some of its contents as they spilled across the floor. At least Daniel had enough sense to bring some supplies with him; what looked like a medical kit. But light was still the first priority.
Reluctantly, Jack left Daniel for a few minutes, heading into the room he’d been using as his quarters for the torch he’d made out of part of his rubberized diving suit. Though it gave a horribly smoky light, it was better than nothing, which was what he would have had otherwise.
When he returned, Daniel was just where he’d left him. He propped the makeshift light source into a crack in the nearby wall, turning Daniel a little so that what light there was would fall on him. Blood still flowed, sluggishly, and there was a small pool of darkness beneath Daniel when Jack moved him. When Jack looked more closely, however, he could see some of that darkness was water, escaping from the canteen that Daniel had slung over his shoulder—the impact with the floor must have shaken the stopper loose so its contents were seeping out, to mingle with the blood from Daniel’s side.
Jack pulled Daniel’s jacket aside, then tugged his shirt from the waistband of his pants to reveal the wound itself. The bullet wound was unmistakable, a slicing crease along one of Daniel’s ribs—if he hadn’t been lucky, Jack wouldn’t be wondering now just why Daniel had thought he could be a suitable rescue party. Daniel wouldn’t be wondering anything if that bullet had entered a couple of inches higher and to the right.
The shirt was pretty much ruined, though. Daniel had shed a worrying amount of blood despite how superficial the wound seemed to be and he showed little sign of waking up any time soon.
Jack reached into the bag again, removing the first aid kit and a knife he found there. He took hold of the shirt hem with one hand and used the knife on the now sodden material; it cut easily, letting Jack have easy access to Daniel’s side.
"Sorry, Daniel," he said, though he knew the other man couldn’t possibly hear him.
Daniel shifted slightly, as if in response to his voice, and Jack watched him for a moment till he stilled again. Steady pressure on the wound soon had the bleeding under control, even if it seemed to finally also evoke a response from Daniel, who shifted again under Jack’s hand as if waking up.
"Lie still," Jack continued, although he wasn’t sure whether Daniel was awake enough to understand.
"You were expecting someone else?"
"What happened?" Daniel asked, blinking a little as he gazed up at Jack. Jack had to look away, turning his attention back to the wound on Daniel’s side and making himself check it carefully even as Daniel tried to sit up.
"Slowly," Jack said. "Let me help you." It took a few moments, but finally Daniel was in a sitting position, propped against a small outcropping of stone. "You passed out."
"I was shot," Daniel said. "One of the guards shot me!"
His tone, and especially the outrage in it, made Jack stifle a smile.
"What are you doing here, Daniel?" Jack asked, once he was certain the wound wasn’t bleeding any more. He turned his back on Daniel, emptying the contents of the first aid kit onto his lap and selecting what he’d need to bandage him.
"I told you," Daniel said, his tone irascible now. "I came to rescue you."
"And who’s going to rescue you?" Daniel didn’t answer. "Hold this," Jack said, pressing Daniel’s hand over the pad he had used to stem the bleeding. He purposefully made himself think about the task ahead, about the need to be sure the wound was clean and not about how Daniel’s hands felt. There was nothing good to be accomplished thinking that way. "This might smart."
Daniel hissed as Jack applied the antiseptic powder liberally but otherwise said nothing.
There was silence between them as Jack concentrated on bandaging Daniel’s side, the only sound the hiss and pop of Jack’s makeshift torch and the occasional rumble of thunder from outside. The storm seemed to be abating a little, but Jack was certain it would only be a temporary respite—there hadn’t been any calm for longer than a couple of hours in the time he’d been there.
"Come on," he said, packing the unused items back into the first aid kit and replacing it in the bag. "We need to get out of here, down to where it’s quieter and we can both get some sleep."
Daniel nodded, then put his hands both side of himself and started to push himself off the floor. Jack grabbed him before he could pitch headfirst onto his face, holding onto his arm till he’d steadied himself.
"You lost blood, Daniel," Jack said. "Take it easy."
"I’m fine," Daniel replied, but Jack was heartened by the fact he didn’t shake off Jack’s hand.
He led the way down the crumbling stone steps to the sanctuary he’d made for himself of whatever he could find there. Back when he’d anticipated being there alone, for however long he’d live or whatever help came, whichever happened first. Jack smiled to himself at that, half-turning to watch Daniel negotiate a particularly uneven patch of stone—he was pleased to see this go without a hitch, though it was clear that Daniel had to concentrate hard not to stumble.
"Here," he said, finally, as they reached the lowest part of the building. "Sit down before you fall down," Jack continued.
He dropped the bag he carried beside the pallet he’d constructed of the rags and shredded material left lying around by whoever had lived there once. He hadn’t given the state of it much thought, just that he’d needed something to sleep on, no matter what it looked or smelled like. It was times like this he was glad the torch he’d made only shed a little, odd-colored, light.
Daniel sank gratefully onto the pallet, apparently also caring little about what it was made of. At least he seemed to have a sensible streak, some of the time at least.
By the time Jack had removed Daniel’s boots and taken off his glasses for him, the other man was pretty much dead to the world, so much so that he didn’t even twitch when Jack sat down next to him. The pallet was narrow, which meant the most comfortable position for both of them was for Jack to spoon up behind him. His treacherous cock gave a twitch at this, but the memory of the amount of blood Daniel had lost was enough to squash that instinct quickly enough that Daniel wouldn’t have noticed even if he’d been awake.
The distant roll of thunder still echoed around the building as Jack drifted off to sleep, perversely glad, despite the implications of Daniel’s arrival, that he was no longer alone.
|Continued in Part 5...|