I cut off the epithet before it finishes forming itself, because swearing out loud—no matter how much I want to—really is not going to help me right now. Of course, I should have realized that if two of the bastards had found my hiding place, more of 'em would follow, especially with the bodies of their fellows pointing the way.
Out in a blaze of glory. That's how I'd always hoped I'd go when I was a young, stupid kid first signing up for the Air Force. I didn't want to end up like my old man, after all, who'd fought in Korea and never regained full use of his grenade-shredded left leg and arm afterward. Somehow, I don't think anyone would have guessed my final stand would be in the middle of a stupid pine forest on a planet halfway across the galaxy.
Let no one say I wasn't a stubborn SOB to the end, though, as I plan to take as many of Birdie Boy's Jaffa with me as I can. I think I heard the Stargate activate about five minutes ago, so at least my kids are safe. That's what I hope, anyway, as I haven't heard any gunfire but my own in the last several minutes. I can't use my radio to make sure they're gone, either, as those mineral deposits Carter got so excited about when we first arrived apparently have a lovely signal-interfering side-effect.
As the bushes rustle again, I grimly wrap the blood-slicked fingers of my left hand around the barrel of the MP-5, holding the muzzle as steady as I could manage—which isn't much. Still, Colonel Jack O'Neill will not go down without putting up one hell of a fight.
"Uh, don't shoot," mutters an oh-so-familiar voice.
"Damn it, Daniel," I growl, letting the barrel dip back down to the ground as an olive drab boonie hat pokes its way through the undergrowth. "I thought I told you to get the hell out of here!"
He doesn't even try to luck chagrined in the slightest. "Nooooo," he begins, dragging out the word in a way I know means I'm not going to like what's coming next. "Actually, you told me to get Sam and Teal'c to the Stargate. Which I did, then came back to get you."
I absolutely hate it when he twists my words like that. "You knew damn well I meant for you to go through the 'Gate with 'em."
"And you knew I wasn't going to leave you behind," he answers. "You taught me that, after all."
Arguing with a linguist is like fighting land wars in Asia, I swear. "Well, I've done a bang-up job of following it myself," I reply, knowing the fight is going out of me now that the adrenaline is wearing off. I'm pretty sure Daniel knows it, too, because he's suddenly sitting on the ground next to me, lending a shoulder to prop me up and fussing over my wounds.
Oh, yeah, he's found the staff blast that pitched me into the dirt in the first place, the one that feels like it took a good chunk out of my left hip and upper thigh, plus the secondary burn across my left bicep. Busted left arm and leg, just like the old man. Ironic, huh?
Daniel's digging into his vest pockets for first aid supplies. "You thought we were all going to die, then. It was the right thing to do."
I blink at him, wondering what he's talking about until I realize he means when he was shot aboard Klorel's ship. When my own stupidity left him guarding our backs because I thought that'd be safer than in the room with me where I could see him. For somebody who barely knew how to handle a weapon, he did a great job... except for getting shot himself.
Not my finest moment, but certainly not my worst. Biting back a grunt of surprised pain when he sprays antiseptic on my burns, I manage to mutter, "Yeah, well I thought I was doing the right thing last month, too."
He freezes for a moment, then shrugs and resumes taping gauze to my skin. "The rogue NID got caught, the stolen technology got returned. That sounds like the right thing to me."
"You know what I'm talking about."
He shrugs. "I accepted your apology, Jack. What more is there to talk about?"
That's what worries me the most. Daniel always wants to talk, even when shutting up would be a far wiser course of action. The fact that he still doesn't want to talk about the hurtful words I inflicted on him during my undercover stint speaks all-too-clearly how badly they still affect him. Then there's that thing about Sha're's kid, which I blew off the first time he told me about it. After Apophis played mind games with us on Netu, though, I can't help but feel there's probably more to it. "Plenty," I grind out between clenched teeth as he hauls me upright.
I feel him shrug again. "All-the-more reason for me to come back for you, then," he reasons, and I am again reminded that the Borg have nothing on Daniel. Resistance is not only futile, it flat out doesn't compute.
"Carter and Teal'c?"
"Sam helped me get Teal'c to the 'Gate. He insisted he'd be fine the whole way there."
"Even Junior takes a while to deal with gut-shots," I sigh, trying not to lean too heavily on Daniel and failing miserably. He's even taken my rifle from me, slinging it across his chest so he can easily reach it, leaving me feeling old, tired, and completely worthless. "Carter?"
"Limped through under her own power," he answers. "She wanted me to go first, but I promised her I'd be right behind her."
"You lied to her?"
He snorts. "I guess I learned that from you, too."
I want to be mad at him for that, but it just takes too much energy. Trouble is, he's probably right about that, like he is about most things. Other than bluffing General West into letting him go on that first mission, he's otherwise proven to be pretty guileless. He can't even keep a straight face playing poker, which is why he loses damn near every game he plays.
That usually comes in handy, though, as his seemingly innocent mannerisms win over aliens left and right. The rest of the time that just means the bad guys single him out to beat the shit out of him. That's when the expressive features close up, not letting anyone see how much he's hurting.
A traitorous rock catches my foot, causing me to stumble and fall, good arm tightening around Daniel's back as I struggle to regain my balance. I hear a grunt of pain, and it takes me a long moment to realize it wasn't me. He's done it to me again.
"Forget to mention an injury of your own?"
He coughs, and for the first time I notice how sweaty and pale he is. How he ever managed to slip it past me I'll never know, but he's getting remarkably good at it. Too much practice, I guess.
"Must have slipped my mind."
Leaning against a nearby tree, I gaze in horror at the blood soaking my right sleeve, knowing for certain that none of it is mine. "You should have gone through with Carter and Teal'c."
"Not without you, too," he replies. "I don't have the strength to argue with you, Jack."
My concern skyrockets. Daniel is always fine. For him to say anything otherwise is a strong indicator that he's hurt far worse than he'll let himself admit. When he's like this, he'll push on until he collapses and scares the living daylights out of me. I've seen it before and hoped to never see it again.
He needs no further details. "The same time you did," he replies. "You think I ended up sprawled on the ground for my health?"
"I thought you ended up on the ground because I dropped my side of Teal'c."
"That too," he agrees. "Funny, Heru'ur's Jaffa don't seem to suffer from the Stormtrooper Effect."
I blink. "What?"
"The Stormtrooper Effect," he repeats. "You know... hundreds and thousands of highly-trained foot soldiers who can't hit the broad side of a barn?"
I know what it is, I'm just surprised Mr. Lives-with-His-Nose-in-a-History-Book is citing a pop-culture reference. And he's right, of course, since we so often meet Jaffa who can't shoot straight even to save their lives, but the ones on this particular planet seem to have pretty good aim. They got Teal'c just below Junior's pouch, Carter got a nasty-looking crease on her right calf, and they got me twice. I'd thought Daniel managed to get away scot-free, but my blood-soaked sleeve says otherwise.
"Let me look at your wound."
He shakes his head. "I bandaged it already, Jack. Let's just get to the 'Gate."
"It's at the small of your back, Daniel... how the hell could you see to clean it?"
"I didn't have to see it," he answers, teeth clenching. "I can pretty well feel where it is."
"Well, let me see it anyway. You've soaked through the bandage."
"I used up the last of the gauze on you, and we're better off just getting back to 'Gate before those Jaffa come back with reinforcements. Then Janet can check it out."
He's right again. Damn him anyway. Wrapping my arm around his shoulders—as far away from his injury as I can—I grip the shoulder strap of his tac vest and haul myself to my feet again. "Let's go."
We're almost back to the 'Gate when we hear the tell-tale sounds of Jaffa boots double-timing it in our direction. Once again, that wordless communication thing serves us well, as Daniel ducks for deeper cover, dragging me with him. He settles me back against another convenient tree, leaning against it himself for just a moment longer than I think he intended.
"Sit down before you fall down," I sigh, knowing he's hurting. He doesn't offer me a reply, but as he turns to follow the sounds of the Jaffa, I get a good look at the bright red bandage taking up the right half of his lower back. "Jeeze, Daniel..."
"It's just a flesh wound, I swear," he whispers.
"Like hell," I answer. And it looks like hell, too... so does he. His jaw has set in that familiar, stubborn way, though, and I almost feel sorry for any enemy Jaffa who crosses his path when he's like this. It strikes me then that even though I can't count on him to always follow orders, I can always rely on Daniel to watch my back. Even when it kills him. Which, of course, it has a time or two.
"When we get out of here... let's talk about Sha're's kid again."
He coughs harshly, doubling over for a moment before leaning back against the tree, not even bothering to keep the MP-5 in a readied position. "I thought you didn't believe me."
"You've never led me wrong before," I answer simply. And, of course, it's true. Whether we're in a firefight or exploring an ancient temple, he almost always manages to find the right thing to do, the right words to say. I may not always like what he does or says, but that doesn't mean he's not right.
I don't realize I've zoned out until he slumps on the ground beside me. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" I manage, hating how my voice is slurring.
"Not getting you back to the 'Gate." He sounds like he's had a few beers too many himself, and neither of us has been having enough fun to be smashed.
"You should have gone when I told you to," I remind him, not at all happy about the dark edges to my vision. I have to actually turn my head to look at him.
"Couldn't... leave... alone," he gasps out, eyes half-closed and dull-looking.
There's a dull roar in my ears, and I decide that if I'm going out in a blaze of glory, at least I'm not dying alone. Everyone dies eventually—some people more than once, apparently—and though I never wanted Daniel to die with me, I'm glad I'm not forced to outlive him. Again. Twice has been more than enough, thank you.
He's pressed against my right side, head lolling on my shoulder. I reach to pat his cheek with my good hand, letting him know he isn't alone, either. His skin's cool and clammy, and my own hand is shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. It won't be long now, for either of us.
Just as I let my eyes slide close, my radio crackles to life with the muffled but recognizable voice of Lou Feretti. As I croak out a reply to the major's inquiry, I glance over at my companion, noting that he's still with me. He might not have gotten us all the way to the 'Gate, but he got us close enough for the radios to work. Despite the fact that I'm ticked with him for not following orders and getting himself to the infirmary post-haste, his stubborn determination has saved my life. Again.
"Glad I can always rely on you," I grin, bumping his chin a little so he blinks at me with bleary, pain-glazed eyes. "But if you disobey orders like that again, I am so kicking your ass."
"Try to catch me, flyboy," he mutters, and closes his eyes.
I'll take a slow burn over a blaze of glory any day.