Jack stood and paced to the back of the temple. After a long night, dawn was creeping up, illuminating the statues with a cold aura. Teal'c and Carter were still out there, snuggled in the open tent that protected them from the cold.
They took turns speaking on the radio, and had done a good job at keeping Jack awake so far. The main drawback of this was that he'd proved all over again that Jaffa jokes were not funny, even less so the third or fourth telling. Even Teal'c's laugh had stopped being enjoyable once the first astonishment had worn out.
To be fair, Carter's scientific lectures were even worse. "*The structural properties of liquid surfaces offer many possibilities in the field of new technologies, like, for example, flexible electronic displays.*"
"Sweet. Flexible is good." Jack passed a hand on the bare wall before sinking down to the floor, against a pillar. The closed door wasn't hidden to the sight anymore now that the flourishes had, for some reason, scampered away. Jack lit the ground where the front half of a booted footprint disappeared under the stone. It was disturbing -- it almost seemed that Daniel had walked through the concrete surface. Like a ghost.
Don't go there, O'Neill, Jack thought.
"*Colonel, still nothing?*"
"Not a single thing. How long has it been?"
"Okay, that's enough. Bring in the C4. We're extracting him."
Jack walked to the front as if he could hear Carter activating at the door. Teal'c had gone to the mountain to inform Hammond of the new developments, and had come back laden with explosives and the General's benediction to blow the place up if it came down to it.
"*It's ready, Colonel.*"
A droning sound alerted Jack. "Wait, Carter."
In the middle of the temple, a large column of light too brilliant to see through rose from the ground, hit the ceiling, and disappeared, leaving in its place the huddled form of an unconscious man.
"*Sir, we saw that. What happened?*" Carter asked.
Jack groped for his radio, fighting not to drop his flashlight. "He's back. I'm going to check on him." He hadn't finished blurting out the words before he was at Daniel's side, checking for his pulse. "He's alive," he said. "Carter, gimme a minute, and I call you back."
"He's alive," he repeated to himself. He shone the light on Daniel's face. His lips were pale, and come to think of it, his skin was a weird shade of. blue? Jack shook his head. Colours looked off in this temple.
A surprisingly large amount of blood had again leaked from the barely visible puncture on Daniel's left temple. Jack wiped the gore clean with his thumb, remembering too late that he should have used an antiseptic towelette.
Daniel's eyes snapped open. Holding his breath, Jack moved over him, and shone the flashlight near his eyes. The pupils were identical in size. "Daniel?"
The man sprang into a sitting position and grabbed Jack by the shoulders, toppling him on his butt. "Are you okay? I'm sorry, I don't know what happened to you. I didn't ask about you. I meant to but."
"Hey, hey, hey, Grasshopper. Are you okay?"
"I am, too. They didn't do anything to you, did they? And Sam and Teal'c, please tell me they're fine! Jack."
Daniel's jabber was barely intelligible. Words mixed up and seemed to get stuck on his tongue, but Jack felt this was more due to fear and excitement than from a Broca brain scramble. It sounded like Daniel had managed to win the aliens over, as always. They'd just have to wait until the bad guys opened the door. Then they'd jump through the Stargate so fast that the wormhole would propel them right into the best pub in Colorado.
"Carter, he seems fine," Jack reported.
Daniel leant forward. He removed his hands from Jack's shoulders and slid them under his jacket, wrapping him into a hug from which Jack couldn't escape. Fingers gripping the fabric of Jack's tee-shirt, head lilted against his neck, he nestled.
"Uh, Daniel? You're comfortable there?"
"Yes. You're warm."
That's when Jack noticed. Daniel felt cold, not like someone who'd spent time in the snow, but like someone who didn't give off heat. His skin was tight to the touch, and if he hadn't been moving and talking, Jack would have sworn Daniel was affected by post-mortem rigor. Jack nudged him back to place a hand on his cheek. There was no other interpretation. Daniel's colour was wrong.
"Been brought back from the dead?"
"Not quite as in, you're still a bit dead, or not quite, you didn't die?"
"I'm fine. Don't worry, please. I can't stand that. I'll be fine, you know."
"Yeah, sure." Jack passed one arm around Daniel's back to reach his radio. "Don't move. We need more time."
"*How long, Sir?*"
Jack smiled. With a few exceptions, Carter was the perfect soldier. She didn't question his orders even when she burned to know more about the situation than she really needed. "I don't know. I'll contact you. Over."
Jack extracted the radio from his pocket, removed the earphone and placed the lot on the ground. He forced his fingers between Daniel's torso and his utility vest, and groped for the pocket in which he kept an emergency blanket. He drew it out in spite of Daniel's passive resistance and unfolded it single-handedly. Arranging it around his friend was easier.
Daniel exhaled a puff of must air. "Thank you."
"Tell me what's wrong."
"It's my fault, because I looked at her, and I shouldn't have." He snickered. "She was more your type, anyway. A bit old for me."
"Well, her hairdo was, uh, fascinating. You'd like it. So I looked, and then she touched me, a lot, and."
"Daniel, you remember this talk we had about bees, sunflowers and alien women?"
The instant Daniel chuckled, spasms contracted his muscles. He clutched Jack tighter. His fingers dug into his ribs, triggering memories of broken bones and punctured lungs Jack wasn't too eager to recall.
"I like it gentle, Daniel."
"Sorry. I'm scared. Please stay with me. Please."
"I'm not moving."
"I wish they were here, too."
"Sam. Teal'c. Need them. Need you. Please hold me tighter."
Daniel was shivering from cold and terror. He doubted Jack could feel it. His skin was still too rigid to give away the smallest tremors of his body. Remembering that his fingertips were hard, too, Daniel relaxed his grip.
"Did I hurt you?"
"No. You know I've always dreamt of having your fingerprints tattooed on my sides."
"Are you going to stay like that?"
Daniel understood Jack's tone. He heard the friendship, the caring, the anger, and hidden deep under it all, the underlying fear. He could cope with everything else, but the fear had to go. "Grey said the stone skin will go as soon as I stop being afraid."
"If Grey said it, then."
"You want to know everything?"
"You want to tell me?"
"Not really. I don't want to think about it. Once the after-effects have disappeared, maybe." Daniel relaxed to the best of his petrified abilities. He could feel the blood rushing freely in his body, and that felt good. He could feel Jack's warmth enfolding him, and that felt better. He wondered if he could borrow Jack's heat and forget to give it back.
Later, he slid out of Jack's hold. Moving was difficult and breathing was painful, so he kept these at a minimum. When he wanted to talk, he had to block his respiration and try to say everything in one go. Words, at least, were easy to find. He tried a few, for sheer pleasure and to banish the terror. "Coil and hiss, writhe and twist. "
"What was that?"
Daniel smiled. His lips and the small wrinkles around his eyes strained. He stood and stretched his muscles, testing their flexibility. "Getting there," he said.
"How long is it going to last? And why doesn't your new girlfriend let us leave?"
"I have no idea." Daniel glanced at the wall. The tentacles were back into place, like he had expected them to be. This was the Gorgons' way to keep an eye on what happened in the temple. It would also inform their people of their presence, were they to come back one day.
The message on the wall had made sense, once. Over the years, Grey and Brown had lost their focus. Every day the words became more disjointed as they succumbed to madness.
Daniel hoped they had still something to tell him. His knees clicked like Jack's, but wouldn't bend, so he had to shuffle his way to the back wall.
Jack jumped back on his feet. "Where are you going?"
"Oh. Uh. I want to, you know, read this. Glasses, please?"
After some fumbling, Jack handed the glasses to Daniel. He slid them back on, forcing the sides over his stiff ears and hair. He clasped Jack's flashlight and directed its beam to the central portion of the wall.
The Gorgons were obviously begging for attention. Vines were thriving, overlapping each other in a dizzying pattern. The colours were more vivid than Daniel remembered: green energized the dull grey, yellow animated the brown. Some strands were sliding along the wall, avoiding each other before settling into place. A yellow tentacle reached out to him, and stopped an inch away from his nose.
"Daniel, is that a suction pad looking at you?"
"It's just her."
"More my type, eh?"
"Definitely," he said, pointing at the spot on the wall where curvaceous lines were shaping a few words. He deciphered it silently. I like it gentle, too. That rang a bell, though it took a few seconds for Daniel to recall where it came from.
"What does it say?"
"Nothing to worry about. She's been." He coughed while saying the next word, ". eavesdropping."
The tentacle retreated into the wall. Daniel explored another section, and found another sentence. "Do find out about our people and come back to tell us," he said out loud. Even without the colour of the line, he could have told this was from Grey.
"Come back? Only in their dreams."
Daniel dismissed Jack with a wave. He looked straight at the grey word. "Of course we'll be back. I promised."
He distinctly heard Jack's jaw drop. "You. Promised."
"You're a goofball."
"Thank you. I love you too."
"And you mean it."
"That we'll come back? Yes." Daniel turned away. He grabbed Jack by the arm and led him to the other side of the temple, confident that the front door would open for them.
It slid down into the ground, revealing a bright doorway broken by two silhouettes. Daniel gave Teal'c and Sam a smile that wasn't blue anymore. With a supple stride he joined them, Jack tagging along, and left the temple.
 Medusa, by Shel Silverstein
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