This is a work of fiction based on the series Stargate SG-1. The characters and most of the setting are the property of MGM, Gekko Productions, Showtime, and all other Powers That Be not listed here. The story, however, is mine. No profit is intended nor will ever be made from this story.
Even in his worst nightmare, Colonel Jack O' Neill couldn't imagine a mission starting off any worse than this one had. SG-1 had emerged from the Stargate in the midst of a shooting war. True, the weapons were primitive compared to Earth standards, almost the equivalent of lead-shot-and-gunpowder muskets, but from the looks of some of the casualties sprawled on the ground around them, they could still do the job.
"Where in the hell did these guys come from?" Jack questioned, glaring at Captain Sam Carter.
"I don't know, sir. From the information the M.A.L.P. sent back, we thought this world was peaceful," Carter informed O'Neill.
Jack made a face. "Peaceful, huh? Terrific." He ducked behind a jumble of stone bricks, dragging the resident civilian, Dr. Daniel Jackson, with him. The colonel surveyed the scene from behind the relative safety of the pile of blocks, taking in the heavily armed men slowly and cautiously advancing toward the Stargate.
"Daniel, get to the DHD and dial home. We'll cover you," O'Neill hissed, gesturing for the slight anthropologist to make a run for the carved stone pedestal. With only a moment's shocked hesitation, Daniel bolted for the device that would send them safely home.
In the time it took for Daniel to scurry across to the other side of the wide, stone platform where the 'gate lay, both sides had been alerted to the intruders' presence. Both sides, accustomed to the Goa'uld coming through the 'gate to plunder their world' s riches, made an unspoken pact to continue their 'disagreement' later. Right now they had bigger things to deal with. Almost as one, the planet's inhabitants turned their weapons on SG-1.
O'Neill and Carter, trained soldiers, dropped into a defensive posture behind what little cover there was and put down covering fire. Teal'c followed suit, firing his staff weapon into the ground in front of the natives, sending up a thick cloud of dirt like a smoke screen to conceal Daniel's activities from them.
"Daniel! Hurry it up!" O'Neill barked over his shoulder.
The anthropologist acknowledged the team leader's command with an absent wave of his hand, his mind working at warp speed as he read the symbols on the weather-worn cartouche.
"Yo, Danny, we' re slightly outnumbered here," O'Neill loudly reminded the younger man. "You might want to hurry it up a little!"
Daniel turned to reply to Jack's impatient request. The retort died on his lips as a couple of bullets tore over his head, passing close enough so that he could feel the displacement of air as they passed by. Sharp bits of stone peppered his face as Daniel threw himself behind the DHD. He was trapped behind the small stone pedestal, frozen in place as the primitive gunfire kept him pinned in position.
It took a moment to find his voice but when he did, Daniel instinctively called out to the one man he trusted to save him. "Jack!"
O'Neill tore his gaze from the advancing natives and looked toward Daniel's last position. He cursed loudly when he saw Daniel crouched behind the DHD, pinned down by weapons fire.
"Oh, for crying out loud. Sit tight, Danny! Carter, cover him!" O'Neill ordered, darting from his hiding spot into the open, hoping to draw some of the attention away from Daniel's position.
The captain scrambled toward the DHD, firing short bursts of covering fire into the ruins. She ran between the jumbled piles of bricks, making it halfway across the stone landing before one of the natives' shots hit home. With a yelp of pain, Carter clutched her left shoulder and tumbled to the stone floor.
"Carter!" Growling in frustrated anger, O'Neill advanced on his teammate, savagely firing his weapon to drive their attackers away. All bets were off; now that the inhabitants of this world had injured one of his own, Jack was playing for keeps. The native population backed off slightly under O'Neill's renewed assault, retreating to the safety of the ruins around the 'gate platform. Their retreat gave the colonel the chance to pull Sam into some cover.
"How bad is it?" he barked, scanning the ruins for signs of an impending attack.
"It's not that bad, sir," Carter gasped. "How's Daniel doing?"
A quick glance in Daniel's direction revealed the anthropologist was back at work, once again bending over the ancient cartouche. "Daniel, hurry up and get that 'gate open now!" O'Neill bellowed.
Daniel suddenly stood up, pushing his glasses back on his nose. "I think I've got it," he replied, moving to the DHD and pressing the engraved glyphs with amazing speed. When the last glyph was depressed, he rested his hand on the center crystal. The big wheel spun, chevrons locking in place as the coordinates caught and held. Daniel dove behind the DHD again as more bullets rained down around him.
With a sudden deafening surge of sound, blue-white energy burst from the Stargate, exploding outward, then drawing back through the other side before settling into the confines of the metal ring.
"Let's go!" O'Neill scooped Carter up, one strong arm around her waist as he half-carried, half-dragged her toward safety, still firing his gun at the approaching natives.
Teal'c continued to shoot his staff weapon in a steady barrage, slowly backing up the worn stone stairs toward O'Neill and Carter.
"Take Captain Carter through the Stargate, Colonel O'Neill . Daniel Jackson and I will follow," he promised O'Neill.
O'Neill met Teal'c's gaze, seeing the firm resolve in the set of the larger man's jaw. He nodded his head, relinquishing the responsibility of getting Daniel home to the Jaffa.
"Hurry home, kids," he quipped, turning once more toward the Stargate. He hauled Carter through the entrance to the wormhole, vanishing through the liquid energy.
"Daniel Jackson! Go!" the Jaffa commanded, turning to fire his weapon again at the warring factions. As the Jaffa backed toward the 'gate, Teal'c saw Daniel stumble as he raced toward the ancient metal ring. The anthropologist went down on one knee, teetering unsteadily for a moment before lurching to his feet again and hurrying to the 'gate.
Teal'c turned and ran the remaining few feet to the Stargate, snagging Daniel's sleeve as he overtook the younger man. His forward momentum carried them both to safety.
"Well, so far, sir, the test results show there is no discernable aftereffect from 'gate travel, other than the temporary disorientation," Dr. Frasier concluded her report.
General Hammond nodded, pleased with the results of the doctor's tests on the SG teams. "That is good news. Thank you, Doctor. Please keep me informed of the results of the rest your testing," Hammond requested, signing off on the proffered report.
"Yes, sir, I will."
Loud klaxons abruptly blared through the Cheyenne Mountain complex, making any further attempt at conversation impossible over the deafening noise. Hammond and Frasier exchanged surprised glances before as one they turned and ran down the corridor toward the gateroom.
//Off world activation. Incoming travelers.//
"Sir, the signal's from SG-1," an airman called out.
"They couldn't have left more than twenty minutes ago," Hammond said grimly. "Open the iris."
"Yes, sir," the airman responded. The thick titanium iris spun open, allowing the explorers safe entry back to the base.
Half of SG-1 burst from the Stargate a minute later. O'Neill hurried down the metal gangway, still supporting most of Carter's weight as he pulled her away from the large metal ring.
"Colonel! What happened?" Hammond barked, striding up the ramp, Frasier hot on his heels.
O'Neill carefully sat Carter on the metal floor, one hand resting reassuringly on her shoulder as he responded, "Sir, we were under attack. We walked right into the middle of a battle. Captain Carter's been injured."
"Where are Teal'c and Dr. Jackson?" Hammond questioned.
"They were right behind me, sir. Teal'c was covering Daniel's retreat from the DHD."
"I see." Hammond didn't look pleased at this turn of events.
Dr. Frasier shouldered her way through the two men, crouching down beside Carter. "Here, let me have a look," she offered, her manner calmly professional as she bent to look at Carter's injury.
Carter smiled wanly at the doctor as Frasier carefully opened the captain's jacket. "I'm okay," she panted. "It's just a flesh wound."
"It doesn't look too bad," Frasier confirmed. She glanced up as two orderlies approached. "Take her to the infirmary. I'll be right there." The two men gently helped Carter to her feet and escorted her out of the embarkation room.
The 'gate hummed again, drawing everyone's attention as it disgorged the remaining members of SG-1.
"Is everyone else all right?" Frasier questioned, looking over the rest of the team. Her quick glance revealed both Teal'c and Daniel were moving under their own steam.
O'Neill waved off her concern. "You'll be the first to know if we're not," he responded lightly.
"All right. I'm going to go back to the infirmary. I'd like your team to come down for a checkup after debriefing," Frasier requested, looking to Hammond for confirmation.
The general nodded his head in agreement. "I concur."
"Yes, sir," the colonel responded wryly, giving Frasier one of his patented charming O'Neill grins. The doctor sighed in mock resignation but couldn't quite hide her smile as she hurried out of the gateroom.
Teal'c walked down the ramp as O'Neill and Hammond continued to discuss the events on the planet. Daniel moved to follow the Jaffa; he took two unsteady steps on legs rapidly losing strength, clumsily reaching out to grab the low railing at the top of the ramp. He leaned heavily on the rail for a moment, breathing hard as the rush of adrenaline-induced energy wore off. Without warning Daniel's legs gave out and he went down, landing heavily on his knees and clinging to the rail as his vision darkened.
O'Neill caught the motion out of the corner of his eye, spinning around to face the anthropologist. His mouth dropped open in shock at the sight before him. Jack was running up the ramp to check on his friend before he was aware of taking a single step.
"Daniel? Are you all right?" O'Neill questioned. He dropped to his knees beside the younger man, reaching out a hand and lightly resting it on his back. "Talk to me, Daniel. Are you okay?"
Daniel turned glassy eyes on his friend. "J-jack? I--I don't think so..." he gasped weakly.
Jack's eyes swept over the younger man, catching and holding the wide patch of blood on Daniel's tee-shirt.
"Doc!" he yelled as he reached a steadying arm around his friend's shoulders. Jack carefully eased Daniel down from his unsteady perch on his knees, sitting him down on the floor of the ramp. Daniel sagged gratefully against O'Neill's chest, letting Jack take over the chore of keeping him upright.
"Take it easy, Danny. We'll get you fixed up in no time. Doc!"
Frasier was barely out of the gateroom when O'Neill's frantic call rang out. The doctor bolted through the wide doors, looking for the source of the call. She spotted O'Neill near the Stargate, kneeling protectively beside Daniel.
Frasier crouched beside the two men, peering down at the man cradled against O'Neill's chest. "What is it, Colonel?"
"I think he's been shot," O'Neill snapped worriedly. He noted his friend's painful trembling with concern. "Damn it, Daniel, why didn't you say something?"
Daniel's eyes widened at the sharp rebuke. "Jack, I'm sorry..."
Jack stared in surprise at the unexpected apology. His expression softened and he admonished gently, "No, you don't have to be sorry. Now just be quiet and let the Doc look after you."
Daniel nodded, closing his eyes tightly as Frasier began her exam. He gasped once in pain as her gentle fingers probed the injury. O'Neill reflexively tightened his hold on Daniel's shoulders as the man flinched away from Frasier's ministrations.
"Take it easy, Dr. Jackson." Frasier looked up at Hammond, her expression grim. "General, I need to get him to the infirmary right away."
Hammond quickly gestured to two medical corpsmen as they entered the gateroom; the medics hurried forward and joined Frasier.
"Give Dr. Frasier a hand with Dr. Jackson," the general ordered. The two men bent to the task and pulled Daniel from O'Neill's grasp.
The colonel climbed to his feet as Daniel was whisked away to the base's medical facility. Jack turned to General Hammond. "Sir, I swear I didn't know he was injured," he said quietly, his voice tight with worry.
The Jaffa spoke up. "Colonel O'Neill, I was not aware of his injury either," Teal'c began. "Perhaps it occurred as we were entering the Stargate."
Hammond considered the Jaffa's words, studying the two men before him. The general prided himself on his ability to read people; from O'Neill's shell-shocked appearance and Teal'c's deeper-than-usual frown, the general knew his men were telling the truth.
"Colonel, it's not your fault. You were under attack. There are bound to be casualties in circumstances such as you encountered."
"Yes, sir," O'Neill responded flatly. He knew Hammond was only trying to reassure him, but right now Jack definitely wasn't in the mood to listen to the general spout empty platitudes.
"I want you and Teal'c to get checked out by Dr. Frasier's staff, then report to my office for a debriefing," Hammond ordered, his firm tone brooking no argument.
Wanting nothing more than to forego the briefing entirely so he could check on Daniel, Jack turned to face his commanding officer. Years of military discipline kicked in as O'Neill answered politely, "Yes, sir."
Hammond nodded. "Dismissed."
Silently, the general watched as O'Neill and Teal'c hurried from the gate room and disappeared down the long, bare corridor. Feeling the responsibility of command weighing heavily on his warrior's soul, Hammond squared his shoulders and headed for the metal staircase that led to his office. With any luck he'd have time to have a cup of coffee and get his frayed nerves settled before SG-1 came for debriefing.
The debriefing was over in no time. Without Daniel's input as to what had happened to him, there was little to report. Hammond put SG-1 on stand-down until temporary replacements could be found for Carter and Jackson. The work the SG teams were doing was too valuable to let one team sit idle for any length of time.
O'Neill and Teal'c left Hammond's office and went to the infirmary to check on Carter. They found the captain comfortably resting in a hospital bed, her left arm immobilized in a sling as she thumbed through a trashy tabloid. Carter looked up when a soft knock sounded on the doorframe; she smiled when she saw O'Neill grinning mischievously at her.
"I didn't know this was your choice of reading material," the colonel teased, stepping inside the spartan room. "Want some company?"
Carter nodded, filled with relief at seeing a friendly face. "Yes, sir. There are only so many old issues of the 'National Interrogator' a person can read before they completely lose their mind." The captain smiled at the Jaffa as he followed O'Neill into the room.
"Hey, I love this paper. Half of Daniel's theories about . . . what did he call it? 'Cross-pollenization of ancient civilizations' made it into print in these things." Jack suddenly fell silent, his eyes taking on a haunted look as his casual joke hit home.
Carter broke the strained silence that had settled between them. "Any word about how he's doing?"
Jack shook his head, his eyes carefully averted. "No. He's still in surgery."
Carter nodded silently, watching as O'Neill planted himself in the chair beside her bed.
Jack studied the sling on her arm, nodding toward it. "How's the shoulder?" he asked.
"Oh, it's okay. Doc says it'll be stiff for a little while, but I should be back on active duty in a few days."
"That's good," the colonel replied, genuinely pleased that his teammate was all right. He fell silent again, absently drumming his fingers on the arms of the chair. Not one to sit still for long, Jack launched himself out of the chair and began to pace back and forth across the small hospital room. He radiated nervous energy like a penned-up jungle cat.
"Colonel. Colonel," Carter began, trying to catch her commanding officer's attention. The man continued to pace, lost in thought and all but oblivious to her call. Exchanging concerned looks with Teal'c, Carter tried again, a little louder this time. "Sir!"
O'Neill paused in his frenetic wandering, turning to face the woman lying in the bed. "What?"
"Sir, he's going to be okay," Sam offered. "Doc Frasier will do everything she can for him."
Jack blew his breath out in a gust, reaching up to scrub at his short hair with both hands. "I know she will," he snapped. "Her skill isn't in question here, Captain." He left his concern unspoken but Carter was able to read the underlying worry.
"It's not your fault, sir."
O'Neill spun, turning to face his young subordinate. Jack's eyes were cold and hard, filled with self-recrimination and guilt.
"Yeah? And what makes you think that?" he snarled. "Damn it, Captain, he got hurt under my command. He's a civilian; it's my responsibility to ensure he comes back safely from every mission. The fact that I wasn't even aware that one of my team was injured doesn't speak well of my skills as a commanding officer, does it?"
Sam swallowed, surprised at the vehemence of Jack's bitter reply. When she found her voice, her words were soft, couched in soothing tones. "Sir, with all due respect, you can't be in all places at once. It's impossible to be aware of everything that's happening in a fire fight, even for someone with as much combat experience as you have."
Jack refused to be absolved of blame. "That's no excuse, Captain."
Teal'c chose this moment to enter the conversation. "The fault is mine, Colonel O'Neill, not yours. You left Daniel Jackson in my care." The Jaffa looked steadily at the colonel, his gaze unflinchingly direct, almost as if he was challenging the colonel to deny his words. "If anyone is to be held accountable, it is I."
Jack sighed, shaking his head as he faced the Jaffa. "It doesn't work that way, Teal'c. Getting my team back safely is my responsibility. I blew it."
Sam tried again, determined to get the issue out into the open where they could deal with it before her commanding officer--her friend--went off the deep end. "Is it because it was Daniel, sir?"
Her soft words hit Jack like a physical blow; his eyes closed tightly as her question twisted like a knife in his gut. With an impatient shake of his head, he resumed pacing across the room.
"Colonel, talk to me," Sam pleaded. "You know Daniel wouldn't want you to beat yourself up like this. He would never blame you for what happened."
"What Daniel wants has nothing to do with this."
"You don't get it, do you? I let him down. He trusted me, and I let him down. How am I supposed to face him knowing that in a crunch he can't count on me to protect him?" Jack spun on his heel and fled the narrow confines of the hospital room. Sam and Teal'c could only stare helplessly after him.
Several hours later, Dr. Frasier found O'Neill sitting on the floor of the gate room, his back against the cool concrete wall, his eyes wide and staring vacantly at the dull metal ring of the Stargate. His mouth was set into a hard, unforgiving line as he wrestled with his personal demons.
The doctor stood beside Jack for several seconds, but he was too lost in thought to notice her approach.
Frasier quietly cleared her throat. "Colonel?"
O'Neill turned at the soft query, looking up into Frasier's concerned face. "Hi, Doc. Been standing there long?"
The doctor shook her head. "Just for a few moments."
Jack bravely met her gaze, his dark, tormented eyes a window into his tortured soul. He cut right to the chase, asking the question he desperately needed to know the answer to. "How is Daniel?"
"He's still with us, Colonel."
At the doctor's words, Jack let out the breath he hadn't been aware of holding. "What's his prognosis?"
"To be honest, it's going to be a few weeks before he's up and around. He lost a lot of blood before we were able to get the bullet out. He also has a low-grade fever that has me a bit concerned. I think it's the beginning of an infection."
Jack closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, letting the meaning of Frasier's words sink in before he spoke again. "Can I see him?"
Frasier shook her head. "I'm not sure if that's a good idea right now, Colonel."
"Doctor, I need to see him. I need to talk to him, to tell him to tell him I'm sorry..." Jack's voice trailed off and he swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat.
Frasier stepped forward, carefully placing her hand on O'Neill's shoulder, unsure if the contact would be welcome or if he would shake off the light touch. "Jack, you can't blame yourself for this," she said gently.
"No? Who can I blame, then? The gods? Fate?" he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Why does everyone keep telling me it's not my fault? I was in command. It was my responsibility to get everyone home safely."
"Colonel, you're a career military officer. You know as well as I do that casualties are inevitable, especially when you take into consideration just how dangerous this line of work is."
O'Neill snorted in disgust. "Casualties may be inevitable among military personnel, but that tenet doesn't hold for civilians, Doctor," Jack coldly reminded her.
Frasier nodded her head, her eyes meeting Jack's as she thought about his words. After a moment she conceded, "No, I suppose it doesn't. But you can't tell me Dr. Jackson doesn't know the risks involved in the job."
Jack threw his hands up in the air in angry frustration. "Doc, the man's a *scientist*. To him, risk is publishing a research paper that goes against established academic doctrine, not getting shot at on some alien world light years from home..."
Frasier's sympathetic expression hardened. "You're not giving him the credit he deserves. I think he's proven himself to be a valuable member of your team."
"That's not what I . . . ah, hell, I don't know what I mean anymore," Jack admitted softly. He pressed his palms to burning, sand-filled eyes, battling the desperation that threatened to send him over the edge of insanity. He sat like that for a few moments, gathering the remains of his shattered control about him. Finally he turned a hopeful smile on the doctor and asked, "So, are you going to let me see him?"
Frasier considered the request, studying the man in front of her as she pondered her answer. Though she was hesitant to admit it to him, she was worried about his mental stability. Jack looked more vulnerable--more lost--than she had ever seen him before; it was a reaction totally out of character for the so-in-control military man.
As if reading her thoughts Jack shrugged lightly, offering in explanation, "I'm okay, Doc. This has just thrown me for a loop. I really need to see him."
"Are you okay?" Frasier asked astutely.
Jack smiled at the doctor with a grin that didn't quite make it to his eyes, answering with a half-hearted, "Yeah, I think so."
He didn't trust himself to take the explanation any further; to do that meant he would have to analyze his feelings about the situation. He'd have to think about Daniel lying in that hospital bed because he hadn't been there for him . . . just like he hadn't been there for Charlie.
Feeling suddenly lightheaded, Jack fought down the unbidden comparison to his son's tragic death. His heart pounded in his chest as he struggled to push those thoughts aside. Jack realized that if he didn't get a handle on this situation damn soon, someone was going to have to call County Mental Health to come and get him fitted for that straight jacket.
Frasier's voice interrupted his train of thought, dragging him away from the morbid reflections that filled his head.
"Come on, I'll take you back to the infirmary. You can sit with Daniel if you like." Frasier paused, looking down at the man in front of her. "It might do you both some good."
Jack sighed with relief at the doctor's unintentional intervention. "Thanks, Doc."
Frasier waited patiently as Jack climbed to his feet. He fell in step with the petite doctor, thankful she was there to guide him through the maze of hallways to the infirmary. In the state he was in, Jack doubted he could've found his way there on his own.
"Here we are, Colonel." Frasier stood back as O'Neill entered the small hospital room. She watched as Jack's shoulders slumped dejectedly as he got his first glimpse of his friend since he'd been taken from the embarkation room. "I have some other duties to attend to. If you need to talk, come find me."
Jack nodded, smiling his gratitude at the doctor. She gave an answering smile before leaving the room. Frasier quietly pulled the door closed behind her, allowing Jack some privacy as he kept watch over his friend.
As the heavy door clicked shut behind him, O'Neill slowly, hesitantly, crossed the small room to stand by the hospital bed. He looked down at Daniel for a long while, frozen in place by the sight before him; Daniel's face was pale and drawn, the dark circles under his eyes accentuating the unhealthy pallor of his skin. Even unconscious, Jack could see the ghost of pain about the anthropologist's features. Daniel's boyish face looked even younger in sleep, adding to the guilt already weighing heavily upon him. Jack felt a surge of fatherly protectiveness as he gazed down at his friend.
Snapping out of his reverie, Jack dragged a chair over to the bedside, the legs scuffing softly on the institutional tile floor, before settling into it with a huff. The colonel's eyes wandered to the medical equipment monitoring his friend's condition, but the myriad of readouts didn't provide any further clues about Daniel's health beyond what Frasier had already told him. Not feeling any more enlightened than he had a moment before, Jack turned his gaze back to the man lying so very still on the bed.
With an unaccountably trembling hand, Jack reached over and brushed a stray lock of hair from Daniel's clammy forehead. His hand lingered on Daniel's brow, his touch gentle as he lightly smoothed the sandy-blond hair back from his friend's face.
"Danny, can you hear me?" Jack whispered softly. "Earth calling Dr. Jackson. You in there, buddy?"
There was no response from the still figure, nor did Jack really expect one. Taking a deep, calming breath, he plowed on, "Danny, I just... I just want you to know how sorry I am about all of this." Jack's hand waved absently, indicating the room and all the medical equipment. "I swear I never would've left you behind with Teal'c if I'd known you needed help. You've got to believe me."
As he spoke, Jack continued to lightly stroke Daniel's brow, his touch conveying the feelings he had a hard time expressing out loud.
"Damn it, Daniel, don't you do this to me," he pleaded, his tone hushed, choked with despair. "I can't lose any more people in my life. Not like this..."
Jack wasn't sure how long he'd been dozing when a soft noise woke him from his restless sleep. His eyes opened and he sat up straight against the unyielding plastic chair back, his soldier's instincts on alert as he scanned the room for signs of danger. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, Jack sagged back in his seat, sleepily running one hand through his short-cropped hair. With a weary sigh, Jack's eyes closed again as he gave in to fatigue, falling asleep almost instantly.
The soft noise repeated itself a few moments later, waking the colonel once more. With a start, Jack realized Daniel was the source of the sound. The younger man was groaning softly, moving his head and muttering an unintelligible phrase in some long-lost dialect.
Jack sat up again, leaning close to peer at Daniel's face. "Danny?" he questioned. "Can you hear me? Come on, wake up and talk to me..."
The anthropologist mumbled again, the words soft, breathless, and still impossible to make out.
Feeling suddenly helpless, Jack reached out to pat Daniel's shoulder. Through the thin cotton hospital gown he could feel the heat radiating off his young friend. The fever continued to ravage his body despite Dr. Frasier's best efforts to bring it under control.
Jack's fingers tightened on the slim shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. "English, Danny. You need to speak English," the colonel urged. The gentle touch and hushed words quieted the injured man and he lay still once more. Moving his chair closer to the bed, Jack kept his hand on Daniel's shoulder, needing the physical contact probably as much as Daniel did, though he would never admit to having that need.
Jack had slipped back into his uncomfortable sleep when Daniel's whispered words woke him once more. This time, even with Jack's untrained ear, the phrase sounded very much like the melodic, vibrant language spoken on Abydos. O'Neill sat up straight, staring at Daniel as comprehension dawned. Where else would Daniel escape to when he was sick and in need of comfort?
"Is that where you are right now, buddy? Back home?" Jack murmured.
The meaning of those questions hit hard; in his heart, Jack knew that the anthropologist's old-world soul belonged on Abydos. It was almost funny how easy it was to accept that Daniel's rightful place was on that desert world, not on the planet of his birth. What wasn't easy to accept was the man's inevitable return to that backwater planet. Even if they didn't find Sha're and Skaara, Jack knew Daniel would somehow find a way to go back to his adopted home. There was a lifetime's worth of work ahead of him there, teaching the Abydonians their written language and continuing his study of the ancient map room.
The thought of never seeing his friend again brought a dull ache to Jack's chest, like a fist squeezing relentlessly around his heart, and he swallowed hard against that surge of pain. No, he never guessed the two of them would connect so powerfully, so much so that he would feel a physical ache at the thought of the man's absence from his life.
As he studied Daniel's face, Jack's thoughts wandered back to the hopelessly awkward young anthropologist who had accompanied him through the Stargate during that first trip to Abydos. 'What a dweeb,' he mused, grinning at the memory of Daniel's first clumsy attempt at speaking to the miners.
Jack reflected that at the time his opinion of the man had been less than stellar, even though the nerdy anthropologist had been the only one able to solve the mysteries of the giant Egyptian cover stones. Since that first mission, in the year he spent on impoverished Abydos, Daniel had grown as a person, finally coming into his own and evolving into the man he was today.
It came as no real surprise to Jack that he had come to appreciate the quick mind behind the mild-mannered facade. Hell, Daniel had proven himself to be a good friend, a thought that would've shocked the man O'Neill had been a year ago.
"But I'm not the same person I was a year ago..." Jack whispered aloud.
When had the turning point had come in their relationship, when the two men polar opposites crossed the line between co-workers and friends? Somehow Daniel had become an important part of his life without Jack even realizing he had done so. Oh, the clues had been there all along, but Jack had been too absorbed in his own emotional pain to pay much attention to the world around him. The seeds of friendship, planted long ago on distant Abydos, began to grow again the night Daniel had come back from that dusty planet and bunked in at Jack's. After dinner, the two men had retired to the living room to talk, to catch up on the happenings in their lives over the past year. Over a couple of beers Daniel spoke of his relationship with Sha're, how she kept him grounded and didn't treat him like a savior as the rest of the villagers had. Jack, in turn, found himself opening up to the shy, unassuming man about his relationship with his ex-wife and of the death of his son. Normally Jack was a very closed person, but Daniel somehow made it easy for him to talk.
"Maybe Doc Frasier's right. Maybe I haven't been giving you the credit you deserve," Jack commented wistfully. "When you get out of the infirmary, you and I need to have a long talk."
Daniel moved his head again; his long fingers tightened on the cotton sheets that covered him. He mumbled under his breath, obviously caught in the grip of a strong dream.
"Easy, Danny, easy," Jack murmured, carefully sponging Daniel's face with the cloth Frasier's staff had brought in for that purpose. He dipped the cloth into the basin of cool water and reapplied it to Daniel's feverish forehead.
The sudden temperature contrast made Daniel gasp sharply, hoarsely whispering the first word Jack had been able to understand all night. "Sha're...?"
"Easy, Danny. You're okay." Jack made his words soft, comforting.
"Sha're!" Daniel's eyes flew open and he moved to sit up. Only Jack's quick intervention prevented him from tumbling out of bed. Jack firmly gripped Daniel's shoulders in his hands, easing the smaller man back against the mattress, his strong hold pinning him there until he was certain Daniel wasn't going to rise again. Daniel finally relaxed in Jack's grip, trembling slightly, still affected by the remains of his nightmare.
The colonel lightly patted Daniel's shoulder, forcing a smile as he said, "Sha're's not here, buddy. You're back at the base." Jack paused, giving the anthropologist time to absorb his words. "How are ya doing?"
Daniel blinked a couple of times, turning confused blue eyes on the man beside him. "J-jack? What . . .?"
"You've been shot, but the doc says you're going to be okay," Jack informed his friend, careful to keep his voice calm so he wouldn't alarm the other man.
"How did . . .?"
"Shhh. That's not important now. Go back to sleep. There will be plenty of time later to answer all your questions," Jack said with a reassuring smile.
Daniel tried again. "But . . ."
The colonel rolled his eyes in mock resignation. "No buts. Go back to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up, and we'll talk more then," Jack promised softly.
Daniel fell silent as stared at the haggard face of his friend, his fever-befuddled brain struggling to make sense of what he was seeing. Jack's expressive face looked like it had aged ten years since Daniel had last seen him. In fact, Jack looked weary to the bone, his dark eyes shadowed with guilt and worry.
Despite his urgent need for sleep, the anthropologist's natural curiosity temporarily overruled his weariness. His eyes flicked around the room, pausing as he observed the medical equipment stacked up around the bed. After a long moment, Daniel's gaze went back to Jack's face. His expression was faintly puzzled; Jack could almost see the gears turning in the quick mind as Daniel put two and two together.
Sensing Daniel's train of thought Jack smiled again, but this time his attempt at reassurance did little to calm his friend; the anthropologist read Jack's pain as easily as he could read the ancient hieroglyphs on the Stargate's cover stones. Daniel pushed aside his sudden exhaustion in his concern for his friend.
"What is it, Danny?" the colonel asked patiently.
"This... wasn't... your fault..." The words were soft, breathless, yet brooking no argument.
Jack could only stare in open-mouthed shock. Suddenly on the defensive, he demanded, "What are you talking about?"
Daniel took a short, shallow breath, managing a faint smile as he met Jack's eyes. "I... know you, Jack. What happened... wasn't... your fault."
Tearing his gaze away from Daniel's, looking everywhere but at Daniel's face, Jack questioned, "What would make you think I was blaming myself? When I get too mother-hennish you always tell me you're a grown man, capable of taking care of yourself..." Stealing a glance in his friend's direction, Jack's voice trailed off as he saw concern mirrored in Daniel's wide eyes.
Concern for him, Jack realized; concern, coupled with a deep affection that went beyond their working relationship. The unguarded emotion in those bright blue eyes conveyed the unconditional, unwavering trust he had in Jack better than any spoken words could have.
Jack sighed wearily, giving up any pretense of hiding his feelings from Daniel. "You could've been killed, Danny, and I never even saw it happen," he admitted guiltily, suddenly becoming very interested in a speck of dirt on the immaculate tile floor.
Daniel reached over and grasped Jack's wrist. The grip was weaker than it should've been, but Jack sensed it was the limit of Daniel's strength. "You... were already gone...through the Stargate...with Sam," he explained breathlessly. "There was...nothing you...could've done..."
Jack's eyes swept up to look at Daniel again. "But . . ."
This time it was Daniel's turn to interrupt. "No buts... Not your fault," he said firmly. His mouth quirked into a passable imitation of Jack's crooked grin. "Got it?"
Jack's hands shot up in self-defense. "Okay, you win. It's not my fault."
Daniel nodded. "No more guilt?" he questioned perceptively.
"What guilt?" Jack asked, pretending innocence. Daniel frowned, easily seeing through the white lie. Jack crumbled under his disapproving regard. "Okay, all right. Maybe I was feeling a little guilty about what happened." He held his hand up, his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "But only just a little."
Daniel smiled again, acknowledging the attempt at humor. "Are you going... to be all right?"
After a moment's thought Jack confirmed, "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I think I am."
Daniel looked closely at Jack's face, his smile widening as he saw the tell-tale change in Jack's eyes. The shadow of grief was gone, replaced by a calm acceptance of the situation. Daniel knew in his heart that Jack was going to be okay. "Good. Because I'm beat," he yawned. With that said, his eyes drifted shut and he settled back against the hard mattress. It took only moments for him to fall into a deep, healing sleep.
"Well, I'll be damned..." Jack murmured.
Jack took a deep breath, grinning happily for the first time since SG-1 came back from their last mission. Daniel was going to be all right; Jack realized he would survive this ordeal, too. And, he vowed, once Daniel was up and around, Jack was going to whip his civilian butt into shape so that he never--never--had to go through this again.
"Yessiree, Danny, my boy. I'm gonna teach you how to duck." Jack sat back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest, and drifted off to sleep, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips.