TITLE: Blood Tide

AUTHOR: Sunrise
FEEDBACK: sunrize83@gmail.com

CATEGORY: Team, Drama/Angst, Friendship, Whumping
PAIRING: None
RATING: PG-13

DATE: April 18, 2004

STATUS: Complete
SEASON/SPOILERS: Season 7

ARCHIVE: Alphagate, Comfort Zone, Stargatefan, Gengate

 

SYNOPSIS: What makes Daniel so special?

 

NOTES: Thanks to Jo for her thorough and speedy beta--I owe you, my friend. This story is a "better late than never" birthday present to my heart sisters babs and devra. Happy Birthday, ladies! You've been waiting a long time for this one. Hope it's worth it!

 

WARNINGS: None

 

DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No copyright infringement whatsoever is intended. The story is for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations and story are mine. Please check with me first if you want to archive or link to this story.


*************************

 

 

"Welcome back, SG-5."

 

Daniel stumbled as he hit the ramp, his legs wobbling and his vision blurred at the edges. He sucked in a deep breath, blinking, and the General's smiling face came gradually into focus. Donovan's hand clamped onto his shoulder, steadying him.

 

"You all right, Dr. J.?"

 

Daniel smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine, Sean. Just lost my bearings for a minute."

 

The lieutenant released his shoulder with a slap. "I hear ya. Sometimes the rush hits you harder than others."

 

Daniel continued down the ramp to where Colonel Bruster was speaking to Hammond. "...went off without a hitch. Thanks to Dr. Jackson we were able to communicate with what passes for their town council. They were only too happy to allow us mining rights in exchange for food and technology."

 

"Excellent, I'm glad to hear it. If those deposits of naquada are half as extensive as they appeared in our preliminary readings, your patience with the natives will prove invaluable."

 

"Their initial reaction to us stemmed more from fear than hostility," Daniel said. "Once they understood what we wanted--"

 

"Like I said, thanks to the doc, here, we had them eating out of our hands in no time." Bruster accompanied the praise with a vigorous whack to the same shoulder Donovan had squeezed earlier.

 

"Just doing my job." Daniel tried not to wince when his muscles ached in protest.

 

Hammond smiled. "One you do very well, son. Congratulations on a successful mission, SG-5. Dr. Fraiser is waiting for you in the infirmary--we'll debrief in an hour."

 

With an inward sigh, Daniel made his way to the infirmary and waited while the doctor checked out the rest of SG-5. At last she motioned him forward and patted the gurney.

 

"Hop up, Daniel. I'll make this as fast as possible--I'm sure you'd like to shower before the debriefing."

 

Daniel held out his arm for the blood pressure cuff, familiar with the routine. "Thanks, Janet."

 

He was just buttoning up his shirt when Jack poked his head through the doorway. "Well if it isn't the SGC's star linguist. I was hoping I might catch you here, away from the adoring masses."

 

Daniel slid off the gurney, frowning a little at the unsteadiness in his legs. "Adoring--? What are you talking about, Jack?"

 

"Nothing, nothing." Jack sauntered into the cubicle, hands shoved in his pockets. "I hear you're the man of the hour, that's all. Pulled off the treaty with the Simpsons--"

 

"Samposians."

 

"Whatever. The point is you charmed them into granting us access to one hell of a lot of naquada. Carter's practically salivating at the prospect." The teasing tone left Jack's voice. "You did good, Daniel."

 

Daniel ducked his head to hide the heat rising in his cheeks. Over the years he'd become adept at shrugging off criticism, but praise still left him uncomfortable. "It was a team effort."

 

"Not to hear Bruster tell it. I reminded him this was a one-shot deal. You're a member of SG-1, not archeologist-for-hire."

 

Daniel folded his arms. "Was there anything else you wanted? I've got a debriefing in...fifteen minutes." He found Jack's possessiveness, worse since his descension, both endearing and annoying.

 

"Just checking that we're still on for tonight."

 

Daniel suppressed a groan. Off-world for three days, he'd lost track of the passage of time. Today must be Friday, which meant tonight was Friday night. In other words, time for his weekly dose of beer, pizza, and hockey at Jack's place.

 

Not that he didn't enjoy the Friday night tradition--heck, he usually looked forward to it. It was one of the first memories of Jack he'd regained, and therefore all the more precious. Resuming them had been one more step towards picking up the threads of his old life.

 

But three days of long, intense meetings under blistering hot conditions, struggling to communicate, had taken their toll. What he really longed for right at the moment was a shower, a hot meal, and a soft bed. In that order.

 

"I don't know, Jack. It's been a long three days and I'm kind of--"

 

"All the more reason to get away from this place, kick back and relax. Avalanche versus the Oilers, Daniel. Gonna be a nail biter."

 

Daniel had a sneaking suspicion Jack was aware that no one could say no to that roguish grin. Sighing, he nodded.

 

"All right, you've convinced me. I should be able to get out of here right after the meeting."

 

"That's more like it. Give me a call when you leave the mountain. I'll make sure the beer is cold and the pizza's hot." He was headed down the hallway, whistling tunelessly, before Daniel could reply.

 

With a rueful shake of his head, Daniel headed for the locker room. If he hurried, he should just make it.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

"Watch it, watch it...OH!" Jack banged his bottle down on the table, tempted to throw it at the television.

 

On screen the Oilers were engaged in exuberant hugging, stick waving, and ass slapping. Scowling, he punched the power button on the remote, cutting short the nauseating display of triumph.

 

"Three to two. We'd've had them if only...." He trailed off, realizing he was speaking to himself.

 

Daniel was curled on the couch, dead to the world, Jack's afghan pulled to his chin. Even by the subdued light of the single lamp, Jack could see his friend's face looked flushed. A glance at Daniel's paper plate, abandoned on the coffee table, revealed he'd only nibbled on a single slice of pizza. Jack hefted his friend's beer bottle--nearly full.

 

Not good. Normally Daniel could put away half a pizza and had no trouble keeping up with Jack when it came to beer. He recalled with some guilt Daniel's reluctance to come over. At the time, he'd chalked it up to Daniel's penchant for overworking. Maybe his friend had been feeling under the weather.

 

Jack stood and moved over to the couch. After a moment's hesitation, he pressed his hand to Daniel's forehead. Daniel startled, arms and legs flailing as he struggled upright.

 

"I...wha...?" He frowned, licked his lips, and squinted. "Jack?"

 

Jack gestured to the darkened television. "Game's done, Dannyboy. And so are you. You're sick."

 

"What? No, I'm not. Just a little tired, that's all." Daniel pushed aside the afghan and tried to smooth his rumpled shirt. Despite his brave words, a shiver wracked his body and he wrapped his arms tightly around his middle.

 

"You're running a fever."

 

"I'll be fine. I just need a good night's rest." Daniel cast a brief, longing look at the afghan before stubbornly meeting Jack's skeptical gaze. "Give me a minute to finish waking up and I'll get out of your hair so we can both get some sleep."

 

Jack shrugged. "If you say so." He picked up their plates and bottles and strolled toward the kitchen. "You know, there's a nasty flu bug going around the mountain. People are dropping like flies." Jack tossed the comment over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of Daniel climbing unsteadily to his feet before he stepped into the kitchen.

 

He wrapped the extra pizza in foil before sticking it into the fridge, rinsed the bottles and dropped them into the recycle bin. A quick swipe of the counter with a wet rag and he headed back to the living room.

 

The empty living room.

 

The unmistakable sound of retching drew Jack to the bathroom. Daniel was on the floor in front of the toilet, his legs splayed and his forehead pressed against the porcelain rim, shivering.

 

"Guess you were right."

 

"Can I get that in writing?" Jack flicked on the fan and dampened a washcloth, placing it into Daniel's hand.

 

"Sorry." Daniel leaned back against the wall and wiped his face.

 

"For what?"

 

"Bringing this," Daniel gestured to himself, "into your house."

 

"For cryin' out loud, Daniel, you're sick. It's not like you planned it." He gave his friend a hand up and stepped aside so Daniel could rinse his mouth at the sink.

 

"I don't want to make you sick." Daniel wiped his face again and leaned against the counter. "Maybe if I get out of here right now--"

 

"You can't be serious. There's no way I'm letting you drive in this condition."

 

"You could take me home. I can pick up my car later, when I'm better."

 

Jack shook his head. "Forget it, Daniel. It's freezing out there and you look like death warmed over. You can crash here. If you're feeling better in the morning, I'll be glad to run you home."

 

"Jack, I--"

 

"Look at it this way. You've already infected me. If I'm gonna get it, I'm gonna get it. No sense adding pneumonia on top of the flu."

 

Daniel shivered again, and his shoulders slumped. "Okay."

 

Jack reached under the sink and pulled out a toothbrush and toothpaste. "Here. At least you can get that nasty taste out of your mouth."

 

Daniel blinked. "Whose toothbrush is that?"

 

"The guy down the street." Jack rolled his eyes. "It's yours, Daniel."

 

"Mine?"

 

"From last time."

 

Another slow blink. "Last time?"

 

"Yeah, you know. Before you..." Jack spiraled his finger upward. "We were celebrating your birthday. You were too drunk to drive home."

 

Daniel's chin came up and he managed a pissy glare despite looking green around the gills. "I was NOT drunk."

 

Jack smiled gently. "You were giggling, Daniel."

 

"I was...huh?" Daniel gaped at him, lips parted in shock.

 

Jack nodded. "Giggling."

 

Daniel snapped his mouth shut with a faint moan.

 

Jack suppressed a grin. Score one for the home team. He so rarely managed to render his friend speechless. "I'll get you some sweats."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Jack woke up combat ready, scrabbling for a P90 that didn't exist. Reality quickly reasserted itself, tangled jungle foliage fading into the safety of four familiar walls, and he relaxed with a gusty sigh. He ran his fingers through his hair and searched out the glowing LED of his alarm clock. 3:36 AM. No wonder it was so dark. It was the middle of the night and time for all good little colonels to be asleep. So why was he awake?

 

Shoving aside the covers, he stood and shuffled to the bedroom door. Might as well check on Daniel. The poor guy had been sick as a dog for hours, reduced to dry heaves when his stomach simply had nothing more to lose. He'd finally dropped into an exhausted sleep around midnight and had been quiet ever since.

 

Navigating more by memory than sight, he nearly tripped over the body crumpled at the top of the stairs. Jack pinwheeled his arms, hanging onto his balance by a thread.

 

"Daniel?" He fumbled along the wall, searching for the light switch. "What in the heck are you--"

 

Jack's fingers connected with the switch and the hallway flooded with light. Daniel, he now saw, was seated on the floor with his legs drawn up to his chest, his forehead resting on his knees. Under the harsh illumination his skin looked translucent, milky pallor darkening to bruised crescents beneath his eyes. He looked up at Jack, wincing against the brightness.

 

"Sorry, Jack. Didn't want to wake you."

 

Jack crouched down and touched his friend's shoulder, sucking in a sharp breath. "Shit, you're burning up. Let's get you back into bed."

 

Easier said than done. Daniel was a tangle of uncoordinated arms and legs, alarmingly weak. Jack finally just grabbed his friend under the armpits and hauled him upright, half-walking, half-carrying him back into the guestroom.

 

"What were you doing out there anyway?" He tucked Daniel under the covers, then fetched the thermometer from the bathroom.

 

"My throat hurts, and I'm thirsty." Daniel's answer came out a raspy croak. "I was going downstairs for a drink of water, but I got a little dizzy, and--ow!" He glared at Jack. "You're supposed to be taking my temperature, Jack, not drilling for oil."

 

Jack ignored the jibe and checked the readout, grimacing. "103. That's pretty high. Maybe we should call Fraiser."

 

"You're the one that said the stomach flu was making the rounds at work. You know how those bugs run their course--twenty-four hours and I'll be back to normal."

 

Jack hesitated. Though Daniel's words made perfect sense, the rapid deterioration of his condition and appearance set his "Spidey sense" tingling.

 

"Water and Tylenol." Daniel pulled the blanket tighter, shivering. "That's all I need. Really, Jack."

 

Jack huffed and shook his head. "I swear, it's like you never left."

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"Oh, I dunno. I just thought maybe spending some time on a higher plane of existence might have left you a little less stubborn."

 

Daniel snorted, coughing when it irritated his throat. "Maybe that's because *you're* the hardheaded one. Did you ever consider that?"

 

"Me?" Jack paused in the doorway, smirking. "Never crossed my mind."

 

Shivering a bit, he bumped up the thermostat when he passed it on the way to the kitchen. Armed with water and Tylenol, he returned to the bedroom and found Daniel asleep, only the tip of his nose protruding from the blankets.

 

"Daniel."

 

Daniel responded by burrowing deeper into the covers. Jack set the glass on the nightstand and gave Daniel's shoulder a brisk shake.

 

"Room service, Daniel. C'mon, wakey, wakey."

 

It took more poking and prodding, but Daniel eventually scooted up and propped himself against the headboard. Jack gave him the water and Tylenol, troubled when he had to steady Daniel's hand. His friend swallowed the pills, then tried returning the barely touched glass.

 

Jack shook his head. "Uh-uh. All of it, Daniel. Fraiser will have my butt if you wind up dehydrated."

 

For once Daniel did as he was told, though he sent Jack reproachful glares over the rim. When he'd drained the last drop he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and shoved the glass at Jack. "Happy?"

 

"Ecstatic. Now sleep."

 

"I was *trying* to sleep. *You* woke me up."

 

"And I'm regretting it, Daniel. Believe me."

 

"Good." Daniel slid back under the blankets, his heavy eyelids already closing. "Then my job here is done."

 

"Guess you can't be too bad off. You're still a smart ass."

 

"Night, Jack."

 

Jack's lips curved in spite of himself. "Yeah, yeah."

 

He retreated to the doorway where he hovered, held captive by an uneasiness he couldn't name. Daniel's breathing slowed, deepened, and the fingers clutching the blankets to his chin gradually uncurled. A jaw-cracking yawn ambushed Jack and he backed quietly into the hallway and shut the door.

 

He turned off the lights and shuffled into his bedroom. Exhaustion swept over him as soon as his body hit the mattress and he sank quickly into dreamless sleep.

 

*************************

 

The phone was ringing.

 

Jack groaned, rolling onto his stomach and squinting at his alarm clock. Seven o'clock. A.M. On a Saturday morning. Whoever was on the other end of the line had better be reporting an eminent Goa'uld attack or they were toast. He flung out his arm, scrabbling for the receiver.

 

"What?"

 

"Colonel? It's Janet Fraiser."

 

Jack sat up and ran a hand through his hair. "Doc? Don't take this the wrong way, but do realize what time it is?"

 

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Colonel, but this is urgent. I need to locate Dr. Jackson, but so far I haven't had much luck. Would you happen to know where he is?"

 

"About five feet down the hallway and a sharp left."

 

"Colonel?"

 

"He's in my guestroom, sleeping. An activity I myself was engaged in until your phone call."

 

She completely ignored the sarcasm. "I have to talk to him, sir. Right away."

 

"Hang on." Jack got out of bed and padded to the door. He stuck his head into the hallway. Daniel's door was closed, the house silent. Jack returned to the phone. "Doc, how urgent is urgent? He had kind of a rough night last night and he's still--"

 

"Colonel, is Daniel ill?"

 

Jack frowned. Fraiser's already intense voice had taken on a sharp edge. "Yeah. Looks like he picked up the flu bug that's going around the mountain."

 

"Give me his symptoms."

 

Okay, now he really was getting bad vibes. "Nothing exotic. He was running a pretty good fever and puking his guts up."

 

"What was his temperature?"

 

"103. Doc, what--"

 

"Does he have a rash?"

 

"*What*?"

 

"Did you notice any red, blotchy patches on his arms or his torso?"

 

"Well...no. But, I mean, he was wearing a long-sleeved tee shirt." Jack swallowed and his suddenly dry throat made an audible click. "Doc, what's with the third degree?"

 

"Colonel, I don't care if he's sleeping. You need to go in there and check for the rash I just described."

 

"Doc--"

 

"Sir, I will tell you everything. As soon as you check on Daniel."

 

Jack, his heart now beating double time, was already halfway to the guestroom. Cradling the phone between his ear and his shoulder, he nudged open the door and moved quietly to the window, cracking open the blinds. Pale sunlight filtered through the slats, illuminating Daniel's sprawled form. He was lying on his back, one arm flung over his head and legs tangled up in the covers, which he'd kicked into a messy pile at the foot of the mattress. Sweat dampened the hair framing his face and beaded his upper lip.

 

"Daniel?"

 

Daniel frowned but didn't open his eyes. He shifted his legs restlessly and turned his face away from the light.

 

Jack crossed to the bed, ignoring the string of questions coming from Fraiser. He brushed his fingertips over Daniel's hot forehead. "Daniel, wake up."

 

Daniel jerked away from the contact, running his tongue over dry lips. "Sha're...'s hot...some water."

 

Shit. Jack could decipher enough of the slurred words to know Daniel was delirious. He grasped the hem of Daniel's shirt and tugged upward, then closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

 

"Colonel? Are you there? Talk to me."

 

Fraiser's authoritative bark brought him back. "Yeah. He's, ah, pretty out of it, Doc. The fever has spiked and I can't get him to wake up. And that rash you were talking about? It's all over his chest and stomach." Jack held Daniel's wrist and pushed up his sleeve. "Arms, too. What in the hell is going on?"

 

"I wish I knew, sir. Sean Donovan is in my infirmary right now with the same symptoms."

 

Jack searched his memory. "Donovan? Lieutenant on SG-5?"

 

"That's the one. He came to me late last night with a fever and muscle aches. Next thing I knew he was unconscious and covered with that damn rash. I'd hoped whatever it is would turn out to be an isolated case."

 

The implication hit him like a sucker punch. "You think they picked something up off-world?"

 

"Colonel, at this point I can only speculate. Bruster and Atkins are both fine--if you don't count pissing and moaning about being quarantined. I need to get Daniel in here ASAP. I've already dispatched a med team; they should be there shortly."

 

"He's no lightweight, Doc, but I could--"

 

"I need you to sit tight, sir. Can you tell me if you or Daniel had contact with anyone else after you left base?"

 

Wait a minute. Had she said quarantine?

 

"You think this is *contagious*?"

 

"I think we have to proceed as if it is until we can determine otherwise."

 

"Shit."

 

"Sir?"

 

"No. No, I drove straight here, no stops along the way. As far as I know, Daniel did the same."

 

"Good. That's very good."

 

Daniel muttered something unintelligible, arms and legs thrashing. Jack rubbed his friend's shoulder and Daniel settled, though his breathing remained shallow and rapid.

 

"Doc, is there anything I can do?"

 

"Try to cool him down. Donovan had a febrile seizure before we got his temperature under control."

 

Jack jerked back his hand. "Seizure?"

 

"Cool compresses, Colonel. The med team should be there within ten minutes." Her voice softened. "And try not to worry."

 

"My friend is sick from an unidentified, possibly alien bug and I may already be infected as well. What's to worry?"

 

"I'll meet you topside, sir."

 

"Looking forward to it, Doc." Jack disconnected.

 

Daniel tossed his head, eyelids fluttering open. "Jack?"

 

Jack laid the back of his hand against Daniel's forehead, wincing at the heat. "It's okay, Daniel. Fraiser's going to fix you up and you'll be back out there hopping planets before you know it."

 

He hoped he was right.

 

*************************

 

"Colonel?"

 

Jack lifted his head from his hands. Carter and Teal'c stood in the observation room, peering at him through the window. He extracted himself from the uncomfortable plastic chair and walked up to the glass.

 

"Carter. I thought you were doing your Charles Bronson thing this weekend."

 

"General Hammond called me at home, sir. How are you feeling?"

 

"Me? I'm just peachy. You know, blue has always been my best color." He tugged at the scrub top. "Brings out the highlights in my hair."

 

"That's...that's good, sir." Carter looked over his shoulder and the lines around her eyes deepened. "How's Daniel?"

 

Jack didn't need to turn around to know what she was seeing. The scrubs and hospital bed were just a precaution for him, Fraiser operating under standard protocol for an unknown and possibly contagious organism.

 

Daniel's bed saw all the action.

 

Nurses Lucas and Sanderson, nearly unrecognizable beneath gowns, gloves and masks, were currently working at lowering Daniel's body temperature, dangerously high at 104.2 degrees. They'd sponged him down with cool water and were now placing cold packs in strategic places like his armpits and groin.

 

"How does Daniel look, Major?" He regretted the sharp words when Carter turned away, biting her lip. "Sorry."

 

"It's okay, sir. We're all a little on edge."

 

"Last I heard, Fraiser was trying some nifty new antibiotic on Donovan. Any luck?"

 

"The drug has proved ineffective. Lieutenant Donovan's condition has deteriorated." Teal'c's eyes remained fixed on Daniel as he spoke. "Dr. Fraiser is most concerned."

 

"Crap."

 

"Indeed."

 

"Colonel, General Hammond has authorized a return trip to P3X-757. Teal'c and I are 'gating out with SG-9 in an hour. We'll take samples of the air, water, and soil as well as interview the native population."

 

Jack frowned. "Sounds risky."

 

"We're going in MOPP 3 so the risk of contamination should be minimal." Carter smiled but her lips trembled. "We need you to hang in there, Colonel. Give us time to figure out what this thing is and how to fight it."

 

Jack clearly heard the unspoken: Please don't let Daniel slip away before we can get back. "Understood, Major. We'll be right here, waiting for you."

 

Lucas and Sanderson had slipped a cooling blanket under Daniel and then retreated to the other side of the room, writing on something Jack assumed was Daniel's chart. He sank back into the chair--still just as uncomfortable--and gathered Daniel's lax fingers into his own.

 

"Any time, Daniel. You know, you're the reason I'm cooped up in this sorry excuse for a room. There's not even a television, for cryin' out loud. The least you could do is wake up so we could play cards."

 

He didn't realize how hard he was clutching Daniel's hand until the fingers twitched and Daniel made a small sound in the back of his throat. Jack sprang to his feet, leaning over the side rail and peering into his friend's face.

 

"Daniel?"

 

Daniel opened his eyes, then slammed them shut, grimacing.

 

"Daniel, are you with me?"

 

Daniel licked his lips and cracked his eyelids open just enough to reveal a sliver of blue. "Lights."

 

"Get Fraiser," Jack said to the pair of green eyes--Sanderson--that materialized at his elbow. When he looked back Daniel had turned his face into his pillow and was attempting to curl into a ball. "And someone tone down the damn lights!"

 

"Jack." Daniel's voice was a papery rasp. "Too loud."

 

"Sorry." He picked up a styrofoam cup of ice chips. "Thirsty?"

 

Daniel nodded, reaching up to guide Jack's hand and sighing as the cool wetness hit his tongue. After two spoonfuls his eyes fluttered shut and his grip on Jack's wrist went slack.

 

"Stay with me, Daniel." Jack patted a flushed cheek, feeling like an ogre when Daniel's eyes flew open and he jerked away from the touch. "Shi-- Sorry. You need to stay awake for Fraiser."

 

"Tired."

 

Daniel was a linguist. When it came to words, his motto was "Why use two when you can use ten?" The wispy, one-word answers scared Jack as badly as the heat pouring off his friend's body.

 

"I know." He glanced over his shoulder and saw Fraiser gowning up just outside the door. "She's on her way, Daniel. Just...just hang in there."

 

Still squinting despite the dimmed lights, Daniel struggled to focus on Jack's face. "'S wrong...with me?"

 

Jack pasted on a smile. "Looks like you picked up a helluva bug while you were off-world. Nothing to worry about--the Doc'll have you fixed up in no time."

 

Daniel frowned. "SG-5?"

 

Damn. He really didn't want to get into this. "Looks like you and Donovan are the lucky ones. Everyone else is fine."

 

Fraiser swooped into the room like a mini tornado, grilling the nurses, checking monitors, and flipping through Daniel's chart.

 

"Hey there." Fraiser's smile, hidden behind the paper mask, showed in the crinkling lines around her eyes. "It's good to see you awake, Daniel. How do you feel?"

 

Daniel blinked and his gaze wandered slowly from Jack's face to hers. "Tired, Janet. Wanna sleep."

 

"I know you do, but I really need to ask you a few questions. Then you can sleep, all right?"

 

"'K."

 

"When you were on P3X-757, did any of the indigenous people appear ill?"

 

Daniel stared at her for a moment, a small line forming between his brows. "No."

 

"This is very important, Daniel. Are you certain you didn't come into contact with anyone who was sick? Not even something minor like a cold, a sore throat--anything at all?"

 

A long slow blink, then Daniel shook his head.

 

"Did you or Lieutenant Donovan eat or drink anything unusual? Something the rest of the team didn't try?"

 

"Always together. Ate...same." This time when Daniel blinked his eyes remained shut.

 

Janet squeezed his arm. "Ah, ah! Not yet, Daniel, I've got one more question. When did you start feeling sick?"

 

Daniel wriggled his fingers from Jack's grasp and scratched clumsily at his chest. "Itches."

 

"Stop that." Jack recaptured the hand and anchored it to the bed. "You're just gonna make it worse."

 

Janet leaned over the railing and lightly touched Daniel's cheek, encouraging him to focus on her face. "I can give you something for the itching, Daniel, but I really need you to answer me. When exactly did you start feeling sick?"

 

Daniel licked his lips. "'Gateroom."

 

"You were feeling crappy when you came through the 'gate? Why the hell didn't you say something to the Doc when she--?"

 

"Colonel."

 

Every man on base, from the General to the lowliest civilian, knew fear when they heard that tone. Jack wisely shut up.

 

Janet's frosty voice warmed thirty degrees. "What were your first symptoms, Daniel?"

 

"Achy. Dizzy. Sorry, Janet. Thought was nothing. Jus' tired..." The word ended in a sigh and Daniel's breathing slowed and deepened.

 

This time Fraiser let him be. She picked up Daniel's chart and began making notations, murmuring to herself.

 

"You still don't have a clue, do you?"

 

Fraiser looked up, eyes narrowed in annoyance until she saw Jack's face. Shoulders slumping, she shook her head. "Not really. Without knowing how or when Daniel was exposed, we can only guess at a possible incubation period." She tapped the pen on the clipboard and her gaze turned distant. "I am getting the impression that this organism--whatever it is--isn't airborne."

 

"Meaning?"

 

"Meaning it isn't transmitted by sneezing or coughing. The fact that Daniel didn't come into contact with anyone who was visibly ill suggests he picked up this bug some other way."

 

"What other way is there?"

 

"Direct contact through blood, saliva--"

 

Jack raised an eyebrow. "There's not a mark on him.  And I really don't think Daniel swapped spit with any of the natives."

 

"--an insect bite, contaminated food or water." Fraiser's eyes slipped shut and she shook her head. "We're fighting an enemy we know nothing about. I just hope one of the samples Sam and Teal'c bring back will provide some answers."

 

Jack looked at Daniel's flushed face. "So do I, Doc. So do I."

 

*************************

 

Sam checked her watch as she tightened the screw top on a vial of water.

 

"Daniel Jackson is in good hands. I am sure O'Neill and Dr. Fraiser will do what is necessary to sustain him until we return."

 

She slipped the vial into the case and looked up at Teal'c. Despite his reassuring words, she'd become familiar enough with his moods to read worry in his watchful eyes and rigid posture. "I know they'll do everything in their power to keep Daniel alive. But the truth is that may not be good enough. In just twenty-four hours this disease has brought two strong, healthy men to the brink of..." She pressed her lips tightly together and busied herself with organizing the sample vials.

 

A warm hand squeezed her shoulder. "Daniel Jackson possesses the heart and soul of a great warrior. He has proven himself capable of destroying powerful enemies. I do not believe he will allow such a tiny foe to defeat him."

 

She smiled. "So what you're saying is that Daniel is too pigheaded to die?"

 

"Indeed."

 

Sam stood, moving carefully in the cumbersome suit. "I hope you're right, Teal'c." She looked past his shoulder and her eyes brightened. "Thompkins? How is it going?"

 

Carl Thompkins, a civilian from Daniel's department, snapped his head up at the sound of his name, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process. Cursing softly, he hitched up the baggy suit and shuffled over to Sam and Teal'c.

 

"Major Carter. I didn't see you, ma'am."

 

Small wonder, thought Sam ruefully. Thompkins glasses kept slipping to the end of his nose and his faceplate seemed perpetually steamed up. Tall, lanky, and completely uncoordinated, Thompkins embodied Colonel O'Neill's definition of the word geek. Fortunately, he was also a damn good linguist.

 

"I saw you talking to some of the village elders. Did you have any success?"

 

Thompkins shoved at the sagging glasses, wacking himself with the plexiglass shield. "Ah, yes. Quite a bit, actually."

 

"You did? That's...that's terrific! What did you learn?"

 

Thompkins' eyes widened and his hands fluttered nervously. "Well, uh, basically that Dr. Jackson's initial instincts were correct. The Samposians are speaking a kind of bastardized form of Latin, but the dialect is a bit tricky seeing as it's derived from-- What's wrong?"

 

Sam clenched her gloved fingers into fists. It was the only way to avoid wrapping them around Thompkins' throat. As if sensing her murderous thoughts, Teal'c stepped smoothly between them.

 

"I believe when Major Carter asked whether you had been successful she was referring to your progress in obtaining information related to Daniel Jackson's illness."

 

"Oh. No, I, uh... It took me forever just to explain why we're wearing these suits. From what I can gather, physical illness is virtually unknown to these people."

 

When Sam continued glaring at the linguist with narrowed eyes and reddened cheeks, Teal'c inclined his head. "If you have completed your mission, perhaps now would be a good time for you to return to the stargate."

 

Thompkins backed up, never taking his gaze from Sam's face. "Right. Well, I'll just head back then. I'll wait for you at the 'gate, sir...uh, ma'am...I mean, Major." He spun on his heel, nearly pitching headfirst into the stream before he righted himself and staggered off.

 

Sam sighed, her shoulders sagging. "Hard to believe he and Daniel are from the same group."

 

"With respect, Major Carter, I believe Daniel Jackson ceased belonging to that group quite some time ago."

 

Teal'c's astute observation coaxed a weak smile onto her lips. "When you put it that way, I suppose you're right." She picked up the case of precious samples. "Let's get these back to Janet. Daniel's counting on us."

 

*************************

 

*Socoldtoobrightitchesheadachesthirsty.*

 

Daniel squirmed, searching for a comfortable position. Shivers vibrated through his body until his teeth clicked in protest. He sought warmth but found an icy chill seeping into his bones and rough, scratchiness irritating his sensitized skin. He couldn't lift his leaden arms and an agonizing bolt of pain pulsed rhythmically through his skull. He poked out his tongue but it was too dry to moisten his cracked lips.

 

Where was he? Why was he cold and trapped and hurting and thirsty and...? He stared at the bright whiteness behind his closed eyelids and he knew. His useless arms only confirmed his growing suspicions. Oh, God. No. Not that.

 

Shivering and alone. Fear. Pain. White, white, white. Why had they put him in here again? Locked him away and left him alone. Sam. Teal'c.

 

Jack.

 

A sharp pain pricked the back of his hand, turning the simmering fear into panic. No. Please, no more.

 

JACK!

 

*************************

 

The hushed, terse voices pulled Jack from sleep. He'd sat with Daniel until his ass had gone numb and his eyes refused to stay open. Giving in to the inevitable exhaustion from his sleepless night, he'd collapsed onto his own bed and fallen immediately into a deep sleep.

 

"You've got to hold his hand still, I can't find the vein."

 

"I *know* that--he's not exactly cooperating!"

 

Jack turned his head. Two new nurses--must have been a shift change while he slept--were huddled over Daniel, snapping at each other and fiddling with an I.V. line. He opened his mouth, ready to read them the riot act for their less-than-Florence Nightingale approach, when Daniel screamed.

 

"JACK!"

 

He elbowed both nurses out of the way and grabbed Daniel's hand, heart hammering. Daniel kicked his legs and tugged frantically at the cloth restraints binding his hands to the mattress. Tears leaked from his closed eyes and he breathed in short, sharp pants.

 

"What the hell did you do to him?" Jack growled at the nurses.

 

"He became restless and dislodged his I.V., sir. We were only trying to replace it."

 

Jack didn't bother looking at her, whichever her it was. "Did it ever occur to you that he's a little out of it and might not know what the hell is happening to him? Go get Fraiser."

 

"Jack...don't leave...no...not...not crazy."

 

Dear God. Is that where Daniel had gone? Jack laid a hand on Daniel's burning forehead. "Daniel, I'm right here. This is the infirmary, kiddo, not a padded room. You're just having a bad dream." He pitched his voice low and--he hoped--soothing.

 

Daniel gradually quieted and, though he continued trembling, his respiration slowed and steadied. He ran his tongue over his lips and his lashes fluttered, then parted to reveal a hint of blue.

 

"Hey, you back with me? How about some ice chips?" Jack scooped a little of the crushed ice onto a spoon and held it to Daniel's lips, gently supporting his neck.

 

Daniel accepted two spoonfuls, watching Jack with glazed eyes. He pulled at the wrist restraints with a soft sound of distress.

 

"For you own good, Daniel, you were thrashing around so much you yanked out your I.V." When Daniel stared through him with blank incomprehension, Jack sighed and covered one of the restless hands. "It's all right, Danny. Sleep."

 

"Looks like you're just what the doctor ordered."

 

Fraiser's quiet expression of approval took him by surprise. Jack realized he was unconsciously rubbing his thumb over the back of Daniel's hand--a trick he'd often used to soothe Charlie to sleep when he was ill and out of sorts. Face heating, he let go, leaving Daniel to the tender care of Florences 1 and 2, who had returned to fix the I.V.

 

"I didn't hear you come in."

 

Fraiser drew him away from the bed. "Lieutenant Murphy told me Daniel was having some kind of episode, that he was delirious. She said he was violent and had pulled out his I.V."

 

Jack snorted. "Lieutenant Murphy needs some serious work on her bedside manner."

 

"Yes, well, I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner but you did an admirable job of calming him down."

 

"Speaking of which, where the heck have you been? Daniel's ready to spontaneously combust. Please tell me you have news."

 

"I do. I was already on my way when Murphy found me."

 

Jack studied the eyes peering over the mask. Not a single crinkle that might indicate a smile. "Why do I have the feeling I'm not going to like this?"

 

"Thirty minutes ago Sean Donovan coded. He's dead, Colonel."

 

*************************

 

"I wondered where you'd gone."

 

Sam spared Janet a quick glance before returning her attention to the scene below. Colonel O'Neill was sponging down Daniel with cool water while maintaining a constant flow of inane chatter. He was currently in the midst of a fish story centering on "the one that got away." Sam listened to the soothing cadence of his voice, watching how gently he wiped her teammate's face, and her eyes burned.

 

"Not exactly what you'd expect from Colonel Jack 'Special Ops' O'Neill, is it?" Janet's voice was wryly affectionate.

 

"We're losing him, Janet."

 

Janet stepped between Sam and the glass, cutting off her view. "You of all people should know better than to underestimate Daniel Jackson. He's fighting for his life, Sam. Don't you give up on him."

 

Sam swiped at her wet eyes with the back of one hand. "Sean Donovan is dead, and so far the samples from the planet have proved useless. We're just spinning our wheels while Daniel grows weaker."

 

"That's not entirely true. I'll admit that so far I've found no trace of the organism that's making Daniel sick. But our tests have yielded some useful information."

 

"Such as?"

 

"Well...that the organism isn't airborne, for one. And that it has a relatively short incubation period. In fact, I'm releasing Colonel Bruster and the rest of SG-5 from quarantine."

 

"What about Colonel O'Neill?"

 

Janet turned and looked through the glass. "His continued exposure to Daniel makes the Colonel a bit more problematic." She sighed and shook her head. "Not that he'd go anywhere, even if I did release him."

 

"What are we going to do, Janet? I can take a team back to the planet, but frankly, I don't know what else to sample."

 

"I've asked the General to call a briefing in two hours. By then I'll have had a chance to look at the Samposian blood samples and, hopefully, will have an idea how we should proceed."

 

"Is there anything I can do?"

 

Janet smiled. "I can always use some moral support--and an extra pair of hands."

 

Sam looked at Daniel and the Colonel, then tore her gaze from the window. "What are we waiting for?"

 

*************************

 

 

General Hammond strode briskly into the briefing room and took his place at the head of the large table. Five grim faces watched him expectantly--to his right, Major Carter and Teal'c, to his left, Dr. Fraiser, Colonel Bruster and Bruster's 2IC, Captain Atkins. Though still reeling from the news of Sean Donovan's death, Hammond reined in his emotions and gestured for them to sit.

 

"At ease, people. I don't need to tell you all why we're here. We lost a good man today. I'll be damned if we're gonna lose two. Dr. Fraiser, would you please--"

 

The door opened and Jack O'Neill stepped inside. His eyes swept the room before focusing on Hammond.

 

"Sorry I'm late, sir."

 

Hammond took in the blue hospital scrubs, darkly circled eyes, and stubbled chin. "Have a seat, Colonel. Dr. Fraiser was just about to update us on what she's learned so far."

 

Fraiser waited until O'Neill was seated beside Teal'c before speaking. "We're dealing with an alien organism that appears viral in nature, which means our antibiotics are useless. And the incubation period is short--rats injected with the organism contracted the disease within 24 hours of exposure. The disease progresses in several stages. Initial symptoms include dizziness, muscle aches, and fatigue. Stage two is characterized by the development of fever and a flat, red rash on the arms, legs, and torso. In stage 3 the lungs fill with fluid..." her voice wavered and she took a deep breath before continuing, "which eventually leads to respiratory failure, and death."

 

Hammond leaned forward. "What is Dr. Jackson's condition?"

 

"Daniel is currently in stage 2. We're doing everything we can to bring down the fever and monitoring his breathing. So far, he's holding his own."

 

Bruster frowned. "I don't get it. Jackson started getting sick before Donovan. Why is he still alive when Sean's--" He clamped his mouth shut and darted an apologetic look at Jack.

 

Fraiser's voice was sympathetic. "I can only speculate, sir, but... Sean suffered from asthma when he was a small child. He seemed to have outgrown it, but his lungs may have been weaker than Daniel's."

 

Jack rubbed the back of his neck. "This is fascinating, Doc. But it doesn't really help Daniel, does it?"

 

"Colonel." Hammond uttered the name as a soft rebuke.

 

"It's all right, sir. Colonel O'Neill makes a valid point. Understanding how this disease progresses is only a small part of the equation. To help Daniel, we need to know how he contracted the virus. And more importantly, why only he and Lieutenant Donovan became sick."

 

She shuffled her notes, then met O'Neill's intense stare. "I'm afraid I still don't have the answer to either question. I've been consulting with a colleague who specializes in virology, but so far he's as stumped as I am."

 

Hammond was the first to break the silence. "The samples Major Carter and Teal'c brought back from the planet showed no sign of the virus?"

 

Fraiser shook her head. "I'm afraid not, sir. Extensive analysis has revealed a standard microbiological load--various benign organisms very similar to those found on Earth. Other than the purple hue of the water, I found nothing unusual. There was absolutely no trace of the organism in Daniel's blood."

 

"Red," Bruster murmured, studying his clasped hands.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

He looked up. "You said the water was purple. You meant red."

 

Fraiser shook her head. "No. No, I meant purple, sir. In fact, it looks amazingly like grape Kool-Aid."

 

Bruster turned to Carter. "Where exactly did you get this water?"

 

"From their city hall. And from the lake that serves as their main water supply."

 

Bruster and Atkins looked at each other with raised brows before Bruster spoke. "Look, I don't know what you've got in your test tubes. But the water we drank was red."

 

"Doc?" Jack drawled the word, eyebrows raised.

 

"It may mean nothing, Colonel, but it's worth pursuing."

 

"General? Request permission for Teal'c and I to return to the planet and sample this other water source." Carter's voice vibrated hope.

 

Hammond inclined his head. "Granted, Major. Gear up and collect what you need, you gate out in an hour. Take Dr. Thompkins with you to translate. Colonel Bruster, you--"

 

A high-pitched beep interrupted him, and Fraiser pulled her pager from her pocket. Her body tensed and she stood, almost bolting before remembering where she was.

 

"I'm afraid there's an emergency, General. I'm needed immediately."

 

Hammond frowned, suppressing the urge to question her. "Of course, Doctor. Dismissed."

 

O'Neill lurched to his feet, arms braced on the table. "Is it Daniel?"

 

Fraiser hesitated in the doorway before nodding. "He's having difficulty breathing." Then she was gone.

 

Jack snapped his head around to look at Hammond. "Sir?"

 

"Go."

 

He was across the room and out the door almost before Hammond uttered the word. With effort, the General directed his attention back to Bruster.

 

"Colonel, I'm going to be contacting Sean Donovan's family. Obviously you can't go into specifics, but... I'm sure, as his commanding officer, a letter from you would mean a great deal to them."

 

Bruster tipped up his chin. "It would be my pleasure, sir."

 

Hammond sighed. "That's all. You're dismissed, people."

 

He watched them file out of the room. Carter and Teal'c moved with an urgency born of fragile hope, Bruster and Atkins with resignation. He remained in his chair long after they'd gone, staring through the window at the silent stargate. Sometimes the price of discovery was too damn high.

 

With a heavy sigh Hammond stood and headed for his office. He had a letter to write.

 

*************************

 

Jack dashed into the isolation room on Fraiser's heels. Monitors shrieked while two nurses struggled to calm a thrashing Daniel.

 

"What are his vitals?" Fraiser barked as she joined them.

 

"BP's 200 over 110, Pulse 152, respiration 45. His SAT's down to 81." The nurse tried to adjust the oxygen mask, which had been knocked askew.

 

"Damn." Fraiser sidestepped her, pressing a palm to Daniel's sweaty brow. "Daniel, listen to me."

 

Daniel tossed his head, dislodging her hand. He panted, rapid, shallow gulps for air, while tugging frantically at the wrist restraints.

 

Fraiser caught hold of his chin and spoke more sharply. "Daniel, I need you to calm down."

 

"His lips are blue." Jack flinched under Fraiser's glare.

 

"Colonel, you shouldn't be here. Cooper, get a number 8 ET tube, 5 milligrams of Versed, and 50 micrograms of Fentanyl," she told the nurse over her shoulder, then scowled when she saw Jack hadn't moved. "Sir, Daniel's not getting enough oxygen. We've got to get him hooked up to a respirator ASAP. Now if you'd please wait outside--"

 

"I can help. Just what the doctor ordered, remember?"

 

"Not this time. You'll only be in the way, and I can't afford--"

 

"Nuh...no!" Daniel kicked out a leg, clipping the nurse's arm as she reached for his I.V. She stumbled into Fraiser and the syringes in her hand went flying.

 

"Mitchell, get over here and hold his legs, damn it!" Janet caught hold of the flailing limb.

 

"Aw, for cryin'..." Jack stepped in and took Daniel's face between his palms, using his best command voice. "Daniel, look at me. Look. At. Me."

 

Daniel's struggling lessened but his eyes were wild. "Jack...help...can't..."

 

"I know. Doc's got it covered. But you've got to stop fighting her."

 

Jack let go as Fraiser leaned into view. "Daniel, I need to put a tube down your throat so you can breathe. Do you understand?"

 

She got a jerky nod before Daniel's gaze once again locked onto Jack. He moved his fingers, scrabbling at the mattress. Understanding, Jack grabbed the restless hand, wincing when Daniel latched on with a bone-crushing grip.

 

"That's it; you're doing fine. Stay with me, Daniel."

 

"Okay, Daniel, here we go. Deb's going to give you something to help you relax."

 

Jack knew the moment the drugs hit Daniel's bloodstream. His friend's eyelids slid to half-mast and all the tension leaked out of his body. Still, he worked to focus on Jack's face.

 

"Jack." It was more a gasp than a name, hopelessly slurred.

 

Jack's throat closed up. He couldn't speak as Daniel shut his eyes and went limp. Backing into a corner, he turned away when Fraiser tipped Daniel's head and guided the long tube down his throat.

 

Fraiser's words in the briefing room echoing through his thoughts. *"In stage 3 the lungs fill with fluid, which eventually leads to respiratory failure, and death."* Squeezing his eyes shut, he pressed his forehead to the wall. Daniel was dying, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.

 

Again.

 

"Colonel?"

 

He jerked at the feel of her hand on his arm. His eyes flying open, he staggered backward a step before regaining his equilibrium. Looking down, he was struck anew by how small she was--a fact her intelligence and the sheer force of her personality tended to overshadow.

 

Jack rubbed a hand over his face. "How is he?"

 

"He's stable, for now." She paused. "How are you?"

 

"I'm fine." Jack clenched his jaw. "For now."

 

"You don't look fine. You look like you need sleep--preferably at least eight hours, uninterrupted."

 

"What I *need*..." Jack's gaze strayed past Fraiser's concerned face to Daniel's limp form and suddenly he couldn't speak.

 

"Colonel, I'm going to tell you what I told Sam. We both know how tenacious Daniel can be."

 

"Doc, look at him." Daniel's skin was ashen, bruised circles visible beneath his closed eyes. His chest rose and fell with the mechanical precision of the ventilator. Jack's voice turned rough. "What we both know is that he's dying."

 

"We've been here before, sir. How many times does he have to prove us wrong before we put our faith in him? I'm not about to give up on him. And neither should you." She accepted Daniel's chart from one of the nurses and began making notations.

 

"Now, I'd order you to get some sleep in your quarters. But since I know I've got a snowball's chance in hell of making that happen, I'll permit you to sit with him. On two conditions."

 

Jack raised an eyebrow. "Listening."

 

"First, you stay out of my nurses' way."

 

"And second?"

 

She softened her stern expression. "Talk to him. We'll be keeping him lightly sedated as long as he's on the vent. But that doesn't mean he can't hear you, at least on some level. Keep him with us, sir. Keep him fighting."

 

Jack sighed. "In case you hadn't noticed, Daniel rarely does what I tell him to do." He looked over at his friend. "Maybe pissing him off will do the trick. I'm good at that."

 

Reclaiming his chair beside Daniel's bed, he scooted close enough to prop an arm on the mattress. He stared at his friend, mesmerized, until he realized his own breathing had automatically fallen in sync with Daniel's. Typical, he thought ruefully. Daniel was a fundamental force of nature. He'd influenced Jack's life from the day they'd met, exerting an irresistible pull like the moon on the tides.

 

Casting a furtive glance at the nurses across the room, he curled his fingers around Daniel's wrist. "So, Daniel. It's me. Jack. 'Course, you probably already knew that, right? I mean, you're drugged, not stupid, and..." He grimaced. "Yeah, well... Doc says I'm supposed to talk to you, so...here we are."

 

The heart monitor beeped, the respirator hissed, and Daniel continued to do a damn fine impression of a rag doll. Jack scrubbed a hand over his face and blew out a long breath.

 

"I'm not any good at this. As a matter of fact, I suck. Major suckage. It drove Sara out of my life. And I think maybe it cost me my best friend. Once."

 

Picking at the frayed edge of the sheet, Jack cleared his dry throat. "Not this time, Daniel. I may be a coward, but I learn from my mistakes, eventually. So I'm gonna tell you what I should have told you last time, before you got all glowy on us and floated off to look for that 'meaning of life' crap."

 

Jack leaned in close, tightening his fingers and lowering his voice. "Don't go. Do you hear me, Daniel? I'm order--asking you. As your friend. As family. Fight with every ounce of stubborn, pigheadedness you've got--and we both know that's a lot.

 

"We just got used to having you back, you realize that, don't you? Do you have any idea what losing you again will do to Carter? And Teal'c? Hell, they moped around most of the year you were gone. Carter even..." He caught himself, dropping his forehead onto the mattress with a sigh. "All right. *I* just got used to having you back. And I...it's been good, Daniel. Real good. So...don't go, okay? Just...don't."

 

The beeping sped up and Daniel twitched his fingers. Jack lifted his head. "Daniel?" He glimpsed a sliver of blue from beneath Daniel's eyelids. "It's okay. The machine is helping you breathe, remember?"

 

Daniel moved his fingers again, clumsily plucking at Jack's sleeve. Jack patted them, then left his hand over his friend's. "I'm not going anywhere either."

 

Daniel stilled and his eyes slid shut. Jack told himself it was coincidence, that Daniel was too loopy from the sedation to understand. But logic and rationalization didn't silence the little voice in his head that said he'd maybe, finally, gotten it right.

 

*************************

 

"No, thank you. I'm fine. Really." Sam showed her teeth as she declined the proffered tray, wondering if her smile looked as phony as it felt. "I'm giving him five more minutes," she muttered to Teal'c, waving away yet another offer of food, "and then I'm pulling my gun."

 

Teal'c followed her gaze to where Thompkins was conversing with several Samposian council members. Well, trying anyway. His stumbling version of the flowing, melodic dialect had the men exchanging bemused, and often confused, glances.

 

"I'm afraid I could not allow you to take such action." Teal'c waited a beat, then added, "It is clear to me that a staff weapon would achieve much more satisfactory results."

 

She snorted a startled laugh. "It occurs to me, Teal'c, that we've both been around the Colonel too long."

 

Teal'c inclined his head, the barest hint of a smile in his eyes. "That is certain."

 

Five minutes and two trays later, Sam stood and dusted off her pants. "Okay, that's it." She strode over to Thompkins, one hand meaningfully cupping her P90. "Report, Thompkins. You've been at this nearly thirty minutes and--"

 

"Shhh!" Thompkins tossed a quick look over his shoulder, flipping his hand as if she were a particularly irritating fly, then directed a garbled question to the councilmen.

 

Sam's jaw dropped, then snapped shut as she struggled to control her anger. Teal'c merely raised an eyebrow.

 

"Tompkins."

 

The linguist turned, hearing danger in the low, measured tone. Really seeing them this time, his eyes widened and a flush crept up his neck. "Oh! M-major Carter, I'm so s-sorry. Kanari was just telling me something very important, and--I mean, not that *you* aren't important, because you are, of course you are--but he was explaining, and then you--"

 

"Thompkins?"

 

"Yes, ma'am?"

 

"Have you learned anything that will help Daniel?"

 

Thompkins stared at her for a moment, then lit up with excitement. "That's what I was about to tell you. Yes! I finally got them to explain the discrepancy in the color of the water."

 

"And?"

 

"The water is the same. It's the environment that changes."

 

Sam sighed. "Thompkins, spell it out. What exactly are you saying?"

 

"If I understand correctly, it's called the 'estus cruento'--blood tide. A phenomenon that occurs only under specific weather conditions."

 

"Describe these conditions," Teal'c said.

 

"Well, that part is a little sketchy, but from what I can tell, it's when the ambient temperature rises above 100 degrees. The water gradually changes color, from purple to red. The people here don't give it a second thought. For them, it's no more unusual than a fog bank or a thunderstorm."

 

Sam bit her lip. "Wait a minute. If the color indicates a chemical change--say, increased or decreased acidity--it could affect the number and type of microorganisms present. An organism that's dormant under cooler conditions might proliferate when the water warms up."

 

"That would indeed explain why Dr. Fraiser has been unable to detect the virus in the water samples we collected."

 

Sam looked at Teal'c. "Exactly! It's there, we just can't see it. But raise the temperature a few degrees..."

 

Teal'c frowned. "It does not, however, explain why Daniel Jackson and Lieutenant Donovan became ill after drinking the water, but Colonel Bruster and Captain Atkins did not."

 

Sam's shoulders slumped. "Or any of these people, for that matter."

 

"Kanari said there are legends of a plague that decimated this planet's population hundreds of years ago. He thinks there could be historical texts that might give me the details." 

 

Thompkins bright eyes and eager smile reminded Sam of her sick teammate. Her gut twisted, and she spoke more harshly than she intended. "I can't afford to waste time on what could be or might be. It's imperative that Dr. Fraiser gets this information as soon as possible. Using what we've learned, we can simulate the conditions necessary to grow the organism."

 

Thompkin's face fell. "But if the plague was caused by the same virus that's infected Dr. Jackson--"

 

"I will remain with Carl Thompkins."

 

Sam looked at her teammate. Teal'c's expression appeared serene, but she knew how much the offer cost him. "Are you sure?"

 

"I am."

 

"Yes!" Thompkins stopped just short of punching the air, daunted by the Jaffa's stern demeanor. "Uh...I mean...thank you, Teal'c. I really appreciate it."

 

Teal'c inclined his head. "You may repay me by finding the answers that will help save Daniel Jackson's life."

 

Thompkins nodded, his smile fading. "I'll do my best. I promise."

 

************************

 

In the dream, Jack was always right there when it happened.

 

He'd sprint up the stairs and into the bedroom, careening off the doorframe, Charlie's name on his lips...just as the gunshot exploded and blood sprayed the walls, the floor, his face.

 

He'd failed, and Charlie died.

 

Jack sucked in a sharp breath and bolted upright, taking a nosedive toward the linoleum before regaining his balance. He'd evidently fallen asleep folded over with his head resting on Daniel's bed. Blinking, he swiped a shaky hand over his face and found himself looking into General Hammond's concerned eyes.

 

"Sir." His mouth felt papery dry and the stickiness in one corner suggested he'd been drooling at some point.

 

Hammond quelled Jack's attempt to stand with a firm hand on his shoulder. "At ease, Colonel. I didn't mean to wake you. I just dropped by to check on Dr. Jackson."

 

Jack looked at his friend. "Doc says he's getting weaker. She had to turn up the ventilator. It's doing all his breathing for him now."

 

"I know. She told me." Hammond's gaze pierced Jack. "You're listed as Dr. Jackson's next of kin."

 

Jack's stomach did a slow roll. He stood and folded his arms across his chest. "I know." Hearing the edge of insubordination, he softened his tone. "He asked me soon after he returned from Abydos. He was still reeling from seeing Sha're and Kawalski taken as hosts. He wanted to be sure if the same happened to him..."

 

"I understand." Hammond frowned. "Jack--"

 

"Don't say it, sir."

 

"I don't want to talk about this any more than you do."

 

"Then don't." Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and paced over to the observation window. "I'm not giving up on him."

 

"I'm not asking you to. I just think you might want to prepare yourself, son. The time may come when you'll be called upon to make some tough decisions."

 

Jack stiffened. "Did Fraiser tell you that? A few hours ago she was urging me not to give up. Guess she doesn't believe her own press."

 

"*Doctor* Fraiser is doing everything she can to keep Daniel alive. She doesn't want to face the possibility of his death any more than you do. But as his physician, she has to consider any and all possible outcomes to this illness. She doesn't have the luxury of burying her head in the sand." Hammond gentled his voice. "I don't think she's slept since this nightmare began."

 

Jack slouched against the wall, his shoulders slumping. "I know. I never meant to suggest..." He drew in a calming breath. "When Daniel asked me to be his next of kin, I didn't take that request lightly. I promised to take care of him, sir. And I will."

 

Hammond placed a hand on his shoulder. "Then he's in good hands."

 

A nurse came to the doorway. "General Hammond? You're wanted in the 'gateroom, sir. Major Carter just returned."

 

Hammond locked eyes with Jack for a moment before nodding briskly. "On my way."

 

Jack wandered back over to his chair--yeah, he was now thinking of it as "his" chair--and folded himself into it. Leaning his elbows on the mattress, he pressed his clasped hands to his forehead. Praying to a God he wasn't sure he believed in that Carter had good news.

 

*************************

 

"Bingo." Janet stepped aside and gestured for Sam to take her place at the electron microscope.

 

Sam squinted through the eyepiece. "That's it?"

 

"Doesn't look like much, does it? Amazing that something so small can wreak such havoc on the human body. And to think it was there, in the water, all along. Just waiting for the right conditions."

 

Sam lifted her head and propped her hip against the counter. "All right, so we know how Daniel and Donovan picked up the disease. But we still don't know why they were the only ones to become ill. Or how to cure it."

 

"I've sent virus and blood samples to that colleague I mentioned during the briefing. The Samposians seem to possess some sort of natural immunity to the disease. We're hopeful he can isolate the factor from their blood and create a serum."

 

"Janet, correct me if I'm wrong, but that could take quite a bit of time. Time we don't have." Sam bit her lip. "Time Daniel doesn't have."

 

Janet came to stand beside her, leaning against the lab bench with a weary sigh. "I don't know what to tell you, Sam. At this point it's the best chance Daniel has."

 

"I can't believe this is happening. It's the worst kind of déjà vu, watching him in that bed, fighting for his life. Like..."

 

"Like reliving Kelowna." Janet rubbed her eyes. "I know. I feel just as helpless."

 

Sam dropped her voice to a whisper. "We just got him back."

 

They stood in silence until Fraiser's pager interrupted. She pulled it from her pocket, and her lips tightened. "It's Daniel."

 

When they reached the isolation room, they found the two on duty nurses clustered around Daniel, who was jerking and twisting beneath their hands.

 

"Damn. Seizure." Janet raised her voice and entered the fray. "Get me 10 mg of diazepam and watch that I.V. line, he's going to pull it out!"

 

Unable to tear her gaze from her thrashing teammate, Sam moved over to the Colonel. He stood off to the side, with his hands in his pockets and his jaw clenched.

 

"Sir? What happened?"

 

"Pretty self-evident, isn't it?" When she flinched at his snarl, he sighed. "Sorry. I was sleeping, and then all of the monitors started going nuts. By the time I realized it was a seizure, the nurses had already called for the doc."

 

The beeps from Daniel's heart monitor abruptly became uneven. Janet's head snapped up. "He's in T-tach. Get the crash cart! Move!"

 

The Colonel immediately strode toward the bed, dodging a nurse.

 

"Sir--" Sam tried to catch his arm, but he shrugged her off.

 

Janet grabbed the paddles off the cart. "Charge to 300. Sir, you need to step back." She spoke without taking her eyes from her patient. "Clear!"

 

Daniel arched, then collapsed bonelessly onto the bed, one arm dangling limply off the mattress. But the monitor continued to stutter. Sam turned and fled the room.

 

She didn't know how long she waited alone in the hallway, her forehead pressed against the cool cinderblock wall. When she closed her eyes all she could see was Daniel's white face, and that outstretched, lifeless hand. Her throat tightened and hot tears leaked from the corners of her eyes and trickled down her cheeks.

 

Oh, Daniel.

 

"Hey, hey."

 

Colonel O'Neill's voice broke through her misery. Grasping her shoulder, he turned her around. His face drawn and haggard, his eyes bloodshot, he looked as if he'd aged ten years. But one corner of his mouth turned up in a weak, lopsided smile.

 

"It's okay. Fraiser got him back."

 

She choked out a sob and, horrified by her own lack of control, pressed the back of one hand against her mouth. The Colonel didn't bat an eye, just pulled her into a brief, hard hug.

 

"I know, Carter. Believe me, I know."

 

Janet walked out of the isolation room, stripping off a pair of gloves. "I think we have him stabilized. But I won't lie to you--his heart is weakening and it's looking like his kidneys are beginning to shut down. If we don't turn this around soon..."

 

Jack pinned Sam with an intense glare. "You're back from the planet. What did you learn?"

 

"Not enough. The organism that causes this disease proliferates in their water supply once the ambient temperature reaches 100 degrees. Colonel Bruster says there was a hot spell a couple days after they arrived. They were all drinking lots of water."

 

"So why didn't Bruster and Atkins get sick?" Jack looked from Sam to Janet, his face twisting in frustration. "Damn it, there's got to be a reason! Something we're missing."

 

Sam tucked her chin to her chest, resisting the still-threatening tears. The Colonel was right, they were missing something, running in circles without making any headway. And Daniel was paying the price.

 

"We're all doing our best, Colonel." Janet touched Sam's arm as if sensing her thoughts. "We'll keep testing--"

 

The klaxons sounded and Sam raised her head, hope kindling. "Teal'c and Thompkins are the only ones off-world right now."

 

They were all moving before she'd finished speaking.

 

*************************

 

 

Thompkins tripped as he came out of the wormhole, then staggered down the ramp with Teal'c gliding serenely at his shoulder. Though breathless and drenched in sweat, the linguist's brown eyes glittered with excitement. Virtually ignoring Hammond's "Welcome back, gentlemen," he made a beeline for Carter.

 

"I've got it, Major. I really think I've got it."

 

Jack folded his arms and looked at Carter, eyebrow raised. "You have any idea what exactly it is that he's got?"

 

"Kanari showed me their archives. The Samposians have a collection of documents--birth and death records, historical accounts, religious texts--that have lain there, untouched, for decades. Maybe even centuries!" Thompkins spoke so quickly the words ran together.

 

"Part of the problem is that their language has evolved to the point that it's become difficult for anyone but a scholar to read the old texts. Sort of like the differences between modern day English and the old English Shakespearean plays are written in, only more severe. You know, it's really quite fascinating the way dialect and vocabulary, not to mention pronunciation can be dramatically influenced by--"

 

"For cryin' out loud, Thompkins, cut to the chase!"

 

The General gave Jack a quelling look before turning to Thompkins. "Dr. Thompkins, I'll be glad to read whatever pertinent insights you've gleaned when you put them in your report. But for now, Dr. Jackson's life may depend on what you can tell us about his illness."

 

"Oh! Uh, of course, General. Sorry." Thompkins sucked in a deep breath. "What was I saying?"

 

Jack's fingers twitched with the need to strangle the linguist. "The documents," he growled through clenched teeth.

 

Oblivious, Thompkin's face lit up. "Yes! Anyway, in the documents I found accounts of a terrible plague that nearly wiped out the Samposian people more than five hundred years ago. The initial outbreak occurred during a period of unusually hot, humid weather and spread rapidly throughout the whole population. Thousands died--it was the equivalent of the Black Plague in Europe."

 

"Was there a description of the disease?" Fraiser asked.

 

"Dizziness, muscle aches, fever, rash, respiratory failure..." Thompkins swallowed, no longer smiling. "The victims either died from heart failure or drowned in their own fluids."

 

Jack felt the words like a punch to the gut. He looked at Fraiser, who nodded. "That's it. It has to be."

 

"So this thing practically destroyed them five hundred years ago. How did they get rid of it?" Jack realized he was looming when Thompkins took a step backward.

 

"And why aren't they sick now?" Carter added. "We've been told illness is virtually nonexistent among the Samposian people."

 

"That's it! That's what I've been trying to tell you." Thompkins waved his hands. "According to the historical accounts, the Samposians came to believe the plague was a sign from their god. Their society had grown increasingly secular in nature, and they believed God sent the illness as a punishment for their lack of worship and obeisance. That began what's historically known as the Age of Repentance--a widespread revival of the old beliefs and practices. And the disease disappeared."

 

Carter's eyes widened. "You think that one of these 'religious practices' wound up being a cure for the disease?"

 

Thompkins grinned. "Not only that, Major. I think I know which one." He looked over his shoulder. "Teal'c?"

 

The Jaffa removed his knapsack and extracted what looked like a wine bottle. He carefully placed it into Doctor Fraiser's hands.

 

Thompkins gestured to the bottle. "One of the main Samposian religious rituals is very similar to our celebration of the Lord's Supper--or Communion. The ceremony, performed weekly, involves the consumption of this drink made from the fruit of one of their indigenous plants. It was one of the first forms of worship reinstated during their time of repentance, and they've been doing it...ah...religiously, ever since."

 

You could have heard a pin drop. Carter looked at Fraiser. "Could it really be that simple?"

 

Fraiser stared at the bottle in her hands. "It's certainly possible that something in the Samposians' diet could be what's preventing them from contracting the disease." She looked up at Carter. "We need to analyze this, determine the exact chemical composition."

 

"Daniel doesn't have time for analysis."

 

All eyes rested on Jack, and Fraiser's glare was positively glacial. "Colonel O'Neill, are you suggesting we give Daniel an unknown, *alien* substance without first determining what's in it? Sir, in his weakened state, it could kill him."

 

"Doc, he's half dead already." Jack ran a hand through his hair, not caring that he was only making it more unruly. "You said it yourself--his heart is weakening. Hell, you nearly lost him not ten minutes ago! By the time you and Carter finish tinkering with that stuff, it could be too late. I say we take the risk."

 

"The Samposians' physiology is essentially human," Carter said quietly. "If this wine isn't harmful to them, in theory, it shouldn't hurt Daniel."

 

"Doctor?" General Hammond's tone made it clear Fraiser was in charge.

 

She scowled. "This goes against everything I've been taught; it violates the very essence of my responsibility for the health and well-being of my patient. A wrong decision could cost Daniel his life."

 

Teal'c's mellow baritone startled them all. "Perhaps we should ask ourselves what Daniel Jackson would wish, if he were able to express himself."

 

Way to go, T! "He'd tell us to go for it." Jack looked at each of them. "You know he would."

 

Fraiser hesitated a moment longer before her shoulders went slack. "All right. I'll have to insert a naso-gastric tube since he's sedated." She took a deep breath. "I hope I'm not going to regret this."

 

Jack kept silent. He'd started the ball rolling, now he could only hope Daniel would benefit. If anyone wound up bearing the blame for this one, it would be him.

 

*************************

 

Funny, how little things could become so very important. The steady, unvarying beat of the heart monitor. Skin that no longer burned beneath his fingertips. And, most of all, a chest that rose and fell naturally, to the sleeper's own rhythm. Gratitude and relief welled up, and Jack quickly closed his eyes to stave off the flow.

 

"I don't think I've ever seen such a dramatic turn around."

 

Jack's eyes flew open at the sound of Fraiser's voice. She crossed to the other side of the bed, adjusted the oxygen mask covering Daniel's nose and mouth, and then joined Jack in Daniel-watching.

 

"How many times does this make, huh, Doc?" he shook his head, his lips curved in a rueful smile. "He's *got* to stop doing this to me. Bad enough I've gone gray--next thing you know it'll be falling out."

 

"Just thirty-six hours and he's breathing on his own. His lungs are still congested, but they're steadily improving. As soon as he's able to take liquids by mouth we'll get rid of the feeding tube. The rash has even begun to disappear." Fraiser's expression was bemused. "There are a lot of people anxious to get their hands on that wine."

 

"He's, uh, really going to be all right?" Jack tried for nonchalant, but even he could hear the plea for reassurance in his question.

 

"Weeell, he's still got a long road to travel. I wouldn't be surprised if he's dropped five pounds, and there's always the possibility of pneumonia or some other secondary infection..."

 

"But?"

 

Fraiser smiled. "Let's just say my money is on Daniel making a full recovery."

 

"Sucker's bet, Doc. We are talking about the come back kid, after all."

 

Fraiser's sobered. "Thank God." She turned an assessing eye on Jack. "You're looking better yourself, Colonel. I see my nurses finally made sure you found the shower and a razor."

 

Jack rubbed a hand over his now-smooth chin. "The hygiene jokes were getting old."

 

"Wouldn't hurt you to catch up on some sleep. There's no reason for you and Daniel to have matching circles under your eyes."

 

"Yeah, well... Sanderson mentioned you stopped the sedation. She said there's a good chance he might wake up soon." Jack shrugged. "Thought I'd stick around a bit longer."

 

"You do realize he'll be pretty groggy?"

 

"All the more reason to make sure he sees a friendly face."

 

Fraiser slid Daniel's chart into the pocket at the end of the bed. "Fine. But if he hasn't surfaced in another hour, I suggest you get Sam or Teal'c to spell you. Rest now--you're going to have your hands full once Daniel is discharged."

 

Jack put on his best expression of outrage. "Who decided I'd be the one playing nursemaid?"

 

Fraiser just cocked an eyebrow and headed for the door. "One hour, sir. And remember--I've got spies everywhere."

 

"Pint-sized powermonger," Jack muttered under his breath. He adjusted his chair so he could lean back more comfortably while maintaining contact with Daniel's hand.

 

"Well, Daniel, here we are. Once again you've sideswiped death and managed to scare the crap out of all of us. Gotta tell you--this is getting as old as the nursing staff's smelly Irishman jokes.

 

"Ya know, I could tell you were gonna be a pain in the ass from the moment I first laid eyes on you. Pissing people off right and left by being too damn smart for your own good." Jack snickered under his breath. "I thought Kawalski was gonna kill you. But somehow you managed to win him over." His smile faded to the barest curve of lips. "Me too."

 

Jack thought about the first Abydos mission, the way Daniel seemed to surprise him at every turn. His eagerness to embrace a new culture and its people. His ability to pick up the language in an astonishingly brief period of time. His competency with a weapon. And, oh yeah--his willingness to sacrifice his own life to save Jack, a man who had already written him off as a "dweeb."

 

"I've never regretted making you a part of SG-1, Daniel. You've been our heart, our conscience. Even though you annoy the shit out of me, I wouldn't have it any other way. The year you were gone... Jonas tried his best, and he's a good enough kid, I guess. But...it was like we were sleepwalking." Jack scrubbed both hands over his face. "I don't want to go back there, damn it. So you'd better start being a lot more careful and quit with the near-death experiences. It's pissing me off."

 

"Sorry."

 

Jack jerked forward, delighted to see a pair of blue eyes struggling to focus on his face. "Hey. Look who decided to grace us with his presence."

 

Daniel blinked, his gaze wandering lazily around the room as a small line appeared between his brows.

 

"Infirmary, remember?"

 

"Sick?" Daniel's voice, raspy and insubstantial, was muffled by the oxygen mask.

 

"Yeah, but you're getting better. You're only half dead now. How do you feel?"

 

The frown deepened and he swallowed hard. "Throat hurts." He reached an unsteady hand toward the tube in his nose but Jack caught it and lowered it to the bed.

 

"Fraiser said that would come out soon. Here." Jack reached for the styrofoam cup of ice chips. Moving aside the mask, he held a spoonful to Daniel's lips. His friend accepted them with a sigh.

 

Surreptitious letting his hand brush Daniel's cheek as he offered another spoonful, Jack noted with relief that although he felt fever, it was nowhere near the blistering heat of the day before.

 

After three scoops Daniel turned his head. "'S enough." His eyelids were already drooping and Jack was certain he would soon be asleep. He was surprised when Daniel's body tensed and his eyes opened wide.

 

"Sean?"

 

Crap. Jack hesitated, unsure if he should break the bad news when Daniel was so weak. Something in his expression must have given him away. Daniel shut his eyes but a tear escaped and ran down the side of his face, leaving a dark spot on the pillow.

 

"Daniel." Jack wiped the moisture away with his thumb, feeling the same sickening helplessness he felt whenever life dealt Daniel another blow. "Fraiser did everything she could. I'm sorry."

 

Daniel didn't open his eyes. "Tired."

 

Jack brushed away another trickle of moisture and replaced the oxygen mask. "It's okay, Danny. Sleep."

 

Daniel's breathing gradually slipped into the deep, even cadence of sleep. Jack dried his damp fingers on his pants. As the adrenaline rush from Daniel's waking faded, weariness slammed into him.

 

"O'Neill."

 

Somehow Teal'c was standing at his shoulder. Jack stood, wincing at stiff muscles. "Teal'c. I didn't hear you come in."

 

"You appeared to be quite preoccupied. Has Daniel Jackson's condition deteriorated?"

 

"No, no. Just the opposite. He woke up for a few minutes."

 

"That is good news." Teal'c lifted an eyebrow. "Dr. Fraiser suggested I relieve you in this vigil."

 

"She did, did she?"

 

"Indeed. She asked me to remind you that your annual physical is next month. She said you would understand her intent."

 

"Yeah, I get the picture. Think I'll go crash in my quarters."

 

"That would seem advisable."

 

Jack squinted at the Jaffa, but as usual, Teal'c's impassive features gave away nothing. He crossed the room on protesting knees, pausing in the doorway. "T?"

 

Teal'c looked up from his scrutiny of Daniel's face.

 

"Don't leave him alone, okay?"

 

Teal'c inclined head.

 

*************************

 

 

"And that's about it, sir." Janet closed the file and rested her folded hands on top of it. "The Samposians use the wine strictly as a ceremonial drink, an essential component in the worship of their god. The have no idea of its incredible medicinal properties, and certainly not that it's what's keeping them alive every time one of these 'blood tides' occurs."

 

Hammond shook his head. "That's truly remarkable, Doctor. You mean that simply partaking of this...wine once a week has kept the Samposian people from falling victim to this illness?"

 

"Not only this one, sir. The Samposians have a very limited understanding of sickness in general. They're amazingly healthy. My guess is that the wine acts in a manner similar to a prophylactic antibiotic or a vaccination. It..." She trailed off and her eyes widened. Could that be it?

 

"Doctor? Are you all right?"

 

Hammond's concern snapped her attention back to the eight pairs of curious eyes fastened on her face. "Of course. I apologize, General. It's just that...I think I might know why Daniel and Lieutenant Donovan were the only two who became ill." She turned to O'Neill. "Colonel, how old was Donovan? Twenty-eight or twenty-nine?"

 

O'Neill's brow furrowed, but he didn't question her. "Yeah, something like that."

 

Fraiser chewed her lip. "And Daniel spent most of his early childhood out of the country, traveling to digs with his parents."

 

"Until they died, yeah. He was eight. What's your point, Doc?"

 

"I'm just speculating at this point, but... During the early stages, this disease presented very similar to smallpox."

 

"Of course!" Sam leaned forward. "If the organism is similar in nature, a vaccination against the smallpox virus could afford protection against this disease."

 

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down." O'Neill signaled "time out" with his hands. "The General may be on board but you two just lost me and I'm pretty sure Teal'c can't buy a clue either."

 

"I cannot."

 

"It's very likely that neither Daniel nor Sean were vaccinated against smallpox, sir," Fraiser explained. "Daniel because he lived abroad and Sean because vaccinations against smallpox were discontinued in 1972."

 

"So...Bruster and Atkins were protected against this bug, but Daniel and Donovan weren't."

 

"In theory--yes."

 

"It certainly sounds plausible," Hammond agreed. "Am I to understand the Samposians have cooperated in providing sufficient quantities of this wine for Dr. Jackson's treatment?"

 

"They were reluctant at first, sir," Sam said. "The wine has become sacred to them."

 

"But you were able to persuade them?"

 

She nodded. "Thanks to the trust established by the diplomatic team."

 

"By Daniel, you mean," Jack interjected. "As soon as they heard we wanted it for him, they couldn't cough up the stuff fast enough."

 

Hammond smiled. "How is our boy?"

 

Fraiser smiled. "Much better, General. But--" She lifted a hand when everyone broke into grins. "He's got a substantial recovery period ahead of him. He's still running a low-grade fever and his lungs are quite congested. Added to his extreme weakness, it makes him a good candidate for a secondary infection. He needs rest, and plenty of it." She looked around the table. "Once he starts feeling a bit better, he's going to be difficult to keep down."

 

Hammond's smile was a mere twitch of his lips. "Sounds like you'll have your hands full, Colonel."

 

"Not a problem, General." O'Neill gestured to Sam and Teal'c. "We'll tag team him."

 

"You do that." Hammond pressed his palms to the table. "That's all, people. I'd appreciate your final reports as soon as possible. A lot of people are very interested in the final outcome of this mission. Dismissed."

 

*************************

 

"Colonel O'Neill."

 

Jack watched with some amusement as Fraiser pumped her little legs to catch up with him. "Doctor."

 

"I assume you're going to visit Daniel."

 

"You're a mind reader."

 

"I'd like to speak with you first. Come to my office."

 

Frowning, Jack followed her. He lounged just inside the doorway as she took a seat. "At the risk of sounding cliched...What's up, Doc?"

 

"The last few times you visited, Daniel has been asleep. I want to prepare you a bit before you try talking with him."

 

"Prepare me?" Jack's pulse sped up. "For what? What's wrong?"

 

"Relax, Colonel. I didn't mean to worry you. I just think there are a couple things you should know about Daniel's current condition."

 

"Like?"

 

"For one, I've decided to leave him in the isolation room, even though contagion is obviously no longer a concern."

 

"And that would be because--why?"

 

"For privacy, mainly." When Jack just looked at her, she continued. "He's having some difficulty dealing with Lieutenant Donovan's death. I'd even go so far as to say he's depressed. He'd gotten to know Donovan pretty well, considered him a friend. He doesn't understand why the people close to him die but he keeps coming back."

 

Jack raised his eyebrows. "He *told* you that?"

 

Fraiser ducked her head. "Yes, well...that's the other thing you need to know. The Samposian wine, combined with the rest of his meds, has altered Daniel's brain chemistry."

 

"English, Doc."

 

"It's having a narcotic affect."

 

Jack stiffened. "Narcotic? Like the sarcophagus?"

 

"No, no. Nothing like that! More like a mild level of intoxication."

 

Jack relaxed, smirking. "Doc, it's not like I've never seen Daniel shitfaced. Hell, we both tied one on the night after Sha're died."

 

Fraiser waved a hand impatiently. "This is different, sir. I'm not talking about a few slurred words and maudlin ramblings. He's wide open--completely unguarded. He's liable to say things--verbalize intimate thoughts and feelings--that he'd never admit to under normal circumstances." She stared at Jack, her gaze sharp. "He's defenseless. Do you understand?"

 

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." Jack met her eyes without flinching. "He's safe with me, Doc. You gotta know that."

 

Fraiser studied his face for a long moment, then smiled. "I do."

 

Jack frowned. "This will wear off once he stops drinking that wine, right?"

 

"I'm sure of it. Until then, I've assigned Sanderson and Lucas as his nurses. I know I can trust them to be discreet."

 

"Okay. Then I'm gonna..." He tipped his head toward the infirmary.

 

"Go ahead. Just don't be surprised by anything he says--or if he dozes off mid-sentence."

 

"That'll be a switch. Usually *I'm* the one who falls asleep while Daniel's talking."

 

*************************

 

Jack stood with his hand on the door for a long moment before pushing it open and stepping into the room. Daniel's eyes were closed and an open book lay on his chest. Sanderson, who had been adjusting one of the monitors, gave him a reassuring smile.

 

"How'd he get that?" Jack asked sotto voce as he pointed to the book.

 

"He asked for it. Major Carter dropped it by this morning."

 

"Fraiser's gonna give her hell. He's supposed to be resting."

 

Sanderson's smile stretched into a grin. "Dr. Fraiser okayed it. She said giving him the book was easier than arguing with him about it, and he'd never stay awake long enough to read it anyway."

 

"That's...downright devious. Sweet."

 

"He'll probably wake up soon. He's been out for nearly two hours."

 

"Thanks, Sanderson. I know you and Lucas have pulled double duty taking care of him. It's appreciated."

 

She looked over at Daniel, and her eyes went soft. "I like Dr. Jackson. And right now, well, he needs to be around people he can trust, who won't take advantage of him."

 

"Yeah, Fraiser told me he's been a bit...uninhibited."

 

"He's sweet...and very vulnerable. It's been our pleasure to help." She chuckled, her cheeks dimpling. "Though I have to admit, Sheila got a bit rattled when he told her she had a nice ass."

 

Jack snorted. "He always has had a way with women."

 

"I'll be in with his meds in about an hour. If you need me, I'll be right next door."

 

Jack wandered over to Daniel's bed, conducting a sit rep. All the monitors were...monitoring, steady beeps and readouts that communicated reassuring stability. The feeding tube was gone, the oxygen mask replaced by a nasal cannula, and his respiration, though still a bit labored, had vastly improved. He still looked like hell, but Jack supposed that would take a while to fix.

 

He carefully worked the book out of Daniel's hands. His friend sucked in a sharp breath and curled his fingers. Jack set the book aside and watched as Daniel opened glazed eyes. He stared blankly at Jack for a long moment before his lips curved.

 

"Jack?"

 

"Daniel."

 

"You're here."

 

"In the flesh. How are you feeling?"

 

"My head really hurts and it's hard to breathe but I don't tell Janet because then she wouldn't let me have my book."

 

O-kay. Obviously Fraiser wasn't exaggerating. "Maybe if you spoke up she'd give you something to stop your head from hurting. Did ya think of that?"

 

Daniel made a face. "I don't want anything. Every time I open my damn mouth someone's trying to pour medicine down my throat. And the worst is that shit the Samposians call wine." He shuddered. "Tastes like piss, if you ask me."

 

Jack ruthlessly suppressed a grin. Daniel did *not* swear. He hadn't even realized words like "shit" and "piss" existed in his friend's vocabulary. "Yeah, well, it may taste bad, but it saved your life."

 

Daniel dropped his head onto the pillow and flung one arm over his eyes. "Lucky me."

 

Jack hooked the chair with his foot, drawing it close so he could sit down. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

 

He was taking advantage, and he knew it. Daniel didn't share his pain--he held it close. Shuffled from foster home to foster home, he'd developed a self-reliance that both strengthened and isolated him. His normal M.O. when hurting was to withdraw, holing up in his office or at home until he could stuff the pain down far enough to function. Having Daniel actually admit what was bothering him was too good an opportunity to pass up.

 

Daniel peered at him from under his arm. "It's not a bad thing. I'm glad I survived. Again. I just wish Sean had been as lucky."

 

"Donovan fought hard, Daniel. But he had a handicap. Fraiser did everything she could."

 

"I know. Janet explained about his asthma." Daniel rolled onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow. "What I don't understand is why me? I mean, how many close calls have I had, Jack? Not to mention the times I've actually *died*. Why do I keep getting second chances when good people like Sean, like Kawalsky, like Sha're..." His voice broke and he gritted his teeth. "...don't?"

 

//You asked for this, Jack.// He massaged the rock hard muscles at the back of his neck. "I don't know, Daniel. If I had the answer to that question, I'd have a book on the best seller list and be chatting it up with Oprah. The fact is, Donovan was a soldier. And a soldier knows there's no guarantee he'll see the sun rise from one day to the next. It goes with the territory."

 

"That's a very nice platitude, Jack, but it doesn't answer my question. Why am *I* still here? Why has God, or whatever cosmic force that's in charge up there, decided I'm not expendable?"

 

"Maybe you're special."

 

Daniel's face twisted in fury. "That's bullshit! I'm no more important than anyone else around here. Less!"

 

Jack's jaw dropped. "How do you figure?"

 

Daniel rolled his eyes. "I'm not a warrior like you, Sam, Teal'c--hell, like most of the SGC. I'm not a whiz in astrophysics or computers, or quantum mechanics--"

 

"You're our front man, Daniel. There's no one better at first contact, at making nice with the locals."

 

"Since when does that matter a rat's ass anymore? I mean, really, Jack? When was the last time my skills as an archeologist were required?"

 

"How about, oh, I don't know--THE SAMPOSIANS?" Jack knew he was getting progressively louder but he couldn't contain his incredulity. Was this really what Daniel believed he was worth?

 

Daniel flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling, his voice low. "I didn't learn anything about their customs, their history, their culture. If I had, maybe I'd have figured out about this...this 'Blood Tide,' and Sean wouldn't be dead right now. All I did was secure a source of naquada so we can build bigger and better weapons. I'm supposed to be real proud of that, huh?"

 

"You got under their skin, Daniel. Just like you did me, and everyone else who's ever met you." Jack leaned in close, forcing Daniel to look at him. "Did you know that pissy wine you've been drinking is sacred to them? It connects them to their god and saves their souls from damnation. Thompkins' words, not mine," he qualified when Daniel gaped at him.

 

"The point is, they don't let outsiders near the stuff. It would be blasphemy. But they gave it to us, Daniel. As much as we needed. For *you*."

 

Daniel swallowed hard. "What?"

 

"You connected with them. They watched you, listened to you, and decided the rest of us must be okay. More than okay. They trusted us, because they trusted you. You have a gift, Daniel, for cutting through the bullshit and seeing what matters. We may not always appreciate it..." Jack winced. "We might even tell you to shut up. But we need it. We need *you*."

 

"Sean was a good kid, Jack. He'd just gotten married--he had his whole life ahead of him. It's not fair."

 

"You're right; it sucks. And I guess I can understand you feeling a little survivor's guilt, but--"

 

"It's more than that." Daniel dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and smothered a yawn. "There's a part of me that's glad it was Sean. How sick is that?"

 

Startled, Jack fumbled for a response. "We've all got a strong instinct for self-preservation. It's human nature."

 

"You don't get it. I'm not glad it wasn't me. I'm glad it wasn't *you*." Daniel looked away. "I keep thinking that if I'd been with SG-1 instead of SG-5 on this mission, it could have been Sam who died. Or Teal'c...or you."

 

"Never would've happened. Carter and I have both been vaccinated and Teal'c has junior."

 

"That's not the point! The point is that I'd rather Sean died than any one of you."

 

Jack shook his head. The things Daniel could find to beat himself up about. "Got a newsflash for you, Daniel. We'd all rather it was Sean than you. You, Carter, Teal'c and I are family. A dysfunctional one, maybe, but a family."

 

Daniel's eyes glistened. "I know what happens to family, Jack. I've lost two of them. I think maybe it's me, that I'm some kind of living curse that destroys the people I care about. After Sha're died, I swore--I *swore*--I wasn't going to let myself get that close to anyone ever again. I pulled back from you, and you all seemed okay with that. I thought you'd give me a hard time, try to figure out what was wrong, but you and Sam and Teal'c--you didn't even notice or care. There was me and there was SG-1 and it hurt but it was safe. It was so much safer that way. And when Oma offered me the chance to ascend, I thought, 'That's it! That's the answer. I can make a difference, help people, but from a distance. Without the risk. Without the hurt.'" He closed his eyes. "But it didn't work that way."

 

Jack rubbed his forehead, masking the fact that he was really concealing stinging eyes. This was why Daniel had been so willing to go with Oma? All this time, and he'd never understood. Never would have understood if not for an alien germ and some pissy-tasting wine.

 

"Daniel." He looked up and saw that his friend was fading fast, exhausted by his emotional outburst. He curled his fingers around Daniel's wrist and squeezed, bringing him back from the edge of sleep.

 

"I'm not sure why things with the team...things between us got so screwed up. Well, I guess I have a pretty good idea, but I'm not going to open that can of worms right now. What matters, what you have to understand, is that you are an essential part of SG-1. We're not the same team without you. You bring out the best in us."

 

God, he was the one getting maudlin now, but after Daniel just spilled his guts all over the floor, it was the least he could do. Jack cleared his tight throat. "I know how much it hurts to lose a family, Danny. You're not the only one who's tried to keep his distance. But after a year of living without your friendship, I gotta tell ya, I'd rather take the risk than the coward's way out. I'll be damned if I'm going to deny myself something that I value, that makes me happy, for fear of losing it."

 

Daniel's sleepy eyes widened. "Jack, you're talking about feelings. Are you okay?"

 

For cryin' out... "I'm just peachy, Daniel. You?"

 

"Well, 's still hard…hard to breath, but...my...head...is..."

 

Well, what do ya know? Fraiser was right. Jack watched Daniel sleep for a moment, then stood. He adjusted the rumpled sheet and patted Daniel's shoulder. "We're not finished with this, my friend. Not by a long shot."

 

He shoved his hands in his pockets and headed for Carter's lab. He could collect Teal'c on the way. Time for a little strategizing.

 

*************************

 

"Whatever you're doing, Colonel, it's working. He's looking much better." Fraiser accepted a beer from Jack, her gaze fixed on Daniel.

 

Jack looked across the room at his friend. Daniel was ensconced on the couch, sandwiched between Carter and Teal'c, listening to Cassie's highly entertaining account of the latest school dance. Hammond sat to one side, a bemused expression on his face.

 

"Can't take much credit, Doc. Just fed him, made sure he took all his meds--oh, and disabled his laptop."

 

Fraiser grinned. "Good thinking."

 

"He still sleeps a lot but he hardly ever coughs and the rash is gone." Jack watched as Carter nudged Daniel with her shoulder and they laughed quietly together. "Not bad, considering."

 

"Not bad at all. If he keeps up this rate of recovery, I should be able to clear him for desk work next week and full duty the week after that."

 

"Sweet."

 

Jack followed Fraiser into the living room. Cassie was now gushing to Carter about her latest love interest while Daniel tried to explain the concept of dating to Teal'c. Jack nodded at Hammond, and the General cleared his throat. His soft drawl cut through the sudden silence.

 

"If you all wouldn't mind giving me your attention for a moment, there's something I'd like to share with Dr. Jackson that I think you'll find of interest." He paused to smile at Daniel. "I think we all forget that we're here today because of you. By first unlocking the 'gate, and then discovering the Abydos cartouche, you literally opened the universe to us and made the SGC possible. To be honest, I don't think our government has ever properly thanked you for that."

 

Daniel flushed. "General, I--"

 

"I'm not finished, son. You've served this country faithfully and well over the past eight years. Thanks to your tenacity and determination, we avoided a Goa'uld invasion that would have destroyed the lives of every man, woman and child on this planet. Your integrity and compassion have prevented us from making some terrible mistakes. And your honor and loyalty have gained us some valuable allies."

 

Hammond let his gaze wander over each person present. "It's a sad fact of human nature that we often don't appreciate what we have until we lose it. I guess it's high time we made sure you understand just how crucial you are to this program, and to each one of us.

 

"I want you to know that I've placed a letter of commendation, signed by the President himself, in your file. It won't change the fact that the pursuit of weapons and defense technology has become our primary goal. It doesn't allow you to vindicate yourself before your colleagues in the archeological community. But my hope is that it will communicate, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you have made a difference." Hammond walked over and extended his hand to Daniel, who stood on unsteady legs. "Congratulations, son."

 

Daniel accepted the handshake to the sound of applause, his face blank with shock. "I...I don't know what to... Thank you, sir."

 

Smiling to himself, Jack withdrew to the kitchen as Daniel was surrounded by well-wishing friends. More than ten minutes passed before Daniel joined him, face still flushed and eyes dazed. He dropped into a chair at the kitchen table but remained silent.

 

Jack pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator and set it in front of him, then took a seat across the table.

 

"Thanks." Daniel unscrewed the top and took a long drink before fixing Jack with an intense stare.

 

Jack raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong?"

 

"I'm not sure." Daniel took another drink, then turned the bottle between his palms. "You told them. This past week...I was wondering why Teal'c kept showing up to play hounds and jackels, and why Sam's been so...touchy feely."

 

"Touchy-feely?" Despite the uncertainty in Daniel's voice, Jack couldn't help being amused. "That's a *bad* thing?"

 

"I never said... No! No, it's not a bad thing. I just..." He buried his face in his hands. "I was stoned, Jack. I never would have spilled my guts like that if I'd been in my right mind. I've been having a hard enough time dealing with the idea that I said those things to you. How could you share them with anyone else? I thought I could trust you."

 

"Hang on a minute. First of all, you can trust me. And second, I didn't tell anyone anything." When Daniel dropped his hands to stare accusingly at him, Jack amended, "Okay, that's not entirely true. Maybe I did tell Carter and Teal'c that you were feeling miserable over Donovan's death. And I may have mentioned to the General that you've never gotten any formal recognition for opening the 'gate. But that's all I did, Daniel. C'mon, you know me better than that!"

 

"I thought I did." Daniel scrutinized his Jack's face as if it were an artifact. "That's all you said? Really?"

 

"Yes, Daniel, that's really all I said. Geez, you're questioning my integrity, here. You know, it's not my fault Carter gets all protective of you or that the General decided to take the bull by the horns and get you a commendation. You just have that effect on people."

 

Daniel smiled weakly. "I guess that's all right, then."

 

"That's family, Daniel And while we're on the subject, I expect you to cut the 'distancing yourself' crap. Otherwise I will be forced to sic Carter and her touchy-feely ways on you. Big time."

 

The weak smile transformed to a grin. "I've been warned."

 

"Damn straight."

 

The touchy-feely party in question chose that moment to peer through the kitchen door. "Ah, sir? Isn't it about time for dessert? Teal'c's getting restless."

 

Jack smirked at Daniel, who smothered a grin. "Oh, *Teal'c's* getting restless, is he, Major? Because he's, you know, got such a sweet tooth. Gets real cranky if he's deprived for too long."

 

Carter's face remained deadpan. "I have noticed that, yes, sir."

 

"Hear that, Daniel? Guess we'd better break out that chocolate fudge cake we bought for *Teal'c*."

 

Carter winked at Daniel. "Excellent idea, Colonel. I'll just, um, hold him off until it's served."

 

"You do that, Carter." Jack stood and motioned to Daniel. "You can help me by dishing up the ice cream."

 

He nodded and grabbed the ice cream from the freezer as Jack began slicing pieces of cake. When Daniel made no move to start scooping, Jack nudged his shoulder. "Daniel? Sometime today would be good."

 

Daniel ducked his head. "I know. I just wanted to say… Thanks, Jack. For sticking by me, taking care of me through all this. Even when I was really out of it, I knew you were there. It, um…it helped."

 

"You're welcome." Jack slapped the ice cream scoop into Daniel's hand. "Now start scooping, will ya? You know how scary Carter gets when she's denied her chocolate fix."

 

"I heard that, sir," Carter called from the living room.

 

Jack sighed. "Family, Daniel. Gotta love 'em."

 

Daniel smiled. "Yeah. I do."

 

 

END


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