DATE: March 3, 2005
SYNOPSIS: Daniel's in a coma after a mission gone wrong. Can his teammates help him find his way back?
NOTES: Thanks to Jo for her thorough and speedy beta, to dev for alpha, and to all my heart sisters for advice and encouragement. Flashbacks are noted in italics.
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 situations and story are mine. Please check with me first if you want to archive or link to this story.
"You always seem to put your foot in it, don't ya?"
Ferretti's strained chuckle drifted from the curtained-off area at the back of the infirmary. Jack slowed his steps, listening.
"Only you would try to make friends with that... that yak on steroids. Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words. You should have seen yourself--flat on your back, hollering bloody murder, while it dragged you up and down dunes faster than we could keep up. You're lucky the damn thing didn't kill you."
A heavy sigh. "That's what we need now, Daniel. A little more of that famous Jackson luck. Don't let us down."
Jack closed his eyes, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. Taking a deep breath, he opened them and walked around the curtain. "Lou. Thought you'd be headed home by now." When Ferretti began to stand, he waved him off.
Ferretti relaxed and shrugged. "Just stopped off on my way topside."
"How's the patient?"
Ferretti glanced over his shoulder, and the lines around his eyes deepened. "Still giving us the silent treatment."
"Fraiser been by?"
"'Bout ten minutes ago. She told me to talk to him, said there's a good chance he can hear us."
"Yeah, I got that lecture, too." Jack looked at the motionless form surrounded by machinery. "Hides it well, doesn't he?" He could feel Lou watching him.
"Jack, you do know this wasn't--"
"You'd better grab some shuteye while you can. Way I hear it SG-2 'gates out again in 48 hours."
Ferretti opened his mouth, but Jack's stony glare warned against argument. "Right. Yeah, you, ah... you've got a point." He looked at Daniel and then back at Jack, and sighed. "Follow your own advice, Jack. You're looking a little rough around the edges, too."
"Who, me?" He gestured at the gauze taped to his left temple, careful not to pull the stitches across his side. "They don't make heads any harder. And Fraiser stitched me up as good as new. I'm fine." Fortunately the Doc wasn't within earshot.
He nudged Lou out of the way and claimed the hard plastic chair. "Now get outta here. That's an order."
"Sir, yes, sir!" With a mock salute and a final glance at Daniel, Ferretti ambled off.
Jack waited for the retreating footsteps before taking his first real look at the man in the bed. What he saw made his stomach twist and the dull throbbing in his head blossom to pounding.
Daniel looked... Jack's mind skittered away from the word. Face as pale as the pillow, eyes shadowed, lips bloodless. An I.V. line (central line, he corrected himself) snaked under the collar of the hospital gown. Tubes down his throat, down his nose, and-- Jack winced. No orifice was sacred to Janet's staff. Wires from a doohickey clipped on his finger and the EKG. The heart monitor beeped, the respirator whooshed, and Daniel... Daniel did absolutely nothing.
"You tried to tell us, didn't you? All that crap about gut feelings and trusting your instincts. We just wouldn't listen." He dropped his head into his hands. "Damn it, Daniel! You never back off when you're sure you're right. You should've pushed harder."
"Morning, kids. Everyone ready for a fun-filled day of making nice with the Oompa Loompas?" Jack set his tray beside Carter's and slid into the open chair.
There was a collective pause, as everyone waited for Daniel to correct his deliberate mangling of the jungle-dwelling peoples of P8C-423. When Daniel didn't bite, but remained hunched over a stack of papers on the end of his tray, Carter stepped in.
"Paloompadrians." She paused. "Right, Daniel?"
"What?" Daniel jerked his head up, blinking. "Oh. Hi, Jack."
Jack waved a forkful of pancake. "Daniel. Care to share?"
A little line formed between Daniel's brows and he glanced down at his untouched food. "Uh... sure. But I thought you hated oatmeal."
Jack raised his eyebrows, but Teal'c beat him to the punch. "I believe O'Neill was referring to the documents that are commanding so much of your interest."
"Oh!" Daniel gazed down at the papers and shrugged, flushing. "It's, ah... just the, um... background info for the trade agreement..."
"But I thought the agreement was finalized. That the signing today was pretty much just a formality." Carter glanced from Jack to Daniel and back again.
"You're right; it's a done deal. Kovacek's team has spent the last three weeks hammering out that agreement. We wouldn't have this gig at all if SG-11 didn't have to go pull SG-9's ass out of the fire." Jack narrowed his eyes. "Daniel?"
"I repeat--care to share?"
Daniel shuffled the papers, chewing his lip. "There's something here."
"There damn well better be. Kovacek's team busted their tails negotiating with those midgets."
Carter camouflaged her smile with a bite of toast, but Daniel scowled. "I mean something's off; it doesn't feel right."
Jack could sense an eye roll coming on. "Doesn't feel... For cryin' out loud, Daniel, why do you always--"
"What is the source of your disquiet?"
Daniel looked at Teal'c, something very like desperation in his eyes. "I don't know. That's the problem. Something just feels..."
"Off." Jack scrubbed a hand over his face. The few bites he'd consumed were turning to lead in his gut.
"Yes, off." Daniel thrust his chin out and his hands curled into fists.
"Something about the treaty?" Carter asked.
"No. No, the treaty is fine. We're getting unlimited access to all that naquada, and the Paloompadrians have asked for very little in return."
"Are you perhaps concerned there may be an error in the translation, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel shook his head. "It's a complicated language, but Wendell has done a fine job--not only with the translation itself, but with finding common frames of reference."
Jack mentally counted to ten. Lately it seemed as if Daniel had an opposing viewpoint on everything. Hell, if Jack remarked the sky was blue, Daniel would probably come up with a passionate argument for why it was really pink.
"I don't get it," he said aloud. "You admit the treaty is gold--ah, ah!" He held up a finger when Daniel tried to interrupt. "--and that Wendell crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's. Not seeing a problem here, Daniel."
"That's because you're talking logic. I'm talking intuition." Daniel leaned across the table. "Come on, Jack. Haven't you ever just had a feeling? When your gut tells you something's wrong even though your head says you're nuts?"
The answer, of course, was yes. Any soldier worth a damn had those feelings, and learned to respect them. Jack gritted his teeth. Only Daniel could find intrigue in what was essentially a photo op. A bunch of suits from Washington were attending this shindig. He'd promised Hammond today would go smooth as silk, and damn it, that's how it was going to be.
"Sounds more like delusion than intuition." He stood and picked up his tray. "We need this treaty. Let's not screw things up by jumping at shadows."
The fire faded from Daniel's eyes and he turned back to poking his oatmeal without another word.
Jack scrubbed his hands over his face, then reached out to gently squeeze Daniel's arm. "Okay, so I didn't listen. But I'm listening now. Come on back, Daniel. You can call me every dirty name in that extensive repertoire of yours. Just... come back."
At the sound of a throat clearing, Jack sat up straight, pulling back his hand. Fraiser moved around him to the opposite side of the bed. As she checked readouts and hung a fresh bag of some concoction, Jack had the distinct impression he was being scrutinized as closely as Daniel was.
"I thought I told you to get some sleep." She jotted something onto the chart in her hands.
She looked at him, one brow arched.
Jack tipped his head back and gave her his most irreverent grin. "It was a power nap."
"Have you looked in a mirror lately? Evidently not powerful enough." Fraiser softened her tone. "Colonel, you aren't doing Daniel any good by running yourself to the ground. If he comes out of this coma--"
She faltered, frowning. "Excuse me?"
"When he comes out of the coma."
She glanced at Daniel and lowered her voice. "I want to believe that as badly as you do, but we both know--"
"I don't want to hear this."
"--we both know that the odds are--"
Jack surged to his feet. "You know what? Screw the odds!" When Fraiser took a reflexive step backward, he realized he'd grasped the rail in a white-knuckled grip and was leaning across Daniel's body. Flushing, he released the metal bar and sat down.
Fraiser finally broke the awkward silence. "You are also my patient, sir. That knife wound, while not life-threatening, requires time to heal. That's not going to happen unless you get sufficient rest."
"Yeah. I get it." He sighed, gesturing at Daniel. "You say they can still hear us--right?"
She frowned, but nodded. "Research has shown--"
"Yadda." Jack flicked his hand dismissively. "He's lost, doc. He's wandering around out there somewhere, hurting. At least I can make damn sure he knows he's not alone."
"Nor are you alone in this endeavor, O'Neill." Teal'c moved around the curtain and stood at Fraiser's side, his hands clasped behind his back. "I will sit with Daniel Jackson while you obtain some much needed sleep."
Jack scowled at Fraiser. "Called for reinforcements, did ya?"
"Yes, sir." There was no shame in her steady gaze.
Jack looked back and forth between the two, who were doing a damn good job of presenting a united front. He huffed, but stood. "Fine. But just for the record, this is called double-teaming."
Fraiser had the nerve to smirk. "I didn't get where I am today without learning to fight dirty, Colonel."
Jack watched as Teal'c took possession of the chair, dwarfing it with his bulk. "I'll be back in four--"
"Six." Fraiser folded her arms.
He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut, stabbing a finger at Teal'c instead. "You don't leave him alone--for any reason. Got it?"
Teal'c inclined his head.
Jack took two steps and turned back. "Even to pee. Call a nurse. Or better yet, call Fraiser."
"I will keep her apprised of all my bodily functions."
Jack narrowed his eyes, but stalked out of the room.
"You're good." Fraiser's voice held a note of admiration.
Teal'c allowed himself the hint of a smile. "Indeed." When Doctor Fraiser moved around the bed to straighten the I.V. tubing, he touched her arm. "Has there been any improvement in Daniel Jackson's condition?"
She hesitated, then shook her head. For the first time Teal'c noticed the lines etched into the skin around her eyes and mouth. "I'm afraid not, Teal'c."
"This is not a good sign."
"As I already told Colonel O'Neill, the longer Daniel stays comatose, the greater the likelihood that it's a permanent condition."
"Those are not words any of us hoped to hear. Especially not O'Neill."
Fraiser pursed her lips. "I don't have the luxury of sticking my head in the sand. Colonel O'Neill is refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that Daniel won't make a complete recovery."
"O'Neill is a warrior familiar with the casualties of battle. It is his own perceived failure that he wishes to deny."
"He carried Dr. Jackson the two miles back to the 'gate, despite his own injuries. Daniel would already be dead if not for the Colonel." Dr. Fraiser slipped the chart into a pocket on the end of the bed. "I'll be in my office if you need anything."
Teal'c folded his arms and leaned back in the chair. He watched the steady drip of the I.V. line, the mechanical rise and fall of Daniel Jackson's chest. Seeing his expressive teammate reduced to a lifeless shell filled him with a mixture of anger and grief.
"You must not surrender this battle, my friend. The flame within you burns low, but it has not been extinguished. You will live to fight another day." His lip curled. "Those who dared betray us, however, will not."
Daniel Jackson spoke haltingly in the strange, guttural language, gesturing emphatically. The three small natives put their heads together. After several minutes of jabbering, their leader nodded to Daniel and they left the room.
"Oh, Daniel?" O'Neill drawled.
"Hmm?" Daniel Jackson waited until the door closed, then walked quickly around the large desk and pulled several volumes from the bookcase.
"Indulging my 'delusion,'" he replied, closing one book and opening another.
"I believe Daniel Jackson still doubts the veracity of our hosts' promises."
Major Carter moved to look over her teammate's shoulder. "Is Teal'c right, Daniel? You still think they're lying?"
"I didn't say that... exactly."
"I thought we put an end to this!"
"No, you ended it. I've just begun." He flipped the last book shut and shoved them all back onto the shelf, frowning. "This isn't it. There must be..."
He spun on his heel and walked over to a large cabinet made of heavy, dark wood. When a tug on the knobs failed to open the doors, he leaned over and peered at the lock.
O'Neill grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him around. "Damn it, Daniel! Stop dicking around and talk to me."
Teal'c was surprised when Daniel Jackson brought up both arms to break O'Neill's hold. O'Neill stepped back from the fury in their teammate's gaze.
"The books they've shown me, the records of their history, have been sanitized."
"Sanitized? As in, 'for my protection'? What--there was a strip of paper around them?"
Daniel Jackson huffed, vibrating with anger. "No, Jack. As in, for their protection. There are holes in every account. They've chronicled every battle, every coup, every victory. But there's no explanation of how they managed to so consistently defeat their enemies."
"So? So when have you ever known a winner who didn't like to brag a little?"
O'Neill ran a hand through his hair. "Daniel--"
Daniel Jackson stopped poking at the lock and slapped a palm against the wood. "Are you going to help me get this open or not?"
O'Neill stared at him for a long moment, then pulled a small case from his backpack. Selecting a thin metal pick, he shouldered Daniel out of the way and slipped it into the lock. Moments later, he opened the doors with a flourish.
Daniel Jackson dropped his chin to his chest. "Thank you."
O'Neill clenched his jaw. "I still think you're nuts. This was just easier than arguing."
A hiccup in the heart monitor's steady beep pulled Teal'c from his relaxed pose. He leaned forward, listening, but the beat steadied, and his teammate remained motionless.
"Is he waking up?"
Major Carter stepped around the curtain and moved closer to the bed, her gaze darting from Daniel Jackson's face to the monitors and back again. She held a large paper cup cradled between her palms.
"It appears to have been what O'Neill would call a 'glitch' in the monitoring equipment."
Major Carter's shoulders sagged. "There's been no change then?"
"There has not."
She popped the lid and set the cup on a small cart near Daniel Jackson's head. "Coffee," she explained when Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Daniel's favorite blend."
"Considering his current physical condition, I do not think Daniel Jackson will be able to make use of your gift."
She ducked her head, smiling. "I know. I just thought that maybe the smell..." She made a face. "I guess that must sound foolish."
"Dr. Fraiser says the sound of our voices could provide a powerful stimulus to bring our friend back to us. I do not see why scent could not be equally as powerful."
"I hope so." She touched the top of one blanket-covered foot, then smiled at Teal'c. "Janet told me you've been here almost four hours. I thought you'd like a break--a chance to stretch your legs, maybe get something to eat."
Teal'c inclined his head. "Thank you. I must confess, I expected O'Neill would return before now."
Major Carter's lips twitched as she suppressed a grin. "Janet changed his medication when he came in for a check-up this afternoon. She said the new painkiller packs a punch."
"O'Neill has frequently warned that Dr. Fraiser should not be underestimated."
"Maybe he should've listened to his own advice."
Teal'c stood and gently ushered her onto his chair. He studied her face and slumped shoulders, frowning. "You appear tired. Are you certain you feel able to keep vigil?"
Major Carter straightened. "I'm fine." When he continued to scrutinize her without expression, she looked away. "Okay, maybe I am a little tired. The truth is, I didn't sleep so well last night. Or the night before. But we both know that's not going to change until..." She bit her lip and glanced up at him, her blue eyes shiny. "I want to be here. I need to."
"I understand." And he did. They'd all felt the same compulsion since hauling their bleeding, barely breathing teammate through the 'gate: an urgent, if irrational, need to remain within sight of him. As if by sheer will alone they could tether him to life.
"I will be in the mess and then my quarters."
Major Carter must have heard his unspoken request. "If anything... I'll call."
Once Teal'c had left, Sam scooted her chair closer to the head of the bed. Mindful of the tubes and wires, she smoothed a shaky hand through Daniel's hair. The nurses had washed away the sweat and blood, and the silky strands slipped easily through her fingers.
"I'm here, Daniel. We're all here, just waiting for you to wake up. So why don't you?" She traced the curve of his ear, a move that never failed to get a reaction from her ticklish friend. When Daniel didn't even twitch, her control wavered and the tears spilled down her cheeks.
"You're gonna make me say it--is that it? You were right and we were wrong. And now you're paying for it. How screwed up is that?" She brushed away the moisture, impatient with her own weakness. "Wake up and say 'I told you so,' Daniel. We'll listen. I promise we will."
Sam looked from the Colonel--pacing and muttering under his breath--to Daniel--hunched over a large book he'd pulled from the locked cabinet. Teal'c stood sentry at the door, his expression inscrutable. A glance at her watch did nothing to assuage her nerves. The Paloompadrians were bound to return any moment, and she didn't think they'd be happy when they saw Daniel had been making himself a little too at home.
"Sir, it's been more than ten minutes, and--"
"Don't look at me, Carter. Why don't you ask Mr. Psychic Connection over there when he'll be through?"
Sam bit back a retort. This tension between the Colonel and Daniel was getting out of hand. Lately it seemed he'd dismiss Daniel's opinions without stopping to give them much thought. And Daniel... well, there were times she wondered if he didn't play devil's advocate just to get a rise out of the Colonel. Sam couldn't help feeling this might be one of those times.
She walked over to her teammate, watching for a moment as his eyes rapidly scanned a page. "Daniel, you know General Hammond is counting on us to secure this treaty. The pressure from Washington to prove the Stargate can give us a tactical advantage--"
"Weapons, you mean." Daniel's voice had that tight, snarky quality that set her teeth on edge. He flipped a page, never lifting his eyes from the text.
Sam held onto her temper. "The SGC has invested nearly three months worth of manpower and resources to build a relationship with these people. Once that treaty is finalized we'll have access to enough naquada to power a whole fleet of ships. There are a dozen high-ranking officials right out there," she gestured to a small window that streamed sunlight, "waiting for the celebration to begin."
Daniel flipped another page, his jaw clenched. "What's your point, Sam?"
God! No wonder the Colonel wanted to strangle him! She lowered her voice to a pitch for Daniel's ears alone.
"The POINT, Daniel, is that this mission is too important to be used as leverage in some pissing contest between you and the Colonel."
Daniel jerked his head up to look at her. Sam caught a glimpse of raw, unguarded hurt in his eyes before they shuttered and his face turned blank. "I can't finish this if you keep interrupting me." He reached for another book, effectively ending the conversation.
Sam felt her cheeks heat, but she wasn't sure if it was from anger or shame. She walked back to the Colonel with a shake of her head. His scowl deepening, he jerked a hand through the air.
"All right, that's it. I've had just about enough--"
"Oh my God."
Daniel's soft exclamation sent icy fingers down Sam's spine. The Colonel must have recognized dismay in the tone, because he was instantly at Daniel's side.
"What? What did you find?"
"It's here--all of it."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Colonel O'Neill seized Daniel's arm, but his grip gentled when he saw their teammate's white face and huge eyes. "Daniel, you're not making sense."
"This is it, the uncut, unabridged record of the Paloompadrian's history. It... it's all a deception, Jack. They...they've lied from the start!"
Sam exchanged a puzzled glance with her CO. "What? What did they lie about?" she asked.
Daniel flung out his arms. "This--this whole... primitive, undeveloped culture--it's a façade! They're just as technologically advanced as we are, maybe more."
When Sam and the Colonel just stared at him, he stalked over to another set of cabinets and began jimmying the lock. Afraid her friend had really gone 'round the bend, Sam put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Daniel, don't--"
Daniel shrugged her off, shoving his knife blade into the crack and pulling hard. The wood snapped, sending him staggering backward, and the doors popped open. Sam gasped.
The cupboard was filled with what appeared to be highly sophisticated electronics, red, green, and amber lights blinking rapidly. Shaking off his surprise, the Colonel joined Daniel in forcing open another cabinet, revealing more of the same.
They all stared at the monitors, circuits, and wires so out of place in the crude, thatch-roofed hut.
"If they don't need anything from us," the Colonel said, "why the deception?"
Daniel backed up to grip the table with white knuckles. He licked his lips. "Their whole culture is based on treachery and betrayal. They value it the way we value honesty. For these people, there's no greater achievement than luring your enemies into a state of trust and then..." He trailed off, closing his eyes. "They've been doing it for centuries. That's why there are no other towns nearby. They have no neighbors, no allies. What they can't conquer, they destroy."
"My God," Sam breathed. "Sir, most of our people... they're unarmed."
Teal'c primed his staff weapon. "O'Neill, footsteps. At least three individuals approach."
The Colonel brought up his P90 and toggled his radio. "Ferretti, do you read?"
"Right here, Colonel. Just waiting for SG-1 to get this party started."
The Colonel motioned Daniel and Sam to take up positions behind the door. "Negative. The treaty's a wash; we're aborting the mission. Get our people back through the 'gate."
"NOW, Ferretti. I repeat--the treaty is a bust. Expect hostile reaction to your withdrawal. You should defend yourselves by whatever means necessary."
The Colonel took his place beside Teal'c just as the doorknob jiggled. "On three. One, two, ..."
"Carter? Hey, you all right?"
Sam snapped to attention, swiping at her cheeks with her sleeve. "Sir." She cleared her throat when her voice wavered. "You're awake."
The Colonel braced his hands on the footboard and scowled. "I should've known better than to trust pills from Dr. Dread. She slipped me a mickey."
His disgruntled outrage coaxed a smile onto her lips. "Well, you look...rested, sir."
"Thanks." The Colonel's voice dripped sarcasm. He moved to the opposite side of the bed, straightening a section of I.V. tubing that wasn't tangled. "Anything new to report? The secret of cold fusion? An averted Goa'uld invasion?" His dark eyes were bleak. Daniel's miraculous recovery?"
"Janet checked on him a few minutes ago. He's no worse."
The Colonel sighed, propping his forearms on the railing and staring at Daniel's limp hand. "But no better."
"He tried to tell us." The words slid out before she could stop them.
Colonel O'Neill stiffened. "Drop it, Carter."
She stood, curling her fingers around the rail for support. "Why? We both know it's true. Daniel sensed something was wrong before we'd even left the SGC. But we brushed him off. Accused him of being paranoid." She chewed the inside of her cheek to stave off the tears. "Or worse. If we'd given him a chance, really listened, maybe he wouldn't be lying here now, maybe--"
"You think I don't know that?" He snarled the words with a fury that shocked Sam to silence. "You think the full implication of my actions didn't sink in when I watched the bullets--bullets from weapons those bastards supposedly didn't have--tear into him? When he started choking on his own blood?" He held up his hands, curling them into fists, and his voice turned soft. "It's still under my fingernails; I can't get it out."
Sam pressed a trembling hand to her mouth just as Janet appeared. "What's going on?" She glared at the Colonel. "I could hear your voice all the way in my office."
The Colonel had the good grace to look ashamed. "Nothing's going on."
Janet's gaze swept over the monitors, then fixed on Sam. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Janet." Sam pasted on a weak smile. "Really."
"Sorry. It won't happen again," the Colonel said.
Janet pursed her lips. "See that it doesn't. I've been lenient about visiting hours up till now. I'd hate to rescind that privilege." With a final frown at each of them, she withdrew.
Sam sighed. "Colonel, I never meant to--"
"Forget it, Carter. I had no right to come down on you like that."
"It's just...I get the feeling you want to accept all the blame for what happened. But we all share a part in it."
The Colonel looked away. "I'll take over now. Go get some food. Or sleep." His smile was forced. "Or better yet, both."
"Conversation's over, Major."
She hated when he played the rank card, but was wise enough not to press the issue. She stepped aside to let him claim the chair, and when it became clear he had no intention of talking further, she left.
Jack ground the heels of his hands into his burning eyes. Carter's remorse had scoured away much of the protective shell he'd tried so hard to maintain, leaving his emotions raw and exposed. Though he appreciated her attempt to lighten the burden of his guilt, he couldn't accept it. He knew better than anyone that as the commanding officer, he set the tone for his team. If Carter and Teal'c had failed Daniel, they'd done it through his example.
The hell of it was that he couldn't explain his own behavior of late. Yeah, Daniel had been a pain in the ass--but that was Daniel. The guy had a relentless moral compass that surfaced at the most inconvenient times. It drove Jack nuts--and at the same time reassured him on a level that he barely understood. Daniel was his safety net. His conscience. The guard dog that kept O'Neill the Bastard firmly in check.
Daniel's friendship had made him a better man. Jack knew that. So why had he been treating him like the enemy?
"My actions put you in this bed, Daniel. Just as surely as if I'd fired the gun." He slid his hand over Daniel's, wincing at the cool, lax fingers. "You tried so hard to warn me, and I stonewalled you. Until it was too late." He pressed his forehead hard against the metal rail, squeezing his eyes shut. "God, don't let it be too late."
The footsteps turned out to be three Paloompadrians bearing weapons alarmingly similar to a P90. Teal'c's staff took out two, Carter's gun the other.
"Surveillance," Daniel muttered, staring dazedly down at the bodies. "They must have this room wired."
"Good." Jack turned him away from the gruesome sight. "Now they know we bite. Carter, take point. Daniel you're next. Teal'c you've got our six."
Suddenly everywhere they looked the quaint, aboriginal Paloompadrians had transformed into warriors armed to the teeth. They were ambushed by four more on their way out of the building. Jack managed to kick the gun from one opponent's hand before another came from behind to smash the butt of his weapon over Jack's head. As Jack fought to remain conscious, the man he'd disarmed pulled a knife from his belt. Jack had the presence of mind to roll, but fire licked along his side, just under his ribs. Teal'c's staff cracked once, twice, and moments later Jack was hauled to his feet, blinking blood from his left eye.
"I'm okay, I'm okay." He shrugged off Teal'c's iron grip, though his legs wobbled a bit.
Daniel swore, his face contorted with worry. "Jack, you're cut."
"It's shallow, I'll be fine." He drew himself up straight, though the corridor wavered. "Keep moving."
Outside, all hell had broken loose. One of Ferretti's team was missing, as well as the majority of the suits from Washington. The rest were engaged in close combat with the natives.
Or lying dead on the ground.
"Nice you could join us," Ferretti said as they ducked behind the large boulder he was using for cover. "This has been a helluva party, but I'm ready to go home."
Jack fired a few rounds, sending several of the warriors diving for cover. "Where's Barrett?"
"Halfway to the gate, I hope. He's got most of the bigwigs with him." He clenched his jaw. "A few weren't quick enough on the uptake."
"O'Neill, the strength of our resistance appears to have caught them off guard. I suggest we leave now, before they regroup."
Jack pressed a hand to his side and the warm stickiness soaking his shirt. "Couldn't have put it better myself. Let's blow this pop stand."
Carter glanced over her shoulder at the large open field bordered by forest. "Once we make it to those trees, we'll have all the cover we need."
"Yeah. It's getting there that's the fun part." Jack pulled off his cap, swiped at the sweat beading his forehead, and replaced it. "We'll lay down suppressing fire and then fall back."
"Translation: run like hell," Ferretti said.
"On three. One...two...three!"
They made it halfway across the field before the natives recovered and began shooting. Head pounding, vision blurring, his side on fire, Jack gritted his teeth and let instinct take over. Ten yards from the forest, someone screamed. Jack turned to see Gorman, Ferretti's second in command, go down clutching his leg.
"I have him, O'Neill."
More weapons fire on both sides, and then they were in the trees. Teal'c, Ferretti, and Captain Putnam watched for pursuers while Carter and Daniel worked on Gorman. His leg was a mess--the bullet had hit his femur, shredded muscle and bone visible through the open wound.
"If we immobilize the leg, it should make the pain manageable. Daniel, find a stick we can use for a splint," Carter said. "Captain, come give me a hand."
Daniel stood and began to search the immediate area. Jack sagged against a tree, the bark rough against his back. He squinted, the dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves cutting like a knife through his aching head. Something flickered at the edge of his vision, and he tipped back his head.
"Daniel! Look out!"
Jack fumbled the P90 onto his shoulder, but not before two shots rang out in rapid succession. He hit the sniper squarely between the eyes, barely noticing the crack of breaking branches as the body plummeted to the ground, or the answering gunfire when Teal'c, Ferretti, and Putnam took out two more concealed in neighboring trees.
Daniel stood rigidly for a long moment, his gaze locked onto Jack's face, his eyes wide with surprise. "Jack?" He took two wobbly steps, then sank to his knees as blood blossomed over his chest and belly.
"Oh my God--Daniel!" Carter abandoned Gorman, scrambling toward her teammate on hands and knees.
Jack got there first, catching Daniel as he slumped toward the ground. "Easy. Easy." He pulled his friend onto his lap, swallowing hard. There was so much blood. Daniel's tee shirt and jacket were saturated, and when Jack pressed a hand over each wound he could feel warmth pulsing against his fingers.
"Jack, wha'...wha' happ'd?" Daniel brought one bloody hand up to clutch at Jack's jacket.
"What happened? You forgot to duck again, that's what happened." Jack shook his head when Carter tried to move his hands. "We gotta get him through the gate. NOW."
"Hurts." Daniel coughed and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
Jack's stomach plummeted. "Right now. Teal'c! Ferretti! We're outta here!"
Jack stood and hauled Daniel onto his shoulders, ignoring Daniel's scream and the renewed agony in his own head and side. He took several unsteady steps, nearly going down, staggered into a jog, and then began to run.
Jack lurched to his feet, forsaking his own rule and abandoning Daniel in his haste to reach the bathroom. He retched helplessly for several moments, his empty stomach doing its damnedest to find something worth expelling. When the spasms finally tapered off, he flushed and turned on the sink. As the water ran, he stared into the haunted eyes of the gaunt-faced stranger in the mirror. That trip back to the gate would feed his nightmares for years to come.
Daniel's initial whimpers and groans weakened, then ceased, one arm thumping relentlessly against Jack's back as his body turned boneless. Only the harsh rasp of his respiration told Jack his friend still lived, and even that was beginning to stutter and skip.
Jack's lungs felt ready to burst, and his side throbbed in time to the beat in his skull. Sweat and blood ran into his stinging eyes, blurring his vision. He refused to acknowledge the pain, focusing all his attention on putting one foot in front of the other. He could hear the others crashing through the brush behind him, Teal'c half-dragging, half-carrying a semi-conscious Gorman. When they broke through the trees onto the open plain leading up to the Stargate, Jack tightened his grip on Daniel and pumped his aching legs harder.
Three-quarters of the way to the DHD, Daniel's ragged breathing caught, and his body jerked violently.
"Daniel. Damn it!" Jack scrabbled to hang on as his friend tried to slither from his grasp.
He dropped to his knees and allowed Daniel to slide to the ground. Daniel thrashed, his arms and legs flailing as he made a choked, gurgling sound. Blood bubbled and frothed from his lips, which had turned a dusky hue.
Carter's hand clamped onto Jack's shoulder. "He's choking on his own blood! Turn him on his side."
"I've got it. Just dial the gate!"
He flipped Daniel into the recovery position and smacked him sharply between the shoulder blades. "Breathe, damn it! I hauled your ass this far, don't you dare quit on me now."
For a moment Daniel was still. Then he coughed, an alarming amount of blood spraying out to pool on the ground. His eyelids fluttered, but didn't open.
"That's it, that's good. You got it, kiddo." Jack's voice cracked. He forced himself upright and dragged Daniel back onto his shoulders as the last chevron locked into place. "Almost home, Daniel," he chanted, more for his own benefit than his friend's. "Almost home."
The event horizon exploded outward. Jack ran.
Jack blinked, cupping his hands under the cold water. He splashed some on his face, carefully avoiding the bandage at his temple, and rinsed his mouth. He knew he was stalling, but he couldn't shake his reluctance to see Daniel's nearly lifeless body, to hear the unchanging beep and hiss of the machines.
Hypovolemic shock leading to multi-organ system failure. Fraiser's fancy way of saying Daniel had nearly bled out. That by the time Jack carried him through the gate his heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain were all shutting down. They'd shocked his heart back to life and repaired the damage from the bullets. Transfused him. Pumped him full of antibiotics to fight infection. Gradually, his liver and kidneys had come back online, though his weakened lungs still needed assistance from the respirator. Daniel should be awake and complaining bitterly about his enforced confinement.
Except he wasn't.
Jack turned away from the plastic chair, wandering over to pick up a bag of saline. "You've got us all hanging by our fingernails, Daniel. I know we...I...let you down. But that doesn't mean you should return the favor." He jiggled the bag back and forth between his palms.
"I know I screwed up, but the least you could do is give me another chance. You sure as hell cut everyone else in the universe plenty of slack. You were more than willing to extend the hand of friendship to that overgrown sardine, even after he'd practically fried your brain. And how about when that Unas dragged you off to become the main course at a banquet in his honor? I lead an S&R team halfway across the planet, and all you can say is 'We communicated. We're friends'!"
Jack sighed, lifting a leaden arm to rub his eyes before turning back toward the bed. "What I'm trying to say is that I think I deserve--" Jack froze, unable to do anything but stare.
Daniel stared back.
Half afraid to move or breathe lest he break the spell, Jack stepped closer. "Daniel? You in there?"
Daniel blinked, tracking Jack. Jack moved left, moved right, even leaned over the railing, and Daniel's gaze never faltered. "You are! You did it, Dannyboy--you made it back!" He stopped himself from giving his friend a vigorous thump on the shoulder, settling for squeezing his arm instead.
"What took you so long? Do you have any idea how worried we've been? Carter hasn't been sleeping--and you know how she gets when that happens--and Teal'c, well, Teal'c gets that extra line in his forehead, and Fraiser... Shit, Fraiser! She's gonna want to know you're--" Jack darted around the curtain, popping back a second later. "Don't go anywhere. Not that you could, I'm speaking metaphorically here, but...just...you know what I mean."
He skidded into the doorway of Fraiser's office, nearly colliding with three nurses along the way.
"Colonel O'Neill, what--?"
Spinning on his heel, he careened back to Daniel's bed, not bothering to wait for Fraiser's reaction. Daniel's eyelids had slipped to half-mast, but the corner of his mouth turned up when Jack appeared.
"Ah! Ah! Don't even think about sleeping until Doctor Mengele- -" He broke off when Fraiser pulled aside the curtain.
"You were saying, Colonel?" She made her way to Daniel's side, lowering the railing.
Daniel's eyelids fluttered, and Fraiser gently tapped his cheek. "I know you're tired, Daniel, but I need you to stay with us a few more minutes."
Jack shifted from one foot to the other as Fraiser checked Daniel's temperature, shined her penlight into his eyes, all the while speaking softly to him. When she turned to scan the monitors, Daniel's eyes slid shut.
Hearing the sharpness in Jack's tone, Fraiser snapped her head around. Her tension immediately melted away.
"It's all right, Colonel. I'm amazed he held on as long as he did." She pulled Daniel's chart from the end of the bed and jotted a few notes. "He'll be in and out for a while, and in some ways that's a blessing. As he becomes more alert, he's going to be in quite a bit of pain."
"So...he's gonna be all right?"
"We'll start trying to wean him off the respirator, and I'd like to do another EEG. A systemic infection is always a risk in cases like Daniel's, where--"
"For cryin' out loud, can we have a little optimism here?"
She curled her arms around the chart, smiling. "It looks good, sir. It looks very good."
Though he felt weak-kneed with relief, Jack grinned. "See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"And now I want you to clear out of my infirmary and get some rest. Daniel is unlikely to surface again for a while."
"Adrenaline rush, Doc. How am I supposed to sleep?"
Fraiser pursed her lips. "Is that a request for assistance?"
"Okay, okay. I'll figure it out. But if I value my life--and I do--I'd better find Carter and Teal'c first." Jack stole a final look at Daniel before turning to leave. He paused. "You did good, Janet."
He heard the smile in her voice. "We all did, sir."
"...It didn't take him more than five minutes to knock over a stack of reports, spill water all over my lab notebook, and completely sabotage an experiment I'd been running for two days." Sam heaved a sigh. "I have to start back at square one."
"I have observed Doctor Felger to be unusually clumsy when in your presence," Teal'c said. "Perhaps he is trying too hard."
Daniel smiled. "He's got it bad." The words came out raspy, and he grimaced at the corresponding twinge. He'd been off the ventilator for three days now, but the abused tissues in his throat remembered.
Jack got up from his chair and poured a cup of water from the pitcher. Sam was perched on the side of Daniel's bed, one hand resting companionably on his leg, while Teal'c stood sentry at the foot. "What does that mean?" she asked.
"Here." Jack held the cup so the straw was accessible, sparing Daniel the indignity of having his teammates see he was too weak to hold it himself.
Daniel drank deeply, locking his gaze with Jack's. "Thanks."
Jack didn't answer, but one corner of his mouth turned up.
"Daniel, what was that supposed to mean?"
"He's got a crush on you. Has from day one." He stifled a yawn. Daniel's eyes were beginning to feel heavy, and the dull pain in his chest and belly was starting to grow teeth.
Sam chuckled and shook her head. "That's ridiculous! We're colleagues, nothing more. Dr. Felger has been very interested in my work on--"
Jack snorted. "He's interested in something, all right, but not what you think."
Teal'c inclined his head. "I concur."
Sam's mouth hung open.
"Face it, Carter, the guy thinks you're a hottie. Consequently, he behaves like a complete ass whenever you're around."
Sam narrowed her eyes. "A hottie, sir?"
Daniel stepped in before Jack could dig the hole deeper. "Brains and beauty, Sam. It's a one-two punch."
She patted his leg, grinning. "You've got a way with words, Dr. Jackson."
"We are all fortunate to have his skills at our disposal." Teal'c regarded Jack with a raised eyebrow. "Some more than others."
"Can't argue with you there."
His back ached, but so far he hadn't been able to get comfortable on his side. Daniel shifted restlessly, losing track of the continuing banter as fatigue made it harder and harder to concentrate. He squeezed the button to the PCA pump, but no relief followed the soft beep--if anything, his discomfort grew. Sweat broke out on his upper lip, and his teammate's voices faded to a meaningless drone.
Something deliciously cool glided under his chin, stroked gently across each cheek, and then his forehead. Daniel blinked. His bed had been lowered a bit and Sam and Teal'c were nowhere in sight. He squeezed the button again, trying to make sense of the changes.
Jack set aside the washcloth he'd been holding and touched Daniel's hand. His fingers were cold and wet. "Easy--you've been working that thing pretty hard."
Not that it was doing any good. "Hurts."
"I know. I talk to Fraiser. She said you're maxed out for now, but that you should be able to get more in about five minutes. Until then..."
"Sam and Teal'c?"
"Said to tell you they'll be back later. You, ah, kind of faded out on us."
"I'm pretty sure they understood." Jack cleared his throat. "You almost died, Daniel."
"Would you stop with the apologies? All I'm saying is that...well...we're glad you're still here." Jack shrugged. "After all, it'd be a bitch to train a new linguist."
Daniel's chuff of laughter used all the wrong muscles. Groaning, he clenched his teeth, panting, and rode out the agonizing spasms. Jack's fingers pried the PCA button from his hand. A moment later Daniel felt a rush of warmth and the pain receded to a distant murmur. He lay limply on the mattress, too wrung out to care that Jack was blotting tears along with sweat from his face.
"That's it, nice and slow." Jack's face was pale. "I know my jokes are painful, but...just breathe."
"No one will tell me." Daniel's tongue felt too large for his mouth.
"Tell you what?"
"How many died."
Jack seemed to be stalling for time, setting aside the washcloth again and returning to sit in his chair. It didn't surprise Daniel that Janet had issued a gag order. He'd eavesdropped on two nurses when they'd thought he was sleeping--the only way he'd managed to get more than the most superficial information about his condition. Evidently, when Jack hauled him through the gate he'd been in full cardiac arrest. One of the bullets had punctured a lung; the other damaged his spleen. Hours of surgery, four days in a coma--and even now he had to admit he was more often out than in. No one wanted to upset him, and he was getting damn tired of the kid gloves.
"You saved a lot of lives, Daniel."
Daniel did his best to glare, but the morphine was turning everything fuzzy around the edges. "You too, huh?"
Jack leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "We lost two of the suits from Washington and Stephens from SG-5. Gorman's leg is broken, but he should be back out there in six weeks. There were other injuries, but most were superficial."
Daniel turned his gaze to the ceiling and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Stephens was engaged. His fiancée is a kindergarten teacher."
It didn't have to happen this way, he thought. No one had to die. When did I quit being the linguist, the guy whose opinion mattered, and start being the pain in the ass? He wanted to rage; he wanted to weep. Instead he closed his eyes and let the morphine carry him away.
Daniel shrugged Jack's supportive hand from his elbow and shuffled over to the couch. He slowly eased himself onto the cushions, pain evident in the lines around his eyes and mouth. When he caught Jack staring, he sighed.
"Stop hovering. I'm fine."
"Sure. I'll just, ah, get the rest of your stuff."
Jack retrieved the brown paper bag of meds and locked the doors, but paused, sagging against the side of the truck. This had gone on long enough. Though Daniel had made it clear he'd prefer that Jack drop him and leave, he had no intention of going anywhere until they hashed out, once and for all, the growing distance between them.
Daniel was frowning when Jack walked back into the room. "What's wrong?"
Daniel wrinkled his nose. "I haven't been home for more than two weeks. It ought to smell stuffy."
"It did. I stopped by yesterday and opened all the windows, let things air out a bit."
Daniel ducked his head. "Oh. Thanks."
There was an awkward silence, then Jack cleared his throat. "You hungry? I can make us some lunch."
"Cupboards are bare. And I wouldn't open the refrigerator if I were you. Two weeks--remember?"
"I kind of brought a few groceries when I aired the place out." For some reason Daniel's astonishment cut Jack to the quick. He hooked a thumb at the kitchen. "Back in a few."
He dumped a container of soup into a pot and cut several thick slices of fresh bakery bread. The combination of antibiotics and heavy-duty painkillers left Daniel's stomach on edge. Fraiser had been reduced to teasing, cajoling, and just plain threatening him to eat.
As he stirred the soup, Jack mentally rehearsed what he planned to tell Daniel, a conversation he'd been anticipating ever since his friend awoke from the coma. He'd tried countless times over the past week to initiate the discussion, only to be interrupted by Fraiser, her nurses, Carter and Teal'c, and even Daniel himself. In fact, he got the distinct impression his friend had feigned sleep on more than one occasion just to stop Jack from raising the issue.
Well, no more. The gorilla had been sitting in the room long enough. It was high time they acknowledged it.
"That doesn't smell like Campbell's."
"Shit!" The spoon went flying, landing on the floor in a splatter of broth. Jack glared at Daniel, who was propped against the counter. "Warn a guy before you sneak up on him, would ya?"
For the first time in days a genuine smile curved Daniel's lips. "How can you sneak up on someone if you warn them?"
"You know what I mean." Jack tossed the spoon into the sink and grabbed some paper towels. He glanced up at Daniel as he cleaned the floor. "Sit down, for Pete's sake. You look ready to keel over."
He regretted his grumpiness when Daniel's smile disappeared. He pulled a chair from the table and sank into it with a hiss.
"In answer to your question, it's not Campbell's." Jack stood and pulled two bowls from the cupboard. "It's homemade--Rose O'Neill's secret recipe."
He set the soup, along with bread, glasses of ice water, and Daniel's meds on the table. When he finally settled himself in a chair, he realized Daniel was staring at him with a quizzical expression.
"Nothing." Daniel played with the spoon for a few minutes before finally taking a bite. He widened his eyes. "This is good."
"You don't have to look so shocked."
"Daniel, that's the exact face you made when you found out Carter was a biker chick."
Daniel ducked his head, smiling. "Sorry. I guess I just never really thought you could cook."
"You've seen me!"
"Grill, Jack. Not the same thing."
They ate in a silence that grew steadily more uncomfortable. Jack surreptitiously watched Daniel--the slight tremor when he lifted the spoon to his lips, the occasional flicker of discomfort when he shifted on the chair. It was now or never, he thought grimly. Between the car ride and all the walking around, it wouldn't be much longer before Daniel would be out for the count.
"I get it, Jack." Daniel shoved aside his half-empty bowl and leaned back with a wince. "You're sorry you didn't listen to me when I said something was off with the Paloompadrians. You feel guilty that I wound up hurt. I get it." When Jack stared at him, Daniel laughed bitterly. "C'mon, it doesn't take a genius. Airing out my apartment. The groceries. Lunch? I accept your apology. No big deal"
The pissy tone sparked Jack's temper, until he saw Daniel's eyes. His friend quickly averted his gaze, but not before Jack recognized the pain lurking there.
"You're wrong." Jack waited for Daniel to look at him, grunt, anything. When his friend merely studied the tile, he plunged ahead, his voice raspy with emotion. "I did those things out of friendship, not guilt. But that's not really the point. It is a big deal, Daniel. It's huge. You almost died because I wouldn't get my head out of my ass and listen to you. So you're damn right, I'm sorry. Sorrier than I can ever say."
Daniel didn't look up, but his chest hitched and he wound his arms around his body.
"Throw me a bone here. Say something."
For a long time there was only the sound of Daniel's harsh breathing. At last he looked at Jack.
"I just want to know what it is I'm supposed to have done."
The anger and grief in Daniel's quiet statement stunned Jack. "I don't know what you mean."
"You say we're friends--"
"We are!" Jack's protest died under the force of Daniel's blank stare. "Okay, so I haven't exactly been acting much like it lately, but--"
"You know what? I can live with that. I mean, sure, I miss the way we were, but I learned a long time ago that nothing's permanent. People change, they move on. I accept that. What I can't accept, is that it's not just personal, it's professional. You expect me to do a job, but you no longer respect me enough to trust the outcome. And I...I can't figure out what I could have done to cause that."
"You didn't do anything." Jack grabbed both bowls and carried them to the sink. He turned on the hot water, bracing his hands on the counter as he struggled for composure.
He turned, leaning against the counter. "I'm tired of losing battles. I'm tired of taking one step forward and three back. I'm tired of Simmons, and Kinsey, and the NID, and God, I'm tired of the snakes. Sometimes I think I'm ready to do just about anything if it will get them off my back. But then you're in my face. The voice of reason."
Jack chuckled bitterly. "Did you know I once called you SG-1's conscience? Come to think of it, that was during another of your near death experiences."
"What are you trying to say?"
Jack sighed. "I need you there, Daniel, shoving the truth under my nose. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna like it. In fact, sometimes I may be a real bastard about it. Still, I'm counting on you not to back down. Don't give up. Make me hear you."
"Are you saying this was my fault?"
"No! God, no. This one's all on my shoulders. For not listening in the first place. But also for not making it clear to you that even though you irritate the hell out of me, I'd be lost without you on my team." He paused. "And as my friend."
Daniel closed his eyes. "Thank you. I... I needed to hear that."
"'Bout damn time, huh?"
One corner of Daniel's mouth turned up. "Worth the wait." He opened his eyes. "Jack?"
"I think... I think I need to lay down now."
Jack heard the forgiveness implicit in the unspoken request. "I was wondering when you were gonna figure that out."
He helped Daniel make the slow trek to his bedroom. Daniel lowered himself carefully onto the edge of the bed, then glared helplessly at his shoes. "Um..."
Knees creaking, Jack knelt down and untied the laces.
"This is so humiliating."
"Amazing how many things you use stomach muscles for." Jack set the shoes aside, within easy reach. "Been there, done that."
Daniel flopped onto his back with a soft moan, wriggling until he was fully stretched across the mattress. As Jack moved about the room, closing blinds, Daniel's eyes slowly drifted shut. Jack picked up the afghan from the end of the bed and covered his friend, then headed for the door.
"Not going anywhere."
Daniel sighed. "Knew I could count... on... you." The words trailed off into slow, even breaths.
Jack stood in the doorway, his eyes stinging. Not lately, he thought. But that's gonna change. Time I started holding up my end of the deal.
He quietly shut the door and went to see what he could scare up for dinner. Maybe he'd invite Carter and Teal'c. They could all use a little reminder of what made SG-1 work.
They were a team.