THE SOUND OF ONE CRICKET CHIRPING

By Carlyn

 

‘Somebody kill that damn cricket,’ was the first thought that entered his mind once he became capable of conscious thought.

The insect’s insistent chirruping had found its way past the barrier of his subliminal existence, where he had basked in the warmth of oblivion. Now it was pushing him, unwillingly, towards full awareness.

‘Stop, please,’ he begged, but the cricket sang on, relentless.

Perception followed thought, bringing with it a clear sensation of pain: hot, searing discomfort, originating in his left hip, creeping its way up his torso, and blossoming in his chest.

Shifting slightly to escape it, he screamed soundlessly when agony erupted within him. Impulsively, he arched his back and balled his fists against the onslaught of spasmodic torment. Catching in his throat, his breath flayed the lining as it fought its way, clawing, out of his body.

Then, with no effort from him, air whooshed into his battered lungs. Opening his hands, he reached up to tear at the pain settling in his throat.

The cricket sang furiously, the song’s cadence hurdling from slow, measured notes to frenzied cacophony.

“Hey! Hey, Daniel, take it easy.”

Before his fingers could settle, his hands were ripped from his throat and pulled outward, his arms extended and forced down against his sides.

“Daniel, wake up!” An expletive split the air. “Get Doctor Fraiser!”

Sparks flashed against the closed lids of his eyes, pulsing in sync with the waves of pain crashing against him. Thrashing his legs wildly, he was nevertheless unable to escape the swell.

Inexplicably, warm breath tickled his ear, carrying with it a comforting sound. “Come on, Daniel. Let me see those baby blues.”

Sure he was drowning, his eyes flew open in surprise when his chest expanded again with air.

But the dazzling glow remained. His terror-stricken eyes searching desperately for a point of reference, they locked and focused on the dark figure coalescing from the sparkling brightness.

Daniel blinked furiously, trying to resolve the image hovering before him when, slowly, the shadowy figure took shape – a worried face, surrounded by graying hair. He blinked again until the image cleared, and the formless features became familiar care-weary, dark eyes and a thin-lipped, tightly drawn mouth.

Jack.

He blinked finally, in recognition.

The cricket’s song morphed into the steady, soothing beep of the heart monitor at his bedside.

Jack smiled, his eyes awash with incongruous tears. “There you are.”

Releasing his hold on Daniel’s arms, Jack raised a work-roughened hand to caress the younger man’s cheek. “Hey.”

“Colonel?”

“He’s awake, Doc.”

Daniel’s eyes slid from Jack to the small, auburn-haired woman clicking her way to his bedside. The hand on his cheek dropped to his shoulder and squeezed gently before releasing its hold altogether as Jack stepped back to accommodate the doctor, careful to remain in Daniel’s line of sight.

More from weakness than a desire to cooperate, Daniel lay patiently while Janet checked his pulse and his pupils.

Gazing at the monitor, Janet turned back to her patient, smiling encouragingly. “Okay, Daniel, I’m going to remove the ventilator tube. Are you ready?”

Receiving his affirmative nod, Janet quickly donned exam gloves while one of the nurses gently peeled the tape holding the tube in place away from his cheek and chin.

“Okay, you know the drill, deep breath, and when I tell you, I want you to blow, got it?”

He nodded and, as Janet grasped the tube, he inhaled deeply, reawakening the pain in his chest. On her mark, he released his breath forcefully, helping to expel the offending object, further chafing his throat.

Coughing roughly from the irritation, his exertions carried him forward and to the side where Jack waited to support him, placing one hand behind Daniel’s back, the other grasping his bicep.

Laboring under the onslaught, his breathing erratic, Daniel winced with the effort of drawing air past the soreness in his throat. His hands clenched convulsively near his pain-filled chest, but Daniel took little notice of the small hand which reached out to grasp them.

“Don’t touch that,” Fraiser commanded, scooting around the colonel to pull Daniel’s unresisting hands away from the swatch of surgical gauze affixed to his chest.

Janet watched Daniel closely, waiting a moment to confirm that his breathing, though strained, was unimpeded. Smiling when Daniel turned red-rimmed eyes on her, Janet squeezed his fingers gently.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, patting Jack and whispering as she passed behind him, moving swiftly to the far end of the infirmary.

Once the coughing stopped and Daniel’s breathing evened out, Jack lowered him gently back on the mattress, sliding his hand from behind Daniel’s back while maintaining contact with his friend’s arm.

“Ow.” The sound was weak, barely audible, and Daniel’s face scrunched up as much in chagrin as in pain. Closing his eyes, he moaned softly when Jack dabbed the beaded sweat from his face with a damp cloth.

Just when he thought he would pass out from exhaustion, his curiosity was awakened by an unusual scraping sound, and Daniel opened his eyes to see a spoonful of ice dancing before him. Raising his brows, Daniel glanced at Jack, who was holding the spoon, grinning playfully.

Daniel opened his mouth to accept the offering, the frozen water melting on his tongue,   dribbling downward, instantly squelching the fire in his throat, eliciting a contented moan.

Jack refilled the spoon once more before placing the cup back on the rollaway table.

“Fraiser said not too much ice.” He shrugged apologetically.

His thirst barely slaked, Daniel sighed resignedly and relaxed into the pillows. Carefully lifting his hand to rub at the cough-induced headache blossoming behind his brow, he glanced briefly at Jack before closing his eyes against the suddenly too-bright lights.

“What happened?” he asked, shivering suddenly when the heat of his exertion dissipated enough that the ice settling in his stomach sent a chill through him.

Jack took a step back and turned, lifting the folded blanket from the foot of the next bed, shaking it open and spreading it over his friend. “You woke up disoriented. You were fighting the ventilator,” he replied, tucking the ends under the mattress.

“No.” Daniel peered at Jack from behind his hand. “Why am I in the infirmary?”

The clicking of heels heralded the return of Janet Fraiser.

“I’m afraid the answer will have to wait, Daniel. You need to rest.” Elbowing Jack aside, she deftly slipped a needle into the IV port.

The warmth commenced in Daniel’s hand, spreading quickly through his body, pushing aside the chill, working in conjunction with the blanket to leave him pleasantly comfortable. As the drug pulled him under, the last thing he saw was Jack’s face smiling tightly down at him. He grasped the image firmly and took it with him into slumber.

*****

Daniel’s trip back to consciousness, while swifter than his previous journey, was no less painful. Wincing slightly, he opened weary, sleep-encrusted eyes.

Keeping his movement to a minimum, he briefly scanned the infirmary, squinting into the dimness. Detecting no activity, he surmised, based on the lack of lighting and infirmary’s dormant state, that it must be night time.

Unable to generate enough saliva to soothe the burning in his throat, Daniel ran his dry tongue over equally dry lips, scowling when he felt the organ catch on the small bits of dead skin.

Considering whether or not to call the nurse, Daniel decided his need for moisture was more powerful than his reluctance to disturb the quiet.

Carefully reaching for the call button, he started when his questing fingers encountered something other than the sheets. Craning his neck, he spied a graying head resting on the side of his bed. Smiling softly, he reached further, threading the soft strands of Jack’s silvery hair through his fingers. He tenderly brushed his fingers over the scalp beneath, lovingly caressing the older man’s crown.

Suddenly, Jack lifted his head, blinking, his brows drawn in apparent confusion. Glimpsing Daniel’s grinning countenance, he came instantly to awareness, sitting up fully while rubbing his eyes.

“Hey, how ya feeling?”

“Peachy,” Daniel rasped, swallowing hard. “Can I have some water?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Pushing himself out of the chair, Jack filled a cup from the small pitcher sitting on the rollaway table behind him. Placing a firm but gentle hand behind Daniel’s head, he carefully tipped the cup to the younger man’s lips. Even so, some of the water dribbled from the corner of Daniel’s mouth and ran down the side of his neck.

“Geez.” Jack pulled the cup back, alarmed. “Sorry. God with all these wires, I could have electrocuted you.”

Grabbing a handful of tissues from the box on the table, he patted ineffectually at the water soaking into the pillow.

“It’s fine, Jack.”

“No, let me get the nurse to change the sheets.”

As Jack turned to leave, Daniel shot out an IV-encumbered hand, just missing Jack’s wrist but managing to pull on the wound in his chest. Knives of pain stabbed into him, ripping the remaining air, along with an involuntary cry, from his still tender lungs.

“Ah!” Bunching the blanket in his tightly-balled fist, Daniel closed his eyes against the fiery torment, his body rigidly stiff except for the pain-inspired pumping of his lungs.

‘Really stupid thing to do.’ Daniel silently berated himself for his impulsiveness. ‘Note to self: Avoid sudden movement.’

“God, Daniel. I’m sorry. How’s the pain? Do you need the nurse-”

“I need you to sit,” Daniel ordered through gritted teeth, glaring threateningly through narrowly opened eyes.

Jack obeyed immediately; wincing in sympathy at Daniel’s grunted gasps.

The disturbance alerted Rita, one of Janet’s nurses, who came briskly across the infirmary, her soft soled shoes making little shooshing noises on the concrete floor.

Taking in the pinched expression on Daniel’s face, the lines around the young man’s eyes and mouth speaking volumes concerning the pain he was experiencing, Rita glanced at Jack before addressing the patient.

“How are you doing, Doctor Jackson?” She asked in a practiced whisper, checking the flow from his IV. 

“I’m fine,” Daniel responded, his grimace as close to a smile as he was able to manage.

Smiling knowingly at his stock response, Rita placed her fingers on his forearm, stroking his skin soothingly. Working her way down to his wrist, she slipped her fingers over his pulse point, easily perceiving Daniel’s washed out pallor even in the scarce peripheral lighting. Her eyes grazed the monitor registering his vitals.

“Doctor Fraiser left an order for pain meds-”

“No.” Daniel drew a shaky breath. “Thank you. I don’t want anything just now.”

Rita’s eyes slid to Colonel O’Neill, noting curiously that he offered no argument when Daniel declined pain relief. Glancing back at Daniel, Rita caught him gazing worriedly at his team leader, his expression making her suspect that his refusal of the meds involved more than his usual stoicism.

“Okay,” she said after a moment. “Call me if you need something to go back to sleep.”

Waiting for Daniel’s answering nod, she turned on her toe with a soft squeak of her shoe and walked back to her post.

Rolling his eyes at the ceiling, Daniel bit his lip against the pain. Significant pain if he were honest, but medication would only knock him out and that was currently not an option.

Turning anxious eyes on Jack, Daniel sighed at the dejected image the older man presented – sitting hunched, nearly doubled over, on the chair beside the bed. Jack’s dark eyes appeared dull, his face pale except for the dark patches beneath his eyes. But it was Jack’s blank stare which convinced Daniel that, while his body was by Daniel’s bed, Jack’s mind was far away.

Jack’s reaction to a little spilled water was extreme.’ Daniel mused. ‘Something’s bothering him – something more than my injury.’

Taking slow, even breaths for a few minutes, Daniel concentrated on the rhythm until the pain screaming in his chest died down to a low grumble.

Shifting his focus to his recollections of their last mission, Daniel closed his eyes, trying to remember the events leading to his admission into the infirmary.

//“SG-3 found indications of a significant trinium deposit on their last trip to P7S-265,” Hammond informed the members of SG-1. “You will accompany SG-3 and SG-9, the diplomatic unit, back to the planet to negotiate trade for the mineral with the inhabitants.”

“Two combat teams, sir?” O’Neill inquired, his brow raising quizzically.

Hammond nodded grimly. “SG-3 also found evidence of recent Jaffa activity though they encountered no Jaffa...”//

His brow wrinkled in exasperation, Daniel struggled in vain to recall their arrival on the planet, Hammond’s voice repeating the word “Jaffa” in his mind.

//Suddenly, Daniel was running madly for the Stargate, flinching reflexively from staff weapon blasts soaring over his head. From somewhere behind him Jack shouted, “Get to the DHD!”//

Opening his eyes wide at the memory, Daniel fixed his gaze on Jack. Reaching out gingerly, he stretched until the backs of his fingers met Jack’s temple.

“What happened on that planet?” he asked softly.

Startled out of his trance-like state, as much by Daniel’s question as by his touch, Jack slowly raised his eyes to meet Daniel’s clear blue orbs.

Daniel gasped softly, alarmed when he observed tears and something he’d not seen in Jack’s eyes in a long time – fear.

Quickly averting his gaze, Jack shifted and cleared his throat.

“Jaffa ambush,” he said flatly in answer to Daniel’s question. “We never made it to the village.Not 200 meters from the Stargate, Ba’al’s Jaffa came out of the trees and started shooting. The sons of bitches were waiting for us.”

Jack drew in a shaky breath. “Chesley and Hart went down with staff blasts almost immediately. They’re both dead.”

Daniel did a quick memory scan. ‘Chesley – part of SG-9s diplomatic team. Hart was a civilian geologist temporarily assigned to SG-3.’

“Hollingshed is dead, too. He caught shrapnel from a tree ripped apart by a staff weapon. Impaled him in the throat. He bled to death before anyone could get to him.”

Daniel closed his eyes, his breath quickening. ‘Hollingshed was young, maybe 25.’

“Colonel Reynolds and Captains Ayers and Petroff were injured. Reynolds is in a bed down the way.” Jack indicated the direction with a flick of his head. “Carter took a staff blast in the arm. Fraiser sent her home.”

Daniel lay stunned. ‘God, I never expected a body count...  Three dead, four – no, five injured.’ His fingers pulled absently at the edges of the bandage on his chest. ‘That means only four of the twelve who went through the gate made it back unscathed... Oh, Jack, no wonder you’re so shaken.’

“You took an indirect blast to the chest,” Jack continued. “If it had hit you head on...” Daniel came out of his reverie, something in Jack’s voice capturing his attention.

“When you went... when I sent you to the DHD...” Jack swallowed hard, lowering his head, unwilling or unable to continue. He leaned over in the chair, legs apart, elbows resting on his knees, hands folded below his bowed head. Daniel could see that Jack was squeezing his fingers tightly together to stop his hands from shaking.

Jack shook his head. “I’m done.” The words were spoken so softly, Daniel was unsure they had been spoken at all.

“What?”

Jack sat back with an explosive sigh. His eyes, glistening with moisture, met Daniel’s and held them. “I said I’m done. I’m out of here.” He paused, then drawing a deep breath spoke with finality. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Jack.”

“No, Daniel. I’m tired. I’ve lost too many good people. Every time it’s... it’s like a piece of me goes with them. I don’t have any more to give.” He shuddered slightly and slumped forward in the chair again.

Daniel stared at Jack’s bowed head. Sighing, he searched for an answer on the ceiling. After a minute it came to him, and he smiled slightly.

“Any man’s death diminishes me.”

Jack’s head lifted. “Huh?”

“John Donne, Meditation XVII.”

Fearing Daniel was entering lecture mode, Jack put up a hand. “Do you really have the energy for this?”

Daniel sighed wearily. “Not really, but I want to make a point here.”

Jack sat back, exhaling forcefully.

“Donne’s Meditations were written from the perspective of a seventeenth century Catholic so his focus was on the church. But even without the Christian bent the idea is still sound. You see, Donne postulated-”

“Daniel.” Jack’s tone was saturated with impatience.

Daniel shook his head. “Right, extraneous information. Sorry.”

Grinning tightly, Jack rolled his hand to indicate Daniel should move it along.

“Okay, Donne’s point is we’re all interconnected. What happens to one affects the rest of us.”

Jack looked at him grimly. “I think you’ve just made my point.”

Holding up a finger, Daniel closed his eyes tiredly. “No.”

“No?”

“No. There’s more.”

Jack sighed resignedly. There usually was with Daniel.

“That interconnectedness affects us in ways other than through our grief at the loss of someone we knew,” Daniel reasoned. “It also provides a means for part of those who have gone on to remain here.”

When Daniel paused to moisten his lips, Jack reached for the cup, but Daniel shook his head.

“It’s not about how pieces of you are taken away with each loss you suffer. Our interconnectedness has more to do with what we gain from each other and how we retain a piece of those we loved who have gone on before us.”

Jack looked askance at his linguist, clearly unconvinced. Undeterred by Jack’s intransigent expression, Daniel continued.

“Every time someone comes into our lives they leave things with us: dreams, feelings, memories. So, rather than taking a part of us with them, they leave a piece of themselves behind, with us.”

Jack’s face flared red. Shaking his head, he stood leaning over the man in the bed.

“That’s all very uplifting, but I could have lost you yesterday, Daniel.”

Daniel recognized the sudden diversion for what it was. “And it scared you. I get that. But Jack, you can’t let that fear keep you from carrying on. “I can’t promise I’m not going to die again. Neither can you. Especially in our line of work. But if I do have to leave you, you have to know it won’t be my choice. I don’t want to leave. Not now.”

Jack grimaced, his face pinched tight at the matter-of-fact manner in which Daniel discussed his own death. 

“And I promise you that even if I do die, I won’t be gone completely.”

Pursing his lips, Jack turned away, still dubious. Observing the stiff back Jack presented to him, Daniel settled back on the pillows and sighed.

“When my parents died, I thought my life was over. I had no one to share my grief with. The social workers and psychologists all told me they understood, but how could they? None of them were 8 year olds who had just watched their parents die. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, refusing to really involve myself with those around me.”

Pausing, he grinned fondly.

“Then one day, I think it was 6th grade, I was giving a presentation for one of my classes, and I noticed suddenly how my hands seemed to move in time with my words, as though dancing to the rhythm of my speech. And I realized that was my mother’s habit. She was always very vocal with her hands.” Chewing the inside of his lip, Daniel swallowed the emotion the memory produced.

“Once I started paying attention, I recognized in myself other mannerisms and speech patterns that reminded me of my parents. These physical reminders brought more memories of my parents – the hugs every morning, my dad carrying me on his shoulders in the marketplace...” Daniel smiled wistfully. “There are so many pieces of my parents in my head.

“And, Sha’re. We had such a short time together, but still she left a part of herself with me. Daniel turned earnest eyes on his friend. “I know how much Charlie’s death devastated you. The death of one’s child has to be the worst kind of pain.”

Turning back to face Daniel, Jack bowed his head and nodded.

“I also know you think about him sometimes. He loved you, Jack. And he didn’t want to leave you. But he left you some wonderful memories.”

With effort Daniel reached out with his left hand. “Charlie will always be with you – here.” He placed his hand over Jack’s heart.

Covering Daniel’s hand with his own, Jack squeezed then placed it back on the bed at his friend’s side. Wiping his eyes, he sniffed loudly, looking Daniel in the eye.

“It’s not enough.”

“No, it’s not. But it’s all we have.” Daniel shifted towards Jack. “And you can’t give up. Chesley, Hart and Hollingshed – they wouldn’t want you to give up because of what happened to them.” He reached out again. “And I’m still here. I need you, Jack.”

Smiling sadly, Jack grasped the offered hand.

“There’s another line in Donne’s meditation that I think applies here,” Daniel said, his inner eye reading through the treatise. “‘Affliction is a treasure.’”

Jack blinked dumbly and Daniel smiled.

“He’s saying we can find strength in adversity.” Locking his earnest gaze with Jack’s, Daniel grew serious, his smile fading. “I know you’re strong enough to persevere. I also know you won’t have to do it alone.”

Gently squeezing the hand he still held, Jack nodded. “Yeah.”

They were quiet for a few minutes, content in one another’s company. Suddenly, Jack cocked his head, listening. “What’s that?”

Daniel listened for a moment, his eyebrows lifted in amazement.

Somewhere on the periphery, a cricket sang soothingly.

The End

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