Things That Go Bump

"We need a medical team!" Jack shouted as the iris closed behind him, eyeing Daniel and Carter's slow descent down the ramp. He knew their upright positions belied the fact something was most definitely wrong with one of them, making his shouts all the more vociferous. "NOW!"

The protests which typically came from his injured friend were noticeably absent, and despite the flurry of noise and activity in the 'gateroom the silence was overpowering. Teal'c brushed by him, heading straight for Daniel's position, his expeditiousness a powerful give away of concern. Jack could sense Hammond's confused eyes staring at him from the control room, and he turned his face upward to give his CO a hasty shrug to let him know this wasn't a life or death situation. He hoped.

"Sam?"

"I'm fine, Janet. It's Daniel. He's..."

Jack whipped his attention back to the base of the ramp, where Doctor Fraiser now joined the rest of his teammates. Swallowing, he clomped down to take up his place next to Daniel while Carter laid it out for the doc. Never in a million years would he have thought he'd wish for the younger man to spout of a huge diatribe of information. Hell, right now he'd be satisfied to get an 'I'm fine, will you stop fussing?' That wasn't going to happen today. At least the godawful noiseless gagging had stopped.

None of them had seen it coming, and he couldn't even really blame Daniel this time. The archaeologist had been standing right next to him, minding his own business, when he had just started choking. Instantly thinking the other man had inhaled one of the dandelion puff things floating all around them, Jack had laughed and shaken his head. It was only after the gagging failed to subside that he had realized Daniel really had swallowed one, and the fluff wasn't nearly as harmless as it appeared. Panicked, wide eyes had sobered him up as quickly as the hand clutching at his sleeve.

Leaping into action, it had been Carter who had managed to calm Daniel down enough to conduct a brief examination, counseling him to rely on breathing through his nose. The archaeologist's throat had nearly closed over, tonsils kissing each other. They hadn't been able to determine any other effects, though Jack confessed by that point he hadn't really cared too much - his own trip down tonsillitis memory lane had been enough to get them moving. Daniel had mimed that he was okay, in the way someone who can't breathe very well through mouth or nose is okay, so Jack hadn't felt outright urgency in returning to the SGC. Fast movement would only make breathing more difficult for Daniel, and he had known there was no way Daniel would submit to being carried.

They all had carefully kept their mouths shut while bagging a couple of samples, before making the return trip in quick and uneventful time. And very quiet. He would have thought the lack of chatter would have been a welcome change, but it had only served to increase his anxiety. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about the possibility the same strange paralysis and inflammation that had happened to Daniel's throat might make its way to the nasal passages, leading inevitably to death.

He still couldn't, even as he watched the doc do her stuff.

"Doesn't look too serious, Daniel. I'll even spare you the complimentary ride up to the infirmary. I think you can manage on your own," Doctor Fraiser said, sounding very calm, cool and collected.

Daniel's emphatic nod had Jack almost laughing again, and he began to feel better about the situation. If the doc wasn't worried and spitting out orders left and right, chances are this was just some fluke thing that would resolve itself in time. Tomorrow morning, Daniel would probably be bouncing off the walls and demanding to go back to good old P9F 746 to continue the interrupted mission. Equipped with masks, of course. He sauntered his way toward the door, ready for a quick shower after a quick debriefing with the general.

"General, I'd like to check them all over before you debrief them."

Ah, crap. The words halted him at the doorway, and he barely resisted banging his head on the frame. Just once, he'd like to be able to skip the torturous post mission exam, limit the number of debriefings to the one with Hammond. Oy. The mental connections he'd just tangled were so not right. Jack hoped he could convince the doc to speed up the exams, because suddenly he wanted that shower right away. The petite doctor whizzed right by him, heading for the elevators with a mute Daniel firmly in her grasp. He smirked as the younger man shot him a pleading look. He probably should take pity on the archaeologist, speak for him, but now the concern was fading he was starting to enjoy this new silence. There was a definite positive aspect to it...and definite possibilities.

"Hey, Doc! Wait up," Jack called, jerking quickly to catch up with the pair.

"Something I can help you with, Colonel?" Fraiser asked, suspicion palpable. Daniel's lost puppy look mutated into caution for some reason, and Jack cringed. "Do you have more information regarding Daniel's condition that I should know about?"

"No, ah, I'm just concerned is all. I want to be around when you figure out what the deal is."

"And you're implying I'd keep you in the dark?"

Great, PMS time in the infirmary. They really should look into staffing the medical unit with more men.

"I can't believe you just...grrr," Fraiser growled at him, and Daniel rolled his eyes dramatically as the tiny woman shoved Jack away from the opening elevator, ushered herself and the archaeologist in, then closed the door before he had the chance to regain his footing.

Oh, shit. He had said that out loud?

"I think I speak for women everywhere when I say that was quite possibly the dumbest thing any man has ever said," Carter stated coldly. He spun around to find her and Teal'c staring at him. She added as an afterthought, "With all due respect, of course."

 

"Indeed. You have also caused a delay in our journey to the infirmary, O'Neill," Teal'c rumbled.

Faced with riding up the few floors with two obviously irritated people, Jack eyed the stairwell door for about a millisecond before deciding that was a much more pleasant option. Not bothering to say anything, he waved a hand, took off down the corridor and was through the door before the ice in the air got any thicker. Or colder. For crying out loud, it wasn't as if he'd done or said something completely unforgivable. What man hadn't had that thought at one time or another? And besides, Daniel wasn't in any danger. There was no reason to rush to the infirmary, aside from just wanting to get the poking and prodding over with.

Oh. Right. He knew Teal'c really didn't enjoy the post mission exams any more than he did, not after that time loop thingy. Jack sighed as his knee protested even a couple of flights of stairs, the sound echoing in the empty stairwell. Wondering how he could get his team back on his side, he sidled into the corridor on level twenty-one at the same moment the elevator deposited Carter and Teal'c there. He jogged to catch up with them, receiving an unsurprisingly frosty welcome. Quite the contradiction of terms. It looked as though he was going to have to buy them back. And Fraiser. Hell, at least he hadn't pissed Daniel off, too. Not yet anyway but the day was still young. He figured they'd get some free time due to this little setback; maybe he'd invite them all over for a nice barbecue. Even if Daniel couldn't talk, he could still eat. Right? The more he thought about it, the more convinced Jack became that this was a good idea.

And he couldn't be the only one who would find the idea of having a get-together without the worry of Daniel spouting off every other minute downright appealing. Feeling a dopey grin spread across his face, Jack thought of all the things he could do and say to irritate the younger man. Without the threat of lengthy and whiny verbal comebacks, he would be in seventh heaven. Oh, he knew that once Daniel regained his voice, he'd be in the doghouse...but it would be so worth it. He'd have to be careful, though, knowing Carter and Teal'c would readily come to Daniel's defense and gang up on him if he overstepped the boundaries. He'd just save the best zingers for when he and Daniel were alone. Problem solved.

"So, in light of our unexpected downtime, I was thinking of having a barbecue tonight. Anyone interested?" he proposed, perching on the gurney Fraiser had pointed him to. Carter and the good doctor gave him identically sour looks, Teal'c's face was downright skeptical, and Daniel darted his gaze away quickly in avoidance. "I'll take the silence as a no. Except in Daniel's case, of course."

He certainly wasn't about to beg, at least not verbally. But he wasn't opposed to playing pathetic - that usually worked on Daniel and Carter. Once he had them snagged in, Teal'c and Fraiser were bound to follow. Sighing, Jack slumped his shoulders and fixed his eyes on the floor in dejection. Activity carried on around him, the rest of them apparently oblivious to his Academy Award winning performance. Unnerved, he sneaked a glance around in time to see Daniel gesturing toward him with a pitying, hopeful look at Carter. He smirked when she scowled and gave an abbreviated nod.

"Actually, sir, that sounds...nice. Count me in."

He whipped his head fully up and plastered a grateful smile across his face. Carter's hard jaw relaxed ever so slightly, victim of the O'Neill charm. "Great! Teal'c, what about you?"

"You will refrain from using excess charcoal and lighter fluid when you char the meat?" the Jaffa asked, apparently dubious.

"Teal'c, you wound me. I'll use the gas grill just for you."

"Very well."

"Daniel?"

"Daniel may go only if I clear him, Colonel. Major Carter said his throat was almost closed off, and I think it would be cruel and unusual of you to throw back beer and burgers when he can't eat," Doctor Fraiser cut in, dampening his mood with a dose of reality. And she still appeared peeved as she yanked Daniel's mouth open and shone her penlight into it.

"Of course," he placated her, following it up with a concerned look at Daniel. The younger man pulled his head out of Fraiser's grip to spit into a bedpan, a mortified expression on his face. Jack grimaced, remembering how he'd left a trail of spittle in their wake during the hike back to the 'gate. "What about you and Cass? I haven't seen her in a while."

"She's a teenager, Colonel. I doubt she'd want to spend an evening with her mother, three other adults and an aging Air Force officer," she said coolly, reinserting a tongue depressor into Daniel's mouth and continuing with her task.

Ooh. Ouch.

"Hammond's coming?" Jack quipped.

"I'm coming where?"

Speak of the devil and he shall come. Jack really hoped the general hadn't heard Fraiser's old age line along with his remark. And he hoped Hammond wouldn't join them; he could never tease Daniel to the full extent of his capabilities with the general present. As if reading his mind, the doc looked up and smiled sweetly. He knew he was in trouble.

"Colonel O'Neill has just invited us all to his house tonight. Food and drink on him. I'm sure that invitation extends to you as well."

"Well, you know I don't usually fraternize with my people, but that sounds nice," Hammond agreed amicably.

Of course it did. The world was out to ruin his good time.

Shifting his eyes over to his intended victim, he saw Daniel rub his throat with careful fingers and cautiously swallow. The younger man's expression was one of extreme worry and Jack reconsidered his planned course of action, realizing just how disconcerting this all must be for the archaeologist. Hell, it had spooked the crap out of him until his inappropriate humor got in the way. Imagining spending the rest of his life without a voice was not pleasant. Daniel looked up and caught his eye, swallowing again. Any remaining mischief of Jack's disappeared completely at the forlorn appearance of his friend.

Wait a minute...

"Daniel just swallowed!" he proclaimed with enthusiasm, earning five startled stares. Feeling his face turn pink, Jack shrugged. "Twice. That's a good thing, right?"

"I'd say so. The swelling is now negligible," Fraiser announced, giving Daniel a small smile. "Can you try to say something for me, Daniel?"

All eyes moved to the archaeologist, and Daniel started moving his lips in immediate compliance. No sound projected. Disappointment ripped across his friend's features, and Jack felt another sympathetic pang. What exactly had he found humorous about this situation? He reconsidered the party idea, thinking a gathering would just be salt in Daniel's wounds. The other man would probably prefer to be alone if Fraiser cleared him to leave the infirmary, not surrounded by people. Laughing and talking people. The instant the thought had completed in his brain, he dismissed it. That was pretty much declaring anyone who was mute would naturally want to be alone. Ludicrous.

"It's only temporary," he said, as if saying it would make it true. "We'll have a nice evening and in the morning everything will be back to normal."

"Well, I hope that's the case, Colonel," Doctor Fraiser said softly, suddenly not seeming nearly as irritated with him. She cleared her throat and gave them all a quick glance. "I'm going to turn you over to my staff while I run some tests on Daniel. Hopefully I'll have some answers in a couple of hours. Sam, if you could leave those samples?"

Dismissed, he, Carter and Teal'c were shuttled away from Daniel. The doctor's quiet voice followed them away, but Jack heard only the answering silence.

"What? I think it's a great idea. Fraiser said she has no way to gauge how long this could last, and I'm getting tired of having to ask you yes and no questions. For crying out loud, it's only been four hours and I'm already going nuts!"

Had he been asked this morning, Jack never would have guessed he'd be standing in the middle of a grocery store having, literally, an one-sided argument with Daniel. The crazy thing was he was right, he was so undeniably right, and he was still losing. Against someone who couldn't even vocally argue back! Daniel kept looking at him with the most stubbornly set jaw he'd ever seen, refusing to give even a little. Here he'd thought this predicament would be a great source of amusement for himself. Boy, had he been foolish.

It wasn't as though he were suggesting something ridiculous here, either. He winced as the other man mouthed 'You're going nuts?', waving a hand at his own chest in legitimate indignation. Daniel's agitation was blatant, and it was drawing several curious stares from fellow shoppers. Of course, he knew he himself was coming off as the bad guy in the scenario, the intolerant Neanderthal to Daniel's sympathetic victim. Knowing that wasn't the case at all didn't make him feel any better.

Calmly meeting the eyes of each onlooker as if daring them to say something, Jack took a deep breath before soothing, "Look Daniel, I'm sorry. But you have to see my point. This is the most cost efficient way to solve the problem and since this is all short term anyway, I don't see the harm. When you're done with it, we can even stick it to your office door for when you're not there."

He flipped the message board into the shopping cart with finality and flourish. Argument over, victor crowned. Daniel's attention was focused on the item he found so offensive, scowling deeply. Not understanding what the big deal was, Jack shrugged. "At least I won't make you wear it on a string around your neck. I mean, you've got to retain your dignity. Now, onto the real decision - brats or Polish sausages?"

Launching himself for the small whiteboard, Daniel tore off the plastic wrapper and scribbled furiously for a second before thrusting it into his hands. Lifting it up, Jack read silently, 'Tofu, and bite me!'

"Glad you've seen the light. That wasn't so bad, was it? And I'm assuming you're being snide about the tofu; it's travesty enough I have to use the gas grill. Ah, brats it is."

Daniel waved both arms in the air in exasperation. Jack knew one thing - coming out of this, he'd never again underestimate the importance of body language. Reading lips or scrawled messages to understand what the other man was saying was so unnecessary as Daniel stalked away from him. How second grade. He should have made the archaeologist drive with him instead of separately. He called out after the retreating figure, "So I guess I'll meet you at my house!"

He actually didn't know why he'd insisted Daniel help him stock up for the evening's festivities anyway. In the hours since their return from P9F 746, Daniel's mood had grown increasingly foul, the impact of his lost speech far-reaching; he was obviously finding it hard to get used to. Every time the younger man had opened his mouth to say something during the debriefing, all present had visibly responded in sympathy. If Jack were in the same situation, he knew that reaction would only make him more aware of the problem and more frustrated. He'd thought getting Daniel to participate in 'ordinary' activities would help him re-balance. Evidently it hadn't worked.

Rolling the cart to the checkout line, he absently watched each item being scanned and bagged. He handed over his cash card with equal inattentiveness, again wondering if this little party was such a good idea. Of course, who was to say Daniel would even show up? It was the other man's prerogative to come or not. Jack hoped Daniel decided to come. For some reason, it made him uncomfortable to think about Daniel being alone in his apartment, voiceless. Alone and voiceless was a combination that just boded ill, and if anything bad were to happen under those circumstances, it would definitely happen to his friend.

He loaded up the truck, laughing at himself for the unfounded speculation. Nothing was going to happen in a short twelve-hour period in the man's own home. He drove, grinning when he saw a familiar car parked in front of his house. Daniel greeted him in the garage, bestowing him a sheepish grin and snagging a few bags. Following him into the kitchen, the other man set the groceries on the counter before heading out the front door. He came back with an armful of books and papers. About to issue a protest, Jack halted as Daniel rummaged for the message board.

'Only if it gets to be too much.' The archaeologist's eyes pleaded for understanding.

"That's fair. Just put that stuff in a corner somewhere; I don't think you'll need it," Jack said, nodding. "We'll keep you entertained. Want a beer?"

Crinkling his nose, Daniel shook his head just as the doorbell rang. The other man raised a finger in the air before Jack could move, taking off to answer it. Watching him go, Jack had to smile. All things considered and early crossness aside, his friend was holding together very well. He was tempted to suggest Daniel try to speak again, reconsidering when he thought how disappointed everyone would be if nothing had changed. No, the doc was right; Daniel should hold off until the morning re-examination. Give the inexplicably paralyzed vocal chords time to loosen on their own schedule, providing that particular end result was in the schedule at all. Jack frowned.

Looking up as Daniel led Carter, Teal'c, Fraiser and General Hammond into the kitchen - were they traveling in a herd now? - Jack really and truly regretted ever considering using the younger man's sudden physical challenge as a platform for his own shits and giggles. Besides the fact it would have been tacky, it was always much more fun to tease someone when they could fight right back. Especially Daniel.

"Okay, people. I may have invited you all here, but don't think I'm not going to make you work," Jack announced. The tension he'd unintentionally provoked earlier in the day had dissipated, all his guests completely relaxed. Even Fraiser didn't look mad at him anymore; thank God he always kept a box of chocolates in his office for emergency situations. She must have enjoyed them. "Doc, if you wouldn't mind tossing the salad? Carter, Teal'c, you're on the grill. General, would you like a beer? And Daniel, you make the best burgers, so - the meat...and the tofu."

The younger man gave him a swift, surprised look and near smile, accepting the token offering to finalize the peace between them. It didn't matter if Jack still didn't fully understand what had upset Daniel in the first place, it was enough that something had. Most likely, it had been lasting tension from the voice thing. When Daniel found out there wasn't really any tofu among the groceries the story might change, so he seized two beers from the fridge and guided the general out of the kitchen.

"A message board! Hey, that was a good idea, Daniel!" he heard Carter exclaim. There was a long pause and then her voice again, puzzled, "I didn't mean anything by it."

Jack snickered once as Carter flew past him and the general, heading for the patio at breakneck speed. Teal'c followed the major out of the kitchen somberly, moving more quickly than usual himself. Picturing Daniel calling up Satan's minions at his 2IC's innocent comment, he had to feel a bit bad about being the indirect cause for the scalding. Only a smidgen, though. He turned around, poking his head back through the kitchen door long enough to flash Daniel a satisfied smirk. The younger man had apparently expected it, because he was holding up the board, a fair drawing of a hand...more accurately a palm...covering the entire surface.

"Talk to the hand? Wouldn't it have been easier to do that with your actual hand?" Jack teased, instantly made aware of the reason for the younger man's choice as the board was dropped and he was the recipient of a two handed flip-off. Fraiser joined in the salute impertinently. "Hey! Superior officer, here."

"We're off duty. And if Daniel's got grounds to flip a double bird, then I can only assume the reason is good enough for me to lend a hand. Or finger, as the case may be."

"Let me know if you figure out what that is!"

He grinned, pleased this was turning out so well after all and re-joined Hammond on the way to the backyard. There, they found Carter and Teal'c staring at his grill as if it were an alien. It wasn't turned on, and it didn't look as though they were close to figuring it out. Amazed that two intelligent people could be so dense he brushed by them, depositing his bottle of beer in Carter's hand as he fired it up. When he turned back, Carter was reclined on one of his deck chairs and drinking his beer. Teal'c raised an eyebrow with mirth, and even the general had a smug look on his face.

Oh, how the tables had turned.

Smiling at them ruefully, Jack went back into the house to retrieve another beer, the meat, Daniel and Fraiser. He could take them all on if he had to, though he wondered nervously if they were retaliating against his earlier foot in the mouth faux pas or the unhatched plot to torment Daniel. Quickly deciding he didn't really care either way, he hustled the remaining two guests outside, trailing after them with the platter of brats and burgers ready to be cooked.

The evening carried on as it would have normally, Daniel's absent voice really not terribly noticeable. Jack was more than a little impressed with the skill with which the younger man managed to get his message across with gestures and slow, silent enunciation. He noted Daniel used the whiteboard only as a last resort, his aversion to it still a mystery. Carter, on the other hand, took to the thing like a fish to water and coerced them all to play 'Win, Lose or Draw', with Daniel being the full time designated artist. It was silly, clean fun that he never in a million years would admit he'd partaken in.

Time flew and before any of them realized it, it was pushing midnight. Yawning, Jack unsubtly used that and other overt signs of exhaustion as a means to kick his guests out, Daniel lingering behind for a minute to present him with a 'Thanks, Jack' message on the whiteboard.

"You're welcome. You should take that home, you know. I hope it's not the case, but you might need it tomorrow," Jack advised, immediately earning a frown. "What? Why do you hate that thing so much?"

'Makes me feel more helpless,' Daniel wrote, looking down for a second. He rubbed out those words with a swipe of his hand, replacing them with, 'That's stupid, I know.'

"No, it's not. Daniel, you can't worry about this. It's only been a few hours; it's not permanent."

'So you keep saying.'

"And I never lie. Now, get the hell out of here so I can go to bed!" Jack ordered, smiling and pointing to the door. "Don't speed on the way home. Somehow I don't think a cop would appreciate your Marcel Marceau impression."

Smiling himself, Daniel left and Jack locked the door behind him. He stretched his arms wide, finding he really was exhausted. Switching off all the lights, he padded to the master bathroom and busily set about getting ready for a good night's sleep. The persistent smell of citronella and cooked meat tickled his nose, and he suddenly felt the need for a quick rinse-off. Stripping, he hopped into the shower and scrubbed away the smells with efficiency. He turned off the water, pulled a towel from the rack and dried as he walked into the bedroom, flicking both rooms' lights off. Fumbling into a pair of boxers, he sank into bed with a long exhalation. It always amazed him the days in which he did very little often made him more tired than the most extreme missions. Closing his eyes, he drifted closer to sleep.

He had about ten minutes of hazy relaxation, then he heard it. Eyes popping open, he stared at the ceiling in startlement, now wide awake. Holding his breath as if that would enable him to hear better, Jack waited and listened in case he was mistaken. A faint but distinct shuffle and bump came from the...foyer, moving to the den. Senses on high alert, he rolled out of bed, donned a T-shirt and some pajama bottoms and collected his Beretta from the nightstand. He got halfway to the door before he reconsidered, heading back to quietly call the police.

"Yeah, I need to report an intruder," Jack whispered, following up with his address.

"Sir, you need to stay where you are. If your closet is big enough, I want you to go into it and wait for the police to handle the situation. Do not engage the perpetrator. Do you understand?"

"Sure." He hung up, shaking his head.

Right. His customarily peaceful neighborhood had experienced a rash of break-ins the past couple of months, and he'd actually been hoping the bastards would target him when he was Earthbound so he could take care of them once and for all. Like hell he was going to sit up here while the cops let them get away yet again; he could have them bagged before the authorities arrived. Mind made up, Jack crept stealthily down the dark hallway, clicking the gun's safety off and holding it at the ready. Aside from a few insignificant rustling sounds that most people wouldn't have even picked up on, the thief - and there surprisingly was only one, he discovered - was very quiet. Capably so. Jack was almost impressed.

He edged toward the doorway, tucking himself to one side where he'd wait for the guy to come to him. Soft footfalls warned him, and he tightened his muscles in preparation. The instant the man crossed the threshold, Jack was on him. Fighting back with moderate skill, the prowler landed an elbow directly to his stomach and he huffed a pained breath. He heard faint fluttering and a small thud as whatever was in the man's hands fell to the floor. He hesitated in confusion at the strange sounds, and something else struck him. Something familiar, but intangible. The pause cost him - the would-be thief wrenched out of his grasp, stumbling a few steps and jarring the Beretta from his hand. His finger flinched; the gun rang out explosively.

There was no cry of pain, the dull sound of a body crumpling heavily was enough to prove the bullet had hit. The clattering of the gun hitting the floor was the only other sound. Ears ringing, Jack leaned down to try to hear anything at all. His foot kicked something, sending it skittering across the floor with a metallic jangle. Keys? And then, beneath the sharp tang of the gun's smoke, he smelled it. Citronella and cooked meat. Silence...oh God. Ohshitohgod.

"Daniel!"

Turning on the light revealed proof of his sins; Jack lunged for his unmoving friend and gently turned him over. Prayed for a miracle. Got damnation. Blood slicked the right side of Daniel's chest and abdomen, the scent of it suddenly dominating his olfactory senses. In spite of himself, he gagged. This couldn't be real, it didn't make any sense.

"Oh, shit. Daniel, what are you doing here? You shouldn't be here!" he heard himself murmuring, the ringing in his ears increasing rather than decreasing. Cotton in his head, muffling and suffocating. Panicking, panicking, he needed to calm down.

Phone. Call an ambulance. Making a mad dash for it, Jack heard the sirens from his first emergency call approaching, though they sounded low and distorted. Sirens? No, cops would have wanted stealth. Just like he had. Gunshot...neighbors must have called...Shit. He raced back to his friend's side, pressing his hands to the wound. Press, press on it, stop the blood flow. There was so much already, soaking into the scattered papers surrounding Daniel. This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be happening again. A cold hand clumsily fell on top of his. Almost startled back to composure, Jack lifted his gaze to Daniel's face for the first time and saw the other man was still conscious. Blue eyes, pupils dilated and shocky. Mouth working silently to pull in air, lips already purpling. God. Dying. Daniel.

"You're going to be okay, you have to be. Godfuckingdamnit, Daniel, what are you doing here?" Jack whispered. "What have I done? Hang on, just hang on."

The eyes started to lose even more focus, the hand slipped away. But words formed on purpling lips, clear and cruel and so silent. 'Not your fault.'

Wrong.

Wrapping the floss behind her left back molar, Sam wriggled it down as far as she could before releasing it with a snap. She dropped the used piece of waxy string into the garbage can and left the bathroom, yawning sleepily. Red meat and beer almost always made her drowsy. Going in to the colonel's impromptu party, she'd doubted she'd have much fun and had only agreed to go to please poor Daniel. The perturbation with her commanding officer had diminished as the night progressed, to the point she almost forgot about the irritating comments he'd made regarding Janet and women in general. Almost. As much as she enjoyed working with that man, he could be downright insensitive sometimes. Uber male.

She snuggled beneath the covers, reaching out a hand to turn out the light. It had actually ended up being a nice evening, she thought. She smiled at the memory of Daniel frantically drawing the Grand Tetons, shooting the colonel nasty looks at every tasteless observation that sprang from his mouth and making her CO squirm like a naughty child. Priceless. Even without voice, Daniel could say so much. Tucking her arm to her side, Sam closed her eyes with the smile still set on her face. She knew Daniel would get his voice back, but tonight had demonstrated even if he didn't, things would be just fine.

Then the phone rang, harsh and loud in the soft silence of night. Her heart raced in automatic response, eyes flying open to check the clock even though she knew what time it was. No one ever called in the middle of the night with good news. Mark? Nancy? The kids? Horrible images of car crashes and illness flooded her mind as she groped for the lamp switch and phone at the same time.

"Hello?" she greeted, bracing for the worst.

"Major Carter?"

"General Hammond?" Relief replaced the fear. Something was happening at the SGC. That she could handle. That was normal. "Thank goodness it's just you. Not that...I mean, I thought..."

"It's not good, Sam," the general cut her off, voice low. Sam. He had called her Sam. Stomach twisting, she sat all the way up and swung her feet to the floor. "I just received a call from Colonel O'Neill. There's been some kind of accident."

"Oh, God. Is he okay? What happened?" she breathed, already moving to get dressed. Her mind raced, wondering what could possibly have happened to warrant notification in the middle of the night. A mere thirty minutes after they'd all left the colonel's house.

"He's fine. It's Doctor Jackson. I don't have details, but Jack said something about him being shot. They took him to Memorial. I'm on my way to get Teal'c, then we're going to the hospital. I'd like Doctor Fraiser there as well. Do you feel up to calling her for me?" Hammond imparted quickly, professionally sharp as always.

Shot? She froze in place, her own voice becoming mute as Daniel's had been. Was. After a few seconds, she managed to give him a shaky affirmative, hanging up and punching Janet's speed dial button. Words tumbled out of her mouth. She didn't even know if she was being coherent but she didn't wait to verify, clicking the phone off and letting it clatter onto the nightstand. Sam shook her head to clear the confusion and tried to regain a modicum of the military cool she usually exhibited. This was a misunderstanding - a minor incident blown out of proportion because of the earlier stressful events. Daniel was just fine.

Repeating those words to herself all the way to the hospital had her almost believing them by the time she arrived. It was easy to think the colonel might be overreacting, perhaps misinterpreting slight distress into something else because of Daniel's unusual muteness. Slight distress? Sam pulled into the lot of the hospital, slamming on the brakes with undue force as she found a parking space, a physical reaction to her idiotic thoughts. Shot. General Hammond said Daniel had been shot. God, how could she even consider that could be minimized?

He'd stayed behind at the colonel's house when the rest of them had left. Remembering what her CO had mentioned about crime in his neighborhood, Sam envisioned Daniel somehow getting in a burglar's way. Maybe he had stayed long enough behind to witness someone breaking in and did the Daniel thing and tried to stop it. No, that didn't make sense. No good thief would attack while there were still people around. Speculation was useless. All that mattered was finding out Daniel's true condition and making sure the colonel was okay. She hoped he'd gotten the bastards responsible. Slamming her palm against the steering wheel, she jumped out of her car and raced into the emergency room. Straight away, her eyes scanned the waiting area, searching for Colonel O'Neill. Recognizing no one, she strode to the desk to ask for information.

Midway to the desk, she saw something out of the corner of her eye that made her halt. Statue still, almost marble white and clad in pajamas, the colonel sat in the middle of a long row of blue plastic chairs, a flurry of other agitated friends and family members waiting for their own verdicts surrounding him. She must have looked right past him, and it was easy to see why. The man on the bench didn't resemble her CO even remotely. His attire worked with his expression, making him appear lost and small. Frowning at his clear state of shock, evidenced by a vacant thousand-yard stare, she veered toward him. More worry crept up, for him and for Daniel. As she approached, crimson grabbed her attention and directed her gaze to his hands. There was tacky blood all over them, more smeared on his shirt and pants.

Swearing to herself, Sam crouched down in front of him and tried to pull him out of the shock by touching a knee. No reaction, and she suddenly found her throat tight. She wanted to get that blood off his hands. Why the hell wasn't someone here helping him? A doctor...a nurse. Anyone.

"Sir? Sir, can you hear me? What happened?" she whispered, so very afraid of hearing an answer and so very afraid of why he didn't seem physically able to say anything. "Daniel?"

At Daniel's name, the colonel swallowed and blinked before he turned dark, haunted eyes to look at her. Not at her. Right through her. Sam shivered. He remained silent, and she started to ask about Daniel again. Stopping before even starting, she realized it would do little good. It was bad, and that was obvious. She'd never seen him reduced to this level of uncommunicativeness, even on some of their most...memorable missions. Thinking about how only an hour or so ago he'd been laughing and joking made this new version of him all the worse. She clenched her jaw, cursing the staff here for not seeing his suffering and helping him.

"Sam?" a soft-spoken voice called to her, and she jumped. Twisting around, Sam blinked up into another pair of dark eyes, these filled with deep concern. "What do you know?"

"Nothing, Janet. I asked him but can't get him to talk," Sam whispered, not knowing why she was doing such a thing. That tone was one used by mourners at a funeral - quiet, unobtrusive, somehow incongruous and appropriate at the same time. She cleared her throat and stood up, raising her voice to a normal level. "I just got here, actually, and was going to see what I could find out from the colonel first. I was about to go ask someone."

"Let me. Then I'll help you get Colonel O'Neill cleaned up," Janet said. The petite woman shot a worried look at the motionless man, her understanding of the severity of the situation apparent. Sam awkwardly shifted on her feet, uncomfortable with the idea they were talking about the man as though he weren't there. "In the meantime, see if you can find some water for him to drink."

Sam took a moment to admire the other woman's ability to stem personal concern for professionalism. Taking a deep breath, she tried to mirror both Janet and General Hammond to rein in her rampaging emotions, darting her eyes around the busy lobby. She spotted a drinking fountain with a Dixie cup dispenser fixed on the wall next to it. Almost ashamedly relieved to have something to focus on other than her nearly catatonic CO and Daniel's unknown condition, she took off for it with purpose. A part of her still clung to the hope this wasn't as bad as every other ounce of her being was telling her it was.

Filling a ridiculously cheery, florally decorated paper cup with water, Sam looked down to find her hand shaking. So much for getting control of her feelings. Her body wouldn't even cooperate. She ground her teeth together and turned around, seeking Janet out. Seeing the other woman's rigid stance, she could only venture to guess the news was horrible or Janet was running into a brick wall. The desk clerk looked unremittingly stubborn and downright closed-off, not favorable traits by any means. In this instance, though, Sam was glad the brick wall was the source of Janet's frustrations.

Janet's voice boomed across the room, angry, "Daniel Jackson is my patient, and I have every right to know what his initial prognosis is! Actually, I should be allowed to see him at once."

Okay, so maybe the doctor wasn't handling her emotions so well. Sam hesitated on her path back to the colonel, wondering if her services might be needed for Janet and then saw the other woman being led back into bowels of the ER. She continued on and found her CO had changed positions, elbows resting on his knees. Hunched over, he looked even smaller and decrepit. Wrong. The stained fingers of both hands spread out across his forehead, thumbs nesting right in front of his ears and his face was hidden from view, those tormented eyes seeming to cower in the cave of his hands. Cautiously sitting down in the chair next to him, she watched for any movement or indication he was ready to talk. There was nothing. She nudged the cup of water closer to him.

"Sir? Janet says you should drink this," Sam said, hoping persistence would pay off eventually. Her gut told her she needed to throw her arms around him and hug him close, but she was afraid what reaction that move might gain so she just sat. "Don't you want to go wash your hands, sir?"

The colonel jerked hard enough at the suggestion to make her own chair reverberate. Water spilled over the edges of her cup, plopping on her thigh. It seeped from a small dot into a large dark patch, and her eyes riveted to it with strange fascination. She envisioned Daniel lying in a pool of blood, the liquid widening just as the water sought to conquer more space on her leg. Shaking her head, she forced herself to look away and cursed her morbid imagination. What was taking Janet so long? Sam eyed the corridor the SGC doctor had gone down, willing her to reappear.

Suddenly the man next to her lurched to his feet, bumping her arm and spilling more water into her lap. Startled, Sam stood up and swiveled toward him as he stalked away. Before she could call out, the colonel slammed his right palm on a door to open it and disappeared through it. Though she wanted to stay to await Janet's return with information, she automatically followed him because she was quite sure he should really not be alone. She had the door open a crack, and then realized he had fled into the bathroom. Stupidly standing there, she peered through the two-inch space as if she could actually locate him that way. Water splashing vigorously clued her in that he had finally decided to clean up, but accompanying those sounds was something terrible. Inchoate words interspersed with soft, pained groans. Heart racing, she wondered if perhaps he had been injured but had kept it hidden. She pushed the door wider.

"Major Carter, I believe your admittance is not permitted into that room."

She spun around, the door bumping into her butt as it shut. Teal'c and General Hammond stared at her, both faces deceptively stoic. She quickly said, "The colonel's in there. I think something's wrong."

Something more.

"I will attend to O'Neill," Teal'c announced, pushing past her to slip into the restroom. His eyes met hers for the briefest of seconds and she saw the depth of his unease clearly.

"Major, what can you tell me?" the general asked gently, guiding her away by the elbow.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Frustrated, Sam avoided looking at him, choosing instead to scan the sea of people in the lobby. Squealing babies, derelicts, young adults, old adults, some injured and others simply waiting in fear and hope. A cop, an orderly, Janet. Janet! She shook her head once at the general, waving a floppy arm toward the approaching doctor. The cop trailed after her friend and she frowned, wondering why.

"Doctor Fraiser went to find out. The colonel hasn't been able to offer any information, so I don't know any more than what you told me," Sam said tiredly. Janet's shoulders were slumped ever so slightly, making her own stomach churn. "Is this really happening?"

"I'm afraid so, Major."

She looked at General Hammond, suddenly genuinely surprised he had come here in the middle of the night. His devotion to members of the SGC was steadfast, that was true, but he wouldn't normally make a trip like this. Duh. The general had just spent an entire evening with them. There didn't need to be any other reason for his presence. And this was Daniel.

"Colonel O'Neill was quite distraught when he notified me," the general said, answering her unasked question and making her blush that she'd been so transparent. "There was something about his tone..."

"Ah, General Hammond. Major," Janet broke in, worriedly glancing between both of them. "Where's Colonel O'Neill? And I assume Murray is here as well?"

Janet sounded okay; Daniel must be fine. Relaxing a notch, Sam jutted a thumb the direction of the bathroom and chewed her lip nervously. She studied the doctor more closely, saw lines creasing around her mouth and eyes. Her tension returned in full force. Staring intently, she tried to gain eye contact with Janet and failed at every turn. Oh, God. Daniel? The smaller woman watched the bathroom door as if it had suddenly become the most fascinating thing.

"Yes, Murray came with me. Major Carter indicated the colonel was in the bathroom, so he went in to see if everything was all right. How's Doctor Jackson?"

"It's really too soon to say. Sir, perhaps I should wait with the details until the others can join us?"

No, now, she wanted to scream. Tell us now! She heard herself give a sigh as General Hammond acceded to Janet's suggestion, sinking down onto an open chair and closing his eyes. Sam anxiously wondered why the police officer, tall and grim looking, was lingering around with them.

"Didn't you already take the colonel's statement?" she pressed.

"He was less than forthcoming at the scene and the victim is unable to provide me with any information at this time," the cop said, expression unreadable. Oh, God. Did that mean Daniel was really bad, or was it just referencing his muteness? Sam flitted her eyes to Janet, who looked pale and still refused to look directly at her. The officer continued talking as if unaware of the emotional distress blanketing the small group. "Even though it appears to be accidental and no criminal charges will be pressed, I still need Mr...Colonel O'Neill to clarify a few things. And yes, I realize he's military and this could be construed as a military matter, but my records need to be accurate."

Accidental? No charges? Sam's mind reeled, completely confused at the officer's words. Rubbery legs made her fumble for a chair, and she sat heavily. That didn't make any sense. Some person had shot Daniel and was going to get off scot-free? Beside her, General Hammond bristled in equal agitation.

"I...I don't understand."

"No charges pressed?"

She and the general spoke at the same time, their voices almost canceling each other out. She gave him the floor.

"Why aren't there going to be charges pressed?" the general demanded of the officer, hands curling and uncurling in his lap. "One of my people was shot tonight, and I don't know how whomever did it could have possibly spun it to claim it an accident."

"Sir..." Janet interjected nervously, still standing at the cop's side. She wrapped her fingers together, forming a strange-looking bundle.

"Who shot my man? Is he here? Did Colonel O'Neill..."

"The person who shot Daniel is here," a quiet, monotone voice joined the confusing conversation.

Sam turned to see the colonel and Teal'c emerge from the bathroom, her eyes involuntarily journeying down to her CO's hands. They were clean, save for some traces of red beneath the fingernails. She slumped in her seat, relieved he was speaking at last. Switching her gaze to his face, she hoped to see improvement there as well but got only that same blank, disconcerting expression. All of a sudden, she didn't want to hear him say anything. She wanted Janet to tell them all Daniel was going to be okay, removing that look from the colonel's face as well as alleviating her own remaining concern for him. Please.

"It was me. I shot Daniel, sir."

All the air sucked out of the room, and Sam really, truly couldn't breathe.

A vague feeling he was intruding upon a private ceremonial act accompanied Teal'c into the men's lavatory, his eyes alighting on the slouched shoulders of O'Neill. Cautiously approaching the other man, he heard muttered words of frustrated anger and pain floating all around the small room. Seeming to bounce off the tiled walls and come at him from every direction. He understood, suddenly, that more had occurred in regards to Daniel Jackson's yet unknown injuries than a simple attack. Simple. Teal'c chastised himself for reducing a friend's condition and the situation which responsible for it as simple. Even without knowing the extent of damage Daniel Jackson had suffered, he vowed the persons liable would pay dearly.

"O'Neill," Teal'c greeted, keeping his voice quiet. It was as if O'Neill did not hear him, as he kept rubbing his hands together within a forceful jet of water. He raised the volume slightly in his second attempt. "O'Neill."

Tilting his head, he caught fragments of the mutterings, words that made O'Neill's current behavior much clearer. Words that made his vow for retribution not so clearly defined or an appropriate course of action. The conclusions he arrived at based upon the words of an upset individual, he told himself, were not to be mistaken as fact until clarification could be gained. In times of great distress, what one said and did could be misconstrued. He hoped that was the case now. He feared it was not.

"O'Neill, your hands are clean."

As expected, those words caused a reaction at last as O'Neill halted his murmurs and vigorous but inefficient cleansing ritual. Hands reddened by hot water retracted from the flowing stream and O'Neill took several staggering steps backward. Teal'c moved quickly to his friend's side, ready to aid but not touching. Standing near enough to feel the tension flowing from O'Neill, he resisted the urge to intrude upon the other man's space, knowing such an action might prove detrimental rather than beneficial. It was uncharacteristic for him to even consider forcing additional response from someone so clearly disturbed, which only served to increase his own disquiet. He cautiously reached and turned off the faucet.

Without the white noise the running water had created, the restroom became deafeningly quiet. It was all too reminiscent of how he had considered Daniel Jackson's forced silence, and he stiffened his shoulders. Every instinct but one told him to make further inquiry of O'Neill. That one said his friend must be allowed time, and must be allowed to take the initiative. Pivoting his head back toward the door, Teal'c imagined Major Carter and General Hammond waiting on the other side and speculated how the suggestion they depart this room would be received.

He was not given the opportunity to find out, O'Neill suddenly walking past him to the exit. Relieved of the task, Teal'c followed silently. Once back in the noisy waiting area, he saw General Hammond and Major Carter sitting side by side, appearing perturbed as they looked up at a man clad in a dark blue uniform. When the general spoke, he understood why and his hopes that he had been incorrect sank.

"Who shot my man? Is he here? Did Colonel O'Neill..."

"The person who shot Daniel is here," O'Neill said clearly and seemingly without emotion. Major Carter blanched, eyes widening. Teal'c braced for the information he was certain was about to be relayed. "It was me. I shot Daniel, sir."

His preparation was fruitless, undermined by a distraught gasp from Major Carter. Her face paled even further when O'Neill brought up a hand to dissuade anyone from speaking, her mouth open in query and confusion. Rising to his feet, General Hammond also appeared ready to speak but wisely refrained. Teal'c felt his own shock grow as if the vocalization of his suspicion somehow made it more real. O'Neill stared at the police officer woodenly, unmoving.

"Sir?" Major Carter said, apparently unable to remain quiet any longer. "What?"

"I heard what I thought were robbers downstairs," O'Neill continued as if she had not spoken, eyes still unfocused. "After I called the police, I decided to go down and catch them myself. You know there's been a string of break-ins in my neighborhood, and so far no success in apprehending the people doing it."

"Were you instructed not to take such action?" the police officer interjected.

"Yes, goddamnit!" O'Neill shouted, coming alive. Teal'c was not surprised by the sudden change in demeanor, as he had been observing his friend for just such a thing. It concerned him nonetheless. As O'Neill took an agitated step toward the officer, he inserted himself between them as a buffer.

"O'Neill, you must calm yourself. No accusation has been made," he stated. Directly as the words left his mouth, he knew he had made an error. O'Neill's face shuttered again.

"Maybe one should be."

"Sir, I think you should know," Doctor Fraiser said, pausing until all focused upon her. "I think you should know Daniel looked stable. He's..."

"What? He's what, fine?" O'Neill said dully. "Please."

"If we could stay on task?" the police officer droned. Teal'c held back a growl; Major Carter did not. Slight disconcertion colored the man's cheeks as he took a step away from them. "I understand the concern for your friend but the sooner I can get the statement, the sooner I'll be out of your hair."

"When I got downstairs I realized there was only one. I don't know why I had my gun, I shouldn't have had it. I could have taken a couple of them without...one would have been a piece of cake. I should have gotten rid of it."

Frowning deeply, Teal'c heard the self-recrimination in his friend's tone. O'Neill had acted appropriately, given the information he had known. This, however, was not something the other man believed, nor would accept hearing from someone else. Not yet.

"Sir, please stick to the facts." This time, Teal'c did growl and the officer flinched slightly.

"I had the gun at the ready when I jumped him. We tussled a bit, Daniel broke free and when he did he jarred my gun hand. I tripped the trigger as the Beretta fell out of my hands. The shot hit him. That's it," O'Neill finished, looking vaguely green. "He must have...he let himself in to get his work. He forgot it..."

"Okay," the police officer said when O'Neill's testimonial faded. "I just got off the horn with the guys on scene. They've wrapped everything up from that end, so you can return to your home without interfering with the investigation. There may be additional questions later, once the vic...Mr. Jackson is able to speak. This was clearly a terrible accident."

Interrogation over, the officer walked away from them quickly. Cumbersome silence engulfed the group at his departure and none of them, including himself, appeared certain what to say. There was nothing to be said that could alleviate the guilt O'Neill was undoubtedly inflicting upon himself, no measure of assurance that would convince him he was incorrect for believing Daniel Jackson's fate was a result of his actions. Calmly assessing each of his companions, Teal'c was unsurprised to see varying states of shock. Major Carter's eyes were large and luminous, General Hammond had ruddy, unnatural color high in his cheeks and Doctor Fraiser's face bore lines that made her appear several years older than she in fact was. O'Neill stood silently, and apart from the rest by several feet, face again set in an emotionless mask.

"An accident."

He was perturbed to find himself unable to determine who had repeated the officer's announcement, jarring himself out of his own state of shock. It was easy for him to understand O'Neill's burden. However, he also knew the great importance of obtaining the information regarding the condition of Daniel Jackson. Both items weighed heavily, and both were interconnected - the results of the latter would impact the former. Positively or negatively, Teal'c was unable to determine based upon Doctor Fraiser's previous general comments. Again, he found himself helpless and hoping. It was not a feeling he enjoyed.

"Doctor Fraiser, you have news of Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked, noticing O'Neill's muscles nearly imperceptibly increase in tension. He regretted causing further torment to the other man, but it was unavoidable.

"They were bringing the scans as I went back, I haven't spoken with the ER doctor responsible for his care," she answered, setting herself gingerly in the chair next to General Hammond. "The quick look I got showed the bullet may have nicked the right lobe of Daniel's liver and imbedded in the lung. Two ribs broken. I won't tell you it didn't look serious but it could have been much worse, especially at such close range."

O'Neill gave a strangled choke, then turned and walked stiffly away from them. Lurching to her feet, Major Carter moved to follow him but stopped after only one step, as if uncertain. She understood, as he did, that their friend was walking a fine line. O'Neill needed solitude and comfort at the same time and while it was true solitude often provided its own comfort, Teal'c did not believe that would be the case in this situation. Here, prolonged isolation would serve to negate any comfort and leave O'Neill empty. He stared at the revolving door through which his friend had left.

"Leave him for a minute, Major," General Hammond directed softly.

Swinging his head back as Major Carter slumped back into a chair, Teal'c moved to stand next to her. She shook her head slowly, horror and disbelief evident in her body language. Silence again overwhelmed them, the irony of that still as pungent as ever. Until they were provided additional information, there was little for them to do but sit, fight the contemplations he knew were likely going through his companions' heads, as they were so colorfully in his. Imagining himself in O'Neill's position was a horrible yet inevitable experience even his Jaffa training could not prevent.

"Daniel couldn't say anything...God, can you...?" Major Carter whispered.

Imagining himself in Daniel Jackson's position was as bad. In ways, worse. Teal'c's legs abruptly decided he should no longer remain standing and he took up occupancy of the chair on the other side of General Hammond. Still on her feet, Doctor Fraiser paced a slight oval in front of the chairs, her eyes frequently moving toward the corridor leading to the ER. He wondered if she could not possibly exercise her strong will to insist someone fully appraise them of what was going on behind closed doors.

After a few minutes, she joined them in the row of chairs, sighing deeply. He studied her small form closely, noting the professionalism in which she usually carried herself was threadbare. If he could not ease the pain of O'Neill, perhaps he could go a small way to aid the rest of his solemn friends. Teal'c carefully placed a hand upon Doctor Fraiser's arm, squeezing it just slightly. Jumping, she turned toward him with a weary smile. Then her eyes widened in alarm.

"Oh my God! I was supposed to call Cassie!" she cried out, leaping to her feet and out of his hold.

As Doctor Fraiser ran away, Major Carter spoke again, "I just keep playing these varying scenarios over and over in my head...I can't believe this happened."

"None of us can, Sam," General Hammond softly said. Raising his eyebrow, Teal'c glimpsed the other man giving Major Carter a tender paternal look before his expression changed to one of business. "But it has, and all we can do now is deal with it. I don't think I have to say that Colonel O'Neill will need us as much as Doctor Jackson in the coming days."

"Yes, sir."

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. Both his human companions jolted at the sound of his voice, a reaction it appeared he commonly provoked. "It is my belief O'Neill should not be left alone for a great period of time."

"You don't think he'll..." Major Carter stared up at him in disbelief. Regret filled him for mistakenly alluding to the implication she could not finish.

"I mean only that he should be present when information regarding Daniel Jackson's condition is provided."

"Uh, excuse me? You said Jackson?" a strange voice intruded from behind him. Turning around, Teal'c came face to face with a lanky, dark complexioned man in green scrubs. "I'm Doctor McEvoy, I was looking for the man that came in with him..."

"We're here for Doctor Jackson," General Hammond said brusquely. "What can you tell us?"

"Sir, should we get Colonel O'Neill?"

"I will retrieve Doctor Fraiser and O'Neill," Teal'c announced, beginning to walk away. He reconsidered, turning back. "What of the condition of Daniel Jackson?"

The doctor gaped at him in befuddlement, blinking a couple of times before slowly turning his eyes to General Hammond. "Which of you is family? If none, I need to speak with the brother."

"None of us are family," Doctor Fraiser said as she returned. "Including Colonel O'Neill. I'm Daniel's physician, and these are some of his close friends."

Still looking confused, Doctor McEvoy nodded slowly. "Very well. If you'll come with me, I can discuss Mr. Jackson while I escort you to the OR waiting room. He was taken up about five minutes ago, once we stabilized him."

"Murray, you should go collect Colonel O'Neill. I think it best he hear about Doctor Jackson from us," General Hammond directed.

Though he wanted to remain, Teal'c agreed with General Hammond. Given the ER doctor's composed deportment, he could infer Daniel Jackson was as secure as could be hoped, and his own need for verification would wait. He did not pause to confirm, simply tilted his head in deference and took his leave. He purposely did not listen to the soft voices as his friends walked away. It occurred to him he should have inquired to which floor he should bring O'Neill but determined he would cross that bridge when he came to it. First, a most difficult task.

Pulling his cap lower onto his forehead as he exited the sliding doors, Teal'c felt drizzle mist lightly across his face. O'Neill had been dressed in a shirt with short sleeves, and was likely chilled by now. He frowned, certain his friend would not appreciate that particular concern, or any concern outside the scope of Daniel Jackson. Finding O'Neill huddled near a group of hospital workers out smoking cigarettes - an occurrence he found quite perplexing - he journeyed the few steps and stood quietly next to the other man. The smoke was thick in the damp air, for a strange reason seeming more harmful than it would have on a clear, sunny day. He shook his head at the bizarre thoughts indulging his brain.

"Second hand smoke," O'Neill said abruptly. "I'd rather go with first hand myself."

Teal'c was uncertain what to say to that comment.

"But those things...they'll kill you."

Hearing the crack in his friend's voice, Teal'c moved a step closer. "O'Neill, Daniel Jackson has been taken into surgery. You must join us in waiting."

In his own ears, the words sounded insufficient and clumsy. O'Neill snorted, derisively. Teal'c much preferred anger to the terrible stillness of before. Anger was an emotion he could confront tangibly. He understood how to incite and defuse it, and both such actions might be needed for O'Neill now. He knew which must be the first.

"Why?" O'Neill scoffed.

"Do you not wish to learn of Daniel Jackson's condition?"

"I know Daniel Jackson's condition! I saw it. I know why he's in there right now, fighting for his life. Jesus, Teal'c..."

"It was not your fault, O'Neill," Teal'c stated, knowing precisely such a placation would have upon his friend.

"Not my fault. That's what Daniel..." O'Neill said softly, turning to look at him. "Covert operations, Murray. You know what that means? That means I should have realized it was Daniel long before I did. Before it was too late."

"Indeed."

"Indeed?"

"Indeed," Teal'c repeated. "However, even the most diligent of warrior can have his perceptions clouded during times of heightened stress. You believed someone had breached your home." He paused, contemplating his next words carefully. "Daniel Jackson is also aware of your previous training, is he not?"

Watching a multitude of expressions wrench across O'Neill's face, Teal'c knew there was nothing he could do now but wait.

It was a familiar place, or non-place, in which he'd been before. Many times, actually, all too dark and formless to think about for more than a few scattered minutes at a time. He knew he was there and knew he needed to leave, knew staying was bad, yet couldn't fully emerge from it. Just as before. A proverbial fog had sifted into his head, clogging everything - sight, sound, emotion. He was at Memorial Hospital, he had spoken to his friends and revealed the truth to them. Their reactions had helped pull him just a small ways out of the place, stunned faces cutting through the dense murkiness and he had tried to cling to clarity. Wasn't sure he really wanted that. Had to. Heard and felt Teal'c next to him now, absolving him. Not his fault. It was an incorrect assertion when Daniel had tried to say it, and it was still wrong now.

"Daniel Jackson is also aware of your previous training, is he not?"

What? What? Jack glared at Teal'c, taking a sideways step and bumping into a harried-looking woman. Sparing her a quick apologetic glance, his mind then reverted to the onslaught of contrasting emotions running through it yet again. It had been blank for so long his head started to hurt with the force of the changing feelings. What? Was Teal'c now blaming Daniel for getting shot? The other man's face was impassive and unreadable, but he knew. He did not like what Teal'c was insinuating, and felt anger become the forerunning emotion. It was almost immediately diluted by doubt-fostered guilt, as he recalled his own accusatory words to Daniel - //"What are you doing here? You shouldn't be here!"// Anger resurged, this time directed at himself.

"Stop. Stop it." Suddenly he wanted to be anywhere but where he was. He let his legs start walking, away from Teal'c, away from everything.

"O'Neill, I only meant to remind you of all the factors involved which have resulted in this event. If there is liability to be found, it is neither with you nor Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c called after him in an uncharacteristically frantic tone. It almost made him stop.

"Then who?" he muttered, tossing the words back just loudly enough for his friend to hear them.

"Sometimes there truly is no blame."

Teal'c then murmured something in Goa'uld, and it sounded so heartfelt and tender that once again Jack's footsteps faltered. He turned around and discovered his friend had gone back into the hospital, back to be near Daniel. What Teal'c had said was wrong. There was always blame to be had. And yet Teal'c was also strangely right. Shivering against the cold from within and without, Jack stared up at the big medical building, lighted windows spattering across its face like eyes. Staring at him, challenging him to stay when all he wanted to do was get away.

Sighing, he wrapped his arms across his damp, rain-drizzled chest and stumbled back toward the sliding door. Running away both emotionally and physically wouldn't fix anything. It hadn't in the past and he was a fool for almost falling back on that habit now. But try as he might, he couldn't banish the image of his friend lying on the floor in a spreading lake of blood. Worse than the sick, dark blood, though, was the memory of the other man silently absolving him of responsibility. Even as he'd accused Daniel for being there in the line of fire, Daniel had known whom he'd actually blamed.

Snuffling out a choked laugh, Jack suddenly also remembered the regret in Daniel's eyes. Apology in answer to the accusations. Hell, Daniel would probably be blaming himself the second he woke up. The irony of victim and perpetrator falling prey to their own guilt wasn't lost on him. It was so him and it was so Daniel. They both couldn't be right - maybe that's what Teal'c had meant. The other man's soft assertion that there was no fault became a conversely mellow soundtrack to the horror movie still playing out in his mind's eye. He stopped just short of the door, watching numbly as it slid open for him and waited almost expectantly for him to cross its threshold. Hesitation crept up, spawned by the conflict now replacing the numbness.

Could he do this? Could he go up there and see for himself what he had done? A huge part of him still wanted to run even knowing it wasn't going to help ease his conscience. The group of ER smokers shuffled by him, giving him odd, irritated glares as they brushed his shoulders. He had no choice. He had to go. Taking a deep breath, Jack entered the building and was overcome by the swell of heat from the people gathered in the waiting room. He gazed dumbly at the mix of people and expressions, overwhelmed by the varied states of distress. Some sat in shocked stupefied stillness, others murmuring amongst themselves in shared solace. Comfort was something he wanted but didn't deserve. If given it, he'd likely reject it.

Uncertain where he was going, he walked to the desk and waited for the clerk to notice him. Papers overflowed, a large whiteboard off to one side highlighted the admissions and discharges in bright red marker. Jack flinched as another unbidden memory cropped up, of Daniel's handwriting thanking him for a wonderful evening and the gift of his own whiteboard. He trailed his eyes down, saw Daniel's name, saw it crossed off with cruel deliberation. God. Stumbling back a step as the clerk finally looked up and frowned at his presence, the urge to flee almost won out.

"Can I help you, sir?" the petite, ash blonde woman asked, voice gruff and too big for her diminutive size. He jumped and wanted to say no. "Are you looking for someone?"

"Yeah," he hoarsely said, clearing his throat to alleviate the lump suddenly there. "Uh, Daniel Jackson."

"Names mean nothing to me. Give me what he's here for and I can find him faster for you," she said, glancing down at his stained and sodden T-shirt and pajamas without sympathy.

"Gu - " He faltered, closing his eyes in frustration for his weakness and shaking his head. "He was shot. Abdomen. I know he's in surgery now, I just need to know where to go."

The small woman's - nametag stated Gennifer - face softened ever so slightly before she glanced around the space behind her. She turned back to him. "I don't usually do this. I'm due my break - let me find you something else to wear or at least a towel to dry off first. You must be freezing."

He nodded. Didn't feel anything at the moment.

"Go have a seat, I'll be right back."

Gennifer disappeared and he stumbled toward the waiting area again. Before he even managed to find a chair, she was back at his side and tugging on his elbow. He peered at the bundle of blue-green cloth in her arms and then down at his own clothes, suddenly realizing just how badly he didn't want to be in them any longer. Grabbing at the cuffs of his sleeves, Jack resisted the need to pull the soiled T-shirt over his head and fling it away as the woman led him through a door that read doctor's lounge. Once inside, she thrust the scrubs at him.

"I'll wait outside while you put these on. Hand them out to me and help yourself to some coffee. It's horrible, but you look like you could use some fortification," Gennifer directed, whipping back out of the room before he could thank her.

Stripping off mechanically, Jack choked past the coppery scent of blood assailing his nostrils as if only now becoming aware of it. He yanked the top on, stepped into the loose size-large-equals-gigantic scrubs, cinched the waist tightly. He threw his balled up clothes at the door, hearing them slap and thud. Refusing to look at them, he aimed for the coffee not so much because he wanted it but because he had been ordered to and poured himself a Styrofoam cupful. He stared at the near black liquid, glaring at the haggard face gazing back at him. The rustling of plastic and soft swish of the door closing made him look up.

"Here you go." Gennifer smiled tentatively, holding out a clear plastic bag with his dirty pajamas in it. "I assume you'll want to keep these. The bottoms are an expensive brand."

He glanced at her offering briefly, snapping his eyes up to her soft hazel green ones. Reading pity amid the unexpected upsurge of sympathy, Jack cringed back and shook his head. He didn't want pity, didn't merit sympathy and so didn't want to look at those articles of clothing ever again. "Throw them."

"What?"

"Throw them. Please."

"O-okay," she said with a shrug, heading directly to a large garbage can and tossed the bag and its damning contents inside. Pivoting back, she made a sideline for her own cup of coffee before moving to his side. She looked vaguely embarrassed. "You look like you're having a rough time of it...your friend? Is he more than that?"

Startled, he jerked and took a step away from her. "What?"

"I...you were in your pajamas and it's the middle of the night. I just thought maybe - "

"No," Jack refuted harshly, stunned out of his daze by her implication. She reddened further and looked away from him as awkwardness filled the room. "No, he's just a good friend."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you more upset." He nodded at her, attempting a smile and failing miserably. "I've tracked him down for you. I'll take you upstairs if you'd like."

He nodded again as she cleared her throat and dashed for the door. Watching her go, it took him a few seconds to make his own feet follow her lead. The diversion of changing clothes gone, his dread returned in full force. Dumping his untouched coffee down the sink, he crumpled the cup and dropped it into the garbage can on his way out. Gennifer stood out in the hall, cheeks still pink. Giving her another weak smile made her relax a little bit, and she ushered him toward a set of elevators. They didn't speak, Jack was just pleasantly surprised and found himself bolstered by her kindness. It was strange to him how easily he accepted it from a perfect stranger, when he knew he could never take it from his friends. As the elevator traveled upward, his muscles relaxed more and more.

The lift made a number of stops before Gennifer guided him off it at the sixth floor. Directly contrasting the chaos of the emergency room, this level of the hospital was somber and quiet. Silent. Jack's unease crept up again; there had been far too much silence lately. Stumbling as he recalled how much delight he'd initially taken at Daniel's misfortune, guilt flared. Silence was partially responsible for what had happened, and it suffocated him now.

"Hey, are you all right?" Gennifer asked, and Jack realized he had stopped, leaning against the wall. Stiffening his shoulders, he was aware his Good Samaritan probably thought he was a flake. She smiled at him, giving no indication of any condescension. "I'm sure your friend is going to be fine."

"Yeah," he said thickly. "Fine."

"It occurs to me I haven't even asked your name. I'm Gen, but you've probably already figured that out."

The woman's husky voice and beneficent change of the subject soothed him and he relaxed again. He didn't know how much longer his body would put up with the continuing fluctuations he was experiencing. "Jack. It's nice to...thank you."

"Well, Jack, it's nice to thank you, too." Gen laughed as they walked around a corner right into a secluded waiting area. Secluded but not empty - General Hammond, Fraiser and Carter were slouched on a long sofa; Teal'c stood like a sentinel at one end. His guide pointed out the SGC doctor, crinkling her nose. "Oh, I recognize her. Your friends? I'll leave you to them, but I can come up later if you want."

"I'd like that," Jack agreed, slightly surprised at his own response.

He turned away from her as she took off back down the hall, but hesitated to move fully into the line of sight of his friends. Suddenly irritated by his continued uncertainties, he squared his shoulders and strode into the small alcove. Jack didn't know what kind of reception he was going to get or what kind he wanted. The three on the couch didn't notice his approach, their gazes relatively unfocused straight ahead. They looked...lost. Like he himself did, he imagined.

"It is good to see you, O'Neill," Teal'c announced, making all of them startle.

"Sir!" Carter exclaimed, standing up and wringing her hands like she didn't know what else to do with them. She looked distinctly uncomfortable, not like herself at all. Clearing his throat, Jack took in her waxy complexion and the dusky bruises shadowing under her eyes, all too clear signs of how badly this was affecting her. He grimaced.

"Any news?" he asked, painfully aware this was the first time he'd really spoken to any of them, even Teal'c. Willing them not to push him while discovering he wasn't even ready to hear the answer to his question, Jack walked stiffly to a chair that was somewhat removed from the group.

"How much do you really want to know?" Fraiser asked, pulling herself off the sofa and selecting a new seat.

Right next to him. Glancing at her, he searched for malice in her countenance, as if she were disguising it within the simple question. All he saw was intense worry transforming quickly into relief. Puzzled by her changing expression, he just swallowed and waited. She gave an embarrassed smile, and it finally dawned on him her concern was for him. Mustering up what he hoped was a reassuring appearance, Jack swept his gaze around the room to show all of them he was fine. Well, maybe not fine but okay. Their own features relaxed just a little.

"Use your best judgment."

"Okay, then. First, he really is going to be fine - and I'm not just saying this to ease your mind. The bullet did clip his liver, but the damage was minimal. The angle of the shot was upward and it imbedded in his lung," Fraiser softly said, pausing to gauge his reaction. With each word she uttered, Jack felt the fogginess seeping back into his head, the picture of Daniel gasping for breath immediately inserting itself. "Fortunately, it was a clean shot. Doctor McEvoy mentioned there had been a scare about it collapsing, but that didn't happen. I had thought he had a couple of cracked ribs...I was wrong, there's only one. That'll make the surgery tricky, but it shouldn't cause complications."

He tried to find something positive in the words Fraiser delivered but all he could think of was how he had done that to Daniel. Her terseness told him his friend would still face a shitload of pain and there was no way to alleviate his guilt. How could you make yourself forget you'd done this horrible thing when the evidence of it, the person you wronged, was at your side every day? A faint buzz hummed in his ears.

"He's going to be in there for a couple of hours, sir. Maybe - " Carter's voice tentatively spoke, enough to break him out of his stunned trance.

"I'm not leaving," he cut Carter off harshly, whipping his head up so fast as the fog dissolved into resoluteness. The urge to flee vanished almost completely. He wasn't going anywhere. Call it penance, call it loyalty. Fraiser's assurances didn't help him believe Daniel was going to be all right -he needed to see for himself and face his nightmare so it couldn't control him. If he couldn't forget, he'd forge ahead.

"Of course not, Colonel. I was just going to suggest that Murray and I go to your house to pick up a few things for you. Clothes, bathroom stuff." Carter held her hands up protectively, raising her eyebrows, which produced lines cutting across her forehead.

"Oh. Okay." Jack blinked a couple of times. He looked around as if to find a set of keys lying around next to him for them to use before he realized he had no clue where they might be. Or if he'd even brought them. No, he hadn't.

"We will return shortly," Teal'c said, guiding Carter away.

It finally occurred to him his 2IC already had a copy of his house key, for emergency purposes. Just like the one Daniel had used earlier. Closing his eyes, Jack slumped in the chair and tipped his head to lean against the back of it, bone tiredness taking over. He didn't figure that particular feeling was going to go away any time soon. He lapsed into blankness, forgetting he wasn't alone.

"Jack, this probably doesn't need to be said," General Hammond spoke at long last after remaining silent thus far. Unable or unwilling to raise his heavy head, Jack braced himself for more words of meaningless pardon. "I'm putting you on leave for the duration of Doctor Jackson's hospital stay. Major Carter and Teal'c will assist other teams as needed."

Startled at the frankness in his CO's tone and the message he imparted, Jack forced himself to straighten, opening his eyes. Hammond stared at him with sympathy but did not look as though he were going to follow up with words, and for that Jack wanted to plant a huge kiss on that bald head. He simply nodded, managing a half-smile. Whether out of kindness or as punishment, he appreciated he wasn't going to be ready for active duty for some time. Even after Daniel got better...and he was going to get better...Jack didn't know how likely it was he'd be able to cope.

No, cowardice was easy to embrace. The instant Daniel was able to set foot back at the mountain, so would he. Getting to that point was going to be hell, starting with the long night - morning - ahead. Scrubbing both hands down his face, Jack let his head fall back down and prepared for the wait. Strengthened only by the fact Daniel was going to live; that he hadn't killed a good friend. Fraiser and Hammond said nothing, offered no words of comfort he couldn't accept.

They sat in silence that had grown customary.

Sitting in her rapidly cooling parked car, Sam and Teal'c stared at the dark house and didn't move. Didn't say a word. She knew her big friend was probably quite uncomfortable in her tiny auto but there were no complaints coming from the man in her passenger seat. They couldn't keep this up for much longer, avoiding the job they had volunteered to do. It wasn't a difficult undertaking. Except.

Except she hadn't considered what she and Teal'c would find when they went in the house until they'd pulled into the driveway. The story they'd heard at the hospital had been incomplete, stripped down to the bare essentials. One look at her companion had been enough to keep her frozen in place, as his face was abnormally expressive in the shadows. Pained. What had happened in the colonel's house was horrible to imagine, would be worse to actually see the remnants of the incident. So here they sat.

"We cannot delay any longer, Major Carter," Teal'c said finally, voice too loud, pinging sharply through the cold air.

She disagreed. She could delay all night. Morning? Lifting her left wrist up in an absent gesture to check the time, Sam realized she hadn't put on her watch. And that her hand was shaking noticeably. Yanking it back down, she planted it in her lap, safe from all harm. This wasn't like her, this completely frazzled wreck thing. She didn't get rattled. No matter how many mental refutations she conjured up, though, she knew she most definitely was rattled. All shook up. Stunned speechless. Speechless, like Daniel.

God.

"Major Carter, I will go in. If you wish, you may remain here."

Beautiful, strong Teal'c. Sam shook her head, striving to shatter the seemingly solid wall of haze surrounding her, guided by his soft voice. Looking over to him, she had a sudden compulsion to giggle at his appearance. With his hat pulled down to his brows, sitting in a dark car, he looked like an extra for a bad gangster movie. What did that make her? Besides an idiot, that is. She could do this. Maybe if she could get beyond the physical proof of what happened she'd be able to cope with the rest of it. Seeing the colonel so empty tonight had scared her more than anything. She imagined that had been what he'd been like all those years ago with his so...

No, this was different. Daniel was fine. And since Daniel was fine, Colonel O'Neill was fine. It was really that simple.

"I'm coming with you," Sam murmured, fumbling blindly for the door handle. The brisk night air billowed into the car, making her shiver. "I'm coming."

Fiddling with her key ring, Sam fingered the colonel's house key as they slowly walked toward the front door. She struggled to insert the key into the lock, hands still trembling. Cursing under her breath, she paused for a moment before jamming it in and twisting with undue harshness. Teal'c laid one of his hands on her outstretched arm as if to calm her, and she found with some surprise that it actually worked. She nodded at him, jerking the key out and opening the door a crack. Struck again by cowardice, she moved aside for him to enter first. He took up the task without hesitation, and she felt a warm swell of gratefulness.

She waited until he had flipped the foyer light on, then took a couple of steps inside. Aiming herself toward the hall leading from the entryway, away from the den and toward the bedrooms, Sam didn't look at her surroundings at all as she practically ran. Part of her was ashamed at her weakness, justifiable as it might be, but she wasn't ready. Teal'c joined her, his big frame blocking everything behind her and to her left. She wondered if he had intentionally taken up position there but was too afraid to duck her head to look by him.

When they arrived, Sam didn't know how much they really needed to bring for her CO. She suspected he had no intention of leaving the hospital until Daniel woke up, possibly much longer. Glancing at the clock on his nightstand, she was stunned to see it glowed back four a.m. Time flies when you're not having fun. God, the colonel had wandered outside the hospital, alone, for at least an hour. Longer. She hadn't realized. Her stomach twisted as his tired face supplanted all other terrible images floating around her head, terrible in its own right in such a different way. She staggered over to the bed and sat down heavily, placing both hands on her thighs and staring at them absently. She was being completely silly and wasting time, she knew.

"I believe we should bring enough clothing to last O'Neill at least two days, Major Carter," Teal'c said pragmatically. She looked up at him and found his expression anything but pragmatic, his chocolate eyes radiating empathy and shared pain. But needs must. "There is no way for us to determine the length of his stay."

"Okay," she responded automatically, not moving. Glancing around the untidy room, Sam caught sight of a pair of the colonel's boxers poking out of a chest of drawers. She abruptly stood up, disturbed by them. It felt surreally intimate and inappropriate to be in her CO's bedroom all of a sudden. "I'll do the toiletries, you do the clothes."

Rushing into the bathroom, she shut the door behind her and leaned heavily on it. It would take Teal'c all of three minutes to gather a couple sets of clothes, she didn't have time to be reduced to this strange puddle of jelly. She moved to the sink, turning the cold tap on full blast. Cupping her hands together beneath the stream, she filled them as she leaned over and splashed it up on her face, hoping to physically pull herself out of the daze. Sam wondered if she were the only one whose brain felt as though it had been sucked out, kicked around a few times and then crammed back into its resting place. Swollen and thick and uncomprehending. She swore she'd had a few moments of clarity at the hospital and couldn't think of a good reason for its loss here. Couldn't think. A symptom of the brain swelling, of course.

She puffed out a long breath of air, turning off the water and glimpsing her reflection in the mirror as she reached for the towel crookedly hanging on its bar. Did a double take, finding her own image to be vaguely evocative of the colonel's back when she'd first made it to the ER. Not good. Sam pinched her pale cheeks a couple of times, giving them an artificial and temporary appearance of healthiness. Straightening her shoulders, she began gathering up what she thought Colonel O'Neill might need in the coming days.

"Major Carter, are you well?" Teal'c's deep voice rumbled through the door.

"I'm fine, Teal'c," she called back, pleased she actually managed to speak. Searching below the sink, she found a small overnight bag and stuffed what she could into it. "I'll be right there."

"Shall I wait for you at your vehicle?"

"No! No, really I'm done."

Zipping the bag closed, Sam clutched it to her chest and opened the door. Teal'c towered right in front of it, the colonel's gym bag in his right hand looking overstuffed. Raising her eyebrow at his apparently sloppy packing job, she refrained from commenting because that was substantial proof of how deeply he was affected by this. The Jaffa was precise in everything he did, though she had no idea if that were a personal trait of his or resultant from his training. Didn't matter. Nodding at him, she squeezed by and headed for the door.

"Let's go."

Daniel was going to be fine, Janet had said so. Why, then, was she having such a difficult time getting rid of the feeling of dread? Why was Teal'c having an equally hard time, by the looks of him? Sam made it to the door of the guest bedroom and stopped in the still-dark hallway, wanting her friend to once again shield her. Spinelessness. Chicken in a major's clothing. As Teal'c drew alongside her, she ashamedly allowed him to go one step in front of and to the right of her. She didn't know how she was going to be able to avoid the scene that would eventually be directly in her line of sight. Her big friend couldn't walk sideways while she cowered behind him until they reached the door. As they left the narrow hall, he took away the dilemma by performing a sudden, giant step to the left.

And she saw it. Papers littered the floor just outside the den, some unmarred and pure, most tainted with maroon. So much blood. She gurgled low in her throat, nearly losing her grip on the overnight bag. As if sensing her inability to control her motor functions, Teal'c took it from her and quickly crammed it into the gym bag. Which was fine, she even appreciated the gesture, except that it left her with nothing to hold onto like a security blanket. Sam compelled her legs to take her to the wall, which she leaned on heavily.

Now that she had seen it, she couldn't tear her eyes away from the grimness spread out almost nonchalantly in the colonel's house. The thud of the gym bag next to her heralded Teal'c's arrival, but he remained standing. Sam finally removed her gaze from the mess, looking up at her friend's frowning face. His attention was solely on her, making her squirm with embarrassment and avert her eyes again.

"God, Teal'c," she said, staring down at her feet.

"I am sorry, Major Carter."

"Sorry?"

"Indeed."

She had no idea what he was apologizing for, but she more than suspected it had something to do with the blood-laden floor only a few steps away from them. Braving one last look toward it, Sam felt her stomach twist into an even tighter knot and she regretted having taken the action. She scrambled away from the wall, jerking slightly when Teal'c wrapped a hand around her bicep and helped her. Managing a small, somewhat wobbly, smile, she bent down to pick up the colonel's things. She twined her fingers around the handles, then froze for a second before letting go.

"Major Carter?" Teal'c's inquired and she wished for once he would just call her Sam. A strange thought, coming at an equally strange time. "Do you require assistance?"

"I think I do, Teal'c," she said, wincing as she looked beyond him, at Daniel's spattered papers. "Do you think it's okay if we...I don't care. We have, we have to clean this up. The colonel can't come home and find this.."

"I agree." He said it softly, with understanding that probably came from having already reached that conclusion. She suddenly figured out what he had apologized for. He was right; this new assignment was going to be one of the worst things she'd had to do since packing up Daniel's apartment a couple of years ago after his 'death'. Laying a hand upon her forearm and gently squeezing, Teal'c continued, "We must also recover what we can of Daniel Jackson's work."

"Right."

While she agreed with him, Sam didn't have much hope of attaining that particular goal. She knew Daniel didn't usually bring documents home with him unless he had backups on his computer, and she quickly decided they'd save only papers not contaminated with blood. She could verify his backup system at the base, destroy the stained ones when she was certain she could. Her mind shifting into a somewhat clinical mode, she paced toward the outer edges of the debris and tried to keep that focus. Impossible. The closer she got, the more agitated her stomach became. Veering off, she aimed for the kitchen instead to search for cleaning supplies.

"I'll be right back, Teal'c. Just going to get a bucket or mop...or something," Sam called back, voice cracking as she ran once again.

Random thoughts bombarded her as she knelt and dug around under the kitchen sink, searching for anything they might be able to use. What if she couldn't find anything? If she did, they'd likely have to throw it away and get the colonel some new supplies. She didn't know when they'd have the chance to do that before he came home again. If Daniel didn't have backups, Sam had no idea how they'd deal with the bloody pages scattering the floor. He couldn't come back to work and find them in an absurd, neat pile on his desk in Ren Magritte normality. Head whirling, she rested it on the cupboard face.

Losing it now was not an option. Sam clenched her teeth together and exhaled through her nose as if trying to vent all the emotion out. She didn't know how much more of the emotional vacillation she could take, but it was all up to her. Only she could control it. Teal'c would come looking after her soon, and she didn't want that; concern for two teammates was enough. As upset as she knew him to be, he was being as dependable as ever. Ashamed of herself, she returned to her task and found the colonel kept nothing under his sink. He had to clean sometime but where would he keep the materials? Clambering to her feet, she made for the elusive sponges, buckets, floor cleaner...whatever. She felt her way to the laundry room, the light from the kitchen filtering to a dull gray.

"Major Carter?"

"There was nothing in the kitchen, Teal'c. I'm just checking one more place. I'll be there to help in a second," she answered, at least sounding like business as usual. Baby steps.

Teal'c didn't respond, so she assumed he understood and wasn't worried. Seeing what she needed as soon as she entered the laundry room, Sam shook her head in amazement. The colonel had this room arranged in sharp rows and columns. The various bottles were aligned by height and, she noticed, by color. The contrast from his cluttered bedroom was bizarre, but somehow right. Careful not to jar any of his arrangements, she selected a medium sized pail - who needed different sized cleaning buckets? Her CO was odd sometimes - filled it while she gathered what else she needed, and departed the room.

Steeling herself along the journey, she swore she was not going to have another...episode. This had to be done, and she'd be damned if she let Teal'c handle it alone. Arriving in the foyer, Sam discovered her friend had already gathered all of Daniel's papers and books, separating them into piles easily differentiated. The clean and the unclean. Without that evidence, she could cope much better. Right. On top of the bloody papers, a distinct outline of colonel's handgun jumped out at her, so vivid it might as well have really been there, a morbid paperweight. She blinked back her horror.

"I brought a brush and a sponge. I don't, uh, I don't know which will work the best," Sam stuttered, apparently not as well adjusted as she'd thought. She could barely look at the deep red and congealing puddle for two seconds.

"We shall use both," Teal'c said.

Damn. The part of her that still childishly hoped he would do his noble thing and offer to finish this by himself balked at his clear indication otherwise. It was almost as if he believed she needed to do this. Resigned, she set the bucket of water down and fumbled with the bottles and scrubbers she had brought. They clattered to the floor, landing in a haphazard pile. The sponge flipped and landed at the edge of the blood, half in it. Sam stared at it, then weakly took up the handled scrub brush and studied the bottles of cleaner she'd selected. Which was the best for removal of bloodstains? Now there was a question she'd never considered before. Suddenly becoming fascinated with the labels, she read them intently until Teal'c removed the containers from her hands.

"Major Carter, this delay is unproductive. The more quickly we complete this odious duty, the more quickly we may return to Daniel Jackson's side."

Odious. Teal'c using such a strong word jarred her and she nodded. Crouching, she dunked the brush in the water a couple of times and watched the shower of droplets rain back into the collected reservoir of water. Taking a mental step back, she realized it would take a couple of buckets to get the job done. The first would quickly become too dirty to use. They had to clean up as much as they could without water. Way ahead of her, Teal'c calmly began soaking up what blood was still damp with his sponge, scraping and herding the rest. When the sponge was saturated, he rose and walked toward the kitchen to rinse it out.

Choking, she dribbled some lemon scented Mr. Clean onto the brush and started scrubbing at the area Teal'c had just finished. Her strokes became fiercer as she went, growing with frustration and disbelief and even morbid fascination. She couldn't allow herself to think of how the stains had got there, instead choosing to think about the barbecue, the fun they'd had earlier in the evening. It didn't help but it did make her scour harder and faster, just wanting to get the job over with. She didn't look up when Teal'c returned and continued rubbing at the pooled blood as she dunked the brush in the bucket to rinse it out.

They worked efficiently and she was surprised when Teal'c had to take the brush from her, signaling they were done. Surveying their work, Sam couldn't find any traces or spots they'd missed but she was still disconcerted by the wet floor. She didn't dwell on it, snatching up the bucket of dirty water and moving toward the kitchen. Sloshing it down the sink, she turned on the tap and rinsed out the stainless steel basin. To be on the safe side, she squirted an ample amount of dishwashing detergent around it and grabbed a handful of paper towels. After a few minutes, the sink passed her inspection and she tossed the paper towels into the garbage. She grabbed the bucket and headed back to Teal'c. He stood solemnly looking down at the wet patch, a hint of a frown turning down the corners of his mouth.

"You should go wash your hands, Teal'c," she suggested gently, aware she was now taking the role he had been playing since their arrival at the colonel's house.

He disappeared for a few minutes, re-joining her with meticulously clean fingers. They walked toward the door but her gaze reverted back to the floor. For all their good intentions, she could still see the horror despite the cleanliness now laid out before her. Sam knew the colonel would see it, too.

Teal'c became aware of soft voices around him and used them to help pull himself from Kel No'reem, to which he had fled almost immediately upon his and Major Carter's return to the hospital. The images he had been subjected to at O'Neill's home had pervaded his thoughts for the entire drive, not dissipating at their arrival on the sixth floor. With Daniel Jackson still in surgery, he had taken the opportunity to attempt to clear his mind and spirit.

The closer he came to full awareness, the more he realized he had not been successful. There was only one thing that could truly give a sense of well-being, and he did not know when that might occur. Opening his eyes slowly to avoid punishing his retinas, Teal'c turned his head toward the voices of his companions. Several people whom he did not recognize occupied half of the sofa, and he did not see his friends. Startled they had apparently left him alone in his unguarded meditative state, he unfolded his legs and made to stand up while checking his head to ensure his hat was still in place.

"Murray."

Frowning at the name that had somehow become the traditional moniker used for him while among the public, Teal'c turned his head to find Doctor Fraiser staring up at him from an adjacent chair. She was the only one in the vicinity, the rest of his friends conspicuously absent. He crooked an eyebrow in inquiry. She smiled at him, but it didn't reach her eyes.

"Sam and General Hammond went to the cafeteria to go get some breakfast. They're bringing something back for us. Daniel's out of surgery and Colonel O'Neill is with him right now. We all thought he could use some alone time."

"He is well?"

"Daniel or the colonel?" she asked ruefully, smile growing more weary. "Daniel's still in critical care and will be moved to a more private room later on today, where he'll be for the next four or five days. If all goes well, he can go home for the rest of his recovery. He was lucky, really lucky. If Colonel O'Neill had actually aimed ...well, I don't think I have to elaborate."

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed, his apprehension easing slightly with the knowledge Daniel Jackson was past the initial scare. It would serve no purpose to think about what might have occurred. Doing do would, in fact, be detrimental to all of them.

"Sam said you two took care of things at the colonel's house. That was a good idea."

He did not reply, choosing instead to begin pacing in a small circle to alleviate remaining tension in his legs from sitting so still while meditating. Firmly clasping his hands behind his back, he twisted his fingers together. In truth, Teal'c wanted to locate Daniel Jackson to see his friend for himself, as if visually looking upon the other man would somehow ensure his recuperation would be successful. Foolish desires, and unnecessary. His circling became wider and wider.

"He's down the hall, to the right. There are only three other patients in there right now. His recess is the second on the left as you enter the area," Doctor Fraiser said abruptly and his steps faltered from their smooth flow. "They probably won't let you stay but you should be able to catch a quick glimpse before anyone notices you."

Glancing at her in surprise, Teal'c stopped moving and brought his hands to the front. Doctor Fraiser had her eyes fixed at the hallway, toward the objective of which she had just informed him, and she looked glazed. Suddenly feeling guilty for obtaining even a minor amount of relief from Kel No'reem while his friends remained taxed physically and emotionally, he promptly sat back down instead of seeking out Daniel Jackson and O'Neill.

"We all tried to do the same and failed. I even pulled my rank as a physician but the rules are steadfast, and for good cause. The only reason they allowed the colonel to stay was he looked about a hair's breadth away from committing bodily harm to the nearest individual. Normally, I'd vote you as the most intimidating member of SG1, Te..Murray, but the colonel topped you. Didn't say a word, either. Funny, huh? We'll probably have to wrestle him out when the general and Sam come back with food."

The doctor chatted inanely, rambling in an unusually talkative manner indicative of someone struggling to maintain control. Or maintain consciousness, he revised as he witnessed her large brown eyes close in a slow blink. Conducting a scan of their surrounding, he looked to the clock fastened on the wall above the sofa. Eight o'clock. It seemed very likely Doctor Fraiser, or any of the others, had not slept in over twenty-four hours. The human body, while resilient in its own right, could not sustain prolonged periods of awareness. If none of his companions would leave the hospital until after Daniel's Jackson's transference into a private room, he would see to it they rested. By any means necessary.

"Have you found time to seek rest, Doctor Fraiser?" Teal'c asked bluntly, not bothering to disguise his concern. She blinked at him, her mouth open as if she were about to continue her discourse. Hair unkempt, makeup smudged unflatteringly around her eyes and clothing rumpled, her appearance spoke for itself. "You do not look well."

"Been taking tact lessons from Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c?" she snapped at him, self-consciously adjusting the flying tendrils of her hair with one hand.

"I meant no offense."

She stared at him for several long seconds, then relaxed and slumped in her chair. "Of course you didn't. To answer your question, I've gotten snatches here and there just like everyone else. And I know what you're going to say - I'll go see what the hospital has by way of accommodation for family. It may not be on this floor, but they might have something we could commandeer. At least for Colonel O'Neill."

"Would you like me to accompany you?"

"No, why don't you check on Daniel like I know you've been wanting to?"

"Very well," Teal'c said as he rose to his feet the same time she did.

He watched for a moment as she walked away before heading toward his fallen friend. Ignoring the stares he encountered as he entered the post-operative unit, Teal'c saw his friends almost immediately. An opaque curtain was partially drawn, revealing only a sliver of the interior of the small room, which was filled by a portable bed and numerous machines. Even with the lighting dimmed, he could see the waxy quality of Daniel Jackson and O'Neill's skin. It was as if both were suffering the same physical pain. He focused his gaze on O'Neill, gladdened the other man had not retreated as Teal'c had suspected he was going to. Yet glimpsing his friend in such a drained state alarming in its own way.

Bodily, O'Neill was present at Daniel Jackson's side. Teal'c was uncertain whether the same could be said for his spirit. It would take time and assistance, the latter of which he hoped O'Neill understood was ready and available to him from not only he himself but Major Carter, Doctor Fraiser and General Hammond as well. Taking in the disconsolate, closed off appearance of O'Neill, he believed this also would take time. He would not, however, permit his friend to endure alone and would use his 'intimidating' presence if need be. Unsure if this was the proper time to enforce this sentiment to O'Neill, he hesitated to travel closer and instead shifted his attention to Daniel Jackson.

Beyond the initial assessment of understandable paleness, Teal'c could see even from a distance it would take Daniel Jackson many weeks to recover from this assault to his body. He could not envision the mental scope, did not even wish to dwell upon what the experience had been like. Or what it would continue to be like upon awakening. The events of the previous day had been disturbing to him on several levels. He had found it difficult to come to terms with the archaeologist's silence; it was a state of which he could not, had not become accustomed, the aberrant hush loud to his ears. While Daniel Jackson was often prone to reticence, he could also be quite vocal and this was a facet of his young friend he quite enjoyed. In the few hours it had been absent, he had missed it tremendously.

Speculating on whether or not Daniel Jackson's voice might return by the time he revived, Teal'c took a step closer to his friends as though being nearer would give him the answer to that question. Before he could advance any further, a tall woman in a brightly colored uniform inserted herself in front of him. He stopped, falling back two steps as she waved her arms in a negative signal. Cocking an eyebrow, he studied the patterns on her loose fitting top and raised the eyebrow even further when he distinguished cartooned yellow sponges and pink starfishes chasing jellyfish across the expanse of material with great rambunctiousness.

"Sir, I'm sorry. I can't allow you through there," the woman whispered, apparently not frightened by his bulky frame. Her face was as lively as her attire, young and vibrant, and she seemed out of place to him amid the solemnity of the area.

He did not argue, merely gave one last fleeting look to his friends as he obediently turned away. Staring back at him, O'Neill had apparently been alerted by the soft commotion and the other man began to rise to his feet. Teal'c paused in his withdrawal, maintained eye contact with his wan friend. Hope rose in his heart that O'Neill might be closer to acceptance of aid than he had predicted, and he tipped his head to the side. To his dismay, his friend halted when he reached the end of Daniel Jackson's bed, as if there were an invisible barrier preventing him from going beyond it. Resting his hand on the bed, O'Neill swiveled around to look back to the ill man lying on it. In conjunction with the motion, Teal'c heard the beeping of several monitors change in cadence and he stiffened in alarm.

Calmly but swiftly, the nurse ran up to Daniel Jackson's bed and flashed O'Neill a sharp glance. She checked all the machines, her stance relaxing from its ready condition. She smiled, turning to encompass both he and O'Neill. As if reading his mind, she stated, "This is all normal, guys, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave for a little while, while the doctor checks over your friend."

Sensing O'Neill was about to unleash a vehement objection, Teal'c moved to his friend's side and placed a hand upon his shoulder. Tension rippled off of the other man in strong waves, muscles taut with anxiety, and he increased the pressure of his fingers. It did nothing to decrease the vibrations coursing through the other man but he was heartened when O'Neill nodded his head once. Dropping his hand, he waited for his friend to take the lead in their exit, not entirely confident O'Neill would cooperate. He glanced toward the nurse, who ignored him completely and carried on with her duties. As it should be. Tipping his head to her, he followed his friend but was distracted by a familiar object tucked away in the corner of the small room. Walking over to it, Teal'c picked up the bag he had packed himself and left with it.

He found O'Neill not more than six paces out of the alcove, leaning heavily on the wall. Concerned, he picked up speed to reach his friend's side. The other man had his eyes closed but opened them upon his approach, just a fraction. More than enough to see the troubled, still glazed appearance of them. He questioned how likely it was that O'Neill be persuaded to rest. Sleep was not even a consideration. Fatigue was not the primary cause for his friend's dismal lack of expression, though relief on that front could only help. Clasping O'Neill's left elbow, Teal'c guided him away from the critical care unit as a white coated doctor went in. He had to increase the strength of his grip, almost forcibly removing the man.

"O'Neill," Teal'c simply said, and was pleased when O'Neill submitted.

His pleased attitude quickly gave way to disconcertion as his friend continued to walk at his side in a daze, bumping into several people before Teal'c could prevent it. Scowling deeply, he steered O'Neill back to the waiting area, where he located Major Carter and General Hammond cloistered in the far corner. They looked as though they had just arrived, unsettled in their seats and drinking coffee from tall Styrofoam cups. The other people who had earlier occupied the sofa ware absent, so he brought O'Neill to it and grimly watched the man fall gracelessly onto it. The other two were across the room almost instantly.

"Teal'c? What's going on?" Major Carter asked worriedly, eyes jittering between him and O'Neill, then resting on the gym bag in his hand. "What's wrong, did they kick you out? Is Daniel..."

Recognizing yet another varied symptom of mild sleep deprivation, Teal'c set down the bag and raised his hand in an attempt to calm her. General Hammond placed a steady hand on her waving arm and she stopped long enough for him to say, "The doctor was performing a routine verification of Daniel Jackson's condition and our presence was unwelcome."

"Oh, okay...Where's Janet? Is she back there with him at least? Maybe I should..."

"Have a seat, Major," General Hammond ordered. He gave Teal'c a small upturn of his lips and a barely audible, "She gets a little high strung on no sleep sometimes, or at least she did when she was younger. I never should have let her have caffeine."

"Indeed, General Hammond," Teal'c agreed, deftly taking the cup from Major Carter's hand as she slumped down next to O'Neill. "Doctor Fraiser thought it possible the hospital might have more permanent accommodations for non-patients and she departed some time ago to make inquiries about obtaining such."

Glancing first to his two nearly insensate teammates and then to General Hammond's worn appearance, he hoped for Doctor Fraiser's prompt return with positive news. He did not know how long the SGC could be without the presence of the general, though he surmised it was not long at all. The same could be said for Doctor Fraiser herself. These facts only increased his concern for them, as he thought it probable they would return to their duties without sleep. Aware his worries were frivolous in nature, Teal'c could not relinquish them even as he knew they were merely a means for him to cope. Seeing to his other friends when he could do nothing for Daniel Jackson was a minor balm but better than complete inaction.

General Hammond rubbed a hand across his hairless crown and peered down at O'Neill and Major Carter with an indecisive look upon his face. After a few seconds, the portly man also sat down, though he only perched on the edge of the sofa as he said, "That's good, Teal'c. I'm afraid I can't stay here any longer today - duty calls back at the base. Any idea when she might be back? I'd like to know the specifics before I leave."

"I do not know, General Hammond." Teal'c looked up at the clock, amazed to see only fifteen minutes had passed since he had emerged from Kel No'reem. "Doctor Fraiser indicated you were going to bring food. I believe O'Neill is in need of nourishment."

"Of course," Major Carter exclaimed, clumsily gaining her feet and walking toward a white paper bag located on the chair in which she had been seated. "Something for you and Janet, too. Hope you're hungry for either a bagel or a muffin."

Bringing the bag back, Major Carter handed it off to him and stood at his side as if waiting for him to begin consuming one of the offerings. When he didn't do so right away, she snagged the parcel and reclaimed her seat next to O'Neill. She rustled around, face nearly disappearing into the open bag for a moment before she plunged a hand in and lifted it victoriously. Shoving an enormous muffin at O'Neill, she quickly re-deposited the food items into Teal'c's still open hand.

"Banana Walnut, sir. Teal'c, you really should eat something, too."

Crooking an eyebrow, Teal'c realized he was indeed hungry, and carefully placed Major Carter's cooling coffee on the long, low table in front of the sofa. He nearly smiled when he saw the assortment of items she and the general had selected - O'Neill's favorites and his own. A carefully wrapped, lightly orange bagel with reddish-pink blobs was the only exception and he had no doubt that particular item was favored by Doctor Fraiser. It would seem he was not the only one with the desire to ensure the health of his friends. Capturing Major Carter's eyes, he gave her a small smile.

"Thank you, Major Carter," he said as he extracted a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin from the bag.

While his favorite, he so rarely allowed himself to eat such toxic food. To do so now was a comfort. His friend beamed at him, her delight almost reaching her eyes before they flitted to O'Neill and the smile faded into a troubled pucker. O'Neill sat, muffin in hand, again exhibiting extreme unresponsiveness toward all external stimuli. He did not know if an attempt to draw the other man out of his apparent trance would be successful, nor did he know if the cause for it was anything other than exhaustion.

"Teal'c, do you know how long the doctor was going to be with Doctor Jackson?" General Hammond inquired suddenly as he rose to his feet, interrupting Teal'c's thoughts. "I'd like to stay in case he has any information to provide us."

"Actually, sir, I can help you with that," Doctor Fraiser's voice met them before she traveled around the corner and into the waiting area.

Teal'c frowned at the doctor's staid expression, trepidation rising that she may not be bearing welcome news.

As the conversation carried on around him, Jack thought about letting the others know he was completely aware of his surroundings, that he simply didn't have the energy to discuss meaningless things like muffins. He'd sat at Daniel's bedside for nearly an hour, yet the first wave of cold dread refused to dwindle. Seeing the other man so pale and motionless because of him caused any progress he'd made on self-delusion retreat, as if a veil had been lifted by the solid proof of injury and had re-exposed his guilt. As he had known it would. He had wanted to both stay and run far away at the same time, a familiar feeling, and his choice had been made by his legs refusing to function. Teal'c's appearance had broken through that haze, though even now he was still conflicted by the fight or flight mentality.

Fight. He had to fight.

"Actually, sir, I can help you with that." Fraiser's voice made him move his head at long last, neck muscles stiffly protesting.

Looking up just as she rounded the slight corner, Jack couldn't tell from her expression or tone if she had anything to say that he might find remotely encouraging. He closed his eyes and saw Daniel's inert form, the tubes and wires, the silence so strong it encompassed not only voice but also body. Something landed on his left thigh, sodden and heavy. Dumbly staring down, he realized he had unconsciously squeezed the stupid muffin Carter had given him, popping the top off. It had landed on his lap, sat there like a pile of... He picked it up quickly, surreptitiously checking his companions to see if they had observed the action. No one reacted to it. He studied the crumbled muffin and then his leg, finding a greasy mark staining his pants.

"Doctor Fraiser," General Hammond said, a greeting and a prompt.

"On my way back from inquiring about a room for Col...for some of us to use for rest, I stopped by Daniel's bedside as his surgeon was conducting the first post-op exam," the doc continued. She paused, and Jack kept his eyes pinned on the blotch on his pants. "They'll be able to move him to a semi-private room in about eight hours. It would have been sooner, but Daniel is having a tough time with the antibiotics. They're switching the medication and waiting to see how he'll react to the new one."

Jack let go of both halves of the muffin and they thudded into his legs again, bouncing off them. The pieces landed on the floor with dull thumps and he saw Carter spasm at his side, leaning down as if to pick up the discarded food. She stopped halfway with her hands outstretched and pulled back self-consciously. Wiping his fingers on his already dirty pants, he morbidly watched them create new dark streaks.

"What does that mean? Is he okay?" Carter asked Fraiser, but Jack could sense her focusing all her attention on him.

"It's completely normal, Sam, just a matter of getting the right medication. After the trauma Daniel's body has endured, this is just a small bump."

Trauma from his gun. Fraiser's professional, calm assessment did nothing to cloak that fact. Nothing would. He shifted his left foot, felt it contact a section of his uneaten muffin. Raising his foot, he crushed the spongy substance, let his foot up, and then tried to squash it again. It hadn't regained its shape, but was now a useless heap. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall... Teal'c took a step closer to him, the same action the Jaffa frequently took when he perceived danger. Too bad Teal'c hadn't been at his house to stop the threat to Daniel.

"How long do they anticipate he'll be hospitalized?"

"If all goes well, he'll only need to stay for a week to ten days. It's still a bit early to give a definite timeframe."

"Is there any chance Doctor Jackson could be transferred to the SGC sooner than that?" General Hammond asked.

"I wouldn't advise it, sir, though after his release from here I'd like Daniel to return to the base for the following week or so. He probably could go home on his own, but I'd like to keep an eye on him. And none of you will tell him that, by the way."

"Of course not, Janet," Carter said, smile transmitted in her voice. "Wouldn't want to make him an unruly patient."

"Indeed," came Teal'c's contribution.

They all sounded so...normal. Shaking his head, Jack blinked a couple of times and finally looked away from his lap, up to Fraiser's tired face. She was absently staring right back at him, and he altered his eyes first to Teal'c, then the general and lastly Carter. They were all looking at him, not appearing as normal as their voices had indicated. He lifted both arms up, scrubbing his hands through his hair, feeling his fingers catch in the tousled strands.

"Colonel," General Hammond said, sounding surprised at his presence. Choking back a laugh, Jack just nodded. "Doctor Fraiser, you said you found a room? Maybe you and Colonel O'Neill should go check it out."

"No, I wasn't able to arrange anything, unfortunately. There's a small bank of rooms for parents of kids in the cancer ward but the four rooms they have are already reserved," Fraiser reported. "I spoke with the charge nurse in the CCU and she said we may get lucky and there'll be a random room empty on the floor. I'm not sure where the best place for the colonel is at this point."

Ah, none of them were directly acknowledging him. Suddenly irritated, Jack struggled to stand up and watched Teal'c take yet another step forward. He drew a hand in the air as Carter mirrored his movement and stood at his side, as if she was attached to him on a string. Tempted to check for just that, he spared his 2IC a brief stare.

"The colonel will be going back to the CCU," Jack snapped, a bit more sharply than he'd truly intended. Fight, fight.

"No, sir, you won't," Fraiser refuted almost before his assertion had left his mouth, her surprise at his animation evident. Her expression changed to stern professionalism once more. Mimicking him, intentionally or unintentionally, she raised a warning hand. "Not my rules, Colonel. The CCU staff doesn't want anyone back there while they're stabilizing Daniel."

"Stabilizing? You said he was fine," he accused. She recoiled slightly. "I'm going back there."

"Colonel, it was made very clear they will call security if needs must. I'm pretty sure they were referencing something you might do." Irritation creeping up, he narrowed his eyes at her to try to read what she wasn't telling them. There had to be more to it than simple 'issues with antibiotics'. She broke their eye lock, and in his mind she did so guiltily. "There's likely going to be a significant amount of activity around him for the next few hours, sir. They neither want him nor you agitated unnecessarily. And I don't feel I really need to remind you that you could use rest."

"Rest."

"Yes, Jack, rest," General Hammond piped up. He scowled at his CO, unhappy this was becoming a battle on two fronts. "I won't hesitate to make it an order, and I don't care if you're off duty. There's a Holiday Inn not more than half a block from here - I'll book a room and cart you there myself if I have to."

Right. Judging from the severe expressions surrounding him, the vote was unanimous and Jack felt as though he had just been put through some form of intervention. Fine, he'd humor them and rest but he didn't think it likely he'd actually sleep. Not when every time he closed his eyes, all he saw were visions of Daniel either unconscious or in the throes of shock. He heaved a sigh and shrugged his shoulders.

"That goes for all of you. There's nothing we can do for Doctor Jackson until he wakes up. That includes you, Doctor Fraiser."

"Actually, sir, my shift at the mountain started about an hour ago. I contacted Doctor Warner, and he was able to cover for me. He said he's got a commitment he can't break later today, so I'm heading to the base to relieve him now," Fraiser clipped out her words.

"There isn't anyone else?"

"No, sir, and with respect, you look like you could use some sleep yourself."

"I'll take that under advisement," the general commented, looking a little ruffled he'd been called out.

Jack had to hand it to the doc, she could make just about anyone nervous. He found himself being lulled into the 'normal' he'd just thought he would never be able to achieve, not knowing if he should be glad of that or feel guilty. His stomach gurgled and he reached for the paper bag to see if there was anything left in it. He sat down on the couch and pulled the sack into his lap. Not even bothering to scope it out, he reached into the bag and pulled out the first thing that his fingers touched. He brought whatever it was in his hand up to his mouth and was about to take a bite when his unidentified bounty was snatched away from his lips.

"Sir, no!" Carter bellowed in his right ear, loud and bothered. He twitched at her in bewilderment. "There are cranberries in that one - aren't you allergic? I got it for Janet. Here, take this one."

She shoved another Banana Walnut muffin into his hands. What, was that the only thing she thought he'd eat? He dismissed Carter's odd behavior and took an unenthusiastic bite out of the muffin top. Distantly hearing Doctor Fraiser's exclamation of thanks, he let his eyes roam over to Teal'c who was somberly munching on his own deep brown muffin. Peculiarity suddenly surpassed what he'd seen as normality and he gagged on a large piece of walnut as it scraped along his throat. Jack abandoned his breakfast, setting it on an Entertainment Weekly magazine disgracing the coffee table. A troupe of strangers trod through the waiting area, shooting his group of friends stares that were at once tinged with envy and misery.

"I trust you'll figure something out regarding accommodations. Murray?" General Hammond steered the conversation back to the all-important topic of sleep, no doubt prodding Teal'c to be an enforcer.

"It will be taken care of, General Hammond," Teal'c stated.

Jack gazed over to the Jaffa, seeing the general's implied order would not have been necessary; the other man looked as though it was his sole purpose in life to make him rest. What the hell...first Carter had obviously chosen his favorite breakfast food and had done everything short of shoving it down his throat and now Teal'c was turning into the sleep police? Worry worn and sleep deprived synapses slowly started to function, and quick looks to Teal'c and Carter confirmed he was the outlet for their own concern and exhaustion. Sprawling, he leaned his head on the back of the couch and closed his eyes. He should be irritated by their machinations. He was only warmly touched.

For the first time in too many hours, the Danieldying horror show didn't flash across his eyelids and he burrowed deeper into the lumpy sofa with a sigh. Dimly, he heard Hammond and Fraiser departing. He tried to lift his head to see them off but couldn't. His body was imposing its own orders of respite, apparently, and he suddenly didn't think it a terribly bad idea to give in. Relaxing his tight neck and shoulder muscles, Jack's head floated hazily but he didn't want to indulge himself with total sleep. That smacked too much of flight.

Feeling the couch dip as Carter resumed her seat, he lolled his head toward her and managed to open his eyes. He expected to see her yet again examining him but was rewarded with the sight of her sleeping form. Rolling his head back, he found it more and more difficult to cling to consciousness. He tried to concentrate on sounds and movement, but all seemed to transform into rhythmic patterns, easing him into senselessness. Couldn't let that happen, not until Daniel was awake. Then he could rest.

Then...

"Then get some water to splash on his face. Don't give me that look - I know it's cruel but it'll be a lot worse if we leave him like this."

"I concur with the premise, not the method suggested."

Buzzing voices obnoxiously echoed around in his head and the Aches and the Pains were currently using his body as a playing field for a rough game of football. He felt...terrible, as though he had snagged twenty-four minutes of sleep when he clearly needed about twenty-four hours. Attempting to ignore the hushed argument around him, Jack shifted his body to the left.

"You have a better idea?" Carter, that was Carter.

"O'Neill, you must awaken!" Teal'c boomed in his ear. Then quieter, not to him, "Perhaps I should simply move him myself."

But he wasn't sleeping anymore. He couldn't figure out why they were at his house, in his bedroom, anyway. They'd all left hours ago. Maybe he had slept through his alarm. Wait... move him? Peeling crusty eyelids open, he coerced his right arm up in time to swat at Teal'c's hands, which were encroaching into his personal space.

"What? I'm 'wake," he snarled, lurching upright and putting the Aches and the Pains on the offensive. His neck muscles contracted in a brutal twinge as he twisted to check the clock on his nightstand and he hissed in pain. Not at home. He hissed again as the cobwebs cleared and he remembered it all - where he was and why. He'd fled after all. "Shit. How long?"

"Sir?"

"How long was I out?"

"About four hours, sir. I just woke up myself," Carter told him nervously. He glared at her, noting her wild hair and the persistent shadows underneath her eyes. He relaxed a little. "Teal'c thought it best to let us sleep. We just wanted to get you into a more comfortable position."

Jack slithered to the edge of his seat, ignoring the popping and crackling of joints gone too long without movement. He understood Teal'c had only seen the physiological need and acted appropriately on it but he was still angry, with his friend and himself. Waving a hand at them, he slowly stood and stretched his arms wide. His muffin from earlier was still perched on the coffee table. He had an urge to pick it up and toss it across the room. Instead, he fumbled away from the sofa, clumsily tripping over the table legs as he passed by Teal'c. Shimmying out of the helping hands the Jaffa put on his arm, he made it out into the hall and continued his journey.

"O'Neill."

"I'm going to the bathroom, Murray," he called, not looking back. "Don't think I need help with that."

He walked on alone, searching the markers on each door he passed until he found a unisex bathroom. Rapping a couple of times on it before he pushed into the room, Jack then locked himself in and faltered his way over to the sink. He leaned heavily on it, eyes peering at the reflection peering right back. God, he looked old. Turning both hot and cold water taps on with aggravated force, he let the sink run for a few minutes, then cupped his hands underneath the flow and splashed the collected water onto his scruffy face. It felt real, helped bring clarity as he had hoped it would.

Glancing up again, he wondered if clarity was really what he needed. Water dropped sporadically down his face, onto the dark scrub top. The random patterns held his fascination for a moment, then he tore his gaze away and it stopped on his reflected image again. Hunched shoulders, disheveled hair, five o'clock shadow. He looked like a washed-out wino. Straightening up, he decided he'd put the stuff Carter and Teal'c had gathered for him to good use. He roughly scrubbed a paper towel across his damp face and left the bathroom with only that purpose in his mind.

Roaming back down the hall, he cheerlessly took in more of his surroundings. Nameless nurses passed by him, sharpening to attention as they noticed his attire and then relaxing when they realized he wasn't a doctor. He disregarded the looks, staring straight ahead. He wandered for what seemed to him too long, finally snapping himself out of the daze he was still in to gather his senses. Flipping its scant contents over, his stomach churned with unpleasant force. He'd passed right by the waiting area and now stood in front of the CCU bay.

He halted, looking back toward where Carter and Teal'c sat; they must have seen him walk by. Creasing his forehead in confusion, he watched the area for one or both of them to come collect him but neither emerged. Jack paused, pivoting back around to where his feet had unwittingly taken him. The pull was too strong to resist and he went in. The sight of Daniel once again brought a fist of agony deep into his chest. If anything, in the four hours since he'd last been in this little pseudo room Daniel's pallor had increased. Frowning, he checked over his shoulder to see if the staff had observed him before finding the chair he had sat in earlier and pulling it up close to the bed, to continue his vigil.

Watching Daniel's face again, Jack sat without blinking. He thought he should say something but had no idea what he could that would take away his friend's pain or his own. All these hours to think about it and his brain had supplied him with nothing. Lifting his left hand, he cautiously reached it out toward Daniel's forearm. Warm skin contacted cool and he nearly pulled his hand away in shocked reaction. Steeling himself, he kept his hand in place and tightened it as he laid his head down on the edge of the mattress. He was so tired. He raised his right hand up to the mattress, grasping Daniel harder with the left at the same time.

And did jerk back this time as his pressure was met with a flinch. Standing up, Jack leaned in close to the other man to see if the movement had been a figment of his imagination. He flicked his eyes to the monitors surrounding his friend, searching for any signs. Looking back down, he found himself staring into bleary eyes, barely open a slit. The pain increased in his chest but relief accompanied it, both feelings dueling for supremacy. He forced a smile onto his face, knew the attempt was feeble and followed it up with an equally wretched utterance of Daniel's name. His friend's drug-marred expression rolled in a confusing mish mash, refusing to settle on one but his mouth opened and Jack bent closer. Though Daniel was obviously forming words, he heard nothing. The pain within viciously beat back the small amount of relief.

An unpleasant, relentless rush of cool air harassed Daniel's nostrils and, try as he might, he couldn't move his head to get out of the draft. Thinking to pull the covers over his face, he wanted to bring his right hand up but it wouldn't move either. He started to panic, testing out the rest of his limbs to no avail. It was as though he were frozen; everything was numb, including his brain. Couldn't think straight, thought he wasn't at home. No? Where? A scary and viscous darkness. He imagined the strange non-sensations might be what it felt like to drown - suspended and almost buoyed by water that slowly seeped in to replace every breath. Trickling air choked him, burning into his lungs and filling them faster than he could expel the useless gases already there. Not right, not right. Breathe.

There was nothing solid for him to latch onto, to help pull himself from the eerie purgatory he was trapped in. Nothing...no, wait. He felt something on his left arm, an indistinct and subtle difference in temperature in one small spot. Warmth mingled with the cold, heaviness that was welcome. Reassured by the feelings, Daniel again strove to make some part of his body function, to reach for the line being thrown to him in the murkiness. It didn't work; instead the warm pressure hastily disappeared. He moaned but nothing resulted from the attempt, the frustration and fear he needed to release remaining ensnared inside his suffocated chest.

Through the static buzz toning in his ears, he became aware of a separate rustling noise. Battling his eyelids, he managed a small victory in peeling them back a tiny fragment and sought out the sound's source. Bright light assailed his unprepared eyes and for long moments he saw nothing, feeling only another, less tangible warmth leaching into his skin. On his chest, his arms. Of their own will, his eyes closed and he was semi-thrilled at his progressing awareness until he realized he could smell the horribly familiar scent of antiseptic sterility that could only come with places like the SGC infirmary. Daniel had no memory of what had put him here, and alarm had him heaving his eyes partially open once more.

This time, he made out a dark mass floating across his torso but still couldn't identify who or what it was. The indefinite shape shifted and inched ever closer, and he saw. Jack. Smiling? No, wincing. Speaking.

"Daniel?"

His ears heard the summons clearly and he was relieved. Confusion still rocked its way through him; he needed to know. "Jack, what happened?" he asked, dismayed when the other man's expression quickly twisted into a tortured mask.

Jack folded in what his fuzzy brain determined to be defeat, burying his face into Daniel's shoulder. His friend's hands clasped onto either arm, fraught with despair so unlike him Daniel felt an upsurge of anxiety. He didn't have time to establish the cause for Jack's reaction or push for an answer to his question as the lack of sensation shattered, a brutal blitz of intense hurt tearing into him from every direction. In conjunction, his body leapt into spontaneous action, his back arching slightly off the hard infirmary bed as he coiled away from the unintentionally punishing hands. He screamed and screamed, mouth opening impossibly wide to let out the anguish but his cries were muffled by similarly strident, mechanical wails and the terrible waves of air that continued to force themselves into his lungs.

Jack's voice, frenetic and remorseful called in his ear, "Daniel! Calm down. You have to... Jesus...I'm sorry. I'm..."

Then the hands were gone but the pain was not, still rearing up and biting into him. He had to be dying. It no longer mattered that he had no recollection of what had caused his suffering, only that it was going to be the end of him. Fighting against it only exacerbated the throbbing and he limply sagged back into the mattress as blurry figures hovered over his face. Unrecognizable. Where was Doctor Fraiser? Numbness crept its way back into him and now he willingly opened his arms to it. Anything to end this. He tried to look beyond the strange people surrounding him to find Jack, wondering where his friend had gone - the need to see a known, welcome face among the unfamiliar ones was overpowering.

part 2

link image
link image
link img
link img
link img
link image
isis link
Eilidh17
DennyJ
Amberfly
Carlyn
Winterstar
LadyD
Isis
   
  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
link img
link img
link image
Marzipan
JAJJAJ
Gemsong
Cancer
Taylyn
GateGremlyn
Pough

 

 

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.