Once Lost

Shaking with exertion from action they were unaccustomed to, the man's legs carried him without real control or direction. He gasped harshly, bobbing and weaving through densely soggy underbrush, which seemed to leap out at him with obstructive, malevolent intentions. Looking back over his shoulder, he didn't even know what he was searching for but was filled with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. Fear. Both emotions seemed strange to him, uncharacteristic, as though he had been incapable of feeling anything at all until only recently; as if he were a newborn, with the exception he was cognitively developed. He panted in great gulps of frantic air. He knew something was after him, big and strong and terrible with wrath.
He was certain of it.
He ran, stumbled, carried on. And on and on. His breath became increasingly difficult to catch, each step depleting more energy from him. He had no choice but to keep on. He had to make it. Had to. Confusion befell him the instant the motivated thought finished running through his head; make it where? A covey of small, dusky birds, startled by his headlong rush, abruptly burst through a cluster of bushes with loud squawks and loss of feathers. The man involuntarily paused, jerked with as much shock as the winged creatures and he took a moment to gather air into his taxed lungs. That action felt as wrong as his desperate emotions. And yet right. Perplexed, he wished he had a modicum of understanding for why he was running - away from and toward what he was drawn. There was someplace he knew he had to reach. Why couldn't he remember? Shifting his blurry gaze down, he stretched out his hands and stared at them. The white, frail looking appendages were unfamiliar. Foreign.
Filled with blatant dread, the man started breathing rapidly again despite standing immobile. The sensation of duality, unknown yet known, was becoming more ominous. He was afraid, so afraid. This was wrong. Bad. One bird audaciously peeped at him, haranguing him for disrupting its peaceful abode and he jarred out of his stupefaction. Behind him, he heard the rustle of leaves. Instinctively, his legs began moving again and the call of the re-irritated birds drowned out the harbingering sound of his pursuer. As he ran, he contemplated whether he had really heard anything or if his mind had conjured an imaginary tormentor. Didn't matter, all that did was that he kept going, pushing his body to its limits. His body? He tripped and sprawled face down into the loamy soil.
Much needed air whooshed from his body, leaving him in a vacuum of frightened panic. Frenziedly, stupidly, he tried to breathe though he somehow knew his body simply needed time to adjust to the assault it had been put through. Bewilderingly inherent knowledge. Calming himself as he knew he must, the man relaxed and allowed his muscles to unlock. Relief came at last and he raggedly inhaled, then promptly coughed as forest detritus flew into his mouth. Hacking, he shakily rose to his hands and knees, head hanging down while he expelled the unwanted from his lungs and sucked in a deep, clean breath at last.
Interminably long minutes later, he finally composed himself. His hands, fingers spread wide as he braced himself, glowed whitely back up to him. They were indistinct as if it was twilight and his vision was impaired by the deceptive light of that hour. Looking up confirmed the sun was almost directly overhead. He frowned, picked himself up and began his journey again. Comfort was not to be found in sunlight. Setting his pace at cautious to prevent another spill, the man felt his overt panic diminish. There was no sound following after him. No telltale heart. His thoughts did not make sense to him. Nothing made sense but to forge ahead to his destination. Safe there. Welcome.
His bare feet slipped on a moss covered tree stump, the foliage beneath his toes squishing out between them. Flailing his arms, he regained control and barely averted another disaster. He briefly looked down, noticed how filthy his arms and legs were. Naked beneath the layer of dirt, the yellowish pallor of the limbs reminded him of mealworms. Pale and thick. Disgusting. Unconsciously, he lifted his arms up, crossing them to run his hands along his biceps before folding them over his unclothed chest. The position offered no genuine reassurance. He didn't know why he had expected it to. Even if it had, he couldn't sustain it; running required his arms.
And he had to run, had to get there. So close. Had to be only moments away now.
Jumping from his precarious perch on the downed tree, the man winced as his feet contacted something sharp. Now that he was aware of their bare state, his soles vehemently protested the abuse they were taking. They ached and stung, the pain uncomfortable but also strangely soothing. He shook his head and forced himself onward. Surveying the landscape in front, he squinted past the persistent fuzziness of his vision and thought perhaps the monstrous trees were thinning out. He wasn't sure what that meant, intuitively dug deep to pick up the pace anyway. His legs trembled and he shivered with sudden cold.
Faintly calling through the trees, echoes of sound reached his ears and his heart correspondingly tripped. It was a metallically hollow, scraping noise that that prickled with familiarity. Spurting abruptly into a wide, expansive steppe, the man halted in his tracks. The knee-high grass waved with peaceful fluidity, the rippling leading his eyes in one direction and what it directed him to stole the needed air right out of him. Incredibly captivating, beautifully grotesque, the azure center of it was so vibrant he could not look away.
Until his attention was garnered by a different sight, one that made him physically respond with even more violence. His palms got clammy and a chill so severe he once again wrapped his arms around his chest for warmth assailed him. Not wind, the cold was from within. All encompassing, ruthless. Silently, he stood and watched the three green-clad figures slowly walk into the middle of the big ring. He looked away as two of them vanished, gasping at the shock of it. Dropping his arms, the man looked down at the streaks his sweaty hands had created on his arms, the swirls making him dizzy. He panted crazily. This is what he had been running toward...but why didn't he know? Everything was unclear.
A loud, booming voice rent the quietude. Though he could not understand the words, he felt the pain.
Snapping his head up, he watched the remaining figure spread his arms as if stretching. He was frozen, couldn't stop staring at the person. Wanted to cry out, call something to heal that anguish. Couldn't. Before turning toward the blueness and plunging into the pool, the form dropped its...his arms and he could see the shoulders sagging despite the unrelenting fogginess of his vision. His rapid exhalations caught in his throat, the dejection of the other man was a living thing traversing the distance between them. He wanted to reach out. Follow. The blue gelled thickly back into a placid lake.
And he ran. There was little time.
Legs once shaky thrummed with adrenaline, pushing harder than he would have thought possible. Speeding so the wind loudly and raucously screamed in his ear, he was relieved that he was approaching his goal so quickly. The whine became obnoxious, unremitting, and he abruptly realized it was not the wind that was to blame. It was him. His voice had also come awake, and he was shouting unintelligibly. Too late, no one to hear him now. Alone.
No! Nonononono!
He blinked past sudden wetness in his eyes.
He was at the great circle, the brightness of the liquid middle harsh to his sensitive eyes. He wheezed, awestruck for a moment. Gazing upward, he studied the glyphs decorating the dull gray ring. He was afraid. Couldn't breathe. Darkness at the periphery of his vision. Hesitating, the man turned back the direction from which he had come. He was more afraid of the faceless hunter.
He stepped into the blue.
The world became abrasive light, punishing noise. Dizziness beset him, and chaos of activity and sound. Arms and legs. Black metal, sharp clicks. Sirens wailing. Jagged hardness beneath his battered feet. Smells, pungent with fearful anger. The man fell to his knees, uncertain he had made the right decision. Wanted someone to tell him. A massive gasping sound surrounded him, as if the room in which he found himself was being emptied of air. Prolonged silence followed, then someone whispered words he still could not comprehend. It was the voice of the last person whom he had followed and he tried to turn to the speaker. Failed. His vision warped sickeningly, gray flickering deeper.
"Jesus, Jesus!" the voice cried, and this time his mind translated. He plummeted face first, couldn't lift his arms to soften the descent. "It's Daniel!"
He understood the words but they held no meaning. Blackness overcame him.

He was tired.
Jack didn't know if he could do it anymore. For six months, he had existed in a neutral zone; events during that time frame were hazy at best, barely recognizable as something he'd experienced at worst. It was as if he was outside himself, observing everything with calculated precision...and not caring about any of it. Not even the rape of his body and mind by that damn Tok'ra snake. There was only one instance he remembered with clarity - his visit from Daniel in Ba'al's fortress. Of course, he wasn't entirely certain that had been real. It had felt real. He had felt. After the initial shock of elated hope at seeing his friend, there had been great pain and anguish. And those weren't feelings he had wanted but, in retrospect, he cherished them. The lingering bittersweetness he'd had in the infirmary had faded quickly.
Until he again felt nothing beyond mental and physical exhaustion.
Glancing around at the gray trees, rocks, grass...gray everything on P7X 251, he wondered if he was the only one experiencing a strange, sudden onset of colorblindness or whose life had become a bland purgatory. Both of his companions had given more of a good faith effort than he had with all of the...replacements. The descriptor stuck in the back of his throat like dry turkey, and it was inappropriate on so many levels. No one could replace Daniel - no amount of book learning, intelligence, or fantastic physical abilities could make up for the heart and experience of the lost archaeologist. The morality. The soul. Jack suddenly felt something again and he didn't want to. It was regret, sadness and anger wrapped up into one corrosive emotion. He swallowed the sour bile that regurgitated into his mouth.
He scowled over to Carter, noticed she looked more severe than he expected, as if she had lived five years in the span of a few months. And those years had been filled with too much grief to recover from, leaving her hardened, harsh and hollow-cheeked. Flopping, his stomach bore the brunt of his reaction to the realization and the knowledge that his 2IC's appearance should not have been a surprise to him. Flitting his gaze over to Teal'c, he saw a similar thing; his ageless friend was showing the passage of rough times. Lines cragged the once smooth face, the frown that typically signified impartiality exuded unhappiness. Jack knew, then, that he was not alone.
And yet he was.
Dialing the DHD, Carter mechanically gathered herself together while Teal'c moved to stand just to the left of the mushroom shaped device as the 'gate whooshed to life. He didn't join them, kept his back turned because the sight of their dispassion was suddenly too much for him to think about. Eyeing the vast stretch of meadow surrounding the Stargate, Jack noted how the wind made the tall grass look like a hoary sea. It flowed with what should have been natural beauty but all he saw was choppiness. Disruption.
"Code's been received, sir," Carter said. He didn't respond. "Sir?"
"Go. We're finished here."
Finished with what? An empty, safe mission meant to be just that to acclimate him back to life as commander of SG1. Too bad Hammond didn't realize he would have found a mission that had put them straight onto a battlefield just as empty and harmless. Meaningless. Jack heard two slight sucking sounds, indicating his team members had silently left him. Sighing, he couldn't help but think that was just another example of how the team had eroded - there was a time when the other two would have taken note of his isolation and at least tried to pull him out of it. Perhaps they had, but hadn't the will to sustain a prolonged campaign.
He sighed and was overcome by abrupt suffocation.
If he didn't know he was completely alone, Jack would think someone was forcefully stuffing a pillow down his throat and pressing a great weight onto his chest. He threw his arms wide and tensed every muscle in his body, a deep roar building from his gut and expelling from his mouth with such force it seared his throat. Screaming and screaming until he could no longer physically sustain the yawp, he ended it and heard it resound back to him. Whatever he'd meant to accomplish by the action, he was sure it hadn't worked. Something solid seemed to rest on his shoulders, attached itself to his lungs.
Unrelieved but spent, he dropped his arms and turned around to walk into the portal. He could still hear his cry echoing back to him, mutated into a pitiful wail. Despising the weakness of the sound, he stiffened his back and plunged into the wormhole. The cry followed him, plaguing his ears as he stepped onto the ramp on the other side. Shaking his head to dispel the sound, he sighed tiredly at the regularity of the procedures that met him at the SGC. He handed his gun to a waiting SF, felt his heavy pack being fiddled with from behind.
He was tired.
"Welcome back, SG1. Report to the infirmary for your examinations. Debriefing is at 1630 hours," the on-staff technician informed them with clipped exactness.
Welcome back, SG1.
This *wasn't* SG1, though it was comprised of three original members of his former team. This was a farcical pretense of the way it used to be, each of them dutifully playing his or her role but without enthusiasm. Or soul. God, he still missed Daniel so much. More than he had thought possible when he'd watched the younger man walk away. He was a fool for even entertaining the idea that things would be fine with one member of the team gone. One of his kids. Wearily, Jack blinked and looked around the cluttered room, catching and holding Carter's eye for a moment. He was startled by the depth of pain he read in them. She flinched, quickly staring down at the floor as if she had been caught stealing. When had his team started hiding their feelings from him? Probably a long time ago or, just as likely, they hadn't hidden a thing - he just hadn't seen. He could do nothing but regret.
He sighed again. Lifting a hand to help detach his pack, his fumbling fingers stopped when he heard an all too familiar sound from behind. The wormhole had just disgorged another traveler, the slurping sound barely registering in his ears and ringing in them at the same time. Glaring up at the control room for those there's failure to report an unexpected guest and close the iris, Jack froze at the expressions blanching all personnel members' faces. The geek behind the dial-up computer had his mouth flapping open and shut as if he couldn't get enough air into his lungs. All around him, he heard sharp inhalations of breath and he turned to take in what the others were reacting so strongly to.
The instant he pivoted around, he let go of his pack's strap and it thudded to the ground, colliding with his calves on the way down. His legs crumpled slightly, not due to the heavy bag but to the sight that greeted him. Unmoving, Jack stared. Couldn't budge, couldn't breathe. Couldn't believe. He finally managed to move, his right arm instinctively reaching out.
"Oh, my God," he whispered. "Oh, my God."
Was it? Jack fell into muteness as the bedraggled, dirty and naked figure plunged to its knees. His arm moved in time with the man's collapse, lowering but not increasing its reach. Madly swinging his gaze to Carter and Teal'c's staggered faces for a second, he then turned back to the specter kneeling before all of them as if in penance for some unholy sin. He finally took a step forward, his throat nearly closed over with tension. The world moved sluggishly; he heard the calls of SFs for the intruder to cease movement and vaguely thought how fruitless the directive was when the man was clearly too weak to cause harm. The man looked as though he were trying to twist and Jack's heart beat so hard in his chest he thought it might burst free. Not the man, it was...
"Jesus, Jesus!" Jack hoarsely shouted as the form managed to turn his face in their direction.
He couldn't look away, his stomach whirling at the completely blank stare of the other man's expression. Shuddering, Jack felt a shaft of fear strike through him that his friend didn't recognize them, too overwhelmed by some unknown trauma. Dumbly staring as the younger man succumbed to gravity and slammed face first onto ramp in an awkward sprawl, he still couldn't move.
He said what didn't need clarification, "It's Daniel!"
"Get a medical team in here!" Carter bellowed, suddenly so close to him he jumped at the loudness of her voice. His 2IC clasped his right forearm tightly, bringing it down as she squeezed and murmured, "Daniel?"
As if her hushed exhalation was a catalyst, things started moving at excessive speed - camouflaged greens and browns of the SFs obstructed his view. Frustration bubbled, growing to the point of explosion and then, suddenly, he was at Daniel's side, crouching next to the prostrate man and battling old knees. Ignoring the discomfort of his own body, Jack tentatively laid a hand on his friend's cold, bare shoulder. He half expected his hand to float right through the apparition, though he had heard the clatter the other man had made when he had fallen and knew his friend must be solid. It didn't, and he was devastated by the realization that for some unidentifiable reason, through some strange force of fate, luck or misfortune, Daniel Jackson had returned to a human state. He barked out a laugh, which throttled midway through when his throat closed over.
Daniel was here, Daniel was back.
"Sir, I need you to move so I can take a look. Lieutenant Mescudi, please cover D-doctor Jackson."
Blinking, Jack looked up into worried brown eyes and became aware that he had unwittingly managed to turn Daniel over and had his arms wrapped around the unconscious man as if holding on was the only thing keeping his friend corporeal. The skin beneath his fingers was icy cold, the muscles unresponsive as he hugged tightly. He didn't want to let go, though he knew he was hindering the doctor when he shouldn't be. Prying at him with implacable strength, hands removed the option, left him with his arms spread wide and restrained. He wrenched free, glaring at those surrounding him for their transgressions. It was Carter and Teal'c, and neither of them were looking at him. Staring down at Daniel with features warped with an oxymoronic blend of horror and rapture, his team members embodied his inner turmoil. His ire vanished.
Now lying on his back, arms haphazardly flopping as Doc Fraiser and three of her staff clustered around him, Daniel appeared so small. So human. Jack's leg muscles decided they didn't want to work anymore, and he weakly scrabbled at Teal'c's arm for balance and strength. Out of the corner of his eye, he fuzzily saw the portly shape of General Hammond fly into the 'gateroom. Didn't look from the ministrations, was padlocked in a suspended animation of stunned disbelief. Belief. Confusion. Buzzing with it, his brain felt disconnected from the rest of him, too inundated with stimuli to work properly.
"Doctor Fraiser?" the general tremulously asked, and the words served to pull him back to the events playing out in front of him.
"It's too soon to tell, sir. His pulse is accelerated, skin is clammy. He's in a state of shock, but I don't know from what," Doctor Fraiser quickly replied. "We'll know more in a few minutes."
"He's...real?" Carter whispered.
"As far as I can tell."
"Real," Jack heard his own voice repeat, though he had not intended the word to come out.
Real, and fragile. A white jacket covered Daniel's lower half, but it did nothing to disguise the sheer nakedness of the man. He was mesmerized by how his friend didn't look a day older than the last time he'd seen him, in fact appeared younger. No glasses, hair mussed, damp and dirty. He let go of Teal'c and stumbled forward, needing more physical reinforcement. Touch. Beneath the grime and pallor, Jack saw Daniel. Daniel. He dared a smile, which faltered when Doctor Fraiser held up an adamant hand to prevent him from getting closer.
"Sir, I'm sorry. We don't know the circumstances surrounding D-daniel's return," she imparted, the repeated stutter of Daniel's name the only indication of her emotionality. "Until I can make an assessment of his physical state, I want no one near him."
On a base level, he understood the logic. In his gut, he railed against the command, wanted to shove the petite doctor away and get to his friend's side. Teal'c grasped his shoulder in silent, perceptive agreement, as well as to restrain his forward motion. He stiffened as the medical personnel gingerly lifted Daniel and placed him on a waiting gurney. Jack watched them wheel the younger man out of the 'gateroom and out of sight. Like a string was attached from the gurney to his legs, he trailed after the fast-moving entourage. Carter and Teal'c were at his heels, General Hammond taking up the rear. None of them spoke.
He was in a dreamlike fog, hovering at the door while Daniel was probed and prodded and poked. Surveying the young man's body for any obvious injuries or responses, Jack was pleased when he couldn't locate any and his eyes lit upon the right hand, where they affixed. The long fingers were lax, knuckles abnormally ashen next to the streaks of dirt smudging the rest of the hand. His elation at being unable to find any major physical injuries waned as concern over Daniel's unresponsiveness waxed, his muscles strumming with tension and the will for his friend to move. Awaken. Truly be back. He wouldn't be satisfied until he knew for sure. The vision of a blank blue-eyed stare played before his eyes, welcome and deplorable.
He was afraid.
"I imagine it will be quite some time," General Hammond awkwardly said. Jack jerked in alarm at the verbal disturbance, blinking rapidly. An incursion of unwanted tears attacked his eyes, restoring moisture lost from his intense stare. Softly, a hand touched his elbow. "You should find somewhere to sit. In the hall."
"Sir, if you...if we're not in the way, I think we'd all rather stay here," Carter dissented. "You can't...it's Daniel."
His vision cleared at last and, keeping his eyes on that still hand, Jack nodded agreement with his 2IC's disturbingly inept words. He couldn't shake the feeling that if he took his direct attention off the formerly lost man, then Daniel would disappear to go follow his separate path again. Selfishly, he clung to his own wants and cautious hope. A blur of white marred his sight for a second, one of the many staff members surrounding his friend taking up a new position. He slid to the side, putting Daniel back into his line.
"I understand that, Major, please believe I do. But Doctor Fraiser can best do her job without distractions."
"General Hammond, you cannot truly believe I, Major Carter or Colonel O'Neill will voluntarily exit the infirmary at this time."
"I'm not asking you to go far..."
The halfhearted argument was peripheral to him, there but not important. Letting it grow fainter, he manipulated his location in conjunction with the quickly moving medical personnel, always watching. Monitor leads were hooked up, the accompanying beeps adding another subtle layer to the discourse of his companions. He couldn't tune those out, didn't want to, was drawn to their fast but steady rhythm. Daniel was alive. A dozen scenarios of what might have occurred to bring his friend back raced through his head and none of them meant a damn thing. Jack didn't really care about the whys and the hows, though in the back of his mind he knew the information would be needed. All he cared about was that Daniel was alive, alive.
The pointer finger of Daniel's stationary hand jolted off the bed, then went back down.
Jack reactively jumped, the hand that had remained on his elbow tightened to the point the grip was painful, and someone emitted a squeak of surprise. Carter. Catching in his throat, his breath refused to come for several long seconds as he waited for proof the movement hadn't just been consequential of the intrusive examination or a figment of their collective imaginations. The mass of people in the room arrested, aiding his study and lending more reassurance to the veracity of his belief. Excited by the mere prospect of Daniel regaining consciousness, he faltered forward. The same finger twitched, joined by the thumb.
"Doctor Jackson...Daniel?" Fraiser breathed.
Running the few steps separating him from Daniel, heart beating almost as erratically as the rhythm now tripping the monitors, Jack searched his friend's face. He lifted his hand, ignoring the muted protests Fraiser garbled out. She might as well have told him to stop breathing, because he had to. Had to. His fingers touched the cool skin of Daniel's cheek, eliciting a tiny mewl of sound that did nothing to alleviate his fears. The younger man weakly fished around on the bed, immediately subdued by Fraiser's hands upon his arms.
"Daniel," he gently said, pressing his hand closer around his friend's cheek. A bare slitting of blue eyes, never a more welcome sight, rewarded his coaxing. He whispered again, "Daniel."
And punishment came when the other man's eyes widened, but still reflected no recognition.

Swirling noises deluged his tattered senses in a confusing, heady conglomeration, suffocating with strength. He felt as though he were in a pitch-black room, straining to see but surrounded by darkness he could not combat. Amid the muffled disorder, a sharp pinging sound broke through and tortured his eardrums. Voices faintly echoed, helping soothe the whining, mechanical intensity of the irritant but only just slightly. Struggling to stem the growing panic, he moved rubbery arms to bring them up to his ears; his intentions were thwarted by resolute pressure on both of them. With a flash, memory of fear fell upon him, heavy and thick. Something lurking behind him, watching and waiting to attack. Afraid he had actually been caught by his terrible foe, the man renewed his fight.
He knew that word, so familiar to him he could see it. His mind unveiled a picture of a man of average height and weight, relatively defined facial features. Blue eyes. Intense, old. Tormented. Bereft. He stared at the mental image, opened his eyes to see if the man was real. Fuzzily, his eyes registered a pale, gaunt face. Not what he'd expected, not the representation he'd imagined. This face was worried and yet so hopeful. He knew this was the person he'd seen, full of pain, back...where?
The man spoke, repeating the name, "Daniel."
Oh...God. Daniel.
He was Daniel. Stunned, he widened his eyes, wanted to let the other...Jack. Jack! Excitement and reassurance flared but only lasted a fraction of a second. Then there was agony, intense burning from within and without at the same time. He was melting, every atom disintegrating slowly and too, too quickly. His skin...falling off in massive, disgusting chunks and leaving behind polyps of soreness and he wanted to scream. It hurt, it hurt, ithurt. He could feel it all, every molecule of agony in his body. Couldn't budge, couldn't breathe. Couldn't believe. Dying. Death had pursued him here, would rob and conquer him. He bucked weakly, unable to get away from it, and his actions only provoked further anguish. Consuming. Killing.
"Daniel! Oh, God," Jack cried, paling even further. Desperation tinged brown eyes bore into him, then turned away. Daniel wanted their power, needed to call them back. Couldn't. "Doc, what's wrong with him?"
"I don't know, sir! We haven't even run any tests yet."
He knew what was wrong with him. Radiation poisoning. Kelowna. Jack knew that. Writhing, Daniel tried to escape the pain once again. The hands wouldn't let him, fingers tearing into his wasted flesh. He choked, not understanding why Jack's grip wasn't relenting.
"Jack," he pleaded.
His friend's features blanched slightly before a relieved smile took over and Jack sagged down until his face was buried into the pillow, next to his neck. Strong, big hands replaced those already on his arms, squeezing inexorably. Startled by the overt action, Daniel nearly forgot the agony of his radiation-decaying skin. He could not remember a time when the other man had been so open in expressing emotions. Amazingly, the half-embrace brought comfort, eased the pain slightly. He stopped wriggling, allowed himself to ride the wave of assurance.
"Daniel, it's okay. You're okay now," Jack exhaled, hot air gusting into his skin. Blistering from the lie his friend had just told. Not okay. Dying. "You're safe. Home."
//"You're just...giving up?"//
Gasping at the defeated disappointment in Jack's voice, Daniel blinked back unexpected tears and studied the face which was pulling away to peer down at him. Nothing in it reflected a hint of the tone he'd clearly heard, and he was confused by the incongruity of the awed, sanguine expression smoothing out the lines on his friend's usually craggy face. There was none of the anticipated tiredness, no harshness. Wrinkling his eyebrows, he scrunched his eyes tightly shut, his head floating with incomprehension. He heard the blips of a monitor thrum in time with his racing heart.
"No, not that. Believe me," he croaked, the refutation coming from nowhere.
He had to say those words, had to tell Jack. Opening his eyes, he saw his friend swallow convulsively while his expression sickened. Confusion increasing in his clouded mind, Daniel opened his mouth to tell the other man he was, in no uncertain terms, not giving up. But the thought brought only stark, cold fear and the breath hitched in his throat once again. He didn't understand. The monitor beside him sang with alarm and the hands on his arm constricted.
"Yes, Daniel," Jack reaffirmed, anxiety tracing his tone. "Please."
He didn't understand why Jack would want him to surrender, or why he knew he *wasn't* doing so. It seemed as though he and his friend weren't talking about the same thing, the vehemence and fear practically seeping from Jack were extremely perplexing to him. Upsetting. Janet couldn't fix what the toxins were doing to his body, yet...Daniel wheezed, afraid he was losing an important battle after all. No, no, no. Not giving up. Never, till the...end.
"Hurts," he frogged.
"What? What hurts, Daniel?" Janet. Shuffling backward, Jack nearly left his range of sight but lingered as the doctor edged her way in between him and his friend. "Can you tell me?"
God, he wanted to be tough for them, not let them know how much he was suffering. Hated himself when he couldn't accomplish it. "Everything, everything."
Unsteady, a new voice sounded and the short burst of speech trailed off into a bare, strangled whimper. Daniel recognized it, shifted his head toward it and found Sam hovering at the infirmary door. Teal'c and General Hammond were right next to her, all of them looking shell-shocked. He hadn't thought about their reactions to his action, had only thought to save them and the Kelownan residents. Despite his misery, he was gladdened he had time to tell them all what they meant to him. Apologize for leaving them.
"He's exhibiting signs of severe shock, but I still can find no physical cause. I don't know if the disorientation is completely resultant of his sudden...appearance or if he sustained additional trauma."
Additional trauma. Mind reeling, Daniel could not come to terms with his friends' seeming ignorance of his fate. It made no sense, nor did the flashes of memory that kept dangling in front of him, of him running, running, running through a damp forest, the landscape alien, as if the images came from a dream. Perhaps he was remembering scattered fragments of his slumberous imaginings. Didn't matter, all that mattered was the very real degradation of his body. Too fast, the accident had only just happened. He wanted more time, needed it.
"Naq.." he gasped, throat closing over before he could finish the word. Swallowing brought more concentrated scorching, and he choked.
"What?" Jack prompted, head poking over Doctor Fraiser's shoulder.
There was a harsh, communal intake of breath as if everyone else in the room was shocked by the news. Through the haze surrounding him, the sound was jaggedly sharp and clear, followed by silence so profound he thought he might drown in it. Drown like he could tell he was, the fluid in his lungs weighty with forbidding portent.
He couldn't tell who had uttered the word, could only hear the distress behind it. Sorry, so sorry. He thought they knew, regretted being the one to inform them all of his quickly approaching doom. Moisture filled his eyes, not wholly from the pain still wracking every inch, and he attempted to locate Jack again. He needed to see his friend, though the mere idea of gaining strength through Jack was almost foreign to him now. Lately, he'd even questioned whether their relationship could be coined as friendship. Yet...doubt was not massive enough, he'd seen something on the other man's face before. Something that told him Jack truly was still his friend.
"Jack?" his eyes focused, then unfocused again. Fraiser moved slightly, her face warped into an ugly, dumbfounded grimace, and revealed Jack. Whose expression wasn't any easier to witness. "I'm..."
"No. Whatever you're thinking, it is not what you're thinking."
But it was. Apparently the only one who had accepted he was lying here already a dead man, Daniel knew it was his responsibility to make them see. He shook, the burden so great it was an aggravator to the radiation eating away at him, aiding its progress and threatening to split him apart. With every cell of his being, he did not want to die. There was no other choice; he didn't expect the SGC to move mountains to find a way to fix the unfixable. Locked onto Jack's fiercely brown eyes, his gaze faltered slightly with the resoluteness in them, and he looked over to Sam and Teal'c. Sam had one hand over her mouth so tightly he could see the red lines cutting across her white knuckles, her eyes luminous with tears and her face glistening with those already shed. She must feel so helpless, and he knew she hated that.
Ignoring Jack's false encouragement and, though he knew it was futile, he suggested, "Sam...heal...healing device?"
God, it was so difficult to speak but he had to give Sam the chance. He heard a muffled moan and saw as her hand dropped to her side, then reached backwards when she slumped against the wall. Instantly, Teal'c was at her shoulder, offering comfort. Daniel blinked at the strange reactions, but it only took him a moment to realize what a horrible thing he'd just asked his friend to do. Envisioning what it would be like for Sam to attempt healing him only to fail tore at him, knifed him right in the stomach. He feebly tried to double over, Jack's fingers reacting and pulverizing the skin on his arms even more. He could not withhold a gurgle of pain, crushing his eyes shut.
"Daniel, calm down. You really are okay. God, someone help me out here," Jack frenziedly called.
"I'm going to give him a sedative. Nurse, bring me two ccs of..."
"Is that really necessary, Doctor Fraiser?"
"Look at him! My God, I can't just stand here and let him suffer. I won't."
"He shouldn't be suffering. This doesn't make sense."
"Whether he should be or not...the fact is he is. Please hold him steady, Colonel."
"Be careful. Watch his hands. Carter, Teal'c..."
The chaos of flurried voices faded and muffled, leaving the room, his world, a mass of echoing, anguished arguments. He couldn't distinguish the words, as they went on and on; his agony took precedence over everything. Until Jack spoke softly into his ear, "Daniel."
He went limp, the magnitude of emotion revealed in the one simple word enough stun him. It was unanticipated but welcome, and it covered his physical pain like a soothing balm. Heavy warmness sheltered his chest and torso, and he could feel faint reverberations of someone else's heartbeat directly on top of his. Rather than soreness from the pressure, Daniel felt only the enigmatically comforting heat of the other body. He braved cracking his eyes open just as he felt cold burning on the back of his left hand and the pressure let up slightly.
Jack pulled away, though he did not go more than six inches, face hovering above his. He was trapped by his friend's eyes, which drilled emotions into him, so rapidly changing that he became dizzy. Befuddlement. Fear. Incredulity. A precise reflection of his own feelings. Unable to withstand the doubled intensity of those sensations, Daniel closed his eyes and was alarmed when the vertigo continued. He incongruously shivered at the warmth seeping into his veins. A throat was gruffly cleared, an awkward reaction to an uncomfortable situation or event. He couldn't tell who had produced the noise. His muscles involuntarily slackened.
"Is he unconscious?"
"Doesn't he look unconscious?" Jack growled into his ear.
"Colonel," General Hammond rebuked.
Daniel felt a gust of warm air flutter through the hair at his temple as Jack sighed deeply. He couldn't move to tell them he was still awake, weariness flaking his formerly adrenaline-packed energy. The medication Doctor Fraiser had administered seemed to be deadening the pain along with his wakefulness, and for that he was grateful. Cowardly though it was for himself, he had no desire to endure such immense torment and, more so, because he knew his friends would suffer right along with him. And that was a far worse punishment than anything he'd have to personally undergo. He hoped the doctor could numb him completely. He hoped death would come swiftly. He...wait, what? If he'd told Jack he wasn't giving up and somehow knew as much, how was death victory?
"He's pretty well gone, thank goodness," Doctor Fraiser whispered, sounding strange from the fuzziness of his brain. No, more than that. Shaky. Uncertain. Confused. All three sensations were apparently contagious. Daniel again tried to rouse, and failed. "If you'll all wait out of the way, I can commence with the battery of tests I need to give him."
Tests? She didn't think she could really save him from this. She couldn't. Grunting, Daniel inwardly cheered when he heard the faint sound breach the land of the wakeful. A soft touch to his cheek told him he'd been heard. It remained there, a solid emblem of solace but didn't push for him to wake up. Of course not, the drugs were meant to induce sleep, and the very idea of rousing was moot; he couldn't imagine his eyelids opening. He was wrapped in blessed numbness.
"Sir, I'm sorry. Wh-when he asked me about the h-healing device, I just..."
"You don't have to explain, Carter. I remember what happened...before."
"As do we all."
They all spoke as though they had the hiccups, Sam's stutters the most noticeable and distressing. What did they remember? Daniel wracked his weakening mind, searching for the memory they all shared. All but him. There was nothing, only scattered recollections of shattering glass, thunder of blood rushing in his ears, searing heat in his right hand and shitshitshit. He didn't want to die without saying goodbye. Renewed energy flowed into him, and he turned his face into the warm hand still cupping his cheek. The motion caused an exaggerated pause in conversation.
"Shhh, Daniel, it's okay. Just sleep," Sam called to him, and from the trajectory of her voice he knew she was not the one touching him. "Rest."
Despite the sense that something was so very wrong with all of this, Daniel found he could do nothing but obey. He felt a gentle swipe of a thumb across his cheekbone as he wilted into the thin mattress.
"His skin is cold."
"He's n-naked, sir."
"No, I mean from more than that."
"As I said, Colonel, he's in shock. We need to get him warmed up and out of that particular danger before I can really do anything."
"Well, cover him up more."
The body heat he hadn't even altogether realized was emanating into him disappeared, replaced by chill air. Cold. Shock. Naked. Warm blanket tucking all around him, underneath his arms and legs.
"Oh, God, is this real? Is he really here?"
"I think...I think it is, Carter."
"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said so softly Daniel barely heard him. He waited for his friend to expound, to deliver a more substantial message, because Teal'c never spoke without purpose. Nothing more came, and he was stunned.
"I'm sorry, I'm going to have to ask you all to step back now. D-daniel's not going anywhere this time," Doctor Fraiser cut in, not as shakily as earlier.
"Not going anywhere," Jack repeated, voice still so clear even through the static heralding unconsciousness. Daniel faded, but instead of going to the dark, everything was brilliant. "Staying with us."
Not real brilliance, remembered. He...
//"Glow me."//
Irresistible bliss. Daniel somehow knew he had had it, though he could not remember. He had vague feelings of warmth, contentment, security. There were none of those here. Darkness oppressed light, cold and harshness reigned and, with a mental sob, he lapsed into artificial sleep.

Folding her arms around her chest, Sam tucked both of her hands close to her body. The thumb and forefinger of her right instantly sought the skin under her arm and pinched harshly. She didn't have much to squeeze but her brother had taught her early on in life that the tiniest of pinches hurt far more than big ones, so she snagged a millimeter of skin and dug her fingernails in. Reveling in the reality of the self-inflicted pain, she bit her lip to prevent any hint of her physical and emotional distress from escaping. Not that stoicism was really still attainable - the hot tears kept trickling down her face and belied any inkling of emotional control.
She should be overjoyed at Daniel's return, but the tears were only partially ones of happiness. Deep within the turmoil, she knew there was a pocket of unadulterated elation; she wished she could grab it and bring it to the surface, where it should be. But this was too much. Her head throbbed and her heart ached with a mix of emotions that should never be combined, like a science experiment gone incredibly wrong. Explosion. Panic and chaos. Swiftly regaining enough professionalism to function, Janet reasserted her medical authority and summarily dismissed General Hammond, the colonel, Teal'c and herself. Sam heard the order but she couldn't budge, couldn't breathe. Couldn't believe.
"Come on, Jack, we need to get out of Doctor Fraiser's way," General Hammond gruffly said, and his use of her CO's first name jump started her lungs.
She jerked her arms back down to her sides, immediately missing the sharpness of the pinch while still holding on to the lingering tenderness. Fixing her eyes on Colonel O'Neill, Sam mutely watched the general briefly touch the man's right elbow as a means of silent guidance. The colonel stumbled back, his arms remaining extended though his hands no longer touched Daniel. The three men who were spectators with her withdrew but, as they did so, her feet carried her forward until she stood in the exact spot her CO had just abandoned. She raised her left hand, placing it on her motionless friend's covered arm.
"Sam?" Janet murmured, across from her at Daniel's other side. "Are you okay?"
Wiping the cooling tears from her cheeks, Sam insincerely nodded. She rubbed her damp fingers along her thigh to dry them, kept rubbing until they were warmed by the friction. Nothing like okay. Squeezing Daniel's arm, she couldn't bring herself to release him.
"Carter?" The colonel sounded...different than he had since Daniel...since he di... God, she couldn't even think, was afraid if she did, then this gift would somehow be taken from them. "Hey, Carter."
Sounds of Daniel in extreme agony invaded her ears, visions of him ineffectually trying to escape the phantoms his mind had created filled her eyes. That wasn't right, that wasn't how it had been, not until she'd stupidly tried to help. Had it? Sam tightened her grip even more, the fabric of the blanket Janet had wrapped Daniel with coarse under her hand. Solid. Real. This was happening, it was. Her legs shook. No, she trembled like Jello, every inch of her. Shock.
"Janet, what do you think is going on?" she burst, unlocking her eyes from her own hand and the person it held. Staring at Janet so the other woman couldn't evade her, Sam belatedly realized how her voice had sounded as though she were speaking from deep within a cave.
"Please, Sam. Give me time." Janet's brown eyes were shimmering with their own tears of shock and as much confusion as she herself felt.
Time. Janet was right, speculation was pointless at the moment. But Sam needed to hear it, needed to know. Didn't have the chance as Teal'c wrapped an arm around her shoulders and forcibly steered her away. Her hand was reluctant to relinquish its hold, frantically clutching at the blanket, as if it had will of its own, until it became obvious the battle was untenable and could not be won. Unable to look away, her neck turned to a painful degree and she gazed unblinkingly at Daniel. So still and peaceful now, thankfully. But if she didn't know who was lying on that gurney, she would never have recognized him.
Over the course of the last six months, she had frequently stolen moments in Daniel's old office, when no one was looking and when whichever terrible excuse for a replacement had not been present. There, she had touched his things and tried to remember his face. Her ultimate betrayal of a dear friend had come too quickly when, after only two months, she found she couldn't piece him together in her mind. She'd had to run to her own lab and dig out every picture she had stashed, studying each one carefully. The pictures had kept her sane when the ache of Daniel's loss declared itself over and over again. Those bouts, though, had started to come more sporadically, and Sam couldn't remember the last time she'd sought refuge in her friend's likeness. She didn't need to view the photographs any longer, their images were indelibly imprinted in her memory. Daniel was imprinted there, where she would never forget him again. She couldn't deny Daniel was Daniel
But he looked nothing at all like her remembered images from the pictures.
Even lying so motionless, there seemed to be a certain vitality pouring from him. Life. A camera could never capture such a thing, even when the photograph was taken at the precise moment a person let his or her guard down, revealing the true self. No, there was always something flat and dull about pictures; they were not good representations of people at all. She didn't know how Daniel had come to be here, didn't even really care. She just knew she would remember every misplaced hair on his head and every smudge of dirt hiding his face. Taking a mental photograph, she committed everything to memory as she finally turned away. She would remember.
"Are you okay, Major Carter?" General Hammond tenderly asked her as Teal'c pulled her to the infirmary doorway, where he stood with the colonel.
She wished people would stop asking her that. And she was not even close to okay, but getting there. Sam nodded and began the tough process of regaining control, slightly embarrassed by her flighty behavior. One peek at her companions told her the embarrassment wasn't warranted, as all of them bore continued slack expressions of shock. Their world had just been punted across the universe as if it were a football. She shrugged from the arm around her back and turned around to watch Janet at work. On Daniel. Daniel. No matter how many times she silently repeated his name, she wouldn't tire of it. Her friend was back.
"Nobody can know about this, sir," Colonel O'Neill hollowly whispered. The unexpected speech made her glance over to her CO, and she found his face suddenly awash with determination. Hope. Soul. Sam smiled, though not because of his verbal message as he repeated, "No one."
"I think keeping this a secret for long is going to be quite a challenge, Colonel."
NID. Sam lost her smile and stiffened her back until there was a ball of tension in the small of it.
"He obviously doesn't know where the hell he's been for six months, or how he just happened to return to the land of the living, sir. No good would come from NID hearing about this. You heard him, he was reliving..."
"I know, son. I have no intention of letting Doctor Jackson out of this mountain," the general assured.
"He wasn't," Sam bleated. The general's words weren't reassuring, and the sentence her CO had left dangling was alarming. This wasn't how it had been for Daniel before.
"Major Carter, to what are you referring?"
She blinked and rubbed her eyes, interrupting the scene playing out at Daniel's bedside for a moment. When she removed her hands, she once again saw her friend being attended to by medical personnel, a bundle of gray amid so much white. He wasn't moving, as still as he'd been when her father had begun healing him. Not writhing and moaning in pain, not like what he'd just been doing.
"Just because he wasn't showing it very much doesn't mean he wasn't in excruciating agony," the colonel indirectly answered both Teal'c's question and her unasked one, his voice oddly flat. She was a fool for allowing herself the fantasy that Daniel hadn't suffered too much. How could he not have suffered while his insides had melted? God. "You knew it then, and you know it now."
"I know...God, I know," she admitted.
Of course she had known the terrible effects of radiation poisoning but she'd taken the staid manner her friend had faced it with and lived off it in the months since his departure. Seeing the truth laid bare now, even if a replay of past events, chilled her bone deep. If Daniel had shown then how much he had been hurting, she never would have made it. Sam wondered if her friend had consciously hid most of his pain for all of them, or if he had done it just because he was Daniel. Likely a combination of both, she thought. It really didn't matter.
Absurdly, Sam needed reconfirmation she wasn't dreaming. She stared over to the unconscious man just to make sure his skin wasn't blistered and ugly with burns. There were none and someone had finally sponged most of the grime from Daniel's face, leaving it pristinely white. Porcelain pale, almost glowingly so. She lurched backward a few steps, bumping into the colonel before her shoulders smacked into the doorframe. Swallowing past a huge lump, she forced the idea away before it formed completely and came true. Daniel was not going to ascend, leave them. Another ridiculous reaction. She shook her head as her CO clasped her right forearm to provide stability and he kept his touch brief, dropping his hand after a mere second.
"Do you think he'll be...like that when he wakes up again?" Please, no.
"God, I hope not," the colonel murmured, then noticeably stiffened.
She shot him a glance, just catching a look of absolute misery vacating his face in favor of the now customary shock. So far, none of them were doing a bang-up job of getting a hold of themselves. Straightening up, Sam broke from her reliance on the wall to keep her from falling over and was determined to finally accomplish at least external control. She succeeded only until her eyes roamed over to Daniel as if he were magnetically charged, and she saw him in the throes of another weak seizure of pain. Stumbling forward two steps, she was halted when Teal'c inserted himself directly in her path.
"We must wait here, Major Carter," he gently reprimanded.
Blinking, Sam peered around her large friend and was startled to realize Daniel was not moving at all. What she had just seen had been a figment of her tortured imagination. She snuffed out a shaky breath and slumped her shoulders, bringing a hand up to dishevel it through her hair.
"Perhaps we should move to the briefing room until Doctor Fraiser can complete her examination," General Hammond suggested. "We have a number of things to discuss."
This time, the particular idea to leave was not abhorrent to her. As long as she remained here, she just knew she would be haunted by continual imaginings and wouldn't be able to move past them. She looked up into Teal'c's face, saw a preoccupied expression that was atypical for him. Cringing, she had to avert her eyes. And she knew when Daniel woke up again, he would need them to be strong. To be themselves in a world that would probably consist only of confusion for him.
The colonel immediately spun around and walked out of the room as if it had only suddenly become an uncomfortable place to be. Trailing after him, General Hammond's steps were stiltedly jerky, apparently reluctant to obey his own command. Sam took one last look over to Daniel, then silently followed them. Teal'c was at her heels, though he walked much slower than usual.
Journeying to the briefing room was a bizarre experience - everyone in the mountain had clearly heard the news and nearly leaped out of their way, parting to the left and right. She felt as though she were part of a funeral procession, cars driving slowly down with lights on in broad daylight, with other vehicles stuttering around as if they didn't know what to do other than get out of the way. Like death was contagious. It wasn't an apt comparison, she realized, because they weren't in mourning. Anymore. She wanted to smile at them all, to prove her happiness. Couldn't make the muscles of her face cooperate, so she ducked her head to avoid the curious stares instead.
The general was right; there was no way they were going to keep Daniel's return quiet for long. Buzzing whispers started up as soon as their silent convoy passed, and Sam envisioned the SGC rumor mill running with full force. She'd be surprised if the news hadn't already escaped the mountain. Yanking her roughly from her stupor, the thoughts agitated in her head. She wasn't actually afraid NID might try to snag Daniel for their own 'research', because they had never made an attempt to do so with her even though she possessed knowledge of a Tok'ra. Being kidnapped by a private civilian group, on the other hand...she dismissed that fiasco altogether.
Aside from several lengthy interviews, they hadn't bothered with Jonas either. Granted, the Kelownans had been significantly behind Earth as far as technology went, and Quinn had only been a political advisor with limited knowledge. She absently remembered she had heard he was apparently excelling in his role as research assistant at the Groom Lake facility. She had tried to be nice to the man, the longest lasting of the replacements, but she had been pleasantly surprised when he had stepped down from his crusade to 'finish Daniel's quest'. No one could do that but Daniel himself, and now he'd have that chance. Glancing back at Teal'c to see if her semi-negative thoughts were being transmitted to her astute friend and froze when something struck her full on, like a blow to the face.
The dark side of the military had tried to make Teal'c a laboratory rat. Twice. Chewing her lip, she tried to shake the feeling that all of her previous justifications meant absolutely nothing. It didn't work, as she remembered her house being bugged, monitored, eventually surrounded in order to entrap her and catch Orlin. Who had the same powers Daniel had had for six months.
Oh, God, she was going to be sick.
Finding the wall, she once again used the steady support it freely offered. She didn't have it for long, Teal'c touching her shoulder gently and nodding his head toward something. They'd arrived at the briefing room. Though her head and stomach swirled, Sam managed to shove herself forward and into the brightly lit room. She didn't even remember taking the elevator down here. Shakily, she sank down into the first chair she stumbled upon and stared at the woodgrained table.
"It's probably a bit early to ask this question, but it's likely the foremost on all of your minds. What does Doctor Jackson's return mean to SG1?"
Oh, shit. She hadn't even given that a thought, too busy playing conspiracy theory. The happiness at the prospect the general's question provoked in her duked it out with a different, niggling yet evasive emotion.
"What do you mean, what does it mean? What kind of question is that, anyway? As soon as he's able, I want Daniel back on the team, General," the colonel incredulously spouted back. It was most he had spoken since Daniel had shown up on the 'gateroom ramp, Sam absently noted, and his words were precisely what she would have predicted him to say.
"That's what we all want, Jack," General Hammond soothed. "Of course it is. But you do realize that it's far too early to determine whether or not that's even a possibility. We have no idea Daniel's condition, whether or not he'll be able to return to duty."
Daniel was fine, Danielwasfine. Sam didn't like what the general was intimating at all, and definitely didn't like that he'd just used both her CO and Daniel's first name. Daniel was fine and he was going to come back onto SG1.
"Physically or mentally."
Oh, God. For all they knew, Daniel was trapped in a horrific mental time loop, reliving the deterioration of his body over and over and over again. Jesus. Jesus. Sam felt herself quivering with dismay at the idea. Tried not to think about it. Wasn't happening. Wasn't going to. No, it was only a matter of Daniel seemingly having no knowledge of his whereabouts for the last six months. Other than not remembering what it was like to be a being on a higher level, which ruled out NID interest, her friend was fine. He was, she avowed to herself
Why didn't that offer any comfort at all?

The spiritual level Daniel Jackson must have reached to ascend to the ranks of those beings who assisted Jaffa along a similar journey should have been enough to inspire awe and assuage the pain of losing a good friend. It was what he aspired to achieve, and yet every day since his friend had accomplished the feat was one filled with hollowness. Teal'c had not been able to come to terms or alleviate with his selfish reaction to Daniel Jackson's fortune. Now it was too late to accept and, worse, he could not bring himself to grieve for his friend's fall. He swallowed.
"Physically or mentally," General Hammond finished, unnecessarily clarifying.
Teal'c watched the emotions traipse across O'Neill's face at General Hammond's implication and wished he could afford himself the luxury of mirroring those expressions. Internally, he was as distraught as his human companions but knew very little of it showed on the surface. It did not matter if he could not exhibit his frustration and worry as they could; they understood.
"Is not such speculation premature, General Hammond?" he inquired, repeating what they had all already said multiple times. Repeating what they all needed to believe.
While he knew it did no one any good to allow imagination full reign until Doctor Fraiser issued a prognosis, Teal'c could not prevent the persistent images of Daniel Jackson from taking primacy in his mind. For a disturbing length of time, he had felt as though he could not budge, could not breathe. Could not believe. Hoping he would be able regain structure of thought once away from the distracting view of his unconscious friend, he had agreed with General Hammond's suggestion to depart the infirmary and was perturbed that it appeared that strategy was ineffective. The thought Daniel Jackson might not rejoin SG1 was unfathomable, and it had stalked him here.
"I suppose it is, Teal'c," General Hammond agreed, pausing to stare down at his clasped hands. "But you saw him in there. We all did."
"Okay, we saw him. Now let's put ourselves in his...shoes. I really think a little disorientation is to be expected, don't you? I mean, he went from being a glowy blob to being flesh and blood again and we have no idea how. It's damn scary enough from an outside perspective - imagine what he's going through!" O'Neill said, pitch rising with agitation. "But this is Daniel. He'll be fine."
"I wish it were guaranteed to be that simple, Colonel."
Turning to the room's entrance, Teal'c watched Doctor Fraiser tentatively step over the threshold. Her face was cast downward, a tactic he immediately recognized as one to avoid more than just the stares of those already inhabiting the briefing room. It was also to disguise the doubt she herself felt regarding Daniel Jackson's diagnosis and continued health. His interpretation of her body language did nothing to allay his concerns and he straightened in his chair, looking to his companions to gauge their reactions. They had reached the same conclusion, their expressions still a fusion of pain and desperate hope. In O'Neill's features, Teal'c believed there was something more. A lingering sadness, perhaps, but for what he did not know.
The room was thunderous with silence for one full minute as they waited for Doctor Fraiser to continue. Inching over to the unoccupied chair at his right, the small woman clutched a manila folder to her chest as she situated herself. Nervously, she fidgeted around, first placing the folder down, then picking it up again, and finally dropping it when General Hammond cleared his throat. The limits of his patience had almost been reached, and Teal'c wished she would speak. She bent back one corner of the file and flicked it.
"Janet," Major Carter prompted at last, her voice as thick with tension as the atmosphere in the room.
The effect on Doctor Fraiser was immediate, her head snapping up and her eyes moving away from the devout attention they had had on the folder to lock onto Major Carter. As customary during times of high stress, his symbiote fluttered around in its pouch as they all waited for the desired information to be imparted. His own earlier assertion that speculation was futile abandoned him as scenario after horrific scenario ran through his thoughts. The worst one - the one in which Daniel Jackson's return to corporeal form was accompanied by a resurgence of the radiation that had been the cause for the ascension - had only partially run its course before the doctor finally began speaking.
"Preliminary tests show that, other than shock, dehydration, slight contusions and cuts primarily on his feet, Daniel is actually physically fine. He is slightly undernourished, which makes me wonder how long he's been in this state. It's possible his...descension occurred as long as a week ago."
"Wait a minute. A week? No way would it take him that long to figure out how to get here, and I doubt he'd have taken the route he did voluntarily. "
"Colonel, please. I'm not making any concrete assertions, simply guessing based on his condition. The process of ascension and descension are completely foreign to me, so what I'm seeing could simply be side effects of both."
"Wha..." Major Carter began, clearing her throat before the completion of the first word. Teal'c automatically surveyed the room to determine if there was a pitcher of water at the ready, as per usual. There was not. "What about brain function? He seemed so out of it, confused, as if he were trapped in the past. Back when he - "
"There were no indications of trauma to the head and I sent his MRI to be reviewed by a neurologist to make sure I didn't miss anything. And before you ask, yes, this is standard operating procedure," Doctor Fraiser interrupted before Major Carter could give voice to what none of them wanted to hear out loud. Irrationally, Teal'c thought perhaps he even believed that it could not possibly be true if it remained implicit. "I can't really give you a reason for Daniel exhibiting a level of pain and distress comparable to that which he suffered under the effects of the radiation just yet."
Suddenly, then, the unspeakable became a bell tolling in his head, though the menacing sound was not for him. It was for Daniel Jackson. Teal'c knew he was being a fool, projecting illogical ideas to the forefront of his mind, where they rooted and came to life. It had been easy to pretend Daniel Jackson had merely been overcome by the shock of his return to human form, and that his references to the Kelownan naquadriah reactor a happenstance of unusual circumstances. He was not the only one who had employed such evasion tactics, one look at General Hammond said as much, and he could not forget Major Carter's open denial. A loud slapping noise jarred him and he turned to see O'Neill with his right palm flat on the table before him, face slightly flushed.
"Maybe Oma Desala removed parts of his memory. Maybe coming back to a solid being is such a terrible experience his mind doesn't want to remember. Maybe none of this matters, because Daniel is here now and when he wakes up he'll be just fine!"
O'Neill, it would seem, was experiencing a somewhat different form of denial. Ringing throughout the room, his friend's words represented a man who clung desperately to the idea that all would be magically healed. He knew this was rarely the case in life. He also knew O'Neill was not injudicious and did not readily succumb to idealistic beliefs such as those he espoused regarding Daniel Jackson. Intently studying the harried man, Teal'c briefly witnessed a disturbing darkness cloud passionate brown eyes. Haunted eyes, something so deeply imbedded within it looked as though it were threatening to rupture completely free.
The room remained silent for a moment while everyone stared at O'Neill as he lifted his hand and began rubbing the palm with the thumb of his left. With erratic motions, the colonel shoved his chair away from the table and rose to his feet. Tensing, Teal'c prepared himself to restrain his friend if it became necessary. No, it was not anger that possessed his friend, not violence. He watched O'Neill stalk toward the window that overlooked the embarkation room, where he stood with his legs locked and far apart. In the reflection, he saw how tightly O'Neill had his arms crossed over his chest. Unsettled by an instant remembrance of Daniel Jackson standing precisely so, he blinked several times but did not remove his gaze.
"That's just it, sir," Doctor Fraiser forged ahead and broke the awkward hush with a gentle whisper. "Until Daniel wakes up, there is very little any of us can do but attend to his physical needs. In and of itself, I know this information isn't what you wanted but at least there is nothing negative to report."
"Can we go see him?" O'Neill asked, sounding very much as though the request was one of need, not want. A fine line customarily separated the two but now Teal'c felt as though there were a vast space.
"Colonel, we aren't finished discussing the probable ramifications of all this," General Hammond negated.
Teal'c knew the remonstration would be unsuccessful before the SGC commander had concluded it and he was correct.
"The doc just said she still doesn't know anything! What is the point of playing the what-if game? Going through the same crap over and over is a waste of time. Either Daniel remembers it all or he doesn't; either NID will want him or they won't. One damn thing is for certain - sooner or later, and I don't care which, Daniel will be back on SG1."
Finality resonated in O'Neill's declaration. The last word had unmistakably been spoken and all in the room must have sensed it as strongly as he. Still with his back to them, O'Neill's mirrored face was vivid with tension, as if he were angry rather than merely agitated. Teal'c frowned slightly and wondered the focus on which that perceived anger was directed. Logically, he could conclude it was General Hammond's persistence of duty. He did not believe logic was his ally in this case. Briefly turning back to measure Major Carter's reaction, he saw her face was as pale as ever, the tears in her eyes threatening to spill once again. He reached out and blanketed her clasped hands with one of his own. Automatically, she loosened her knotted fingers and threaded them through his. A surge of comfortable warmth rose within and he squeezed her hands.
"Will we be permitted admittance to the infirmary, Doctor Fraiser?" he inquired, reasserting O'Neill's initial request.
"I don't know why not," Doctor Fraiser sighed, index finger still flicking the corner of Daniel Jackson's medical folder. The tiny rustling sound her action produced filled the briefing room and made him want to stop up his ears. "General Hammond?"
"Very well."
O'Neill broke from his lock-legged stance upon General Hammond's resigned assent and departed the room without uttering another word. Raising an eyebrow, Teal'c solemnly watched until the other man disappeared from view before he withdrew his hand from Major Carter with one final bit of pressure and stood. She slowly followed suit, exhaling a long, shaky breath and absently rubbing her right hand along the outside of her thigh as if her muscles needed the massage or her fingers were unclean. Taking a step away from the table, Major Carter stumbled slightly but quickly righted herself. The commonplace action reminded him of how the events of the past hour had made them all stagger backward emotionally and mentally if not physically. He did not know whether or not all of them would catch themselves before falling. If Daniel Jackson...
So much depended on their formerly absent teammate.
The weight of Daniel Jackson's burden was such that he felt it upon his own shoulders. It was cumbersome and profound with such magnitude he only wished him bearing some of it would be of assistance to his friend. Frivolous thought. The burden was not one to be shared, nor was it one in which his friend would have an opportunity to overcome. It either was or it was not. Snapping his head up when he realized he had been staring at the conference table's top, Teal'c waited for Major Carter to begin the journey back to the infirmary. He moved only after she had done so, following her into the corridor. General Hammond and Doctor Fraiser remained seated.
"Teal'c," Major Carter said as he reached her side.
Expecting her to make additional statements, he said nothing. She did not speak further, simply looked up at him noiselessly. Words were not necessary for either of them. They continued on to the elevator in quietude, and in such silence, Teal'c realized their brief departure from the infirmary had merely been General Hammond's attempt to keep from faltering. Glancing back in the direction of the briefing room, he was disappointed when there was no sign the general was going to join them. It would only take time, he reminded himself, and of that there was ample. The floor beneath his feet suddenly seemed more stable and he calmly stepped onto the waiting elevator cab.
It took less time to reach the infirmary than it had the reverse. Perhaps it only appeared that way due to his strong desire to see Daniel Jackson awaken. Whatever the cause, Teal'c was glad when he and Major Carter stepped through the infirmary door and out of sight of inquisitive stares and uncomfortable smiles of the personnel they encountered along the way. Normally, such things would not affect him but in this instance, he found the charged atmosphere of the SGC intolerable. All of his agitation for the innocent curiosity dissipated as soon as he located bed in which his friend lay. Unfortunately, it was immediately replaced with another variation of disturbance. The floor was no longer solid.
Naming precisely what it was about the scene that was disquieting was difficult. Impossible. Nonetheless, Teal'c sensed the wrongness from a significant distance. Something almost tangible hovered over the man on the bed and the man standing next to it, a cloud with indeterminate meaning. Of all of them, he believed O'Neill to be the one who should be most pleased by Daniel Jackson's appearance. He had been the last to see and speak with the archaeologist, an encounter O'Neill of which had never shared details. Teal'c wondered again what had taken place on that higher plane just prior to Daniel Jackson's ascension, what might have caused this strange tension.
Glancing over at Major Carter to determine if she also felt the confliction, Teal'c saw nothing on her face to indicate this was so. He shook the feelings aside and chose to focus instead on the positive aspects of his friend's return. Ultimately, the only issue of consequence was that Daniel Jackson was once again among them; any ancillary concerns would be dealt with accordingly and in such time as they may arise. He could hope none would present themselves but also knew better than to expect the next few days, possibly even weeks, to be without a certain amount of strife. Clenching his jaw, he realized he had ceased walking midway to the bedside, as if his feet had decided for his head that he did not truly wish to join the vigil. He began walking again, reaching the foot of the bed, where he stood silently. O'Neill did not acknowledge his or Major Carter's presences.
Major Carter cleared her throat, walked gingerly to Daniel Jackson's right side and reached out to enfold a limp hand in her own in a mirror of the embrace in which he had employed upon her in the briefing room. His eyes lit upon the entwined fingers, five of them healthy and pink while the other five were too white and thin. He could not avert his eyes. Coughing lowly, O'Neill shuffled around and away from the bed, momentarily distracting him but it was not enough to wholly break his attention. From the periphery of his vision, Teal'c witnessed O'Neill roll a chair back to the position upon which he had stood.
Randomly, he thought it would not be wise to obstruct the pathway of the medical personnel and almost vocalized the same. He then removed his gaze from the bed and once again encountered the strange expression on O'Neill's face and refrained from speaking. It appeared to Teal'c as if his friend needed more than the rest of them from Daniel Jackson's return. Something deeply inexplicable to him but very real.
The thought frightened him more than anything had in a great number of years, and he had seen and participated in terrible acts. If O'Neill did not receive what he so clearly required, the reunion of SG1 as it once had been would not take place, even with Daniel Jackson present again. Alarmed, Teal'c leaned his thighs against the unforgiving metal bed frame, the shock of cold from the wide slats burning like ice through his pants and into his skin. He slowly blinked once, as if doing so would change the image before his eyes. It did not. Turning away from O'Neill, he once again viewed Major Carter's clasped hand, and then let his eyes rest on Daniel Jackson. His kalesh ached with the need for the figure on the bed to awaken, and to be as he once was. O'Neill coughed again, and he suddenly knew a fraction of what the other man was feeling.
They would wait together, and they would be whole again, for any other outcome was unimaginable.

He didn't really know why he had been so adamant to get SG1 out of the infirmary. In fact, the entire scenario had been completely out of character for him and he had had to force himself to issue the commands. Now, as he watched the last member of his premier team march out of the briefing room, George felt something within him sag. Mirroring his internal state, he slumped forward slightly, sliding his elbows further onto the table as soon as he was certain Teal'c had fully departed. He inhaled deeply and heaved a great, tired sigh. The room swam at the influx of too much oxygen.
"General, are you okay?"
Not alone. He'd forgotten Janet had not left with the others. Snapping to attention, George fought the sudden vertigo and made an attempt to bluff his way through, pull himself together. He looked over to his CMO and discovered right away such an act would be a complete waste of time. As big of a waste of time as his ploy to force SG1 into thinking about something...anything other than the young man lying in a bed two floors away and certainly as big as going over what Jack had called what-if scenarios. He was a fool for thinking his actions were possible, when he himself could think of nothing but Daniel Jackson. The images stuck in his mind's eye, the same pictures of Daniel lying so still and quiet. It had been so long, too long, and he was incredibly worried. No matter how practical he must make himself appear, all he really wanted to do was know for certain Daniel was truly okay. Janet's word meant a lot but some things merited witnessing for himself.
"Yes, I'm fine, Doctor," he lied anyway. Scowling at him, Janet shook her head slightly in refutation. He amended, "I'm as fine as I can be under the circumstances."
And in reality he was, he told himself. The strange, turbulent events of the afternoon had impacted...were still impacting greatly, but all he had to do was remember the faces of the three people who had just left the room to put his own reaction into perspective. Daniel Jackson was like a son to him - as the rest of SG1 were also family - and yet the closeness he had felt to the archaeologist for so many years was nothing in comparison to the bond that existed between that group. For him, it had been an internal closeness, rarely expressed openly. The same could be said for SG1; they were hardly overtly demonstrative. There was, however, always undefined tangibility to their relationships.
During Daniel's absence and the subsequent search for a simply adequate fourth member, George had come to understand just how matched his lead team had been. Was. They had been suited, complemented each other's strengths and bolstered each other's weaknesses. They had clicked like no other team had, and without one key factor in the equation, he had feared their demise had been eminent; it was not the archaeologist's loss specifically that had rocked SG1 - he wasn't necessarily the glue. George believed that if any of them had left, the resulting decay would have occurred. He had actually intended on speaking with Jack after the debriefing in an attempt to delve into the colonel's true wishes. It had been a conversation he had not looked forward to, because he knew.
Deep down, George knew Jack had been considering retirement again. And he wouldn't have stopped that course of action.
"Is there a reason you're not returning to the infirmary, Doctor Fraiser?"
Yanking himself out of his mental wandering, he squirmed in his chair for a moment and quickly decided it would never offer the comfort he wanted. He rose and walked to the big picture window. Big Picture. Struck by a flash of Janet as she'd first told them how Daniel was, her eyes furtively avoiding direct contact with any of them. With dread, he spun back toward the doctor.
"What haven't you told me?"
Janet gasped, jerking slightly and widening her eyes. Lifting a hand from her lap, she placed it on the middle of her chest as if she were a B-movie actress expressing dismay. Narrowing his eyes at her, George tried to read more than the stunned shock that lingered in her expression and regretted the manner in which he had addressed his question. He ran a surprisingly clammy palm over his crown and stiffly walked back to the table, drawing alongside his former seat but not sitting in it.
"I'm not withholding anything, sir," Janet said, then guiltily shifted her eyes down to the medical file on the table, as if she was afraid she'd reveal something in her features. Just like she had don earlier. He tightened his hands into fists.
"Lying to a major general will get you in a whole mess of trouble, Doctor," he calmly reminded, while his insides turned to mush and collected in a gigantic mass where his stomach used to be.
Countless terrible things circulated through his brain, not the least of which were the recurring images of Daniel dying an agonizingly slow death via radiation poisoning. No. Not again. Janet had said he was physically fine. There was no way on God's green Earth she would have misspoken that information. Nothing physically...oh, God. Had something happened during the examination to make her think there was a mental or emotional issue? Something significant enough she hadn't wanted to mention it in front of Jack, Sam or Teal'c?
"It's actually good news, in a way, and there is a reason I chose not to speak to it with SG1 present," Janet vaguely explained, finally switching her gaze to him. Awkwardly flinching apologetically, she shrugged her shoulders. "Do you remember several years back, when Nem gave false memories to Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter and Teal'c?"
How could he forget? He shuddered at the mere recollection, instantly getting an uncomfortable feeling about where Janet might be going with the comparison. Nodding, George waved a hand for her to continue.
"I have sent Daniel's MRI to a neurologist but not before I discovered it revealed an almost undetectable anomaly, which I'm not sure I would have noticed on my first look if he hadn't exhibited signs his memory might be faulty. In any case, the hippocampus, part of the brain that deals with memory, has a very slight shaded spot on it."
Pausing, Janet swallowed a couple of times and gave him a look he knew was meant to relay she'd prefer he simply fill in the blanks on his own. He didn't say a word. She continued, "Almost the same as the ones the rest of SG1 had thanks to Nem's device. Of course, I can't tell if any memories have been planted, but I am willing to offer conjecture that is not likely. In the short amount of time Daniel was conscious, he didn't give any indication of thinking anything other than he'd just recently returned from Kelowna."
"And was feeling the effects of radiation poisoning," George grimly finished, unable to stop himself from murmuring it.
As much as he knew he should take comfort that Daniel's lack of memory from his time as...he didn't know what term to give it...as an Ascended would prevent NID interest, he found none. In relief's place was complete bafflement that a race he had thought to be superior would allow something so terrible to happen. To allow someone to suffer when it was preventable was a repugnant idea, something he did not think he could do even to an enemy. Rising like a tidal wave, anger threatened to demolish the remaining bits of control he had. He gripped the soft back of the chair with his right hand, contemplating picking it up and throwing it at the window. His facial muscles worked overtime to maintain the outward appearance of calm, which he suspected wasn't working.
"Yes, sir," Janet whispered. "To Daniel, it probably seems only a few hours and he was reaching the most excruciating part of deterioration."
"Dear God, why would they do that?"
"I don't know, General."
George hadn't realized he'd spoken, and jolted back a step. Incredulously, he glanced across to Janet's pale face, her brown eyes abnormally huge and dark. Holding eye contact, he straightened his slumping shoulders, which seemed to bear a very real physical burden. He couldn't breathe, couldn't budge. Couldn't believe the cruelty Daniel had apparently been dealt. It sickened him to think the archaeologist might have been purposely left with only bad, horrendous...
"Is this why you didn't want to share this front of the others? Because when Daniel wakes up, he'll be right back there again?"
"God, no! Sir, I...it'll be a while before he revives again, and I fully intend to prepare them for the possibility but, to be honest, I didn't want to remind them of the other instance in which we all thought Daniel to be gone forever."
Oh, of course.
"And I'm not entirely certain how Colonel O'Neill would have reacted."
"What do you mean?" His head still spun from everythingeverything.
"I wish I could tell you in clear terms, sir, but all I have is a strong feeling the colonel needs something more from Daniel than just his being okay."
God, that sounded surreal and entirely incomprehensible. "What more could he possibly need? Provided the Russians don't object, Colonel O'Neill will get what he wants - Doctor Jackson back on SG1. In due time."
"That's a question I have no way of answering. The colonel has been...unusually reserved since Daniel left, and I've been a bit worried about him for a while now. This is clearly hitting him very hard."
He wasn't obtuse. He had felt a definite conflict within Jack during the entire attempted debriefing. Where the other man should have been happy to have Daniel back, there had been a certain amount of sadness or maybe even dread in Jack's countenance. But he didn't want to think of the cause; the paths that lead down from either of those were grim. Jack had been through so much lately and everyone had a breaking point.
"And I don't know," Janet wanly said, rubbing small circles on her temples with her thumbs. "I don't even know if we need to worry about a repeat of what happened earlier. Daniel's body has been through a traumatic experience - his mind an even greater one. The brain works in strange ways, ways no one has truly been able to figure out."
Her attempt to dismiss his concern wasn't doing a whole lot except make the gooified remnants of his organs quiver. Though Jack was correct in his assessment that what-iffing was inane, he could not prevent them from forming in his head - both the ones regarding Daniel's situation and the ones about what to do with those possible situations. And, like a Mobius Strip, they just went on and on without end.
"I should get back to work, sir. Are you sure you're going to be fine down here?"
Not in the least but he couldn't let his uncharacteristic vacillation of feelings and deportment get in the way of doing his job. It was the same quandary in which he always found himself when any of his people were in some form of crisis...but he had to admit to himself that this particular development was more emotionally gripping. Vital. Try as he might, George had never been able to feel precisely the same about the members of SG1 as he had the remainder of the teams. He no longer tried to excuse the fact away to himself, though he made every effort not to let his personal partiality externally apparent. For his reputation and theirs, for the rest of the base and for the ever-watchful powers that be.
He shrugged slightly rather than blatantly lying again and telling Janet he was fine. As he expected, the doctor frowned at him and remained in her seat for several seconds. He met and held her stare, willing her to trust he was handling things in his own fashion. He could not sit around in the infirmary until Daniel woke up. Remaining physically sedentary did not mean his mind was not free to roam far and wide. No, he needed to keep busy, work out the best way to keep news of this to a minimum. Answer the multitude of inquiries and phone calls - he could hear his office telephone ringing - he knew would come.
Blinking, Janet finally folded her hand and left him victorious in their poker game. Some victory. He had no idea how it was possible, but he slouched further as the doctor gathered Daniel's file and quietly left him alone. Left him with those troublesome question marks. Worse, George suddenly envisioned SG1 standing guard over the archaeologist and couldn't stop the fretful concern nagging him about Daniel's true state of health and Jack's reactions. He was afraid to know what it was the colonel needed from Daniel. Or possibly needed, he corrected himself. Janet had said she just had a feeling; she could very well be wrong.
His phone rang again, a persistent harpy demanding his attention. He didn't have it to give and wanted to, just for a moment, pretend he wasn't at the SGC. That he didn't have to be the one to make decisions and play politics. Because all he really wanted to do was sit in his chair and...and, what? Think of Daniel. And Jack, Sam and Teal'c. He had them back and it was too remarkable to believe. Letting go of the chair, George aimed himself for the office and the obnoxious phone. He had no intention of answering the damned thing. Unplugging it came to mind.
A fraction of a second later, something else battered down all other thoughts and stopped him mid stride - he had essentially assumed SG1 was whole again, but really had no way of knowing such a thing was true. Using that idea as a security blanket was a foolish, dangerous thing to do and he knew better. He was still stuck in a loop of presuppositions and projected outcomes, and the spin on them had suddenly gone from positive to vastly negative. He could not allow himself to remain there, with his hands figuratively tied behind his back. He'd answer the phone and tell whoever was on the other end to leave him the hell alone for a minute.
Determined, George continued on his journey, consciously forcing the negative possibilities into the farthest corners of his mind. Fluctuating emotions and thoughts were rapidly becoming the norm, simply another obstacle for him to work around. He strode into his office, giving the still-ringing phone a glance as he reached down to pick up the receiver. As he did so, his brain registered something his eyes had taken in on their way down to stare at the strident phone and he abruptly turned away from his task as if powered by some supernatural force. Neglecting the phone, he took a step from his desk, awkwardly squeezing between his large office chair and the cabinet and bookcase behind it.
He'd forgotten he'd done it, tucked it away out of his sight. For months, it had distracted him from doing his job to the best of his abilities, and, so, he'd finally removed it. The tactic had worked all too well but now George had found it again. Shakily raising his hand, he shifted the big, bronzed eagle statuette and ran his fingers around the edges of the object that had captured his attention. The dust upon it was very thick, and he left smudged trails of cleanliness wherever his skin touched. Almost as if it had a mind of its own and was afraid to pick it up, his hand lingered for a long time.
And then, suddenly, it was clutched in one hand while the other furiously swiped away the gray filth that covered it. Revealing that which he should have always kept in the open to cherish, not allow to become a hindrance. A soft ghost of a smile broke out on his face as he looked down on it, remembering the day. Thanksgiving, the year Daniel's wife had died. They had all tried so hard to pull the young man from his depression and Teal'c from his self-inflicted guilt. For the briefest of moments, it had happened and he had fortuitously had his camera ready to capture the moment.
He stared at the photograph, all four members of SG1 laughing or smiling in the foreground, Janet and Cassie slightly shaded in the background. He noticed a strange splotch on one of the paintings on the wall and leaned in to give closer examination to the picture. Stunned, he realized the splotch was his own warped reflection. Smiling wider, George finished dusting the picture off and placed it on his desk. A camera could never truly snare or embody reality, but this particular photograph came extremely close. Eyes still alit on the happy image, he finally snatched up the phone. What once was lost to him was now found - the belief that he would again see his family whole. Negativity had no place for him, only hope.
"General Hammond," he announced, still smiling.

Janet hadn't needed to be a genius to determine the general's slight frown at her lie by omission was one of disapproval. It followed her out of the room, down the hallway...all the way back to the infirmary like that damned beating heart in Poe's story. Part of her honestly believed she had done the right thing in not telling SG1 about someone or something possibly tampering with Daniel's memory. The other part, though, screamed at her for withholding information they critically needed in order to cope with the memory loss she was almost positive would be permanent. While all of them were saddled with six months of life without Daniel Jackson, he likely had no idea. No idea at all how difficult it had been for them to return to business as usual after his exodus.
Chewing her lip, she didn't know how they'd return to business as usual now that he was back. She was still reeling from the unexpectedness of it, had embarrassingly kept touching Daniel's face during the examination just to ensure he was staying solid. Subtle looks shot her way by her staff demonstrated awareness of her unprofessionalism but had been understanding rather than condemning. Unsurprisingly, the first thing she wanted to do upon returning to the infirmary was go to Daniel and once again guarantee to herself that he wasn't a figment of her imagination.
She would have done just that, but for the wall of SG1 surrounding him. Championing his right side and his right hand, Sam leaned heavily on the bed with exhaustion and a substantial aura of an overwhelming combination of worry, relief and happiness. A stab of jealousy ridiculously breached her, which she promptly tamped down because her job was to be doctor first, friend later; begrudging the major for the freedom to be only friend was inappropriate and petty. Janet moved her eyes to Teal'c, standing at the foot of the bed. To a casual observer, it would appear as though he were simply a sentinel standing guard but, even without the benefit of seeing his face, she could tell he was barely able to maintain the strong appearance and saw how he also leaned against the bed for steadiness. Her heart swelled with warmth and concern.
Finally, she looked at Colonel O'Neill, who was slumped in one of her office chairs and the nagging feeling that something was wrong with his reaction bloomed brightly again. She couldn't detect even a glimmer of happiness, only dark brooding, in his countenance and it made her shiver. What caused it was still indefinite to her, though she believed it to be highly personal and had an inkling of an idea; Janet knew if she had been the only one to actually speak with Daniel before he left them, it would have influenced her significantly. It could not have done less for the colonel.
Setting her shoulders level from their rounded position, she approached the gathering quietly. Her first task had to be done right away, before she lost the courage and before SG1 convinced themselves Daniel would wake up and be the man they remembered. He would, in a sense, but in a bigger sense, he would not. Missing a huge portion of time would, provided he could escape the recurring feeling of radiation poisoning, be an obstacle to his recovery. It was the only thing she was positive of. With their help to fill in the blanks of what had happened to them while he was gone would help considerably, but she could not help feeling sad at his loss.
"Janet," Sam greeted her as she pulled up to the bed, standing next to Teal'c. Her friend did not release Daniel's hand or look her way. "How long...before he'll wake up?"
Sam sounded much better; there was only a hint of hesitation in her tone and the stutter had vanished in favor of a slight pause. Relieved by the small confirmation the major was, somehow, coping with the level of emotional stress, Janet relaxed.
"I can't say for sure - "
"Can't say for sure," Colonel O'Neill irately interrupted. Blinking, she noticed both Sam and Teal'c jerked slightly and lost their fixed stares on Daniel, transferring them to the colonel as he continued, "I don't know. It could be. Damnit, Doc, can't we just get a straight answer out of you?"
More calmly than her rubbery legs and jangled nerves indicated, Janet said, "In cases like Daniel's, there isn't much room for straight answers at this stage, sir."
"Right is right, Colonel." She rubbed a hand across her forehead. "What I do know is that Daniel's MRI indicated something has affected his memory, hence his reactions upon waking the first time. I do not know if that will be repeated but I think we should all prepare ourselves for it. I do not know if alternate memories were planted. I do not know why this was done. The do nots may outweigh the dos, I realize this, but there's nothing I can do about that. At the moment, the only thing we can be semi-assured of is that NID won't be sniffing around when they hear of this."
Okay, she hadn't meant to be quite so blunt in relaying that information. Now that it was over with, though, she felt as if a great weight had been lifted. It settled back down again when the col...Jack caught her eyes and she saw such intense wretchedness in them. She couldn't budge, couldn't breathe. Couldn't believe whatever was going on in his head was so powerful he could not break from it to see the small pieces of positive in the situation. Or the big one - that, regardless of how the next few days went, Daniel was here and alive.
"Wha...memories given to him like Lieutenant Tyler?"
"More like what Nem did to you three," Janet sighed and tore her gaze from Jack, looking down at Daniel. "But, as I said, there's no way to determine if anything false has been given to him or if someone simply took away the past six months. It will probably be some time before he'll be able to work through either scenario. With all of your support, it should be much easier for him."
"Why the fuck would they leave him with the...what they did? The pain. The agony? He had good...they could have..."
Oh, my. Wincing as Jack trailed off, abandoned his disjointed speech, Janet realized that despite all of their intentions not to dwell on what-ifs, they were doing just that. Nothing else could truly be done, not really, but she knew she spoke true - with SG1's help, Daniel would come through whatever might happen. And in doing so, he would help them do the same.
"Colonel, we don't know if he'll relive that again when he wakes up," she gently reminded. Internally, she was crossing all of her fingers in the hopes it would deter the chances because she didn't know if she could endure even a minute more of anything similar to that harrowing event. "Time will tell."
God, she was suddenly so sick of being the clich-issuer. Sick of being in control, sick of being The Doctor. Envy reared up again SG1's freedom to just be and feel. She put a hand on Daniel's blanketed right foot, squeezing and relishing the tactile, solid sensation. Closing her eyes, for just a moment she was alone - there was none of the anxiety from Sam, the misery from Jack, the disquiet from Teal'c present for her to deal with and she could enjoy knowing a dear friend had miraculously been brought back into her life. She did not for one instant believe that turn of phrase to be histrionic; in her book, it was a miracle.
"Time will tell," Sam softly parroted
Snapping her eyes open to determine if her friend was agreeing or mocking, Janet discovered the other woman was not looking at her at all but at Jack. She was not alone, then, in sensing something looming within the colonel. Peculiarly relieved by this fact, she lost any smidgen of selfishness she had just indulged herself with and welcomed that she was among friends; her experiences were as important as theirs, and she knew they would be there for her when the time came. Playing the physician role was not such a terrible thing at all.
"Yes, it will," she agreed. Reluctantly removing her hand, Janet took in a deep breath. "Even should Daniel awake remembering only pain, we'll figure out how to make him understand."
Saying the words aloud was more necessary, even to herself, than she had realized it would be. Sam perceptibly loosened up, nodding her head but not removing her attention from Jack. Tardily, Janet knew her statement had not alleviated any of the apprehension for the colonel but she could hope that one event was tied to the other. If Daniel was okay, so would Jack be, even if his unknown wound wasn't directly soothed by the archaeologist's recovery. She wished he would open to at least one of them, let someone help him when it was clear he needed it.
"I believe we will all endeavor with the best of our ability to do so, Doctor Fraiser," Teal'c rumbled, speaking for the first time, at least that she was aware of, since he had asked her to let them see Daniel.
Janet smiled up at Teal'c, unsurprised to see his gaze was also fluctuating between Jack and Daniel, with subtler offshoots toward Sam. For the first time, she actually began to feel a level of comfort with the situation. Comfort was not the appropriate word. No, it was more that she was confident that no matter the state Daniel was in today, tomorrow, or five weeks from now, it was not a permanent condition from which he wouldn't recover. His memory may never return. But he had.
"Well, in order to do that, I am going to have to insist all three of you periodically get rest," Janet brusquely said, now fully back into doctor mode. "The sedative I gave Daniel won't last more than a few more hours, but his body needs recharging. It could be a long haul, and the last thing I want is more people to care for."
Sternly glaring at each of them in turn, she saw how futile her orders were. Teal'c stolidly ignored her, Sam furtively looked away and stroked Daniel's thumb in slow, circular patterns and Jack...Ah, Jack. While Teal'c was obviously aware of her, Jack was so absorbed in his own internal world she did not think he truly knew any of the rest of them were there. It looked to her as if he had retreated into his own head, as she had momentarily done earlier with the significant difference that his trip had lasted far longer than thirty seconds already and didn't appear as though it would let up anytime soon. He just sat there, unmoving and unblinking, staring at a spot just to the left of Daniel's face. Finding that he wasn't looking directly at Daniel odd, Janet crinkled her eyebrows and had to consciously keep herself from placing a hand on her suddenly roiling stomach. She gave up after a few seconds, but the action did nothing to prevent the worry-induced nausea.
"Colonel," she braved, thought she wasn't surprised when she received no response. Sighing, she took a perusal of the infirmary to make sure it was as quiet there as she thought. "Well, for what it's worth, any of the beds here can be used if necessary."
"Thank you, Janet," Sam whispered.
The words sounded as dismissive as gracious, and Janet tried not to take them personally. Nodding, she swallowed and began walking away. Low murmurs followed her, too quiet for her to distinguish their meaning but she didn't turn around to find out. Now was not the time for her intrusion on the intimate reunion, the clock telling her it had not even been two full hours since Daniel had collapsed on the ramp. Time was all they needed. All things considered, everyone was doing remarkably well with the situation. As she reached her office door, she peered back to the far, dimly lit corner. None of the conscious members of SG1 had moved an inch and, for some reason, a sense of trepidation dissolved the positive aspects she had just reassured herself with.
Shaking off her unease, she turned away from the scene and moved toward her desk. Once there, she again opened the medical chart she had been clutching for the better part of an hour, the one for Doctor Daniel Jackson. The last time she had updated it had been to note his Missing In Action and presumed dead status. A chill as cold as she imagined a Minnesota lake in December was had coursed through her that day, and she felt it resurge again at the memory. She flipped back to that page, and to the one housing the photographs preserving Daniel's physical state just hours before the...God, she was going to be ill. Why was she doing this to herself?
She knew precisely why before she'd finished asking herself the question. It was ridiculous, really, but looking at the pictures, the words she had written with a trembling hand back then, strangely reassured her that now was actual. Realistically, seeing the blistered skin, the grimace of pain Daniel hadn't been able to prevent, the massive amount of decay should have done the exact opposite, made her believe the man in her infirmary was an imposter. A cruel joke sent by a sick person or group or power or...there. There was the hysteria, the doubt. She had the facts, the bloodwork. That whole, relatively healthy person out there was Daniel Jackson. It was.
And she now knew what she needed to do next, before she did anything else. Her mind projected the image of Cassie six months ago, upon hearing the news of Daniel's loss. It tore at her heart even now, that stunned, horrified expression. Erasing that and replacing it with a stunned, happy expression would be a huge joy to her. Picking up the receiver, Janet had half of Cassie's cell phone number dialed when motion from her office door sidetracked her. She paused, looking up to find Teal'c towering in the doorway. His face held barely contained torment and her heart leaped to her throat.
"Teal'c?" she cautiously asked, hanging up the phone.
"It appears Daniel Jackson is awakening," Teal'c informed her.
Oh. That was good...not good. It was early. Prickling, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and she felt the cold sweat of adrenaline tingle everywhere. Teal'c stepped aside as she ran from the office, the clattering sound of her own footsteps the only sound breaking through the sudden static in her ears. She immediately saw that Jack now stood, and that both he and Sam were leaned closer over Daniel. And she saw the archaeologist's legs fumble clumsily beneath the blanket, evidence of his suffering.
"Daniel, Daniel, Daniel," Jack whispered the younger man's name over and over until it sounded like a mantra. "It's okay, you're okay. Calm down, you're okay."
Janet heard more than the obvious meaning to the words; she heard Jack's own need for his assurances to be true. Her insides ripped at the apparent proof Daniel was indeed reliving, if mentally, the agony of radiation sickness. The brain was a powerful organ, capable of making a person believe just about anything and there was nothing she could do as a physician to stop it. She wasn't even comfortable administering more sedative...that was not a lasting fix. As she neared, Sam shot her a frenzied look, eyes wide and tearful, silently asking her to be The Doctor and do something.
She was frozen.
"Shh, that's it. Just relax."
Blinking, she watched with astonishment as Daniel calmed under Jack's verbal ministrations. Shock wore off quickly, giving way to great relief. Instinctively, Janet edged closer to assess Daniel for herself but then she reconsidered and she stepped back to allow Teal'c past her. SG1 needed this time with him, needed it more than he needed medical attention. She looked away as if her gaze would somehow tarnish the moment.
"Daniel?" Sam murmured, voice undeniably timorous and scared.
Janet snapped her head back up in time to see Daniel blearily open his eyes, doggedly pull his hand from Sam's grasp, twist out of the hold Jack had on his shoulders and curl up into a tiny ball. The blanket covered his face, hid him.
She had never been more afraid for him, for any of them.

He could sense his world changing, seemingly infinite darkness becoming finite.
Disruption came with redness and light and harsh sounds. Noise cluttered his head, a sea of aural waves crashing within his skull and it was all wrong. Gasping, he tried to turn away from the unwelcome light and din because it was not what he remembered or wanted. There was no succor in it, only pain and he had had too much. More than he could take. Unidentifiable strength held him in place, a foe bigger than he and he was so afraid he had been caught. Monster chasing him. Death. Light. Wrong. He struggled and struggled, all of this so familiar to him and simultaneously not. There were only two things of which he was certain - fear and an immense sense of loss. He did not know if one caused the other or if they were separate, terrible emotions threatening to subdue and suffocate. It didn't matter, he just wanted it to stop, stop, stop.
"Daniel, Daniel, Daniel..."
His name. Each repetition was punctuated with increasingly anxious fervor and he intrinsically responded, the strength of his movements relaxing just enough for the grips around his arms to tighten. Gain more of a hold. Afraid, so afraid. He tried to latch onto the reassuring tone, expand it until it could overcome the swelling dread. Explode through the bad and take over. Explode. Explosion, pain, fear, death. Sorry. Can't, can't hold on. Calm, okay, light, warmth, security. Unknown. Running, breathing, gasping, fear, death. Daniel's head throbbed with confusion; he couldn't make sense of any of the images flying in his head, each of them contradicting the one before it.
"It's okay, you're okay. Calm down, you're okay."
Okay. Okay? The words broke a dam and warmth flooded, the sensation prevailing over the negative and he basked in the waves rolling over and through him. Through some stroke of fate, he had found a good place, a pocket of serenity in which he never wanted to leave. It was paradise, ecstasy, rapture. No, more than any of those terms could come close to describing...it was the fresh, alive smell after a torrential rainfall. It was newly plowed soil. It was imperative and welcome and beautiful.
"Shh, that's it. Just relax."
Daniel floated, his body obeying the command through no conscious effort of his own. Easy to succumb to the luring respite of wondrous elation. Everything felt good - gone were the crazed feelings of pain, fear, confusion, death. His eyes were closed, he realized, and he suddenly wanted to see exactly what it was that held him in its grasp so snugly. Cracking his eyelids open, his retinas were assaulted by brightness that was in no way comforting. A rush of sound assaulted, throttled, beat down on him, seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere. Not real. Couldn't be, didn't want...
Different voice from before but just as unassailable. Rocked him inside, frightened him. His eyes opened as if the voice had power over his actions, and the glare of unnatural illumination burned. Synthetic and abrasive. It raped, plundered him of the softness and peace in which he had been enveloped and left him quaking with shocked bereavement. Pressure let up slightly on his arms, conversely cinched around his right hand. Tangibly sharp, digging into his skin and hurting so much. Not physical pain so much as knowledge that he had lost something so extraordinary, something which he did not even have a name for or real memory of. No names were needed, complete memory would only blight him further.
His eyes registered the faces, alike in terrified expression, of Jack and Sam but any relief he might have felt in seeing them was buried beneath a mountain of anguish so large nothing would ever surmount it. This was wrong. He suddenly remembered wanting this, wanting to be here with his friends...but that desire was gone now because he knew this wasn't where he was supposed to be. Not what he wanted at all. Blinking, all he could do was hope that when he opened his eyes again he'd be in that wonderful place instead of here. His wish was not granted; instead, he was bestowed with the addition of Teal'c's strong features beside his other two friends and a very minuscule part of him wanted to be here with them. Too much of him did not. Never.
He pulled his hand from Sam's hold, breaking through her resistance with resolve. The release he gained from the lack of contact was immeasurable and, encouraged by it, he easily coiled from the grasp Jack had on him. Didn't want this to be real, didn't want the cold severity, the brightness that came with this world. Tucking his head under the rough blanket, and he wrapped himself in the cocoon of warmth it provided. It was a weak simulation of the feeling he longed for but he clung to it tenaciously. Retreated into it, blocking out the bad all around him.
At least tried to.
He let himself drift, but an invisible thread kept him anchored to unfortunate reality. It was a true persecution of his soul and spirit, taunting him by keeping him from fully vanishing into his replicated happiness and jeering at his foolishness. He heard everything, felt everything, saw everything even while he wanted his world to become a place of vacuity. Strange, he thought, strange to seek solace in nothingness and yet if he couldn't have what he scarcely remembered then that is precisely what he did want. Nonexistence, safety from the horror and disarray.
"Daniel." Ignoring the pleading in the tenor of Jack's muffled voice, Daniel burrowed deeper within the blankets and himself. He had to figure out a way to cut that thread. "Daniel, please."
"Daniel, it's Doctor Fraiser...I need to be able to see you. I'm going to turn back the bedspread, okay?"
It was warning and announcement in one and he had no time. He turned his face into the pillow's plumpness as the blankets were pulled away from him and jarring iciness crept into his refuge. They didn't understand, they couldn't possibly know what they were doing to him, how much it wounded him to have this exposure forced upon him. Without the protective, physical bulwark on top of him, he could only scamper inward a piece at a time. Success, though, came quickly and skillfully until he was there but not there. He could still vaguely hear, feel, see everything around him but it was not his body. It was not him. There was a way to disappear completely and he was going to find it. He didn't know why. He didn't care.
He didn't.
Invasive hands forcibly maneuvered his limbs, lifted and nudged uncompromisingly until he was on his back. Remarkably clearly, Daniel could see every pockmark in the ceiling's tiles and he affixed his eyes there in the hopes focusing on which marks were manufactured and which were accidental would aid in his escape. Cruelty all around would not let him block his ears, his attempts to distance fruitless. The small black holes dotting the otherwise smooth ceiling did not disguise Sam's rippling choke of distress, Teal'c's rumble of speech, Jack's deafening silence. All struck at him, chained him where he did not want to be.
A heavy weight sat upon his belly and would not be dislodged as it threatened to flatten him into nothing. He received the discomfort willingly. He didn't know what it was that he missed so much. Knew it had been breathtaking and raw, strong where he was not. He heard a muted sob and started because it had come from him.
"What the hell is...why is he like this?"
Without warning, Jack's voice returned and broke through as if he were semi-automatic weapon spitting out ammunition, deadly fast but with limited control. Pulled him from his nearly attained goal. Deep hurt contained in tone and manner. Daniel knew he had heard such a sound, such a feeling before and recently. Felt it as he remembered doing then and he was afraid. But he was too far gone to react, limbs now involuntarily immobile. Wooden and dead. Death and anarchy and painpainpainpain. Too many feelings piercing him from too many directions and he longed for numbness, fearing it at the same time. He did not know which was the right thing to be feeling.
Stop. Make it stop. Make it...
Air fluttered through his hair and then warmth returned but it was no longer enough. Not a place for him to hide, not something to protect him. He was alone and it was scary to be so. He couldn't see but he knew every detail of his surroundings. They were sterile and callous and he wanted them to be gone. Preferred barrenness.
"Someone should let General Hammond know."
"Let him know what, Carter? That Daniel's pretty much a vegetable? Jesus."
"Sir! He's not...brain function..."
Then, amazingly, it did and his world was haze, a blessed fog in which he existed and did not. He faded to the point he thought he certainly would accomplish the ultimate feat of disappearance. The scary and loud world he had once wanted but now rejected, recoiled against was still there, skulking on the fringe of his awareness but never fully intruding. Left him in peace and constant dissonance, two things that should not be able to thrive together and yet did. It was a strange form of harmony, which Daniel knew was not right.
Yet his reality was duality, and he perched on a figurative fence, buffeted, prevented from falling one way or the other by each variant's strength. It wasn't pleasant where he was but it was bizarrely safe. He wavered and balanced there, exhaustion terrorizing until he lapsed into sleep. Stayed in the murky confusing indeterminate state because any other choice was unwanted. Lingering with him, elusive but necessary was a steady presence. Somehow, he knew it was Jack, had to believe it to be his friend. He rested with the knowledge he was safe.
Until repose was ripped from him.
"Daniel, it's me, Sam. I just thought I'd see how you were doing today. Janet says that if she can't get you to start eating soon she'll have to put in a feeding tube. You don't...God..."
He could hear his friend, had no idea what she was talking about but knew this was part of the intrusive disharmony. Still, he wanted to venture into the undesirable to destroy the despondency he felt and heard radiating from her. She was close, maybe even touching him. Blinking, he realized he was staring at a crumpled brown bag, dark stains mottling the surface of it. It sat on a metallic tray, along with a plastic cup and he knew where he was. Earth. Home. Not home. Didn't know. Didn't care. He couldn't move, had not the energy to fight this bout of discord and so waited for it to pass.
"I guess it was stupid to think letting Cass in to finally see you would work like it did with me all those years ago. It was all we could think of, the only comparison we could draw. God, Daniel, you have her so scared. You have all of us so scared. Where are you, what happened to you that was so bad? If you could just...we could help you."
He was Here, of course. But what had happened, what had happened to him? The words cackled like a crow, mocking and challenging him. He remembered the radiation and agony from it, dying...but, no... No, he didn't want to do this. Following that trail would only lead away from peacefulness and tip him over, remove the balance he needed to keep. So sorry, Sam. He couldn't feel that overpowering disorder again. Something was not right, something was missing.
The speckled bag blurred by warm tears in his eyes just as he understood the discolorations were caused by grease. He suddenly recalled Sam bringing him chocolate walnut cookies after...God, a thrust of loneliness and loss stabbed him. That mourning had been so slight in comparison with the emptiness he now felt. And that was wrong, too, another facet of duality.
He closed his eyes and willed oblivion to come. His wish was granted in a mutated form, sleep full of violent images. He saw himself running through a forest, so afraid of what pursued him but there was nothing after him at all. Nothing touchable or nameable but he suddenly knew, in this strange dreamscape, that what he was running from precisely what he longed for in the present time. It was incomprehensible to him and tore his heart in two. If he was terrified of what he wanted, then what did he truly want? The intangible pursuer in his dream became a real being, luminously expansive and potent. It swooped down upon his running form and scattered him into a million pieces until he disappeared from his own view.
But that result was no longer what he desired.
Gasping, Daniel reawakened without prelude, arms weakly flying up. A blanket that had been tucked around him flapped away and he shivered at the sudden coolness on his skin. Movement on his left prompted him to automatically glance over. Staring at him as though he really had exploded as in his dream, Teal'c looked alarmed. Daniel turned his back, upset at the anomalous expression and the stark fear his dream left with him. Peace was apparently no longer to be found in a void of sleep and he knew it would never be found in this, the world he wasn't sure he had chosen. Wasn't sure he *hadn't* chosen. Dampness covered his cheeks, and he realized he had experienced a physical reaction to the violent confusion for the first time since he had awoken here. He was frightened by what that might mean, didn't want to face it.
"I saw the tears, Daniel Jackson. I believe you are at times fully cognizant of our presence beside you and it disturbs me greatly that you are choosing this path. Avoidance does not become you, my brother. You are a warrior of the heart and you must believe this battle is worth the fight."
But he didn't know what it was that he avoided. How was he to fight the unknown? What did he know? Strange dreams that made no sense, radiation poisoning that he had died from and knew that could not be true because he was in the SGC. Not dead. He knew this. After his not-death, there was nothing but vague sensation. And he had done this before, had relived the same thing again and again. It was useless; he knew he had had something special but he didn't know what. Lost to him now, though, lost forever. God...God, he wanted it back.
"Doctor Fraiser cannot provide us anything more than a chemical reason for this depression, Daniel Jackson, and so it is up to you. You should know, however, that you are not alone if you do not choose to be."
No, he didn't want to be alone. He wanted to be welcomed. He wanted the beauty he remembered of the place. He didn't know how, didn't believe he could regain it.
"There is no need for you to remember. There is only need for you to be you once again. Once that has been established, I have no doubt your recovery will be expedient. Please, Daniel Jackson. Please."
His head reeled at how closely his friend's words mirrored his unclear thoughts. He heard Teal'c move again, then felt the sheets and blanket settle heavily on his curled, exposed shoulder. Warm safety returned, but Daniel suddenly realized it did not come from the bedsheets. His heart raced at the recognizable feeling and he turned to his friend.
"Daniel Jackson?"
He knew what that obscure, coveted thing was, that which he thought he had lost. Nodding, Daniel endeavored a smile. The sounds of the infirmary that had been so raucous and wrong quieted, still disruptive but tolerable. This new awareness wasn't enough to assuage his sorrow but it was enough to provide hope. Faith. He breathed deeply and thought he smelled recently plowed soil. Floating above him, Teal'c's face lost its alarm and transformed into an unsteady smile. A large hand cupped the left side of his face, thumb cautiously brushing across his cheekbone before the other man jerked his head away frantically.
"Major Carter, Doctor Fraiser!" Teal'c shouted and Daniel instantly heard rustling sounds and rapid footfalls. "Daniel Jackson is awake."
Within seconds, Sam and Janet were right next to Teal'c. All three of his guardians looked haggard and worn and beautiful. They looked right. This place...home.
"Hey, Daniel," both women said in quiet unison.
Lingering in the recesses of his haunted quasi-memories, the sadness remained. He could sense it there, but he wasn't destroyed by it. Wouldn't be destroyed by it because while he had lost something he believed to be great, he had not lost something he knew to be spectacular. Knowing this, and with his friends around him, he would prevail over the unknown. He suspected there was much he didn't know - he could see all three had aged...wait...three...wait...
"Jack?" he tried to say, ended up simply mouthing his missing friend's name.
And the distraught expressions that systematically crashed across the three formerly happy faces of his friends chilled him. What he had just found was suddenly lost to him again, the security he had barely gained in Teal'c, Sam and Janet quaked vulnerably and chaos surged up. Tipped him cruelly back onto the fence, where he could not find steadiness.
He knew he would eventually fall, and somehow also knew he would not survive.

When he closed his eyes, all he could see was the goddamned torture chamber and all he could feel was the same terrible fear that had inexorably pursued him in that place. Jack didn't want the memories, the resurgent feelings of hatred, despair and vacancy of spirit by the sheer association with that dark time. He had managed to stop thinking or replaying it for hours by remembering what had helped him, the one thing he had needed to sustain enough will within his threadbare soul to make him survive and keep surviving. That one thing now lay motionless but awake in the infirmary bed before him, completely clueless as to how much it...he was needed.
Back then, he had begged Daniel to get him the hell away from Ba'al and his sadistic torture. His friend had said he couldn't but Jack had interpreted that as wouldn't and had been so, so angry. Had stayed angry until the one time Daniel hadn't been there after his revival and return to the cell, when he realized he had got precisely what he had needed from the other man - strength, comfort and security in a vulnerable place. The full meaning of what his friend had done hadn't truly hit, though, until after the confusing bedlam of his escape slash rescue and then he hadn't properly thanked Daniel or even acknowledged that he had understood the purpose behind the visitations. And then, in the following few weeks, he had forsaken what Daniel had believed so worth fighting for and lost a good portion of his soul anyway.
Now Jack lived in breath-stealing fear, soul scrabbling to stay and so utterly hinged on whether or not Daniel remembered those events. Illogical though it might be, he felt all would be lost if his friend could not recall what had been...what was so vital to him. There was a rainstorm in his head, strong and without end. As instructed by Fraiser, he kept a hand on Daniel's arm but he couldn't make himself talk. Blue eyes, turned away from him, still somehow burned expressionlessly thought him. Gone. Empty. Sometimes people hid themselves away from all others, forgetting the horror in order to survive, retreating because there was hurt rather than comfort taken from the people who cared about them. Couldn't be that way for Daniel. Was. Cold with dismay, Jack felt hopeless. Helpless.
He needed Daniel to be comforted by him so he in turn could be comforted, again feel the succor he had received from his friend's visits to him. And selfishly, he had to know that he had felt during his time in Ba'al's capture, had experienced something other than the terrible dissipation of his soul and would feel something again in the present. If none of it had happened outside the confines of his own agonized mind, then what was real and what was false?
He clung to Daniel's arm as if it were a life preserver and he were lost on a stormy sea. The grip he had was contradictorily tenuous, a thin floss that threatened to snap if the other man's eyes didn't start registering something soon. He knew there was almost continuous movement all around him but none of it broke through; all he could stare at was his hand upon that lump under the blanket, and all he could hear was the heart monitor telling him Daniel was still alive though he didn't look it. While the form under his fingers was still solid and the sounds still loud, there was hope.
"Oh, my God."
Self-imposed isolation shattered upon the barely audible utterance, the bearer of the words instantly recognizable as Cassie Fraiser. Snapping from a deep slouch, Jack looked up and blinked to clear uncomfortably dry eyes. The teenager stood across the bed from him, an aghast, awed expression twisting her pretty features into a grimace that he thought was a suitable reflection of what he was internalizing. Just behind her, the doc and Carter stood silent guard. Catching him in a semi-aware state, his 2IC straightened her shoulders and looked relieved. Automatically, his heart began racing and he looked back to Daniel to see if the other man had suddenly come out of his catatonia. There was no change. Foolish thought. He stared down at Cassie's hand upon the bed instead of his own again.
"Daniel," Cassie whispered.
Jack saw a tiny dot darken the bedspread's surface right above the girl's fingertips, growing outward rapidly to form a quarter sized blemish. Teardrop, he dully realized.
And Jack wanted to scream, inveigh at Daniel to stop this already, because while he might not show it, he did know all of them were suffering as he was; understood the pain they were better at releasing and was angered at their friend for causing it. He also wanted to admonish Fraiser for bringing a teenager to see the wasted form of a friend. Yell. Rant. It would do no good.
"Why is he like this? What besides Goa'uld possession or what he already went...what could have been so bad? Did he do s-something wrong?"
"We don't know, honey," Fraiser quickly answered. Jack could tell she was chewing her lip in consternated regret. Or pain.
"He doesn't even know I'm here, does he? Not like Sam. Is he ever going to come back to us, really? I thought you said he was getting better!"
*"Is he ever going to come back to us?"*
Spoken aloud by an uninhibited teenager, the question was not unlike that which he had been stewing about, and its introduction into reality was cruel with the ambiguity of the possible answer.
"Cass, it's only been a short while - " Carter began, disbelief in her own assertion apparent in the truncated attempt.
"It's been almost two weeks! Don't lie to me. There is something wrong with him."
Shaky words, shaky hand on the bed. Watching sadly as the quarter-sized wet stain was joined by a multitude of others, Jack wordlessly agreed with the teenager's assessment. His heart was breaking into many pieces, none of them large enough to be capable of feeling anything at all. He was disappearing, anesthetized by the enormity of loss.
"He's just sad like I was, Cassie. You know what he went through before, what he became. Imagine reversing that - Daniel just needs time."
*"Did he do s-something wrong? There is something wrong with him."*
Mutating into nearly a run-on sentence, Cassie's two outcries branded and forced him into a sudden, abysmal consideration: if this strange condition of Daniel's was the result of punishment by the Ascended, what was it that Daniel might have done? Sickness crept through him as he remembered Teal'c claiming something potentially preternatural had prompted him into devising the rescue operation. Jack had inherently known the aberration had been Daniel, interfering though he had sworn such a thing was against The Rules.
The maneuver had been subtler than out and out springing him from prison, just like the other man's interpretations of military rules and regulations had always tended to be rather ambiguous in a non-overtly defiant way. Daniel had never got into real trouble for his creative problem solving skills on Earth but Jack more than suspected such was not the case in the ethereal world, an assumption he could make solely based upon his friend's hesitancy to The Rules for him when he was in need; Daniel had never even verbally shirked at the idea of civil disobedience with the Air Force, never shown the slightest concern for personal consequences. That he had in such dire circumstances was immense. Jack couldn't prevent the inevitable conclusion from forming that it was because of action Daniel had taken for him that he was now as he was - a shell.
The egotism of the view was not lost upon him but the seed had been planted and it immediately took root. All his fault Daniel had been yanked from something that had apparently been wonderful, had been subsequently traumatized, castigated. And, God help him, a part of Jack was still glad to have his friend back in any form or condition while the other, bigger part was now filled with horrification at the responsibility he shouldered. His fault. Nauseous, he let go of Daniel and covered his mouth.
"I can't...I can't..."
Cassie's hand flew off the bed and Jack saw her jerk slightly, throw herself on top of Daniel in an awkward hug and then rapidly pull away. The world in front of him hazed, though he heard loud footsteps and soft exclamations as the teenager retreated. Too much. His fault. Jack had no comfort to offer Daniel, his presence here was a damaging reminder to the other man and nothing more. Standing, he stepped backward and fumbled into the chair he had just evacuated. Nearly fell back into it, caught himself.
Walked away.
Ignoring the joint cry of his team members and friends, he left the infirmary. Abandoned hope, left what was left of his soul in permanent limbo with Daniel and every step he took away from his friend brought more numbness. He walked faster. Letting his feet take him wherever they might without thought or care, Jack saw SGC personnel make room for him, some of them pivoting their necks to gape at something behind them and then back to him with perplexity. He discovered why as he drew up to the elevator and caught a flash of Cassie's auburn hair whipping around the door as she ran into it. He knew he should follow her.
He headed for the stairs, went down instead of up.
He walked forever, yet only seconds seemed to pass before Jack found himself in a place he would never have imagined his feet taking him. Must have eventually gone up. Familiar clutter of ancient texts and objects warred with remains of items from modern pop culture, the disparity between the two vast and disturbing in the dim room he stood just outside of. Hovering for a moment, he decided confusion would not thwart his desire to disappear and crossed the threshold. He shut the door, closing the world out.
Daniel's office hadn't changed much, a fact for which Jack had Hammond to thank; it had remained in a strange time warp, a netherworld of reality and unreality mixed together. It made sense to him, suddenly, that he had unconsciously chosen this destination - a physical purgatory for Daniel's mental one. And his own mental one. There was nothing for him here, not really, and so he simply crossed the room and sat at the desk. Stared straight ahead and let himself fade further away.
*"There is something wrong with him."*
Gone, empty. Aloneness. That was what was wrong with Daniel and Jack shared the ailment. He knew he should not give up on his friend, managed to convince himself he was actually helping the other man by removing himself, deleting the evidence of crime that he personified. Daniel had been happy only a few weeks ago, hadn't wanted to stay here with hi...them. Daniel was a lump on a bed, an uncorrectable error crippling him. His fault. God. Numbness evaded, swirling feelings of guilt perpetuating remorse, anger, fear. It was only fitting that if he really had condemned his friend to hell that Jack should join him, and this was hell, not purgatory. A place where something that should have brought only joy instead reeked of misery.
The phone rang, startling him. He blinked at the device as it continued to ring, couldn't figure out why anyone would call this number when the office hadn't been occupied for some time. Clenching his jaw, Jack raised his hands to cover his ears as the noise quickly became irritating. The pose didn't help. He reached for the base, fingered the cord before unlocking the jack and yanking it out. Silence fell once more and he closed his eyes, embracing it. He opened his eyes again, gaze immediately landing on a large anthology he remembered Daniel using to translate the language of the Ancients. He wondered if being Ascended had given the younger man the ability to read anything. Didn't matter now.
He rose to his feet, circumventing the desk to move toward the bookshelves. Coating everything, dust gave the tomes an even more aged appearance and he felt as if he were in an ancient and sacred library. Jack exhaled, breath squalling up the particles into miniature tornados that permeated his nose, sucked into his lungs. Coughing, he turned away. Didn't know what his purpose had been anyway. He walked a few steps, then stopped and stood in the middle of the room. Remained there as if glued down, couldn't move. Aimlessly, he put his hands in his pockets and was marginally aware of the uselessness of his actions.
He had already gone back into the neutral zone, was speedily heading beyond it. Into something deeper, inescapable. Still, yet falling. Into dust. He didn't fight it, in a way needed to submit to it. Wanted to run away from the hell he had created, follow the pieces of his heart into oblivion. Vanquished everything from his mind, holed away from himself much like he had removed the threat of him from Daniel. Time lost all meaning. Hours, days, months. All could be passing and he would never know.
He drifted.
"O'Neill, are you in there?"
Voice calling to him from far away. Metallic rattling noise. Dull thud. Groaning, Jack opened his eyes, slightly surprised to realize he had closed them at one point.
Another muffled thump. He blinked, the view clearing. A dull whitish- gray, rectangular shape stared back down at him and he was confused for a minute before he determined he was looking at a fluorescent ceiling light. Lifting his head, Jack winced as his neck muscles told him he had been awkwardly sprawled on the floor for some time. Had no memory of how he had got there. He slowly sat, dully turned his head as a loud racket came up from his left. He was in Daniel's office and the door was opening. He slowly blinked again. When he opened his eyes, a dark face directly in front of his intently studied him with an exasperated, worried expression. Teal'c. His head was a fog and while he should have been alarmed at the feeling, he was only relieved.
"I am pleased I have located you," Teal'c said, pausing to quirk an eyebrow and deepen his frown. The other man looked hesitantly apprehensive, and the fog within Jack's head dissolved slightly as concern rankle through. After a deliberative pause, the Jaffa continued, "There is news...Daniel Jackson has awakened."
All the emotion that had been buried far below the surface suddenly ruptured forth, multiplying, building, creating a huge legion he couldn't contest. Only the predominant emotions were of hope, happiness, awed disbelief, all combining to thrash the wallowing despair and emptiness. He didn't want to fight them, only wanted one thing. Aching muscles forgotten, Jack grabbed Teal'c's sturdy forearms and scrambled to his feet.
He made his way to the infirmary as involuntarily as he had stumbled to Daniel's office but this time his steps were swift and steady and he was alive with feeling. His skin tingled with it, as if it had been struck by lightning. The suddenness of the change within him could very well be describe as that, Jack thought as he raced through the corridors. People leaped out of his way, expressions of apparent confusion still planted on their faces. He didn't care about them, he had to make it. Had to.
He had to run, had to get there. So close. Had to be only moments away now. He could see the open doorway, and picked up speed.
Bursting into the infirmary, Jack skidded to a stop. Saw from a distance that Teal'c spoke true - Daniel was propped up, head of the bed angled so he was nearly sitting. Carter was at his side, as were Fraiser, General Hammond and Cassie. Clustered around him, reaching out, touching, talking quietly. Daniel was still pale, still unsteady but as alive as Jack now found himself. Too late, he realized how foolish he had been to think anything more than his friend being here was important. It didn't matter if Daniel didn't remember helping him; he knew. He looked past the gathered bedside vigilant crew to stare at his friend.
Frowning, Jack noticed the stricken expression on Daniel's face that wasn't fading. Teal'c breezed by him with an encouraging pat on his shoulder and he followed, suddenly frightened as well as exhilarated. Insinuating himself into the group, and they parted, fell into a hush. He could feel all of them looking at him with something akin to fear but had no attention for anyone but Daniel. Smiling, he reached out his right hand and grasped the other man's shoulder.
"Jack?" Daniel breathed, face transforming peacefully as if Jack's absence was all he had been distressed about.
"Daniel." His voice was thick and didn't sound like him at all. Clearing his throat, Jack nearly choked as it continued to constrict with emotion. There was nothing more to say, nothing significant, so he swallowed and repeated, "Daniel."
"I don't...I don't remember anything solid, Jack," Daniel gasped out, sounding close to panic. "There are strange things, vague feelings of warmth and light, coldness and dark, everything jumbling around and I don't know what is what."
"Hey, don't worry about it. We'll tell you what we know and we can work through it together."
They would, Jack knew, because what once was lost was now found. Daniel was back.
And he had found his soul at long last.
The End

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  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
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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.