"There's a certain smell to hot blood..."
The spine of the chair hurt his back, biting squarely in the space between his L4 and L5 vertebrae with enough pressure to momentarily distract him. He squirmed. Not enough to be noticed, but definitely enough to silently scold himself for losing the thread of the conversation.
“Hot blood?” He shifted again, this time finding respite in a wad of cushioning and worn leather. “Can you describe the smell for me?”
“The smell, Colonel. You said blood has a certain aroma to it.”
“No.” Jack O’Neill was slumped forward in his chair, elbows on his knees and his head cradled in his hands. The set of his shoulders rang a warning bell of resignation and defeat; something McKenzie hadn’t previously recognized in the man. “I said hot blood has a smell to it.”
“You don’t even know the difference.” O’Neill pushed off his knees and lounged back in the chair, pressing the palms of his hands over his eyes. “Hot blood,” he ground out through clenched teeth, “smells of life. It coats your hands, your uniform, the ground… drying slowly as it cools. You want to put it back… push it back into him somehow… you try ...” The colonel’s frustration seemed to sear the air around him as he struggled for words. “Hell, most of the damn time you can’t even stop it! It just flows and flows… until there’s nothing left.”
“The physical presence of blood serving as a representation of life and death.” McKenzie scribbled a note on his pad, only to discover he had trailed red ink down the page in a macabre reflection of O’Neill’s words. He quickly turned the page and cleared his throat. “That would be the clinical assessment.”
“Clinical?” The colonel dropped his arms to his sides and tipped his head forward, his steel-cold gaze boring a hole straight through McKenzie. The doctor shifted uneasily and once again found the spine of the chair cutting into his back.
“Colonel, I—”
“You nothing!” O’Neill flailed and angrily stabbed the air in front of McKenzie’s nose with his finger. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to hold your teammate’s chest together after it’s been torn open by a staff blast at close range? There is nothing... and let’s be perfectly clear here… nothing you can do to save him. A field bandage ain’t gonna cut crap out there and the Jaffa sure as hell aren’t going to call a ceasefire out of the kindness of their hearts. There is no such thing as licking your wounds on the battlefield!”
“You felt a sense of hopelessness. I understand.”
“You don’t understand squat.” Weariness crept into the colonel’s voice as he shifted his gaze from McKenzie to the small window on the far side of the office. “Hot blood smells.”
“Of life. So you said.”
“Yeah.” O’Neill closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Only it doesn’t stay hot for very long.”



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