TITLE: Ever Present Risks

AUTHOR: Pheral

E-MAIL: kamilshka@hotmail.com

STORY STATUS: Completed

SEQUEL/SERIES INFO: N/A

SEASON: Four

SPOILERS: ‘Solitudes’

CATEGORIES: Hurt/Comfort, Drama, Angst.

PAIRINGS: None

Content Level: 13+

CONTENT WARNING: Some goryness. Jack whumpin'.

SUMMARY: An alien attack and subsequent wormhole malfunction makes yet more trouble for the ever put-upon leader of SG-1.

ARCHIVE PERMISSIONS: ThePointOfOrigin site, Helio, JackFic site.

DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and it’s characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions, this story is for fun and I sure as hell didn’t get any money. No copyright infringement is intended and you can’t post this story anywhere else without asking me first damnit! But I’ll probably say yes ‘cos I’m orfully nice. (to everyone except Jack that is)

FILE SIZE: 157KB

AUTHORS NOTE: I was watching Solitudes, and I just thought 'What if?' so I wrote what would happen 'If' and here it is - a small fic, dedicated to Mary's 100th fic!! Congrats Mary - thanks for providing us with so many amazing Jack Fics! I'll be there, waiting for the 200th celebration :P Thanks to Ruth for picking up all my little mistakes and making this fic better. Read away kiddo - :D

Ever Present Risks

Weapons fire echoed around Jack’s head as his feet pounded the dirt, dust flying up into his eyes as he squinted at the gate standing tall and foreboding in front of him. An effort-full glance over his shoulder told him that his team was close behind him as he charged up the Stargate steps and took up a position next to the huge ring, turning his gun on their predators. Bullets rattled from his P90 and flew to their targets, bouncing harmlessly off rocks that hid powerful weapons. They spewed red fiery bombs of light that exploded upon impact with the ground, throwing up dirt and earth in fountains of destruction. An impact hit close to O’Neill and he curled slightly, redirecting his aim towards the source of the blast. He saw Daniel almost run into the DHD such was his speed, and he instantly started dialling out, rushing the device with hurried actions. Carter fell to her knees by his side, her weapon blazing bullets as she returned fire, desperately trying to cover the archaeologist. Teal’c’s staff weapon shot bright lines of energy towards the dense rocky patch that they had run from, aiming at every point from which there emanated enemy fire.

The sound was terrific as Jack leaned to the side, still firing as the gate sprung to life and Daniel dived for the event horizon as Carter struggled to transmit the Iris code.

‘Go!’ she screamed and Daniel threw himself into the gate, with Carter close behind him. Jack hugged the side of the gate as he fired continually. ‘Go Teal’c!’

He waited until the Jaffa was half through the gate before flinging himself awkwardly into the event horizon at a strained sideways angle. As he disappeared into the blue he saw a flash of orange light encompass the gate wholly, and then he was swallowed by the wormhole and transported bodily across the galaxy.

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‘Open the Iris!’ General Hammond barked even as he left the viewing room and headed for the gateroom. As he disappeared he called over his shoulder, ‘get a medical team down here now!’

SG-1 weren’t due to return for a 28 hours, and you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that was bad. General Hammond waited tensely at the bottom of the ramp, staring at the rippling blue surface which was soon to be interrupted by the return of his first Stargate team. He prayed they would be in one piece.

As his mind turned to thinking of what could have possibly gone wrong, the blue surface splashed, and then the Stargate spat out Daniel, who came flying down the ramp in a rolling ball of equipment. He landed in a messy heap at the General’s feet as Carter was flung from the event horizon with similar ferocity. Hammond was relieved to see them both stagger to their feet as Teal’c came through the gate with only slightly more dignity. He maintained his balance admirably and turned his head as O’Neill emerged. He came through skewiff, his right arm leading.

Suddenly the even horizon dissipated without warning, and the abrupt silence was broken by a piercing scream. All eyes turned to the Colonel as he dropped to the floor heavily and twisted savagely, writhing - his mouth open wide as he screeched. A sob broke his wail as SG-1 ran to him, Daniel’s eyes widening as he put a desperate hand on Jack’s leg to try and calm him, ‘oh my God.’

O’Neill’s left arm was a complete mess, the fabric of his shirt and T-shirt ripped away and the skin turned into a strip of blood red liquid along its length, already dripping onto the ramp and leaving scarlet red streaks where Jack flailed over it and rubbed it across the metal. Carter called O’Neill’s name, her face stressed into extreme crease lines as she clutched at his shirt, trying to keep him still, ‘Sir! Colonel!’

Jack’s face communicated the intensity of his pain as his scream turned to a harsh yell.

‘God!’ he yelped in a strangled voice, the word almost too distorted for his team to understand as he back-peddled – as if he were trying to get away from his own arm. The only thing keeping him from falling off the side of the ramp was his team's unfailing grip, keeping him pinned as effectively as they could. Jack’s right arm hovered over the injury tensely, as if he wanted to clutch at it but knew he couldn’t. The muscles in his neck stood out starkly as his eyes latched on to Daniel’s, silently pleading for release from the agony. Daniel gripped Jack’s sides with both hands, leaning in close to his face, ‘it's okay Jack!’

His face nearly breaking with harsh pain, Jack leant into the archaeologist's grip and buried his head heavily into his shoulder, his muffled shout still shockingly loud. His right arm was weaved with Carter’s, wrapped in the fabric of her shirt-sleeve and pulling so hard, his fist clenched round her arm above the elbow in a grip so fierce she thought he was stopping the blood. His left arm lay almost abandoned by his side, his hand limply grazing the metal ramp as blood coursed down in rivulets, pooling by his side.

Teal’c's hands hovered uselessly by the injury, wanting to do something to stop the bleeding but aware that anything he tried would only increase the man’s pain and likely do no more good than the medics could do when they arrived.

Light but hasty footfalls heralded the arrival of Doctor Fraiser and she was met with three pairs of eyes, all pleading with her to help in any way she could. Her expression was shocked into empathetic disgust as she fell to the Colonel's side, leaning in towards his arm and motioning to one of her assistants. ‘Morphine now!’

Unable to see his face as it was buried in Daniel’s shirt, she found that the Colonel’s team almost made up for it – their faces an explosion of despair and shock as she received the needle and readied it hastily. A choked sob emanated from Daniel’s shirt and Carter saw Jack’s chest heave harshly, a cracked yell following the movement.

‘I’m going to give you some morphine Sir,’ Janet struggled to maintain her medical detachment as the Colonel whipped away from Daniel suddenly and met her eyes, thrusting his good arm towards her desperately, still holding onto Carter.

‘Stick it!!’ he almost screamed, inadvertently pulling Carter in towards him as he tensed his arm around hers. Janet gripped his arm, untangling it from Carter’s and pulling back his sleeve to reveal harsh veins standing out blue against his skin. Something made her look up though just before she injected him and she did so just in time to hear a grunt pass his lips and watch his eyes roll. Teal’c moved forward to support his leader as the Colonel collapsed backwards, falling limp and still as he passed out.

Janet abandoned her needle and motioned to the gurney that she had brought in with her. It was wheeled up the ramp and SG-1 lent a hasty hand in lifting O’Neill onto the white surface, dashing it with blood before Janet could instruct her assistants to press gauze pads to his arm. The wheels rattled as they rolled him away, his head rolling to the side with the movement of the gurney.

Silence settled over the gate room as three members of SG-1 sat stunned on the ramp, facing one shocked General Hammond. Shaking himself from his reverie as only a General can, he addressed them gently, ‘what in hell happened Major?’

Carter’s voice sounded very quiet to her as she explained, ‘we came under attack Sir, after a few hours on the planet – we didn’t see who or find out why. We were just pursued, chased back to the gate and we managed to dial out. I have no idea why the wormhole would close prematurely,’ her eyes closed in empathy. ‘It must have stripped the skin from the Colonel’s arm when it dissipated.’

Their minds brought back to that particular point, SG-1 rose to their feet, moving to leave the ramp. General Hammond nodded, knowing where they were headed, ‘report to the infirmary, we’ll debrief later.’ He dismissed the subject and joined them in a march to the Doctor’s domain.

The organised chaos that met their eyes upon reaching the infirmary was all centred around the Colonel, lying half dressed and very still on the gurney. Swathes of bandages and gauze were wrapped tight around his left arm, already soaked with bright blood streaks, his chest half covered in the scarlet stuff too. An oxygen mask sat comfortably over his mouth, covering an all too pale face, drained of colour completely, drained of blood.

Carter stared in through the glass set in the door, eager to know how her CO was doing but reluctant to get in the way as nurses weaved efficiently around his limp body, setting up IV lines and assisting Doctor Fraiser as she endeavoured to stop the bleeding from his arm. She could see the faint outline of tense muscles on his stomach, he wasn't relaxed even in unconsciousness, his chest moving in shallow breaths as his body continued to panic long after his mind had left the distress behind. Daniel stood beside Sam, staring as she did at the limp form on the bed, examining the blood that stained the bandages all the way from his shoulder to his hand.

‘God,’ he breathed, unable to say anything else.

Shortly a nurse came out to lead them to a separate room for their pre-mission exams, and having seen enough of the action to know that O’Neill would live, they let themselves be led away. General Hammond watched the team leave, all looking exhausted, shocked and slightly dazed after the unexpected harshness of the last few hours. He replaced them at the infirmary window and watched the now somewhat subdued movement around the Colonel. He was settled in a gown, lines leading to his right arm and a mask covering his mouth and nose. The General couldn’t see his face what with his head tipped back on the flat surface. He focused his eyes on his Second's left hand, just visible under the white bandages, coated with thick blood and curled into a fist even in unconsciousness. Doctor Fraiser looked up for a second and caught his eye, sending him a grim but encouraging smile. The General nodded, satisfied that his CMO had given him silent permission to leave the scene and attend to the immediate worries resulting from SG-1’s dramatic return. His heavy footsteps echoed down the hall as Doctor Fraiser turned back to her patient, taking the time to settle a hand comfortingly on his right arm briefly – an expression of support that helped her a lot more than it helped him.

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Flashes of fragmented memory blanched through Jack's brain, disorienting him with their confusing nature - the event horizon shutting down over and over, with him always seemingly right inside it as it dissipated with an ugly whoosh. There was someone screaming too - but he didn't know who, just knew it was deafening and piercing and very, very real. Gradually the scream started to stutter, turning into small yelps, becoming more and more mechanical sounding until he recognised it as a heart monitor. It beeped comfortingly beside him and told him everything he needed to know - he was hurt and he was in the infirmary. As his head reeled slightly he also deduced the other significant fact - he was drugged to the gills.

As his mind struggled to fill in the blanks he realised what had happened and what exactly had been hurt. Focusing on his arm he experimented with a little movement. Even a slight tug on unidentifiable muscles earned him a flash of pain, he heard himself moan as fire licked up his arm, deceiving his nerves into thinking someone had just thrown it into a furnace.

Dulled senses detected a faint voice and a contact on his arm, and he tried to open sluggish eyes.

'Colonel? Are you awake?'

Yes damnit, don't ask me to prove it.

'Can you open your eyes for me?'

Aw for crying out loud, fine, if it'll shut you up then fine, cop a loada this.

Doctor Fraiser almost flinched when Jack opened his eyes abruptly, flinging them wide and giving her a vicious stare. She smiled in amusement, pleased that his stubborn nature had not been destroyed by either shock, pain or drugs. 'Welcome back Colonel, are you in any pain?'

Jack's eyelids sank back down to half-mast, his expression softening as he grunted and shook his head slightly. He shifted his eyes down so he could glance at his arm, covered as it was in thick bandages and elevated slightly on a cushion. 'Is everyone okay? My team?' he mumbled, his eyes flicking lazily back to the Doctor.

'Yes they're fine, a little shocked after your performance but otherwise okay. The gate took a strip of skin from your arm Colonel and you're going to need a graft, it won't grow back on its own - the damage is too severe. A specialist is flying in as we speak and we're going to get you into surgery as soon as possible,' she watched the Colonel nod his head slightly.

'Is it going to be okay?' he whispered through the oxygen mask.

Janet nodded comfortingly, patting his right arm in a motherly fashion,

'Yes Colonel, it's going to be fine with some care, the damage was deep but a graft should take and solve the problem, you'll be sore for a while and it'll need looking after but you should be good as new given time.'

'How much time?' Jack asked quietly, closing his eyes again.

Janet smiled again, God, the man has hardly got in here and he wants out - am I so bad? It's probably only the immense amount of drugs that I have in him that are stopping him trying to get out of bed. I wouldn't be surprised if he'd ask us to postpone his graft until he could finish his mission report, anything to put off the healing and get out of the dreaded infirmary.

'As much time as it takes Colonel O'Neill,' the petite Doctor stated in a commanding tone that told Jack exactly how much patience she was prepared to spare on him, namely - not much.

'Now I want you to sleep, you shouldn't be awake at all, your team will be in to see you after the surgery and you can talk all you want then. Rest now,' she concluded, and Jack's seasoned 'infirmary second-sense' detected her fiddling with one of his IV lines. He let out a quick sigh as the haze of drugs increased and he was pulled away from consciousness. The pain tugging at his arm floated away along with everything else and the beeping of the heart monitor dissolved away to thick silence.

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Carter peered in disinterest at the thin lines snaking across the monitors screen, they pulsed and waved in a hypnotic fashion that threatened to send her already tired mind into full shut-down. Her hand resting lightly on her CO's right arm, she felt herself slipping into a daze, staring at the visible manifestation of his heartbeat. Her zombification was interrupted suddenly by voices approaching in a businesslike tone from down the hallway, and Doctor Fraiser entered the room followed by several assistants. She smiled as she saw Sam look up from a daze, 'Janet?'

'The specialist is here Sam - time to get this sorted out,' she explained, her assistants moving to surround the Colonel's bed as Sam moved out of their way. Carter watched as they hefted the bed sheet that he lay on over to the gurney, her CO's right arm trailing and the IV lines whipping around until Janet secured them. She readjusted the position of his head on the gurney, making sure his mask was in place and the strap secure around the back of his head, buried in his ruffled hair. Satisfied, she directed the gurney out of the room towards the surgery, flashing a quick smile to Carter as they headed out.

'Go get some rest Sam, this is going to take some time, I'll tell you when he's out and you can sit with him then.'

Not waiting for the Major's response she followed the gurney out of the room and left Carter standing by the empty bed. Her eyes wandered the room uselessly. She felt rather bereft of emotion - O'Neill's injury wasn't life threatening so she felt that she couldn't be distraught, and yet it had been so nasty and unexpected that she felt overwhelmed. She suddenly heard Janet's instructions to go and rest, as if her responses were delayed, and she recognised the sensibility of such action. She needed rest, and then she could provide the Colonel the support and comfort that he would no doubt need, instead of her present dazed and confused non-reaction to the whole thing. Nodding to herself she headed from the room, resisting the temptation to walk to the surgery and instead heading for her quarters, realising how much she was looking forward to sinking into her bed.

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Daniel's eyes unconsciously watched the same pulsing green line that Carter had stared at some hours before. He, the Major and one Jaffa from Chulac were gathered around their team leader's bed, the air one of contemplation. The surgery had provided all of them time to get some much needed sleep after the events of the day, and they were all rested sufficiently to gather in the infirmary once Janet informed them of the success of the procedure. The specialist - evidently a busy and disinterested man - had departed without so much as a look in to the occupants of the infirmary, including his patient.

This didn't bother SG-1 in the least however, their worries were soothed as ever by the vigilant CMO and they were relaxed now, Daniel and Carter in chairs and Teal'c standing against the wall. Carter's eyes roamed over her CO, lazily taking in the heavily wrapped arm that was earning him this time in the infirmary. She sighed and shook her head gently.

'You know, it horrifies me to think how close he got to losing his arm,' she breathed softly, staring at O'Neill's pale face.

'I know,' Daniel agreed softly before she continued,

'If he had stepped through just a millisecond later he could have lost a lot more than a strip of skin,' she shook her head again.

Teal'c's deep voice rang out strangely loud in the infirmary, 'we take risks every time we step through the Stargate. Colonel O'Neill accepts this. There is nothing to be gained in guessing at alternative outcomes to today's events.'

Daniel nodded, 'Teal'c's right Sam - it’s just one of those things that we can't ever hope to predict. We’re just lucky Jack has a tough skin,' he enunciated, almost cringing at his own pun. Carter shot him a semi-dirty look and he smiled sheepishly, 'sorry, making up for Jack's silence I guess.'

'And doing a crap job too,' Jack's cracked voice interceded their banter quietly. Daniel smiled and leant forward as he saw Carter do the same on the edge of his vision.

'Hey Jack, how you doing?' he grinned, pleased to hear the man's wisecracking again. A rough cough rose from Jack's throat and he waved his right arm towards the glass of ice chips that he knew would be sitting somewhere nearby. 'Could you…?'

'Oh, sure,' Daniel nodded and grabbed the glass that Jack had been waving towards. He didn't wander how he'd known it was there, Jack had been in the infirmary often enough to know how to navigate it with his eyes closed. God knows he had demonstrated time after time that he knew how to navigate it while bandaged up with a mess of IV lines trailing behind him. Daniel raised his eyebrows at the errant thought, and dropped some ice chips into Jack's open mouth - freed of the oxygen mask by the canulla leading into his nose.

Jack let the ice slip down his dry throat and reverse the chalky sensation that the drugs in his system left him with. He could faintly feel his arm like a line of heat, glowing from his shoulder down to his hand and throbbing slightly. Apart from that faint pain he felt pretty good - comfortable in the bed, very relaxed and happy to lie with his eyes closed, staring at the inside of his eyelids. He knew his placidity was due to the drugs that the good Doctor had no doubt loaded him with, but for precisely that reason he didn't care. They took away his desire to worry about anything in particular and left him content to stay still and quiet while his arm throbbed away to itself beside him.

Carter smiled as he closed his eyes again, 'the surgery went fine Sir, Janet says you should be out of here in no time.'

That produced the expected smile from her CO and her own smile widened as he opened his eyes again, meeting hers, 'what happened?'

'We've ascertained that the energy weapons overloaded the gate, the same as when we were sent to Antarctica, it jumped again - to another Stargate. You made it through just in time.'

'I seem to be having real bad luck with the wormhole jumping thing don't I?' Jack commented icily, 'you'd think the thing had it in for me.'

'Actually you were damn lucky Jack, if you'd entered a split second later you would have lost your arm, or more, and a lot later and we would have lost the whole of you to some other planet.'

'Lucky me,' mumbled Jack moodily. Daniel snorted in agreement, he sure didn't look lucky. He watched Jack's right hand wander up to his greying hair, stroking it back absent mindedly as he closed his eyes again. He let his arm flop back down to the bed with a thump and he lay still. His team sat in comfortable silence for quite some time as his breathing settled to a rhythm and they ascertained that he had gone back to sleep. Sighing in relative comfort Carter rose from her seat and headed for Janet's office to tell her that O'Neill had awoken briefly. Daniel leant back in his chair, watching Jack's chest rise and fall under the thin hospital sheets and feeling assured that his friend had made it through his latest ordeal intact.

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Janet smiled as her patient's eyes fluttered slightly, waking for the second time from a drugged sleep. Jack's eyes rolled around, scoping the room out before coming to rest on her face. 'Hi Doc,' he croaked, finding that his throat was yet again dry and raw.

'How are you feeling Sir?'

Jack breathed heavily at the question and looked down at his arm, it was wrapped very heavily in thick bandages, and the ache emanating from it had become stronger and more real. 'This is a bit overkill isn't it?' he asked, avoiding her question and motioning to the bandage with his eyes. Janet shook her head, 'no Sir, it might look a little alarming but it's totally necessary. The Stargate took a sizeable strip of skin from your arm and we had to bring a specialist in to take some skin from your thigh and graft it to your arm.'

'Eeew,' Jack mumbled, staring down to try and see his leg, as if it would somehow look different. He couldn't lift his head high enough and gave up trying as Fraiser continued,

'The surgery went well and we have a wet pack pressed tight to your arm so that the skin takes. Your leg should heal fine on it's own and the only thing we have to worry about now is the risk of infection. So you'll be in here for a short while yet Colonel, if you rest and let this heal properly you should be back to working order in good time.'

Jack moaned quietly, the relevant words there are 'in here' and 'rest'. I swear sometimes she makes these things up just so I have to stay here longer, that bandage looks suspiciously large if you ask me, and whoever heard of skinning someone's leg to save their arm - doesn't that mean my leg needs a graft now? Where are they going to take the skin for that? I'm not a flesh-farm for crying out loud!

'How much time?' Jack repeated the question that he had asked before the surgery. Janet raised her eyes to the ceiling and forced her mouth into a patient smile, 'Colonel, replacing skin is no mean feat, it needs to take and stretch and become part of your arm, it needs to be good enough to let you do all the things you could do before and it's not going to get that way if you run out of my infirmary trailing IV's and pushing yourself too hard too fast.'

Jack closed his eyes, blotting the Doc out and letting a faint smile cross his tired face.

'Keep your stethoscope on, I'm not planning any marathons.'

'Well I'm glad to hear that Colonel,' Janet sighed, aware that it was going to be another long month in the infirmary and promising herself silently that she would do everything and anything to get the Colonel back to work as soon as humanly possible. She heard him grunt something but couldn't make it out, she pulled a face, 'what was that?'

'Ice, please?' he repeated. Janet nodded, the politeness of the request reminding her that while the Colonel might grump and complain, he never took the Doctor's services nor the Doctor herself for granted. She took a couple of ice chips from the cup on his table and pressed them to his lips, watching him sigh as he took them into his mouth and mumbled something that might have been 'thanks'. She concluded writing in his chart and then proceeded to bring his sedatives down another notch. Looking back down to her patient once she had finished she found him asleep again, his chest rising and falling gently. He looked comfortable and well, his face was perhaps a little pale but that was not unexpected after a trauma like surgery.

She nodded to herself and headed back to her office as Daniel marched in the infirmary doorway, his head buried in a folder of papers. The archaeologist had been away for no more than two minutes to collect some more paperwork to study, and now he struggled to contain the contents of the folder as he took his place again at the Colonel's bed side.

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Daniel's neck jerked as he was woken suddenly from a deep sleep. He looked up bleary eyed to meet the gaze of an apologetic nurse. He smiled at her kindly, accepting her silent apology for waking him up. He removed his glasses and shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, his feet hitting the papers that were now lying scattered on the floor - he had obviously dropped them when he had fallen asleep. Watching as the nurse took Jack's blood pressure and checked over a few of the monitors, he noted a slight furrowing of her brow a couple of times.

His eyes moved to Jack and he was slightly concerned to note that his skin didn't look quite as fresh as it had when Daniel had first sat down. He peered closer and decided that the man's face looked slightly flushed, in contrast to his paling flesh.

The nurse made a small sound and attracted his attention, smiling and making it clear she had finished. She moved off and his tired eyes followed her towards the door and were drawn to the dimmed base lights that indicated the late time of night. Checking his watch he realised that he had spent five hours by Jack's bed side, and done none of the work that he had planned. Pursing his lips in annoyance he leaned down and started to gather the papers that were strewn about his feet.

Jack nodded at Carter as she stepped up to the event horizon ahead of him. Their mission had gone well, it had been relaxed and enjoyable and they were finished and ready to return to the SGC. He watched his team walk through the gate in front of him and he stepped up to the shimmering wall of blue happily.

Daniel tutted at a crumpled piece of paper as he shoved it back into the folder from which it had flown. His back complained as he maintained the curled position, perched on the edge of the chair, reaching down to the infirmary floor.

The cold centre of the wormhole gripped the Colonel, dragged him across the universe and deposited him on Earth. The light of the SGC hit his eyes and he lifted his gaze. His team stood in front of him, facing him as he exited the Stargate. His smile was frozen as he caught their expressions, they stared at him with horror, their eyes betraying disgust, fear, disbelief. His own face slowly creased into confusion.

Daniel grabbed another handful of papers as he noticed a subtle change in the rhythm of the heart monitor. It was beeping quietly, set to a low level before it was removed altogether - unneeded once it's patient was recovered. Daniel's face twitched slightly as the beeps increased in speed, just ever so slightly. He lifted his head.

Jack turned his head, agonisingly slowly, dragging his eyes down to the right, sweeping round to see his shoulder. His shoulder. That's all there was. His arm. Was missing. Fear crushed his chest tight as he stared at the space where his right arm once been, stared at the scarlet blood dripping onto the cold metal ramp. His face was frozen in shock, and at the same time he could feel the utter horror of everyone in the room with him, all staring at him, all staring at where his arm used to be. He couldn't talk, couldn't move, couldn't scream.

Daniel's head lifted in time to see the monitor and Jack change at the same time. He seemed to stiffen suddenly and it was made all the more severe by the urgent beeping of the heart monitor, Daniel leapt forward off his seat and up close to his friend as his eyes flew open wildly, 'Jack!'

Jack emitted a quiet yelp, small but terribly meaningful as he shot upwards, fighting gravity and struggling to release himself from the bed sheets. His face was filled with pain as Daniel met him half way, taking him in the same bear hug as he had on the ramp, gripping his arms around the older man's chest and squeezing as hard as he dared. He could hear Jack's desperate words close to his ear even as he tried to struggle free from Daniel's grip. He was surprisingly strong for a sick man and the archaeologist fought hard to keep him still, sitting awkwardly in the bed, repeating the same fear-filled sentence over and over, 'my arm! My arm! My arm!'

His eyes tight with distress, Daniel risked freeing one arm and grabbed for the call button, slamming it down and then regaining his grip around the Colonel's chest.

'It's okay Jack, you're okay, your arm's fine, you're okay Jack,' he repeated over and over, gasping suddenly as Jack abruptly turned his struggles to escape into their hug - returning the archaeologist's grip with fierce strength. His arms seemed to try and squeeze the air out of the younger man and his words stopped. Daniel could feel Jack so tense against him, and now that he had stopped the radical movements he could feel him shaking uncontrollably. He could feel his friend's chest heaving for oxygen against his own, his breathing forced and panicked.

'It's okay Jack,' Daniel soothed, loosening his grip slightly. He heard footsteps enter hastily behind him and almost felt the Doctor's alarm at what she saw. A hand touched his shoulder delicately and briefly, just to make him aware of her presence, and then the Doctor's attention was fully on the Colonel. 'Colonel? Daniel, what happened?' she asked hurriedly as he heard her fiddle with some of the equipment at the bed side. Daniel went to answer but felt Jack relax in his arms, somewhat abruptly.

'Jack? You okay?' he asked, easing from his friends now weak grip. He felt him start to fall back and he maintained his hold, helping Janet lower him back to the bed gently. His eyes were open, glazed and confused as they latched onto Daniel's shocked expression.

'Uh, yeah. You?' he asked in a whisper. Janet fought back a small smile and leant her attention to his arm with concern.

When the call-button had activated the alarm in her office she had in fact already been on her way to the Colonel's room - informed by the night nurse that the Colonel was running a temperature. She could see now that there was definitely some need for concern, Jack's outburst adding credence to her worry that he had developed an infection.

Daniel's eyes flicked from Janet's professionally hidden worry, to Jack's confused and exhausted distress. Briefly he caught a glimpse of his papers out of the corner of his eye - once again spread out all over the infirmary floor.

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Carter blinked at her toast, her mind lost in some complex scientific equation - giving her respite from the worry of her CO's condition. She hated to think what the following few weeks would have in store, she knew a little about skin grafting, enough to know that the surgery wasn't the end of it, that there was physiotherapy to be endured. Her concentration was broken as Daniel sat heavily down in the seat on the other side of the table she had claimed in the commissary. She looked up with a smile that was soon wiped from her face at his rather shocked and strained appearance, 'Daniel? What is it?'

Daniel sighed and grabbed at a piece of toast, picking at it, 'Jack's got an infection - the graft site. Last night when I was there he started getting feverish, having nightmares,' he sighed again, rubbing a hand over his forehead.

'Damn. Are you okay?' Carter enquired softly. Her concerns flew to her CO at first but she could see that Daniel was upset.

'I'm fine Sam,' Daniel threw her a weak smile, 'it's just, it's not fair, you know?'

'Yeah,' Carter nodded, 'I know. Look, I'm almost finished here, I'm going to see him now - why don't you get some sleep?'

Daniel looked like he was going to protest for a second, but then he sagged. 'Yeah, I think I will, Teal'c is in there with him too,' he nodded running out of things to say, and rose stiffly from his seat. He was worried for his friend but was feeling so tired, and ready to hand over the concern to someone else for a few hours. His quarters' bed didn't sound so bad either after hours spent sleeping in an uncomfortable infirmary chair.

Carter watched him leave sluggishly and then rose as well, leaving her half eaten breakfast and heading for the infirmary.

Teal'c's stern and unrevealing expression met Carter at the Colonel's bedside as the Jaffa turned to her. Janet was leaning over the Colonel's prone form, concealing him from her gaze until she too stood up and turned to Carter. O'Neill was far too pale, coated with a fine layer of sweat - his eyes moving constantly beneath his eyelids.

Janet's heart pulled slightly at seeing Sam's expression. The one part of her job that she absolutely hated was giving bad news. People looked to Doctor's with such hope, such faith that they could heal anything, they were everyone's last hope. If the last hope went wrong then that was it - despair. She hung her stethoscope around her neck and tried to keep her expression neutral. 'His graft has become infected Sam. It's not bad yet, we caught it early and I've got him on strong IV antibiotics which have a high success rate with dispelling this kind of infection. If these work then we won't have to re-graft.'

Carter nodded, at a loss for what to say, instead grabbing a chair and sitting down by her pale CO, 'so it could still be okay?'

'Yes Sam, he hasn't given up yet,' Janet suppressed a small smile as her thoughts wandered to memories of the Colonel's stubborn fighting nature. Sam's mind was pulled to the same thoughts and she reached out a hand to take Jack's, dismayed at the heat that emanated from his skin.

'Like the Colonel always says,' she murmured to herself, 'never give up, right?'

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The low level of the infirmary lights lulled even Teal'c into a relaxed sense of safety as he stood vigil over both his leader and the Major that was seated by his side. He knew little of the effects of injuries on those who didn't carry symbiotes, but he had learnt from O'Neill that fevers tended to peak during the night-time. How the human body identified the time of day was a mystery to him, but he trusted his CO's experience. He could see the tension lines on Major Carter's face as her gaze was locked on O'Neill. He wriggled weakly in his bed, wrinkling the sterile sheets into a mess, his face flushed and his skin damp with perspiration. The bed sheet slid lightly over his bare chest as he shook slightly, as if reacting to something in his dreams. He made a small, quiet surprised sound and his eyebrows rose ever so slightly, leading Carter's curiosity to blaze. What can possibly be filling that tough, scarred, beautiful mind? What is he reliving in there? I am sometimes desperate to share what he holds in there, even though I know it is harsh and sometimes horrible. He doesn't realise how perceptive people are sometimes, I don't miss those little moments, those little twitches when some word is mentioned. I don't know what these little things mean to him, or why he reacts ever so slightly, but I know they mean something, and I see Daniel see them too. Jack thinks he hides everything, and I know that he hides the worst effectively because I can't even begin to imagine what the worst actually *is*. But he doesn't quite hide it all, and he doesn't know how much we care, ho much we want to ease his pain. Perhaps he never will, or perhaps our team here is mellowing that - I would like to hope so. Getting through to this hard, closed off Colonel would be something worth working nights, weekends and Christmas' for, that's for sure.

Carter watched the bed sheet glide over Jack's skin as he shifted to the left, throwing his injured arm a little to near the edge of the bed. She rose slightly, carefully reaching for the heavily bandaged limb and pulling it gently back to a safe position. Her touch instantly stilled him, he was suddenly deathly quiet, all movement stopped. Carter stopped too, leaning half over him, and stared down at closed eyes. She hung there for long seconds, confused at his sudden change in demeanour.

Slowly his bandaged arm moved to the left again, towards the edge of the bed. She watched in relative confusion. He was moving purposely, but his eyes were closed. She reached out tentatively and put her hand on his left arm again and pulled it back against his side, settling it on the cushion. At the contact his face changed subtly, relaxed suddenly, and his eyes opened slowly. 'Hey Carter.'

His greeting was quiet but familiar, and shook the confusion from Carter's mind, making her suddenly aware that she was hovering inches from his face. 'Hi Sir,' she replied and moved quickly back to her chair, settling in it and smiling at him. She watched his slightly unfocused eyes snake over to his arm, and he stared at it, sighing deeply, 'It's still there then.'

With that cryptic comment Carter realised what her earlier contact on his arm had meant, he had felt it as an affirmation that the limb was still attached. She cursed silently, realising that he could have been in the middle of a nightmare and she would have had no way to tell.

'Are you okay Sir?' she asked, only deciding after she had asked it that it was a slightly stupid question to ask. He seemed to appreciate the sentiment however, and acknowledged her concern with a tight smile, 'Doc been playing with the thermostat in here to confuse me again?'

Carter smiled, the joke was lame and only served to increase her sympathy - she could guess that was not the effect he had desired. 'You have an infection Sir, but the antibiotics are taking care of it.'

'Mm,' he made a small noise in response and turned his tired eyes back to the ceiling. He let out a taught breath that he had been holding and licked his lips, tasting the salt from his own sweat. 'So, has this little incident finally led to them putting the safety sticker on the gate?'

Carter snorted, letting the tension and worry from the last to days channel into the stifled laugh, and she saw her CO's face crease into an exhausted smile. She didn't need to look at Teal'c, she could *feel* his eyebrow rising.

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Daniel could feel his mouth twisting into a grimace despite his best efforts to control his disgust.

'Danny, for God sake, you look like you're being forced to watch someone throwing up,' Jack rolled his eyes in despair as he suppressed his own grimace. Doctor Fraiser's eyes flicked momentarily to Daniel's expression and she smiled, turning her eyes back to the dressing that she was expertly peeling away from the graft site on Jack's arm. He was balanced on his right side, a nurse by his back and Daniel hovering by his front, a hand rested on the bed ready to support Jack should he roll. Janet removed the bandage finally, safe in the knowledge that her patient was sufficiently filled with painkilling fluids. She had to admit that the site was pretty ugly, but she was well used to such injuries and years of medical practise had hardened her. She saw Daniel shift his gaze back to Jack's face with a twist of his lips, he was trying so hard to disguise how bad his friend's arm looked and was failing miserably. For a second Janet wondered whether she should have let him stay while the dressing was changed, but then she leant over slightly and caught Jack's amused expression. She should have known that Daniel's queasiness would not have worried Jack, quite the contrary, he was enjoying every second of it. Jack turned his head slightly, his face still damp with sweat but no where near as flushed as it had been hours ago.

'Eeeew, what's that oozing there?' he asked, and then flicked his gaze back to Daniel triumphantly as the young man turned another shade of green. Janet smiled in amusement, placing a fresh wet pad on the skin graft. She heard Jack draw in a breath at the contact and she paused a second, 'okay Colonel?'

'Yeah, it's cold is all,' he commented, the chilled water a harsh contrast to his still fevered skin. Janet nodded, settled the pad and started bandage his arm with fresh bandages, the nurse holding the limb up for her.

'Well Colonel, that's looking really good, the infection is clearing up gradually, the antibiotics are doing their job and if it continues like this then we won't have to re-graft,' she commented as she wrapped his arm delicately. He made a muffled reply, reminding Daniel how tired he really was. The archaeologist could be deceived, along with everyone else, by Jack's flippant comments and cavalier attitude, it was hard to remember that he was human and that his defensive sarcasm hid a vulnerable and ill man. Daniel also knew that for Jack to admit to that vulnerability would be a minor miracle, and hiding it was the precise reason for his devil-may-care demeanour.

Finishing her task, Janet lowered his arm slowly down against his side, keeping her hands on it gently, 'Okay, let's get you on your back Sir.'

Always the one to try things too fast, Jack rolled suddenly and Janet's steadying hands were the only thing to prevent him jarring himself as he landed on his back. Daniel placed a concerned hand on Jack's right shoulder, again feeling the heat of his skin. The Colonel lay still on the bed, his eyes closed, seemingly relieved to be in a comfortable position again. He was still only half dressed under the thin sheets, but he had not protested his bare chest for two reasons. The first was that he was still incredibly hot, it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been and he could tell that it was getting better, but the cool air moving over his skin afforded him some welcome relief. Secondly it allowed him a clear and unobstructed view of his left arm and the bandages that covered it. If he could see his arm then that meant that it was still there, and not gone - as so many of his fevered dreams would have him believe.

Daniel lifted his hand as the Colonel lifted his own right arm up to wipe his face, flicking small droplets of sweat onto his thin pillow. He fiddled momentarily with the canula, and then rested his hand above his eyes as he opened them again, meeting Daniel's concerned gaze. He smiled at the concern that was written all over the younger man's face as the nurse left Doctor Fraiser to adjust the Colonel's IV's. Daniel returned Jack's smile, sinking back into his chair and relaxing somewhat now that the offending injury was literally under wraps.

'You don't have to stay here Danny,' Jack's eyes slid shut again as he sighed, settling into a slightly more comfortable position in the bed.

'I know.'

Jack smiled, 'but then, reading stuff like that,' he waved his right hand in the direction of the book that he knew was sitting by the table at Daniel's side, 'I wouldn't blame you for needing a distraction.'

And God knows, Jack, you're a distraction and a half, Daniel laughed to himself. He snorted quietly and sat still in his seat as his friend's body slowly relaxed into the bed, his breathing settling to a steady rhythm and his eyes almost opening again as the tension left them.

There were times when Jack's face carried so much weight that it was almost painful to watch, but right now, with painkillers and exhaustion those demons were dispelled momentarily, leaving his friend's features softened. Daniel let himself look for a while, not thinking about how much the Stargate had taken from them both, both figuratively and literally. Not thinking about how hard it would be for Jack to endure the therapy that would have to follow this latest cruel pay-back for being the first through the gate to another planet, and the last through on the way home.

For a moment Daniel was just eternally glad that Jack hadn't come through the gate a few seconds later.

 

-------An diereadh------