TITLE: That Question

AUTHOR: Pheral

E-MAIL: kamilshka@hotmail.com

STORY STATUS: Completed

SEQUEL/SERIES INFO: N/A

SEASON: Around four I guess

SPOILERS: None really

CATEGORIES: Action/Adventure, Hurt/Comfort

PAIRINGS: None

Content Level: 13+

CONTENT WARNINGS: Just Jack whumpin’, some bloodiness and one bad word.

SUMMARY: Jack O’Neill drops right into trouble again, and finds himself subject to ‘that question’.

ARCHIVE PERMISSIONS: ThePointOfOrigin site, Helio, JackFic site.

DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and its 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 anyway, so go ahead and chance your luck kiddo.

FILE SIZE: 164KB

AUTHORS NOTE: By god yea…hoorah for compliments from my beta Ruth (always goes down well), and hoorah to Jack, for being Jack (need I say more?).

Read, enjoy, then mail me. Feedback is my ink.

‘That Question’

‘Are you okay Sir?’

Why on earth are people always asking me that question? I mean, I always say I’m fine and no one ever believes me – so what’s the point?

It’s not that I dislike the question per se, it’s more the situation surrounding it that bothers me. Normally people ask if I’m okay when I don’t look so hot and that normally means I’m in some kinda trouble. So forgive me for feeling a little apprehensive now as I hear Carter pose that immortal question,

‘Are you okay Sir?’

What, in all honesty, does she expect me to say – ‘I’m hurting bad Major, give me all our drugs, give up all hope, and be sure to ask ‘are you okay’ at least five hundred times before I die.’ ?!

Maybe I should say that just for the reaction, but then she might pass out from shock and I’m not sure I could handle that in the current situation. Plus, I have no idea what the current situation actually is.

I could open my eyes…

‘Sir, are you okay?’

Strike three to Carter, god she’s really heading for a record today. Either she’s been brain-damaged and can’t say anything else or I look pretty rough. Neither of those options sounds terribly rosy but I’m especially not too keen on the latter. Carter doesn’t need to worry about brain damage; she has too much brain as it is. A little damage would probably just bring here down to my level and then I might be able to understand what the hell she’s going on about all the time.

‘Jack? Is he okay Sam?’

Aw geez, now Daniel’s joined in! I’m certain to die of sympathy today if nothing else.

Hey! Ow! I felt that! Somebody’s poking. Probably Carter.

‘Sir?’

I must’ve moved, must’ve made a noise or something. She sounds kinda hopeful and for all that I want to stay quiet and still and ignorant - I can’t ignore her. I’d better open my eyes and face the music, but then, facing the music is the easy part, getting the band to quit playing is a whole other ball game.

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It didn’t look like the Colonel was going to wake up so Carter shifted her attention back to his chest. Daniel was holding Jack’s shirt and T-shirt up as she ran her hands over his bruised skin. Given his slight moan a couple of seconds ago, she had already found one rib that was at least cracked. Her fingers hit another bone that shifted unnaturally beneath their pressure and Daniel saw the Colonel move again. He gave a quick moan and tried to move backwards away from her, his face contorted as the pain hit and his eyes shot open. Daniel pushed Jack’s BDU’s down as Carter temporarily ceased her examination and moved up to his head.

‘Carter?’

‘Hi Sir. How do you feel?’

‘Shouldn’t you be telling me? You’re the one who’s poking around,’ he countered, ashen faced.

‘Looks like you have a few cracked or maybe broken ribs. I think your ankle is broken and you have a nasty head injury. I haven’t had time to check more than that Sir.’

O’Neill cast a hasty eye over his surroundings, it was dark and it looked like they were in a cave although his vision was a little fuzzy. The floor seemed to stop a few metres from them but the walls and ceiling carried on into the distance.

‘What happened?’ he asked, running his tongue round a dry mouth and tasting metallic blood. Daniel leant over him in concern, ‘you don’t remember?’

Jack rolled his eyes, ‘No Daniel, I don’t remember. Where are we?’ and he shifted uncomfortably on the floor. There were numerous pains vying for his attention but he hadn’t yet been able to designate each to a limb. He felt a little disembodied and decided just to focus on the situation in general rather than his situation in particular.

‘We’re on P4X-292 Jack, we were sent to looks for signs of life and explore some interesting looking caves,’ Daniel explained in a teacherly voice.

Geez, only Daniel could describe caves as ‘interesting’ Jack mentally snorted in derision.

Carter nodded, moving down to her previous position.

‘I’m going to carry on here Sir, try to assess the damage okay?’

Jack nodded gently, feeling the dull ache in his head increase somewhat as Carter gave Daniel a job to do, ‘try and clean that cut on his head would you Daniel? We can’t have it getting infected.’

The Colonel watched Daniel break open a first aid pack as he felt Carter lift his tops again. Her touch made him shiver but she studiously ignored his flinches and carried on from where she’d left off.

‘Just tell me where it hurts Sir,’ and she swept her right hand fluidly down the side of his ribs on the left side.

‘Don’t worry Carter, I’ll te…ah!’ he gasped, ‘There! There, damn it. Don’t touch there again,’ he said, his voice turning to a mumble as his face paled considerably. Carter glanced up momentarily to his stressed face and then peered at the area that she had touched. His left side looked a little red but no bruises had risen – it was too soon for that. Upon closer inspection it did look a little swollen and she could bet there was some pretty nasty damage from his reaction.

‘Okay Sir, I won’t touch there again,’ she traded an anxious look with Daniel as she moved her hands to her CO’s stomach.

‘Nothing Sir?’ she asked, carefully putting pressure on his abdomen.

‘Only my lunch Carter,’ O’Neill replied quietly, closing his eyes briefly.

The Major nodded and pulled down his tops, shifting down to his right ankle. It looked slightly oddly positioned she noted and she was pretty sure that it was broken inside the boot. She winced in anticipation and looked up to where Daniel was gently wiping away the grime and blood from Jack’s face to reveal the gash that adorned his forehead. She could see Jack’s eyes watching the archaeologists’ concentration as he revealed the damage in the same way he would uncover some ancient artefact. Daniel curled his lip in sympathy as he wiped the cloth over Jack’s face and revealed a nasty swelling over the bridge of his nose. Jack closed his eyes as the water ran over them and down the side of his face, running clean rivulets through the dust that caked his cheeks and neck.

‘Looks like maybe this is broken,’ Daniel suggested, looking to Carter for confirmation. She nodded, agreeing with his assessment, ‘put butterfly strips on that cut and tape it. I’m going to have to take your boot off Sir.’

‘Okay,’ Jack answered suspiciously, he hadn’t felt any pain from his foot yet and wasn’t totally sure he believed that there was anything wrong with it. Daniel taped up Jack’s head wound as Carter slowly undid his boot laces, noting the swelling in his lower shin.

‘Okay, removing boot,’ she instructed mechanically and, bracing herself, she gave the boot a sharp tug.

Jack sucked in sudden breath through suddenly tense lips as the pain hit him, broken bones jarred and he shot his right arm upwards gripping Daniel’s shoulder fiercely and squeezing hard. Daniel grabbed Jack’s arm in return, his brow creased as he watched his friend’s face contort silently. Carter ignored Jack’s movements and gave another firm tug, pulling the boot off in one movement and tossing it to the ground.

Jack let out a breath and panted heavily, squeezing his eyes at the respective pain in his chest and foot. Daniel and Carter paused, watching him struggle for control and waiting until he was able to continue.

Jack focused on his panicked breathing, calming it to slow even breaths. He opened his eyes again to find his two team members staring at him – hold on, two? That’s not right. Teal’c! God, I must have hit my head really hard to have forgotten about Teal’c. He’s not the kind of guy you forget in a hurry.

‘Where’s Teal’c?’

‘Oh,’ Carter replied, ‘he’s gone up to the surface to check if we’re all secure. We’re still not totally sure that this place in uninhabited.’

‘Right,’ Jack acknowledged, feeling that he didn’t know nearly as much about their situation as he should. ‘Well Carter, do your worst down there and Daniel, perhaps you’d fill me in on how we wound up in this beautiful situation?’

Daniel nodded, watching Carter get her medical gear from her pack. He sat down at Jack’s head, their right arms still linked in a fierce grip, and started to relate the day’s events…

P4X-292 looked to all eyes to be fairly boring, most especially to O’Neill’s. The MALP sent back images of a desert, featureless and dry. But the thing that had caught Daniel’s attention, and led to SG1 getting the mission, was some markings on the otherwise blank ground in front of the Stargate. There seemed to be some kind of path or road marked into the ground, and when the MALP camera followed its line they could see some dark mounds in the distance. These had turned out to be caves of some sort, and the cameras on the probe could only just make out the same markings on the ground in front of the caves, leading into them.

Daniel took it as an invitation to go visiting and Colonel Jack O’Neill took it as a sign of trouble.

The walk to the caves had taken about a day to complete and was hot and uneventful. Come sunset on the planet they were entering the caves and feeling the temperature drop rapidly, both outside and inside the rocky formations. Upon walking down into the caves for a few minutes Daniel had become excited by the gradual appearance of ruins and writings on the wall.

‘Woah Jack, this is in ancient Egyptian, the language that our ancestors used around about the uprising when the Goa’uld were overthrown!’

‘What does it say?’ Jack asked, trying to sound interested.

‘Well, it’s pretty vague, hard to ascertain specific meaning to the symbols, it’s a bit of a mish-mash really, but I think it’s getting clearer the further down we go,’ he continued to chitter excitedly as they went deeper, running his fingers over some areas of the wall in interest. After they had been descending for some half hour he stopped and shone his torch at a gathering of symbols at a corner of the tunnel.

‘This says something about some device hidden nearby! Something about a warning though, and some…’ his voice trailed off as he focused on the text.

‘Device to do what?’ Jack asked, ‘heal people? Kill people?’ and he muttered quietly, ‘silence over-enthusiastic scientists?’

‘What?’ Daniel lifted his head sharply.

‘Nothing,’ Jack replied in an innocent voice.

Daniel shot him a suspicious look and pointed round the corner to the left, ‘this way,’ and they trudged off in the direction he chose.

‘Ow! Jesu…Carter!’ Jack exploded, interrupting Daniel abruptly.

‘Sorry, sorry,’ Carter almost pleaded, feeling far too familiar with this kind of situation, ‘I think there’s some rock imbedded in your foot Sir, it’s gone right through your boot.’

‘Yeah yeah yeah,’ Jack chanted, squeezing Daniel’s shoulder so hard that it started to hurt.

‘It’s alright Sir, the worst is done with.’

‘That’s easy for you to say Major!’ Jack spat, his teeth gritted as she worked on his damaged limb

‘Daniel!’ Jack demanded urgently.

‘What?’

‘Talk!’

‘Oh yes, right, well, where were we…’

‘In some godforsaken hole on some godforsaken planet checking out something that I thought was dangerous and you thought was interesting! OW!’ Jack almost screamed his desperate statement, letting the pain make him angry.

‘Right,’ Daniel widened his eyes a little as Jack’s fierce grip on his shoulder threatened to dislocate the joint completely, ‘right…’

After following Daniel’s excited directions for some twenty minutes SG1 finally came across something that O’Neill really would class as interesting. They entered a vast room from a ledge high above the cave floor. Jack peered down into the darkness, shining his torch onto what looked like a box or crate sitting on the cave floor about 200 feet below them.

‘There’s something down there,’ he noted. Daniel nodded, his face buried in the ruins that adorned the opposite wall, ‘this talks about a gift, and favour for those who oppose the Goa’uld! I think that’s what it says anyway,’ he murmured.

O’Neill stared down the wall of rock with an uneasy feeling. This is far too easy, gifts always make me nervous. People hardly ever just leave things to be taken for free. My gut says walk away, but my archaeologist says carry on. Typical.

‘It could be a weapon Jack.’

He know my buttons alright. He knows how to play the military for what he wants quite efficiently by now. But the problem is, he’s right, it *could* be a weapon. It could be any number of useful things. Unfortunately it could also be a trap. But we don’t know, and I mean that in a universal sense –‘ we don’t know’. These missions are ‘to find out’, so we have to take risks. And when I say we, I mean me. As long as I am here to take the first steps into the unknown then I know my team will be relatively safe behind me, and that’s what’s gonna happen today.

I could ask Carter for her opinion but I know that whatever she says we’ll end up going down to get it anyway, so I might as well forgo the confusing scientific ponderings and get out the climbing gear.

‘Okay, Carter get out the ropes. I’ll go down.’

Daniel grinned, already scribbling hastily into his notebook, it was rare that the military’s interests merged with that of their civilian archaeologist, and things got so much easier when they did.

Jack climbed into his harness straps carefully and in a somewhat volatile mood. He hated going against his instincts and with SG1 he had to do that almost every day. It put him on edge. He snapped the chest strap closed firmly and took the rope end that Carter handed him, attaching it and his safety line securely to his harness.

He watched Teal’c hammering the first secure point into the rock at their feet and then looping the rope around his forearm, ready to take O’Neill’s weight if the need arose. Jack cast a quick smile towards them and stepped backwards, teetering on the edge of the ledge he eased his weight back. Ignoring his stomach’s nervous churning he gradually eased into a horizontal position and began descending into the black depths of the cave.

‘Do you want some water Jack?’

‘What? Oh, yeah,’ O’Neill answered, his voice thick with exhaustion. ‘Help me sit up,’ he ordered.

Carter moved to his head unhappily as Daniel dragged over a pack, they helped Jack ease up into a sitting position and Daniel pushed the pack against his friend’s back. Jack’s head wheeled dangerously at the movement and he put out a hand to the cold floor to steady himself. Carter maintained a grip on his shoulder as he regained his balance, ‘okay?’

Oooh, Carter, that was nearly ‘the question’ again. That was half the question. Maybe she’s compromising, or experimenting with different combinations of the words. I hope not because if she starts asking ‘you okay are?’ I’m not gonna know if it’s her or the head injury. God Jack, quit going on at yourself, Daniel’s looking worried.

‘Yeah,’ he replied, reaching for the water bottle that Daniel offered him.

‘Drink slowly,’ Daniel commanded.

Jack nodded and took a refreshing gulp, letting the liquid roll around his parched mouth before swallowing. He looked down at his right foot, swathed in bandages some of which were already speckled with blood.

‘Bad?’ he asked.

Carter sat back on her haunches, ‘I can’t tell exactly, but there are a few large pieces of something in there, probably rock from the wall. I can’t hope to get them out without causing damage and they’re causing a lot of bleeding that I’m having difficulty stemming. Your foot’s broken in a few places too I think, but it doesn’t look too bad on that front. You really mangled it when you caught it in that explosion.’

‘Explosion? Daniel?’

‘Oh, right…’ and Daniel picked up where he’d left off, as Carter started re-packing the equipment that they had spread out over the ledge.

Jack glanced up to see Carter staring down at him attentively from about fifty feet above him. He could just make out Daniel’s back, the archaeologist deeply concentrated on the ruins on the far wall. Jack rolled his eyes, that boy and his ruins could drive a Colonel mad. He flashed a quick smile to Carter and returned his attention to his descent.

Daniel’s fingers ran sporadically along the lines of alien text on the damp wall, suddenly his brow creased, his hand froze.

‘Wait,’ he said quietly, and then turned to say it louder.

‘Wait! I think there’s something wrong, a trap…’ and his voice trailed off with his uncertainty.

‘What?!’ Jack exclaimed from far below them. He stopped the rope in his hands in mid-leap and brought his right foot in to touch the wall. As his boot settled on the crumbly rock he thought he heard a faint electronic click.

‘Oh shit.’

An almighty explosion rocked the ledge that Carter, Teal’c and Daniel were standing on and they were thrown to the floor, Carter grabbing Daniel to prevent him toppling over the edge. The blast erupted from the rock directly in front of O’Neill, under his foot, sending him flying out into space and instantly snapping his main climbing rope. He lost all sense of direction as he was thrown violently and started to fall. Abruptly a line of fire ripped into his chest and thighs as his safety line took hold and stopped his fall, it swung him back towards the wall and he smashed into it savagely. Pain seared through bones and flesh as he was pummelled by hard rock and his mind fogged over and settled to black.

Carter staggered to her feet, coughing through the thick dust that had risen and clouded the air around them.

‘Holy Hannah!’ she cursed, peering over the edge of the ledge,

‘Sir? Sir?! Can you hear me?’ she repeated it into her radio and they all listened for a response – quietening their harsh coughs for a few desperate seconds. Nothing came and Daniel strained his eyes down into the thick, black dust, trying to catch a glimpse of O’Neill.

‘His main line has been severed,’ Teal’c observed, his hand wrapped securely around O’Neill’s safety line. It was taught with weight, and Teal’c could only hope that it wasn’t the dead weight that it felt like.

Carter hurriedly hammered another secure point into the rock and Teal’c attached the safety rope to it, allowing him his freedom to hastily climb into his own climbing harness.

‘Any mention of how many traps there are Daniel?’ Carter asked sharply, as she connected Teal’c’s harness to a new rope.

‘Just one,’ Daniel answered miserably and he took a hold of O’Neill’s safety line to make himself feel better. As Teal’c lowered himself unsteadily over the edge of the drop Daniel’s eyes brightened slightly, ‘I think I see him! He’s still on the safety line but he’s not moving. God, he’s hurt Sam.’

Carter stared down to where Daniel was pointing and finally managed to make out the Colonel through the settling dust. He was hanging almost half way down the wall and looked unconscious – his weight supported by the emergency line and his harness cutting into his chest and upper legs. His limbs and head were hanging down, limp and still.

‘Jack!’ Daniel shouted, his voice echoing harshly around the huge space. As Teal’c neared O’Neill Carter was fitting her own harness and secure point, ready to help the Jaffa recover her CO.

Sam made a speedy descent as Teal’c reached Colonel O’Neill, settling against the wall beside him and placing a huge but tender hand on the younger man’s neck. O’Neill was covered in dust and blood, his hair was sticky with it and his face was bleeding and bruised. Teal’c noted the odd angle of his ankle too, and the boot looked shredded, obviously the part of Jack’s body that had activated and taken the brunt of the explosion. Teal’c could hardly see any movement from Jack’s chest at all but felt a strong, if erratic, pulse from his neck. He leant forward to his face and could just hear his hampered breathing coming in sporadic heaves. Dismayed at the harsh sounds emanating from his friend’s throat, Teal’c examined the harness straps that ran round his torso; fingering them he found that one of their connectors had broken, leading them to tighten around his chest – inhibiting his breathing drastically. While he desperately needed to get the suffocating straps off the Colonel, they were the only thing between him and a fatal fall to the bottom of the cave, and Teal’c needed the harness to attach a new line with which to haul the Colonel to safety.

Carter finally reached Teal’c and her CO and settled beside them, her brow creased as she took in his condition.

‘We need to release him from this harness as soon as possible, it is crushing his chest,’ Teal’c stated and Carter nodded and pulled on the third rope that they had lowered, turning her torch light onto her CO’s harness. As she tried to locate O’Neill’s harness clip amongst the dirt and blood she felt him shift slightly.

Jack could feel hands on his face and an overwhelming tightness round his chest and thighs. His ribs were being crushed slowly, breathing almost impossible as he struggled to take in enough oxygen for his body’s needs.

A deep moan rose from Jack’s throat, increasing in volume and finishing in a choking cough as his hands rose protectively to his chest.

‘Easy Sir,’ Carter instructed as she fumbled for his harness clip. Teal’c put a hand under Jack’s head and lifted, taking the strain from his neck and chest muscles.

‘Can’t…breathe!’ Jack gasped, amidst finishing his painful coughing fit.

‘I know Sir, your harness is snapped and tightened, we’re getting you up as soon as possible and then we can undo it,’ she hastily explained, finally finding the clip she needed and attaching the secure line to it.

Jack struggled not to panic as his lungs were squashed, his face etched with pain as Teal’c started to swing him round and up towards the top of the wall. His right boot caught the rock a faint glance and he shouted out, clamping his teeth together to stifle the rest of a scream as pain hummed around his leg. The slow, agonising ascent seemed to take years for O’Neill, and at every tug the harness’ grip on his chest seemed to get tighter and tighter and his breathing more and more impossible. His face screwed up in pain, he faintly heard Carter’s concerned and frantic voice,

‘Here we go Sir!’ and he opened bloodshot eyes to see Daniel’s face staring down at him. He was just below the ledge and Carter was scrambling up ahead of him.

He wanted to scream out and tell them to hurry up, tell them just how close he was to getting no oxygen at all, how close he was to all out panic, but he didn’t have the breath. How ironic! he screeched to himself with barely concealed hysteria.

‘Be careful Daniel – protect his head as we pull him over.’

Jack felt Teal’c’s solid hand plant itself under his back and then an agonising yank on the stifling harness, burning a line of fire into his chest. Everything moved, his head reeled sickeningly and he lost all sense of direction again, all he knew was rock against bone and scarred nerves and he let out another muffled and oxygen starved shout before biting down hard on his lip. The movement stopped abruptly as gravity placed him on his back and he heard his own whine as he tried to take a breath.

Carter frantically whipped out her knife and scrabbled for the harness line that was slowly suffocating her CO, she managed to find a strap and sliced it through in one clean movement. O’Neill’s chest rose suddenly as he took in a gulp of precious air, he felt the life giving gas rush into his system and battered limbs and hot pain engulfed him, rolling his eyes upwards and sending him into blissful unconsciousness.

Carter slumped by his side, watching his chest rise and fall – the panic of releasing him from his harness and the distress that he had shown having exhausted her temporarily. She turned to Teal’c who was heaving himself over the edge after O’Neill.

‘Teal’c, get unclipped and go check out the surface for safety. We’ll take care of the Colonel.’

‘A booby trap?’ Jack looked at Daniel incredulously.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t see…it didn’t say…I’m sorry.’

‘Aw hell Daniel it’s not your fault, but it’s not exactly Goa’uld style is it?’

Carter shook her head in agreement and then looked up as heavy footfalls heralded Teal’c’s return. He strode down the tunnel towards them grasping his staff weapon in one hand and a stout wooden pole in the other, he stopped in the entrance like some kind of huge sentry.

‘We are secure, I see no signs of life on the planet and although the temperature remains formidable, we will be able to return to the stargate tonight,’ he concluded.

‘Good,’ replied O’Neill, watching as his second finished packing their gear. She was eager to get the Colonel into Janet’s care as soon as possible and if that meant walking back instead of sleeping then that’s what they were going to do.

Teal’c approached them, waving the length of wood he held, ‘I have procured this in order to help construct a stretcher, we can also use my staff weapon and our sleeping bags.’ He laid the two objects down on the ground next to where the Colonel sat, somewhat haphazardly, on the ground. Jack cringed.

‘Oh come on guys – I can walk!’ he protested lamely. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s being helped around like some damn invalid. I can still move and damn it, I can still complain, and I will do – just to let them know it. Okay, so maybe that’s a slightly immature attitude but it works for me.

Now they’re ignoring me and building the damn thing anyway, I swear that archaeologist is as stubborn as me when he feels like it. I can’t say as the idea of sleeping right now isn’t appealing, and I’ll admit that the way the floor is shimmying beneath me is a little distracting, and sure my foot hurts like all hell but I am not getting on some pathetic stretcher!

‘Sir? Can you shuffle over onto this?’

So okay, maybe it wasn’t quite necessary to glare at her that hard but it hurts. It hurts to feel this vulnerable, it hurts to feel this dependable. Lying flat on your back isn’t exactly the most defendable position ever, totally exposed and helpless and relying on my team from everything. It hurts more than my ribs and my lungs and my head and my foot all added together, and that’s saying something.

It was apparent to Carter that he could not walk. His face was taught as they helped him slowly ease onto the stretcher beside him, constructed from their sleeping bags and some blankets. As he lay back too fast Daniel had to catch him to prevent him from hitting his head – his balance and control were all off and he looked positively ill as he lay flat on the stretcher, gripping the edges with bloody knuckles, his eyes closed in concentration.

Jack listened to his team donning their packs as he lay and tried to calm his breathing. He could still feel the lines of pain where his harness had gripped him almost fatally for far too long. His thighs had suffered too but he didn’t use those to breathe so he wasn’t especially worried.

He felt movement on the poles under his hands and then a dangerous lurch as the stretcher was lifted and his sense of direction deserted him once again. He gripped the stretcher fiercely as gravity disappeared and was replaced with a roller coaster intent on throwing him clean off his ride.

Daniel stood still, holding the poles at Jack’s head and waited until the older, considerably more bloody man regained his composure and opened his dazed eyes.

‘Good to go Jack?’

‘Wonderful, ride of my life,’ murmured Jack, in as sarcastic a voice as he could muster, and they set off.

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The cold at the surface had come as a surprise to them all, not least the Colonel who had moved his hands from the stretcher poles and was now hugging his chest from a mixture of pain and cold. Carter walked alongside the stretcher that Daniel and Teal’c carried, keeping her gun ready and casting occasional glances at her CO, who now looked for all the world like he was desperately trying to hold on to his lunch. She let her eyes close briefly in sympathy of his sickly pale skin, god I hope this was the right thing to do. He’s sick and cold now and neither of those things is doing anything good for him, but time would be more destructive, that's for sure, and the most important thing is to get him back to the infirmary before too much time passes. Can’t give his foot time to get worse, nor his lungs time to give out, nor time for him to compose himself, more’s the pity. He’s all out of kilter and I think that shocks us more than it does him, he probably doesn’t notice the little things like his eyes wondering when they normally don’t, and his voice too quiet, and his protests too weak. He can hardly support his own back, Daniel nearly didn’t catch him fast enough when he tried to lay down on the stretcher. It’s strange to see a man who is normally so in control of his body not knowing what he’s doing, but I know these things are just a symptom of what is probably a serious concussion. All I need to do is get him back to Janet and then the worries are all hers, and they’re worries that she’s far more qualified to deal with. Time to release Daniel at the Colonel’s head, the poor man looks almost as ill as his CO.

‘Let’s stop for a quick rest and I’ll take over from you Daniel,’ Carter ordered and watched the Colonel’s controlled face as they set him down. They had been walking for near four hours and in another four of five they would approach the stargate. If Carter squinted she could see a tiny black speck on the horizon that might conceivably be the gate, she set her eyes on it, chewing a snack bar slowly.

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As SG1 lowered the stretcher onto the firm sand in front of the gate, Colonel O’Neill decided not to try and get up. When he had agreed to being carried to the gate he had intended to walk through the wormhole to the SGC to try and salvage any remaining dignity from the whole affair. Lying there now though, his eyes half open and watching Daniel dialling the DHD, he had changed his mind. It wasn’t the pains in his foot and chest that worried him so much, they were familiar feelings. His side, however, was feeling very strange. It certainly was painful and tender but it had also started feeling heavy, a dragging kind of heavy from inside that suggested to Jack that all was not as it should be with several of his internal organs. He was also pretty convinced that if hertried to stand up he would lose his lunch, and therefore wasn’t really looking forward to the wormhole ride. Still, he desperately needed what was on the other side of that ride, help, expertise, healing – namely ‘Janet’.

The blue event horizon swirled out towards him and settled back, emitting all the noises that Jack had become so accustomed to hearing. He stared up into Carter’s face as she took a hold of the poles at his head and lifted. She and Daniel stepped through carrying the stretcher and Teal’c followed behind, casting a last stern look at the dark, cold desert.

SG1 were back on time and were expected when they stepped through the gate onto the SGC ramp. Therefore there were no soldiers, nurses or gurneys to meet them, only one General Hammond with an expression that quickly turned to shock upon the site of his ghostly pale second on a stretcher. Daniel didn’t stop in front of the General, he merely carried on walking towards the door,

‘Infirmary General,’ he explained. General Hammond nodded, glanced up as Teal’c emerged and the gate dissipated, and then fell into step beside the Colonel’s stretcher.

‘What on earth happened?’

‘Oh we had a blast Sir,’ O’Neill mumbled, almost too quiet for Hammond to hear. Carter rolled her eyes in sheer exasperation at the man’s seemingly endless tirade of bad jokes, and Hammond’s expression only intensified at his second’s weak characteristic attempt at humour. He decided to forgo further questioning as they arrived at the infirmary and marched inside. The gateroom technician had hastily informed Doctor Fraiser of the situation and she stood next to an empty gurney now, her nurses fussing around her assembling equipment and supplies.

‘Put the stretcher up here,’ she instructed, and if she was shocked at the Colonel’s condition she didn’t show it. O’Neill glared half-heartedly at the ceiling tiles as he felt his back hit the gurney and the stretcher poles fall to his sides.

‘What’s the story?’ Janet glanced at Sam as she leant over the Colonel. A nurse placed an oxygen mask over his mouth as Sam answered. ‘He was hit by an explosion while descending a wall. Broken foot with something embedded in it, broken ribs that were crushed by his broken harness, damaged left side and I think a bad concussion,’ she summarised, trying to be as efficient and clear as she could. Janet nodded at her explanation,

‘Shirt,’ she ordered quietly to a nurse who gripped the edges of the Colonel’s shirt and T - shirt and used scissors to cut cleanly up the middle and the up the arms, folding the fabric down and revealing his battered chest.

‘When are you going to teach your nurses how to use buttons?’ O’Neill asked quietly, steaming up his oxygen mask slightly. Fraiser cast a sympathetic eye over his torso, the bruises had fully developed now and could be seen to clearly mark out the damage that Carter had described. Several ribs were marked out by purple bruises and she could see the thin dark lines where his harness had crushed his chest. From what she could see of his left side it appeared badly swollen and slightly red and bruised too. She smiled at his faint sarcastic remark, she knew he hated this – lying useless and vulnerable while being poked and prodded.

‘Sorry Colonel, you know it has to be done this way, I’m just going to put an IV line into the back of your hand okay?’ she took a hold of one of his dusty bloody hands. Seeing one of her nurses move to the bottom of the Colonel’s trousers she looked up at the rest of SG1 who were hovering a few metres away, looking strained.

‘SG1, go and get some food and rest. When you come back for your examinations I’ll tell you the situation,’ she instructed. Carter nodded, she wanted to stay and make sure the Colonel was alright but she knew that he valued his privacy and Janet needed space to work. She followed Teal’c and Daniel outside to the corridor where Hammond was waiting for them.

Janet deftly inserted the IV line into O’Neill’s left hand as one of her nurses cut up his trouser legs and folded them to the side. Janet left a nurse to attach a bag of fluids to the line and ran a hand over the bruises on O’Neill’s thighs. They were thin and dark blue, wrapping his legs from back to front.

‘Do these hurt?’ she asked him, gently putting pressure on the area.

‘Only when someone is prodding them,’ O’Neill sighed quietly, his eyes almost closed. Frasier nodded, satisfied with the vague answer.

‘Colonel I’m just going to turn you over so I can have a look at your left side. Don’t try to help – we’ll do all the work.’ O’Neill grunted softly in response and Fraiser organised her nurses around him. Carefully they rolled him onto his side, Janet holding his head steady and making sure his arms didn’t flail. The full extent of the damage was revealed to her as he settled uneasily on his side, nurse’s hands supporting his back and chest gently. The bruising was deep and there were underlying deep red colours indicating internal bleeding, it stretched down past his hip, under his boxers and down onto his thigh. She gently probed a few areas, feeling for loose ribs and got nothing but pained grunts from her patient.

‘Okay Sir, good job, we’re going to get you onto your back again. Stay relaxed and let us do it for you,’ she put a comforting hand on his shoulder and again guarded his head as they resettled him on his back. She heard him let out a slow breath and hoped he hadn’t been tensing his muscles or trying to help them move him, the Colonel never could fully surrender control even when he was in a state such as this.

She moved down to his bandaged foot and took the scissors from her nurse, giving him a new job to do. The nurse moved to O’Neill’s head and readied a sedative bag as Janet carefully cut away the bandages at his foot. She felt him flinch under her touch as she peeled away sticky fabric from bloody and swollen flesh. She nodded, casting it a quick visual examination and then leaving it momentarily to return to the Colonel’s head.

‘Okay Sir, you’re going to be fine, I’m taking you into surgery now for that foot and your side and we’ll get you patched up, okay? I’m giving you a sedative now – try to sleep,’ she instructed kindly, and watched his eyes drift shut before the drug had even entered his system.

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When SG1 had reported back for their post-mission examinations they had found that Janet was still in surgery with the Colonel. A friendly nurse had come out to tell them that he was doing ‘as well as could be expected’ and that Doctor Fraiser had said they had done ‘all the right things for him’. Beyond that she couldn’t tell them anything more and had to leave SG1 feeling just as worried as before and no less relieved or relaxed. After an unsatisfying and edgy debriefing, SG1 could be found hovering in the corridors outside the infirmary, long since thrown out by the nurses who kept tripping over them. They were officially on stand down but none of them could bear to leave, they could hardly even bear to stay put in the commissary for long – it was too far from the infirmary.

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Three hours later a weary but ultimately relieved Doctor Fraiser emerged from surgery and was not surprised to find SG1 filling the doorway to her infirmary. She smiled at their enthusiasm as nurses behind her drew curtains around the bed that they had moved the Colonel into and started settling him. SG1 moved over to Janet almost as one and she put a hand up before they even had time to ask how their CO was doing, ‘okay – surgery went well although there’s a slight complication. I’ll start from the top, he has a nasty concussion, several broken and cracked ribs, a lot of very deep bruising to his left side and internal damage to his left kidney – that’s where all the redness was coming from,’ she added to Sam, ‘He’s cracked his pelvis on the left side but it’s not serious enough to need a cast, it’ll heal okay without. His foot is broken in a few places and there were several deep contusions with some material inside. We’ve removed it and I presume it’s what the bomb was made of. His foot is pinned and casted and will heal fine. Given time he’s going to be okay.’

‘But you said there was a complication?’ Carter asked, interrupting her.

‘Yes, it seems the material in his foot has poisoned his blood. If it hadn’t damaged his kidney it probably wouldn’t have been substantial enough to warrant treatment, but because his blood filtration is knocked by the damage I’ve got him on Microlides.’

‘He has Septicemia?’ Daniel asked, his concern evident in his voice.

‘Yes, but as I said it’s not severe and I do believe the antibiotics will work. I’ve got him under intensive care for the moment but don’t worry, he’s strong,’ she finished, giving them an encouraging smile.

‘Can we see him?’ Carter asked the petite Doctor.

‘Sure,’ Fraiser answered and turned to the Colonel’s bed, checking he was settled and then pulling back the curtains.

Despite knowing the extent of the Colonel’s injuries SG1 were still slightly shocked. Carter grasped hold of a chair and dragged it over to the bedside, weaving between the various medical machines. The soft beeping of the heart monitor was a comforting sound as she sat down beside him. He way lying flat on the bed, no pillow beneath his head so that it lay back as far as possible – keeping his airway open. His foot was elevated slightly on a pillow beneath the light sheet that covered him up to his chest. It stopped there and Carter could see the thick bandages that were taped to his left side. His bare arm on the left side was covered in dark bruises and scrapes from the impact with the wall. There were a few taped bandages over areas on his shoulder and neck, where she presumed shrapnel from the wall or bomb had hit him.

He wore an oxygen mask over his mouth and butterfly strips just under it on the bridge of his nose, dark bruises emanating from his broken nose and hanging beneath his eyes. The gash on his forehead that Daniel had treated in the cave was firmly bandaged and taped. His hair was ruffled and slightly damp from it having been washed, but at least it no longer stuck in clumps with dried blood and dust. Carter could see a fine sheen of sweat over his chest and face and he was far too pale, his normally tanned skin white and waxy.

She let her eyes roam to he machines that surrounded them, humming quietly away to themselves. She watched the green line on the heart monitor pulse with her CO’s heart beat, slow and regular. Several IV bag lines ran into the back of his hand, feeding him colourless fluids, one of which she guessed was antibiotics to fight the Septicemia that was responsible for his high temperature.

Doctor Fraiser watched SG1 organise themselves around their friend, Teal’c preferring to stand while Daniel and Carter sat at either side.

‘I’ll get you some cold water and a cloth so you can help keep him cool,’ she said, moving away to collect the necessary items.

‘He’s so…quiet,’ Daniel noted softly. He found himself staring at Jack’s chest – willing it to rise and fall, hardly able to hear the lungfulls of air that he must be taking in.

‘I know,’ Carter nodded, ‘no matter how much Janet tells us it always surprises me. He doesn’t look…right like this, does he?’

‘No,’ Daniel sighed, shifting his eyes up to Jack’s face he spoke a little louder, ‘c’mon Jack, you can beat this no trouble, these nurses look far too happy, time to wake up and start pestering them.’ He fell silent, watching Jack’s face intently. It’s funny, being able to examine someone’s face like this. In conversation we don’t stare, in normal life people notice if you look really hard at their features. But here, with Jack unconscious and his face relaxed, I can look all I want. I can stare at his face without him asking what the hell I’m looking at, stare at his eyes and his eyebrow with that scar cutting through it. Stare at his lips – far too thin and grey just now, too ill. He’s lying so flat on the bed, almost as if he’s trying to sink into it, all his muscles totally relaxed and abandoned – at the mercy of the machines that surround him. So, this is the great Jack O’Neill when he’s out of control. I don’t think I like him this way, he looks sickly, no energy, no endlessly moving hands or bouncing on the balls of his feet with pure electric eagerness to do something, anything. None of that now, just soft electronic beeping, the hiss of oxygen and pale skin.

Fraiser set the bowl of cold water next to Jack’s bedside and left the cloth sitting next to it. Quickly scanning the faces that surround his bed Janet decided they looked almost as exhausted as she felt, ‘look, why don’t you go and get some rest. He won’t wake up for a while yet and he doesn’t need three of you here when he does anyhow. You’ll be no good to him if you collapse.’

Carter looked up to meet Daniel’s gaze and saw how tired he looked, she could bet he saw the same in her face. Teal’c moved forward slightly.

‘I will stay with O’Neill while you replenish yourselves,’ he stated, putting the closure on their decision to leave. Daniel nodded, cast one last glance at Jack’s pale face and followed Carter out of the infirmary, both of them extremely glad to head to their respective beds on the base.

Janet headed for her office to do some paperwork and have a very strong cup of coffee, closing the door behind her she glanced through the glass to see Teal’c sitting at Jack’s bedside, the cloth in his hands and pressed to his friend’s hot forehead. Janet smiled, if O’Neill relied on SG1 for his healing then there was no doubt that he’d be absolutely fine in no time.

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It was almost twelve hours later when, as Carter was sitting alone by her CO’s bed side – her hand in his, she felt him move. At first she put it down to a muscle spasm and merely kept a keen eye on his face, looking for any sign of his waking. When both his hands curled slightly and his eyelids started to flutter she called out to a nearby nurse to fetch Doctor Frasier. She leant in towards her CO’s pale face as his eyelids continued to twitch, as if he was trying to lift them.

‘Sir? Can you open your eyes Sir?’ she smiled as she felt the grip on her hand tighten and his eyelids slowly lifted, they hung half open – as if he was threatening to close them if what he saw wasn’t satisfactory. He breathed a heavy sigh, steaming up his oxygen mask,

‘Hi,’ he said, testing his vocal chords and finding them to be a little dry but otherwise okay. The words came out muffled underneath the mask but Carter smiled even more, pleased to see him awake and coherent.

‘Hi Sir, how are you feeling?’ she asked, squeezing his hand.

Aha! What does she think I am, stupid? Is she trying to take advantage of the fact that I’m injured and being pumped with God knows how many confusing drugs? I may be sore, very tired and a little jumbled right now but I know an ‘are you okay?’ when I hear it! ‘How are you feeling?’ is that question alright – just rehashed into a different format. Camouflaged to look like something different in the hopes I might not recognise it and give something away. No way, the answer is obvious, I’m feeling the same way I always feel in the infirmary – ‘ready to leave!’

Somehow though I don’t think she’ll accept that right now, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to say it. Besides, the way my brain’s feeling right now I’ll probably jumble the words and totally confuse the good Major.

Now that would be a turnaround, me saying something and her not understanding a word of it. Only what I’d say really wouldn’t make any sense and what she talks about apparently does – so they tell me anyhow, I only have their word on that.

No, I don’t think I’m ready to leave just yet, as far as I can remember I’ve only just got here and it’s far better than the place I was before. It’s warmer too, a lot warmer, come to think of it I don’t remember the infirmary ever being hot before.

‘Hot?’ Jack replied to Carter’s question, almost asking her if he was right about what he felt. Carter nodded. ‘Yes Sir, you’re running a fever, you’ve got blood poisoning but Janet says it’s improving all the time, it’s reacting well to the antibiotics,’ she brought the damp cloth to Jack’s forehead and he closed his eyes as it cooled his burning skin. He sighed again and Carter watched the steam collect and then dissipate on the inside of his oxygen mask. She looked up as Doctor Frasier joined them, ‘Colonel, glad to see you back with us, how do you feel?’

God, give me a tranquiliser and send me to sleep before anyone else gets the chance to ask that flipping question!

Can’t say it’s not kinda comforting though, not that I’m condoning it but I always know I’m safe and home if there are hordes of people queuing up to ask me how I’m feeling. The answer I gave Carter seemed to satisfy and I’m too tired to decide on new words so…

‘Hot,’ he muttered, opening his eyes sluggishly as Doctor Fraiser drew out her pen light. She nodded and put a gentle hand on his face, lifting his eyelids open one by one and shining the light in – watching as his pupils dilated and ignoring his subsequent irritated blinking.

‘Yes, your fever had been getting better as the antibiotics fight the Septicemia. It’s a mild case of it and you’ll be over it soon. You have several broken bones and I’ve given you a mild sedative, everything will heal Colonel, all the need to do is give it time. Can you follow my finger?’ she waved a digit back and forth and watched his eyes slowly move to follow it. ‘Good, now get some sleep, you need it, we’ll talk more later when you have more energy.’

Jack grunted softly in acknowledgement and he shifted his eyes to Carter before they closed again, giving her hand a weak squeeze as he drifted off into dark sleep. Sam smiled at Janet, eminently pleased by this sign of progress. He didn’t look any better but hearing him talk had made her feel much better and helped her believe what Janet was totally confident of – he would get well.

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The next time Jack woke up things felt very different. Actually, he thought, when I woke up last time I don’t remember feeling much of anything at all. Doc must have cut back on the drugs ‘cos I can feel things now, plenty of things, plenty of bashed, broken and bruised things.

Jack opened his eyes slowly, letting them adjust to the light levels in the infirmary. He was still lying flat but there was a pillow at his head, he was wearing some half-decent bed clothes for a change and he was covered by some heavier blankets. The annoying oxygen mask was gone and had been replaced by a cannula. He tried to look down at his foot but couldn’t see properly without moving his head and he wasn’t too sure that was the best idea he’d ever had.

Looking to his right he saw Daniel, sitting vigilant by his bedside, his head buried in a book. Jack tried to read the title, but reading the names of Daniel’s books proved confusing at the best of times so trying to do it with a fuzzy mind and from a weird angle wasn’t the easiest thing Jack could have chosen to do upon waking. He gave up and cleared his throat gently.

‘Interesting read?’ he asked quietly.

Daniel’s head jolted up suddenly and he dropped the book to his lap with a smile, ‘hi Jack, welcome back.’

‘Hey, you okay?’ Jack asked, pleased to see that the archaeologists did actually look quite rested.

‘Sure, you?’

Well, at least Danny-boy gets the question down to one word, kinda dulls the agony of hearing it I guess. I’ll have to thank him later.

‘Great. There any water in this joint?’

‘Oh sure,’ Daniel nodded and reached for a cup that was sitting ready by Jack’s bedside. He stood up and held it to Jack’s mouth, letting him take some relieving sips from the straw and watching him swallowing awkwardly. Jack finished and nodded slightly,

‘Can you get this bed up a bit?’ he asked, indicating the head-tilt mechanism.

‘Sorry Jack, Janet says what with your damaged side and cracked pelvis you have to stay flat for a while yet. I know it hurts your chest but you’ll get back on your feet much quicker this way.’

‘I cracked my pelvis?’

‘Yeah, and you broke bones in your foot, burst your kidney, broke your ribs and got Septicemia,’ Daniel grinned in forced humour.

‘Yeah, I remember the Sepitwhatchmacallit…I feel better though,’ he noted. Daniel nodded, Jack’s face was flushed with heat but he was no longer sweating as much as he had been before and Janet had told them that the antibiotics had nearly done their job. There was a little colour back in his skin compared to the last time he had awoken nine hours ago. The heart monitor had been removed and he was no longer under intensive care, he had been put in a more comfortable bed and given a pillow to cushion his head.

‘So, not only do I have to stay in the infirmary but I have to stay flat on my back too?’ Jack moaned. Daniel grinned again, lifting his head as Carter and Teal’c marched into the infirmary.

The relief amongst the team as they gathered around their leader’s bed was palpable, Carter relaxed visibly as she stared down at her horizontal CO with a grin and just a tinge of sympathy. Teal’c merely lost a few degrees of his stoic demeanour leaving him looking just stern rather than overly stern. Jack smiled at them as Carter pulled over a chair.

Teal’c moved to the foot of Jack’s bed and stood over him, looming. Jack pulled a face at him, it’s one thing being laid up in the infirmary and being poked and prodded by an endless supply of nurses, but lying flat while a Jaffa stands over you is just darn

humiliating. I know he’s trying to look supportive but somebody should tell him that from this angle he’s just plain scary.

Heck, at least that’s one member of my team who isn’t going to crack ‘that question’ – nope, Teal’c will spare me the humiliation of sympathy, he’ll just stand silently and exude strength, that’s my Jaffa.

Teal’c’s deep voice broke the comfortable silence, ‘O’Neill, are you well?’

Aw crap.

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