Shades of Friendship
by Adalia Zandra

For summary, warnings, and other details, please see part one.


PART FIVE

Turning on another panel, Thor was able to track his Tau'ri guests' progress through the corridors of his ship as they began their search for their comrade. He was pleased and almost paternally proud when they quickly reached the correct conclusion that O'Neill would most likely be behind a locked door, and that they could easily locate such doors to narrow their search by using a ship's computer access panel. A panel was easily found nearby and between them, Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson had no trouble puzzling out the Asgard information display in order to query the computer for a map showing locked doors in the ship.

Obtaining their map, they peered at it for a long moment, alternately pointing out likely spots and unlikely spots out of those lit up on the screen. Teal'c proposed to the others what he saw as the most likely location, a lone locked door only one corridor over from a large sprawling section of the ship full of locked doors. His logic was that O'Neill's quarters would be near the Asgard version of Officers' Row, but still separate.

The others agreed readily. They charted their route and headed off, Teal'c again leading the way after Carter had returned the access panel to its dormant state.

It took them no more than fifteen minutes to arrive at the door they suspected led to their missing leader's quarters. They stood in a row in front of it, discussing the merits of various methods of gaining entry.

"Well, I suppose I could pry off the lock panel and hot-wire it, or something," Sam said hesitantly.

"Did Thor not assure us Cassandra Fraiser was inside?" Teal'c reminded them. "If this is the correct room, we need only to knock."

"Teal'c has a point," Daniel agreed.

"And if this isn't Colonel O'Neill's quarters, we'll save ourselves a bucket load of embarrassment being caught breaking into the wrong room," Fraiser nodded.

Sam shrugged, and Teal'c took this as unanimous agreement with his suggestion. He reached up and knocked solidly on the door.

They waited a breathless moment. Just as Teal'c was about to try knocking again, the door whooshed open and they were confronted with a sleepy Cassie, minus her shoes.

She blinked up at them.

"Hi, Mom. Hi, guys," she then greeted them, reigning in a yawn. "Why are you here?"

"We came to see the colonel, honey," Janet told her daughter.

"Well I knew that," Cassie pointed out with the air of one voicing the patently obvious which only a child can achieve, all the while insinuating that it had sure taken them long enough to get there. "I mean, why do you want to see him?"

The adults were stymied for a moment, each trying to decide how to answer that question.

This time, it was Daniel who found the right words.

"We came to apologize," he admitted simply.

Cassie regarded him critically, asking, "You promise you aren't gonna be mean to him any more? 'Cause I promised Jack I wouldn't let you."

Daniel had the good grace to look embarrassed. "I promise, Cass. I'm not going to be mean any more. None of us are."

She nodded gravely, then looked at each of the others as they all nodded their support for Daniel's promise.

"Okay," she said then, stepping back into the room and unblocking the doorway for them. "But I think he's still asleep so be quiet, okay?"

They trooped in after her, quietly as requested, taking in the room in which they found themselves. In turn they noticed the Simpson's poster, the huge bed, and Cassie's shoes tossed carelessly on the floor next to Jack's neatly placed boots. Cassie climbed carefully back up on the bed, and crawled to the center to settle herself down next to the bed's sleeping occupant. The others arranged themselves nearby. Janet stood on the opposite side of the bed, somewhat near her daughter, with Sam seated stiffly on the edge of the bed next to her. Daniel took a stance across the bed from Sam, too nervous to sit. Teal'c remained standing as if on guard at the foot of the bed.

Situated thus, they all got their first good look at Jack O'Neill since they'd seen him collapse in the briefing room. Some of the color had returned to his features, though he still looked wrung out and exhausted. He lay on his left side, curled tightly around himself and burrowed deep into his nest of blankets and pillows. Though he looked to be resting comfortably at first blush, the close scrutiny of those who knew him well revealed a sense of deep seated unease lurking below the calm exterior. He looked sick and tired, literally.

They were content to watch him for a while, unwilling to disturb him but equally as unwilling to leave him again. It was only when he shifted restlessly for the fourth time in a row that they began to entertain the idea of waking him. Cassie, ignoring the others in favor of her self-appointed role as Jack's protector, began to stroke his temple the same way she had in her previous, successful attempts to lull him back to sleep.

Her ministrations had the desired effect, at least temporarily. Jack settled again and his sleep remained untroubled as long as Cassie continued the soothing strokes. Whenever she paused he would again shift uneasily, as if he were trying to burrow even deeper into the bed to get comfortable and never quite succeeding. It slowly dawned on the others that her touch grounded him and seemed to afford him enough of a sense of peace in order to quell his restlessness.

Daniel, acting instinctively on this realization, reached past Cassie's protective grasp to lay a hand on Jack's arm. Sam followed suit a split second later, resting her hand on his shoulder. Seeing that this had no adverse effects, Teal'c and Janet also moved forward and sought contact with the blanket covered form.

Their combined touches seemed to do the trick. O'Neill's vaguely troubled expression softened and his body uncurled slightly and took on a more relaxed pose. A moment later he rolled over so he was lying on his back, the position he was normally accustomed to sleeping in. As the others shifted to maintain their connection with him Daniel inadvertently bonked the side of Cassie's head with his forearm.

Cassie yelped in surprise, and Janet whispered, "Smooth, Daniel," before leaning over to make sure her daughter was alright.

As they were distracted by the slight commotion, Sam and Teal'c both turned away from the center of the bed and failed to see Jack's eyelids flutter.

"I'm fine, Mom," Cassie hissed with the self-assured authority of a child, ducking her mother's concerned touch even as Daniel mumbled an apology.

The combination of motion and noise finally woke Jack, who had blinked slowly a few times and managed to take in the scene around him before any of the others realized he was conscious.

"Hi," he greeted Cassie, pointedly ignoring her mother his team. "Kinda crowded in here, doncha think?"

"They promised they'd be nice," Cassie replied. "They wanna talk."

"Oh, they do, do they?" Jack said, finally acknowledging the others with his gaze, still speaking mildly.

Sam, recognizing the hidden scorn in Jack's calm voice, carefully responded, "We all want to apologize. I'm sorry that I couldn't see past my own emotions in order to come to you honestly so we could talk this out before it got so bad. I acted unprofessionally, Sir, and I can only hope you'll be able to accept my apology and work with me in the future."

Speechless at this one-eighty flip in demeanor from the last time he had seen his team, Jack simply nodded mutely. Before he could think of anything appropriate to say, Teal'c jumped in.

"I have behaved similarly, O'Neill. I have doubted you, and failed you in your hour of need. Please accept my deepest apologies, my brother," Teal'c stated simply. Jack acknowledged him with another silent, solemn nod.

Janet went next, clearing her throat nervously and admitting, "I should have realized you were ill, Sir, and I would have if I hadn't been avoiding you because I couldn't accept what had happened. My behavior was negligent in both my duties as your doctor and as someone whom I hope you've come to consider a friend. There aren't words to express how badly I feel about it, and how sorry I am."

All eyes turned to Daniel after Jack had awarded Janet a small smile as a sign that he understood what she had said. Daniel stared down at the bedspread for a long moment, before gathering his courage and looking Jack in the eye.

"I'm . . . I've been an ass, Jack," Daniel sighed.

Jack did nothing more than nod solemnly, unwilling to as of yet to throw Daniel a metaphorical line.

Taking this response in stride, Daniel spoke again, "I didn't think. All I could see was my own hurt, and it never even occurred to me to look at this situation from your point of view. I was too busy refusing to be reasonable, blinded by my anger. I think I'm still angry, but not really at you. It was selfish of me to blame you and I was wrong to treat you the way I did. I . . . I'm sorry, Jack. I'm the one who betrayed you. Do you think you can ever forgive me?"

Jack looked up at Daniel's hopeful, regretful features and wondered how the younger man would take it if he returned the treatment he'd received over the past two weeks since his triumphant return. Sighing philosophically, Jack pushed past his desire for a childish revenge and decided that his relationships with these people were more important to him than the fleeting and bitter satisfaction he could get from turning their own rejection back upon them and hurting them in return. Ready to acknowledge their apologies, if not quite forgive them yet, Jack opened his mouth to speak.

An odd look crossed his face for a split second before he made a sound, and then he sneezed explosively. Twice in rapid succession. The uncomfortable tension was completely broken as the adults chorused, "Gesundheit."

"'Bless you," Cassie giggled.

"Need a hankie, Jack? Decongestants, maybe? Box of Kleenex?" Daniel snickered, smiling brightly at the absurdity of the timing.

Jack, sniffling, grinned back. "Shut it, Doctor 'I Sneeze In The Face Of Danger' Jackson."

"Hey, it works for me," Daniel replied.

"Doc? Do you actually happen to have any decongestants on you?" Jack said hopefully, turning to Janet and ignoring Daniel's rejoinder.

Janet shook her head to the negative, and Teal'c said, "O'Neill, does the return of your accustomed mode of communication with Daniel Jackson indicate a favorable resolution of this regrettable situation?"

"Ah, yes, Teal'c. I think that's exactly what it indicates," Jack replied. "I'm not happy with what happened, and how you all acted. But I think I can at least accept your apologies in the spirit you gave them."

"Thank you, Sir," Sam said, still feeling somewhat mortified about her unprofessional conduct, not to mention her failure to act like a good friend, over the past two weeks.

"It's gonna be okay, Carter," Jack reassured her, sniffling again. "Since I apparently have not retired, I think SG-1 will be back in business soon enough."

"That reminds me," Daniel spoke up, catching Jack's attention. "I want to talk to you later about some of the things we said in the briefing room when you told us you wanted to retire and break up SG-1."

"Oooookay . . . ." Jack drawled apprehensively, still wary of Daniel's volatile emotions.

"Just so we can make sure we understand each other, to fix whatever's obviously been broken here. I want a chance to make up for my behavior. Maybe over beer and pizza this weekend?" Daniel added, trying to lighten the mood again.

"Sounds like a plan," Jack obligingly agreed. "Assuming we're back on planet Earth by then, anyway."

"Do you want me to call Mr. Thor, Jack?" Cassie asked, proffering the communication device the Asgard commander had shown her earlier.

"Please, Cass. Your mom's probably itching to have me beamed back into her lair," Jack answered, giving Janet a sideways look and a lopsided grin, which she returned with a slight nod.

Cassie pressed the side of the device, which emitted a soft beeping sound for a moment, then fell silent. Assuming that this meant Thor had been alerted, Cassie put the device back down and snuggled back up next to Jack to wait. He lifted his arm out of her way and she curled up happily against his side with a yawn.

"Did you get any sleep, Cassie?" Janet asked her daughter.

"Some, but only a little," she admitted, yawning again, causing Jack to respond with an uncontrollable yawn of his own.

"You should probably get some rest, too, Sir," Janet said. "You're still fighting that cold virus."

"I am still feeling kinda tired," Jack answered, looking critically at the others. "But you guys don't look so hot, yourselves."

"Haven't been sleeping too well lately," Sam mumbled, studying the floor.

"Hey, there's plenty of room all over this mattress, guys. Make yourselves comfortable," Jack offered.

The others look nervously at each other for a moment, then at Jack, then at various spots around the room, unsure how to respond to his invitation.

Teal'c, deciding to break the sudden awkward moment with his usual aplomb, carefully sat on the end of the bed. In a very human gesture, he reached down to quickly loosen his laces and then kicked off his boots. He took a moment to line them up neatly, then swung his somewhat large body mass gracefully around and tucked his legs underneath himself. Sitting there cross legged, facing Jack from the foot of the bed, Teal'c said simply, "Thank you, O'Neill. I believe I will benefit greatly from Kel-no-reem at this time."

Taking Teal'c's lead, Janet sat herself down comfortably next to Cassie, leaning her back against the headboard. Sam, who had been sitting stiffly at attention on the very edge of the bed, relaxed her posture and pulled one knee up onto the bed, crossing her ankles. She propped her head up with one arm, leaning the elbow against her raised knee.

Daniel hesitated the longest, until Jack turned his baleful gaze on him and said, "Are you waiting for an engraved invitation, Danny? Take a load off."

Daniel shrugged and gave in, sitting down to mirror Janet's position on Jack's opposite side.

Satisfied, Jack yawned again and let his head fall back against the pillow. He and Cassie both nodded off quickly, with his exhausted teammates soon behind them. When Thor arrived a few moments later, only Sam was still truly awake. Teal'c had immersed himself in his meditation, Daniel was dozing, and Janet had flat out fallen asleep with one hand placed near Cassie to reassure herself that her daughter was safe.

Sam greeted Thor with a wave and a nod. Speaking softly, she told him, "We've all apologized for behaving so badly. I'm not sure the Colonel has actually forgiven us, but he seemed willing to let us try to make it up to him. We'd like to beam back to the base when everyone's awake again."

"I am pleased with your team's attempts at reconciliation, Major Carter, though I am disturbed by the length of time it took for you to reach this point. As I can do no more for Colonel O'Neill here, I am willing to beam you all back to your base when, as you said, everyone is awake again. Until then, you are all of course welcome to remain here or move about freely as you wish."

"Thank you, Commander Thor. Would you please contact General Hammond and let him know that we're okay?" Sam asked.

"Of course," Thor answered. "I will do so now. Activate the communicator again when you are ready to leave, or if you require anything."

At Carter's nod, Thor took his leave. Sam slouched back down again and sighed.

Daniel opened his eyes and their gazes met across the bed.

"I think we've been taught a lesson in friendship by an alien and a little girl. That doesn't reflect very well on us," Daniel whispered.

"Well, our behavior hasn't, either. We needed the lesson they had to give us," Sam replied in a similar hushed tone.

"I'm glad you've learned your lesson, then. But school's out now, kids. Go to sleep," Jack mumbled without opening his eyes.

Sharing a grin, Sam and Daniel settled in to follow their friend's orders. Sam curled up sideways between Teal'c and Janet's feet, and Daniel slid down so he was stretched out next to Jack. Both dropped off to sleep within minutes.

SG-1 plus Janet and Cassie remained in Jack's quarters for the next several hours, piled together on the huge bed like a litter of puppies, peacefully sleeping off the tension and exhaustion the past few weeks had generated. The had reconnected, both physically and emotionally, and the rift between them that had first opened upon Jack's return from his three month stay on Edora had finally begun to heal.

Back in his control room, Thor contacted General Hammond and explained that SG-1 had resolved their quarrel to his satisfaction and that he would be beaming them directly to the infirmary in a few hours when they had woken again.

Hammond thanked Thor for his intervention, promising the Asgard that he would be doing his best to make sure this situation did not repeat itself in the future. Thor apologized for the necessity of putting the Tau'ri through the entire ordeal, and informed Hammond that the Asgard High Council was pleased with Jack's efforts.

The two exchanged pleasantries for a moment, and then signed off. Hammond placed the communicator on his desktop, where it remained for the next few hours, until it was beamed away when his personnel were returned.

Sitting behind his desk, George Hammond contemplated the near disaster he had witnessed in the briefing room. He was horrified at how badly his flagship team had fallen apart, and how close they had all come to losing Jack O'Neill. Hammond silently resolved to sit down with Jack and apologize for the entire misbegotten situation, especially for failing to help protect him from the fallout following his return. Sighing philosophically, Hammond wondered what he would have done if Thor hadn't been there to diffuse the argument in the briefing room.

The general's musings were interrupted by a ringing phone, which he answered absentmindedly. Discovering that the SGC had apparently run out of red Jell-O due to a supply order mishap and that the kitchen staff were wondering why several day's worth of previously missing base supplies had suddenly reappeared in the middle of the commissary, Hammond resigned himself to the fact that his job was never going to be simple.

Life at the SGC moved on as SG-1 recuperated in O'Neill's orbiting home away from home.


And here we are, at the end. My thanks go out to those of you who commented along the way. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Hopefully, if the travesty known as real life does not prevent it, I will have another story up in progress soon. The next one's going to be an SG-1/MacGyver crossover . . . my favorite genre to write.