Nearly two hours later, Dr. Fraiser stepped off the elevator and headed briskly toward the Briefing Room. She'd just come from the consultation with Dr. Braddick and was now on her way to share the results with General Hammond and the three healthy members of SG-1. The meeting had gone well; Braddick – the specialist in charge of the SGC's chemical analysis team – had been thorough in her explanations, covering everything from the toxin's makeup to possible treatment options. Now it was up to Janet to decide what to do next, a decision, she hoped, that the General and the rest of SG-1 could help her make.
Janet paused at the base of the stairs that led up to the conference room, hesitant to continue. Although informative, her meeting with Braddick had not yielded the results she'd been hoping for, making this the second briefing in less than 24 hours where she had little good news to report. There were no magical pills, potions, or remedies that would miraculously cure the Colonel, and the few options they did have were risky long shots at best.
With a discouraged sigh, she began making her way up the metal stairs, the hushed tones of voices from the room above growing louder as she went.
"…I felt so helpless just standing there. I didn't know what else to do…"
"According to Dr. Fraiser, there was nothing more you could have done. Nobody is questioning your actions, son. You did the right thing."
Janet crested the stairs just in time to see Daniel shift uneasily in his chair, the General's words doing little to ease the guilt he was still feeling.
"Doctor, please join us," Hammond said, spotting the petite officer as she stepped into the room. "Dr. Jackson was just telling us what happened earlier this morning. I'm sorry to hear Jack's condition is deteriorating."
She settled into a seat beside Sam. "Thank you, sir. This morning's events were unfortunate, but thanks to everyone involved, we were able to keep the Colonel with us," she replied, making a point of looking at Daniel as she spoke. The young archeologist appeared no better than when she'd sent him away over eight hours before, the dark circles under his eyes made more prominent by the room's florescent lighting. She suspected he had continued to work despite her orders to rest, and made a mental note to question him about it later.
"How'd the meeting with Braddick go?" Sam asked, eager to hear the results of the lab's comprehensive analysis.
"The meeting itself went fine – I think a lot of good information came out of it."
Teal'c's deep voice rumbled from across the table. "Then the consultation revealed a sufficient treatment for O'Neill?"
"Umm…no…not exactly…" the doctor began slowly, trying to decide how to best present the information to her friends. "Not a definitive one anyway." She paused again, briefly searched her notes, and decided to start from the beginning. "Chemical analysis has confirmed that the substance we're dealing with is an organic compound, or, more specifically, a form of arachnid venom. Carbon dating revealed it to be between 2500 and 3000 years old. Dr. Braddick did some cross referencing, and has determined that it could be distantly related to the Latrodectus genus found here on Earth."
Daniel's eyebrows sharply rose. "Did you say Latrodectus? That's Latin. It means "Widow Spider."
"That's the one. The Colonel's symptoms – although much more acute -- are similar to what you'd expect to see in a severe envenomation case here. The lab's analysis estimates the alien spider's venom to be at least 15 times stronger than that of an Australian Red Back."
"Are there not treatments for the venom of Earth arachnids?"
"We have anti-venom for some, but they don't always work," Sam explained. "And in rare cases, they can trigger an even worse reaction."
"Well, if the venom is similar to that of a Widow, why can't you just find the closest match and use that?"
"Anti-venoms are species-specific. Administering the wrong one could be fatal," Janet explained, watching as disappointment crossed Daniel's face. "Besides, the venoms are only symptomatically similar. Chemically, they're totally different."
"Then we must procure the correct anti-venom."
She shook her head. "I wish it were that easy, Teal'c. Synthesizing an anti-venom from scratch requires a great deal of time and resources. Neither of which we have a lot of right now."
"Then what do you propose we do, Doctor?" Hammond asked.
This is it…she thought as she straightened up in her chair. Decision time….
"We discussed several options and came up with two possibilities, both of which have sizable risks. The first is we do nothing. We trust that the venom is close enough to that of a widow spider and hope it proves to be non-lethal. There is a chance it will just run its course and then be metabolized by the body."
"I ah…I-I don't think Jack has that long," Daniel stammered quietly, his thoughts returning to what he had witnessed earlier that day.
"I concur," Teal'c said, tipping his head in agreement.
"The only other option we came up with involves inducing a coma and providing the support he needs until his system is clean."
Hammond frowned. "What good would that do?"
"Aside from affording him some much needed rest, it would also allow for the majority of his muscles to become completely relaxed," she described, launching into explanation mode. "Based on observations and test results, Dr. Braddick and I believe the venom is attracted to the nerve impulses that a muscle generates as it moves. Now, since I began treating the Colonel with strong relaxants that primarily target the skeletal muscles, the spasms in his stomach, back, and legs have been significantly reduced. With these muscles mostly out of commission, the natural progression of the venom carried it into his chest and diaphragm."
"That makes sense," Sam muttered, the puzzle slowly coming together for her. "Spiders use venom to first immobilize, then kill their prey. The spasms in the Colonel's body were meant to disable him, while the ones in his chest were meant to kill. When we stopped the first phase of the reaction with drugs, the spasms "naturally progressed" into his chest to finish him off."
"Right. That's what we came up with too," Janet agreed with a nod. "We also believe that the mental deterioration we've seen is a result of prolonged exposure to the chemical. Nothing that would have been considered natural prey for the spider could have ever survived this long."
"What sort of risks are we looking at, Doctor?"
"Well, sir, we'd be essentially shutting down several of the Colonel's major systems. He'd become dependant on life support and with that comes its own unique set of risks. Our goal is to minimize all involuntary muscle function and the nerve impulses they generate. We're hoping that this lack of stimuli will eventually cause the venom to destabilize and become vulnerable to the defenses of his immune system," she explained. "The biggest initial risk would be a negative reaction to the anesthetic, however we think we've found a combination that he should tolerate quite well. There's also the chance that the venom could shift toward his heart or brain, but intensive monitoring would alert us to that the instant it started."
The General sighed and rubbed his hands together in thought. Sounds like solving one problem could potentially create even more…but what choice do we have?
"H-how long would it be for?" Sam asked.
"A few days, a few weeks. There's no way to know for sure."
Daniel looked up from studying his hands. "What would happen if you decided to do this? What would Jack go through?"
"The Colonel probably won't feel anything. Even if he were awake at the time I administered the drugs, he'd start to feel drowsy and then simply drift off. It's a lot like going under general anesthetic only a much deeper level of unconsciousness is achieved. Once completely asleep, life support will take over, and we'll just need to continue monitoring him and offering support whenever needed."
"This condition would be reversible?" Teal'c inquired.
"Completely," she replied with a nod. "If and when he recovered, we'd stop the sedation drugs and administer a reversal. He'd start to come around within several hours, and would be fully conscious in six to eight hours after that."
"And you feel this is the best option for pulling our man through?"
"Yes, sir, I do.
Hammond sighed and looked around at the others at the table. Although there was still some uncertainty on all their faces, it was the spark of hope in their eyes that helped him make the decision.
"Very well. If there's a chance of getting Jack back on his feet, then we owe it to him to try. Make your preparations, Doctor, and alert me before you begin. I'd like to be there for him along with the rest of his team."
Janet nodded, touched by his request. "Certainly, sir."
"I know these are hard times, people, but we're going to do our damnedest to get through them one way or another," he said as he rose from his chair. "I'm proud of the effort you've been putting into this, and I feel confident in saying Jack would be too. He's held on this long for us, so I think it's time we give him the rest he deserves. Dismissed."
Daniel drew in a deep breath as the elevator doors began to open, hoping to calm the anxious butterflies that were fluttering around in his stomach. The team's trip to the Isolation Ward had been a quiet one; each person lost in his or her own thoughts and misgivings about what was to come. It wasn't that they didn't trust Janet's judgment – they had nothing but faith and admiration toward the small doctor as both a physician and friend. It was wondering whether or not they were about to do the right thing that had them all at a loss for words.
What if we're wrong? He thought, blindly following his two friends through the brightly lit halls of the level. What if we're wrong and Jack gets worse? An image of how far gone his friend had been mere hours before flashed into his mind. He cringed. Not that he can get much worse. I just hope…oh god, please don't let him suffer…
They entered the Colonel's private room a moment later.
"Hey, guys. Come on in," Janet greeted quietly, glancing up only briefly from her patient. "We're about ready to start, but there's someone here who wants to see you first."
Sam's teary eyes widened. "He's awake?"
"According to my team, he's been drifting in and out of consciousness for the past half hour or so," she explained as the group gathered around their leader's bed. "I'm not sure how much of a response you'll get from him, but he does know you're here."
Swallowing hard against the lump that had been lodged in her throat since the briefing, Sam reached through the guardrail and gently lifted her CO's hand. "Colonel? Can you hear me, sir?" At first it appeared that he'd lost consciousness again as there was no response to her voice or touch. But an instant later she felt it – a slight fluttering of his fingers within her grasp. "Colonel?"
With obvious effort, Jack slowly opened his dark eyes and found himself surrounded by the concerned, sympathetic faces of his team.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel greeted, a large grin spreading across his lips.
Teal'c tipped his head. "It is good to see you, O'Neill."
Jack drowsily searched his friend's faces until his unfocused gaze finally came to rest on Sam. She smiled and gave his hand a squeeze, which, to her surprise, he returned weakly.
"Hi, Colonel. How you feeling?" She knew he couldn't speak with the ET tube in place, but the look that flashed through his eyes told her everything she needed to know. Lightly brushing her thumb across his knuckles, she leaned in close so the others couldn't hear: "It's all right, Jack. I'm scared too."
"Perhaps O'Neill's return to consciousness is a sign of improvement."
"I'm afraid not, Teal'c," the doctor said reluctantly. "I've already checked the results of his most recent lab work and there was nothing to suggest improvement of any kind. I'm really sorry, ."
"It's not your fault, Janet," Daniel replied sincerely. "We've just gone from crossing our fingers to wishful thinking."
She knew he'd meant the comment as a light joke, but his dismayed expression tore at her already aching heart. "I'll umm…I'll give you guys a few minutes alone," she stammered and hastily retreated to the lab bench at the back of the room.
Damn it, this is hard… Janet thought, bracing herself against the table and hanging her head in defeat. She was grateful that she'd thought to send her team away long before the others arrived. While her initial intentions had been to give SG-1 as much privacy as possible, she now found herself welcoming the extra space as well.
What if we're wrong? What if a calculation was off or some other vital detail was overlooked? What if by doing this we make him worse when all we really had to do was stand back and let nature run its course? He's already outlived the only victim on record by several days – maybe all he needs is just a little more time…
Deep down Janet knew she was kidding herself – wishful thinking as Daniel had put it. She knew their chosen course of treatment was the best thing they could do for the Colonel, and that right now, time was actually the enemy. Even as she stood debating with herself he was continuing to fail, and if she waited much longer, it would be too late to do anything at all.
Wiping the tears from beneath her eyes, she sniffed and picked up the phone. "Yes, this is Dr. Fraiser. Would you please tell General Hammond we're about to begin? Thank you."
She returned the phone to its cradle with a click and turned her attention to the covered tray on the bench beside her. Beneath the surgical green drape were three hypodermics, each one loaded with a different drug that – when combined – would induce a deep comatose state. After triple checking that the dosages were correct, she gathered up the tray and rejoined the others at the Colonel's side.
"How's he doing?"
"I think we're starting to lose him again," Daniel replied quietly, his eyes teary and red.
"Have you informed O'Neill of your intentions?"
Janet nodded. "I've told him, Teal'c, but I don't know how much got through."
"H-he knows, J-Janet," Sam stammered, her voice broken from crying. Even though Jack's eyes had shut long ago, she could still feel his weak grasp around her fingers. "H-he knows and I-I thin-think he's ready."
The doctor gave her friends a sympathetic smile. "Then let's do this," she said, looking up to find General Hammond standing in the observation room window, his expression one of fatherly concern.
Taking a deep breath, Janet moved to Jack's head and placed a hand against his fevered cheek. "Colonel?" His eyes flickered open and briefly met her gaze before sliding shut again. "Colonel, we're going to start now. I have three different medications that I need to give you, and the first one may make you feel a little dizzy. It's nothing to be afraid of – that's just something it does. Whenever you start to feel sleepy, I want you to relax and go with it -- don't fight. Okay, sir?" She felt the barest of nods and smiled. "Good luck, Colonel."
Returning to where she'd left the tray, she silently selected the first syringe and removed its protective cover. "Here we go," she said, slipping the needle into one of his IV lines and slowly depressing the plunger.
Just as Janet had promised, Jack's world began to spin, and he turned his wavering attention to the comforting words and reassuring touches of his team.
"You have fought well, my friend," Teal'c said, resting a large hand on his shoulder. "This rest will help you recover your strength."
"Good luck, Jack. We'll see you on the other side," Daniel said, gripping his friend's hand as tightly as he dared.
Janet plugged in the second syringe. "You're going to start feeling drowsy now, sir. Try not to fight it."
"Hang in there, sir," Sam whispered when she felt his grip on her fingers start to fade.
Hammond watched as the third and final shot was administered. "Godspeed, Jack," he said through the room's microphone, his words heavy with concern.
For the next few minutes, nobody spoke. They simply watched as Jack's tense, exhausted features gradually began to relax until at last, all traces of his pain were gone.
"That's amazing…" Daniel muttered, shaking his head in disbelief. "How long before he's out completely?"
Janet turned from the vitals display she'd been monitoring and used her penlight to check Jack's eyes. "He's already there," she said quietly, her confirmation sending a collective sigh of relief throughout the room.
Sam shut her eyes and wiped a fresh batch of tears off on her sleeve. Although the doctor's words had given her some peace of mind, they also triggered feelings of guilt, worry, and, worst of all, fear.
"He's going to be okay, Sam," Daniel said, coming around the bed and slipping a comforting arm around her shoulders. "We did the right thing."
She sniffed and nodded. "I hope so…"
"This respite may be just what O'Neill needs in order to recover."
"Maybe, Teal'c. Maybe."
Satisfied for the moment with Jack's condition, Janet wandered over to join her friends. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah, I think so," Daniel replied. "I think we just need some time to do a little recovering of our own."
"Well, the Colonel's deep asleep and out of pain, so there's no excuse why you can't take as much time as you need. I've already discussed it with the General and he agrees," Janet said, seeing the exhaustion on all three of their faces. "I have a few nurses coming to help me finish up here and than we're basically just going to step back, watch, and wait. We'll maintain his sedation level and provide the support he needs. Hopefully within a few days, we'll start to see some signs of improvement."
"And if not?
"One day at a time, Sam," she replied, motioning over the two nurses who had appeared in the doorway. "Now, go get some rest. All three of you. The Colonel's in good hands – you know that."
Daniel flashed a meek smile. "Thanks, Janet."
Although unhappy about leaving her CO's side, Sam knew arguing otherwise at this point would be fruitless. "Pleasant dreams, Colonel," she whispered, giving his limp hand a final squeeze before allowing the two men to escort her from the room.
Sam looked down at her picked over salad with disinterest. Pushing it aside, she took the glass of wobbling blue jello from her tray and began moving the dollop of whip cream around with her spoon. The commissary was oddly quiet for early evening, less than a dozen people occupying the chairs of the large dining space. For this she was grateful – having had about enough of people asking how the Colonel was doing and if the team was holding up all right. It wasn't so much the questions that bothered her, as it was the constant reminder of what was going on. Even her dreams during the few hours of sleep she'd managed to get had been plagued with images of the past few days – her mind unable to catch a break no matter where she went.
I still can't believe this is happening…Sam thought, hearing only pockets of the conversation Daniel and Teal'c were having across the table from her.
"…Worship of the arachni creature hadn't been in affect for very long before the earthquakes began…"What if we didn't do the right thing?
"…The ground trembled and groaned…the seas boiled and writhed…"
Or what if we started too late?
"…Villagers began thinking the worst, believing they had been worshiping a dia'bo'loa. The word didn't directly translate into anything, but the context suggests it means devil…"
Sam stared absently through the translucent blue cubes of gelatin. And if the toxin does affect his heart, will he have the strength to fight it?
"…Apparently the volcano began to grow at an incredible rate, blocking out the sun as it spewed noxious gases and hot ash…"I know Janet says he's doing fine and not to worry, but…
"…a mass panic. People began trying to appease the arachni with offerings and sacrifices of food, herbs, and livestock to no avail."
…But it's just so hard not too…
"…People, plants, and animals began dying. The village population of several thousand was reduced to a mere handful within days…"
…And then to see him cry…
"…Etwin, the owner of the shuttle we found, was one of the last survivors. He mentioned that the hull of his craft was protecting him from the deadly rivers of fire that were outside."I've never seen him cry. Never. Was it the pain?
"…But he knew it couldn't protect him forever…"
Was he scared?
"…his final entry, Etwin admitted that his people had made the fatal mistake of trusting something vile enough to slay a god…"
Or was it something else?
"…Killer of the Gods had ultimately become the Ender of Our Time."
And what if Janet finds there is no chance for recovery?
"…you think, Sam?"
Will she just not wake him up?
Will we have a chance to say goodbye? Sam jumped when something fast moved in front of her face. Blinking rapidly, she looked up to find the others staring at her. "What?"
"Daniel Jackson has attempted to illicit your attention several times now," Teal'c replied.
"Oh…" she uttered, her mind slowly returning to the present. She took a deep breath and forced herself to focus. "I-I'm sorry, Daniel. What was your question again?"
"I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the journal entries I pulled from those old scrolls we found, but…" Daniel stopped when he saw her shoulders slump even further. "Are you okay?"
She started pushing the jello around the dish again. "Yeah. There's just a lot on my mind, that's all."
"Doctor Fraiser is optimistic O'Neill will recover. Yet you remained troubled."
"Janet's cautiously optimistic, Teal'c," Daniel explained, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. "Besides, nothing's definite. We don't know what's going to happen."
Sam shook her head. "And it's not just that, Daniel. I can't stop thinking about the venom itself. I mean, if it was really strong enough to kill a Goa'uld within minutes of exposure, why is the Colonel still alive?"
Teal'c selected a kiwi from his dinner tray and began to eat it, leathery skin and all. "Perhaps it has weakened with time."
"Lab analysis confirmed that there's been little to no chemical decay," she replied, cringing as he took another bite of the hairy fruit. "The relic preserved it somehow."
"So then it must be something else…like maybe Jack has a natural immunity or…or…something else," Daniel said, grappling for possible ideas. "Right?"
Sam sighed as she stood from the table and gathered up her scarcely touched dinner.
"Wait – where are you going?"
"To try and answer my own questions."
Daniel jumped up and followed her to the trashcans. "Sam, listen. I doubt there's anything you could find at this point that would help Jack."
"I know," she replied quietly. "But it might help me."
Although he didn't completely understand her reasoning, Daniel nodded and stepped aside to allow her to go just the same. When she was gone, he wandered back to rejoin Teal'c.
"Did Captain Carter give a reason for her persistence?" the Jaffa asked around a mouthful of fruit.
"It's just something she has to do," he replied, absently dismantling the partial sandwich left on his plate. I don't know what it is she's looking for, but I really hope she finds it…
Dragging his glasses from his face, Daniel stretched and yawned loudly, his body stiff from being hunched over his computer for too long. Rubbing the strain from his tired eyes, he searched the top of his desk for the mug he knew was in there somewhere amongst the organized clutter. He found it supporting the piece of paper he'd been typing from and eagerly brought it to his lips for a much needed drink.
"Mmph!" he exclaimed, pulling a face when he discovered the coffee inside had become bitter and cold.
"Try some of this."
Startled, Daniel abruptly whirled around in his chair to find Dr. Fraiser at his side, a steaming travel mug of coffee in her outstretched hand. "Janet!" he gasped, placing a hand over his now wildly hammering heart. When had she come in? "Y-you scared me."
"I see that," she replied, a touch of amusement on her face. She pressed the hot mug into his hands and settled into the seat beside him, looking at the sprawling mounds of paper with genuine interest. "What are you working on?"
"I'm just entering the script I found on the scrolls into the computer," he replied, pausing for a moment to take a drink of the hot coffee. "It's busy work but…"
"Find out anything new?"
Daniel shrugged. "A little bit. You and Sam were right about that piece of stone I showed you when you said it looked like part of a tree. We got the other pieces cleaned up and some of them actually fit together. It definitely looks like an altar of some kind, possibly a shrine for Hecate or maybe even to house the spider relic. Has there been any word from the lab on the samples we brought back of the shuttle itself?"
"No – the lab's been swamped. Between the frequent blood work I need to monitor the Colonel's condition and now a severe poison ivy-like rash that both SG-2 and 7 brought back from a mission…anything purely exploratory has been pushed onto the backburner. They hope to know more in a few days."
"How's Jack doing?"
"He's doing all right," Janet replied, absently rolling a small stone orb between her palms. "He's responding well to the medication and hasn't shown any signs of distress or pain. The spasms seem to be under control too."
"So your plan is working?"
"Seems to be so far, but it's too soon to tell how effective it's going to be overall. I really hate to say this, Daniel, but there's still an awful lot that could go wrong."
"Yeah, I know…" The archeologist frowned and looked down at the floor. "But if anyone can make it through this, it's going to be Jack," he uttered, trying to give his fading sense of optimism a much needed boost. He sighed again. "Do you think it would help if I kept my fingers crossed?"
The doctor smiled. "Fingers, eyes, toes…cross 'em if you got 'em, Daniel. We could sure use the luck." She replaced the stone sphere she'd been fiddling with and stood, giving her friend's arm a light squeeze. "I'll let you get back to work. I just wanted to come see how you were doing."
"I'm doing okay," he said. "And thanks again for the coffee."
"Anytime." She turned to leave his office, pausing when she reached the door. "Hey, Sam hasn't come this way recently, has she?"
Daniel shook his head. "No – I haven't seen her since she left Teal'c and I in the commissary a few hours ago. She's probably still holed up in her lab. What's up?"
"I was just wondering if she was going to spend another night with Cassie. I think it would be a good distraction for both of them if she did."
"Cassie still real upset?"
"She's handling it better than I thought she would. She just loves her Uncle Jack and it hurts her to see him like this. Hurts us all, really."
"Sam's convinced that finding out what killed Hecate might help Jack in some way."
"Well medically speaking, it's a good question to ask. It's just not one I think she should be concerning herself with right now," she said. "But I think it's how she's choosing to deal with the stress of all that's going on – by keeping her mind very busy."
Daniel looked around his cluttered desk sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I'm guilty of that too."
"Yes, you are," Janet agreed with a grin. "Listen, try not to stay up too late. You look beat. And if you happen to see Sam, let her know I'm looking for her, okay?"
"You bet," he said, returning the small wave she gave and turning back to his work in hope of drowning out his worries once again.
Janet cringed at the unusually loud clicking her heels made as she walked through the dimmed halls toward the Colonel's room. She felt surprisingly refreshed for having only slept a few hours, but it had easily been the best sleep she'd gotten since this whole fiasco began. Her sleep had been so satisfying in fact, that she intended to return to bed after checking on her patient's progress.
Habit made her slow her pace as she neared the doorway even though she knew there was no way her approach would wake the sleeping man inside. Stepping into the private room, she was surprised to find someone other than one of the night nurses sitting at the Colonel's bedside. She had a pretty good idea of who it was even before she'd turned on the small light, and was unable to hide the sympathetic smile that crossed her face when she saw her friend sleeping hunched over in the chair.
She jumped at the sudden sound, her sleep-hazed eyes snapping open and searching all around the room. "Oh! Janet…I umm…I-I didn't hear you come in," she stammered, slumping back against the chair when she spotted her friend.
"Sam, it's two in the morning. What are you doing…?" Janet stopped when she saw the slight puffiness and pockets of moisture on her face – telltale signs that she had been crying. "What's wrong?"
Sam shrugged and held up the folder she had in her lap. "I couldn't sleep so I came to look over the Colonel's lab reports to see if I missed anything important."
"No," she sniffed quietly. The two women sat in silence for a moment, listening to the soft mechanical chorus of life support machines working around them. "I'm sorry I didn't go stay with Cassie."
"She's a big girl. She was disappointed but she understands. I think Daniel was planning on stopping by," Janet replied, pulling a stool over and sitting down. "You want to tell me what's really bothering you?"
"I guess I'm just worried."
"We're all worried, Sam. None of us ever want to see our friends this sick. But we're helping him now."
"Are we though?" she asked, looking up at her CO's face and cringing when she saw the heavy tape holding his eyes shut to protect them while he slept. "I mean, what if we're wrong? What if we just opened the door for the neurotoxin to finish what it started? Or, what if we acted too late? What if…?"
Janet grabbed Sam's hands and gave a sharp squeeze to cut her off. "And those are all very good questions to ask, but you can't be tearing yourself up over them!"
She sniffed and swallowed hard, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. "I know…I just…and he was so…and it went on for so long…I'm sorry. It was just so hard to see him like that…and now like this…"
"I know, sweetie, I know," Janet exclaimed, pulling her shaking friend into a hug. "But it's been less than a day. He needs time to heal."
"It was so hard seeing him in that much pain and then to see him cry…"
"Neurotoxins can mess with the mind, Sam. It was altering his behavior. He had no control over that."
"I know, but…" She lifted herself from the doctor's shoulder and stood, going to Jack's side. She picked up his limp hand and clutched it between her own. "You just get so used to seeing them in charge and in control…"
"Well, it just goes to show that nobody is immune to needing a little extra TLC every now and then. And that includes yourself too."
"Ah ah! I mean it, Sam. You're still worn out from the mission, both mentally and physically. The Colonel is being taken care of, so now's the time to take care of yourself."
Sam shook her head. "I still have work to do…"
"Finding out why Hecate died the way she did won't change what's already happened."
"It could help find a cure for the Colonel."
Janet firmly shook her head. "I highly doubt it. And at this point, I don't even think we could safely use an anti-venom on him. He's just too weak. It would do more harm than good." She saw her cringe as the reality of her words sunk in. "Now, come on. You know the Colonel wouldn't want to see you like this. Why don't you go try to get a few hours sleep?"
Feeling worn out and slightly defeated, she finally nodded.
"Good. I'll walk you to your quarters."
Returning Jack's hand to his side, Sam leaned down and placed a light kiss on his fevered forehead. "Good night, sir," she uttered, fresh tears welling beneath her eyes when the only response she got was the mechanical hiss of the respirator.
Janet rested a hand on Sam's back. "Come on," she urged softly, and led her quietly crying friend from the room.
Two Days Later
Standing in the doorway of the Briefing Room, Daniel silently watched the lone figure still seated at the large table, their back turned and attention focused on the inactive Stargate in the room below. Manila folders stuffed with papers littered the glossy tabletop, their contents detailing the past two days worth of endless work and tedious experimentation. However, despite Sam's tireless efforts, they were still no closer to the reason that the venom had instantly killed the Goa'uld Hecate, but had thus far spared the life of their cynical leader.
Their morning briefing had been short. Hammond had called the team together to get an update on their work and to see how they were holding up. He'd also informed them that they were officially on stand down status, and, barring any Earth related events, would remain that way until further notice. He was well aware of how troubled his flagship team was, and knew their commitment to their work wouldn't be 100 percent as long as O'Neill was still down. He'd given them the space and time they needed, and for that they were grateful.
Daniel shifted his weight and pushed off from the doorframe; unable to watch his friend's brooding any longer. "You know, the General dismissed us over twenty minutes ago," he said, walking over to where Sam sat. When she didn't respond, he sighed deeply and dropped into a chair beside her. "I know you're frustrated, Sam."
"I just don't get it, Daniel," she uttered, a bitter edge to her quiet voice. "Not one single bit."
"Maybe there are some mysteries that can't be solved. Or some that just aren't meant to be."
She gave him an incredulous look. "That's a little hypocritical coming from an archeologist of ancient cultures, don't you think?" She sighed and shook her head. "Besides, that's not an option. At least not with me. There has to be an answer."
"Why though?" he pushed. "I mean you heard what Janet said about Jack this morning. His fever broke late last night and the level of venom in his blood is starting to decrease daily. He's getting better. Why are you continuing to beat yourself up over this?"
"I don't know. Maybe because it's something to do – something to keep my mind busy and keep me from worrying about the Colonel." Sam paused and looked down at her hands, the stress tears she'd gotten from carrying the stretcher almost completely healed over. "I've also been thinking that this could turn out to be just the weapon we're looking for to defend Earth against the Goa'uld. I mean think about it, something that kills symbiotes but not the people around them."
"It kills the host."
She sighed. "I know – that's something else I'm looking into."
Both scientists turned when they heard someone coming up the stairs, Teal'c's large frame appearing a moment later. "Daniel Jackson. Captain Carter."
"The briefing has long since ended, yet you are both still here."
"We're just enjoying the view," Daniel explained, gesturing toward the 'Gate.
"I see." A confused frown crossed the Jaffa's face as he joined his friends at the table, but he spoke of it no more.
"It just doesn't make sense," Sam continued. "I ran every test in the book on that venom, some of them twice, and I still can't figure out how a single bite would have resulted in the death of an adult symbiote. It has nothing to do with blood type, blood condition, temperature…I mean, if you think about it, is there really such a big difference between Colonel O'Neill and a Goa'uld?"
"You mean other than the fact one has a parasitic alien wrapped around the base of their brain…?" Daniel asked matter-of-factly.
"A Goa'uld host can live for many hundreds of years," Teal'c suggested. "Perhaps age is the determining factor."
"But even an old symbiote could have sustained the host for more than a matter of minutes." Sam puffed out a frustrated sigh as she stood and wandered over to the large viewing window. "There's got to be some small difference. Something else that separates human physiology from that of a Goa'uld. Like altered brain chemistry or something in their blood that…" Her words dropped off when she saw the four members of SG-6 following several technicians into the 'Gate Room. She'd read the mission schedule earlier that day and remembered seeing them slated for 1145 departure to P3S-663 – a planet that had favorable conditions for finding Naquadah.Naquadah…Why didn't I think of that before?
"Teal'c, go find Janet and meet me in my lab in 10 minutes," Sam ordered, her mind a whirlwind of thoughts. "Daniel, I'll need you there too."
"Wait! For what?" the young archeologist called, confused by the sudden change in his friend's sullen mood.
"You'll see!" Sam shouted as she flew down the stairs, leaving the two startled men staring after her, wondering what they had missed.
Had the circumstances been different, Sam would have prided herself with the record time she set getting from the Briefing Room to her lab, stopping for nothing and no one as she made her way through the base. Once there, she set about gathering the things needed for the impromptu experiment, carefully arranging and rearranging them on her workbench. Completely lost in her own thoughts, she barely noticed Daniel when he entered the room, his raised eyebrows nearly touching his bangs as he watched her work.
She was just about ready to begin when Teal'c and Janet came wandering into the room, a look of curiosity on the petite doctor's face. "Teal'c tells me you may have found something?" she asked.
"Oh I sure hope so," Sam muttered, carefully removing the stopper from a small jar she'd placed on the bench.
"So…are you going to tell us what's going on, or do you want us to guess?" Daniel asked smartly.
Sam stopped fiddling with the items on the table and gave him an irritated look. "When I was running my tests, I was primarily using sterilized blood because it's safer to work with and easier to manipulate than fresh blood. It's also been scrubbed clean of any foreign materials, such as medications or alcohol, which could inadvertently throw off your test results. Now when I did my tests, I never even considered how a foreign substance might affect the behavior of the venom within the human body."
"Colonel O'Neill was neither on medication, nor consuming alcohol whilst we were on M4G-887," Teal'c replied.
Sam nodded in agreement. "True. But the Colonel's blood also lacks something else. Something that makes him different than a Goa'uld."
Janet's eyes grew wide. "Naquadah?"
"Exactly," Sam replied with a wide grin. "Whenever a Goa'uld takes a host, Naquadah can be found in the bloodstream. And if I'm right, that's the reason Hecate died so quickly while the Colonel O'Neill is still alive."
Daniel shook his head, feeling as though he'd just missed something. "W-wait, how?"
"That's what we're about to try to figure out. Can you come here a second?"
The archeologist obediently slid off his stool and walked around to where she stood. "Now what?"
"I need your finger."
Although skeptical, Daniel held out his hand and watched silently as Sam wiped the tip of his finger with an alcohol pad. Then, before he had a chance to react, she swiftly pierced his skin with the sharp point of a lancet. "Ow! Hey! What was that for?" he cried.
"Demonstration purposes. Now hold still." She carefully squeezed a few drops of his blood onto one of the thin glass slides on the table and then released his hand. "Thank you."
"Yeah, sure. No problem…" he muttered, jamming his bleeding finger into his mouth and retreating to the other side of the bench.
Sam took an eyedropper and the small jar liquid from the table. "This is a mixture of the arachnid venom and saline solution," she explained, drawing a small amount of the mixture into the dropper and adding it to her friend's blood.
"Nothing occurred," Teal'c observed when the liquid simply diluted the blood.
"That's because Daniel doesn't have Naquadah in his blood," Sam said as she cleaned and punctured her own finger. "But I do." She placed a few drops of blood onto a clean slide and then added the venom solution.
"Oh wow…" Daniel breathed, his eyes widening as the blood immediately began to darken and clot.
Equally intrigued, Janet fished a pen from her lab coat pocket and began to gently poke at the gummy, hardening mass. "This is incredible. Clotting like this would block up the major organs and starve them of oxygen. The body would seize up and shut down within a matter of minutes. The symbiote itself might even be affected."
Sam turned to Teal'c. "Could a Goa'uld prevent something like that from happening?"
"I very much doubt it would be possible for even a mature symbiote to prevent or recover from such a catastrophic event. Death would most certainly be swift," he replied, tipping his head in thought. "I do believe you have solved the mystery of Hecate's demise, Captain Carter."
"It's quite possible the venom was meant only to take down small prey, like most of our spiders here on Earth. Although the venom usually isn't deadly to humans, it still can make them very sick," Janet explained. "Are you up to demonstrating this to Dr. Braddick? She's been just as puzzled over this as you have."
"Yeah, sure," she replied, and began gathering up her things.
"Way to go, Sam," Daniel said, walking over to give his friend a congratulatory pat on the back.
She tried to shrug nonchalantly, but the triumphant twinkle in her eyes and more confident stance gave away her true feelings. "It was a matter of persistence, that's all. And, of course, the use of your finger."
Daniel grimaced and rubbed the small hole on his index finger. "Yeah, about that… you guys aren't going to need me for this demonstration, are you? I mean it's great you got this figured this out and all, but…"
"It's okay, Daniel. I think we can come up with another volunteer," Janet assured him as she picked up some things to carry and headed for the door.
"Yeah, you're off the hook," Sam added on her way by.
"Thank you." Watching as the two women left the room, he couldn't help but smile when their laughter came floating back down the hall. It something none of them had been able to do for nearly a week and hearing it now just made him feel good. "Lunch?" he asked, turning to Teal'c.
The large man simply inclined his head and the two teammates started off toward the door, their spirits lifted for the first time in days.
Three Days Later
"…Unfortunately the samples we brought back turned out to be more deteriorated than we originally thought. The lab was only able to determine that shuttle's hull was made out of a species of wood similar to the willow trees we have here on Earth, and that it was approximately 600 years old. They also found a series of unique channeling in the wood structure itself, and speculated that this is how the tree originally produced and distributed the sap we found coating the ship's walls."
Sam Carter looked up from her notes to see if everyone was following her explanation. Her heart really wasn't into the briefing, and upon seeing the preoccupied expressions on her friend's faces, she could tell theirs weren't either. It had been six days since they'd agreed to let Dr. Fraiser put Jack in a coma as a last resort to try and counteract the poisoning he'd received on the team's last mission. And while things had been going well for their leader, the long wait and constant uncertainty was beginning to take its toll on the closely bonded group.
"Did the lab say anything about the possible function of the sap in correlation with the shuttle?" Hammond asked, the only person seated at the large table who seemed to be genuinely interested in the information being presented. He had called the meeting to check in with SG-1, and also to serve as an excuse to bring everyone together as Dr. Fraiser had requested him to do earlier that day.
"It's hard to say for certain, sir, but the sap may have actually worked as a sort of shield for the ship's hull. It has powerful fire retardant properties and also has the ability to convert CO2 into fresh oxygen, much like a foliated plant. Even stranger is the wood continued to produce this sap long after the tree was harvested and processed," Sam explained. "We've passed the samples onto a group of SGC botanists to see if they can come up with anything further."
"And what about the remainder of the venom you extracted from the artifact?"
"The Tok'Ra have expressed an interest in researching its potential use as a weapon against the Goa'uld. They'll be sending a representative by in a few days to pick it up."
All eyes turned toward the back of the room as the familiar sound of footsteps coming up the stairs caught their attention. Janet appeared a moment later, a small, contained smile on her face.
"Doctor, glad you could come," Hammond greeted, motioning for her to sit down. "We've been expecting you."
Daniel lifted his chin from his hand. "We have?" he asked, unable to recall if the General had mentioned that she would be joining them or not.
"I asked General Hammond to arrange this briefing because I thought it would be best if you were all together to hear what I have to say," Janet explained as she took a seat next to Sam.
"Janet, what's wrong?" Sam demanded, a feeling of dread already forming in the pit of her stomach. Did something happen…?
"I just got the results of the Colonel's latest blood work back from the lab."
Daniel slowly straightened up in his chair. "And…"
"And…except for some residual traces of the broken down toxin, the Colonel's system is essentially clean."
There was a brief moment when everyone simply sat and stared at her as if what she'd just told them had been complete and utter nonsense. The General came out of it first.
"That's wonderful news, Doctor."
"So how long before you can wake him up?" Sam asked, her blue eyes shining with excitement and relief.
"Actually, I plan to administer the reversal drug as soon as were done here," she replied. "And that's something I'm going to need your help with."
"How may we be of assistance, Doctor Fraiser?" Teal'c asked, a ghost of a smile softening his typically stoic features.
"The reversal drug isn't something that works immediately. It's meant to allow a patient to come around slowly, which is important especially if they've been under as long and as deeply as the Colonel has. Waking up like this can be very disorienting and frightening, even when you're in familiar surroundings. What I need from you three is help keeping the Colonel reassured and as calm as possible while he's coming to."
"That shouldn't be a problem, Janet."
"I didn't think it would be, Daniel," she said, amazed at how a little good news could invigorate an entire room of despondent people in a matter of seconds. "But I also wanted an opportunity to warn you that sometimes people wake up from these situations fighting. Now it doesn't happen often, but knowing the Colonel's background I just want you all to be aware of it and watch yourselves. Although he's going to be very weak for some time yet, he still could cause some serious damage if he felt threatened. Are there any questions?"
"How long will it take for the Colonel to wake up completely?" Sam asked.
"It varies from patient to patient, but it typically takes several hours for someone to become entirely aware of their surroundings. He'll be pretty groggy for a while but that's normal. It'll be a lot like coming out of surgery with a heavy dose of pain medication on board. I also plan to leave him on the respirator for a few days to allow his lungs some more time to heal while his body acclimates itself again. Then, if all goes well, we should be able to start assessing whether or not any permanent damage was done."
"Do you suspect any, Doctor?"
"It's hard to say at this point, General. His latest MRI came back clean, but the possibility is always there whenever you're dealing with a substance that attacks the nervous system," Janet explained, watching as her friend's relieved faces quickly turned serious once again. "But that's still several days ahead of us."
She sat quietly for several minutes, allowing her friends the time they needed to process the information she'd given them. She knew the past week had been rough on them all – herself included – and the thought that something could still go wrong was disconcerting. However, SG-1 was a strong group of individuals that became unstoppable when they came together as a team. If anyone could get through this misfortune, she was confident it was them.
"Janet?" Daniel asked, his voice startling her. "When do we start?"
"Give me half an hour and meet me in the Colonel's room. We'll start then."
A cohesive nod went through the room and Hammond called an end to the briefing.
And this is one doctor's appointment…Janet thought as she and everyone else stood to gather their things. That they wouldn't miss for the world…
True to their word, SG-1 appeared in the isolation room exactly thirty minutes after the briefing had ended, ready and willing to help with the potentially stressful task of bringing their team leader out of anesthetic. Janet quickly went over everything they needed to be watching for as Jack slowly returned to consciousness, explaining what was normal, what wasn't, and what was cause for alarm. She then administered the reversal drug and left her friends to get settled for the long wait.
Nearly three hours went by, all passing without Jack showing any signs of coming around. Even with Janet's constant reassurance that he was doing fine, the group was becoming concerned that something wrong.
Daniel yawned loudly as he shut the leather-bound book he'd been reading, the soft waves of classical music playing in the background beginning to make him drowsy. Although it had been Teal'c who suggested music of some sort might help reassure Jack that he was safe, it was the archeologist that recommended the type. As much as he thought of Jack O'Neill as a cynical, stubborn, and often times exasperating individual, he also knew the man possessed a more refined, almost peaceful side – a side most people would never see.
Setting his book aside, he looked across the room to find Sam and Teal'c deeply absorbed in a game of chess, a discarded pile of playing cards off to one side. With another yawn, Daniel turned back to his sleeping friend and scooted his chair closer to the bed. "Come on, Jack," he muttered, reaching through the guardrail to give his arm a light squeeze. "We know you're in there. Can't you just wake up for a few minutes? We're not going to leave you alone until you do…"
When he got no response, he frowned and sat back in his chair, trying not to let his frustrations or fears get the better of him. Jack will wake up when he's damn good and ready. He's never done things any other way before, so why do you think he'd change now?
Resigning himself to another hour of reading, Daniel retrieved his book and cast a final glance toward his friend before dropping his eyes to the text.Wait a second…
He slowly lowered the book to his lap. Something about the older man had caught his attention, but he wasn't quite sure what it had been. "Jack?"
Daniel's heart skipped a beat when he saw Jack's face twitch, a slight furrow forming along his brow. "H-hey, guys, I think something's happening…" He heard the scraping of chairs and footsteps as the others hurried to join him at their leader's side.
"What's going on?"
"He just moved," Daniel replied, sliding forward in his chair and leaning over the rail. "Hey, Jack? Jack, it's Daniel. Can you hear me?"
"Doctor Fraiser said it would take some time before O'Neill can identify his surroundings," Teal'c said when there was no response.
Sam felt Jack's body tense as she gathered his hand into her own, his skin noticeably cooler than it had been several days before. "It's all right, sir," she said, the rhythm of his cardiac monitor beginning to increase. "You're safe. We're all here with you."
"Should I go get Janet?"
"It wouldn't hurt, Daniel," Sam agreed, dropping into his seat as he hurried out of the room. She began to lightly rub her thumb across the back of Jack's hand, concerned by the mixture of confusion and fear on his face. "You're okay, Colonel. Daniel's gone to get Janet. You're going to be fine."
"He does not seem to recognize your voice, Captain Carter."
"His senses are likely distorted from being under for so long," she explained, his weak grip around her hand tightening at Teal'c's deep voice. "Shh, Jack, it's all right," she soothed, reaching up and gently passing her fingers through his hair. A moment later, he began to relax.
"Finally getting a response?" Janet asked as she entered the room with Daniel close at her heels.
Teal'c stepped aside to allow the small doctor access to her patient. "He appears to be growing anxious."
"He's still trying to work out where he is," she replied, seeing the uncertainty on the older man's face. "Colonel O'Neill? This is Dr. Fraiser. Can you hear me, sir?"
Jack's head jerked toward the sound of the new voice as the monitor beside the bed gave a warning shriek as his vitals abruptly rose.
"Colonel, listen to me. You're all right," Janet said loudly, trying to reach him through the thick blanket of drugs. "You're in an isolation room at the SGC and are waking up from a very powerful sedative. Things are going to seem a little off for a while, but you need to try and stay calm and trust us, sir."
She watched him closely for the next few minutes, waiting to see if her words would be enough to quell the man's drug induced fears. Gradually, with Sam's continued comforting efforts, Jack began to settle down and his vital signs leveled out.
"Colonel, can you open your eyes for us?" Janet asked after giving him a moment to rest.
Daniel smiled when he saw his friend cringe slightly at the request. "Come on, Jack. It's time for school. Wakey wakey."
Although clearly hesitant about doing so, Jack slowly opened his bleary, unfocused eyes and squinted painfully against the dim lighting.
"Welcome back, sir," Janet greeted, giving her patient a warm smile.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel said, a boyish grin spreading across his lips. "Believe it or not, you've been asleep for the past six days."
Teal'c inclined his head. "It is good to see you have awoken, O'Neill."
Jack blinked heavily as he looked around at the joyful faces his team, his reactions slow and sluggish.
"Yeah, it's good to have you back, sir," Sam said when his gaze came to her. "We were really worried about you." She felt him give her hand a weak squeeze and smiled. "We missed you too."
Janet brushed a hand across the Colonel's cheek to get his attention. "Sir? I know you can't speak, but I need to know if you're in any pain." He slowly shook his head, his eyes moving back to his team. "That's good. We're going to be asking you that a lot over the next few days and it's important that you're honest with us, okay? Your body's been through a very rough time and we want to give you as much help as possible while you're recovering. Just try to bear with us the best you can."
Jack gave a fierce shiver in response.
"It is a little chilly in here, isn't it sir? Daniel, you want to grab a few blankets from the warmer in the corner?" she asked, realizing that the sheet partially covering him was providing far more modesty than it was warmth. "We've been keeping the room cool because you were running a high fever. I'll get maintenance to turn up the thermostat in a little bit."
Quick to return with the warmed blankets, Daniel and Sam both helped to carefully tuck them in around the equipment and monitors still connected to their friend. "That better, Jack?" he asked when he saw his shivers and shakes begin to subside.
Feeling warm, safe, and secure, Jack allowed his increasingly heavy eyelids to slide shut against the residual pull of the drugs.
"He's so tired…" Sam uttered, still holding his hand beneath the blankets.
"He'll likely spend most of the next few days sleeping," Janet said. "He's got a lot of recovering left to do."
"Do you think it'll be complete?" Daniel asked.
"If he continues to do well and baring any further complications, yes, I think it will," she replied, relief becoming more prominent on her friend's faces. They looked so happy to be together again that she regretted what inevitably had to come next. "Listen, I know you all want to be here with the Colonel right now, but…"
"We need to let him rest," Sam finished with a frown.
"It's the best thing he can do right now," the doctor said, understanding their reluctance to leave. "I am willing to allow one of you to stay here in case he wakes up again. While he can't speak because of the respirator, I think it would provide some much needed reassurance if there was someone here he trusted."
Sam spoke up first. "I'll take first watch. We can switch off every few hours if that works for you guys."
Daniel nodded in agreement. "Sounds good." He leaned over to give Jack a quick pat on the arm. "Good to have you back, Jack."
Teal'c bowed his head. "Rest well, my friend."
Janet watched the two men leave the room before turning to Sam. "I'm going to go let the General know he came out of the anesthesia all right. If you need anything, just hit the call button, okay?"
Sam nodded absently. "Sure. Thanks, Janet."
"You bet," she said, and quietly left the room.
"That was a close call, sir," Sam whispered, closely watching her commanding officer's sleeping face. "Just too damn close." She laid her head against the arm she had folded across the guardrail and sighed. A moment later, her eyes slid shut and before she knew it, she was sound asleep, Jack's hand still clutched in her own.
Three Days Later
Feeling fully rejuvenated after a night of sleeping in her own bed, Captain Carter strolled briskly down the corridors of the Isolation Ward, eager to check in on her CO before tackling a broken sensor on one of the MALP's. Just as she came to the final turn before his room, the sickeningly familiar sound of Jack's painful coughing froze her solid in her tracks.
Oh no…no…oh my god…it's happening again…
"Easy, sir, you're all right. Just slow down…"
It was Janet's unruffled urging that snapped Sam out of her thoughts and back into motion, sending her sprinting the rest of the way down the hall. "Janet, what's…!" She skidded to a stop just inside the room, her eyes wide with panic as she took in the scene around her.
"That's it, Colonel, nice and slow," Janet uttered as she rubbed his arm with one hand and held a glass of water ready with the other. "You're doing fine." Once his breathing began to even out, she offered him the water and kept the cup steady as he drew a few mouthfuls through the straw. "Better?"
Jack nodded his thanks and accepted her help as he dropped back against the slightly elevated mattress, exhaustion evident on his thin face.
Wait a minute… Sam thought, her mind slowly beginning to process the situation. "Janet?"
She looked up from adjusting the oxygen mask she had just positioned over Jack's mouth and nose. "Hey, Sam. Come on in," she greeted; making a point of ignoring the annoyed glares she was getting from her patient as she resumed fussing with the mask.
Sam took a few tentative steps forward, still unsure if her eyes were playing tricks on her or not. "W-what happened?"
"The Colonel's latest CT scan showed a significant improvement in the bruising around his lungs and he's been maintaining his oxygen levels, so we decided it was safe to remove him from the respirator. Something I think he's quite happy about."
"Ya think?" Jack rasped, his voice hoarse from lack of use.
Tears welled up in Sam's eyes when she heard his classic retort, something, she'd feared, she would never get to hear again.
"What did I just tell you about talking, sir?" Janet demanded, her tone bordering more on motherly than scolding. "Your throat is going to be sore for a few days and I want you to take it easy."
Jack shot her an irritated look but said no more.
"As you can see, Sam, he's doing fine. I have a feeling it won't be long before he's back annoying us all."
The Captain grinned. "I hope so."
"Listen, Colonel, I have a few things I need to go do, but when I get back I want to go over those coordination tests with you again. So rest up and be ready." She turned to leave before he had a chance to protest, pausing only long enough to give her friend's arm a quick squeeze. "Have a good visit and make sure he keeps that mask on," she said, and disappeared through the door.
A heavy silence descended on the room as the sound of Janet's clicking heels faded down the hall. Sam sighed quietly and looked up at Jack, feeling almost relieved to find his dark eyes closed and his breathing slow and even.
"She gone yet?"
Sam nearly came out of her skin when his slightly breathy words met her half way to the door. "Colonel! I thought you were asleep…"
"Just resting my eyes, Captain," Jack replied, pulling off the offending mask and letting it hang around his neck. He pointed at the chair beside his bed.
"O-oh, I really can't stay, sir. I-I have a job I need to get going on. I just wanted to stop by and s-see how you were…"
"Carter, sit!" he barked as best he could.
Conditioned to obey his orders, Sam obediently dropped into the chair "Yes, sir."
"…Better…" he grunted and settled back against the pillows.
"S-so, how are you feeling?"
"Like I've had the crap kicked out of me. Twice." Jack turned to look at his second, noticing her unnaturally pale complexion for the first time. "Looks like you've seen a ghost – why?"
She dropped her eyes to her feet. "Would you believe I just saw my cell phone bill for last month?"
He canted an eyebrow. "Carter?"
"Y-you've just been really sick, sir, and when I heard you c-coughing just now, I thought…" Sam shook her head and sniffed. "I-I don't think I could have watched you go through that again."
Jack sighed and ran a hand through his unruly hair, suddenly feeling guilty for upsetting his friend. "Carter…"
"You just scared me…us…all so much back on the planet, sir," she continued on, tears flowing freely down her face as the memories of the past week came flooding back. "First when you cut yourself and went into anaphylactic shock, and then you started to get worse and worse and there was nothing we could do…not even Janet could…" She stopped rambling when she saw the troubled look that crossed Jack's face, and immediately berated herself for upsetting him. "I-I'm sorry, Colonel. I shouldn't be doing this…"
"No…no, it's all right," he said, and paused to think for a moment before continuing on. "And I think I'm the one who should be saying I'm sorry."
Sam shook her head firmly. "No, sir, you have nothing to…"
"Sam, listen to me." He reached over the guardrail and took her hand. "I'm sorry I frightened you. I never meant to."
"I know that."
The older man sighed deeply and shut his eyes, his energy levels already starting to fade. "Janet's been telling me a little about what happened. She's leaving a lot out but… I feel like I owe everybody involved a great deal of thanks. Especially you."
"I just did what had to be done."
"No – I think you did a lot more than that. And I wish I could say that I remember it all, but I can't."
"Trust me, sir," she said. "It's a blessing you don't remember everything."
"Maybe…" He turned his head to look at her. "But you want to know what I do remember?"
"Feeling that I was always safe, warm, and being taken care of. I never once felt that I was alone."
Sam did her best to hide her shock, not having expected such a powerful admission to come from the notoriously hardheaded Jack O'Neill. "We're a team, sir. We look out for each other."
"We're more than just a team, Captain. We're a damn good team," he said as he lifted her hand and gave it a squeeze. "And I want to thank you for helping me through this. It means a great deal to me."
Sam ducked her head and sniffed as a round of fresh tears welled up in her eyes. She had no idea how to react to what her CO had just said, and was afraid to open her mouth for fear of what might come out.
"Carter?" Jack pushed when she didn't say anything.
"Yes, sir," she whispered as the first few tears began running down her cheeks.
Deeply sadden to see his second cry, Jack reached out and pulled her into a hug as best he could in his bed bound arrangement. "C'mere," he uttered, burying his face against her neck and gently rubbing her back as she cried quietly against his shoulder. He continued to support her for a long time, her built-up stress gradually melting away with her tears.
"You going to be all right?" he asked when she finally sat up and wiped the moisture from her face.
Sam nodded and sniffed, trying hard to pull herself back together. "You?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Good," she said with a shy smile. "Because it's been too quiet around here without you."
A wry grin crossed Jack's face as he settled back and sighed, a wave of exhaustion sneaking up on him. "I think I can fix that," he uttered through a wide yawn. "Sorry 'bout that, Carter… "
Recognizing the telltale signs that she losing him, Sam stood and began straightening out the tangled blankets at the foot of his bed. "It's okay, sir. You've been falling asleep on everyone these past few days," she replied, drawing the covers up and tucking them in. By the time she had finished, Jack's eyes were already closed, his head lolled to one side.
With an empathetic smile, she lifted the softly hissing oxygen mask from around his neck and repositioned it on his face. "Thank you, Jack," she whispered, giving his arm a final squeeze before turning to leave the room.
"Sir?" she asked, startled once again by his tired voice.
"We were on a moon, not a planet."
"Yes, sir," she said, a genuine smile lighting up her face for the first time in days. "My mistake."
Two Weeks Later
The party had been planned, prepared, and executed without a hitch. More importantly, Jack had had no idea what his friends had in store for him until they showed up at his private on-base quarters with lunch, balloons, and enough cheer and encouragement to fill the entire mountain. The purpose of their gathering – which was to be kept small per Janet's instructions – was to celebrate Jack's unprecedented recovery and his scheduled return to work in a few weeks time.
The Colonel was all smiles as he watched the group scatter brightly colored decorations around his simply furnished room, and welcomed Cassie with open arms when she could wait no longer to give her adopted uncle a hug.
After words of support and gratitude were exchanged, everyone settled down around a lunch of pizza and sandwiches to tell jokes and generally have a good time. Half way through the meal, Daniel stood and presented Jack with a wooden plaque bearing a detailed engraving of the spider relic and the words: "New Arachnid Species Identified – The 'Jack' Widow. SGC Entomological Catalog Number -- 56985." And, for the first time since SG-1 had become a team, Jack O'Neill was left speechless.
Throughout the entire gathering, Janet kept a close eye on Jack; silently monitoring his energy levels to make her patient wasn't becoming overly stressed. Aside from the relocation to his on-base quarters several days ago, the party was the most stimulation he'd had in several weeks. She was well aware that he was still a long ways off from being 100 percent, but she also knew it would take a lot more than a little fatigue to ruin the fun he was having with his team. His recovery had gone amazingly well, and much to everyone's relief, there had been no signs of permanent neurological damage. His torn muscles and bruised lungs were on the mend, and all support equipment had been removed except a single IV line to help maintain his fluid and nutrient levels."There's no place like home…there's no place like home…there's no place like…"
Janet smiled as the techno-colored Dorothy recited what had become one of Jack O'Neill's favorite sayings. It had been Cassie's idea to bring a movie to the party, and Teal'c's suggestion that it be the "Wizard of Oz." After lunch, everyone had gathered around the room's small TV to watch it over heaping bowls popcorn and cans of cold root beer.
As the film came to a close, she looked over her shoulder at the bed where Jack and Cassie had settled to watch the movie. Damn, where's my camera when I need it? She thought, finding them both to be sound asleep, Cassie snuggled in close to her quietly snoring uncle with the stuffed goldfish she'd given him tucked in between them. "Sam…" she whispered, pointing to the bed.
Her friend's eyes widened as she turned to look. "Oh my god…that's too sweet."
"It would appear we tired both Colonel O'Neill and Cassandra Fraiser out," Teal'c said, holding out a hand to help Daniel up from the floor.
"Should we wake them up?" Sam asked, quietly shutting off the TV and collecting the movie.
Janet shook her head as she stepped over to check on Jack. "Nah – Cassie hasn't been sleeping well since this all started and the Colonel needs all the rest he can get right now. I think it'll do them both good." She made sure the IV line wasn't crimped and then lightly brushed a hand across his forehead and cheek.
"Is he okay?" Daniel asked as he removed a spare blanket from the storage chest against the wall.
"He's fine – just tired," the doctor replied, helping him tuck it in around the sleeping pair. "Come on, guys. Let's let them rest."
Allowing the others to go ahead of her, Sam paused for a moment in the doorway, her hand hovering over the light switch. It was still hard for her to believe how close SG-1 had come to losing their respected leader this time – and she knew that the feelings, memories, and images of the past month would be with them all for a long time to come. But the nightmare was behind them now, and their future as a team, a damn good team, was looking brighter than ever.
Sam smiled as she watched Jack shift in his sleep, unconsciously burrowing himself deeper into the blankets until all she could see was the top of his head. "Welcome back, Colonel," she said quietly. "We missed you."
With a final fond look at the sleeping pair, she turned off the light and softly shut the door, leaving them both to get some much-needed rest.