PART THREE

Whatever is in Daniel's cocktail has clearly stopped working, because he can barely focus from one thought to another through the pain in his head and his overwhelming fatigue. He thinks Sam is talking to him, but he's been having hallucinations and can't be sure. He's under the impression for a while that Janet has recovered and is visiting him, until she's joined by his mother. That tips him off that all is not well in the state of Jackson.

Sam, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, is currently chatting away. Daniel supposes that if she's not a delusion, it's in an effort to make sure he knows he's not alone. That's nice.

"Warner can't find anything in the alien samples like this 'flu, not even antibodies against it. I'm sure you can figure out the good and bad news that tells us."

Sam pauses for a moment like Daniel is going to answer. He's not sure she knows he's awake. Actually, he's not sure he even is awake. Not that it matters if he is, since he can't respond with the ventilator tube down his throat. Maybe that's why he's been hallucinating. Sedatives. He'll take that theory over his alternate one which is that he's dying.

"The bad news," Sam continues, as if Daniel has told her which one he wanted to hear first. She's considerately predicted his preferred choice. "Is that this won't help anyone find a treatment."

Crap. So much for redemption.

She picks up his hand in hers and gives it a squeeze. "But the good news, Daniel, is that if the 'flu didn't come from that planet, then this whole thing can't possibly be your fault."

And suddenly Daniel is desperately hoping that this Sam is not a figment of his imagination.

XXXXXXXXXX

Something is different, although Daniel isn't sure what it is at first. His bed feels more like a table, and he's pretty sure his ventilator is gone. The gasping of his lungs tells him it probably shouldn't be.

"What the—?" Jack says, sounding not even remotely tinny. "Thor, buddy. You really gotta learn to call first."

"Your message did indicate urgency, O'Neill," Thor says. He's closer to Daniel than Jack is. Daniel feels something cool touch his chest and assumes it's Thor's doing.

"Yes, it did. Daniel's sick."

That would certainly explain why I feel like such crap, Daniel thinks. But I think you're forgetting the important part, Jack.

"There's a 'flu outbreak," Jack continues, because he always could read Daniel's mind. "It's killed a lot of people."

Thor presses down with something on Daniel's chest. Daniel really wishes he wouldn't. He's having a hard enough time breathing as it is.

"Do you suspect that the virus is alien in origin?" Thor asks.

"We thought so at first, but now we don't know."

That's succinct, if unhelpful. He wants to try joining the conversation but there's an odd warmth deep in his left lung under Thor's device which distracts him. It quickly becomes painfully hot and he feels his back arch off the table.

"What are you doing?" Jack asks. Daniel feels a pressure on his forearm, almost as if Jack has grabbed hold of it, but it feels indistinct. No feeling of Jack's skin, just the pressure of his hand.

The pain in his chest moves to a different area as the device moves along his skin.

"I am removing the excess fluid from Dr. Jackson's lungs. It is uncomfortable for him, but it will improve his ability to breathe."

Daniel would not have chosen the word 'uncomfortable'. He opens his eyes, as if it will be of any help.

Jack is holding his arm, and he seems fully prepared to pull Daniel from Thor's clutches. There's a weird golden glow emanating from the place where Jack's hand touches Daniel's arm, but either Jack has failed to notice, or he's ignoring it for now.

"Ew. Couldn't you just, I don't know, beam it out of him or something?"

"It is unlikely that I could do so without dematerializing sections of his lung tissue as well."

"Ah," Jack says. "And that would be...bad?"

Thor blinks. "Very."

"Alright." Jack relaxes his grip somewhat but doesn't let go. He's offering comfort now instead of protection, Daniel realizes. "Let's do it your way."

"As you wish."

The searing pain moves again and Daniel is thankful for all the comfort he can get.

XXXXXXXXXX

He wakes up drunk.

Or, in the interests of semantic accuracy, and Daniel is a linguist after all, it's more likely that he wakes up stoned. Or maybe baked, drugged, doped, sedated, smashed and wasted. Or just plain high. It's kind of a combination of all of them, really, but as Daniel has a lot more experience with being drunk than being high, sarcophagi, alien lights and involuntary commitment notwithstanding, it's what he decides to go with.

Though maybe buzzed is the best word of all, since everything he hears has to make it through the drone in his ears.

It's not that he'd not grateful for it; he feels better than he has in days, though by 'better' he really means 'less'. He just wishes Thor could have given him whatever wonderful stuff this is before he'd burnt the gunk out of his lungs, rather than after. He takes a few experimental inhalations and finds that at least Thor was right about the procedure improving his breathing.

"What?" Jack is shouting, which is, not coincidently, the reason Daniel is awake.

"I cannot provide a cure for the virus," Thor says.

"Can't or won't? 'Cause I have to say it seems pretty unlikely to me that you can't."

Daniel opens his eyes. Jack and Thor are standing in front of an Asgard view screen, looking at oblong blobs that Daniel assumes are images of what's been making him so miserable lately. He wonders if they're from his own blood, and realizes that they must be.

Asgard symbols fill the screen, and Daniel squints at them, trying to read. It takes him a long time to realize that it's the same four symbols repeated over and over again in a seemingly random order, and it takes him even longer still to realize that they must be the virus's DNA sequence. Or is that RNA sequence? Daniel is not a biologist, and unsurprisingly finds that he doesn't really care.

Thor highlights a section of the sequence, as if it will mean anything to either Daniel or Jack. "I have found no evidence that the virus is of Goa'uld or other alien design or origin. It is therefore a natural event of your planet and falls under subsection 42 of the Protected Planets Treaty."

Jack cocks his head to the side. "Just for the sake of argument, let's pretend I haven't read subsection 42 yet."

Daniel hasn't read subsection 42 yet either, a fact which surprises him, as he's normally very thorough with such important documents. He supposes he's been pretty busy lately, but doesn't think that's any excuse.

"The people of the Protected Planets cannot be artificially advanced through Asgard technological means," Thor explains. "Curing this virus would be a violation. It would invalidate the treaty and open all Protected Planets to attack by the Goa'uld. The Asgard do not have the resources to protect them all."

"See, that's the kind of detail that should be written down somewhere."

Thor has no comment for that, but Daniel can practically hear him blinking. There's a reason that Daniel prefers not to let Jack anywhere near anything that might be considered a negotiation.

"What good is protection if there is nobody left to protect?" Jack asks. It's a good point, Daniel knows, but it's not going to win anything here.

"It is unlikely that all human life will be destroyed on your planet," Thor says, moving the controller. The screen changes to an image of Earth. Red dots blossom over major cities as the planet turns on its axis. They grow until they slowly cover every area of land. "I estimate that approximately one sixth of your population will die as a result of the virus. More may perish during the unrest that follows as your societies adjust."

Unrest. Thor always was good at understatement. Daniel is an anthropologist. He knows one sixth is more than enough to topple most world governments. He knows that those who perish in the chaos that follows may very well outnumber those who died in the plague.

"One sixth. That's what..?"

Just over a billion, Jack.

"A whole lot of people. Your treaty is worth more than them?"

"It is unfortunate that one billion Earth people will perish. However, if I interfere to save them, it will give the Goa'uld the opportunity to enslave or exterminate the 30 billion people of the Protected Planets. Earth included."

Daniel wishes he was a whole lot drunker for this conversation. Jack probably does too.

XXXXXXXXXX

"What about Daniel?" Jack asks sometime later. Daniel's not sure how much later. Two, maybe three drug-induced naps ago. He pushes back the buzzing he can still hear in his ears and concentrates on Jack's voice. "You just going to watch him die with the rest of the planet?"

Excellent. Jack hasn't given up. He's taking another tack.

"I am sorry, O'Neill. I truly desire to help but I cannot violate the treaty to protect Earth."

"What if you didn't help Earth? What if you just helped Daniel?"

He's taking the wrong tack.

"Jack?" Daniel means for that to be much louder than it comes out.

Jack hears him anyway. "Daniel? You're awake?" He comes over and rests his hand on Daniel's shoulder. The golden glow again flares between them. A force field, Daniel finally realizes. Thor's protecting Jack from the virus.

"Of course you're awake," Jack continues. "That table can't be a very comfortable."

Daniel agrees, but dismisses it as unimportant. "What are you doing?"

"Having a chat with Thor about saving your life. Say hello to the nice little grey man."

Daniel turns his head slightly to see the Supreme Commander of the Asgard fleet.

Thor blinks at him. "Greetings, Dr. Jackson."

"I don't want just my life."

"That wasn't hello," Jack mutters. "And it's not your choice. You're not up on the details."

"I want the billion."

"Or maybe you are."

"The Goa'uld would respond to such an action by declaring war," Thor says.

"Why would they have to know?" Daniel asks.

"It would be far too convenient for Earth to suddenly have a cure dispensed to the population. The Goa'uld would be suspicious. An investigation would take place and my involvement would be revealed."

"What if you were subtle about it? Do something that would appear natural? There must be something that could be altered just enough to help. A medicinal plant maybe? Something an Earth scientist can 'discover'?"

Thor watches him for a long moment and then abruptly brings up a view screen over Daniel's table. The angle is bad, and Daniel can't see what's on it.

Jack can. "Oh, no you don't."

"It is an intriguing idea, O'Neill. One I believe is possible."

Good. Thor's found something already.

"You can't just go splicing him like some sort of lab rat."

Him?

"Dr. Jackson is a sentient being with the ability to give consent."

Oh, him as in him. Fantastic.

"He's drugged. Look at him. His eyes aren't even tracking properly." Jack waves a finger in front of Daniel's face, and he's right. Daniel can't follow it, although he's pretty sure Jack's moving fast enough he wouldn't be able to follow it on a good day, either.

Thor ignores Jack. "Dr. Jackson, I believe I have found a way to help you, though the procedure is somewhat dangerous. Will you consent for me to proceed?"

"No, he won't," Jack says.

Daniel ignores him too. "Will it cure everyone else?"

"Your doctors will be able to use it to halt the spread of the virus and to treat those afflicted. It is not a cure, but if used properly, it will save many lives."

"Then I consent."

Jack sighs explosively. "Damn it, Daniel!"

"Please," Daniel says. "Just get on with it."

"Very well," Thor picks up another egg-shaped instrument of indeterminable function. "You may experience some discomfort."

Of course he will. What else is new?

XXXXXXXXXX

"You must inform your experts that Dr. Jackson's B cells are now fully culturable," Thor says as Daniel regains consciousness.

"His what are what?" Jack asks.

There's a flash of light, and Daniel finds himself back in the isolation room. He can see Jack through the observation window, looking confused.

Daniel is not reassured.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Extraordinary," Warner says, pressing a stethoscope against Daniel's chest.

What's really extraordinary is that Warner is making Daniel feel much more like an inferior being undergoing experimentation than Thor ever did.

"I'm supposed to tell you his B cells are now fully culturable," Jack tells the doctor from behind the mask he now has to wear.

"His what are what?" Warner asks.

Daniel is so not reassured.

XXXXXXXXXX

It turns out that B cells are the part of his immune system that produces antibodies, and the fact that his can now be easily grown in vitro means that Warner doesn't have to take enough blood from him to dose six billion people. Daniel believes this to be a good thing.

"So, how does it feel to be the freak mutant who's saving the world?" Jack asks.

Daniel rolls his eyes and sees Janet suppress a smile. They're both in the main ward now, no longer a danger to everyone around them. It's much better for their social lives. Or worse, as the case may be.

He takes a deep breath, enjoying the novelty of cooperative lungs even as he suppresses the urge to throttle Jack.

All SGC personnel have been inoculated with a short-term vaccine created with Daniel's Asgard-tweaked immunoglobulin. The CDC has been informed and is working on perfecting the temporary vaccine for mass usage, though the Food and Drug Administration and its sister organisations in other First World countries have not yet approved the unconventional preparation.

But the spread of the virus is slowing down anyway. Quarantine procedures are holding better than expected; for the most part, people are content to stay in their own homes now that there's news that a vaccine is on the way. There is hope. There would probably also be an influx of new church and temple-goers too, if public assembly were not still strictly verboten.

Apart from Hammond, Sam, Teal'c, Janet, Warner and possibly the Joint Chiefs, no one knows that Thor is responsible for stopping the virus. It has to stay that way to prevent the Goa'uld from ever finding out. Daniel has therefore been cast as a medical marvel.

He prefers not to hear the term 'miracle'.

Baby Chelsea is still known as Patient Zero, and no one has been able to determine how she became infected. All that's known is that she passed it on to her mother in England, and to her father in the U.S. The international nature of her family was just bad luck. As was Daniel's choice of shoes that day. Or maybe that part was good luck, in the grand scheme of things.

The media has been calling Daniel Patient N, as in the last of a series. They've been glorifying him as a hero, though thankfully an anonymous one.

It's phenomenally irritating.

Jack's loving every second of it. "Well?"

Daniel digs into the Jell-O in front of him. "It feels remarkably like I didn't do anything except exist. Oh, wait. That is all I did."

"Oooh, aren't we cranky. I'm pretty sure you made friends with a little grey uber-geek who helped you because he likes you." Jack frowns at him, sits down in a chair and gives him the once-over. "Did you not get your Wheaties this morning? 'Cause I'm thinking you look like you could use 'em. Actually, you could probably use a big fat steak. Or maybe a whole cow."

Daniel has lost weight. About ten pounds, according to Warner, most of it muscle. His arms have lost some of the definition he's gained over the last few years, and he knows his face is more hollow than it was, both because of the grimace Sam tries to hide every time she visits, and because Janet's looking a little skeletal around the eyes too.

Janet's feeling better, though, and she comes to his rescue. "Do you have any reason to be here, Colonel, or have you just come to annoy my patient?"

Jack snorts. "Your patient? No offence, Doc, but you're looking more like a patient than a doctor these days."

Daniel still feels guilty about that. Making the entire world sick turned out not to be his fault. But making Janet sick certainly is. He literally coughed all over her.

She refuses to listen whenever he tries to apologize, telling him if he really is sorry he'll do her a favour and shut up about it. He knows she shares his deep-seated relief that the 'flu did not come from the SGC.

"Have you just come to annoy me then, Colonel? I assure you, I'll be back on my feet in no time. You're overdue for your physical, aren't you?"

Jack's flustered attempts at back-pedalling are interrupted by the arrival of Sam. Much to Daniel's dismay, she's not carrying his laptop as he requested, but instead has a chessboard. It's the one she plays Cassie with during their weekly games. Daniel goes in Sam's place every once in a while when she's either been caught up with something in her lab, or if she or Janet think Cassie's in need of a little humility. It happens a lot since Cass turned fifteen.

Cassie didn't get sick, even after being exposed to one of her classmates who was. Janet and Warner believe that like Sam, she's somehow protected by the naquadah in her blood. They still haven't figured out why that's the case, but whatever the reason, Daniel is grateful for it.

"Where's my computer?" he asks, knowing the answer.

Sam nods towards Janet. "I'm afraid of your roommate."

"Coward."

She smiles at him, and he's pleased to see she doesn't grimace at all this time. He must be looking better, despite what Jack says. He picks up his bowl of Jell-O so she can start setting up the pieces while he finishes. Jack supervises. Loudly.

Nearly 100,000 people are dead. The figure is still rising, but it's a mere fraction of the death toll of the 1918 'flu pandemic, and shows no sign of ever approaching Thor's projected billion. Things could have been a lot worse.

The military, out of necessity, is highly involved in distributing the new vaccine. They're going ahead without the FDA's sanction for both healthcare workers and those who have already been infected.

Tomorrow, the three upright members of SG-1 will be going out into the world to join those making deliveries of the vaccine to hospitals. Every able and immune body is needed.

But tonight, they're gathering in the infirmary celebrating the survival of their own. General Hammond stops by, with Walter Harriman in tow, to check on his Chief Medical Officer and his lead team's archaeologist. They don't stay long. Hammond's job is infinitely tougher these past couple of weeks. Daniel doesn't envy him.

Finally, Teal'c arrives, and the team's all together again. He nods to Daniel, and then takes a seat beside Janet. He's got Daniel's Hounds and Jackals game, which he's promised to teach her.

Jack wanders over to supervise that as well, declaring it should be renamed 'Influenza and Immunoglubsits'. He insists, though neither Teal'c nor Janet agree, that the name will catch on, even if the game never does. Sam grins. Daniel ignores the whole discussion and opens with the Queen's Gambit.

Tomorrow, they'll go back to saving the world. Tonight, there's time to breathe.

END

Reviews are strongly encouraged, especially the constructive type. This was an experiment for me, and I'd appreciate knowing what you thought.

Again, my gratitude to Amaranth Traces for putting up with the not only unusual style, but the fact that the story was just so irritatingly gen for her. ;)