As much as he was eager to get back through the Stargate and have Daniel properly checked out after the events that had transpired since the archeologist had first touched the crystal skull, Jack allowed his teammate a few moments to say goodbye to his grandfather.
It seemed as though Daniel couldn't win a trick, Jack thought, as though he lost everyone he ever cared about. If Jack believed in that kind of stuff, he'd be wondering who the hell Daniel had pissed off to get this kind of karma. Didn't matter, the colonel thought now as he watched Daniel trail a gentle finger over the object that had begun his latest round of trauma, he's got us.
"Daniel? You ready to go?" Jack made it a question, figuring that after being ignored for so long, Daniel deserved a little autonomy.
Daniel turned to face him, sorrowful eyes huge in a pale face. "Whenever you are."
Jack observed him a moment longer needing to reassure himself that Daniel really was okay. Finally, he nodded and turned back the way they had come. "Let's go home, kids. Daniel? Try not to touch anything on the way out."
He ushered Sam and Teal'c ahead of him along the long narrow bridge, then set himself at the rear… just in case. They were almost back to the other side when Daniel wobbled fractionally and Jack took a double-time step to position himself directly behind him, placing a hand on the other man's back. "Daniel?"
"I'm all right." Daniel's voice sounded exhausted. "Just tired. I want to go home."
A tendril of concern twisted Jack's stomach at the almost child-like plea. He patted Daniel's back reassuringly. "Yeah, me too. We're nearly there, buddy."
Daniel nodded but didn't reply and continued on, his head drooping as though it was only by looking at his feet that they knew what to do.
Jack felt weak-kneed with relief when he heard Sam dial up the DHD. They were going home and Daniel was going home with them, whole and visible.
Daniel's legs buckled slightly as they hit the ramp on the other side of the gate, but he waved away Jack's assistance. Looking at him more closely in the glare of the gate-room lights, Jack thought he looked awful. He was pale; his face shiny with sweat, black smudges of exhaustion making his eyes looked bruised. He stood, hunched a little, his arms cradling his body defensively as though he expected to be snatched away again at any moment.
General Hammond smiled from his usual post at the foot of the ramp. "Welcome back, Doctor Jackson. It's a great relief to see you again."
Despite his ghastly appearance, Daniel smiled. "Thank you, sir, and I believe you'll still be in time for your granddaughter's play."
The General nodded. "Let's see how quickly we can get through the debrief. Doctor Jackson, you can report to the infirmary and join the rest of us when you're through there."
Daniel seemed about to say something, then closed his mouth with a snap and walked down the ramp, following the medical orderly out of the room.
"Are you sure he was all right to go home?" Jack asked Janet Fraiser doubtfully. "He didn't look too hot when we came back."
"I ran every test I could think of, and then some," Janet replied. "Nothing like having someone's neutrinos getting scrambled to give me a fright." Janet shifted her gaze to Sam. "I can't believe he was here all along and we didn't know."
"Oh, I don't know," Jack mused. "He could have had some fun in the ladies' showers with this one." Sam shot him a wilting look and Jack shrugged his shoulders, totally unrepentant. "So, we've got a day off tomorrow. Anyone for pizza and a beer? Teal'c, what movie did you want to see?"
"Daniel Jackson recommended The Terminator. He says I much resemble the lead character."
Jack studied the Jaffa for a moment. "I dunno, Teal'c, buddy. Arnie's got one heck of a sense of humor. Why don't I phone Daniel, meet at my place at around 7?"
"Maybe we should leave Daniel alone tonight, sir," Sam suggested. "He's been through a lot, and now with Nick going with the aliens…."
"One reason he shouldn't be alone," Jack answered. "I'll call him. Carter, you want to take Teal'c to the video store and pick up a couple of good movies?"
"I'll see what I can do, sir."
Jack watched them leave, then turned back to the doctor. "So, no side effects from the nintendo thing?"
Janet gave a hint of a smile. "I can't guarantee it, Colonel. It's not something I've dealt with before. Everything checked out fine when he left. He was a little pale and nauseous, tired. I told him to get some rest and call if he had any problems."
"Okay. I think I'll just swing by and pick him up now, take him back to my place. Probably the last thing he wants is to be left alone tonight after that. Daniel hates to be ignored."
Daniel stood in the doorway of his apartment, totally disoriented and a little unsure how he'd actually gotten there. He remembered coming back through the Gate and enduring some of the most unpleasant and invasive exams he'd ever had reason to suffer through. There was a vague memory of Janet Fraiser insisting he stay on base overnight, and him refusing. He couldn't remember the drive home, and it was only by looking down at himself, seeing he was whole and unharmed that he realized he'd made it home unscathed. He stroked a hand down one arm, then reached up to pat his face. Yep, all here.
The doorframe felt reassuringly solid beneath his palm. The apartment looked bigger than when he'd left that morning, the silence inside amplified somehow. He shook himself, stepped inside and tossed his keys onto the shelf, pushing the door shut with a foot.
Shouldn't matter, he told himself. It wasn't as if they'd spent any time together recently, and they'd never been close. Didn't matter, he told himself firmly. He's where he wants to be, and I'm where I want to be. I think. He just hadn't realized before how empty this place was. Maybe he should think about getting something smaller. He wandered into the kitchen, wondering idly if the General would consider letting Teal'c share an apartment with him.
He was incredibly thirsty. He thought it strange now, that all the time he'd been invisible he'd felt no thirst, no hunger. He wasn't hungry now. His stomach felt vaguely queasy and nauseous, and he wondered if perhaps he should have taken Doctor Fraiser's advice, just in case.
"Don't be stupid," he castigated himself. "Scared of your own shadow now."
He shivered; a tendril of something undefined but distinctly uncomfortable snaking between his shoulder blades. God, he was thirsty. He opened the refrigerator and extricated a large bottle of water. Splashing some into a glass, he drank it quickly, waited a moment, and feeling no relief, tipped the bottle to his lips and drank deeply.
Pain twisted his gut, and he gasped, the bottle slipping from nerveless fingers to bounce on the floor. He grasped the edge of the counter and leaned over, clutching at his belly and panting through the cramp. It abated slowly, leaving him light-headed and drenched in sweat. Dragging in a deep breath, he decided the pain was from drinking the cold water too quickly after so long without anything in his stomach.
Surveying the interior of the still-open refrigerator, he wondered perhaps if something to eat might in fact cure his upset stomach. The mere thought of food had him spinning around, and stumbling toward the bathroom.
The fact he had nothing to bring up but water just seemed to make the retching more painful, and he was groaning by the time the stomach spasms eased. Boneless with fatigue, he eased himself to the floor and curled around his aching belly, the tiled floor cool and soothing against his skin.
His breath puffed out in exhausted pants from between dry lips, and icy sweat covered his body despite the tendrils of fire that burned through him. Another cramp seized him and he cried out this time, wrapping his arms about his stomach, as though he could somehow squeeze the agony from within. Tears stung his eyes as the spasms rolled over him, stealing his breath. He choked, coughed and gagged as bile touched the back of his throat. His head pounded in concert with his racing heart and he wished for oblivion from the pain.
"No more," he pleaded.
Sudden fear attacked him, not of death but of being alone, and his hands scrabbled against the tile as he struggled to raise himself from the floor. His surroundings wavered and receded, and he dropped his head to his chest, pulling in shallow breaths between tightly clenched teeth. Staggering like a drunk, he managed to haul his aching body upright. He clutched the hand-basin like a lifeline as everything grayed out suddenly. He felt his knees give out, and hung on grimly until his legs were able to take his weight.
Tottering out of the bathroom, he made it as far as the couch, sinking down into its plump cushions with a moan. Reaching out a shaking hand, he picked up the phone and dialed. Despair washed over him as the answering machine kicked in and he let the receiver drop to the floor.
The silence threatened to swallow him, and he surged up from the couch, biting back a scream as the movement sent a knife of agony shearing through his gut. He stood, blinking back tears that blurred his vision, then staggered to the door.
The hallway loomed in front of him as endless as the Abydonian desert and he sobbed in frustration at the trek ahead of him. His fear of staying here alone urged him on and he made it to the elevator in a shuffle. Breathing a sigh of relief as the doors opened, Daniel sagged back against the wall and hit the button for the underground parking garage.
He made it to his car before the pain hit again, sending him to his knees, the bite of the concrete negated by the fire that stole all coherent thought.
"Jack!" His voice echoed off the walls of the garage, mocking him, and he collapsed to the ground. The blackness rushed up to take him so quickly, he had no chance to fight it and as another terrible pain washed over him, he surrendered to his fear and went with it willingly.
Jack parked his car in the street outside Daniel's apartment building and took the stairs, mentally gearing himself up for the argument he knew he was about to face. Daniel had wanted to be alone, that much was obvious from his abrupt departure from the mountain, without so much as a 'see you later.'
Jack wasn't buying into it though. Daniel had just watched his only remaining relative leave him, his wife was gone, taken by the Goa'uld to God knows where, and friends didn't let friends mourn alone. Jack could only imagine what it must have been like for Daniel, traipsing around at their heels, trying desperately to make his presence known, wondering if he was doomed to a life of solitude forever. The colonel shuddered at the thought. Nope, no way, he decided as he arrived on Daniel's floor. There was no way the kid should be alone tonight.
He stopped in surprise and trepidation as he neared Daniel's apartment and noticed the front door standing open. He stepped cautiously into the corridor that led down into Daniel's living room, the hairs on the back of his neck rising.
Silence greeted him, no movement, welcome or otherwise, emanated from any of the rooms. Jack's brow furrowed in concern. "Daniel? You home?"
There was no reply, and for some reason that bothered him, Jack didn't expect one. He hurried to the bedroom, finding the bed unoccupied and undisturbed. The kitchen made him pause when he saw the refrigerator door open and a plastic, almost empty bottle of water lying on the floor. Sudden understanding hurried his steps into the bathroom. "Daniel?"
A sour stench of vomit hung in the air, but there was no sign of the archeologist. Jack spun and surveyed the empty apartment as though expecting it to give him the answer. He scrubbed a hand through his graying hair in frustration. "Damn it, Daniel! Where the hell are you?"
Training forced its way through the worried confusion in his mind and he trotted back to the elevator, pulling his cell phone from his pocket as he ran. The fingers on one hand pressed familiar numbers, while the other punched the button for the basement. If Daniel had been that sick, he'd probably simply headed back to Cheyenne Mountain. An uncomfortable foreboding clenched his chest and he willed it away while he waited for his call to be answered.
"This is Colonel O'Neill. Put me through to Doctor Fraiser."
She was on the line quickly and Jack wasted no time on pleasantries. "Doc, Daniel there?"
At her negative reply, his heart sank, but he pulled himself together as the elevator doors opened onto the parking garage. "He might be headed your way," he said as he strode through the garage, searching for Daniel's parking space. "I'm at his apartment. He's not there, but he's been sick, so I figured he might have headed back…" He broke off as he saw Daniel's car in its customary spot, concern rising again, this time winning the war in his head. "Oh, Christ. His car's still here. Where the Hell…" He circled the car as he spoke and almost tripped over the unmoving form on the ground. "Daniel! I've found him," he shouted into the phone, fear causing his voice to rise. "Get someone here fast."
He dropped to his knees beside the unconscious man, his cell phone forgotten as it clattered to the concrete beside him. "Daniel?" He knew his summons was fruitless. The archeologist was clearly unconscious, his pallid features slack. Jack reached for a lax wrist and found a thready, rapid pulse. Placing a hand on Daniel's chest, he felt relief brush over him at the welcome though shallow rise and fall of Daniel's chest. He frowned at the heat of Daniel's skin. "What the heck happened, buddy?"
He gently lifted Daniel's head and shoulders and cradled the unconscious man against him. An almost silent moan puffed out from between Daniel's cracked lips.
"It's okay, Daniel," Jack soothed, stroking the sweat-drenched hair back from Daniel's forehead. "Help's coming. Hang in there."
"Jack?" Daniel's voice was a mere whisper, but Jack breathed a sigh of relief at the sound. "You here?"
"I'm here, Daniel. Everything's gonna be fine."
"'S'good." Daniel's eyelids flickered open briefly, then shuttered closed again. "Didn't want to… die alone."
"I'm here, Danny. I'm here."
If it was at all possible, Daniel looked worse in the harsh glare of the infirmary lights than he had when Jack had first found him huddled on the ground in the parking garage. He'd remained semi-conscious but confused during the rapid trip back to Cheyenne Mountain by ambulance, occasionally writhing as pain gripped him. His hand remained firmly clutched in Jack's and the medics had resigned themselves to working around it when no amount of cajoling and assurance on Jack's part would convince Daniel to let go.
Jack stood now beside the bed and watched Janet Fraiser perform a methodical examination. "What's wrong with him?" he asked for at least the fourth time since they'd arrived.
Janet flashed him a quick glance; her impatience tempered with understanding for Jack's concern. "I'm not entirely sure until we've run more tests, but I'm betting it's his appendix."
Jack gaped. "His appendix? Not something caused by that… that skull?"
"Hard to say, sir," Janet replied. "If his appendix was already inflamed, whatever happened to him earlier could have exacerbated things, or it might have happened anyway. Has he mentioned before today that he was feeling unwell, no appetite, anything at all?"
Jack thought back over the previous week or so. "He seemed a little grouchy, moody, I suppose," he began, "but we went to Kheb and he found the kid, and I just assumed… Damn!" He slammed his fist against his thigh. "I should have checked then."
"It's no one's fault, Colonel," Janet soothed. "Why don't you wait outside while we run some tests…"
Her words were interrupted by a sharp cry from Daniel who curled himself into a tight ball and rocked, one hand clutching his belly while the other flailed in the air.
Jack recognized his need immediately and gripped the shaking hand, squeezing it as hard as he dared. Janet reacted immediately, her experienced gaze checked the monitors while a hand gently extricated Daniel's arm from around his stomach and took his pulse. "Colonel, please," she said. "Wait outside."
Jack held up his hand tethered to Daniel's by a white-knuckled grip. "I don't think he wants me to leave."
A tiny smile twitched the corners of Janet's mouth. "Fine. I hope you're not squeamish."
"After everything I've seen since I stepped through that gate, Doc," Jack shook his head, even as his insides squirmed, "I don't think so."
"All right, people, let's move. I want a CT scan first up." Fraiser mobilized her team. "Where are those blood results?"
Jack accompanied the gurney out of the infirmary as it trundled at a clipped pace. They were met at the door by a frowning General Hammond , flanked by Teal'c and Carter. "Doctor Fraiser, what happened?"
"Not sure yet, General. I'll keep you informed."
Jack gave Carter and Teal'c a quick shrug of his shoulders before he was dragged away by Daniel's iron grip on his hand.
How many times had he sat like this? Jack shook his head, too exhausted to count, and not entirely sure he wanted to remember. He shifted again in the seat as his butt protested the enforced stillness as much as his mind did. Too much time to think, enough time for regrets and recriminations to surface.
His hand was once again captured within Daniel's. Only the oblivion of anaesthetic had caused the hold to loosen thus far, and the moment Jack had resumed his vigil at Daniel's side, he had without conscious thought, offered his friend what he seemed to need the most. A presence, an anchor.
Jack sat forward and studied Daniel's slumbering features. "What's this all about, buddy?" And in the next instant, cursed himself for his own stupidity. The losses Daniel had endured since their first foray through the Stargate had been enough, then he'd been lost to them God knew how many times, given up for dead, abandoned. No fault of theirs, a small voice inside Jack reasoned, but this time... this time. Jack was certain Daniel knew that they would never desert him. He'd told him as much, on Apophis' ship, but still… then they'd gone. Left him to watch their backs, left him to die alone.
"Didn't want to die alone."
Jack hunched forward as Daniel shifted minutely in the bed, muttering incomprehensibly. "Daniel? You waking up?" The colonel settled back with a sigh as his friend slumbered on.
A myriad of sensations assaulted Daniel, prodding him toward consciousness. It was not a journey he was entirely sure he wished to make.
Soft regular beeping grated on sensitive eardrums, echoing the pounding in his head. He was still thirsty. His mouth tasted sour and unpleasant, and no matter how much he swallowed, he couldn't seem to relieve the dryness. The smell of antiseptic almost set his stomach into heaving again and he swallowed convulsively as the action set off a ribbon of agony in his lower belly.
Something stroked gently, hypnotically across his brow, soothing him back into the cotton wool depths of sleep, and he puffed out a contented sigh. A hand gripped his own, not tightly but enough that he was aware of its reassuring presence. He cracked open weary eyelids to see a blurry face in front of him. "Jack?"
"I'm here. You're going to be fine."
"Hurts." Daniel's hand strayed to his stomach, his disconnected brain registering the feel of thick bandages beneath his clothes.
"I know." Jack's voice was a welcome balm. "Your appendix burst. We're gonna have to talk about your sense of timing, Daniel." The hand stroked again across his brow, and Daniel allowed it to soothe him, and anchor him to the here and now. "The nurse will be by in a minute with some happy juice."
Daniel thought he nodded, wanted to protest that Jack's touch, Jack's presence were more healing than any drug, but he drifted back to sleep before he could voice the words.