Here's the last chapter! I hope you all enjoy it! --Emrys

Voices Calling - Chapter 9

oOo

Much later, Daniel would recount to Jack how after Thor transported them all up to his ship, the normally placid alien had shook in fury at the sight of O'Neill's ravaged body. The archaeologist would also tell of how he was more than a little frightened of Thor's reaction when their alien ally discovered that it was others of his kind who had been the cause of Jack's condition.

Sam would then interject to explain how her amazement of Asgard technology had been taken to newer heights when weapons from Thor's hovering ship had carved the covert Asgard compound out of the planet's surface and hurled the entire structure in one piece to the other side of the apparently otherwise uninhabited world.

Daniel would then stutter out that Thor's fury was such that the five Asgard that had been recovered from the compound prior to its demolishment had been banished from the Supreme Commander's sight. Daniel and the others had not seen the traitors again, nor would Thor discuss them. And although Thor's face was difficult to read, all of the individuals rescued by the Asgard had little doubt that the conspirators' punishment would be extreme. Teal'c would finally end this abbreviated version of events by explaining how he had seen with his own eyes that Niirti's machine had finally and irrevocably been destroyed.

But that was later. Much later. For now, O'Neill floated in a space of incomprehensibility. At times, blurry visions would dance across his eyes and muffled words penetrate his damaged eardrums. But he never understood them; in fact, barely registered them. His brain was so tragically damaged that stimuli brought to it were not able to move from axon to dendrite. Synapses were impassable, neurotransmitters quiescent.

He was not aware of the alien life support sustaining him. He was not aware of the time that passed. At random times, his eyes were somehow stimulated to open for reasons that no one, least of all he, comprehended.

But even the beloved image of a bespectacled face made tired from worry and anxiety traveled no further than the end of an optic nerve. Understanding of the vision, and its accompanied feelings of friendship and affection died within his damaged brain. Pleading words from a crying woman brought not one flicker of the respect and fondness usually associated with her voice, nor did a strong man's protective presence allow the customary deep reverence for a warrior's bond to surface.

He was no one. He was nothing. He was nowhere.

oOo

It had taken time. So much time. But the Othallan doctors had finally managed to stabilize Jack on both the cellular and systemic levels well enough to attempt to render some sophisticated repair. The shock that the Colonel's brain had suffered was extraordinary, and Thor assured his friends that if O'Neill's status as a physically superior human had ever been in question, then this incident should set all doubts aside. No one, with the possible exception of Lucy and others like her, would have lived through the injuries Jack had sustained.

And even so, the Colonel was extremely lucky to have survived so far.

Daniel refused to reflect on the procedure that his friend was about to undergo. When he did, any hope that he had managed to garner up to this point would dissipate instantaneously to be replaced by undeniable despondency. The procedure was a virtual impossibility that, in basic terms, was meant to restore Jack's currently absent mind. The hope was that the essence of Jack was not lost, but that it was only trapped within a damaged physiology.

Looking into the dead eyes of the man in front of him, despair overwhelmed him despite his best efforts. Could Jack actually be inside of this breathing corpse? Was it possible that his snarky and vivacious friend still existed? And if he did, was it reasonable to even hope to succeed in freeing his seriously broken mind?

Daniel could not know; it was only for him to hope that it was so.

He closed his fingers around his friend's lifeless hand and said his good-byes.

oOo

While the Colonel was prepared for the procedure, Sam, Teal'c, Lucy and Doctor Frasier sat together in another room in the Othallan medical facility. Thor had generously brought Janet to his home world in the hopes that the good doctor could supply insight into the more intricate details of Jack's anatomy and physiology. Although superior in their medical technology and methods, the Asgard understood that they were attempting to heal a member of an alien race, and that it would be only prudent to have a human physician nearby to offer aid.

Sam and Teal'c had already had some time alone with the Colonel, and now they waited for Daniel to join them. Janet, they knew, would soon be called in to help with the procedure, and the relief SG-1 felt when considering the doctor's practiced authority was palpable. Her presence had been a happy surprise for all of the distraught team-members, and they welcomed her expertise and friendship.

Lucy had refused to return to Earth despite everyone's kind suggestions that she do so. During the week it took for the Asgard to completely stabilize Jack, the girl had not been permitted near him in fear that her abilities would cause him further damage. Yet despite not being allowed to see the Colonel and being so far away from anything she could consider even vaguely familiar, the woman had been resolute. She would deal with the culture shock; she would deal with the consequences of her extended absence from Earth. But she would not leave the planet until she could see with her own eyes that the Colonel was alert and healed. Instead, explaining that the Colonel had ordered her to stick with Teal'c because he would keep her safe, she had kept herself within arm's reach of the Jaffa. She only left his side when the big warrior chose to look in on his commander, and at those times it was Sam and Daniel's company that she sought.

Teal'c did not seem concerned by the woman's constant presence, and in fact he could often be found with his arm protectively around the girl's slim shoulders.

SG-1 could not argue the young woman's determination, because they, themselves, shared it. They also had refused to return to Earth so that they could be close to their injured leader and friend. Thankfully, General Hammond had given them leave as long as they agreed to report in at regular intervals, and so their responsibility to duty was never put in question.

After some time, Daniel entered the room, and Sam saw that his eyes were glazed with unshed tears. He took his glasses off, and pressed the heel of his empty hand into his eyes to clear them. Sam made a move towards the emotional man, but he waved her off with an exhausted smile.

"They want you now, Janet," he said softly to the doctor.

Janet smiled in return and then moved towards where he stood just inside the entrance to the room. Briefly she clutched his arm in an action meant to convey sympathy and hope, and the archaeologist smiled at her for her efforts. She returned the gesture, patted his arm, and then left to do her job.

Daniel moved to sit with the remainder of his team and with Lucy who looked smaller than ever as she huddled within Teal'c's powerful embrace.

"They said it would be a while," Daniel announced into the still air.

They waited.

oOo

Calcium was released. Neurotransmitters excitedly swam the channel between nerve fibers, and suddenly sodium and potassium reversed positions. An electrical current finally and steadily moved through his brain in response to the image before him. His brain, full to the brim with interneurons willing to please, interpreted the data and sent its own electrical impulses down to his larynx in a miracle that could no longer be taken for granted.

"Daniel? Sam? Teal'c?"

Jack's voice was hoarse from lack of use, and his responses still a bit sluggish, but the Asgard had performed their own miracle. The Colonel's eyes shone with recognition, and his now healed ears listened eagerly for the sound of his kids.

"We're here, Jack."

"…Sir."

"…O'Neill."

Their voices were a chorus marred only by their unique forms of addressing him, and his brain permitted him the luxury of an amused smile.

"You guys okay?"

"They're all fine, Sir," Janet pushed her small frame between his team, and he forced his slowly drooping eyelids up in surprise at her unexpected presence.

"What happened? Where—"

"It's alright, Colonel. It's a very long story, so you'll have to settle for knowing that everything worked out well, and that your team is okay. You're exhausted, and you must rest."

In agreement with her for once, Jack closed his eyes and nodded weakly. He had never experienced such fatigue before, and his body felt like it was made of solid naquadah. No way was he moving from this bed anytime soon.

Without knowing it, Jack was asleep instantly. Random thoughts cycled through his brain, and one suddenly caught his attention with such authority that he lurched back to consciousness.

Unaware that he had actually slept, Jack was surprised to realize that a significant amount of time must have passed, because his team was now piled around him in various positions of slumber. He winced when he saw the angle of Carter's neck but decided not to wake her when he observed the dark circles of exhaustion that were under her eyes.

He wondered where they all were when he realized with surprise that he wasn't actually in the infirmary at the SGC. And what was Janet doing here sleeping in that chair-like object with her head thrown back oblivious to her own snoring? Jack chuckled at the sight.

A small, sniffling sound caught his attention, and he scanned the room to find its source. When he saw Lucy weeping miserably in the corner of the room away from the others, he smiled sadly at her failed attempt to conceal her grief. The girl had been through too much, and he knew that she blamed herself for his current condition. Whatever that was.

Lucy had tried to control her emotions, but after SG-1 and Doctor Frasier had all collapsed into a slumbering heap, she had found herself overwhelmed by her feelings. Between the blame she felt for how her smallest thoughts had disproportionately undone the Colonel and her own unexpected and still unimaginable role in the events that had taken place, the young woman retained little control over her emotions. And now, she was also torn by the request from the Asgard High Council that she remain on Othalla to possibly aid in the continuation of an entire race of people and her simple but desperate need to return home to the things that were familiar to her.

Jack frowned as a small headache asserted itself. He felt the girl's depression, and images of strangers who felt like loved ones poured through his head. Whatever powers he once had were quickly diminishing, but apparently there were enough left to clue him into the source of Lucy's tears.

"Hey, Southern Belle," he called to her in a quiet whisper designed to convey friendly sarcasm without waking the others.

Her tear-streaked face jerked in his direction, and surprise caused her to abruptly stop crying.

"Shh…" he whispered, and indicated that she should come closer to him.

She sprang quickly to his side, excited to see him conscious and needing the tenuous contact his strong presence still offered.

"Jack?"

"It wasn't your fault," he told her forcibly.

"But Jack, I—"

"Stop it!" he said with a small, mental admonishment. His headache flared briefly, and he decided he shouldn't push it. "It wasn't your fault," he repeated verbally.

His absolution of her caused her tears to flow again, but she nodded quickly in silent acceptance.

"It's up to you if you want to stay here. No one will judge you if you decide to leave. I know it's been difficult for you, Lucinda Mae," he told her.

The utterance of her full name caused Lucy's throat to ache. She hated her full name, but she would give practically anything to hear it spoken by the only person on Earth who ever called her by it.

"Yes," she whispered, in answer to Jack's statement. "Yes, it has."

A broken sob escaped her, as she finally admitted to him what she had kept so well hidden. Jack received the brief image of a beautifully statuesque woman, and the strong feeling of a child's love for a parent momentarily washed over him. As the foreign images and feelings swiftly faded Jack was surprised to realize that the girl painfully missed her mother.

"Lucy, I want you to do what's best for you. Do you understand? That's an order," he said with a faint smile.

She quickly grinned in response then bowed her head. "Yes, Sir," she murmured respectively.

For the first time, Jack took her hand without pain. She gasped at his touch and looked into his eyes where his gaze demanded her attention.

" 'It is a long journey, through a country that is sometimes pleasant and sometimes dark and terrible. However, I will use all the magic arts I know of to keep you from harm.'2" he told her solemnly.

She smiled at the reference and felt something free within her. The words and sentiment behind them were a comfort to her.

Still holding her hand, Jack closed his eyes and slept.

He would not see her again for a very long time.

oOo

Later still, when he remained unable to be transported back to Earth, but after he had been told the story of their rescue, Jack opened his eyes to see his team hovering worriedly above him.

This so could not be good.

"Uh, hi there Jack," Daniel stuttered. The man looked to Sam for reassurance, and Jack groaned inwardly. "Ummm, well, Jack, you see, we, well we—"

"Daniel, does this have anything to do with those season passes to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra that you bought for me without my permission?" Jack interrupted in an attempt to lighten the mood and to hopefully escape the unpleasant conversation he sensed was lingering in their proximity."

"Huh?" Well, that was Daniel for you. It was always the slightest bit amusing to render the normally eloquent man speechless.

"See, you thought I forgot about that, didn't you?" Jack continued glibly while waggling a finger at his friend.

"Umm, no Jack. We just wanted to…well, you see when you were unconscious in the cell on that planet, you well, you, ummm—"

"Oh for cryin' out loud, Daniel spit it out!" O'Neill said with healthy irritation. It appeared as if he was not going to be spared this dialogue, and since he was a captive participant he just wanted this horrible conversation over as quickly as possible.

Daniel squinted before going on. "Well, you see Jack you were delirious, and you were saying things—" Daniel's verbal momentum ended when his friend glared furiously at him.

Jack took advantage of Daniel's hesitation to consider what this could be about. He remembered the looks on his team's faces when he regained consciousness that one time in the Asgard prison; he remembered thinking that they were all going to end up in MacKenzie's office after this fiasco had been seen through to its end.

It was difficult, little psychic energy remained in him to use, but Jack managed to somehow draw an image from Daniel's memory of the events in question. He grimaced at what he saw of his remembered self and knew that there really was no simple way out of this.

Unless—

Knowing that he shouldn't, but also knowing how many other wounds had been sustained on this botched up mission, Jack chose to heal this particular injury the easy way. Using all of the energy that remained of his depleted powers, he sent to these fine people who stood wounded before him the depth of his feelings of respect and forgiveness that he had for them. Without words, he expressed to them everything he had never before found the words to say.

In short, he let them know that he loved them.

And he did.

And in that one moment, he was able to hold no doubts about their feelings of affection for him.

He smiled brightly at his family, and then his eyes blinked furiously as he fought back sleep and attempted to hold onto the moment for just a while longer.

Eventually, he closed his eyes and slept with a peaceful smile gracing his face.

Happily, they watched over him.

In wonder.

oOo

FINIS

oOo

1The title is from a phrase found in the song "Come Downstairs and Say Hello" by Guster. It's in the Album Keep It Together which was released in 2003.

2The following is the citation for this quote:

Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz. © 1900. Puffin Books; England. 189p.

Thanks again to everyone who reviewed this story!! It means a lot!!

Emrys