Private Room, SGC Infirmary:
It was hot. Jack wondered irritably for the hundredth time why people insisted on living in deserts. It was ALWAYS fucking hot in the desert. Maybe he should ask Daniel about that. Daniel would know.
"I'm right here, Jack." Jack turned his head, blindly seeking out the source of that familiar voice, too tired and hot to open his eyes.
"Hate the desert," Jack croaked.
"All the bitching you've done about sand and heat over the last couple of years-I kind of figured." Jack opened his eyes and finally located Daniel's face, blurred by the shimmering heated air. But Jack recognized it and that was good. That meant Daniel was here.
"Had to go though," Jack continued. Iraq. Jack hated the desert but that's where the terrorists were and it was Jack's job to hunt them down. Only the operation had gone so wrong. So very, VERY wrong and now Jack was being hunted down. He hurt and it was so fucking hot.
"I know, Jack," Daniel's voice soothed. "Just try to rest, okay?"
"No," Jack growled. He couldn't rest. He had to escape. He had to get back to Daniel. No…no, that wasn't right. Daniel wasn't waiting for him. The searing sun made it impossible for Jack to think straight. He had to get back to Daniel…but Daniel wasn't there and Jack didn't understand how that could be.
"I am here, Jack." Jack felt a familiar hand grip his while voices muttered in the background. "I'm here and I won't leave."
"No," Jack groaned. "Daniel's not here. But he will be. I have to get back because he will be." Jack grew more agitated. "Fuckers broke my leg but I gotta keep going." He heard a woman's voice in the distance saying something about Iraq. Fucking Iraq you betcha, Jack thought savagely. Fuckers broke his leg and the other fuckers left him for dead but Jack O'Neill was far from dead and not nearly fucked yet and he was going to get back. He was going to get back if it killed him. And Jack wasn't so far gone that he couldn't see the black humor in that.
"Jack, please listen to me. You're not in Iraq," Daniel's voice insisted.
"Ha," Jack rasped. "Why so damn hot?"
"You're sick, Jack," Daniel's voice said calmly. "You picked up a nasty bug and you're running a high fever."
"Don't lie to me," Jack said harshly. "You never lie to me, Daniel. Don't start now." Jack vaguely sensed a shocked silence, then Daniel's hand gripped his more firmly.
"You're right, Jack. I don't lie to you and I'm not lying now. You're sick." Daniel's voice hesitated. "Sick, but you're going to be okay." Jack shook his head angrily. Not sick. Hurt and certainly not okay but he was damn well going to make it home. He had to because if he didn't he would never find Daniel and without Daniel being okay was the faintest of pipe dreams.
"Gotta get home," Jack pleaded.
"You are home." No, Jack thought. Not home but he could hear Daniel's voice and the meant he had to be close.
"Fucking desert again." Jack's throat was parched and sore.
"Would you prefer Antarctica, O'Neill?" Teal'c's voice questioned.
"Merely an attempt at levity." Jack frowned, finding it hard to concentrate with his brain baking in his skull.
"That like levitation?" Jack asked "Cause I really think you're just too damn big to float." Jack could feel the sweat dampening the hair at the nape of his neck. "Floating would be good right now. Too hot to walk."
"You are not walking."
"No," Jack agreed. "Stumbling…CRAWLING for chrissake. Can't walk on sand. Don't know how Daniel does it." Jack looked around. They were half way between the city and the pyramid housing the gate. Nothing else but sand and heat warped air to see. "We're not leaving Daniel this time."
"Leaving him where?"
"Abydos. Geez, Kawalski, stay with the program here."
"Colonel," a woman's voice said sharply. "You're at the SGC. This is Teal'c. I'm Dr. Fraiser." Jack frowned. Teal'c? Nah, that was Kawalski. But they shouldn't be at the SGC. They couldn't be. Not without Daniel. Jack had to get back to Daniel.
"Gotta go back to Abydos," Jack groaned. "Gotta get home."
"Abydos is not your home, O'Neill," a low, gentle voice said. "You were born in Chicago."
"First time," Jack agreed. "Won't mean anything…be wasted if I don't find it again."
"Find what, sir?" Fraiser asked. Right-Fraiser. Jack had seen her around but Warner was the doc who checked them out for the mission. "Colonel, what do you have to find?"
"Life," Jack said simply. Something…something very precious had been lost and then Jack had been lost. And he needed to find Daniel before it was too late because Daniel was the one who would renew him. The one who could show Jack the way out of this god forsaken empty desert, this barrenness his body carried within, and help him find his life again.
"Daniel," Jack begged weakly.
"Daniel is resting," Fraiser said firmly.
"He has been by your side almost continuously since you fell ill," Kawalski added. "He requires rest."
"No, gotta find Daniel," Jack insisted, wondering when Kawalski started talking so damn formal like that. "Can't leave him there. I need him."
"He'll be back soon, sir." No, damn it, Jack thought. Kawalski, Ferretti, they were all packing up, ready to go home. Bugging out before Ra comes and spoils the trip. Daniel was…he had to find Daniel or they were done for. Jack-Jack was done for.
"Now. Need him now," Jack argued hoarsely. "Dead without him."
"Colonel, you are going to live." Jack thought that sounded somewhat like an order and a harsh laugh echoed in his mind. ORDER Jack O'Neill to live? That was rich.
"Not without Daniel," he retorted. "Daniel IS my life." Jack looked around frantically in the ensuing silence. He couldn't even see the city anymore. A deep rumbling at his side startled him, and he wondered when Kawalski's voice had gotten so deep.
"Don't worry, Teal'c." Fraiser's higher pitched voice seemed to carry better through the arid air. "He's in a private room. And if anyone hears anything…well, he's delirious. That's the best I can do."
"Doctors," Jack spit venomously. "Supposed to save lives but you LOSE them. Losing MINE here!" Why wouldn't she help him? Why wasn't anyone helping him?
"No, Teal'c, I really don't want to sedate him if I don't have to." Sedate? Jack thought angrily. Fighting for my life here! Jack heard the doctor sigh. "Colonel, I'm going to go get Daniel, okay?"
"We're both going home?" Jack asked, daring to relax a little.
"Yes…yes, sir. You're both coming home."
"Colonel." Jack felt his arms being pinned. He struggled but couldn't seem to find the strength to free himself. "Colonel, please-calm down."
"Daniel," Jack called again.
"It's Carter, sir." Jack opened his bleary eyes and saw the hazy visage of his second in command. He relaxed and smiled reflexively. Carter. Good kid, Carter. Young and smart and eager and despite all of that taken completely off guard by her first six months at the SGC. But she had determination. A little too much at times and Jack occasionally felt compelled to knock her back a peg for her own good.
"Ya got spunk, Carter," Jack said, his eyes drifting closed.
"Um…thank you. I think." Carter sounded amused. That's good, Jack thought. He was always happy to see his kids amused. He just wished they could amuse themselves on planets that weren't so hellishly hot. Damn place was full of mini volcanoes shooting steam and fire everywhere. Carter was tickled right down to her toes to be here, for crying out loud, and even Daniel….
"DANIEL!" Jack cried, trying again to move and not understanding why Carter was trying to stop him. "Damn it, Carter, let go. I've got to get to Daniel."
"Daniel's not here, sir." Christ, he knew that! He had to hurry. If he hurried they might still be able to save Daniel. "Daniel's fine." Fine? Jack turned and looked across the nightmarish landscape. There. Daniel was burning to death before Jack's very eyes. The rippling heat from the flames obscured Daniel's face but Jack could see him, could HEAR him screaming for help. Then suddenly he was gone. Jack slumped within Carter's hold, dazed and bereft. He was too late.
"He's gone," Jack whispered harshly. "Why did you stop me? I could've saved him."
"He's fine, sir. Daniel's fine." Carter's voice was insistent but Jack knew what he'd seen.
"You stopped me," he accused. "You…and…and…Nem. NEM! Fucking fish face he wouldn't let me save Daniel."
"Nem?" Carter's voice questioned. "No, sir-you're not on Nem's planet."
"No, sir, I'm not lying. Nem lied to us, a long time ago, but we found Daniel."
"I couldn't save him," Jack said plaintively. "I couldn't…should never have let him join the team. Should've kept him safe." Jack fell back, exhausted and grief-stricken.
"Shit," Carter muttered. Jack heard her calling for help. Help? Jack thought. Too fucking little, too fucking late now. The voices in the background rose sharply but Jack ignored them. What had he been thinking? He should NEVER have let Daniel leave Earth. He was too valuable to risk. Too important and damn it, HOW was Jack supposed to go on knowing he'd failed? That he'd let Daniel die? "Sir? Colonel, listen to me please. Daniel is not dead." There was a sharp thumping noise and the clatter of metal chair legs against the floor and then a strong but gentle hand caressing Jack's cheek.
"Yeah, I'm here." Daniel's hand brushed away tears Jack hadn't even been aware he'd been crying.
"You came home?" Jack whispered.
"Yes, Jack, I came home. You brought me home, remember?" Jack didn't remember but it didn't matter. All that mattered was that, however it had happened, Daniel was home.
"Too damn hot for mind games, Danny." Abydos again. Seemed like he and Daniel were forever tied to this place. Jack wiped his brow and stared at Daniel. And the kid.
"Yes, it is, Jack." Jack felt something cool brush his forehead. Daniel sounded tired, bone tired…soul tired and that really cranked up Jack's anxiety. No way, NO how he was leaving Daniel here with that kid. Teaching. Daniel didn't need teaching. He already knew more than most people. He'd learned a lot-usually the hard way. Jack would be damned if he was going to stand around and let anyone hurt Daniel again. "Don't worry, Jack. I'm fine."
"Teaching?" Jack said sharply, hearing the tent flaps snapping in the wind.
"An important lesson," Daniel agreed.
"A new path?"
"A new path," Daniel confirmed.
"What's that mean?" Jack asked angrily, turning to the boy. But the kid had disappeared. Apparently doing the glowy Oma routine Jack thought sarcastically. Jack looked around further and realized everything had disappeared. It was just him and Daniel and sand as far as the eye could see. Jack returned his gaze to Daniel. "What the HELL does that mean?"
"It means…," Daniel hesitated, searching for words. "It means choosing."
"Choosing?" Jack asked desperately. Hell, he had trouble with this Zen crap on a good day. In these sweltering temperatures it was nearly impossible.
"Acting instead of reacting," Daniel explained. Jack wondered briefly if he had heat stroke because that almost made sense to him. "It means deciding what I need to do instead of doing what I think someone else thinks I should be doing."
"And what do you need to do?" Jack asked, his dry mouth having nothing to do with the parched air.
"That…that's a good question." Daniel took the cool washcloth from Jack's forehead and gently wiped his face and neck with it. Jack was vaguely concerned that maybe he should be wondering where Daniel had gotten a cool, damp cloth in the middle of the desert but found he just couldn't be bothered to worry over it. "I really don't know for sure yet. Not all of it."
"Don't leave." Jack's voice wavered like the heat rising from the sand. "Don't leave me," Jack clarified.
"I'm not," Daniel said gently.
"Good. Then can we wrap up the soul-searching for now and go home?" Jack asked. "Cause I'm REALLY fucking tired of deserts."
Jack groaned and shifted position. God, he was stiff. And tired. He opened his eyes reluctantly and stared at his surroundings. The infirmary. Well, didn't that fucking figure.
"Welcome back, Colonel." Jack turned his head slightly to see Janet Fraiser fiddling with an IV.
"What?" Whoa! He couldn't believe how weak and rough his voice was.
"A virus," Fraiser answered, picking up a glass of water and guiding the straw to Jack's mouth. "A particularly vicious one."
"How long?" he asked after taking a couple of sips.
"Several days," Janet said briskly. "You came in feeling a bit flu-ish and things went downhill rapidly. You've been in here for almost 72 hours," she added, indicating the private room. "The fever broke late last night and you've been sleeping ever since. You and your better half."
"Huh?" Jack looked down and saw Daniel. Daniel was sitting on a chair but his upper body was lying across the bed, sleeping, his face turned toward Jack. "He looks like shit," Jack rasped. "Why'd you let him stay?"
"One-have YOU ever been able to get Daniel to do something he doesn't want to?" Fraiser said sharply as she picked up Jack's chart. "And two-he was the only one who could calm you down." Jack moved his leg under the sheet and jostled Daniel. Daniel stirred, opening his eyes slowly. He sat up stretching and studying Jack carefully.
"Hey. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Well, you're looking better," Daniel said, a smile slowly lighting his face.
"Yeah, well. I gotta tell you-you're no Sleeping Beauty," Jack said, taking in the dark circles under fatigue reddened eyes. "Go get some sleep."
"I was sleeping. You woke me," Daniel pointed out logically.
"The colonel's right, Daniel," Janet said. "As you can see, the colonel's going to be fine. Now get some rest." Daniel eyed Jack as if unwilling or unable to accept the doctor's prognosis. "You can use that bed," she added, nodding at the cot in the room. "Sam used it last night. I actually had it brought in here for you so you might as well use it." Fraiser finished making her notations and hung Jack's chart from the end of the bed. "And you-you get some more sleep, too," she told Jack.
"Yes, ma'am," Jack retorted, throwing her a feeble salute. Janet scowled affectionately and left the room. Jack watched Daniel rise stiffly from the chair and flop onto the other bed. "Uh…Daniel? Beddy-bye time. You know-clothes off and under the sheets?"
"Too tired," Daniel mumbled, fumbling to set his glasses on the bedside table.
"Then why did you stay here?" Jack queried. "Not that I don't appreciate it."
"Do you remember anything, Jack?" Daniel asked.
"Nope." Jack thought for a moment. "Well…hot. I remember being hot." He shrugged. "Guess that was the fever, eh?"
"Is there something I should remember?" Jack asked.
"No…not necessarily." Daniel burrowed his head into the pillow. "We'll talk about it later."
"Is it something I'm going to want to talk about?" Jack asked warily. Daniel just mumbled something vague into his pillow. Jack wearily churned up the contents of his brain. "A new path," he blurted out. Daniel slowly pulled his head from the pillow and looked at Jack with concern. New path. Well, Jack wasn't surprised he'd had that on his mind. It had only been a few weeks since Shifu had managed to confuse and frighten Jack. "Me? I need a new path?" Jack asked.
"Possibly," Daniel said slowly. Jack struggled to figure out what hidden thoughts his fevered brain might have coughed up. Thoughts that, according to Dr. Fraiser, had affected him in such a way that only Daniel had been able to calm him. One thought immediately jumped up and smacked him on the frontal lobe. Oh. That. Well, fuck. Jack looked cautiously at Daniel.
"Maybe…maybe WE need a new path?" he asked tentatively. Daniel watched him solemnly for a moment.
"That's up to you, Jack," Daniel said softly, laying his head back on his pillow.
"Okay. No pressure there," Jack tried to joke.
"No, no pressure," Daniel said with a small smile. "Don't worry about it now. We can wait and talk about it when we get home."
"Daniel?" Jack said softly after a short silence. Daniel looked at him, just waiting, allowing Jack time to be sure of his words. "I think I am home."
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