Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Following The Leader Series - Part 3: Caring for The Leader

by Elizabeth

 


*****

 

This world is barren, there is no other word which I can use to describe it satisfactorily. Any life it may have held has long since departed, although to where is still unclear. However, we continue to cross this arid plain. MajorCarter has taken many samples and encouraged several discourses about the absence of life. DanielJackson enjoys the conversation, unlike ColonelO'Neill. I am not versed in the arts of land husbandry, so I do not understand the references she uses to explain her theory about ‘food chains’ and ‘stored solar energy’. However, I do understand that with a lack of vegetation for prey animals to sustain themselves upon, then neither will predators be able to survive.

 

I may not be able to offer any insights into this discourse, but once again I am grateful for my alliance with the Tau’ri. Whilst in their company I have been able to assimilate many forms of learning and begun to understand much that is not essential to my role of warrior. I luxuriate in quenching my thirst for knowledge in subjects I do not require to survive - to absorb information for its own enjoyment. I endeavour to surpass my mentor’s intellect and that would be a fitting tribute to Bra’tac’s tutelage. However, my gratitude is to my Tau’ri friends who enabled me to break the chains that kept me bound to my Goa’uld masters.

 

I am relieved when we find the chasm that is barring our forward journey. O’Neill must now make a decision as to whether to return to the SGC, or try to traverse the obstacle. I have known for some time that he is as disinterested as I with this mission. I can tell by the frown on his forehead and the slump of his shoulders, which are normally held so erect when our safety is uncertain. Although to me it is clear he understands MajorCarter’s theorems, he appears to derive great pleasure out of making her expand her theories. However, like myself, his interests are awakened with a surge of adrenaline, where his actions influence his surroundings.

 

I envisage he is about to order our return to the Stargate, when DanielJackson notices something across the divide. Following his line of sight, which can at times be difficult, as the young scholar gets animated when exited, we can see unnatural formations in the distance. I am sure that my ears, which are more sensitive than the Tau’ri’s, pick up our commander’s whispered ‘Ah, crap’, but I am not sure. I perhaps only imagined it, as it is what I would expect him to say under such circumstances. However, there is no easy way to cross the chasm at this location. Although the cliff sides appear easy to scale, the water beneath is turbulent and swift running. O’Neill obviously concurs, as he suggests we follow the edge, looking for any alternative crossing locations.

 

We travel for a further hour before I spy a bridge spanning the chasm. It is an old and simple construction, combining wooden boards and ropes. It seems derelict and does not appear to be a sound structure. O’Neill is swift in his command to belay DanielJackson. It is something he has become familiar with over the years, the desire  to prevent the younger man from rushing into possibly dangerous situations. O’Neill will not allow any of his team to come to harm, if he is at all able to prevent it. It is an admirable trait and has challenged my previous concepts of the value of life in the chain of command. He will protect the weaker, at the cost of himself, as unhesitatingly as he protects his own commanders. This is an idea that the Goa’uld would not entertain. Wishing to assist him as much as I am able, I prepare to restrain DanielJackson, should it be necessary. I cannot help but overhear the slight sound of laughter from MajorCarter as I do so.

 

O’Neill traverses the rope bridge, with an ease which belies how the structure moves slightly with each step. His first journey is to test how solid the bridge is, to look for signs of frailty, whilst his return journey is to test for strength. He risks himself by stamping on each board and pulling on the ropes, before he will allow his team to venture upon it. Once he steps back onto land he turns to our scholar and smiles at him.

 

“OK Danny, it’s your lucky day, you get your wish. Teal’c first, then you, Carter and me. Take it slow, keep within arm’s reach of each other, but only one on a slat at a time. Got it?”

 

I step onto the bridge first, as commanded, aware of the others following me. I feel the bridge swaying with our combined footsteps and note his instructions to stagger our footsteps.

 

My ears pick up the sound of screeching, emanating from around us, before I see the hundreds of tiny flying creatures propelling themselves from holes in the cliff sides. They are small, fur covered animals, with lengthy tails and they assemble before flying towards us in our exposed position. I am unafraid of them and feel they pose no threat, except for their quantity, as they fly around us. However, it is enough to unsettle us. DanielJackson slips, as he is hit by several, and both I and MajorCarter struggle to aid his footing. I do not understand how I managed to unbalance myself, until I slide on something on the wood beneath me. Possibly it is the waste product of the flying creatures, but I am helpless to prevent myself from losing my footing and slipping through the ropes.

 

My descent to the river beneath is undignified and I am unable to prepare for the awkward entry into the water. Unsuccessful in my rapid attempts to remove my back-pack, all I am able to do is wrap my arms around my head to lessen any damage by the harsh entry. The force shocks my body, particularly my chest and head, momentarily stunning me. The water is extremely cold, numbing me, despite the response of my symbiote to my distress. I am unable to breath and my bearings are confused, as I am dragged further from the light by the weight of my pack. The undercurrent is strong and, despite my determination, my body is gradually losing its strength to struggle upwards. Thoughts of my family and my team pass through my mind as I take my first mouthful of water.

 

Suddenly there are strong arms around me and I see O’Neill’s encouraging face through the gloom of the water. There is a flash of metal, barely seen through the poor light, and my back-pack falls free. I attempt to swim upwards, but my limbs are uncooperative and I sink further. Yet again, O’Neill comes to my rescue and I feel his hands on my jacket, pulling me back towards the light above us. My consciousness is dimming, but I can feel his legs kicking beside me and I try not to despair. I feel my face break through the surface of the water and a hand supports my chin above the waves. I cough as I take in several large breaths, unable yet to speak to voice my appreciation. I am unable to do anything to assist him. He also needs to refresh his lungs and I hear him breathing in deeply, replenishing the expended oxygen from his system.

 

O’Neill treads water for a few moments, allowing the current to carry us along while we recoup our strength. I feel his secure grip around me, holding my head upon his chest as we float on our backs upon the surface. I rest, feeling secure in his care, until he starts to work against the current, swimming with me still within his arms. I am unable to participate, but neither do I struggle. My body may be weak, but my mind is returning to activity. I realise what a risk he has taken by diving in after me, although I am not surprised by his actions. Many times over the past few years we have willingly risked ourselves for the other, but each time my amazement is as great as the first. It reaffirms my conviction that my move to follow this man was the correct one.

 

I am unsure how long we have been in the river, but I feel the movements of my commander change as he feels land beneath his feet again. He helps me to struggle out of the water onto a wide sandy beach and assists me several feet away from the water’s edge, before we both collapse on the ground.

 

I can hear the faint cries of MajorCarter and DanielJackson from above us. O’Neill cannot, so I inform him about our team-mates and he shouts, gesticulating upwards to them to reassure them of our safety.

 

“The cavalry’s a comin.” He says, before lying back down beside me. “You OK?”

 

“I am alive, O’Neill, thanks to you.” I cannot yet raise myself, so I look upwards, where I see DanielJackson appearing over the edge of the cliff. He is quickly followed by MajorCarter and they begin a slow, but certain descent towards us.

 

O’Neill leaves me and I wonder what has prompted his absence, doubly so as my reactions are currently impaired. However, as I watch him, I can see he is collecting materials, from which to start a fire. He returns shortly, with his arms full of pieces of wood and drops them beside me.

 

“We’ll have to wait for the troops. My matches are taking a swim somewhere.” He grins at me and I am unable to refrain from the slight smile I give in return. It is no ignominy to relax my emotional control in front of this man. It may be many years before I feel truly comfortable with showing my feelings around the Tau’ri, but O’Neill has always appeared to see through my façade, regardless.

 

Even though there is nothing we can do to dry ourselves, we rest together, regaining our strength, until our team-mates arrive beside us. O’Neill has to assure them both that we are in good health. I do not understand why I should be compared to ‘as right as rain’, but it is a saying I have often heard and I take it to mean I have no injuries.

 

DanielJackson is able to light a fire and we draw nearer to its warmth, as the temperature starts to lower for the evening. MajorCarter and O’Neill are soon conversing in that strange tone they often engage in, where I think there is more being said than is apparent. She encourages us to remove our outer clothing and we place the wet garments beside the fire to dry. DanielJackson is quick to divest himself of his jacket, despite the lowered temperature, and offer it to O’Neill. At first our leader is reluctant to accept the gift, preferring the young man to keep it for himself, but the scholar makes light of our commander’s chivalry. Next, O’Neill offers the item to me, however, my symbiote will be able to assist in regulating my body temperature, so I also reject the offer. Eventually he resigns himself to the proffered item and puts it on himself.

 

MajorCarter passes over our two remaining sleeping bags and we climb inside them to warm ourselves and allow our bodies to complete drying. I am about to enter a light meditative state when I discover O’Neill may be charged with replacing the back-packs that we have lost. I am distraught that his bravery will cost him financially, even more so as I do not have funds to replace his losses. However, he turns one of his relaxed smiles my way and laughingly explains that all he wishes is to see me safe and sound. I realise then that I have misinterpreted one of his jokes again. The moment between us is broken, as DanielJackson attempts to correct O’Neill on something he has said and the Tau’ri share another joke between them. I cannot always follow their quick changes of thought, but the few moments I can participate in are enough.

 

We have soon partaken of a warm meal and are able to relax, as the evening turns into night. I am finally able to meditate, knowing that my body is in extra need of rest this evening, but I am still aware of my surroundings. I listen to the teasing conversations of my friends. MajorCarter is distracted and gets coerced into providing sustenance for us upon our return to Earth. I know she was concerned about us and takes our safety as a personal issue. I am also aware that she worries particularly about O’Neill, caring about his needs as though he is unable to take care of himself. I am sure that he would find that thought highly amusing. Surely he has had to fend for himself through many horrific incidences, long before MajorCarter became independent of her father’s support. Perhaps it is a ‘woman thing’ as O’Neill would say, this desire to protect a man that you care about.

 

She is always attentive to both DanielJackson’s and my own needs, but the Colonel would appear to hold a special place in her heart. It is something of which I was already aware, even before the Tok’ra thought they were zatarcs. However, I am not concerned over their admissions whilst being tested, as I understand the significance of those words. We, each of us in SG1, will risk our lives for the others, as O’Neill has just demonstrated once more. We have formed deep bonds and, even though I know MajorCarter has particular affection for the Colonel, I am not disturbed. They would never allow anything to develop between them that would jeopardise ourselves, or our missions. 

 

I am awakened from my slight trance by O’Neill, as DanielJackson encourages us to redress in our uniforms. I am appreciative of the renewed warmth and I am sure O’Neill will be too. He does not possess a symbiote to ward off the symptoms of ill health, as do I. It would be unfortunate if he is to become incapacitated, after his act of bravery, but we will take care of him if it is to be so.

 

*****

 

Unfortunately, by the following morning it is clear that O’Neill is not well. His body is shaking with the slight tremors I associate with the Earth condition of a cold. He sneezes frequently and DanielJackson has to pass over several of his tissues to aid his condition. Despite his glares, we do not allow him to carry a back-pack and the climb back up the cliff is a difficult and slow one for him. It is with relief that I eventually see him climb wearily over the edge. DanielJackson uses subterfuge to persuade him to rest for a few minutes, before we commence our walk back to the stargate.

 

It is obvious to me that our scholar still wishes to view the ruins, but he puts his desires to one side, as concern for our leader is paramount in all our thoughts. Our march back is slower than normal and we elect to stop more frequently in deference to O’Neill’s condition. He is tiring quickly and MajorCarter quietly informs us that he is running a temperature. I understand the meaning of that saying, although it still puzzles me how the Tau’ri consistently arrive at such ill constructed descriptions. Surely speed has nothing to do with a person’s temperature?

 

I am relieved to eventually arrive back at the SGC and deliver O’Neill into DoctorFraiser’s care. We ensure that she takes care of his needs first, whilst we are processed through our post mission examinations by other nursing staff. We are able to shower and refresh ourselves, before returning to wait for news of our leader. We are there many minutes in advance of DoctorFraiser finishing her examination of him.

 

It is over an hour later before O’Neill is returned to us again. DoctorFraiser assures us that he is not seriously impaired and merely requires rest at his home. MajorCarter volunteers to accompany him and attend to his needs for the next two days and DanielJackson struggles to withhold his amusement at the arrangement. I know that O’Neill can be difficult company when he is not well, but I feel assured that MajorCarter will be able to cope with his varied moods. After ensuring that O’Neill does not forget his medications, we bid them farewell and I return to my other duties whilst on the base.

 

*****

 

The following day passes without incidence for me and in the evening I relax with DanielJackson, so that he can continue my teachings in Earth history. The calm is disturbed when I receive a telephone call from MajorCarter. We had arranged to visit O’Neill the following evening, but MajorCarter has had a request to return to the base tonight. She is reluctant to leave the Colonel until she is assured that either DanielJackson or myself will be able to attend to him in the morning. I ask her if he requires our presence tonight, but she assures me he is already in bed after receiving his medication. I hear her laugh slightly and she admits that some of the medication Janet has left for him is to ensure he sleeps through the night. As he has taken no interest in his treatment, he is unaware of the items he has taken and is unlikely to awaken. I am concerned about this, as I do not think O’Neill will approve of the subterfuge, if he ever becomes aware of it. Even though I know his body requires rest to recover its strength, I am doubtful as to how wise this course of action is.

 

DanielJackson is unable to accompany me the following morning, as he has to attend a meeting with one of the other SG teams. They have encountered problems deciphering symbols on an artefact they have recovered and require his urgent assistance. Therefore, I request the services of an airman to drive me to O’Neill’s house and I use my spare key to gain entrance. I shout to announce my presence, as it is unwise to approach O’Neill silently, but the house is quiet and my senses sharpen. O’Neill is a very light sleeper and it is most unlike him to be unaware of my presence in his domain. 

 

The downstairs curtains are still closed and I quickly stride through the house opening them, so that I can search the abode more efficiently. O’Neill is not within any of the downstairs rooms, so I quicken my pace and ascend the staircase to the upstairs floor. On entering the master-bedroom I can see that the bed is ruffled, but my friend is not there. I call out again, but once more there is no reply. I am certainly concerned now and quickly check each room on this floor, only to find them as empty as the ones beneath me. I suddenly remember that last night was supposed to be a particularly clear night. Knowing how much O’Neill appreciates viewing the spectacle of the heavens, I make my way to his telescope platform.

 

I am worried when I see my commander, asleep in a chair by his telescope. He is wearing a coat on top of some lightweight clothing, but he looks very pale. One hand trails downward and, as I reach down to put it back in his lap, I feel how cold he is. The nails are an unusual shade of blue and I realise my friend may be very ill. He has probably been out here all night and fallen asleep, under the influence of the drugs. I have heard of a condition referred to as hypothermia and it is supposed to be highly dangerous.

 

“O’Neill?” I shake him urgently, but all he seems able to do is quietly moan in return.

 

I place my hand on his forehead and his skin is unusually dry. He feels as cold as the frost that still survives out of the light of the sun. His breathing seems to be slower than normal and I now suspect he needs medical assistance urgently. Carefully lifting him over my shoulders, I carry his unresisting form back down the steps and into the house. I then immediately transfer his weight into a safer position in my arms, as I am concerned about his breathing difficulties. Holding him in front of me, I hurry through to his bedroom, where I gently place his limp body down on the bed.

 

“O’Neill, can you hear me?” I ask again as I remove his coat, but he seems unaware of me or his surroundings.

 

I place him back underneath the covers and exit the room to use the telephone in his hallway. Once the operator has connected my call to the infirmary, I ask to speak to DoctorFraiser.

 

“Fraiser.”

 

“DoctorFraiser. Your presence is urgently required in the house of ColonelO'Neill.”

 

“Teal’c? What’s wrong?”

 

“MajorCarter was required back on the base yesterday evening, so ColonelO'Neill was left unattended. I have arrived this morning to find him on his outside platform and I suspect he has spent the night there. He is extremely cold and unresponsive to my calls.”

 

“Why would he do such a stupid thing?” Even though her words are harsh, I am aware of the worry in her voice over the telephone.

 

“I believe he was unaware of the sleeping medication MajorCarter gave him and last night was a clear night for viewing the stars.”

 

“You’re right Teal’c.” She sighs. “We can discuss this later, I’m on my way.”

 

“I will leave the door unlocked for you.”

 

“Thanks Teal’c. Try your best to warm him up, but don’t warm him too quickly. The Colonel doesn’t have a bath, does he? He only has a shower, which won’t do. Do you know if he has any hot water bottles?”

 

“I do not.” I am not even sure what a hot water bottle is.

 

“OK. In that case, body heat would be best at the moment. Can you keep him warm in bed with yourself?”

 

“I can.”

 

“Good. Place him in the recovery position and monitor his breathing. Do you have my mobile number?”

 

I check down the list of emergency numbers next to O’Neill’s phone and see it listed there.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

 

The line disconnects and I go to the front door to make sure it is left unlocked. I then return quickly to O’Neill’s bedroom, where he is still lying in the bed, unaware. DoctorFraiser has said that body heat is the best aid I can give, so I divest myself of my clothing, except my underwear, and quickly do the same for my friend. He does not seem to notice my attentions, which do not allay my worries. I place his body on his side, as described in a first aid course, and climb into the bed beside him, carefully wrapping my arms around him. I hold his unnaturally cold body next to mine, sharing the heat between us, as I pull the bedding tightly around us.

 

I am aware of the passing minutes as O’Neill continues his slow breathing beside me. I talk to him, hoping his condition will not deteriorate before DoctorFraiser can attend to him. If he is at all aware of my presence he is not able to show it. Many minutes later I hear the sounds of a motor vehicle upon the gravelled drive and my fears allay slightly. The front door opens and three pairs of footsteps hurry up the stairs towards the bedroom. I crane my neck around and watch as DoctorFraiser enters, accompanied by two orderlies.

 

“How is he Teal’c?” She asks as she quickly starts to check O’Neill’s body. I have seen her use her penlight and stethoscope many times, although I do not understand all the information it gives her. She also checks his finger nails, noting the discoloration. She indicates for me to move aside slightly, as she prepares to remove his underwear. I am still unsure of a lot of Tau’ri medical procedures and have never seen a rectal thermometer being used before. I am sure it would be considered too private a procedure to allow it to be viewed under normal circumstances. However, this situation is not normal. As soon as she starts to handle him so invasively, O’Neill surprises me by starting to struggle against her, his feeble movements uncoordinated. He curses, the words slurred and whispered.

 

I try to calm his fears, as even in his present condition he is a strong man. The orderlies are moving closer, preparing to restrain him, but I do not want them to handle him. I know the Colonel would relax more if he was aware he was with friends. Perhaps, now he is more responsive, he will hear my words.

 

“O’Neill, it is I, Teal’c, and DoctorFraiser. You must cease your struggles, we are trying to help you.”

 

He does not respond to me, but his movements cease and DoctorFraiser is able to continue her examination of him.

 

“That’s good actually, Teal’c, that he’s struggling. He’s not as far gone as I thought he might be.”

 

Once she has finished, DoctorFraiser signals for the orderlies and they soon have O’Neill on to a stretcher, carefully covering him with blankets as I remove myself from the bed and re-dress.

 

“I’m still going to take him back to base, to monitor his recovery, but I think he’s going to be all right.”

 

“I will accompany you for the journey.” I will not leave my friend now. I feel as if we have all let him down and I will not allow it to happen again.

 

“Of course, Teal’c.”

 

I follow them out of the house and ensure the door is locked behind me, before climbing into the military ambulance waiting on the drive. The journey back to the base is a careful one. DoctorFraiser constantly monitors the Colonel, never leaving his side. I do not understand terms such as blood pressure, but I do not wish to distract her attention by asking for explanations.

 

The ambulance is expected and we are quickly processed through security, before we descend into the mountain. I am not surprised that we are met outside the infirmary by MajorCarter and DanielJackson, both of whom look as pale as O’Neill.

 

“I had no idea this would happen.” MajorCarter says and, although I know in part she is to blame for events, the burden is not hers alone. A mixture of events have led to this situation and we can all learn much from it.

 

It was over an hour later before DoctorFraiser exits the trauma room to update us to O’Neill’s condition.

 

“We caught it in time, luckily, and he’s going to be fine.”

 

“What happened, Janet?” MajorCarter asks quietly. A look of recrimination adorns her youthful face.

 

“The sleeping pills are of a type that would affect his ability to shiver, which means his ability to keep warm was compromised. As the Colonel didn’t realise he’d been given them, he wouldn’t have been aware of the risk he was taking. He was probably asleep before he knew what was happening --- It was very cold and frosty last night, ideal star gazing weather, unfortunately.”

 

“I thought he was already asleep before I left.”

 

“You should never assume with Jack.” DanielJackson says quietly. “I’ve learned the hard way. He probably only pretended so you wouldn’t feel guilty and could go.”

 

“Can we see ColonelO'Neill?” I ask, eager to see for myself that he is recovering.

 

“Not at the moment, Teal’c. I’ve still got nurses working on him to make sure he’s warming up without any problems.”

 

“What problems?” DanielJackson is quick to ask. The young scholar is holding his arms around him, a gesture we are all familiar with.

 

“There is always the possibility of shock with hypothermia and we have to monitor his pulse and respiration’s. They’re settling back to normal now but were slow when I first saw him. His blood pressure was low and we’re having to monitor his kidney functions until the danger’s passed. Of course, we’re also watching for signs of pneumonia, which is another possible complication, but the signs are all good so far. You can come back and see him this evening if everything progresses satisfactorily, we just need some space to work round him at the moment. Now I need to go and update the General, so I’ll see you later.”

 

DoctorFraiser smiles at me then.

 

“You did well, Teal’c. Without you there, it would have been a lot more serious.”

 

She leaves us then and retreats back behind the closed doors. I looked down into the faces of my younger team-mates and can still see the shock there, especially on MajorCarter’s. She is not familiar with making errors of judgement and is suffering the consequences.

 

“You were not to know that this would happen.” I tell her, but she still frowns at me. “We must concentrate on what we have learned, not what has gone wrong. ColonelO'Neill is alive and we have learned a lesson about the importance of passing on information.” Her eyes are bright and DanielJackson is staring blankly at the closed doors, barring us entrance to our friend. I feel it is time to engage their thoughts on other matters. It is what O’Neill would do. “It is time to eat. Will you both accompany me to the commissary?”

 

It is not difficult to steer them both away from the vicinity and, once we are in the queue for nourishment, they appear to wake from their dazed expressions. I think for these two it will be a long day before the evening arrives.

 

*****

 

It is late evening before DoctorFraiser allows us to visit our commander. She tells us he was awake earlier and quite lucid, so we are now allowed to attend him. His appearance is much improved from this morning and I am relieved. His skin has returned to its usual hue and he appears to be sleeping peacefully. There is a lack of medical equipment attached to him, which supports DoctorFraiser’s statement that she expects him to make a full recovery. I do, however, note a nurse working nearby in the ward. I suspect she is keeping a discreet watch on the patient, but she does not intrude on our presence. Both MajorCarter and DanielJackson seat themselves in the uncomfortable chairs by his bed, but I remain standing, where I can obtain a clearer view of proceedings.

 

We are only in his presence for a few minutes before O’Neill becomes aware of us and his eyes slowly flicker open. He reminds me of a child, who wishes to wake up, yet is still too tired to manage it successfully. He will not remain awake long. His gaze travels across each of us slowly, as though it takes longer than normal to process the visual signals.

 

“Hi, kids.” His voice is quiet and without strength, but we are all relieved to hear it.

 

“Hi, Jack.” “It is good to see you, O’Neill.” DanielJackson and I greet. MajorCarter is suspiciously quiet.

 

O’Neill looks at us and his gaze rests on MajorCarter.

 

“Why the long faces? Carter, you OK?”

 

Her attention seems focussed on her jacket and she seems unable to look back at him.

 

“I’m so sorry, Sir. This was all my fault.”

 

O’Neill snorts at her.

 

“Carter, I’ve been getting into trouble long before I joined the SGC.  Don’t take so much on yourself.”

 

“No, Sir.” She argues. “It *is* my fault. I thought I was being clever, not telling you some of the pills were to make you sleep.”

 

“Ah, ah, ahhhh.” He waves a tired hand in her direction and yawns. “To *help* me sleep, according to Doc Fraiser. Not *make* me sleep. Hell, I shouldn’t have even gone out star gazing with a cold. Next it will be Danny saying he shouldn’t have spotted those ruins and Teal’c apologising for falling off the damn bridge.”

 

I can see my actions mirrored by DanielJackson, as we both attempt to join in and accept the blame for this string of occurrences.

 

“Naaah, stop it.” O’Neill’s voice is losing its strength and he is obviously tiring quickly. “Wallowing in all this guilt is gonna drown me and I’ve tried that once already.” He grins in my direction, but his eyes are already half closed.

 

“You must rest O’Neill.” I tell him, concerned that he has not yet recovered from his previous illness.

 

His eyes close and he sighs, seeming to settle deeper into the pillows.

 

“Tell ya what, Carter.”

 

“What, Sir.”

 

“If it makes you feel any better, you can buy the next *two* meals out and *I* get to pick the next place.” There is a smile on his face, even though he is no longer watching for our reactions.

 

“Yes, Sir.” MajorCarter replies, with the first trace of a smile I have seen on her face, since we arrived this morning.

 

“Good. Now get the hell outta here and get some rest yourselves. You all look worse than I do.”

 

“Yes, Sir.” “OK Jack, catch you later.”

 

DanielJackson pats O’Neill on the shoulder and both young people leave the ward, looking more relaxed now than they did previously. I elect to remain with O’Neill, keeping him company. I know one of our other team-mates will return in a few hours to relieve me.

 

“You still here, Teal’c?” His quiet voice asks. He does not open his eyes to look at me.

 

“I am.”

 

“I had a weird dream. At least I thought it was a dream.” He yawns again and stretches in the bed, relaxing afterwards.

 

“What was this dream about, O’Neill.”

 

“I was cold, freezing, but you were there with me.”

 

“It was not a dream. I shared my body heat with you to warm you.”

 

“Ah.” He slowly nods his head in understanding. “There was someone there, doing things. I --- didn’t like it.”

 

“DoctorFraiser needed to examine you. You were not aware of your situation.”

 

“You were talking to me --- didn’t leave me.” He still does not open his eyes to look at me. I wonder if he is embarrassed by his actions, or by my being witness to his vulnerability.

 

“As I never shall, O’Neill.”

 

He nods his head again at me, but does not speak any further. I understand that he finds it difficult to vocalise his emotions, or admit to feelings of affection. That is his nature and I accept him as he is, as I know he accepts me. There is a Tau’ri saying that actions speak louder than words. O’Neill has proved many times how deeply he cares for us, his team and his friends, and I do not need to hear any platitudes from him in this regard.

 

He surprises me, therefore, when I almost miss his whispered, “Back at ya.” It reminds me of another time when we shared private moments. Then his breathing rhythm changes and I know that he is finally asleep. I study his face and note the lines that mark the passing of so many traumatic times for this Tau’ri. It is a face that has seen too much for one person, yet now the lines are smoothed out. It reminds me of how child-like he can behave when relaxed.

 

I remember my relief at his appearance in the water before me, smiling through my darkest fears, imparting a sense of confidence at my rescue.

 

“I already know you will not leave us, O’Neill.” I tell the sleeping man. “You did not leave me then and I am assured you never will.”

 

 

*****The End*****