Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Following The Leader Series - Part 5: Healing The Leader

by Elizabeth

 


*****

 

I’ve been here long enough now to know the drill. Four years will do that for you. People go through that gate, find the natives, find out they’re not so nice natives, and come back in less than ideal conditions. Sometimes I wonder why I keep on doing it, patching them up. I mean, someone has to do it and it’s a plumb job. Nothing else in the USAF is going to be a scratch on this for leading edge medical discoveries. I’m probably the foremost expert on off-world injuries and maladies, but I can’t tell a soul about it. Medals are nice, but acknowledgement would be even nicer. However, there’re only so many times you can put the same people back together again, before it all starts to roll into one. One of these days I’m going to stop feeling the quickening of my pulse, when the tannoy goes, and that will be the time my love of this work dies.

 

This isn’t some huge hospital complex, where you can count the days of the year by how many departments there are. This is a small facility, well OK, maybe not *that* small. But the people at the forefront of what goes on in here? They’re the select few who occupy the majority of my workload. They’re the select few who share the same dinner table as me, share the same weekend barbecues with me, share the same day trips out with my daughter --- Cassie. They brought me Cassie and she adores them --- unreservedly. Especially him. How can I keep watching them go through that gate and not take each injury they suffer personally? They’re my friends. I’m not supposed to get attached, but there you go.

 

I take my usual trip through the infirmary and the trauma room. It’s one of the rhythms I’ve got used to over the years. Check, double-check and triple-check --- in triplicate. The officers out there put their lives on the line, day after day, for the service and for Earth. The least I can do is make sure I’m one hundred percent ready to take care of them when they need it – as they often do. Each member of my staff knows precisely what their tasks are each day and I don’t suffer fools one jot. Each day a different group of staff are allocated as my ERT, my emergency response team. On that day, they’re not allowed to get involved in anything that can’t be dropped at a moment’s notice. That moment being the sound of the klaxons.

 

It doesn’t matter why the klaxons have sounded, or if a team is coming back at its appointed time or not. When that sound goes my team drop everything and prepare to rumble. The nearby lift has a medical over-ride button and that lift had better be door-open-ready, with my team and a gurney inside, by the time we hear that call. It doesn’t matter if we waste the journey ninety nine times out of a hundred. If they’re not ready on that one hundredth call – guess who’ll be on bed-pan duty for the next month! It’s not a mistake anyone’s ever made twice. I always know who’s on the other side of that gate too. It’s not that it’s of primary concern beforehand, who comes back needing our help. It’s just useful to know if, for example, it’s Daniel, that I may need to have extra allergy medications on hand. Of course, I do have my favourites, I’m only human after all.

 

When it’s your favourites though, your friends, that’s when it hurts the most. I see the rest of the team, worrying, their hearts on their sleeves as it were, looking at me to save the situation, and I have to remain detached. It’s almost like asking me to remove an arm, or something. Even when you’re as experienced as I am, you just *can’t* hang your emotions up at the door. I can’t, yet I have to, if I’m to help them.

 

The klaxons sound their call for attention and within seconds my team are waiting for me in the lift. It doesn’t matter who else might call for the lift now, it won’t respond to them until we release it. A nurse’s finger is poised above the button for the gate room level, when we hear it. The tannoy announcement that says we’re needed. It’s the same message we’ve heard so many times before, yet it still instils an adrenaline surge, thankfully. Time to move it people. There’s nothing barring our passage when we exit the lift either, as I’ve made it plain these corridors are to be free of all obstructions at all times. It’s amazing what a threat about the next round of injections can do to encourage certain protocols. I think after the General and the Colonel, I’m probably the most feared person on the base. It’s an amusing thought.

 

We practically fly through the gate room doors behind the General, but I’m in no mood for finesse as we push past him towards the ramp. SG1 – again. They’re huddled together on the ramp, an indistinct blur of BDUs. I can see Teal’c, Sam and Daniel and cross them off my mental list without conscious thought. The one member I can’t see is the Colonel. The team move back out of my way and I can see the damage now - before I’ve even reached him. He appears unconscious and blood is seeping through someone’s quick first-aid bandaging. I don’t have time to wonder at the arrows themselves, guessing that’s what the stubby remains are, as I take a swift look at the damage they’ve caused. Whatever they are, they’re buried deep and the Colonel’s clearly showing signs of shock, probably from the blood loss.

 

My team move through well rehearsed motions as we assess him: lips turning blue; skin cold and clammy; colour pale; pulse weak and rapid; breathing shallow and fast. Shock.

 

I give him oxygen first to help his beleaguered system and he doesn’t react as I lift his head to fix the mask. Not good. I’m only half listening to the conversation above me as we check him further, but peripherally I’m taking notes of anything that might affect my treatment. Native Americans? Well I’m certain that brought back unpleasant memories for the Colonel again. Sam mentions about the morphine, which explains why he’s out for the count. Possibly the only way they could get him back quickly. The Colonel hates to be dependent on help. I’ve known him take hours longer to get back for aid, merely because he hates accepting it. He’s one hell of a stubborn patient, but stubborn can be good too. Stubborn doesn’t roll over and die and he’d better not now, or Cassie will never forgive me. I’d never forgive myself and there are three, no make that four, friends staring down at me who’d never forgive themselves either.

 

Once he’s ready for the lift, we work together. One, two, three and he’s airborne and on the gurney, unaware of the motion, and the arrows remain undisturbed. I give everyone what I hope is an encouraging smile and we’re away from the gate room before you can say Hippocratic oath. An orderly is holding the lift for us and I know I’ll be in the OR with the Colonel before the rest of SG1 have even made it to the infirmary.

 

A surgeon will be here by helicopter within the hour, thirty minutes hopefully, and that gives us just enough time to stabilise him further. The x-rays show how much damage has been done and where exactly the sharp tips are buried. Naturally I’ll assist and I’ve already sorted out in my own mind how the operation is likely to proceed. Other damage seems minimal, but there are a lot of bone shards to be cleaned out and my biggest worry is likely to be infection. You can inject for tetanus, but that’s not going to do a lot of good for preventing off-world bacteria from taking hold. Cultures will have to be taken and antibodies tested to work out efficacies. As I’m working my way through all the possible scenarios, my staff are already preparing the Colonel for surgery. Preparation that also includes transfusing the lost blood volume. I don’t want to be worrying about heart, kidney or brain damage from circulatory collapse either.

 

Somewhere outside of these walls I know the rest of SG1 will be waiting and somewhere else there’s a General, trying to get on with running the base. It’s my job to make sure they’re not waiting in vain. And somewhere outside the mountain is a teenager who’s already lost one family. I can’t let either them or her down and I don’t want to. The Colonel, Jack, is my friend too.

 

*****

 

Finally, it’s over and the Colonel’s being settled into a bed in the main ward. I’m breathing with some measure of relief, as so far everything’s gone as well as it could do. That Irish luck of his again, I suppose. So many things could have gone wrong, but haven’t. Of course, it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. There’s still the high probability of infection to watch out for, but time will tell for that problem. Even the cultures will take time to grow. I make sure all the monitoring equipment is accurately attached and note the girls have done a good job of cleaning him up. There’s never a shortage of volunteers for that job with this man, even if they’ll run a mile once he’s vocal again. A pain when he’s in the bed, a charmer when he’s out of it.

 

No one can deny how important hygiene is in my world and it also does a lot to relax worried visitors, as will my clean lab coat. Once I’m happy everything looks calm and ordered, I go to my office to ring the General, to update him on the Colonel’s condition. It can’t be easy on him, this command, and the seeming lack of support he gets from his superiors. I’m sure the Colonel isn’t the easiest of officers to command either, his mouth is as quick fire as his weapon’s control. Having said that though, if you earn his respect there isn’t anyone that will fight harder for you. He just does it with attitude. Once I’ve assured the General that O’Neill has come through the surgery satisfactorily, I have to go and find the rest of SG1. It won’t take long to track them down and, sure enough, I find them within fifty feet of the trauma room.

 

I try to give them my encouraging smile, but they know me too well and I see my uncertainty reflected on their faces. I can’t do anything more than tell them the truth. After all, they’re going to be stuck to the Colonel’s bedside for the next few days, seeing him through whatever is to come.

 

“We’ve got the arrow-heads out, but they were both deeply embedded and caused a lot of bone damage. We’ve had to remove several tiny fragments and it’s going to take a while for the areas to re-grow, just like in any other fracture. Other internal damage was amazingly minimal and we’ve already replaced the lost blood volume. What I’m really concerned about is infection.”

 

They know what that word means. Just because you can’t see the damage, it doesn’t mean to say it isn’t just as much of a threat as any arrow sticking out of you. Medicals here are excessively thorough, both before and after missions, and everyone is familiar with the reasons why. It’s not necessarily what you can see that fells you. Often the danger comes from within, in more ways than one with one particular adversary.

 

“On first examination, those flint tips are very dirty and I fully expect bacteria to have entered his system. I’ve taken samples and I’m putting him on antibiotics, but only the next few hours will tell us the extent of anything to worry about.”

 

Daniel almost can’t wait for permission to get past me and I know Sam and Teal’c are just waiting for the first move before they follow.

 

“He’s in the main ward.”

 

I follow them back to O’Neill’s bed and notice the different reactions on each face, as they settle in for the wait. This man means so much to each of them. Sam idolises him in a way only a younger military person can, for someone with his level of experience. I’ve seen her confidence increase tenfold under his tutelage. He encourages her to use her intellect to increase their options in a field situation and has never treated her with the disrespect other male officers can still display. Teal’c will rarely say what he’s thinking, but it’s not difficult to see the way he watches the Colonel and follows his lead. He turns to Daniel for history lessons, but he studies the Colonel to learn how to fit in. I don’t know how he feels about the Colonel’s role in his betrayal of Apophis, but I bet his views have to be pretty extreme there too. As for Daniel? Both Sam and Teal’c still have their families, but he’s no one left now. He and O’Neill already seemed to share an understanding of each other before I even joined the SGC. Character-wise they’re nothing alike, but they take care of each other, watching out for the other like brothers, or father and son. I’ve seen them fall out and fight, like any family will do and, yet, they’ll still be there when the other needs it. All four of them are like that.

 

It’s dangerous in this job to get too attached, or at least that’s the military’s official viewpoint. Life’s too fleeting at the cutting edge, and I agree with that, but who am I to judge? I’m as bad as they are. When you stop caring about those you’re fighting for, what’s the fight worth any more?

 

I take the opportunity to check out the Colonel once more, as I secretly watch his team. I know my patient’s condition will not have changed in the few minutes since I last saw him, or the monitors would be singing out the change. I just need to know his team, my friends, are coping with the situation. Sam and Daniel sit down in the chairs I deliberately pick to discourage such long stays and Teal’c guards all three of them. There’s nothing else I can say, or add to the situation, so I leave them alone for the time being. I can monitor the Colonel just as easily from afar, for the moment, and there’s still a nurse on duty in the ward, should something happen suddenly. All I can do now is grab a quick rest in my office and come back later.

 

There’s a reason I have a couch at the back of my office and it’s not to stack my overflow of medical journals on. The phone’s nearby, my pager’s switched on and I don’t expect anything to happen for a few hours. The Colonel, time consuming as he can be, is the only patient at the moment and he’s not due to surface for some time. I kick my shoes off and settle down eagerly. It’s been a stressed few hours and I need to switch off for a while before I’m needed again. No one’s going to thank me for making a mistake through lack of sleep.

 

<<<A grotesque face begging me to experiment on him --- waking someone who’s got a burn on his leg, because he cries in his sleep for a child --- hunting in someone’s stomach for something that shouldn’t be there --- racing against time and hypothermia to save a life --- confusion and hurt because he knows someone’s dead, who yet isn’t --- finally recognising the face of my dream person as he’s writhing in pain, pinned to the gate room wall.>>>

 

I wake up shakily, throwing off the dream with a coffee from my own private machine. It’s dreams like those that bring home to me how narrow the road is between liking what I do and hating it. I know I’ll never change my career. It’s too late now and how many other people can say they’ve done something as amazing as save someone else’s life? To know that you’ve impacted so strongly on someone, that they wouldn’t be enjoying the rest of their future without you? However, each nightmare brings back the same worries and fears. It’s easier to go home at night and switch off, when you don’t know your patients. I don’t have that luxury and I have to face the survivors of a lost comrade each day in these corridors.

 

I’m doing my rounds again when I’m notified of changes to the Colonel’s condition. It’s not unlike him to be making an appearance a bit early, but we’ll see. He’s just been through major surgery and the blood loss will be making its effects known, even if the Colonel doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Daniel’s already hovering over him, trying to encourage him as I approach, the other two willing to stay back for the moment. I gently work my way round Daniel, but it’s obvious even from a distance that O’Neill isn’t ready to rejoin us just yet. He’s still meandering his way through the anaesthetic, although I doubt it will be too long now. He’s simply not *that* patient.

 

“It shouldn’t be long now. He’s coming out of it nicely, just taking his time.” I try to reassure them.

 

I hear Sam sigh and I know it’s merely a verbal clue for what they’re all going through. I doubt any of them have moved from their current positions since I let them in here. Some doctors wouldn’t allow this kind of interference in their wards, but I think in this closed environment it’s beneficial to both parties. The injured and the non-injured seem to heal quicker, and with less psychological trauma, if they help each other through it. In this job, where people can’t go to the nearest bar and chat with their airforce buddies, the psychological problems soon build up. They’ve no one to off-load onto except each other. Most of the officers here aren’t married and those that do take the plunge, usually end up divorced again. Marriages can’t normally take this level of secrecy about work, especially when injuries can’t be explained, or partners allowed to visit. It’s very rare I’ll allow a patient out of my infirmary, even for the USAF Hospital, which doesn’t ease the problems for partners either. The danger’s just too great that they’ll let information slip whilst under the effects of fever, or drugs. Most malady cases are too much of a risk, also, until I’m certain no off-world contagion has been involved either. So much stress for too little reward, that’s what this doctor thinks, anyway.

 

The teams within the SGC have built up strong bonds, familial almost in some cases. If a family member is down, there’s no quicker way to get him up again than with the family around him and that’s why I relax the rules in the infirmary. I’d argue for the rights for that, if I had to. Luckily the General seems to be of a like mind and he tends to give me a free reign in how I run my section.

 

Hammond actually walks in before I’ve left the team and he signals me over, away from the bed, not wanting to intrude on them just yet.

 

“How’s he doing?” He asks quietly, not wishing any bad news to be overheard by SG1.

 

“Actually, he’s responding nicely now. The anaesthetic’s just about starting to wear off and I expect him to wake up soon. Still no signs of any complications, although I’m reserving any opinions on infection yet. There’s still plenty of time for that to develop.”

 

He nods his head and one nod off the General can say so much.

 

“Keep me posted.” Is what this one says and I smile and nod back in return. He wanders over to the bed, allowing himself a quick look down at his 2IC, before announcing he wants a quick briefing with SG1.

 

“I’m staying here.” I’m not surprised to hear Daniel say, but Sam and Teal’c obediently oblige, on auto-pilot, and leave the infirmary. I look over at the two remaining men for a few moments and make sure the nurse is still doing her job, before I leave for other duties. No matter how much I may want to stay and hold a sick person’s hand, especially a friend’s, I still have a whole department to run. The paperwork won’t process itself, unfortunately.

 

I’ve only been at the paperwork for a few minutes, when the ward nurse makes a rapid appearance, beating the nurse at the monitoring station.

 

“Colonel O’Neill is waking, ma’am.” She reports and leaves me to hurry out of the office and take her place in the ward.

 

I should have known with the Colonel to rush faster. You’d think experience would have made me wiser by now, wouldn’t you? Every time he manages to catch me off guard. By the time I reach them, I can see Daniel’s barely keeping him from falling off the bed, clasping him in his arms tightly.

 

“Doc? Here?” The Colonel looks lost and confused. He’s leaning into Daniel, his legs hanging off the edge of the bed, weaving like a gyroscope, as Daniel holds him protectively.

 

“I see you’re up to your usual tricks, Colonel.” I can’t help but comment, as I help Daniel straighten him out in the bed again. His eyes close the moment his head’s laid back on the pillow, but he’s fighting to stay awake.

 

“How’re you feeling, Sir?” I can see the first signs of a sweat appearing on his forehead and a quick check confirms his rise in temperature.

 

“Hot.”

 

I quickly adjust the meds to a stronger dose, hoping it will be enough, and make a note to check the samples in the lab. Maybe different antibiotics will be needed if the new dose doesn’t work. I don’t like to overdose on antibiotics if I can help it. They can have unpleasant side effects, which isn’t what you really want with an already compromised body.

 

“You’re running a slight temperature, but the antibiotics should kick in soon. Why don’t you go back to sleep? You should feel much better later on.”

 

He doesn’t want to go back to sleep yet though. He’ll nod off when he’s good and ready to. That’s the Colonel.

 

“Dan’l? OK?”

 

I’m fussing around him, tidying up the bedding and rechecking the monitor leads are still securely attached, but his glazed eyes ignore me as he searches out Daniel once more.

 

“Yes Jack, we’re all OK. Go back to sleep. We’ll be here when you wake up.”

 

In two short words, the Colonel’s asked all he wants to know and his friend has understood, calming all his worries. Now he can relax and he does, quietly giving in and drifting away from the confusion around him.

 

“I thought he’d probably get an infection, but I’m sure the antibiotics will deal with it.”

 

“What if they don’t?” Daniel’s still worried and I don’t object to the sharp tone. I hope someone would be as worried about me, if I was in that bed.

 

“Then we’ll try something else. Don’t borrow trouble Daniel, when there’s no reason to assume the worse.” It’s hard when you can’t automatically reassure someone else’s worries, because they don’t know as much as you do.

 

“I’m sorry. It’s just that he’s ---.” Sometimes even linguists can have trouble finding words to express themselves.

 

“Important to you?” It’s not difficult for anyone to see that.

 

“Yes.” Daniel still doesn’t look at me, his eyes instead glued to the man in the bed.

 

“He’s important to a lot of other people too, you know. Even though he doesn’t realise it.” He’s important to me too. Sometimes I wonder if people remember that.

 

“Yes.” He laughs slightly now and I wonder what he’s thinking, but the thought slips away as Sam and Teal’c return from their briefing.

 

“Hey, you missed Jack trying to go walkabout.” Daniel tells them, a hint of a smile still on his lips.

 

“Where was O’Neill walking to?” Teal’c asks us, as he looks around the room, seeking inspiration.

 

“He thought he was still on the planet.”

 

Sam laughs, shaking her head, but her face is full of concern, as she looks at her CO. “Still trying to protect you?” She asks.

 

“Yeah.” Daniel’s shoulders are slumped again by this time. Whatever jovial thoughts he had a few moments ago are quickly dissipating.

 

“Then we shall remain here until O’Neill is sufficiently recovered to be left unattended.” Teal’c’s matter of fact manner asserts itself, as he settles into his guarding position once more. His very action seems to prompt the others to settle back into their chairs again, ready for the next haul. I think back to how many times the Colonel’s been sat in one of those chairs, refusing to be moved by anyone, including the General. It’s very hard for them when one is injured. It’s like they’re each just a part of a whole, so when one’s down, they’re all down.

 

I think it’s time to try and improve their moods a bit by explaining about the new medication dose, hoping it will soon put an end to the fever the Colonel’s developing. The situation isn’t really all that bad at the moment, we just have to make sure we keep on top of it. Prevention being better than cure and all that. Once I’ve done that, I decide I’d better get back to my office. That paperwork’s still waiting for me and won’t disappear without help. Nurse Watkins is back in the corner and I know everything is under control. I fully expect to have a loud and annoying Colonel back in that bed before too long.

 

Over the next few hours I visit the Colonel a further couple of times and I’m very relieved to note that his fever *is* coming down. It’s a slow process, but careful monitoring should be enough to make sure his medication is altered accordingly. His team are still there, Teal’c doing his best to look after the other two, Sam trying to look like she’s not as concerned as she is and Daniel completely oblivious of everything bar the Colonel.

 

I’m one happy momma right now. Speaking of which, I’m just thinking of either going home, or arranging for Cassie to stay with friends, when nurse Watkins comes looking for me again. Seems that O’Neill has decided to wake up at last, which will certainly make the infirmary a more lively place for the next few days.

 

I decide to dash over a bit quicker this time, just in case, but my urgency’s not needed when I look in. Instead, I deliberately hang back for a change and watch what happens. Observing these four people together is sometimes like watching a Punch And Judy show developing. You never know what is going to be said, or to whom. Sometimes you want to step in between them, convinced a playground fight is in the brewing and, at other times, it’s all you can do to stop laughing at their antics. I can tell from here that the Colonel’s not up to his usual decibels yet, his eyes are still a touch too bright, but he’s far more aware than he was previously. His first greedy look round is to make sure all his team is there and then he settles back, almost as if considering his plan of attack. His voice is a mere whisper, but it’s got all his trade mark sarcasm in it.

 

“Hi kids. You look like you’re at a wake. Who died?”

 

“No one has died, O’Neill. We were merely concerned as to your health.” Even I can see that Teal’c isn’t mislead by the Colonel’s remark, but he’s playing the game all the same.

 

“My health’s fine, now help me sit up.”

 

I nearly wander in at this point, as the Colonel struggles to find the control to raise the bed-head. He’s too tired to move much and he’s going to hurt himself if he’s not careful.

 

“Ow! Crap!”

 

Too late.

 

“Damn cocktail sticks. I mean, how many times do damn aliens have to perforate me?”

 

He looks with disgust at his shoulder and I have to admit, I’ve often pondered that one myself.

 

“Just settle down will you?” Daniel almost shouts at him, as he adjusts the bed for him and he’s soon a lot happier and shuts his eyes. I guess it’s time I made an appearance, wouldn’t do for folks to think I didn’t care now, would it?

 

“Feeling better now, Colonel?” I greet as I wander over, giving the monitors a cursory glance. It’s such a relief to know he’s going to be all right again.

 

“Better than what?” He opens his eyes, but he’s not far off being asleep again.

 

“You were hot before, running a fever, but it’s coming down now.”

 

“Oh --- yeah ---” He obviously doesn’t really remember about the last time he woke up, but that’s not unusual, he’s only half awake now. Knowing how much he needs to be in control of his treatment, I give him a brief run-down of his condition. I can give him all the gory details later, and I can lay a bet on the certainty of him asking.

 

“Well, you’re going to be with us for a few days. We got the arrow-heads out, but they did a bit of bone splintering and we’re going to have to keep your shoulder immobile until it heals again.”

 

“Where are the pictures?” Damn the man for always making me laugh, even when he’s being a pain he does it with humour. After all these years with us, he still feels the need to lessen his own problems and I wonder who he thinks he’s protecting?

 

“You can see the x-rays later, you don’t really need any bed-time reading right now.” Neither does his team. Those arrows came very close to causing some major damage and nerves are still a little too raw to be reminded of that just now.

 

“Awww, mum.” His voice is hardly audible over the monitor beeps. “The guys are round to play.”

 

“I do not think you are strong enough for recreation at the moment, O’Neill.”

 

“We can play later, Sir.”

 

“Yes. Get some sleep Jack. We’ll be here when you wake up.”

 

“Getting that feeling of déjà vu, here Danny.” I watch as he struggles to open his eyes once more to Daniel, who grins shyly back at him. “Go and get some rest. I can see the bags under those eyes from here.”

 

‘Bravo Colonel’, I’d like to say, wanting to see his team get some exercise and fresh air, after all the hours they’ve been waiting down here. However, they won’t go without Daniel and they certainly haven’t been listening to me.

 

“I don’t have bags under my eyes.” Daniel denounces in hurt tones. Then I have to struggle not to laugh as Teal’c moves over to stare at his face. The Jaffa looks back towards the Colonel, puzzled, and I half expect a question about the so called bags, but he doesn’t. Anyone can see that O’Neill is barely awake enough to engage in lengthy conversations.

 

“Teal’c, Sam, get him outta here, will ya?” The Colonel tries to command, but the voice is way too soft for its normal effect.

 

“We’ve tried, Sir.” “We have attempted to many times, O’Neill.” Come back two very heart-felt responses.

 

“I’m fine.” Daniel states, defiantly.

 

“Yeah, and I’m a monkey’s uncle.” The Colonel replies with a smile on his face, but his eyes close and he’s asleep instantly.

 

It’s an automatic response of mine to check out the monitors once more, but they don’t tell me anything I don’t already know and I smile back at the rest of SG1. Everything’s going to be OK with the Colonel.

 

“That’s a space-monkey’s uncle.” I hear Daniel tell the sleeping man, as he leaves the room, and Sam’s delighted laughter follows after them, as she and Teal’c fall in line behind him.

 

I decide it’s time I tidied up for the night and go home to Cassie, otherwise she’ll think I’ve deserted her. Luckily, she’s got some very good friends with understanding parents. They know the job I’m in and have often stood in at the last minute, taking Cassie overnight when I’ve been stuck here with a problem. Cassie’s very understanding too. She knows far more than your average teenager about the real nature of the world and must find it hard at times to keep that knowledge secret.

 

I’m just about to grab my coat when I get the unwelcome news that the night shift is going to be a couple of people short. Two of my nurses have been involved in a road traffic accident and won’t be able to get here. They’re not badly hurt, just bruised and are going to go back home. They share the same apartment and were in the same car, so it’s just unfortunate for me. I sigh as I telephone Cassie to break the bad news. Turns out it’s not so bad after all, as she wanted to go out with friends anyway and this is as good a way as any of twisting my arm. Linda’s mum will be only too pleased to put her up for the night, if that’s OK. I can only laugh at the excitement in her voice, but the tone drops instantly when I tell her about the Colonel. Suddenly it’s more a case of wanting me to stay here to take care of him, than to let her play out and I’m reminded again of how much he means to everyone.

 

Whenever Cassie has a problem that she’s too embarrassed to come to me about, I can guarantee Jack will be able to wheedle it out of her. He’s even better at that stuff than Sam is and Cassie really loves Sam too. It’s almost like he’s some sort of surrogate father to her. The Colonel must have been a terrific father and I can’t imagine how much it must hurt when he thinks of his son. I can’t imagine life without Cassie now and she only came to me late in life. Thinking I’ll have another quick check on how he’s doing, I wander over to the ward.

 

I’m not surprised to see the General parked by his bedside. The General often comes visiting when everyone else is in bed. It’s the only chance he has for a quick word with his officers, without anyone else to hear and tattle-tale about it later. You can tell how seriously the man takes his command and how much he suffers when anyone under his command is hurt following his orders. Maybe no one else sees this, but I do, late at night, like now. I think he takes each injury as personally as I do.

 

It’s also obvious how much he cares for *this* officer. I know he has a tendency to call everyone under his command ‘son’. It’s a trait a lot of senior officers develop, the Colonel included. However, I often think the General does have genuine paternal feelings for O’Neill. Perhaps the hot-headed Colonel reminds him of himself in his younger days. There can be no doubt that the General has been involved in some hush-hush stuff in his past, his medical records suggest as much, although he hasn’t got a patch of the history the Colonel has.

 

As I watch, unnoticed from the doorway, I can see the Colonel starting to stir in his sleep. He’s still running a slight temperature and I see the duty nurse approaching from her station, in response to the monitors. I silently indicate for her to leave and I observe as Hammond responds to the sick man. The Colonel is moaning in his sleep, twisting on the bed, but Hammond puts his hand on the uninjured shoulder and tries to calm him.

 

“Jack? Come on son. Time to wake up.”

 

It doesn’t work and, even from here, I can hear the distress in O’Neill’s voice, although I’m too far away to make out the words. I’m just about to intervene and break up the General’s visit, when I hear his strong voice cut through the sleeping man’s dreams.

 

“Airman! Report!”

 

The command voice gets through and I watch as the Colonel opens sleepy eyes, confusion on his face, as he struggles to remember where he is and why.

 

“Sir?” He asks, voice still thick with exhaustion and not a little pain, as he struggles to sit up further. I may have to adjust the pain meds once they’re finished.

 

“At ease, Jack. I was just passing by and I thought I’d see how you were doing.”

 

Even as ill as he is, there’s no-one else can manage the sarcastic expression like the Colonel and now is no exception. He doesn’t dispute his commander though, instead he looks down at the sheets, almost shyly and asks “Nightmares?” instead.

 

“You have a right, son. Sounded mighty involved from what I heard. Want to talk about it?”

 

O’Neill looks around the bed and, even though he doesn’t appear to be able to focus as far as myself, he’s obviously concerned over something.

 

“Where’s my team?”

 

At first I think he’s just practising his usual avoidance tactics, until I hear the General’s reply.

 

“They’re all in bed, son. It’s only you and I awake at this hour.”

 

“Night owl brigade, Sir? Sorry. Aren’t the grandkids due over this weekend?”

 

“There’s plenty of time for that Jack. As soon as you’re out of here we’ll have you over for a visit. See if you can improve their Spanish a bit.”

 

The Colonel laughs at that and I begin to get a bit of insight into the friendship these two have away from the base. There are even less people they can discuss problems with on a level footing.

 

“You did good you know, protecting young Jackson like that --- so what’s this nonsense I just heard, disturbing your sleep?”

 

“They’re so bright, aren’t they?” O’Neill’s voice is quiet.

 

“Who?”

 

“Daniel and Carter. The young ones who’ll find a way to get us all out of this mess.”

 

“What particular mess would that be?” I can hear the laughter in the General’s voice, even though I can’t see his face from here.

 

“The Goa’uld, the bad guys, all the nasties out there waiting to take us down – take Earth down.”

 

“Well that’s a biggie. Not starting off small here, are you Jack?”

 

“The only small round here are the likes of you and me --- and Teal’c, if you don’t take into account his bulk.”

 

The General pauses for a moment, trying to find his way through the Colonel’s comments. I’m trying to do the same and I’m glad it’s Hammond who has to answer.

 

“So, let me get this right then. Daniel and Carter are the bright ones, the ones with the big ideas, and you and I are the small ones, the dull ones, who ---?”

 

“Just get in the way. Arrows, orbs, damn Hathor and her larvae. --- Maybe I’m just past being able to get outta the way quick enough. Maybe I’m just tired of waking up in this damn bed. Maybe one day I won’t be able to protect them any more.” He settles back down again, as if relieved to have gotten that off his chest.

 

“And the dream? The countdown, the self-destruct, the fear. It was the orb, wasn’t it?” I couldn’t hear what the Colonel had been mumbling, so I don’t know how Hammond figured that one out. Possibly it just takes one soldier to read another between the lines. Granted, he’s suffering another spear through the shoulder injury though. That’s something that would very likely permeate his dreams.

 

“Yeah. I was as helpless then as I was yesterday, or whenever it was. Who’s going to take care of them, keep them safe? Cause I don’t think I’m up to the job.”

 

“Jack, when you were infected by those aliens from the orb. Who do you think gave them enough knowledge about us to enable them to trust us?”

 

“Daniel.”

 

“No. Daniel just came up with the name of a planet. The aliens didn’t know *him*. They knew *you* and through you, trusted him. When I was over-ruled concerning the Salish, who did Tonane and those spirit guardians trust?”

 

“That was just desperation. I said the first thing that came to mind and they fell for it.” There’s a shocking lack of confidence in his voice.

 

“Sound advice from what I heard. Without it, we’d all have been doomed. When Hathor tried to turn you into a Jaffa, granted you weren’t part of the solution then, but none of us men were. I was just as much under her spell as you were. However, Carter and Teal’c were the solution and who do you think is mainly responsible for the way they’ve progressed here? Who do they look to for command inspiration?”

 

“Look, Sir. I know where you’re going with this and I appreciate it. I really do. However ---”

 

“However, bull shit, Colonel.” He pauses for a moment, then puts his hand on the Colonel’s arm and, unlike if I’d done it, O’Neill doesn’t pull away. “If I could announce to the world at large just what we do here, your name would be at the top of the honours list. Damn it Jack, you’ve risked your life saving this planet and not got a dime of public recognition for it. Hell, I know what it’s like to have doubts in the middle of the night, when you’re alone and in pain. I’ve been through that too and I often wonder if I’m still up to the job.”

 

“This place would shut down without you running it, George.”

 

“Well thanks son, but that’s my point.” He removes his arm, sitting back in the chair to look at the Colonel, his pose relaxed. “I couldn’t ever imagine running this place without you behind me. So what if you’re getting on in years and just took another hit? Those years are filled with experiences that Jackson and Carter will never amass. You took that hit protecting a member of your team and, from what young Jackson said, he wouldn’t have survived without you there. You’re far from retiring from active service, Jack. You’re a damn sight fitter than most of the airman half your age. Their brains aren’t worth squat without you to make sure they keep them. As for thinking you’re not quick enough, if you weren’t, you’d both be dead, instead of you being here and Jackson being safely asleep in his bed.”

 

The Colonel looks back up at the General after this, his face completely unguarded. It’s as though he has nothing to hide from his CO – unlike the rest of us.

 

“Wish I could be as sure.”

 

“You will be Jack. When you see them tomorrow, just remember they’re only here because you’ve saved their butts in the past.”

 

“As they’ve saved mine.”

 

“That’s what teams do. The good teams anyway and if they’re a good team, it’s down to the leader. It’s all in the chain of command Jack.”

 

“In *that* case, yes it is, Sir.”

 

The General laughs again,  a very relaxed chuckle. Then he stretches and looks at his watch.

 

“Well, time for me to hit the sack and time for you to get back to sleep too. Fraiser’ll have my hide for keeping you up so long.” He stands up and turns to leave through the far door, away from me. “Sleep well, son.”

 

“Same to you, Sir.”

 

The General leaves and the Colonel shuts his eyes again. I’m just about to turn around and leave, awed a little by the scene I’ve just witnessed, when I hear him quietly call out.

 

“Doc?”

 

I don’t know how he does it. I’d swear he hadn’t been able to see me.

 

“Janet, I know you’re there.”

 

He opens sleepy eyes to roughly where the door is and I walk over to the bed, his eyes focussing on me as I draw nearer. There’s a smile on his face.

 

“Special ops, remember. Who else would be keeping an eye on me at this time, but you? Thought you’d be home with Cassie though.”

 

“Two of my nurses couldn’t make it, so Cassie’s stopping at friends tonight.”

 

“Linda’s?” There’s a smirk on his face now.

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Tactical planning. There are some things you don’t discuss with mothers.”

 

“About what?” Now my interest really is peaked. I’d trust the Colonel with Cassie’s life, although not if it includes a trip to the joke shop. I wander over to the nearby drugs cabinet and return with a needle, which I proceed to waft in front of his sleepy face. “You can tell me the easy way, or the hard way.” I can’t stop the smile on my face, nor not react to the one of mock horror he gives me.

 

“You don’t play fair.”

 

“Not when my daughter’s concerned. No.”

 

“Let’s just say it involves the sports hall and boys in uniform.”

 

“Jack O’Neill, my daughter is not old enough to be thinking of boyfriends yet! Especially ones you’re coaching her in.”

 

“You wanna bet? Anyway, I’ve already been to the hall, in uniform, and quietly made my presence felt. No one’s gonna mess with her, don’t worry.”

 

I wonder when this happened without my knowledge and try to picture all those young teenagers looking up into the *Colonel’s* sunglasses. He makes an intimidating figure when you’re an adult, let alone an impressionable youngster. Yet again, he’s seen a possible problem looming and has handled it before anyone else was aware of it. No wonder Cassie loves him. No wonder so many people harbour strong feelings for him.

 

“Get some sleep Jack. You’re going to be worn out tomorrow.”

 

“Yeah, can’t miss all the fun of Daniel’s fussing, Carter’s theorising and Teal’c’s observing, can I?”

 

“As if you don’t love it! You’d be lost without them, admit it for once. I won’t tell a soul.”

 

I tuck the sheets in around him and look into those deep eyes, that many a nurse has lost herself in. He stares back at me, for once not hiding his feelings.

 

“I am what I am Janet.”

 

“And we wouldn’t have you any other way. Now get to sleep flyboy and we may even see about getting rid of these monitors soon.”

 

“Ahhh, peace. Sleep, perchance to dream.”

 

He closes his eyes again and, worn out by all his conversations, quickly drifts off beneath me.

 

I would have wished him a good night, but he wouldn’t have heard me. Instead I look down at him, noting how he already looks so much healthier than he did when his team brought him back. He’s like a spring, constantly rebounding from whatever life throws at him, and life has certainly thrown a lot his way. I feel sorry for people like him, those who seem to have far more than their fair share of troubles. However, without him here to shield the rest of his team, I’m sure SG1 wouldn’t be the success they are. Neither would the SGC. I’m glad he’s here. Despite how often he gets hurt, I’m selfishly grateful he’s here with us. At least now he has people willing to share his troubles - friends and colleagues.

 

On the rare occasions he’ll let us in, we’re all that – and more.

 

 

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