9 August, 1330 hours
“For cryin’ out loud, Doc! You couldn’t warm that thing up just little before using it?”
Janet Fraiser gave her patient, who wasn’t really being very patient at all, an amused smile as she moved her stethoscope into position on his torso. “Sorry, Colonel.” Pulling it away, she rubbed it on her palm for a few seconds before reapplying it to his chest. “Better?”
“Yeah.” O’Neill fidgeted while she listened to his heart and lungs. When she’d removed the earpieces, he resumed speaking. “You are going to clear me to go through that gate.”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Whichever will get me off this planet in” — he glanced at his watch — “the next forty-three minutes.”
“Colonel, you’ve still got lacerations, first-degree burns, bruises, a mild shoulder strain — ”
He cut her off. “And a search and rescue mission to run. For a man, I might add, who helped save this entire planet.”
“And that’s why, despite the fact that you’re still not completely recovered, I’m clearing you for gate travel.” She took satisfaction in the look of surprise that rippled briefly across his face. “Just don’t add to the list if you can help it. Fortunately, you’re a pretty quick healer. “ Watching as he slipped his T-shirt back on, she saw him wince a bit with the motion. “Some ibuprofen will take care of most of the soreness. Keep those cuts and burns as clean as you can.”
She couldn’t quite prevent tension from coloring her tone as personal knowledge born of experience with this particular patient warred with her medical training. O’Neill must have heard it, though he obviously chose to feign misinterpretation of the cause.
“Doc, I know your first encounter with him wasn’t exactly fun. But Frank’s really not a bad guy.”
She nodded, the ghost of a smile curving her lips. “I know that, Colonel. You told me, remember?”
He had, during that restless interval when he could no longer sleep and was chafing to be up and about — and, she sensed, away from the infirmary and the entire SGC for a time. Never one to really talk in-depth about his personal life, O’Neill had surprised her a little by telling her the story of his friendship with Frank Cromwell, including the tale of how it had been fractured by what had happened on that damned mission in Iraq. Janet knew that even the most stoic of individuals could not completely ignore the need for release when stressed beyond capacity, and the events of the past couple of days had pushed even the colonel’s limits. Deprived for the moment of any other outlet, and perhaps also driven by his memory of her initial treatment at the hands of his friend, Jack had begun to talk.And she had stayed to listen. There, in the evening-shift quiet of the infirmary, long after she had planned to go back home to her daughter Cassie, he had told her the story of how he and Frank had met. How they gone through Special Ops training together and then served side by side for twelve years, coming to rely so closely on one another in all manner of situations that they functioned nearly as one. How they had saved each other’s lives so many times, in so many places, that they lost count. How he and Frank, with their wives Sara and Lisa, had become a family unto themselves; had welcomed together the birth of his son Charlie; had together celebrated good times and sustained each other through bad. How the two men had been brothers in every way but genetics, until their bond had been sundered by the combination of three bullets, enemy intelligence, and pure human error on a black ops mission during the Gulf War.
The colonel hadn’t detailed his time in ’Club Med’ but he didn’t really need to. Janet had treated her share of former POWs and knew the kinds of physical, mental and emotional damage that could result from captivity in enemy hands. Although her primary job was to treat the body rather than the mind, this wasn’t the first time she had sat and listened as the floodgates opened and a man poured out what had been eating him from the inside. It was, however, the first time that man had been a fellow officer with whom she worked on an almost daily basis, and whom she considered a personal friend. And so she had listened in the capacity of both friend and physician as he recounted the dark days of anger and hurt which had turned into years of bitterness before culminating in a final, if at first grudgingly withheld, forgiveness when the man who had once been his best friend appeared as if from nowhere to redeem himself by helping him to save the whole damn world…and had given his own life in the process just as Jack had opened himself to their friendship once again. Given it despite Jack’s own best effort to save him. Underlying everything O’Neill had said, Janet could hear the regret and the grief that she knew this was as close as he would come to expressing openly.
This was why she would let him go through the gate today, when she would otherwise insist that he spend several more days recovering from his recent ordeal. He needed this; needed to be the one to rescue the friend he’d thought he’d lost forever. Or else he would need the closure that only leading even a failed attempt could bring him.
She watched as the lanky figure rose from the exam table, buttoning his shirt as he strode toward the curtain separating the exam area from the rest of the infirmary. “Be careful out there,” she called as he pushed it aside and vanished from view. The sound of the door closing followed a second later.
“Godspeed, sir,” she whispered to the empty room.