The four uniformed figures walked slowly up the ramp towards the shimmering circle of the gateway, stepped over the threshold and disappeared.

"SG-9 away, sir." The lieutenant imparted the information with an emotionless tone, his voice scraping like chalk on the blackboard of Hammond's fragile nerves.

"Good." He waited, counting the seconds before the pool of liquid light began it's customary shift, signalling shutdown, and then he was staring at the far wall of the gate room beyond the ancient portal, which now stood as empty and silent as the day it had been discovered.

As empty and silent as the general's heart.

"Any word from SG-1?" he heard himself ask, knowing already what the answer would be.

"No, sir."

"How long overdue are they?"

"Four hours."

Four hours. Two hundred and forty minutes, each second etched into his soul. "We'll give them another hour, then I'll send a search party."

Five hours... Part of him knew he was overreacting, that it was easy to get hung up on something interesting and lose track of time, and that's how he would have played it, had it been any other team under his command. Bottom line - he was allowing his judgement to become clouded by personal involvement, and he hated himself for it.

"Let me know as soon as there's any word," he said gruffly. "I'll be in my office."

The stark, military room was a silent refuge from the tension sifting through the base, but not from the fear that raged within his own mind. Irrational fear, he told himself, after all, it wasn't the first time SG-1 had been overdue from a mission... And every time they are, you end up pacing the floor like a worried parent, he acknowledged with grim humour.

He had tried time and again to convince himself that it was something every commander went through when sending his men into an unknown situation and surely he felt the same about every SG team. Except he knew it was a lie. A lie to cover up a truth that, quite frankly, terrified him.

There were files on his desk demanding his attention, reports of completed missions, outlines of those yet to come, along with all the other daily inconsequentials that effected the day-to-day running of the base, everything from weapons requisitions to quartermasters estimates of how many cans of beans they would need for the next month. He ignored them all, pushing them to one side as he leaned his arms on his desk, steepling his fingers against lips that were dry with apprehension. Four hours. Anything could have happened but, as always when O'Neill's team were involved, Hammond feared the worst, perhaps because the very fact that they had been the first, the pioneers, and therefore held a special place in the SGC's history, had won them his especial admiration. There were good men and women in all the teams, some of whom had given their lives along the way, yet it was to SG-1 that he felt the closest.

A smile caught softly at his lips as he recalled the many times that fondness had been used against him, like a child twisting a much loved parent around their finger. It was a game they all played, and Hammond had learned long ago when he could hold out and when it was more prudent to give in. They might think they had won, but at the end of the day if the mission objective was accomplished he was content, however they reached their goal.

{{You're a wily old coyote, George}}

A shiver slid across his shoulders and down his spine as the words danced through his mind, bringing with them the memory of a certain night spent in the company of SG-1's commander, talking about anything and everything as the level on the bottle of bourbon slowly fell... He treasured the memory of that night, knowing that the bond it had formed between himself and O'Neill had done much to strengthen the bedrock of his command. He trusted Jack O'Neill's instincts as much as he did his own, even though in times of pressure he often found himself fighting the younger man's desire to charge in and to hell with the consequences.

Leaving his desk, he unlocked a file cabinet and, from the back of a drawer, extracted a slim folder. It bore no identification of any kind and it's contents were merely duplicates of other documents, a deliberate move to stave off any questions should its existence become known beyond the walls of his austere office. Two photographs, four pages of biographical notes and two thin envelopes, one addressed to 'Danny', the other 'General Hammond' {{Just in case I fall in love with some beautiful alien and decide to set up home on the other side of the universe}} It grieved him to know that there was a better than even chance the day would come when he would find out what was in those letters, but for now he would keep them safe and pray that despite this days' events, that time would be long in coming.

He picked up the photograph of O'Neill, a cold, military pose intended for identification purposes, not to flatter its subject or appeal to its viewer. He wished it could be something softer, something that showed the real Jack O'Neill - even a smile would help! - but at least this was safe and, as innocuous as it was, he could still derive some comfort from it in moments like these, when loneliness and fear threatened to undermine his composure.

As always, his mind sought refuge in memories of the first time he had met Jack O'Neill, back in 1969. He had been a lieutenant then and their meeting had been brief but eventful, to say the least, and infinitely memorable. Only later had he seen the funny side of the man's claims to be 'Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise', or 'Luke Skywalker', and as yet he had still to collect the interest on the money O'Neill had 'borrowed'. But it would happen, it was just a case of keeping his eyes and ears open for some signal that would set the wheels in motion. At least, he hoped the day would come, not wanting to dwell too closely on how the future might be changed if SG-1 did not return from their current mission, a part of him clinging to the vague notion that if the future was already written then they had to return now in order to eventually travel back in time to 1969...

It was all too confusing, just as it had been thirty years earlier. What was easier to understand was the impression O'Neill had made on him in those few minutes they had spent together: his strength and energy, his oddball sense of humour, the feelings of loyalty he instilled in the rest of his team and, above all, his compassion as evidenced by his concern for a stranger's safety. He was also, Hammond had realised, damn attractive - for an older guy.

Affectionate laughter rumbled in his throat as he acknowledged wryly that he was now the 'older' guy.

But Jack O'Neill was still damn attractive. Too attractive. And you're too old, George, he reminded himself. Too old for him... Not that he would ever have been interested.

He picked up the other photograph, holding one in each hand, slightly apart, as if sublimating some deep buried desire to separate these two. There was always a moment like this when he considered the relationship that had blossomed between the two younger men, a moment of such intense jealousy that he felt sickened by it, knowing it was unworthy of their friendship.

As much as he hated to admit it, he could understand why Jack had fallen in love with Daniel Jackson. The young archaeologist was quite a looker, always exuding an air of innocence and vulnerability, despite the fact that Hammond knew deep down he could be as tough as any of his military counterparts. His love of life, his fascination with everything the world had to offer, were a perfect foil for the jaded, cynical O'Neill, yet it was those very qualities in the colonel that had provided the grounding that Daniel needed. Without Jack to lean on, Daniel would have fallen apart when his Abydonian wife was abducted by Apophis, and without Daniel to inspire him, Jack would never have stayed with the SGC. They complemented each other flawlessly, each becoming half of a very special whole, perfect symmetry. And of Jack's feelings for Daniel he had been left in no doubt. {{I love him, Sir. Don't ask me why or how, I can't explain it. All I know is, he's my life. You can play by the rules and have me court martialled if you want, but it won't change how I feel and it won't keep us apart.}}

Even now, six months on, the pain was a knife through Hammond's heart. All the nights he had lain awake, wishing he was with Jack, longing for the colonel to feel one tenth towards him what he himself felt for the younger man. Wanting without having had been easy at the start, but as he began to watch the affection between Jack and Daniel grow into love, to see how they reacted around each other, it had become increasingly difficult to keep his own feelings neutral. And then Daniel had gone missing, was believed dead, and he had forced himself to stand aside and let others give comfort where he wanted so desperately to do so himself. Looking into those empty brown eyes, watching Jack's grief turn inwards upon itself, had been more heartrending than if Jack himself had been lost because there was nothing at all that he could do to help, to take the pain away. He was their CO and protocol demanded that he hold himself apart from their sorrow.

A sigh of unutterable despair slipped from his lips as he lay the pictures on the desk, one overlapping the other. Sure, he could turn them in, watch Jack humiliated and stripped of his rank, maybe even imprisoned, but even if he felt so inclined - which he did not - what good would it do? He would only be driving Jack away from their friendship and into the waiting arms of Daniel Jackson.

Forty minutes of the promised hour had ebbed away. Casting a last regretful look over the photographs, he tucked them back into the file and locked it away. It had served it's purpose - for now.

Barely had he stepped into the control room when all hell broke free in a familiar storm of sirens and lights.

"Travellers incoming!" The words were both a blessing and a curse on the lieutenant's lips.

"Is it SG-1?" Hammond demanded, controlling his voice with every ounce of his will.

"Code confirmed, General."

The short-trimmed fingernails cut into Hammond's palm as he clasped them tightly behind his back and drew a deep, calming breath, knowing that he was facing both the best and the worst moment of his life but that, either way, he would go on. It was the only thing he could do. "Very well... Open the iris."

The incandescent beauty of the event horizon never failed to touch something deep inside him with it's wonder, but today it seemed to be forming in slow motion, teasing him with the promise of Jack's return, taunting him with a suggestion of denial. His jaw began to cramp, so tight was it set, refusing to show any emotion until he was certain what that emotion might be.

"Picking up transmission, sir... It's Captain Carter... She's - " The lieutenant stumbled over the words and Hammond stopped breathing, waiting... waiting... "She wants a med-team standing by, sir. It's - for Colonel O'Neill."

The pain was absolute, filling his throat with it's sour intensity to the point where speech became impossible and the order was given with a curt nod of his head, his eyes never leaving the sparkling circle within the Stargate. Dear God, he prayed, let him be alive. If you're going to take him, at least give me time to say goodbye...

By the time he reached the gate room the medics were assembled, Dr Fraiser poised with one foot on the end of the ramp, ready for whatever was coming through, her pretty face as drawn and empty as Hammond knew his own to be. It's always hardest on the ones left behind, he thought, sympathising with her suffering. She and Carter thought he didn't know, and he was content to let it stay that way. After all, who were they hurting, except perhaps each other.

Dismissing the thought, he pulled his gaze back to the swirling silver blue pool in time to see it warp, like the surface of a lake around a submerged log and a moment later Samantha Carter emerged, half-carrying, half supporting the colonel.

"Medics!" he barked, the instant they were clear of the gate, and immediately the medics were there, catching O'Neill as he crumpled, unconscious, to the floor, carrying him to a gurney, their practised hands gently tending the arm that hung at a sickening angle in it's blood-soaked sleeve. The briefest question flashed between the doctor and Carter, was as briefly answered by the captain's nod - It's okay, I'm fine - before Fraiser turned her full attention on the stricken man.

"What happened, Captain?" he heard himself asked, surprised that he could even find the right words.

There was a wildness to her eyes, a fierce determination to do whatever remained to be done. There was anger, too, towards the cause of whatever had befallen them, but also tuned inwards, mutating into the guilt he saw lurking alongside the fear she refused to show. Guilt that she had in some way failed her friends. The tear trails so evident through the thick layer of grime on her cheeks told their own story.

"We were attacked... Apophis... I've never seen so many death gliders... We didn't stand a chance... "

With more composure than he would have believed possible, Hammond touched her arm, drawing he attention away from the horrors she had so clearly witnessed and back to the present. "Captain - where are Teal'c and Dr Jackson?"

"I had to leave them behind," she said, and her voice faltered, close to breaking. "Had to get help. Jack - Colonel O'Neill - he wanted to stay, but I knew I couldn't leave him. His arm... " For a moment her thoughts seemed to drift back through the gate then she shook herself, and just as suddenly the frightened, confused young woman was gone and she was once again in control.

"We were exploring a deserted cave village about five miles out from the main town when they hit us. They were firing at the rock face - I think they wanted to bury us alive. I was with Teal'c near the entrance, but Daniel... The colonel's arm was crushed when he tried to get to him... Teal'c - " She ran a trembling hand across her face, smearing dirt and sweat and blood. O'Neill's blood... "He's stronger than any of us, General, but even he couldn't get Daniel out."

Hammond steeled himself to ask the question neither of them wanted to hear. "Was Dr Jackson alive when you left?"

"Yes - but that was over an hour ago. I don't know if... Teal'c volunteered to stay and keep trying while I came for help, but I think..."

"Yes Captain?" he prompted gently when words failed her.

She looked away, past his shoulder, watching as the medics wheeled O'Neill away, her face twisted with the same agony of impending loss that Hammond was fighting. "Sir, I think he wanted to make sure that Daniel wasn't... that he didn't... die alone."

Each word was like a blow, wounding him deeply, not because of his feelings towards Jackson but because he knew what it must have cost O'Neill to leave his lover behind in such circumstances, no matter how badly injured he himself was. "I understand, Captain," he soothed, compassion for all of them clearly visible. "Now, I want you to go and get some rest, get Dr Fraiser to check you over -"

"Sir, I have to go back - " she protested, her fear renewed, feeding on itself. But if she expected an argument from him she was mistaken.

"I know that, Captain, and I fully intend for you to do just that once the doctor gives you the okay. They'll need someone to guide them to Dr Jackson as quickly as possible. You'll be informed as soon as the rescue team are ready to roll. Now go --"

"Yessir." Relief, however tenuous, in her voice, she turned to follow the departing medics, leaving Hammond staring accusingly at the now empty circle, as if it alone had been the cause of all this pain and despair.

It took thirty minutes to assemble a rescue team equipped with as much heavy lifting gear as they could hope to transport through the gateway to P4X259, and Hammond was grateful for every one of those minutes as he allowed the urgency of the situation to blanket the emotional turmoil going on inside him. Only when he stood at the foot of the ramp, watching Samantha Carter lead them through the reopened gateway, did he once more permit himself to think about the man at that very moment undergoing a emergency treatment to save his arm, unaware that the rest of them were fighting to save his lover's life, or that not very far away someone who loved him just as much was at the same time going through his own personal brand of hell.

"God, what a mess..." Hammond muttered to no-one in particular, winning a nod of agreement from the fresh-faced lieutenant at the console.

With the amount of equipment they were carrying, it would take the rescue team the better part of two hours to reach Jackson. With another two hours to make the return journey and God alone knew how long to get him free, they were looking at a minimum of five to six hours waiting time and no guarantees at the end of it. Under the circumstances there was only one place he wanted to be right then, aware that if the news, when it came, was bad O'Neill would need someone to lean on.

"Close the iris, lieutenant," he ordered. "I'll be in the infirmary with Colonel O'Neill if I'm needed."


With time added on for x-rays and anaesthetics, it took Janet Fraiser and her team almost two hours to set and pin O'Neill's arm, two hours during which Hammond waited in the glass-walled observation booth, watching and praying. He felt every agonising tug and twist on the damaged limb as they worked, but not one flicker of what he was feeling was allowed to show on his face. Fraiser had wanted to save the colonel further pain by giving him a general anaesthetic, but Jack, quickly regaining awareness, had begged and pleaded with her, arguing that if he was out in the field there would be no such luxury. Hammond knew the real reason, that he wanted to be awake and on his feet when they brought Jackson home. However they brought him home. But the price had been high and more then once his screams had rattled the glass wall of the booth as the pain overwhelmed his stoic resolve, tearing Hammond's heart into shreds at the sound of it.

"How is he?" he asked as Dr Fraiser emerged from the room.

She looked up at him wearily. "I've fixed the things I can fix." The blunt reply caught him off guard.

"Meaning?" he snapped.

She shrugged, her own thoughts no doubt drifting off to other places, now that her work was done. "His arm should be good as new in a few weeks, he was slightly dehydrated so we've got him on a drip - apart from assorted cuts and bruises, the rest of his body is fine. We'll have to wait and see how the rest of him recovers, once they bring Dr Jackson home."

Sensing that they were past the time for polite double-talk, he said flatly "You know then."

Her smile was cold, slicing him to the bone, a glimmer of barely suppressed anger at its core. "Of course I know," she responded sharply. "I am their doctor, sir. Who told you?"

A nod of his head towards the inner room. "He did."

"Really?" A flick of her eyebrow. "You surprise me."


"Because he's always gone to great lengths to protect Daniel as best he could. He doesn't care if the rest of the base ridicule him, but he won't have a word said against Danny. And now Daniel's fighting for his life on the other side of the universe, and there's not a damn thing the colonel can do to help him. But you know what worries me most, General?" He shook his head. "I'm afraid that if Daniel dies we're going to lose them both."

Cold, incipient dread flowed through him at her words. "Are you saying the colonel would try to take his own life?"

"Maybe not intentionally, but there are ways, General - as you probably know."

Hammond knew. He had been in the military too long not to know how easy it was to stop a 'stray' bullet or a grenade, or trip a mine, for whatever reason, and the MO would put it down to an 'accident' or battle fatigue, a momentary lapse in concentration with fatal results. Jack O'Neill had lost his son in just such a way and had crawled into a bottle because of it. How much worse would it be to lose the man he loved, the man for whom he had put his military career on the line?

"Is it okay if I talk to him?"

"He's still pretty woozy so I doubt you'll get much sense out of him but... I think he could use a friend right about now. We're all done here anyway. I'll - make sure you're not disturbed."

She left then, taking the rest of the team with her, and suddenly Hammond found himself alone with the colonel and wondering just what the holy hell he was doing there. Walk away, his subconscious told him, He doesn't want you'. Maybe not, he argued, but right now I'm all he's got. After all, if nothing else he was O'Neill's CO, and that bought him some rights.

He pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down to wait. Jack's skin was ashen against the stark white of the pillow, the granite face pain-etched with deep striations that made him look far too old. Old and tired. World weary. I'm with you there, son, Hammond acknowledged silently, feeling the weight of every year as his gaze took in the heavy cast encasing his right arm, the drip, the monitor that blipped in a reassuringly steady rhythm. At least, for the time being, Jack was alive, and as he waited for him to rejoin the world, Hammond made a silent vow to keep it that way - if it was at all possible.

"General..." Mouth so dry it took him two attempts to get the word out, but there was light dawning in the brown eyes and a sweet smile of ignorance danced on his lips - until he climbed through another layer of fog and remembered. "Daniel -!" he cried as he struggled to rise, only to be pinned back by a wave of pain and Hammond's powerful hands.

"Lie still, Jack," he ordered, dispensing with the formalities of rank in an effort to give comfort. "We're doing all we can."

Panic took hold of him. "Lemmego! I've got to get him out - "

"You can't help him."

"You don't understand - he's dying in there -"

"D'you think I don't know that!" The sharpness of his tone was unexpected, even to his own ears, but it was enough to bring the colonel out of his daze and back to some semblance of reality. Calmer now, he relaxed his grip, but kept gentle hold of O'Neill's shoulders. "Jack, there's nothing you can do, believe me. I wish I could tell you he was safe, but it's too soon to know."

Tears filled O'Neill's eyes, the cumulative effects of the trauma, the long haul home and his overwhelming fear that he would never see Jackson alive again. Hammond resumed his seat but one hand remained where it lay, lightly covering the colonel's good arm just below the elbow, offering support for them both.

"How long?" Jack rasped around a dry throat.

"Two hours since Captain Carter brought you home."

"Sam?" A frown creased his brow. "She okay?"

"She's fine, Colonel. She... insisted on going back with the rescue team." He felt the arm beneath his hand tense, muscle flexing over bone as fingers fisted the sheet.

"My fault..." Jack wheezed. "Careless..."

"I doubt that, Colonel, but it's not important now. You just... get some rest."

"When I know he's safe..."

Hammond sighed. "We won't know that for another few hours. Rest now, and I'll wake you as soon as there's news. You have my word," he added, seeing the flash of doubt in the troubled eyes, the reluctance to surrender to sleep even for a few minutes. He could understand why - a few hours ago he had felt the same.

"I shouldn't have left him there," Jack murmured, restless still. "Should've stayed with him..."

"According to Captain Carter and Dr Fraiser, that wasn't an option. You could have lost your arm."

A bubble of bitter laughter cracked on the parched lips. "So instead I lose Daniel? Not a good deal, General. Christ! I never even got to say goodbye to him. It's like... like Charlie all over again." He squeezed his eyes tight shut against a wave of sorrow and the rising tide of pain as the analgesics wore off, and the action dislodged a single tear, spilling it silently into the silver hair at his temple.

Hammond felt his own throat fill, his eyes burn. Not for Jackson - that would come later if the worst did happen - no, this was for Jack, because it was unfair and it was wrong for a man who had seen so much horror, suffered so much pain and loss, to have still more heaped upon him. Surely it was more than any human heart could bear.

Shifting closer to the edge of the chair, he wrapped his other hand around Jack's, freeing the first to snatch a tissue and reach out to wipe the moisture away. The man in the bed had ceased to be Airforce colonel, highly decorated, ex-Special Ops.; for now he was just a man who was hurt and hurting, mourning where past experience gave him no cause to hope, afraid and, in his own heart, alone. Hammond responded the only way he could, the only way he dare, detaching himself from his own rank and position and becoming just Kayla's grandfather taking care of a friend.

Peripherally, he was aware of the doctor coming into the room, doing whatever it was she needed to do and then leaving again, not a word passing between them, not a look out of place. He could understand why Jack and Daniel trusted her with their secret. She would have known anyway, of course - as she had reminded him, she was their doctor - but he could tell it was more than that. She had been told, as he himself had been, because both expected just such an eventuality as this, because they needed someone on their side.

Jack slept at last, a restless sleep haunted by memories and fears. Hammond relaxed a little, easing back into the hard chair, to await whatever was to come. But he never once left the room and he never once let go of Jack's hand. That much, at least, he would allow himself.


"How long is it now?" Jack asked - demanded - frustration crackling through his voice. Awake and alert, he sat on the edge of the bed, coiled spring waiting to pop.

Hammond had helped him to dress, knowing that nothing would hold him once word came through that the rescue team had returned. A wheelchair stood close by in readiness, a compromise that would get him to the Gateroom in his weakened state without risk of further injury but, he had insisted, he would greet Daniel on his feet. Stubborn as ever Hammond had smiled to himself, certain he would have it no other way. At least now Jack's 'Irish' was up, shifting him in a more positive direction.

"Just coming up to six hours," the general replied. Jack spat an undignified oath.

"What's taking them so long?"

Hammond had been thinking that same thing himself, but thought it wiser to play down the delay. "Think of it this way, Jack: if they can take their time getting him back, then his injuries can't be that severe..."

"Yeah? Or they could be taking it easy because he's already --" He broke off before the word could form because to say it might make it true. "Anything could be going on out there that we don't know about. Maybe they can't get him out. Maybe... the Goa'uld ships came back..."

"And maybe he's walking back on his own two feet," Hammond insisted, determined not to let his friend fall apart. "You've got to take it easy, Jack. Doing this to yourself - it won't get him --"

The rest of the words were swallowed abruptly as the sirens screamed into life. The two men looked at each other, frozen into immobility for those first few seconds. Jack's face went pale and Hammond knew that his own matched it, his heart racing within his chest. He started to move towards the door, but Jack's voice halted him in his tracks.

"General --"

He looked back, saw the hope, the fear, the need in those dark brown orbs.

"Please --?"

A sharp nod, a gesture to a waiting airman to help Jack into the chair, while he himself damn near sprinted ahead to the elevator. It had to be SG1, he told himself. Six hours - Was it too long? Any longer and it would be a sure sign that Daniel Jackson was in serious trouble, if not already dead, but was six hours too long anyway? There was no time to think about that now, no time for feelings, only actions. Deal with the emotional repercussions later; the practical approach was what was needed here and now. Get to the gate room, check it out, take control.

"SG1 code confirmed, sir," the technician called it out without waiting for him to ask as he hurried into the control room.

"Then get that iris open!" he barked, carrying on through and down into the gateroom.

Instinctively, he halted behind the wheelchair. His hand lifted to rest on the hand grip, close to the colonel's shoulder. Close enough to give comfort, should it be needed. Should it be wanted.

"Is it them?" Jack asked quietly, the tightness of his voice betraying his desperation.


For a moment, Jack leaned his good elbow on the armrest and buried his face in his hand, scrubbing it over eyes that were bloodshot, lips that were dry and trembling. The tiny display of anxiety drove Hammond's hand up to squeeze his shoulder through the green cotton, himself drawing strength from the contact.

"Help me up..." Jack insisted, and the general knew better than to argue now, knowing it would take several of Teal'c's 'undomesticated equines' to prevent him from being on his feet when Daniel Jackson - whatever his condition - emerged from that event horizon.

An eternity seemed to pass before the eddies in the shimmering surface parted to allow the first of the rescue team to step through and stumble down the ramp in dust-caked, sweat-streaked exhaustion. Jack was holding his breath and Hammond could feel the tension rolling through him in shuddering waves, but he kept his shoulders squared, his head held high. Only his eyes, hard and cold, betrayed the inner turmoil to the rest of the world.

At last the shimmering whirlpool fractured again and Teal'c was there, carrying the lead end of a stretcher, beside which Sam Carter walked slowly, the marks of her own ordeal showing clearly on her face.

"Daniel." Not a question, nor a plea, just his name, an acknowledgement of the precious burden the stretcher carried and all Jack would allow himself, even now.

Carter said something to Teal'c and the Jaffa inclined his head in response as she moved away, separating herself from the sombre procession to come down the ramp and stop in front of Jack.

"He's alive, sir," she said, with those three words suspending the fear that gripped the man, and Hammond felt Jack sag against him as relief sapped his strength. It lasted only a moment, too brief a time for anyone but the general and Carter to notice, but Hammond was glad to take the strain, to give what little of his own caring he could. Then the colonel was in control once more, easing gently away from Hammond's grip to face his 2IC.

"Thank you," he whispered, and it was enough.

She looked up at him, her eyes heavy and clouded with fatigue. "It's Teal'c you should thank, sir. Part of the lifting gear failed, but Teal'c was able to hold things together long enough for them to get Daniel out. If it wasn't for him, Daniel would have been --"

" -- I get the picture, Captain," Jack interrupted hurriedly, voice harsh. His gaze slid past her, following every movement of the medical team as they hoisted the stretcher onto a gurney.

Hammond noted the unprofessional flash of pain across Janet Fraiser's face as she made that first rapid assessment, the minuscule chink in her armour that marked Daniel as more than just another patient in need of her care. It was amazing how many lives this young man had touched during his time with the SGC: he could only hope that there would be a chance for him to touch many more.

They wheeled him away then, and Hammond was confronted by a pair of wild, worried eyes. "Sir. Permission to --"

"Of course, Colonel." He almost smiled. Where else would Jack want to be at a time like this? He motioned the airman forward. "Take Colonel O'Neill back to the infirmary and stay there in case he needs you." Touching Jack lightly on the arm, he added gently "I'll be down as soon as I can."

He watched them leave the gate room, O'Neill once more in the wheelchair, the very fact that he bore what he would otherwise see as an indignity in stoic silence an indication of just how deeply his concern for his lover went. Carter walked beside the chair and he noted how, just before she stepped held back to allow him to precede her through the door, she dropped a hand onto Jack's shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze of reassurance.

Then they were gone. He stood for a moment, replaying in his mind all that had happened in the last few hours and realising that his part in this was as good as over. With Daniel home, Jack no longer needed his CO's support, he had his friends, his team, there to help him through whatever was to come. Hammond was - surplus to requirements, pushed back to the very edge of Jack's world once more, where he had always been.

Where he always would be.

Sighing, he turned and walked from the gateroom, treading slowly, laboriously back up the stairs that led to his office, to plunge himself back to his files and his memos and the never ending flow of orders and demands from Washington.

Until the next time.....