A Simple Belief Part Two
The colonel cradled Daniel gently, his eyes flickering over the emaciated body with sadness. Flinching at the ugly cuts and bruises, he was shocked to discover how easily his hand blanketed the tot's ribcage. Forcing himself to relax his hold, he allowed his warm breath to tickle Daniel's ear.
Jack knew it was madness. He hoped his resilience, his will to survive, could somehow manifest itself into Daniel's frail body--maybe give him the strength to endure for just a little longer.
Finding himself hoisted up a little higher, Daniel listened to the steady beating of the colonel's heart. Sighing and closing his eyes, the little boy rocked back and forth in time with Jack's stride, and struggled to remember how long he had been lost. Shivering, a jolt of fear running down his spine, he wondered if Oma would ever truly let him go. Allowing a strangled sob to escape, Daniel breathed in deeply, the musky scent of his friend comfortingly familiar. Snuggling close, he prayed that Jack could save him.
Daniel's pitiful condition provoked feelings in the colonel that he thought were safely dead and buried. Staring straight ahead and not trusting himself to speak, O'Neill felt a murderous rage. Despair and grief opened fresh gaping wounds leaving him bleeding and raw. The search for Daniel had driven him to the brink of despair, but now that he had found his friend, he struggled with the urge for revenge.
His friends fell a step back, and watched with alarm as their commander's back stiffened and his gait lengthened. The anger radiating off O'Neill exhausted them physically and mentally. Daring to glance at each other, Carter and Teal'c chose to remain silent and forced themselves to match his pace.
Jack O'Neill was natural born leader. His superiors had long ago predicted he could effortlessly inspire the confidence and respect needed for command. Despite his irreverence and tendency for being hot-tempered, O'Neill knew when to keep his mouth shut. Therefore, he had been selected as an outstanding recruit and one to deploy for the more secretive and grueling of tasks when all else had failed.
With his strong sense of loyalty, decency, and innate intelligence, O'Neill worked his way through the ranks. He survived the dirty wars and personal tragedies, albeit barely and always at a great cost. Awarded the rank of colonel, he understood the game and played it perfectly.
On the dead planet, light years away from the superiors who watched his every move, Jack knew he needed to curb the fire in his belly and get his people home safely.
World-weary O'Neill had learned that sometimes the mission's objectives were not always possible. Build a bridge and cross it, soldier. Swallowing his fury, he snapped his focus back to surviving, and not the luxury of hunting down and eliminating Daniel's abuser.
Canteens dangerously low, the three soldiers ignored their initial instincts to give all the precious water to Daniel. Surrounded by the stark evidence of dehydration and death, they averted their eyes and drank their share.
"I'm thirsty, Jack, can I have more?"
"Soon... we'll be home soon."
The walk back to the Stargate was terrible. The temperature soared and the sun bore down relentlessly. Licking his lips and seeing black stars jump around his eyes, the colonel blinked slowly, idly wondering why the world seemed to spin. Stumbling and jolting Daniel, the soldier winced at the child's sharp cry of pain.
"Daniel, I'm so sorry." Hoisting him higher up his ribcage, O'Neill stumbled again, falling heavily to his knees. Grabbing Teal'c's outstretched hand and looking into his worried face, Jack agreed to share the burden.
Teal'c nodded, took the frail child into his arms, and with the gentleness of smiles, promised his little friend that he would carry him home. As the sweat poured down his face and the stinging gnats buzzed around his ears, Teal'c told O'Neill that he could rest, that it was his turn now. A feeling of brotherhood passed between the two soldiers, and watching closely, Daniel felt the tight bonds of family reclaim him.
Shoulders sagging and her breath ragged, Carter swayed and struggled to place one foot after the other. The heat and the emotions of Daniel's discovery drained her, and flinging a hand out to steady herself, gratefully found her commander's arm wrapped tightly around her waist.
The four friends unconsciously closed ranks, drawing much needed energy from each other. The last six months had been the darkest, loneliest, and most frustrating times of their lives. None of them could admit, but it had been increasingly difficult to maintain the fašade of hope. Now, despite atrocious conditions, despite odds stacked against them, they had finally found their heart and soul.
Leaning into the colonel's sweat drenched body; Carter sighed with exhaustion and struggling to hold herself upright, rasped. "Sir, I don't get any of this. What possible reason could the Ancients have to do this?"
Squeezing her tightly, O'Neill listened to the labored breathing of the barely conscious child. Narrowing his eyes, his face a mask of control, he muttered, "Later, Carter, I'll think about all this later."
In silence, the four members of SG1 trudged towards the Stargate and towards home.