DISCLAIMER: Sadly, not mine but I'm wishing real hard for next Christmas. No money paid (as if), no copyright infringement intended. (This disclaimer probably ain't worth the paper it's not written on <bg>).
I've never been a huge fan of visiting people in hospitals, in infirmaries or sick rooms.
I've done it, of course. Haven't we all?
The first time I really remember was visiting my Grandma O'Neill when I was seven.
I'd been close to her all of my seven years, and loved her as long as I could remember. I'd go stay with her on weekends and holidays on her farm and she smelled of country scents and lavender when she hugged me.
Then she got sick and I was told I couldn't go stay with her anymore. She was in hospital, and somehow, I knew without being told, that she wasn't ever going to come home again.
I followed my parents into her hospital room and looked across at the small woman almost hidden under the bedcovers, surrounded by beeping machinery and tubes.
I didn't recognize her at first and that frightened me.
But then she leaned up from the pillows and held her arms out to me.
"Jack," she said, her voice sounding exactly the same as it always had. "Where's my hug?"
I remember running to the bed and climbing onto it. I reached out and wrapped my arms around her and hugged her as tightly as my seven-year-old arms could.
But she smelled different.
The scent of earth and nature and flowers was gone and I could sense only the smells of the sickroom, of antiseptic, and old age and imminent death, though I didn't recognize them for what they were then.
I didn't show my fear. I was seven years old, after all, a real tough guy. I hugged her as I always had and when it was time to leave, I kissed her soft paper-thin cheek and was reassured by the fact that it, at least, felt the same as I remembered it.
The next morning my parents sat me down after breakfast and told me she had died.
A hundred years later, it seems, and I'm walking into another sickroom.
The man in the bed is younger than my grandmother by 40 years and yet he's suffered more pain in the past couple of days than she probably did in her entire lifetime.
There's a ventilator puffing air through a tube leading into his mouth. One eye is bandaged and the other is closed. I know he's unconscious and probably feeling no pain at the moment, yet I can't help the involuntary wince as my mind catalogues his injuries.
I catch the eye of the man seated at his bedside. "The doc says he's going to be okay," I say, my voice offering surety.
"Yes, sir," Kawalsky replies, his own voice matching the confidence of my own.
"You gonna stay here all night?" I ask, wanting my friend to know that if he wants , *needs* to get away from here, I will take him somewhere else.
"Yes, sir," he says again.
And then he turns back to his blank eyed appraisal of the magazine in his lap.
All I can do is nod agreement and then I turn and head out of there, leaving behind the almost tangible odor of pain and fear permeating Feretti's room. I stumble around the corner and find Daniel, hurting as well, emotionally if not physically, and I take him home with me, feeling that, maybe I've done one thing right tonight; that I'm doing for Daniel what Kawalsky is doing for Feretti. Just being there.
And now it's another eon later and I'm walking down another grey hallway, toward the bed of another friend. Only this time it's not a sick bed. It's a death bed, in a morgue, not an infirmary, and I can feel my pulse beating a tattoo against my throat.
I've seen lots of dead bodies before. I've seen the dead bodies of friends and comrades before. I've even seen the dead body of my own child, a sight I block from my consciousness as much as I can.
But this is different, because in the days before his death, my friend's mind and body was taken from him, given over to the control of an evil entity.
That snake took away all that was my friend, all that made him who he was - the comrade who'd been at my side on Abydos and fought shoulder to shoulder with me to destroy Ra; the soldier who had helped to save countless innocents on Chulak; the man who'd cried when he was told that *his* hands had injured Carter; the friend who begged me to save him from the parasite infesting his body and then pleaded with me to kill him rather than let him live a life as a Goa'uld host. This friend who never knew I even had a kid until we met again when I came out of retirement, or that, coincidentally, his name and my son's were the same.
I feel my footsteps stumble to a halt as the memories overwhelm me and then there's a hand at my back and two more on my shoulders. Looking around, I see Teal'c, his huge frame steadfast behind me, Daniel and Sam on either side, all of them looking ready to catch me if I fall.
I square my shoulders and lock my knees and move forward.
Reaching the door of the morgue, I hesitate only briefly before pushing it open.
The room is dim and as cold as I expected it to be.
Kawalsky is on a gurney in the center of the room, a blanket covering him up to the chin.
I walk closer, my kids flanking me, and then realize that someone is sitting in a chair next to the stretcher, his shoulders swathed in a blanket.
"Colonel." The voice is husky from the strain of breathing through a tube for days and one eye is still bandaged.
"Feretti." I acknowledge his salute but wave him down as he attempts to stand. "At ease, Sergeant."
He nods gratefully and sinks back into his seat.
I reach out and touch Kawalsky's chest, just above his heart. His body's ice cold, but somehow, it doesn't bother me. "I'm sorry," I whisper.
A shuffle of noise behind me makes me turn and I see my team standing at attention and saluting our fallen comrade - Carter crisply, with tears trickling down her face, Daniel doing his civilian best to follow her lead, his eyes sorrowful, and Teal'c, one hand fisted across that massive chest, his head bent low in the gesture of honor I've come to know so well. Then they turn as one and leave the room.
"So, Feretti, you going to be okay?" I ask, for want of anything better to say.
"You gonna stay here all night?" I smile as I say it, a sense of déjà vu inexorably gripping me.
Feretti looks back at me. What I can see of his face is filled with grief but then he smiles too. "Yes, sir," he replies surely.
"Okay." I grab a chair from across the room and a blanket from a shelf and sit down next to the gurney across from Feretti. I pull the blanket around my chilly torso. "So did Kawalsky ever tell you about the time we got a General to polish my boots ?"