Jack eyed the retreating nurse suspiciously. The knot in his stomach was growing, his dread increasing. He grabbed for the bedside phone.
"Daniel! I need you to come out here!"
"Jack -- what's the matter?" Jack sounded so upset Daniel bit off his snipe about the lack of greeting.
"I don't know! That's the problem! There's something wrong, really wrong with me and they're not telling me. They're just... tiptoeing around me."
"Jack, your leg gave out in a stairwell. You're recovering from a couple of broken ribs and a knee surgery. It's not life threatening, really."
"I know. But after they took my chest X-ray, they said they had to do it again and gave me an MRI."
"They told me it's fine, but Daniel, I'm telling you, they're treating me weird around here -- like 'be nice to the old man, he's about to die' kind of weird! What if they were looking at my rib X-ray and found out I have lung cancer?"
"Jack, I think they'd tell you. Besides, you quit smoking ten years ago and you've been in a sarcophagus since then."
"Daniel, I don't know what's going on around here, but it's making me crazy. You have to come out here and find out what's wrong with me."
"Of course I'll come, Jack. I'll go talk to General Landry right now. Sit tight and I'll be there as quickly as possible."
While Daniel was preparing for a red-eye flight, Jack brought every ounce of his "general" power to bear on his doctor. "Doctor Daniel Jackson is coming in from Colorado. I not only give permission, I demand that he be given full access to my medical files. Everything. Tell him the works. You will answer any question he has right down to and including when your last bowel movement was. Am I making myself clear?"
"Yes, of course General O'Neill. Is Doctor Jackson your personal physician?" Dr. Klein didn't remember there being one noted in General O'Neill's paperwork.
"No, he's my best friend. We served together for nine years and I trust his judgment more than anyone else's on the planet." He glared at the doctor. "He also has my power of attorney if any decisions need to be made when I'm not able."
Years ago he and Daniel had been reading a news story about a family fight over a patient in a coma. That had sparked a discussion about what circumstances they wouldn't want to survive, with goa'uld host topping the list for both of them. Afterwards they had seen General Hammond about putting paperwork in their files giving each other power of attorney to make those decisions if they were incapacitated. It hadn't surprised General Hammond in the least, and frankly he wouldn't have pulled the plug on either of them against the wishes of the other, even without the paperwork.
So when the worst had happened, Daniel had been called upon to confirm the order to torpedo the compromised sub Jack was on, and Jack had had to give Jacob the order to stop treating Daniel after Kelowna. The memories gave them both nightmares, but their trust in each other was absolute.
Now Jack was once again grateful Daniel was authorized to look out for his interests, just in case. He narrowed his eyes at Dr. Klein.
"Well, sir... I don't think you're in any danger of being incapacitated, but of course I'm happy to give Doctor Jackson any information you like." The doctor excused himself.
Jack fidgeted in his hospital bed and prepared for another restless night. But Daniel was coming. He'd figure it out.
Shortly after dawn, Daniel stepped out of a taxi at Walter Reed hospital with his bag, having come directly from the airport. Jack was still asleep, so Daniel quietly observed him for a while. Jack's hair was a little whiter and he had maybe a little more belly than when he had been active in the field, but he looked healthier than after most of the missions they had come back from. Finally Daniel propped his suitcase in a corner and went off in search of Dr. Klein.
"Doctor Jackson, welcome." He shook Daniel's hand and gestured him to a chair. "I understand General O'Neill wishes me to give you full access to his information. I'm happy to do so. And, I must say, I would be grateful for your assistance."
"Really? How can I help?"
"I don't know what your specialty is..."
"Oh! Oh, I beg your pardon, I didn't realize. Anyway, first, let me go over General O'Neill's condition and treatment..."
Twenty minutes later, Daniel had read every file, seen every film and thoroughly grilled the doctor.
"So there really is nothing wrong with Jack."
"The ribs need to heal and he'll need physical therapy for the knee, but essentially that's it."
"And what was it you thought you needed my help with?"
"Well, candidly, I'm worried about his mental state. He appears to be suffering from delusions and is exhibiting signs of paranoia. You do have power of attorney, yes?"
Daniel stiffened. If this guy thought he was going to get Daniel to sign Jack into the psychiatric ward... On the other hand, Jack had been really strange on the phone.
"Dr. Klein, thank you for your time. Let me talk to Jack and see if I can't figure out what's going on."
As he came down the hallway, Daniel could hear a full-scale O'Neill tantrum through the door.
"What is it with this hospital and oatmeal?! Is it too much to ask to get a freaking coffee and a doughnut?"
"I'm sorry, sir! I really can't..." Daniel heard a very young and quavering voice.
"Sick man, here! I'd like to die happy!"
"Oh, I'm really not supposed to..." Pause. "I'll see if I can slip a doughnut out of our break room for you."
A pretty girl came flying out of the room.
"Well, obviously not dead yet," Daniel snarked from the doorway.
"Jesus, Daniel! Thank god you're here! Have you had a chance to find out what the hell is going on?"
"Other than you terrorizing the nurses aides?"
"Look at this crap!" Jack let a gray glob drop off the spoon and back into the bowl. "It's almost as bad as that slop they fed us in Hadante."
"It could be worse." Jack raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "It could be Froot Loops."
Jack shuddered. "Don't frighten me -- I'm in a very delicate condition."
"You're pregnant?" Jack glared at him. "So... why do you think you're dying?"
Jack pointed in the direction the aide ran off in. "Well, did you see that? They're all being really, really nice to me." He gestured at the bowl. "This? Is because my cholesterol is a little high, so they have me on some special diet."
"Really? The guy who thinks steak, beer, pizza and pie are the four main food groups?"
"Hmph. Smartass. But look at that girl running to get me a doughnut. Like it doesn't really matter if my cholesterol goes up because I'm not going to live long enough for it to be a problem. They're all like that, all the time."
Daniel opened his mouth to say something but then snapped it shut. He pursed his lips and frowned. Jack watched the gears turn. Suddenly Daniel whirled to go. "I have a theory."
"Thank god!" Jack fell back on the bed and waited for Daniel to work his genius.
Daniel cornered the Head Nurse and pulled her aside for a very candid conversation.
Jack looked up hopefully when Daniel returned to the room. "Well?"
"The good news is I know exactly what's going on, and the other good news is you're not dying."
"That's it? Is there bad news?"
"The bad news is you're suffering from The Man-itis."
"Thumanitis? What's that?" Jack didn't like the sound of it.
"You're only problem is that you're The Man. You're General Jack O'Neill, hand-picked by the President for a very important posting. This is Washington, land of desk-flying generals who excel at schmoozing, politicking and making sure their asses are well-kissed. So you land in a military hospital with a relatively minor injury, and you become a Very Important Patient." Daniel made the air quotes. "You get put in the best private room. The staff are bending over backwards to try to please you. They make sure you have a bevy of cute young things to take care of you..."
"What?! Those girls are younger than Cassie!"
"I know, and they're also young enough to be intimidated as hell by you. You are really, really not supposed to get doughnuts, but it's pretty hard for a 20-something airman to refuse General O'Neill in a full-blown hissy fit.
"I do not throw hissy fits!"
"Of course not, Jack."
Jack made a face at the obvious sarcasm. "Well, what about the MRI?"
"I saw the X-ray and I saw the MRI. Just like Dr. Klein said, the radiologist messed up the X-ray. Again with the ass-kissing, they gave you a nice expensive scan instead. Totally unnecessary -- all it showed was that you currently have two broken ribs and that you've managed to break your ribs a ridiculous number of times throughout your career, but that's it. No spots on your lungs, honest."
Jack pondered all the information. "Are you sure?" Daniel nodded. "This is just because I'm a general?"
"Yup. Trust your anthropologist. He is wise to the ways of the mysterious DC culture."
"God I hate this town. Give me a platoon of jaffa pointing staff weapons at me any day. At least I know where they stand. This is just... bullshit."
Daniel nodded. "I know. Not your cup of tea. Look, your assistant should be here pretty soon with today's paperwork for signatures. I'm going to get this straightened out with Dr. Klein and run a couple of errands. I'll be back later and we'll have a real visit."
Just as Daniel stepped out the door Jack heard his voice saying, "Excuse me airman, but General O'Neill is really not supposed to have doughnuts. Why don't you see if you can get him some dry wheat toast." Dammit Daniel! Why couldn't he have had just ten more minutes of the ass kissing...
Dr. Klein waited patiently behind his desk while Daniel tried to figure out exactly how to describe Jack O'Neill to the uninitiated. "Jack isn't suffering from paranoia. He merely drew some erroneous conclusions based on his experience of medical professionals, while you all were treating him based on your experience of DC generals.
"Jack's not a desk jockey by nature. He's used to field service. He's a straight shooter, a scrapper and... impolitic, to put it nicely. He is also the worst patient ever. His way of dealing with pain or boredom is to be as loud, obnoxious and pushy as possible -- it's how he burns off the stress. The thing is, he won't respect you unless you push back. The infirmary staff at the... at his previous posting were well aware of his quirks. Everyone from the CMO to the aides knew to stand firm regardless of his tantrums. He'd never admit it, but when the staff tell him no, it actually reassures him to know that they're doing what's best for his health, that he's in good hands.
"Here he's being treated with kid gloves and it makes him nervous. He doesn't trust the care he's getting because he's not getting firm boundaries."
"Sounds kind of like what they say about raising a child," remarked Dr. Klein.
"You have nooo idea." Daniel rolled his eyes. "Anyway, I suggest you consult with the nursing staff. He'll respond best to people who are strong, candid, experienced and smart. It doesn't matter whether he gets civilian or military staff, as long as they're able to stand up to his star when they need to."
"I understand completely. I can't thank you enough for coming in and helping out. We just don't see generals of his type very often, and I think the staff were going nuts, trying harder and harder to please him."
"I understand, believe me. But I'm happy to help. Now I just wanted to check with you about one other thing..."
Around noon Daniel poked his head in Jack's door. "Hey, ready for lunch?"
Jack flopped down his People magazine and scowled at him, "More dry toast, oh best buddy of mine?"
Daniel held up a bag. "How about... falafel sandwiches with hummus and tabouleh?"
"Are you serious? How'd you get that past the diet police?" Jack sat up, making "gimme" hands.
Daniel stepped into the room, dropping another big bag by the door as he brought the food over. "Oh, I had a little chat with your doctor about your diet, and we came to an agreement about your meals being healthy, but not hospital mush. I made arrangements for your meals to be delivered from a caterer -- I left a list of all your favorite dishes." Dr. Klein had recommended a service that prepared meals to dietary restrictions, for example by baking the falafel patties instead of frying them. "This way the staff gets to spoil you, but not compromise your care."
Jack didn't let on that he knew that this was really Daniel's way to spoil him, since he would have to be returning to Colorado in a few days. They dug into the food together, and Jack made all the right appreciative noises.
"Best meal I've had since I got here." Jack lay back, content. "Hey, what's in the other bag?" He gestured towards the door.
"I thought you might be getting bored..."
"Since this is what they call reading material around here? Yeah." He tossed the People.
"So I made a little care package." Daniel pulled out the latest National Geographic, Field & Stream, Mad, Dell Crossword and Games magazines.
"Sweet!" He dove for the Mad.
"Ah!" Daniel snatched it up. "Not while you have company." He reached into the bag again. "A few more things for later, when you get fiddly." A Duncan yo-yo, a paddle-ball, a hand-held hockey video game, four eggs of Silly Putty and a piece of yarn. Jack held up the yarn and eyed it questioningly. "Oh, here." Daniel pulled out a book on how to do cats cradle.
"Cool!" His fingers were already twitching to get into the Silly Putty.
"...And a few things for when you have company." Daniel pulled out a travel chess/checkers set, two decks of playing cards and a travel Scrabble game. "Plus a dictionary, for your crosswords and your Scrabble." He laid it all on the rolling tray table, which now looked like Santa had just been by.
"Daniel..." Jack choked up a little, eyeing all his presents. "Are you sure I'm not dying, and that's why you're being really nice?"
"No, frankly I'm trying to save the lives and/or sanity of the staff here. You'll know you're dying when I let you beat me at Scrabble."
"Hey, it could happen!"
"Bust it out, Word Boy. We'll see."
"I'm keeping score."
"You don't trust me? I'm hurt."
"I'll hurt you the next time you 'forget' to record my points..."
A few hours later they were playing gin rummy, to give Jack the opportunity to kick Daniel's ass for a while. A nurse came in and told Daniel, "Excuse me, sir. You'll have to leave for a few moments while I check on General O'Neill."
"Hey! We're right in the middle of a game here!" Jack growled at her.
"Hey, I'm right in the middle of deciding whether to give you this shot in your IV shunt or in your flyboy ass," the nurse snapped back.
Daniel could barely suppress a laugh at the shocked look on Jack's face. Oh, things were going to be just fine, now.
At Jack's insistence, he taxied over to Jack's apartment with his suitcase to shower and change. He wouldn't use the apartment for much more than that over the weekend, but it was more comfortable than the hospital bathroom.
When he got back to the hospital, Jack was still grumbling about "Helga" (almost certainly not her name), but he was pissy, not nervous, a good sign. They spent the evening eating dinner, discussing recent missions, swapping work gossip and fighting over the TV remote.
Eventually "Helga" came in and told Jack it was time for some sleeping pills -- the doctor wanted him to get a quiet rest for both his ribs and his knee. Daniel cut off his protests by insisting he'd had a long day, flying across the country and running errands all over town for Jack, and that he was going to sleep, even if Jack wasn't. Jack grudgingly took the pills.
Daniel pulled the big, comfy recliner closer to Jack's bed. "Hey, I'll read you a bedtime story."
"Yeah. Close your eyes." He reached into the big bag for a present he hadn't pulled out before. In a soft voice he began, "Big A, little A. What begins with A? Aunt Annie's Alligator. A a a."
Jack's eyes flew open again and he saw that yes, Daniel was reading Dr. Seuss's ABC book to him. "Hey, I'm not two years old," he pouted.
Daniel just smiled, leaned over and tapped him lightly over the heart. "Only in here." Then he sat back in the chair, leaving his hand curled over Jack's. "Big B, little B. What begins with B?..."
Daniel's soothing voice and the musical cadence of the rhyme conspired with the pills to send Jack to sleep, despite his efforts to fight it. Daniel closed the book at ten tired turtles on a tuttle-tuttle tree, and set it back in the bag. If Jack was good the next day, he'd get Green Eggs and Ham. Daniel smiled and leaned the recliner back.
When Amber, aka Helga, came by to check on the General, she found his friend fast asleep in the chair, still holding his hand. She gently took off his glasses and laid them aside, then covered him with a blanket. She pulled the General's blanket up as well, turned off the reading lamp, and quietly left the room with a smile.