Doctor Janet Fraiser met them at the foot of the ramp in the gate-room, a gurney of her own standing by less than three feet behind her. Sam hurried around the men of the team to intercept the good doctor and whisper in her ear the things she was afraid to let Daniel hear just yet. As the hushed conversation progressed, the whole room could observe the severity on Janet’s face deepen. Then she took charge and ordered orderlies and officers alike with that certain tone of voice they all by experience knew she reserved for the most urgent of situations. Even through the haze in his head Daniel could hear and identify it, beginning to make some horrifying connections as he failed to assist when the nurses transferred him to the rolling gurney.
Janet rushed Daniel through the halls of the SGC, people jumping out of the way with alarm instantly flashing across each face they passed. Their first stop was the x-ray room where she took plate after plate of his midsection, before they headed for the infirmary. While Janet went to get the pictures developed a couple of nurses carefully got Daniel cleaned off and into a hospital gown. He could feel their worry like an almost physical presence in the air, and while their concern warmed his heart he couldn’t bear the barely hidden compassion in their eyes. He knew they, just like he, suspected what was the matter with him. Silent nurses always mean it’s bad.
When Janet finally entered with the results of the x-rays in her hand, it was a relief. Daniel knew he could always trust her to be straight with him.
“Daniel,” she started, while folding the blanket away from his feet. He desperately tried to ignore the fact that only his eyes told him she was doing it. “Tell me if you can feel this.” She shielded his view and ran an instrument under his foot. At least that was what he thought she did, because he couldn’t feel a thing.
In the moments it took Janet to tuck Daniel’s legs in again she assiduously avoided his eyes, futilely postponing the moment when she had to look him in the face and tell him what she was almost certain he had already guessed. With a resigned sigh – the legs couldn’t get any snugger – she moved in closer to the side of the bed and grabbed his hand. The reflexive squeeze he gave her was a pale comfort; at least the injury wasn’t that far up on his back.
“Daniel, there’s no good way to say this.”
“Just say it, Janet.”
His voice still held an ounce of hope, a testament to his unmoving optimism. She had seen the diagnosis she was about to give him break a plenty of seasoned and brave soldiers. Over the last seven years she had also witnessed Daniel go through a great deal that had had repeatedly tested his optimism to its limits, but through it all it had still held. I really hope this isn’t the thing that could actually be the death of it.
“The x-rays show fractures on your second and third lumbar vertebrae. The lack of sensory response in your lower extremities also indicates that the dislocated discs have caused severe nerve damage. We can use surgery to stabilize your spine and you will have to wear a back brace for a while, but…”
Daniel closed his eyes, the implications of Janet’s words cementing in his mind what he had feared and wildly hoped against. Biting his lip to contain his emotions he let his head fall back onto the pillow as Janet forced out the final words.
“…the best we can hope for is no further complications.”
Daniel said nothing. He could say nothing. It took all of his strength to not scream out loud. He didn’t dare to open his eyes else the tears burning behind his eyelids might burst out like a geyser eruption. The raging of his emotions was a roar pounding in his ears with each beat of his heart. He only vaguely noticed when Janet’s hand left his and she drew the curtains around his bed to give him some peace. His thoughts were too loud to let him really take in anything else.
My back is broken. Broken! I’m never going to walk again. No walking means no chance in hell of ever going through the Stargate again. Fighting the Goa’uld isn’t really an occupation that lends itself to disability adaption. Neither is my second – or technically first – choice of occupation: archaeology. I might be able to get some work, but not in the field. I’m never going to get to explore an old temple somewhere deep in the wildest regions of Earth again. Perhaps I could work at a museum – ha! – who’s going to hire the laughing stock of the archaeological community?
As Daniel contemplated the implications of his injury his entire life seemed to crumble before him. What’ll happen to the friendships I’ve made on the base if I leave the SGC? Cheyenne Mountain was the first place he’d felt at home since his parents died. The first place on Earth he had felt like he belonged. And what if I wanted to stay, would they let me? I guess I am the expert on a lot of things around here…but they did manage without me for a whole year. And what about living with Jack…?