"He looks so... peaceful," she blurted.
On the other side of the infirmary bed, General Jack O'Neill raised an eyebrow, then nodded. "Yeah... he always looks so much younger than he is when he's like this. As if I don't feel old enough already."
Vala rested her chin on the arms she had crossed over the back of her chair. "He talks about you all the time, you know. He misses you."
Jack smiled. "I miss him. Carter and Teal'c, too, of course, but Daniel..."
"Tell me about him," she asked.
"Don't you already know him pretty well?"
"Good point," he agreed.
"So..." Vala began, tearing her eyes off the open, almost-innocent face of the man she respected more than anyone she'd ever known. "I'd really like to hear your perspective on him. You being his best friend and all that."
"Yeah... although you're doing a pretty good job of filling that spot for me." He waved off her protest. "Okay, so... Daniel. I won't bore you with the facts about when we met and whatever, but I can tell you that trying to get him to talk about himself is... worse than pulling hens' teeth."
"Hens don't have teeth."
"Thus why it's so difficult," he replied. "Heck, I knew his parents were dead, but it wasn't until we got trapped in those simulator chairs—you know, the ones they use to teach foothold response?—before I knew how old he was when it happened... or that he saw it happen. He just doesn't talk about that kind of stuff, but he gets under your skin just the same. The first time I knew for sure was when I thought he died."
"After that. Some creepy fish-guy kidnapped him, but made the rest of us think he burned to death. I was so pissed, I took a hockey stick to Hammond's car window."
"I bet the general wasn't too happy about that," she guessed.
Jack shook his head. "Actually, I think he understood. Wished it hadn't been his car, but he understood. I was never so glad to see Daniel, but I pushed it aside with a joke, instead. Then there was the time he really died—one of the times anyway, but this one was the worst."
"Stabbed by the Replicator?"
"Uh, no... I wasn't a witness for that one. Kelowna."
"Oh." Vala reached out a hand to fiddle with the bed sheets. "Teal'c told me about that one."
"And Carter's probably the one who told you about the Replicator, right?" At her nod, Jack scrubbed his hand through his hair. "What'd I tell ya? Hens' teeth." He exhaled heavily. "Okay, so... radiation poisoning, and I couldn't even tell him how much he meant to me. Somehow he understood... he always did."
"He's a good listener," Vala agreed. "But I'm not used to seeing him this... still. Well, other than the time I knocked him out aboard the Prometheus..."
"And even then his eyebrows did that... thing?" Jack guessed, smiling at her confirming nod. "Did the same thing when his wife's son gave him some sort of whacked-out dream, too. Actually, that's partly why it took me so long to believe him about this plan of his... it wouldn't have been the first time he's had somebody or something else in his head. In that dream, he'd been given a Goa'uld's genetic knowledge—"
"Yowch," Vala commented, wincing.
"—Which was essentially like having a snake in his head. Then there was the time he kept seeing dead people jumping out of his closet or the time he had twelve different people bouncing around in there. And it's not like I haven't had my brain scrambled enough times, either. Still, you'd think by now I'd learn to trust him about this kind of stuff."
She nodded. "Well, he was asking us to open this galaxy to the risk of invasion."
"Yeah," he agreed. "You know, yesterday, he asked me if he'd ever let me down when it really mattered, and I guess I kept remembering the one and only time he did. It was when he was Ascended, and other than dropping in to save Teal'c's life only half a dozen weeks before that, nobody'd seen hide nor hair of him in months. But here he came, asking me to retrieve the Eye of Ra before Anubis could get it, then turned around and told me to give it to Ol' Oily Skin."
"And Abydos was destroyed," she finished. "He told me about that when I was feeling sorry for myself about giving birth to Adria. But that wasn't his fault it was destroyed, now was it? I mean, the Ancients stopped him from taking on Anubis."
"His plan this time hinged on hoping the Ancients wouldn't stop him," Jack pointed out. "Maybe that's why I had such a problem with it."
"Well, I know why I had a problem with it," she said after a long, comfortable silence. "He was insistent that he alone should go. That's when I knew he didn't plan to come back."
The general blinked. "You're right... if the four of you hadn't been aboard too, he wouldn't have had the Odyssey standing by for beam-out." He sighed heavily. "When's he gonna learn to stop sacrificing himself?"
"Probably when hens have teeth," Vala answered with a grin, letting go of the sheet to brush a stray strand of hair off the forehead of the still-slumbering Daniel. "But don't you worry, Jack... I'm going to keep my pliers handy."