The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and back-story are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author
Daniel drove into the parking lot and maneuvered his car into the first available space nearest the entrance to the shopping centre. Turning the engine off, he sat quietly looking at the neon lights that flashed brightly, announcing that this was a 24-hour grocery store. Although it was Friday night, the parking lot was full of cars having taken the overflow from the club across the road and Daniel considered himself lucky to have parked as close to the entrance as he did.
The night was reasonably quiet, pierced only by the infrequent sounds of the live band coming from the club. Each time the door opened to admit a customer, the noise levels spiked and then faded away. Peering at his watch in the reflected glow from the dashboard light, Daniel was surprised to see it was 8:45, much later than he thought.
'I can do this,' he thought 'I don't need Jack or Sam or Teal'c to hold my hand. I CAN do this.'
Pausing, he looked at himself in the rear view mirror. A light sheen of perspiration was clinging to his top lip, a testament to the toll this little point making exercise was taking on him.
'Get a grip' he muttered. 'It's a grocery store. Open the door, get your feet on the ground and start moving.' He was silently berating himself now, but he knew if he didn't he was likely to drive off again.
He couldn't do that.
He needed to shop and he'd be damned if he was going to impose on the others for a second longer.
Still, the thought of regaining his independence wasn't enough to steel him into action and he remained in his seat, his seatbelt tightly fastened, barely breathing. He could feel his heart thudding in his chest, threatening to break free from his ribcage and make a bid for freedom. He laughed softly; the images his mind was conjuring up were amusing to say the least.
It was a minor distraction though and he came back to reality with a thud, back to the realization that if he didn't move he was likely to die here.
"Renowned archaeologist expires in shopping center parking lot, news at 11:00." God, so not funny. His hand snaked up to rub his pounding temple in an attempt to soothe away the pain. Distracted, he took his glasses off, wiped them on his shirt, and then carefully put them back on.
His glasses now clean, he peered through the windscreen and for the first time since he'd pulled in he noticed that a light rain was falling. He looked out across the rain-slicked parking lot and suddenly he was back on P91 778. The rain had been falling then too, the sort of rain that soaked you to the skin without you even noticing it happening.
And soaked they were, all of them, without exception. They'd been heading back to the gate, their pace unhurried, their mood light. The planet had been a non-event; no signs of intelligent life, no resources to plunder, no ancient artifacts to entice and delight him. Still that didn't matter, they were going home and there would always be the next planet.
They were talking about movies. He remembered that clearly. Sam was telling them about a movie she had seen and Jack; well Jack was doing what Jack did best. He was being an ass in that way that only Jack can.
The rain had made the track they were traversing slimy and unpredictable. He was being as careful as he could under the circumstances, but not careful enough it seemed. Shifting nervously in his seat, his heart rate shot up a notch as he remembered the moment when his foot lost its purchase on the muddy ground and he started to tumble. Over and over and over again. His body seemed to roll into itself and he became a ball, picking up speed as he found the only sloping piece of the track and started his horrifying downward spiral.
He was vaguely aware of Jack yelling, his voice strained as he took off in pursuit of his rolling teammate.
"Aah crap, hold on Daniel, we're coming!"
As he hurtled downward, he flung his hands out trying to grab onto something, anything, as the realization dawned on him that he didn't know what the landscape ahead of him looked like. He could be heading for a cliff, a river, any goddamn thing. Branches from low-slung trees and shrubs slapped at his face and he felt the painful sting as his skin broke open and he sampled the coppery taste of warm blood.
Then, as if in answer to his silent prayers, he slammed into a rock halting his descent in short order. He felt the pain in every single cell in his body; the bones jarring against each other as the cartilage between them compressed and absorbed the shock. A bright shaft of agony shot through him and a white haze settled across his vision.
"Jesus Daniel, don't move."
The authoritative tone of Jack's voice was telling him he HAD to do what he was told. So he froze, fear lancing through every one of his nerve endings. As he came fully back to his senses he saw his predicament for the first time. He was teetering on the rim of a gaping hole, the edge of which was crumbling, eroded by the never-ending rain.
Rough hands grabbed at him and he was relieved to find Teal'c and Jack hauling his ass back from the brink. He'd had a close call. No, he'd had another close call in a seemingly endless line of close calls.
It wasn't until a week after their return that he started having problems. It was subtle at first, so small and innocuous that he didn't recognize it for what it was. He was in the locker room with Jack and Teal'c. They had been there when he first went into the showers but when he came out the room was deserted. An icy fear crept up his spine when he realized he was on his own. Grabbing his stuff he'd run out after them, spurred on by the mindless need to be with them, to be protected by them.
A few days later, he was at the store picking over the oranges. He only wanted one or two, no point in buying more as they often went rotten sitting in his fruit bowl. He turned the fruit over looking for bad spots. Without warning, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he felt the eyes of everyone in the store suddenly focus on him. He dropped the oranges back into the bin as cold tendrils of fear tingled and danced across his scalp. He felt the trickle of perspiration as it ran down the hollow of his back, soaking his waistband. He panicked and ran for the entrance like a startled rabbit, flinging himself into his car and locking the doors behind him. Sitting there for what seemed like an eternity he knew with absolute certainty that he was not going to be able to go back in there anytime soon.
Sam was the first person he told about what had happened. He didn't really know why, other than he was fairly certain that she would be sympathetic and she wouldn't make jokes at his expense. Jack reacted as he expected he would and he lived through a barrage of wiseass comments but as usual Jack was steadfast in his support of him. Teal'c was as enigmatic as ever, but he helped out in very tangible ways. Top of the list was his insistence that Daniel meditate with him. He did and found that it helped, although he figured it was because Teal'c was close by and it made him feel safe.
Daniel couldn't understand why, after sustaining so many actual life-threatening injuries, this near miss had rattled him so badly. Lets face it, he thought, when you've done the 'dying really painfully thing', this shouldn't have even registered on the old fearometer.
SG-1 made a pact. They would help Daniel through this on their own as a team. No Janet, no McKenzie, no lotions or potions. Just the simple steadfast support of his teammates and a plan that they were all sticking to like molasses. First Daniel made a list of trigger events and places where he felt threatened or unsafe. He discovered very quickly that big open spaces and large stores were the main problem but sometimes being alone in confined places was just as bad. Then SG-1 went to work. During the weeks that followed Daniel was accompanied to each and every one of those places and they made at least one outing everyday. His teammates would appear like guardian angels and they would be there for him.
They had set a harsh pace but Daniel had made progress and there was no denying it. That's why he was sitting in his car on a cold and lonely evening like this one, waiting to drum up the courage to make the final push. He could do this on his own and he was ready to prove it.
A car pulled up beside him and a man jumped out and opened the trunk. His young wife dragged her shopping cart over to the car and they started to load the groceries. They were arguing but Daniel couldn't hear the details because his window was firmly closed. The husband cursed loudly as the bottom tore out of one of the bags, spilling cans all over the ground.
Daniel smiled as the mini drama played out beside him. What he wouldn't give for some ordinary problems right now.
"Stalling Daniel," he murmured.
He looked down at his hands. They were trembling. Now he wished he had taken Sam up on her offer to come with him. She was the only person he had told about his little trip out tonight. The only one he could trust to respect his wishes and let him have a shot at this. Let him get back on an even keel with the rest of the world.
Most of all, he had wanted to tell Jack, wanted to let him know he was ready to try this and for him to be proud of his achievement. He knew however, that Jack's need to protect him would have stood in the way and in all honesty, if Jack had tried to talk him out of it he might not have had the strength to continue.
A sudden squealing of tires alerted him to the fact that the young couple had driven off. Daniel spied a can they had missed rolling away down the slight incline of the parking lot. It picked up speed and then was suddenly halted in it's tracks by the enormous oversized tires of an RUV squashing it flat and sending soda squirting all over the car and the ground.
"Still stalling Daniel," he murmured again, as a flush started to creep up his neck and cheeks.
He rolled the window down and stuck his head out, gulping down as much air as he could into his straining lungs. There was a gentle breeze wafting about and he could hear the discordant sounds of other voices as they clashed and banged together in the night air. They drifted into the small space inside his car and he couldn't stop himself from separating the conversations, exercising his mind and freeing it for one moment from the worry of what was to come.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the list of groceries he needed to pick up. Considering how important this trip was to him he wanted to make sure he didn't forget anything. He'd written the items down in aisle order so he could be as efficient and as quick as possible. God, Jack would have a field day with that one he thought. It was a methodical, reasoned approach and with the amount of planning he had undertaken you could have been forgiven for thinking it was a military operation.
Brushing the persistent fear aside, he opened the door and stepped outside. He stood by his car for a moment, his arms wrapped about himself, not trusting his legs to hold him up. Tapping the pockets on his trousers, he felt the familiar shape of his wallet where it was nestling safe inside. He took a few more deep breaths but stopped when he started to feel light headed. Finally he blew that last breath out in a loud hiss and clutching his list, he strode purposefully into the store.
It didn't take him long to reach the interior of the well lit store and for the smallest moment he thought he might just sink to his knees and collapse. Crossing the lot had taken an incredible amount of willpower and he felt the light sheen of perspiration returning to his face. He ran his tongue over his top lip and swept the perspiration away as he worked to deliberately slow his breathing.
His sudden hurried entrance had drawn the attention of the night manager. He looked Daniel up and down, assessing him. When he realized Daniel wasn't a threat he went back to stacking the shelves behind the register.
"Hello," he said in a slow and disinterested drawl, his back turned firmly towards Daniel.
"Huh? Oh, ah, hi," he stammered.
Daniel did a quick sweep of the store his senses on high alert. The everyday sounds of the supermarket seemed magnified some how and each new sensation drilled into him making his head spin; the broken wheel of a shopping cart dragging on the linoleum; the laughter of a small child; the cash register drawer sliding shut. All the individual sounds fought to dominate his consciousness but he forced himself to focus and drown them out.
Summoning his courage he went over to the stack of brightly colored orange shopping baskets, picked one up and pushed through the turnstile and down the first aisle. With each step he took the task became easier and he patted himself on the back silently for having faith in himself, something he didn't often allow himself.
After he filled his basket with the things he needed, he went in search of the things he wanted. Tonight was definitely a spoil yourself kinda night. First thing dropped in the basket was his favorite coffee blend and he had every intention of firing up the coffee maker as soon as he got home. Next was some really expensive chocolate. This little treat wasn't just for him; he knew Sam was partial to really good chocolate and Teal'c was learning to appreciate it too. While he was in the mood for treating his teammates, he picked up a bottle of Jack Daniels for a certain silver haired Colonel.
When he was ready he took his basket to the register and waited as the manager started to ring up the goods. As Daniel watched the man work the jangling of his cell phone broke the silence of the store. Dragging it out of his shirt pocket he looked down at the caller id. 'Sam home' it flashed at him from the blue backlit display. He grinned as he put it back into his pocket.
"Aren't you gonna answer that?" the younger man asked him eyeing the cell phone as it flashed and beeped in his top pocket.
"No, don't need to," he replied, a soft smile playing on his face.
"Well, ah that'll be $43.55."
"Really? That's an awful lot isn't it?"
"Yeah, sorry but you know what with the chocolate and whiskey and all."
Daniel handed him his money and then put the change into his wallet. Picking up his bag, he headed back out to the lot. He was feeling so pleased with himself he forgot to brace himself before he strode out into the night. It was a superfluous action now anyway, he felt like he could take on the world. When he reached his car he propped the bag of groceries up on the hood while he fished out his car keys. As he fumbled with the lock two teenagers walked past his car close enough for him to briefly hear their conversation.
"Why did you pick that college, it's so far away? Admit it, you just want to get away from me don't you?"
"No it's not that really, I just need to be on my own for a bit you know? Give myself a chance to grow up. Sherry, .....ah come on Sherry really...."
Jack sat back behind the wheel of his truck and took a quick swig from the beer bottle he had resting in his lap. He had seen the teenagers begin their walk through the lot and as they passed by Daniel's car he saw Daniel smile to himself. Jack figured he could probably hear what they were saying and wondered what the joke was about.
Jack looked down at his watch. Daniel's little shopping expedition had taken an hour and fifteen minutes so far, but it didn't really matter how long it took. What mattered was the doing and Jack knew that only too well. He sat staring at Daniel through his windscreen, his conscience screaming at him for being here at all. However, his participation had been a fait accompli from the moment Sam had told him about Daniel's plans. He knew he would follow Daniel, knew he had no choice in the matter; no other course of action was possible. Now as he sat watching Daniel, his pride in him grew.
A new car came into the parking lot, its headlights bouncing of the slick wet surface of the tarmac. As Daniel looked back at it, Jack shimmied down in his seat, worried that Daniel might actually be able to see this far down the lot; he had his glasses on after all. The car drove by and Daniel quickly lost interest in it as he opened the door to his own car and climbed in. Jack saw him reach back and pull the seatbelt around himself but he was too far away to notice the cheeky grin that spread across Daniel's face when he caught sight of the Jack Daniels poking out of the top of his bag of groceries.
Daniel slipped his hand back inside his shirt pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Using one of the preset speed dial keys he sat and waited for the call to be answered.
As Jack sat wondering what was taking Daniel so long, his reverie was broken by the humming of his cell phone. It sat next to him on the car seat and as he picked it up he could read the display. 'Daniel cell' it flashed at him.
"Hey," he said as Daniel's familiar voice traveled down the line to him.
"Hey. Guess where I am? You'll never guess so I'll tell you. I'm in a parking lot. I went shopping on my own tonight and I did it no problems." He was practically beaming; he was so thrilled by his own accomplishment.
"Where are you?"
"Oh, um I'm doing a little shopping myself." Jack felt the lie roll of his tongue with ease.
"Oh, are you far from home? I thought I might come over after I put the groceries away."
"Give me fifteen minutes to get home, then you can come over whenever you're ready. I'll call the others over, I'll even cook."
"What as in, 'what are you going to cook?' It better be real food Jack, not frozen out of a box or delivered in a box. No boxes, otherwise I'll do the cooking."
Jack smiled, Daniel hadn't been this assertive since his troubles started and it was good to have him back on form. "It'll be real food Daniel. Something special in honor of the occasion, how's that sound?"
"Oh, OK. What about dessert?"
"Oh I think I'll leave that to you. Bring something with you."
"So you're inviting me to your house but I have to bring my own dessert. What's next, will I have to clear the table as well?"
"Daniel, so help me, just get your butt over to my house and that's an order."
"For everything. Standing by me, just being there. Thanks, that's all."
"You're welcome. And Daniel, just for the record, have I said well done? Now hurry up, I'm not getting any younger you know."
Jack hung up before Daniel could protest and he sat back and watched as the headlights on Daniel's car sprang to life. He eased the car out of his parking spot and made his way towards the entrance. As he got closer to Jack's location, Jack hunkered down in his seat and hid from view.
As Daniel drove by Jack mused on the courage the younger man had shown. Not just on this evening, but in everything that he did. As far as Daniel was concerned, his actions always spoke louder then his words although Jack often prayed he would do a little less talking, especially when he was challenging his orders on some off world back water.
As he started the engine of his truck he reflected on the commitment his team had shown to each other. It never failed to amaze him that his small group of unique, strong willed individuals could care so much for each other.
Courage and commitment. If they had to chose a team motto that would be his motto of choice. Maybe he'd run it by them tomorrow.