Home At Last
By: Joana Dey

South America, January, 2004

            He could feel the heavy leaves and branches slapping him as he ran through the hot jungle, the sound of his breathing loud in his ears, painful in his chest. Run for your life, archaeologist…

            There were exposed roots and bushes and vines everywhere, tripping him, slowing him down, confusing him; for all he knew he was going in a mindless circle to nowhere.     

            Were those his feet slamming into the ground or his pursuers?  Pounding in time to his heart, which was going to burst through his chest if he didn't…stop…and rest.  Bill was safe, hidden.

            Can't rest have to keep going, lead them away from Bill.  A particularly sharp frond slapped across his face, and he stumbled, pushing it away, barely feeling the cuts it left behind on his face, his hand.

            The humidity was brutal, making it harder to breath, slowing him down even more. His boot caught on something and sent him tumbling to the dirt.  Moving, he kept moving, rolling over more spiky fronds and rocks and sharp, thick blades of jungle grass until he finally straightened out and struggled up.  Running again, directionless, lost.    

            Stay hidden, Bill, stay quiet. They won't find you then.  Breathe, gotta breathe, oh God. He could hear his pursuers clearly now. They were closing the gap, getting closer and closer.  He simply couldn't run any faster; the sweat was dripping down his forehead into his eyes impeding his vision.  Running until he came to a clearing and tripped again, his face and hands scraping against rough bark.  

            A tree, tree, what… tree? Falling. Shit, bullets, they're shooting at me, shooting at me, sie sind tötung ich.  Jesus…English, Jackson, English…

            His trembling fingers wiped the sweat from his eyes, exposing Rafael a few feet away, mouth twisted in a sickening leer as he pulled a large, wicked looking machete from his belt.  The other guerillas crowded around, their expressions overcome by bloodlust, their eagerness to watch him scream in agony apparent.      

            The noise of the jungle was gone, no birds, no bugs, nothing but the white noise inside him, a rushing waterfall in his head.  Out of that silence came Rafael’s voice, at once exultant and menacing.

            “I'm going to skin you alive.”

            Suddenly he could hear himself gasping for breath, the rustling of the branches and bushes around him, the jungle was back, and he was going to die.

            D…Dead, I'm dead, I'm dead. Rocha. What… a rock. Ha. Rock against… I'm dead.  Shooting, who's shooting now? Not my rock… not me, what…?

            Jack? Jack. What?  How…Jack?

            “How many more are there?” Jack was right there, dirty and sweaty, crouching down beside him, tense and on edge. “Daniel?”

            Jack. It is. Jack.  Rock… why… I'm not dead. Don't need the rock.

            He gazed at Jack, rather expecting the man to disappear, before peering around the clearing. That's it… they're all dead. Oh.

            “That's it. Got 'em all.” Daniel gazed blearily at a stone-faced Jack still not quite believing he was here. “What are you doing here?

            “Rescuing you.  I thought.”  Jack’s eyes never stopped moving, searching the area, watching in case—just in case—there might be more.

            Vloek.  Daniel heaved a sigh, grunting as pain lanced through his side.

            “Huh?”

            “What?” Daniel reached out a shaky hand, fingers clenching hold of Jack's T-shirt. “Jack?”

            “Yeah, I'm real. I'd ask if you were okay, but it's pretty damn obvious you aren't.  What the fuck did they do to you?”  Jack picked at what was left of Daniel’s once white t-shirt, now filthy and full of holes.

            “… usual.  Little bit…this…bit…that.  Y'know, the usual.”  His eyes closed. He couldn't get his breath to even out. “… get out of here? Oh. Um…Bill.”

            “Huh? Bill, what?”

            “Bill, Dr. Lee.  Made him…hide, kept them away, safe, he….” Daniel's voice tapered off into silence. He listened to the birds in the trees around him, briefly wondered what kind they were.

            “Daniel.  Daniel!”

            He shuddered, head hitting the tree, eyes jerking open. “Você é matança mim... Huh? Jack?  What….where did you… Jack?”

            O'Neill's brow furrowed.  “Yeah.  I’m Jack, and I'm rescuing you, Dr. Jackson.” 

            “Oh.” 

            “Ready?  We need to find where you stashed Dr. Lee.”

            “Bill?  ….right, he's here... hid him.” He twisted around to look behind Jack.  “Somewhere.”

            “Up, Daniel.” Putting one arm around Daniel's waist, Jack reached down and pulled a very dirty arm over his own shoulders and heaved.  “Let's go.”

            “Ow, god, oh, ouch.” Daniel looked up at Jack in amazement as his right leg slowly crumpled under him, pain shooting from his thigh up and down his leg.  Carefully Jack lowered him the rest of the way to the ground.

            “Something you forgot to tell me, Daniel?”  Jack's eyebrow did an imitation of Teal'c's.

            “No…I… no….what's wrong? I can't… Jesus…I'm tired.”

            “Let me look. Can you bend your knee?  Daniel.  Bend your knee, “ Jack grunted as he sank awkwardly onto the damp, spongy ground.

            “Sorry, um, sorry.” He couldn't help the groan that escaped as he bent the knee up, exposing the back of his thigh with its bloody hole. “Okay?”

            “Yeah.” Taking out his knife, Jack ripped a slightly bigger hole in Daniel's torn jeans. “You got shot, Daniel.”  When a pained grunt was his only answer, he glanced up at Daniel's sweating, contorted face. Eyes closed again. “Daniel.”

            “Hmm.”

            “Don't go to sleep.”

            “Hmmm.”

            Daniel.”  Jack ripped off a piece of his T-shirt, folded it and pressed it against the wound.

            “OW! Jesus, Jack.  Warn a guy!”

            “Stay awake.”  He quickly wrapped his bandana around Daniel's thigh and tied it off.

            “'m awake.  Never gonna…sleep again….Jack?”

            “I'm right here, big guy. You able to walk on this?”  Jack started to raise Daniel up. 

            “Yeah.”

            Before they could stand, gunshots rang out, startling them both.  Standing in the clearing, wild-eyed, hair blowing in the wind was a creature straight from Night of the Living Dead, armed with an AK7. 

            “Telchak's device re-animates the dead just as .…”

            Jack barely registered Daniel's words. “Yeah, whatever.”  He quickly yanked Daniel up and swung around him behind the tree, before whipping out his gun, turning and aiming in one motion, shooting back at the zombie. Other than jerking with the force of the bullets, the nightmare kept coming. “What the hell?”

            “Hey, get down.”  Almost magically, Burke appeared over to their right.

            Cursing—he hadn't even heard Burke approaching—Jack turned and threw his body over Daniel, shielding him, as Burke aimed a grenade launcher and literally blew the man into oblivion. 

            “What's with the guy from the evil dead?”  Burke's jaw worked as he chewed on his gum.

            Jack was helping Daniel up from behind the tree, and they both paused, looking anywhere but at Burke.

            “Um...” There was no answer to the question that Jack could give him.

            Burke rolled his eyes. “Classified?”

            Jack nodded. “Yeah.”

            Burke just shook his head and chewed faster.  “You guys are into some crazy crap, man.”

            Daniel lifted a finger. “Shit. Actually, it's shit. Harah, goh Khordi, poop—”

            “Daniel…”

            “Sorry.”

            “Whatever, I guess. So, wasn't there another guy?”  Burke looked around.

            “Dead…all dead.” Daniel twisted a little to look Jack in the eye. “Shot 'em… shot 'em…bang, in the back.”

            “You'd rather they'd skinned you?” Jack asked dryly.

            “No.  That wasn't… I didn't mean…” Suddenly he slumped against Jack, the adrenaline finally deserting him. “Jack.”  

            Jack's arm tightened around Daniel's waist, his thumb gently rubbing.  “I know,” he said softly. They moved forward together. “Let's go find Dr. Lee's hidey-hole and get you both home.”

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            By the time they'd stumbled back to the deserted camp, Daniel was barely able to hobble. Behind them, Dr. Lee was babbling rather incoherently at Burke as he filled him in on what he and Dr. Jackson had gone through.

            Suddenly Daniel zoned in on what his colleague was saying.  “Jack.  Jack. We have to turn off the….” He rolled his eyes towards one of the huts.

            “The…Oh, that.  Can you…?”

            Daniel nodded tiredly.  “Yeah, but…”

            Burke was poking around and opening the boxes that were stacked in the middle of the camp.  At the sudden silence behind him he glanced up.  “What?”

            “Nothing,” Jack hollered back.  “We’re going to look for a place to crash. Which hut?” he added in a lower tone.

            “That one.” Daniel nodded to the right. 

            “Okay.  Lee, I need you to keep Burke away from us while Daniel’s doing his thing.  Think you can do that?”

            “Yes, sir.”  Lee turned and stumbled over to Burke, as the other two headed for the hut.

            Inside the place smelled of sweat, urine and burnt wires.  Jack glanced around the room, his jaw clenching as he saw the battery and wires next to the chair.  It was obvious to him what had happened in here.

            “Daniel—“

            “Not now, Jack. I need to get over to that table there.  It’s still on.”  Jack led him over and carefully Daniel reached down and slid his fingers over the sides.  He pressed gently on two sides and the lights powered off.

            “Okay. Let’s cover it up for now. And then get you fixed up,” Jack said.  Between the two of them they pulled a dirty cloth over it, and piled a few pieces of junk around it.        

            “Did you find him a nice, soft bed?” Burke stuck his head through the glass-less window just as Dr. Lee burst through the doorway.

            “Colonel…oh.” Lee moved further into the hut as Burke disappeared and then re-appeared behind him, pushing him out of the way.   

            “Not exactly the Ritz, but it does have a cot, two cots. Room Service?” Burked joked.

            Jack ignored both men and got Daniel settled, with much groaning and grunting, face down on one of the less dirty cots, and then turned to Burke.

            “Can you find me some water, get a fire going, boil the water?  I need to get this wound cleaned up and—”

            “—stink…” Daniel mumbled, trying to get his nose out of the filthy linen he was lying on.

            “You or me?” Jack asked, a smile in his voice if not on his face. “Get some of the stink off him.”

            “What about him?” Burke jerked his head at Dr. Lee

            “You can help him after you get the fire started and the water boiled.”  Jack turned his back on them both, eyes narrowing at the bruises, cuts and scrapes covering the back of both of Daniel's arms and the side of his face that was turned towards him. “See if you can get hold of someone, find out how soon they can come get us; I don't want to do this if I don't need to.”

            Burke strode out of the hut. After a moment, Lee followed him, leaving the two men alone. Jack could hear Lee's chatter starting up again, showing Burke around what he knew of the camp.  Tuning out the noise, Jack knelt on the filthy floor and leaned his forehead carefully against Daniel's bristly chin. He could feel the energy he'd been operating on since first entering the clearing and seeing Daniel about to be skinned alive slowly drain away. “Daniel. Fuck. Daniel.” It was almost a groan.

            Daniel started to chuckle, then stopped, gasping.  A corner of his lips turned up slightly instead. “Not… tonight, dear…I have a…headache.”  He patted Jack rather sloppily on the head.

            Something that started out suspiciously like a sob from Jack turned into a short burst of laughter.  “I'm not surprised.”

            They waited quietly for Burke to come back with the water, relishing the fact that both were alive and breathing.  When the door creaked open to admit him, both men jerked, Jack straightening up, eyes squinting against the sunlight streaming in through the open doorway.

            “Here you go, Doctor Jack.  We're stuck here for two more days; it's going to take that long for them to get us a 'bird'.”  Burke set a bucket of hot water next to Jack and handed him some relatively clean pieces of someone's ripped t-shirt, before heading back outside. “Have at him,” he tossed over his shoulder.

            Lee met him at the door; a short two-step followed before Burke finally shoved past the tired man.

            “Colonel O'Neill?”

            “Yeah?”

            “I found this in a box in the other hut.  Maybe there's something in here you can use on Daniel's leg.”  He held out a small metal box, glancing from the big red X on the top to Jack's suddenly brightening expression.

            “A medical field kit.  Good job, Doctor.” 

            “Daniel—”

            “Not now, Lee,” Jack said brusquely.

            Lee put the kit in Jack's waiting hand, glanced at Daniel's leg, and with a grimace, left the hut. 

            Jack eagerly dug through the box.  Morphine Sulphate. Thank God. In pre-packaged injectors. And all the lovely silver pointy things he was going to need. And Betadyne prep pads. Somebody somewhere loved him.

            “Right,” Jack mumbled.  He leaned over and peered at the back of Daniel's leg. “You know the damn bullet's still in here, don't you?”

            “Jack, I didn't even know I'd been shot in the first place,” came the weary reply.  Two blood-shot eyes gazed up at him.

            “In that case, you don't need to know I'm gonna have to dig it out of your leg, probably your bone.”  Jack opened one of the alcohol wipes and cleaned his hands as best he could.

            “So it won't hurt then, huh?” Daniel picked at the loose weave in the blanket hanging out from underneath him.

            “You know that Happy Place of yours?  Go there.  Now.”  Jack took a pair of shears and cut through Daniel's pants, carefully pulling the material away from the wound. “I'm going to give you half a dose of morphine; can't give you the whole thing, you're too dehydrated.”

            He waited a few moments for the shot to 'take,' then dipped a cloth in the cooling boiled water and wiped the area around the wound, removing as much of the dirt and debris as possible. A sharp hiss from below made Jack pause. “Daniel?”

            “Fine.”

            Jack grunted in disbelief at the answer, then broke open one of the packs of Betadyne pads.  Starting at the center of the wound—and steeling himself against Daniel's pained grunts and gasps—he swiped the pad in an outward circular motion, careful not to go back over a spot he'd already done.  Opening another pack he repeated the process.

            Glancing over at Daniel's face, he noted the eyes scrunched closed, clenched jaw and the sweat forming over his skin.  “I've gotta poke around in there, so… well, don't move.”

            “Uh-huh.”  It was more of a gurgling grunt than an actual answer.

            Taking the long probe from the kit, Jack started 'poking.' If they were lucky, it would be close to the bone and not stuck in it.  The bone wasn't broken, so…  God, he hated this, knew exactly how it felt and what Daniel was going through. A different form of torture, really.

            'Click.' There it was.  Transferring the probe to his left hand, he took the fancy pliers; it was just sitting next to the bone, lodged in the muscle.   It was right there, and if he could just get a grip on the damn thing…. “Don't tear the muscle any more,” he muttered. “Move, damnit.”

            “Oh, GOD.  JACK. Jesus.

            Yeah.  It's stuck, like a sucker fish, doesn't want to….let….GO! Jesus, sorry, Daniel, fuck, sorry.”

            The god-awful groan seemed to originate in Daniel's toes, gaining steam before it burst from his throat.

            “I know, I know. Christ. Don't move, Daniel, I've almost got it… Almost… There.”  He wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his arm and glanced up at Daniel's face. “Christ, Daniel. Sorry. God, sorry.”

            “Oh, god. Jesus. Shit. FUCK.  That… Be tokhmam, sie sind tötung ich, ahlass, ahlass,” then, “marshmallow, “ Daniel whispered between clenched teeth. “The great Jack O'Neill… nothing but a softie inside…”

            “Just don't pass it around, ruin my rep.” He watched the blood flow out from the wound, letting it clean away anything the bullet might have left behind.  After a while he ripped open a package of sterile pads and pressed them against Daniel's leg.

            “Lee broke, didn't he?”  Jack asked, laying a fresh, thick square of fabric on top of the sterile pad, wrapping some gauze around the leg before adding the bandanna and tying it tight to hold everything in place.  He gently wiped the grime off the back of Daniel's arms, his hands and the back of neck. “If you can turn over I'll wash your little face for you, Danny.”

            Slowly, painfully, Daniel turned onto his back, biting back a groan. 

            “How did you know about Bill?” Daniel asked eventually.  He focused on the sensation of being washed. The warm water actually felt good on his cuts and scrapes, and it was pure heaven getting some of the dirt off his body.

            “Good guess. The device was on, which means they must have found out it did something. He either told them how to do it, or they got ‘lucky’.”

            “Actually, they got lucky.”  The slowness of Daniel's thoughts showed Jack just how much pain he was in. “Um, could have been me that told them.”

            “No. You wouldn't,” Jack said firmly.  That was one thing Jack had never, ever worried about: Daniel giving up the SGC. 

            “I… guess we'll never know. Tired. Okay to sleep now?”

            Jack rinsed out the cleaning rag.  It was quiet, only the sounds of the jungle animals and the warm wind rustling the leaves in the trees to disturb them.  

            “Yes, Daniel,” Jack said softly, gently cleaning the dirty face as Daniel's eyelids slowly closed, “you can sleep now.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            Slowly the familiar sounds of the infirmary penetrated the fog that lived inside Daniel's brain. He opened his eyes, his gaze going immediately to the chair at his bedside.  Yep, there was Jack, eyes closed, snoring softly, head tilted at what was going to be a very uncomfortable angle when he woke up.  Janet, not very jokingly, referred to this bed as Daniel's and that chair as Colonel O'Neill's due to the amount of time each spent there.

            Of course, over the years they had occasionally traded places, although since his tumble from the heavens, as Jack called it, Daniel couldn't really come up with a time when he'd actually done any chair sitting himself.  When Jack had injured his shoulder off world, he'd been up and around by the time Daniel had come back from brokering the mining agreement with Cha'ka and Ironshirt.

            Daniel came out of his rambling thoughts to find tired brown eyes watching him. “Hey.”

            “Backatcha.” Jack smiled. “How're you feeling? And don’t even think about saying you’re—”

            “Fine.”

            “—fine.  Because—”

            “I'm not.”

            “—you're not. Exactly. Let's try that again.  How're you feeling?” Jack asked. 

            Daniel blinked up at him. “Fi—” he stopped as Jack's eyes narrowed. “I feel stiff and sore and like I've been beaten within an inch of my life, okay?  But I'll be fine.”

            “Truth is everything,” Jack commented loftily.

            “Pot, meet kettle,” Daniel shot back.  He sighed and closed his eyes.  “Any news from Sam and Teal'c?”

            “Not yet.”

            “They'll be fine.  They've got Bra'tac and Jacob with them, right?  It'll be fine,” Daniel repeated, trying to assure both himself and Jack.

            “Right. Fine. Be home any day now with Carter lugging along some fancy doo-dad she just couldn't leave behind, right?” 

            “Right.”  Daniel sighed and let his eyes close.

            The infirmary was relatively empty, the only sounds the beeping and buzzing of the various monitors hooked up to Daniel and an injured Sgt. Siler.  Jack stayed silent for a while, content to simply watch Daniel breathe.  He'd seen the extent of Daniel's injuries for himself as he’d cleaned the younger man in the jungle and later had it confirmed in a conversation with Janet:  For all his 'joking' about it, Daniel had been beaten and tortured.  Jack could pretty much tell what had gone on, simply from his own experiences in Iraq and…    

            “I don't want to talk about it, Jack.”

            “Jesus, Daniel, I didn't say a word!”

            “Didn't have to, your face was speaking volumes.”

            “You were sleeping!”

            “You were thinking so loudly you woke me up!”

            “I—”

            “Gentlemen! And I use the term loosely,” Janet walked over to the bed. “Are you disturbing my patient, Colonel O'Neill?”

            “No.”

            “No.”

            “Keep it down for Siler's sake, then, okay?”  Janet looked from one abashed expression to the other.  “Exactly. Contrary to what you both might believe you're not the center of everyone's universe.”

            “Sorry, Janet,” Daniel said around a huge yawn.

            “Go back to sleep, Daniel, I want to exchange a few words with the good Doctor here,” Jack said, making shooing motions towards Janet.

            “Like when can I go home?”

            “Yeah, exactly that.”  He followed Dr. Fraiser into her office, shutting the door behind him. “When are you going to cut him loose, Doc?”

            “You know what procedure says, Colonel,” she replied, looking him square in the eye. “After something like this—”

            “Torture.  He was tortured both physically and mentally.  Call it the way it is.” Jack's jaw clenched.

            “After being tortured the way he was, he has to have the Psych Eval.  You know that.”

            “You sedated him last night, didn't you?”  Jack asked.

            “I can't discuss—”

            “I'm his CO, hell, I'm listed as his next-of-kin, so yes, you can discuss his treatment at this level with me.”

            “He needs to sleep to heal, Colonel,” Janet ground out. “If he has nightmares he can't sleep.”

            “Nightmares are part of the healing.  Trust me on this Doc. He needs to have those nightmares in order to get it out of his system.  He also needs to get home and pretend to get back to normal as soon as possible, so he can feel safe talking about what happened.”

            “Colonel—”

            “Janet, I know how badly he was beaten up and tortured.  I saw him, remember?  I heard his nightmares the first couple days before we were picked up.  You also forget, I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt—”

            “I know, Colonel, it's just…”

            “Trust me on this, Janet.”

            “Okay. I'll stop sedating him, but he's staying here.  You're not springing him until I'm good and satisfied he's going to be okay—” Janet's voice broke and she took a deep breath before continuing. “We've barely got him back. It's been … six months? We already sent him away to Anubis' mother ship, he's had his mind invaded by a dozen other souls and now this.  We haven't even given him time to adjust to being alive again….”

            “Yes, he has. He's meditated with Teal'c, gossiped with Carter, and been over to my place for beer and pizza—”

            Dr. Fraiser smiled, her lips still a little wobbly.  “Ah, yes, Colonel O'Neill's cure-all: beer, pizza and hockey. So he feels comfortable, like he's back home?” 

            “Of course.”

            “Have you told him you're glad he's back?”

            “Of…I… he knows, I don't have to say it.”  Jack looked uncomfortable.

            “No?”

            “No. We're guys, Doc, guys don't have to…talk.”

            “Sometimes you do, Colonel,” she said gently. “Think about it.” With those parting words, Janet opened her office door and waited for Jack to take the hint.   

            Jack glanced across the infirmary to where Daniel was snuffling softly in his sleep before slowly walking over to settle back into his chair.  He gazed down at his sleeping friend, eyes wandering over the various cuts, scrapes and bruises covering him.  He hadn't told Daniel he was glad to have him back, but Daniel already knew that he was.  Didn't he?  Of course he did.  He had to. Why wouldn't he?

            Daniel was a smart guy, a genius for crying out loud.   He'd lost people of his own. He knew what it was like to watch loved ones die, suffer, knew what it was to have your heart ripped out of your chest, that helpless feeling you got as you watched someone suffer and die and not be able to do anything about it.  What it was like to be the one left behind, picking up the pieces… 

            His thoughts traveled back in time to the first time Daniel had died.  Been killed, actually, killed saving his, Jack-I-want-to-die-O'Neill's, worthless hide.  With his first sneeze on that initial trip through the Stargate, Daniel had unknowingly begun to worm his way under Jack's protective barriers.  The geeky young archaeologist had sent Jack back home through the wormhole with a smile and a new lease on life for both of them, Daniel with Shau're and Jack with a will to live.

            Daniel died saving his, Jack O’Neill’s, life.  It wouldn't be very…nice…of Jack to turn around and negate that by blowing his own brains out after all. 

            A quiet mumbling from the man in the bed brought Jack back to the present, and he leaned in closer, trying to make sense out of the words.  The fingers on Daniel's right hand were grabbing at the blanket, alternately kneading it and trying to push it away.  Jack took hold of the tense hand, his thumb rubbing gently across the skin.

            “Shhh.  It’s okay, Daniel, you're safe,” Jack said softy.  The lines creasing Daniel's forehead gradually smoothed out and his mumbling stopped with a sigh.  Jack moved his chair a little closer, making it easier to keep hold of the fingers clutching his.

            Suddenly Daniel gasped loudly and tried to sit up.  He stared at Jack, eyes wide and terrified as he tried to exhale and couldn’t.   Jack pulled him into a sitting position—

            “FRAISER!”

            The machines around the bed started ringing.  Jack hadn’t felt such helplessness in a long time as he watched Daniel’s face turning red; the clatter of heels on the hard floor announced the arrival of Janet and several nurses. 

            She took one look and began issuing orders. “Get behind him sir, and wrap your arms around him, under his ribs and jerk him back against you. Sharply, sir, NOW. Thomas, get me an oxygen mask.  Do it again, sir.”

            Jack did as he was told and finally Daniel let out a huge breath of air and sucked another one in.

            “Calm down, Daniel,” Janet instructed.  She settled the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. “Breathe in …gently, gently … and out.  In… and out. Keep him sitting up, sir, in….and out, you’re doing fine, Daniel.”  

            “Doc—”

            “Not right now, Colonel.”

            “It’s gonna be okay, Daniel,” Jack encouraged.  He realized he’d unconsciously timed his breathing to match Daniel’s and that the younger man was still shaking like a leaf. He held on tighter, letting Janet’s calm, steady voice soothe them both.

            As Daniel settled down, Jack gradually tuned out Janet’s voice.  Unconsciously rubbing his thumbs over the back of Daniel neck he realized they spent way too much time in the infirmary. His mind continued to wander as the sounds around him disappeared and not surprisingly he ended up back on Daniel and death.

            When had Daniel died again?  The time on Apophis' ship?  No, Nem's planet. Shit, he couldn't believe he didn't remember which came first. Both had been…horrible, and really, did it matter? Dead was dead, regardless of when.  He'd had to leave Daniel behind in both instances, and even though the one on Nem's planet had simply been a fabrication implanted into their minds, it had felt real.

            With each death, Jack had felt his defenses wither away, only to be re-built more strongly. And with each resurrection, Daniel had chipped away at the barricade worming his way right back into its accustomed spot in Jack's soul.  Not on purpose, not with malice aforethought, but simply by being the person he was inherently Daniel once again became irreplaceable in Jack's life.

            “…Sir!”

            Jack came back to the present with a jerk to find both Daniel and Fraiser watching him oddly.  Daniel’s skin tone was back to its earlier bruised paleness, and he was bouncing gently against Jack’s hands, wanting to lie back down.

            “Sorry, Daniel.”  Jack helped him get settled and pulled the blanket up around his chin.  “Doc?  What just happened?”

            “Well, I’d say Daniel had a bad dream and woke up in the middle of it, panicked and ended up with a cramp in his diaphragm which caused his breathing to get 'stuck.'.  Does that sound right, Daniel?”

            Daniel just nodded.

            “Will it happen again?” Jack asked.

            “Possibly, but probably not.  He's going to be sore for a while though.  Of course, I can sedate him—“

            “No!” The denials came quickly one on top of the other.

            “Okay, but if this happens again…” Janet let the threat dangle.

            “It won’t,” Daniel whispered.

            “I’ll be right here,” Jack said. “I’ll watch for it.  We’ll be fine,” he assured the skeptical Doctor.

            Janet nodded and shooed her hovering nurses back to their stations, drawing the privacy curtain behind as she left.

            “Okay now?”

            Daniel gave a slight nod.  “That was… not fun. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.”

            “I wasn’t going to ask again.  Close your eyes and try to get some real sleep.” Jack settled back in his chair, and took hold of Daniel’s hand again.  Daniel simply smiled and closed his eyes.   His breathing soon evened out as he slipped deeper into sleep.

            Jack closed his eyes.  Almost unconsciously his thumb began to tenderly rub the back of Daniel’s hand. He shifted in the chair trying to get a little more comfortable.  It was quiet in the room now with both Siler and Daniel asleep and the nurses occupied elsewhere.  He listened to the hypnotic sound of the softly clicking machine beside the bed and thought back to a time when he wouldn’t have wanted to be with this particular teammate.  

            When exactly had he begun pushing Daniel away, to begin rebuilding his walls, this time with Daniel on the outside? What was that proverbial straw that broke this particular camel’s back? 

            Oh yeah, the disaster with the Enkarans.  The instant Daniel forced Jack to push the button that should have blown up the Gadmeer ship, and incidentally, Daniel along with it.  Even though Daniel had lived, had turned out to be in the right all along—something that had taken Jack a long time to admit to himself—it was still too much for him to accept.

            A few mutterings from the bed, accompanied by Daniel's slow attempt to turn onto his side and curl up—all the while still clutching Jack's hand, brought Jack out of his memories.  He stood, and with a little fancy footwork, rearranged Daniel comfortably while not letting go.

            Janet came back, checked the monitors, and looked down at Daniel. His eyes were moving rapidly back and forth under his eyelids.  Jack sat back down in his chair.

            “He’s okay, Doc.”

            Janet shook her head. “Not yet, but he will be,” she said softly. She leaned over and gently laid the back of her hand on his forehead. “He will be. Every time I see him in here, sir, I think of…there was nothing I could do, and he was in such pain, I…” Her voice trailed off and she looked at Jack, tears in her eyes. “It’s a doctor’s worst nightmare—” Her mouth snapped shut with an audible click, and she turned abruptly and left the enclosure.

            He knew the time she was referring to. 

            Kelowna. 

            Simply thinking about it made his stomach heave threateningly.  He'd never felt so helpless in his life.  With Charlie…. With Charlie it was over and done in mere minutes. Watching Daniel… melt to death was, it was… It was exactly what he needed to rebuild his walls and ensure that nobody ever got beyond them again.

            And for a year he'd succeeded. He hadn't let anybody inside, and never discussed Daniel with anyone, his feelings about the ascended archaeologist nobody's business but his own.  It had actually helped that Daniel had returned with no memory of his past, nothing to remind either of them of their old friendship, of ancient hurts. As Daniel had regained his memory, he'd begun to act more like the Daniel of old, and cracks had once again begun to appear in Jack's wall of defense.

            It had taken everything Jack had to put on his Special Ops facade and leave his feelings for Daniel behind at the SGC when he left to meet up with Burke.  He was already in “unfeeling” mode as he bid good-bye to Carter, wished her luck on her mission and went off on his own.  There was no place for emotions on this trip.  

            Behind him he could hear Siler talking to one of the nurses.  He heard Daniel’s name mentioned, something about how good it was to have him back.  He tuned their voices out. Yes, it was good to have Daniel back. 

            Why had Fraiser picked now to bring up the Does Daniel Know You’re Glad He’s Back thing?   Daniel was brilliant; how could he not know they were all glad to have him home where he belonged.  How glad Jack was to have his best friend back. 

            Surely Daniel realized how…how… empty things had been down here the year he was sitting on his ‘glowy cloud.’  How dull and dreary each day was without him cluttering up the place, bouncing around with his theories and ideas and … Then again, those last couple of years before he ascended Daniel hadn't been very bouncy.  In fact, when Jack thought even more about it, he remembered himself shooting down every theory, every idea almost before it was voiced, even, every bit of enthusiasm it seemed….. Shut Up, Daniel, that clear enough for you?  It's never over with you, Daniel.  I don't like most of what you say…Maybe I've grown to admire you a little….

            Shit.  Maybe Daniel didn't know.  Maybe Janet was right and they did have to… talk.  What the hell was wrong with him that he couldn’t tell this man he’d missed him and was glad he was back?  What was so hard about that?

            “Penny for ‘em.”

            “What?” Jack looked over at a drowsy, but conscious Daniel.

            “You’re cogitating so hard I can see smoke coming out your ears,” Daniel teased. “What’s going on?”

            “Cogitating?”

            “Thinking.”

            “I know what it means, Daniel.”

            ”Then stop trying to change the subject.”

            “I wasn’t.”

            “You were.  Just tell me.”

            “While you were gone…” Jack began.

            Daniel was silent, watching him.

            “While you were gone…are you hungry?”

            “Jack.”

            “I missed you.”

            “Did you?”

            “Yes,” Jack admitted. “It was nice of you to come back.”

            “Excuse me?” Daniel’s eyebrows shot up.

            “I’m glad you’re back, okay?” Jack said in a rush.

            Daniel smiled. “I know.”

            Jack let go of his hand. “You know?  And you still made me say it?”

            “Maybe I needed to hear it, Jack,” Daniel said softly. “And yes.”

            “Yes?”

            “I’m hungry.” 

            Jack felt his mouth move.  He hadn’t grinned like this in years, not since… spacemonkey….

            Daniel smiled right back.

              

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            “Daniel, are you sure you want to crutch it all the way to the gate and then back to the commissary for lunch?  You can see Carter and Teal'c when they come out of the infirmary.”  Jack was trying to be as patient as possible with his impatient and immovable archaeologist.

            “That would be a 'no', Jack.”

            “All right.  Come on then.  Hammond said they'd be coming through the gate any hour now.”

            “Any hour? And we're going now?”

            “Yeah.  Gonna need all that time to get you to the gateroom. And then you can go to the commissary while they're in the infirmary.  You'll probably meet them at the door.”

            “Funny, Jack, ha ha.”

            “Yeah, I thought so, gimpy.”

            “Jack.”

            “Yes, Daniel—hello, General.”

            “Colonel. Dr. Jackson, how are you doing?” Hammond asked, the concern obvious in his voice.

            “I'm doing fine, sir, as long as I take it slowly.”

            “Hasn't fallen off his crutches yet, sir,” Jack pointed out helpfully.

            Hammond simply shook his head at the comment and turned to walk slowly along with them.  They'd just reached the door to the gateroom when the klaxons sounded and “off-world activation” announced the apparent arrival of Carter and crew.

            “It's Major Carter's IDC, sir,” Sgt. Harriman announced.

            “Open the Iris then, Sgt,” Hammond replied.

            The three men settled themselves at the bottom of the ramp just as Carter, Teal'c, Jacob and Bra'tac came through the wormhole.

            Jack bounced a little and grinned at the four of them. “So. Miss me?”

            Carter was the first to respond.  “Of course, Sir.”

            Jack's gaze wandered over the four of them, checking for injuries. “It couldn't have been that bad. You're all still alive.”

            “As are you and Daniel Jackson,” Teal'c's deep voice chimed in.  His expression lightened as he gazed at the injured archaeologist.

            “Daniel?” Carter queried.

            “I'm fine. We got the device from Telchak,” Daniel answered her unspoken questions.

            Jacob nodded in satisfaction. “Good. Hopefully we can engineer a weapon from it.”

            “You must,” Bra'tac pointed out solemnly, “or we will be left helpless to combat these new warriors.”

            “We have some bad news, sir,” Carter said to Hammond. “Anubis has an entire army of these super soldiers. There are thousands of them. The best we were able to do was delay his ability to manufacture more.”

            Hammond frowned. “We'll debrief fully in one hour. Welcome home.”  He gestured for Daniel to precede him out of the gateroom.

            Daniel turned carefully and hobbled towards the door.  Bra'tac and Jacob hurried to catch up with Hammond, and they detoured around Daniel and headed briskly up the corridor.

            “DanielJackson.”  Teal'c quickly overtook Daniel and settled back by his side.  “I am pleased to see you well.”

            “Thank you, Teal'c.  I'm rather pleased myself.”  Daniel swallowed. “It wasn't a … nice experience. They weren’t…no.”

            “No.  I would think not.  You were tortured.”

            “Yes.” It wasn’t a question, but Daniel answered it anyway.

            “Men who torture others deserve no clemency.  I trust they have been taken care of?”

            “Um, yeah.  Yes, Jack, definitely 'took care of them,'“ Daniel said. “He, ah, yes, they're all dead.”

            “Should you care to discuss this further—”

            “I don't think so, Teal'c, but thank you,” Daniel interrupted.  Teal'c simply nodded once and moved off towards the infirmary.  “I have an appointment with Dr. MacKenzie this afternoon to 'talk about it'. Uh, Teal'c?”  

            “Yes, DanielJackson?”

            “I might need…if I need to… would you allow me to meditate with you once my leg has healed?”

            “I would indeed.  In actuality, I would be honored to assist you in this manner,” Teal'c replied. 

            Daniel watched as Teal'c turned the corner before continuing on to the commissary. He thought back to Central America and the sight of Rafael eating the extremely juicy piece of fruit as Daniel sat tied to the chair, parched with thirst.  No, torture wasn't something you could simply stick in the back of your mind and forget about.  However, it was nothing when compared to your body rapidly melting away while you were still in it. 

            He really didn't want to discuss it with anyone, not this or his “death”, with Dr. MacKenzie being at the top of his Not With Anyone list.  He remembered the padded room, the sterile whiteness, the overpowering goons, and having no control over his thoughts or actions.  He remembered MacKenzie shooting drug after drug into his arm, so certain he knew exactly what was wrong.  Hah. 

            Jack was on that list, too. Even though Jack had experienced something similar, Daniel still didn't want to talk about it.  It was funny how the things he remembered had come back to him in spurts.  The very few memories he had of being ascended were the times he'd watched his teammates without them realizing it: the first mission after his 'death' as Jack sat quietly cleaning his gun; for just a moment Daniel was almost afraid of what Jack was going to do with it.  Sam fighting for her life, Jack and Teal'c gathered around her.  Teal'c and Bra'tac fighting for their lives, although he didn't recollect helping as Teal'c claimed.

            While Jack had told him about Baal and a little of what he went through, Daniel remembered nothing of that experience as it pertained to himself. He did recall a few times watching Jack, Sam and Teal'c, Janet and the general as they went on with their lives.  He didn't spend much time with Jonas; if he were honest with himself, even up in “GlowHeaven” (another Jack-ism) it was painful enough the one time he watched Jonas making himself so at home amongst Daniel's belongings.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            Dragging his eyes back from watching Daniel shuffle out of the gateroom, Jack turned to Carter. “Hey. So. Nice command.”

            Sam smiled wryly. “We did manage to make it out alive, sir.”

            “There's that. Lunch?”

            As they walked out into the corridor, Sam caught sight of Daniel just disappearing around the corner. His awkward gait reminded her. “I need to go to the infirmary first, sir.”

            “Daniel's on his way to the commissary. We can meet you and Teal'c there for a quick lunch before the debriefing.”

            “How is Daniel, sir?” she asked softly.

            “Leg's healing. He's coping.  He had a rough time down there.”

            “Yes, sir.  I'm glad you got him back for us.  I don't know how I could've stood it to lose him again, I…. I'll see you in the commissary, sir.”

            “Carter.”

            “Sir?”

            “Have you told Daniel that?”

            “Excuse me, sir?”

            Jack waited until several marines had passed by before continuing. “Have you told Daniel that you missed him and you're glad he's back?”

            “Several times, sir. Um, have you?”

            “He already does.” 

            “Sir?  You need to tell him.  Nobody just “knows” something.”

            “I meant, I did tell him. He already knew anyway.”  He sketched her a flimsy salute as they parted.

 

            ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

           Jack glanced around the room.  It wasn’t terribly crowded for lunchtime, which didn’t bode well for the food.  He spotted his limping linguist and headed off in his direction.

            Daniel was standing quietly in line, gazing off into the distance, his long fingers tapping absently against the empty plastic tray he was juggling with his crutches. 

            “Need a hand, Dr. Jackson?”

            “You start clapping and I'll hit you with this,” Daniel warned. 

            Behind the counter, the airman serving up the hot food laughed.  Jack gave him a dirty look and he quickly subsided, his face slowly turning red as he attempted to keep the laughter contained.

            “Jack!”  Daniel rolled his eyes and looked stern.

            “Daniel!  I'm hurt.  It was an honest question.” Jack tried to seem put upon and misunderstood, but Daniel simply laughed. 

            “Then, yes, thank you, Colonel O'Neill, I would like a hand,” Daniel shot Jack one of his rare smiles, receiving one in return.

            “Haven't seen that for a while,” Jack said quietly.

            “What?”

            “You smiling.  Want the meatloaf or the chicken?”

            “It's not meatloaf. Is it?  Chicken, I'll have the chicken,” Daniel said hurriedly as Jack waved the plastic tray menacingly around his head.  “I smile.”

            “Not much.”

            “I'll try to do it more, then.  Keep the boss happy.”

            “Got that right. It's in the small print on your contract, go read it.”

            “Smiling?  Or keeping the boss happy?” Daniel quirked an eyebrow up at him.

            “Both.”

            “Jack?”

            “Daniel?”
             “I'm missing a year of my memory, not my entire brain.”

            Jack simply snorted, before adding a plate of meatloaf and one of chicken to the tray. 

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Jack’s house, several weeks later

          “Welcome back, Dr. Jackson.” The young airman smiled as he slid between Daniel and the bookcase.

            “Yeah, good to see you back, sir,” said the cute little nurse who was holding tightly to the airman’s hand.

            “Uh, thanks…”

            The shin-dig had started several hours ago. Daniel swore half the SGC was crammed into Jack’s house; the noise level was…high.  At least everyone he’d talked to tonight was, if not exactly a close friend, at least familiar. Just a few months ago he would have been hard put to attach a name to each face let alone a history.

            Sam caught his eye across the living room and waggled her eyebrows at him.  He grinned back and crossed his eyes. He was glad Sam was back safely; he’d been worried about her while she was on the Prometheus ‘lost in space.’  He and Teal’c had planned the party, ordered the cake Jack demanded and issued invitations.

            Janet Fraiser, along with her teen-age daughter Cassandra, was helping to play hostess.  Both were currently wandering around the house offering trays with various munchies that disappeared almost faster than Teal’c could get the trays re-loaded.

            “Good to see you, Dr. Jackson.”  It was the Sergeant down in supply… Rogers…David.  Married, two kids.

            “Good to see you too, David.  How’s your family?”  The thought something might have happened to the family that he’d forgotten about caused him to tense a little, but he relaxed as Rogers immediately began regaling him with his youngest son’s latest hair-raising escapade.   

            Daniel had developed the ability to listen and think at the same time when he was still a child, so he nodded and smiled in all the right places then waved a hand in good-bye as Rogers finished up and headed off for home.  Daniel looked down at his half-empty—or should that be half-full—glass, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone else at the moment.       

            For some reason he was uncomfortable tonight. 

            Maybe he just needed a little space, some air, breathing room. A minute away from all the people who were using Sam’s welcome back party as an opportunity to welcome him back also. It was hard; he didn’t remember being away, not really.  He remembered dying, but…oh, he was NOT going to go there, not tonight.

            Daniel snuck out to the back porch, leaving behind a party that was finally beginning to wind down.  He breathed in deeply the cold, crisp night air.  A few snowflakes were beginning to fall, shining in the soft light spilling from the windows.  No two snowflakes were the same, just like each person was different.  Even the ones they’d met in Alternate Realities had just enough discrepancies to make them different.  He wasn’t the same person he was before he’d ascended. He knew that even without regaining his memories from that lost year.  How could he be the same? Somehow it had to have changed him, if nothing else he was spending more time with Teal’c in the gym than he had before.  His new muscles proved that. 

            He and Jack hung out just as much as they ever did, more so now than the last year before he…died.  So why was he feeling so out of sorts with himself tonight?  He should be thrilled with all these people telling him how glad they were to have him back in—

            The door opened behind him and quietly clicked shut.  A jacket settled over his shoulders and he shrugged his arms into it.

            “Thanks, Jack.”

            “How’d you know it was me?”

            “Who else?”  Daniel kept his eyes on the falling snow.

            “Carter, Fraiser, Siler, Davis, Hammond, Teal’c…”

            “I didn’t think anyone saw me go.”

            “There you go, thinking again.”  Both men were silent for while then Jack said: “When Charlie was little he used to try and catch snowflakes on his tongue. He’d get so upset when they’d melt before he could taste them. When he got a little bigger Sarah taught him to make snow angels.”

            “I made sand angels when I was little.” 

            “Bet you dug lots of holes looking for rocks—”

            “—artifacts—”

            “—when you were a kid, too.”

            “Yeah.  Actually found some nice pottery shards.  I kept them in a shoebox and it went on all our digs.  Took it to New York when we went.  I’d put some sand inside so I could have some…I really didn’t want to leave Egypt.  Turned out I had a good reason—”

            “So, how come you left the party?”   Jack changed the subject.

            “I wanted some fresh air?”

            “Daniel?”

            “I needed some space, I guess.”

            “From us?”

            “From…Jack, do you know….I didn’t…Damn.”

            “Well, that certainly made a lot of sense, Dr. Jackson.  Care to try again?”

            “Ja-ack.”

            “I’m here, Daniel.”

            “Yeah.  All the people here, this is Sam’s welcome back party, and they’re all telling me…they…Jack, I had no idea, I…”

            Jack moved closer to Daniel and grabbed his shoulders, gently forcing them face-to-face. “You had no idea, what?”

            “That,” Daniel’s eyes darted around, looking everywhere but at Jack, “that so many people missed me.”

            “And are glad to have you back?”

            “And are glad to have me back, yes.”

            “You know now, though, right?”

            “Oh, yeah.  I knew Sam and Janet and Cassie and Teal’c and the general, I mean, they told me, several times,” Daniel started to laugh then cut himself off. “I don’t remember that year, I couldn’t tell them I missed them, and at the time I couldn’t remember them from before, either, so I couldn’t even tell them I was glad to be back because I didn’t know, you know, and it felt…weird.”

            “Weird?  This from Dr. knows-how-many-languages? Weird?”

            “It happens to fit, Jack.”

            “Yeah, I guess it does.  It fits your whole life, you know.  How weird is it for someone to die over and over again?  Or to finally die, but not be dead, just be…not there.”

            “I’m sorry, Jack.”

            “You came back. That’s the important part.”  Jack placed his hands back on Daniel’s shoulders, gripping them tightly. “Remember the time you died on Apophis’ ship and we thought you were dead?”

            “Jack, I still get ‘Spacemonkey’ jokes on little post it notes on my office door.”

            “Yeah, well, it fit, you know? Thing is, you’re not that young kid anymore, but,” he pulled Daniel to him and wrapped him in a tight hug. “Damn it, Daniel, that year without you was sheer hell, and if you ever do something like that again, I’ll… be pissed as hell.  You got that?”

            “Yeah,” sounded gruffly from the vicinity of Jack’s left ear.  Daniel didn’t feel out of sorts anymore.  He felt like he’d finally come home.

           

 

THE END

 

 

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