Bearing Witness5: Coming Home
Response to the "Why is Daniel so tired?" pic challenge. Part of the Bearing Witness Universe.
Ever noticed that the drive home from somewhere seems to take longer than the drive to get there? By the time I pull the truck into my driveway, I feel like Cascade is a million miles from Colorado. Even though we'd stopped at the diner and stretched our legs on the way back, I still feel like I'd become glued to the driver's seat, my hands clamped to the wheel. It's one time when I really wished I could have asked Daniel to take a turn at driving.
Looking over my shoulder as I pull up in front of the house, I see that he's out like a light, his head tilted sideways to rest on the seat support. Great. That means I'll have to carry him inside. I consider waking him and getting him to walk, but he's been through a lot in the past week - almost drowned, lost in the bush with Blair I swallow hard against the memories and climb out of the car, flipping the control for the trunk as I go.
Bags first then Daniel, I decide. Once I have him inside and settled in bed, the last thing I want to be doing is hauling luggage into the house. Uh uh. The minute my mini-archeologist is under the covers I have a date with a bottle of Scotch and a mindless night of TV.
Daniel stirs as the trunk pops but he doesn't wake up so I grab as many bags as I can carry and head for the house. I fumble the keys on my first try but finally my exhausted fingers get the door open and I shove the bags into the hallway out of my way and head back out to the car.
There's a low humming sound in the air and I stop, trying to identify it. I've just made the connection when it escalates into a full-pitched wail. I definitely know what that sound is, and I sprint for the car, yanking open the back door just in time to stop Daniel falling out of the carseat. His arms are free of the restraints but his lower body is still held in place by the belt that has slid down around his waist. He's screaming now, his arms flailing frantically, his legs kicking up wildly as he fights to escape his nightmare.
"Hey, hey, hey," I murmur, unclipping the belt and pulling him into my arms, copping a whack on the nose for my trouble. "It's okay, it's okay." For some reason, Daniel having nightmares makes my speech go onto a repetitious loop and I find myself saying soothing phrases over and over.
He buries his head against my shoulder and sobs heartbrokenly while I pat his back and try not to notice that my knees have solidified and I will probably never be able to walk upright again. Shades of the time I got infected by a virus that turned me into a caveman. I shudder at the memory and concentrate on trying to wake Daniel up.
"Gonna drown," he screams, fighting to get loose of my arms.
I hold him tighter and give him a jiggle, rocking him back and forth on my lap, my lips pressed to his ear. "It's over, Danny. You're safe."
He sobs, tears dampening my neck as I hold him close, my knees aching from the rhythm of the rocking, and the bent position I'm in. I keep patting his back, one hand cupping the back of his neck, an imitation of the time he was coming down from the sarcophagus addiction and he'd tried to shoot me, then collapsed into my arms in the storage room at the base.
"It's okay, we're home, Daniel. You're safe. We're home."
I know the minute he becomes aware of where he is. His arms loosen their stranglehold on my neck and he hiccups a final sob and a soft fart vibrates against my leg.
Daniel pulls back and looks into my eyes. "Sorry," he whispers, blushing.
He squirms against me, trying to get down but I keep him there a minute longer. It's moments like this when I'm vehemently reminded that no matter how hard he tries to be the Daniel he used to be, that this is who he really is now, a child who needs my care and my protection and my love.
"Not the first time I've heard you do that," I say, bopping him gently on the head, not explaining whether I meant the screaming or the fart. I stand him up on the ground and straighten up, groaning theatrically (and genuinely) as my knees remind me that they are no longer eighteen years old.
"You all right, Jack?" Daniel asks, his voice still shaky and a little rough.
"Yep, just getting old," I say, taking his hand and leading him into the house. "Nightmare all gone?"
"Yep." He's still blushing and I give him a little shove through the door and tousle his hair at the same time.
"I think I'll be having nightmares about this trip for another twenty years or more," I tell him. "So Bath first or dinner? Dinner or bath?" I'm trying to give him the autonomy, the choices he'd told me he still needed, at least about matters as unimportant as this but he looks so tired still, despite his nap in the car, that it's all I can do not to walk him into the bathroom, bathe him and tuck him under the covers in his bed myself.
"Bath," he says. He holds up a hand as I head for the bathroom. "I can run it myself, Jack," he reminds me around a yawn.
"Okay." He's right. I'd put the new low-down mixer faucet on before we went to Cascade. I watch him stumble on autopilot into the bathroom while I head into the kitchen and forage through the freezer for something easy to make for dinner.
I pull out a container of pumpkin soup I'd made and frozen just before we left for Cascade. There's a loaf of crusty bread in there as well and I get that out and wrap a few slices in foil and stick them in the oven to heat while I wait for the soup to defrost and heat up in the microwave.
Grabbing a beer from the fridge, I sit down at the table and take a long. pleasure-filled sip. This had been the vacation to end all vacations, I think. I'd taken Daniel away to Cascade to give him some downtime from the stress he'd been suffering. We'd no sooner got there than he'd fallen into a river and almost drowned. He would have drowned too, I think, shivering at the images in my head, if Blair hadn't been there. But he was, I tell myself firmly, and Jim's Sentinel abilities had helped us find them both, more or less safe and sound. Now we were home. Everything would settle down and go back to being as normal as life could be when you were a USAF colonel who travelled through a Stargate to alien planets and just happened to also be in charge of a 5 year old archeologist who used to be your 35 year old best friend.
I sigh and rub a hand over my aching head. The soup is bubbling and I suddenly realize the house is too quiet. I'd heard the bath tap turn off a while back but there are no sounds of splashing coming from the bathtub.
Heart in my throat, I run into the bathroom and pull up short at the sight in front of me. Daniel's asleep, his bare butt perched on the toilet seat, his blond head resting on the top of the wooden towel chest, thumb firmly in his mouth. Even as I watch, he makes small sucking movements and sighs heavily. He looks adorable is the only word that comes to mind and I think about the camera that's right on top of my suitcase out in the hall. Then I remember what he's already been though, how humiliating and difficult so much of this transition has been for him and instead, I grab a towel of the rail and wrap him in it, then roll him into my arms.
He murmurs a small complaint at being moved as I lift him and drape him over my shoulder, but then his head settles into the curve of my shoulder and his free arm wraps tightly around my neck. Whispering reassurances, I carry him into his room and tuck him, still naked and wrapped in the towel, under the covers. He'll have questions about that in the morning, but for now he needs sleep more than he needs pajamas. I run a hand through his hair then tiptoe out of the room. "Sweet dreams, Danny," I whisper as I close the door.