They had been at it a long time and Jack wasn't sure if SG-1 had gotten complacent, expecting missions to either be successful or boring, or if the odds had finally come back to haunt them. Carter would know, she was good with calculating these types of equations. Except he'd have to wait to ask her though, after she regained consciousness.
Her state of unconsciousness was based on surgical recovery while Daniel's was based on a cocktail of exhaustion, a wonderful array of bruises, mixed and stirred quite nicely with a dash of Fraiser's painkillers.
They had managed maybe a total of one hour of normalcy on the planet, separating a few miles from the 'gate. Soil samples to the right; checking out the local terrain and wildlife to the left. He and Teal'c had gone left, one guess who went right. Two hours into their trek, radio contact was a frantic message from Daniel that Carter was down from an unknown assailant.
He and Teal'c had located one backpack, a trail of blood, the guts of two smashed radios, a mangled pair glasses and then *nothing*. The rest, as they say, is one for the history books. With the assistance of a guardian angel sitting on their shoulders and a tremendous amount of luck, SG-1 had prevailed, the bad, evil kidnappers of the planet had been vanquished, and Carter survived, thanks to Daniel.
Once home, he and Teal'c had showered, been checked, debriefed. Reports were written, food had been eaten and now they waited. Daniel shifted in his sleep, his brow furrowing in discomfort before relaxing in a sigh. Carter lay perfectly still and as Jack's gaze swept from one bed to the other, he realized how much he hated waiting.
* * *
"It's dark." Daniel blinked sleepily at the sky through the Avalanche's windshield, then yawned deeply.
Being underground can do that to a person. Being underground and stuck in the infirmary for three days, Jack knew, played havoc with a person's internal clock. "It's late. Later than your usual dismissal from Fraiser's clutches."
He leaned over squeezed Daniel's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Daniel nodded, then switched his gaze to the passenger window. "Sam's okay."
It really wasn't a question but Jack answered it anyway. "She's fine. I have it on good authority that she'll be out of the infirmary in about two days. You did good, Daniel."
"I didn't," Daniel whispered.
* * *
Silently Jack had followed him, shadowing him, allowing him to lead as Daniel managed a bowl of cereal, a handful of meds and a shower before he fell into bed.
Fraiser could say Daniel was okay from here to tomorrow and release him medically from the infirmary with flying colors, but Jack's Daniel-radar was blipping all over the place.
He waited until Daniel was in the depths of a drug-induced sleep before he bent over, lifted the tee shirt and examined the map of abuse outlined on his torso. Jack's anger swelled, boiled and threatened to overflow, but Daniel moved and lazily patted the empty pillow next to his in invitation. "Bed."
"Yeah, I'm tired, too." So instead of punching a hole in the wall, Jack planted a kiss on a fist sized bruise in the area of Daniel's kidney, then for good measure he found an unblemished area on his shoulder blade and kissed him there as well.
* * *
The bedroom was a sweltering box when Jack awoke. Based on the amount of sunlight filtering in through the windows, it was later than his usual time and a quick glance at the bedside clock confirmed it. Daniel was still asleep and there was no change in the pattern of his breathing when Jack eased himself out of bed.
He flipped on the air conditioner, standing in front of the unit long enough for it to dry the sweat on his body. Daniel had kicked off the blanket during the night so Jack covered him back up, only to have Daniel shove it away. "Hot."
"Okay," but by the time Jack had peed, washed up and returned to the bedroom, Daniel was curled into a fetal position trying to conserve body heat. "Told ya so," Jack whispered as he once again placed the blanket over Daniel, who grabbed it and buried himself under its warmth.
* * *
Closer to lunch than breakfast, Jack had opened the door to the bedroom and had done every loud household chore he could think of, short of setting off a bomb under the bed to wake up Daniel. Jack took it for what it was, Daniel's method to escape whatever demon had walked through the 'gate with him, coupled with whatever meds he had taken, but the weather was too nice to spend the day under the covers hiding from reality.
* * *
Eventually, it was the coffee that did it. The lack-of-caffeine headache drew Daniel out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, barefoot, still half asleep, in boxers and tee shirt.
"Nice hair." Jack couldn't help the comment, even though he knew better than to attempt coherent conversation with a Daniel who hadn't had a cup of coffee in over twelve hours. Funny, offworld the man could survive without the stuff, but the moment his brain registered with his body that it was back on Earth, well, to put it mildly, Jack had actually been thinking about approaching Hammond with the idea of setting up a coffee pot in the Gateroom.
"Yeah, whatever," Daniel growled as he poured himself a cup with one hand and with the other, searched the cabinet for the bottle of Tylenol. Jack winced as Daniel downed the Tylenol with the hot coffee, then topped off the cup before shuffling over to the chair opposite Jack.
Jack's morning smile was met with a snarl.
"Top of the morning to you, too, Daniel." He slid the paper he'd been reading over to Daniel, got up, grabbed the three quarter's full coffee pot and placed it on the table. "Knock yourself out. I'll be out in the yard, call me when you've decided to join the human race."
* * *
From the relatively safe distance of the barbeque sequestered in the corner of the deck, Jack studied Daniel, hoping to find some outward justification for Daniel's harsh attitude. He had uncharacteristically barked at every attempt of discussion Jack had tried, even the simplest "Gee, it's sure hot," was met with a scathing look and an under-the-breath comment that Jack truly didn't want clarified.
Daniel was so much on edge that he was unnerving Jack, and it had gotten worse as the day wore on. Jack had stopped asking if he felt okay and as he was preparing dinner, he was literally seesawing between slipping Daniel a Mickey filled with Fraiser's pills or getting him shit faced enough to relax.
* * *
Jack put two and two together sometime around fifteen thirty hours when a band of firecrackers sent Daniel to the deck, cowering, hands over his head, gulping in large lungfuls of air. Panicking and Daniel were not synonymous. Two words that should never go together, which was the reason that Jack stood there, opened mouth, staring at the shaking figure.
* * *
He'd managed to unfold Daniel and slowly coerced him into sitting on the chaise, but the second another volley of firecrackers, followed by the sonic boom of an M-80 broke the air, Daniel attempted to slip from Jack's grasp. Daniel wasn't on Earth, Jack realized as his fingers locked around his bicep in a death grip. He wasn't sure exactly where in hell Daniel's mind had transported him, but it sure wasn't Jack's backyard.
"I need a clue, buddy. Think you can give me clue?" Jack begged.
"Sam?" Daniel huffed as he fought Jack's hold.
"She's okay," Jack reasoned. "Remember? You're home. She's home." He attempted to pull Daniel closer, which *should* should have worked, and would have worked, except at the exact moment Jack was sliding Daniel nearer, the rat-tat-tat of fireworks followed by a child's scream of happiness spurred Daniel into action, and Jack received an elbow in his belly for his efforts. Shocked and winded, he released his grip. Finally free, Daniel stood, and Jack, missing his physical support, fell forward, one hand hugging his stomach, the other reaching out to grasp onto any part of Daniel that he could.
Daniel never really ran, he stopped after he stood, his head whipping around, trying to get his bearings in whatever hell he was reliving, which gave Jack the ability to grab him around his right knee.
"No!" Daniel screamed. "Get the fuck off of me." He kicked out with his left leg, missing Jack's face by mere inches as he lay sprawled across the chaise.
"Damn it, Daniel." Jack reached out with his other hand and literally swept Daniel off his feet, then apologized profusely when Daniel's ass hit the deck with such a resounding thud that Jack's own teeth rattled in sympathy.
Daniel was strong and in the throes of some sort of intense flashback, with images being aided and abetted not only by the 4th of July celebrations, but obviously by Jack's hands-on struggle to get him into the house where he would have a firmer control of the situation.
They fought as Jack dragged Daniel the whole way through the door, the kitchen, and into the living room. "Enough," Jack shouted as he literally tossed Daniel onto the couch, knowing he was going to be one big bruise from more than a few well placed punches and kicks. Daniel scrabbled around on the couch, then settled in a corner, staring at Jack.
"Don't move," Jack ordered, unsure if his words even penetrated Daniel's psyche, so he slowly walked backwards into the dining room, making sure he kept his gaze on Daniel at all times. Blindly he reached into the liquor cabinet, grabbed the first open bottle he could lay his hands on and poured a shot. He took a moment's to contemplate the liquid before he drank it one gulp then he poured another for Daniel.
* * *
Even with Jack placing his hands over Daniel's for guidance, Daniel was trembling so hard he spilled three fourths of the shot of whiskey. With his teeth chattering and hands shaking, Jack realized this really hadn't been a good idea so he slowly removed the glass from Daniel's fingers, then placed it gently on the table.
The anger in Daniel's eyes vanished. The emotion had leaked out and deflated like a day-old balloon.
"Back with me?"
"She's okay," Jack reiterated slowly. "Honest." Jack pulled the afghan off the back of the couch then draped it around Daniel's shoulders. Despite the heat in the house, Daniel clutched the corners and drew it tightly around his shoulders.
"I don't remember." With shaking hands Daniel mopped up his sweaty forehead with the edge of the afghan.
"You remembered something, buddy." Jack had read Daniel's report of the last mission. Hell, he had sat in on the mission debriefing, and there was *nothing* expressed, either verbally or written, that should have evoked this type of emotional display from Daniel. Fraiser had attributed the holes in his report to his mild concussion, and Jack had agreed, until just about thirty minutes ago.
Emphatically, Daniel shook his head. "I don't remember." He flung off the blanket and stood. "Maybe there's *nothing* to remember."
He went to protest, argue, remind Daniel that just minutes ago he'd been practically hiding under the table on the deck, but one look at Daniel's eyes, the set of his jaw, and Jack knew he wasn't going there. Experience was a great teacher and Jack was a star pupil as far as Daniel was concerned. He knew the more he pushed the more Daniel would dig in his heels, stubborn to a fault was both a saving grace and one of Daniel's most frustrating personality quirks.
Daniel wasn't a coward, but whatever was haunting his memory certainly had him spooked and Jack decided that maybe for now, a good offense was no defense at all. Just let this all play out. A diversionary tactic may be a good idea and Jack pointed to the liquor-splattered front of Daniel's shirt. "Why don't you go change, set the table and I'll… damn it!"
* * *
Jack looked forlornly at the two shriveled pieces of meat on the plate. He poked at them with the fork, moaning as pieces of burnt steak flaked off.
"Should we at least give them a decent burial?"
"How about ketchup? Would a healthy dose of ketchup make them edible?"
Jack allowed Daniel to take the plate from his hands. He placed his hand with the fork over his heart and bowed his head when Daniel dumped the two pieces of burnt meat into the garbage, accompanied by a humming rendition of taps.
"Chinese or Greek?"
Daniel shook his head. "It wasn't one of the choices. Greek or—" He stopped talking mid-sentence and the color drained from his face.
Jack heard it. The muffled sounds of fireworks, echoed by another round, their sound muted through the walls of his house. "Where are you, Daniel?"
Jack watched as Daniel struggled, and he himself battled with his own emotions as Daniel's frantic gaze flitted around the room. "Do you know where you are?" he repeated, keeping pace with Daniel's agitated movements around the kitchen.
Daniel's quick nod disintegrated abruptly into a shake of his head as the sound of a continuous string of firecrackers penetrated through the closed windows. "Keep away from her, you bastard." He was quick, quicker than Jack expected, catching him off guard as he flung his body at Jack's midsection, forcing him backward. Jack slammed into the fridge, the handle digging into the small of his back.
"Daniel!" Jack's voice was the one he used in the field, the one he pulled out of his back pocket when he demanded attention and respect, the one no self-respecting military personnel under his command would ignore if they knew what was good for them. But in the heat of the moment, Jack forgot two things, Daniel was neither military nor afraid of Jack, and that slip earned him a punch in the stomach, hard enough to knock the wind from his lungs.
Daniel telegraphed the second punch and Jack was able to grab it, lever it away from his face and use it to offset Daniel enough to shove him backwards. It wasn't a hard shove, and under normal circumstances Daniel would have taken two steps back then regained his equilibrium, but this wasn't normal circumstances and Daniel lost his footing, tripping over the leg of the kitchen chair. Both he and the chair went down hard. Daniel tried to grasp onto something for leverage and he moved sidewise, and Jack breathed a sigh of relief when Daniel just missed smacking his head on the counter. But his relief was short lived and he watched in shock as Daniel's temple connected with the corner of the cabinet door on his way down.
* * *
"Ow." Daniel pushed at the ice pack Jack was trying to press against the wound.
"Stop being a baby and just keep it— how many fingers am I holding up?"
"Two and my name is Daniel Jackson and I was born on July 8th which is actually 4 days from today which would make today…" With his free hand he made an exaggerated showing of counting. "Wow! Today would be July 4th."
"You're very funny," Jack snarled.
"I'm sorry." Daniel slumped on the couch. "I was drunk right? I don't remember how this happened so I must have been drunk—" Daniel sniffed his shirt for confirmation.
Jack pulled back the corner of the ice pack and inspected the area. "Keep it there for a few minutes longer." He gave it a gentle pat just to make sure. "And no, you weren't drunk."
Daniel groaned and slunk even lower on the couch. "If I wasn't drunk, do I *want* to know the reason that I'm sitting here holding a melting, leaking bag of ice to my head."
"Honestly, Daniel, I don't give a shit if you want to know, but I'm certainly overwhelmed with curiosity to know why every time a firework goes off you..."
Jack made a circular motion by his temple with his pointer finger.
"I go nuts?"
Jack shrugged. "Okay, that wasn't exactly the word I was looking for—"
"If the shoe fits, wear it?"
"Stop with the metaphors," Jack yelled, frustrated as only Daniel could frustrate him.
"What do you want?" Daniel countered, his voice as loud as Jack's.
Daniel tossed the ice onto the table and followed his action up with a familiar huff of annoyance.
"Look, this isn't getting us anywhere."
Daniel nodded in agreement. "So what do you propose we do?"
"Well, since every time you hear a firecracker you act like Pavlov's dog—"
"I don't bark."
"No, but you drool…"
Daniel smiled and Jack relaxed a bit, not a whole lot, but enough to be able to turn his back on Daniel, and check to make sure the windows in the house were all closed. Daniel was following him, silently keeping paced. Then he cranked up the air conditioner, turned on a CD, a little louder than usual, but not loud enough where conversation would be difficult.
His lighting a fire in the fireplace was met by a quizzical rise of Daniel's eyebrows and Jack leaned forward and touched the goose bumps on Daniel's right forearm. "Why don't you go shower," he plucked at Daniel's shirt. "No offense, but you smell."
"But I didn't drink?" There was a look of confusion on Daniel's face, so rare for him, that Jack's heart ached and to make up for his lack of words, he kissed him gently on the bruise by his temple. "Go shower, I'll call Gilshar's for dinner. French fries or rice?"
"Fries. Well done. Extra yogurt sauce."
* * *
The bruise was spreading, the heat of the shower may have washed away the haunted look from Daniel's eyes, but it had exacerbated the blood flow to the injured area and now the mark was spreading to encompass the corner of his cheekbone.
"Hurt?" Jack pointed to the darkening bruise.
"Huh?" Daniel touched his cheekbone, then hissed. "Yeah, I guess it does. Though not as much as what Janet's gonna do to me when she sees it."
Jack threw up his hands in surrender. "I'm pleading the fifth."
"As far as Fraiser's concerned, damn straight I am."
* * *
The living room was lit only by the fireplace. They ate. Or rather, Jack ate. Daniel picked until eventually Jack just cleaned up the food, placing the uneaten portions in the fridge. The noise from the celebrations outside was muted by the barrier levels that Jack had erected. The music. The hum of the air conditioner. The clanking of a need-to-be-replaced dishwasher running through its cycles. The crackling fire. The three glass of wine Jack had plied Daniel with during dinner.
This was wrong and if it had been anyone else, Jack wouldn't be sweeping what happened under the rug, but Daniel was correct, he was a chicken and it had nothing to do with Fraiser and everything to do with the uncommon and unnerving fragility of the psyche of the strongest man he'd ever known.
* * *
Daniel had moved from the couch to the floor, dragging a pillow and the afghan along with him. He was spread out in front of the fire, the afghan covering only his middle, bare feet with toes curled, sticking out beyond the too-short blanket. The pillow was stuck under this head, his arms pillowing his head which was turned away from the fire.
With a groan Jack lowered his body next to Daniel. "You know I really truly love you if I'm willing to subject my body to the hard floor just to be close to you."
Daniel stopped humming and opened one eye. "You're a martyr now?"
Jack sighed and moved closer to Daniel, borrowing a bit of blanket. "Hell, it's one of my more enduring qualities."
Daniel huffed in disapproval. "Sam doesn't think so… and neither does—"
"Hey, you discuss—"
"Everything." The evil smile was in direct contradiction to the mirth in Daniel's eyes.
"You know there's something truly disconcerting about my team discussing all my qualities—"
"Not all," Daniel quickly corrected. "And it's not only SG-1 who stands around the Gateroom talking about—"
"The Gateroom?" His eyes widened in mock horror.
Daniel gave up with a knowing smile and slid closer to Jack, curling around him, his cold feet wrapping themselves around Jack's calves, sapping his warmth. "There are times, Daniel," he sighed. "I do hate you."
The chuckle he received in response to his statement rumbled against his chest and Jack closed his eyes, just for a moment, pretending the world wasn't right outside the front door.
* * *
Something woke him up. Pushed and prodded him from sleep into wakefulness. Jack hadn't meant to fall asleep, he hadn't even thought he was tired, but his body had obviously disagreed with his assumption and he had drifted off. The fire was still going strong, even the dishwasher was still cycling.
"We never saw them until it was too late," Daniel whispered.
He was sore, sleeping on a hardwood floor wasn't the best idea, but he didn't dare move or even whisper Daniel's name. He really wasn’t sure how long Daniel had actually been talking. Maybe there was a strong probability Daniel hadn't even gone to sleep, and had been telling the story over and over, replaying it.
"Sam went down. I should have been watching the perimeter, you know. Of course you know, you're military, you would have been watching." Daniel stuttered, stopped, then turned his head to study Jack. "She wanted to show me something, and I remember hesitating, and then she became really insistent, almost annoyed that I wasn't… I should have stayed my position."
Jack wanted to argue fate. The probabilities on how this mission was to have been accomplished were endless and honestly the outcome would still have been the same. He could feel the words sitting at the tip of his tongue but because any comment would be construed as a judgment for Daniel's actions and he didn't want that. At the moment, Daniel was his own judge and jury.
"There was so much blood. Instantaneously. I became distracted by the sheer amount of it. And the sounds she was making—god, Jack, I've never heard Sam—" Daniel jumped when the dishwasher stopped clanging and switched to the dry cycle. He gave an embarrassed snuffle then suddenly sat up and moved closer to the fire. "They overpowered us. Grabbed our weapons, our radios, smashed them, my glasses. I couldn't understand what they wanted… I tried… but their language—"
"They wanted to hurt you. Carter. There was no rhyme or reason to their assault. They wanted control and power."
Palm side up, Daniel warmed his hands in front of the fire, an odd gesture for a July evening. "I let them have control. Power."
"No, you didn't. You stayed alive. You kept Carter alive."
He sniffed and rubbed his nose repeatedly on his raised, sweat pants-covered knee. "They knew the terrain. Very well. And they moved fast. Faster than Sam—"
Jack placed the blanket around Daniel and sat close enough so their shoulders were touching. Security and safety without words. A green light for him to continue. Jack was aware of Daniel's imperceptible weight as he leaned into him, an unspoken thank you.
Daniel gave a self-depreciating laugh. "I think I liked it better when I didn’t remember."
"You always remembered."
"I guess I did." Daniel rested his chin on his knees and Jack quickly grabbed the blanket before it slid to the floor. He anchored it around both their bodies. "You know, Jack, this is really strange. Air conditioner. Fireplace…"
"It's us, Daniel. Strange is our middle name. Though in actuality, I was going for romantic."
"If I wasn't a candidate for Mental Health at the moment, I believe I could see the romanticism in this scenario. The CD, the background hum of the dishwasher, the crackle of a fire in the fireplace. Worked for me."
Jack was slightly upset that Daniel could see through his whole subterfuge. "Am I that transparent?"
Daniel answered with a shrug and Jack responded with a light touch to his bruised cheek. Even lit by only the glow from the fire there was no mistaking that by tomorrow it was going to be a prize winner.
"They had a destination in mind and they didn't care how much I begged or pleaded with them to stop or slow down, they just kept dragging us—" Daniel cleared his throat. "They laughed."
"They aren't laughing any more."
"No, they aren't."
"Ah, sweet jeezus, don't tell me you feel guilty that they were killed?"
"No!" The vehemence behind the word surprised even Daniel and for a few moments the only sound was the sound of the wood popping and spitting. "I don't feel guilty you killed them. You just got to do what I had wanted to do." He smiled at thin air. "I was a bit jealous," he added softly, his hands waving abstractly through the air. "You got to do what I had been dreaming about. Pulling the trigger. Watching them all die."
Jack felt the hitch in Daniel's breathing and he knew that both of them were mourning for what Daniel had been. It would be a while before Daniel would be able to go offworld without looking over his shoulder. A little bit more of his soul had been lost this trip through the Stargate.
"There was a cave. Behind a waterfall. Hidden. Secluded. The water was cold. Frigid. I was afraid Sam—the shock."
Jack remembered the water's temperature, the shock as he and Teal'c had waded through it to retrieve Carter and Daniel and suddenly the heat of the fire wasn't enough to ward off the chill. He jumped up to add another log to the fire.
"You can turn the air conditioner off, you know?"
"What, and ruin the moment?"
Daniel looked up at Jack, the minutest hint of a smile teasing his lips. "This constitutes a moment?"
"Daniel, you're home. Alive. Carter's alive. Teal'c's alive. I'm alive. For now there's no one knocking on Earth's Stargate to wage a war. The Tok'ra are our friends. Thor is alive and well, Fraiser's not pissed at either of us," – Jack ignored Daniel's mumbled 'yet', "and we're alone in my house. So yeah, I'd have to say that this constitutes a moment."
"Yeah, it's under that *strange* heading."
Jack watched with interest as Daniel stood, slowly, pushing himself upright with the aid of the coffee table.
"Sitting on the floor—" Daniel groaned. "Isn't as comfortable as it used to be," he added as he flopped bonelessly onto the couch. "The cave was only slightly warmer than the water."
Jack and the blanket moved over to the couch with Daniel; his knees and his ass sighed with relief as he sat.
Daniel stretched his legs out onto the coffee table and slumped down, accepting the blanket Jack spread over him with a smile. Never one to sit still, Daniel's fingers found a loose thread and began to pick and pull at the string. "I don't believe in God."
"Daniel, I don't know what I believe in, but every time we come back home, all of us, in one piece, honestly, I gotta tell you, there's someone up there I should be thanking."
* * *
Daniel had spent the remainder of the evening silent and Jack had spent the remainder of the evening confused, though there were times with Daniel, confusion was the norm. They watched TV then went to bed and it wasn't until Daniel wrapped his body around Jack's that he realized since their discussion of God, Daniel hadn't really touched him.
There were meds that Daniel needed to take, antibiotics that were sitting on his counter, but they could wait until morning, because he really didn't want to disturb Daniel and also because, selfishly, Daniel, in his arms, in this bed, in his house - felt too good to disturb.
* * *
"That's gross." Jack grabbed the Styrofoam container of cold Greek right out from under Daniel's nose, the French fry held in his hand, just dipped in yogurt sauce, paused halfway to his mouth. Jack popped open the microwave, shoved the container in and angrily pushed the buttons.
"Hey, I was eating that."
"Fine, you can eat it. Warmed. Not congealed. Congealed is just—"
"Gross. I know. You mentioned that already." Daniel harumpffed indignantly and shoved the fry into his mouth.
"Oh four hundred thirty hours in the morning," Jack noted as he answered the microwave's bing. "What the hell is wrong with, I don't know, cookies?" He slid the heated item over to Daniel. "Careful, it's hot."
"It wasn't hot before," Daniel snarled, blowing the steam spiraling out of his early morning snack.
Jack curled his lip in response and jerked open the fridge with enough force to rattle the bottles in the door. He opened the container of milk, sniffed, wrinkled his nose, then settled for the orange juice. Though orange juice and chocolate chip cookies wasn't the snack of choice, it seemed safer and a whole bunch healthier than the spoiled milk, so he'd suffer.
Daniel swirled another fry through the cup of yogurt sauce and didn't even look up when Jack sat down. He watched Daniel with interest as Daniel watched the fry. He took a bite of cookie, chased it down with a swallow of juice and still Daniel contemplated his fry.
"Daniel?" Jack pointed to the cup of yogurt.
Daniel drowned the fry in the yogurt then looked at the mess he'd made. "Gross." He gave up on the fry and grabbed a cookie from Jack's pile instead. "Did you know," Daniel stated, pointing the cookie at him, "that a P-90 sounds amazingly like firecrackers when fired inside a cave?"
Bless Daniel for always going in the back door no matter how wide and inviting Jack held open the front one. "No, Daniel, can't say I'm familiar with that sound."
Daniel closed his eyes. "Rattattatatat." He punctuated the sound with staccato jerks of the cookie.
"Yeah, I can see where that sound would remind you of firecrackers."
He picked a chocolate chip out of the cookie then stuck it in his mouth. "I wonder what you call Russian roulette when not on Earth?"
"Russian roulette?" The orange juice curdled in Jack's stomach just as surely as if he'd drank the sour milk as he got a vividly clear visual image of Daniel's words.
"Technically it really wasn't Russian roulette." Daniel broke the cookie in half, biting off a corner.
"Oh, ummm, what would you have called it?"
Daniel shrugged, then tossed the cookie atop the uneaten food. "A nightmare. Torture. Torture for no reason. Not for information… just… " With a heavy sigh, Daniel collapsed against the back of the chair, then grimaced when forgetful fingers went to rub tired eyes and made contact with the bruise. "Just because they could."
"For what? Sorry you weren't there? It wasn't you? So many things in the past years to be sorry for," Daniel smiled at Jack, "so many things to be thankful for. I guess it evens out in the end."
There was more, a whole lot more, of that Jack was certain, but Daniel kept sidetracking his own thoughts and Jack half expected him to stand, yawn, stretch and say goodnight with a kiss, leaving him to clean up the mess in more ways than one. Because, as much as he trusted Daniel, there wasn't a way in hell he was going to allow him through the 'gate unless he knew what had happened on that planet. Not only for Daniel's own safety, but for the rest of SG-1 as well because like a rock skipping on lake, the repercussions of this mission had already created a rippling effect that was in danger of toppling the boat.
Daniel stood, gazed down at the remains of the lamb and screwed his face up in disgust before he swept it up from the table and dumped it in the garbage. He grabbed Jack's glass of orange juice and left the kitchen.
Protesting wouldn't do any good, so Jack just poured another glass and followed Daniel.
"Fire's out." Daniel was mournfully staring at the darkened fireplace.
"Yeah," Jack agreed.
Like a fine wine, Daniel slowly sipped the juice, rolling it around in his mouth before swallowing.
On a whim, Jack went to the liquor cabinet and topped off his glass with a splash of vodka. He approached Daniel, waved the bottle in front of his face, then topped off his glass, with a wag of his eyebrows.
Daniel took a swig, then smacked his lips in appreciation. "I haven't had a screwdriver in years." He took another drink, laughing. "And they still taste just as bad as they did in college."
"Ah, yes, Tango, I remember it well."
Jack heaved an old-age sigh. "Never mind, it's before your time." He took a sip of his drink, silently agreeing with Daniel's assessment. "Picture pre-made screwdrivers in a bottle. Warm."
"And you thought a cold gyro was 'eww' worthy? Screwdrivers in a bottle?"
"Hey," Jack toasted the air with this drink. "I was young and with youth comes stupidity."
Daniel downed his glass in one swallow, coughed then cleared his throat. "Stupidity has nothing to do with age."
"Yeah, adulthood brings with it its very own share of stupidity." Jack plucked the glass from Daniel's hands and placed the two of them on the mantle.
"I tried to reason with unreasonable beings. Going on and on about Sam being hurt, needing assistance." He walked to the window, tracing the outline of the sunrise in the moist glass. "You were right, you know, sometimes I don't know when enough is enough. I wouldn't shut up. They decided to shoot Sam again instead of gagging me. It was a tad more effective, don't you agree?
"Well it worked for me. Big time. So I spoke only to Sam, convinced her I was fine and you, Teal'c and the whole entire SGC contingent, along with Jacob, were coming to rescue us."
"You didn't lie."
"No, I didn't. You came, saved the day, saved our asses."
"Stop talking like you failed, Daniel. You kept Carter alive. You stayed alive. It was you that allowed us to rescue two living, breathing humans and not two corpses."
Daniel added clouds to his picture of the sun. "They would wait until I was just drifting off before they would fire the gun. It took two or three times, guess I was a bit slow before I realized, for me, sleeping wasn't an option. They would fire the P90. Loud, echoing. Like firecracker. I told you that already, though." With his back still to Jack, he lifted his right hand over his shoulder and squeezed his pointer finger and thumb together. "This close. Near enough that we would be showered with pieces of shale that splintered from the shot. Thankfully, Sam had slipped in the realm of unconsciousness by then. Safe. I needed to make sure she—" A house joined the clouds and sun before Daniel stepped back, gazed at his artwork then angrily scrubbed it way. "They placed my revolver to Sam's temple. Then they put it in my hand, placing my fingers in the appropriate places and held my grip. I fought. I refused. Adamantly."
The resulting bruising on Daniel's back from his adamant refusal was quite spectacular.
"Then one of them pointed his own weapon as Sam's forehead. I may not have spoken or understood the language, but I damn well comprehended the sign for 'blowing the woman's brains out'… came through loud and clear. If I didn't pull the trigger, he would, so I was the least of two evils. I tried to count the number of bullets expended compared to the bullets in the chamber and I couldn't remember, all I could think of was—"
"She's safe." Jack spoke the words slowly, hoping they would finally sink in. He placed two hands on Daniel's shoulders, swiveling him around to face him. "Carter's fine."
"I know that." He twisted out of Jack's grasp. "She came through the 'gate. She's in the infirmary. She's going to be fine."
Jack nodded. "Yes, she is."
"We were rescued right in the nick of time."
"That's what the good guys do, they arrive just as…"
"I didn't shoot Sam. I shot the guy who was threatening her instead." Daniel sniffed. "Killed him. Shot him right through the forehead. The same place he wanted me to shoot Sam. Surprised everyone." Daniel's smile was swift. "Hell, surprised me."
The shot that Daniel had fired had been the audio flare that had alerted Jack and Teal'c to their location, and in the activity that followed, Jack had been unaware there had already been one dead.
"I can remember pointing the gun at the rest of them. The looks on their faces. Shock. Surprise. Anger. And I fired again but the chamber was empty and I knew I had signed our death warrants.
"But it was a Catch-22, you know. If I hadn't shot the guy, Sam would be dead, her blood on my hands… and I never would have been able—"
Jack grabbed Daniel's hands, not surprised to find them ice cold. He rubbed them between his own, if for no other reason than to make up for his loss of words.
"Sam's okay." For the first time, there was conviction in Daniel's voice. "The Calvary came to her rescue."
"No, Daniel. *You* came to her rescue." By the swiftness in which Daniel's gaze dropped to the floor, Jack knew Daniel didn't believe a word of his statement. "Hey."
Daniel's glance moved from the floor to the hand Jack had wrapped around his wrist. "Coffee. I think I need coffee."
He nodded vigorously as if coffee was the cure to all ills and Jack was a moron for not seeing it. "I'll make the coffee," Jack acquiesced with a sigh.
A pair of raised eyebrows was his answer.
"Hell. I think you just insulted me, Daniel." He turned and went to the kitchen, with Daniel close at his heels. "You don't trust me? I can make coffee, I'll use the *good* stuff, promise."
"I thought you always used the *good* stuff."
"Shhhh," Jack hissed as he pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and used it to fill the coffee maker. "Don't interrupt my concentration."
"No, no watching a coffee genius at work."
Jack pushed Daniel in the direction of the kitchen door. "Go. Outside. Be patient."
"I want to watch, just to make sure—"
* * *
Daniel took the mug from his outstretched hands, sniffing at the contents, his eyes widening in surprise. "Wow."
"The proof is in the pudding. Taste."
Daniel sipped. Then sipped again. The third sip was accompanied but a deep throated moan. "This is better than—"
"If you say sex, Daniel, the rest of the pot gets spilled down the sink."
"No, I was going to say—chocolate." Daniel held the mug heavenward. "This, right here, is better than chocolate and it would be sacrilegious to pour this down the drain."
* * *
"I love this time of day." Jack was leaning on the deck railing, staring into the yard. He felt Daniel's weight press against the left side of his body, his hands wrapped around a second cup of coffee.
"I rarely see this time of day on Earth. Offworld, yes, not here on Earth. It's been awhile."
"Yeah, the mountain doesn't have any windows, does it?"
"Very astute, Jack."
"You know, you really are an sob when you're tired."
"I'm not tired and I'm not an sob. Just stating the facts as I see them. Anyway," he paused, drank deeply of the coffee, then sighed. "I can sleep all day today."
"Can't sleep all day today."
"Do we have plans I don't know about?"
"I do?" The remainder of the coffee was finished in a swift gulp.
Jack read Daniel's mind before he could even move. "Two cups of that stuff is more than enough. I didn't say you shouldn't sleep, just that you can't sleep all day."
"And you have plans for me?"
"Well, yeah. Like I told you before."
"Yeah? And it involves?"
"How about if I show you rather than tell you." Jack shrugged. "I mean *you're* the linguist and me—"
"You're the man of action."
"No truer words were ever spoken, Daniel."
"Stop preening, Jack, it's not a good look for you." Daniel lifted the mug, forgot it was empty then let it dangle from his fingers over the railing. "I shot that guy without a second thought. Blew him away, would've killed them all if there had been enough bullets in the gun."
Daniel turned the mug over and studied the two droplets that dripped out of the cup onto the grass. "Why are you sorry?"
"That the gun wasn't loaded. That you couldn't kill them all, because maybe *then* you wouldn't feel like you failed Carter."
"Oh?" Jack echoed, sidling up even closer to Daniel.
"Oh, I agree with you? Oh, you didn't mince words? Or my favorite—oh, the thought of violence doesn't make me want to vomit?"
"You got a couple of great choices there, Daniel."
"Guess I do. But the important thing, no matter if I had chosen a, b, c or all of the above, the outcome is the same. Sam's safe. In the infirmary. No one got left behind. No one failed."
Jack slapped him on the shoulder. "By George, I think he's got it."
"You're quoting musicals?"
"Not just any musical, My Fair Lady." Jack tapped his temple. "Imbedded in my brain. My mother would play the album over and over and over that to this day, the words 'The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain' makes me wanna puke."
"So now I know that none of Earth's secrets would have been safe if a System lord ever got their hands on that album." Daniel buried his laughter into Jack's shoulder.
"I'm not laughing."
"Yes, you are. See I bare my soul to you and it's gonna come back and bite me in the ass."
"I can bite you in the ass if you wish." The seductiveness of the statement was lost somewhere in the yawn Daniel burrowed in Jack's neck.
"Nice conversation killer, Daniel." Jack turned his head and sniffed through Daniel's hair.
"You're sniffing me."
"Isn't that what dogs do? You mentioned biting me in the ass, so I just—"
"No, *not* assumed," Jack paused thinking of a word. "I just figured you were going all animalistic on me."
Daniel yawned again, then stretched. "That's a bad thing?"
"It is if you can't stay awake to—"
"Ha! There you go assuming…"
"Figuring, Daniel. Figuring."
"Okay, so you're figuring that the second I'd be in a horizontal position, I'd fall asleep. Let's go test out your theory."
* * *
Okay, maybe not the second, but pretty damn close. Bed. Naked. A trip to the bathroom and Daniel, for all his promises was down for the count, the sleeping pill in the strong, first mug of coffee working its magic.
Jack really wasn't tired, but neither did he want to miss an opportunity of lying in bed with a naked, pliant, warm, quiet Daniel. Never one to look a gift horse or silent Daniel in the mouth, he slid into bed, surprised when Daniel lethargically moved against him, mumbling something as he tried to find a comfortable spot.
"What did you say?" Jack huffed and blew an errant piece of Daniel's hair that was sticking up his nose. He rubbed the itch left behind.
"Hammond. Report. I need—"
"Yeah, you sure do. Clarify some points."
"Shot the bad guy. Saved Sam." Daniel yawned deeply, his warm exhalation seeping through Jack's tee shirt.
"That's right, you saved Carter." Jack couldn't help but congratulate himself on a lesson learned.
"No. No!" Daniel replied adamantly, moving away from Jack. He propped himself onto his elbows and by the size of his pupils coupled by the forced concentration on his face, Jack knew Daniel was more asleep than awake, so he waited patiently for him to reach whatever conclusion he was searching. Been there, done that with Daniel, so he turned on his side, propped his own head on his hand, then gazed up at him.
"You were saying?"
"I didn't save Sam."
No jury on Earth would convict him if he murdered Daniel right at this moment. "We already discussed this, didn't we?"
Daniel blinked, screwed his face up, obviously confused, then nodded vigorously. "We did."
"And the problem?"
"I saved Sam. You saved her. Teal'c saved her."
"Ahh, group effort."
"No. No group. Family. Me, you, Teal'c—"
"Carter. Family. Got it, Daniel."
Daniel squinted into thin air and Jack could see that he was mulling over and processing what he had said about family. He eventually nodded at him, gave him a quick kiss as he lowered his body back down. "Night, Jack." Daniel was sleeping even before Jack spooned up against him.
"Morning, Daniel." Semantics, actually. Morning. Night. The important thing was that no one, not even memories of one's self worth got left behind.
Clarification first appeared in AncientsGate 7: Ancient of Days. Thanks Jmas for the faith. Ahhhh jo, to the bestest and most patient beta. Words cannot thank you for all that you've taught me, but as always, any and all mistakes are mine. To the campers at this year's con, thanks for the smiles and the laughter, and always remember, there's safety in numbers.
If you want to see more of Jmas' ezines, here's her link:
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