Compromising Positionsby devra
To be honest, I did forget, plain and simple. I know that's no excuse, but it's the only one I have. The translations and the responsibilities of the Archaeological Department had swelled from gentle waves to a tsunami over the past weeks, threatening and then succeeding in drowning me with work. Today's barbecue, the annual end of the summer celebration at chez O'Neill, the one which is fodder for SGC gossip for months afterwards, lay buried and forgotten under the books and research in my office.
Tonight, as I drove home, barely able to keep my eyes open but not wanting to spend another second inside the mountain, I vowed I was going to learn the meaning of delegation and fill out the required paperwork for additional staff.
As soon as the doorman tipped me off that Jack was in my loft, I belatedly remembered the SGC was not where I was supposed to be today. I had an elevator ride and ten steps to my door to figure out how to circumvent my lover's wrath. I screwed up. Unequivocally, without question, I made a tremendous blunder and I don't even think admitting my error and offering my body for "make up" sex is going to change Jack's attitude. Slowly, I insert my key into the lock, averting the inevitable is no way to win over the Colonel.
Jack had been leisurely stretched out on my sofa as I walked in, watching TV, and he nonchalantly raised his hand in greeting. "Leftovers are in the fridge, Daniel. You missed a great time." Jack went straight for the jugular, complete with guilt.
* * *
My plate, with a congealed, half eaten burger, holds no appeal as it sits on the coffee table. But refusing to add to my sins, I had made myself a meal from the leftover BBQ feast. The only thing I had foreseen in my future was a shower and bed; what I get, instead, is a lover who wants me to explain how I could have forgotten.
"I called the cell phone, your office, left messages…" Jack gets up and grabs my plate and stomps off. My glasses take the place of my plate on the table, the 'I need to sleep headache' has begun to make its presence known with in-sync, painful pounding in my temples. Jack gently taps the arm that cradles my aching head and I look up through bleary eyes to him standing over me with a glass of water and aspirin in his outstretched hands.
Thirstier than I thought, I finish the water in three gulps, grimacing as I feel the pills slide all the way down my throat. My head is too heavy to hold upright and it falls to rest on the back of the couch, followed up by an involuntary sigh as my drooping eyelids finally close. The couch gives under Jack's weight and instinctively we lean into each other once he settles in.
Jack's hand smoothes back my hair and then languidly moves along the outline of my profile, ending with the pad of his thumb tracing the dark smudges I know shadow my eyes.
My 'sorry' gets overrun by his 'I was worried'.
I slowly open my eyes, turn my head, and squint in his direction. "Why were you worried?"
He shrugs his shoulders, face downcast, and I know Jack long enough to realize that he's embarrassed. My final apology holds a different tone, full of sincerity in answer to his revelation and my transgression.
* * *
Jack's snoring away in my left ear and no amount of kicking, pushing, or pinching his nose succeeds in bringing a halt to this sound. Usually I take comfort in those rumblings of night life, but tonight the vibration just grates on my nerves like a stuck record. Take the snoring and combine it with the steady drumbeat of the nighttime rain as it hits the window, and my body is now thrumming with a tension so great that my jaw hurts from grinding my teeth.
My body is tired, in such desperate need of rest that it simply refuses to relax. My mind holds the ability of obtaining REM sleep just out of my body's range… the bed and incessant ticking clock have become my enemy.
I've counted sheep in over twenty-three languages, I've tried lulling my body to sleep a limb at a time, I've conjugated verbs… all to no avail. While at work, I dreamed of coming home, standing under the spray of a hot shower and then crawling under the covers to sleep the next seventy-two hours of my downtime away. There had even been that slight teaser when I had drifted off on the couch, head back, drooling. Not a pretty sight, Jack had informed me… but it was sleep. Twenty/twenty hindsight, I wish Jack had left me on the sofa, uncomfortable position and all. I mean, okay, I would have woken up stiff and achy, but at least sleep would have been achieved.
I ease myself out from under Jack's hold and make a quick exchange of my body with my pillow, returning the covers to their original position. Jack hugs the pillow closer, not even aware that I've left the bed and I shake my head, unsure of whether or not I should be concerned over being so easily replaced. I realize that if I stay in bed any longer it'll lead up to more frustrated tossing and turning, which will then eventually wake Jack, an equation I would prefer not to deal with at 1:30 in the morning.
* * *
I stand over the kitchen sink, rolling a sleeping pill in the palm of my hand. I hate these, hate the dreamless state they produce and I hate even more the drugged feeling that resides in your body even hours after you awaken. Instead of swallowing it, I turn my hand over and watch as the pill spirals down the drain. I contemplate the age old remedy of warm milk and at the precise moment I've made my decision and my hand rests on the fridge handle, the phone rings. Heart pounding, a byproduct of the phone's loud, jarring invasion in the quiet of the apartment, I make a dive toward the ringing offender in the hopes of cutting off the sound before its mate in the bedroom awakens Jack.
I recognize the voice seconds after she says my name.
"Cassie?" I strain to listen, the loud music in the background drowning her voice, hiding her words. "Cassie," I repeat. "Is this you? I can hardly—"
"Yes," she answers. Her voice is filled with anxiety so thick it carries over the music through the phone lines.
Before I have a chance to question why I'm the recipient of a phone call in the early morning hours, Jack calls my name from the bedroom, wondering the same thing. I'm poised to yell out Cassie's name when in whispered urgency she pleads for me to not tell anyone.
"Tell them what, Cassie. Why can't I…"
Her words tumble out in rush, hard to understand. I press the phone tightly to my ear, still straining to hear what she is saying. "I need you, Daniel. I need you to come get me… and not tell anyone… and not ask questions. Please."
"Has anyone…" My mind is taking horrific detours with what Cassie isn't saying.
"No!" she whispers emphatically, followed by a softer 'no'.
I catch the sob in her voice, the resolve to hold back tears slowly giving way. Her words trip over each other in their haste to make their point. "Just believe me when I tell you… I need you now. 'Kay… promise me?"
My promise rewards me with an address in an area of town I'm not familiar with and a sense of urgency as Cassie begs me to hurry.
* * *
I throw mumbled words at Jack as he sits on the bed, arms crossed, eyes boring into me. I try to ignore the heat of his stare as I dress hurriedly, stuffing my wallet and keys into my sweat pants. The rambling excuse I give about a tablet, translation and the SGC sounds lame, even to me. I lean over to kiss him, expecting Jack to say hurry home, but he gives me nothing except a chaste, dry kiss to my lips.
* * *
I get out of the car, squinting in the light of the poorly lit street, trying to pick Cassie out of the crowd of people scattered on the porch and lawn.
"Nice car, man."
I don't need this. The address of the house that Cassie directed me to is situated in the wealthier part of town; manicured lawns, expensive cars and young people with too much time on their hands. I'm double parked, the rain slicked street is lined with cars, and I'm one step from losing patience with the two young men who have taken interest in my Thunderbird. Two athletically built and very drunk young men.
The warning growl I give the two who are pawing the Thunderbird surprises even me. I'm so focused on them that until I hear Cassie calling my name as she stands beside me, I'm unaware of her presence. Glancing at her, the set of her jaw and her shoulders, I can see she is making a valiant attempt to play it cool. There is no sign of panic in her voice as she thanks me for coming to get her. I pat the hand that is gripping my arm tightly, the only evidence that she is close to the edge. Without a word, I open the passenger door, and we exchange a slight smile through the closed window as she settles into the bucket seat.
"I *said*, nice car."
Turning slowly, I can't help but eye them from top to bottom before dismissing them with a snort.
"What, I'm not good enough for your little girl?" The taller of the two slurs drunkenly, lifting his head toward Cassie's direction. He steps forward, snaking out his hand to make a grab for me. Years of military training, years of training with my team and I'm faster than he is as I latch onto the front of his shirt, pulling him towards me until we stand nose to nose. And in the calm voice I usually save for System Lords and idiots, I explain to him in no uncertain terms why the girl in the car, the car itself and I, are unobtainable. I shove him away, disgusted as some of the beer from his opened can spills onto my jacket. Wiping the liquid off with my hand, I open the door, get in the car and drive away, making it two blocks before Cassie's sobs force me to pull over.
I was so caught up in my anger about the situation that I had forgotten about Cassie. She is my younger sister, my daughter, my niece… the closest thing to the child I probably will never have and it's for that reason that I gather her in my arms without condemnation until her sobs have quieted to hiccupping breaths.
* * *
The reason for Cassie's sojourn becomes apparent the moment I pull up to the house. Dark and deserted, Janet's car is conspicuously absent from the driveway, I don't need to be a genius to figure out the way this teenage mind worked.
"Thanks." Her tone is quiet and childlike, seeping into my returning exhaustion. Cassie hesitates, her hand frozen on the door handle.
My fingers hover around the keys in the ignition, bed and Jack create a litany in my mind, but I push their beckoning voices aside as I ask Cassie if she would like me to keep her company for awhile.
The interior of the car is lit only by the nearby street lamp but it still enables me to see the warring emotions on her expressive face. I smirk and teasingly nudge her with my elbow, turn off the car and with a tilt of my head in the direction of the house, preclude her from making a decision. A true smile, the first since I've seen in the past hour is my reward, and I pat myself on the back for reading all her signals correctly.
* * *
The mere walk to the house has advanced to helping a shaking hand unlock the door, to checking the house for boogie men and is ending with a snack of cookies and milk in the kitchen.
Because curious minds wanna know, I asked Cassie where the truck was, the old F10 that Jack had bestowed on her. Polished fingernails trace the rim of the glass and her reluctant answer about a fender bender last week and a ticket the week before certainly explained Janet's mood as she had stalked the halls of the SGC the past few days.
"I'm not a baby, Daniel!" she pouts, dunking the cookie in the milk.
I follow her lead, and place my hand under my chin to catch the dripping milk as I shake my head in agreement.
"I *know* those guys were older," she states flippantly. "I *know* mom said they were much too old. But jeez, they were Christine's brother's friend's cousin. I mean…"
The rest of Cassie's lament is lost as I try to piece together how Cassie really knew these boys through the six degrees of separation theory. I catch the tail end about Janet forbidding her teenage daughter to be in the presence of boys who were old enough to drink.
Ahhh, the age old forbidden fruit scenario. Something tells me that in Cassie's eyes, the attraction to these guys, while albeit may have seemed to be their older image, was in reality a push towards independence from Janet's protective netting. Being prohibited to even make contact with them had actually notched their status up in Cassie's book. Taking the first chance she could, Janet pulling a night shift at the SGC, Cassie booked, taking her ability to make a rational decision right out the door with her.
I'm tired but Cassie is emotionally distraught, and I'm doing what I suspect every parent has done through the ages when they find their child in this state; I'm flying by the seat of my pants. My face is registering shock as she regales me with the attitude of these boys, I'm making the appropriate noises and I pat her hand in empathy as this young woman comes to the realization that her mom really did know best. But the worst part of this parenting thing is how my heart breaks as tears well in those eyes due to embarrassment and devastation by her poor judgment. Cassie has learned a hard lesson, one she begs me over and over not to share with anyone. She's ashamed by her digression, one that will definitely earn her punishment, but even worse in her eyes, will cause her mother to lose trust and faith.
"Why me, Cassie? Why not Jack or Sam?"
She gets up suddenly, grabbing our glasses off the table, washing them, dumping them in the dishwasher. Cassie slams the door to the dishwasher and cleans the table in quick, jerky movements, sending a signal to me that she's angry or hurt. And me? I'm confused. Lack of sleep is starting to kick in, the kitchen takes on a surreal feel, blurring around the edges and I'm having an obvious problem getting my synapses to fire.
My PhD's mean nothing to this teenager as narrowed eyes view me with disdain. "Daniel, you just don't get it, do you?"
She does an unladylike snort in response to my raised eyebrows followed by a totally Jack saying of "For crying out loud!"
"Whaaat?" I jerk up in surprise… okay, was that high pitched sound me? Did I just whine? Has the adult figure been reduced to childhood? Grimacing, I remember Jack's constant reminder that when I'm tired, maturity has a way of leaving me in the dust.
Cassie kneels before me and I'm given a breathtaking glimpse of the beautiful woman she will become in a few short years. With a knowing smile on her face she looks up to meet and hold my eyes. "I could never disappoint you, Daniel. Never," she adds emphatically. "You would never judge me. I know you're not like that. When you care for someone, you love all of them, shortcomings and all."
I tug a strand of her hair and state unequivocally, "well, you *are* perfect."
Standing, she issues a childlike giggle. "See what a mean? Perfect?" Sobering suddenly, she looks down, studying her knotted hands with great interest. "Jack and Sam… well, they sorta, kinda…"
I reach out, capturing her hands in mine. "They love you, Cassie, don't ever think otherwise."
Her eyes widen in surprise and she is quick to reassure me. "Oh no… I know that. Just the bar that they measure me with… is a little too high to reach sometimes. And I didn't want them to be disappointed in me."
"Never. You couldn't ever disappoint anyone, especially not Jack or Sam, Teal'c or the General, for that matter."
I can tell by the hardening of her face and the set of her features that Cassie feels otherwise, but I'm too tired to dissuade her. Arguing her worth in the eyes of SG1 will have to wait until another day. I wish I could leave, but I stay because at the moment, her needs are more important than the problems between me and Jack. She's a teenager, we're adults, she needs guidance and we need… who the hell knows what we need. I sneak a peek at the clock and she follows my sidelong glance. "Oh God, it's late… I mean… it's early…"
Stretching my arms over my head, enjoying the simple pleasure of moving stiffened muscles, I stand to take my leave, already running through the scenarios I'm going to have awaiting me at home. I pull her into a hug, kissing the top of her head, inexplicable moisture seeps into my eyes as she returns the hug, whispering quiet thanks you's into my shirt.
Cassie walks me to the door and I notice she looks tired, but the fear and haunted looks seem to have settled down. "Go to bed," I urge.
"I will," she promises, "but first I need a shower, and aspirin." She laughs at the worried look on my face, reading my mind. "No, I'm fine, you don't have to stay… I *am* tired and that's the reason for the headache. Nothing else, I promise," she reassures me.
She clears her throat and I raise my eyebrows in response.
“You’re worse than my mother.” She touches the base of her throat. “It’s just scratchy from all the smoke.”
Cassie rolls her eyes. “Cigarette smoke, shouting *over* the loud music, nothing an aspirin and a nice hot shower can’t take care of.”
“You sound like me,” I say with pride.
Cassie stands on tiptoes to plant a resounding kiss on my lips. "Thank you, Daniel." She waves her hands around the house, "For this, for coming to rescue me, for listening. Jack's very lucky."
I can feel the heat of a blush work its way up my face and Cassie laughs, now mature beyond her years. "You know you're cute when you blush?"
I stutter and falter, unable to find words. Cassie's laughter is still ringing in my ears as I find myself standing on the doorstep, outside. I listen carefully until I hear the door lock engage before I head towards the car.
* * *
The journey home was the type that when you arrive at your destination, you have no recollection of getting there. I'm in the parking garage to my building, my forehead resting on the steering wheel, the keys in my lap, and I'm clueless to how I arrived here or how long I've been drifting in this position. The Avalanche is in the spot next to mine, so I know Jack is hopefully still where I left him… in bed.
Every motion is performed with comical exaggerated slowness, opening the door, grabbing my jacket from the back seat, stepping out of the car, closing and locking the door. I literally stagger to the elevator, swaying as I press the up arrow to my floor. I force myself to focus my eyes on the changing numbers, but I'm hard pressed to remain upright on the trip up to the eighth floor.
In the enclosed space of the elevator, I wrinkle my nose as a horrid smell penetrates half-blocked sinuses. It's only me in the elevator, and raise my arm to my nose and sniff hesitantly. Stale beer, from my encounter with the guy at Cassie's party, has permeated the jacket I'm wearing, the smell bad enough to make my stomach churn sickeningly.
* * *
In the short elevator ride, my level of consciousness has moved from exhaustion to punch drunk. It has taken three aborted attempt for my eyes and hands to coordinate so my key can be fitted into the lock. Honestly, the carpeted hallway is looking mighty appealing at this point in time. My kingdom for a flat surface, my mind thinks, and I can feel a giggle bubbling up at the absurdity of the situation.
I open the door and back my body against it so it closes. My knees begin to buckle under the weight of my body, and my keys make too loud a noise in the quiet of the apartment as they hit the wooden floor. I glance at them on the floor and decide to leave them right where they are for safekeeping until the morning. Using heavy arms for leverage, I shove myself off the door. Only a few more steps, I prod, whispering words of encouragement to an uncooperative body.
"Lost track of time, didja?"
Jack's disembodied voice floats to me from the direction of the kitchen.
I don't answer, the strength isn't there to make myself heard the length of the hallway. The kitchen lights are dimmed, but that doesn't stop me from seeing that Jack is upset, angry even and you know something, I'd be angry with me also.
I begin simply by saying his name, the thousand excuses that I had fly out of my sluggish brain now that I'm facing him, and I'm guilty as charged. Jack doesn't answer and his body language warns me that he isn't ready for me to join him in his personal space. My body warns me that if I don't sit down, I'm going to fall down. My body wins over his, but I compromise by taking the seat across from him, rather than next to him.
Jack gets up with a noisy expulsion of air and I track his pacing in the small confines of the kitchen. I realize that he's dressed, shoes and socks dressed, this is definitely a bad sign. He paces, hands shoved into his pockets, head down… turning back and forth. I begin to feel a rise in nausea watching him ping pong from fridge to cabinet. "Please, stop," I beg.
He looks down at me in confusion, but I think the green tinge of my skin is visible even in the kitchen's poor lighting, but there is no sympathy in Jack's eyes.
"The last time I checked the ordinances, drinking wasn't permitted at the SGC," Jack states succinctly.
He leans his long torso against the sink, folds his arms across his chest—a look and stance I know and hate all too well. "You stink."
"Hey!" I yell, then stop my remaining words mid stream when my sleep deprived mind registers that Jack is a hundred percent correct, I do stink.
"Where were you?" Jack asks… no, make that demands—his words more of an order than a question.
Cassie's face appears before my eyes, my promise of silence echoing in my mind. No excuse or answer I could supply Jack with will sound feasible, so I remain silent.
My silence resounds as truth in Jack's mind.
"I know you aren't stupid, so you must think *I'm* the stupid one, or too ignorant as not to put two and two together. And that alone bothers me as much as you thinking that you can play me for a fool." There's no warmth or understanding in Jack's face, the eyes that are turned on me are the ones he usually reserves for the assholes in Washington or the beings with snakes controlling their brains.
I feel the burn of color rising to my face. My ability to declare my denial to Jack is becoming mired in my exhaustion and the words I'm using to express my thoughts are faltering. I'm so frustrated at my inability to make Jack understand me, I do the next best thing. I get angry. "Do you realize you sound like a jealous wife?"
"Enough. Shut the hell up!" Jack shouts, pointing an accusatory finger in my direction. "About two hours after you left I dialed star 69 and a guy answered… sounded pretty drunk to me… but he seemed to remember you… and your car."
I wait, but Jack makes no mention of the young girl that I had in my passenger seat. Mentally snorting, figures, guys will remember the car but not the girl I left with. "What are you saying?" Mental fatigue must be playing tricks on me, he can't be inferring what I think he is.
Jack straightens and walks over to me, assuming a posture of dominance as I'm forced to look up at him. No way, this I won't allow… there isn't going to be a power play in my kitchen, he isn't going to pull that Colonel bullshit with me. His rank and military standing never did, nor does it now, intimidate me. I stand, close enough to feel his hot, angry breath on my face.
"I don't have to *say* anything, I'm just going to state the truth. Tonight was the last straw." He ticks off my sins on his extended fingers. "First you were out tonight, somewhere where they obviously served alcohol, there was no emergency at the SGC because, you see, I checked there." Jack adds another finger to my litany of transgressions, "*And* not only wasn't there a problem that needed instant translation, but…" Jack taps another finger, "and this is a big but, Daniel, you signed out of the SGC at least 4 hours before you came home today."
Jack's correct, I did sign out, but as soon as my signature was on the page, dotted and dated and the ink barely dry, a call came down from my department informing me my services were required for a translation on a possible Goa'uld device that SG7 had brought back. Airman Gorman, who had been on duty at the time, waved me away and when I left later for the second and last time, informed me I didn't need to resign the log book. I had assumed he'd have made some type of notation in the log, but obviously I had assumed wrong.
"This isn't what it looks like." My temporary burst of anger is gone, and I slip into first contact mode, trying to convince the inhabitants that even though SG1 is bearing guns, we come in peace. "Can you trust me on this one, Jack?"
He stares at me and the burning anger in his eyes is replaced by a sadness which appears and disappears so quickly, I think maybe I'd imagined it. "There's no fool like an old fool, Daniel. And you definitely played me for one."
There becomes an absurd feel to this situation, like I've walked into the middle of a movie, akin to having missed the crucial opening minutes where the plot is revealed. "If you can think that of me… believe I would take another person into my arms, then maybe I'm the one who's been the fool." I slam my mouth shut, stopping the words that seem to want to leave… to hurt. I've been exhausted enough times in my life to know that I need sleep to continue this conversation. I need to regroup my thoughts, tomorrow… tomorrow would be good, but right now I need Jack to leave before emotions are shared that no amount of apologies can take back. I fall heavily into the chair and bury my head in my hands and by the time I've gained the strength to tell him we'll talk in the morning, I hear the echo of familiar footsteps pound across the wooden floor and the loft door slams shut.
I don't care how this looks to him. The kudos that I should have received by helping Cassie out of a potentially dangerous position will go unheeded, my promise will be kept… and I'll be the one losing. And so will Jack… but then again, a little piece of us has already been lost if he can believe me capable of what he's accusing me of.
Using my open palms on the table for support, I haul my body off the chair and I shuffle into the bedroom, taking the stink of the evening into the empty room. I ball up the jacket and fling it into the far corner. I drop onto the edge of the bed and toe off my shoes. My body is forcing my brain to shut down and I throw myself onto the bed fully clothed, to catch the sleep which has eluded me the past twenty-four hours.
* * *
I lock my pillow over my head and decide it's a conspiracy as I toss and turn, trying to shut out the noise from the apartment below. Our downtime is usually spent at Jack's house. 'House' being the operative word; self-standing without walls attached to other people's living space and lives. 'House' meant we were able to close windows, doors and blinds against everyday life. I never realized the perks of being a homeowner until early this morning, the exact moment the construction workers appeared downstairs with all their very loud tools and voices.
With great trepidation, I lift the pillow and squint at the digital display on the bedside clock. Okay, I've managed almost three hours of sleep and with the promise of a pot of coffee, a hot shower and an afternoon nap, my body seems willing and agreeable to getting out of bed.
I still smell horrible, yesterday's events are stamped on the clothes I wore to bed and I shuck them off with lightening speed. Naked, I walk to the kitchen, open the cabinet and pull out the "good" stuff to start a pot of coffee. I avert my eyes so I don't see the foodstuffs left over from the BBQ or the fact that there is no blinking light on the answering machine to signify a missed phone call.
* * *
I fell asleep in the shower, standing up, the wall supporting my body. Disgusted, I turn off the now cold stream of water and rub my head where it had rested against the tile, feeling the imprint left behind.
Like the shower, the cup of coffee I had left on the bathroom sink has turned cold and bitter and I grimace at its pungent taste before pouring the remainder down the sink. I dry myself off quickly, saving the act of shaving for another day, refusing to meet my mirrored reflection. My eyes burn from lack of sleep and I don't want or need the mirror to confirm a tired and haggard persona.
* * *
I break off the slightly green corners of the two slices of bread before I pop them in the toaster. Out of unreasonable anger, all the food that Jack brought over I throw in the garbage, even the bowl of Janet's famous rice pudding sitting in the fridge. I show no mercy and within minutes my fridge and counter is cleaned of every tin foiled or plastic wrapped item.
I butter the toast and drink a fresh cup of coffee, making a mental list of all the chores which need to be done while playing the teenage game of not wanting to be home when and if Jack calls. The annoyance at his unreasonable attitude is beginning to eat away at the meager breakfast that is sitting heavy in my stomach. Two antacids are chewed and washed down with the last of the coffee.
* * *
The laundry room is deserted and I throw all my clothes, sheets and towels in one oversized machine, too lazy and short of change to separate the whites from the others. I close the overstuffed washer with my hip and I count out and deposit the money in the necessary spot, and hit the start button. I cringe as I hear Mrs. Moldan from the apartment down the hall call out my name. I paste a smile on my face before turning. I have problems dealing with my neighbor on a good day and am certainly not in the mood to listen to her biting, sarcastic comments today about the other occupants in the building.
She shakes her head at my appearance and proceeds to rant about the work being done on the floor below us, the new heating system, the security, never once noticing me sliding my body to the doorway under the big, red exit sign. I beat a rude, hasty retreat, leaving behind not only my load of clothes but a bewildered Mrs. Moldan stammering mid-sentence.
* * *
The lights are too bright, the air conditioning is too cold and even though my fridge is barren, the grocery store isn't the place I want to frequent. At breakneck speed I maneuver around the store and begin to throw things haphazardly into the cart, frozen items, fresh bread, milk, and nauseating, pre-packaged, cold cuts. I come to a complete stop at the cereal aisle, overwhelmed by the choices presented to me, unable to make a decision. Standing in the middle of the aisle, amid the Cheerios and Captain Crunch, while mothers with children shop around me, my need for Jack slams into my chest followed by how angry I am at him. I head for the checkout after depositing two garishly decorated boxes proclaiming real chocolate taste into my cart.
* * *
Even in the short trip to the kitchen, I leave a trail of water in my wake across the hardwood floor. The sky opened up the moment I stepped out of the store, soaking me right down to my underwear. I put the perishables in the fridge, leaving the sodden boxes of cereals on the table to dry out.
I stand facing the answering machine, the blinking light taunting me until I find the courage to push the button. I slam down the delete button after the message reveals Tony from the gas station has called to remind me to bring my car in for service tomorrow. I certainly know Jack long enough and well enough to realize that he's never going to make the first move and apologize. With a snort of disgust at my own stupidity, I wish someone would please explain to me why I'm so disappointed that it *wasn't* his voice on the machine.
"Sure, fine, whatever," I lament to no one in particular as I stamp off to change my clothes.
* * *
It's a sad state of affairs when the best sleep I've had in the past few days takes place in a tub filled with some smelly aromatherapy concoction that was a gift from Sam. I may be wrinkled like a prune, but I feel halfway human as I dry and redress myself for the second time today. I fortify myself with a new cup of coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich as I power up my laptop for some research.
* * *
I'm stumped and get up to refresh my coffee, surprised at the darkness of the loft. Night has fallen but I've been so enraptured in the ancient culture I've been studying, that I lost track of time in my own world. I pour the dredges of the pot into my cup and use it to swallow down some aspirin from the bottle by the sink. The clock indicates it's been hours since the grilled cheese sandwich and I open the fridge, more out of habit and than from hunger.
Clear, loud laughter rings out from the hallway by my door, reinforcing how lonely I feel… hell, how lonely I actually am at the moment. I shut the fridge door and lean my forehead against the freezer, counting to ten in Abydonian, trying to kill my desire to pick up the phone and call Jack. I leave the cup on the counter, forget my need to eat and take the phone off the hook. "Fuck you, Jack," is my response to the beeping dial tone before I leave the kitchen to return to my research.
* * *
Three times I've read the same paragraph before I decide to call it a night. I turn off the laptop and walk to the kitchen to feed my forgotten and now protesting stomach. Nothing in the newly filled fridge thrills me so I settle for a bowl of cereal. I place the receiver back on the cradle while eating the second bowl of cereal, embarrassed by my previous infantile behavior.
* * *
I bang my head in frustration at the sight of my stripped down, naked bed, remembering for the first time since this morning that my blankets and sheets are sitting downstairs in the washer. I bury all thoughts of Jack laughing at my one set of sheets and instead grab a handful of change, my keys, slip on shoes, lock the door behind me and traipse to the basement.
Dim lighting, a quiet, warm room, a bank of machines, and one long metal table. I sit down on the lone stool in the room and watch, slack jawed and mesmerized, as my bedding tumbles through the dryer cycle. For want of entertainment in the solitude of this room, I begin to count the number of times I see the same item as it passes the glass window on its rotation.
* * *
I shrug the offending hand off my shoulder. "Go 'way, Jack. I'm not in the mo—"
"Dr. Jackson!" My body jerks awake so suddenly that I'm in danger of falling off my precarious perch on the stool. I latch onto the table for support, horrified that Mrs. Moldan has grabbed my elbow so my ass stays put.
"Laun… laundry," I stammer. I gently remove my elbow from her grasp and then inconspicuously slide my hand along the metal table to cover the puddle of drool I've left behind.
I stand, trying to maintain some dignity as Mrs. Moldan pats my hand. "I took the liberty of folding your stuff. You were just too cute to wake up," she sighs. Oh god, I decide, I prefer the mean, vindictive Mrs. Moldan compared to this one who's batting her eyelashes at me. With a nod of my head and a stuttered thank you, I gather up my overflowing basket filled with precision folded laundry and beat a hasty retreat. The basket is awkward to maneuver and I prop it against the elevator wall, mentally sorting through the pile to remember if there were any items that might add further embarrassment to my standing in the building.
* * *
"Dr. J, I'm so sorry."
"It's okay, Tony," I answer with a wave of my hand. I'm drinking my fifth horrible tasting cup of coffee, eating my third donut and giving my tenth reassurance to my mechanic that I have nothing better to do other than spend another hour or two waiting for my car to be serviced.
* * *
I fumble with my key when I hear the harsh ringing of the phone through the closed apartment door. I want to make it inside before the answering machine picks up for me.
I pick up the receiver with half a ring left in my favor. "Hello?"
"I was just going to hang up," Jack says.
"IwasgettingthecarservicedatTony's," I blurt out. Whoa, the kitchen takes a sickening and unexpected dip to the left and I flop down in the kitchen chair.
"Oh," Jack says awkwardly. "Daniel, look I…"
My body is not cooperating with my heart's need to speak to Jack as I break out in a cold sweat, and I drop my head down between my opened legs. Now, I have to get Jack off the phone this instant cause I'm betting the puking noises I'm going to be making in a matter of seconds will have Jack at my door in true mother hen mode. Part of me, a very large part of me, wants his comfort. But more importantly, I want the trust issue that cropped up the other night to be addressed, which Jack would find next to impossible to speak about while he is cleaning up my vomit.
I swallow spastically, hoping to force down the coffee and donuts for just a few more seconds. "I miss you, Jack."
"Look, Daniel, why don't—"
"We have to talk. Later… not now. Please, not now," I beg and whimper out a pathetic, "I'm sorry," before I hang up the phone without even a goodbye.
* * *
The cold tile of the bathroom floor biting my ass through my jeans is the reason I awake. With great caution, I peel my face off the rim of the toilet seat and release my death grip from the base of the porcelain bowl. After my third or maybe my fourth round of purging myself of everything my stomach has ingested these past days, my exhausted body decided to crash, not caring if it wasn't comforted by a soft mattress or any other accoutrements that were usually required for a productive rest.
With eyes barely open, I brush my teeth, drag myself into the bedroom and doff my clothes on the short journey until I'm down to just my boxers. Not caring that the bed is only half made, I fling my body across the width of it, hunt for a pillow and draw the blanket from the foot of the bed to cover my body. I must have fallen asleep before I complete the task because…
I awake what seems like moments later, curled in a fetal position, the blanket pooled around my knees and I'm freezing… and pissed. I reach down and pull the blanket up to my shoulders and lay staring at the wall, listening to my teeth chatter and the ruckus in the apartment directly below. Hammering, sawing, even laughter is penetrating their ceiling and seeping in through my floor. Cursing in frustration, I throw the blanket to the floor, get up and rifle through the basket of laundry, scattering its contents until I come across sweats and a pair of socks.
* * *
While standing in the kitchen waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, I do a mental calculation on the microwave clock. I got home from Tony's around 2 pm, and based on the digital readout, I slept in both the bathroom and bed for a grand total of an additional two hours. I'm working on two days of downtime and I can safely say the best stretch of sleep I've had so far is a close tie between the bathtub and the metal table in the laundry room.
My head aches, my throat is scratchy, my chest is tight, I've developed this really annoying cough and all I want is eight… no, I'll be satisfied with six hours of uninterrupted sleep. Based on the way I'm feeling, allergy medication should be my drug of choice but in my mind I can picture the new bottle sitting on the third shelf of the medicine cabinet at Jack's house.
The freshly brewed pot of coffee suddenly doesn't hold as much appeal as the bottle of sleeping pills sitting on the counter. I turn off the pot and pour myself a glass of juice instead. There is no hesitation this time as I take one pill, chasing it down with the cold juice.
"Ow," I say to no one but the walls as the juice burns a path down my throat. Subconsciously, I rub my hand soothingly down my neck to quell the pain I've awakened with the juice.
A crash of glass resounds from below followed by angry voices and without thinking or caring how I'm going to feel tomorrow, I down another pill. It goes down hard, scratching my already sensitive throat and I grimace in discomfort when the remaining juice follows suit.
* * *
My fingers caress the base of the answering machine as I contemplate the unblinking light. Damn, I miss Jack.
I don't even recall the how's or why's the phone is now in my hand, just that suddenly I'm staring at the touch pad. I want to hear Jack's voice, I want to turn back the hands of time and not make an inane promise to Cassie, I want to tell Jack where I was but more importantly, I realize, I wanted him to believe me and not question my absence. I *wanted* him to trust me. I *want* him to trust me.
I contemplate taking the phone to bed with me so I won't sleep through any incoming calls, but in minutes, thanks to the pills, I know I'm going to be a blithering idiot unable to carry on any type of intelligent conversation. Smiling sadly, I replace the receiver back in the cradle and give it a pat for good measure. I grab a bottle of water from the fridge and head towards the bedroom to lose myself in the oblivion of sleep.
* * *
I'm restless, unable to find a comfortable spot in the bed, tossing and turning, annoyed I'm making something as mundane as sleeping an unobtainable goal. Between throwing up and my allergies, my throat is on fire, limbs are heavy and achy, I can't seem to shake the chill I got earlier from sleeping on the bathroom floor, and it seems like hours before I succumb to the pills and give my body the rest it's been craving.
* * *
I wake periodically as the pills loosen their hold and become peripherally aware of my surroundings in layers. In this fugue state between sleep and wakefulness, I register the passing of time with the darkening of the room and the hush of the world around me. I awaken, asking Jack for a blanket or to close the window, the longing in my own voice bringing me fully to consciousness. I tuck the blanket tighter around my body, cough and sigh before closing my eyes.
I don't know how long I've been awake staring at the ceiling through gritty eyes, but it seems like forever because the agony in my throat has forced me awake. Oh-four hundred hours, I've slept almost twelve hours and yet it's still a battle of wills over how bad I feel versus the strength of the pills. The pillow under my head is soaked with drool that must have pooled and overflowed from my open mouth. By simple deduction I realize it must have been too painful, even during sleep, to swallow. I silently tick off various other complaints, a martyr's way of counting sheep which ironically, lulls me back to sleep.
* * *
By dawn, I drag my body into the kitchen, sink into a chair and cradle my aching head in my hands. The pills did their job, deadened me to the world for a good number of hours, but didn't leave me feeling refreshed. To the contrary, at the moment any place where I can lie myself down appeals to me. Coffee doesn't interest me… I nuke myself a cup of hot chocolate and grab a handful of dry cereal which I take to the living room.
I settle into the couch and stretch along its length, using the remote to surf through two hundred and something channels at breakneck speed. I cringe through each sip of the hot chocolate and abandon the cereal after two pieces. The knife-sharp pain when I swallow isn't worth the promised real chocolate taste of the cereal, but I stick with the hot chocolate for the warmth it provides.
My fingers are wrapped around the mug as it balances on my stomach and my hand seems to subconsciously stop on the ESPN channel. And like every other time Jack has had that station on, I fall asleep during the sports updates.
* * *
The mug tumbles out of my hands and shatters on the floor as I jump up to answer the ringing phone. One hand on the wall for balance, the other paused and ready to answer the phone as I try to find enough saliva to give me voice.
"Jack?" Okay, maybe the squeaking, prepubescent voice wasn't exactly what I was looking for.
"Dr. Jackson? Did I wake you?" Nyan asks. Bless my right hand assistant for just ignoring the fact that I answered the phone calling Colonel O'Neill's name.
I squint at the clock and I quickly reassure him that I wasn't sleeping. Basically lying.
"You sound horrible," he states, and then chuckles realizing what he just said to his boss.
I clear my throat, grimacing at the pain. "No, just allergies," I assure him.
"Oh, do you feel well enough to return to the mountain. I mean, I know you're technically still on downtime but there's something that needs your—"
"I'm fine," I interrupt, and then listen with half an ear as Nyan explains why my presence is required, requested, whatever… I promise him I'll be there in an hour or so and to leave the files on my desk and load the required data into my office computer.
* * *
I glance furtively around the infirmary, offering a small half smile, and wave my hand to a passing nurse. She stops, backtracks and eyes me with an unreadable expression on her face. "Are you all rright, Dr. Jackson?"
I bury a barking cough in the crook of my arm, trying to maintain composure against the needle-like pain radiating the length of throat. "Fine," I sniff. Her name finally clicks in my brain. "Is Jan… Dr. Fraiser available, Linda? I need my allergy medication renewed."
"Your *allergy* medication?" Linda parrots. "That's what you want?"
I'm annoyed at Linda's confusion over my straightforward question. "Is Dr. Fraiser here?" I repeat. I shift my weight, trying to cover up my agitation.
"Dr. Warner's on call, I'll go get him for you." She pats the closest infirmary bed. "Why don't you just hop up?"
"I just want my meds, I don't need to 'hop up'."
"Fine," Linda replies rather too haughtily for my taste before she goes off to find Dr. Warner.
I cross my arms in retaliation and lean against the indicated bed.
"Dr. Jackson." Dr. Warner always says my name like he's gearing up to reprimand an errant child.
"Dr. Warner." My two-can-play-at-this-game response becomes consumed in a cough. "I just need… allergy medication," I plead.
"Yes, allergy medication. Linda told me." A short laugh bursts forth from Dr. Warner, that's so unexpected and out of character that I find myself smiling, wondering what inside joke between the doctor and nurse, at my expense, that I've missed. Dr. Warner regains his no-nonsense composure, pulls the curtain around for privacy and orders my ass on the bed so he can examine me.
* * *
"Scarlet fever, come on, Warner, no one gets that any more." I'm finding it a little hard to process that Daniel's in the Iso unit because of a disease from the 1890's.
Dr. Warner slams the file folder down on the overcrowded desk, obviously frustrated at my ignorance. "Colonel O'Neill, certainly you don't believe this a laughing matter?"
"No… No. Of course not." My fingers tap a staccato beat against the arms of my chair. "How long…" Warner glances down at my active fingers, taking my nervous habit as a sign of annoyance rather than reading it as my desire to "see" Daniel.
"As long as he needs to be there, Colonel. Dr. Jackson is quite ill."
My heart and stomach perform a simultaneous trapeze act and miss the net, landing somewhere on the floor around my ankles. "How ill?" is all I can manage to utter.
"First off, be aware that Dr. Jackson is in isolation for *our* precaution as opposed to his."
'I don't care why he's there', I want to scream at the good doctor. I want to jump over the desk, take the lapels of his lab coat in my hands and shake all the information about Daniel from him. I want to run to the Iso room and see Daniel for myself. But I'll have to be satisfied with the mental visualization of my scenarios, while in reality sit and patiently listen to whatever Doctor Warner is telling me.
He leans the chair back, tents his fingers and contemplates me. I hold his glance even as he flips the chair forward to rest all four legs on the floor with a bang.
Fast and furiously, with a tinge of anger, Dr. Warner ticks off what Daniel has been up to the past seventy-two hours, beginning with making sure I'm aware of the chain of command within the SGC. "General Hammond has already been briefed concerning the state of Dr. Jackson's health and he informed me, that as his commanding officer, it was important that you also be made aware of his condition."
I nod my head, giving Warner the all clear sign, stamping down my emotional worry, and school my features into an unreadable poker face.
Warner clears his throat before beginning. "Scarlet fever, while it certainly doesn't carry the implications it did years ago, is not something that should be scoffed at, Colonel."
I acknowledge my earlier sarcasm with a "sorry."
He accepts my apology with a tight smile. "Painfully inflamed throat, swollen tongue, rash over the trunk of his body. Scarlet fever was confirmed with a strep test and blood work. We're treating the disease with IV antibiotics, oral acetaminophen to lower the fever, although at this time, we haven't seen a significant drop in temperature."
Doctor Warner pauses and takes a drink of coffee from the stryrofoam cup that rests by his elbow. "Would you like some, Colonel?" he offers, pointing to the half-filled coffee maker sitting atop the tiny fridge in this office.
"No, I'm good," I answer, and I encourage him to keep speaking with a wave of my hand.
"Scarlet fever, in very rare cases, can lead to heart and/or kidney problems. There are no signs of either, but we've hooked Dr. Jackson to a heart monitor and I've consulted with Dr. Kahardi, the cardiologist, who'll be examining him tomorrow. We've also catheterized Dr. Jackson both as a precautionary measure, and anyway, with the dehydration, there's a need to measure his urine output."
I look up and catch Warner's eyes and we smile in male empathy over Daniel's plight. Nothing, well almost nothing, compares to the degradation and discomfort of having a catheter shoved inside of you. I protectively cross my legs at just the mere thought of thin tubing and nurses handling my penis.
"There is also the issue of co-morbidity."
"Excuse me?" I stammer. Mention morbid and I'm seeing death, dying, deceased--words that I don't want in any way, shape, or form suggested in any sentence that has Daniel's name.
"Sorry, the word carries very strange connotations, but it means another illness that has attacked the patient in conjunction with the primary one. In Dr. Jackson's case, he is presenting with a nasty case of bronchitis. He has a nasal canula to aid with his breathing, we've done a chest x-ray, and a respiratory treatment. At the moment, like I said, it's bronchitis, and with his weakened state we're hoping it doesn't take a turn towards pneumonia."
"Can I see him?"
Warner stretches and I see the lines of exhaustion and worry on his face. He's not Fraiser, and I know that the man doesn't have the personal connection to SG1 that she does, but Doc Warner is still someone I trust my life with.
The doc stands. "Yes, of course you can see him, Colonel." He checks his watch. "Fifteen minutes tops, he's probably sleeping, and if he isn't, he should be. Talk to Linda, she'll help you gown up before you go in, explain the procedures."
"Thank you," I answer sincerely.
"And Colonel, fifteen minutes, not a moment more and I repeat, if Dr. Jackson is sleeping, do not wake him up. Because if you do," he threatens ominously, "your next physical will be with me."
I answer his threat with a smile. "I understand, Dr. Warner, you don't have to go any further."
* * *
I notice two things when entering the Iso room. The first is these four walls appear to be cooler than any other area within the SGC and the second is the absence of everyday work noises within this room. It is so devoid of the sounds that make up the SGC that you're forced to hone in on the sound of the medical equipment.
I'm wearing a paper cover up atop my clothes, a mask and gloves, and I shuffle awkwardly to stand by Daniel. I look over his body, absorbing and mentally checking off every piece of medical paraphernalia Warner mentioned.
Daniel is the scourge of the medical staff when he's in the infirmary. He absolutely refuses to sleep on his back or in some other respectable position that doesn't pull on leads or tug at IV tubing. This stay is no exception. He's tangled in the monitor leads, the hand with the IV supporting his head, his other hand with the pulse ox is curled under his chin and I cringe to imagine the catheter tubing.
At the moment, there is no chair in this room for me to sit for my allotted fifteen minutes, an oversight I will have to rectify, so I stand, observe and listen. Daniel's face and exposed arms are covered in the rash that Warner spoke about—add to that the fever—and Daniel gives the appearance of being sunburned. The head of the bed is raised to assist with his harsh and brittle breathing which even in sleep is interspersed with bursts of coughing. Restless legs are in constant motion under the blanket, trying to find some type of purchase on this uncomfortable bed.
I can't shake the feeling that I've failed Daniel and stand rigidly, unable to bring myself to touch him. I hold tightly onto the bed's guardrails, feeling my hands sweat within the gloves. It's the whimper he produces in his sleep after a cough that brings me, literally, to my knees. My resolve is broken at such a stripped down sound of pain. I kneel down so I'm eye level with him and rip the glove off my right hand.
"Daniel," I whisper, slipping my hand through the rail to touch the closest part of him I can reach--the hand cradling his head. I would love to touch his face, card my fingers through his hair, wake him enough so he knows I'm here. Daniel isn't in a deep sleep, but his body is achieving some type of rest and waking him to acknowledge my presence would be to alleviate *my* guilt and I cannot be that selfish. After a moment's hesitation, I place my palm atop his hand and even through this limited contact, I feel the heat of fever. I intertwine my fingers between his splayed ones and my breath catches as his fingers tighten around mine.
He responds to my touch with a deep sigh and an even deeper cough, never once releasing his grip nor opening his eyes. Daniel's body has halted its constant shuffling. Though my knees begin to ache and my hand is losing feeling, I remain frozen, focusing on Daniel's breathing and the constant reassuring beeping of the monitors.
I glance towards the wall clock and note I have mere minutes before my time is up. On cue, I hear approaching voices in the hallway. I grab the guardrail with my gloved, left hand and haul myself to a standing position, keeping contact with Daniel. I shake the stiffness first from one leg and then the other before I move to disengage our hands.
"No," Daniel begs hoarsely, opening his eyes when I loosen my grip. Daniel's fever-bright eyes look right through me, flitting around the room as his hand taps the bed, searching for the contact he has lost.
This has been the first time I've seen Daniel since his admittance to the infirmary hours ago. I had been recalled over downtime to recalculate budget expenditures with the General. Washington had kicked back weeks of work demanding an explanation for every nickel and dime spent. Carter and Teal'c were away, departing right after the barbeque for personal downtime, even Fraiser seemed on a different shift schedule. I'm pretty sure my simple reaching out was the first non-medical touch Daniel has felt since being holed up in the Iso unit.
In wordless apology for my desertion, my hand slides up his hot, flushed cheeks and comes to rest against his forehead. I rub the pads of my fingers across the heated expanse of skin. "Shhhh," I offer up as comfort like I would Charlie, when he was ill. My ministrations are rewarded with a slightly confused smile before Daniel's eyelids close again.
With a sigh, I bend and pick up my discarded glove and shove it into my pocket. I stuff my ungloved right hand under my left armpit. "I'll see you later," I whisper to Daniel's sleeping form and turn to face a gowned Warner and nurse who've just entered.
"He slept the whole time," I lie to the doctor, easily and effortlessly.
"I should hope so," Warner states in his typical no-nonsense manner as he steps towards the bed." He turns to me, eyebrows raised in apparent confusion. "Is there a reason you're still here, Colonel?" Warner looks up at the clock. "I believe your time for now is up. I promise I'll let both you and General Hammond know of Dr. Jackson's condition when I'm finished examining him."
Obviously, I've been summarily dismissed, and I leave the room, de-gown and dispose of my cover up in the appropriate receptacle. I wash my hands thoroughly, dry them by rote and make a stop at Daniel's darkened office before I rejoin General Hammond to continue my duties as SGC's 2IC.
* * *
My eyes are burning, too many numbers, too much paperwork, too much worry and my stomach rumbles, forcing me to steal a glance at my watch.
"Colonel… Jack?" There's no missing the concern in the General's voice. Caught in the act of checking the time, I smile sheepishly.
I nod at the pile of sandwiches the General's assistant brought up for dinner. "Sure, I could use a break," Hammond says, pushing the pile of papers to the side.
Standing, I stretch out the kinks in my back and neck from sitting and leaning too long. "What type of sandwich, sir?"
"Turkey is fine, son, if they have." Hammond pours us two fresh cups of coffee from the bottomless carafe on the table.
I prepare two plates and return to the briefing table, placing one by my setting and one in the space the General has cleared.
Hammond takes a bite, chewing, a thoughtful, unreadable expression on his face. Me, I lift up the bread, pulling and tugging little pieces of ham off the sliced cold cuts. "Dr. Jackson is in good hands, Colonel," he says solemnly.
"The very best," I agree, stuffing a chunk of bread in my mouth.
True to his word, Warner had come to speak to both of us after finishing his examination of Daniel. "No change," the man stated, reading from the open folder in front of him. Daniel's fever still hovered around 102, another chest x-ray had been ordered, and the threat of pneumonia was still a concern. I filtered through the medicalspeak and latched onto the fact that Daniel was being downgraded to just "an infirmary patient" by night.
The bread is sitting heavy and uncomfortably in my stomach, the infirmary has people and voices, without Carter and Teal'c around and with me stuck amid the military mindset, Daniel is alone in the womb of the Iso room. Well, not alone, alone, I had checked and a nurse is staying with him. I've seen her before, and she is a wonderful person. It's not the care Daniel is receiving that's affecting me, it's just the fact that he's without his family that is lying just as uncomfortably as the bread.
"Jack… I understand," Hammond states simply.
I push the plate aside, drinking deeply of the cooling coffee and lift my eyes to meet my CO's gaze. "I know you do, sir." I clear my throat. This conversation is the closest Hammond will permit regarding mine and Daniel's relationship, but even these few words of concern and acknowledgement at the moment seems to be enough. "…and thank you."
Hammond slides his plate aside and drags the papers back to their original position. "Let's get cracking, Colonel, I would like to be finished sometime today, hopefully before midnight."
* * * *
At least in the infirmary I get a chair, albeit an uncomfortable one, but still it's a place to rest my butt and stretch my knees out. I've brought nonsensical work to pass the time and I'm using the bed table to spread out the paperwork. Honestly, I keep losing my place, my eyes bouncing from the written word to my lover. Daniel buries a deep cough in the pillow, his body convulsing with the effort and my head jerks up, ready to assist. A nurse appears from nowhere, and she waits for Daniel to ride it out before checking and recording the monitors' readouts. Daniel doesn't wake but he shifts uncomfortably amid the wires after the nurse leaves. I go back to working, fill my signature in an incorrect spot and decide this is hopeless.
I arrange the papers into a neat pile, the pen marking where I've left off and push the table to the side. As silently as possible I roll the chair over to the bed, my back is to the infirmary's entrance, my right side is next to the bed. To alleviate the pressure in my lower back, I hunker down in the chair and talk to Daniel about boring paperwork as my hand slips towards his sleeping form.
I'm overcome with guilt and an extraordinary sense of failure. Layers and layers of the stuff, little things that went way beyond the missed barbeque. Signs that were there, but I chose to ignore. Daniel consumed by work, trying to forge ahead or even keep up with the daily demands, bombarded with his team duties, never mind the archaeological department's work load. How stupid was I? As his CO, I failed a member of my team. As his friend, I allowed this to happen. As his lover, I only saw how Daniel's overwork interfered with us. How self centered and infantile has my behavior been? Obviously, so much so that Daniel is lying sick in the infirmary.
But on the flip side of my guilt is the question of where does Daniel’s responsibility in this lie? I mean, he always made sure to brush away my apprehension regarding his hours, his overwork, the shadows under his eyes, the yawns over the breakfast table, by first telling me ‘I’m fine’, which progressed to ‘live with it’. And just recently he would throw my concern right back into my lap with a nasty 'where do you think I was’? And the inevitable argument would ensue. If I was going to be truly honest, our make-up sex had almost been nil in the past few weeks. Actually, now that I think of it, sex, except for the rare and occasional grab and grope in the middle of the night, had been non existence recently. Hell, what conclusion did Daniel *think* I was going to jump to when he forgot the barbeque, never mind his leaving in the middle of the night to return smelling of alcohol.
* * *
I jerk at the pressure on my knee and sit up so fast that the chair and I roll from its position. "What the hell?" I wrench my head around, noting the subdued lighting and the hushed voices. It's late and I obviously fell asleep.
"Daniel?" I scoot the chair over with the heels of my feet and position it so I'm facing him.
Although bleary and heavy lidded, blue eyes assess me. "Hey," he says softly so not to trigger a round of coughing.
"Hey, yourself," I echo. "Glad to see you're awake," I add. My fingers worry the bed's blanket, unsure of what to do with my hands within the bird's eye view of the cameras. At home, I would be rubbing his back, offering physical comfort.
"Jack, go home," Daniel says, stifling a cough in the pillow's depths. "I'm fine."
"Pfffft, Daniel, let me let you in on a secret." I lean forward into his contaminated air space and whisper. "You have tubes stuck in every orifice of your body… you're as far away from fine as possible… and I don't want to go home to an empty house."
"I screwed up," he huffs.
This is neither the time nor the place to get into personal screw-ups but before I have a chance to remind him, the tap of an all too familiar tune is played out on the linoleum.
"Dr. Jackson." Fraiser breezes past me and stands at the foot of Daniel's bed. She unhooks the chart, flips it open and compares the previous figures with the current readouts before walking to the opposite side of the bed.
Using his arms for support, Daniel flops onto his back, coughing into his shoulder as a reward for his effort. "The verdict?"
I stand. "Sure, you want me to draw the curtain?"
"That would be fine, sir. Draw the curtain on the way out," she demands.
"Go, Jack," Daniel replies wearily. "I'm fine… go catch some sleep."
I catch Fraiser's eyes and she understands, we've danced this dance before and I nod my head in understanding. Fresh, hot coffee in her office in fifteen minutes. I offer her up a mock salute, gather up my papers and I'm off.
* * *
He's on the mend, Fraiser informs me. Throat inflammation down, and though the rash still covers his trunk, it will peel and disappear with a few weeks' time. Daniel's fever has dropped slightly and the residual cough from the bronchitis warrants a daily x-ray and respiratory treatment. Daniel may be out of commission for awhile but she's hoping to release him by the end of the week.
"Go home, Colonel." Fraiser is already beginning to immerse herself in the charts on her desk and she absently waves me from her office.
I check my watch. Hammond and I will be resuming in another few hours and the drive home isn't worth the effort. "I'm bunking in the mountain tonight… today."
"He's fine, sir," she reassures me. "I don't particularly care where you go… just get some rest." Fraiser's harsh statement is softened by caring eyes observing me over the styrofoam coffee cup.
* * *
I need to make sure Daniel is sleeping before I attempt to rest, it's the Colonel/friend/lover guilt thing once again. I stand over his bed, not thrilled with either the flushed cheeks or the oxygen mask he now sports; a little bit of information that Fraiser seems to have omitted.
* * *
All it takes is a slight touch to my arm and I'm awake. I look up at Fraiser as she gazes down at me in the chair by Daniel's bedside.
"Colonel, I thought I told you to get some sleep."
"I was sleeping," I reply, trying to appeal to her sense of logic.
"You know what I meant." Her body language is very easy to read, the good doctor is exasperated and not in the mood to deal with me.
"The oxygen mask…" I offer up weakly as my reason for keeping this bedside vigil.
"Is meant to make Daniel's breathing easier, that's it, honest. No hidden agenda."
"Yes, Colonel, really. Let's make a deal. I'll order two trays, come and join Daniel for breakfast at o-six hundred hours. Now I'm turning my back, going to check on other patients who need me and when I get back to Daniel, this chair better be empty," she threatens.
I wait until she turns her back before I place a soft kiss to my fingertips and then touch Daniel's exposed hand with those same fingers. "See you at breakfast."
* * *
"Come on, at least the apple sauce," I cajole. Daniel is sitting up, pillows stuffed behind his back, the oxygen mask has been replaced with a nasal canula, and his answer to my question is a suppressed cough.
True to her word, there were two trays on the bed table and one conscious archaeologist when I entered the infirmary.
"You got coffee…"
Guiltily, I put the cup down. "You got apple sauce and cinnamon toast. Who the hell do you know that *you* get cinnamon toast?" I tease.
Daniel doesn't crack a smile. "I'll trade you my tray for your coffee."
I lean forward and whisper in Daniel's ear what it would take for him to get the coffee. I'm rewarded with a smile and a heart stopping round of coughing that brings Fraiser running and leaves Daniel sweating and panting.
"It was my fault, Janet, I swallowed wrong," Daniel answers hoarsely.
She notes something in the ever-present chart and gives us both an evil look before departing.
"Sorry," I reply sheepishly once Fraiser is out of earshot.
He clears his throat and takes a spoonful of applesauce to appease me. "You owe me Starbuck's, Jack. A vente latte… heavy duty caffeine."
Daniel fades out about fifteen minutes later, mid sentence with very little of his breakfast eaten and I sit and watch his breathing before taking my leave. Fraiser stops me at the door and informs me that Dr. Brightman, a new doctor to the SGC, will be covering the day shift today.
"I'll be good," I promise.
"I'll be checking in," Fraiser also promises, "on both your behavior and Daniel's condition. Have a nice day, Colonel."
* * *
Three heads are bent over the bed table, comparing, conspiring, whispering about something that I'm not privy to.
I knock on the bed frame and Daniel's, Teal'c's and Carter's heads pop up in guilty unison. "Cards?"
Carter glances furtively around the semi peaceful infirmary. "Shhh," she states, her finger pressed to pursed lips.
Daniel is sitting up, more animated than he has been in two days, canula in place, eyes huge behind his glasses. I turn towards Teal'c for some type of explanation.
My head bounces from Teal'c to Carter, ignoring the look of annoyance Daniel is wearing. I spread my hands in subjugation. "Would someone care to explain that statement to me?"
"Good drugs, I believe, were DanielJackson's exact words."
Daniel moves his foot under the covers in invitation. "Sit, Jack. Come on, we're playing cards."
"I don't care if it's Old Maid…"
"It was either that or he was going to start working." Carter points to the books piled on the nightstand holding Daniel's tray of uneaten lunch.
"Who the hell…"
"Why the little… of all the stupid…"
Daniel interrupts my tirade by coughing so deeply that both Carter and I cringe in sympathy. Teal'c hands him a cup of water and admonishes Daniel when he returns it to him after a sip or two.
"Giving Teal'c lessons in mother henning, Jack?"
"Never, honest, cross my heart, Daniel," I fib. If you can't beat them, join them, and I lean forward and poke Daniel's leg to signal my need for a place to sit. My teammates make a space on the bed and Carter deals me into the game.
Daniel's patience and attention span begins to wane after a few hands and he starts to squirm, seemingly unable to locate a comfortable position. He shifts his body on the bed and a silent look of concern passes amongst the three of us.
Teal'c captures Daniel's fingers as they fiddle with the IV site.
"I know, sorry," Daniel replies sheepishly, sliding his fingers from Teal'c's grip. His gaze travels between the three of us and he waves his hands in the air to encompass the whole infirmary. "I hate this." Carter's lightening quick reflex saves the IV pole before it topples to the ground and then holds Daniel's hands in her own.
"It's the drugs. Agitation, restlessness… remember?" Carter explains to Daniel.
"I know," he yells and catches himself. "Sorry, guys, I just want to…"
"Jump out of your skin, I believe was the analogy the therapist gave."
He looks at Teal'c, huffs and coughs while trying to draw a deep breath. Daniel throws his hands up as we simultaneously move to assist him. "Stop… okay… just give me a minute," he gasps before accepting Teal'c's offer of water.
I feel his foot tapping against my thigh but Daniel is totally unaware of his nervous twitching. "Can I go for a walk… just to stretch my legs?"
I eye the medical entrapments holding Daniel hostage to this bed, as well as the fever flush on his cheeks. I point to his groin. "Aren't you still… you know…"
"No!" Possessively, he covers the area where my finger is pointing. "Isn't anything sacred or personal with you?"
"You are among family, DanielJackson."
"See, there you go, Daniel, just what Teal'c said."
"I'm sure the nurses would love to see Daniel take a walk," Carter giggles.
Daniel is totally confused at the humor in Carter's statement. "What?"
"The attire, Daniel, the latest in infirmary dressing… the backless look?"
Recognition dawns on Daniel's face when he realizes that he's wearing the dreaded infirmary gown as opposed to scrubs. "Oh…"
I excuse myself and corner Dr. Brightman against the medical supply cabinet to plead my case, hoping that Frasier and Warner really haven't filled her in about SG1's annoying little habits. She sees no problem, but needs to check out Daniel's vitals first.
* * *
Daniel lies back against the raised head of the bed. He allows the medical sundries to be repositioned around him with nary a complaint, and even permits Dr. Brightman to draw blood and check his vitals without a biting remark.
Daniel doesn't seem the worse for wear after the shower I talked Brightman into letting him have. I accompanied him, helped with the washing, drying and dressing of a contented Daniel. Actually the 'mmmmmm' and 'ahhhhhhing' noises that had emanated from under the spray of water were almost pornographic.
"Scrubs, thank you, guys."
"Doesn't mean you can get up and walk any time you feel like it, Daniel," Carter says as she gathers up the books on the nightstand. The discarded lunch tray has disappeared while Daniel was in the shower.
"Rest was one of the stipulations Dr. Brightman issued in exchange for the shower," I remind him, removing his glasses and placing them where the books had been.
"I will ensure Nyan understands that."
"Thanks, Teal'c, you do that."
"Jack… Teal'c, please, be nice, he's the best assistant I've…"
"When have I not been nice?" Teal'c asks.
I usher my standing teammates from the room, and point a finger in Daniel's direction before leaving. "Sleep… rest… close your eyes."
* * *
I check my watch for the umpteenth time during the elevator's descent, absolutely frustrated as I run over the day's events in my mind.
Hammond and I had finished with the reports and I had been headed to visit Daniel's sleeping form in the infirmary when SG6 returned twenty-four hours earlier than expected, with three injured team members.
The injured members had been swept off immediately to the infirmary and Hammond and I had debriefed the team's 2IC, who revealed that a faux pas had been made over dinner, the end results had been mayhem, injury and unsecured mining rights to the Tau'ri.
Sifting through Major Johnson's report, two things were obvious; the injured team members had been hurt, not by the inhabitants of the Ibrelamn world but in their journey back to the Stargate, when they had inadvertently stumbled into the nest of nursing tiger-like animals.
The Ibrelamn people still wanted to do "business" with the Tau'ri, but only if SG1 were the ones to join them in breaking bread, as we had made the initial contact and they trusted us. The leader had since spoken to three of the four members of SG1 via the MALP and were willing to wait until the "whole" team was able to return.
I had left Teal'c and Carter, along with Nyan and Major Johnson, in Daniel's office where they were going over the incidents that lead up to SG6 having been booted off a planet of peace loving humanoids.
* * *
The infirmary was organized chaos, the calm following the storm after care had been provided to the three SG6 members. The injured seem to be fairing well, though a number of personnel, including Dr. Brightman, are hovering around Lt. Maltese's bed—a situation I intend to check out after seeing SG1's archaeologist. Daniel's bed has been shifted from the line of fire, pushed to the far wall, quiet—perfect conditions for one who should be sleeping.
Daniel is unaware of my approach and I'm not sure when it registers that Daniel is in trouble. Is it ten paces from the bed when his heaving shoulders and chest shoot me random reminders of Sara's panting while in labor with Charlie? Is it five paces from the bed when his labored breathing is loud enough that I can hear it? Is it the last two paces from the bed when his fingers capture the blanket into a fisted grasp as he fights to fill his lungs with a precious breath? Is it when I fling myself onto his bed to pull him into a sitting position, and his rattling lungs and obscenely high temperatured body is in my arms? Or is it when Daniel grabs the back of my shirt and huffs a barely audible 'help me' into my ear?
Unable to locate the call button, I yell for assistance at the top of my lungs, once, twice before my gaze slides to the monitors which only serve to confirm Daniel's struggle. "We need help here!" I scream, kicking over the bedside chair to draw attention. Over Daniel's shoulder, it appears that every available infirmary personnel is now involved in some type of frenzied activity around Lt. Maltese. A "code blue" call with the Lieutenant's bed designation and I know that my shouts for help will go unheeded.
"Shit!" With an awkward jerk of my foot, I clear the bedside table of the water pitcher and cup, but the sounds as they hit the floor are buried in the battle to save Maltese's life. Daniel's pawing at my back begins anew and my bloodcurdling scream for attention is cut short by a short crisp. "Get off the bed, Colonel. I need to assess Daniel."
I seem to be slow on the uptake and a pair of hands extricates Daniel from my grasp, and with superhuman strength, shoves me off the bed.
"Not. Now. Colonel." Fraiser whips her head around and catches the attention of a nurse just entering the infirmary, and with a tilt of her head motions for her to join us by Daniel's bedside. Hastily, she removes the stethoscope from the nurse's neck and rattles off a list of items she needs.
"Look at me Daniel. Look!" She takes his chin and forces eye contact. "I know… Damn it! Colonel! Get over here."
She flings her jacket over the nearest chair. "Talk to him, tell him everything's all right."
"Just do it!"
I grasp Daniel's shoulders and call out his name while Janet lifts up his scrub top to listen and medically assess what her visuals cannot. Daniel squirms from her contact and I shout his name, using a tone of voice that I save for off world fiascos, and for a second I have his attention, and that second is enough for Fraiser because snaps off the earpieces, runs from the bed and snatches the receiver off the wall phone, barking a slew of stat orders.
Daniel is struggling under my hands, gasping for air, clutching at his chest, and I alternate between speaking in a normal tone and raising my voice so it hinges in the realm of yelling.
The nurse returns, slides a tray on the bedside table and Fraiser grabs a pair of gloves and snaps them on. Inhaling deeply, Fraiser mentally regroups and steps up to the bed and uses the stethoscope once again to listen to Daniel's frantic huffing. In a voice that has made Goa'uld squirm and on occasion has even managed to put General Hammond in his place, Fraiser forces Daniel's concentration onto her, touching, demanding simple 'yes' or 'no' answers to her questions, and to my amazement, his panic abates infinitesimally, but enough so his breathing eases up a little.
There is a surreal, slow motion quality to this scenario. I'm out of my element here, all my training and there's zilch I can do to help either to Fraiser *or* Daniel. Now, my place has been relegated to the side of the bed, where I stand intently listening to the instructions Fraiser imparts on the respiratory therapist who answers her call.
My hand automatically strays to Daniel's shoulder in comfort to the controlled "ouch" Daniel issues in response to the drawing of the ABG's. Fraiser waits until the therapist has drawn the sample and starts Daniel's respiratory treatment before she motions me to follow her.
Out of earshot, we stand side by side, our eyes glued to the bed, keeping Daniel in our line of vision for different reasons.
"Bacterial pneumonia… fever, the condition of his lungs tip the scales that way. A sputum sample will confirm."
"Pneumonia is doable." I reason a few days in the infirmary, home under my care… been there, done that.
"Bacterial pneumonia in Daniel's condition is slightly more complicated than that."
The respiratory therapist catches Fraiser's attention and she not only leaves my side, but she leaves me hanging with an imagination that is now working overtime. I follow behind Fraiser and position myself by the head of the bed, resting my hand heavily on Daniel's shoulder. Much of the medical jargon exchanged between the therapist and Fraiser I recognize from my own past experiences in the infirmary; but it's Fraiser's looks and underlying sense of urgency that announce to me that Daniel is in deep trouble.
"This is a non-rebreather mask," Fraiser explains while she slips it over Daniel's face and positions it. "This," Fraiser brings up a length of clear tubing which is attached to the bottom of a plastic-looking bag, "…will bring you 100% oxygen."
Daniel mumbles something that we both lean in to hear. Fraiser pats his knee. "Yes, Daniel… I know it's loud." I smile and she laughs when Daniel taps his temple. "Can't hear yourself think? That's okay… don't think… just relax."
* * *
Daniel is sweating profusely, yet his fever hasn't broken. But between the mask and the respiratory treatment, his breathing has improved slightly. My ass is parked on the bed with Daniel, a position that Fraiser seems to be turning a blind eye to at the moment. The head of the bed is in an upright position with both of our backs resting against the upraised mattress. Daniel's hand rests on his thigh and I inch my fingers over until they make contact. The noise from the mask truly prohibits conversation and we sit side by side, watching the wall clock tick away the minutes.
Daniel begins to rub his back against the bed and his fingers wrap around the left side guardrail to gain leverage as he changes position. Not able to obtain comfort, he moves again, sits straight up and flings the blanket off his legs onto the end of the bed. Daniel pushes against me, mumbling, prodding me to move.
"What?" I hold him in place, my hands on his shoulders. Fraiser had stepped to the side to review the assortment of Daniel's blood work and the chest x-ray. I growl her name as Daniel squirms from my grip and swings a leg over the side of the bed. He has strength of purpose, but I manage to capture his forearms and push him back against the mattress, using his body to support me as I slide from the bed. I bend forward, attempting to understand the frantic utterances behind the mask.
Fraiser seems to be one step ahead of me, anticipating the ringing of the beside monitors seconds before their shrill alarm sounds. Daniel's frenetic movements have increased and his eyes flit from Fraiser to me in silent appeal. Support personnel appear at the bedside even before the alarms are shut off. Fraiser calls for an intubation tray, and her voice never conveys the fear I see etched on her face.
"Colonel, please." Someone literally pushes me off to the side and a bevy of descending white lab coats close ranks around the bed. I hear an unfamiliar voice, tinged with annoyance, telling Daniel to relax, let the medication and Dr. Fraiser do their job.
I shoulder an opening, turning a deaf ear to my name. My eyes are glued to Daniel's fighting body, writhing against the invasive ministrations of those surrounding him. I capture his flailing right hand, sandwiching it tightly between my own hands. "Daniel!" I yell, tugging at his arm, forcing him to concentrate on me rather than his failing attempts to breathe. I move our conjoined hands into his line of vision. "Let the doc do her job." He tightens his hold within my grasp, hot sweaty fingers dig painfully into the back of my hand.
I watch as Daniel's struggles begin to lessen as the medication given takes hold. Fraiser quickly intubates him and soon I see his color start to improve as oxygen is delivered by ambu bag. Holding Daniel's hand tightly, I focus on the machines recording his every breath, his every heart beat. Daniel is alive, that is all that is important to me right now.
"Colonel." Fraiser's insistent voice pulls me from my fugue state. Daniel's hand is lax in my grip. I had been so focused on Daniel's hand in mine, everything else faded into the background. Selective processing, a habit of Daniel's that I always gave him hell for.
Gently, I place Daniel's hand down and resist the urge to wipe the residual sweat on my pants. I turn and walk to the infirmary bathroom, where I shut the door and turn on the faucets to mask the sound of my emptying the contents of my stomach into the toilet.
I cup my hands under the running water, take a sip, swish and spit the remaining vile taste into the sink. I splash cold water on my face, avoiding my reflection in the mirror, and dry the moisture with harsh paper towels from the dispenser. Water off, I square my shoulders, open the door and run smack into Doctor Fraiser.
"I'm fine… I'm okay."
A wry smile adorns her pale face. "I'm glad one of us is. Come with me." Before I can object and tell her my place is by Daniel's bedside, she grabs my elbow and drags me into her office, closing the door behind me. She shoves me into a chair, goes to her desk, opens the bottom drawer and plunks down a bottle of Southern Comfort. A shot glass magically appears and a splash is poured with a precision eye. Fraiser slides the glass over to me and I swallow the drink without a word of thanks. She replaces the bottle in the drawer and the cup is placed on the edge of the desk to be dealt with later.
"Are you ready to go see Daniel now, sir?"
* * *
Fraiser had thrown me out of the infirmary with orders to eat, shower and sleep. I manage two out of three, but sleep has become an elusive obstacle that I'm unable to hurdle. I'm lying in the couch in Daniel's office, tossing and turning, the springs I feel through the cushions have nothing to do with my inability to rest. Accepting even a nap is a lost cause, I haul my physically and mental weary body up and head to the infirmary.
The lights there are dimmed, the voices and movements hushed and subdued for the benefit of the patients. This is their way of indicating passage of time to the people who occupy the beds. I nod at the nurse as she records Daniel's vitals and wait until she finishes before I sit in the empty bedside chair.
Daniel doesn't care whether it's night or day, morning or evening hours are irrelevant to him. I scoot the chair closer to the bed, and manually move his limp hand into mine. He's no longer sweating; the anxiety of taking his next breath is no longer an issue. I've seen enough heart monitors to be able to ascertain the figures are in an acceptable range, the blood pressure, although slightly elevated, no longer have the numbers indicative of a stroke. Daniel's fever is still high, but Fraiser has assured me that the broad-spectrum antibiotic being pumped into him will take care of that.
My eyes focus on the rhythmic rise and fall of Daniel's chest. Every breath the same steady measure, a convoluted metronome of sorts. I had averted my face when Fraiser inserted the intubation tubing into Daniel's body, even now my gaze is unable to travel beyond his chest. The medication that runs alongside the antibiotic IV holds Daniel in this dream state and if I center my line of vision below Daniel's neckline, I can convince myself that my lover is simply sleeping.
Carter must have stopped by before. There is a bar of chocolate under Daniel's glasses, a gesture from a friend which enables me to smile. Next to the chocolate is a grocery checkout rag, and my smile broadens, Teal'c has left his mark. A book from Nyan, an empty coffee mug, a piece of apple pie… SGC personnel have left pieces of themselves so Daniel knows he's in their thoughts.
I take the empty mug, fill it from the infirmary coffee pot, snag a fork and go back to my seat by the bed. "Hope you don't mind sharing the pie with me, Daniel?" I resume my position by the bedside and I hold a one sided conversation, discussing SGC gossip, who stopped by and left remembrances by his bedside and by the time I've finished with the pie and the coffee, I've rolled the chair up to the head of the bed.
The empty plate and mug go back on the nightstand and my hand pushes a stray tuft of hair from Daniel's forehead. Right now, all I want is the emotion of fear to go away, disappear, but it has been a constant companion since finding Daniel sleeping in the Iso room. The fear has settled in my stomach, churning the apple pie. Fear has permitted me to survive and function on coffee and has niggled its way into my subconscious, not allowing me to close my eyes without replaying the scene of Daniel's struggle to breathe and looking towards me to help.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, running my finger gently along the tubing leading into Daniel's body. "But there was no other way to save you," I confess quietly. My fingers fall away and land to rest on his exposed shoulder. I knead the muscle under my hand, the heat of the fever encasing my heart in ice. I clear my throat and acknowledge the words I've never told him. "And you, you're a survivor. Funny, of the two of us, people wouldn't believe me, but you are the stronger. Me… me I'm a coward. Yup, if the shoe fits, wear it, Granny O'Neill used to say and right now, that shoe fits pretty damn well."
I pull my hands back and rub them along my thighs, their movement leaving sweat stains the length of my green fatigue pants. "You here in this bed—this is my fault. I shouldn't have left that night." I snake reticent fingers through the railing and slide them under Daniel's right hand. I avoid the pulse oximeter and his fingers sit still and warm atop my hand. His hand bounces up and down under the tapping movement of my fingers. "Wanna know why I left? Wanna know why I didn't come over after you hung up the phone on me? I couldn't handle the thought there's someone else..." I pull my fingers from under his hands and rub my shirt sleeve under my running nose. "Now you know, you bastard… I said it. Are you happy?" I wipe the moisture from tired eyes. "Colonel Jack O'Neill is a coward, and he's afraid to lose you. He's afraid to hear that he's been replaced." My voice gains strength as I lean in and whisper threatening words in his unhearing ear. "You hear me, Daniel? You better hurry up and get better 'cause I'm not giving you up without a fight."
* * *
I skid to a halt in front of the infirmary door and take a moment to compose myself. Smooth down my shirt, run a finger through my hair and calm my breathing. Warner had thrown me out of the infirmary last night, out of the SGC, informing me that he didn't want to see me anywhere around Daniel's bedside for the next five hours, at least.
Carter had taken my vacated seat by Daniel's bed when I'd left, rolling her eyes at the set of instructions I was giving her. I had wanted to call her on the insubordination she was showing her commanding officer but Warner had intervened on Carter's behalf.
"Saved by the bell," I had hissed at her.
My 2IC had the audacity to give me a sweet smile as Warner pointed his finger in the direction of the doorway. "Out. Now, Colonel."
I left with the intention of a shower at my house, grabbing fresh clothes and sorting through overflowing mail. Four hours, I was shooting for four hours instead of Warner's five and I would have done it. I really would have accomplished that task and had time to bring back Starbuck's coffee if I hadn't had the brilliant idea of stopping by Daniel's apartment. I fed the fish and then began to pick up the pieces of a shattered mug and scrubbed up some hardened liquid from the floor.
I hadn't meant to sit on the couch, toe off my shoes and stretch my legs onto the coffee table. I had awoken confused, out of sorts and panicky, making the drive to the SGC in record-breaking time.
Teal'c had relieved Carter sometime during the evening and he stands, acknowledging my arrival with his familiar half bow. "I trust you slept well."
"Um… yeah, T, thanks for asking." I lift my head in the direction of Daniel's bed. "How is he?"
"Doctor Warner informs me Daniel Jackson's fever is down. Oxygen saturation levels are up and the chest x-ray he had ordered at early this morning has been completed and read."
"Sounds good." I'm amazed at the amount of medicalese we fall into when a member of the team spends time in the infirmary.
I may be wrong, but it actually sounds like Teal'c gives me a snort, almost like he's annoyed I interrupted him. "Sorry, what else did Warner say?"
"Doctor Warner spoke of the possibility of removing Daniel Jackson from the ventilator. He and Doctor Fraiser are in the office at the moment conferring."
I slap Teal'c on the biceps. "I think that is *great* news. Thank you."
Teal'c raises his eyebrows in puzzlement. "Why do you thank me, O'Neill? I, too, am happy that Daniel Jackson is on the road to recovery."
"Sorry, it's been a long forty-eight hours with Daniel on that machine."
"I concur. If you wish, I will find Major Carter and convey the good news to her also."
I stop myself from saying thanks and instead let Teal'c know that would be a wonderful idea.
After he leaves, I step up to the bed. Daniel does look a little better, if that's at all possible. A slight touch to his face and, though it is warmer than it should be, there is none of the heat that had previously been radiating off him. He needs a shave, a shower…
I pivot in the direction of the tight, strangled voice and find Cassie standing frozen at the foot of Daniel's bed, eyes wide, brimming with tears of shock. In three strides I'm at her side, turning her into my embrace so she's no longer facing Daniel. For a minute she succumbs to my comfort before she turns to confront her nightmare.
Cassie walks the length of the bed, her hand trailing along the guardrail, her eyes sliding from one monitor to another. Braver than me, without hesitation, this young girl gently touches Daniel's cheek with her finger.
"He's warm." The underlying sense of awe in her tone confuses me.
"For a second… I thought… I mean..." Cassie begins to giggle hysterically but she extends her hand to halt my approach. Two shaky breaths later and Cassie has done a bang up job of regaining her composure. I ignore the slight tremor of the hand that reaches for Daniel's fingers.
I paste a reassuring smile on my face. "It looks worse than it is."
Cassie blinks at me before she turns her attention to the task of smoothing out the blanket on the bed. "I'm neither stupid nor a little kid, Jack. Daniel wouldn't be on a ventilator unless he was sick, really sick. Sicker than my mom told me he was. And I would say a tube sticking down your throat, breathing for you, is about as bad as it gets."
We stand side by side, hypnotized by the rise and fall of Daniel's chest, the hiss of the ventilator echoing in the cinderblock infirmary. Cassie's hand rests next to mine on the guardrail. "I'm sorry," she confesses. "I really am, I didn't mean what I said."
Cassie's eyes are glued to the tube entering Daniel's mouth. "Does it hurt?"
"He doesn't feel anything, Cassie. Honest."
She looks at me in disbelief as I move a strand of hair from her face. "I wouldn't lie," I say softly.
I can sense the question Cassie is afraid to ask. Unable to meet my eyes, say the word, I become the adult and say it for her. "Daniel's not going to die, Cassie. I promise."
Her lower lip quivers but she keeps her eyes trained on Daniel. "You promise?" she asks in a barely audible voice.
"Cross my heart."
She draws a deep breath, exhaling loudly and gives me the barest hint of a smile. "I'm gonna hold you to that."
"Yeahsureyabetcha," I answer, leaning in to kiss her head.
"I gotta go. Could you do me a favor?" She roots around in her coat pocket and pulls out a ring filled with keys. "My mom's. I drove her to work and she left these on the seat."
"No problem." I grab the ring from her hand, sliding it down my finger. Cassie grabs my finger. "Don't twirl them, please, I hate when my mom does that."
"Okay. No twirling."
Cassie's takes one more look at Daniel, her expression a mixture of sadness and fear. "Promise me you'll take care of him and not let anything happen."
"Cassie, come on…"
"Promise me, Jack," she hisses. "I need you to promise."
This conversation is getting a bit uncomfortable, but I placate Cassie with another promise.
"I need him to wake up… I have to tell him how sorry I am. I didn't mean for this to happen."
I want to tell her that makes two of us, but I don't have a chance before she hightails it out of the infirmary. What she does leave in her wake, besides the set of keys I hold in my hand, is absolute, total confusion as to why *she* is sorry.
* * *
As a matter of self-preservation, and though other personnel on the base believe otherwise, SG1 does not spend all day sitting by the bedside of an injured teammate. Don't get me wrong, we would if we could. But the doctors and the nurses in the infirmary have a tendency to get vocally annoyed with our questions and the SGC does continue to function and we must continue to function right along with it.
Papers, reports, briefings don't stop because one of us is holed up in the infirmary. Washington doesn't take kindly to notes of absence so we can hold someone's hand. So unless we are off duty or on a meal break, we only tend to meander in and out, relying solely on one of the doctors or nurses to keep us updated.
Carter had breakfast with Daniel; the styrofoam cup with the outline of lipstick she swears she doesn't wear is still on the nightstand. She and I had handed off the "baton" of Fraiser's keys. Hammond needed my immediate presence and Carter had stopped by to see Daniel so I left her the keys and the explanation of where they came from to pass on to Fraiser.
Bless the doc though, she manages to track me down to let me know that Daniel is doing better and hopefully would be off the vent within the next twenty-four hours. But Fraiser being who she is, makes it quite clear that Daniel's recovery would be long. I hold back a smile at the reprimand I'm receiving before the fact. I shake my head in wonderment; sometimes you just had to love SGC's CMO.
* * *
I rush down as soon as the phone call arrives informing me Daniel had been removed from the vent. Fraiser grabs me before I've taken three steps into the infirmary. "Wake him, and I'll sell tickets to your next physical," she warns as she tightens her grip, digging those slender fingers into the sensitive underside of my arm.
"Ow! All right." Impatiently, I shake off her hold. "What is it with you people down here, you would think I never let the guy sleep." An indignant huff escapes my pursed lips and I manage another meager two steps, before I'm snagged by the good doctor.
She pulls me over to the side, and I'm finding it hard to avert my eyes from the curtained off bed where Daniel lies. "Look at *me*, Colonel," she commands. "It's going to be a long haul until Daniel feels better and probably even longer before I clear him for light duty, and don't even bring up 'gate travel for another six weeks."
I cringe, just imagining that conversation when Daniel's told he's earthbound for almost two months. Pushing that visual aside, I focus on Fraiser's description of his condition. "The medication used to sedate him will take almost forty-eight hours to clear his system."
"Which means?" I interrupt.
Fraiser chews on her lower lip, forcing back words in response to my rudeness. "Daniel will be sleeping most of the time, he will have some periods of wakefulness, but honestly, I'm not too sure how lucid he's going to be."
"And after?" I interject.
"Exhaustion. Poor appetite. Sore throat from the vent. Uncomfortable. Congested. And since we all know Daniel as well as we do, I can safely add angry, annoyed, pissed…"
"Pfft. No problem, I can handle that, I'm a Colonel, remember?"
"Sorry, I'm not impressed, *sir*."
I flick my hand towards the bed, "Can I…?"
Fraiser pushes me in the direction I had been headed for in the first place. "Go… but remember, ticket prices for your physical, if you deem it necessary to wake him, *will* pay for Cassie's college education."
* * *
The activities of the infirmary become muffled as I slide the curtain back along the overhead tracks. I stand over the bed because right now sitting in the chair would place me too far from Daniel, and that's unacceptable. I lean over the railing, assessing him with a lover's eye. I can't help but smile. In true Daniel fashion, he's curled on his side with wires and leads entangled among his limbs and the blanket. The vent has been replaced with a nasal canula, and though his breathing is still rough and the planes of his face are flushed with fever and peeling from the residues of scarlet fever, he's breathing on his own, and that's all that matters. Of its own volition, my hand reaches to smooth out his horrendous case of bed head.
He mumbles or moans in his sleep, I'm not sure which, but the sound halts my ministrations. I forget all of Fraiser's warnings and call Daniel's name, low and insistent. Heavy eyelids raise and I'm rewarded with bloodshot, bleary eyes.
"Jack?" My name is barely audible and I bend closer.
I glance furtively over my shoulder, expecting to see the ruler of the infirmary ready to carry out her edict when a short, explosive cough bursts from Daniel.
Daniel screws up his face in confusion. "Miss'd alarm…" In this drugged state, he searches for lost words. "Overslept?"
I squeeze his shoulder in reassurance. "Nah, downtime, Daniel. It's early, go back to sleep."
" 'K… sleep." Daniel's words die off as he loses his battle to remain awake. I keep my hand on his shoulder as he squirms into a comfortable position and returns to his slumber. Only when he begins to snore do I release my touch and lower my butt onto the chair, settling into the familiar position of standing guard in the infirmary.
* * *
I mark the page in the book before tucking it behind my back, anchoring it against the back of the chair. "Hmmmm, what?"
He fingers the nasal canula, his brow furrowing in concentration. "Where am I? What happened?"
I tuck the blanket around him. "You got sick. You're in the infirmary."
Panic stricken eyes scan the beds around him. "Sam, Teal'c?" He begins to pull himself up. "Jack, are you okay?"
"Fine… just you. We're all fine."
"Glad… so glad." That's as far as the conversation gets before his eyes close and he drifts off to sleep again. For the past eight hours, Daniel had awakened in the same confused state, the questions in the same basic genre, concern for SG1's welfare.
* * *
On and off for hours on end, Carter, Teal'c and I are a revolving door, sitting by Daniel's bedside, always there to corroborate SG1's state of health. He wakes more often, but the confusion still reigns enough for me to capture Fraiser and skirt around the possibility of brain damage. She reiterates the residual medication story but promises to look further if Daniel's condition doesn't improve within the next day.
Teal'c is sitting on the bed when I enter the infirmary. The morning shift is just reporting in and I weave around the personnel starting their daily jobs.
My gaze slides from the empty chair to T's sitting by Daniel's side on the bed. "Did I miss something?"
"Daniel Jackson believed SG1 was on P3X903 and was quite insistent it was his turn for duty watch."
"I convinced him that he had already done first watch."
I don't miss the restraining hand that Teal'c rests on Daniel's arm. "Took awhile to convince him?"
"Daniel Jackson is quite stubborn." Teal'c says that simple statement like he's telling me something I don't know.
I send Teal'c packing to get some rest and breakfast, and hunker down into the space Teal'c vacated. The damned cough has me on edge, sleeping, waking, it haunts Daniel and chills me. Fraiser says it'll linger for almost six weeks, lessening as the weeks pass but I can't think past today where the cough and the confusion sit heavily on my mind.
* * *
My dinner plate is perched precariously on the nightstand, balanced on Carter's books and Teal'c's tabloid journals. I'm on my second or maybe third Daniel sitting of the day. I have all intentions of making a valiant attempt to read at least one chapter in the paperback that has been my companion whilst I pass the hours in the infirmary.
"What?" I answer absentmindedly, not even looking up. I give him the song and dance routine. "You're sick… Carter, Teal'c and I are safe."
"What?" I rack my brain trying to think what I've missed. "Oh yeah… you're in the infirmary."
"I figured as much," is Daniel's comeback.
"Daniel?" I jump up and the book slides off my lap and onto the floor with a soft thud.
He smothers a cough into the mattress and I'm right there waiting with water and a straw when he finishes. Incredibly lucid eyes meet mine. "Thank you," he whispers before handing me back the cup.
I place the empty cup on my tray and his eyes follow me. I guess it's Daniel's turn to assess me after these many days. "Hmmm?" I question as I rub my hand along his forehead.
The corners of his lips rise in a half smile—a joke I'm not privy to. With my hand still resting on the warmth of his forehead, Daniel pulls the blanket tighter around his body and closes his eyes. "Stay?" he whispers.
I don't even have time to assure Daniel I'll be right by his side before he drifts off to sleep.
* * *
Pissy Daniel has arrived and reared his ugly head. Frayed, taut nerves are fast becoming the norm: his, mine, Fraiser's, Carter's, Teal'c's and any infirmary staff who comes in contact with him. Fraiser was a hundred percent correct, he's uncomfortable, tired, annoyed and driving everyone nuts.
Teal'c and Carter are standing at rigid attention by Daniel's bedside. Daniel is propped up in a bed strewn with books and papers. There are pillows stuffed behind his back to ease his breathing and constant coughing, but what completes the picture are the arms crossed tightly across his chest and the lips drawn in a tight, defiant line.
I know he's angry, but in scrubs, a nasal canula and a peeling, flushed face, anger is not what he is projecting. The three of them look like siblings trying to place the blame on the youngest for breaking mom's precious lamp and I definitely make a piss poor judgment call when I approach the bed with a smirk on my face.
And last but not least, "What the hell's so funny, Jack?" *cough*
I spread my hands in supplication. "O-kay. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, didya?"
"I wouldn't know, I'm really not allowed out of bed to decide if there is a right or wrong side."
He draws a breath, coughs and continues. "Oh, change that to I was permitted to go to the bathroom this morning all by my lonesome… and I got a star from physical therapy 'cause I walked fifty feet without coughing. It was the fifty-first step that was the killer. I think the maintenance crew is still somewhere around here cleaning up the breakfast I managed to spew all over the floor."
He grabs a pillow from behind his back and holds it against his chest as he coughs, deep, hard, hurtful. All of us avert our eyes as Daniel spits sputum into a tissue pulled from the box that sits in his bed. He flings the tissue into the overflowing pail by the bedside and throws himself against the raised mattress. To complete his tantrum, I see him contemplating kicking off the books and papers resting on the bed.
Teal'c must sense it also. "Daniel Jackson, what is it you would like Major Carter, O'Neill and myself to do?"
Daniel snorts. "Ya just don't get it, Teal'c, do you?"
I step in, and I'm sure in hindsight, I'm going to realize that this is neither the time nor the place to say what I'm going to say. But nights and days of lots of worrying and far too little sleep have taken its toll. "Maybe *you* don't get it, Daniel," I snarl.
"Good one. Now tell me how the fact that I can't take two breaths without coughing, a headache that just won't go away, shaking hands, inability to concentrate..."
Before anyone can throw their bodies in front of this inevitable train wreck, I jump in. "Don't start taking your crappy mood out on us. I know you're not feeling well but hey, maybe if you'd told someone off the bat that you were sick, you wouldn't be in this predicament."
"Enough!" The four of us jump at Fraiser's shout. "You, you, and you," her finger points at Carter, Teal'c and myself. "Out of my infirmary. Now!" I see Daniel smirk at the belief that mom finally caught the destroyers of the lamp and he's really the innocent victim. Fraiser whirls around, catching the expression on Daniel's face. "And you! Don't think you're getting off easy. No way." I swear Fraiser rubs her hands together in gleeful wickedness as she informs Daniel that he's a captive audience.
* * *
I'm sulking in the commissary, Carter is brooding over some new technological advancement and Teal'c is having a meeting of the minds with the punching bag in the gym.
A tray is slammed down in my line of vision, followed by the scraping of metal chair legs on a cement floor. Fraiser sits across from me. She allows herself a sip of coffee and a spoonful of yogurt before beginning. "You didn't listen. You said you heard me, but you didn't."
"Is this the 'I told you so' lecture?"
She takes another spoonful of yogurt and a sip of coffee before responding. "Yes, it is. The one that didn't penetrate before and maybe this time it will if I start from the beginning…"
I lean back in the chair and for the first time during this conversation, I make eye contact. "No, Doc, I remember the key points in your first lecture. Pissy, annoyed…"
"Colonel. You're forgetting sick. You're forgetting it here and you definitely forgot it when you were back in the infirmary."
The congealed butter on my toast holds my supreme interest and I can feel the heat of shame rise up and stain my face.
"Colonel, I'm not reprimanding you…"
My head jerks up at her statement and we both smile. "Okay, maybe I am," she concedes with a soft chuckle. "I want you to understand, no fever for the remainder of today and through the night and I'm releasing Daniel by tomorrow on the condition he goes home in someone's care for forty-eight hours."
I take a drink of lukewarm coffee, meeting Fraiser's eyes over the mug's rim. "A babysitter."
I cringe at the sarcastic undertones in her voice. "I can do that," I offer.
"I don't believe your little exchange in the infirmary would fall under the category of friendship, Colonel." She stands, clearly bringing this meeting to closure. "Go home, get some sleep, the infirmary is off limits for the remainder of the day for you."
"Let me finish, sir. I've told Sam and Teal'c the same thing. Give yourselves space today. Daniel needs it, you need it and quite honesty, I need it."
* * *
I did what Fraiser asked. I didn't "see" Daniel all of yesterday. I will admit, I did call for updates, but physically I stayed out of the infirmary. I mulled over the doc's words of wisdom as I shopped and filled the fridge with all Daniel friendly food, put fresh sheets on the bed, aired out the house and rented DVD's that were amongst his favorites. Friendship I could do, Daniel and I had a rock solid foundation. Lovers… too many nightmares shared and shattered, dreams held precariously together by Daniel's presence in my life. Whoever wanted to stake a claim on my archaeologist had better be prepared for a battle.
* * *
I even went for brownie points and didn't stop by the infirmary this morning. First, I completed the necessary paperwork and delivered it personally to General Hammond, requesting time off. With the nod of his head and his John Hancock in place, I was allotted seventy-two hours off. If things went according to plan, Daniel would spend forty-eight hours in my house and I would spend the next twenty-four in his apartment, to satisfy myself that he would be able to be left on his own.
I retrieved coffee and breakfast from the commissary and sequestered myself in my office to begin the arduous task of making a dent in the never-ending pile of paperwork clogging up my inbox.
Mind numbing signatures, duplicates, and triplicates and respite finally comes in the form of a tentative knock on my door.
"Come in." I throw the pen down in surrender, stretching out cramped muscles as I greet Carter.
"Sir." She glances around the room and sits down on a rickety stool that's seen better days.
"What can I do for you?"
"It's about Daniel."
"Is he…" In agitated alarm, my palms slap my desktop and my body is pulled to an upright position so fast the desk chair rolls out from under my butt.
"Oh God, no, sir." Carter quickly circumvents the path my mind is beginning to travel. "No, not at all. He's fine. Well, not fine…"
"Carter!" In exasperation, I card my hands through my hair to disguise their shakiness.
"Oh, sorry, sir." Carter fidgets on the stool, holding onto the seat as she tries to maneuver her ass into a semi comfortable position. "I can't take Daniel home with me."
Downtrodden, she shakes her head. "No, sir. Janet's releasing him later today and I'm working on experiments that requires me to… can you possibly stay with him?" Carter pleads.
"He asked you?" I squeak. Damn, I have two different types of hummus in my fridge purchased just for Daniel and he asked Carter to babysit him?
"Asked me what, sir?" She paused trying to work out the puzzle.
"Daniel asked you…?"
"Oh no, sir, Daniel didn't want me to ask you to be with him for the next forty eight hours." Carter shook her head in denial. "When I stopped by the infirmary this morning, he wanted to know if he could stay with *me* for the two days. Colonel, are you okay?" Carter is leaning into the desk, concern spread out on her features. "Is everything okay between you and…"
"Fine, fine." I paste what I hope is a reassuring smile on my face. "Sure, don't worry about it. Daniel knew I had been working on those pesky budgets with Hammond; but they went out this morning and as luck would have it, the General just granted me some downtime."
"I'm glad, sir. I don't think Daniel would want to spend another day in the infirmary. He's getting a little…"
"Impatient," I finish.
"That wasn't exactly the word I was searching for, Colonel, but impatient will do."
My hand gestures towards the door. "Don't worry about it. Go play with your toys and I'll take care of him."
"Thank you." She turns and offers me a sympathetic smile. "Good luck with Daniel, sir."
"Just remember, you owe me for this… big time." I hate my feeble attempt to make light of a situation that is beginning to burn a hole in my gut.
* * *
I track down Fraiser in an infirmary supply closet ten minutes after visiting Daniel. "Look me in the eye and swear Daniel's well enough to go home," I demand.
"I swear Daniel's well enough to go home." She grabs several sterile wrapped items and I follow her out of the closet. Fraiser drops the items onto a nearby cart and we walk to Daniel's bedside.
The bed is covered with wadded up tissues, papers and books are scattered over a Daniel who is sleeping, breathing heavily, and coughing with every other exhalation.
"Colonel, Daniel has been fever free for over twenty four hours. What you see is the residual rash from the scarlet fever."
"Will be with him for about another six weeks. Along with lethargy and lack of appetite." She steps back, a look of confusion in her eyes. "Colonel, you've taken care of Daniel when he's been ill before…" Fraiser draws a totally wrong conclusion, one that I don't correct. "Oh, the tube…. don't worry, sir, I promise Daniel is well enough to leave the infirmary."
Fraiser leaves me standing at the foot of Daniel's bed when she goes to answer a page. Daniel opens his eyes the moment Fraiser's footsteps fade into the distance. He obviously has been feigning sleep, listening the whole time to our conversation. He heard my trepidation about the next forty-eight hours, but like Fraiser, he's drawing the wrong conclusion. Where Fraiser read my hesitation as fear, I'm positive Daniel interprets my words as confirmation that he's a burden and like Fraiser, I don't correct him. I don't tell him that my fridge and home are waiting for him. Instead, what I give to him is silence, unable to let him know that his choice of Carter over me confirms my belief there is someone else waiting to take my place.
* * *
Daniel is curled atop the sheets and pillows of his infirmary bed, sleeping, snoring loudly. The monitors are disconnected, the medical paraphernalia is packed away and a travel bag is sitting on the bedside chair.
I unzip the travel bag and stuff the baggie full of meds and instructions from Fraiser inside before I wake Daniel up. I nudge him and he answers me with a sigh of resignation and slowly unravels himself, stretching and coughing. I allow him to sit at the edge of the bed for a moment, eyes closed, head hanging below his shoulders before I give his elbow a tug, a gentle reminder that he can leave.
Fraiser wasn't kidding when she advised me that Daniel would spend more time than is usually normal for him sleeping, nodding off or napping. The medication, she had warned, caused that, along with a myriad of side effects… nausea, constipation, vomiting, hence the instructions and a list of do's and don'ts that we will live by for the next two days.
Daniel coughs and groans in his sleep, trying to find a comfortable position in an uncomfortable situation as he sits in the passenger seat of the Avalanche in rush hour traffic. He begins to cough in earnest, burying the cough in the crook of his right arm, while the left is wrapped around his middle. The episode passes, leaving Daniel sweaty and out of breath. Keeping my eyes on the road, I hand him the bottle of water Fraiser had insisted I take.
"Thank you," Daniel answers, his voice rough and hoarse.
"Hey, easy," I comment as Daniel begins to gulp the water.
Daniel places the bottle of water back in the holder with a mumbled sorry and then turns sideways in the seat, offering me his back to converse with. Daniel's snoring and the news on the radio keep me company the remainder of the drive home.
* * *
Daniel is sitting at the kitchen table, his chin cradled in his right hand, lids at half-mast.
"What would you like for dinner?"
The effort of making a choice appears too tough for him and he just shrugs in response.
Fraiser had warned me to keep the meals light so I opt for some soup and crackers. He coughs a few times and I open up the fridge and pour him a glass of juice to ease his throat. "Thanks," Daniel whispers as he takes the glass from me and offers it up in a mock toast. I turn my back to him and continue stirring the soup, making inane conversation that doesn't get answered. The meal is eaten in relative silence, and Daniel plays with his food more than eats it, but I refuse to call him on it. I'm so not in the mood to participate in Daniel games tonight so that short of his spilling the food on the floor, anything is okay at this point.
I clear the table, replacing his half-finished dinner with the Fraiser-ordered medication. Not a single word of protest crosses Daniel's lips as he takes the antibiotic and cough medicine, though he does grimace at the taste of the syrup, and I refill his glass before he even asks.
I lean over to rest a hand on his forehead when I notice Daniel massaging his temples. Fever was the one thing Fraiser had said warranted a trip back to the SGC.
"Jack," Daniel whines, squirming away from me.
"Just checking. Are you okay?" Daniel looks worn, spent… he honestly resembles someone who hasn't slept in days.
"Headache," he admits as he removes his glasses, lays them on the table and rubs his eyes. "Do you think I can have a Tylenol or two?"
* * *
"Daniel… Daniel…" I tap his leg with my knee. "Wake up."
Daniel had fallen asleep on the couch, and he comes to awareness with a jerk. For a second I see the confusion in his eyes as he looks around, processing where he actually is. "Oh, sorry," he states, raising up and engulfing a cough in the pillow that had been in his arms. I wait until he finishes, grab the pillow and fling it to the side. Daniel warily accepts the hand I extend.
I pull him up gently, and with both my hands on his shoulders, I guide him towards the hallway.
"Bathroom," I reply. Daniel begins to dig his heels in, making forward progress slow and awkward. "I don't care what Janet's instructions say, I can take a piss on my own."
He can't see my smile. An indignant Daniel I can deal with. The quiet, subdued Daniel, sick or not, who had been my companion this evening, had set my teeth on edge.
"I know." I pat the shoulder under my hand. "I promise you a piss in private, this is something different."
Our destination reached, I lean out from behind Daniel's body and open the bathroom door. A blast of steam rolls over us and with no question asked, no prompting or bribery needed, Daniel shucks his clothes the second he steps into the bathroom. With moans of appreciation that he usually saves for the bedroom, Daniel slowly lowers his body into the bathtub filled to the brim with warm water that I had prepared. Daniel extends his arms around the rim of the tub, and sinking lower, places his head against the porcelain.
Daniel coughs, leans forward, bringing his knees towards his chest and then recaptures his previous position. Obviously relaxed, oblivious to my presence, Daniel's eyelids begin to droop.
"Don't go to sleep yet," I command.
"Open your eyes," I order. "Stay awake," I say, "I'll be right back." Hastily, I leave the bathroom, keeping the door open in my wake, hoping the cool air from the hallway will be enough to keep him coherent.
Daniel is awake when I return. His eyes are again closed, but his head turns in my direction when I enter the bathroom and close the door behind me. I have something for him that I'm not too sure would be on Fraiser's do or don't list.
Daniel eyes the bowl in my hands, then looks up at me. "You're throat hurts?" I stammer.
He nods in agreement.
"And you can't have ice cream."
"No," he states sadly.
"But this should be okay."
Daniel accepts the bowl with trepidation, again eyeing first it and then me. "Jack?"
I close the lid on the toilet bowl, and sit. "Chocolate Italian ice."
I've learned never to ask Daniel why he hasn't heard of something that I consider part of a normal childhood; it's less painful that way, for both me and him. Daniel takes a spoonful before passing judgment and I can't help but laugh at his simple, orgasmic 'oh'.
Slowly, Daniel savors the ice, the spoon scraping the bottom of the bowl when he reaches the end. Longingly, his eyes track the dish when I remove it from his grip.
"That was great," Daniel finally concedes. "Thanks."
"Came from that new pizza place." I hem and haw in embarrassment. "Thought you would like it."
"Felt good," he murmurs, regaining his previous position in the tub. We sit in silence, and I'm trying to debate if this absence of voices is a good thing or bad thing when the phone rings. He acknowledges my leaving with a nod.
* * *
The first telephone call is from Sam. She's apologetic about not being able to stay with Daniel but that's almost overridden by the excitement over this new experiment she's conducting. I wash out the dish while she's in the midst of her techno babble and think instead of Daniel in the bath. I'm thankful for the beep that signifies another incoming call and interrupt her mid-sentence, wishing her a quick good luck, to keep me appraised and I'll tell Daniel you asked about him before I hit the flash button and move to the other call.
"Doc." I'm off and running even before she asks. "He's slept off and on, he had two crackers and four spoonfuls of soup. I've given him juice, water, two Tylenol for his headache and both the antibiotic and cough medicine at 1800 hours." I leave out the ice and the bath… she doesn't need to know everything.
She asks if Daniel is nauseous or vomiting and reiterates his need to be returned to the infirmary should he develop a fever. Fraiser advises me that before Daniel is relegated to being on his own, she would like me to bring him in for a chest x-ray.
"Yeasureyabetcha," I promise before hanging up the phone.
* * *
Daniel is spread eagle on the bed, his hair standing up in spikes from the bathroom's moisture, and the back of his tee is mottled with rings of water where he isn't fully dry. He's on top of the quilt, restless, his body sliding around to avoid the coughing that has followed him into sleep. I've had to wake Daniel from all his attempted shuteye today, from the infirmary, to the drive home, to the couch so I now let him sleep, and reach over to grab the side of the quilt and throw it over his body.
I shut the light, but leave the door open so I can hear him in case he needs me.
* * *
Daniel's coughing begins in earnest while I'm getting ready for bed. In the bathroom, with the door closed, under the shower, the noise still penetrates. By the time I've finished and dressed in sweats, the bed is empty.
"Oh fer cryin' out loud," I blurt out when I find him sitting in the recliner staring aimlessly at the TV, flipping through the channels. I stand in front of the chair, blocking his view.
"Go to sleep," he answers, his tone flat and bland, his body leaning to the side to see around me.
"Come to bed."
"I'm not tired." Daniel's accompanying yawn is swallowed up by a cough.
It's nowhere near time for any more medication, so I run the gamut. "Tea, water, juice, toast, more ice… a little bit of Colonel?"
The television stations fly by at breakneck speed, Daniel's eyes glued to the screen. "Go back to bed, Jack." There is a toneless quality to a voice that rarely, if ever, lacks emotion.
"Jack, please." Daniel begs. He clears his throat a number of times before he continues. "Please go back to bed. I don't want to keep you up all night with my coughing."
"You're not going to wake me up…"
Daniel is struggling to suppress a cough. He swallows convulsively and his eyes tear with the effort. I give him a moment to collect himself. "Jack, you know I would. You get up when you hear the coffee pot engage." Daniel pats the armrest of the ancient recliner. "This chair is fine," he reassures me.
"I'll sleep on the couch," I volunteer, already stepping in the vicinity of the couch.
"No!" he yells, pausing to hack into the crook of his arm. His tone softens with his next words. "Please, just go to bed." And I see it in his eyes, this deserting our bed isn't just about coughing or keeping me awake, but maybe something else. Something neither one of us is willing to confront at the moment.
"Okay," I acquiesce, giving his forearm a slight squeeze. I hand him the afghan from the couch, along with a pillow. "If you need me…"
"You're only a shout away, I know." Daniel covers himself with the blanket, arranging the pillow, snuggling down in the worn chair. I'm still standing there when he's finished. "It's okay, Jack. I'm okay, really." He gives me a small smile of dismissal before turning his attention back to the TV.
I leave the living room and start to the bedroom, but make a detour to the kitchen. Before heading off to bed I deposit a box of tissues and a bottle of water on the table. I lean over and kiss his head goodnight, disheartened when there is no reciprocal acknowledgment from him.
* * *
"Jeez, Daniel, what the hell did you think you were doing?" My heart is still pounding from my rude awakening and frantic search, trying to locate the sound of breaking glass that had penetrated my sleep.
Daniel is standing in the kitchen, barefoot, dressed in sweats, with shards of glass littered at his feet. The dishwasher is open and from what I can deduce, Daniel was doing the job I absolutely detest, the dreaded emptying the dishwasher chore.
"Don't move!" Bare feet and broken glass is a recipe for disaster and there's is no way I'll live to see the dawning of a new day if I present Fraiser with a Daniel who requires stitches anywhere on his body.
I can hear Daniel's coughing, so I'm positive that he's privy to the expletives I'm spewing while I hunt down shoes for us both, as well as the broom to sweep up this disaster. Slipping on my shoes, I return to the kitchen and push the glass into a neat pile. I hand Daniel his shoes, hoping he'll beat a hasty retreat, but he sits heavily on a kitchen chair, coughing, watching me gather the mess and deposit it into the garbage.
I slam the door of the dishwasher closed, taking perverse pleasure as Daniel jumps at the sound. Lording over him, judge and jury as I lean on the broom staff weapon style, my Colonel persona slides away as I process Daniel, slumped in the chair.
Balancing the broom against the wall, I place a glass of water before Daniel. "Did you take your medicine?"
"No. Wait… yes… yes, I did."
"What is it? Yes or no."
Daniel glances at the clock, chewing on his lower lip, buying time while his brain processes. "Yeah… about two hours ago."
I'm annoyed. Not annoyed at Daniel, though that's how it must seem to him. I'm annoyed at myself for sleeping in, for not being aware of Daniel's meandering through the house, for failing in my duties as a friend, never mind his lover.
"Two hours ago? What the hell…"
"I couldn't sleep," Daniel explains patiently. "I couldn't get comfortable."
"Ya shoulda never left the bed."
Daniel looks me straight in the eye. "You can't deny that *you* slept without my coughing disturbing you."
We challenge each other like two strutting stags, mentally circling, waiting for the other person to back down. Daniel's concentration is interrupted by a bout of coughing and after taking a sip of the water, he concedes with a sigh.
Daniel grinds the heels of his palms into his temples.
"You don't want Tylenol?" Infuriation is creeping up my spine at Daniel's stab at martyrdom.
"Oh." Daniel drops his hands, his eyebrows raised in surprise at my question. "I want Tylenol," he stammers. "I thought you asked… you meant did I *take* the Tylenol with my medication."
I shake two pills into Daniel's outstretched palm and physically close his fingers around them. "Take these and then go to bed."
He swallows the pills, finishes the rest of the water and stands, eyeing me expectantly. My feet stay glued to the floor, unwilling to take a step closer to him. Daniel notes my hesitation with an upturned lip and sad, unhappy eyes. "Sorry about the cup." He gestures to the garbage. "Really sorry."
"It's not a problem. I've got a million of them." My heart weighs heavily in my chest as I'm struck how stupid that lighthearted comment sounds in the face of Daniel's obvious unhappiness and still, I'm unable to step any nearer to him. He coughs, clears his throat and exits the kitchen.
I allow him to leave, flabbergasted that sensitive, kind Daniel, my Daniel, is unable to see past his own unhappiness to even recognize how unhappy I am.
* * *
By lunch Daniel is turning his nose up at food. The side effects have set in and he does seem a little green around the edges as he sits staring at a movie playing on the TV. I offer him one or two options from the menu at Chez O'Neill, only to have him unequivocally shake his head no at my suggestions. According to my watch, Daniel is due for another dose in a few hours and it becomes a catch 22 scenario. The medication makes him nauseous and he doesn't want to eat, and the not eating just increases the side effects of the medication. His answer in all of this is not to eat and my answer is if he ate, the meds wouldn't be lying on an empty stomach, resulting in the damage they're causing.
He's uncomfortable; the ever-present pillow, which he uses when he coughs, has been moved to cover his stomach, held tightly in place by his right arm. The elbow of his left hand is leaning against the back of the couch, his hand supporting his head. Daniel looks miserable, and I'm sure I'm looking pissed as every idea I attempt gets shot down. I've tried coaxing him to sleep, to eat, to try another hot bath… all refused. The scathing look Daniel gives me when I mention calling Fraiser would have stopped a horde of Jaffa in their path.
"Please, this will pass."
I slap my hands on my thighs and stand, frustrated at the situation. Sitting on the couch, coughing, nauseous, I leave Daniel to his own devices, reasoning that he's an adult and doesn't need a babysitter, but a friend, as I was so clearly reminded by Fraiser. And since friends don't force friends to do anything they don't want to do, and since Daniel doesn't want to do anything, I decide I'm being a good friend by letting him suffer. That line of reasoning sounded good for about twenty minutes while I took out the garbage and straightened the bed.
Ready to do battle, I stomp into the living room only to find Daniel, still in that uncomfortable position, sleeping. Nodding in satisfaction that he listened to at least one of my pieces of advice, I begin downtime chores.
I don't interfere as Daniel sleeps through the next round of medication. He has melted into a perpendicular position with the couch cushions, the pillow still gripped to his stomach. He's restless, tossing and turning his body as much as the width of the couch will allow.
I'm in the kitchen, cooking and chopping, preparing homemade chicken soup for dinner. I take pleasure in the normalcy of this simple chore, already salivating in anticipation, the kitchen beginning to fill with the comforting smell of the simmering soup. The carrots have just been dropped into the broth when I hear coughing and gagging in the living room. I know it's too late, but I grab the garbage pail and run into the living room, pulling up short as Daniel flies by me on the way to the bathroom.
I lean against the doorjamb, Daniel's audience as he vomits until he's bringing up nothing but bile, the sound and smell of his retching makes even my cast iron stomach churn in sympathy. Spent, Daniel drops against the tiled wall, keeping his body still within an arm's length of the toilet. Gingerly, I step over Daniel's splayed legs and hand him a washcloth I've soaked in warm water. First Daniel scrubs the back of his neck and then drops his whole face into the washcloth.
In the enclosed space of the bathroom, Daniel's heavy, rough breathing, though filtered through the towel pressed to his face, is very obvious. I bend over and start the water to fill the tub, throwing in an array of smelly things that I have, courtesy of the women in my life. Their fragrance fills the room, masking the cloying odor of vomit.
* * *
Daniel is soaking in the tub while I've started a wash, lowered the heat under the soup and at the moment I'm breathing only through my nose as I clean up the floor by the couch.
I lift up my head so fast, that for a moment the room does a dangerous tilt. Off balance, I sit with a thud, narrowly missing the damp area I've just scrubbed free of puke. "Give a guy warning, would you?" I exclaim, standing, trying to retain some semblance of dignity.
Chastised, his hand hanging, Daniel offers a softly stated apology. All the wind goes out of my "I told you this would happen if you didn't eat lecture," and instead of harsh words, I order Daniel to sit in the recliner until I finish. He coughs in response and silent obeys my command. I turn my back to Daniel and bend again on painful knees to complete the cleanup job.
* * *
It's late to be eating dinner, but Daniel had fallen asleep on the chair and I waited until a round of coughing woke him before I again mentioned putting food in his stomach.
This time Daniel agrees to my suggestion and shuffles after me into the kitchen, dropping heavily down on the chair I pull out for him. "Smells good." Daniel sniffs the aroma from the bowl I place before him, coughing as the warm air opens clogged tubes.
We sit in silence that is far from comfortable, watching as for every two spoonfuls of soup I take, is matched by one tentative slurp from Daniel. Suffice it to say, I'm finished way before he is and observe as he slows down his intake even more, stirring the soup with the spoon, first one way, then another.
Anger instead of sympathy tempers my words. "Okay, just say you don't want anymore." I rip the spoon from his loose grasp and the bowl out from under him, suddenly feeling like I'm torturing him. I cannot tolerate the heat of Daniel's confused stare or the coughing fit my abrupt words bring on. I gather up our plates, flinging them into the sink, washing them with more force than is necessary.
I pivot suddenly at the sound of Daniel's chair scraping across the floor. "Daniel!" I yell.
He sighs raggedly, turning. "Yes, Jack."
"I rented some DVD's, why don't you put one in and as soon as I'm done in the kitchen, I'll join you." I hold up the sponge for emphasis, ignoring the water dripping down my arm, staining my shirt. "I'll bring in your meds when I'm finished," I add lamely.
No smile from Daniel, simple resignation and constant unhappiness being the only emotion I'm able to read.
* * *
Daniel is dozing on the couch, the coughing refusing to relinquish its hold. Occasionally, his eyes will pop open in response to some action on the TV screen so I thoughtfully lower the volume. Daniel is on the sofa, me in the chair—these have been our favored position on many nights after a tough day at the office. Eventually, I would have moved to the couch to pillow either Daniel's feet or his head in my lap. Tonight, Daniel is flying solo on the couch and I'm keeping my distance.
I realize somewhere between drying the pot and filling the dishwasher, that Daniel needs to heal before any issues between us can be addressed. His demeanor signals his desire for space and if I can't hold him and soothe him through his recovery, the least I can do is this… allow him the distance he seems to crave.
* * * *
Daniel barely stirs on the couch as I finish my final perimeter check around the house. Gently I skirt a hand under his shirt to check for fever.
"Fine," he mumbles, never opening his eyes, never moving.
"I know you are, Danny." Even in sleep, the use of his first name in that form, a rarely if ever used demonstrative, brings a slight smile. I pull the afghan down and use the pretense of covering him as a guise to be close enough for my lips to make feather-like contact with his forehead.
* * *
I check the bedside clock when the opening of the fridge filters into my consciousness. Zero-three hundred hours, too early even for me to be awake. I shift onto my back and stare at the ceiling as I picture Daniel's nighttime activities. Fridge, cabinet, glass, a round of coughing, silence. I listen attentively after the bout of hacking and smile in the darkness at Daniel's "damn" followed by the rattling of pill bottles. Aspirin, antibiotic, the teaspoon of cough medicine, the clink of the empty drinking glass against metal as Daniel sets it in the sink. I can see it so clearly in my mind.
I process Daniel's progress as his bare feet slap along the wood floor. Damn him, he should be wearing socks. Back in the living room now, he opts for the recliner as I pick up the thunk as the chair is angled into position. The house's silence is broken by the muted sound of the TV.
Sadly, there had been many nights when Daniel or I have been separated, and I can honestly say that in retrospect I felt closer to him with hundreds of miles or light years between us than I do right now with less than fifty feet isolating us.
Sighing heavily, I turn on my side, trying to retrieve the anger towards Daniel that I felt the day of the BBQ. Anger has always been easier for me to handle than sadness, and for a moment, a flash of remembrance ignites that flame and hardens my heart, only to be extinguished by the sound of Daniel's coughing.
* * *
Early morning wakeup has played havoc with my internal time clock and it's almost 0730 when my eyes open. I jump in the shower to shake off the heavy feeling of both body and mind, but I still feel that way even after I dry, dress and head downstairs. Daniel is sleeping on the recliner, breathing heavily, his upper body heaving as he tries to draw breath into lungs that are still too congested for my liking.
I turn on the coffeepot, get the paper and pop some bread in the toaster. I settle down for breakfast, and I'm up to the current sport scores when Daniel wanders into the kitchen.
I don't even make eye contact, I just point my coffee mug at him, never looking up from the paper. "Socks. Put something on your feet. Floor's cold."
Daniel leaves without any argument. I put my coffee down, get up and pop a slice of bread in the toaster for him. He returns, socks donned, and plops down in the chair to my right. I hand him juice, coffee and the toast slathered in butter and cinnamon, take my seat and slide the comic section paper over to him.
I try to follow the latest in hockey acquisitions but Daniel's coughing cuts into my concentration and I lose my place time and time again until I shut the paper with an audible exhalation of annoyance.
Shoulder's hunched against the coughing invasion, Daniel picks up his plate, dumps the remainder of the toast in the garbage, deposits the plate and mug in the sink and leaves the kitchen. Never asking for a second cup, never saying a word about eating, the paper… nothing.
I grab the comic section, fit it back into the paper, get up to pour myself another cup of coffee, retake my seat, and immerse my mind back into the wonderful, world of sports, cutting off and blocking out Daniel's coughing.
* * *
Daniel has eaten, taken his meds with nary a complaint, and is suffering in silence against the nausea that I know is plaguing him. TV—on, off, movies—in, out, books—opened, closed, up, down, Daniel's inability to find a place for himself, to sleep or even relax, is driving me unequivocally, certifiably nuts.
Daniel's sitting at the dining room table, laptop opened, his head is resting on his cupped hand and his eyes are slowly closing. I halt, stop in my tracks, barely breathing for fear of alerting Daniel that he's drifting. Too deep an inhalation and the choking cough begins anew, Daniel straightens, his eyes open, refocus on the screen and I continue on my path.
* * *
He has a headache, I don't believe you can cough like he's been hacking today, and not have your brain suffer the consequences. I don't know if he doesn't remember or if he's in such pain that he believes two more Tylenol will take away the pounding.
Daniel is belly up to the sink and I saunter into the kitchen and press my back to the counter, crossing my arms, my position allowing me the ability to appraise and assess him. I capture his arm before he can grab the bottle of Tylenol on the counter.
"You just had two less than ninety minutes ago."
"I know," he answers flatly. Shrugging off my hold, he reaches for the medication, and tries to flip open the lid. Daniel's shaking hands thwart his ability to get a firm grip, and he angrily pulls away from my attempt to assist him. In frustration, he flings the bottle into the sink where it spins out of control. Whether from centrifugal force or whether from the plastic's impact with the metal sink, the top pops open, the pills fly everywhere and me, I fly off the handle.
"Nice move." I gesture to the sink, making no attempt to bite back the anger in my voice. My hand dips into the sink and I lift up a number of pills, letting them slide through my opened fingers like tiny pebbles.
Peripherally, I'm aware of Daniel's downtrodden, beaten stance, and ignore it. I push aside all the memories of us and focus in on one night. Fear of losing Daniel prompts visuals of him leaving our bed and returning smelling of liquor and protesting my accusations. These images override my memories of Fraiser inserting an intubation tube which turns the gut wrenching fear that has been my constant company into anger as I pick up two melting tablets from the sink and place them in my palm, shoving my outstretched hand under Daniel's nose. "Here, take 'em, you wanted two more."
Slowly, he closes his eyes against my verbal onslaught and head down, he wraps his arms tightly against his midsection. Disgusted, I grab a paper towel and wipe my hands clean. Even his submission to my anger infuriates me more and I halt his forthcoming expected apology with a point of my finger.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you're sorry." I turn and toss the paper towel into the garbage. "Trust me on this one, go to sleep. You'll feel better for it. Hell, even I'll feel better after you sleep."
Stunned, I rotate towards Daniel's retaliatory response of harsh, bitter laughter. "Trust you, Jack? Like you trust me?" He brings his shoulder up to smother a cough, clearing his throat when he finishes and backs away from me.
"Daniel!" I capture his shoulder under my shaking hand before he can beat a hasty retreat and easily pivot his weakened body to face me. The words are there, right on the tip of my tongue, the ones that I've kept locked away, eating at me. But something changes, and it isn't Daniel's gaze as he challenges me to speak the feelings he knows I'm harboring, but the feel of his body in my grip. There is a laxness, a sense of defeat, an almost imperceptible slope of the shoulders that swiftly shifts my emotions. "Please!" I plead, "Stay… wait, I… have something… I need to…" Sudden fear twists my bowels in an uncomfortable knot, the feeling that Daniel has given up on us. On me.
Daniel sighs in resignation. "You've said enough."
He raises his eyebrows, and moves his eyes from my face to my hand still resting on his shoulder. "Sorry?"
My hand drops down and I begin to track my fingers along his forearm. Inexplicably and stupidly pleased that he's not running from my contact, and I hesitantly proceed to speak. "My anger and annoyance… you certainly don't deserve that. You never deserved that. You got sick and I… got angry. An O'Neill defense mechanism. The sicker you got, the angrier I became. Fear and anger go hand in hand with me."
"You were afraid I was going to die so you got mad? Mad at me?"
"Okay, when you say it like that it sounds stupid." I shrug my shoulders, embarrassed at how lame that statement actually sounds when repeated out loud.
"Not stupid," Daniel concedes. "Just very Jack-like." He cups my chin, his thumb traveling the length of my jaw line. "I love you."
"I love you, too." I lean to kiss him, drawing up short when I feel a pressure on my chest. Glancing down, Daniel's palm is resting between us, prohibiting any forward movement.
There is an unspoken sorrow in Daniel's eyes, so close to the surface I can almost touch it. "You don't trust me, Jack. You can be sorry and tell me you love me, but it's not going work if you don't trust me." Daniel kisses me tenderly on the cheek when I don't answer yeah or nay to his statement. "I'm sorry," he says sadly after breaking contact.
I surprise Daniel by pulling him into a bone-crushing hug, my hands wrapping around his chest, the rattle of filled lungs vibrating under my hands. The foundation has cracked, splintered and broken. Is it possible our relationship is going to end in a pathetic whimper and not a bang as a fundamental truth is breached? In each other's arms, by our silence, we acknowledge that if we strive and battle to prove which one of us is right, when the smoke clears, not even our friendship will be left standing, and the mere thought of that is reprehensible.
* * *
Last I saw Daniel, he had closeted himself in the spare room, and I knocked tentatively with the excuse that I was going shopping. I extruded a promise that he would remember to take his medication and I promised to bring home dinner. All the food I had bought for Daniel is packed in the Avalanche and after an hour of mindless driving, I find myself standing in front of Daniel's apartment door, key in my hand, afraid to take the final step over the threshold.
There had been no passionate begging of forgiveness, no falling onto knees with hands clasped to one's chest, no tears. I snort at how absolutely pathetic and infantile that sounds, spoken in true Harlequin novelese. All we are is two guys who are going to endure one more disappointment in life by shutting down, left with the bleak awareness of the chasm that separated us, unable or unwilling to be the first one to take that conciliatory step.
I put the food away, the open and closing of the cabinet doors sounding inordinately loud in the apartment so I turn on the stereo, not caring what music blares from the speakers, hoping it will drown out maudlin thoughts as I wander from room to room. I store away images, packing away sounds of laughter between lovers, arguments, harsh and tender words. Each room holds memories and my groin tightens painfully in remembrance of the feel of Daniel's smooth muscled body in my arms.
If I thought stepping through the apartment door was hard, walking into the bedroom takes every ounce of courage I possess, and then some. I will never again enter this bedroom as a lover, to wake with an armful of Daniel. I dawdle in the bedroom, sitting on a half made bed, eventually flopping backwards, my feet still resting on the floor. I skim my right arm under his pillow, bend my arm and pull the pillow towards me so it flops on me, covering my face, hiding me. Like I would do to Daniel, I wrap both arms around it and inhale deeply Daniel's lingering essence that is infused within the fabric of this simple pillow. Early morning sex is interwoven among the fabric, unshowered bodies and morning breath layered within each fiber. I hug it closer, inhaling deeply, and I'm haunted by a vision of a satiated body spooned contentedly in my arms.
I lay in the faux cover of darkness that the pillow provides. The CD has finished, the apartment is quiet and this mock sensory deprivation tank I'm in forces my mind to places it rarely likes to visit.
Sara… we're friends now. After all these years, I can say that and actually believe the truth in that word. The end of our marriage was my fault, my doing. After Charlie's death, I allowed it to happen. Distance was easier than facing my fear. Loss was easier to face than failed trust. She trusted my ability to lock up the gun. Charlie trusted me to be a good father. I failed miserably on both counts. In the end I couldn't trust Sara to love me *enough*, forgive me *enough* so we could get through that time together. That day in the cemetery not only Charlie, but also my marriage, was laid to rest because of mistrust.
I remember a saying buried in the vestiges of my mind about if one doesn't learn from their mistakes, they are destined to repeat it. Alone… is loneliness what I want to repeat?
'How do I love thee, let me count the ways'. My lips curve in an unexpected smile against the material of the pillowcase as I fondly remember these words my grandparents would say to each other after an especially trying day or an argument.
I draw a deep breath and wonder how that ditty would work if I altered it just a bit and applied it to Daniel. Would it fix the day like it had with my grandparents? Having nothing to lose, no holds barred, just me, my thoughts and the pillow as a witness, I give it a go. How do I trust thee… let me count the ways. I suppress a chuckle at the absurdity of this situation. I sober immediately as Daniel's face in the kitchen flits unbidden through my mind. To save me, to save us, I try again—I trust you to be by my side, in life, in love. To be my friend, my enemy, my honest companion. To make love to me, with me, to share both my body and my mind, pushing me to the limits of my endurance. I trust that you love me enough to accept my penetration of your body with my heat and my need. I trust you enough to share my bed, my heart, my tears and my soul. I trust you to challenge my words, my beliefs and my truths. I trust you to share my burdens and to always be with me so I don't face my fears alone.
I sit up, gasping for breath, sucker punched by my own honesty and raw need. "Damn, damn, damn," I mutter, flinging the pillow to the side, pushing off the edge of the bed. "The sonofabitch knew all the time." Always the genius, two steps ahead of me, sleeping at my house, I'm sure the archaeologist had unearthed the answer to "how do I trust thee" a long time ago. He *knew* and had been waiting for me to make my own discovery.
* * *
My shaking fingers fumble with the keys, the door seems to stick, the keys won't cooperate, and in retrospect I'm not even sure how I got from Daniel's apartment to my house. I extricate the keys, slam the door behind me, yelling for Daniel even before my coat is off and the keys hit the coffee table.
I stand in the doorframe of my bedroom. Exhaustion finally claiming him, Daniel snores long and loud from *his* side of our bed. One arm tucked around his middle, the other disappearing under the pile of pillows, knees drawn up for warmth. I itch to touch him.
On my side of the bed sits a suitcase, haphazardly filled with hastily folded items of Daniel's clothing.
Stepping cautiously I move to *my* side of the bed. As silently as possible, I slowly zip up the suitcase. It gets slipped into the closet, waiting for a decision.
Daniel begins to cough, rearing up on his elbows, hacking deeply for a moment or so, before he flops back down, mumbles incoherently and resumes snoring. I toe off my shoes, throw the errant pair of socks that didn't make the suitcase onto the dresser and ease my body down onto the bed.
"Humpfff." An unstoppable puff of air is forced from my lungs as Daniel drapes his length over me the moment I'm flat on my back. His chin is digging into that sensitive area of the shoulder, one arm is flung across my stomach and his knee is actively trying to separate my legs, sapping my body's warmth. Daniel's right arm is hard at work burrowing under my back and with a sigh, he eventually gives up and tucks the arm between our bodies.
Altering my position slightly, I bend into Daniel, sliding my right arm over his torso and chuckle quietly as he molds to my moves. "Cold," Daniel mutters, shivering slightly.
"Always," I agree, kissing the top of his head. My fingers come in contact with a book that seems stuck under Daniel and I tug until it's freed. With the intent of dropping if off the bed, I lift it up, stopping when I register there are photographs protruding from the pages. I shake the book, and the pictures flutter down and cover us both. The book gets dropped over the side of the bed, and with Daniel drooling into the material of my sweatshirt, breathing loudly into my ear, I begin to examine the photos.
Some I've seen before, taken with the camera SG1 bought Cassie one year. Group shots, individual photos, mostly from BBQ's or various other informal gatherings. I flip through them eyeing Daniel's maturation, sadden when the camera captures the disappearance of innocence to the passage of time and I become a voyeur as Daniel hardens himself against the losses in his life.
One picture captures my attention and I bring it up close to my nose, squinting as I turn it over to see if there's a date recorded on the back. Finding nothing, I flip it back around, my hand subconsciously massaging Daniel's forearm as I study the picture. It's us, me and Daniel, taken in what look likes Fraiser's backyard on what appears to be a sunny autumn day, based on our clothing. The event escapes me but the looks on our faces don't. We're happy. Wide smiles, sparkling eyes, laughter just below the surface happy… my hand is resting on Daniel's thigh and his fingers seem to be lightly treading on my forearm. Suddenly it becomes intrinsically imperative that I recall every aspect of the picture and how I was able to make Daniel smile like that.
"You don't remember, do you?" Daniel asks, the hand tucked between us pointing lethargically at the picture.
* * *
Jack holds in his hand the reason why the suitcase was only half filled.
"You don't remember, do you?" I ask, pointing with a sleep heavy hand at the photo.
Jack's head volleys a number of times between the picture and me, seemingly having a difficult time equating the smiling man in the picture with the one he holds in his arms. I squirm in Jack's embrace and he releases his hold until I can find a more comfortable position.
Lying flat on his back with arms open wide to welcome me back, I smile at Jack's confused expression as I leap from the bed. "Cold," I offer as a simple explanation, slipping under the covers. "I know," he chuckles as he lifts up his ass and maneuvers his body under the blanket to join me.
Jack lifts up my chin, adjusts my glasses and sticks the picture so close my eyes practically cross. My snort of amusement turns into a cough and Jack rests a hand on my back until I am able to draw a relatively normal breath.
Pillows plumped, both of us are on our backs, under the covers, my right leg draped over his left calf, and Jack is impatiently tapping the photo on his blanket-covered belly.
"It was at Janet's house."
"Huh?" Jack asks, momentarily halting the bouncing picture.
I poke the photo. "Janet's house, Cassie's field hockey team had won an important match. We were celebrating."
Jack's gaze turns downward, studying the photo. "We were happy. You were happy." His thumb traces the edge of the photograph. "For some reason I don't think we were this happy because Cassie's team won, were we?"
"No," I answer softly. "There were other extenuating circumstances."
"We were alive and we loved each other."
"You and I have come a long way since then… but a lot of our excess baggage has been showing up when we least expect it to." I stutter and stammer, beginning and ending a multitude of sentences before I just pound the bed in frustration. I'm a linguist, the degrees say I am, but right now all my words can't express what I need Jack to know. He's patient, maybe too patient, I want him to prod and question, that I can handle. I'm fearful of the silence he's presenting me. I had this conversation worked out in my head, the give and take between the two of us… he would have said this… I would have said that. Words I can deal with, silence I cannot.
I leap from the bed and make it to the kitchen before I hear Jack's bare feet pounding after me.
I lock my arms, lean over the counter and breathe in shallow gasps to keep my coughing under control.
It takes two breaths before I have enough control to pivot and face Jack. He's standing against the doorjamb, his body casually taut, arms crossed, inconspicuously blocking my exit.
"When you left, I knew… I believed… I was under the impression…" Even change of venue isn't making this easier.
"I began to pack, books, clothes…"
"Pictures," Jack adds.
"Pictures," I concede as I swallow around the lump in my throat. "Then I saw that picture and got angry. Furious because I was denying myself the one thing I've been deprived of the majority of my life. I was letting my happiness walk out the door. Like I left Sarah and ran, or when I opened the Stargate and ran from one of the happiest, most contented years of my life… just like now... I was letting you leave."
I can't understand the look of confusion on Jack's face. I so need to drive home a point and he isn't getting it. "Do you understand, Jack? Are you seeing *any* common thread between myself and happiness?" Annoyed, my heel kicks the wooden door of the cabinet.
"You're punishing yourself?" I'm not too sure if I should perceive Jack's statement as a question that requires an answer.
I open my mouth to rebuke his words when Jack blurts out, "Did you take your medication?"
"What the hell does that have to do…?"
"Did you take your meds today?"
"…Not that it has *anything* to do what … but no, I didn't."
Jack disappears to retrieve the meds which now sit on the bedroom dresser. I hadn't taken them but they had gotten as far as the bedroom to be packed, the ever-observant special ops military man obviously doesn't miss a trick.
Jack returns, hands me the assortment of bottles and taps my elbow when I hesitate. I swallow the pills, the cough syrup and finish the bottle of water before he calls me to the table. "Sit." He slides the chair to his right out using his foot and pats the seat in invitation.
Jack slams the picture on the table, jabbing at it. "No more hemming or hawing, or running crap… why did the picture change your mind?"
"I miss that person."
Jack's embarrassed, gesturing hands apologize for his indiscretions. "Look, Daniel, I'm sorry, things have been crazy, I know with the…" he pauses, studying my face's blank expression.
"Not you, Jack." I move his hand off the end of the photo. "It's never been you. It's me. I miss me… that person right there." I stab at my image. "That smile… that happiness. Damn." I fling myself back in the chair and Jack grabs my forearms forcefully, preventing the self-hug he always teases me about.
"You're saying words, but they aren't making an ounce of sense."
"No sense?" I ask pathetically.
"None at all." Jack pulls my head towards him, tucking it under his chin for a moment.
"I love you." My voice is harsh and muffled against Jack's shirt. Locked in this uncomfortable embrace, I begin to panic… my head hurts, I want to go back to bed, bury this conversation, and just go on the way we were going. Stop, rewind, play… but before I can whine out any of these objections, Jack kisses the top of my head and returns me to an upright position. "I know you love me." I hate the understanding in his voice.
"How do you know that?" I demand, hating his ability to be so sympathetic in the face of diversity. "How!"
Jack shakes me a little. "Stop! You're all over the place. Let's go for a novel approach. I talk… you listen."
"I want you—" My coughing and Jack's evil glance forces the remainder of the sentence to die in my throat and I get that dreaded index finger in my face, accompanied by a loud shush, but Jack softens the command with a chaste kiss to my lips. "Daniel… listen, okay, you can do that, I know you can. Contrary to rumors, I am well aware there are times you're astute enough to listen."
"This is one of those times."
I force a cough and rub my forehead in the hopes of extracting sympathy. A sharing, sappy Jack leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling. A one sided tilt to the relationship I never seem able to reciprocate. In matters of universal wrongdoings, I willingly jump atop my soapbox and spew heartfelt words regarding the injustice of it all.
Using words with regard to any relationship I've ever had in my life, that, I'm incapable of. Friends, yeah… I can do the friend thing. It's the sharing me with the person sharing my bed I seem to have a hard time with.
I swallow painfully, adding a slight grimace for good measure, but based on Jack's face, my play for sympathy isn't working. "I love you." There, I said it again—two times in one day. "Everything's hunky dory, Jack. Back the way it was." I shrug. "It was the meds talking, the lack of sleep speaking, not me."
Jack's hand snakes out, grabs the front of my shirt and shuts me up with a kiss. He pulls away before I can reciprocate, but I get the hint and sit back, my hands in my lap, my eyes glued to my hands.
"You don't have to *tell* me you love me—" Jack begins.
Jack shakes his head in frustration. "No, you don't have to *say* the words, Daniel, 'cause I see it when you look at me when no one else is looking. I hear love in your laughter and it's in your eyes when you smile. I feel it when you call my name during sex and when you allow me to love you."
I begin to squirm and I can feel the flush of embarrassment coloring my cheeks. Silently, I plead with Jack to stop and he does… waiting patiently until I finish hacking. His words and the look of sympathy on his face are making short work of my already fragile emotional balance.
"The trust issue…"
My knees bounce up and down with pent up nervous energy and I blurt out, "Isn't an issue anymore."
"I beg to differ. There was a packed suitcase on the bed which seems to indicate trust was an issue."
"It's not trust. It was never about trust…" I get up, unable to stay seated any longer. "It was about your willingness to leave. In my apartment that night, today when I was…" I rub tired eyes. "Upset, confused… whatever. You left. With no argument, no backward glance, the door didn't have a chance to hit you in the ass, Jack. I love you… you make me smile… you make me happy." I point a shaking finger at the picture. "And you willingly left." One more sentence pops out before I clamp my lips shut. "How can I trust you not to leave again?"
"I can't guarantee nothing is going to happen to me."
I refuse to answer or meet his gaze. I'm eight years old again and I can feel the sense of loss so strongly that my heart hurts. Poor orphaned, Daniel Jackson, I remember the whispers. The shaking of heads and smirks behind hands when Sarah chose career over me. The downcast eyes and looks of pity when Sha're died. "I won't be left behind anymore," I whisper. "And as stupid as this sounds, I hate you for leaving." I swipe at errant tears, my confirmation of why I hate opening myself up to sharing because for some obscure reason I always end up being the orphan again.
Jack's not close enough to stop the self-hug this time and I pivot so I'm facing the sink, checking out the backyard through bleary vision. Within seconds, Jack assists my body in the self-hug, pulling me in close. "As long as there is breath in this old body, I'm never leaving you."
"I've heard that song before." As soon as I say those words I want to swallow them, stuff them back into the buried recesses of my mind, hating my inability to shut eight year old Danny up.
"I left because I was afraid." Jack's unbelievable words reverberate in my brain and it takes me a minute to respond.
"Afraid of what?"
I can't control the laughter that escapes or the cough that follows on its heels.
Angrily, Jack spins me around, his hands tightly gripping my shoulders. "Self-deprecation is not an attractive trait for you, Daniel." Jack draws a deep breath and regains his composure with its slow expulsion. His smile belies the sadness in his eyes. "I thought I'd been replaced. Afraid that someone younger, more good looking, more intelligent was taking my place. My pride took a beeline out your door and the rest of me followed."
My hand slides around his arm and lies gently on his cheek. Thinking back to the set of occurrences from that day, his assessment with the facts he had to work with is one hundred percent correct. I don't degrade his fear by denying it. "I'm sorry. I know what it looked like, but honestly, there is no one else. There never was and there never will be." And I say it one more time… with meaning. "I love you, Jack." I bend my head as he goes to kiss me, burying my avoidance with a cough.
Damn. I can't look at the fear in Jack's eyes maybe because I see my own fear reflected back. "I'm an orphan and I can fool myself into believing that I've come to terms with my parents' death. I'm a widower… and I think I've done a fair job of dealing with Sha're's… with my failure, and how she died. And then there's us… and I convince myself that I've truly picked myself and dusted off my psyche."
I'm sick, nauseated, my head is pounding, and my chest feels like an elephant has taken up residence, and if Jack didn't have me propped up against the sink, I'd be on the floor. "I don't think I know how to be happy," I confess, amazed that the elephant seems to have moved a little as I continue. "Obviously for a moment in time I've been happy… the picture is proof. I'm tired of running… of sabotaging myself when happiness creeps up on me." I clear my throat a few times, refusing to blink, blaming the moisture on tired eyes. "I'm perceiving what occurred to be some type of turning point in our relationship…"
"So you decided now would be a good time to what? Share?" He jumps in when I pause for a breath.
"To be honest," I admit, shrugging. Jack's fingers dig into my arms and I steel myself for rejection. I'm a 38 year old man with tons of baggage, real and imagined, pleading my case to a man who I've given my body to, but until today hadn't revealed all of me.
Jack laughs and kisses me on the forehead.
"I hate that."
"I know… consider that payback." He places rough, gentle hands on both sides of my face, forcing eye contact. "Thank you for trusting me with your happiness." He kisses me again and I can't help the smile that blooms under his ministrations. "My archaeologist got a little sappy today," he says when we separate.
"Yeah, guess he did," I admit bashfully.
"Didn't kill ya, did it?" Jack taps my cheek.
I think for a minute, taking stock. The elephant seems to be standing now and not sitting, the headache has lowered down to an acceptable, livable level and for the first time in days, I can actually say that I'm hungry. "Didn't kill me. Don't get used to it," I warn, and then use his chest to muffle a cough. His voice laughingly accuses me of spreading germs while his hands rub my aching back. I can't describe it any other way other than to say I fold into Jack, resting my head on his shoulder, tucking my hands between our bodies, gaining warmth and strength from his steady heartbeat under my palms.
We are so close that the silent rumbling of my empty stomach vibrates against his body.
* * *
Couch, toast, tea and an afghan later, I'm trying to ward off Jack. Giving him the green light to take care of me may not have been the greatest idea in the world as I resist for the third time in fifteen minutes his offer of whatever he feels I need.
"You know what I would like?" Jack is exhausting me with his fetch and carry routine, driving me nuts with his inability to relax.
"Hmm, what, more tea?" He bends, ready to refill the empty mug.
My legs are resting on the coffee table and my blanket covered foot pushes Jack's hands away from the mug. "Sit, here, now," I demand as I pat the couch next to me.
He maneuvers around the table and taps my legs with his knee. "Skootch down." Jack points to the opposite side of the couch. "Put your head on the arm of the couch…"
Incredulously, I look up at Jack as he stands over me, ordering my repositioning. "No."
I rub a circle on the spot of the couch to my right. "No. Sitting up is easier, I don't want to lay down."
"You look exhausted," he counters.
"You know something, Jack. Good call." I adjust the blanket around my upper body. "I am. But I'm exhausted and *not* coughing, so I'm not moving."
Next thing I know, Jack plops down on the sofa so close to me the afghan is pulled uncomfortably tight across my body.
"You didn't have to go for the guilt," Jack replies indignantly, lifting up his ass to adjust the blanket. "You coulda just said 'no'."
"I did say no."
"I didn't listen?" Jack pushes my head onto his shoulder, leaving his fingers to rest in my hair. "Really? Can't believe I wouldn't sit on the couch with you."
My answer of 'unbelievable' is lost in a yawn.
* * *
I swat in annoyance at whoever is trying their damndest to wake me up. "Go away," I mumble. Futilely, I grab at the blanket sliding off my body, and against my better judgment, open my eyes and groan at the vision of Jack standing to my right, the afghan in his hands.
I fling my head back against the couch cushions, gazing up at him through lids at half mast. "I was sleeping. You said I looked exhausted, I slept… I *was* sleeping. And you woke me… am I missing something?"
There is an apologetic smile on his face as he folds the afghan and throws it over the back of the couch, leaning in to give me kiss. "Nap breath," I grouse, squirming out from underneath him.
Jack's exaggerated sniffing centers around my chest and meanders over to armpits, making me laugh. "Yeah, and you could use a shower," he adds, holding his nose.
"You woke me for a kiss and to let me know I stink?" I pull the neck of my shirt out and bury a cough against my body.
"No, I woke you to tell you everyone called to see how you were doing." He ticks off the phone messages on his fingers. "Teal'c called, and Carter… separately, not at the same time, mind you. Fraiser called for a medical update and to remind me to bring you in tomorrow for a repeat chest x-ray. Pffft... like I would ever take my life in my hands and forget that. Though I did live dangerously and not tell our illustrious CMO how you haven't been sleeping or eating." Jack gives me an annoyingly infantile pat to the head. "I figured you could tell her about that yourself."
"I smell and people called…" I rub my eyes in frustration. "And that warranted you waking me up."
"No… Cassie's called. She's bringing over dinner."
The mere thought of food starts my stomach churning but deep down maybe it's the idea of seeing Cassie which settles heavily on my stomach.
* * *
Hopefully, Jack will never be aware that the toast and tea have gone the way of the sewer system, or that the hot shower helped my body to rid itself of every conceivable ounce of mucus. Standing over the toilet, I applaud my astuteness in leaving the shower running to mask the sound of my vomiting because if Jack knew of my bathroom activities, he would have hauled my ass back to the infirmary. Honestly, there is no way that anyone can convince me that a plastic mattress, starch filled sheets and enormous needles are, in any way, going to help me heal. What *would* aid in my recovery is to spend a quiet night in a king sized bed with hours of uninterrupted sleep, ensconced under mounds of blankets, and plastered against one snoring Colonel. What I'm getting instead is a dinner my stomach is far from being able to handle and a visit from someone who inadvertently started a chain of events, and emotions I would rather have kept buried.
I use the corner of the towel to clean off the mirror's moisture, gaze at my reflection, and bring my fingers to my face gently sliding over the remains of the peeling rash. The fresh skin is tender to the touch so I forgo shaving and just brush and gargle, ending with skimming my fingers through my hair. I throw on clean sweats, paste on a smile, and I'm good to go.
* * *
"Hey, you clean up nice," Jack says as he squeezes past me while I stand in the kitchen doorway. He back peddles, traps my body against the doorjamb, sniffs, nuzzles my neck, and I can't help the chuckle that escapes as he adds a vibrating "mmmm" to his litany of compliments.
Jack releases me after a lascivious grin, a quick kiss and his annoying habit of adjusting my glasses. I'm too emotionally lazy to complain and mutely accept his ministrations.
I sit at the table and watch him put out utensils and plates. "Cassie will be here soon."
"That's nice." I wince as the words come out a bit harsher than I intended.
Jack pauses with a set of chopsticks in his hand and shoots me a quizzical look.
I apologize with a crooked smile. "Sorry… I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
Jack sits down across from me and begins to use the chopsticks to beat out a staccato rhythm on the table top, the dish and the glasses, while I sit transfixed by his musical ineptitude. "Cassie saw you in the infirmary, hooked up to the vent… and I know she's a trooper, but you kinda freaked her out."
Sure, so now I feel doubly guilty for not wanting Cassie here, but also for my condition in the infirmary, and I'm sure before the night is through, I'll be feeling guilty for an additional thing or two. I'm so caught up in the visuals Cassie must have been privy to, I'm not even aware I'm coughing until Jack shoves a glass of water under my nose.
"Sorry," I mutter.
"Enough with the sorry's. Finish your water," he urges, strutting his mother hen ability, "I'm going to let Cassie in."
* * *
I'm intent on making my wonton swim in the soup, Cassie is working hard at making sure she doesn't make eye contact with me and Jack seems totally oblivious to the one-word answers he's extracting from us. Every time I cough Cassie cringes, and by the fifth time, Jack drops his fork. The clattering noise is so loud both Cassie and I jump at the unexpected sound.
"Kids, *enough*, would you please kiss and make up." Jack does his Vanna White imitation, making a show of presenting me to Cassie with a wave of his hands. "See, Daniel's fine. He's got a cough and that real bothersome habit of…"
"Geez, Jack, can it, okay?" I throw my spoon down and angrily push my chair from the table. By the time I reach Cassie, her face is awash with tears which she is trying to unsuccessfully hide behind a curtain of hair. "Cassie… look at me." I have to make the request twice before she responds. I tuck an errant strand behind her ear and take the napkin to clean her face. "Jack's right… I'm okay."
I glance over my shoulder to see if Jack is watching my six as Cassie's eyes begin to fill yet again. Needless to say, Jack's idea of backup is to turn his hands up in submission, shrug his shoulders, add to that a raise of an eyebrow, a smirk, and I get the idea I'm totally on my own with this one.
"I got sick that night." She grabs a crumpled napkin to wipe her nose.
"After you saw me in the infirmary?"
She snorts through her tears and there is a microscopic hint of smile. "Sometimes you're a little dense, Daniel."
I mouth a 'shut up' to Jack when he agrees with Cassie's statement.
"No, I got sick the night I called you to pick me up." Cassie wipes the remaining tears with the back of her hand and draws a shaky breath before beginning.
I pull out the chair next to Jack and sit down, totally confused. I'm about to question her but Jack beats me to it. "What night did Daniel pick you up?"
Cassie's eyes widen in amazement. "You never said anything?"
"You asked me not to."
Jack rests a hand on my shoulder, his fingers putting pressure on tension-tight muscles. "You should know that Daniel never breaks a promise. If you told him not to say anything, he would carry it to the grave."
"I know that," Cassie stutters, fiddling with her fork. "I just thought that you and Daniel… that you two… that he would..."
Cassie is mortified. And Jack… well, Jack's hand has moved to the small of my back, applying enough pressure to let me know Cassie's revelation is going to be a topic of discussion later this evening.
"I honestly thought Daniel would have told you. It was an incredibly stupid dare... I made a terrible mistake and Mom made sure to let me know how disappointed she was with me." "It's okay, you're human and a teenager... mistakes are okay." The words sound pitiful in the face of Cassie's distress. "No! In this instance I failed, I didn't just make a mistake. I called you. You came to my rescue. You fought off the bad guys. You drove me home... a true knight in shining armor."
"Yeah, Daniel has that annoying habit of rescuing damsels in distress." My body stiffens at Jack's remark. Unbeknownst to Cassie, there is abundance of Jack-touching taking place along my spine as his expressive hands offer up an apology.
I grab a napkin, cough, and suddenly all of Cassie's composure melts away. "I didn't think anyone would find out… I didn't think my mom would discover I had done something I wasn't permitted to do. And she wouldn't have known… except Daniel got sick, too."
"I'm lost… how did my getting sick have anything to do with Janet finding out where you were that night?"
"I got sick the night you dropped me off…"
I reach out to her but drop my hand into my lap, deciding to settle on words instead of touching as Cassie moves away. "I'm sorry, I never would have left." Feeble words, 'I should have stayed', I had been too focused on how *I* felt, too self-centered to go the extra step.
"How would you have known to stay?" I bite back words of reprimand at Cassie's self-defensive, snotty attitude. "I really didn't get sick until *after* you left. By the morning Mom diagnosed me with strep throat."
"…And then Daniel got sick with scarlet fever," Jack chimes in, his hand hot and heavy on my back.
"Untreated strep throat… that's what Warner told me."
"He told me that, too, Daniel, along with a few colorful descriptive words," Jack interjects, his fingers worrying the wrinkles in my tee shirt.
"Mom put two and two together really quickly and demanded to know when we saw each other... and I lied… and she pushed. No one else was sick, not a single member of the SGC and no one from SG1, not even Jack. I confessed when she told me you were in the infirmary.
She drops her head, studying the uneaten food on her plate. "Mom left her keys in the car when I drove her to work one day… I thought it was the perfect excuse to come and say hi… I didn't know. " Even though Cassie shuts her eyes, tears still leak under closed lids.
"You were on the vent," Jack says, and Cassie nods at the memory.
"You almost died," Cassie adds softly.
"I was sick but I wasn't that sick… I wasn't going to die."
"Mom was afraid," Cassie interjects.
For a moment, Jack's hand stops its constant motion. I guess he's shocked to hear his fears spoken out loud because knowing Jack, if Janet was afraid, then he'd have been terrified. I relax ever so slightly against the weight of his hand, and his fingers imperceptibly tighten.
A sigh of exasperation sticks in my throat and Jack must feel the hitch in my lungs, because he calls my name the moment my body is held prisoner by a prolonged coughing fit. Already abused chest muscles cause my right arm to curl around my midsection for protection, my left hand grips the chair for support and I can't help but grimace against the headache the coughing has reawakened.
Jack shoves the garbage pail under my nose and a wad of paper towels in my hand as the coughing turns to gagging. Slowly, I gain the upper hand and bury my face in the bunched up paper towels. I spit a mouthful of phlegm into the paper towels and bury it deeply in the garbage. Sweeping my arm across my forehead, I sop up the layer of sweat and heave myself from the chair, only to be stopped by the weight of Jack's hand on my shoulder.
"Sit for a moment," he commands, passing me a glass of water with shaking hands.
Jack stands to my side and gently tugs my head towards him, the water in the glass sloshing over the side and staining my pants before I can rest it on the table. I sit silent and unresisting as Jack cards his fingers through my sweat stained hair. With my ear pressed tightly against Jack's stomach, I can hear his rapid, frightened heartbeat, and I wrap one of my hands around Jack's forearm and rub its roughness. "I'm okay," I reassure him.
I should have known the minute Jack provided visible, physical comfort, including a kiss to my head, that we were alone in the kitchen. But I'm so caught in the actual art of drawing a breath, it isn't until I reach for the glass that I notice Cassie's chair is empty.
Wiggling from Jack's embrace, I manage to knock over the garbage pail when I stand. "Cassie?" I croak.
Jack's eyes slide from my face to the fallen pail. Bending, he is somewhere around my knees when he lets me know Cassie left the room, not the house… just the kitchen. Slamming the glass on the table, I skirt around Jack and the pail to search for Cassie.
I warily approach her, softly calling her name. She has her back to me. She's standing before the fireplace, admiring Jack's medals, awards, pictures of Charlie and a photo of her and Janet.
"Please, look at me," I beg.
Cassie vehemently shakes her head no.
"Cassie, even if you refuse to face me, I want you to know… I *need* you to know, that even if I were in possession of a crystal ball and was aware of what the outcome would have been... even if I had known I was going to get sick… and," I falter with the wording, "… um, wind up in the infirmary, I still would have answered the phone that night and I still would have come to get you. And if the phone rings tomorrow… and you need me—no matter what obstacles stand in my way—I will always find a way to be there for you."
"Why?" Her voice is soft and hesitant.
"Because you're family. Jack, Sam, Teal'c, you and your mom all taught me the meaning of family." I step closer, still not touching. "A concept it seems I had forgotten."
Two steps backward balance my equilibrium as I'm presented with an armful of crying teenager. I battle an urge to cough as Cassie tightens her arms around my chest, restricting my ability to draw any sort of breath. I lay my cheek against the top of her head and subconsciously begin to sway in comfort. "Please don't cry," I urge as tears form in my own eyes.
I snort the tears back and Cassie quiets, wipes her moisture on the front of my shirt and looks up at me. "Are you crying?"
"No," I lie.
"Your nose is red and I see a hint of a little… you're a terrible liar, Daniel," she smirks. Cassie's face softens and she drops her head back down to its previous position. "I'm sorry." Her voice is muffled in the materiel of my shirt.
I turn my face and cough and Cassie splays her hands across my chest. "I can hear you breathe… it rattles and…"
I capture her chin and rotate her head so she's forced to make eye contact with me. "I'm fine."
"Terrible liar, Daniel," she reiterates.
"Okay… on the mend," I admit. "But believe me, your mom wouldn't have let me leave if she didn't think I was recovering."
"I know," Cassie sighs.
Jack's voice carries into the living room, laced with mock annoyance. "Both of you—finishing dinner would be nice. I'm getting a complex eating dim sum all by myself." We hear him "hmpff" and mutter a comment about children before he goes back to the kitchen. Cassie laughs and gives me a sympathetic pat to my chest. "Geez, I thought my mom was bad."
"I know," I sigh. We commiserate our fates with a knowing smile of understanding and I tug on her hand. "Come on, let's go keep him company."
"You're not going to make him ask twice?" Cassie giggles.
"Naw, that's no fun. What's entertaining is if we do what he wants the first time he bugs us, then he's gonna spend the rest of the evening being suspicious and nervous."
Cassie's glance slides towards the kitchen's doorway and she whispers conspiratorially, "Sounds like you do this a lot."
"Not a lot, just enough to keep him guessing." I shrug. "It's payback for his incessant mother hen attitude."
A serious expression suddenly overlays Cassie's features. "He loves you… I think so much it frightens him." Cassie pauses and I can actually feel her hesitation. "He was at your apartment when I called, wasn't he? And you never told him where you were going or what you were doing, did you? Odds are Jack's feeling as guilty as I am."
This is a very strange and uncomfortable conversation to be having with a seventeen year old girl. Suddenly she's become the adult and I feel simultaneously very old, very young and extremely embarrassed. "You are your mother's daughter," I blurt out. "I meant that as a compliment," I blabber. "You're quite astute for someone your age." I screw my eyes shut against the inevitable onslaught of argumentative words I'm sure to be bombarded with.
With trepidation, I open my eyes when I'm hit with laughter. "Thanks for the compliment, but please," she begs through her chuckling, "don't ever tell my mom. I don't mind being compared to her but it will so totally ruin my teenage image."
"Cassie, I hate to tell you this… but you've never been a teenager." I tug again on her hand, check my watch and cough into the crook of my arm, which earns me a look that would make her mother proud.
With a twist of her lips, a toss of her head and a pull towards the kitchen, there's no longer any doubt in my mind that Cassie is the most mature person in this house. "Come on, let's not keep poor Jack waiting."
* * *
In a futile attempt to hide from the sights and sounds of morning, I bury deeper under the quilt. To ward off the chill of a yet unheated house, I fold tighter into a ball, but the blanket is an ineffectual guard against Jack's morning routine. Alarm, the intrusion of sunrise blasting through flung open curtains, singing in the shower, morning stretches, grunts and groans I would really prefer not to be privy to. I crave darkness, quiet, the warmth of Jack's body next to mine, and sleep. Even the seductive, enticing smell of fresh brewed coffee isn't enough to force me to abandon my self-made cocoon.
I'm torn between curling around Jack's ass when he sits on the bed or moving away from his inevitable morning grope and fumble with the sleeping archaeologist wake up method. My body makes the decision for me by coughing.
"Go away," I mutter hoarsely to Jack's soothing shoulder rub. I smother another cough against the mattress. My muffled "leave me alone" doesn't seem to dislodge Jack so I pull an extra pillow from the side, throw it over where my head is under the blanket and anchor said pillow down with my arms.
Jack's voice sounds strange as it travels through the extra linens. "You're gonna suffocate."
"Are too." I put up a weak fight as Jack removes first my hands, then the pillow, and finally lowers the blanket, exposing my annoyance. "Go away."
"Nope." Jack's fooling no one by resting his hand a little too long on my forehead.
I twist from his touch, grumbling. "No fever."
"Ya feel kinda warm to me."
I snarl when I feel his ass lift off the bed. "Sit down. Don't you dare come at me with the thermometer."
"So you want to live dangerously… your choice." Jack's hand cups my ass through the blanket. "Fraiser will be more than happy to stick you with one."
I flip from my side to my back, squinting up at Jack, whose hand has slid unobtrusively from my ass to my thigh. "Janet?"
Jack cocks his head at me and I can read the silent "ya gotta be kidding me."
"Oh, yeah, chest x-ray… got it." I don't bother to stifle the yawn-turned-cough. But Jack halts my hands at they haul the blanket up around my neck.
"No way. You want to risk Fraiser's wrath, that's your own business. But I promised her Dr. Jackson in the infirmary by this morning, and that's what she's getting, even if I have to drag you there in your pajamas."
"Jack? Speaking of pajamas…" I grind the heels of my palms into my eyes. "How did I…?"
"Do you know how loud you snore? Cassie even commented."
I cover my face in embarrassment.
"You fell asleep on the couch… Cassie and I took some wonderful pictures that'll make great Christmas gifts for the nurses."
I shoot Jack an evil glance through splayed fingers which he sees but chooses to ignore. His litany continues with a vexatious sing song quality which strangely enough begins to lull me back to sleep. "You slept, you snored… Cassie and I had dessert, talked, watched a movie. You snored… and drooled. Did I tell you about the picture I got with the drool hanging right over here?"
Even in my semi-conscious state, I smile at Jack's gentle swipe across my lips with his finger.
"Then Cassie left. I tried to wake you. I locked the house up… I tried to wake you. I watched Sports Update… I tried to wake you. I got tired of trying to wake you so I flung you over my shoulder and carried you off to bed."
I pop one eye open. "You carried me?"
Jack fakes mock indignation. "I was motivated." He winks at me with a lurid grin on his face. "Me Tarzan-you Jane, type of scenario. Even more fun when the carryee is basically comatose."
"Sooo, you had your evil wicked way with me?"
"Damn… I missed it." I rub an annoying itch in my ear with my shoulder, cough, sneeze and gratefully accept the offer of a tissue from Jack. I blow loudly, grimacing as my ear pops painfully. I head Jack's comments about my health off at the pass with "I'm fine." I slide upwards until my back rests against the headboard. "So, you did the loin cloth and everything."
"Even pounded my chest and swung from the chandelier." He nods at this imagined proud accomplishment and I follow his eyes upward, shaking my head in amusement.
"You don't have a chandelier."
"I can dream, can't I?" he sighs heavily.
My snort of laughter is followed by a round of coughing that both Jack and I wait out. One of Jack's hands run through my hair while the other presents me the bedside bottle of water.
"Thanks," I manage after downing more than half the bottle.
I push at his thigh with my knee. "Don't be sorry," I cajole. "I was enjoying the Tarzan idea… I just got carried away with the visual aspect of it."
"Really? What part… the pounding the chest, the chandelier…?"
I grab Jack's shirt, roughly guide him to me and burrow my nose into his neck, sniffing deeply of his freshly showered body. "Actually, it was the thought of the loin cloth that sent me over the edge."
I try to pull away as I begin to cough again, struggling slightly when Jack tightens the arms he has wrapped around me. "Germs…"
Jack waits until I finish before he grips my shoulders and bends me slightly from him. "Germs? Germs?" He laughs. "Contrary to the wonderful loin cloth idea, that's not exactly what occurred last night."
"Well, yes, you snored and drooled. But I didn't fling you over my shoulder."
I nod my head in agreement. "It's the knee thing." I rest my hand on his bent right knee for emphasis, my squeeze eliciting a smile.
"Yeah," Jack sighs, "it's the knee thing. So I brought you to a semi coherent stage, manipulating your body all the way into the bedroom, sat you at the edge of the bed, and painfully endured your lascivious gropings as I undressed you."
"I don't remember," I sadly state.
"You got pj's, blankets, pillows and me the whole entire night. You coughed on my, drooled on me, sneezed on me, spread your germs all over me the whole night… none of this rings a bell, does it?"
"None of it. I'm blank after sitting on the couch in the living room."
"Damn, I should have stuck with the Me Tarzan-You Jane, you wouldn't have known the difference."
* * *
"You're a coward."
"Daniel, what did you expect me to say?"
"How about not saying anything instead of volunteering information to Janet."
I'm pissed, Jack knows I'm pissed and he's had enough experience dealing with me when I'm in this mood to know when to back off. I stare out of the passenger window of the Avalanche as we drive home, coughing into a wadded up tissue. I had been x-ray'ed, prodded, IV'd and questioned ad naseum on my visit to the infirmary.
Jack makes another attempt as soon as he pulls into the driveway. "Daniel…"
"Eh!" I wave my index finger, cutting him off before he even gains a foothold. "Oh, come on! Did Janet need a blow by blow description of what I ate, didn't eat, what stayed down, what I vomited up… what dosages I missed…?"
"You have a fever…"
"Had… had a fever. Not from the pneumonia," I explain patiently. "An ear infection, which Janet treated with an IV antibiotic before she would even let me out the door. I'm fever free and I have a new antibiotic in addition to the one that nauseates me." I disengage the seatbelt, open the door, slamming it behind me in anger. I jerk my keys from my pockets, leave the front door open for Jack and stomp into the kitchen. I'm peripherally aware of Jack entering the house and register the closing of the front door. My head is buried in the fridge when Jack enters the kitchen.
"What!" I slam the fridge door, pivot and wave the plastic bottle for emphasis. Jack is standing before me, the brown bag of meds held tightly to his chest for protection against my anger. "I hate being sick!" I yell, enunciating each syllable for emphasis.
"I kinda figured that out," he says softly.
"Stop it! Stop being nice to me!"
"Because I'm being a bastard…" The slight headache from the hours under the infirmary lights and the many hands and tests my body was subjected to is no longer a nagging annoyance, but has exploded to full blown pounding.
"No argument from me," Jack replies. "The bastard thing, I mean."
I would love to stamp my feet and have a temper tantrum, and honestly, I believe that's what Jack's waiting for, but I won't give him the satisfaction. I open the water bottle, take a drink and push back my desire to grab and swallow two Tylenol. My defenses must be down because the next thing I know, Jack's hand is on my biceps. He takes the water bottle from my hand, places it on the counter next to the bag of medicines.
I'm spent, too tired to argue, my body acquiescing to Jack's insistent, yet gentle guiding to the bedroom. I sit at the edge of the bed, head hanging, eyes closed, utterly miserable.
"You want me to run you a bath?"
"Please stop being nice," I whisper.
Jack plants a kiss on my head. "I love you, even when you are a bastard, you know."
I nod. I want to let Jack know that it's a two way street, but I can't seem to cap my anger-fringed response of "Thanks, I'll remember that."
He grabs my chin, fingers painfully digging into the sensitive skin, tilting my head back until I'm looking up at him. Jack's movements are rough, his grip tight but his eyes, contradicting his actions, are soft and sympathetic. He releases me with a long exhalation of warm breath that filters through my hair, letting his hands rest on my slumped shoulders. Jack infuriates me with a low rumble of a chuckle that he tempers with a gentle kiss.
Jack takes the pillows, stands them against the headboard, patting them into place. He runs his hand enticingly down the length of the pillow, motioning me over with a seductive tilt of his head. Jack plumps them up with an exaggerated, comical movement, tempting me as he soothes down the blankets, and slides back the quilt.
I sit rooted to the spot, looking at him, worrying a loose string on my jeans, but for some reason I'm unable to take advantage of Jack's invitation. Undaunted, Jack goes to the dresser, drags out a set of sweats, and without turning, throws them at me. Perfect pitch as they land right in my lap.
The sweats are brought up to my face to catch my sneeze and Jack turns at the sound. "Ewwwww, Daniel." Tsk'ing, he drops the dresser's box of tissues on the bed next to me.
Jack stands in the doorway of the bedroom. "Make yourself comfortable."
"Not tired," I reply sullenly.
"I'm not telling you to go to sleep. Just to r-e-l-a-x." Jack walks back to me, lifting my hand, his thumb rubbing the bandaid that covers the IV site marking Janet's handwork. "I'll be back."
"Tylenol?" I mutter.
"Tylenol, meds, juice, toast…"
"Cinnamon toast?" I beg shamelessly, a minute piece of the anger beginning to drift away in the face of Jack's persistence.
* * *
I've donned the sweats, maneuvered my body under the myriad of blankets, re-plumped the pillows the way I like them and am lazily drifting and coughing my way through a show on the History Channel.
Reflexively, my body stiffens as Jack drops a box on the floor by the nightstand with the all too familiar picture on the front, The dreaded humidifier, my unwanted companion in many a foster home when allergies would lead to another type of respiratory ailment.
Although assaulted by visual memories of smells, scratchy sheets and overheated rooms, I manage to point to the equipment Jack is holding in his hands. "What are you doing with that?"
"Should have thought of this before." He puts it on the bed next to my thigh, starts to clean off the nightstand, all the while chattering about the benefits of a cool mist humidifier opening blocked passages while I'm slowly inching away from the negative memories this inanimate object has evoked.
"You okay?" Jack pauses, eyeing me suspiciously.
Apparently, the wan smile I pass Jack is enough to convince him that his archaeologist is a normal, sane man who doesn't have an inane fear of a humidifier. Jack whistles while he works, finally placing the humidifier on the nightstand, water sloshing inside, the plug in the wall, and stands proudly when it begins to breathe a fine mist into the bedroom.
I pull a support pillow from behind my back and bring my knees up, capturing the pillow against my chest as I cough. "This will help." Jack pats my raised knee, walking his fingers over the blanket until they rest on my upper thigh and he heightens the pressure, squeezing the muscle when I don't react to his touch.
I jump when Jack hits a sensitive spot. "Ow!" I gently pry his fingers off of me, holding them down on the bed.
His fingers wiggle seductively under my palm and I smile in invitation until Jack gets the hint and bends to kiss me. The mind is willing but the body has other ideas, and the moment is totally lost when I cough in his face. There's silence, no movement, until Jack grabs my arm, wiping spittle from his face with the sleeve of my sweatshirt. I chew on my lower lip, attempting and failing miserably to withhold laughter. It takes seconds for Jack's expression of disgust to dissolve into peals of laughter in the wake of my lack of control.
"I'm sorry." My bottom teeth bite painfully into my upper lip to hold back the bubble of laughter. "Really, I didn't mean…"
The kiss is swift, no time to reciprocate, but oh so tempting, with a quick swipe over my lips from Jack's retreating tongue. "I love when you laugh." Jacks thumb traces the corner of my mouth and down to my chin. "You don't laugh enough, you know that?"
"No?" I stupidly answer.
By the time I can process a different, more mature answer, Jack has departed the bedroom with promises of hot chocolate, meds and cinnamon toast, and I'm left with my childhood monster, the feeling of emotional wellbeing disintegrating in the cooling mist.
I face the enemy, mentally picturing the various parts and the humidifier's inability to do me bodily hard. This one is unobtrusive in its whisperings to me, the humidifiers I had known from my childhood always seemed to spurt and clank to accompany my coughing. Streamlined and modern… not bulky and massive… new. I tentatively lean over the bed, grab the empty box and fling it over onto my lap.
Brand new, brand spanking new, the original packing tape, bright illustration on the box's side, clues indicative of a recently purchased item. Not a remnant of Charlie's childhood. Not something left buried in the garage or in the basement, the humidifier was purchased *for* me.
My glance moves from the box to the humidifier and back again. Reverently, I trace the photograph on the box. As stupid as this sounds, this purchase was made with love and forethought… assembled in the same manner as it was purchased. Memories of vaporizers and humidifiers filled in annoyance by foster parents as protection against lost sleep or the spreading of germs seems to fade into the background, fought off by the one that stands watch by the bedside.
So engrossed by what sits in my lap and the nightstand, my head jerks up to Jack's calling of my name.
Carefully, Jack places the goodie-filled tray at the very end of the bed, approaching me with concern written all over his face. "I woulda got you something to read, ya didn't have to settle for the box."
I shake the box in his direction. "You bought this? Bought this for me?"
He plucks the box from my hands and drops it on the floor. "Yeah, I did." Jack's hand strays to my forehead. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." I remove his hand from my forehead, smothering it between my two hands. "I almost let you leave," I state incredulously.
"Huh?" It takes a moment for Jack's train of thought to catch up to mine. "I wouldn't have stayed away… you wouldn't have stayed…"
"I let you leave!"
Exasperated, Jack sits on the bed, an eye on the precariously-balanced tray. "Okay, Daniel. I don't know what's going on here. I wasn't in the kitchen that long. I don't know what it is about this humidifier or this box," Jack takes a half hearted kick at the empty cardboard box for emphasis, "that set you off. My leaving you, letting me leave-—eh, don't even think of interrupting me—wasn't one of our most shining moment. Okay?" He kisses me gently before adding, "On both of our parts, it wasn't something for the record books."
Akin to latching onto a disappearing lifeline, I grab the front of Jack's shirt, offsetting his balance so he falls into me and I hungrily swallow up his yelp of surprise as I latch onto his lips. In mere seconds, Jack blithely moves from his initial surprise to response. Imperceptibly, he shifts position for better leverage, squeezing my shoulders, lifting them upwards as my own hands blindly burrow under his shirt to touch skin.
Eventually we separate, breathing heavily, Jack's hands still grip my shoulders, the inside of his shirt is curled within my fisted hands. "You kissed me like that because I bought you a humidifier?" Jack asks as he slowly relaxes his hold. "I would have bought the deluxe model, if I would have known how much cool mist turns you on."
I lean over him, grabbing the hot chocolate from the tray, ignoring the meds and toast. I take a sip, grimace and shove the mug against his chest. "Could you reheat this? It's cold," I complain, forcing an edge of whininess to my voice.
He places the mug of cold, hot chocolate onto the tray next to the plate of toast now topped with congealed butter. "I've created a monster," Jack states proudly when I remind him to make me *new* toast and not just reheat the ones on the plate.
* * *
We're sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bed and I'm honing in and out on Jack's explanation of how I'm to survive tomorrow when he returns to the mountain. There's a hockey game playing on the TV and Jack stops and starts the conversation based on the action occurring on the ice.
"Are you listening to me?"
"Listening… umm, yeah, listening," I yawn. "Don't open the door for strangers, don't answer the phone. Ow! What was that for?" I yelp when Jack kicks my calf.
"You're incorrigible, that's what *that* was for."
I pat his thigh, biting back a cough. "I heard every word, what time to take my meds, what to eat, what not to eat, not to take a shower when you aren't home…"
"Okay, okay," he acquiesces, "I believe you." I've already lost his attention to the men skating on the ice.
"Good," I answer, resting my head on his shoulder, smiling as it bounces with each gesture Jack makes in retaliation to the poorly played game.
The game is on a break, Jack's movements have paused, and his hand begins to play with my hair, gently tugging and pulling at the short strands.
I rotate my head, molding into the gentle circles he is unconsciously rubbing on my scalp. A sound escapes me, gruff and hoarse.
"You're purring!" Jack exclaims, deepening the touch.
"Not purring. Just enjoying," I explain, my fingers kneading his shirt.
"Stop!" he yells, throwing his hands atop mine. Laughing, he adds, "It tickles."
Wickedly, my fingers dance a little more, trapped under Jack's hands.
I pull back, confused at the sudden seriousness in Jack's voice.
"Nothing's wrong," he assures me. "Daniel, who took the picture?"
Scrunching up my face, I sit up to face Jack. "Picture, what picture?"
"*The* picture," he clarifies with the wave of his hand. "The photograph at Janet's house. Me, you…" Jack pauses, shooting me a look of consternation. "Tell me when it begins to ring any bells."
Shaking me head, I smile. "Sorry. You want to know who took the picture?"
"Daniel," he exhales a sound of such deep annoyance, I can't help but grimace. "The photographer, who was the person behind…"
"Cassie," I blurt out. "She took the picture."
"Cassie?" he echoes.
I cough, take a sip of water from the bottle by the bedside. All my motions are exaggerated, drawing out the inevitable. Jack plays into my avoidance techniques before he hurries me along with a roll of his hand. Knowing Jack as I do, I buy myself a few more seconds, skootching my ass against the backboard, fixing the pillows before I fling myself backwards. "I lied."
"Lied?" Jack waits a few minutes, woolgathering, turning over and examining the simple word. "Would you care to expand on that?" he asks impatiently.
"We were nothing more than friends when that picture was taken."
"But you said…"
"I know what I said, that I loved you, that we loved each other. *That* wasn't a lie." I take another drink of water when my snort cum cough leaves me breathless. Jack stays my hand when I go to return the water bottle.
"Keep it, you're driving me nuts leaning back and forth. Here," he states, plucking it from my grip. "I'll hold it."
I decide to keep quiet at Jack's palming the half-filled bottle nervously. "You were saying?"
"Oh yeah. We couldn't see what was right in front of us. The camera did… stripped away everything we were working so hard at hiding behind. 'The don't ask, don't tell' was the perfect way to describe us."
I fail to suppress a lingering tickle in my throat and gratefully latch onto the water bottle Jack shoves under my nose. I finish it and drop the empty container over the side of the bed.
"I had been tutoring Cassie in Spanish and before she left one day, she gave me the photo. Slid it out of her book and handed it to me with a funny smirk on her face. It was like she had a secret she couldn't wait to tell me but I just quickly glanced at the picture, thanked her and I then became thoroughly confused at her sudden change in demeanor." I shrug. "What did I know, I believed it was a teenage thing and honestly, I thought nothing more about it... until PX7R21."
I see Jack's hand subconsciously rub the area over his heart, touching the souvenir scar he was left with from that mission. Even now, in the safety of the bedroom, if I inhale deeply, the metallic smell of Jack's blood will clog my nostrils and if I listen closely, I can still hear the mass panic in the gateroom when we returned, covered in blood--three injured and one barely breathing.
"After three days, Janet sent me home… ordered me home for twelve hours. To sleep. To get out of her sight. To get away from your bedside. To recover. Sam was sleeping, Teal'c was kel-no-reeming… and me, I was sitting there watching you breathe, making sure you would keep…"
"Been there, done that, Daniel. Quite recently as a matter of fact," Jack throws in, his voice gruff with emotion.
I stiffen. "That was uncalled for. I didn't think we were going for one up man ship…"
I receive a pat of reassurance to my thigh. "I didn't mean that at all. I just wanted you to know I understand how hard it is sitting in that damned infirmary chair."
I throw the covers off, jumping quickly from the bed, retrieve the discarded water bottle and go to the bathroom to fill it. The coughing begins the minute the water begins to run and Jack must be so lost in his own memories it takes a while for him to ask if I'm okay.
"Fine," I yell back after he shouts my name a second time.
"No, you're not."
Jack stands, blocking the bathroom door.
I swing the water bottle by the spout, nervously tapping it against the bathroom sink. "My being in the infirmary wasn't the same as when we returned from PX7R21." I move closer to Jack, a hair's breadth to be exact, holding the water bottle up to his chest, pressing it into position. "I knew you loved me when I was laying in the infirmary with a tube down my throat, you may not have had to a chance to say goodbye if I had died, *but* you had had a chance to tell me you loved me. I *knew* you loved me.
"When *you* were in the infirmary, we were friends, nothing more and if you would have died, I never would have had a chance to tell you how I felt about you. And *that* makes all the difference in the world."
I push past Jack, past the hurt in his eyes, shouldering him out of the way, stomping into the bedroom to throw myself onto the bed. Jack follows, keeping his distance, slowly getting into bed, covering both of us with the blanket and tucking it around our semi upright bodies. I drop my head onto his shoulder and Jack's hand winds around my body to rest against my cheek, his fingers threading through my hair.
"What happened after Janet threw you outta the infirmary?" Jack asks, more than willing to overlook my temper tantrum digression in the bathroom.
I squeeze my eyes shut, burrowing deeper into the crook of his neck. "Sorry," I whisper.
With a turn of Jack's head, my apology is accepted with a warm, moist kiss to the forehead. "I know," he murmurs. "Me too." Jack gives me a few minutes, I take a drink before he prompts with a wave of his hand. "Janet…?"
"Oh… Janet threw me out, made me leave the infirmary, so I begrudgingly returned home to begin an enforced sleep, and I couldn't sleep. I wandered around my apartment like a caged animal, prowling through each room, counting the hours until the airman would pick me up, dreading the phone would ring with bad news. I hated that I couldn't pick up the phone just to see how you were doing. Annoyed I couldn't work… so I decided to pay bills… and stuffed within the bills was the photograph. Shoved haphazardly between the cable bill and the telephone bill. The back was kinda stuck to the bill's envelope, so while I worked it loose, I caught our captured smiles and I looked… I mean I really *studied* the photograph and I saw what Cassie had seen, and what we were too afraid to see. What I was too afraid to see. I loved you. So in my kitchen at two in the morning, while you hung onto life, I had a revelation, an epiphany. My life wasn't going to be filled with any more regrets. I wasn't going to let either one of us die without telling you I loved you. I was done being a coward."
Jack snorts. "A coward? A geek maybe, a self righteous—"
"A coward," I reiterate. "I was more than willing to hide on different teams, different planets, research… I was running instead…"
"Instead of what?"
"Instead of doing this." I angle into Jack's body to plant a chaste kiss on his lips. "Our biggest fear, *my* biggest fear, was climbing over the wall I had built around my feelings. To admit to myself that I didn't want to have only regrets to look back on."
"Oh God, Daniel, the bravest thing you ever did was to kiss me." Jack fiddles with my lax fingers, warming my heart. "You may have thrown yourself in front of an incoming staff blast or stayed behind on Klorel's ship, and in those gestures I saw your humanity and your friendship. But when you kissed me, I saw your heart. The little piece of yourself that you had always held back, the part of you that was always a stranger to me." He scrubs his face, his hands traveling up to card through his hair before dropping into his lap. "I couldn't love a stranger, Daniel, and without giving me your heart, you were one. My best friend who I *loved*, but a stranger, still the same."
"What if I hadn't kissed you?" I solemnly ask.
Jack takes a deep breath and expels a warm puff of air through pursed lips. "We never would have known what we had missed." He intertwines his fingers with mine, tightly, chuckling slightly.
"I never regret kissing you. You may be stubborn and overbearing… but I never regret taking the first step." I wave my hand over our two bodies. "I never regret this."
* * *
Sometimes when a mission goes sour it has nothing to do with unfriendly natives or a member of the team getting injured, sick or in some cases, winding up dead. There are times personality conflicts can take a "walk in the park" type mission and twist and mangle it to the point where words become as sharp as knives, and only the lack of visual injuries and blood is the reason we don't land in the infirmary. This is one of those times, one of those missions.
Daniel's biting and sniping began two klicks from the gate and I managed to hold my tongue for a big whopping twenty minutes. Forty minutes later, first Carter, and then Teal'c, opted for intervention, repositioning their bodies so if we wanted to continue arguing, our voices had to carry over and around Teal'c's mass or Sam's narrowed eyes.
Daniel didn't want to go on this mission, had objected quite adamantly, as I remember, the one Fraiser and I handpicked as his first after being ill. Pleasant weather conditions, deserted, this was going to be the perfect way for Daniel to re-orient his body and mind to Stargate travel after being sidelined for nearly two months. Okay, on the scale of excitement, it probably *would* register a zero. An in-out mission, the kind we refer to as the "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" of Stargate travel--collecting soil samples and a quick perusal of some ruins the UAV had picked up.
Daniel, on the other hand, had his eyes set on another planet with ruins that were not only more extensive, but also from the pictures the UAV sent back, was an 'archaeologist's wet dream' I believe were his exact words. There were multiple marks against that mission, the weather, minus twelve degrees Fahrenheit during the day with night time temperatures below twenty degrees. The planet's rotation only enabled the planet to have six hours of daylight, which meant the majority of our time was going to be spent in the dark, with SG1 freezing their asses off as we babysat a recovering Dr. Jackson. The ruins were the only redeemable feature on the planet, unobtainable soil samples due to the ground's frozen condition and the absence of flora, fauna or inhabitants as they had obviously taken off for more tropical conditions many, many eons ago.
Fraiser had shot that mission down with nary a blink of an eye, withholding a "ya gotta be kidding me, Daniel" when she saw the anger in his eyes. Hammond, bless his general's heart, agreed with our good doctor, stating that a mission to that planet was a pure archaeological mission, not one for a first contact team. SG11 was going to be dispatched and Hammond promised Daniel he would be able to review all the related materials when they returned. "In the safety and warmth of your office," I had interjected. I'm positive only Fraiser's and General Hammond's presence saved my life in the briefing room, Daniel would have had no qualms about murdering me with Teal'c and Sam as witnesses.
Less than twenty four hours later, Sam and Teal'c went to gather soil samples, tripping over each other in their haste to get away from the two of us, leaving me to handle our pissed off archaeologist. Daniel had kicked a pile of rubble, upsetting it, watching disinterestedly as a number of pebbles scuttled off in all directions.
"Ruins," I had motioned hopefully.
"Rocks," he had countered, not even squatting for a closer look.
"Artifacts?" I had bent down and picked up a piece of something, holding it in my open palm for Daniel to examine.
"Dirt covered stone." Daniel took my hand and turned it over so the rock fell to the ground by my feet.
"I should be with SG11," he challenged, glaring at me.
"Fraiser said 'no', remember?"
He screwed his face up and snorted, a very unattractive look for him, I realized. "No thanks to you." Another pile of rocks went flying, compliments of Daniel's boot. "You didn't help," he whined, averting his face while he suppressed a cough. Daniel cleared his throat, taking a sip from his canteen. "Dust," he explained.
"Yeah, dust." I smiled ever so gratefully at the foot in the door the cough gave to me as I launched into my argument. "You're absolutely right, I didn't help. Understand this, Daniel, when I sit at the briefing room table, I'm your CO and I do what not only is best for you, but what is best for SG1. We don't want, nor do we need, you ill again." I kicked the ground for emphasis, digging my heel into the moist earth. *This* planet is what you needed, what *we* all needed. At this point in time, we didn't want a frozen wasteland which would have satisfied your curiosity but would most likely have landed your ass back in the infirmary when you returned, and in turn would have stuck SG1 without an archaeologist for another two months, or even worse, stuck us with a substitute archaeologist while you recovered."
Daniel wearily scrubbed the back of his hand over his mouth and then with a disdainful shake of his head, angrily walked away, kicking small clumps of dirt and leaving a trail of dust in his wake. He wandered to a rotting tree stump as far as possible from where I stood and slumped wearily to the ground, leaning against the wood, his gaze trained on the tree line in the distance.
For two hours we've kept our distance and our silence.
I key in the mic, noting the clockwork precision of Carter's scheduled check-in. "O'Neill. How goes it, Carter?"
"Very well, sir. Teal'c and I have discovered what seems like an untapped supply of naquada."
"We'll finish up here and meet you and Daniel by the ruins…"
"Rocks, the ruins were a bust."
"No ruins… just rocks."
"Oh, tell Daniel I'm sorry." I can hear the wince of sympathy in her voice. "Um, sir, what has Daniel been doing to…?"
"He's been keeping himself busy." I watch as Daniel is skipping stones along the stream that borders the area. "He's examining the rocks, checking for buoyancy."
"Never mind, Carter, you don't really want to know."
There's a moment of static filled silence before I hear her sympathetic sigh. "You're right, sir, I don't."
"Hold your position, Daniel and I will come to your coordinates and set up camp for the evening."
"Good luck, sir," she whispers before we sign off.
* * *
My watch. The usual rotation. Daniel, Carter, Teal'c and then me. Occasionally the last three will play musical chairs with our times, but never Daniel. He always takes first watch with SG1 and I even manage to make that recommendation to other teams that borrow him.
Tonight, I've walked the perimeter, peered into the darkness four times already, and listened to the night sounds of this planet. For the moment, I'm sitting staring at the fire. Alert, my ears picking up "normal" noises, I shift uncomfortably on the log. Something appears to be digging into my ass and I stand with a sigh. I run my hand over the log, find nothing so I my hands skim over the material of my BDU's, searching for an errant splinter. My roving fingers find nothing embedded in the seat of my pants, but make contact with an odd shape in my pocket.
I hadn't meant to take the picture off world, I had meant to take it to the local Walgreens and have another print made of this. One for me—one for Daniel. What I ended up doing was changing from my civvies into my BDU's and for some unknown reason, stuffing the picture into one of my pockets. My thumb and forefinger carefully extricate the photograph. As best as I can, I smooth the wrinkles out on my thigh, holding the picture in my left hand as I do another perimeter check.
Upon returning to camp, I retrieve and refill my cup with hot coffee. I take a sip, wondering how Daniel manages to drink this sludge, then sit on the log to finish out my watch, minutes before the rest of the team rouses. The cup goes on the ground by my foot, the P-90 across my lap, and I use my knee as support as I seesaw the picture back and forth to try to straighten out the unnatural bends and folds in the Kodak paper.
The picture's condition is better than it was, but not as pristine as yesterday morning. But the smile is still there and the happiness in the captured moment still shines through, and I smile back at this inanimate object.
Without uttering a word, the weight of a hand on my shoulder and a gentle squeeze announces Daniel's presence.
"Hi." I raise my shoulder with his hand up to my cheek to acknowledge him, rubbing it once across his knuckles before dropping it back down. "You okay?" He doesn't move around to sit by my side and I don't stand to face him, though his hand continues to rest on my shoulder.
"Nice picture, though it's a little wrinkled and bent."
I smooth it over yet again. "Yeah, it is." I hold the picture up at arms length, examining it. "The wrinkles give it character."
"I guess so. Are you contemplating burning it?"
"No. Not this." I tap his image in the photograph. "Though this guy right here, it's questionable about what I'm going to do to him."
Bless the chuckle that echoes deep in Daniel's chest. "What are you going to do to *him*, Jack?"
"He'll never know what hit him."
"Lucky guy," Daniel whispers. "Do I know him?"
"Maybe you've seen him around. About my height, nice build, great smile, even better when he laughs."
"Oh, yeah, glasses, totally forgot that." I sense Daniel's fingers itching to move somewhere else other than my shoulder, but we're on a mission and *our* protocol strictly prohibits that. "Stubborn, pissy, annoying, a genius and on occasion, self-righteous."
"Hey, we all have our faults, but I can usually overlook that because of this." I hold up the picture as evidence. "He makes me happy."
"Very." I wave my hand with the picture back and forth. "I keep this around to remind me, I guess. 'Cause sometimes we aren't the easiest people to be around and I like a reminder as to how he makes me smile."
"…And happy," Daniel reminds me. "I said this before, but it bears repeating, he's a lucky guy."
"Both of them are lucky and more often than not, happy."
"Better guard that picture with your life, wrinkles and all."
Daniel steps over the log and sits next to me, close enough so our elbows and shoulders are touching. "Picture's worth a thousand words. Did you know that?"
I nod in response.
"Because sometimes you can't find the words to say or you just can't say the words that matter." He taps the photograph. "Sometimes actions show you care, just as much as words." Daniel traces our images with his finger. "A smile, a touch, can mean as much as I love you."
Those same fingers move from the photograph to quickly ghost over my cheek, and I close my eyes, enjoying the sensation, something we so rarely allow ourselves off-world.
"Just like this," Daniel whispers, his breath causing me to shiver as it brushes across my neck.
Daniel stands and makes a show of pouring himself a cup of coffee when sounds of Carter and Teal'c waking filter through the campsite.
"Good morning, sir. Daniel." Carter comes out of the tent, Teal'c at her heels and their eyes dart between us as they assess our moods.
"Morning, Carter, Teal'c." I raise my mug in a greeting and she sits down beside me, reaching for her own coffee. I look across the fire and see Daniel watching, his hands wrapped around his own mug of coffee. I smile and he smiles back, lifting his cup in a silent toast.
Oh yeah, life is good, wrinkles and all.
This story was originally published in Ancient's Gate 1: Jack and Daniel, and has just recently timed out. Thank you jo for sticking with me. Thank you to the sisters of my heart, who always wear their cheerleading outfits with pride.
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