Crutches,by devra and JoaG
“Jack, how did you get here so fast?” Daniel yelled as he nudged the door open with his shoulder. He’d left the base before Jack, wanting to get a head start on their supper. They were on downtime for the next three days, and Daniel was looking forward to some rest, relaxation, and quality cuddling with his favorite colonel.
Stepping into Jack’s house, it took his tired mind several seconds to register the disarray. Looking around in shock at the vandalized house, he stood frozen as his brain finally noticed someone standing by the doorway to the kitchen, a gun pointed in his direction. As he watched, he saw that the hand holding the weapon was shaking badly. It was then that he realized Jack’s burglar was a young teenager.
“Oh, hi,” Daniel said awkwardly. “I’m just going to put these down, okay?” indicating the heavy bags. He bent down slowly, placing the paper bags at his feet, and stood up carefully. “Look, this is a little awkward. You really don’t want to hurt anyone over a few items,” Daniel said, waving at the pile of goods that the boy had stacked beside the door, obviously intending to steal. DVDs, CDs and videos spilled out of a few plastic bags which were piled on top of Daniel’s laptop and Jack’s DVD player.
Daniel took a step forward, hand extended. “Look, this isn’t worth your getting into trouble by shooting me,” he said in a soft voice. He took another step, watching the young man’s eyes. The teen was terrified, hardly able to hold onto the weapon. “Give me the gun, and we’ll call it even. I’ll step away from the door, and you can leave, okay? Just give me the gun.” As Daniel reached the young boy, he took his hand gently in his and pried the gun from his unresisting fingers. The boy was breathing fast, almost sobbing. He clutched something in his other hand, which Daniel realized was Charlie’s coin collection. Daniel swallowed, realizing that Jack was going to be heartbroken over its loss.
“It’s okay, it’s over. Why don’t you just go,” Daniel said as he stepped aside, leaving an escape open for the teen. As the boy nodded and began moving forward, Daniel heard a harsh voice coming from behind him.
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
The boy froze, and Daniel turned around to face yet another teenager standing by the open door. This one appeared to be slightly older and the gun he held was pointed directly at Daniel’s heart. His face was hard, and Daniel knew that he wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of this one as easily.
“Eric, please, let’s just get out of here,” the first boy pleaded in a shaky voice.
“Be quiet,” Eric barked at him.
“Listen to your friend, just take the stuff and go,” Daniel said, exasperated. After four days of hiding and running from Jaffa and Goa’uld, he just didn’t have the patience to deal with a bunch of delinquent teenagers.
“Too late, you saw our faces,” Eric said, motioning for the younger boy to step away from Daniel. In the split second that Daniel realized the teenager was going to pull the trigger, he threw himself to the side and aimed his own gun at the boy. Two gunshots echoed through the house, and as Daniel’s leg erupted in pain, he hit the floor hard, his breath knocked out of him.
- - - - - -
Jack pulled into his driveway, parking his Avalanche beside Daniel’s Thunderbird, glad that Daniel was home and very much looking forward to spending time together. Whistling off-key, he got out of the SUV and began walking toward the house.
Twin sounds of gunshots erupted from the house. Jack froze for a moment, then rushed to the front door. He was almost knocked over by a slim body rushing out of the house. He turned to watch the young boy as he raced down the street, then turned his attention back to the house, certain that Daniel was inside.
A quick look inside the open door revealed a pair of legs lying motionless by the entrance. The house was in disarray, and he knew immediately that Daniel had walked into a burglary. A pair of old scruffy sneakers told him that the person lying on the floor wasn’t his lover. He craned his head farther inside, noting that the young man to whom the legs belonged was definitely dead, shot clean through the heart. Seeing the gun still clutched in his lifeless hand, Jack crouched down and grabbed it.
“Daniel,” he yelled, listening intently for a reply.
A slight groan was his only answer. Jack scuttled forward, staying low. He rounded the corner and saw Daniel curled up on the floor.
“Daniel,” Jack breathed as he rushed to his lover.
There was blood everywhere, and with a sinking heart Jack saw it was coming from Daniel. A quick examination showed that it was flowing heavily from a wound to his thigh. Knowing that time was of the essence, Jack dropped the gun and stripped his belt from his pants, winding it tightly around Daniel’s leg.
“Jack?” Daniel moaned as Jack tightened the tourniquette.
“I’m here, Danny. Stay still,” he said as he reached inside his jacket for his cell phone to call 911.
“I saved them, Jack,” Daniel said, trying to turn towards Jack.
“Shhh, don’t talk,” Jack said as he stroked Daniel’s cheek with a bloody hand. The injured man began shaking and Jack knew that he was going into shock. While giving the pertinent details to the 911 operator, he ran into the living room and grabbed the afghan from the sofa, wrapping it around Daniel’s shivering body.
“I saved it,” Daniel repeated, lifting his arm and reaching for Jack. As Jack put the phone down and took his lover’s hand in his, Daniel opened his hand. Several coins fell through his fingers, jingling loudly as they landed on the floor. “Charlie’s collection, Jack. I saved it,” Daniel said, just before his eyes rolled back and he passed out.
- - - - - -
“Hey,” Jack said as he entered the room to which Daniel had been assigned to at the Rehab Center. His smile faded at the wan appearance of his lover lying in the bed.
“Hi yourself,” Daniel replied, using his elbows to gain leverage on the bed. Jack rushed forward, intent on helping Daniel to a sitting position. “Don’t Jack,” Daniel hissed between clenched teeth. “I need to do this myself.” Daniel’s manoeuvring was punctuated by grunts as he unsteadily pulled himself up. Breathing deeply, sweat droplets popping out on his pale forehead, Daniel allowed Jack to put the bed pillows behind him for better leverage.
Jack took a seat on the chair next to the bed. “Bad session?”
Daniel issued a small burst of sarcastic laughter. “Let’s just say our *friend’s* ability to torture us wouldn’t hold a candle to what they do to me here.”
Daniel sighed in contempt as a nurse entered the room. Turning over the cover on the tray that rested on the table in the room. “Dr. Jackson?”
He rolled his eyes heavenward as he answered, “I wasn’t hungry.”
“Let me get you something else…”
“No… I told you I wasn’t hungry.”
Jack gave her a small smile of apology for Daniel’s abrupt manner, which she shyly responded to. Taking his vitals, she reprimanded Daniel for his low blood pressure and his lack of sleep.
“Next time, please ask for a sleeping pill, you need…”
“I need to be left alone,” he retorted. “Please just leave…okay.”
“Take care of yourself, Dr. Jackson. Your stay here is to help you recuperate, and that isn’t what you’re doing… two more days of this and you’ll end up right back in the hospital.” Indignantly, she grabbed the untouched tray and left the room.
Jack toed off his shoes and leaned back in the chair. Placing his stocking feet on the edge of the bed, he began rubbing Daniel’s uninjured leg. “Wanna tell me what the hell that was all about?”
Daniel didn’t answer; instead he leaned forward to pour himself a drink of water from the nearby pitcher. He swallowed then grimaced, slamming the cup down so the water sloshed over the side. “Can’t even keep the water cold, it’s like drinking warm piss.”
“I’m fine.” He leaned heavily back on the pillows. “I was fine ten minutes ago when you walked in here… and I’m fine now.”
“If you’re so fuckin’ fine, what the hell is the matter with you?”
“I hate this place… this place is worse than you in the infirmary… fawning over me, making sure I eat correctly, walk this way, not that way… did you have a bowel movement today Dr. Jackson… didn’t eat today, or sleep…” Daniel drew a shuddering breath. “I want to go home,” Daniel stated sadly. He sighed shakily, his hand snaking out to massage Jack’s foot. “I miss you… I *hate* this. This room, this place… I spent too much time remembering…”
“It’s finished, Daniel.”
“Finished? Finished?” Daniel snorted in contempt. “Maybe for you it’s finished. The evidence packed away. The house is clean, the floor and rug scrubbed, the lock fixed. No one’s… his blood stains gone from your life. Every little thing put back in Jack’s O’Neill’s life just so. Not me… it’s not finished for me… every night… damn it… every time I go to close my eyes, I see it again.”
“No matter how you bend the truth, Jack, an 18 year old kid…” Daniel choked back a sob before he continued, “died that day. At my hand… *by* my hand. Damn you, the thing I hate most about you your ability to kill with no remorse…”
Jack swung his feet off the bed, slipped back on his shoes and faced Daniel. “Whoa…”
Daniel hung this head, worrying his bottom lip, twisting and untwisting his hands “I took the part I hated the most about you and made it a part of me! The thing I feared the most didn’t happen on a planet, but at home, in *your* home. When I pulled that trigger, I intended to kill him. All I could see was what he was doing, not who he was… or how I … I’m not like you! I can’t separate myself from what I did that day like you can. I’ve given up a part of me, a part I’ll never get back… I’ve let myself become you. And I hate myself for that…”
Jack’s face hardened the lines around his mouth setting in anger and the stance of his body reflecting withheld emotion. But the eyes… as Daniel raised his eyes to meet those of Jack’s, his stomach lurched at the pain that he saw there. The pain his words had caused.
“Damn, Jack. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to…” Daniel stammered.
“Say your thoughts out loud?” Jack looked down on his lover of just few months, anguish mirrored on his pale face. “Daniel, for the record… every time I’ve killed someone in self-defence or to save my team, they became another person who visits me in my nightmares. Don’t be so quick to judge a part of me you seem to know nothing about.”
Daniel reached out an unsteady hand to grab Jack’s wrist, a movement that was easily avoided by a simple step to the side on the part of Colonel O’Neill. Jack shook his head in disgust at the situation and walked briskly to the door. Jack raised his hand as Daniel opened his mouth to speak. “No, Daniel. Not now… you said enough. I’m gonna end this by saying that I want to thank you for saving Charlie’s coin collection…”
“End this?” Daniel mouthed the words. By the time Daniel had cleared his throat and found his voice, Jack had left the room.
- - - - - -
Daniel’s dinner tray sat uncovered and untouched on the stand. He, himself, still lay in the same position, on this uncomfortable bed as when Jack had first visited today. The aide had turned on the bedside light to ward off the darkening shadows creeping into the antiseptic room. His pain meds sat next to the cup of water from this afternoon.
In the silent solitude of the room, Daniel replayed everything he had done, every word he had said to cut his lover to the bone as severely as if he had an actual weapon in his hands… He was a linguist by trade; words were his life. And, today, he damaged more than one life with his words. Instead of a gun to take a life, he’d used words.
Daniel was angry with himself. Angry that he was capable of doing what he did, killing someone to protect his own life. Valuing his own life above that of another had been, at one time, inconceivable to him. He tried to decide what had changed, and the answer pointed to Jack.
Having contentment and happiness and love was the trigger that forced Daniel to point that gun at a mere child. The hatred was self-directed, but he wasn’t able to deal with the darkness that was had become part of his soul… so instead, he turned the anger on the person who was the reason for his self preservation.
Daniel leaned back on the pillows. Closing his eyes, he slowly reiterated how sorry he was to an empty room.
- - - - - -
“What, Carter?” Jack looked up from his paperwork, curious as to why his 2IC would be visiting his office.
She was fidgety, almost unsure of how to convey her news to the Colonel. “Ummm…”
“Carter, just spit it out, okay?” he said, his displaced annoyance at the Major causing him to throw his pen onto the table, narrowly missing his half-drunk cup of coffee.
“I called the rehab center early this morning and again, just now… got no answer in Daniel’s room…”
Although he calmly answered something about Daniel being in therapy or the bathroom, Jack began to worry. He didn’t want to admit to Carter that he hadn’t spoken personally to Daniel in a little over two days. His updates on his lover’s condition had come via his conversations with the doctors and therapists who were treating Daniel.
“Don’t keep me in suspense… what *are* the whereabouts of our illustrious archaeologist?”
“Sir, as of 0800 hours, Daniel signed himself out of the rehab facility, AMA.”
“English please, Carter.”
“Against medical advice.”
“Dammit!” Jack abruptly stood, causing his chair to roll back against the wall due to his sudden movement. He came from behind his desk, grabbed his coat, and put it on in short, jerky movements. “Daniel’s disregard of his own health never fails to amaze me. What did the rehab center say *exactly*?”
“That he called a cab and was quite adamant that he leave… something about personal business he had to take care of. They said they tried to reach you, but no one answered…”
Jack extended his body across his desk, grabbing his desk phone and punching in the General’s extension. In short, concise sentences, he explained his need to depart the SGC. “Thank you, General. Yes, I will let you know.” Hanging up the phone, he turned to Carter, his face set in a grim line of apology. “I’ll call…”
She answered his smile with one of her own, concern for Daniel visible in her eyes. “Please do… tell him…”
Jack patted her arm and issued a short laugh. “I’ll tell him of your concern *after* I haul his ass back to the rehab center.”
- - - - - -
Daniel’s upper back and shoulders began to ache even before he clumsily manoeuvred his crutches through the apartment building lobby. Upon seeing him, the doorman had quickly retrieved his small bag and was solicitously escorting him to the elevator. Embarrassing as it was, Daniel was grateful for the help.
Thankfully, they didn’t wait long for the elevator. With a grimace, Daniel leaned his weight against the elevator wall. He was shaking from the exertion, and he could feel sweat begin to trickle under his arms and down his back. He wanted nothing more than to lie down, the cab ride from rehab having tired him more than he’d thought it would.
He had debated on calling Sam to come pick him up, but he hadn’t bothered because he’d known it would take her a fair amount of time to drive down from the mountain and he had just wanted to get the hell out of that center. He’d had enough of their fussing and had just wanted to be left alone. He’d assured the doctor that someone was waiting for him and, once out of the doors, had made a beeline for the cab waiting by the entrance.
The elevator came to a stop and Daniel straightened with effort. He followed the doorman to his apartment and gladly handed him the key. The man opened the door and Daniel instructed him to drop his bag on the sofa. With a smile, the older man left and shut the door behind him.
Bed. He badly needed to get off his feet. His leg was beginning to throb, the pain meds that the hospital had given him earlier starting to wear off. He thought of the bottle of pain-killers sitting in his medicine cabinet that were left over from a previous injury and debated whether he should take one, but knew that he needed something in his stomach first. The idea of trying to hobble around in the kitchen and prepare something edible was just too exhausting. Still standing, he awkwardly removed his jacket and threw it onto the sofa before heading for his bedroom.
He made it to his bed without major mishap, awkwardly moving past the various pieces he’d collected throughout the years and had placed on display throughout his home. He’d bumped into a table and had nearly sent an old vase crashing to the floor. It still lay sideways on the table, he didn’t have the energy to stop and right it. His hands were clenched tightly on the wooden handles by the time he’d entered the bedroom. He lowered himself shakily to the bed, his injured leg held stiffly before him. He tried to toe off one of his shoes, but that put too much pressure on his healing wound. Bending over to pull the shoe off, the room suddenly began to spin and he threw himself back before he toppled forward. His stomach lurched and he swallowed several times to keep from losing its meager contents.
He lay back on the mattress, waiting for the room to settle. After a minute, he sat up carefully. He bent over slowly, this time managing to get the footwear off. He gingerly moved his legs onto the bed and lay back, closing his eyes. He’d just take a short nap, then get up and get something to eat. His leg throbbed, his shoulders, back and arms were stiff and sore from the unaccustomed use of the crutches. Added to that was the residual weakness from blood loss and infection.
As he lay there trying to get comfortable, he began to shiver as his body started to cool off. Realizing that he was lying on top of the comforter, he tried to reach over and grab the end to cover himself, but jarred his leg in the process and groaned in pain. He gave up his efforts and rolled over onto his side, trying to conserve heat. He was still shivering when he finally fell asleep.
- - - - - -
Shooting pain coursing down his leg woke Daniel up as he attempted to turn in his sleep. Groaning and breathing through his mouth, he waited for the agony to subside. He was still cold and was feeling nauseous. He needed something for the pain and, with a curse, sat up and manoeuvred his protesting body into a seated position. He reached for the crutches and, with their help, stood up. The nap hadn’t done much to refresh him; his whole body was shaking as he slowly thumped his way down the hall.
Upon entering the living room, the rubber tip of his crutch slipped on the carpet and he lost his balance. Instinctively, Daniel tried to right himself by putting his injured leg down. The shock of the pain drew him further off balance and he fell hard against an exhibition case. As he slid down onto the floor amidst the clash of breaking pottery and metal, he thought he heard the sound of his name being called.
- - - - - -
Jack had driven to Daniel’s apartment, his anger and hurt at Daniel’s words buried under the need to check on both the mental and physical condition of the younger man. He cursed the red lights and traffic that were slowing him down, his mind too intent on manoeuvring around the traffic obstacles to dwell on anything but just arriving at his destination as quickly as possible.
Thanking his lucky stars for the front parking spot, he waved a greeting to the doorman, who acknowledged Jack’s arrival with the nod of his head. Jack opted for the stairs to take him to Daniel’s apartment and he flung open the stairwell door, taking them two at a time. He arrived breathless from his climb and had just finished using his key to unlock the door when a resounding crash reached his ears.
He entered the apartment calling Daniel’s name at the top of his lungs… a groan emanating from the living room caught Jack’s attention. “Jeeze, Daniel…” Jack sighed, his anger dissipating at his first glimpse of Daniel lying amid shattered artifacts, his legs askew, the crutches haphazardly lying off to the side. Jack bent in front of Daniel, gently reaching forward to straighten Daniel’s injured leg. Daniel jumped at Jack’s touch, but allowed it, guiding Jack’s hand with his own. Jack let Daniel catch his breath when he finished, keeping his hand steadfastly in his position of support.
Daniel leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes, willing his breathing to slow to normal rhythm, wishing the room would stop tilting, and hoping that the bile that was burning his throat would stay where it belonged. He kept his eyes closed, concentrating on bringing the pain under control. Warm fingers caressed his cheek, and a soft voice called his name. Daniel’s lids flew open and he scooted his body up against the wall, grimacing and grabbing his leg at the sudden movement.
“Damn it! Stay still… I’m gonna call Fraiser.”
“No… I’m fine, just help me up.” Daniel grunted with the effort of finding purchase on the nearby desk to bring his body to a standing position. Jack placed his arm around Daniel’s waist, feeling the sweat and tremors through the light tee shirt of the younger man. Mindful of the broken pottery around Daniel’s shoeless feet, he assisted him in hobbling to the couch. Daniel sat heavily, throwing his body backward into the cushions with a deep sigh. “I’m okay now… you can go.”
Jack answered with a snort of disbelief. “Yeah, you and the artifacts from the shelf over there. You’re all fine, I know. Nothing a bit of crazy glue can’t fix. Kinda like Humpty Dumpty, Daniel… and we all know what happened to him.”
Daniel sneered at Jack in response. “If it will make you feel like you did something, the pain pills are in the medicine cabinet. Give me two and a glass of juice and I’ll be good for…”
“Until the next time Daniel? The only thing I’m getting is a bag, which I will pack with all your stuff so you can come back to my house.”
The men faced off, both sets of eyes filled with stubborn determination, and neither wavered in their perusal of the other. Daniel opened his mouth, but was stopped by Jack’s slow shaking of his head. “Not now Daniel, ‘kay? We need to talk, I agree… but maybe we’ll save that for when you can stand…”
Daniel lifted his lips in a small smile of acknowledgement. “If you get me the pain pills, my ability to stand may increase tenfold.”
Jack rummaged around in the medicine cabinet, finding the pills buried behind some vitamins and an aspirin bottle. Force of habit caused Jack to check the expiration date. He sighed, realizing that these pills were from a previous injury… and based upon the fact that the bottle was still filled to capacity, Daniel had never taken them for whatever injury the Doc had prescribed them for. Shaking his head, he counted to ten, mentally forcing down his annoyance at Daniel.
- - - - - -
“Hmmmm,” Daniel’s eyelids lifted slowly in response to feeling Jack’s hand on his shoulder.
“Bag’s packed, fish fed, plants watered…” Jack’s concern for Daniel had only increased after he had ingested the pain medication. Within a few minutes, Daniel had entered more of a drunken stupor than the mere relaxation of someone whose pain had been relieved.
Jack sat next to him on the couch, taking his chin between his thumb and forefinger and rotating Daniel’s head towards him. He was rewarded with a dopey grin. “Hi Jack,” Daniel slurred.
“Daniel… when was the last time you ate a something… anything?”
Daniel furrowed his brow in concentration, shrugging his shoulders. “Need to sleep,” he answered followed by a jaw-popping yawn.
“There’s a nice bed with your name on it… just waiting for you.” Jack helped Daniel stand and handed him the crutches, keeping one arm securely around his waist as Daniel began to sway.
Both Jack and Daniel were bathed in a pool of sweat by the time Jack had buckled Daniel securely in the passenger seat. Daniel was far from cooperative and Jack was beginning to have severe misgivings about bringing this injured Daniel to his home, thinking as he turned the key in the ignition, that what Daniel really needed was a good swift kick in the pants and then to be deposited into the waiting arms of Dr. Janet Fraiser.
- - - - - -
Jack stood surveying the man sleeping in the spare room: The man who just days before had said such hurtfully truthful words to Jack. This man who just moments before had kissed him as Jack bent to tuck him in, the man who had whispered his apologies and followed it up with words of love before he succumbed to sleep in this single bed in the spare room in Jack’s house.
The idea for Daniel to sleep in the spare room was two fold. The main reason was that it was on the main floor, so there were no steps for Daniel to manoeuvre on with the crutches…a safety issue. The second reason, Jack thought as he turned off the light and shut the door, was that he needed to clear the air about their relationship and the words that Daniel had spoken in the rehab center…an issue of the heart, when Daniel was firing on all thrusters. In Jack’s mind, it all came down to protecting Daniel.
- - - - - -
Daniel opened his eyes slowly, biting back a low moan as he stretched his sleep-stiffened body into a more comfortable position. Screwing his eyes shut in an attempt to focus his thought processes into something resembling coherency. He began with process of elimination…neither home nor the rehab center. He sniffed deeply…the lack of antiseptic odor and the absence of sound of the monitoring machinery confirmed that he wasn’t in the infirmary.
The narrowness of the bed Daniel laid upon leant credence in his mind to the fact that the words he had said to Jack in the rehab center had served to relegate him to the spare room. It seemed clear to Daniel that Jack had rescued him from himself as a friend, not as a lover. Based on Daniel’s sleeping arrangements, it would seem that that his quick mouth that had him removed from many a foster home hadn’t improved with age.
A shaft of light from the hallway shone across Daniel’s face, registering even through closed eyelids. He heard footsteps enter the room and Jack’s low whisper of Daniel’s name followed by “’Wake yet, buddy?”
A desire for a glass of water to rid him of his cotton-mouth and the more urgent need find a comfortable position for his injured leg didn’t allow Daniel the luxury of feigning sleep. He felt the bed move under Jack’s weight, felt the warm pressure of a hand on his forearm, and Daniel cautiously shifted onto his back. He cleared his throat and slowly raised his eyelids before answering Jack’s question with a raspy “hi.”
“You were really outta it.”
“I…ummm…remember getting home, but I have no idea how I ended up here in this house…in *this* bed…and better yet…why do I feel like I could go back to sleep?” Daniel asked as he fought back a yawn.
“Half a pill, Daniel…half. Checked the expiration date but I never checked the dosage. You asked for two…gave you two. Fraiser nearly had my hide…we literally had a tugging match over your prone body about returning you to the infirmary for monitoring.”
“You won?” Daniel croaked, fighting to keep his eyes open.
“You’re here aren’t you? I refused to carry you and she couldn’t pick you up to get you in the car.”
“She tried…” Jack laughed at the horrified expression that crossed Daniel’s face and the frantic look under the covers to check his state of dress.
“I had to sell my soul to keep you here…”
The banter…comfortable…made Daniel feel that maybe he had been wrong about their relationship. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?” Daniel asked, blinking rapidly to keep his eyes open.
“Only the good leg, Daniel. Fraiser was here, pissed at you for leaving the rehab center. She was pissed at *me* for giving you the heavy duty dose of pain killers…but…she’s willing to forgive you if, and it’s a big if, that starting on Tuesday, you go for PT daily, take an antibiotic to ward off any infections…oh wait…” Jack stood up and retrieved a folded piece of paper from his back pocket. He cleared his throat and began, “Eat three meals a day, take the prescribed medication, sleep when tired, limit coffee intake, and let Jack O’Neill take care of me.” Jack waved the paper around. “Signed Dr. D. Jackson.”
“Limit coffee intake…I said you could take care of me? …I signed that?”
“Ummm no… I signed in lieu of your altered mental status and as for me taking care of you, well, I put that in after… just a technicality.”
“Technicality my ass,” Daniel mumbled before feeling the lure of sleep pulling him under, his need for water forgotten.
- - - - - -
Daniel stood, balancing himself and his overnight bag by the front door. Jack was sleeping on the chair in what looked like an uncomfortable position. Daniel didn’t want to risk Jack waking and have him thwart his plans to return to his house, so he had no choice but to leave him in that incredibly awkward position. He silently apologized for the aches the older man was going to experience upon waking, but Daniel needed to sort things out in his own mind before he could address his words to Jack.
The night air was cold and Daniel shivered as the breeze penetrated his thin jacket. He checked his watch; the cab that he had called should be arriving momentarily. Daniel exhaled a puff of air in exasperation as heard the front door close and Jack call his name.
Without even turning, resignation overflowing from his voice he pleaded, “Jack, please just go back inside.”
Jack continued up the walk until he stood in front of Daniel. “I can’t. I’m sorry but I really can’t.” He grabbed Daniel’s overnight bag. “I’m not going to explain to our illustrious doctor that I was derelict in my duty and permitted you to leave all by your lonesome.”
“My cab is here.”
Jack placed a restraining hand on Daniel’s chest. “More importantly, I need you to stay. Besides telling you I love you, I don’t know what else to say.” Jack rubbed a finger along Daniel’s rough cheek.”
Jack took Daniel’s lack of a response as an answer in the affirmative. Daniel turned cautiously and headed back into the house as Jack informed the cab driver of the change of plans.
- - - - - -
Jack locked the door behind him and guided a pliant Daniel to the couch. He set the crutches to the far side of the room with a remark about ‘not letting Daniel get away again.’ He slid the ottoman across the room, positioning it directly in front of Daniel, and sat down on it—pulling Daniel’s injured leg onto his lap.
“Jack, please don’t,” Daniel beseeched as Jack began to absentmindedly massage the foot that sat in his lap. “How can you stand…I can’t stand… Damn… after what I said, after what I implied… how the hell can you stomach me?” Daniel punched the couch in frustration. “I…I can’t face *myself*.”
“Ahh Daniel, don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think *I* know how much easier it is to run than face yourself? Seeing a part of you that you hoped no one would ever see, never let yourself see?”
“I killed a kid, a teenager…without forethought…I didn’t shoot him in the knee caps or the shoulder, I shot him straight through the heart. I took his life…I judged his life to be less worthy than mine…” Daniel replied softly, bending his head to lean against the back of the couch. He closed his eyes against what Jack was sure was an onslaught of images vividly replaying in Daniel’s mind.
Jack could feel the tension in Daniel’s body, his need to hold back with these truisms and stuff them back down deep inside of himself…only to let them out in nightmares. Jack tapped Daniel’s leg lightly.
“Look at me, Daniel.” Jack had to make the request three times before Daniel made eye contact. “If the kid had the gun pointed a me, or Sam or even Teal’c…would you have hesitated pulling the trigger?”
“Of course not. Sam and Teal’c are family…and you.” Even after all this time, Jack still laughed softly at the slight blush of Daniel’s cheeks. “I love you.”
“And I love you, Daniel…and if he’d have killed you or if you’d hesitated and you died… I would have died too. Maybe not right away… but slowly… little by little.” Jack held up his index finger to halt Daniel’s rebuttal. “You were right, this wasn’t a mission, I didn’t expect to come home and find what I did… which made it all the more horrific. If something should happen to us when we go through the stargate... well, we wouldn’t be prepared for it… but it would be in the line of duty. But in my home…our home, in this house, our safe place… I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t get home first, I’m sorry that you got hurt and that you’re hurting now. But am I sorry that you killed him before he could kill you? No!”
Jack removed Daniel’s foot from his lap, placed it gently on the ottoman and got up to sit next to Daniel on the couch. Jack took Daniel’s hand, warming it between his. Every life I’ve taken…on earth, offworld, in the line of duty…I remember, Daniel. Don’t ever think that I don’t.”
“When does it become part of you…this acceptance?”
Squeezing the tense hand ensconced within his, Jack sighed in exasperation. “Listen to what I’m trying to tell you, Daniel… you *never* accept it. You rationalize it and file it away… and it haunts you. I won’t say that it won’t…on the anniversary of when it happened, a smell…something will trigger it when you least expect it. And you deal with it.”
Daniel whispered a hurried apology, his words tripping over each other in their haste to escape. “What I said, Jack…I’m sorry. I was angry with myself and I took it out on you. Hated you for giving me hope and love in this life…a new beginning. And I fought for what you gave to me. I didn’t… I don’t want to die. I got angry that someone was touching *our* lives… those coins. I was furious that he thought he could come in and take from us…our security, my happiness…I just didn’t want to die and I didn’t want to die alone. Besides anger…I was afraid.”
Jack dropped Daniel’s hand and snaked his arm around Daniel, elbow resting on the back of the couch, carding callused fingers through the short hair. He pulled his partner closer to him. “I didn’t want you to die, I don’t want you to die. Thank you for saving yourself.”
“If I made you happy and I saved myself to live happily ever after, explain to me why I still feel…”
Jack slid his hand down, giving Daniel’s neck a slight squeeze, feeling the tension of the neck muscles under his fingertips. “You feel anger and sadness…”
“By a world that could produce….”
“No, Jack, not by the darkness this world can produce. Even before that day, I’ve been well aware what this word is capable of inflicting on a person, on a child. My disillusion is reserved for myself. In the darkness I see reflected back at me when I look in the mirror. In the person I’ve become.”
Daniel turned a deaf ear to the platitudes Jack doled out, focusing only on the touches that Jack provided, nodding his head at the appropriate times, leaning into Jack’s kisses along his neck, burying his rebuttals, his feelings. Daniel knew the only way he was going to deal with this, the only way he was comfortable with, the way he handled most of his life changing occurrences… he was going to do it alone.
- - - - - -
Daniel was bathed in a sheen of sweat by the time the physical therapist had completed her session. He exhaled loudly and she laughed in response.
“You like torturing me, don’t you, Jenn?” he quipped.
Jenn threw him a towel before answering. “I think I like making the great Dr. Jackson sweat." She butted her shoulder against his, winking at him.
Chuckling, Daniel wiped down his face and hung the towel around his neck. “Time to hit the showers, I guess.” He threw her a lopsided smile, gratefully accepting the crutches from her before sliding off the table. Daniel tapped the crutch with one hand “How much longer for this extra pair of legs?”
Jenn’s animated face turned serious. “Daniel, if you would have stayed in the rehab center…well, it would have been quicker because therapy would have been more intensive. We’ll talk by the end of the week, I’ll be able to give you a better answer by then.”
“Okay…and I know, you don’t have to even say it. Go see Janet after I shower.”
“Or go see Janet, without a shower…and I’m sure you would be subjected to the shortest examination on record.”
An expression of mock indignation slid over Daniel’s face. “Hey, are you hinting that I stink?”
Jenn held open the swinging door for Daniel and motioned him forward with a nod of her head. As he hobbled past her, she whispered conspiratorially, “I don’t need to hint…ya stink.”
She laughed at his blush, sorry that this new turn of events had put Daniel in need of her services again, but glad that their relationship was comfortable enough to provide this banter and honesty. “See you tomorrow, Daniel.”
“Bye Jenn…’til tomorrow.”
Daniel balanced precariously, using the wall as well as the crutches for support, watching his therapist make her way down the corridor. It wasn’t until she rounded the corner, that he allowed his mask to slip away, only to be replaced with a depth of sadness that filled his very soul. This was natural, he conceded, this feeling…not the banter and false smiles and reassurance that he had given people. The façade was eating away at him, chipping away at him daily. He took a deep breath, hardened his resolve and headed off toward the direction of the shower.
- - - - - -
He heard the anger in her snort before he even rotated his office chair to make eye contact. He threw the book that he was reading onto the desk where it balanced on its mates. Daniel gave a sheepish grin when he noticed the body language of Janet Fraiser as she stood framed in the open doorway.
“Home, rest…don’t think the words ‘light duty’ were anywhere in my conversation with you earlier today.” She stepped into the cluttered office, continuing to talk as she walked cautiously among the files on the floor. “Don’t pout, don’t open those baby blues at me…and *don’t* even entertain the thought of fluttering those eyelashes at me. I, for one, am immune to the legendary charms of Dr. Jackson…remember, I’m your doctor.”
Daniel didn’t want to leave. Here at the SGC, he was surrounded by hours of mind numbing research. He needed to convince this impenetrable force standing before him to allow him to stay on base, where there were research and books and facts to keep his mind occupied. The dreams that haunted his sleep were bad enough, but the daytime thoughts were worse. “Jack’s taking me home in a few hours…”
“No? I don’t mind waiting…” Daniel hoped the desperation he was feeling wasn’t seeping into his voice.
His heart sunk as Janet picked up the phone and requested an airman to drive him home. In one fell swoop, his fear turned to anger. “I’m not a child,” he hissed. “Don’t treat me like one.”
“Then stop behaving like one, Daniel. If you’d have stayed at the center, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now, would we? You’d be on the road to recovery…you chose to sign yourself out. Now these are the consequences.”
Daniel shut out the remainder of her argument. He just wanted to be left alone, bury the incident…immerse himself…lose himself. But he needed to be left alone…he needed everyone to see that. He would be fine, but he needed solitude to repair the damage.
- - - - - -
“Jack, the airman dropped me off 10 minutes ago... so in my current state of mobility, I’ve only been able to get into the house, close the door behind me, take off my coat…and answer the phone.”
Jack’s chuckle carried through the phone lines and if Daniel closed his eyes he could picture his lover in his office at the SGC, feet on this desk, leaning back in the chair, twirling a pencil through his fingers. “So, what *are* going to do then?”
“According to Janet…I should sit on the couch waiting for you to come home and take care of me. Oh wait, that’s not true… I’m allowed to change the channels on the TV with the remote, so I won’t be *that* bored. And… and this is an important ‘and,’ Jack, I can go into the kitchen to eat something because of the antibiotics. Though getting up to pee may be a questionable activity as far as Janet was concerned.”
“Got in trouble, didn’t ya?”
Daniel lowered his body into a kitchen chair, resting the crutches against the table. “Understatement of the year. Jenn ratted me out and I was subjected to not one, but *two* of Janet’s famous lectures.”
“Maybe you should listen to Fraiser.” Jack’s concern, even over the phone, was apparent to Daniel.
“Don’t, please don’t. I’m drowning in everyone’s good intentions,” he answered before angrily adding, “Why can’t everyone just *leave* me alone.”
Daniel was taken back by Jack’s laughter. “You know, Daniel, you sound like a badly written character from a grade B movie. ‘I vant to be alooooone’.”
While Jack was still laughing, Daniel found his window of opportunity to end the conversation. “I’ll see you later. Before you even ask, Chinese, the usual, but bring me a pint of hot and sour soup. Bye.”
- - - - - -
Daniel conceded to following some of Janet’s rules, it was just that his interpretation was slightly different. He sat at the dining room table, resting his leg on another chair. The television was playing in the background and he was reading. Reading and resting…okay, reading information on his laptop and taking notes, but he was resting and that had been the crux of Janet’s instructions to him.
His stomach grumbled too loudly for him to ignore any longer and Daniel retrieved his crutches and hobbled into the kitchen. Daniel poured himself a bowl of cereal and consumed it, leaning awkwardly against the counter. He smiled and placed it in the sink without bothering to rinse it, hoping the dirty bowl would serve as evidence to Jack that he had eaten *something* during the course of the day.
Sliding back into his seat, Daniel leaned over to place his crutches against the wall to his right. On the return trip, his arm accidentally swept papers and pens onto the floor. Cursing, he tried to bend to retrieve them with limited success. Daniel slowly lowered himself to the floor, using the arm of the chair and the corner of the wooden table for support, biting back a moan as the muscles of his leg voiced their abuse. Daniel’s hands scooted to pick up the writing implements and the sheets of yellow legal pad scattered around.
- - - - - -
“Daniel?” Daniel looked up at Jack’s anxiety riddled face, huge red rimmed blue eyes sliding to the plastic bags Jack held. Raising his hands, Jack gave the bags a shake in response to the questioning look that had settled on Daniel’s features.
“Dinner…Chinese…hot and sour soup. Ringing any bells, Danny?”
“Go have dinner. I’ll eat later…I’m busy right now. ‘kay?”
Jack put the bags on the dining room table, noting the scattered papers and the screen filled with Daniel’s research facts on the monitor. He squatted across from Daniel, the younger man’s state of mind registering with the paleness of his face and the rawness of his hands. Daniel grunted as he shifted his position on the wood floor. “Let me help you, Daniel,” Jack asked gently.
Daniel’s head shot up. “Do you really want to help?”
“Of course.” Jack swallowed convulsively, the room permeated by the smell of the Chinese food. Items that had just minutes ago reminded him of his hunger, were now making his stomach clench in painful spasms.
Daniel reached into the soap-filled bucket by the chair, pulling out a sponge and handing it to Jack. “I tried to get it all…”
Jack looked down at the sponge resting in his outstretched hands. “Damn it, Daniel,” Jack yelled, throwing the sponge into the bucket and making the water slosh over the sides. Daniel yelped in surprise as Jack grabbed him by the shoulders. “You I want to help *you*! Not clean the fuckin’ floor.”
As if speaking to an errant child, Daniel answered, “Jack, by cleaning the floor you *are* helping me.” He shook Jack’s hands from his shoulders, reached around into his back pocket and pressed a small object into Jack’s hand. “Found it, Jack. It was way in the back under the furniture. Musta dropped it…saved it.”
Jack opened his hand, his heart stopping when he found a coin from Charlie’s collection. “Daniel…?”
“Cleaned it,” Daniel sighed softly. “It was covered in dried blood. It was very hard to get off.”
Jack examined the coin before sliding it into his pants’ pocket. “I can see it was hard to clean,” he remarked, pulling one of Daniel’s raw hands into his, tracing the rough, cracked folds with his thumb. “But it’s clean…why do you need this?” Jack indicated the bucket with a nod of his head.
“Don’t you see Jack? It’s still there…” Daniel pulled his hand away. “After I cleaned the coin… the spot where the coin was… I’m trying... I’m trying to make it go away. I need it to go away. You can’t help with that.”
Jack pulled the lost man into a hug and Daniel allowed his quivering body to be enveloped, but remained stiff and unmoving against Jack’s body. Jack laid his cheek against Daniel’s sweat-soaked hair for a few moments, then placed a gentle kiss amongst the strands. “I *can* help…you have to let me.”
“Can you make it go away?” Daniel mumbled into the expanse of Jack’s chest.
Jack hugged Daniel tighter before releasing him, holding him at arm’s length, fingers resting on tense shoulders. “No… I can’t make it go away. Only time can help you do that. But I can help share the burden… you just have to let me in. I can’t do it from out here, Daniel.” Jack rubbed his thumbs against Daniel’s temples. “Let me in… please.”
Daniel blinked a few times, considering Jack’s request. “It’s hard. I don’t know if I can.” He touched Jack with a hesitancy that brought a sad smile to the older man’s face.
Jack gripped Daniel’s hand in his. “I’m here, Daniel… I’m really, really here. I’m not a figment of your imagination… I’m not going to disappear.” Jack cupped the back of Daniel’s head, guiding him in for a soft kiss.
Daniel slithered out from under Jack’s grasp, grabbing the sponge that was sitting to the left of his injured leg. He began scrubbing back and forth across the floor, his body rocking in synch with Daniel’s frantic movements. “See it… see it? It’s right there.” Daniel dipped the sponge back into the bucket, dripping water over the floor like rain as he returned to the same spot. “I can’t get it off… no matter how hard I try. It’s there… a permanent stain.”
Jack leaned forward, plucking Daniel’s hand along with the sponge and lifting it up. “Show me, Daniel. Where?”
“Here…here…” Daniel cried, frustration causing his voice to go up a notch.
“There’s nothing there! Daniel…There. Is. Nothing. There,” Jack replied adamantly. “Nothing.”
Tears that had pooled in the corner of his eyes flowed unbidden down Daniel’s cheeks. “Yes. Yes there is!” he yelled, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Why can’t you see it? I need you to see it.”
Jack studied Daniel, deep in thought, measuring his options before he leaned over to withdraw the second sponge from the bucket. He squeezed it, and held it ready to do battle on Daniel’s behalf. “Show me, Daniel. I need you to show me where the stain is. I’m sure if *you* help me, I’ll see it… but you need to show me.”
Jack let Daniel’s hand guide him to the spot on the floor, a puddle of water already marking the spot. “Here Jack, I need you here.”
“Okay, Danny. I see it now… I needed you to show me… that’s all. I couldn’t see it without your guidance.” Slowly, Jack ran the sponge over the indicated spot and Daniel joined him in silent orchestrations against the stain on his soul.
- - - - - -
Daniel was lying on the couch, his head comfortably ensconced against the side bolster, his legs resting in Jack’s lap. Jack’s hand subconsciously kneaded Daniel’s stocking feet, his own legs stretched out on the coffee table amid the open containers of Chinese food. Daniel squirmed under Jack’s ministration, a small moan of contentment escaping his lips.
Jack turned to Daniel, his brow furrowed in concern. “Okay? Need a pain pill?”
Daniel paused before answering. “No… I don’t need anything.” He turned his face away from Jack’s gaze, a blush of embarrassment staining his cheeks. “I’m sorry… about…” Daniel waved his hand in the direction of the dining room.
Jack squeezed Daniel’s foot until the prone man made eye contact. “Daniel… everyone needs help at one point in their life. Like your crutches… they help you get around, they assist you…support you… They will always be there in case you need them again… ready to hold you steady.”
Daniel snorted. “Never thought of you as a crutch before.”
“I know…I know. Just thinking that maybe you should have hit me over the head with it… instead of comparing yourself to one.”
“Don’t think that idea didn’t occur to me… it did… but I knew Fraiser would kill me.” Jack cleared his throat before he continued. “Thank you for letting me in, Daniel.”
Daniel lifted his hand and Jack clasped it, intertwining their fingers. Daniel tightened his grasp around Jack’s callused fingers. “I’m glad you kept knocking until I opened the door. It’ll be hard, but I’ll try not to lock it any more.”
"I know you won't, Daniel. And if you do, I’m always here with the key."
Authors' Comments: Just a little something we whipped up for Athene. Glad you're doing better, hon. Thanks to MajelB, as always, for a great beta.
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