What is Essential,
cowritten with babs
"Daniel, go!" Jack ordered, his pain-filled eyes catching Daniel's and holding his gaze with regret.
"No..." He turned to the priest, trying to plead for Jack's life. "Please, take me. Spare him. I'm the one you're angry with. Punish me!"
The priest ignored Daniel and the crystal he held lit up once more, bathing Jack with a pink glow. Jack screamed and Daniel yelled out, knowing full well the pain Jack was going through. The tortured man fell to his knees when the light winked out, gasping audibly as he tried to control his pain.
"Jack," Daniel called, his voice catching in his throat.
"Daniel, get the hell out of here," Jack ordered again, his voice rough and bordering on impatience.
"Daniel," Sam said softly in his ear. "We're outnumbered. There's nothing we can do. His only hope is for us to get back to the SGC and get reinforcements."
"Sam, there's no time," Daniel ground out through clenched teeth, his own pain overwhelming him for a few seconds. He ignored the sight of Teal'c lying unconscious nearby; these priests had simply aimed a crystal at the Jaffa's pouch and Teal'c had fallen to the floor as if he'd been pole axed.
Daniel didn't even know if Teal'c was alive; everything had happened too suddenly, too fast. The priests and guards had entered the temple where Daniel had been exploring. He'd apparently touched the altar in the room, thereby despoiling it. Twin beams of blue light had winked from their crystals, cutting into him deeply. His teammates had come running at Daniel's yells for help. They'd been quickly overpowered. It was all Daniel's fault.
Daniel had to try again. They had to listen to him. They wanted Jack's life for Daniel's mistake; he was their leader and thus was responsible for Daniel's actions.
"Please, I'm the one you have to punish. I'm the one who touched your altar. Jack wasn't even in the room." He ignored Sam's tugging on his arm and limped forward a couple of steps. "Please!" He was stopped by two burly guards who placed themselves before him, barring him from nearing the scene being played out before him.
The priest brought his hand up and Jack looked at Daniel for a moment before the light hit him. Jack's back arched and Daniel saw his lungs strive to take in air. Jack's mouth was wide open in a silent scream, either in pain or in an attempt to breathe.
"Jack," Daniel moaned, seeing the one person who meant everything to him being tortured for something Daniel had unknowingly done. When the light winked out, Jack slumped to the ground.
"Please!" Daniel yelled, trying to push past the guards. They both took a hold of him and he was physically pulled out of the room. He struggled against the vice-like grip on his arms, ignoring the pain radiating down his chest from the wound to his ribs.
He tried to set his feet to stop his backwards movement but his injured leg refused to obey and he lost his precarious balance. The guards ignored him and dragged him kicking and screaming out of the room. He saw that Sam and Teal'c were already gone and he renewed his efforts, knowing he was Jack's last hope.
"Jack!" he yelled once more, hearing Sam's cries along with his own. His last view of Jack was one that he knew would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Two of the priests were holding crystals in their hands. Jack lay helplessly before them, writhing in pain. One was shining the crystal's light directly into Jack's face and the other was directed to Jack's chest. The screams coming from Jack were inhuman, and the sound followed Daniel outside until they were suddenly cut off when the door closed behind him.
The guards relentlessly dragged the three SG1 team members towards the gates of the temple. Daniel could hear himself panting and grunting while he thrashed about, trying to free himself.
Somehow Daniel managed to twist around and kicked the guard on his left. The man lost his grip and Daniel half fell to the ground. Before he could try and attack the second guard, the first one laid a savage kick to his injured side that had him gasping in pain.
For a few minutes he couldn't catch his breath. His eyes tearing, he felt himself picked up once more, his legs dragging along the hard ground. He could see stones and twigs beneath him as he was pulled along. When he was finally able to breathe, he realized they were nearly to the temple's gate.
"Daniel, you okay?" Sam asked behind him.
He sobbed with frustration and anger, ignoring her question and struggling to free himself.
He caught a view of Teal'c being dragged lifelessly before him. Daniel renewed his efforts, only to be efficiently tossed through the gate, landing hard on the rock-strewn path.
Ignoring his bruises and the pain coursing through his body, Daniel lunged for the closing gate. The barrier itself was over fifteen feet in height, and very solidly constructed in wood and stone. The doors had been wide open when they'd entered the village several hours ago, the inhabitants welcoming them warmly. That was until Daniel had gone and done something stupid.
He ran his hands along the seams of the closed door, trying to find a way inside. He could hear Sam talking to Teal'c behind him and the Jaffa's deep rumble answering her back.
"The colonel's dead," Sam replied softly to Teal'c's inquiry of 'what had happened'.
Something died inside of Daniel when he heard the words spoken out loud. Almost frantically, he began tracing the gate's outline. He had to get Jack... maybe there was still a chance to save him. Over and over, his hands followed the door's edge. Up and down and across. When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he shrugged it off, continuing to search for a way back inside.
"Daniel, we have to go."
"No, we have to get inside. Sam, help me find the mechanism that opens the door."
"Daniel." Her voice sounded strangely strangled. She placed her hands over his, forcing him to still his movements. "You're hurt and something's wrong with Teal'c's symbiote. Please, Daniel. We need to get home. General Hammond will send someone back to... get the colonel."
"No!" He turned and glared at Sam. Daniel didn't want someone else to find Jack. Jack was going to be okay. Daniel just needed to find him and bring him back to Janet.
"Daniel, he's dead. They killed him." Daniel shook his head, refusing to listen to her. A shiver coursed through his body and he suddenly felt very tired.
"You're going into shock, and we need to get Teal'c home. Please, come with us now."
"Teal'c?" Daniel looked over at his friend and saw that he was looking very pale as he sat quietly where the guards had left him. One hand was held protectively over his pouch but his eyes were glued to Daniel's.
"I am recovering, DanielJackson. But I fear I may need DoctorFraiser's assistance."
Daniel allowed Sam to guide him away from the door and he lurched against her when his leg nearly crumpled beneath him. Her arms came around him a moment until he got his balance while Teal'c stood up slowly. Sam tugged at him and he followed quietly. His mind felt numb and he couldn't seem to think straight. His ribs and leg suddenly flared with pain and he looked down in surprise to see his tee shirt and pant leg soaked with blood. Why hadn't Sam bandaged him? Oh, right. They'd lost their packs and supplies.
He saw the Stargate looming in the distance. They were going home, but without Jack. Jack would never go home again. Daniel would never hear his voice again; feel Jack's hands running over his body, his brown eyes looking at Daniel with love. Jack was dead. Oh God, Jack was dead!
Every painful step he took was echoed with the words 'Jack's dead... Jack's dead... Jack's dead'. He walked in a fog, seeing nothing but his lover's face in his mind and hearing Jack's voice whispering lovingly in his ears, remembering making love to Jack last night.
Suddenly pulled back to reality, he found himself on his hands and knees, retching violently. He had no memory of how he'd gotten there and from the amount of vomit on the ground, he'd been sick for a while. Sam's hands were on his shoulders and he could hear her voice over the sound of a strong wind blowing through his mind.
When the spasms stopped, she pulled him into a kneeling position. Daniel could see her mouth moving but couldn't put the words together. Someone was tugging at his arm and finally tired of the nagging, he got up and followed where they led.
He recognized the Stargate after a while and saw the chevrons circling in preparation for activation. For a split second he almost made the leap into the backwash, not wanting to live with the pain he knew from experience was only going to get worse. But hands tightened on his arm, startling him. He turned to look and saw Teal'c staring at him in worry. He hung his head; Jack was dead.
- - - - - -
A large hand rested on his forehead and Daniel smiled. He must have been sick, that's why he was having such horrible dreams. He opened his eyes and murmured, "Jack." Only to be brought back to reality by the sight of Teal'c standing by his bed.
"Oh God. Oh God." Daniel tried to sit up, his chest burning. It wasn't a dream. It was true. Jack was...
"Lie still, Daniel." He turned his head to look at Sam. Her face was a blotchy red. He'd worried them both.
"Teal'c? You okay?" Daniel brought up his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Sam?"
"I am recovered, DanielJackson." Teal'c shifted his weight and placed his hands behind his back.
"I'm fine, Daniel," Sam whispered. She turned away as Doctor Warner approached the bed.
"Doctor Jackson," Warner nodded a hello and took Daniel's wrist in his hand, feeling for a pulse. Warner, like Fraiser, believed in hands on medicine. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Daniel said automatically. At Doctor Warner's frown, he closed his eyes. "My ribs hurt. My leg hurts."
Oh and by the way, Doctor, my soul is dead because I found out what I thought was a dream is reality. Jack O'Neill is dead. His death is my responsibility. He was my lover, did you know that? Daniel tightened his lips and stayed silent. His leg would heal; his ribs would mend, but his soul? Would it ever recover? Daniel wasn't sure about that.
He couldn't even cry. A memory of the gates on the planet closing made Daniel push Warner's hands away. He pulled himself up by holding onto the bed rail.
"Sam," he gasped. "We need to go back. There's still a chance. Maybe he's just wounded."
"Daniel," Sam began. She stopped and took his hand in hers. "I'll talk to General Hammond."
"You think he's dead." Daniel hated the desperation in his voice.
"I do, Daniel. You translated, Daniel. You said the price for the desecration was death."
"Maybe I was wrong. Sam, we need to go back there. You have to convince the general."
He watched Sam swallow hard and her eyes fix on the far wall. "I'll see what I can do, Daniel. But you know as well as I do that the colonel is most likely dead."
"We don't have a body, Sam," Daniel whispered. "And we don't leave our people behind."
She patted his hand. "No, we don't." She stepped away from the bed.
"You are not going anywhere, Daniel," Doctor Warner said, pressing a hand to Daniel's chest. "You're not going to be walking on that leg until it heals a little more."
Daniel sighed as he sank back on the pillows. As long as there was no body, no proof, maybe he could hope a little longer. He could do nothing, had to put his trust in Sam and Teal'c. They'd find Jack. It was his last thought as he succumbed to the drugs once more.
* * * * *
He heard the soft murmur of voices. His mouth was dry and he turned his head to look at Sam. She was sitting by his bed, her head held in her hands.
"Sam?" It was more of a croak than an actual word. She jerked her head around to face him and he knew. One look at her eyes and he knew.
"I'm sorry, Daniel," she whispered. "Oh God, I wish we were wrong." Her eyes filled with tears but she didn't cry ever the stoic soldier.
"I want to see him." Daniel found the call button and pressed it, an overwhelming need to get out of the infirmary. "Take me to see his body."
Doctor Fraiser was there frowning and Daniel spared only a passing glance at her as he concentrated on Sam. "I want to see Jack."
"Daniel." Sam gave a little hiccup. "He's dead."
"I know that." Daniel coughed, pushing Fraiser's hand away when she reached out to him. "Do you think I don't realize it? I want to see his body. Please, Sam. Janet. Please."
"General Hammond," Doctor Fraiser said with evident relief, looking over Daniel's bed to the other side.
"Will you leave us, Doctor? Major?" The familiar Texas twang was oddly soothing. "I'd like to speak to Doctor Jackson alone."
"Sam, come with me. You need a break. Let's see if we can find you somewhere to rest." Daniel watched as Sam stood, wobbling slightly before allowing Janet to wrap an arm around her waist. He turned his head, looking up at the general.
"Son," Hammond began. Daniel closed his eyes. He didn't want to hear this, but he needed to. He needed to know what they found. Had Jack's body been so mutilated they feared to let him see it? Didn't they understand his need to see Jack, his need to say goodbye? "Daniel, there was no body."
"No body?" Daniel asked, licking dry lips. He took a sip from the straw Hammond offered, letting the cool water soothe his throat. "No body? But then maybe..." he stopped as he met Hammond's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Daniel. It appears the priests...dispose..." Daniel didn't miss the jerky way the word was said. "...of the bodies in the backwash of a Stargate activation. All that SG-2, Major Carter and Teal'c found were bits and pieces of your abandoned packs, a piece of Colonel O'Neill's boot, and this." Hammond took Daniel's hand, placing a length of chain and a small bit of molten metal into it. Daniel studied it able to make out three symbols. An O'N.
"He's dead?" Daniel traced the metal with one finger. "Jack's dead?"
"I'm sorry," General Hammond said again. He placed his hand on Daniel's shoulder. Daniel closed his fingers around the chain and metal, letting it bite into his palm, a small pain compared to the dying of hope.
- - - - - -
The gateroom was cold. He didn't remember it being that cold before. Daniel shifted in the wheelchair and wished for a blanket. He supposed he should be grateful Janet allowed him to attend this ceremony and allowed him to wear scrubs. He rubbed the back of his left hand, the tape holding the IV in place itching.
Long fingers covered his, stopping the nervous movement. Sam bent down beside him, the blue of her uniform accentuating the blue of her eyes. "Daniel," she whispered. He wondered if his eyes held the same hurt and shock hers did. Teal'c came to his other side and placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder.
"We are with you, DanielJackson." Daniel closed his eyes and prayed he was dreaming. But when he opened them again he was still in the gateroom and General Hammond was still standing at a podium ready to speak.
"We are gathered here to remember the life of Colonel Jonathon O'Neill," Hammond began. He paused and when he started again his voice was rougher than before.
"Colonel O'Neill, Jack, was one of the finest officers I ever had under my command. I could list all of Jack's accomplishments, his medals, the awards he received, but somehow I don't think it would give us a feeling of who the true Jack O'Neill was. Jack was never one to speak of his accomplishments. No one outside of this room will ever know the sacrifices Jack made again and again for not only his country but for his world. Serving with Colonel O'Neill, having him in my command, and knowing him was an honor and a privilege. There is a wound in all of our hearts today, a very large hole left by the loss of Colonel O'Neill. In time, the wound will heal but the scar will remain. Major Carter, Teal'c, and Doctor Jackson, will you please come forward?"
Sam held her head high, ignoring the tears that fell unchecked down her cheeks. Teal'c pushed Daniel's wheelchair. He watched as the gate spun, the chevrons engaging, and thought he'd never feel a sense of wonder stepping through it again. Daniel studied the chevrons, realizing the gate was being opened to the planet where Jack had been killed. He wondered what would happen if he threw himself through the open wormhole and as if his thoughts had been read, Teal'c's hand descended to his shoulder. Sam and the officers in charge of SG-2, 3 and 4 tossed a wreath through the gate. The wormhole blinked out of existence, the iris closing over it with finality. Daniel couldn't see the bugler but he heard the strains of Taps float over the crowd while Sergeant Siler and the members of SG-2 folded an American flag. Sergeant Siler turned crisply on his heel, coming over to Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c.
"I believe Colonel O'Neill would want you to have this, Doctor Jackson." Siler pressed the flag into Daniel's waiting hands. "I'm sorry, sir."
His head hurt, his thigh throbbed, and he couldn't breathe through his nose anymore. Janet took his hand in hers. "We're going to get you back to the infirmary, Daniel. Sam? Teal'c? I think perhaps you should come too."
"Yes." Sam was crying, soft hiccups interrupting her words. Daniel couldn't speak, a refrain beating a rhythm in his head, Jack is dead, I will love no more.
* * * *
Daniel picked his glasses up off the coffee table and slipped them onto his face when the doorbell rang. He got up stiffly from the couch and limped across the room to answer the door.
"Hey, Daniel." Sam's voice was tentative and Daniel realized she wasn't sure of her welcome. Teal'c was standing behind her, his usually impassive face showing concern.
"Come on in," he said, holding the door open for them. He made his way back the couch, wincing as he descended the stairs to the living room area.
"We were worried," Sam said as she followed behind him. "You weren't answering our calls... we weren't even sure if you were here or at your apartment."
Daniel flushed guiltily at her words, knowing he'd ignored all the messages she and Teal'c had left on the two answering machines.
"I didn't feel much like talking," he said simply. He sat down in Jack's favorite chair, propping his leg up with relief.
Daniel'd stayed away from Jack's house up until today, finally steeling himself to go through Jack's things since he knew Sam and Teal'c were heading here this afternoon. At Daniel's request, Hammond had held off sending a team to retrieve anything official from Jack's home. The sympathetic general had enlisted Sam and Teal'c to do the job with Daniel's blessing.
He'd arrived here much earlier than planned, wanting to get through the initial shock of returning to Jack's home, which no longer felt like a home without Jack. And he was glad he had because the sight of the dirty dishes sitting in the sink, the unmade bed, and their clothing strewn across the bedroom, had all been testament to their early morning frolic which had nearly made them late for work on that unforgettable, disastrous mission so many days ago.
When he had picked up Jack's favorite sweatshirt from the floor where Daniel had thrown it after wresting it from Jack's body, he brought it to his face and inhaled deeply. It still contained Jack's scent, evoking the longing he thought he'd managed to put aside all these past days. With his eyes brimming with tears, he'd been unable to do anything other than crawl onto the bed with the piece of clothing clutched to his chest.
He had fallen into a deep sleep, his body trying to make up for the hours of sleeplessness he'd experienced over the past three days since he'd been discharged from the infirmary. But his rest hadn't lasted long; he'd woken up screaming, reliving Jack's last moments.
The bed was now but a cold, bare mattress, the room tidy and neat, the kitchen spic and span. There was no evidence that there had been two in the house rather than one before Jack had left, never to return. He had erased all signs of his ever sharing Jack's home, and it had been much harder than he'd expected.
There was one more task to perform, one more painful thing he felt obliged he had to do. Daniel had put off his visit to Sara, hated to see her pain, knowing she'd lost another person in her life. But he would have to do that in the next day or two. He'd waited long enough.
"Daniel, are you okay?" Sam was sitting uncomfortably on the edge of the couch, leaning forward and watching him closely. He shook himself mentally, having forgotten momentarily that his friends were here.
He nodded, and forced a small smile onto his face.
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just that... coming here today was a little hard."
"We would have been pleased to have performed this onerous duty for you, DanielJackson," Teal'c stated. "I must admit that I find the task to be somewhat... difficult for myself as well."
Daniel looked at Teal'c, who couldn't seem to meet Daniel's gaze, and then Sam, whose eyes were shiny with unshed tears. He nearly gasped out loud when he saw their pain. He had assumed that he was the only one having trouble with Jack's death and had pulled away from them in his misery. But he could see they were hurting, maybe not as much as he was, but they had needed him too.
He got up and sat beside Sam, putting his arms around her, ignoring the pull of healing scar tissue along his ribcage. She laid her chin against his shoulder and he could feel her body trembling as she tried to hold her emotions in.
"It's okay, Sam," he whispered against her hair.
"This is worse than the time we thought you'd died on P3X 866..." she told him, her voice shaky and thick.
"I'm so sorry, Sam. You've had to go through this twice, first with me, then..."
"But you weren't dead. And we all felt that something was wrong, and that there was an underlying sense of hope. But now..." She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand, then pulled away from Daniel's embrace. She stood up, her eyes red rimmed.
"Excuse me," she said as she rushed towards the bathroom.
"Is she all right?" Daniel asked Teal'c as he stared down the hallway at her retreating back.
"She is sad. We both feel O'Neill's loss deeply. But my friend, it is you we are concerned for. How do you fare?"
Other than a pain that cut so deep inside he sometimes wondered how he still breathed; other than knowing he faced cold, lonely nights filled with haunting nightmares of his dead lover's death; other than finding himself huddled in a corner of his apartment with tears streaking down his face and no memory of how he'd gotten there; other than a desire to simply go to sleep and not wake up until the world went into another ice age; other than wanting to scream and rage and vent out his anger at himself for allowing Jack to die in the first place, he was fine.
"I'm coping," Daniel said simply. "It's hard, I admit that. I miss him-" Daniel had to swallow hard to stop his voice from cracking. Despite his best efforts, his throat tightened and his voice came out thick with grief. "A lot," he managed to finish as he averted his gaze, blinking back his tears.
Hearing the door to the bathroom open, he got up to gaze out the large picture window. He felt a hand on his shoulder and thinking it was Sam, was surprised to see Teal'c's bulk standing behind him.
"We shall begin with Colonel O'Neill's office, if it agreeable with you." Daniel nodded, listening to them leaving the room and grateful they were giving him time to compose himself.
He'd join them in a minute. He'd be all right. He'd been through this before, hadn't he?
You'd think he'd be used to it by now.
- - - - - - *
Daniel pulled his black woolen coat tighter as he followed the walkway to the front door of the suburban house. His gloved hands clutched the triangular package he carried. He still didn't know if his visit here would be welcome, but he believed it was the right thing to do.
He knocked on the door instead of ringing the doorbell. Glancing around while he waited, he saw the yard and tried to picture a younger Jack pitching a ball to Charlie. The picture still standing on Jack's night table of Jack with one arm around Sara and the other resting on Charlie's shoulder came to mind and Daniel closed his eyes, hating the way the cold stung at them and caused them to water.
"Yes?" Sara O'Neill answered the door, wiping her hands on a dishtowel she carried. It was covered with little strawberries Daniel noticed in a detached part of his brain, and an image of Jack dipping a strawberry in whipped cream and then licking it off slowly came to his mind with crystal clarity.
"Mrs. O'Neill, I'm Daniel Jackson." He watched as she tilted her head and then her mouth formed into a little 'oh.'
"Come in." She opened the door wider and gestured him inside. His glasses fogged at the warmth of the house. "You're Daniel. You work with Jack. Doctor Jackson isn't it?"
"Yes." Daniel stood in the foyer. He didn't know what to do with the package, feeling awkward now that he had almost completed his mission.
"Here." Sara held out her hands. "Let me take that." She placed her hands on the package and Daniel had to force his fingers to uncurl. She deserved this he knew, but what he didn't know was if he was ready to let go.
"Thank you," he coughed and stuffed his gloves in his pocket. He quickly swiped a finger on the inside of his lenses, able to see once more.
"You can hang your coat on the coat tree." Sara gestured behind him and Daniel took his coat off, straightening his tie before he turned back to face her.
"Mrs. O'Neill." He began again, needing to take a deep breath when she interrupted him with a 'Sara.'
"Sara," Daniel nodded, wishing she hadn't insisted on the informality. It was making his task harder. "I...Jack..." He cursed inwardly, hating himself for screwing up what he needed to say.
"Oh God," she whispered as she looked at his face and then back to the package she held. He could see it in her eyes, see when she realized.
"Sara?" Daniel placed a hand at her elbow, wondering if she was going to faint, her skin had gone so pale.
"I'm...I'll be fine. Let's go sit in the living room." Sara didn't resist as Daniel led her the few steps to the couch. He looked around after she was seated not knowing if he should sit next to her or find another chair so he remained standing, shifting his weight to his other foot when a twinge in his newly healed thigh reminded him of the mission.
"Please sit." She patted the cushion next to her. "Tell me." Her eyes searched his face.
"I can't give you details," Daniel began but he knew she understood that. "The mission is classified."
"Yes. They always are." Her voice held just a trace of bitterness and Daniel wondered how many nights Sara had listened to Jack's nightmares and been unable to comfort him because he couldn't share what had happened.
"I'm sorry." Daniel twisted his fingers together and studied his hands. "I was injured. I thought they would call you."
"No." Sara began unwrapping the paper covering the triangular box holding the American flag. "No one told me. I would have come to the funeral. I don't hate Jack. I...we...some hurts were too deep to heal."
"It was a memorial service, Sara." Daniel stared at the flag, pushing memories of the ceremony to the place where he couldn't feel them, where the loss didn't bite into his soul with every breath. "We couldn't recover his body." Maybe it would feel more real, Daniel thought. Maybe if he'd seen the execution he wouldn't be imagining Jack being tortured to death every night in his dreams. Maybe he wouldn't hear Jack's screams in the silence of his empty bed. Daniel shoved his hands into his pockets, his fingers finding the small piece of metal and chain he'd taken to carrying around with him.
"He would have wanted to be buried next to Charlie." Sara stroked one long finger over the flag.
"I can make arrangements for the stone carver to do the inscription on the tombstone." Daniel offered. "Jack made me his executor a few years back, but I didn't want to do anything without your permission."
"Can it wait?" Sara asked. "I'm just not ready."
"It can wait." Daniel answered. It was the same reason he was putting off taking care of the other details. He wasn't ready either.
"You were married to him. I thought you should have it." Daniel studied her face not knowing if the gesture was being rejected or not.
"Thank you," Sara nodded. They sat in silence for a few minutes. He watched Sara's fingers trace the outline of a star over and over until he wanted to cover her hand and make her stop. She looked up at him, her eyes bright.
"You loved him." She moved her hand from the flag and took Daniel's in it keeping her eyes on his. Daniel was unable to speak but he nodded. He couldn't lie to her.
"Jack was always faithful to me, Daniel," Sara admitted. "He took our marriage vows seriously."
"And you knew." Daniel swallowed.
"I found out quite by accident. I needed to let him go, Daniel. It wasn't fair to either of us. I didn't want to settle for a husband who was missing his chance at happiness and lose my own. Maybe if Charlie hadn't..."
"You don't need to tell me this." Daniel shook his head, feeling he was intruding on a very private matter.
"No. I do," Sara continued. "I'm glad he was happy, Daniel. He was happy with you?"
"Yes. We were happy," Daniel said. He turned his hand under hers so they rested palm to palm.
"I'm glad." Sara nodded a moment before the tears spilled down her cheeks.
- - - - - - *
"General Hammond!" Daniel exclaimed, seeing the older man standing by the door to his office. He stared at him in surprise before remembering his manners and standing up to greet him. The general rarely came down into the laboratory area of the facility; he usually had people come to him.
"What can I do for you, sir?" Daniel asked as the general entered Daniel's lab.
"I won't keep you long," he said with a smile. "Doctor Fraiser has just informed me that she has cleared you for active duty, but with reservations. Now I know you've been through a difficult time. I would like to know how you would feel about going through the Stargate again."
Daniel dropped into his chair, picked up his pen and fiddled with it before looking up at Hammond.
"You want to know if I've lost my nerve, don't you?" Daniel didn't know whether to be insulted or angry.
"You have gone through a traumatic occurrence, son. Doctor Fraiser has also informed me that you've refused to seek counseling. At this point I know it's strictly on a voluntary basis, and I haven't seen or heard any sign of your work not being up to its usual standards. But it is a concern I need to raise."
"General, you may recall that I first joined SC-1 in order to find my wife, who had been taken from me forcibly and impregnated with a Goa'uld. That was due to my own stupidity when I unburied the Stargate on Abydos. I lost many friends in that battle, and I've lost many friends and teammates in the ensuing years, all because of that damned Stargate." He shoved his hands under the table, squeezing them together tightly in his anger. "I may have just lost my best friend," he said through clenched teeth, "but that's not going to stop me from stepping through and doing the work I know."
At one time Daniel would have said 'the work I know and love', but today that would have been an outright lie. He stared straight into the man's blue eyes, daring him to find fault with him and keeping him Earthbound.
Hammond nodded slightly. "Very well," he said. "SG-1 is due to visit P8K-883 in two days' time. You're on the team. Colonel Rivera will be taking over SG1. Welcome back, son."
"Thank you, General," Daniel managed to stammer, holding his anger inside until the man left. As soon as he was sure General Hammond had had time to get to the elevator, Daniel stormed to Sam's office.
"Hi," she said as Daniel began pacing up and down the room. "What's up?"
"I'm back on active duty," Daniel said as he reached the end of the room and turned around to begin pacing in the other direction.
"That's great!" Sam said, turning to watch him walk by her. As Daniel turned around again, she added worriedly, "Isn't it?"
"Not when you consider that Janet thinks I might have problems coping with Jack's death. She had 'reservations' about letting me back on the team." He came to a stop and placed his hands on the table, sighing heavily.
"It'll be all right," Sam said as she came to stand close to him. "You'll be all right."
"I don't think I can do this," Daniel confided. "Maybe Janet and Hammond were right. Maybe I've just seen too much happen to people I love." He turned to Sam and saw the concern in her face.
Without hesitation, she walked up to him and put her arms around him. He slipped an arm around her shoulder and hugged her tight, taking comfort from the fact she cared. He let her go after a few moments, holding her at arms length and smiling. He loved this woman; this sister, although not of the same blood, was of the same spirit as he. And Teal'c, the companion who although rarely showed his emotions, was one of the most passionate men he knew. He had to do this for them; they had lost a friend, a leader, a protector. If Daniel didn't stay on the team with them, he'd be gouging another hole in their lives.
"And if I didn't step through the gate with you and Teal'c, who'd be watching your six?" He squeezed her arms gently. "Forgive me for that little outburst?" He let go and turned back to the table and sighed. "General Hammond's words got me upset and had me doubting myself for a second." He forced a grin and turned to her again, raising his forefinger in the air.
"Know what? I think I'll go give Teal'c the good news." He strode out of the room with vigor, heading towards Teal'c's quarters. His steps slowed when he turned into another corridor, and he sighed audibly. Going through the Stargate and exploring new worlds, or staying on Earth and studying old ones. Same difference; neither held much interest and the best he could hope for was losing himself in his work so that he wouldn't have to think of the pain in his heart.
- - - - - -
- - - - - - *
"Are you okay, Daniel?" Sam asked, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder as they sat around the campfire. Daniel looked up in surprise, lost in his thoughts.
Across the fire, Colonel Diego Rivera was watching him closely. Probably waiting for a screw-up, Daniel thought, then shook his head trying to dispel the irrational anger.
"Fine, Sam." He smiled, feeling his muscles stretch in a way they hadn't since Jack's death. Her sigh at his words immediately made him feel guilty. He placed a hand on her knee. "It's...sometimes I think he's going to be waiting for us when we go through the gate."
"Teal'c, why don't you and I do a perimeter check?" Colonel Rivera got up and stretched.
"Yes, ColonelRivera." Teal'c rose. His eyes met Daniel's and he nodded in acknowledgement of Daniel's pain. "I will assist you."
Silence filled the camp as Teal'c and Rivera's footsteps crunched away.
"I, Sam, I keep telling myself it will get better. I thought after Christmas, after our first Christmas without him..." Daniel stirred the fire with a stick, hearing Jack's 'little boys who play with fire pee in their beds,' comment in his head. He dropped the stick.
"It's okay to hurt, Daniel," Sam said. He gave a bitter laugh.
"Do you think I don't know that, Sam? It's not like I haven't been through this before." Daniel stood up and began pacing. "We never had a chance to say goodbye. And I'm not ready to now."
Comprehension dawned in Sam's gaze. "That's why you haven't done anything with the house," Sam got up and stood in front of him, effectively stopping his restless movements.
"I can't, Sam. I talked to the attorney, to Jack's lawyer. I have a year to settle the estate. I'm just not ready. I still haven't made arrangements for his, for his tombstone." He looked down, seeing tears track down her cheeks. Daniel brushed them away with his thumbs.
"Because that will make it real. Final," she whispered.
"Yeah," Daniel whispered back, pulling her into a hug. Her arms wrapped around his waist and she squeezed him tightly before stepping back.
"Maybe you need to, Daniel. Maybe if you say goodbye you'll be able to live again." She reached up and touched his face. "Colonel O'Neill would want you to live, Daniel. You know that."
"I do." Daniel leaned into her touch. "I do." He sighed. He looked up as Teal'c and Rivera came back into camp.
"Doctor Jackson?" Rivera said as he sat down at the fire once more and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Why don't you tell us about the petroglyphs you found at the site earlier today?"
Daniel studied his boots a moment and then sat down across from Rivera, feeling Sam settle on one side of him and Teal'c on the other. Drawing strength from his remaining family, Daniel began to explain the significance of the find and what it might mean to their understanding of the Goa'uld.
* * * * *
Daniel dragged his gaze off the yellow pad before him and back towards General Hammond, the silence in the room finally infiltrating his thoughts. Everyone was staring at him expectantly and with a sinking feeling Daniel realized he'd been asked a question.
"Umm, sorry. I didn't quite catch that last question." His face felt hot in embarrassment and he ducked his head.
"I asked if you had anything to add to Major Carter's report, Jackson," Colonel Rivera stated from across the table. "But it's obvious you're not even on the same planet as the rest of us."
No, Daniel's mind wasn't here at all. It kept drifting towards the task he had set himself to do this afternoon, a visit he dreaded, but a deed he felt he owed Jack.
"Very well, if there's nothing more, the mission is a go. Dismissed." Everyone stood up at General Hammond's words, Daniel a little more slowly than the rest, trying to ignore Sam's worried look.
"Doctor Jackson?" General Hammond said when Daniel went to file out behind Sam. "A word, if you please?" Daniel stopped by the edge of the briefing table, waiting for his friends to leave the room.
"Just make sure you've landed back on Earth by tomorrow, Jackson," Rivera said kindly as he brushed by Daniel.
"Is there a problem, son?" the General asked gently.
"Sir?" Daniel's mind raced as he tried to think of what to tell him.
"I couldn't help but notice you've been a little preoccupied today."
Daniel decided to settle for the truth. "Yes, Sir, I was. I'm sorry, it's a personal matter. I won't let it happen again."
General Hammond nodded while he smiled at Daniel. "I'm pleased to see how Colonel Rivera is working out. And Doctor Fraiser is more than happy that none of the team has succumbed to any major injuries over the past three months."
We've been lucky, sir," Daniel intoned. Yes, they'd had a streak of good luck in past missions. So much so that at times he had wondered if General Hammond had purposely sent SG-1 to worlds where he was pretty sure they would have little chance of encountering combat situations. Not that Daniel wasn't thankful that he was being spared the anguish of seeing another of his teammates injured or killed, but there were days when he ached for a fight. Especially after one of those tormenting dreams, Daniel wanted to go out and hurt something, preferably Goa'uld or Jaffa. Instead, he took his rage to the gym and became well acquainted with the punching bag.
"Colonel Rivera is a good man," Daniel continued.
"Yes, he is. I know he's not Jack, but... he is very pleased with your work."
"Thank you, sir," Daniel answered, wondering why he felt like he'd just let Jack down. He looked down at the gleaming table before him examining the fingerprints that were evident at the angle from where he stood.
"I know things were a little rough at first, but I'm glad it's all working out."
"He's been understanding and patient with me. As have you," Daniel added.
"Good. Thank you for your time, son. I'll see you on tomorrow."
Daniel nodded, glad for the dismissal. He needed to finish up a few things in his office and then he'd leave early. Jack was counting on him.
- - - - - - * *
"Hi Charlie," Daniel said as he knelt on the damp grass by the tombstone. He placed the bouquet of yellow roses on the ground, averting his eyes from the other name now carved in the marble. "I thought Jack would want me to bring these to you." Daniel continued speaking, pulling a few weeds from the base. "He used to tell me..." Daniel stopped, finding it hard to catch his breath. "Your dad said yellow was your favorite color." He closed his eyes, remembering Jack leaving the house a year ago today, an armful of yellow roses to place on his son's grave. "Happy birthday, Charlie," Daniel whispered. He traced his fingers over the incised letters, the marble both smooth and sharp under his fingertips and froze as he caught sight of Jack's name.
Jonathan James O'Neill. Beloved father. There were no dates carved in it and Daniel was grateful the job hadn't been completed yet, the stone mason only beginning it last week and then being kept from his task by the week of rain. There would be no acknowledgement of Jack's relationship with Daniel on the stone. Words wouldn't have covered it anyway. He'd spoken to Sara once since going to her house five months ago and honored her wishes to keep the inscription simple. Beloved father and the dates would be enough they both agreed.
"Damn it, Jack!" Daniel made a fist and pressed it against the stone. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this." He ignored the burning sensation in his nose. "What happened to all those plans you had for fishing your retirement away?" he whispered. Daniel shivered as the breeze picked up. He'd lost weight over the past months. Sam and Teal'c worried about him, but he couldn't speak of the pain he felt. Daniel rubbed at his temples, his head pounding due to lack of sleep. He thought he should be getting better by now, accepting Jack's loss, but he seemed permanently stuck between disbelief and raw pain.
How could it only be six months? How had time kept right on going? How had he managed to live? Daniel stared at the letters carved deep in the stone. He wondered how much force it took to gouge stone, surely less force than it took to gouge a heart. He sniffed, wiping his nose on the cuff of his sweatshirt, not caring if anyone was there to notice. He was not going to cry. The few brief tears he'd shed months ago had to be enough for he feared if he ever released them he would drown. Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and blinked, the letters wavering and then standing in stark relief. Against his better judgment, Daniel reached out and rested the tips of his fingers on the J of Jonathan. He pressed them into the marble, welcoming the brief pain it brought. "I miss you, Jack." He couldn't find any other words; except for work, his words had seemed to die with Jack. Daniel bent closer, touching his lips to the stone, the taste of the marble bitter and gritty.
"Goodbye, Jack," Daniel whispered. He let his hand rest over Jack's name as he settled back on his heels. "We have a mission tomorrow. Hannara, it's called." He lapsed into silence once more. The sun was beginning to set and Daniel had at least an hour's drive ahead of him. He brushed his fingers over the roses and then stood, ignoring the twinges in his knees from kneeling too long in wet grass and then he turned and walked to his car.
- - - - - - * *
He looked down into Sam's concerned gaze. She closed her fingers over his forearm and he saw her frown.
"I'm okay, Sam," he said. Maybe if he said it more often it would make it happen. Janet would be proud of him, trying visualizations. Sam didn't believe him though. Maybe saying words without meaning for nearly six months destroyed one's ability to be understood.
Sam sighed, withdrew her hand and gave him a sad smile.
"The Hannarans would like us to attend the gala at the Presidential Palace tonight." She kept her voice low. "I believe our attendance is necessary to seal the treaty."
"Yes. Yes it will be, Sam." Daniel mentally shook himself. He'd lost his concentration while the Hannaran liaison was speaking to SG-1. Lack of sleep could do that, he mused, although he was getting damned tired of being tired. A good night's sleep seemed to be a thing of the past, his rest usually punctuated by nightmares and the sound of Jack's voice screaming in pain and terror. When he'd visited the cemetery yesterday, he should have asked Jack to stop haunting his dreams.
"DanielJackson?" Teal'c was by his side and Sam was gone. "It would be well if you were to rest before our appearance before the Hannaran president and her council this evening."
"Yeah." Daniel placed the pen he was holding on the table, watching it roll and fall off the side. He was too tired to pick it up. "I'll do that."
"Colonel Ferretti, Major Carter, and I believe it would be best to walk to the gala. I will awaken you when it is time to go. We will have time to dine when we get to the palace."
Daniel felt a surge of anger as Teal'c walked beside him to the suite they'd been given at the best lodging in the Hannaran capitol. As if he couldn't be trusted to walk to their room by himself and lie down. At least Lou Ferretti was along this trip instead of Colonel Rivera. It wasn't that Colonel Rivera wasn't a good soldier, but he wasn't Jack. SG-1 was functioning but not well. Sooner or later Sam was going to resign her position, then Teal'c, and Daniel would be alone again. He thought of the letter of resignation he had tucked in a desk drawer. Maybe he'd turn it in to General Hammond when this mission was completed.
He wouldn't be hungry later, he knew. But he would eat because Sam and Teal'c would expect him to. He would choke down food tasting like cardboard and drink the weak Hannaran wine because despite Jack's death he still wanted to live. Some days he was amazed and stunned by his own resilience.
Teal'c settled himself in one of the large chairs in the suite. Daniel was aware of Teal'c's eyes on his back as he entered his own room. He stripped down to his underwear and pulled one of the soft blankets from the bed to wrap around himself and stood by the window looking out over the city.
The Hannarans didn't believe in building up, they believed in building out, so the view from the second story didn't allow him to see very far. He could make out the brightly colored canvas awnings of the market. Times past he would have been begging for a chance to visit and mingle. They would walk through the market tonight on their way to the palace. It would be enough. Daniel sighed and rested his head against the glass, shivering at its coldness. Maybe he would lie down. If he was lucky maybe for an hour or so, he wouldn't dream.
"Daniel?" A hand brushed over his forehead. "Hey Danny." Warm lips covered his and a large hand brushed over his chest.
He groaned at the warmth and Daniel pushed his hips up, allowing his lover better access. He didn't want to open his eyes. He was warm, he was safe. He could smell Jack's unique scent and his aftershave.
"C'mon. Open those baby blues," Jack teased and Daniel turned his head a moment, smiling before complying. The smell changed as he did so, a smell of hot blood and death clinging to him like a shroud. Jack's face was streaked with blood, a piece of white bone showing on his forehead. His lips were contorted in a parody of a smile, a grimace of death.
"No. No!" Daniel held out his hands, pushing away from Jack's living corpse.
"Why, Daniel?" the voice asked. "Why me? Why didn't you save me?"
"I tried!" Daniel screamed. "I tried!"
"You failed." Jack continued pressing his body against Daniel's until Daniel was trapped and couldn't move.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Jack. It should have been me." Daniel began gasping for breath. "Forgive me, please."
"There is no forgiveness, Daniel. None at all." Jack gripped Daniel's hand, pulling it up to the gleaming bone. "Feel this? Can you feel it, Daniel? Feel death? No forgiveness. My death will forever be on your hands."
Daniel couldn't breathe. Jack's hands held him tight, smothering him, and there was no escape.
"DanielJackson, do not fight us."
Daniel opened his eyes to find Teal'c and Sam sitting on either side of him.
"Sorry," he whispered when he caught his breath. "Just sorry. Is Lou...?"
Sam shook her head. "Don't, Daniel. Please don't." Tears shimmered in her eyes. "Are they all this bad?"
Daniel debated turning his head away but this was Sam. He couldn't keep hurting her for something neither of them could control. He nodded.
"Yeah. They usually are."
Teal'c helped him sit up and held one hand at Daniel's back while he concentrated on slowing his racing heartbeat.
"Will you see Janet when we get home, Daniel? I'll go with you if you want me to," Sam said softly. "You're killing yourself. I don't want you to die too."
"DanielJackson, it is not your fault O'Neill was executed. I know you believe it to be so. But O'Neill would not hold you accountable for his death. He would not wish you to die also."
Daniel scrubbed at his face, noting how cold his hands were. "I know. I know Jack wouldn't want this, but I..."
"Teal'c and I aren't Colonel O'Neill, Daniel. We can't take his place. But never doubt we love you too. Never ever doubt it."
He nodded as he looked up. "I don't." He shivered as the sweat began to cool on his body.
"There is time for you to take a shower, DanielJackson." Teal'c reached and offered Daniel his hand. Daniel took it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet.
"Laewin said we would have time to walk through the market on our way to the palace if you would still like to do that, Daniel." Sam smiled as Daniel nodded his consent.
"An hour then?" Sam pointed to her watch.
"I'll be ready."
Daniel watched them as they left the room. Teal'c was right, Jack wouldn't only want Daniel to live, he'd want him to enjoy life. To live the life Jack couldn't. He closed his eyes, still able to bring up a vision of Jack's face and for the first time in months, found his own mouth curving into a small smile. "I'll try, Jack," Daniel whispered into the empty room.
- - - - - - * * * *
"Thank you for bringing us to the market, Laewin." Daniel saluted their guide with his mug of steaming tea. He took a sip, letting the liquid warm him. Even the crush of people in the market place didn't take away the chill in the air. It was winter on Hannara and, even though the sun provided light until well into the evening, the air was cold and brisk.
Daniel had to admit he was enjoying himself. Being in an alien culture, watching the trading and the selling of goods foreign to him, was still exciting. Lou Ferretti was taking in the sights and had a look of wonder Daniel remembered seeing from Abydos. Taking a bite of the vegetable pie Laewin bought them, Daniel nearly choked at the heat of the spices. He caught Sam's eye and smiled as she made a face. For the first time since Jack's death he believed he'd be able to survive. He heard a chuckle bubble from his lips as Sam took yet another bite and widened her eyes as the afterburn of Hannaran spices hit her. Daniel felt Teal'c behind him, could feel the body heat of the other man. He took a deep breath and realized he was alive; he was happy; he was smiling and laughing and wanted to explore this culture. It seemed surreal. Jack wasn't by his side, wasn't waiting for him back on Earth, but was with him. Daniel imagined Jack's reaction to the Hannarans, could hear some of the comments Jack would have made and it didn't hurt.
"Hey Doc," Lou came closer, speaking softly. "How are you doing?"
"I'm," Daniel took a deep breath and looked around, "I'm getting there, Lou." He tensed as Lou gave him a clap to the shoulder.
A bell began to chime nearby and Daniel saw people scurrying to the food vendors who were dispensing food freely.
"Laewin?" Daniel asked unsure of what was happening.
"The market closes. The remaining food is given to those who are unable to buy it."
"Ah, yes." Daniel nodded as he watched a young woman with two small children walk by, her apron filled with vegetable pies and a small cheese.
"Come," Laewin beckoned. "We will finish our journey."
They continued along the street with the crowd which thinned as they approached the end of the market stands. A few vendors carried baskets and they moved ahead of Daniel and the others. He saw them stop and then noticed the huddled forms of what he assumed to be homeless people.
"Laewin? Those people?" Daniel nodded towards them.
"The vendors feed them. They are outcast, but what is left is theirs."
"Outcast?" Sam asked.
"They are useless. They cannot serve their masters any longer." Laewin stopped as Daniel came to a halt. "Is something wrong, Daniel?"
"Their masters? You mean they are slaves?" Daniel watched as a few of the forms scuttled back into the shadows of a side street with their food.
"What is a slave?" Laewin tilted his head.
"A slave is someone who belongs to someone else, is their property."
"Then, no, they are not slaves. Their masters find them useless. They are no longer of value."
"They were slaves," Teal'c said. He looked at their guide and then back at the one person remaining. "They have been discarded."
Daniel took a deep breath. Discarded as if they were worn out machines. He looked at the vegetable pie in his hand, feeling his appetite disappear. One man sat alone, his hands sweeping the ground for bits of food remaining from the others. Daniel took a step in his direction ignoring Laewin's cry of dismay. He could hear Sam tripping over words in her haste to explain his actions and Lou's shout for him to come back.
"Sir." Daniel approached the man, hating to see another being cringe at his words. "I have food for you." He halted when the hands ceased their movement. For a moment he saw Jack's hands in those long fingers. "I have food."
The man made a harsh sound almost animal like and began pulling himself away from Daniel's direction. A cloak covered most of his body but as he dragged his body away the cloak caught on the rough stones.
"No," Daniel whispered. He would never be able to tell anyone how he knew who it was. He would never know himself. He only acted. He took three steps forward and knelt on the ground next to the man, pushing back the cloak's hood and gazing a face he thought he'd only ever see again in dreams.
"Jack," he whispered. "Oh God, Jack."
A scarred hand came up from the ground and patted his face before falling away.
"Daniel?" Sam was yelling and then she was at his side, kneeling beside him, seeing what he saw. "My God, my God," she kept whispering over and over.
"Is this possible?" Even Teal'c sounded astonished.
"Holy shit," Lou breathed.
Daniel shifted until he was sitting on his bottom. He pulled Jack close in an embrace, ignoring the smell of unwashed clothes and body. He threaded his fingers in Jack's hair, longer than Daniel's had been when they first met. Jack's head rested in the crook of his arm and Daniel bent to place a kiss on Jack's forehead. He brushed fingers over Jack's beard. "It's me, Jack. It's Daniel. Oh God, you're alive. You're alive." He repeated the phrase unable to stop.
"You know this outcast?" Laewin asked. Daniel let Sam answer not wanting to take his eyes off Jack.
"He...we were told he was executed months ago. On another world." Sam's voice was steady. Daniel was impressed. He doubted he would have been coherent. "His name is Jack O'Neill. Colonel O'Neill. He is our leader."
"We need to take him home, Sam," Daniel whispered. He could feel Jack's bones under his hands.
"I will arrange for transport." Laewin answered. "It will take some time and I must impart this news to our council."
"I'm with him." Daniel looked up to see Lou pointing to Laewin. "Get Jack back to the hotel for now. Holy shit," he said again under his breath.
"Yes. Yes," Sam agreed, already turning her attention back to her CO. "Sir? Sir? Can you hear me? This is Major Carter. We are going to take you home."
Jack burrowed his face into Daniel's chest as Sam spoke. Daniel heard a small grunt that might have been a word.
"Can you walk, sir?" Sam asked. Daniel shook his head at her holding Jack tighter.
"I will assist you, O'Neill." Teal'c bent and placed an arm around Jack's shoulders and slid another under his knees.
"It's Teal'c, Jack," Daniel whispered into the tangled hair. "He's going to lift you and we're going to take you home."
Jack's hand tightened in Daniel's jacket and he made a strangled noise.
"Please, Jack." Daniel shifted, transferring the bulk of Jack's weight to Teal'c's arms.
Teal'c stood, his face grim. He looked at Daniel.
"I know, Teal'c. I know."
"We will take you to our lodgings, O'Neill," Teal'c announced. "There we will make arrangements to take you home."
"I'm here, Jack. See, I'm right here with you." Daniel placed a hand on Jack's head, matching his stride to Teal'c's. He hoped the streets were empty and there would be no one to watch their progress back to the suite.
- - - - - -
Daniel imagined he could hear whispers as they walked in the more upscale area of the city. He wondered if the cloak was required clothing for the outcasts, a badge of dishonor and shame. Anger at what had been done to Jack, no, not only to Jack but the other outcasts, fueled his progress.
"DanielJackson," Teal'c warned him once when Daniel's grip on Jack caused the other man to let out a weak cry of pain.
"Sorry. I'm sorry, Jack." Daniel loosened his hand and then stroked Jack's chilled cheek.
They arrived at their building, a hotel of sorts for people who came to the city on official government business. Sam entered first and Daniel caught a glimpse of her as she ran up the stairs to open the door to their suite.
"No. No. No." One of the clerks came out from behind a counter, shaking his hands at them. "No. You can not bring an outcast in here. You must take him back where he belongs. Put him on the street."
The rage building in Daniel exploded and he took a step towards the Hannaran. He twisted a hand in the alien's uniform and let the force of his anger carry them both towards the counter until their progress was blocked.
"Listen." Daniel didn't yell but his voice was threatening. He found a secret satisfaction in seeing the terror in the amber eyes of the clerk. "He *belongs* to us. He will stay with us. He is not an outcast. His name, yes your outcasts do have names, is Jack O'Neill and your people made him a slave. Don't ever call him an outcast again or I will take great pleasure in cutting out your tongue and stuffing it down your pompous throat." He twisted his hand even more, bunching the shirt beneath his fingers.
"Forgive me, sir. I did not know of his importance." The clerk brought up his hands to his forehead as Daniel released him.
"You will inform us when Colonel Ferretti and Laewin arrive with our transportation," Daniel continued, only stopping when Teal'c once again called his name.
"O'Neill is distressed, DanielJackson." The reproach was gentle and Daniel bowed his head.
'Focus on Jack. What Jack needs,' he chanted in his mind as they walked up the steps. Sam had the door to their suite open and was standing in the middle of the room.
"I began running some warm water. I don't know if we should bathe him or not. If he's injured." Sam chewed on her lower lip.
"I think a bath yes." Daniel jerked his chin in the direction of the bathroom. "Maybe some food, Sam? Some water, juice?"
Sam nodded. "I'll arrange for it." She let out a breath before wiping at her face. "He looks so...my God, Daniel, he's alive."
Daniel pulled her into a hug, reassurance for her and, if he admitted, for him, and followed Teal'c into the spacious bathroom.
"Would you like my assistance?" Teal'c asked as he lowered Jack to the bench lining one wall of the room.
Daniel sat down beside Jack, supporting his slumped frame with one arm and his torso. "I think maybe to get into the water. And then some clothes. I have some extras in my bag."
"Yes." Teal'c began unfastening the button holding the cloak shut at Jack's throat. He slipped the cloak out from under Jack's legs and threw it into a corner.
"Take it with you, Teal'c. Give it to them downstairs and tell them to burn it."
"Nnnnno." The word was barely audible and Jack's voice sounded as if he'd swallowed glass but the tone of command was unmistakable.
"Okay," Daniel agreed. "Okay, Jack. You with us? Huh?" He tilted Jack's head up so he could look into his face.
In the light of the bathroom the milky film covering Jack's eyes was more noticeable. He noticed a new scar near Jack's left ear, a wound never treated.
His questions went unnoticed and Daniel wondered if Jack was sleeping with his eyes open. He eased Jack's arm through the short sleeve of the silky shirt Jack was wearing, nodding in approval as Teal'c did the same. They froze when they caught their first glimpse of Jack's torso, crisscrossed with new scars and a few never-healed wounds that appeared infected.
"I will hold him up while you undo the rest of his clothing," Teal'c murmured.
Daniel nodded. They didn't know what Jack had gone through and so far Jack had tolerated Daniel's touch, almost seemed to crave it. Daniel frowned as Teal'c hoisted Jack to his feet, noticing Jack didn't take any of his weight on his own legs. Bending, his fingers unlaced the thread bare trousers Jack wore. They slid to the floor and Daniel knelt, sweeping them out of the way. Jack's feet were bare covered with oozing sores matching the ones on his torso. He took in the gauntness of Jack's legs, the paleness of the skin, the long scars running the length of them, the twisted ankles, and prayed he wouldn't throw up.
"Let's get him into the water."
He forced emotion down. Daniel stripped off his own shoes and socks, his shirt and pants, keeping on his boxers. He walked up the few steps leading to the sunken tub and got in. The water was warm but not too hot. He sat on the ledge inside and accepted Jack's pliant body from Teal'c.
Jack bucked violently in Daniel's arms as the water hit his skin, and Daniel belatedly came to the realization that the water would be painful to his open wounds. He was hard pressed to keep Jack from sliding under the water or hitting his head on the tiled edge. Teal'c grabbed Jack's legs until Daniel could maneuver one of his own over Jack's in an attempt to hold him still.
Jack howled loudly and Daniel flinched at the sound. "Sorry, sorry," Daniel whispered against Jack's ear as Jack finally began to still, the short struggle having exhausted his weakened body. Jack twisted against Daniel's side and tried to hide his face against Daniel's shoulder. His gasping breaths suddenly turned into a hacking cough. They eventually eased off as Jack relaxed, his breath rattling slightly in his chest whenever he exhaled. Daniel simply sat back in the warm water, holding the shivering man who he had never thought to see alive again.
"I will return, DanielJackson, O'Neill." Teal'c rested his hand on Jack's head a moment and Daniel saw him close his eyes. He wondered if Teal'c was saying a prayer to a god he found to believe in.
Daniel began shaking despite the warmth of the water, and he felt his throat thicken when it finally hit him that Jack was alive. Sick, injured, lost... but alive! He buried his face in Jack's filthy hair and allowed himself a moment to relish the thought that Jack was back with him, wondering what had happened to him and how he could have come to this planet. Then he sniffed loudly, swallowed, and set to cleaning the filth from the beloved body in his arms.
With one arm supporting Jack against him, Daniel reached over and grabbed the container of soap, then a washcloth. He managed to awkwardly pour some soap onto the cloth and holding it over the back of Jack's shoulder, he spoke gently to him.
"Jack, this might hurt a bit, but I need to start getting you clean. I'm going to be as careful as I possibly, can, okay?"
There was no answer and somehow Daniel hadn't expected any. He began to clean Jack's grimy body, passing the cloth over the bony back and too-thin ribs, careful of the infected wounds. Jack shuddered at his touch and Daniel wondered if he was causing him pain.
"You okay?" he asked. Jack just burrowed his face deeper against Daniel in reply.
As gentle as Daniel tried to be, Jack moaned and squirmed whenever the soap neared any of his open wounds. Daniel knew they needed to be cleaned and then disinfected. They'd get some food and antibiotics into Jack, and then hopefully they'd be able to get him home to Janet very soon. He concentrated on cleaning the dirt from the more or less uninjured parts of Jack's body, deciding to leave the worst for last.
Daniel had to stop several times when Jack had a coughing fit. His earlier exertions seemed to have triggered the cough, and the rattling sound worried Daniel.
The water quickly turned a dark brown as the dirt came off. Twice Daniel had to change the bathwater before he was finished.
"Jack, can you turn onto your back?" Daniel coaxed as he pulled on his arm, trying to turn Jack around so he could wash his hair. With Jack's head balanced on his stomach, Daniel lathered the long, matted locks, seeing bits of dirt, twigs and bugs appear when he rinsed the soap off. Jack seemed to enjoy Daniel's fingers in his hair so Daniel took some time massaging his scalp. Jack lay with his eyes closed, a small grunt of appreciation escaping him once in a while.
As he fingered the long hair, Daniel was determined to get it cut as soon as possible. It was so matted that it would be impossible to pull a comb through it, and anyway, Daniel like Jack's hair shorter.
Realizing he had been putting off doing the worst part of the bath, Daniel swallowed hard and began cleaning out the more serious wounds. Thankfully by then Sam and Teal'c had returned and they were able to hold Jack down as Daniel performed the grisly task as Jack began twisting in pain once more, crying out or coughing as the cloth touched the open wounds.
"Sssstop!" Jack screamed as Daniel tried to wash the open wounds on Jack's feet.
Daniel stopped, looking at his friends helplessly.
"Do you want me to do it?" Sam offered. Daniel knew she had more experience treating wounds, but he shook his head, needing to do this himself. Steeling himself, he ignored Jack's cries and by the time he'd finished, he was shaky and weak-kneed, and several times had had to fight back the urge to vomit.
With the water draining from the tub, Sam rinsed the soap residue from the two of them. Teal'c reached down to pick Jack up in his arms and Sam wrapped him up in a large fluffy towel. Daniel left the large tub more slowly, needing a few seconds to try and get himself under control. He leaned over the sink and took a few deep breaths, toweled himself off and entered the bedroom.
Daniel pulled on pants and a T-shirt, pulling two pairs of socks from his pack. Jack's feet were probably cold. With the weight he'd lost, Jack would chill easily. Daniel grabbed up an extra T-shirt, figuring they could layer Jack's clothes to keep him warm on the trip back home. The transport Laewin would be arranging would be open air, Daniel was sure. He made a mental note to tell Sam they'd need as many blankets as possible. Daniel took a last look around and then grabbed his shaving kit, the need to see the beard gone overwhelming. He cursed himself for his selfishness and saw his hands shaking as he held it. Bile choked his throat and Daniel swallowed it down. He didn't have time to get sick.
An inhuman howl sounded from the bathroom and Daniel hurried into the room with his supplies.
"Jack. Jack." He sat on the floor next to Jack who was trying to push himself in the small space under the bench. "Hey. I'm here." Daniel stroked damp hair back from Jack's face. As Jack burrowed into his arms, Daniel looked up into Sam's stunned face.
"What happened?" he asked.
"He became agitated when you left the room, Daniel. I was cutting his beard while Teal'c held him. I thought it would make him a little more comfortable. " Sam sounded shaken. "Daniel, I think...his eyes...I don't..."
"I know, Sam." Daniel placed a hand on Jack's chin, turning his face towards the light. Jack's eyes no longer appeared brown, a milky white substance covering the irises. He brought his hand close to Jack's eyes, looking up at Sam when Jack didn't blink, seeing her lips press together.
"Jack?" Daniel bent close to his friend's ear, whispering his name. "Jack? Can you see us? Do you see me?"
Jack turned his head towards Daniel's voice, one thin hand coming up and wavering in the air until it was captured within Daniel's own.
"Can you see me, Jack?"
There was an incomprehensible sound and then Jack's broken voice rasping, "Nnnno."
Bringing Jack's hand to his cheek, Daniel let Jack stroke his skin, the motion seeming to provide comfort.
"We're going to get you cleaned up a little more," Daniel soothed, alarmed when Jack began to pull away and try to curl into a fetal position.
"We will not put you in the bath again, O'Neill." Teal'c knelt on Jack's other side, placing his hands on the floor to either side of Jack's body, not touching but close enough to deal with any fight Jack might put up.
At those words, Jack relaxed, his arms coming away from his chest.
"Will you let MajorCarter finish her task?" Teal'c asked. At Jack's slow nod, Teal'c motioned for Sam to come closer. She used the scissors to cut the whiskers as close to the skin as possible. Daniel was pleased to see Jack lay still for the most part.
"There. All done, sir." Sam smiled as she finished. She glanced at Daniel, motioning to Jack's hair. Daniel frowned and shook his head. He didn't want to overwhelm Jack with more than he could handle.
"I thought I'd shave you, Jack. Remember how you always told me you hate having a beard?" Daniel got out his battery operated razor. It would do an adequate job for the moment. He turned it on, switching it back off when Jack twisted his head to the side.
"It's just my razor." Daniel spoke as if he was trying to calm a skittish wild animal. "Feel." He reached out and placed the razor in Jack's cold hand, sitting back on his heels as Jack began skimming his fingers over it.
"It's okay." Daniel scooted closer. "Will you let me do this for you?"
Jack held out his hand offering the razor back to Daniel.
"Thank you." Daniel accepted it. He moved behind Jack, tilting Jack's head back to rest on his chest. "We're gonna be fine, guys," he said to Sam and Teal'c. "Aren't we, Jack?"
No answer again except a small humming noise.
Sam nodded. "I'm going to see what I can find out about our transportation."
"If you need assistance, DanielJackson, I will be available." Teal'c gave a little bow and accompanied Sam from the room.
"Teal'c?" Daniel called before the other man got through the doorway. He waited until Teal'c turned. "I just wanted to say..." Daniel patted Jack's shoulder when the muscles tensed under his hand. He swallowed hard, his throat tight. "Thank you. You and Sam."
"You are most welcome." Teal'c regarded them both a moment longer before walking into the hall.
"This isn't going to hurt," Daniel kept his voice low and soft, "not hurt at all. You're going to feel a lot better when we're all done." Daniel expected Jack to pull away when the razor touched his face so he was prepared with his other hand to support Jack's head and gently guide it back into place. "See," he continued speaking as he started to shave off the beard, "it's fine. No problems. Just relax. I'm here with you."
Jack tensed a few more times but Daniel's litany of reassurances seemed to calm him enough that Daniel could finish the task.
"Feel better?" Daniel stroked Jack's cheek. At some time during the proceedings, Jack's eyes had closed. He bent closer listening to Jack's slow even breaths. "Let's get you dressed. Get you warmed up."
Pressing his lips to Jack's cheek, Daniel shifted Jack enough to guide first one arm then the other through the sleeves of the T-shirt. The shirt hung on him, the sleeves loose. Getting the pants on Jack was a little harder due to Jack's inability to help by lifting his legs or his hips. Daniel was breathing hard until he was done, but he managed. He propped Jack against the wall slipping the two pairs of socks over Jack's icy feet after dabbing some antibiotic cream on the sores, smiling when he heard a soft hum.
"You like that huh? Feels good?" Daniel moved to Jack's side once more and pulled him into an embrace, unable to stop touching the miracle of a living breathing Jack. Under his hand, Jack's heart beat a rapid rhythm. "I'm going to get you to the bed," Daniel whispered into Jack's ear pausing as Jack's hand gripped his shirt. He closed his own hand over that tight fist. "No, don't worry. I'm not going to leave you."
Their position against the wall was awkward. Daniel pushed his back into the wall and used his thigh muscles to slowly move the two of them upright. He paused, hard breathing and sweating. Jack may have lost a substantial amount of weight but was making Daniel do all the work.
"Okay," Daniel said when he caught his breath. "Let's see about getting you to the bedroom. You're gonna need to help here, Jack." Daniel took a step, supporting all Jack's weight. "Come on, just a few steps. I've got you. Don't worry." But when Daniel looked down he realized Jack made no effort to move his legs. Maybe he couldn't support his weight, Daniel thought. God they needed to get Jack home. He wanted Jack home safe in Doctor Fraiser's infirmary away from this place that held such horror for Jack. He wanted Janet to look at him and tell him Jack was going to be okay, tell him Jack was going to see and walk and talk.
"Do you need some help?" Sam came down the hall as Daniel maneuvered Jack towards the bedroom.
"Nearly there, Sam." Daniel hated the way Jack tried to hide his head when Sam spoke. "Right, Jack?" He smiled at the small grunt Jack gave.
Sam walked ahead of them, entering the room and pulling down the covers. She stepped away when Daniel approached the bed with Jack.
"Here, Jack. Bend your legs." Daniel placed his knee against Jack's and nudged him. "It's the bed. That's all." He smiled when Jack complied. "Great. You're doing great." He kept his arm around Jack and guided him onto his side, lifting Jack's legs to the bed when the other man made no move to do so.
"Ah, ah." Jack's breath came in little puffs and Daniel sat on the bed next to him. "You hungry, Jack? Thirsty?" Daniel placed his hand on Jack's forehead, smoothing the wrinkled frown appearing at the question. "Some food? You want to eat?" He motioned for Sam to leave, to bring them something. "To drink?"
"Eeee," Jack murmured.
"Yes, eat," Daniel answered, not liking the slurred sound of Jack's speech. "You're going to need to sit..."
Loud voices from the outer rooms penetrated their sanctuary and Jack tossed his head from side to side. He clutched Daniel's thigh, his fingers digging into muscle.
"Nnnno. Nnnn." Jack's eyes were opened wide and he began trying to scratch his face.
"No." Daniel caught his hand, surprised at the strength Jack displayed. "No. Stop it. Jack, stop it."
"Hur. Nnno hur."
"I won't let them hurt you. I promise." The voices were closer and Daniel could hear Teal'c's voice above them all although he couldn't make sense of any words over Jack's harsh breathing.
The door banged open, causing Jack to cry out.
"What's going on?" Daniel kept one hand on Jack's shoulder, rubbing it. "President Griffor?"
The woman inclined her head. "Laewin and your Colonel Ferretti brought us word you insisted an outcast belongs to you."
"His name is Jack O'Neill. And I'd like to know how he wound up on Hannara," Daniel spoke quietly, not wanting to distress an already frightened Jack.
"They told us he was dead. We saw his," Sam looked over at Jack and Daniel before continuing, "his execution on another world."
The president frowned. "There are those Hannarans who deal in flesh."
"Who sell slaves?" Daniel asked. "Who grow rich while others die?"
"Yes. Do not delude yourself, Doctor Jackson. I am sure there are those who do the same on your world," Griffor said. "It is not allowed by our laws, but some cling to the old ways." She stepped closer.
Jack shifted away from her as if he sensed her proximity. The rest of the Hannarans in her entourage surrounded the bed.
"He has the wasting sickness, Honor." One of the Hannarans bowed.
"I see. Yes I see."
"The wasting sickness?" Sam asked.
"Do you not see his eyes? His legs? He does not move them, does he?" Griffor asked Daniel. "His speech can not be understood?"
"It is the wasting sickness. Your Jack O'Neill must be a strong soul for most do not survive the blinding."
"He survived it." Daniel looked up at her and saw her frowning once again. "How do we heal him? Do your healers know how to cure this disease?"
"I am sorry. I do not know what he once was," Griffor continued. "It is rare for one to survive to this point."
"There are no medicines?" Sam asked. Daniel heard the determination in her voice.
"Yes. There are medicines. But I have never seen one recover fully from this state." Griffor motioned one of her aides to her side and whispered something in his ear. "We will provide you with the medicines you need and will accompany you to the Portal."
"Hang in there, Jack." Ferretti bent over the bed a moment before leaving the room.
"Jack," Daniel bent low as the others filed out of the room. "Jack, you hear that? We're going home. You're going home."
Daniel looked impatiently at the closed doors of the ISO room. Janet had said she'd get back to him soon but that had been over two hours ago.
They'd been stuck in isolation since their arrival several hours ago; Janet hadn't wanted to take a chance with contagion once the Hannarans had confirmed Jack was suffering from a local illness.
Jack coughed and shifted, pressing closer to Daniel. Jack was curled up on his side at the very edge of the bed, his hand clasping Daniel's tightly, even in his sleep. He'd only quieted once Daniel had moved his chair right alongside the bed so Jack could feel Daniel's tee shirt against his cheek.
Sam and Teal'c both sat opposite Daniel, occasionally touching the sleeping man as if to confirm he was really there. Daniel himself still couldn't believe that they had found Jack. The odds of finding him on that planet were unimaginable. Daniel was glad that he was wasn't a betting person because he was sure he'd just used up every scrap of luck the universe had blessed him with.
A gowned nurse came to check the IVs pumping fluids and meds into Jack's body and then proceeded to take his temperature, pulse and blood pressure. Jack didn't stir, although the first couple of times someone had tried to touch him, he'd flown into panicked struggles until Daniel had managed to talk him through his terror. Jack was sedated now, sleeping easily and quietly.
Daniel stroked the now familiar short hair on his lover's head; Janet had ordered his hair shorn and then cleansed with parasitical soap. Unfortunately, Sam, Daniel and Teal'c had had to do the same shortly after. Jack had been infested with alien lice. Daniel smiled to himself when he recalled the look on Sam's face when Janet had informed them of that. She'd grabbed the soap and booked for the showers before anyone could react.
The security doors opened and Janet entered the room accompanied by a short, bearded man. She wasn't gowned and she had a wide smile on her face. The stranger was wearing a colorful tunic over diaphanous pants; he was obviously from Hannara.
"We're not contagious?" Sam asked as Janet walked to the bed, the Hannaran following more slowly, curiously examining the medical equipment in the room.
"No, and thankfully neither is the colonel." She picked up Jack's chart and glanced at the information there before turning to the bearded man. "This is Zweegar. He's one of the leading medics on Hannara. Their President gave him permission to come to Earth to have a look at the colonel and explain this wasting sickness."
The man nodded cordially at Daniel and the others and smiled before turning his attention to Jack.
Janet removed a syringe from of her lab coat pocket. "We analyzed the drug the Hannarans gave us and I'm confident it'll cure the illness the colonel's suffering from," she said as she injected the contents into an IV port. "According to Zweegar, and our own tests have confirmed this... Colonel O'Neill is suffering mainly from muscular degradation. The microorganisms attack the muscles and quickly weaken them up to a point where the person isn't able to move about on his own. Then the muscles begin to atrophy as the patient isn't able to move around and use them enough to keep up their muscle tone."
Janet put a hand on Daniel's shoulder, squeezing gently before continuing.
"It just goes to show how strong the colonel is; that he was able to survive despite the illness, the malnutrition, the beatings..."
"Very rarely has someone survived the sickness when it has progressed this far," Zweegar said, walking around the bed and lifting the sheet, looking at Jack's legs. "The illness always strikes the eyesight first; cloudy vision is the first symptom. Then fever and cough, with weakness in the legs following quickly. Very soon the patient does not have the strength to move their legs, then feebleness to the rest of their body follows suit. Death usually occurs at this point as they are unable to take water or nourishment. To be honest, your Colonel O'Neill is the first that I have seen to have survived the sickness when it has spread so far, although I have read of a few cases in other parts of Hannara."
"So he's going to be all right?" Daniel asked in a hopeful tone, his mouth suddenly dry and feeling his heart begin to race.
"Our medicine always cures the wasting sickness in its early form. It will help your friend, of that there is no doubt, but he obviously will not be the person he used to be. His eyes, his legs... you must see that there is little hope for him."
Daniel's stomach plummeted sickeningly at the man's words. He glanced at Janet and saw her lips tighten and her knuckles turn white as she gripped the metal edges of Jack's bed.
"I've told you already, Zweegar, with the proper exercise and care, I'm confident that he'll be restored to the same condition he was in before he got sick, or at least close to it. Colonel O'Neill was probably forced to use his muscles in order to survive. I've called for a specialist to examine him, but I'm very hopeful."
"He must have gone through hell," Daniel whispered, staring at Jack's gaunt face.
"What about his eyesight?" Sam asked.
Janet frowned slightly before she answered. "I don't know, I've never seen this before, and neither has Doctor Molinari. But since it's a symptom of the disease, I'm hoping it'll be reversed also."
Daniel knew Doctor Molinari was SG-1's resident ophthalmologist, who had been in earlier to examine Jack's eyes. Lowering his head in exhaustion, Daniel's free hand fumbled in his pocket and found the chain there. There was just so much wrong with Jack... even if the drug worked and cured him, would he ever walk again? He had confidence in Janet but he knew how deformed Jack's legs looked beneath the blankets covering him, and his speech...
"Janet, what about his speech?"
"That should improve also once he begins therapy. You do know that the face is comprised mostly of muscles, so if one can't use them..."
"Right," Daniel said.
"So you guys are free to go. I'm going to keep him here for the time being as the room is more peaceful than the ward."
Sam and Teal'c both stood up, but Daniel remained sitting.
"Daniel?" Sam questioned.
As he raised the hand which was clenched tightly in Jack's, with a wry smile Daniel said, "I'm not going anywhere."
"He'll sleep for several more hours, Daniel. He won't know you're gone," Fraiser said in a no-nonsense voice.
"I know," Daniel replied in a low voice. "But I... just need to be here as much as he needs me to be with him right now." He looked up at Janet beseechingly. "I won't wake him, I promise."
"That's not what I meant. You need to get some rest also. You've all had a shock when you found the colonel and I'm sure the past few hours have been pretty stressful on you. Take my word, he's going to recover."
"Please Janet, just for a little while?"
Janet shook her head in mock defeat and then smiled to take the sting out of her action. "Fine," she agreed. "Just make sure you get some rest, okay? Zweegar, I'll escort you to the gateroom. I believe General Hammond wishes to speak to you before you return to Hannara."
"Thanks," Daniel said softly. Both Sam and Teal'c left the room and Daniel was left alone with Jack. He lowered his forehead onto the edge of the mattress and listened to Jack breathing, enjoying the sound he had never thought to hear again.
- - - - - -
He was warm. He was clean. He wasn't sure where he was but he was warm and he was clean. He could feel warm blankets covering his legs, his torso. His head didn't itch anymore and the weight of filth was gone. There were voices, many voices, and he didn't want to believe them. The voices said he was safe. The voices said he was home.
He could smell Daniel, the scent of his aftershave, the unique scent of coffee and old books that was his lover. He didn't want to believe the smell either. He knew how quickly hope could be snatched away.
He was dying; he knew that. The sickness had robbed his strength day by day, inch by inch. First it had taken his vision, the blurriness he'd experienced giving way to increasing darkness. But he'd been able to find his way to the market where he could find some food. Then one day he'd woken unable to bear weight on his legs. Crawling at first and then finally having to drag his useless lower body around. The others told him the illness would progress further until he was unable to use his arms and finally unable to breathe. Each night, he'd prayed that the morning would not come for him, that he would simply sleep and not wake up. But he dreamed. Every night he'd dreamed. Daniel was with him and Jack stood beside him, tall and strong. His legs worked in his dreams; he could see Daniel's mobile face. His chest didn't hurt when he breathed. And in his dreams he was warm.
"No," a beloved voice whispered to him, breath moist on his ear, "you are not dreaming, Jack. You are not. I'm here. You are home."
A tear formed in his eye and he was unable to find the strength to move his hand to catch it. He didn't believe in dreams. It hurt too much to wake and find he was still on a planet he didn't know, still blind, still useless. It hurt too much to believe he would ever hear Daniel's voice again. But the voice was insistent, fervent, and sounding so real Jack felt he had to obey.
"Real. This is real, Jack. I'm real. You are home."
He wanted this dream to last. He wondered if he'd dream when he was dead; if Daniel would always be by his side and they'd laugh and love through eternity.
His hand was caught in familiar fingers; fingers that wrapped around his and held on tightly. Voice, hands, smell, all of Daniel with him while other voices and hands bombarded him with sound and prodding.
"Jack?" Daniel's voice was back, soft, gentle, firm, unyielding. "Do you know where you are?"
He wasn't sure. It was a dream but he wanted it to be real. Would speaking make it real?
"Do you know where you are, Jack? Can you tell me?"
"Hhhommme." Jack slurred out the word and prayed he'd never wake. He twisted his fingers in those familiar ones that felt so real. He wasn't letting go. He was never letting go. Jack squeezed Daniel's hand and felt a brief squeeze in return. Daniel's hand rested on his forehead, and Daniel's voice whispered for him to sleep. So he did.
"Daniel." Someone was shaking his shoulder. He straightened in the chair and looked around, spying Janet.
"Sorry," he whispered, "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"You needed it, Daniel." Janet kept her own voice quiet. "The colonel should soon be waking up. We're going to be doing some more tests on him today. We have a speech therapist who is going to test his ability to chew and swallow as well as his speech. Doctor Welkins will be further assessing the colonel's motor functioning. And Doctor Molinari wants to do some more vision assessment. I'm also planning on having an assessment done on his cognitive functioning."
"He's going to recover, you said." Daniel held on to those words from the day before.
"I have every reason to believe he will. But you need to understand, Daniel, we're looking at months of therapy. This isn't going to be easy for Colonel O'Neill."
Tilting his head, Daniel studied Janet a moment before resting his gaze on Jack. "He's strong, Janet. A survivor."
"I know. That's what I'm counting on." She smiled briefly and then patted him on the shoulder. "I'll be back in about a half an hour. I'm going to request you leave during the tests. General Hammond would like a report once you get some breakfast."
Daniel nodded, never taking his eyes off Jack. "I want to be here when he wakes up. So he knows where he is."
"Half an hour, Daniel," she repeated and then left the room.
"Jack?" Daniel whispered, leaning close to Jack's ear. "Come on, Jack. Can you wake up for me?" He rubbed his free hand over Jack's shoulder, realizing once again how very thin his lover had become. Jack gave a small cough and Daniel smiled as he saw Jack's eyelids flicker. Jack's movements were uncoordinated but he was definitely trying to wake up. "Jack." Daniel called again.
There was a gasp from the man on the bed and Daniel saw his eyes fly open. Jack twisted in the bed, his fearful panting starting to increase. Daniel stood, leaning over the bed, disentangling his hand from Jack's so he could place both hands on Jack's shoulders.
"Jack. Jack, it's Daniel. Listen to me."
"Dannnelll?" His name was barely recognizable but was said with such longing Daniel didn't for a moment doubt Jack's word.
"Yes, yes. It's me, Daniel." He took Jack's hand in his and placed it against his own cheek. "See? It's me."
"H...h...hooome?" Jack inched his fingers across Daniel's nose, slid them up and tugged on Daniel's glasses.
"Yes. Home. You're home." Daniel nodded, turning his head into Jack's hand.
"Wherhhoooom." Jack's fingers were trembling.
"You're at the SGC. In the infirmary."
* * * *
"Colonel O'Neill?" Nurse Bailey said softly from where she stood at the foot of the bed. "I'm going to take your ankle now and begin the range of motion exercises."
Daniel had been sure Jack had understood Janet's explanation a few minutes ago, but the moment the nurse put her hands on Jack's leg, he began writhing and yelling, trying to evade her hold.
"Dannnelll!" Jack howled.
Daniel rushed to the bed and pulled the struggling man into a hug, holding him hard against his chest.
"Yes, yes, Jack. I'm here, it's okay, it's okay."
Jack snaked his arm around Daniel's back and gripped his tee-shirt weakly, burying his face in Daniel's shoulder as his exertions triggered his cough.
"It's okay," Daniel repeated. "That was just Nurse Bailey. Remember Janet told you that they were going to start exercising your legs before they freeze up completely?"
Jack didn't answer, but he did begin to relax.
"Jack, do you remember what Janet told you?" Daniel asked again.
He felt the slight movement of Jack's head against his shoulder, and he raised a hand to cup Jack's neck, ruffling the soft hair beneath his fingers.
"I'm going to put you back down, okay?" Jack nodded again, and Daniel lowered Jack back to the hospital bed.
Daniel looked at the young woman who had unwittingly initiated a panic attack. He raised his eyebrows and furrowed his brow, trying to think how to get Jack to accept a stranger's touch.
"Look, can we maybe do these exercises together?" Daniel asked Nurse Bailey. "If I kept my hands beside yours, would I be in your way? I think he'll recognize my touch, it might keep him calm."
"That's a good idea. You know, you could probably do these exercises for him instead of me. They're easy to do. I can show you if you're willing."
"Yes, I'm very willing," Daniel said with a smile, anxious to be able to do something to help Jack other than sitting by his side, holding his hand.
"Okay, we'll start with his feet and work our way up to his hips."
"Jack," Daniel said as he leaned over the nervous man, "I'm going to touch your feet now, okay?"
"Ssssss," Jack slurred.
Daniel walked over to the foot of the bed and picked up Jack's right foot, careful of the wounds he knew were beneath the bandages.
Nurse Bailey moved to stand beside Daniel. "First thing to remember is that everything should be done gently and slowly. Never force or overstretch a muscle. If it hurts him, stop immediately."
Daniel nodded as he gently massaged Jack's withered foot.
"Now place your hand here," she instructed, "and your other one here," she said, taking Daniel's hands and placing them in the proper positions. "Now you can rotate his ankle by doing this," she said, placing her hands over Daniel's and showing him the proper movement. "Yes, that's perfect. Slowly, that's it."
"Jack, you tell me if I hurt you, okay?"
"Kaaaay," Jack answered. Daniel took his eyes away from what his hands were doing and looked at Jack. He appeared to be relaxed, his head slightly tilted in Daniel's direction. Once in a while he hummed softly, which Daniel knew was Jack's way now of expressing pleasure when words failed him.
"Good," the nurse said after Daniel had done this several times. "Now we can do toe flexion and extensions." She showed Daniel where and how to place his hand over Jack's foot, just below the toes. "Move each toe forward and backwards, slowly," she instructed.
As Daniel did as he was bid, going through each exercise with the nurse's guidance, he saw how stiff and unyielding Jack's lower body was. Doctor Welkins had wanted to start with these gentle moves as soon as possible, limbering and loosening Jack's muscles and joints. The therapist hoped Jack would be able to do these range of motion exercises himself before long, which would be followed by muscle strengthening therapy soon after.
Daniel switched legs, beginning again at the ankle. Daniel listened to the nurse with half an ear while thinking of all the work that lay before Jack. He still needed to be evaluated by a speech therapist who would decide whether Jack needed to be fed through a nasogastric tube or not. Daniel hoped Jack would be considered well enough to take food on his own. He had seen what the tube looked like and hated the thought of it being forced into Jack's stomach.
He moved onto the hip exercises and Daniel could see that these were uncomfortable for Jack. Being extra careful, he moved Jack's leg slowly and gently.
"I'm nearly done," Daniel said to Jack when the man moved fitfully on the bed as Daniel changed legs. Daniel glanced at Nurse Bailey, who confirmed his words with a nod. "Only two more to go. I bet you'll be ready for a nap after this, huh?"
"Shhheeeep," Jack muttered, then inhaled deeply as he stifled a yawn. Daniel smiled to himself as he finished the last movement and pulled the blankets over Jack's wasted legs, then picked Jack's pillow up from the chair.
"Here," Daniel said as he lifted Jack's head and slipped the pillow beneath it. "You can rest now." Daniel sat down beside the bed as Jack pulled the blankets to his chin and turned onto his side, facing Daniel. He was asleep in seconds.
"I'll be back later this afternoon and we can do his upper body," Nurse Bailey said as she entered some notes in Jack's chart. "I know it looks a little discouraging right now, but you'll see a difference in a few days."
"Thank you," Daniel said to her, finally feeling he was helping in Jack's convalescence. Jack moaned in his sleep and Daniel brushed a finger along Jack's sunken cheek, shushing him. Daniel decided he was going to talk to Janet and see if he could do these exercises with Jack every day.
- - - - - -
Jack had been fast asleep when Daniel left his bedside for an impromptu meeting with General Hammond and SG7. Three hours later, upon returning to the infirmary, he was upset to learn that Jack had had his first speech therapy while he'd been gone. Daniel had wanted to be there both to see what it was all about and to have his multitude of questions answered.
The colonel lay propped up on the bed, obviously tired as he fidgeted, trying to get comfortable. Jack was frowning, but managed to smile for Daniel when he heard his voice.
Daniel sat there gently rubbing Jack's arm, watching him fight to stay awake. Jack's yawns made Daniel realize how tired he himself was and he stifled one for the third time when Nurse Bailey approached him.
"Doctor Jackson, are you ready to continue with the colonel's exercises?"
"Now?" Daniel asked, surprised. Couldn't she see how tired Jack was?
"My shift is ending in an hour, and although someone else could do this with you, the colonel is already used to my voice. It would be easier on him to do it now and establish a routine right away."
"Um, okay," Daniel agreed, as he got up to stand beside the bed.
"Great. We'll start with his neck, then move on to his shoulder and elbow, forearm, wrist and then finish with hand and fingers. He's already drowsy so these exercises should put him right to sleep."
Performing the movements, Daniel noted how although Jack's upper body was stronger and more fit than his lower body, Jack was tired, cranky and irritable at the moment. Instead of relaxing him, the movements seemed to make him fidgety and impatient. Daniel had to keep talking to Jack to keep him from pulling his arm out of from Daniel's grasp.
Daniel was relieved when they reached the last exercise, taking Jack's hand in his. He gently bent Jack's hand into a fist as per Bailey's instructions, then straightened out his fingers. He spread Jack's fingers wide, one at a time, then brought them back together. He pinched Jack's thumb to each finger one at a time, then drew circles with the thumb.
When Daniel went to take Jack's other hand, Nurse Bailey stopped him.
"Seeing he has an IV there, maybe I'd better do this one."
He gladly let her take over; Daniel had been eyeing the IV and had been a little nervous about it.
She picked up Jack's hand and bent his fingers into a fist. Jack's reaction surprised them both when he forcefully pulled his hand from hers with a loud grunt, pushing it under the covers as if to hide it.
"Jack, we're almost done," Daniel said as he lifted the covers to take Jack's hand, passing it back to the nurse.
"Nnn...ooo," Jack said loudly when he felt her fingers touch his hand. He pulled back with more force than Daniel would have thought possible, his whole body tensing as he struggled to escape her hold. With a resigned sigh, she let go, not wanting Jack to hurt himself when he garbled, "Ooo waay," loudly.
"What's wrong?" Daniel asked as he patiently dug out Jack's hand, which had again been thrust under the covers where Jack had curled up around it and wedged it between his thighs. Daniel examined the IV, grateful to see that it hadn't been disturbed. "You know Nurse Bailey; she was here this morning, remember? We did the same thing with your legs. Why do you want her to go away?"
"It's okay, Doctor Jackson," she said with a smile, patting Jack's leg. Jack grunted and shifted his hips, trying to escape her touch. "He's just tired," she added.
She took Jack's hand once more and this time Jack flew into a frenzy. He twisted and squirmed with violent movements, almost falling out of the bed in his attempts to avoid her touch, all the while coughing violently.
Daniel heard Teal'c's voice and soon the large man was helping restrain Jack. Daniel managed to push Jack's shoulders back onto the bed while Teal'c helped Nurse Bailey hold his hips steady. At Daniel's touch, Jack finally calmed a little, curling himself up in a ball. Daniel could hear Jack's breath wheezing slightly as he put a hand to Jack's shoulder and rubbed circles around the bony joint, talking softly to keep Jack calm.
The commotion brought Janet rushing to them, but as Jack had calmed down quickly, she simply took a perfunctory look at him. Jack cleared his throat a few times and his breathing eased.
"He's fine. Just let him rest," she advised, beckoning the nurse to come with her and tell her exactly what had happened.
"Dannnulll," Jack's distorted voice moaned before he coughed again.
"I'm here, Jack," Daniel said, leaning over the frightened man. Jack's hand came out timidly, and pulled back a moment when his fingers touched Daniel's face. They traveled over his glasses before caressing Daniel's cheek. Daniel took Jack's hand in his, stroking the dry skin before placing it back onto the bed.
"Thanks Teal'c," Daniel said, turning his attention to his friend while still breathing heavily from both nerves and his exertions.
"What has occurred here?"
"Jack had a little panic attack again, but he's okay now, aren't you, Jack."
"Eeeeeeek," Jack said, his hand reaching out in front of him. Daniel nodded at Teal'c's inquiring look, and lowered his face so Jack could touch him. Jack's fingers flitted over Teal'c's face, then stopped to trace his tattoo several times before he brought his hand down and tucked it beneath his pillow.
Daniel kept his hand on Jack's shoulder and soon felt him begin to relax. It wasn't long before Jack was dozing. Daniel got up, asking Teal'c to stay with Jack a moment, and went in search of Janet, a worried thought going through his mind. He saw Teal'c place a hand on Jack's back and Jack sighed contentedly at the touch.
"Hi," she said, looking up from her computer when Daniel knocked on the door to her office.
"Hi," Daniel replied automatically as he leaned against the doorjamb.
"About what just happened..." Daniel began. He saw the petite woman's expressive brown eyes looking at him and he had to look away. He couldn't help comparing them to Jack's, hating her for a moment because she could see out of hers and Jack couldn't.
Janet waited patiently for him to continue and he forced himself to put the fear he was experiencing into words. He started off slowly but soon he was stumbling over himself in his rush to have his concern either confirmed or assuaged.
"Janet, do you think Jack might be suffering from brain damage? He wasn't really comfortable with someone other than me touching him earlier today, but he seemed to not recognize Nurse Bailey this afternoon. I mean, he remembers me, that's not a problem, but he can't seem to remember or differentiate between nurses and doctors; sometimes he's okay and at other times he's like what happened today."
"The thought did occur to me," Janet said truthfully once Daniel stopped to take a breath, "but I'm fairly certain that part of his fear and confusion is due to his debilitated condition and malnourishment." She smiled at Daniel, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "We're feeding him highly concentrated IV solutions to try and make up for this. I'm confident that in a short time we'll see a huge improvement in the colonel."
"Oh, so there's no brain damage?"
"I didn't say that, I said that I'm fairly certain there isn't, but we'll be keeping a careful eye out for this over the next few days. I know his behavior is a little abnormal but he has been through a hell of a time. I'm sure you've noticed he's more lucid now than he was during the first couple of hours he was brought back."
Daniel realized she was right. Most of the time Jack did know he was home and that the people around him were either friends or caregivers.
"There's another thing," Janet said. Daniel sighed, knowing from her tone that it wasn't good news.
"We're going to see if we can get him to take nutritional supplements orally. Doctor Diallo thinks Colonel O'Neill can swallow liquids well enough but we're not sure whether he can drink enough to satisfy the amount of caloric requirements needed for the next few days. If he can't swallow properly we'll have to put a nasogastric tube into him until he's strengthened throat and his facial muscles enough to eat."
"He's going to hate that," Daniel supplied. Janet grinned at him. She knew Jack just as well as he did and had seen him at his worst more times than Daniel had.
"He's already had a bit of the supplement. When he wakes up, see if you can get him to drink as much as he can stand." "Okay, I can do that." Daniel nodded.
Returning to Jack's bed, he noticed the plastic glass containing white liquid on the table beside Jack. He picked it up, smelled it, then dipped a finger and tasted the stuff. It tasted faintly of vanilla and didn't seem too unpalatable. Jack wouldn't mind drinking this stuff that much.
Daniel removed his glasses, Jack's fingers had smeared the lenses, and he wiped them on his shirttails. He replaced his glasses and sighed, waiting for Jack to wake up.
- - - - - -
"Come on, just a little more," Daniel urged, holding the glass to Jack's mouth. Jack irritably raised a hand to push the drink away and Daniel moved the glass before Jack could actually touch it.
"Jack, you need to drink this stuff."
"Aaaaarrrr" he tried to say.
"I know it's hard to swallow but you need the food and believe me, this is better than the alternative. Come on, just a little more." Daniel eyed the glass whose contents had barely shrunk. Jack was having problems swallowing, although Daniel was sure the fact that Jack was so tired wasn't helping much.
Pouting, Jack allowed Daniel to tip some of the contents into his mouth and he tried to swallow. Some of the liquid ran out of his mouth and down his chin. Daniel wiped the dribble with a Kleenex and offered Jack more when he managed to force the mouthful down.
Daniel wasn't sure what happened next; whether the stuff simply went down the wrong way or Jack had needed to cough. But suddenly Jack was choking and coughing, liquid spewing all over Daniel and the bed. Jack began turning red from his efforts, coughing so harshly that one of the nurses came over to see if she could assist.
Hurriedly Daniel put the glass down onto the table and pulled Jack forward into a sitting position. Jack continued coughing and suddenly he was vomiting the bit of sustenance he'd managed to ingest over the past hour.
He coughed a while longer, leaning heavily against Daniel, totally exhausted.
"Daniel," Janet said from beside him. "We'll clean him up. You'd better go and take a shower and change your clothes."
Surprised, Daniel realized that Jack had not only soiled himself and his bed, but Daniel also.
"It's okay, Janet, I can help with Jack first."
"My people are more than capable of taking care of Colonel O'Neill, Daniel," she said in a steely voice. "I need you to go and clean yourself off and change your clothes. While you're at it I want you to stop at the commissary and eat something. You've been here long enough and you need a break."
Daniel opened his mouth to protest as Teal'c helped Janet's nurses lay Jack down onto the bed, but she glared at him.
"Don't make me force the issue. He's fine and will most likely be asleep by the time you get back, but I assure you I will not hesitate to keep you out of here if you don't listen to my suggestions."
"Yes ma'am," Daniel said meekly. He turned away to leave as the nurses began stripping Jack of his clothes.
"And Daniel?" He stopped to look at her.
"I think we'll be putting the nasogastric tube in tomorrow morning. He's not taking in enough nutrition."
Daniel nodded sadly. Jack was so gonna hate that tube.
- - - - - -
* * * *
Daniel winced as Jack gagged as he swallowed the nasogastric tube. Jack's eyes were tightly closed, but he was squeezing Daniel's hand painfully in the process.
"Colonel, am I hurting you?" the nurse asked as she stopped pushing the pre-measured length of tubing down Jack's esophagus through Jack's right nostril.
"Noooo," Jack slurred, his raspy voice sounding more nasal than normal.
"Good," she replied as she resumed her work. Finished, Daniel watched with interest as she checked the placement of the tube. Then she picked up a penlight and tongue blade. "Open your mouth now for me, please," she requested. She had a look down Jack's throat and clicked the penlight off. "Looks good," she said with a smile, taping the tube in place. "You can relax now, Colonel. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Jack relaxed from his upright sitting position and leaned back against his pillows, his hand still tightly grasping Daniel's.
"You okay?" Daniel asked. Jack nodded, his eyes still closed. Daniel was relieved that Jack was beginning to respond to other people, but he was still prone to panic attacks if Daniel wasn't near him. General Hammond and Janet had granted Daniel special dispensation to stay with Jack, at least until the ailing man was a little stronger and less confused. Jack reacted well to both Sam and Teal'c but still needed to have Daniel nearby. At least Jack now knew where he was, although he'd woken up twice from nightmares and it was only Daniel's voice and touch that had been able to calm him down.
"Don lak," Jack slurred, bringing his hand up towards his nose. Daniel moved quickly and captured the errant hand before it could fiddle with the tubing.
"I know you don't like it but it's only for a few days," he said, placing Jack's hand back onto the bed and rubbing it gently before letting go. "Janet explained everything, remember? We need to get some nutrients into you and the tube and IV are going to do that. As soon as you can eat and swallow properly it's coming out."
"Poh... mish?" Jack opened his eyes and turned towards Daniel, his unseeing eyes staring unsettlingly at a space to the right of Daniel's face.
"I promise, Jack," Daniel answered, bringing his free hand up and gently rubbing the area around Jack's nose where the tube was taped down. "You'll begin to feel a lot stronger with this and you won't be hungry anymore."
Jack sighed, then tensed as he heard footsteps approaching. The nurse was back and she was carrying a bag that Daniel assumed contained Jack's liquid food.
"Okay, Colonel O'Neill, I'm going to give you your lunch now," she said with a smile. Daniel watched with interest as she attached the bag of liquid nourishment to the end of the tubing and fiddled with the mechanism to begin pumping its contents into Jack.
"Make sure your head remains elevated, all right?" she added. "Colonel?" she said more loudly when Jack didn't react. He grunted slightly, turning his head slightly towards her. "Make sure you don't lie down flat, okay?"
Jack nodded, then turned his head back to center.
She looked over at Daniel. "If he feels the need to sleep, just make sure his head is propped up."
"Okay," Daniel said.
"If he can tolerate this for the next four hours, we'll slowly increase the quantity. He desperately needs the calories. Let me know if he feels any discomfort," she added after watching Jack sit there quietly for a few minutes.
"Shood ashed f beeeee," Jack mumbled with a slight smile on his face.
Daniel broke out in laughter at Jack's words, the tension he'd felt over the past day easing a little at the glimpse of the old Colonel. Jack chuckled softly, ending with a cough. The nurse stood there, smiling politely, obviously not having understood Jack. Daniel translated Jackspeak for her.
"He said he should have asked for beer."
"Oh. Well, I'm sorry, sir, I can't give you that unless we're serving liquefied pizza. Maybe you'll be luckier tomorrow."
"Yeah, I know you like pizza. And I promise as I'll get you some as soon as you're up to it."
"Beer too. We'll make it a team night, okay? Invite Sam and Teal'c and watch videos?"
The moment he'd said it, Daniel wished he could take it back. Of course Jack couldn't watch videos, he couldn't bloody see anything.
"Dan... ull!" Jack tugged on Daniel's hand.
"Sorry, I didn't think..."
"Dan... ull!" Jack repeated, moving their clasped hands to his abdomen and rubbing the back of Daniel's hand with his free one.
"Be kay. Sand?"
"Yeah, everything will be fine. I understand, Jack." He leaned his face closer, pretending to look at the feeding tube affixed to Jack's nostril. "I love you, Jack. Everything will be fine 'cause we'll make sure it is."
Jack nodded, closing his eyes once more. His hand soon relaxed its grip on Daniel as he slipped into sleep.
* * * *
"Doctor Jackson, Doctor Fraiser would like to speak with you in her office."
The nurse's words sent a chill down Daniel's spine but he nodded and smiled at her as he changed direction. Instead of heading for Jack's bed, he made for the small office that was Janet's domain, casting a glance in Jack's direction and reassuring himself that his lover was fine.
As he stood in the doorway, Daniel looked at the petite doctor sitting before her computer absorbed in the data flickering on her monitor screen. An empty cup of coffee and the discarded plastic wrap of a pre-packaged sandwich littered her desk, along with a piece of half-eaten pie. He felt guilty knowing she hadn't had a proper meal, whereas he had just had a hot supper and good companionship with Sam and Teal'c. The fact that Janet had ordered him out of her infirmary once more wasn't really important. He should have insisted she come with him. He made a mental note to do so the next time.
He cleared his throat to get her attention.
She didn't greet him with a smile, which didn't bode good news. His intuition at the nurse's words was soon confirmed by Janet.
"Colonel O'Neill appeared to have some kind of flashback a short while ago," she began after turning her chair to face him.
"Why didn't someone come and get me?" Daniel demanded as he took two steps into her office.
She shook her head. "There wasn't enough time. By the time we'd realized what was happening, the colonel managed to pull out his feeding tube and we had to sedate him to get him to calm down."
"Sedate him?" Daniel's legs suddenly felt weak and his meal became an uncomfortable leaden weight in his stomach.
"Just enough to relax him. We reinserted the tube and he's resting comfortably."
"Do you know what triggered the flashback?" Daniel asked, looking at his feet.
"Someone dropped a bedpan. I think the noise might have startled him. I'm really not sure, he won't talk to me. I thought maybe you could try and get him to open up a little. Even if he won't talk to you about the events of what happened to him on that planet, at least get him to tell you what he's feeling. He's holding everything inside, Daniel."
"Janet, he can barely string two words together. How do you expect him to tell me what happened to him?"
She smiled at him at this point. "Somehow I don't think that'll be a problem. You seem to know what he needs with just a look from him."
"Yeah, well, that's not gonna happen now, is it?" he said moodily before turning to return to Jack's bedside.
The head of Jack's bed was still slightly elevated and Daniel knew Jack was finding it uncomfortable to sleep. But until the tube that was delivering sustenance to him was removed, Jack needed his head and shoulders to be elevated.
Daniel wasn't sure if Jack was sleeping; his eyes were shut. But for the past day Jack had been keeping them closed on purpose whenever he thought someone was around. He was lying on his back and looked like he was asleep.
"Jack?" Daniel said softly. Jack's eyes opened, then closed again. Daniel just had time to see that the pupils were dilated; probably due to the drugs Jack had been given.
"Janet told me you had a bit of a scare. You wanna tell me about it?" Daniel reached out and ran a finger along the edge of Jack's thumb, then continued on, following the outline of Jack's hand as if he were tracing it onto a piece of paper. Jack's fingers twitched and as Daniel's began making a return trip, Jack closed his palm over his lover's finger.
"Did something startle you? Did you remember something from the time when you were beat... were captured?" Daniel stammered.
"Noise? You heard a noise?"
"Janet said someone dropped something. That was probably what you heard. Did the noise remind you of something that happened on Hannara?"
"Nnnoooo," Jack replied. "Eeee...foooo."
Daniel couldn't quite make out the last word, and Jack repeated it.
"Before Hannara?" Daniel guessed.
Daniel sat up straighter. "The aliens who hurt you? The ones who made us think you were dead?"
Daniel rubbed his free hand over his face. For some reason he'd thought Jack had been unconscious or at the brink of death when the aliens had taken Jack off world.
"What did you remember?" Daniel asked softly.
Jack let go of Daniel's finger and waved at the tube in his nose. Daniel brought his hand up as a precaution in case Jack tried to pull the tube out again but Jack dropped his hand back down onto the bed. Then it dawned on him that Jack meant he remembered the tube.
"You remember the aliens putting something in your nose?"
"Nooo," Jack said. This time he pointed to his mouth and down his throat.
"They put something down your throat?" Daniel asked, feeling sick at the thought.
"Eessss," Jack answered.
"Do you know why? What they did it for?"
"Leeean," he said. Daniel noted Jack's hands were clenched tightly and he placed his hand over one shaking fist.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand, Jack."
"Leeean," Jack repeated. Daniel repeated the word softly to himself several times, trying to decipher what Jack was trying to say.
"Nooo," Jack said when Daniel repeated the word again. He unclenched his fist and grabbed Daniel's forearm. "Kaaa... leeean," he said, trying to intonate the syllables clearly.
"Clean?" Jack nodded, letting go of Daniel.
"But clean what? They put a tube into your stomach and cleaned you out? You mean they pumped your stomach?"
"Esss, noooo. Alll."
"All? You mean they gave you a... they made you...?" Thoughts of gastric lavages and laxatives flitted through Daniel's mind and he paled when Jack waved his hand at his mouth and then his butt.
"Shit!" Jack snorted, but Daniel didn't find it funny.
"Sssleee," Jack said.
"Oh, okay, I'll let you get some rest," Daniel said. He could see Jack was more relaxed with the sedative but the drug was affecting his limited speech.
"Nooo!" Jack slapped the bed angrily and pushed himself so he was lying on his side facing Daniel. "Mmmmaaak Sssseee."
Cursing himself for misunderstanding, Daniel said, "They gave you something after to make you sleep?"
Jack nodded. "sstttrrr gaaaay."
"They brought you through the Stargate?"
"Noooo." Jack's voice was softer and Daniel suspected that the drug was beginning to wear him down.
"So you went to another planet. Was this where they sold you?"
"Esss," he answered after a moment. Daniel saw Jack's eyelids begin to close before Jack forced them open again.
"Do you remember which Hannaran bought you?" Daniel asked, thoughts of returning to that planet and exacting revenge beginning to sound like a plan. His hand slid into his pocket and played with the piece of warm metal and chain.
"They continued to drug you?"
Jack's head moved slowly up and down. His eyes shut slowly and remained closed for a few moments. He twitched suddenly and his eyes snapped open, his head moving in small, jerky movements.
"Shhh, I'm here," Daniel said. "Go to sleep."
Jack shook his head, bringing a hand up to rub his eyes tiredly. Daniel suspected Jack was afraid of going to sleep and reliving those early memories. He looked so vulnerable and miserable laying there before him that Daniel ached to do something to make him feel better.
He realized that since they'd brought him home, Jack had spent most of his time in that hospital bed with only the impersonal touch of caregivers. Jack's family was sitting right before him and due to regulations, Daniel couldn't do much of anything to comfort Jack except for an occasional hand-holding. Damn them, this had gone on long enough. Daniel stood up quickly, the chair rolling backwards and bumping into a metallic table behind him.
Jack jumped at the sound and Daniel apologized. He walked around the bed and grabbed the edge of the privacy curtain and began pulling it. Just before he enclosed himself and Jack within its confines, he spotted Janet looking at him. He caught her eye and she nodded. Daniel smiled his thanks, knowing they'd be left alone for as long as possible.
"Jack, hang on, I'm going to lift you up a bit," Daniel said once he took his boots off. He climbed onto the bed and lifted Jack's upper body, sliding himself beneath him. He lowered Jack's head and shoulders onto his lap, pulling the covers up to Jack's chin. Taking advantage of the fact that they were hidden from prying eyes, both human and mechanical, Daniel leaned down over Jack and kissed him on the temple.
Daniel told himself he was doing this for Jack and tried to ignore the satisfaction that came from feeling Jack's weight and warmth against his own body.
"Go to sleep. I'll be right here if you have any more dreams." Daniel stroked the silver hair, feeling the man he loved beginning to relax. Daniel heard Jack humming softly for a minute, until the sound faded as he drifted into sleep.
- - - - - -
Daniel gulped down the last of his coffee as he got up from the table.
"Daniel, sit here a little longer," Sam pleaded. "Colonel O'Neill is probably asleep again." She frowned at him and Daniel knew she was assessing him. "Speaking of sleeping, how many hours have you gotten since we've brought the colonel home?"
"I've slept enough." Daniel loaded her plate and mug onto his tray, waiting until she stood. He was sleeping, not much more than cat naps snatched when Jack was deep in a sedated sleep because he never knew when Jack would cry out in pain or fear. Jack was alive and he needed Daniel. Once Jack was more stable, maybe then he'd be able to relax a little more. In the meantime, fewer hours sleep weren't going to matter.
"I have a meeting with SG-9," Sam said as they walked to the elevator after depositing their trash. "I'll come down to the infirmary in a few hours to give you a break."
Nodding, Daniel watched Sam get in the elevator and then decided to take the three flights of stairs to the infirmary. He didn't understand how he could be tired and have so much energy.
Jack had been moved to a regular bed in the infirmary yesterday afternoon. They hoped the more familiar surroundings might help Jack adjust to being home. The Hannarans hadn't been able to give a timeline for recovery. Daniel feared they were looking at months of therapy. Jack's first session of physical therapy earlier in the day had left him exhausted and in pain. Daniel hoped Jack managed to sleep.
"Doctor Jackson," Daniel looked up and saw Doctor Molinari coming out of Jack's room with a clipboard. "May I have a few moments?"
"I should really get to Jack." Daniel gestured to the door.
"Doctor Fraiser's ordered a few more tests," Doctor Molinari said. "I'd like to give you an update on the colonel's condition."
"Yes," Daniel followed Molinari down the hall and into a small room the nurses and doctors used for a lounge. "How is he? His eyes?"
"As you know the film dissipated rapidly following the administration of the Hannaran drug. Unfortunately the drug does not appear to have made any difference in the colonel's ability to see. The drug the Hannarans provided us has usually been administered to less advanced cases. Frequently vision problems are a lasting effect of the disease. They've never used the drug on someone with a case of the disease as advanced as Colonel O'Neill's."
"So why don't they give him more of it?" Daniel asked. There was no way he was giving up on Jack.
"Doctor Fraiser's tests have indicated a higher dosage or continued usage of the drug would be fatal and cause organ failure. I'm sorry Doctor Jackson. Coupled with the crystal you described the priests on P3U-863 used on Colonel O'Neill, I have every reason to believe the vision loss is permanent. I suggest we schedule a time to discuss the ramifications of these lasting effects with Colonel O'Neill."
Daniel touched his pocket, feeling the chain there. He rubbed a finger over the links, pressing them into his thigh. He met Doctor Molinari's kind gaze. "Could we hold off a few more days? Jack's been through a lot the past week. I think he might need a little more time to get used to the routine of being home."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt, Doctor Jackson." Doctor Molinari smiled. "I realize this is hard to accept and that Colonel O'Neill will have difficulty too. But the sooner he is informed, and the sooner he begins therapy, the better. It may seem like it now but blindness is not the end of Colonel O'Neill's life." The beeper on the doctor's lapel went off. "I'm sorry, Doctor Jackson, I have another appointment."
Waving off the doctor, Daniel sat at the table. What were they going to do now?
* * * *
The hushed sounds meant it was night in the infirmary, Jack knew. The worst part of not being able to see anything yet meant Jack lost track of time. He counted time by his meals, if that was what they could be called. He was sick of rice and applesauce but Doc promised him in the morning he could have some eggs to see if his stomach could tolerate them. His legs ached tonight; the therapy session he'd had in the PT room had been exhausting, learning to use a walker to help support his still weakened body. Soft footsteps sounded near his bed.
"Daniel?" Jack asked, then remembered the argument between Doc Fraiser and Daniel earlier, right around supper time. Daniel was sent packing to spend one night off-base.
"Sorry, Colonel, just me." Doc's quiet voice washed over him. She leaned over the bed and adjusted his blankets, tucking them around his legs. Jack reached out, closing his fingers around her wrist, holding on.
"Colonel? Is something wrong? Are you in pain?"
Jack rolled his head on the pillow, towards her voice. "No. But Doc, I," his mouth went dry and he heard his own harsh breathing as he tried to gain control of the fear beginning to overwhelm him. "No one will tell me. My eyes. I remember seeing the film on others on Hannara. They were blind. But now that goop is gone, Doctor Molinari said it is, but..."
"There's been no improvement," she finished for him. "You can distinguish between light and dark but see nothing."
"Yes," Jack whispered. "Is it..." he waved a hand around his face.
"Yes, sir. Our contact with the Hannaran medical community leads us to believe the blindness is permanent."
"I see," Jack said, then gave a harsh laugh. " Well no, bad choice of words. I guess I don't and won't ever again."
"I'm sorry, sir." Fraiser sounded sad, defeated. "We should have told you earlier."
"Daniel doesn't want to accept it, does he?" Jack was amazed he sounded so calm considering he'd just been told his whole life had been thrown into a tailspin.
"It's very difficult for him, Colonel." He felt Fraiser tugging on the blankets some more. "He wants to believe we have some miracle up our sleeve."
"Hell, I'd take a miracle or two, Doc." Jack hated the sound of bitterness in his voice. He took a deep breath. "So where do I go from here?"
"You will need rehabilitation, sir; training to learn how to get around, how to adapt to your blindness. I can request someone come here to get you started as soon as possible."
Fraiser's calm, matter of fact tone helped slow Jack's breathing. "I don't really have a choice but to learn to live with it do I?"
"I'm afraid not, sir." He could almost hear her smile and imagined her eyes crinkling in amusement.
"Call them. Call whoever you need to." Jack's words exploded, needing to say them before he lost the small amount of courage he possessed. He tightened his grip on her wrist slightly. "And Janet?"
"Thanks for telling me the truth." He loosened his fingers and released her wrist. She patted his hand when he placed it on top of the blankets.
"It's my job, colonel," she said. "And, sir?" Jack nodded, closing his eyes. "Jack," she whispered, "I have faith in you."
He listened to the tap of her heels as she took a few steps away and then the swooshing sound as she pulled the privacy curtain around the bed. Jack curled up on his side, pressing his face into the pillow to stifle the tears he couldn't hold back. Oh God, he was so scared.
* * * * *
Putting his hand in his pocket, Daniel rubbed the bit of metal he carried with him all the time. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he waited for the elevator to stop on the infirmary level. He'd gone to Jack's house last night after leaving the base, packing a bag with some of Jack's most comfortable old clothes. Janet had told him yesterday that although Jack wasn't able to leave the base yet, she was ready to move him out of the infirmary and into a VIP suite. She was hopeful Jack would be strong enough to go home by the end of the week. They'd agreed to keep it a secret until this morning, a nice surprise for Jack after all his hard work in therapy. Maybe it would help the increasing irritation and impatience Jack was exhibiting. He knew it wasn't only the weakness of Jack's body; sessions with Mackenzie usually had Jack silent for hours afterwards. Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose as he began the walk to the infirmary doors.
"Jack?" Daniel kept his voice quiet as he approached Jack's bed, not wanting to wake him if he was sleeping. Jack lay curled up on his side, his hands curled in loose fists to his chest.
"Hey, Daniel," Jack whispered.
Daniel frowned at the hoarse quality of Jack's voice, praying that Jack wasn't getting sick. He touched his lover's forehead, relieved to feel his temperature was normal.
"Are you sick, Jack?" Daniel hooked a chair with his foot, pulling it closer and sitting down. "You have therapy in about half an hour." Daniel noted the tray still sitting on Jack's rolling table. "Do you want me to get a nurse?"
Jack shook his head. His eyes were open, staring straight ahead, missing the animation that had always characterized them before Hannara. "Doc told me. I asked her and she told me."
"Asked her?" Daniel leaned forward and then straightened, his stomach tightening as he realized what Jack meant. "What did she tell you?" He clenched his hands into fists so tight they hurt.
"This, Daniel." Jack gestured at his eyes. "She told me it's permanent. I'm blind."
"We don't know if it's permanent," Daniel insisted. His voice sounded calm despite his pounding heart. "Doctor Molinari and Janet admitted they don't know what's causing it."
"Doctor Molinari was here earlier, Daniel," Jack said in a weary voice. "He might not know what caused it, the reasons the disease affected my vision or if that damn crystal did some sort of lasting damage, but he gave me a very thorough exam."
"Your vision has improved since you've come home. Since the treatment you received."
"No, Daniel. Whatever that goop was coating my eyes has disappeared. That's it. There's been no improvement in my vision. I have no vision. I only can tell if it's light or dark. That's all." Jack sighed. "Doc Fraiser said she'd be contacting some rehab specialists. Get me started on learning how to live as a blind man."
Daniel shook his head, hating the resigned tones of Jack's voice. No, he wasn't ready to give up. Jack had survived so far, surely he'd gain back his sight. Daniel couldn't talk, afraid if he tried his words would be incoherent.
"Good morning, Colonel O'Neill." Daniel looked up as one of the physical therapists came to the bed. "Are you ready for your morning session?"
Jack nodded, pushing back his blankets and then sitting, his legs hanging over the side of the bed. Daniel lowered his eyes studying Jack's long legs, the feet that still turned slightly inward. The therapist bent down, placing slippers on Jack's feet and helping him off the bed. Jack's right leg buckled. Daniel reached out his hands to help but the therapist had Jack seated on the wheelchair before Daniel was out of his chair. "We're going to work some more with the walker today, sir," he heard the therapist say as he began wheeling Jack away, continuing to inform Jack of the day's schedule.
Glancing at his watch, knowing he had an hour before he needed to be at the briefing with General Hammond and SG-12, Daniel walked to Janet's office. She still had a few hours left on her shift, he figured.
"Daniel," Janet smiled as he opened her door, "were you able to speak to the colonel before he went to therapy today? Discuss the plans for him to go to the VIP suite?"
Shaking his head, Daniel walked to her desk, slamming his hands down on top of the folders stacked there. "Why did you do it, Janet? Why did you take away all of Jack's hope by telling him the blindness is permanent? Have you seen him this morning? How depressed he is?"
"Hold it right there, Doctor Jackson." Janet stood, leaning over the desk towards Daniel. "I am a doctor. It's my job to inform my patients of their medical status."
"You didn't have to tell him it was permanent," Daniel yelled.
"I had to tell him the truth, Daniel. Whether you agree with it or not." Janet's voice rose to meet his. "It wasn't Colonel O'Neill's hope I took away, it's yours."
His legs shook at her words, his body filled with impotent rage and the knowledge she spoke the truth.
"Sit down before you fall down, Daniel," Janet commanded, coming from behind her desk and pushing a chair in his direction. He did as she bade and leaned forward, holding his head in his hands.
"I thought he'd be able to see, Janet," Daniel whispered. "I thought the medicine would cure him. It's not fair. Not after everything he's been through." He moved his fingers trying to surreptitiously wipe away the few hot tears burning in the corner of his eyes.
"No," Janet agreed. "Colonel O'Neill is a strong man, Daniel. Do you honestly believe he won't be able to deal with this?"
He didn't even need to think about it. He knew Jack would. It might be a struggle but Jack was a survivor, he would learn and play the hand he'd been dealt. It was himself he wasn't sure about.
"Daniel," Janet touched his shoulder and he looked up into her warm brown eyes, "I think it might help if you were to talk to Doctor Mackenzie. You know Colonel O'Neill has found his sessions helpful. You've been through a lot too these past months. The colonel's disappearance, thinking he's been dead, and now finding him alive. Talking to someone not so involved might help you."
"I'll be fine, Janet." Daniel pasted a smile on his face. "Jack's alive, that's what's important." He checked his watch. "I have a briefing at ten and then some reports to work on. Do you think we could talk to Jack about moving to a VIP suite at about two?" He stood as she sighed and nodded her assent. "Thanks, Janet. And I'm sorry about, you know," he gestured at her desk. Daniel left her office unable to meet her eyes any longer. Jack was alive, he repeated to himself. How selfish was he being by wanting Jack whole and healthy? He put the thoughts out of his mind, focusing instead on the presentation he'd prepared on the goddess Bastet.
* * * *
"Good afternoon, Colonel O'Neill."
It was a new voice, a different one from the others he'd been exposed to over the past few weeks. He turned his head towards it, closing his eyes against the nausea the movement caused.
"Who are you?" Jack moved his hand along the arm of his wheelchair. His legs hurt, his back ached, his stomach was sore because he'd thrown up his breakfast. He wasn't in the mood to deal with yet another therapist.
"I'm Major Wendover. I'm a specialist in rehabilitation for the visually impaired."
Jack tilted his head as he heard her footsteps approach. He stuck out his hand when he judged she was close enough and felt his fingers grasped in a firm handshake.
"Visually impaired," Jack muttered. "Why don't you say it like it is, Major? Try blind."
"Blind it is then." She didn't seem taken aback by his words. "Colonel, I'd like to ask you a few questions and then we will be able to discuss your rehabilitation treatment." Jack heard a chair scrape as she pulled it out from the table. There was a soft sound as she placed what must have been a notebook or legal pad on the table and the sound of her rooting around in her purse for a pen or pencil. "I've read over Doctor Molinari's reports. You are able to distinguish light and dark?"
"I can't see if that's what you're trying to ask. I'm blind, Wendover."
"When you first were treated, Colonel, were you able to distinguish light from dark?" Oh, she was good; Jack had to give her that. Cool and professional.
"No." Jack remembered the months before being found, when he lived in a world where no light entered and that first week back home in the infirmary when the only constant was Daniel. "No, I couldn't. It was dark, like being in a cave."
"And now? Can you describe your vision now?"
"I know when lights are on. Can tell if they are turned off." He tapped his fingers on the arm of the wheelchair. He hated when they dimmed the lights at night. Even with the soft sounds of Daniel's breathing and the ever present hum of equipment it wasn't enough to stop the nightmares. Jack paused before continuing. "There hasn't been any change in my vision for the past two weeks."
"Yes." Wendover was silent except for the scratch of her pen on the paper. "What do you hope to gain from rehabilitation?"
"What do I hope to gain?" Jack gave a bitter laugh. "I'm blind and I'm in a wheelchair. What do I hope to gain? How does death sound?"
"You want to die?" He could almost imagine her raising one eyebrow.
"Yes. I mean, no. I mean..." Jack tightened his hands on his thighs, hating the feel of wasted muscle. "I mean, I don't know what I..." He waved his hand at his debilitated body.
"I've read the reports, Colonel." Wendover's voice was calm. She didn't try to argue with him. "I think your surviving so long on Hannara shows you are more than capable of surviving this. The wheelchair is temporary?"
Jack nodded. "I've been told that, yes."
"You can walk for short distances with a walker." He could tell she was reading from one of his medical reports. "Last week you were only able to stand."
"Yes." Jack rubbed at his forehead. "Look I've heard the 'all good things take time' routine, Wendover. But Doctor Molinari told me this is as good as it's gonna get." Jack tapped his temple.
"I understand that, Colonel. That's why Doctor Fraiser requested I begin rehabilitation with you." There was a sound of rustling paper and Jack heard her turn her chair. "So, I ask you again. What do you hope to gain from your rehabilitation?"
"You don't let up, do you?" Jack couldn't keep a smile from forming.
"I've been told I don't." She was smiling, Jack could tell.
"I want to be able to walk somewhere without depending on someone else." He hung his head. "I want to be able to eat a meal without spilling it over me and needing to be cleaned up like a goddamn baby."
"Okay, that's a start," Wendover agreed. "I thought today we could go over some equipment that may help make your life easier. We can work on some skills that will help you when you eat. I'd also like to start you on learning some Braille. You may not adapt to that, Colonel. Braille is difficult to learn. But there are other technologies we will discuss in our next sessions. Now, I'd like you to hold out your hand. We're going to start by learning how to use this watch."
Jack offered his hand, ashamed that he was a grown man who wanted nothing more than to crawl in a corner and hide. Her fingers touched his palm, placing a watch there. He had to fight the urge to pull his hand away.
Major Wendover was talking and Jack forced himself to listen to her words, concentrating on her explanation of the watch's features.
* * * *
"Hey, Jack," Daniel called as he entered the VIP room. They'd moved him into this room earlier in the day. As Janet said, Jack wasn't sick any longer, he just needed a little more time before he was ready to go home. A rehab center was out of the question due to Jack's frequent nightmares and flashbacks to his time on Hannara. Jack was sitting up in bed, an object on the bed tray in front of him, his fingers exploring it.
"Hey Daniel," Jack said absently only turning his head when Daniel sat on the edge of the bed. Daniel studied his lover, relieved to see Jack's mood had lifted.
"What are you doing?" Daniel twisted to see the board Jack was holding.
Jack picked up a small block that reminded Daniel of Legos and placed it on the board. He brushed his fingers over it before carefully turning it towards Daniel. "Braille."
"Aren't these dots kinda big?" Daniel brushed his fingers across the large raised dots.
"Major Wendover said I might not be able to learn it." Jack ducked his head in a habit Daniel was beginning to recognize. "We're starting with these," Jack made a circle with his hand, "so I can feel the different patterns."
"I see," Daniel nodded and then winced.
"Hey," Jack reached out his hand as if he knew Daniel's reaction. "I don't think I'm going to go through life without hearing the word 'see' again." He squeezed Daniel's fingers and then released them, resting his hands on the table. "You ever realize how many expressions refer to sight?"
Daniel nodded again, reminding himself he needed to speak to Jack. "There are a lot."
"Yep." Jack placed his fingers back on the board, running them across the three blocks already there.
"You ready for supper?" Daniel ventured. Getting Jack to eat was an every night challenge. He had a suspicion it was a combination of Jack's lingering weakness, boredom with the bland diet, embarrassment at the chore eating had become, and a loss of appetite now that he couldn't see what he was eating.
"Ummmh." Jack ignored him, his concentration on the board complete.
Daniel phoned the commissary and requested Jack's usual evening meal along with a chicken sandwich for himself. He pulled out his laptop and decided he could use the time to finish a report on the Egyptian god, Sobek for SG-10, data from the MALP indicating he may have been the system lord ruling over the planet they were about to visit. He was double checking the report when there was a knock at the door. He hit save and went to retrieve their dinner from the airman waiting outside.
"Here you go, Doctor Jackson." The young man handed him the tray. "Doctor Fraiser would like a report on what Colonel O'Neill eats, sir."
"I understand," Daniel peered at the name on the shirt, "Airman Swenger. And thank you. I'll take care of the tray later."
"Supper time, Jack," Daniel called as he placed the tray on the table in the middle of the room. "I'll have it to you in a second."
"Damn it!" Jack yelled as he swept the board and tiles off of his bed table. He pulled his hands up to his face, curling them into fists.
"Jack?" Daniel left the food and went over to the bed, sitting on the edge of it. "I'm going to touch your leg, okay?" He saw Jack's nod and placed his hand on Jack's knee. "Want to tell me what that was all about?"
"I'm not going to able to do this, Daniel. I'm not." Jack's breathing was shallow. "I can't learn it."
"God, Jack, you had your first lesson in Braille what? Three or four hours ago? After you spent time in PT and moved into this room." Daniel moved his fingers in a circle, massaging Jack's thigh. "I don't think anyone expects you to learn how to ad..."
"How to be blind, Daniel. Say it. You can't even say the fucking word. You should have left me to die on that planet." Jack moved forward, knocking Daniel's hand away from his leg. "Instead of bringing me back here to be what? A useless lump that has to be hauled from place to place."
"You bastard," Daniel ground out, his anger rising to meet Jack's. "You selfish bastard. You want to pity yourself, Jack? You go right ahead. Don't expect me to come along for the ride. How dare you tell me my decision to not let you rot on Hannara was a stupid mistake on my part. You want me to say it, Jack? You're blind. Happy?" Daniel stopped needing to draw in a breath. He looked at Jack who sat with hunched, shaking shoulders. "Jack?" Daniel wasn't sure if he was hearing what he thought.
Jack raised his head and Daniel smiled. Jack was laughing although Daniel wasn't quite ready to do the same.
"We're quite a pair, Danny," Jack finally said. "Good to know we can still argue, huh?"
"Good to know, Jack." Moving his hand back to Jack's thigh, Daniel gave him a playful nudge. "You hungry?" To his surprise, Jack nodded.
"Arguing always gives me an appetite," Jack said. He twisted in the bed, swinging his legs over the side.
"I'll bring the food over here." Daniel got up from the bed.
Shaking his head, Jack pointed in the vague direction of his walker. "Major Wendover helped me with this earlier. I can make it to the table. It's eight shuffles."
"Well, normally I should measure in steps but right now she agreed with me that shuffles would be a better term." Jack settled his hands on the walker when Daniel placed it in front of him. "Coast clear, Daniel?"
"Almost." Daniel bent down and picked up the Braille tiles and board scattered on the floor. "Okay, Jack," he said as he straightened. "Coast clear." He had to fight the impulse to grab on to Jack when the other man faltered slightly. He'd had his own meeting with Major Gwen Wendover earlier as she gave him some of his own instructions on learning to adjust to Jack's blindness. They'd made an appointment to go out to Jack's house later in the week so she could begin to make plans for Jack's rehab at home. Daniel tucked his hands under his armpits and watched as Jack settled in the chair at the table without mishap.
Jack placed his hands on the edge of the table and then slowly his fingers crept forward until he found the food tray.
"If you tell me where the food is I can eat it, Daniel," Jack said after a deep breath.
This was hardest, Daniel thought, seeing Jack, who was normally so independent, now unsure and having to ask for help with the simplest things. In his mind, Daniel knew Jack would become more independent but for now it was hard and he couldn't help questioning his own blame for Jack's current condition.
"You gonna join me, Daniel?" Jack raised his eyebrows and for a moment his eyes unerringly rested on Daniel.
"Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. Just thinking." Daniel sat down and watched as Jack pulled his plate closer.
"And what yummy food has the doc decreed I can have tonight?" Jack made a face.
"Rice at twelve, jello at three and I think its pureed carrots at seven. Well actually those are between seven and eight." Daniel looked at his own chicken sandwich and wondered if he'd be able to choke it down.
"Daniel, I think seven is close enough." Jack smiled. Daniel took a bite of his sandwich and saw Jack take a spoon in a shaking hand. Jack ran his fingers along the rim of the plate, barely touching the edges of the food. He scooped some rice onto the spoon and managed to get most of it to his mouth. Daniel was silent, knowing the amount of concentration Jack was using to tackle this new skill. He took another bite of the sandwich. It tasted like cardboard in his mouth.
* * * * *
"Yes, Jack?" Daniel walked over to the bed. Jack was lying with his eyes closed, worn out from the activities of the day. He still tired easily and the rehabilitation was only going to increase.
"Tell me about stuff," Jack said, turning over to his side and searching for Daniel's hand.
"Stuff. You know, what's going on with stuff." Jack sounded weary and the light bulb went on in Daniel's head. Since his return to earth, Jack's days were spent in the infirmary, the PT room, Mackenzie's office or now this VIP suite. Sam and Teal'c had visited him a few evenings in the infirmary but Jack was so exhausted he tended to fall asleep in the midst of the conversations. It didn't help that Sam especially seemed uncomfortable around Jack. She worried over saying the wrong thing and her apparent unease just made Jack embarrassed and unable to concentrate. Teal'c said little and Daniel still hadn't figured out what he thought of the whole situation.
Daniel tapped his fingers on Jack's hand thinking about the latest tales brought home from other teams' missions. He smiled as he remembered Lou Ferretti coming through the Gate two days ago. "Wait 'til you hear what happened to Ferretti and SG-2, Jack." He began rubbing a small circle on Jack's palm. "Seems they gated to a planet where men were in short supply. And well, you know how charming Lou can be when he sets his mind to it."
He deliberately kept his voice low while he continued with the story. Jack's hand relaxed under his, and he opened his eyes a few times, reminding Daniel of a child fighting sleep. "Shh, Jack." Daniel moved his hand to Jack's bony shoulder, rubbing there, and patting it when he knew Jack was sleeping. "Sweet dreams, Jack," he whispered as he tugged the blankets up over Jack's torso. He settled onto the chair by the bed to read for awhile. Maybe if he was tired enough his dreams would be sweet too.
- - - - - - *
"Hey Daniel," A slim arm was slipped around his waist and Daniel turned his head to smile at Sam.
"Hey Sam." He looked over her shoulder at Teal'c and gave a brief nod before turning his attention back to the window of the PT room.
"O'Neill is making progress, Danieljackson," Teal'c said as he watched Jack doing leg presses.
"Yeah," Daniel sighed. He watched as Jack leaned forward shaking his head as the therapist spoke to him.
"He'll get better, Daniel. This is the colonel we're talking about." Sam sounded very assured but a look at her eyes showed the same concern they all were feeling.
"He's blind, Sam." Daniel curled his fingers around the metal in his pocket.
"O'Neill still has his mental faculties, Danieljackson. That is the most useful trait of a warrior." Teal'c shifted so he was standing in front of Daniel. "You must believe in O'Neill's ability to heal, Danieljackson or he will be lost to you forever."
Daniel looked up into Teal'c fierce brown gaze and nodded. He knew in his head Jack would survive, but his own guilt gnawed at him. A guilt he couldn't speak of to anyone, most certainly not to Jack. "Yes, Teal'c."
"Majorcarter, we have a meeting with SG-3," Teal'c stepped away waiting for Sam to follow and Daniel was once again left alone in the hallway, looking in at his lover.
Teal'c was right and Jack had made more progress in the past month than anyone thought possible. He'd gained back some of the weight he'd lost, something that pleased Janet. His speech was understandable and rarely slurred except when he got overly tired and unable to concentrate. Even his walking had improved. Two days ago the therapists had decided Jack was up to walking around without the walker. Daniel watched as Jack held on to the shoulders of Lieutenant Simone. He could see her speaking to Jack as Jack slid a foot slowly forward. Daniel couldn't imagine how terrifying the whole process must be for Jack, not only relearning to walk but doing it in the dark.
"Good morning, Doctor Jackson." Daniel pulled his gaze away from the windows to acknowledge Major Wendover. She smiled at him, her gray curls bobbing as she turned her head to look through the window.
"Colonel O'Neill is doing quite well," she noted in her brisk fashion.
"He's walking better today than yesterday," Daniel said, trying to focus on the positive side of things.
"Doctor Jackson, I know this is difficult for you," Wendover began, "but Colonel O'Neill will adjust, as will you. He will learn to live his life in a fulfilling fashion. It's not going to be easy for either of you. I won't lie and tell you it will. But there will come a day when you will find you don't focus on what Colonel O'Neill has lost but rather on where he chooses to go in the future."
"He has a long way to go." Daniel watched as the therapist stepped away and Jack took a few steps on his own, walking unaided for the first time since returning to Earth. Is this the way a parent felt seeing his child do it too? Daniel rubbed at the bridge of his nose, fighting the hot prickle of tears.
"Yes, he does," Wendover agreed. "I'll see Colonel O'Neill in his quarters in one hour, sir." She nodded. "That should give you both time to eat."
Daniel waved and opened the door to the PT room when he saw Jack sitting in his wheelchair.
"Oh nine hundred tomorrow, sir. I've arranged for you to use the whirlpool later this evening." Lieutenant Simone concluded his speech to Jack and looked up at Daniel. "Well, sir, it looks like your transportation is here. And remember walking this afternoon and this evening."
Jack nodded, twisting his hand in his T-shirt. "Daniel?"
"Yeah, I'm here, Jack. Let's go get something to eat, okay?"
"Daniel?" Jack asked as they got off the elevator a few minutes later. "Where are we going? This isn't the way to my room."
"Lunch, Jack. Major Wendover said she'd be at the VIP room for a session in an hour and then you have an appointment with Mackenzie, so I thought it might be a good idea to eat now."
"No! Take me back," Jack nearly shouted, grasping the handles of the chair tightly. "You think because I'm blind I don't have a say in what happens to me? You didn't even ask."
"I'm sorry, Jack. I just thought you'd be hungry. I'm sorry. You're right. I should have asked you." Daniel turned the chair around. "We'll go back to the room."
"Get me the hell out of here," Jack ordered tightly between clenched teeth.
They returned to the VIP room in uncomfortable silence and Jack gratefully climbed into his bed, pulling the blankets over his hips in agitated movements.
"Look," Jack said as he heard Daniel fidgeting by his beside. "I just wish you'd have warned me first. I'm tired, you know I didn't sleep well last night, and..."
"You're right, I wasn't thinking," Daniel said in a subdued voice. "I'll let you get some rest. I'll be back soon with lunch. What do you want?"
"I'm not hungry, Daniel." Jack turned on his side, facing away from him.
"You need to eat," Daniel said, sitting down on the bed. "Janet said she's thinking of sending you home the end of this week but you need to eat, Jack. You still have weight to gain back." He massaged the tense shoulder beneath his hand.
"Cereal," Jack finally mumbled. "Froot Loops."
"Be back soon, Jack." Daniel leaned closer and sneaked a kiss to Jack's nape.
"Are you ready, Jack?" Daniel asked. He took in the hands clutching the duffel bag, fingers white with strain. Jack's final checkup in the infirmary had been completed, Janet sending them on their way with her blessing.
"No," Jack muttered, "but everyone says this is what I need to do."
Daniel said nothing. While he couldn't ever say he'd experienced what Jack was feeling right now, he could guess the fear coursing through his lover's body. He'd hoped the depression Jack was exhibiting lately would lift with the promise of going home. He'd been wrong.
Jack tilted his head, a new habit he'd acquired, as the nurse brought a wheelchair to his bedside. He stood, holding the duffel bag and looking lost.
"Just pivot, Jack. The wheelchair is right in front of you," Daniel murmured.
Jack shifted the bag to one hand and sighed as his searching fingers found the armrest of the wheelchair. He sat down, letting Daniel lift his legs onto the foot rest. Daniel let his hand linger on Jack's ankle a moment, noting the still turned in left foot.
"Daniel?" Jack asked as Daniel stood. "Don't let anybody see me." The plea was an anguished whisper. One look at his lover's face had Daniel searching for something to cover Jack. He tugged the blanket off the bed, tucking it around Jack's still skinny legs.
"We're just getting in the elevator and going to my car, Jack. We're going straight home." Daniel bent over, touching Jack's hand. "And then Major Wendover is going to come over to the house a little bit later once you get settled in."
"Daniel?" Jack turned his face towards him, his eyes closed.
"I'm here, Jack. Right by your side." Daniel walked beside the wheelchair as the nurse began pushing.
They only stopped once on their short trip to the surface. Daniel handed Jack a pair of sunglasses before they went out into the sunny day and realized this was the first time Jack had breathed in the air of Earth for over seven months.
Jack tilted his head back as they went through the doors to the parking lot. "Sunshine?" he asked.
"Yeah," Daniel answered. "It's a beautiful day. Sunshine, not a cloud in the sky."
"Good," Jack said before falling silent once more.
Janet had assured Daniel Jack was ready to go home. His physical therapists had asserted their collective opinion Jack was ready to live at home although he would need therapy sessions three times a week for a time yet. Major Wendover was adamant that Jack begin to work on his rehab daily and learn how to live with being blind. But none of them were standing with Daniel, Jack, and a nurse in the middle of a parking lot.
"Will you give me your bag, Jack?" Daniel squatted in front of the chair. "I'll put it in the trunk." He was relieved when Jack handed the bag to him. The nurse had already wheeled Jack to the passenger side door by the time Daniel tossed the duffel inside the trunk. Jack was leaning forward in his wheelchair, his hands skimming over the door, searching for the handle. Daniel shook his head at the nurse when she went to open the door and gave a small smile when Jack managed to open it on his own.
"Let Nurse Bailey and me help you into the car, Jack, okay?" Daniel waited until Jack nodded before they helped him to shift into the passenger seat.
Daniel closed the door and smiled at the nurse who'd been so helpful during Jack's slow convalescence. She smiled back and Daniel was sure she was wiping her eyes as she walked back into the mountain.
* * * * *
Jack was terrified. He'd been in Daniel's car as a passenger more than once. He'd even traveled from the mountain in a half doze, keeping his eyes closed for most of the journey. But this, this was different. His eyes were open this time, fully open and he couldn't see a fucking thing. He could feel his heart pounding; hear the sound of his own harsh breathing. Maybe this was all a nightmare and he'd wake up in the infirmary and Doc would tell him he'd been really sick and he'd been having bad dreams. Maybe Hannara had just been a part of some drug induced hallucination from some concoction he'd unknowingly ingested in some ceremony Daniel insisted SG-1 attend. Jack pushed at his sunglasses and rubbed fiercely at his eyes, holding them open and seeing only a world of light gray. The car swerved slightly and Jack felt his stomach churn. It wasn't a nightmare, it was real. Oh God, oh God, he couldn't do this.
"Danny," he heard his voice come out in a pathetic whisper and swallowed the bile in his throat.
"Jack?" Daniel sounded alarmed and the car slowed. He heard the turn signal clicking and then the even rhythm of the emergency flashers as Daniel turned them on. The car shook as traffic sped past them.
"I'm gonna be..." Jack fumbled to find the door handle, hitting the door with his fist when he couldn't find it. "Open it, damn it, where's the handle?" He felt tears in his eyes and Daniel's weight as he leaned across Jack and pushed open the door. Jack undid his seat belt and twisted sideways in the seat, bracing his hands on the door frame as he began coughing. Bile surged in his throat and Jack leaned further out the door, hoping he wasn't hitting the car, his pants or his shoes. And then Daniel was there, outside the car, holding Jack's head, stroking his back.
"It's okay, Jack." Daniel's calm began to filter through Jack's distress. "It's okay."
"Sorry," Jack gasped finally, his throat and nose burning from the acid. He waved a hand. "Just sorry."
"Do you think we need to take you back to the infirmary?" Daniel asked. "Do you hurt somewhere?" A cool hand was pressed to Jack's forehead. "You don't seem to have a fever."
"No. Want to go home." Jack rested his head on the back of the seat, closing his eyes again. "Just...the drive, not knowing where I am, just...scared," he finally admitted.
"We're just on the outskirts of the Springs, Jack. We're about a mile from that gas station that you always say makes the best coffee even though you know they really don't." Daniel began talking, keeping up a gentle kneading of Jack's shoulders. He pressed a bottle into Jack's left hand. "It's water, rinse your mouth," Daniel tapped Jack's hand and Jack complied, picturing their surroundings in his mind. He swished the water in his mouth and then leaned forward and spit it out.
"You ready to go home?" Daniel rubbed his hand along Jack's thigh. "I'll drive the route you always do, and tell you where we are, okay?"
Jack nodded, letting Daniel help him put his legs back inside the car. Daniel was true to his word, keeping up a running commentary for the next half hour until they pulled into the driveway. Jack let go of the water bottle then. Daniel had faith in him; hell everyone seemed sure that Jack O'Neill would be able to live the rest of his life as a blind man. Too bad Jack didn't feel the same way. He pushed open the car door and managed to get out and stand on his own. Daniel came to his side, guiding Jack's hand to a spot right above his elbow when Jack couldn't seem to move. He let his fingers soak in Daniel's warmth, the strong muscles beneath his fingertips.
"Ready?" Daniel asked, his voice sure.
He'd trusted Daniel with his life time and again. Jack decided he'd need to trust him in this too.
"Yeah, Daniel. I'm ready." Jack wished he could believe in himself even half as much as Daniel did.
* * * * *
"Okay, Jack, just two steps down. That's good." Daniel felt Jack's grip tighten as they stepped into the living room. Jack's near panic attack in the car had scared Daniel too. He'd promised Jack they'd make it through this, that Jack would be able to live a new life. Daniel squashed down his own fears for the moment. "Gwen said she'd be over at two. It's almost nine now. Do you want to listen to some music? Are you hungry? Do you want to take a shower?" Daniel rattled off as many possibilities as he could think of.
"I'm tired," Jack whispered and Daniel studied Jack's face, noting the lines of tension in Jack's forehead. The morning had been extremely stressful for Jack, Daniel knew and Jack's stamina, while improving, still had a long way to go.
"You want to lie down in our bedroom?" Daniel asked and then began walking in that direction when Jack gave a nod. He coaxed Jack up the first step towards the bedroom and began the second step when he felt Jack stumble behind him. It happened so quickly Daniel didn't have time to prevent the fall. He winced at the sound of Jack's knees hitting the wooden stair.
"Here Jack." Daniel knelt down beside him, his arm coming around Jack's waist. "You okay?"
"Stop it." Jack pushed at Daniel's hand. "Just stop it." Daniel withdrew his arm and moved away a slight distance watching as Jack spread his hands on the stairs. Jack waved one hand in the air, searching for the railing and gripping it so hard his knuckles turned white. He pulled himself to his feet and put both hands on the rail.
"Ready?" Daniel asked. "I'm sorry, Jack. I was going too fast." When there was no response to his question, Daniel touched Jack's shoulder, another mistake. Jack let go of the rail with one hand and struck out in fear and confusion. Daniel pressed against the wall, waiting until Jack's breathing calmed once more. "Jack?"
"No. Don't help. Don't," Jack muttered. He slid his hands up the railing and slowly lifted one foot to the next step bringing his other foot up to join it. The progress was halting and slow but any attempts Daniel made to help were rebuffed. So Daniel followed behind, his hands hanging useless at his sides, thinking when Jack got to the top of the stairs Jack would take his arm again. But stubborn as Jack was, he held one hand flat on the wall, shuffling along the hall until his fingers met the doorjamb to the bedroom.
"Danny?" If Daniel hadn't been behind Jack he wouldn't have heard the lost whisper. "This is the bedroom right?"
Swallowing hard, Daniel managed to speak. "Yeah, Jack. Yeah it's the bedroom."
Jack nodded and pushed away from the door, walking into the open space with his hands held before him. Looking over Jack's shoulder, Daniel could see there was nothing to trip Jack or hinder his progress. He bit his tongue when he wanted to give directions. Jack stopped, turning left and taking a step. He shook his head and took two steps back and turned right then shook his head again.
"Fuck!" Jack yelled as Daniel stepped closer. Jack's body was vibrating with tension. "I can't even find my damn bathroom." He reached out, his waving hands coming in contact with Daniel's shoulders.
Daniel covered Jack's hands with his, concerned at how cold those hands were. "Let me help, Jack."
Jack slid a hand down Daniel's arm to rest above his elbow. "Bathroom."
"Okay." Daniel began walking, conscious of Jack's hesitant steps. He stopped before the bathroom door and placed Jack's hand on the doorknob, watching as long fingers explored the metal. Jack opened the door and Daniel followed one step behind.
"A little to your left, Jack," Daniel murmured, smiling when Jack found the sink.
"I'll be okay from here, Daniel," Jack said, his voice hoarse. "I'll be okay."
"I'll wait right outside," Daniel promised. He stepped through the door, closing it, and leaning against it in relief. His own hands were shaking. He shut his eyes and prayed for strength. Finding the small bit of Jack's ever present dogtag in his pocket, Daniel rubbed it, relaxing as the metal warmed from his body heat.
The sound of flushing and then water running warned him Jack was ready. Daniel straightened as the door opened. Jack looked worn out and Daniel was worried when Jack took his arm without comment. Daniel guided him to the bed.
"You want to get undressed?" Daniel sat on the bed beside Jack as his lover curled up on his side. Jack shook his head. Daniel stroked Jack's hair and then took off Jack's sunglasses so they didn't get bent.
"What do they look like?" Jack asked in a small voice.
"Your glasses?" Daniel placed them on the night table and began stroking Jack's hair again.
"My eyes. What do they look like?" Jack whispered. "Do they look blind?"
"Your eyes are beautiful. Brown just like always." Daniel bent to kiss Jack's temple and the small scar running to Jack's left ear. He sat up when Jack turned onto his back. He touched the fine lines at the corner of Jack's left eye. "When you turn towards people's voices, you don't make eye contact anymore. Your eyes don't focus." He stopped as Jack rested his fingers around his wrist.
"Is it ugly? Does it look ugly?" Jack shivered.
"No, no Jack. Not ugly, never ugly." Daniel toed off his shoes and stretched his own legs out on the bed. "No one thinks that." He wondered if these fears were some remnant of Jack's time as an outcast. He pulled Jack closer, rubbing circles on Jack's back, glad to feel more muscle was returning.
"I don't know if I can do this, Daniel."
"We'll do it together, Jack. I'll be here for you. We'll do it together." Daniel reached down and pulled up one of the folded blankets from the bottom of the bed. He covered Jack, smiling at the small sigh of thanks he received for the gesture. Jack's breathing soon slowed and Daniel slid out from under him so he could pull off Jack's shoes and socks. He studied the scar tissue crisscrossing the soles of Jack's feet, thinking of the pain Jack must have suffered. At least Jack had regained the ability to walk, the ability to speak. Jack muttered something in his sleep and Daniel resumed his position by Jack's side prepared to spend the rest of the morning guarding his lover's slumber.
* * * *
Jack smiled down at his sleeping lover. Sunlight turned some of Daniel's hair golden. The strain of the past months had put its stamp on his features. Even in rest, Daniel's mouth was pulled down into a frown and his forehead crinkled with stress. Jack touched tentative fingers to his lover's cheek brushing them over a cheekbone and searching for Daniel's lips. An eager mouth opened under his touch and Jack bent closer, tasting Daniel, chocolate and coffee and cinnamon toothpaste. Oh God, he'd missed him. He'd missed Daniel. Dreamed of seeing him again. But the doctors said he was blind. He wasn't. He wasn't. It wasn't true. He could see. He could. He couldn't be blind.
"Jack." Hands cupped his face and Daniel's voice intruded on his dream. "Jack, come on, buddy. Wake up." The strain in the beloved voice made Jack open his eyes although he didn't want to. Gray, his world was gray. No sunlight, no glimpse of Daniel's hair, his eyes, his face, no muted colors of the crazy quilt Daniel bought a year or so ago in a thrift shop. His stomach lurched. Panicking, Jack rolled from the bed, trying to remember his position in the room. He took a few steps forward, cursing under his breath when his toes came in bruising contact with the chair Daniel always tossed his clothes on. Okay, chair, chair is by the closet, closet is near the bathroom door. Jack reached out a hand, relieved to feel smooth wood beneath it. Ignoring Daniel's continued calling of his name, Jack kept one hand on the wall and shuffled his feet. His hand met the hinges of the door and he moved across in front of it, opening it, and taking the few steps to the toilet. He got on his knees, dry heaving, his breath coming in gasps between bouts.
"Here." Daniel took Jack's hand, curled his fingers around a cup. Jack drank as the cup was tipped to his mouth. "Better?" Daniel asked, his voice calm and soothing.
Jack shifted, resting his head on the cool tiles of the bathroom wall. "Better." He held the cup out, not sure of Daniel's position, sighing when it was taken from his hands. "What time is it?"
"You have on your watch, Jack," Daniel answered. Jack heard him move away and the sound of the plastic cup being rinsed.
With trembling fingers, Jack pressed the button on his watch. A mechanical voice informed him it was eleven thirty three. Rubbing at his forehead and then his eyes, Jack took a few deep breaths. He put out a hand and grasped the edge of the tub before pulling himself up. Get a grip O'Neill, he thought. You survived on Hannara for how many months? Surely you can cope with this if you're surrounded by people you know. He leaned against the wall, tucking his hands under his armpits trying to get them warm again.
"My glasses? Are my dark glasses here, Daniel?" He wished he could stop shivering. As if his wish had been spoken aloud, Daniel came closer and ran his hands up Jack's arms, rubbing them briskly.
"You don't need to wear your glasses for me, Jack," Daniel said. Jack wondered what Daniel's expression was. Was he sad? Confused? He couldn't tell from the calm voice. "God, Jack, you're like ice. You want to take a bath or shower?"
Jack hesitated. The therapists had helped him in the infirmary. He didn't want Daniel to see his body naked and exposed.
"Janet suggested we get a chair. That way you can sit to shower. You don't have to worry about your legs."
Face burning, Jack ducked his head. He could imagine what the chair looked like, remembered one his mother had to use after her stroke. Helpless, dependent, he should have died on Hannara. It would have been better for Daniel, allowed him to go on with his life.
"Shower sounds good, Daniel," Jack managed to say. He stepped away from the wall, moving over to sit on the closed toilet lid. He listened to the sounds as Daniel pulled out towels from the cabinet, brought in the chair from somewhere and placed it in the tub with a grunt, and finally the sound of the shower.
"Okay, Jack. It's all ready. You need some help getting undressed?" Daniel asked. Jack shook his head and pulled off the sweatshirt and sweatpants he was wearing. He stood, pushing down his boxers and stepping out of them. He held out his hand, hating that he needed help to get into his own bathtub for crying out loud.
"You're fine, Jack. Just lift your left leg. That's it, just a little higher." Daniel's hands were steady on his arm, supporting and strong. Jack felt for the chair and sat on it in relief, not wanting to admit his legs were shaky, whether from fear or exhaustion or a mixture of both he wasn't sure. Warm water splashed on his feet, Daniel evidently had the spray coming out of the hand held unit.
"The shampoo is on the floor by your left foot, shower gel on the right side of the stool. Just reach down your hand; you should be able to feel it." Daniel waited until Jack tested for the items. "I'm going to go get you some clean clothes and put on some soup for us. You gonna be okay?"
"I can take a damn shower by myself, Daniel," Jack spat out, anger the only way he could deal with his fear at the moment.
"Yeah, I know, Jack." Daniel sighed and Jack heard the door close softly behind him.
Leaning forward, Jack swept his hand to the left, grabbing hold of the shampoo bottle. He placed it on the seat beside him and felt for the grab bar in the shower, using it to pull himself to his feet. Daniel would be having kittens if he knew Jack was standing when he should be sitting but Jack needed to find the hand held attachment. Besides, the other shower head worked better anyway. Keeping one hand on the grab bar, he reached out towards the wall with the other, smiling to himself when he found the shower head. He pulled out the button that switched the spray to overhead and sighed as warm water cascaded over him. It was the first real shower he could remember since before he was taken. He reached back for the shampoo, swearing when it fell off the chair. Jack moved his foot, feeling for the bottle. There it was. He bent over and picked it up, realizing he was going to have to let go of the grab bar in order to properly wash his hair. Except for the stumble on the stairs earlier, his legs tended to be steady unless he was overly tired. Squeezing a small amount of shampoo into his hand, Jack tossed the bottle back onto the floor and began scrubbing his hair. It was slightly shorter than it had been before the mission where he'd been taken. He couldn't remember much of those first few days back in the infirmary but he did remember his head being shorn of the matted hair. At least he usually washed his hair with eyes closed.
For awhile, standing there with the water sluicing over his head, he could pretend he could see. Sighing, Jack rinsed his hair and took a step in the tub, half turning to get the hand held attachment before preparing to soap the rest of his body, forgetting about the chair and the shampoo bottle he'd tossed onto the floor. Arms flailing as he slipped and began to fall, Jack was unable to find the hand rail. He bit his tongue as he hit the porcelain bottom, his head coming forward and impacting with the chair's edge. Water beat down on his head and he could taste blood.
"Jack? Oh God, Jack!" Daniel's shout sounded from the hall and pounding feet heralded Daniel's entrance to the bathroom. "Jack? Jack, you okay?" Shaking hands held his head steady. The water was turned off and Jack began to shiver as air hit his wet skin.
"Stupid," Jack said, his hands closing on the stool. The supposed anti slip strips bit into the naked skin of his thigh. He batted at Daniel, who was touching his face. "Stop it."
"You're bleeding, Jack," Daniel said, ignoring him. Jack touched a finger to his forehead and brought it before his eyes before he realized he wouldn't be able to see the blood. "What happened?"
"I slipped. I was washing my hair and I slipped on the damn shampoo bottle." Jack grabbed hold of Daniel's arms and used them to lever himself upright.
"Wait," Daniel guided him out of the tub and to the toilet seat, "how did you manage to do this if you were sit...Jack, you were supposed to sit on the chair." The voice turned cold and disapproving.
"I'm a grown man, Daniel. I think I should be able to stand up and take a shower and wash my hair without having to sit down like an invalid."
"Jack, your legs still aren't strong enough. Look at what happened on the steps." Antiseptic spray stung Jack's forehead.
"Geez, warn a blind guy why don'tcha?" Jack grumbled. He refrained from rubbing his left hip which was beginning to hurt.
"Maybe you should have remembered that in the tub," Daniel said. A bandage was applied to the cut. "Damn it, Jack, you could have killed yourself."
"I didn't." Jack caught Daniel's hand, more luck than skill. "I didn't kill myself. You don't know what it's like."
"No, I don't know, Jack." Daniel's voice went very quiet. A fluffy towel was placed on Jack's lap. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"Just my pride, Daniel," Jack sighed. He waved a hand in the air. "I'll dry off and get dressed."
"Call me when you're ready to come downstairs," Daniel said. Jack nodded but he thought Daniel might already be out the door and didn't see the gesture.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jack forced himself to do some of the deep breathing Doctor Mackenzie had taught him. He picked up the towel after a few minutes, starting to dry himself off. The towel fell to the floor as his fingers encountered the scar tissue crisscrossing his torso, thin stripes of smooth skin. He ran his hands down his legs, hating how skinny they felt, muscles still not filling them out. There were deep lines that ran the length of his shin bones. Jack still hadn't remembered what caused those. Mostly dry, he carefully placed the towel over the tub's side and made his way to the bedroom, walking to the bed without thought, something he'd done waking up in the middle of the night to relieve himself and finding the bathroom and then his bed half asleep.
He sat down on the bed patting around its' surface for the clothes Daniel said he'd placed there. Jack pulled on a pair of boxers and then the Tshirt and sweatshirt. He stood up to pull on the sweatpants and felt for the rolled up socks. Jack rested an ankle over his knee. He skimmed his fingers over the sole of his foot. Scars met his touch. He could remember the days spent alone and cold on the streets of Hannara, days when he'd stumbled along still trying to force uncooperative legs to move. He remembered the other outcasts who pulled glass over his feet so he wouldn't come into their territory and spread the wasting sickness among them. Seemed there were outcasts among the outcasts.
Not liking the path his thoughts were taking, Jack pulled on his socks in jerky motion. He found his sneakers and slipped them on, tying them securely. If he fell again, Daniel would probably blame him for that. One last thing, Jack thought. He patted the night table, closing his fingers over his dark glasses and feeling less naked when he put them on. Jack made his way to the bedroom door and down the hall towards the steps. He stopped at the top of them, his heart pounding when he thought of walking down them in the dark.
"Daniel," he called, hating himself, hating his need. "Daniel. I'm ready."
* * * * *
"Major Wendover said we'll practice more in the house and the yard tomorrow. She said she expects me to give you lessons each night when you get home." Jack's voice was low in the darkness of the bedroom. Daniel let Jack's words wash over him, too exhausted to even reply to Jack's recounting of his therapy session. Jack hadn't wanted Daniel in the house while he had his first lessons on finding his way around and using a cane. So Daniel had gone to the grocery store, stocking up on all of Jack's favorite foods and then stopping by Sam's to ask her and Teal'c over for a meal sometime next week. When he got home, Jack was stretched out on the sofa sound asleep and Major Wendover followed Daniel into the kitchen to discuss some of the new things Jack and Daniel would need to remember. Little things like keeping everything in its own special place, making sure the floors were kept clean of debris. His face still burned with embarrassment when he recalled her asking how Jack had gotten cut on his forehead. She hadn't said anything to make him think he'd done anything wrong, but Daniel vowed to himself he'd be keeping a closer eye on Jack.
Laundry done, groceries put away, Daniel began working on a report only to have Jack awaken from a nightmare confused and shaking. Jack wouldn't talk about it, only saying it was something better off forgotten. Their supper was eaten in silence, Jack concentrating on his food, Daniel lost in thoughts of Jack alone and beaten on Hannara.
He had to finish his report by eight tomorrow, Daniel knew. He rolled over to check the alarm, noting he'd set it for three. More than enough time to finish it. Jack took longer to get ready so if he woke him at six, Jack would be able to eat breakfast before they had to leave for the mountain. Jack could go to his physical therapy and then Major Wendover had offered to bring him home for his rehab session there. Daniel rubbed at his eyes in the dark, listening to Jack's soft snores. He stared up at the ceiling, realizing that even in the darkness of the room he could see the moonlight, something now stolen from Jack.
Turning on his side towards Jack, Daniel threw one arm over Jack's chest, feeling the thrum of Jack's heart under his hand, and closing his eyes hoping he could sleep without dreaming.
* * * *
"You're doing very well, sir."
Jack grunted in response to Major Wendover's encouragement. He sure as hell didn't think he was doing very well. He couldn't even walk around the damn house on his own, but Wendover insisted that he begin to walk through the rooms with her, getting reacquainted with his surroundings. The physical therapists insisted he didn't need the walker any longer but he still wasn't able to manage a long distance without getting fatigued. She'd brought him a cane the other day, having him test it for length and giving him a beginning lesson on how to use it. He'd walked the length of the living room before fatigue set in and he'd had to sit down on the sofa to rest. The cane was going to have to wait until Jack was steadier on his feet. For now, he had to rely on getting through the halls of the SGC holding onto Daniel's arm or, more frequently, Major Wendover's.
Muttering under his breath as he counted his steps, Jack reached the end of the kitchen.
"Where are you, Colonel O'Neill?" Wendover asked, another one of her tests.
"Door," Jack answered. He stood still, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on his face. He placed his palm flat on the glass, his heart aching.
"...outside, sir?" Wendover's voice floated to him and Jack pulled himself out of his maudlin thoughts to focus on her words.
"Sir?" She spoke again. "I asked if you would like to go outside."
His heart started pounding at the thought of venturing into his backyard. He'd been outside of course while walking to the car to go to the SGC and his therapy sessions, but outside in the expanse of his yard, in the alien world it had become, he wasn't so sure. But still, the sun felt nice. He wasn't even sure of the season and was ashamed to ask because he should be able to figure it out. Jack took a deep breath and wiped his hand on his pants. "Yeah, Wendover. I would." He turned to face her as he spoke and brought a hand up to his face to check his glasses. He kept them on all the time, not wanting others to see his eyes.
"Open the door, Colonel," Wendover said standing close beside him, ready to assist if he needed it but he found the latch without much difficulty and slid the door open. He fumbled as he searched for Wendover's arm and gripped it tightly when he found it.
It was breezy and warm. Jack stopped when they stood on the deck. He put out a hand to the side, hunting for the picnic table and sighed when he touched the rough surface.
"Would you like to sit for awhile, sir, or should we go into the yard?"
He was, no scratch that, he had been a colonel in the United States Air Force, Special Ops. He'd faced Goa'uld and not batted an eye and here he was afraid of his own backyard, damn it. Jack clenched his hand into a fist. "Yard," he whispered, unable to find enough spit to make his voice louder.
They took a few steps and his hand was placed on the railing.
"Nice and slow, Colonel," Wendover said as she took the first step. Jack felt for the riser with his foot, using all his concentration to navigate the few steps that led down to the grass. But it wasn't enough.
He shouldn't have taken it for granted, Jack cursed at himself. He should have known he wouldn't manage to walk in the yard without screwing up. Jack pushed himself up and licked his lips, tasting blood from where his tooth had scraped his lip and grass from where his face had impacted with the ground. He waved his hand in the air, searching for Wendover's arm. Her hands came around his arm, his waist and helped him regain his feet.
"I want to go back inside." Jack bit out the words.
"Colonel," her voice held a warning note.
"I said inside." Jack could feel his hands shaking. "Inside now."
"Yes sir." She began leading him back to the house. Jack kept his head down, something Wendover usually chided him for.
Falling on the grass like a little kid. Jack concentrated on counting steps and breathing. They made it back inside the kitchen and Jack felt alarm when Wendover stepped away from him.
"Let's go into the living room, sir. I'd like to talk to you."
"Your arm." Jack reached out.
"You can make it, sir. I'll be right by your side, but you can make it." Wendover sounded surer of his abilities than Jack felt.
He took one step towards the living room and wondered if he could live on the couch for the rest of his life.
Stretched out on the sofa a short time later, Jack pulled the afghan down over his legs, not wanting Wendover to see how they were trembling.
"Sir, I know this is extremely difficult for you."
"You do? You blind, Wendover?"
"I'm not. You know that. But I want you to know you are going to fall, sir. You are going to fall again and going to walk into things and probably scream in frustration. And that's okay. You have a right to be angry. But don't give up, sir. You are making tremendous progress. You are getting stronger every day. You had a long PT session this morning. Fatigue can affect your concentration, sir."
"Wendover?" Jack rubbed at his forehead.
"Just tell me the truth. Tell me that I'm going to learn to live with this." Jack hoped he was looking at her face.
"I can't, sir. You need to make that decision for yourself." She was silent a long time after her statement.
"It's so damn hard." Jack closed his eyes in fatigue.
"Yes, sir, it is."
"What time you coming tomorrow, Major?" Jack massaged his thigh, the muscles aching. "No PT, remember? Maybe my concentration will be better then."
"Oh eight hundred, sir." There was the sound of Wendover gathering her purse and other supplies. "I'll see you then."
Jack nodded and listened as she closed the door behind her. He pressed the button on his watch relieved to find it would only be a half hour until Daniel got home. Maybe they could order take-out for supper. He thought there might be a play-off game tonight. Tired beyond belief, Jack closed his eyes, dreaming of Daniel in the sunlight.
* * * *
"He shoots, he scores!" The announcer's voice rang with excitement as Daniel peered at the group of players assembled around the net.
"Who made the goal?" Jack demanded, squirming against Daniel as the over-excited announcer woke him up. Jack leaned blindly towards the television set. "Damn it Daniel, who scored?"
"Um, I'm not sure," Daniel replied, trying to remember who had last had control of the puck. His attention had wandered for a little while as Jack had fallen asleep but the cries of the announcer had woken Jack and reminded Daniel that he was supposed to be helping Jack 'see' the hockey game.
"Which team scored? Come one, give me a hand here."
"I think it was number sixty," Daniel supplied helpfully.
"Theodore? For crying out loud, he's the Canadian's goaltender." Jack relaxed once more against Daniel's chest as the announcer gave the credit for the goal to the Avalanche's Defenseman 'Smith', number six. Daniel kissed the top of Jack's head in apology.
"Sorry, it just happened too fast."
"Hmph," Jack snorted, his attention already on the impending face off.
Daniel sighed. It was bad enough to have to sit through a hockey game with Jack demanding what was happening every few seconds, as if he couldn't listen to the announcer's play by play. But Daniel kept dozing off alongside Jack and could never seem to catch up with the game fast enough to satisfy Jack.
The two of them were lying on the couch with Jack comfortably ensconced between Daniel's legs. Daniel reached for a couple of potato chips from the bag lying on Jack's chest, feeding one to his lover before eating his own. He looked at the clock on the left of the screen, noting that there were only a few more minutes remaining in the third period. He reached for more chips and a soft snore from Jack indicated that he'd dropped off once more.
Good, maybe he'll sleep through the next several minutes and allow the game to end without Daniel having to bring him up to date between his little catnaps. Daniel smiled happily, glad to feel the familiar weight as they lay in their favorite positions on the couch.
Daniel watched the game without any real interest, marveling at how the referee and linesmen could easily jump out of the way of the fast-moving puck. He wondered how they could keep track of it there on the ice when he could barely do so from a bird's eye view. Bored, he closed his eyes and let the droning voice lull him to sleep.
"What? What's happening now?" Jack demanded as the noise level suddenly increased. Mentally cursing himself for not having lowered the volume, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at the TV screen.
"They're not playing," Daniel sighed. "They're fighting."
"A fight? Who started it? Who hit who? How many?"
"I don't know, Jack, they're all over the ice." And they were; a dozen players from both teams were going at it all in various spots on the rink with other team members trying to break the fighters up and then getting caught up in the melee themselves. Gloves, helmets, and even jerseys littered the ice as men bared knuckles and rid themselves of their accumulated aggressions.
"Damn it," Jack groused, levering himself off of Daniel and sitting up, forcing Daniel to move over to give Jack room for his legs. The bag of chips fell off his chest and scattered bits of the yellow snack all over the couch and floor. Daniel sighed at the mess but kept his mouth shut.
Jack was leaning forward, elbows balanced on knees, head cocked to the side as he listened attentively. Daniel wondered why the fans reacted so passionately to the violence. It was like the old joke, 'I was watching a fight, then a hockey game started'.
"I think someone swung their hockey stick at someone else," Daniel supplied.
"High sticking?" Jack asked over his shoulder.
"Um, yeah, I think so. Or maybe it was tripping?"
"Oh, they're picking up their stuff and one of the guys is being physically pushed back into the penalty box," Daniel said. "He's mouthing off like there's no tomorrow."
"Who is it?"
"Um... number eleven?" Daniel couldn't quite make out the number on the player's jersey as it was bunched up around his ribs.
"Koivu? It can't be Koivu, he's not playing tonight. Is it Nikolishin?"
"Um, no, that's not the name that's on the jersey."
"Well, what name do you see? What color's the jersey?" Jack asked irritably as he leaned back against the couch in frustration, then perking up again as the penalty was announced to Battaglia for high sticking.
"Eleven? Daniel, how the hell could you mistake eleven for forty four?"
Daniel squinted at the screen and at the close up of the sweaty player sitting in the penalty box, happily squirting water into his mouth. Daniel could definitely see a forty four on his jersey now that he'd pulled it back down into place.
"Sorry," Daniel apologized once more. "At least the game's nearly over," he added.
"Huh? How can it be almost over? How many more minutes left?"
"We're talking seconds here, Jack. Like in thirty two."
"What? But we're in the second period, right?" Jack said as the crowd went wild and began counting down along with the clock.
"No, third. You slept through part of the game, remember?"
"I did not."
"Didn... ah shit, it's over," he complained as the siren went off and the counter reached zero. "The Montreal Canadians won, didn't they?"
Daniel nodded, then remembered that Jack couldn't see him. "Yes, they did. But the Colorado Avalanche put up a pretty good game." He clicked the television off, the silence feeling strange for a few seconds.
Daniel pulled Jack back into their original position on the couch. He smiled as Jack slid callused hands over his arms. Jack settled back with Daniel's arms pulled around his abdomen.
"This is nice," Jack said with a sigh as he twined his fingers in Daniel's.
"Yeah." Daniel yawned, then realized he had to finish the translations he'd brought home and which he'd abandoned when Jack had asked him to sit through the hockey game with him. He wanted to groan, realizing he had a good two or three hours' more work before heading for bed. Jack was half asleep in his arms. Damn. He needed to try and convince Jack to go to bed now so Daniel could finish his work without interruptions. He'd be nearly finished now if he'd worked instead of lying here with Jack for the past two and a half hours.
"Come on, Jack, let's get you to bed," Daniel said as he sat up, pulling Jack's body into a seated position.
"Mmmp," Jack complained, followed by a yawn.
Daniel stood up then helped Jack stand. With his arm wrapped around Jack's waist, he led the unsteady man into their bedroom.
"I want a bath," Jack stated, turning towards the bathroom.
Daniel sighed. He really wanted Jack in bed and sleeping so he could get his work finished and then get some sleep himself.
"You're tired, Jack," Daniel said. "Why not wait until tomorrow?"
"I want to soak, my legs hurt," Jack grumped.
"Shit, why didn't you say so?" Daniel said worriedly, thoughts of his work totally forgotten as he sat Jack down on the side of their bed. "Do you need your pills?"
Jack had had a very difficult PT session late this afternoon which was one of the reasons why Jack had been so tired this evening. He hadn't thought that Jack had been in pain but he should have known better.
"No, they're just achy. Nothing a hot soak won't help with." As Jack stripped his sweatshirt from his back, Daniel went to run the water for the bath. He returned and helped Jack stand and remove his pants.
He looked at Jack's naked body a moment noting that, although he was still too thin, his body was beginning to fill out a bit. His legs were still shriveled-looking but the muscle tone had improved two hundred fold since he'd come home. His ankles were nearly in their proper alignment and, although he couldn't quite get around on his own, he could manage fairly well around the house with Daniel's help.
Daniel took a few minutes to massage Jack's legs and Jack's groans told him that his ministrations were helping. He helped Jack into the bathroom, then into the tub.
"Don't fall asleep," Daniel cautioned as Jack closed his eyes, knowing that his words were falling on deaf ears.
"Mmmm hmmm," Jack replied with a smile as he relaxed in the hot water.
"I'll be back in a little while, okay? I just need to go take care of a few things," Daniel said. Jack waved him away so Daniel went back into the living room and cleaned up the spilled chips. He put the empty cans of soft drinks into the recycling bin and prepared a pot of coffee for later.
Figuring Jack had soaked long enough, Daniel went back to the bathroom.
"Jack, wake up," Daniel said, putting a hand on Jack's warm, wet shoulder.
Jack's reaction was totally unexpected. He began flailing and splashing in the tub, interspersing grunts and yells. Water flew everywhere as Jack slipped, unable to find purchase.
"Jack! Jack! Calm down!" Daniel yelled, trying to grab Jack before he hurt himself on the ceramic tub. Finally Daniel managed to put his hands under Jack's shoulders and heaved him out of the tub, both of them falling onto the carpeted bathroom floor.
Jack stopped struggling once he was out of the water and Daniel held Jack's shaking body close to him. "It's okay, it's okay," Daniel crooned, realizing that Jack had woken up totally disoriented. He should have known better than to let Jack fall asleep somewhere unfamiliar at this point.
"Danny?" Jack whispered against Daniel's neck.
"Yeah. You all right?" He pulled back to look at Jack, who nodded at Daniel's question. Daniel grabbed the towel he'd put aside earlier and wrapped Jack in it once he'd gotten him seated on the closed toilet seat cover.
"Where are we?" Jack asked in a small voice.
"Bathroom. You fell asleep in the tub," Daniel said as he began drying Jack with the towel.
"Thought I was drowning. I didn't know... sorry."
Daniel stopped and hugged Jack's shivering body close to him. "It's okay. I should have known better to wake you up like that." He rubbed his hands up and down Jack's still-boney back.
"I hate this, Daniel. I hate not being able to..."
"Shhh, it's okay, you're doing so much better. You're just tired. Remember, the doctors said it would take a while."
Jack took a deep breath. "I know."
Daniel finished drying him off and then helped him back to the bedroom. Jack was quiet and compliant, something which worried Daniel a bit as he bundled him up into his sweats and had him slide under the covers.
"You're not coming?" Jack asked softly as Daniel sat down beside him. Actually that was exactly what Daniel wanted to do... slide in beside Jack and go to sleep, but he had to go finish the translation.
"In a little while," Daniel replied as he leaned forward and nuzzled Jack's neck. "I have some work to finish, remember?" He felt Jack nod and he kissed the warm skin beneath him. "Go to sleep. I won't be long," Daniel lied.
He felt Jack relax beneath him and Daniel ignored the ache in his back from the awkward position, waiting for Jack to fall asleep before getting up. He showered a few more kisses before lying his head against Jack's shoulder, listening to him breathe. Daniel now had to go clean the bathroom before hitting the translations. He took a few deep breaths, his fingers unconsciously playing with the metallic chain looped around his fingers, trying to recharge himself for the work that was awaiting him. He sat up when Jack was breathing deeply and looked at his lover a moment, the sight of him relaxed and comfortable was going to have to sustain Daniel through the next few hours.
- - - - - -
The translations ended up taking longer than he'd expected and Daniel slipped into bed with a raging headache. The coffee hadn't done a great job in keeping him alert and he'd had to struggle to finish the last few pages. He'd taken some Tylenol but the pills hadn't done much to relieve the headache and the burning pain in his neck and shoulders.
Daniel tensed his shoulders and then relaxed them, trying to ease the tightness. Taking a deep breath he turned onto his side facing his lover. Jack had his back to Daniel. Daniel slipped closer to Jack so they were just touching.
"What time is it?" Jack asked.
"Sorry, did I wake you?" Daniel replied, laying a kiss on Jack's nape and trying to circumvent the question.
"No, I heard you in the bathroom. What time is it?" he repeated as he turned to face Daniel. "The last time I checked it was after one."
"It's after two," Daniel admitted, but not revealing that it was closer to three than two.
"Daniel," Jack said in a chastising voice. Instead of answering, Daniel simply snuggled against Jack. He was beginning to relax, his work for the day finished, and the man he loved was lying beside him. He listened to Jack breathing; God how he'd missed that sound. He shifted slightly in the bed, making himself comfortable. He knew he'd be asleep in just a minute...
"They dumped me in a room full of water," Jack suddenly said in a whisper. Daniel dragged himself from the edge of sleep and suddenly his heart began to pound when he realized what Jack was saying.
"They tied me up and threw me in a room full of water. For three days, with my hands tied behind my back, I had to stay awake or else I'd drown. The room was dark and circular, there was no place to sit or lie down and the water came up nearly to my armpits."
Jack pulled away from Daniel, turning onto his back. "Twice I fell asleep despite my best efforts."
"So when you woke up in the tub earlier tonight..."
"I thought for a moment I was back in that room."
"God, Jack. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have let you go to sleep there-"
"How the hell were you supposed to know? Besides, I knew full well when I got into that bathtub that I'd be asleep in no time, I just never expected that kind of flashback. I guess it won't be the last time either."
"I'm sorry," Daniel said. The words felt inadequate and Daniel blinked back tears. As happy as he was to have Jack back with him, he wished once again that he'd been able to convince General Hammond to allow him to return to the planet where they had believed Jack to have died. Maybe there he would have found a clue indicating that Jack was still alive and where he'd been sent. He felt he could have prevented all of Jack's pain.
Jack's hand fumbled against Daniel's cheek then gently moved up to his eyes. A finger unerringly wiped his eyelids before the hand moved to the back of his head. Gentle pressure pulled Daniel forward and he relaxed, allowing his head to fall against Jack's chest.
"Don't," Jack simply said. Daniel nodded, knowing Jack knew Daniel felt guilty for everything. They hadn't really talked about it. Maybe they would soon if Jack was beginning to feel he could now confide in Daniel.
* * * * *
* * * *
"Sergeant Siler said he thinks he'll be able to finish the repairs in my lab by Tuesday," Carter concluded her tale of woe. Jack was sitting close enough to Daniel to hear a low chuckle from him before he said in a serious tone, "I'm sorry to hear that, Sam. But at least no one was hurt."
Carter's sigh was loud. "No, at least no one was hurt."
"Jack?" Daniel moved closer, his hand touching Jack's arm. "Do you want some more chicken?"
Jack shook his head. He was tired. The others didn't understand how much effort it took to listen to all their voices, trying to figure out if the words were said in jest or seriousness while attempting to put the food in his mouth without spilling it all over his front. He hated this. Hated that he was a grown man and Daniel had to cut his meat for him because he hadn't learned how yet. Hated that he had to feel for food on his plate because sometimes he just didn't know where the hell it was. Jack moved his hands away from his plate and rested them on his thighs, curling them into tight fists. His fingernails dug into his palms, the pain telling him he was still alive. Chairs scraped back and footsteps sounded on the kitchen floor.
"I will take your plate, O'Neill," Teal'c offered. Jack nodded and listened to the clatter of silverware as it was placed in the dishwasher. The cleaning up went on around him while he sat useless. He wondered just why it was the universe had decreed Jack O'Neill should be found. He couldn't help thinking it might have been best for all concerned if Daniel had never wanted to walk through the market on Hannara.
Carter was wrapping up the leftovers and she was standing close enough that he could smell her perfume over the herbs Daniel always insisted on putting on chicken. Jack lifted his hand reaching towards the sound of crinkling aluminum foil. His fingers brushed against her hand and he closed his fingers around her wrist needing to ground himself by touching someone, something.
He could feel her pulse, strong, steady.
"Is something wrong, sir?" Carter sounded confused. "Do you need something? Do you want help?"
Jack shook his head and dropped his hand away. "Sorry, Carter." He ducked his head. His face felt hot.
"Jack?" He should have known Carter's questions would bring Daniel to his side. If he leaned back, Daniel's hand would be pressed between the chair and his shoulder blades. "You okay?"
"Fine." Jack shifted and felt Daniel's hand resting warm and heavy on his back. "Just tired."
"Let's go into the living room," Daniel moved his hand down Jack's arm, helping him to stand. Jack kept a hand on the back of the chair until he felt stronger. Daniel was slightly in front of him and his arm bumped Jack's.
"No." Jack pushed it away, feeling angry. "I can do it myself.'" He was a grown man; he'd lived in the house for close to 8 years. He was capable of finding his own way to his living room. It had been one of his first lessons at home with Major Wendover, rediscovering his surroundings, building a new mental map of the alien landscape that used to be his home. He was glad Daniel hadn't been there wanting to help, allowing Jack to lean on him. He was glad Daniel hadn't been there to hear his screams at Wendover when he couldn't find the damn bathroom even though he knew exactly where it was. The house was now familiar. He knew how many steps it was from the sofa to the steps, from the bed to the closet, from the kitchen to the recliner, and all other variations and permutations of any possible place he wanted to visit in the confines of his home. Major Wendover had already warned him they were venturing into the neighborhood on Monday. Jack hadn't told Daniel. He knew Wendover kept Daniel informed; gave Daniel his own sort of training of how to be a guide for Jack. But so far he'd managed to keep her away from allowing Daniel to be in any of his other training.
Seventeen steps, Jack knew. Seventeen with a step down on the sixth. Jack began counting under his breath, aware of Daniel just behind him. Thank God Carter and Teal'c had already gone to the living room. He thought they'd gone to the living room. God he hoped they weren't behind him, watching his slow progress. He wondered if he'd begged Teal'c to kill him those first days he'd lain helpless in the infirmary if the Jaffa would have complied, a coup de grace to a fallen comrade. Damn, Jack bit his lip. All his mental meandering and now he didn't know where he was.
"Five," Daniel said behind him. "You're about to take five."
Jack nodded, unable to say thanks, anger at his failure swelling for a moment before he started to count again.
Safe and sound. Jack sighed as he felt the couch a few minutes later and sat on the cushions. There was a squeak as Daniel sat down beside him.
"Sir?" Carter sounded nervous, unsure of herself. "I wasn't sure if you'd like these," there was a sound of something plastic sliding on the coffee table, "but I thought maybe you'd like some audio books."
Only his team knew how much he loved to read and Jack was strangely touched by Carter's consideration. "Thank you." Jack rubbed at his forehead. "Sorry, I'm not being the best of company."
"DoctorFraiser informed us you should not become overly fatigued, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "This day has been stressful for you."
Daniel slid his hand up to rub Jack's neck, a daring move considering that Carter and Teal'c were there. "Do you want some aspirin?"
"Nah." Jack shook his head, hating the sound of concern in Daniel's voice. "Okay. I'm okay." Daniel tightened his hand slightly and Jack leaned his head back into it. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the couch.
Carter launched into a tale about Major Quentin's woes with his new car and Jack let her voice wash over him, not willing to make the effort to pay attention any longer. Daniel had started a fire in the fireplace and Jack enjoyed the heat from it. On Hannara his master, Roshail, enjoyed keeping his slaves in the cold and dark. He used to dream of fires. Jack shivered at the remembered cold and the afghan from the back of the couch gently covered his legs. He coughed as he swallowed wrong and fear lanced through him. What if he was getting sick again? What if he lost the use of his legs for good? He was losing himself again. His heart began pounding and his mouth went dry.
Daniel moved closer as if he sensed Jack's distress and Jack relaxed as he caught the scent of Daniel's hair. He was home, he was safe. Hannara was far away and he didn't need to ever go back there again. The sounds of his friends' voices filled the room, grounding him once more. He tuned into them again, noting the nuances in Carter's voice. He could hear her smiling and could imagine Teal'c's expression as he offered a comment. Daniel put in his two cents and Jack couldn't hold back a grin.
'What do you think, sir?" Carter asked.
Jack straightened from his slouch. He shifted trying to judge Carter's position. "Sorry. Wasn't paying attention," he admitted. His stomach growled. Jack put his hand over it. Mealtimes were stressful but he often was hungry when he went away from the table. "Excuse me, but I need to go to the kitchen."
"Jack?" Daniel patted Jack's thigh under the blanket. "What do you need? I'll get it." The springs on the sofa squeaked as Daniel moved to get up.
"No," Jack ordered. "I can do it myself. Just gonna get a snack." This was the first time Daniel had to really relax since Jack had come home. He wasn't going to ruin Daniel's fun by pulling him away from their friends.
"Okay," Daniel said slowly. "But you call me if you need..."
"I can do it, Daniel," Jack said again, more forcefully. He rose and stood for a moment mentally preparing himself for the journey to the kitchen.
Jack breathed out a loud sigh when he reached the safety of the kitchen counter. His fingers crept along the surface, searching for the bread box where Daniel had placed the leftover French bread. Jack smiled as he managed to open it and pull out the loaf. He wasn't about to try cutting the bread without supervision; he knew he was tired and his concentration was waning for the evening, but luckily he could tear a hunk of bread off the end and dip it in the peanut butter jar. He was just reaching for the peanut butter, third cupboard from the sink, lowest shelf, when there was a sound of rushing water and a whirring noise. Jack dropped to his knees.
The street cleaning machines were beginning their nightly cleaning of the market. He was so hungry, he'd found the loaf of bread and tonight no one was going to get it from him. Jack began crawling from the approaching machines, cursing his legs' weakness. He'd lost track of his surroundings, unsure of where he was. But he could hear voices not too far away, plotting to take his meager meal. On the streets it was every man for himself and Jack was determined to stay alive as long as he could, until this illness abated. He found a corner and huddled into it where no one would see him in the dark night.
- - - - - - *
"How's he doing, Daniel?" Sam asked a few minutes after Jack left the room. Daniel looked at his friends and saw not pity but concern.
"He's," Daniel rubbed at his eyes beneath his glasses and searched for the right word, "adjusting." He finally settled on that, hating the word and the finality it held. Much as he loved Sam and Teal'c there were some things he couldn't share with them, like the fact that Jack woke up most nights shaking and calling out in fear, or that Jack had to struggle with the most basic of tasks as he learned to live without his sight. It wasn't his right to share; it was up to Jack. But Jack had come so far in the weeks since he'd come home. Jack was walking on his own and regaining his strength. He was able to eat without help and was studying Braille on a daily basis. Jack had come so far. Granted he still had a long way to go, but Daniel knew the tremendous effort Jack put forth every day.
"O'Neill is a warrior, DanielJackson. He will be victorious in his battle," Teal'c said. Daniel looked at him, surprised by the admission. Of the three of them, he believed Teal'c struggled with Jack's new disability least. In the eyes of the Jaffa a wounded warrior was a dead one, but it shouldn't surprise him he supposed. Teal'c wasn't an ordinary Jaffa.
"Yes he will, Teal'c." Of that, Daniel had no doubt. He'd lost Jack once; he wasn't willing to let him go without a fight now.
Sam stood up, gathering the cups on the coffee table. "I'll take these out to the kitchen for you, Daniel. It's getting pretty late and I think Teal'c and I should be going. The colonel looked like he's getting tired."
"I can get them later, Sam." Daniel stood up too. He turned his head to yawn into his shoulder.
She shook her head. "My purse is in the kitchen. I'll put these in the sink, okay?"
"Thanks." He smiled at her and at Teal'c. "I'm glad you both came over. I think Jack thinks folks are forgetting him."
"We will arrange another visit, DanielJackson," Teal'c said. "And we will not forget O'Neill."
"No, Teal'c. I know you won't." Daniel smiled, grateful for Sam's and Teal'c's support, needing it as much now as he had those dark months when they believed Jack was dead.
"Sir?" Sam's voice floated to them from the kitchen, an almost strangled sound. Daniel was across the living room in a few steps nearly colliding with Sam as she backed out of the kitchen door.
"Sam?" Daniel could barely speak, his heart pounding, afraid she was going to tell him Jack was dead.
"Daniel, he..." Sam looked up at him, her eyes tear-filled. "He...I don't think he knows...sorry..."
"Teal'c?" Daniel looked at his friend who nodded and reached out to take Sam from him. He went past her into the kitchen and felt his heart sink as he took in the sight before him.
Jack was curled up in a corner of the kitchen, wedged between the stove and the refrigerator. He had a half loaf of French bread in his hands and was tearing it with his teeth, eating it as if he was starving.
"Jack?" Daniel whispered then realized Jack wouldn't hear him. He moved a little closer, crouching down just out of arm's reach. "Jack? You know where you are?"
"Stay away," Jack shouted. "Mine." He pulled the bread closer to his chest. "Mine." Jack reached out with one hand, pushing at invisible enemies.
"I know, Jack." Daniel kept his voice low, hoping he could break through to Jack but fearing he wouldn't be able to. "I don't want to take it. I want to help you. Let's get you up off the floor." He moved closer, hands outstretched.
"Mine," Jack yelled. He kicked out with a foot, luckily missing Daniel's ribs. Daniel retreated a few feet, unable to figure out what had triggered the flashback. He looked around the kitchen, then cursed under his breath for his stupidity. It wasn't going to be a visual trigger. He closed his eyes and listened, unable to hear anything but the dishwasher. It was worth a shot, he decided.
"Teal'c, turn off the dishwasher." Daniel pointed and nodded his thanks when the sound stopped. He inched closer to Jack. "Jack? It's me, Daniel. You're home, remember? Home." He could see Jack was trembling and was trying to hide the loaf of bread under his shirt. "We really need to get you up off the floor. Doctor Fraiser would have a fit." He doubted Jack was processing the words he was saying but his voice seemed to be having a somewhat calming effect. He was close enough to touch Jack's ankle and wondered if doing so would be wise. He decided not to, remembering a few nights ago when he'd touched Jack without warning while they listened to a hockey game on the radio.
"Jack, I'm right here. You're home. There's plenty of food, you don't need to worry," Daniel continued, watching as Jack's trembling lessened and the curled up body began to relax.
"Daniel?" Jack asked, his voice cracking. "Daniel?"
"Yeah, it's me, Jack." Daniel spoke softly, hoping Jack was finally back with them. "Jack, I'm going to touch you, okay?" He waited for a quick nod and then gently touched Jack's ankle, rubbing his hand up Jack's shin. "Can you give me the bread? Let me help you up?"
"Bread?" Jack sounded confused. He pushed away from his corner. "Daniel? Where are we?" He held out a hand and waved it in the air. Daniel caught it, not surprised to feel it was icy. "We're at home, Jack. In the kitchen." Daniel rubbed the hand between his own. "Here, let me help you up." Daniel stood and reached down to give Jack a hand. He held onto his lover as Jack tried to regain his footing.
"Bread, Daniel?" Jack pulled the loaf away from his body. "Daniel?" His voice held a hint of panic.
"Shh," Daniel soothed. "You just had a bit of a flashback. It's gonna be okay."
"No, I don't remember. Daniel, I don't remember coming in here." Jack was growing agitated.
"Daniel, we'd better go," Sam said from close behind him.
Shaking his head, Jack moved away from Daniel, sliding his hand along the refrigerator until he found the counter. He braced himself against it.
"Go, Sam. I'll call you tomorrow. But just go." Daniel didn't take his eyes off Jack wanting Sam and Teal'c gone, knowing Jack would be humiliated knowing they'd seen him in this state. He waited until he heard the front door close before he moved again.
"No, I should remember," Jack was muttering. "I should, Daniel."
"You're tired, Jack." Daniel stepped next to him, wrapping his arms around Jack. "Let's get you up to bed and then we can talk about it some more."
"Daniel." Jack leaned into him, his breath coming in hot bursts against Daniel's neck.
"Come on, Jack. You can lean on me." Daniel wrapped his arm around Jack's waist, guiding him through the kitchen and up the stairs. Their progress was slow and Jack's steps faltered now and again.
Sighing as he settled Jack on their bed, Daniel knelt down to remove Jack's shoes. He didn't like the passivity Jack was showing but he knew Jack was tired. He toyed with calling Janet, or even Mackenzie, but figured that for now sleep would be the best thing for Jack. He managed to get Jack undressed and tucked under the blankets before shedding his own jeans and sweater. He crawled into bed next to Jack, pulling him close and rubbing his hands on Jack's back.
"I was hungry," Jack whispered. "I was hungry and I never had enough to eat."
Daniel bit his lip, thinking of all the meals he'd eaten while Jack starved. "Tell me about it, Jack. You're safe and you will never be hungry again." Daniel held Jack in his arms and prepared to stay awake all night if that was what was necessary.
* * * * *
As tired as Daniel was these days, after months of sleeping alone it was taking a bit of getting used to having another body sharing the bed with him. Not that he begrudged the fact that he slept lightly in fear of disturbing Jack or in case Jack needed him during the night. A few months ago he never expected to have the man he loved lying beside him ever again. The sound of Jack's soft snores and his own particular scent tickling his nostrils would lull Daniel to sleep. But the still unfamiliar feel of the too-thin body beneath his hands often jarred him awake. Jack didn't quite *feel* right yet to Daniel's subconscious.
Tonight Daniel drifted off to sleep in Jack's arms for a change, relishing the sensation of having someone holding him, comforting him.
Hot, aching need woke him and he was intensely aware of his penis throbbing beneath Jack's hands. He moaned and raised his hands, roaming down Jack's thinner frame, wanting to reacquaint himself with it. Daniel slipped his hands inside Jack's sweats, discovering Jack's erection and sliding his fingers over it hungrily. Jack arched into Daniel's touch, his hands tightening momentarily over Daniel's cock.
"Feels so good, Jack," Daniel mumbled as Jack's hands stroked him, needing this, wanting this. He slid his fingers down to Jack's balls while his other hand slipped beneath Jack's tee shirt and skittered across his warm skin.
The next thing Daniel knew, Jack was pushing him away.
"Stop!" Jack said loudly. "Please. Don't."
It took Daniel a couple of seconds for his brain to start working and he saw from the dim light coming through the window that Jack had curled onto himself at the far edge of bed. Jack's breath was coming in small gasps and he was almost trembling with tension.
"Jack? Did I hurt you? Are you all right?" He slid forward ignoring the ache in his groin; all concern now was for Jack's well being. He reached a hand but at his touch Jack flinched.
"Why did you... Daniel, I'm not... I... I can't."
"Jack, did I hurt you?" Daniel insisted needing to know what had just happened.
"No, you didn't hurt me," Jack said in a tight voice. "I just didn't expect to wake up and... Daniel... I'm sorry, I'm not ready for... I don't..."
"What're you talking about? I thought this was what you wanted, Jack."
"I'm sorry. I was dreaming. I must have... sorry."
"Must have been a pretty nice dream," Daniel said with a smile.
"Yeah, well, the reality ain't all that hot."
"The reality looks fine to me," Daniel said as he gripped Jack's shoulders and pulled him against his chest, feeling Jack resist him for a moment. He rubbed his hand down Jack's back and the older man relaxed against him. Feeling the warm body against it, Daniel's penis, which had been reminded after months of inattention and denial how good sex with Jack had been, swelled once more despite Daniel's trying to will it not to.
Jack evidently realized what was happening because he rolled away, much to Daniel's regret. "How can you stand to touch me like this?"
"Sorry," Daniel said, feeling embarrassed. Sex between them had always been intense and pleasurable and Jack's inhibitions about his injuries had left Daniel uncomfortable about initiating sex. He had thought that maybe they'd gotten over that hurdle but it appeared like it was not to be. "Do you want me to go sleep in the spare room?"
"NO!" Jack almost shouted, then repeated in a softer voice, "No." He shifted forward again and reached out with his hand until he touched Daniel, then brought his body closer till they were nearly touching. His hand trailed down Daniel's stomach, and paused at his waistband. "I think I started something and I guess I should finish it."
Daniel's stomach muscles fluttered involuntarily at Jack's touch. He grabbed Jack's hand and stopped him from sliding it farther in. He brought Jack's hand up to his mouth and kissed it.
"Jack, no, not like this. Look, I love you, scars, grey hair, skinny butt and all." He heard Jack snort and he smiled. Jack pulled his hand from Daniel and caressed his face, his thumb finding Daniel's lips and tracing them.
"I want to make love to you," Daniel said as he nipped playfully at Jack's thumb, "and I want you to make love to me. I want to feel. I need to feel. But I want you to enjoy this, too. This is about both of us. Let me love you. Let's just go slow, okay?"
Daniel took Jack's silence to mean acquiescence and he leaned forward, tentatively kissing Jack's mouth. After a bit of teasing and nipping on Daniel's part, Jack opened his mouth to Daniel and let him in. The feel and taste of Jack excited Daniel and he had to hold back, not wanting to overwhelm Jack at this point, so he pulled back, breathing hard. He nuzzled Jack's neck, finding his pulse spot and sucking gently. Jack moaned and Daniel raised himself onto his lover, leaning on his elbows. Moonlight streamed into the room, casting a soft glow onto the bed. He could make out Jack's face very clearly, the silver of his hair shining like a beacon.
"I miss seeing your eyes," he said wistfully as he caressed Jack's face.
"They're ugly, Daniel," Jack said, closing them and keeping them shut.
"God, no, they're not. They're a part of you, a part that I love. Even if you can't see me with them anymore, I can look at you and remember how they expressed your love for me. Don't hide them from me. Don't wear your glasses around me? Please?" Daniel lowered his head and kissed both of Jack's closed eyelids. Jack opened his eyes and Daniel took possession of Jack's mouth once more.
As Daniel ran his hand over Jack's ribs, he felt him tense beneath him. Daniel realized that rediscovering Jack's body would have to wait until Jack himself was more comfortable with it. Daniel went straight for the kill, grabbing Jack's penis and stroking the soft skin. Jack gasped loudly, then responded by reaching for Daniel. The few working brain cells that Daniel had wondered at how well Jack knew Daniel's body, marveled at how Jack could touch him so surely, without sight.
Then those few wisps of thoughts flew out of his head as Jack's touch had Daniel thrusting wildly in Jack's grasp, the sound of his lover's pleasure urging him on.
* * * *
* * * *
Jack woke up to the sound of Daniel's heavy snores in his ear. He fumbled for his watch on the bedside table and pushed the button. A mechanical voice informed him it was just after six. It was still dark out as Jack couldn't make out any light in the room but the sun would be rising soon.
He sat up and dragged his legs over the side of the bed. Daniel shifted and the snoring stopped. Jack could tell by the nasal quality that Daniel's allergies were acting up. And he'd come to bed very late last night and the night before that so Jack knew that Daniel was tired.
Standing up on stiff legs, Jack tottered a moment before finding his balance in his dark and private hell. He winced as he took several steps on aching, unyielding muscles. By the time he got to the bathroom, he wasn't staggering so much as limping. He emptied his bladder, washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and then performed a few stretching exercises designed to help limber his legs. He usually did these in bed before getting up but he hadn't wanted to wake Daniel.
His stomach gurgled, demanding breakfast. Normally he'd wait for Daniel to get up and make them something to eat but he figured he'd let Daniel sleep in today. Jack made his slow way out of the washroom and towards the chair where he and Daniel normally threw their clothes on at night. He fumbled through the small pile, finding a pair of pants but discarding them when he realized they were Daniel's soft, light cotton pants and not the heavy denim of Jack's jeans.
Something clinked faintly on the floor and he realized something had fallen out of Daniel's pants pocket. He found his jeans and sweatshirt and holding them in one hand, he painfully got onto his knees and felt around for the dropped item, finally touching something cold and metallic.
He picked up the object and ran it through his fingers. It was about six inches of chain with a small piece of metal at one end. The chain and metal quickly warmed in his hands, the feel of it somehow familiar. His questing fingers found raised markings on it and running his forefinger over and over the metal he realized it was the letter 'O' and part of an 'N'. Damn, was this part of his dog tags? He'd heard that they had been found and had been part of the reason they had believed him dead. He had thought they'd have been thrown out and he wondered what the hell Daniel was doing with them in his pocket.
Using the dresser for balance, Jack managed to heave himself up and then dress himself. He limped out of the room, Daniel's renewed snores echoing down the enclosed hallway. He headed for the kitchen, using the wall as both guide and balance, the chain tightly clenched in his hand.
He stood in the kitchen's entrance a moment, feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of trying to make his own meal. He'd done so before a couple of times, but never alone. There had always been someone supervising. But okay, he could do this. He'd been making himself breakfast for over thirty years now. One step at a time, his teacher told him. First step... a plan of action. He stuffed the chain into his jeans pocket and thought about what he wanted to eat.
Jack couldn't remain standing yet for long periods of time so it would have to be something quick. Cereal? Toast? Eggs? He decided on toast and coffee, maybe he'd eat something a little more sustaining with Daniel when his lover got up. Confident he could do this, he began to whistle.
First step; get water into the coffeemaker. He felt along the counter and found it. He picked up the carafe and filled it with water and poured it into the machine. Okay, some of the water didn't quite make it inside but after sticking his finger into the reservoir he decided it was full enough.
Next step; measure out the coffee. After a bit of fumbling, he found the bag of coffee and began measuring out the proper number of spoonfuls. Smiling to himself, he went to turn the machine on when he suddenly realized he'd forgotten the coffee filters.
Swearing, his legs beginning to shake beneath him because he'd been standing too long, Jack impatiently reached for the filters. He got one out and poured the coffee into it and misjudged, feeling the grounds slide over his fingers and onto his bare feet.
"Shit!" he cursed, skimming his hand along the counter and trying to feel how much of the coffee had missed its target. His fingers encountered the spilled water and then the coffee, making a sticky mess on his palm and countertop. Wiping his hand clean of the grits on his jeans, he searched for the bag of coffee again and poured what was left in the filter back into it and began re-measuring the proper amount into the filter. He tried to ignore the grounds under his bare feet and finally got the coffee measured and double-checked everything before turning the machine on. He waited a minute, listening for the sound of the water dripping into the carafe.
Satisfied, now that the coffee was taken care of, he tore off a handful of paper towels and wiped down the counter. He passed his palm over the counter and found he'd missed many of the grounds. He swiped the countertop several times in anger before the pain in his legs forced him to sit. Jack massaged the wasted muscles of his thighs. The day had barely started and he was tired already.
He brushed the soles of his feet on his pant legs to get the irritating coffee grinds off of them. He wanted to clean up his mess on the floor but he knew there was no way he'd be able to accomplish a simple thing like sweeping. How the hell was he going to survive being blind if he could barely make coffee?
Sighing, he sat at the table with his head in his hands, finally rousing when the smell of coffee reached him. He got up, took some bread out of the refrigerator, found the toaster and inserted the bread into it, then proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee.
Proud of himself for not having made another mess, he rummaged in the fridge, searching for the cream. He knocked a few things over in his quest, swearing as a plastic bowl tumbled onto his toes. He felt around the area with his foot but couldn't find the bowl. Giving up, he continued his search for the creamer. Finally he found the container and poured some into his coffee. He misjudged and overfilled the cup.
He wiped his hands dry on the seat of his pants, then reached out for the cup again. He wrapped his fingers around it, holding it steady on the counter. He bent over the cup, bringing his mouth to the overfull brim since picking it up would cause it to spill. Jack noisily sipped the hot brew. Hey, it didn't taste that bad. He smiled; at least he'd been able to accomplish one thing today. After taking several more cautious sips, he carefully groped his way back to the table and sat there, enjoying his hot drink.
Catching the smell of something burning, he realized his toast hadn't popped up. He stood quickly and reached for the toaster, the sudden wail of the smoke detector startling him.
As he moved backwards, Jack stepped onto the errant bowl, losing his balance and his weak muscles gave out. He felt himself falling onto his side with a loud thud.
"Jack!" Daniel's voice sounded panicked as running footsteps came towards him. Jack reached out, feeling the smooth, cold metal of his kitchen table and chairs. As he sat up he felt Daniel's hands on his shoulders, supporting him.
"Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?" Daniel was anxiously running his hands over him and Jack irritably batted them away. His hip ached, he suspected he'd be wearing a bruise for a few weeks, but he wasn't hurt.
"I'm fine," he yelled over the din. "Shut that damned thing off, will you?"
"Are you sure? You didn't-"
"Will you stop that?" he said as he pushed Daniel away from him. He felt Daniel stiffen slightly then heard him move away to the counter, presumably to unplug the damned toaster. He heard the sound of doors and windows opening and within a minute the smoke detector had turned itself off as soon as the smoke cleared from the room.
By then Jack had managed to get up and was sitting on the chair when Daniel came back into the kitchen. Thoroughly disheartened, he sat there trying to ignore the throbbing in his hip which was vying with the ache in his legs. He heard Daniel sigh, but Jack was having a bad day and he felt was entitled to mope.
"I'll make you some more toast," Daniel offered.
"Never mind, I'm not hungry now," Jack sulked.
"Jack. Look, here's your coffee." Daniel took his hand and placed it around the still hot mug. "Sit tight and I'll make us some eggs and bacon, okay? Just let me go get dressed." Daniel got up and put a hand to Jack's shoulder. Jack didn't answer but took a sip of the hot drink, listening to Daniel walk back to the bedroom.
He leaned his elbows on the table, totally discouraged. Within fifteen minutes he'd unilaterally managed to make a mess of the kitchen. Coffee and water and whatever he'd tripped over. His leg and foot was damp from where he'd fallen into the spill. It smelled like last night's stew.
Daniel returned and Jack heard him pouring coffee. Daniel's leg brushed against his as he sat down next to Jack.
"I feel so damned helpless, Daniel."
"I know," Daniel said softly, his hand coming up to take Jack's. "We both knew it wasn't going to be easy but look how far you've come."
Jack knew Daniel was right, but he didn't feel like he'd made much progress of late. He was constantly tired; his body, especially his legs, ached all the time, but the worst was the ever-present darkness.
The chair creaked as Daniel shifted his weight and Jack heard him lift his cup and swallow some coffee. As the cup clinked on the table, Daniel stifled a yawn. Guilt spread through Jack as he realized Daniel would still be sleeping if Jack hadn't burned the toast. The thought reinforced the feeling that he was a burden and he couldn't stand Daniel's sympathy. He pushed back his chair and stood up.
"Where are you going?"
"Ummm, okay. I'll start cleaning up in here and by the time you're finished breakfast should be ready. Let me go and get the chair for you."
Another added embarrassment. If Jack wanted to shower alone he had to sit like an invalid on a special chair since his legs still couldn't be trusted to hold him on the slippery surface. He nodded and continued towards the bathroom, wishing he'd just stayed in bed that morning.
* * * *
Daniel rubbed his forehead trying to ease his growing headache as he watched Jack toying with his food. Half his scrambled eggs had fallen off the plate as Jack pulled his fork back and forth through the now congealed mess.
Sipping his coffee, Daniel stared at his own meal also mostly uneaten. Jack's head was bent, his face hidden from Daniel. His shoulders were slumped and Daniel knew that the enthusiasm Jack had experienced the past two days in his accomplishments had flown out the window along with the smoky residue of burnt toast.
Another piece of egg fell onto the table and Jack's sleeve caught it, pushing the bit of food onto the floor to join its brethren. Damn it. Daniel had just swept and washed the kitchen floor, cleaning up Jack's earlier mess. He clenched his fists and held them to his temples, squeezing his head in an attempt to hold back from grabbing Jack's hand to still the frustrating motion.
He'd been woken out of a sound sleep by the sound of the smoke detector. Visions of Jack caught in a burning house swept through him as he rushed out of the bedroom. He'd heard the thud of a falling body as he neared the kitchen and had immediately thought the worse.
It should have been a simple minor setback but the accident had been a blow to Jack's self esteem. The sight of Jack sitting there dejected, ignoring his breakfast, disheartened Daniel. Jack had been doing so well, his spirits were up, and he had shown signs of his normal cockiness yesterday with Major Wendover when he'd breezed through one of the tests she'd assigned him. Jack had been pushing himself hard, both mentally and physically, in order to overcome the damage the virus had done to his body.
Daniel had forgotten for a moment that Jack's soul had also been hurt but Daniel was just so damned tired right now that he half wanted Jack to come and comfort him. He really didn't have the energy to go comfort Jack right now and he hated himself for it. This was his fault after all. He'd thought that when he and Jack began to have sex again things would change, start to get them back on an even footing. It seemed he'd been wrong. He just didn't know what to do anymore. Maybe Sara could talk some sense into Jack because Daniel was beginning to lose patience. He was glad he'd managed to convince Jack to let her come for a visit. She had wanted to see Jack for weeks now.
Jack picked up his mug and drained his coffee while his sleeve dragged onto his toast, smearing butter and jam over several inches of the material. Having had enough of Jack's unintentional untidiness, Daniel pushed his chair abruptly from the table. The noise startled Jack, his head coming up in confusion. Daniel reached for Jack's plate and cupped his hand around the fallen fragments of food. Dumping it all into the plate, he emptied both plates into the trash and placed them in the sink.
"I'll do the dishes," Jack offered tentatively.
Visions of broken bits of dishes assailed Daniel and he curtly answered, "Don't bother, I've got it." He turned the hot water on and returned to the table to pick up the rest of the dirty dishes, then swiped the table with the dishrag.
Jack continued to sit there, fiddling with something in his hands. Thinking it was a fork or spoon, Daniel reached for it and saw it was the keepsake he'd kept hidden away from Jack all these months. Instinctively he shoved his hands into his pockets, looking for the missing piece of jewelry.
"Where'd you get that?" Daniel asked, his voice sounding as if it were coming from a long way off.
"It fell out of your pants pocket," Jack said as he ran the chain through his fingers, in perfect imitation of what Daniel loved to do with the chain when he held it out of sight.
"It wasn't in my pocket." Daniel lied to Jack for the first time since they had found him alive. His face grew hot with embarrassment and shame. He'd been able to keep his need for the small bit of metal a secret ever since Jack's disappearance. He certainly didn't want Jack to know how weak he'd been, needing the security the metal offered.
"I haven't seen it for a while. It must have fallen onto the floor and then I totally forgot about it." Daniel hated himself for the lie; his fingers itching to hold the warm, smooth metal.
"Oh. I found it under the chair in the bedroom. It's part of my dog tags, isn't it?"
"Yes." Daniel was breathing quickly, his heart pounding in his chest.
"These are what convinced you I was dead?"
"Along with a few scraps from our packs. Yes." Daniel watched in fascination as the small piece of metal went round and round Jack's fingers. He jumped when Jack suddenly slapped the chain onto the table and placed his now empty hands limply on his lap.
"I'm going to go listen to some books until Sara gets here," Jack said as he got up stiffly.
Daniel moved aside to make room for Jack, then grabbed the chain the moment Jack brushed by him. Daniel began shaking and he turned and leaned back on the counter, his arms wrapped around his chest. His fingers frantically played with the metallic links still warm from Jack's body heat.
* * * *
At the sound of the doorbell Jack began searching for the blanket he knew had been on the back of the couch earlier that morning. He heard Daniel heading for the door and his movements became frenzied in his attempt to find the covering.
"Where's the damned blanket!" Jack yelled frantically at Daniel.
"Just a second," Daniel answered.
"No, I want it now! Damn it Daniel, where the hell did you put it?"
"Jack, it's on the edge of the couch, right where you left it," Daniel patiently told him.
Stretching his length along the couch, Jack's questing fingers finally found the soft fleece blanket. He pulled it to himself angrily and draped it over his legs, bending low to ensure that his feet were well covered.
He heard the voices of Daniel and Sara coming towards him and Jack leaned back onto the couch, shifting around to get comfortable. Sara's voice trailed off as she entered the living room and her footsteps stopped abruptly at the top of the stairs. Aha, she'd caught sight of him. He began wondering whether he looked that bad... god, Daniel had better keep him hidden away from kids, he wouldn't want to give them nightmares.
"Jack?" she finally said in a tentative voice.
"Hey Sara," Jack said with a forced smile. He turned his head in her direction and wondered what she saw when she looked at him. A crippled and sightless husk of a man, most likely. It had seemed a good idea at the time but now he was regretting that he'd agreed to Daniel's suggestion for the visit.
"Oh God, it's so good to see you," her familiar voice exclaimed. She ran down the stairs and came to a stop before him. Jack could smell the lavender perfume she loved so much. He felt a hand on his arm and he realized she was kneeling before him.
"So this must be a surprise, huh?" he said, turning his palms up with a flick of his wrist.
"No, Daniel kept me informed of your progress. Actually, you look a lot better than what I anticipated."
"He did?" Jack turned his head towards where he thought Daniel was standing.
Daniel's voice came from farther away than Jack expected and it sounded slightly sheepish. "Yeah, well, actually, uh, Sara and I have spoken on the phone at least once a week since you've been home."
Suddenly Jack felt touched and grateful that the two living persons he'd cared for the most in the world had been concerned enough about him to start communicating. Jack smiled towards Daniel before turning to Sara.
"It was nice of you to come to visit," Jack said, suddenly feeling a little less uncomfortable.
"I tried to go see you in the hospital," she said in what he recognized as righteous anger, "but when Daniel first phoned to tell me you were alive he also said you were in a high-security area and I wouldn't be able to get in."
"Yeah, that's true," he agreed, not knowing what else to say to her. He was relieved when Daniel moved closer to join them.
"Can I get you anything, Sara?" Daniel asked playing host as Jack certainly wasn't able to provide for anyone at the moment.
"I'm fine, thanks," she said to Daniel over her shoulder. Jack heard the sound of her clothes rustle as she got up and sat down beside him.
"Okay, there's fresh coffee in the kitchen and cookies in the pantry if you feel like a snack. Help yourself, Sara."
"Thanks, I will. By the way, I brought some cinnamon rolls and made some lasagna."
"Your four-cheese lasagna?" Jack asked, remembering it used to be his favorite dish.
"Yep. I thought Daniel would have his hands full with you at home so you could use an extra home cooked meal."
"That was nice of you," Daniel said. "Thank you. Look," he continued, sounding a little self-conscious. "If you guys don't mind I'll go and run a few errands."
"Daniel..." Jack began, suddenly afraid to be left alone with his ex-wife, even though he and Daniel had agreed earlier that Daniel would leave the house for a while and give them some privacy.
Suddenly Daniel was there beside him. Jack could feel the warmth of his hand through the blanket where Daniel rested it on his thigh. "Do you want me to stay, Jack?"
Jack thought about it a moment, then realized he had nothing to fear from Sara except maybe her sympathy. He'd been nearly as bad mentally and physically when he'd returned from Iraq; Sara had never turned away from him in disgust. She had been a saint with what Jack had put her and Charlie through in those first few months.
Daniel had told Jack how both she and Daniel had gotten together to discuss putting a memorial for him on Charlie's tombstone. She deserved this little bit of time if only to be reassured that Jack was okay.
"No, we'll be fine," he said softly, patting Daniel's hand. Jack felt Daniel move closer and felt his warm breath on his face, warning him that their lips were just about to touch. They kissed a moment and Jack knew how much Daniel trusted Sara at this point to display this little bit of intimacy in front of her.
When Daniel stood up and moved away, Jack edged his hand across the sofa and touched Sara's knee. He knew she'd be sitting with her hands clasped tightly before her and he found them right where he'd expected them. She clasped his fingers, her hands feeling strangely soft and small compared to Daniel's.
"I'll be back in about an hour," Daniel said. "You two behave now."
"Thanks, Daniel," Sara replied. "We will."
Jack nervously fiddled with the edge of the blanket with his other hand as he listened to Daniel leave the house. The door closed quietly behind him and suddenly the house seemed very quiet.
"Do you need anything, Jack? Juice, coffee, water? Do you want a cinnamon roll?"
Desperate to be doing something other than just sitting there like a lump, he agreed to a snack. He could hear her opening and closing cupboard doors as she searched for a plate. In a very short time, Jack was sitting with a treat on his lap. Glad it was a finger food, he tore a piece off and nibbled at it.
"I hope you're not being too hard on Daniel," Sara told him after they'd sat eating in silence for a few minutes.
"Hard on Daniel?" Jack asked, bewildered.
"He looks tired, Jack. I know all of this must be difficult for you but it's not easy on him either."
Jack felt the familiar anger at his situation start to rise. "So he's been calling you to cry on your shoulder, has he? It's all too much for him to cope with and he doesn't know what to do about me."
"For God's sake, no!" she exclaimed. "But when he broke the news of your death to me I could see how shook up he still was. And he didn't look much better when I saw him just before you were found alive."
"Yeah, well, he's not the one sitting here blind, is he? He's the one driving around town while I can barely make my way around my own house." Jack angrily put his plate of half eaten sweets on the coffee table and winced when it crashed to the floor because he misjudged the distance.
"Oh for crying out loud, Jack, don't you dare start with the 'Look at me, I'm a wreck' routine! I lived through that when you came back from Iraq, and then afterwards you gave me hell for putting up with it when you got better."
He heard the tinkle of broken glass being picked up. "I'm telling you straight, Jack. You're stronger than this; you won't sit still and accept these limitations. If there's anyone who can overcome this, it's you. So don't blame Daniel for what you can't do right now, and don't push Daniel away."
Jack could hear her walk angrily to the kitchen and the broken dish being dumped into the garbage. She sat down heavily beside him again, the couch bouncing slightly with her weight.
"I saw how he looks at you. He loves you, Jack, and he's so worried about you. Please think for a minute what he's gone through these past months. He saw your supposed death, and then he had to come to terms with it and start a new life for himself. We both know what it feels like to lose a loved one, don't we?"
She paused a moment and he recalled suddenly the heart-stopping pain he'd felt in the early days of Charlie's death, after the numbness had gone away. He realized then that Sara was right. Jack had been thinking mainly of himself and had hardly given any thought to Daniel's own feelings. He was now determined that he was going to get well; he was going to make both Daniel and Sara proud of him.
"I'm glad you came," he said truthfully.
"I'm glad I did, too." He felt her lips on his cheek and smiled.
He acknowledged to himself that he had measured his progress over the past few months with baby steps and had not seen the mileage he'd made during that time. Yes, he was stuck in a world of darkness but he was home, he was amongst friends and family, he was getting stronger, and he was alive. But best of all, he had Daniel.
It had taken Sara to make Jack understand what Daniel had gone through alone, thinking him dead. That there were worse things than being blind. He felt a rush of affection for this woman sitting beside him. He hated not being able to see, but damn if he was going to sit back and live in the dark.
"Nyan, I told you those papers were important. Can't anyone around this department follow my instructions without screwing them up? And where's that report on the artifacts SG-4 brought back from P1X-223?" Daniel drew in breath, his anger continuing unabated. "No one seems to be able to do their jobs anymore. I asked you to do a simple task, Nyan. I had more faith in your abilities. If people don't want to work for me anymore that's fine. I'll do the job myself. Is that what you want?" Daniel crossed his arms over his chest watching his assistant and the others in the lab cringe.
"Daniel, I did complete the report. I sent it to you yesterday." Nyan stood up. "We all realize you've been busy. We know that Colonel O'Neill's recovery is taking a lot of your time."
"Are you saying I'm not pulling my weight anymore?" Daniel's voice rose ominously. "I've been doing mine and more. And it looks like I'll need to continue to do so."
He clenched his fist around the dog tag and chain in his pocket. Great, now he was getting a headache; just what he needed, another headache to top off the rotten start to his day. Jack's nightmare had Daniel awake and unable to sleep long after Jack had relaxed and fell back asleep. The headaches he'd been experiencing had only increased in intensity over the past week and he wanted to avoid telling Janet because he knew she was going to tell him he needed to take a break. Didn't any of them understand? Daniel swept the papers off the lab table in frustration.
"Damn it, Nyan, can't you keep anything in order so I can find it when I need it?" He stormed out of the lab, aware Nyan was following him. "Didn't I tell you to get to work?" Daniel turned around. "Don't you think you'd better be working on the report that was due to me yesterday instead of following me to offer some paltry apology?"
Daniel whirled at the voice. Doctor Mackenzie was watching Nyan and him, a frown marring his usual neutral features.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Everything is under control, Doctor Mackenzie," Daniel said in a tight voice. "Some of my staff has decided to ease up on their workloads." Mackenzie didn't budge. "What are you waiting for? Me to screw up so you can cart me back to mental health?"
"Daniel," Mackenzie said in a low voice, "come with me."
"I'm busy." Daniel felt trapped. Nyan and Mackenzie were both studying him and damn his head hurt.
"I said, come with me," Mackenzie repeated. He stepped between Nyan and Daniel. "I need to speak to you. It's important."
"Go, Daniel. I'll find the report for you." Nyan made a shooing motion. "It won't take long."
Daniel ground his teeth and followed Mackenzie who was walking at a rapid pace through the halls. They didn't even take the elevator but rather used the stairs. Daniel balked at the office door.
"I don't need to see you, Doctor Mackenzie. I'm fine."
"Go in," Mackenzie gestured. Daniel glanced at the psychiatrist, suddenly worried about the man's expression. He wondered if Mackenzie was going to tell him something bad about Jack. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he entered the office and stood in front of the small desk there.
Mackenzie closed the door and pointed. "Sit."
Nausea churned Daniel's stomach like it had when he was eleven and had been sent to Principal Torrecetti's office for punching Big Mouth Billy when he made fun of Daniel one time too many.
"Now," Mackenzie said.
Daniel sat in the chair by the desk and pressed his hands between his thighs so the psychiatrist wouldn't notice their trembling. "Is this about Jack?" At Mackenzie's stare, he continued. "About Colonel O'Neill? Jack's been doing really well at his rehab." Daniel clicked his mouth shut, realizing he was starting to babble.
"I don't want to speak to you about Colonel O'Neill." Mackenzie sat down at his desk. Daniel felt his mouth go dry. He studied the picture on the desk, a smiling Mackenzie with his arm around a woman Daniel assumed to be his wife and a gangly boy who must be his son. All of them were dressed in ski gear.
"You ski, Doctor Mackenzie?" Daniel asked, waving his finger at the picture.
"Yes, I do." Mackenzie nodded and leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk. "You want to tell me what the display in the hallway was about, Daniel?"
"Surely you aren't going to tell me that behavior was characteristic of your normal repertoire of dealing with your staff."
Daniel pushed his hand into his pocket, panicking when he couldn't feel the chain. He found it a moment later and began rubbing the small piece of metal while he schooled his face to show no reaction to Mackenzie's words. "My staff hasn't been functioning at their best lately. I needed to take charge." Damn this headache. His head felt like it was in a vise. He rubbed at his forehead, dropping his hand when he noticed Mackenzie was studying him with interest.
"I'm concerned about you, Daniel. I know you've been helping Colonel O'Neill." Daniel opened his mouth to interrupt but Mackenzie continued. "An admirable trait to be sure but I believe it is interfering with your health and your ability to do your job."
Daniel said nothing, only stared at the floor. None of them understood. None of them understood how important it was that he do it all.
"Daniel? Are you okay?" Mackenzie's voice sounded far off. There was a sound of Velcro and a tightening around his bicep. Daniel looked down in a daze to find Mackenzie pumping a blood pressure cuff.
The other man smiled at him. "I am a physician, Daniel."
He knew that. Daniel knew it, but he couldn't find any words to speak. His head was pounding and the nausea was increasing.
"We're going to get you to the infirmary, Daniel." A firm hand was placed on his shoulder. "No, you just sit still. I'm going to call for a wheelchair."
Nodding, Daniel listened as Mackenzie spoke into the phone, his words a jumble. God, he was so tired. If he could just have a night's uninterrupted sleep he'd be fine. He couldn't get sick, Jack was depending on him. His vision grayed around the edges and he felt strong hands holding him up.
"Help's on the way, Daniel," Mackenzie said, his voice strangely reassuring.
Daniel was falling forward and he heard a shout before his world swirled into blackness.
* * * * *
"Your Braille reading is improving, Colonel O'Neill." Major Wendover's voice was warm with praise. "You have quite a talent for it."
Jack grinned towards her. "Not one I wish I needed to display."
"No, but a talent nonetheless." He heard some papers rustling. "I thought we could do some more mobility training tomorrow. We can go downtown and practice your street crossing. I know you haven't gotten much practice at it on your own yet."
Nodding in agreement, Jack checked his watch. The afternoon had flown by with all the hard work he and Major Wendover had done. Once a week they did therapy at the Academy Hospital. It gave him practice on his orientation and mobility skills, learning to use public transportation to get places, but Daniel usually picked him up on these days. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home, put on some music, order some take out, and chill with Daniel.
"Sir, I'd like you to consider attending the program in Tucson." It was a familiar issue between the two of them, the rehab program for blind veterans one she'd explained in great detail. "You don't need physical therapy anymore. You are completely mobile and from all I can see, have regained your muscle tone and strength. It would be an excellent program for you, Colonel O'Neill and allow you to become more independent."
"Yes, Major." Jack wondered if his eyes actually rolled anymore when he used that particular tone of voice. "I need some more time." He knew that at some point in the future he needed to consider attending the program, but there was a finality to going to the intensive rehab program. As long as he only had to have sessions with Major Wendover he could pretend that this was only temporary. Jack hated knowing she was right. He hated knowing he needed to get away from Daniel and learn to be independent once more. But Jack also knew he needed to be able to do more. Daniel seemed quieter than usual and he knew Daniel wasn't sleeping well at night. Maybe he and Daniel could have a long talk about the program in a few days. Maybe he could persuade Daniel to drive up to the national park and they could go for a long walk. Now that his strength was nearly completely recovered, Jack felt the need to use it.
"I understand, sir." Her chair scraped back and he heard the click of her heels as she began to put away some of the materials they'd been using. Jack stood and gathered up the book he was reading, taking it over to the shelf. He heard the door open but the next sound wasn't the voice he expected to hear.
"Hello, sir." Jack nearly dropped the book at the sound of Carter's voice, not Daniel's.
"Carter? What are you doing here? Where's Daniel?" Jack took the few steps back to the table and retrieved his cane. "Did something happen to him?"
"He's not hurt, Colonel." Carter was close enough that he could smell the slight vanilla scent of her shampoo. He could also sense the underlying tone of her discomfort and distress. " But I think you'll want to come with me and see him. He's in the infirmary on the base. Are you ready to go?" She hesitated, "Should I...your arm? Your cane?"
"I can use my cane, Carter. I'm pretty familiar with the hospital. I'll take your elbow when we get outside."
"Okay, sir," Carter said, and he followed her down the halls after a quick goodbye to Wendover. She offered him her arm after they walked through the doors. Carter's steps were hesitant; as if she was afraid he'd fall.
"Carter, you can pick up the pace. I'm capable of walking." Jack regretted the harsh tone he used as soon as the words left his mouth. "Sorry, Carter. I know you're not used to this."
"You're forgiven, colonel." She sighed a little. "I'm not parked too far away."
"We're not going to have to ride your motorcycle are we?" Jack joked.
"No, sir. I'm driving your truck." He felt her arm jiggle a little bit as she tried to hold in a laugh.
They didn't speak again until they were both in the car, Sam's car, not Jack's truck he was relieved to note, buckled in and on the way back to the mountain.
"What's wrong with Daniel?" Jack finally broke the silence.
"He's in the infirmary. I don't know the whole story, sir, but I know he's not in any danger. He was with Doctor Mackenzie and from what I understand he collapsed."
"Collapsed? And this is not a danger sign?" Jack swept his hand to the side, cursing his blindness when he couldn't find Carter's cell phone. "Where the hell is your phone, Carter?"
"It's in my purse, sir."
He heard a zipper and then her rummaging around to find it. The car swerved and Jack put out his hand to brace himself. He still couldn't get used to traveling in a car in the grayness that was now his world.
Jack relaxed as the car came back under control. He heard a few beeps that meant Carter was trying to drive while dialing. "Give it here, Carter." He held out his hand and the small phone was placed in his hand. Damn, his fingers were shaking and he couldn't remember the layout of the numbers. He took a deep breath. "What can you tell me?" He held the phone, trying to think through his worry.
Carter drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. "As I said, sir, I was involved in an experiment on those crystals we, I mean, SG-9 and I, brought back from the Irissin homeworld. General Hammond phoned me and asked if I could pick you up, that Daniel was in the infirmary."
"I'm not blaming you, Carter." Jack pressed the buttons, remembering the placement and held the phone to his ear. A recording came on telling him there was no service available. They must be driving through a dead zone. He wondered where they were exactly. Jack hated the feeling of helplessness when people forgot to tell him his surroundings. He placed the phone on the dashboard. "I just want to know what's going on."
"It must be hard," Carter said a minute later. "Not being able to... I mean, being... Sorry, sir. I was out of line."
"It's okay to say the word, Carter. I know I'm blind. I know people stare when I walk somewhere using my cane. And it is hard learning to rely on something other than sight to see, but I'm alive, Carter. I think all in all I've got a decent deal."
"Yes, sir." Her breath came out in a whoosh and she sounded happier than she had since she'd come to pick him up. "When we get to the SGC do you need me to assist you?"
"I'll take your arm, Carter. We'll get there faster." Jack tapped his fingers on his knee impatiently. "Will we be at the gate soon?"
"Soon, sir. About three more miles." And he felt their speed pick up a little bit. Jack felt for the phone, dialing the number with more confidence, and sighing when it rang.
"Doc?" Jack asked when Fraiser answered the phone. "Why aren't you with Daniel?"
"Daniel is asleep, Colonel O'Neill. I'll brief you on his condition when you get here."
"His condition?" Jack spoke around a dry mouth.
"Sir, Daniel is resting comfortably and he will be fine." Fraiser sounded slightly perturbed at his continued questions.
"Colonel," that was Carter's voice, "we're coming up to the gate."
"I'll be there in less than five, doc," Jack said and pressed off.
It took them three minutes, Jack calculated. Fraiser had him cornered as soon as he walked through the infirmary doors, which didn't relieve his concern over Daniel's current medical state.
"Please, Janet." Jack rarely used her first name but he needed her to understand. Before he would have been content with a glimpse of Daniel in a bed across the infirmary, but now he needed to see Daniel a different way. Needed to touch him, listen to him breathe.
"Sir, I need to get back to my experiment. We're at a critical stage and..."
Jack shooed Carter away with a grim smile. "Go. I'll make sure you're filled in later."
"Yes sir." She patted his arm once and was gone and Jack was left standing, not sure of where he was in the large space of the infirmary.
"Doc, can I see him?" Jack hated the desperate sound of his voice but the sounds of the infirmary seemed louder than usual. He could hear the beeping of what he guessed to be a heart monitor and there were hushed voices floating from a nearby bed. He heard another doctor, a voice he didn't recognize, mention something about the next twenty four hours being critical. Had Carter lied to him? Smells were overwhelming, antiseptic and medicinal at the same time.
"I'm sorry, sir." Jack reached out a hand at those words, groping for something to grab on to when his knees felt watery. "Here, Colonel, take my arm."
Jack waved his hand until he made contact with Fraiser's elbow, realizing how small she was. She began walking and her footsteps led them away from the voices. "We have Daniel in a bed in the back. Right now he's sleeping, so after we give you a chance to sit with him for a few minutes Doctor Mackenzie and I would like to discuss his condition with you."
"Mackenzie?" Jack wondered what the SGC's psychiatrist was doing involved in Daniel's care.
"Daniel was with Doctor Mackenzie when he collapsed," Janet explained. She stopped walking, guiding Jack's hand to the rail of an infirmary bed. Jack gripped the cold metal in relief. "Daniel's hooked up to an IV right now, sir. You're on his left side so be careful you don't dislodge it."
Jack nodded as he slid his hand along the rail, following it towards the head of the bed.
"I'll be back in five minutes, Colonel," Janet whispered and gave his arm a pat.
Jack listened to the soft tap-tap of her heels. He reached out with his left hand, searching for a place to put his cane. He smiled in relief when he made contact with a small bedside table. After placing the folded up cane on it, he held onto the bed rail with both of his hands. He bent closer to the bed, listening to the even sound of Daniel's breathing. He didn't want to wake his lover but Jack needed confirmation that Daniel was somewhat okay. He felt for the headboard and then slid his hand down, smiling as his fingers made contact with Daniel's soft hair. He trailed his fingers along Daniel's skull across an ear and then to the skin of Daniel's cheek. He frowned as he felt the planes of Daniel's face, wondering if Daniel had lost weight because the bones seemed more prominent than he remembered. Daniel's lips were slightly parted and Jack sighed as warm breath touched his fingertips. He missed seeing Daniel asleep. He used to love to wake in the morning and lie in bed, watching his lover sleeping, his face boyishly relaxed. Reluctantly removing his hand from Daniel's face, he slid his fingers across Daniel's collarbone, noting the fabric was a T-shirt instead of a hospital gown. That gave him a little more hope that Daniel's condition wasn't as grim as he'd first assumed. He brushed his fingers down the sweep of Daniel's arm, using the barest touch, the one he'd learned to use when practicing Braille. He managed to avoid the IV stuck in the back of Daniel's hand and found Daniel's long fingers. He squeezed them gently and then patted the unresponsive hand, knowing Daniel must be exhausted if he hadn't awakened by now.
Fraiser's familiar footsteps approached and Jack straightened reaching for his cane. "I'm ready, doc."
"We're going to meet in the briefing room," Janet answered. "Doctor Mackenzie and I need to speak to the rest of SG-1 and General Hammond as well."
Minutes later, seated at the table in the briefing room for the first time since his return home, Jack came to the realization how much his life had changed. 'Well, duh,' he told himself in wry tones, 'you're blind for starters.' He rested his hands flat on the surface then moved his hands to his lap when he feared the others would see the tension in them. Teal'c sat on one side of him, evidently coming from the gym judging from the slight smell of sweat, while Carter flanked him on the other. She was nervous; he could hear the small squeaks her chair made as she tried to get comfortable.
"Doctors Mackenzie and Fraiser?" General Hammond said off to Jack's left. "Are you able to give us a report on Doctor Jackson's condition?"
Jack was glad Hammond was asking because he didn't know if he had any spit left to talk.
Mackenzie began to speak and Jack was struck by the irony that the man who once kept Daniel in a padded cell was now possibly the man who saved his lover's life. Jack had to admit, despite his own misgivings when Janet requested he speak to Mackenzie as he was beginning to gain strength after coming home from Hannara, that the man knew his stuff. The sessions he continued to have with Mackenzie to discuss the nightmare of his life on Hannara and the ramifications of the disease that had robbed him of his sight were helping him to adjust. Maybe not accept but adjust.
"I asked Doctor Jackson to accompany me to my office," Mackenzie began. "He was acting quite out of character in the hallway outside his lab."
"Out of character?" Jack tilted his head, unable to read Mackenzie's emotions in the near monotone.
"Daniel was berating one of his assistants. Nyan, to be exact. He was drawing a large crowd." Mackenzie drummed his fingers on the tabletop. "He came with me and I asked him a few questions once he was seated in my office. It appeared that he had a headache. He kept rubbing his forehead as if in pain and appeared to have trouble following our conversation. He became pale and I called for assistance. I took his blood pressure which was higher than usual. I spoke to him a little longer. He passed out before the medics arrived."
"Daniel woke up in the infirmary," Fraiser continued the tale. "He admitted he hadn't eaten since yesterday at lunchtime."
"We had supper together last night," Jack said, stunned by what he was hearing.
"Evidently you had supper, Colonel. Daniel didn't eat," Janet reported. "I'm quite concerned about him. He's lost some weight, weight I thought he might regain when Colonel O'Neill was found. In addition his blood pressure is a little higher than usual for him. Right now he's receiving an IV to help with the slight dehydration and the low blood sugar. He's sleeping comfortably. But my recommendation, along with Doctor Mackenzie's, is that Daniel be placed on medical leave for a minimum of two weeks. He's headed towards physical collapse if he doesn't take some time to take care of himself."
"I told him he's doing too much," Jack muttered. "Taking care of me is too much extra work."
"I doubt Daniel would agree with that, Colonel O'Neill," Mackenzie said. "And I believe telling him he shouldn't be concerned with your health and rehab would be a disservice. But Daniel doesn't need the stress of being at work right now. He needs time to adjust to your being home."
"Doc?" Jack turned towards the last place he'd heard Janet's voice. "How long is Daniel going to be in the infirmary?"
"I'll probably release him tomorrow morning after Doctor Mackenzie and I have a little talk with him about nutrition and proper rest," Janet said.
Jack thought of the cabin, wondering if a little vacation there would be permitted. He had a sudden longing to get away too, to forget that he was blind; to not be confronted every day with his inability to do his former job. "Will he be able to go on a vacation, doc?"
"I don't see why not," Janet answered, although Jack could imagine her raised eyebrows.
"Colonel," Carter leaned closer, "Teal'c and I would be happy to assist you with making any arrangements."
"Yes, O'Neill. We have been concerned for Danieljackson for many months." Teal'c placed a hand on Jack's shoulder.
"Thanks," Jack said, still unsure of how to accept assistance from anyone without appearing needy. He gripped his cane. "Doc? Do you think maybe I could go back to the infirmary and sit with Daniel for awhile?"
"I think that will be fine, sir," she answered. "If you're ready?"
Jack rose, unfolding his cane, wanting the sense of independence it gave him even while holding Fraiser's arm. He held her arm just above the elbow once more and swept the cane in small arcs as they began their slow walk back to the infirmary. For the first time since realizing he was blind, he wasn't concerned with what other people thought as he walked through the halls. He didn't care if he was getting pitying looks from former colleagues as he and Fraiser walked. He had a purpose and nothing was going to keep him from Daniel's side.
"Sir, I think getting away is a good idea. Daniel has been on what basically amounts to a roller coaster ride these past months." Fraiser stopped walking. A gentle hand was placed on Jack's forearm. "I know he's glad you're back sir. I know your blindness doesn't matter to him. But if I know Daniel he's second guessing every decision he made from the time you went missing and even from the time since you've come home."
"He feels guilty for this," Jack motioned to his eyes. "For what happened."
"Guilt, grief, joy at your being home. Daniel's life has changed too, sir. I think that Doctor Mackenzie and I are guilty of forgetting that." Fraiser's voice trailed off. They stood in silence a moment before her professional voice was back. "Shall I take you to him, sir?"
"Right behind you," Jack said, taking her arm once more, his mind working. Daniel had been taking care of him these past months; it was going to be Daniel's turn to be cared for.
* * * *
"Will we be there soon, Daniel?" Jack's hand tightened on Daniel's elbow, the only outward sign of his distress. The Colorado Springs airport was extremely busy this day and Daniel was well aware of Jack's uneasiness in unfamiliar situations.
"Almost, Jack," Daniel answered. "Step left, suitcase on the floor." Jack followed him around the obstacle, his steps less sure than usual. "Just have another security checkpoint to go through."
Jack's sigh of relief when they stopped was audible. "You go through first, Daniel."
Daniel nodded before remembering he had to say 'yes' and went through the checkpoint after emptying his pockets. He turned and watched as Jack put his cane on the conveyor belt, quickly followed by his wallet and keys. Jack stood still a moment, gaining his bearings.
"Straight ahead," Daniel said, stepping in front of the metal detector. He hated to see the slight hesitation in Jack's steps as he walked. Jack's hand came up, fingers lightly touching the sides of the detector.
"I'm here, Jack." Daniel offered his arm and felt Jack's hand settle above his elbow. "Three steps right."
Jack nodded and followed, reaching down onto the conveyer belt and grabbing not his wallet first, but his cane. Daniel waited while Jack gathered the rest of his belongings.
Jack took in a deep breath. "Ready, Daniel."
Boarding the plane was accomplished with a minimum of fuss, although Daniel could tell the stress of concentration was beginning to take its toll on Jack. His lover sat on the aisle seat, his hands gripping his folded cane tightly. He could tell Jack had a headache, could see the tension in Jack's jaw.
Jack turned his head towards Daniel. "I'll be okay. Just need a little time." He tapped his fingers on his cane. "We have the other one, right?"
"Yeah. You packed it. It's in your carry on." Daniel saw Jack wince as another passenger brushed past.
"Sorry," Jack whispered. "It's just..." he shook his head, "there's too much happening."
Daniel leaned over in his seat. "Okay, Jack. Let's get you oriented." He began detailing the interior of the plane, smiling as Jack slid his hand over to his thigh and rested it there.
- - - - - -
They should have driven, Jack thought as the sounds and smells of Denver International Airport assailed his senses. When Daniel hadn't been able to find a direct flight to Minneapolis he should have suggested they drive. No, not they, Jack corrected. Never they again. He wasn't going to be getting behind the wheel of a car again. His momentary lapse of concentration had him stepping into the back of Daniel's sneakers.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"It's okay, Jack." Daniel's tone was patient. He warned Jack as they approached an escalator. Jack found the handrail and stepped on. Damn, the glasses weren't helping. Shadow and light seemed to swoop down on him and Jack fought down nausea. Daniel's voice intruded, telling him they were soon going to be stepping off the escalator.
Jack managed to get off without falling and nodded for Daniel to continue. They were in a crowd, Jack could tell. He smelled a mixture of perfumes and aftershaves and then the sour scent of perspiration as he was jostled against someone. He heard an, 'I'm sorry,' and then realized he was no longer holding onto Daniel's arm.
"Daniel?" He didn't raise his voice too loud, not wanting to miss Daniel's voice if he was calling Jack's name.
Jack didn't move, paralyzed in momentary panic. He tried to remember what Gwen Wendover had taught him. Tried to remember instructions she'd given him and couldn't think of a single blessed thing. Damn it, he told himself. He'd faced down Goa'uld, laughed in their snaky faces. Surely being lost in an airport was something he could handle. Jack slid his hand down his cane, assembling it, and sweeping it in a small arc.
"Excuse me," he asked as he felt the heat of another body brush by him, "I'm hunting for Concourse A. I have a flight to catch."
"Straight ahead," the person called as he hurried on his way.
You can do this, O'Neill, Jack told himself firmly. He remembered those first hesitant steps he'd taken outside with Gwen by his side. Get a grip; he took a step forward with his right foot as he swept the cane to the left. Daniel's probably just ahead of you, probably headed back your way. He swept the cane back to the right moving his left foot forward. Were people staring at him? When he and Daniel had gone to the mall last week, he'd told himself they weren't but he still thought they were. That bothered him and he didn't know why. Did people look at him with pity? Did they look at Daniel with pity? God, he could handle anything but that.
Concentrate, O'Neill. Come on. You survived Hannara; you can survive anything after that. Jack paused forcing himself to focus and concentrate just as Gwen had reminded him to do. Okay, okay, Jack breathed, he'd always been good with maps, now all he needed to do was remember the way the airport looked the last time he'd been here. He took another step and yet another, unsure but damn it, he was Jack O'Neill, he was going to conquer this the same way he'd faced down Ra and Apophis.
"Jack!" Daniel's frantic voice carried over the crowd. Jack walked faster, headed towards his lover, smiling as he met Daniel halfway.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said his voice breathless and just shy of panic. "There was this crowd of tourists and next thing I knew you weren't there and I was over here."
"Calm down," Jack reached out his hand, finding Daniel's shoulder without too much trouble. "I found you, didn't I?"
"Yeah, yeah you did." Jack could hear the smile in Daniel's voice.
"I did it." Jack repeated, amazed at his accomplishment. "No problem."
"So, you ready to move it? We've got a plane to catch." Daniel hesitated and Jack could almost imagine him frowning and chewing on his lower lip.
Jack held up his cane. "I'm going to practice with this."
Daniel's breath came out in a gust. "Okay. Let's get going then."
* * * *
Jack settled in his seat in the plane still unable to believe what he'd accomplished. He buckled his seat belt and then tilted his head towards Daniel.
"You doing okay?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah." Jack rubbed his forehead. His head hurt; the work and new sensations since leaving home this morning were catching up with him. "Mind filling me in on the layout?"
"Never." Daniel bent his head close to Jack's and spoke quietly. He squeezed Jack's fingers as he finished his description. Jack leaned back in his seat, turning his palm up on the arm rest, an invitation for Daniel to place his hand there. He smiled as Daniel did so.
"Why don't you try to get some rest? You have a headache?" He could hear Daniel turn in his seat.
"Yeah. Bad headache. Nausea." Jack rested his head against the back of his seat. "Light flashes, shadows." He swallowed, hoping he didn't puke all over himself. He could feel the plane begin its taxi, preparing for takeoff.
"Hang on a sec, Jack." Daniel patted his hand and then moments later pressed two small tablets into Jack's hand.
"What is it?" Jack asked even as he tossed the pills into his mouth and dry swallowed.
"Dramamine. Janet thought maybe you'd have some problems with motion sickness."
"Okay." Jack nodded and tried not to groan as they took off, hating the closed off feeling building in his ears, dimming another sense.
"Just rest, Jack. You want to take off your glasses?" Daniel tapped his hand.
Jack nodded again, closing his eyes before he removed them and placed them in the pocket of his shirt. He wondered if he'd dream of sunsets and when he was going to forget what the night sky looked like. He felt Daniel touch the back of his hand and curled his fingers around Daniel's, an anchor in his darkness.
* * * * *
"Jack?" Daniel called, keeping his voice low. "We're at the cabin." He reached out to shake Jack's knee and stopped halfway there remembering Major Wendover's instructions about not touching Jack when he was unaware. He called Jack's name again; the trip had taken a lot out of Jack.
"Daniel," Jack murmured, his left hand coming up to wave in the air. Daniel caught it and squeezed gently. Jack rolled his head towards him, the dark glasses shielding his eyes from Daniel's view.
"You plan on getting out of the car anytime soon, lazybones?" Daniel teased, kissing Jack's knuckles before releasing his hand. He watched as Jack pulled his white cane closer, fingers tensing on the handle.
"Give me a minute." A few deep breaths followed the statement.
"I'll get our bags from the trunk." Daniel patted Jack's knee before exiting the car. He stretched before walking to the back, the tension of the past hours catching up to him. For a few moments in the airport, he'd forgotten. Daniel hadn't noticed Jack was missing, caught up in thinking about the work he would be missing while they took their little vacation to the cabin. Seeing Jack walking towards him with the confidence he used to always show in his stride had filled Daniel's heart with pride even while he berated himself for forgetting Jack's blindness. Daniel yanked out the bags, putting two on one shoulder and then holding one in each hand. He'd made a promise to Jack when he brought him back that they would get through this together. He hadn't realized that Jack was going to need to take part of the journey alone.
The sound of the car door opening pulled Daniel out of his introspection. He plastered a smile on his face, closed the trunk, and stepped around to the passenger side where Jack stood waiting.
"Ready, Jack? I have all the bags." Daniel held them up for Jack to see and then realized how stupid a gesture that had been. Jack gave a quick sharp nod, opening his cane and following Daniel's lead.
Daniel turned to wait for Jack by the cabin door. He watched as Jack tapped his cane against the lowest riser and stretched out his hand for the railing. It wobbled when Jack gripped it and Daniel made a note to fix that. Jack slid his foot, feeling for the next step. He made it up the next two without mishap and stood next to Daniel, a triumphant grin on his face.
Jack rooted in his pockets, searching for the cabin keys. His long fingers ran across the door until they found the keyhole. Daniel let out a breath when Jack successfully opened the door.
"The bedroom is upstairs," Jack said. He swept his cane in a small arc and took steps further into the living room. As if he saw Daniel's hesitation, he waved his hand. "Go, Daniel. Believe me, I can find my way around this cabin. I've been coming here since I was three."
"You mean back in the pioneer days, Jack?" Daniel couldn't resist the comment and smiled when Jack broke into a big grin.
"That's right. Yes, we used to come out here in our Conestoga wagon just for a weekend getaway." Jack made a shooing motion. "Now go, get those bags up to the bedroom then I'll give you a quick tour."
Daniel started up the stairs with the bags, stopping three steps from the top. He turned, another need making itself known. "Jack?"
"Right next door to the bedroom, Daniel," Jack called. He was making his way to the kitchen.
Daniel nodded, ran up the rest of the stairs, deposited the bags in the bedroom, and then made a very necessary stop. He finished washing his hands and went back into the bedroom to unpack their clothes. He arranged Jack's clothes in the closets in the system Major Wendover and Jack had worked out, short sleeve shirts to the far left, long sleeved shirts next, and finally jeans and pants. Jack's underwear went in the top drawer of the dresser while Daniel's went in the lower. He carried their shaving kits into the bathroom, placing the toiletries in the exact same fashion they were placed in at home. Gwen Wendover had repeatedly stressed the vital importance of everything having its own place and Daniel was determined nothing was going to mar this break Jack so desperately needed. He gave one last look around the bathroom, surprised at how clean the cabin was considering it hadn't been opened in nearly a year before remembering Jack called one of the people living in the nearby town. The woman and her husband had a cleaning business opening cabins for the people who owned them.
In the bedroom he put their suitcases and bags in the corner on his side of the bed. Daniel closed his eyes after he looked at the remaining items on the bed. His journal, a few books he'd brought along to read, a book of Jack's, and the spare cane. He ran his fingers over the title page of the book, feeling the raised dots under them. Jack wasn't a fast Braille reader but he had made surprising progress. Once Doctor Molinari admitted he doubted Jack's vision would return in any fashion that would allow him to function as someone with limited sight rather than blind, Jack pushed himself harder. Daniel sighed getting up from the bed. He placed his hand in his pocket, relieved to close his fingers over the familiar chain and metal. He rubbed it, ashamed he needed the talisman but unable to bear having it out of reach. He opened the windows on his way out of the bedroom and scanned the floor, making sure nothing could trip an unseeing Jack. Then Daniel plastered a smile on his face and closed the door, praying the next week would be uneventful.
- - - - - -
"Everything okay, Daniel?" There was a change in Daniel's footsteps, his normal gait almost hesitant. He heard the scrape of the chair as Daniel pulled it away from the kitchen table.
"Fine, Jack. I put our stuff away. Same system you and Gwen worked out. I hope you don't mind." The chair squeaked as Daniel moved in it.
Jack shook his head. "Can you help me out with this, Daniel?" Jack ran his fingers over the canned goods he'd asked the Arnnison's to purchase. Daniel was at his side in three quick steps. "I didn't think about bringing my Braille label maker," Jack apologized. He took a breath, smelling Daniel's aftershave, a comfort in itself.
"I can do the cooking, Jack," Daniel offered. His arm brushed against Jack's, his fingers sliding over Jack's where they rested on a can.
"No." Jack raised a finger and wagged it, hoping he was doing it somewhere in front of Daniel's face. "You need a vacation too, Daniel. I just need you to tell me what all of it is. We can organize it." Jack pushed some of the cans to the back of the counter and smiled. "Or I could just open them and pour them into pots and see what we get."
There was a faint chuckle from Daniel at the comment, a sound Jack was hearing far less often than he liked. "Okay, let's see what we've got." Daniel moved even closer and Jack enjoyed the warmth of the other man's body heat. It was short work for Daniel to read the labels and Jack to organize the cans to his liking. They stood at the counter when they finished.
"Daniel?" Jack reached out, encountering Daniel's forearms. He slid his hands up to Daniel's shoulders, frowning at the tense muscles. He missed seeing Daniel. Missed the blue eyes, the mobile mouth. He opened his right hand, seeking Daniel's face. Daniel turned his cheek into Jack's palm and Jack rubbed his fingers across the skin. He stretched his fingers and felt the lines of tension around Daniel's eyes. "Oh God, Daniel." Jack brought up his other hand, pulling Daniel close for a gentle kiss.
Daniel leaned into him; Jack held him close. "You're tired, Danny." Movement against his neck caused him to tighten his hug. "Yes you are. I can tell. Come on, let's go in the living room. You can take a nap."
Daniel turned and Jack placed his hand above his elbow, letting Daniel lead them into the room.
"Sofa," Jack ordered and waited until he heard Daniel sit down. "Stay there."
"You make it sound like I'm your pet dog, Jack." Daniel's grumpiness held a tinge of amusement.
"I'm going to go get a pillow and blanket for you." Jack was grateful he'd brought his cane with him from the kitchen. He knew the layout of the cabin but wasn't sure of the dimensions now that he couldn't see. "I'll be right back."
Jack counted the steps from the sofa to the stairs, then to the bedroom. He opened the chest at the end of the bed and pulled out a blanket smelling of wool and cedar. He patted his way along the length of the bed until he found the pillows and tucked one under his arm. His fingers found the Braille book and Jack decided he'd come back for it once Daniel was asleep. Jack made his cautious way back to the living room. "Daniel?" He kept his voice soft. When there was no answer he stepped closer to the sofa placing the pillow and blanket on the floor. Jack patted the sofa cushion and bumped Daniel's thigh. He smiled as he explored further. Daniel had fallen asleep sitting up, one arm holding up his head.
"No way you're gonna be comfortable like that, Daniel," Jack whispered. He sat on the sofa, reaching down for the pillow and placing it at the other end. He sighed as he got up to go back to the bedroom to retrieve his book, gaining confidence as the mission was successful.
"Okay," Jack whispered to his sleeping lover as he settled on the sofa once more. "Let's see about getting more comfortable." He tugged on Daniel's shoulders and was rewarded with a sleepy, "Jack?"
"Scoot down, Daniel." Jack kept one hand on Daniel's shoulder. He patted the pillow listening as Daniel moved on the sofa and finally settled stretched out with one hand resting on Jack's thigh.
Jack pulled the blanket over Daniel, smiling when he heard Daniel's sigh at the warmth. The cabin was soon silent except for the sound of deep even breathing and the whisper of fingers scanning the pages of a book.
- - - - - -
Daniel stretched his legs, wiggling his toes under the blanket. He sniffed before opening his eyes, smelling woodsmoke and coffee.
"Jack?" He sat up, noticing the logs alight in the fireplace and Jack's book placed carefully on the table. Sounds from the kitchen drifted into the living room and Daniel stood cautiously, stretching by raising both arms over his head. The nap had helped. The headache he'd been battling since their departure from Denver was gone. He grabbed his glasses from the table and walked into the kitchen smiling as he saw his lover at the counter. Jack was preparing a salad for their supper, his fingers curled under as he methodically sliced a tomato. Daniel waited until Jack finished the task before clearing his throat.
"Hey, Daniel." Jack turned to him with a big smile. "I thought we could have something simple. Salad and hot dogs sound okay to you?"
"We're going to cook them in the fireplace?" Daniel couldn't help the eagerness that tinged his voice. He walked the few steps to Jack slipping his arms around Jack's waist from behind. He nuzzled Jack's neck, placing a kiss at the juncture of Jack's collarbone and neck.
"You keep that up, we're not going to be having any supper," Jack murmured. Daniel rested his head on Jack's shoulder, watching as Jack pulled the salad bowl closer and slid the tomatoes into it. He remembered the first days when Jack was back in the familiar environment of his house and finding Jack lost in the kitchen, a look of terror on his face when he couldn't find a glass to pour himself a drink of water. There were still obstacles to overcome, plenty of them, but Daniel thought maybe they were both adjusting. Jack pushed the bowl further back on the counter and wiped his hands on a towel he'd tucked in the waistband of his khakis.
"How's your headache?" Jack turned, his hand coming up to Daniel's face and lightly tracing the skin at his temples. "You feeling better?"
"Yeah, better." Daniel closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of Jack's fingers against his skin. "Guess I needed a nap after all." He smiled, knowing Jack could feel the change in his facial muscles.
"You realize if I don't bring you back in better condition than when we left, Doc Fraiser is gonna have my head?" Jack chided gently. "Let me take care of you for a little, Daniel."
Daniel nodded into Jack's hand. "Okay." His stomach gave a rumbling growl.
Jack laughed. "First thing on the agenda: feeding. You want to bring the salad and some bowls into the living room? I can get the hot dogs and buns. And then maybe if you eat your meal like a good archaeologist, I'll let you have dessert." Jack waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"S'mores?" Daniel asked.
"I was planning on something a little more, um, adventurous than that, Daniel."
"Yeah, well, you haven't seen just how creative I can be with melted chocolate and marshmallows, have you, Jack?" Daniel leaned in to breathe against Jack's lips before grabbing the salad and walking into the living room.
* * * *
"I've been thinking, Daniel," Jack murmured as he lay with his head on Daniel's legs.
"Umhm." Daniel continued his slow rubbing of Jack's head, the motion as comforting and soothing to him as it was to his lover. How could he be tired? He was used too far more hours without sleep than he'd had today. Of course the aftermath of his showing Jack just what could be done with s'mores might have worn him out a tad. Daniel opened his eyes and looked down into Jack's face. Jack's eyes were open; the brown iris totally exposed once more, but the light that had always sparkled there missing.
"Thought maybe tomorrow we could go fishing for awhile and then we could experiment with the s'mores again." Jack grinned and then yawned.
"Sounds nice, Jack," Daniel whispered. He turned his head and yawned. "You about ready for bed?"
"Mmm." Jack's eyes drifted closed and Daniel nudged him.
"Move, Jack. I'll get the stuff cleaned up and then we can go up to bed." Daniel stood when Jack sat up.
"I can help," Jack offered.
"I'll take care of it." Daniel kissed the top of Jack's head. "You made supper, I'll do clean up duty. Besides, you've had a long day."
"Daniel." Jack's tone held a warning. "Don't patronize me. I'm blind, not a child."
"I know that, Jack. And you also spent most of the day in unfamiliar situations. Don't tell me you're not tired."
"I won't." Jack leaned forward, grabbing for Daniel's hand and missing. Daniel felt his stomach give a lurch when Jack settled back against the sofa, his face impassive. "I just want to forget for awhile, Daniel. Forget about this," he gestured at his eyes. "Forget about lost opportunities."
Daniel wanted to tell him he couldn't forget. It wasn't that easy. The dreams still haunted Jack at night. Daniel woke up more than once to hear Jack's muttered pleas for his Hannaran master to stop the pain.
He swallowed hard and gathered the debris from their impromptu picnic. He wanted to forget too. Forget his own failure; forget his own responsibility for Jack's current state. Daniel walked into the kitchen with his burden knowing it was a no win situation.
Staring out into the dark night, he was unable to see stars from the window wondering what it was like for Jack. Daniel shoved his hand into his pocket, searching for the chain in its depths. The feel of the familiar shape, the warmth of the metal as it heated from his grip, brought his breathing back under control. He turned on the faucet and plugged up the sink and lost himself in the mundane task of washing dishes.
* * * *
Leaning back in his chair, Jack tilted his head up, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight. The fishing rod hung loosely in his hand and he reached down into the cooler for a soda. Since he'd realized that his condition was permanent, he rarely allowed himself the indulgence of even a beer finding it blurred his remaining senses just enough to disorient him slightly. He turned his head towards Daniel, hearing the scratch of Daniel's pen on paper.
"Whatcha doin', Danny?"
"Hmm?" Daniel's distracted murmur made Jack smile. This vacation was doing them both good, although at night when Daniel spooned up behind him, he could still tell Daniel's weight wasn't what it should be. The Xanax Doctor Mackenzie had prescribed seemed to be helping. The last few nights Jack woke to hear Daniel sleeping soundly, unlike the past few months where Daniel had been restless and often awake far into the night.
"I hope you're not working, Doctor Jackson." Jack used the sternest tone he could muster which wasn't very stern considering how relaxed he felt at the moment.
"Uh huh." Another distracted sound from Daniel and Jack let it rest. He had more important things to do than bug Daniel. Number one was going to be soaking up the sun, letting the light fill him until he could recall with crystal clarity the sight of a bright blue summer sky. He could distinguish light and dark but he wasn't really able to see sunshine like before. It was more a sensing of light. The gray world he now inhabited was simply less gray than it was when it was dark. It had rained their first two days at the cabin; he'd never minded the rain before he lost his sight. He'd always been able to find something to do. But although Major Wendover assured him he was making remarkable progress with his skills, reading Braille was still a laborious task. He listened to books on tape a few times but was determined to be able to read again. Of course it wasn't as if he and Daniel hadn't found things to do to occupy their time, spending most of the first full day there in bed getting reacquainted with each other's bodies.
Daniel had finally left him alone in the kitchen the second day. Jack had imagined Daniel walking around with a perpetual frown of worry the entire day, or at least every time Jack disappeared into the kitchen to make them a meal. No wonder Daniel's blood pressure was high, Jack thought. In his last session with Doctor Mackenzie, the psychiatrist had brought up the possibility of doing some sessions with Daniel and Jack together. Jack knew Daniel would benefit from the sessions, but he wasn't sure if he should bring the possibility up here at the cabin or wait until they got home. Jack let his thoughts drift back to home and the SGC. General Hammond was expecting an answer from him within two days of their return.
"You're the best we have on training new recruits on what it's like to go through the Gate, Jack," Hammond had said a few weeks ago. "I'd like you to consider the position I'm offering you." There had been no pity in Hammond's voice, simply an offer for Jack to continue working somewhere he loved, doing a job that was of the utmost importance.
Definitely a conversation he and Daniel needed to have; Jack made a mental note. He took a swig of soda, glad Daniel didn't insist on diet sodas the way Carter always did whenever they had a get together. A light tug on his line had him alert in a second. Jack sat up beginning to reel in the line. Felt like a big one from the pull he could sense. He heard Daniel's feet plunk down on the deck beside him.
"You have something, Jack?" Daniel sounded slightly breathless and excited.
"No, Daniel. I thought I'd just reel in my line for the hell of it." Jack grinned. "Of course I have something. Get the net."
He felt Daniel's arm brush against his as he reached for the net at Jack's feet. "Got it," Daniel breathed. Jack stood, feeling Daniel move with him, so close he could feel the warmth of Daniel's skin through the material of his long sleeved tee shirt.
"Can you see it, Daniel? It should soon be coming to the surface. I don't have much line left." Jack stopped reeling a moment, letting line play out between his fingers. The boards of the dock creaked as Daniel took a step closer to the edge. There was a little shuffling noise as Daniel knelt on the dock.
"Should I put the net in the water, Jack?" Daniel asked.
"Can you see the fish?" Jack asked him. The line under his fingers was wet and Jack could smell the lake water as the line wound back onto his reel.
"I see it. I think I see it." Daniel's voice was fainter than it had been a moment before and Jack imagined him leaning down closer to the water to see beneath the surface. "Looks big, Jack."
"Put the net in," Jack instructed. "As he's coming up towards the surface you kinda scoop him in." He took a step back, knocking his leg against his chair and hearing it clatter to the dock. "Get him?" There was a swishing sound as Daniel put the net in the water and moved it. The weight and pressure was suddenly gone as Daniel lifted the net out of the water.
"Smallmouth bass," Daniel announced. "Nice size."
Jack held out his hand and Daniel grasped it gently. "Careful, Jack. The net's just in front of you." Jack felt Daniel's fingers tighten on his and he got to his knees. He skimmed his fingers along the metal handle of the net.
"You know it's a smallmouth bass?" Jack asked, continuing his fingers along the rim, feeling the dripping netting beneath them.
"I read, Jack," Daniel said. "Figured if you were going to have me come fishing I should know what kinds of fish there are in the lakes." Daniel guided Jack's fingers to the fish. "What are you going to do with him?"
"Put him back." Jack let his fingers linger a moment on the cool wetness of the fish, amazed that he could feel the scales on his fingertips. He removed the hook with a skill borne from years of practice and then scooted back a little, sliding his fingers back to the handle. He lifted it slightly. "Okay, Daniel?"
"Yeah. Straight ahead and then lower it," Daniel said. Jack nodded at the instructions. He felt a slight wiggle in his hands as the fish left the net.
"Thanks, Daniel." Jack pulled the net back and placed it on the dock. He felt a supreme sense of accomplishment and couldn't help grinning.
"You're welcome, Jack." Daniel stood up. The boards bounced under Jack's knees. "Need a hand?"
Jack stretched it up without comment, feeling warm fingers grasp his hand once more and pull him up. He slid his foot forward, knocking it into his overturned chair. Jack bent down to right it.
"You always let them go, Jack?" Daniel asked.
Jack shrugged before nodding. "Most of the time. Hell most of the time I don't catch anything. It's not like I have to worry about it too often."
Daniel laughed and Jack found himself laughing along. For the first time in a long time, things were starting to feel right again. Jack felt for his chair and then sat down again, yawning.
"You mind if I head back up to the cabin?" He could hear Daniel gathering his books. "I think I'm going to take a shower."
Jack waved a hand at him. "Go on up. I'll be up in a little while. I'm going to just enjoy the view." There was a little intake of breath from Daniel at his comment. "I can't see it, Daniel. But I can feel it. I need to absorb it."
"I under...well no, I don't. I can't understand but I do." Daniel bent down to give Jack a kiss.
"I know you do, Daniel." Jack placed his hand on Daniel's cheek, feeling a bit of heat from what might have been a little too much sun. "I'll be up soon. And if you feel up to driving, I thought maybe we could go out for dinner. The Lumberjack Lodge is about forty five minutes away."
"You want to go out?" Daniel asked, a tone of mild disbelief creeping into his voice.
Jack did want to. He'd resisted all of Daniel and Major Wendover's attempts to get him to eat in a restaurant since his return to Earth. He couldn't hide forever. It was time he learned to live again. "Yes. I want to." Jack fingered his watch. It was fifteen hundred. "We could leave about seventeen hundred. We'd get back here before it's too late."
"I'd like that, Jack." Daniel was smiling. He could tell. Daniel's voice always sounded lighter when he was smiling. "You want me to take some of this gear up with me?"
"We can leave the chairs here overnight, but yeah, you wanna grab the net and the cooler? Just hang up the net on the hook on the porch."
"Will do." There were some sounds of scuffling feet and a huff as Daniel lifted the cooler. "I'll be out of the shower by the time you get up to the cabin," he called as he walked away.
Jack waved a hand over his head and then settled back in his chair to relax. He drifted awhile, drowsy in the afternoon heat. His shin began to itch and Jack bent forward to scratch it, his fingers coming in contact with the raised scar left from one of his Hannaran master's whippings. It had been a miracle. Maybe he hadn't been able to see it before, but he could see it clearly now even if he was blind. Daniel's finding him was nothing less than a miracle. The fact he was alive, sane and functioning, was a miracle. Hiding away, wishing he was dead, was a waste of the time he'd been granted. The Hannarans who kept slaves, the priests on that planet he couldn't even remember the name of, they were the ones who won if Jack didn't go on with the business of living. He had so much. The chance to do a job he'd love and be good at, Carter and Teal'c and their support, health, and Daniel. He'd almost lost it all, almost died alone as so much trash but he hadn't. By some unexplained, undeserved miracle he hadn't.
Moving his foot, Jack felt for his fishing rod. He dropped his hand to the side of his chair and felt his tackle box. His cane was hanging over the back of his chair. Although he knew his way around the interior of the cabin, getting around outside was still a bit of a challenge. Jack opened his cane, gathered his rod and tackle in the other hand, and walked back towards the cabin, his steps surer than they had been earlier in the day.
The shower was shutting off as Jack opened the door. His tackle box and fishing rod were carefully placed to the left of the door next to the net. Jack folded his cane and placed it on the chair right inside the door, not needing it inside the cabin. Jack rubbed at his face. He was going to need his own shower before they ventured out. There was still time. He needed some water after the being in the heat. Jack walked towards the kitchen, keeping count of the paces under his breath. He touched the doorway as he passed through and then his right foot caught on the edge of something and he was tumbling helplessly to the floor. It had been one of the first lessons Major Wendover had taught him. Falling 101 he'd dubbed it; it had come in handy more than once and Jack had taken more than his fair share of tumbles as he learned to navigate through his darkened world.
Nothing hurt more than his pride, Jack decided as he did a quick assessment. His hand stung a bit where he'd hit it on the floor but a quick touch with his fingers confirmed it was nothing more than a slight brushburn. He reached out, wondering what he'd tripped over. His fingers felt plastic and Jack realized it was the cooler. Daniel must have put it on the floor and forgotten about it. He placed his hands back on the floor ready to push himself up. Feet pounded down the stairs.
"Jack?" Daniel called while still in the living room. "Oh God, Jack." Daniel's voice was frantic. "You okay?"
Jack hadn't gained his feet before he realized Daniel was kneeling next to him. Shaking hands touched his shoulders and then his head. "I'm fine, Daniel. Just tripped." He pulled up his hands to cover Daniel's slightly damp ones. "Trust me. It's not the first time I've fallen. It won't be the last."
"You tripped," Daniel repeated and Jack felt a jerky movement as Daniel pulled away. "You tripped," it was a whisper now. He heard Daniel breathe in and hold it for a few seconds. "The cooler. I forgot to put the cooler back where it belongs."
"Daniel?" Jack didn't like the sound of anguish in his lover's voice. He smiled, hoping Daniel was looking at him. "Hey, it was an accident. I told you I'm fine."
"You could have hit your head on the table," Daniel said, his voice a monotone. "I...I didn't remember."
"It's okay." Jack tried to reach out but Daniel was moving away chanting a soft, 'No no no no.'
"Daniel? Hey, Danny." Jack wasn't prepared for the sound of Daniel scrambling away from him.
"Stay away," Daniel cried out. "Don't."
Jack froze, listening as Daniel's footsteps retreated to the living room. God, please don't let him go outside. Jack knew he'd be able to track Daniel anywhere in the cabin but if he went outside Jack didn't know if he'd be able to find him. He heard pacing and pushed himself to his feet, walking into the other room.
"Daniel, come on, why don't we sit down?" Jack urged. He walked forward until he encountered the sofa. But the pacing was continuing along with muttering Jack couldn't quite hear. He headed towards the sound, hoping his presence would calm Daniel down. Jack cursed his blindness; unable to see he was also totally unable to assess Daniel's mental state.
"Danny?" Jack waited until the footsteps grew closer and reached out to try to snag an arm.
"Don't you see, Jack?" Daniel was backing away again and Jack let his hands fall uselessly to his sides. "Don't you see?" His voice rose and cracked. "No, no. You can't see. You can't. My fault. This is my fault."
Jack swallowed hard, his heart pounding with fear for Daniel who was sounding dangerously close to a breaking point.
"I shouldn't have believed them. Should have gone back. But I thought, I thought you were dead, Jack."
The pacing stopped and Daniel's voice was coming from one area now, the wall nearest to the stairs. Jack began to approach him, wondering if Daniel even realized Jack was in the room with him.
"I thought you were dead. They said you were. Found the boot and the packs and the tags. I should have gone back, demanded they tell me where you were."
"Daniel, you thought I was dead. All the evidence showed I was." Jack slid his foot forward and felt Daniel's foot. He could picture Daniel's position, on the floor, hunched against the wall. Jack lowered himself to the floor.
"No, yes. We left you, Jack. We left you. I heard your screams. I knew they were killing you. I knew."
"You were hurt, Daniel. You couldn't stay." General Hammond had briefed Jack on that last disastrous mission before Hannara.
"It should have been me. * Me * Jack. Not you," Daniel yelled. "I was responsible. * Me *. "
"Daniel." Jack touched Daniel's foot, sighing when it was jerked out from under his fingers.
"This is my fault. My fault you're blind. Oh God, Jack, if I could take your place I would."
"You don't know. You don't, Jack. They were beating you on that fucking planet, throwing you away like garbage, and I was living my life here." Daniel leaned forward. Jack could feel the heat from Daniel's body, the gust of his breathing. "You don't know. I failed you. Like my parents, like Sha're. You were dying. And I was ready to start living again." Daniel's breath was coming in short, hard bursts. "If I'd insisted we go back, maybe we'd have found you sooner. The disease. Jack, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It should have been me."
"Daniel," Jack walked his fingers along the floor until he touched Daniel's sweat pant covered leg. He moved alongside him putting an arm around Daniel's shoulders. "I would never, ever, wish this on you."
"I was laughing, Jack. You were just around the corner and I was laughing," Daniel whispered.
"And that's okay, Danny. It's okay." Jack pulled Daniel closer, hating the sound of the harsh painful breathing.
"You're blind." There was the sound of hard swallowing and Jack felt warm tears drop on his hand. "You're blind, Jack, and I'm so sorry."
It wasn't pity, Jack knew. Never pity from Daniel. Jack pulled him tight against his chest, holding on as sobs began to shake Daniel's frame. He rocked them both, murmuring a soft 'shh,' and stroking Daniel's back and hair. "We're gonna be fine. Gonna be fine."
He had no sense of how long they sat there, only that the brighter gray began to turn into the darker gray. Daniel's breathing had changed into the even rhythm of sleep but still Jack sat with him, holding Daniel as he went through his own personal darkness. The body under Jack's hands tensed and Jack realized Daniel was awake.
"Hey, Danny," Jack whispered.
There was no answer, just a squeeze to his waist.
Jack moved his hand, brushing damp hair away from Daniel's forehead. "You feeling okay?" Daniel's head nodded against his chest.
"Just, you know, tired." Daniel tried to sit up but Jack kept him in place a few moments longer. He covered Daniel's fist with his hand.
"What is it, Daniel?" Jack asked. "What's in your hand?"
"You were gone." The fist opened and the chain and dog tags Jack had found months ago in Daniel's pocket was dropped into Jack's hand. "It was all I had left. A reminder of my own stupidity and arrogance. I didn't want to let you go. It was all they found."
"Guess carrying my boot around would have been a little hard, huh?" Jack smiled, keeping his fingers on Daniel's face, relieved to feel a smile form. He sobered then. "Daniel, if I had a choice I wouldn't be blind. But don't ever take the burden of guilt on yourself. Don't. You did what you had to do, what I would have ordered you to do." Jack paused to kiss Daniel's forehead. "Do you remember when I first came back? You told me everything would be fine because we'd make sure it was. * We *, Daniel. We're a team. A hell of a team."
"Sorry," Daniel whispered after another nod under Jack's hand. "Sorry I sort of lost it."
Jack hoped he wasn't going to just undo all the progress of the last few minutes with his next suggestion. "I think when we get back home you and I should see Doctor Mackenzie together. Or you can go alone if you want. I think it might be a good idea, Daniel."
There was a long silence and then a quiet 'okay.' Jack squeezed his shoulders.
"You think maybe we could get up from here, Daniel?" Jack asked. "Otherwise my ass is going to be permanently numb."
Daniel's weight shifted and soon Jack was pulled to his feet by his lover. He heard Daniel yawn.
"Sorry, Jack," Daniel said and promptly yawned again. "I sort of ruined the dinner plans."
Jack shook his head. "We can go tomorrow night. How about we go in the kitchen? You need to drink some water. You probably have a headache, you're starting to dehydrate. I can make some soup. Then we can turn in."
"Lead the way, Jack." Daniel yawned. "Sounds good to me."
Jack listened to Daniel's soft breathing as they lay in bed. One of Daniel's arms was flung across Jack's chest and Jack tangled his fingers in Daniel's hair. People made a big deal of courage. Jack had heard whispers as he walked past some of the people in the SGC. Too bad Daniel's courage went largely unnoticed, believing in Jack when Jack had nearly lost belief in himself, continuing to do his job when his world fell apart yet again. Daniel murmured in Abydonian and Jack smiled.
"I love you too, Daniel," he whispered before closing his eyes and summoning up Daniel's smile in his dreams.
- - - - - - * *
"Daniel, time to rise and shine." Daniel groaned and turned over in the bed, pulling the pillow and the blankets over his head for good measure.
"Go 'way." Daniel reached out to push Jack away. "It's too early to get up. We're on vacation."
"It's 0900." Jack was persistent if nothing else. "There's coffee and bacon and eggs waiting for you downstairs."
It was a losing battle. Daniel finally threw the covers down from his head and glared at Jack. Of course the glare didn't do any good when the person you were glaring at couldn't see you.
"I'm giving you the evil eye, Jack," Daniel pointed out as he sat up.
"That's one better than the two I have." Jack shrugged before leaning in closer and touching Daniel's arm. "You sleep well?"
"Yeah, yeah I did." Daniel covered Jack's hand. "I'm sorry about last night." He studied the blanket, noticing there was a little moth hole in it.
"I think you were a little overdue for it, Daniel." Jack lifted his hand, finding Daniel's face. He ran gentle fingers over Daniel's eyes, along the temples, and then finally down to Daniel's lips. "Carter told me how you kept going all those months. You never took time to grieve. It's not surprising it all was gonna come crashing down sometime."
"I guess there's nowhere to go but up, huh?" Daniel kissed Jack's fingertips.
"You and me," Jack whispered then he cleared his throat. "Now, are you going to get your butt outta bed?"
Daniel tilted his head. "Just how long have you been up, Jack?"
"Since about 0500. I was reading." Jack stood up. "I thought maybe today we could go for a walk in the woods and then take our time driving to the Lumberjack Lodge. There are a couple of antique shops on the way if you want to go in them." Jack sounded hopeful.
"Sounds good, Jack. I'll be down soon." Daniel got out of the bed. "Won't take me long."
Less than an hour later they were tramping through the woods near the cabin, dead leaves crunching underfoot. Daniel walked slightly ahead, on the lookout for any possible hazards while Jack followed using his cane. They were quiet except for an occasional warning; Daniel not wanting to ruin the peace of the forest with words and also knowing the concentration Jack was exerting. Hiking in the forest wasn't the same thing as a trip around the grocery store or mall. Daniel took in the early summer colors of the foliage. Here and there, violets peeped from underneath branches, a little burst of purple in the green and brown. A bird flew overhead, a splash of yellow against blue. He tried to imagine the world gone dark and couldn't. As they lay in bed last night, Jack told him his world wasn't a dark cave, but rather a foggy gray that darkened and lightened according to his surroundings. There was so much color in the world; how could Jack cope with it being gone? 'Stupid question, Jackson,' Daniel told himself. He dealt with it because he had no choice. Jack was never one to give up. Faced with the choice of death whether of body or soul or life, Daniel knew he'd choose the same as Jack. Jack's words this morning telling him he was grieving were true. There was hope, Daniel knew, because at some point acceptance was a possibility. He had no doubt he and Jack would reach it; they were beginning to grasp it now.
"Daniel, stop," Jack called out. He had to resist the urge to take the few steps back to Jack's side and stood waiting until Jack reached him.
"Fine," Jack smiled. Daniel studied him and knew it was the truth. "I want you to try something, Daniel."
"You're not going to have me gather some bark and twigs and make us lunch are you?" Daniel joked.
"Nah, we'll do that tomorrow." Jack laughed. He held his cane in front of him, standing tall and sure. "No, I want you to close your eyes."
Daniel obliged. "Okay, eyes closed, Jack."
"Now, be," Jack ordered.
Daniel shrugged and kept his eyes closed. A breeze he hadn't noticed before whispered against his skin and he could hear it touching the highest branches of the trees surrounding them. Birds chirped from far off, probably deeper in the woods where it was cooler. There was a whiny buzz at his ear and he raised his hand to wave it away, feeling the lightest brush of the insect against his arm. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck itching when it dried. Jack's breathing was strong and even beside him and he could smell Jack's aftershave and the insect repellent they both wore along with the heat of Jack's body. Daniel licked his lips tasting salt. Above them tree branches creaked in the wind and there was a sudden sound of leaves shaking. A squirrel, Daniel guessed, jumping from one branch to another. He smiled as he heard the chattering confirming his guess. More whining buzzes and a slight sting as a mosquito bit his forearm. So much for the insect repellent working. Rustling again but this time in front of them and not in the trees. Jack's hand tightened on Daniel's and much as he wanted to, Daniel resisted the urge to open them. He scarcely breathed wondering if there were bears in these woods. He could hear the sound of first one foot and then another being placed delicately upon the ground and breathing that wasn't his or Jack's. There was another step and then a pause before he heard leaves scatter and the sound of something large running. His face felt hot and he swallowed hard a few times digging his fingernails into his palm. Jack shifted beside him and moved closer.
"Now you see what I do." The whisper tickled his ear.
"It's beautiful, Jack," Daniel whispered back, opening his eyes. Jack was smiling at him and Daniel brought his hands to Jack's face, cupping it between them. "Your world is beautiful. Thank you."
Jack turned his head, kissing Daniel's palm. He stepped away then, switching his cane's position, and they started walking again.
"Um, are there bears in this forest?"
"It was a deer, Daniel. Trust me, it was a deer."
Daniel twisted in his seat at the Lumberjack Lodge. The walls were filled with old photographs he wanted to examine more closely. This place was definitely more upscale than Daniel expected. He looked at his jeans and shirt and then noticed the other diners were dressed the same way. Jack had asked to be seated near the fireplace and, even though it was a summer evening, the cheerfully burning logs provided a needed warmth in the dining room.
Jack had his menu on the table, his fingers curled around it. A perky waitress soon came to their table, placing two water glasses on it along with a basket of crackers and cheese spread.
"Anything for you gentlemen to drink?"
"Ginger ale," Jack said.
"I'll have the same." Daniel looked at Jack who sat ramrod straight in his seat. He waited until the waitress left. "Jack?"
Taking a deep breath, Jack pushed the menu away. "So what are the possibilities?"
Daniel nudged his foot against Jack's under the table as he began to read the menu to his lover. Jack moved his hand to Daniel's knee and squeezed it gently, a small gesture of thanks. He knew Jack was nervous. They'd stopped at three antique shops along the way. Jack had made it into the first two but said he'd stay in the car at the last one; the narrow aisles and constant being on guard wearing down his defenses. Daniel came out to the car to find Jack dozing in the sun. He'd been ready to suggest they head back to the cabin but Jack was determined to eat at the restaurant.
"If you keep that up, Jack, I'm not going to be able to keep reading," Daniel shifted in his seat at Jack's continued massaging of his knee. Jack grinned, his eyes fixed slightly to the left of Daniel's face.
"I'll take my chances."
"You'll starve," Daniel retorted and continued reading the selections to Jack.
"Daniel," Jack teased, "you of all people should know man does not live on bread alone." Jack smiled at his lover with what he hoped was an appropriate leer while continuing his massage.
The waitress was back with their drinks a few minutes later.
"Are you both ready to order?" She paused with her pen in hand.
"Jack?" Daniel covered Jack's hand and stopped the massaging. "You know what you want?"
The waitress turned to Daniel after Jack's nod. "What will your friend be having?"
Daniel looked at Jack and opened his mouth ready to set the woman straight. A warning squeeze from Jack had him closing it the next second.
"I'll have the trout almondine, filleted please. Baked potato, sour cream and butter, and the house dressing on my salad," Jack answered for himself. "Daniel, what are you going to have?"
Taking a deep breath, Daniel placed his own order, waiting until the waitress left to lean across the table. "She should know better."
Jack shrugged. "It's over, Daniel. Let's just enjoy our evening, okay? It's not worth getting upset about." He smiled and moved his hand on the table, finding Daniel's and clasping it. "Relax, Daniel."
The meal was delicious, the atmosphere peaceful and laid back. Daniel hummed along with the tape as he drove them back to the cabin.
"Daniel?" Jack shifted in his seat. "I want to talk to you about something."
"I'm listening, Jack." Daniel clenched his fingers on the steering wheel although his voice sounded calm to his own ears.
"I'm going back to the SGC." Jack turned his head, his unseeing eyes fixed on the dark forests they passed. "General Hammond would like me to come back and do training with new recruits."
"That's great, Jack." Daniel smiled in relief. Jack was beginning to put his shattered life back together.
"You haven't been through the gate since my...since I've come home, Daniel. I know you miss it. I think you should consider going back on an active team."
Jack was right. He did miss it. He missed the excitement of discovery, the adrenaline rush he got when he touched an artifact on another planet. But Jack, Jack needed him here at home. Daniel didn't speak, his thoughts in turmoil.
"I'll think about it, Jack," Daniel said.
"I'm going to be okay, Daniel. Major Wendover told me about a program in Tucson for blind veterans. I'll get more training there," Jack continued. "She said she didn't think I'd need to stay for more than about a month since I've already had some training."
"Oh." Daniel's mouth was dry. It was all he could say. He turned into the lane that led to the cabin.
"Daniel?" Jack said nothing until Daniel parked the car and turned off the ignition. "Hey, Danny." Jack undid his seatbelt, sliding over on the seat and touching Daniel's arm to orient himself. "You can't guard me forever. You've gone above and beyond, Daniel. But there are parts of this journey I have to take alone. You can't be with me all the time. It'll tear you apart. You need a break. In all the years I've known you, you've never had high blood pressure."
Daniel turned his head into Jack's hand. "I'm scared."
"Yeah, I know, but it's the right thing for both of us," Jack whispered.
"I know." Daniel kissed the warm callused skin of Jack's palm. "I know."
- - - - - - *
Tomorrow they had to go back to the real world, Jack sighed as he and Daniel sat on the dock. Major Wendover had told him as soon as he gave her the go ahead she'd make the arrangements for him to attend the rehab center in Tucson. He hadn't known if bringing up the possibility of his going there last night was his wisest decision. But damn it, Daniel wasn't going to able to care for Jack all the time. He knew Daniel was tired. When Doc Fraiser called him in to her office a few weeks ago, the day of Daniel's collapse, and told him how high Daniel's blood pressure was, Jack knew then. He couldn't be dependent on Daniel no matter how much Daniel wanted it. It wasn't fair to either of them; their relationship had always been one of equals. Jack wanted it to continue to be. The independence he had gained over the past months wasn't enough. He needed more. He needed to learn he was able to get along without Daniel so that he could be there for Daniel.
This little vacation had been a good thing. Daniel was learning to let go and some of the wounds that had been festering had been lanced. They were ready to move on: to accept, to realize this was a new life. The future for the first time in months looked like something they could handle. Would handle. They had each other. What more did they need? Jack gave a half snort at the philosophical turn his thoughts were taking.
"Jack?" Daniel leaned his head back against Jack's knees, his voice sleepy.
"Just thinking, Danny." Jack rubbed Daniel's head, enjoying the feel of the strands sliding through his fingers.
"Yeah?" A yawn followed the question.
"You, me, the future. Where we go from here."
"Is this where we ride off into the sunset together?" Daniel's tone held wry amusement.
"I'm not ready for that yet. We're far too young." Jack leaned forward to kiss the top of Daniel's head and inhale the scent of spice and coffee that meant Daniel.
They sat in silence; Jack's world slowly darkening.
"Tell me what it's like Daniel. So I don't forget," Jack whispered.
"The sky is red and orange in the west, Jack. High clouds like wisps of cotton. There's blue too. Sort of bright but with dark edges. Oh, I can see a star." Daniel's voice trailed off.
"Planet, Daniel. Probably Venus," Jack said.
"I'm not very good at this, Jack, sorry," Daniel apologized. "'Night doesn't fall, but moves up from the valleys.'"
"Who said that?" Jack asked, knowing it was true.
"I don't know." Daniel shrugged his shoulders, the movement feeling odd against Jack's knees. "I read it somewhere. It's dark on the lake Jack. The trees on the far shore are in shadows but the sky is still bright."
"I miss sunsets," Jack blurted out. He hadn't ever wanted to burden Daniel with the losses but this seemed a night for honesty and sharing of the load. "I miss seeing the sunset and watching the stars."
"What else?" He swore he could hear Daniel swallowing.
"Trees. All the shades of green. I miss seeing Carter's face when she gets all excited. Teal'c's disapproving glances when I open my mouth and say something he doesn't agree with. You. I miss seeing your eyes, Daniel. I miss your smile." Jack stopped and clenched his hands on the armrest of his chair. "I don't want to forget what things, what * you * look like."
Daniel shifted against his legs and Jack heard the creak of wood. Daniel was turned around, his hands on Jack's thighs. "You remember Charlie, don't you, Jack? Still can pull up his smile?"
Jack nodded. "Sometimes I can. I can see him in my dreams. Not when I want to."
"Then when you need to, dream, Jack. Dream of sunsets and trees and stars. And when you can't remember, I'll use my words to describe it for you. I'll paint you pictures for your dreams," Daniel said fervently. "I'll be your eyes when you need me to."
Jack fumbled and finally managed to get his hand around Daniel's neck, to gently caress Daniel's nape. "Thank you. Thank you, Daniel."
The sounds of twilight sang in the darkness: the song of the wind in the trees, the hum of insects, the distant cry of a loon a lake or two away.
"I want to see you, Daniel," Jack whispered, his mouth against Daniel's cheek. "I want to see you my way."
"Then come." Daniel stood, pulling Jack up by his hand. Jack didn't bother undoing the cane, instead placing his hand above Daniel's elbow as they walked the short distance to the cabin. They didn't stop downstairs but instead went straight to the bedroom.
"Don't," Jack said as he heard Daniel begin to unzip his pants. "Wait for me." Jack stripped off his own clothes, shivering in the cool air. He folded them, placed them on the chair, so he wouldn't trip on them if he awoke in the night. He walked to Daniel and tugged Daniel's shirt out from his jeans. "Let me do this."
Daniel's breathing quickened and Jack slid the shirt up over Daniel's torso, his hands skimming warm skin. Daniel raised his arms and Jack pulled the shirt off over his head. He folded it quickly and put it on top of his own. His fingers fumbled at Daniel's jeans, having trouble unbuttoning them, but hell, he had trouble doing it when he could see. He managed to get the button undone and then tugged on the zipper smiling in satisfaction at the sound. Daniel's hands covered his as they pulled the jeans over Daniel's hips and down his legs. Daniel stepped out of them. Jack didn't bother folding them, just tossed them on the back of the chair.
"Bed now." Jack's mouth was dry. Daniel's breathing seemed very loud in the room. He stepped past Jack, the warm bare skin of his arm brushing against Jack's chest. There was a creak of bed springs and Jack turned, following Daniel onto the bed. He stretched out next to Daniel, propping himself on one elbow.
"I'm here, Jack." Daniel touched Jack's hand, then slid his hand up Jack's forearm. Jack shivered and moved again, maneuvering himself into a better position to touch Daniel's body.
"Daniel, oh God, Daniel, you are so beautiful." Jack ran his fingers over Daniel's face, eyelashes soft beneath his fingertips, the prickle of stubble because Daniel hadn't shaved, the line of Daniel's nose. Jack touched Daniel's lips and then bent to kiss him. His lips were slightly chapped beneath Jack's and he tasted of salt and the Coca Cola he'd drunk earlier. Jack came up for breath, grinning when he heard Daniel's groan.
"Patience, Doctor Jackson, patience," Jack chided, already turning his attention back to getting reacquainted with his lover's body. He skimmed his hands over Daniel's shoulders, the muscles hard and strong. There was a mosquito bite on Daniel's right bicep and Jack rubbed it, feeling the heat of the swelling. He swept his hands down Daniel's arms, the fine hairs tickling his fingers. Strong wrists, strong, slender fingers, calluses from pens and pencils on Daniel's fingers, the tiny bump on the left pinky from when the finger was broken. Why hadn't he ever noticed all the things that made Daniel Daniel? He moved his left hand to Daniel's torso, touching the appendectomy scar, so small now, a crease in the skin. Daniel's legs slid up on the sheets, a swooshing sound and his breath came in little pants between words murmured in languages Jack didn't know. Thickened, raised skin beneath his right hand, a broad slash across Daniel's ribcage near his heart.
"What happened?" Jack whispered.
"It's..." There was an audible swallow and beneath Jack's hand, Daniel's heart beat faster. "When you...Sam and Teal'c wouldn't let me go back."
Jack closed his eyes, feeling the heat of tears. He'd never known how bad Daniel had been wounded. He placed his hand flat over the scar; it stretched the length of his palm. "I didn't know, oh God, Daniel, I didn't know."
"It doesn't hurt anymore." Daniel tried to sound light-hearted. "Doctor Warner was proud of his handiwork."
"You could have died," Jack whispered. He bent down to brush his lips over the scar.
"I didn't. I didn't die, Jack. You didn't die. We're alive."
"Thank God." Jack rested his forehead against Daniel's chest, breathing in the scent of warm skin, clean sweat, and woodsmoke. "Thank God."
He moved his hands again over the smooth skin of Daniel's hips and to the soft creases at the tops of Daniel's thighs.
"You're a tease, Colonel O'Neill," Daniel said with a gasp.
"Shhh. Concentrating here, Daniel," Jack murmured. Daniel's thigh muscles tensed under his fingers and Daniel moved his leg as Jack touched the back of his knee. Jack grinned, one of Daniel's ticklish spots. The hair on Daniel's calves was softer than Jack expected and he ran his hand upwards again, feeling goosebumps form under his hand. And then it was back to Daniel's ankles. He felt heat under his fingers when he touched Daniel's left one and remembered Daniel had twisted it earlier in the day. He trailed one finger across the arch of Daniel's foot and then over his toes. Jack got to his knees, touching Daniel's hips once more. He reached out to the bedside table, cursing when his questing fingers couldn't find the lube.
"Here, Jack." Daniel placed it in his hand and settled back on the bed, his tone totally matter of fact. Jack flipped the cap back and squeezed some of the gel onto his fingers, rubbing it so it warmed up.
He leaned down, seeking Daniel's lips, not judging his aim very well. It didn't matter; Daniel turned his head, his lips coming up to meet Jack's. Jack moved his hand between them, grasping Daniel's cock, feeling it hot and heavy in his hand. He rested more of his weight on Daniel, pushed his legs between Daniel's. His tongue swept the inside of Daniel's mouth while he slid his hand along the length of the now engorged cock.
"Oh wow, Jack," Daniel gasped, thrusting upwards with his hips.
That's my linguist, Jack thought. They found a rhythm easily. Jack had done this with his eyes closed more than once. Their bodies melded to one another, an intensity Jack had never experienced. There were soft moans, the sound of sweat slicked skin sliding against sweat slicked skin, the salt taste of sweat, the feel of heat warming Jack's body, and then the hot spurt of Daniel's semen as he came with a shudder.
"I love you, Jack," Daniel whispered. He wrapped his arms around Jack's neck, rubbing his hands through Jack's now sweat dampened hair. He pressed his lips against Jack's temple. "I love you so much." He shifted and turned over.
Jack rested his head on Daniel's shoulder, flicking out his tongue to lick the back of Daniel's neck. He rubbed a hand over Daniel's shoulder, loving the feel of the hard muscle that quivered at his touch. Gliding his hands down the expanse of Daniel's back, Jack let his hands rest a moment on Daniel's hips. He moved his hands carefully downward, reaching for the lube once more, spreading some on his fingers, and then his own cock. He moved forward towards Daniel's head. "I don't want to hurt you, Danny."
"You won't," Daniel answered, his voice sure. "I trust you, Jack."
Jack took a deep breath, scared of making love to Daniel for the first time in their relationship. Since his blinding, he hadn't tried this. Daniel had taken the lead and Jack had wanted it that way. His fingers felt clumsy as he moved his hands over Daniel's ass. He let out his breath as he touched Daniel and then carefully inserted a finger then two. Daniel moved as he scissored his fingers, letting out a groan.
"Go ahead, Jack," the whisper floated back.
Jack moved slowly until he was wholly inside Daniel. Muscles tensed around him and Jack shivered. He pulled out a bit and then thrust back in, feeling Daniel's muscles tighten around him again. He'd done this any number of times with Daniel, but it had never been so intense, so many different sensations, and then Daniel was moving with him. Jack's heart was pounding so hard he swore he could hear it in his ears. He thrust in one last time and Daniel was tight around him, so tight Jack thought he would explode until he finally came in a hot rush. He fell forward, putting his weight on Daniel, grateful that Daniel could hold him. Tears formed in his eyes and he couldn't hold them back. He pressed his face into Daniel's shoulder and wept.
"Jack? Jack?" Daniel's voice sounded far off. He couldn't move, and the tears wouldn't stop. "Jack, just pull back a little. Let me up. Okay?"
Jack obeyed the voice. Daniel slid out from under him. He heard footsteps go into the bathroom, running water and then Daniel was in bed beside him once more, coaxing him to his back. Warm water was wiped over his lower body and then the blanket was pulled up over him. Daniel was right beside him, a softer washcloth with cooler water being wiped over his face.
"Sorry." Jack gestured towards his face where the tears continued to flow. "Sorry."
"Don't be. Don't be sorry, Jack." Daniel settled next to him, pulling Jack's head to his shoulder.
"It was. That was incredible, Daniel," Jack shuddered and Daniel pulled the blankets up around them. "And oh God, oh God, Danny. I'm blind. I'm * blind *." Jack wrapped his arm over Daniel's waist, holding on tightly. "I miss seeing, Daniel. I miss it." Months of fear and loss overwhelmed him and Jack held on tight trusting Daniel to hold him through the storm.
It didn't last forever, just as Jack knew it wouldn't. He lay against Daniel, who still held him, listening to the sound of the breeze as it rustled the curtains. Loons cried on the lake. He'd needed the release Jack thought; needed to grieve in safety with Daniel who would understand and let him do it without comment.
"I love you," Jack whispered. He touched Daniel's face, a sense of regret filling him knowing he wouldn't see Daniel's smile again except through his fingertips. But it was more than he deserved, more than he thought he'd ever have again. Love didn't need eyes to see. It just needed the heart. Jack smiled.
A clattering beneath the window caused Daniel to tense. "Jack?"
Jack sighed. "Raccoons, Daniel. It's not a bear, trust me." He laughed as Daniel grunted and snuggled up next to him.
"Dream, Jack," Daniel whispered a moment later. "Sleep and dream."
* * * *
Jack bit back the urge to yell as Daniel fiddled with the radio in the car once again. He knew Daniel was as nervous as he was about the enforced separation. No, scratch that; Daniel was more nervous. Daniel's breakdown and the week at the cabin had only brought home to Jack how necessary it was for him to become independent. Although Daniel's blood pressure was down considerably, it was still higher than it should be. Despite Daniel's belief he could do it all, Jack knew he couldn't and didn't want to be responsible for Daniel's eventual collapse if he kept going at his current pace.
Major Wendover had been her usual matter-of-fact self when Jack announced he was ready to attend the program in Tucson. The arrangements were made and so a week after their return from the cabin Daniel was driving him to the air base where Major Wendover would accompany Jack on the flight to the rehab center.
The current plan was for Jack to spend six to eight weeks doing intensive therapy. She'd already gone over the program with him. More orientation and mobility training including traveling independently through a city, continuing to practice and learn Braille, a skill at which he was adept, and most importantly, independent living skills. Jack was able to get around his home, able to go to the mall, and get around the SGC as long as he had someone with him. But Daniel insisted on doing most of the cooking except when Jack opened a few cans to dump them in a saucepan. It was all the little things Jack used to take for granted-doing laundry without help, going to a store and buying his own things with no assistance from someone, being able to be alone in the house without Daniel worrying about him every second. He wanted a relationship with Daniel like they'd had before, a relationship of equals. He needed this program, but more importantly Daniel needed this program.
Cold air filled the car as Daniel opened his window at the checkpoint of the base. He heard Daniel rustling some papers and then the guard's, 'Have a good day, sirs.' Jack saluted, habit ingrained as he knew the guard's was.
"Well," Daniel said as he parked the car, "we're here." His fingers drummed a tattoo on the steering wheel. Jack leaned forward groping for Daniel's fingers and covering them with his own.
"Yeah, we're here." Jack rubbed Daniel's knuckles, the skin cold beneath his hand. "I guess I'd better be going. Can you see Major Wendover?"
"There's a walkway to the hangars, Jack. She's standing on it," Daniel answered. Jack could hear the fear tingeing Daniel's voice.
"I think maybe we'd better say goodbye here." Jack moved his hand to Daniel's face, hoping no one was watching and then not caring if they were. A kiss was planted in his palm. "Ah God, Danny, I'm going to miss you."
"It's not really that long, Jack," Daniel said. "And we both know it's the right thing for you."
Jack smiled. "It is the right thing, Daniel." He sighed turning his head away from Daniel.
"Jack," Daniel whispered, and Jack felt Daniel tug at his hand. "I want you to have this." Something was pressed into his palm and his fingers curled over it.
"But this is..."Jack fingered the piece of dog tag and chain Daniel had carried all the long months Jack was missing. He knew what it cost Daniel to give it up. It had become Daniel's worry beads, a nervous habit Daniel acquired and continued even with Jack's return.
"I want you to have it," Daniel repeated. Jack didn't need his eyes to know the expression on Daniel's face; a stubborn set to his jaw Jack would never have trouble remembering.
"Thank you, Daniel." Jack closed his hand around the metal again and pushed it down into his pocket. He held his cane. "I'd better be going."
There was a whispered 'Yes,' from Daniel and Jack pushed the door open. Daniel got out the car too and met Jack on the passenger side, handing him his bag which Jack slung over his shoulder.
"I, uh, have to go, Jack. I have a briefing to give SG-12 in a few hours." Daniel's voice was very low, almost as if he was talking to the ground.
"Yeah." Jack cleared his throat. He undid his cane and smiled hopefully in Daniel's direction. "Want to get me oriented? Wouldn't want to miss Major Wendover."
"Sure, Jack." Daniel was trying to smile, Jack could sense it. "Straight ahead. Just walk straight ahead. You won't miss her."
Jack began walking, pausing when he heard the car door shut behind him. Then he squared his shoulders and walked forward into the unknown.
* * * *
Daniel couldn't believe how nervous he was as he walked along the white cement path that bisected the grounds of the VA Medical Center in Tucson. He glanced down at the map in his hands, looking for the Blindness Rehab Center building. He had an appointment with the leader of Jack's Visually Impaired Specialty Team in ten minutes. The team was going to work with both Daniel and Jack for the next day or two and Doctor Reyes had wanted to explain to Daniel what to expect before they began.
The path led straight to the front doors of the Rehab Center and Daniel walked inside, the cool air-conditioning sending a chill down his back. He went straight to the reception area and announced himself, and was quickly escorted to Doctor Carl Reyes' office.
"Doctor Jackson," the short, swarthy man said as he got up to shake Daniel's hand. "I'm glad you could make it this afternoon. You've had a good flight?" He offered Daniel a seat and Daniel gratefully sank onto the thickly padded chair.
"Thank you, yes," Daniel said, thinking back to the military flight he'd flown on and grateful for Major Wendover for having taken care of all the details for him.
"So have you seen the colonel yet?" Reyes asked as he took a folder from the corner of his desk and opened it.
"No, I just arrived here a few minutes ago. Will Jack be joining us?" He hoped the eagerness in his voice wasn't too obvious. It had been six and a half weeks since he'd driven Jack to the air base and seen him board the plane with Major Wendover. He was dying to see Jack but at the same time he was anxious about the amount of progress Jack had undergone while he'd been away.
He'd spoken to Jack on the phone several times, eagerly calling him each night the first few days of their separation. But Jack had been tired after his therapy and had begun losing patience with Daniel's ceaseless questions. After Jack had jokingly threatened to ask General Hammond to send Daniel off world to a nice, quiet, relaxing archaeological dig to get him to stop calling him every night, Daniel had limited himself to a phone call or two per week.
"No, this will only take a few minutes." He smiled brightly at Daniel a moment before returning his attention to the folder.
"Now, Colonel O'Neill has told us in great detail what his routine at home was before coming here. My job, over the next two days, is to help both you and the colonel change that routine to make the transition easier for the two of you when you take him home."
Carl Reyes closed the folder and folded his hands on top of it, looking at Daniel intently. "You understand the reason why the colonel came to us, do you not?"
"Yes, of course. To help him become more independent, more autonomous in his day-to-day life."
"Then you do understand, Doctor Jackson, that you must allow him gain that independence?"
Daniel frowned at the words. "I don't understand."
"From what I understand you have been solely responsible for your friend's well being. You've cooked the meals, done the housework, laundry, shopping, provided entertainment. As much as the colonel attempted to do these things, you would take over the tasks and finish them yourself."
Daniel nodded, frowning at what had just been said to him. "He was very ill when he came home, Doctor Reyes. Yes, I helped take care of him, I cleaned his house, I cooked for him. Then Jack undertook some training with Major Wendover at the Air Force Academy Hospital when he got stronger. But there were so many things he couldn't do. I mean, how the hell do you leave a blind man alone in a kitchen?"
Daniel heard the tone of his voice and cringed inwardly. He remembered how scared he'd been one afternoon when he'd walked in and found Jack trying to heat up some soup. Jack had turned the burner on but had placed the saucepan on the wrong one and it had been glowing red hot with Jack's hand only inches away. Daniel had always made it a point after that to be in the kitchen if Jack insisted on heating something up.
"I know the thought is a little unnerving," Reyes said. "But like a child who has to eventually be left alone to walk to school by himself, your friend will have to be given the freedom to feel comfortable again in his own house. That includes leaving the house and going out into the city. By himself."
"Yes, of course, these are some of the reasons Jack came here."
"Colonel O'Neill has worked very hard to overcome some of the fears and inhibitions that were instilled in him over the past months, and-"
"Doctor Reyes," Daniel interrupted, not quite sure he liked where this conversation was going. "Are you accusing me of having hampered Jack's progress?"
"To be totally honest? Yes." Daniel opened his mouth but before he could say anything, Reyes continued. "It's a normal reaction to protect someone you care for, especially when they suddenly become vulnerable and reliant upon you. But you haven't done your friend any favors and have hindered some of his progress."
Daniel felt his face burn at the words, recalling how he'd been ready to do everything for Jack, often even when his lover had insisted he could do it himself. He sighed. Reyes was right, on many occasions Daniel had seen he could do things much more quickly and efficiently and had many times brushed Jack aside and not let him try. He tried to ignore the headache that was beginning to sprout in the back of his head.
"Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll go and see if we can find our good colonel. I'm sure you're anxious to see him." Daniel nodded, standing up and walking to the door behind Carl Reyes and feeling like an idiot. "Don't worry," Reyes said kindly. "Tomorrow we'll be going through everything in fine detail together and you'll be much more at ease when you see the progress your friend has made. I'm sure you'll be confident that he can take care of himself and can go back to being on his own."
Daniel felt his heart drop when he heard Reyes' words. Had Jack confided in his doctor that he wanted to live alone? Of course Daniel had been with Jack almost every free moment he had, returning only to his apartment to pick up his mail and feed his fish. Even after Jack had returned to work at the SGC Daniel had continued with the routine they'd developed. Did Jack now feel that he didn't need Daniel anymore? Daniel's elation at seeing Jack was gone and what he really wanted to do was rush back to his hotel room and think over everything he'd just heard.
They returned to the reception area and he waved Daniel to a chair. "If you'll wait here, we'll find Colonel O'Neill for you. It shouldn't be too long."
He nodded, too shocked to say much else. Daniel thought about Reyes' words and realized the man was right. His worries of the past few weeks came crashing down on him. Unable to sit still, Daniel got up and began pacing before the plate glass windows.
Daniel had been behind Jack's decision one hundred percent when Jack had decided to undertake this intensive therapy. At the time, the thought of an independent Jack had been an encouraging concept. But as time without Jack wore on doubts and anxieties began niggling at Daniel's confidence. Returning nightmares, and his subsequent waking up alone in their bed, had constantly reminded him how close he'd come to losing Jack forever. Visions of Jack struggling to learn new skills amongst strangers had him yearning to rush here and stand by his side. He realized how he'd unwittingly had Jack on a leash all of these months, afraid that if he wasn't constantly by his side Jack would do something to hurt himself again.
But worst of all were the added fears that an independent Jack wouldn't need him anymore and Reyes' words just seemed to compound those suspicions. Jack's blindness was Daniel's fault in a roundabout way and the renewed nightmares had begun to chip away at Daniel's belief in Jack's acceptance of his limitations. Jack had never blamed Daniel for leaving him behind. Hell, he never had to. Daniel had held enough guilt for the both of them. But Daniel had done all he could to try and make life easier for Jack and now it seemed like he'd been doing the wrong thing.
Unable to bear the confines of the room and needing to escape the sudden onset of his headache, he walked to the receptionist and told her he'd wait outside. He stepped into the sweltering heat, sneezing several times as he caught whiff of perfumed blooms in flowerbeds near the entrance. He checked his watch and realized he'd missed his dose of antihistamines. He patted his pockets and realized the pills were in his bag in the hotel room.
The sun beat down on him mercilessly and he walked to the meager shade of a nearby tree. He leaned against it, looking towards the glass doors of the building he'd just left to make sure he could see if Jack arrived. He stuck his hands into his pockets, feeling very discouraged and depressed.
He heard footsteps crunching on gravel behind him and turned, seeing two individuals walking slowly across the grounds. One was a woman who was obviously being given training on how to walk on uneven ground, the instructor following a few steps behind watching her progress. Daniel observed them for a few moments, wondering if Jack had gone through the same training in the same spot.
He heard more footsteps coming behind him on the cement path, the pace fast and confident. Daniel looked again through the glass doors to see if Jack had been found and, seeing the reception area still empty, he sighed and turned to look around the grounds. A man breezed by as another sneeze rocked him and Daniel thought maybe he should go back inside and get away from the irritating perfumed blooms and heat.
The footsteps had stopped and the familiar voice came from behind him. Daniel nearly tripped over his feet in his hurry to turn. The man who had walked so confidently by him... that had been Jack?
"Jack!" Daniel exclaimed, seeing the relaxed and smiling features before him.
Before he knew it, he was hugging a sweaty, enthusiastic Jack who was squeezing the life out of him in his excitement. Daniel hugged Jack back just as eagerly. He felt Jack's fingers move to his head and muss his hair before they traveled the length of his face.
"I'm so glad you're here," Jack said when he finally pulled back. "Hey, can we get out of this heat? I think I'm starting to melt." He tugged at Daniel's arm and with a sure step led him back towards the Rehab Center. Daniel opened the door, the blast of frigid air immediately cooling the sweat on his body.
"Ah, I see you found him," Carlos Reyes said to Daniel as they stepped inside. "You two have any plans?"
"It's almost suppertime," Jack said as he turned in the direction of the doctor. "Maybe Daniel could take me out to eat? We could go back to your hotel room and talk a while, if you'd like." A shiver of anticipation went down Daniel's spine and this time it wasn't caused by the air conditioning.
"Sure... but are you allowed to leave the premises?" he asked.
"Hey, I'm not in jail here," Jack quipped.
Reyes laughed and went to the reception desk. He made a notation in a ledger and returned to them.
"Okay, colonel. I've logged you out. Just remember the 11 pm curfew, okay?"
"Yeahsureyabetcha," Jack said, waving indolently in the man's direction. He tugged impatiently at Daniel again.
He led Daniel out of the grounds of the Medical Center with a sureness and ease that Daniel certainly didn't have. They walked silently down the street for several blocks until Jack turned into a small, cozy restaurant.
They were greeted warmly by the waitress and Daniel surmised that Jack and possibly others from the Center were regulars here. The place was half full but as it was still early Daniel suspected that it would begin to fill up soon.
"The ribs here are to die for," Jack said as he reached for the water the waitress had just placed before him. Daniel decided to take Jack's word for it and chose the ribs.
"So, tell me about what's been happening back home. It feels like forever since I spoke to you."
Daniel sat back and looked at Jack, who was tanned, relaxed, and looked totally at ease even though they were out in public. He hadn't seen Jack so self-assured since the day Jack had supposedly died. A lump formed in his throat and he had to swallow some water before even attempting to speak. Doctor Reyes had been right. Jack had needed time away from Daniel in order to get his self-assurance back, forgetting in his despondency that Jack had just had nearly seven weeks of rigorous training to get to where he was.
Trying to sound cheerful, he told Jack about the usual goings on at the SGC; Siler's latest mishap and Janet's frustration with the accident-prone technician, Sam's newest experiment and Teal'c's current hobby. In terms Jack would understand, but wouldn't sound suspicious to anybody who could overhear, Daniel recounted the latest planets that had been visited, the discovery of a new mineral that had the scientists drooling, a visit from the Tok'ra, and SG3's subsequent mission with them.
When their meal was brought to them Daniel ate with little appetite although the food was delicious. Jack ate with gusto, unashamedly eating the tender ribs with his fingers, which was probably why Jack enjoyed this particular meal. Once Daniel had run out of things to say, Jack spoke of the training he'd had over the past weeks and of the little bit he knew to expect in the coming days.
Daniel's headache was getting worse and he was now almost dreading the next two days. He was glad when the meal was over and he simply listened to Jack as they walked back to where he'd parked his rental car.
He drove the short distance to his hotel, and with Jack's hand resting on his arm, he guided him to his room.
Once he shut the door behind them, Jack tightened his hold on Daniel and pulled him towards him. Jack put his arms around him once more and unerringly found his mouth and kissed him warmly, momentarily pushing away some of the remorse Daniel had been harboring since speaking to the doctor.
He kissed Jack back with ardor, reveling in the taste, smell, and feel of the man he loved so very much. He lost himself in the sensations of Jack's tongue and hands reacquainting themselves with his body. His pants were starting to feel a little tight when Jack suddenly pulled away.
"You've lost weight," Jack said accusingly, pushing back so Daniel was at arm's length.
"Huh?" Daniel said, blinking and trying to get his brain working around why weight loss had anything to do with kissing and groping and a hard on.
"What the hell have you been doing to yourself?" Jack's hands passed over his ribs and shoulders before moving up to his face, his fingers softly flitting over his features. "You've got a headache, haven't you? Is that why you've been so quiet since you got here?"
"I'm fine, Jack." Daniel couldn't quite understand Jack's accusatory tone and moved away from him. He wrapped his arms around his chest and went to sit on the bed. "I didn't get much sleep the past three nights because I was trying to finish a translation before flying here." Which was partly true, except that he hadn't slept much mostly because of his recurring nightmares of Jack's death. He knew deep down that his subconscious fear of losing Jack had reawakened due to their separation but knowing it didn't stop him from feeling it.
He saw Jack still standing by the door and belatedly realized that Jack had no idea of the layout of the room. Quickly he got up again and took Jack's arm, guiding him around the two double beds and showing him where the door to the bathroom was situated.
Jack walked into the bathroom and stood before the sink. "Where are the drinking glasses?" he asked. Daniel removed the sanitary wrapping from a glass and filled it with cool water. When he went to hand it to Jack, his lover simply wrapped Daniel's fingers around the glass, held his forefinger up in the air indicating he wanted Daniel to wait, and stepped out of the room.
"Where's your stuff?" Jack asked.
"My bag's on the bed right in front of you," Daniel replied. He watched as Jack sat on the bed, found his carryall and began rummaging through it.
"Jack, what are you looking for?"
"Tylenol. For your headache." Jack found Daniel's toiletry bag and felt around in it. Daniel sighed, putting the glass of water down on the table by the bed and sitting beside Jack. He could see the blister pack of Tylenol and refrained from telling Jack exactly where it was.
"What's this?" Jack asked as he took something out of the bag. He shook the small container of pills and turned towards Daniel, bottle extended. "I thought you were off of these?" Jack demanded as he held the bottle of tranquillizers accusingly before Daniel.
"I was. I am."
"I repeat, Daniel. What the hell have you been doing to yourself? I go away for six weeks and you can't take care of yourself properly during that time?" Jack threw the pills back into the toiletry bag and swore when he missed and the container rolled onto the floor.
"What?" Daniel snapped, his temper fraying as he picked up the pill bottle while trying to process why Jack was nagging. He'd kept the pills with him since Mackenzie had prescribed them months ago but he hadn't bothered taking any. And maybe Daniel's blood pressure had been borderline high for the past three weeks but Fraiser was keeping a cautious watch on it.
"From the moment I got here I've been accused of doing everything wrong. First Reyes, now you." Daniel dropped the pills into the toiletry bag and threw the bag into his carryall. "Maybe you'd like to call up Fraiser and General Hammond and see if they have anything to add while we're at it."
"What do you mean, Reyes... what did he say?"
"Oh, nothing much," Daniel said sarcastically with a short laugh, "except that I managed to screw you up more than you already were." Daniel ignored Jack's surprised, 'What?' and got up, pacing the length of the small room.
"Oh yes! Surely you knew? It seems that I took too good care of you these past months. I held you back when I should have been encouraging you to go out and play in dark by yourself."
Jack began to speak but Daniel raised his voice, drowning him out.
"Here I was thinking we'd come so far, that you'd come so far, and it wasn't bloody good enough for that man. He said I didn't allow you to explore your limitations, to experiment. That I held you back!"
Daniel slammed his hand on top of the dresser in anger then shook his hand as the pain exploded through his palm and radiated down his arm. He could hear Jack speaking to him but he didn't want to hear the words in his anger.
"What right does he have to say those kinds of things?" Daniel shouted as the words came tumbling out of his mouth. "He doesn't know what you went through all those months in captivity! He didn't see what condition you were in when we found you on Hannara! He didn't sit by your side and see you with a feeding tube down your nose! He didn't see you try to take your first steps on your own! He wasn't there whenever you woke up screaming, thinking you were back on that damned planet!"
He went back to pacing the length of the room once more. Jack had gone quiet, sitting hunched up on the bed, his head slowly following Daniel's progress as he stomped back and forth.
"Damn it! He doesn't know the pain I went through those first six months when I thought you were dead. You... you... you came back and you were so sick and then you were getting better and I wanted to help and I just ended up making everything worse."
"Danny..." Jack's voice was soft and filled with pain. That more than anything managed to get through Daniel's anger and he stopped pacing, standing in front of Jack.
Daniel couldn't speak for a moment as he tried to slow his breathing down. He couldn't stop shaking and he knew he was losing control and had to try and calm himself.
"You didn't make anything worse, Daniel." He felt Jack's hand on his arm and he shook it off, moving away from him.
"You know, I even screwed up the grieving process, according to Mackenzie." Daniel laughed sarcastically. "He said I bottled everything inside and didn't let it out. That I needed to express my anger and pain. What the hell does he know about pain? About losing people? Don't you think I'm an expert on that by now?"
"Daniel, please. You didn't lose me. Remember that."
Daniel ignored Jack's words and exploded, his arms waving wildly in his agitation. "Why did you tell Reyes you didn't want me in your home anymore? You might be back with me now but it sounds like you sure as hell want me out of your life!" Daniel stood there panting staring at Jack, who stood up to face Daniel at this last outburst.
"I didn't!" Jack countered loudly as he took two steps towards Daniel. "Well, yes I did," he continued more softly, "but you know I couldn't tell him the truth." "Truth? What's the truth, Jack? You want to be independent so you won't need me around in your life as much? You've had a pretty good start since you seem to be tired of me already and seeing that you couldn't stand to have me call you every night you were away while I was worrying myself sick over you. What is it, huh? Should I even have bothered to come here today?"
Daniel stepped backwards, moving away from Jack's approach and then suddenly Jack was standing before him looking lost. When Jack moved his leg forward, reaching blindly with his hand, searching for something with which to reorient himself in the room, Daniel suddenly realized why Jack was here at the Center. "Oh God, Jack, I'm sorry!" Daniel cried. He quickly went to him and led him to the bed, his anger quickly overshadowed by concern. Keeping a tight hold on Daniel's hand, Jack put his other hand down on the bed and seated himself. He tugged on Daniel's arm, indicating he wanted Daniel to sit beside him.
"Tell me about Reyes," Jack asked softly as he placed put his arms around Daniel. "What exactly did he say to you?"
Shaking his head and pulling away, then remembering Jack couldn't see the movement, Daniel said, "No, it's nothing, it's okay. I'm just tired." Jack loosened his hold but kept Daniel's hand clasped in his. "I think I overreacted," he said in apology for his outburst. Daniel's anger had fled, and he found himself exhausted and unable to think clearly. For a fleeting moment he selfishly wanted Jack to leave so he could curl up and burrow under the covers, hiding from the world of hurt he suddenly found himself in.
"I don't think so, Daniel. I know you and you rarely get this worked up over nothing." Jack reached back on the bed and groped around until he found the toiletry bag. He went through its contents more slowly, finding the Tylenol and handing the blister pack to Daniel. "You're saying Reyes accused you of being too over-protective?"
"That would be one way of putting it, yeah," Daniel said as he removed two of the pills from the pack. He got up to get the glass of water he'd brought in earlier and washed the medication down, his hands still shaking from his outburst. He felt nauseated and the water just seemed to have made it much worse.
"Did you ever stop to think that maybe I wasn't ready to do all the things Reyes had expected me to do before I came here?" Jack asked. "That I was more than happy up until now to let you take care of me? It took me a long time to get my confidence back and three months ago I know that I'd never have been able to do the things I've just learned. I made the decision to come here when I knew I could handle things on my own and I certainly don't regret one minute that I've been here."
"On your own?" Reyes' earlier words came back to Daniel as he sat back down on the far end of the bed, making sure he was far enough from Jack that they wouldn't touch. "You told him you wanted to live alone, didn't you? Because he said something about my going back to my apartment and giving you back your freedom."
"Oh for crying out loud. Was I expected to tell him that we're lovers?" Jack toed his shoes off and pushed himself back on the mattress until he was leaning against the headboard. "Of course I had to say that living alone was one of my goals. And it still is. I need to be able to do things for myself when you're not around." He pulled the pillows from underneath the bedspread and shoved them behind his back.
Daniel nodded to himself, remembering that he and Jack had discussed this before. But having heard it come from a stranger had been like a slap in the face.
"I know you're afraid for me, Daniel. And I'm sorry I pushed you away but you were getting obsessive and I thought that a little distance would help. I was wrong; I didn't realize how much you needed to talk to me."
"I just wanted to hear your voice," Daniel admitted.
"I realize that. And I've been so busy trying to get my life back together that I never really gave a lot of thought as to what you had gone through all these months. I'm sorry, Daniel. Truly sorry."
Daniel hated to hear Jack apologizing for simply trying to survive. When Jack patted the side of the bed, Daniel shifted until he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with Jack.
"But now you have to let me do the things I've been doing all my life. I just have to do them a little differently now."
"It scares me, Jack. I lost you once. I just don't want anything to happen to you."
"I know." Jack pulled Daniel back into his arms and this time Daniel didn't resist. He turned onto his side and laid his head on Jack's chest, hearing his heart beating steadily beneath his ear.
"But every time you go off world, how do you think I feel, knowing I'm not there to watch your six?" Jack asked
"But I have Sam and Teal'c to watch out for me. Who'll watch out for you now?"
"You will, Danny. You will. And remember, your place is where it's always been. In my heart, my soul, by my side, and not in front of me leading the way." Jack brought his hands up and ran his fingers through Daniel's hair, the sensation soothing and familiar.
"But I didn't do that good a job the last time, did I, Jack?" Daniel whispered. "I wanted to die when I thought you'd been killed. Losing you was worse than losing Shau're. At least with her I knew there was always the chance I wouldn't get her back. But you were taken from my side and it was my fault."
"It wasn't your fault," Jack said quietly as he rubbed circles on Daniel's back.
"You were gone, that's all I knew. I existed, nothing more. It took a long time for Sam and Teal'c to finally get through to me and remind me I still had a family with them. We were on Hannara when that happened and suddenly food began to taste good again, the air smelled wonderful, I was happy, and for a moment or two I didn't think..."
"Of me?" Jack asked in a small voice.
"Yes." Daniel raised his head and kissed him before continuing. "Then I saw the outcasts and the food I was eating at the time didn't taste so good anymore. I ran to give my meal to one man who was obviously sick and struggling and suddenly... my life was turned upside down again."
Daniel swallowed. He and Jack had never really talked about what Daniel had gone through; most of Daniel's energy had been spent trying to get Jack to talk about his own horrible mistreatment on Hannara.
"When you found me," Jack said as he shifted on the bed to make himself more comfortable, "I thought you were a dream, a figment of my imagination. I thought I'd totally gone crazy. You know how when I got to Hannara I'd lost my memory for a while. When I began to remember who I was, I bided my time for either a rescue or a chance to escape. Every time I did manage to escape, I'd be found, beaten, and punished."
Daniel held his breath as he listened to Jack. He'd barely spoken to Daniel of his time as a slave, although Daniel knew he had discussed it at length with Mackenzie.
"It was thoughts of you that kept me going when I got sick. I knew you were on Earth, either worried or grieving for me. But I kept getting sicker and sicker. When I finally heard your voice, felt your hands no me, I thought I'd totally flipped. But I'd decided then and there that if I actually were going crazy, then I chose to be with you in that dream world."
Daniel closed his eyes, trying not to imagine the pain Jack had gone through because of him.
"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered, his worry and exhaustion of the past weeks catching up with him.
"Don't," Jack said. "Please, don't. I don't blame you any more than I would blame Teal'c or Carter. We know every time we step through that wormhole that something like this can happen."
"Damn it," Daniel said. "I even managed to screw up our reunion."
"No, you didn't. If anything, you brought up a couple of issues we should have talked about a long time ago."
"I love you so much," Daniel said as he closed his eyes, relishing the feeling of being held in Jack's strong arms.
"I know. I love you too."
Daniel felt Jack's lips on his forehead. The next thing he knew, Jack was shaking his shoulder. "Daniel, wake up. I have to leave soon."
"What? Jack?" Daniel squinted at Jack, seeing that he was in an unfamiliar room. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was and why he'd come here.
"It's nearly eleven. I need to get back," Jack said with a gentle smile.
"Stay?" Daniel begged as he watched Jack sit up and feel around for his shoes.
"I wish I could. But it probably wouldn't go over very well when the staff learned I spent the night with my best friend, huh?"
"Oh, right," Daniel said, disappointed. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, wondering why he was so tired. "I'm sorry I fell asleep. I'll drive you..."
"No, I'll take a cab," Jack said as he stood up.
"Don't be silly," Daniel began, but quieted when Jack put a finger up in Daniel's direction.
"Daniel, I can take a cab. This is what I came here to learn. To be able to do things on my own. You're tired, it's ridiculous for you to get up and drive me back. Besides, it feels good to be able to do this and to show you that I can."
Jack walked to the telephone and dialed a number from memory. He gave the cab company the name of the hotel and hung up the phone.
"Be at the Center at 0800 tomorrow, okay?"
Jack found Daniel on the bed and leaned over, kissing him goodbye. Daniel put both arms around Jack and regretted that he had to leave. Jack pulled back and pushed Daniel back onto the pillow. He watched as Jack made his way to the door and left. He listened to his fading footsteps walked down the length of the hallway.
The insistent ringing of the phone was the next thing he was aware of. He rolled onto his stomach and reached for it, managing to grunt a greeting into the receiver as he glanced at the clock. It read 8:15.
"Daniel." Jack's voice was much too energetic at this time of the morning.
"Jack?" He realized all of a sudden that he was supposed to meet Jack and the team of specialists sometime this morning. "Um, what time was I supposed to..."
He heard Jack laughing. "Fifteen minutes ago."
"Shit!" Daniel exclaimed, sitting up in bed.
"I'm sorry, I should have realized you were exhausted and called you earlier. Look, make it for 0900, okay? You'll have just enough time for a shower and a bite to eat."
"Yeah, okay," Daniel replied as he began rummaging one handed through his bag looking for clean underwear. He couldn't believe he'd fallen asleep on top of the blankets and hadn't woken up once during the night.
"See you soon?"
"Right, I'll be there in a little bit," Daniel said before he hung up the phone and rushed into the shower.
- - - - - -
The day flew by as Daniel and Jack worked side by side. Daniel was learning tips and tricks that would help him ease Jack into the new habits he had learned over the past weeks. Daniel couldn't get over at how Jack had taken to everything and completed many of the tasks with an ease that Daniel feared he himself would never had mastered had the tides been turned.
He understood now why Jack had been insistent that Daniel not call him every night. He could see how hard Jack had worked and had most likely ended his days in exhaustion. As they said their goodbyes to Jack's team as they left the Center on their way to a late supper, Daniel rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease some of the tension that still remained.
They ate in quiet companionship, Daniel finally having a chance to go over Jack's words of the previous night.
"About last night," Daniel said halfway through their meal.
Jack tilted his head slightly and Daniel knew he had his full attention.
"I guess I kind of over-reacted."
Jack smirked and said, "Ya think?"
Daniel raised his eyebrows at Jack and then frowned when he realized the action was lost on his lover. "Anyway, I just wanted to apologize and say..."
"It's okay, I understand."
"I just hadn't realized that I'd..."
"I know. Me too."
"Or that you..."
"So we're okay?"
Daniel took a sip of coffee, having finished his meal. He checked his watch and realized they had a couple of hours before Jack needed to return to the Center for his last night there. He smiled as he thought of Jack's 'graduation' the following day. He decided maybe they could do a pre-celebration in the remaining time they had together.
Daniel leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Wanna go back to my hotel room and play, 'let's find the lube'?"
"Thought you'd never ask."
- - - - - -
Daniel took a sip of beer and placed the nearly empty bottle back on the kitchen table. He was dividing his attention between watching Jack preparing supper, and watching Sam nervously eyeing Jack. Daniel smiled. Except for an occasional hesitation when Jack forgot where he placed a utensil, one would never know that he was blind.
"Sir, are you sure you don't want-" Daniel quickly shook his head, waving his hand urgently to forestall the question, but it was too late... "any help?"
"Thanks Carter," Jack replied as he tapped the spoon against the pot, following the metal till he found the edge. "I have everything under control. Besides, I know Daniel's been watching me like a hawk."
"Moi?" Daniel asked in a hurt voice. "I'm just sitting here minding my own business. Anyway, we're safe. You're not making toast." He kept his voice light, but he was worried knowing that the pot of pasta was soon going to have to be emptied and with Jack sightless... Daniel glanced at the timer and mentally counted down the seconds till it was set to go off.
Jack laughed at Daniel's comment. Jack's first foray into the kitchen alone had become a joke between them, although for a while the memory had been unpleasant.
Actually Jack had gotten a lot of practice in the kitchen recently. Since Daniel had returned to working fulltime at Cheyenne Mountain Jack had taken up cooking mostly out of boredom. But he was going back to work tomorrow and this was a celebratory dinner with their friends. Daniel still wasn't comfortable if Jack had to be around anything dangerous, like boiling water or a hot oven, but he knew he needed to let Jack do these things or else Daniel would undermine Jack's confidence in himself.
Daniel jumped despite himself when the timer rang and Jack unerringly hit the button, shutting it off.
"Teal'c, why don't you open the wine? We're nearly ready to eat," Jack asked as he put on a pair of oven mitts and maneuvered the heavy pot of pasta towards the sink.
With bated breath, they all watched him slowly drain the water from the pot, his head averted to the side to avoid the hot steam. After orienting himself, Jack managed to tip the pasta into a waiting bowl and then poured the homemade spaghetti sauce over it. Carefully picking up the large bowl containing their supper, he headed for the table.
"A little to the right," Daniel offered, removing his beer bottle from the empty space on the table which Jack had prepared earlier.
"Thanks," Jack said as he unerringly aimed for the allotted space.
Jack put his hand out and searched for the back of his chair, pulling it out from the table. Daniel marveled at how at ease Jack appeared to be. Daniel waved to his friends to help themselves as he broke off a piece of his Italian bun and buttered it. When the bowl reached him, he dished some pasta onto Jack's plate before serving himself.
"Colonel, I brought you a couple more of those audio books," Carter said as she straightened in her chair and took her napkin from the table.
Jack grinned at the news. "Thanks! I really enjoyed the last two you brought."
- - - - - -
Jack felt a faint puff of air as Daniel rushed by the couch where Jack lay as he listened to the hockey game on the radio. He removed his earphones and sat up. As this was the third time in the past thirty minutes, Jack decided to follow him. Although Daniel had assured Jack he was fine the previous occasions he'd rushed out of the room, Jack began getting an uneasy feeling.
Daniel had been sitting on the floor beside Jack, papers spread out on the coffee table before him. Jack had put the earphones on so as not to disturb Daniel's concentration. It had been a quiet, enjoyable evening, both men engrossed in their activities.
The past three weeks had been a time of regrouping, getting into yet another new routine with Jack being back at work. They'd been busy this past week and this had been their first relaxing evening in a while.
He heard Daniel head for the bathroom and as Jack neared he could hear the faint sounds of retching coming from behind the closed door.
"Damn," he swore as he knocked softly and warned Daniel he was coming in. He heard rustling sounds as Daniel shifted and Jack realized he was making room so Jack wouldn't trip over him.
"Hey, not feeling well?" Jack asked, swallowing down his own sympathetically queasy stomach as Daniel heaved once more in answer to his question. Careful not to jostle him, Jack reached out until he touched Daniel's back. His light cotton shirt was damp with sweat and Jack gently squeezed the straining muscles beneath his hand.
When Daniel flushed and sat back with a groan, Jack got him some water and handed it to him. He heard Daniel spit the water out after rinsing his mouth. Jack held his hand out for the glass once Daniel had finished. After returning the plastic container back onto the vanity when Daniel returned it to him, he knelt beside Daniel.
"I think I ate something that didn't agree with me," Daniel complained as Jack lightly traced his fingers around Daniel's jaw.
"I feel fine so it wasn't my cooking," Jack replied, thinking back to the hamburgers and salad he'd made them for supper barely two hours ago. He felt Daniel's mouth stretch into a slight smile then took his hand away when Daniel's breathing began to speed up.
"Oh God," Daniel moaned before he began heaving again. As Jack listened to him throwing up, he felt useless as there really wasn't much he could to help ease his suffering. Daniel sat back against the wall when he finished. Jack slid down the wall to sit beside Daniel and they remained there in silence, Jack feeling Daniel's body shudder with an occasional shiver.
"I think I'm done," Daniel said after a few minutes.
They stood up and walked back to the living room where Jack grabbed the ever-present afghan from the sofa and placed it over Daniel once he was seated.
"How long has this been going on?" Jack asked as he took a seat beside Daniel.
"I was fine until just a little while ago. It hit me all of a sudden." He felt Daniel turn towards him and Jack knew Daniel was looking at him. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Daniel asked.
Other than a slightly queasy stomach that Jack was sure was simply a result of having heard Daniel puke his guts out, Jack felt fine.
"I'm sure," he replied. He felt the back of the couch lurch as Daniel dropped his head back onto it.
Before Jack could say anything else Daniel suddenly swore and rose quickly. As Daniel rushed for the bathroom, Jack headed for the phone. He dialed the infirmary and asked to talk to the doctor on call. He frowned at the news the answering nurse gave him, and after having described Daniel's symptoms and listening to her carefully he hung up the phone and went in search of his ailing lover.
He met Daniel in the hallway as he came out of the bathroom.
"I just called Fraiser," Jack informed Daniel as they stood in the hallway. "Seems she was unavailable. She was in the bathroom vomiting."
"She's sick too?"
"Yep, seems like half the mountain caught some kind of intestinal virus. It's been spreading like wildfire in the local schools and one of the cooks in the commissary came down with it yesterday afternoon. He went home early but not before spreading all his lovely germs."
"I ate my lunch there yesterday," Daniel moaned, dropping his forehead against Jack's shoulder. Jack had been away from the SGC yesterday. He was thankful at the moment for having gone to a meeting in Denver with General Hammond.
"Let's get you to bed," Jack suggested. He realized Daniel must be feeling horrible when he didn't complain and let Jack lead him to the bedroom.
Jack pulled the bed sheets down while Daniel stripped and put on his sweats. He then emptied the plastic wastebasket and put it near the head of the bed. When he heard Daniel slide under the covers he sat down beside him and reached out for Daniel's thigh. He gave it a little squeeze and asked, "You gonna be all right?"
"Yeah," Daniel answered weakly. "Gonna sleep, okay?"
"Sure," Jack said before bending down to kiss Daniel's cheek. The skin beneath his lips felt slightly warm and he hoped Daniel's fever wouldn't rise too high. The nurse had informed him that Daniel would be feverish and weak for the next forty-eight hours but that it wasn't necessary to bring him to the infirmary unless he became dehydrated.
First step, Jack thought to himself, was to make sure Daniel had something to drink. He retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge then opened a couple cans of sodas, leaving those out on the counter for the time being. He went into the bedroom and put the water on the bedside table on Daniel's side of the bed.
Jack returned to the living room, abandoning the hockey game for one of his books. He attempted to trace the words on the pages before him but his attention kept straying back to the bedroom as he kept straining to listen to sounds of distress. He hadn't been there for more than twenty minutes when he heard Daniel rushing for the bathroom once more.
Jack sighed, thinking that it was going to be a long night.
- - - - - -
Daniel lay shivering under the covers, his body covered in a cold sweat and his clothes damp from his recent bout of nausea. He knew he should get up and change but he just didn't have the energy to do so.
He heard Jack moving around the house and realized he was locking everything up. After a short while he heard Jack enter the bathroom, then he came into the bedroom, stopping right inside the door.
"I'm not sleeping," Daniel said when he realized Jack was listening attentively.
"No," Daniel sighed. Between the frantic beelines to the bathroom, his aching body, and now chills, sleep had been the last thing he'd been able to achieve.
Jack came to the bed and sat on the mattress beside Daniel. He put his hand to Daniel's forehead before gently stroked his cheek.
"Here," he said, handing Daniel a thermometer. Daniel took it and stuck it in his mouth. Jack kept his hand on Daniel's cheek while they waited for the results. Eventually a pleasant voice informed them that he had a fever of 101.2. Great, no wonder he felt lousy.
"Think you can tolerate a couple of Tylenol?" Jack asked as he put his hand out. Daniel got up on his elbow and handed him the thermometer. He waited while Jack slid two pills onto his palm and handed them to Daniel. Sighing, Daniel swallowed them down with a sip of water.
"Try to drink a bit more," Jack urged.
Daniel took a couple of larger swallows, feeling the water slide down and settle uncomfortably in his stomach. He shivered again and curled back under the covers.
"Want another blanket?" Jack asked.
"Yes, please," he answered, wishing they had an electric blanket or two to warm him up.
Jack went to the closet and returned with a spare blanket and spread it over Daniel. The weight of the blanket didn't do much to warm him up but it helped a bit.
Daniel watched Jack take his clothes off, getting ready for bed. Daniel suddenly worried that Jack could catch whatever bug it was that he'd caught.
"Maybe I should go back to my apartment," Daniel said as Jack finished folding his clothes. "What if you catch this thing from me?"
"It's probably too late now," Jack answered as he slid under the covers beside Daniel. "And anyway, I wouldn't want you by yourself when you're feeling this lousy."
Daniel thought Jack was probably right. His germs were probably all over the house and if he left now it would probably not make any difference. Anyway, he didn't think he'd be capable of driving home right now.
Jack slid his length along Daniel's back, spooning up behind him. The heat of his body felt wonderful, easing some of his shivers. He lay there quietly, listening to Jack's soft breathing in his ear.
His stomach began to churn sickeningly and Daniel wondered how it could keep rebelling even though there was nothing left to expel. The familiar feeling of nausea swept over him and he scrambled out of bed, heading for the door. Before he took two steps, he began retching and he quickly turned and grabbed the garbage can Jack had placed by the bed earlier.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice sounded worried and Daniel couldn't answer him yet, face still in the garbage can, his breath coming in panting gasps before another bout of heaving assailed him.
"Damn it," Daniel exclaimed softly when he was able to, sitting down heavily on the mattress. "There go the Tylenol."
"Get back into bed," Jack said as he slid over to sit beside Daniel, removing the container from his hands. Daniel did as ordered, his body-heat having been captured by the sheets and blankets warming his fevered body. Jack went to the bathroom and returned a minute later placing the now clean garbage can by the bed once more.
Daniel turned to Jack as the older man got into bed. "We'll try the Tylenol again a little later, okay?" Jack asked gently. Daniel nodded his head, forgetting for a moment that Jack couldn't see him but not having the energy to answer him when he did remember. Jack cupped the back of his head and Daniel closed his eyes, trying to sleep.
Sleep was a mixture of strange, vivid dreams and a restlessness of body aches and pains he couldn't escape from. Jack was there each time he woke with either medication, water, or room-temperature soft drink. The night dragged on and on, and Daniel felt bad because he knew he was preventing Jack from getting any rest. The only good thing was that he'd been able to keep the pills and liquids down.
The last Daniel remembered was watching the sun come up, the room getting progressively lighter. When he opened his eyes again, he was alone in bed and the blinds had been pulled down all the way to cut out the sunlight. But Daniel could see that it was late morning because the sun was shining through the edges of the window.
He sat up slowly, needing to pee. His legs were weak and rubbery as he made his way to the bathroom. He took the opportunity to brush his teeth, washing the foul taste from his mouth.
He went looking for Jack, searching the living room, kitchen, basement, and back yard. By the time he'd decided that Jack wasn't in the house, Daniel felt like he'd run a marathon. Debating between the bedroom and the couch, Daniel opted for the couch so he'd know the moment Jack got back home. Daniel wondered where Jack might have gone. Hammond had ordered the base on total stand down, with only a skeleton staff to welcome returning teams, so Jack wouldn't have gone to work, would he?
The sound of the front door opening woke Daniel out of a light doze. Although the nausea wasn't that all-consuming at the moment, his head throbbed and his whole body ached. He pushed himself up and peered blearily at Jack, who was heading for the kitchen, a plastic bag hanging from his hand.
"Jack?" Daniel called out. He saw Jack pause, his head swiveling towards him before he changed direction.
"Hey, Daniel," Jack said in greeting as he placed the bag carefully near the stairs before stepping down to the living room area.
"Where'd you go?" Daniel asked, sitting up all the way as Jack reached him. He put a hand out to guide Jack towards him, taking pleasure in the feel of Jack's hands as they flitted over him, which was Jack's way of checking him out.
Jack's fingers were cold against Daniel's skin as they pressed against his cheek and forehead. Jack's face scrunched into a slight frown telling Daniel that his fever was probably up.
"We ran out of Tylenol so I made a quick run to the store," Jack explained. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"Yeah, I guess," Daniel said feeling guilty that Jack had had to go out because of him. "I'll get up in a minute." The thought of actually getting up and walking didn't appeal to him. He lay back down on the couch, feeling a little bereft when Jack stood up and went to put the groceries away. He closed his eyes, listening to Jack moving around the house, only to open them again in surprise when Jack placed a blanket over him and handed him a pillow. He gratefully pulled the blanket over his shoulders, its warmth reminding him how chilled he was.
The thermometer was waved in front of his face and with a sigh he took it and stuck it in his mouth. Jack felt around until he was situated before Daniel, and seated himself on the coffee table. Together they waited for the thermometer's verdict: 102.4. Geez, was that bug ever going to let go of him?
Pills and a glass of liquid seemed to magically appear in Jack's hands. Daniel sipped at the apple juice realizing Jack must have just purchased it. Daniel felt so tired and miserable. He laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. The glass was removed from his hands and Jack's fingers threaded through his hair. A gentle kiss on his temple and the whispered words, 'Go to sleep,' were encouragement enough make him smile before obeying the directive.
Daniel dozed fitfully, partially aware of Jack puttering away in the kitchen. The sounds of domesticity were reassuring rather than invasive. Drowsily he wondered what Jack was doing but he was too tired to get up and look.
He was aware at one point of Jack's hands on his face again but didn't bother opening his eyes to acknowledge him. When sometime later he did finally rouse enough to sit up and take notice of the world once more, he saw Jack sitting in the chair beside him, computer on his lap, busily working.
Jack's head swiveled immediately towards Daniel and Jack removed the earphone from his ear disconnecting himself from his talking software.
"You awake?" Jack said softly, obviously not wanting to wake Daniel if he had only been shifting around in his sleep.
"Yeah," Daniel sighed. He looked around the room, noting that it was late afternoon. It was pouring rain outside and a corner lamp dimly illuminated the living room. Daniel must have slept on and off most of the afternoon.
"How are you feeing?" Jack carefully placed the laptop on the chair behind him and then felt his way to the couch. Daniel sat up all the way, making room for Jack. The movement sent a slight chill through his body and he realized that he'd been sweating; his clothes and blanket were nearly soaked.
"A little better," Daniel admitted. His head didn't hurt and his joints and muscles didn't ache as much whenever he moved. He did feel very weak and lightheaded though and leaned into Jack, enjoying the feel of his arm around him.
"Think you can eat a little something?" Jack asked after handing him the thermometer.
For once that day the thought of food didn't make him ill. He nodded into Jack's shoulder and then sighed with relief when the thermometer informed them that Daniel's fever wasn't far from registering normal.
"Do you feel strong enough to take a quick shower first? You'll probably feel a whole lot better afterwards."
"Yeah, that's a great idea," Daniel agreed, wanting to get the feel of illness off of him. He got up and headed for the bathroom, Jack following along behind him. Jack took Daniel's damp clothes and within seconds Daniel was under the refreshing stream of water. He simply stood there for a while enjoying the sensation of the warm water running off his body. When his legs began to shake he made short work of washing himself and turned the water off.
He stepped out of the shower and was surprised to see Jack standing before him with a large bath towel spread open in his hands. He enveloped Daniel in its soft warmth and quickly toweled him dry. Clean sweats were neatly folded on the sink and once he'd gotten into them Daniel was then led into a freshly changed bed.
A tray bearing Jello, dry toast and clear broth waited by the bedside. A few magazines and a novel Daniel had begun reading a while back sat beside the tray along with Jack's Walkman with three of Daniel's favorite CDs.
"What's all this?" Daniel asked with a smile as Jack tucked two pillows behind his back.
"Just a few things to help while away the time," Jack answered as he sat beside Daniel. He picked up the tray and placed it on Daniel's lap. "Unless you feel like going back to sleep," Jack added.
"No, I think I'm pretty much awake right now," Daniel answered as he took a cautious sip of the warm chicken broth. His stomach gurgled at the intrusion, then quieted.
"I don't think I can eat much of this," Daniel said as he nibbled on a piece of toast.
"Eat what you can," Jack urged as he sat beside him.
Two more sips of broth and two half pieces of toast later the now familiar nausea swept over Daniel. He pushed the tray back onto the table and laid his head on the pillows.
"You okay?" Jack inquired, worry tingeing his voice. Daniel tried to control his breathing, fighting back the sickness.
"Yeah," he lied. He was grateful to Jack for making this illness easier on him but felt guilty at the thought of Jack having to take care of him all day long. He would have been better off at home alone without having placed this extra burden on his lover.
"Right," Jack said sarcastically.
The bed dipped as Jack crawled over Daniel and then strong arms pulled him against Jack's chest. Daniel leaned his head against the strong, warm body, feeling strangely safe and secure as he was held. He wondered if it was a remnant of childhood, of needing to be held when not feeling well. He felt embarrassed at the thought; he was a grown man. He should be whining and complaining about his illness rather than snuggling up to his lover.
When the nausea eventually began to subside, Daniel knew he had won a small battle with the virus. He pulled away from Jack and sat back against the headboard.
"A little," he said, although the sight of the congealing broth on the tray threatened to make his stomach start churning again. "Um, do you think you could take the tray back into the kitchen? I don't think I can eat anymore."
Jack got up and made his way to the table, his fingers passing over the toast, probably wanting to know how much Daniel had eaten. "Try to drink some liquids," Jack ordered as he turned towards the door. As he left, Jack's right leg bumped into the chair by the bed, and the cup containing the broth tipped off the tray and smashed on the floor.
"Shit," Jack exclaimed. When Jack bent down to test out the damage, Daniel quickly jumped out of bed and stopped him before he placed his hands on some of the sharper pieces.
"I'll clean this up," Daniel said, pulling Jack up and away from the mess. He felt guilty for having asked Jack to take the food away; he should have done it himself. Jack had done more than his share for Daniel today.
"You're sick, Daniel," Jack argued. "You shouldn't be doing this."
"Jack, I can do this. You've done enough for me. Just go, relax. I'll take care of this." He carefully guided Jack away from greasy liquid and broken glass, following Jack into the kitchen for a wad of paper towels. He carefully cleaned the mess up, dumping everything into the garbage can still sitting near the bed. The odor of the broth made his nausea worse. As he stood, his head swam dizzyingly for a moment and he swayed until he got his balance.
He dumped everything into the kitchen's garbage can and rinsed out the smaller garbage pail before washing his hands, trying to rid himself of the sickening smell.
He went looking for Jack and found him in the living room, sitting quietly in his favorite chair, his computer on the floor at his feet.
"Jack, are you okay?" Daniel asked, worried that Jack might be sick.
"I hate being so damned clumsy," Jack burst out, slapping his hand on the chair's armrest.
"Hey," Daniel said as he stood near him. "It happens, Jack. And it'll happen again, count on it. Anyways, you weren't always that graceful when you had your sight. Hell, look at me. How many times have I tripped or dropped something? I remember you saying once that I broke more drinking glasses than Charlie did."
Jack frowned at Daniel's words. "Yeah, but you shouldn't have to clean up my messes, especially when you're sick."
"Geez, you cleaned up my mess last night; I don't see why I can't do the same for you," he said as he sat down on the couch beside Jack. The older man continued to brood for a while, then leaned forward and picked up the TV remote and turned the television on. They both sat there listening to the Simpsons until Daniel's headache returned forcing him to curl up on the sofa. Soon he was feeling dreadful once more and he suspected his fever had returned with the setting of the sun.
Unable to stand the sound of the comedy show playing on the screen and unwilling to take away Jack's enjoyment in the show, Daniel shuffled his way back to the bedroom. The sheets were cold and he shivered as he drew the blanket up to his chin.
He jumped when Jack's cool fingers touched his cheek, pulling him out of a light sleep. The damned thermometer was handed to him again and he began hating the sound of it when it informed them that he had a fever of 102.7. Damn, but he'd felt almost human for barely an hour today. Jack handed him more Tylenol and water and he angrily swallowed the pills. He was fed up with being sick. His head throbbed mercilessly and he couldn't find a comfortable position in bed. He was hot and pushed the blankets away, only to wrap himself in them again when he began shivering.
Daniel snapped at Jack when told to try and drink more liquids and then felt contrite when Jack left him alone in his misery. Was it only a few hours ago when he'd contemplated that he should have been whiny and complaining instead of grateful that Jack cared? He lay in the large bed, lonely and sick and miserable. So when Jack finally came to bed, Daniel meekly submitted to the thermometer and yet more pills. He drank double the amount of water than he felt comfortable with and then spooned up against Jack's warmth.
The night seemed long and endless, his fever and headache preventing him from sleeping deeply, only falling into a restful sleep once more when the sun began to rise. He woke up again late in the morning drenched in sweat but with his headache gone and with an actual appetite. He still felt wrung out and shaky but much better than the past day.
Daniel took a quick shower and followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen.
"How are you feeling?" Jack asked as Daniel poured himself a cup of the hot brew.
"Lots better, thanks." He sat down at his usual place, and smiled as he saw Jack had already placed apple sauce, toast, jam and a bit of cheese on his plate. Jack walked by Daniel's chair and leaned over to kiss him good morning.
"Hmm, no fever," Jack said when he came up for air.
"Except the one you're trying to start," Daniel answered back with a smile before taking a sip of coffee as Jack took his seat beside Daniel.
Daniel cleaned his plate and enjoyed the feeling of not being queasy. He felt much better after his meal, although he figured it might be another day or two before he felt one hundred percent.
"Sorry for having been such a pain," Daniel said to Jack as he put his dirty dishes in the sink and rinsing them out.
"Well, you're my pain so I guess I'm stuck with you," Jack quipped.
"I'm just glad you were here with me, Jack. I mean, I know it wasn't pleasant for you but it meant a lot to me having you take care of me." He realized how Jack had been there for him each and every moment with medication, food, water, and love. It hadn't mattered that Jack couldn't see; he had more than been able to anticipate Daniel's needs.
"Daniel, with everything you did for me when I got back from Hannara this was nothing. You know I'm here for you, always."
"I know, Jack," he answered, leaning over and kissing Jack. "Thank you."
- - - - - -
"Daniel, you in here?" Jack paused at the entrance to Daniel's office, he could hear the hum of his lover's computer but no other sound was forthcoming.
"Jack." Daniel's cool tone indicated that he wasn't pleased. He must have received General Hammond's email already. Damn, Jack had wanted to talk to Daniel first himself.
"I gather you're not happy with my decision?" Jack stepped into Daniel's office, the dim interior a welcome change from the bright fog of the hallways.
"I thought you'd changed your mind. I thought you were content to stay on Earth and not go offworld." By the way Daniel's voice echoed in the room, Jack knew he had his back to Jack. Yep, he was pissed.
"I am content, Daniel. It's not a matter of stepping through the Stargate; it's putting the nightmare behind me once and for all." Jack's cane touched one of the rollers of Daniel's chair and he reached out, feeling the material beneath his fingers. "I *need* to go back to Hannara. It took a lot of sweet talking but General Hammond's agreed to let me go. And you know that Mackenzie is all for it; hell, he'd accompany me himself if he thought he could get away with it."
He heard Daniel snort; more than likely their resident shrink would need one of his medical cohorts to help him deal with the aftermath of offworld stresses were he to make the trip. The doctor had confided in Jack that he was glad he never had to travel to other worlds, staying on Earth was hard enough, thank you.
"I got the email, Jack. The briefing is scheduled for two hours from now." Daniel's voice was still curt but Jack knew he wouldn't be mad for long. "Damn it, Jack. I seem to be screwing up everything we learned in Tucson. You know, the whole independence thing. And I know you can do this, Jack. I mean, look at how well you took care of me when I was sick two weeks ago. I know you can do it, Jack. It's just...I don't want to see you hurt again."
"Daniel," Jack said softly. The chair moved beneath his fingers as Daniel turned towards him and Jack took a step back. He felt Daniel's knee press against the side of his leg. "I know this is going to be hard on you, going back there and remembering how they treated me. Hell, I know it's going to be hard on me, too. But I really want to do this. I hope you understand because I'm really going to need your support there."
"I hate the idea of going back there and I hate it even more knowing you're going too." Daniel sighed loudly, then his warm fingers pressed against Jack's hand. "But you know I'll back you up one hundred percent."
"I can do this. With you alongside me, Daniel, I can do anything."
* * * *
Jack leaned against the cool cement wall, trying to appear relaxed and nonchalant, even though his heart was racing. He'd stuffed his hands into his BDU pockets so he wouldn't have to continuously wipe them down his pant legs. There was a constant background noise in the room; the whine of electric current and machinery, boots shuffling, and soft murmurs, but it wasn't enough to drown out the one set of footsteps he was avidly listening for.
The Stargate would be activated in a few minutes and he would finally be stepping back to the world that had both enslaved him and freed him. General Hammond had been all for it, especially seeing how diplomatic relations had been at a standstill for months after Daniel had rescued Jack from near certain death. The Hannaran Councilors had been embarrassed, some outraged, and a few had even harbored hostility towards the Tau'ri, and President Griffor had been hard-pressed to keep order. Diplomatic posturing had resumed a few short weeks ago and the general had thought that now was the perfect time for Jack to make a re-appearance.
Of course when Jack had hesitantly approached Mackenzie about wanting to return to Hannara the psychiatrist had encouraged him to do so. He felt that Jack needed to confront his fears. But what Jack really wanted was to show those bigwigs on Hannara that there was life after illness. Daniel wanted him to talk about stopping slavery but what Jack was more interested in was preventing people from becoming outcasts. However in the end, the two were one and the same.
So here he stood with his former teammates and Lou Ferretti. Jack was glad that Colonel Rivera wasn't accompanying them on this trip. He had nothing against SG-1's current leader, and he knew that he was a good man, but he was more comfortable with Lou. Besides, the Hannarans had insisted the original team be present for this banquet, along with members of SG-9 who were currently involved with the newly convened negotiations.
A loud rumble began and Jack knew the Stargate had begun rotating. A rapid tattoo of footsteps caught Jack's attention and he pushed off the wall, anticipating Daniel's entry into the room. He smiled and adjusted his sunglasses; some things never changed. Daniel's timing was impeccable; Sgt. Davis had just begun calling out the chevrons as Daniel walked up to Jack.
"Glad to see you could make it," Jack quipped.
"Lou wanted me to take a P-90; I had to turn around and fill out the paperwork," Daniel sighed.
Jack raised a hand and reached for Daniel's shoulder. He found the gun strap and followed it down to the weapon itself which was held loosely against Daniel's chest. That had been a concession that Jack had won; they were going to Hannara armed to the teeth. Daniel had argued against bringing weapons until he was blue but Jack had countered that there were people on the planet who dealt with human lives, throwing them away like refuse once the slaves couldn't keep up with their chores. If SG-1 were to encounter any of those slave traders Jack wanted to be absolutely certain none of his friends went through the ordeal that he had.
"I feel naked wearing BDU's armed with only a knife and a cane," Jack admitted as he lifted Daniel's gun and checked the clip. Satisfying himself that all was in order, he let it fall gently against Daniel.
The Stargate kawooshed and the grey fog surrounding Jack momentarily turned into a bright grey fog. He had never noticed how loud the sound of the gate was before, nor how their footsteps sounded as he heard first Teal'c, then Ferretti and Carter, start up the metallic ramp.
"Ready?" Daniel asked softly as he offered Jack his arm.
Jack took his folded cane out of one of his BDU pockets. "No," Jack said. "You know how I hate to make speeches. Do you have our bags?"
Daniel snorted as Jack clasped Daniel's arm.
"Teal'c has them," Daniel answered as they began to walk towards the portal he knew was waiting before him. Jack was glad that he and Wendover had gone over this room during the past two weeks. He knew exactly how many steps it took to get to the very edge of the vortex.
He could feel its energy inches from his face and he stopped, marveling at how different it felt when active.
"Let's get this show on the road," Jack said with an assurance he was far from feeling.
"Meet you on the other side," Ferretti said. Jack heard the faint plop of bodies disappearing into the wormhole. Teal'c and Carter had followed Lou in and Jack squeezed Daniel's bicep in warning before he took a step forward and into the roller coaster maelstrom he hadn't experienced in months.
Jack stumbled as he stepped onto the hard-packed ground and suddenly he couldn't tell up from down. He would have fallen if hands hadn't caught him. He tried to right himself but couldn't seem to make his legs work. Bile burned along his throat and he swallowed it back down, coughing at the sensation.
It took a few seconds but he finally realized he was sitting down on cool grass, leaning against a very hard, warm bulk. An arm had a secure hold around his waist and the vertigo he'd experienced finally began to disappear. He could hear voices chattering above his head, calling his name. He waved his hand in irritation.
"Ack! Ack!" he said loudly, wanting them to quiet down. "I'm fine, just got a little dizzy for a second. Teal'c, you can let go now."
The hold around his waist loosened a little and Jack pulled away, dragging his feet under him. Hands helped him up and he swayed slightly before regaining his balance. He dusted himself off, making a show of it, then said softly, "Daniel?"
"Here." He felt Daniel put something in his hand and as he curled his fingers around the object he realized it was his cane. He gripped it with his right hand and with his left caught Daniel's arm. As they began walking down the dirt path, Jack sweeping the ground before him with his cane, he leaned close to Daniel and asked, "How big an audience?"
"The transport is just arriving now, Jack. Don't worry, nobody saw."
"That's a relief. They'd probably think I started partying before the banquet."
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. It's funny, I never got that kind of a reaction going through the gate before."
"Maybe next time you might try taking Dramamine... you know, for motion sickness? I'm sure it would work fine for gate sickness."
Jack reached back and swatted Daniel's butt lightly with his cane. He bit his cheek to stop from laughing as he heard his lover yelp, wishing he could have seen his expression.
- - - - - -
Jack was almost sorry he hadn't taken any Dramamine as the Hannaran transport went up and down hills and swerved along curves. The smells coming through the open window were sickeningly familiar and his stomach had begun churning again at the memories they invoked. They were passing farms, the unique odor of animal dung reminding him of the hours he'd spent hip deep in the stuff in the compost house as punishment. The man who had bought him thought his herd of sheep-like deer more to be more precious than the human lives he'd purchased to care for them.
"Sir, are you all right?" Carter asked quietly beside him.
Jack turned towards Carter on his right, trying to breathe through his mouth.
"Yeah, peachy," he said. "I just hate that smell," he confided after a moment. He laid his head back on the seat cushion and continued in a low voice so that Laewin couldn't hear. "I tried to escape one day when my owner was planning a dinner party for very important guests. Not that I realized I'd screwed up his plans at the time but let's just say he wasn't happy about the uproar. I got up close and personal with a lot of that stink for my troubles."
"We're nearing the city limits," Daniel said as he stroked Jack's thigh. The scent of animal dung soon disappeared, although its memory lingered in the back of Jack's nose. He sniffed a few times hoping to clear his sinuses.
Once he'd gotten the wasting sickness, probably due to his weakened condition, his owner had dumped him at the city's outskirts along with two others who were ill. His trip down shit alley had caused many of his open wounds to get infected, thus lowering his immune system even more.
The large van-like transport slowed and Jack could hear the familiar sounds of the city. Jack had never thought he'd be back here on Hannara and tried to ignore the shivers that coursed down his spine at the unpleasant memories. When their transport came to a stop and Laewin and the driver had gotten out, Daniel quickly whispered the layout of the hotel before them. Good, there were no steps and he opted to not use his cane and allow Daniel to discreetly lead him inside.
"DŽjˆ vu. Looks like we got the same suite as the last time," Daniel intoned as Jack entered the room, stepping onto plush carpeting. He could tell from the echoes in the room that it was vast.
"I will return for you in good time for the banquet," Laewin said. "The weather remains fair; do you wish to walk through the market once more or would you wish to be brought by conveyance to the palace?"
"If you wouldn't mind, Laewin, could we go by conveyance?" Sam asked.
"Of course not," Laewin replied. "Please, enjoy yourselves and be welcome."
The door closed softly behind the Hannaran.
"Thanks Carter," Jack said gratefully. "I really didn't relish the idea of going through that crowd in order to get to the Palace." As much as he had believed he was over much of the pain he'd experienced here, he realized that he still had many issues to get over.
"That's what I thought, sir." She came close to him and asked, "Would you like a guided tour of our room?"
"Sure," Jack said as he snapped open his cane. As he took her arm he psyched himself for the arduous duty of memorizing the layout of their room, a necessary evil since they were scheduled to be here until at least tomorrow afternoon.
"Okay, the door is two steps behind you and one to the left. Straight ahead is the bathroom and there are six bedrooms attached to the living quarters, three to each side."
"Lead on, Dorothy," Jack said as he took one step forward and began counting.
- - - - - -
"And I'm sure you are familiar with your own people," President Griffor finally said, leaving Jack's head swimming with the multitude of names he'd had thrown at him in the past fifteen minutes.
"Colonel O'Neill," a familiar voice sounded to Jack's right. He turned his head towards the voice and smiled. "Major DiCarlo. How are they treating you here?"
"The Hannarans are a lovely people, sir," she answered. "We've been enjoying our stay here very much and I'm pleased to say that negotiations have been proceeding even more quickly that I'd expected. President Griffor and her staff have been very accommodating and I'm sure General Hammond will be happy with what we've managed to accomplish in the past two weeks."
"Good, good. And have you managed to visit any of the sites I recommended you go see?"
"Jack?" Daniel asked in a questioning tone.
Jack ignored Daniel and waited for the major's answer.
"Yes, sir, we did actually. Hannara is a beautiful world and the countryside is very reminiscent of Earth."
"Yes, we have tried to keep our world unspoiled," one of the councilmen said from behind Jack who had very obviously overheard. "We pride ourselves with our clean cities and sweeping landscapes."
"We did find a few places quite interesting. I thought maybe you'd like see what we found, sir." She took his hand and placed a folded sheet of paper into it. Jack smiled when his fingers encountered the embossed print of Braille on it. He placed the paper into his pocket.
"Thank you, major. I'll be very interested to see if we had the same tastes."
Their party continued on through the massive room with Jack keeping a hand on either Daniel or Carter to guide him.
"What the hell was that about?" Daniel hissed in Jack's ear.
"Tell you later," Jack replied as they came to a stop before another group of guests.
It was very disorienting and disconcerting; he was surrounded by voices and music and at no time did he have any idea exactly where he was in the room. He was totally dependent on his friends to steer him in the right direction.
Finally soft chimes rang out announcing that their meal was ready. Being the guests of honor they filed into the room last after the President and Jack suspected that all eyes were on them. His legs were shaking as he kept a discreet hand on Daniel's elbow, who described the room in a low voice as they made their way to their assigned seats.
"If you reach out you'll be able to touch the back of your chair," Daniel told him when they finally came to a stop. Jack did so and managed to pull out the heavy chair and seat himself in it without knocking into the table.
"There are three forks to your right and two spoons on your left. You'll be handed a knife with your dinner plate. Water glass is approximately a foot away, in direct line with your right hand. The wine glass is just behind it. Napkin is right in front of you where your plate is going to go. Don't pick it up yet," Daniel admonished as Jack lifted a hand. "Wait till the President takes hers."
Jack heard a rustle of cloth along the elongated table and was reaching for his napkin before Daniel gave him the go ahead. Servants walked along behind them and began serving them a variety of dishes. Jack waited until Daniel described each dish before eating.
"You might want to skip this one," Daniel said at one point.
"Why," he asked curiously.
"Our meal looks suspiciously like escargots. Except they're still moving."
"Gross," Jack said; glad for once that he couldn't see what was in front of him. So far everything had been very delicious and different from the plain fare he'd had to eat on the planet. "People are eating these things?"
"Well, the Hannarans are. And Teal'c seems to be enjoying them, although I think Sam is looking a little green."
He felt Daniel's arm brush his own and Jack asked, "What?"
"Ummm, nothing, except that your meal's trying to escape." He heard a clattering sound and realized Daniel had dropped the snail back onto his plate. Jack sat stiffly in his seat after that until the plate was removed, afraid that the creatures would start crawling over him.
The rest of the meal passed by uneventfully and Jack was finally called upon to speak. He reached for his water as President Griffor formally called for her guests' attention.
As his fingers accidentally knocked over the glass, he realized belatedly that someone had moved his glass. He patted the area before him trying to find the goblet before it rolled off the table.
"He cannot see!" a voice exclaimed across from him.
"We were told he had been cured of his ills!"
The words echoed up and down the table, everyone talking at once.
"Daniel, what just happened?"
"I don't know," Daniel said in a bewildered voice.
"I think they didn't realize you were blind," Carter said from his left.
"Ya think?" Jack groused as the President tried to quiet everyone down.
Jack pushed his chair away from the table and stood. The people nearest him quieted down and soon the whole table became silent.
"Yes, I can't see," Jack began when he knew he had all of their attention. "I'm blind. I never hid the fact from anyone," he continued. "I wear these," he said as he removed his sunglasses and folded them, placing them carefully in a vest pocket, "because it makes some people uncomfortable to talk to me. I wasn't trying to hide this disability from any of you.
"You all know my story, I'm sure. In a nutshell, I was taken from my team on another planet, sold into slavery here, and became an outcast when I contracted your wasting sickness." A few persons mumbled here and there and Jack waited a moment for the room to quiet again.
"I'm here tonight to prove to you all that there is life for those who are outcasts besides what they're forced to endure. Most of the outcasts are so because of illness or bad luck. We can help you take care of these people and show you how to bring them back into a productive life. Even those with the wasting sickness can be helped. Even the blind can be taught. Look at me." He spread his hands open and smiled.
"Danny, are they looking?" he hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
"Oh yeah," Daniel answered back.
"You need to start with addressing the fact that some of your people deal with slavery. Abolish slavery and you'll cut the number of outcasts in half."
The table erupted in angry voices and Jack slammed a hand down forcefully.
"I was a slave here for six months!" he yelled. "Don't you dare try and tell me slavery doesn't exist. Do you know what's worse than people dealing in the selling of human lives?" Jack took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He spoke softly. "It's those who turn their eyes away when they know what's going on before them."
In rapid fire he pointed towards three familiar voices at the table. "You, you, and you," Jack said. "You visited my owner's farm one day. I heard you all talking and laughing while I was hip deep in manure, hidden from sight." He pointed to the first one again. "You were talking about a new shipment of your favorite wine you'd just bought and how it was sour."
"You were smoking that damned pipe," Jack said to the second voice who was now wafting thick smoke his way, "and saying how your wife had just bought you a new hunting dog as a surprise. And you," Jack said turning to the third, "said that something should be done about the way the owner of that farm managed things."
He slipped a shaking hand into his pocket and removed the piece of paper DiCarlo had given him. Flattening it on the table before him, he turned his head as if he were gazing at the people sitting at the table.
"Well, here's your chance to do something about it. Here I have the names of some of those who deal 'in the flesh' as you call it. Of course there are only a few on this list but if you begin with these I'm sure you'll eventually root all of them out and, in the end, put a stop to both slavery and those who are outcast.
Several voices began shouting but President Griffor finally yelled over them, demanding silence.
"Colonel O'Neill, I would very much wish to hear these names."
Jack ran his fingers along the words printed before him and began reading them out loud. He smiled with grim satisfaction when Roshail, his former owner, was third on the list.
- - - - - -
Jack walked into the hotel room loosening his tie with relief. He was glad that that ordeal was over with.
He'd gotten to speak with Major DiCarlo before leaving the palace and had congratulated her and her team on a job well done. President Griffor had thanked Jack privately. She had been trying to convince her Councilors for years to clean up the vermin who traded in slaves but most had wanted nothing to do with it. Jack's speech had publicly embarrassed them all and she was sure that his words that night had incited them all enough to start doing something about the problem.
As he walked into their bedroom, Jack was very conscious of Daniel's continued silence behind him. He knew Daniel was hurt because Jack hadn't confided in him and Jack figured he had some major apologizing to do tonight.
He unbuttoned his jacket of his dress blues and slipped it off his shoulders, refraining from throwing it onto the bed, knowing he'd have to search for it later in order to put it away. He walked to the closet fumbling for the door handle. As he hung the jacket up he heard the bed squeak as Daniel sat down on it.
Jack turned and aimed for the slight sound, pleased when he found Daniel unerringly. He ran a hand over Daniel's shoulder, the soft silk of Daniel's suit warmed by the skin beneath it.
"You mad?" Jack asked as he brought his fingers to Daniel's neck and stroked his cheek. Daniel turned his face into Jack's hand and kissed his palm.
"Not mad, just a little disappointed you didn't confide in me."
"I'm sorry, Daniel. I knew you'd be upset but you had so much to worry about before this trip that I didn't want to burden you with this little vendetta of mine. Coming back here couldn't have been that much fun for you either."
"I wasn't worried," Daniel replied as he brought his arms around Jack's waist and leaned forward, pressing his face against Jack's abdomen.
"Yes you were. You kept grinding your teeth whenever I brought the subject of Hannara up."
"I did not," Daniel protested, still leaning against Jack.
"So you don't mind that I asked DiCarlo to keep an eye open?"
Daniel took a deep breath and pulled away. "I'd be lying if I said yes, I don't mind, but I understand what you were trying to do." Jack felt Daniel's fingers move to his hips and squeeze slightly before he pushed Jack away.
"It's late. Go shower first; I need to put a few papers in order. We should get to bed soon since we need to get up early tomorrow morning to meet with President Griffor and her Cabinet."
Daniel was right, it was late and Jack was tired. As he sat down on the bed to untie his shoes, Daniel kissed the back of Jack's nape.
"I'm really proud of you, Jack."
He wished he could see Daniel's face at this moment, but the love he could hear reflected in his voice would do.
- - - - - -
"Hey there." Daniel spun in his chair at the familiar tapping of Jack's cane on the cement floor. He smiled at his lover, knowing that even if Jack couldn't see it, he could hear the difference in Daniel's voice. Well at least that was what Jack claimed.
"Hey yourself." Daniel watched as Jack felt for the extra chair Daniel kept at his desk. "How'd the meeting with the representatives from P2R-115 go?" He stifled a yawn by turning his head into his shoulder.
"You know, yadda, yadda. Talked a little, schmoozed a little." Jack gestured widely with one hand and Daniel grabbed the small vase he'd been given as a gift by the ruler of the last planet he'd visited.
"You schmooze?" Daniel grinned. "I'd like to see that."
"It could be arranged, Daniel." Jack grinned back, his eyebrows waggling. He pressed the button on his watch and sighed when it announced the time. "You want to catch a quick lunch? I have a lecture in fifty minutes with some new recruits. I get to tell them all my little secrets."
Yawning again, Daniel sighed too. "Sorry, Jack. I have a translation I have to get done by one." He yawned once more and closed his eyes as Jack's hand unerringly found his forehead. "I'm not sick."
"Why don't you go to your apartment after you finish the translation?" Jack held up a hand as Daniel opened his mouth. "I know General Hammond told you that you have some time off coming. I'll meet you there and we can go out for dinner somewhere nice. I'm sure Carter will drop me off at your place. It's not out of her way."
"I should..." At Jack's small 'humph' Daniel gave in. "Okay, I'll see you at the apartment later."
"I thought maybe we could do some Christmas shopping after dinner." Jack stood, gathering his cane, and waiting for Daniel's reply.
"Sounds good, Jack," Daniel said, already turning back to his computer. He shook his head as the door closed behind Jack. They'd both come to terms, to peace, with Jack's blindness. After the trip to Hannara Jack had seemed to gain even more confidence. Daniel smiled as he thought of the letter Jack received earlier in the week. Jack would be going to school again. He'd been accepted in the program to receive a guide dog, although he wouldn't be going for the training until the summer. Reaching for his cup of coffee and gulping down the now cold brew, Daniel studied the pictures on his screen. Maybe after they went for dinner and shopping Daniel could persuade Jack to partake of dessert. With that happy thought, Daniel began attacking the translation with renewed energy.
* * * * *
"Carter, you about ready to go?" Jack listened as she fiddled with some gadget or the other. A few hours lecturing to new recruits and a morning spent with some off-world diplomats had Jack looking forward to a few days away from the SGC. He'd heard how tired Daniel was earlier, the weariness in his voice unmistakable. They'd both been busy over the past month and the thought of a dinner neither of them needed to cook or pull out of boxes was very appealing.
"Okay, sir. I'm ready." Carter was by his side, pulling Jack out of his thoughts of the evening ahead. She waited for him to unfold his cane and then offered her arm. He took it, using the cane along with her arm. She chattered on about some sort of experiment she was running and Jack was lucky to understand one word in three.
He interrupted when she took a breath as they boarded the elevator. "So, Carter, you ride your motorcycle today?"
"As a matter of fact, I...oh no," Jack smiled as he heard her gasp. "Sir, perhaps General Hammond could arrange for transportation."
"Why? You have an extra helmet don't you?"
"Yes." The word was drawn out and suddenly laughter filled the elevator cab. "You planned this, didn't you? You waited until we had a warm day and then you figured I'd ride the motorcycle. You sent Daniel home on purpose." The accusatory tone she was striving for was ruined by the grin he could tell she wore.
"Carter, Daniel thinks motorcycles are dangerous when you can see. I don't think he'd be thrilled I was riding it when I can't see."
"Huh," Carter grunted as they exited the elevator and began walking to the parking lot. "Did I ever tell you how he drove when Janet and I accompanied him to Egypt?"
"Ah, his speed demon persona?" Jack asked. He could just imagine Carter's eyes rolling at the comment.
"Are you sure you want to do this, sir?" Carter stopped walking and Jack folded up his cane.
"I'm sure, Carter." Jack took a deep breath as she placed a helmet in his hands. He placed it on his head and kept one hand on Carter's shoulder as she got on the bike, following her instructions to mount the motorcycle himself. He let her adjust his legs and felt her touch something on his helmet.
"Can you hear me, sir?"
He gave her the thumbs up and grabbed hold of her waist as she started up the bike.
"Hang on, sir," sounded in his ears and Jack closed his eyes, although he didn't know why. He wondered if this was really such a good idea as Carter accelerated around a curve and picked up speed.
- - - - - - *
Daniel opened his balcony doors. Jack had called about an hour ago letting him know he'd be leaving with Sam as soon as she finished up her experiment. Despite it being the end of November the weather was unseasonably warm and he enjoyed standing on his balcony in shirt sleeves. Daniel was looking forward to seeing the Christmas decorations and lights when he and Jack went shopping later. He felt a momentary regret as he realized Jack wouldn't be able to experience the visual treat of colored lights.
It was still fairly quiet in his neighborhood at this time of day, people still at work or doing after work errands, so when the motorcycle pulled up in front of his building Daniel found his eyes drawn to it. He frowned. That looked like Sam's bike, but surely Sam and Jack wouldn't have come home on...he crossed his arms over his chest as he saw the riders get off the motorcycle. Shaking his head, Daniel watched as Jack took off the helmet and handed it to Sam. She opened a compartment and handed Jack his cane. Daniel could see them talking and Sam pointing to the balcony. He waved to her and saw her moving Jack so that he was facing Daniel. Jack's head tilted back and even from this distance Daniel could see the huge grin his lover wore. Jack gave a wave in Daniel's direction and then tilted his head down to talk to Sam once more. She shook her head and waited while Jack made his way into the building before getting back onto her bike and speeding off.
"Hi, Daniel," Jack said as he let himself into the apartment. "Guess you saw how I got home."
"Yeah I did." Daniel crossed the room to Jack, drawing him into a hug and capturing his lover's face between his hands.
Jack brushed his fingers over Daniel's face and then lowered his head to meet Daniel's lips.
"You're cold," Daniel chided, pulling away after a quick kiss. He smiled, loving to see Jack so happy. "Was it fun?"
"Is this where you look disapprovingly at me and think I'm crazy?" Jack tilted his head before pulling off his glasses and placing them in his pocket.
"No, this is where I ask you if you had fun and tell you I love you." Daniel grinned as he wrapped his hands on Jack's leather jacket.
"It was incredible, Danny. Like flying," Jack whispered. "And for awhile I could forget." Jack touched his temple. "It was incredible," he repeated.
"Then I'm glad," Daniel whispered back. "Come on, we have reservations at Dominick's at five thirty. But it's only three now."
"You gonna show me some other ways to fly?" Jack followed Daniel through the apartment.
"I might be able to oblige, Jack." Daniel laughed as Jack wrapped his arms around him and fell backwards onto the bed with him.
"Daniel?" Jack pulled his legs onto the bed and sat up, touching Daniel's shoulder. Daniel sat up in alarm, concerned at Jack's sudden change of mood.
"Jack? Is something wrong? Did you get hurt?" Daniel studied Jack unable to see anything physically wrong with his lover.
"No, it's not that." Daniel could see Jack swallowing hard and his concern grew but he waited, trying to be patient.
"When I was a slave on Hannara," Jack began then shook his head, starting over. "When Roshail dropped me off at the outskirts to the city once I started getting sick, I was sure I was going to die there. And all I could think was that I'd never see your face again." Jack twisted, pulling Daniel into his arms. "I've never told you all I went through, Daniel. I don't want you to know. But MacKenzie says the reason I got through it was because I must have had something to hang onto, something to believe in." Daniel closed his eyes as Jack ran gentle fingers over his face. "When I came back, when you found me, and I thought all was lost, you were there for me."
"Always, Jack," Daniel whispered. "You'd do the same for me."
"I love you, Daniel. I know I don't say it often, but I wanted you to know. Our plans..."
Daniel placed a finger on Jack's lips. "Our plans are just different than they were, Jack. Not worse, not better, just different. We're just taking a new road, one we didn't expect to explore."
Jack sighed and shifted, sliding down in the bed, encouraging Daniel to place his head on his shoulder. "A new adventure, huh, Daniel?"
"Does it matter as long as we're together?" Daniel countered, knowing the answer in Jack's heart as well as his own. He pushed up a little, staring at his lover's face, the beautiful brown of Jack's eyes, the small smile on Jack's lips.
"You know, Daniel, it's funny how things work out," Jack said, rubbing his hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Sometimes I think I see better now than when I used my eyes. Now I see with my heart."
"What do you see, Jack?" Daniel rested his hand on Jack's chest, closing his eyes.
"I can see the good in people, Daniel. Maybe this is the way the man upstairs has chosen to remind me of that. That the world, the universe isn't always an ugly place." Jack gave a small laugh. "And love. I can see love when you touch me, in all those little ways you're here with me."
Daniel turned as Jack kissed his temple, moving up to meet Jack's lips with his own. "We're two damn lucky guys, you know?"
"I know," Jack murmured. "Believe me, I know."
* * * * *
"Hey, Danny, wake up." Jack shook his lover's shoulder. A quick press of his watch button confirmed his suspicions. It was already going on five. Daniel had fallen asleep on Jack's shoulder soon after they'd gone to the bedroom. With no book handy to read, Jack had taken a quick nap too. Beside him, Daniel stirred. "Come on," Jack shook again.
Jack smiled at the rough voice. "It's almost five. Didn't you say we have reservations at five thirty?" The bed dipped as Daniel got out, muttering under his breath. He heard the sound of water running in the bathroom. Jack slid out of the bed himself, cautiously bending over to retrieve the jeans he'd shed earlier. He patted the floor, finding his shoes without difficulty. The water shut off and soon Daniel was back in the bedroom. He knew people thought Daniel was pokey sometimes but when Daniel needed to move he could. He heard drawers opening and shutting and something muttered in Abydonian.
"Need some help?" Jack asked as he finished tying his shoes.
"I'm fine," Daniel said, coming to Jack's side. He touched Jack's wrist, turning it. "Fifteen minutes. Not too shabby."
"You think we're going to make it to Dominick's in fifteen minutes?" Jack reached out to stroke Daniel's arm. Daniel had put on one of his polar fleece shirts and Jack smiled at the luxurious feel of the material under his fingertips.
"We will if you stop touching me like that," Daniel replied. Jack took a deep breath, following Daniel from the bedroom. He picked up his cane from the small table right inside the door and pulled it open as Daniel locked the door behind them.
"There are a lot of people at the elevator, Jack. Including Mrs. Thomson and Richie." Daniel leaned in closer to speak to him. "Stairs?"
"Stairs," Jack agreed. He stopped at the top of the first flight, reaching out a hand to find the railing. "You go first, Daniel," Jack requested. He could use the sound of Daniel's footsteps to help judge his own steps. Listening carefully and using his cane to find the edge of each step, Jack made his cautious way down the stairs behind Daniel, grinning in accomplishment when they made it to the garage level. He took Daniel's elbow as they began to walk towards Daniel's car, trusting Daniel to guide him. They didn't speak, their footsteps echoing on the cold cement floor, the smell of oil and exhaust fumes in the air. Jack sighed as he sat in the passenger seat, pulling his seatbelt across his shoulder and buckling it before Daniel even had the keys in the ignition. Jack closed his eyes as they began moving, relaxing as Daniel maneuvered through the Friday evening traffic.
"So, Daniel, any ideas on what Carter and Teal'c would like for Christmas?" Jack began, smiling as he heard Daniel's slight huff.
"You never change, Jack." The sound of the turn signal had Jack bracing his hand on the door. "I know what I'm getting them. You'll have to figure out what you're getting them on your own."
"Aw, Danny. That's no fair. Help a blind guy out here." Jack tried for whining but he couldn't help grinning as he teased so he figured his plan wouldn't work.
"Sorry, Jack." Daniel's voice held amusement. Jack felt the car slow and then a shift as they began to back up.
"Well, what did you get them last Christmas?" As soon as he spoke the words Jack knew they were a big mistake. The car had stopped moving and Jack reached out to place a hand over Daniel's where it rested on the steering wheel. He could almost feel Daniel's arm vibrating with tension.
"We didn't have Christmas last year, Jack." Daniel's voice was very low. "We-Sam, Teal'c, and I-it just wasn't the same. We all worked so some of the other staff could spend time at home with their families." The fingers under Jack's hand tensed and then released their grip on the wheel. "We'd better get inside if we want to be on time for our reservations," Daniel went on.
"Wait," Jack ordered. He rubbed his thumb across Daniel's knuckles. They sat in silence for a few moments, Jack listening to Daniel slowing his breathing. "You okay, Danny?"
"Yeah." Jack relaxed as he heard the calm and assured voice once more. "Yeah, Jack. Come on, let's get inside. I'm hungry."
- - - - - -
Picking up his glass of water and taking a sip, Daniel watched as Jack ran his fingers across the Braille menu, his lover's lips moving silently as he read. He knew what Jack was going to order; Jack always ordered the same thing but he supposed Jack was using the opportunity to practice his skills. Jack's foot nudged his under the table and a strong hand was placed on his thigh. Daniel smiled and covered Jack's hand, squeezing it while he read his own menu.
"Are you ready to order, sirs?" The waiter appeared out of nowhere.
"I'll have the chicken marsala. Side salad with the house dressing," Daniel gave his order and waited for Jack.
"Fettucine Alfredo. Side salad, ranch dressing." Jack closed the menu and held it in the direction of the waiter.
"You need to live a little, Jack," Daniel teased lightly as the waiter walked away. "Try something different."
"I like their fettucine alfredo, Daniel." Jack reached for his glass. Daniel frowned when Jack's hand shook.
"You okay, Jack?" Daniel asked, alarm bells going off in his head.
Jack took a sip of water. "Headache," he muttered. Jack pulled off his dark glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Headache and hungry."
"You should have said something. We didn't need to come out tonight." Daniel was relieved to see their waiter coming back with rolls and salads.
"Just need to get some food in me, Daniel." Jack put his glasses back on, a movement that never failed to clench Daniel's gut. Although Jack didn't wear his glasses when he was with his teammates, he never went without them in public.
After the waiter placed their salads and rolls on the table they ate in comfortable silence, relaxing from the stress of the workday. Daniel shivered as Jack's foot nudged against his under the table and glanced around the restaurant before reaching out and squeezing his lover's hand in a warm grasp.
* * * * *
"Why don't we split up, Daniel?" Jack stood by Daniel's side in the busy mall. "Meet back in front of the fountain by Starbucks in two hours?" Despite the Christmas music and the sounds of the shopping crowd, Jack was able to hear Daniel's hesitant sigh.
"Daniel, I've done this before, remember?" Jack couldn't keep a slight bit of hurt and exasperation from his voice. He smiled hoping to alleviate Daniel's concern.
"I know." Daniel sounded more confident. Jack could imagine Daniel licking his lips before he spoke again. "It's seven now. Nine o'clock at the fountain?"
"Yep, sounds good." Jack nodded and pulled open his cane. "See you then, Daniel."
Forty five minutes later Jack had almost all of his shopping done. Carter had been easy, all he had to do was go into one of those shops where they sold bath stuff and tell the clerk what he wanted: vanilla scented stuff for a female co-worker. It had taken him all of ten minutes and most of that was waiting in a line he thought would never end, because of course, he got behind the one person whose credit card couldn't be approved. He contented himself with listening to the conversations going on around him. He went to the video store and found a clerk there who found all the DVDs of old TV shows Jack thought Teal'c might like. And now he was stuck. Jack found a bench and sat, unable to think of a present for Daniel.
He reached up under his glasses to rub at his eyes. They'd been itching ever since he'd been in that bath shop and the perfumes of many of the shoppers weren't helping either. Sighing, Jack told himself to relax. He closed his eyes and tuned into the sounds swirling around him. A woman and her teenage daughter sat down on the bench behind him and began a long heated discussion about the appropriate gift for the girl's boyfriend. A man held a conversation with his wife about the best toy for their only child. All around him there were sounds of the holiday season. A book didn't seem like an appropriate gift for all Daniel had done for him these past months and he couldn't think of anything special enough for a present. How did you pick a present for the person who meant the world to you anyway?
Jack checked his watch and stood. He still had an hour before meeting Daniel. Maybe he could find something, anything to express what he felt. He'd never realized what a visual exercise shopping usually was. He'd just have to rely on his other senses to guide him to the right present this year.
* * * * *
Daniel chewed on his lower lip as he glanced at Jack as they drove home in the heavy traffic. Jack hadn't spoken since he'd asked Daniel if they could go to his house instead of Daniel's apartment and that had been right when Daniel met him in the mall.
A young teenager who decided to pull out from a side street had Daniel slamming on his brakes.
"Sorry about that," Daniel muttered, looking over at Jack.
"I always hated driving in holiday shopping traffic." Jack smiled before turning his head toward the window.
"When did you drive in holiday traffic? I seem to remember you always foisting off the job on me."
"That's because I hated to drive in it," Jack said, grinning and then he rubbed at his eyes, a motion not missed by Daniel.
"You still have a headache?" Daniel asked. If necessary he was ready to drive Jack to the SGC to have him checked out.
"Nah," Jack shook his head. "Told you that was just hunger. My eyes itch though. I think it was all the perfumes and stuff in the mall."
"We'll put some drops in when we get home," Daniel answered. A nod was his only reply and he turned his attention back to driving. Thankfully the traffic was thinning out as they got closer to Jack's home and they were pulling into the driveway less than ten minutes later.
"You sure you're okay, Jack?" Daniel asked as they got out of the car.
"I'm sure, Daniel." Jack got out and waited as Daniel came around to the passenger side. "You need some help carrying anything?"
"I've got it all," Daniel announced. "Let's get inside though. It's cold out here." He followed Jack to the back door like he'd done countless times before. And then it dawned on him--they were a team again, equals and partners.
"I'm going to take the packages up to the spare room. We can worry about wrapping them later. And don't worry, I won't peek, Jack." Daniel teased as he walked past Jack who was already starting the coffee maker. He was surprised when there was no smart aleck remark to his comment but figured Jack was concentrating on his task. By the time he came back downstairs, Jack had a fire started and was sitting on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table.
"Hey." Daniel sat down next to him, sighing as Jack put an arm over his shoulders. "You've been awfully quiet since we left the mall. Did something happen?"
Jack shook his head, still silent. He squeezed Daniel's knee and then patted it when he got up to go to the kitchen.
Daniel sat, staring into the flames, puzzled by Jack's silence. Something was obviously bothering his lover. He turned to watch Jack walk back into the living room with their coffee mugs.
"Thanks," Daniel smiled as he accepted the mug. He took a sip watching as Jack sat down and settled into a more comfortable position.
"It's like old times," Daniel finally said when the silence stretched into minutes.
"Old times?" Jack turned to face him.
"Old times," Daniel repeated. "I was following you up the steps with the bags and I realized we're a team again, Jack. You and me."
"You forgot I was blind," Jack finished.
"Maybe not forgot but I didn't think about it." Daniel put his coffee mug on the table. "What about you, Jack?"
He watched as Jack leaned forward feeling for the coaster and placing his mug on it. Jack let out a deep breath as he moved back. "It's not what defines me anymore, Daniel. I'm finally Jack O'Neill again. Not Colonel O'Neill, former leader of SG-1, not that poor Jack O'Neill who was a slave and came back a broken man." He brought up a finger to Daniel's lips. "You never believed I was someone different; didn't believe I was broken beyond repair. You believed in me when I couldn't. You were determined I would mend." Jack sighed. "I can't ever repay you for that."
"I didn't do it for payment, Jack. Love doesn't require that." Daniel squirmed. He did for Jack what Jack would have done for him. It was as simple as that.
"I couldn't find a gift for you," Jack murmured. Daniel had to lean forward to catch the words and sat back stunned.
"I found a gift for Carter and for Teal'c. Heck, even Cassie and the doc. But I finished my shopping and I still don't have anything for you." Jack opened his hands on his thighs, his head hanging down as if he were staring at the floor.
"Jack." Daniel placed his hand on Jack's, pressing his palm into his lover's. "I don't need a present." He mimicked Jack's previous motion and touched a finger to Jack's lips. "No. It's your turn to listen to me. I do not need a gift from you. Why would I need a present this Christmas when I have you? Last year, Jack, last year I thought I wouldn't survive to see this Christmas. Not that I would have ever done anything stupid but I just didn't care. My heart felt as frozen as the ground outside. When we stepped through to Hannara I was going to come home and turn in my resignation from SG-1. God, Jack, I have you, a living breathing miracle. You've taught me more about courage and what it means to be alive since you've returned than I can ever say. I don't care about gifts. I care about * you. * You, Jack. We have each other. How could money ever buy anything close to that?" Daniel stopped, his voice hoarse from passion.
"Danny," Jack's voice matched Daniel's for hoarseness. He brought his hand to Daniel's face and Daniel closed his eyes at the familiar touch. Skilled fingers fluttered over his eyelids, his nose, his cheeks, his lips. Daniel flicked out his tongue, tasting Jack's skin, soap, salt, and cold.
"Jack," Daniel whispered, moving his head back, allowing Jack to touch his neck. Jack's hair tickled his nose and he pushed back against the sofa cushions, arching up as Jack moved his hands lower, sliding them up inside Daniel's shirt. "Jack." He ached with need and covered Jack's hands with his own, helping Jack with the task of unbuttoning Daniel's chinos.
"Patience, Doctor Jackson. Patience," Jack murmured against Daniel's stomach.
"Not tonight, Jack. Not tonight. Told you I wanted dessert." And then he found himself unable to speak, reduced to grunts and moans as Jack applied his special touch to providing the last course.
* * * *
"Guess we should go to bed, huh?" Daniel's sleepy voice sounded in Jack's ear.
"Uh huh." Jack ran his hand over Daniel's naked back, enjoying the texture of the smooth skin. He made no effort beyond that. The fire was warm on their bodies and Daniel's thigh rested heavily over his own legs.
"So," Daniel whispered, "bed?" Jack heard a huge yawn accompany the words.
"Yeah," Jack agreed, "bed."
"Ow." Daniel shifted, turning in Jack's loose embrace.
"Did I hurt you?" Jack pushed himself up when Daniel moved.
"No. Something was digging into..."
At his lover's trailed off sentence Jack reached out, searching for Daniel's arm. He ran his fingers down to Daniel's hand feeling a bit of chain and metal.
"I didn't know you still had this," Daniel whispered. Jack couldn't see his expression of course but he had no trouble imagining the look of shame on Daniel's face.
"I haven't been without since you gave it to me." Jack felt the piece being placed in his hand. "It was important to you."
They were sitting so close Jack could feel Daniel's shrug.
"Don't pretend it didn't matter. You told me you carried this because it reminded you of your failing. That's not what it means to me, Daniel."
"When they told me you were dead, I couldn't believe...it didn't seem possible this was all that was left of you." The chain was placed back in Jack's hand.
"You know why I carried this, Daniel? So I could be reminded of your faith in me. So I could stop feeling sorry for myself and remind myself not of what I lost but what I still have." Jack opened his hand, feeling Daniel place his palm on top of his own. "And I have so very, very much."
"Maybe it's time to focus on the future," Daniel murmured.
"I think you're right." Jack stood, reaching down a hand for Daniel. He counted silently as they took the seven steps toward the fireplace. "You want to do the honors? Or should I?"
Slender strong fingers interwove themselves with Jack's. "I think these honors we deserve to do together," Daniel said as they tossed the links into the fire.
Daniel leaned into Jack and Jack brought his arm up around Daniel's shoulders. "To the future. To new dreams."
"To new dreams, Jack."
* * * *
The distinct sound of Daniel's Thunderbird roaring up into the driveway sounded clearly over the strains of soft ambient music that was playing on Jack's stereo. Jack smiled as he put his book away and stood up. He'd never thought he'd become adept at reading Braille but the more he practiced the easier it got. Of course he was far from becoming a speed reader but he was concentrating less on the forms and more on the actual words these days.
He walked towards the front door and was halfway there when Daniel rushed in. Frigid air brushed by Jack before Daniel could shut the door. Several sneezes greeted him as he put a hand out and touched Daniel's damp jacket.
"Bless. Catching a cold?" Jack asked worriedly as Daniel removed his jacket and hung it on the doorknob.
"Allergies," Daniel replied, his voice very nasal and hoarse. "God am I glad to be home," he announced as Jack reached out for him. Daniel stepped into Jack's embrace and Jack wrapped his arms around him in a hug. Drops of water dripped onto Jack's shoulders and he felt Daniel's hair. It was wet.
"You're wet!" he exclaimed.
"It's snowing out in case you haven't noticed," Daniel teased as he hugged Jack hard. He sniffed loudly. "Geez but the city looks bare and dark now that everyone's taken their Christmas decorations down. But better this than the planet from hell I just got back from. Would you believe that my antihistamines didn't do a damned thing out there?"
He pulled away and blew his nose. Seconds later he sneezed again.
"You sound miserable," Jack said as he urged Daniel into the living room.
"I'm feeling a lot better, believe me. Some kind of allergen on the planet affected all five of us and we spent the last four days so stuffed up that we barely got any sleep." Daniel's words were punctuated with sneezes and subsequent nose blowing.
Jack heard the rustle of cloth and a loud sigh as Daniel sat down on the couch. Jack walked to the bathroom and retrieved a towel, then returned to the living room and threw it in the direction he thought Daniel was in.
"Heads up," he called.
"You must be tired. I thought you weren't due back until late tomorrow," Jack said as he sat down on the couch beside Daniel, feeling for Daniel's thigh, then moving closer until his own was touching Daniel's.
"Yeah," Daniel replied, clearing his throat. "We were all so fed up of not being able to breathe that we packed up early. I just need a good night's sleep. Janet said the allergens will dissipate in several hours. In the meantime, I have to suffer."
Jack laughed and reached for Daniel's arm. With one hand he slowly followed the line of Daniel's arm and moved past his shoulder and up his neck. His fingers traced the outline of Daniel's lips a moment, feeling the dry, chapped skin around his nose.
"I missed you," Jack said. "Welcome home."
Then he pulled Daniel down to him and welcomed him home properly.
Daniel enthusiastically showed Jack how he appreciated the welcome until he had to pull back and sneezed once more.
"Damn," Daniel complained before he blew his nose again.
"Bless," Jack said for the umpteenth time. "You hungry? It's not quite suppertime but I could order out?"
"Ummm, would you mind if I took a nap and we ate later?" Daniel's words were punctuated by a yawn and a sneeze.
In answer, Jack shifted to the edge of the couch and patted his thigh. Daniel quickly stretched out on the couch and laid his head on Jack's lap. Stroking his fingers through Daniel's still damp hair, Jack massaged his scalp gently, then moved to his temples, stroking away the tension and fatigue he knew Daniel was experiencing.
"Want me to turn the music down?" Jack asked when a particular song sounded a little loud in the quiet room. When Daniel didn't answer, Jack lowered his head and listened. Daniel's breathing; although loud and raspy as he was obviously breathing through his mouth, was also deep and rhythmic. Jack reached for the afghan he knew was on the back of the couch and tenderly covered his sleeping lover with it.
Careful not to disturb Daniel, Jack placed his feet onto the coffee table and laid his head back, listening contently to the soft music and Daniel's snores. His eyes were itchy and he rubbed at them on and off.
He dozed for a while and woke up with his butt nearly asleep and his legs on the verge of cramping beneath Daniel's weight.
His watch told him it was after five, so he decided to call their favorite Thai restaurant and order something spicy. The heat of the food would more than likely help unclog Daniel's sinuses.
He managed to slide from underneath Daniel without waking him, hearing Daniel sigh softly and settling himself more comfortably on the couch. Jack stretched and shook his legs, trying to get the blood flowing again. He walked to the corner and groped the side table for the lamp, turning it on so that Daniel wouldn't wake up in the dark.
The sudden flare of light sent agony into his brain, forcing him to shut his eyes and palming them. He rubbed them again, feeling the itch that had plagued him earlier.
"Ahh," he mumbled to himself, grimacing. What now, an eye infection?
Cautiously opening his eyes, he found they were tearing slightly. He wiped them with the back of his hands and when he found they didn't hurt, he picked up the phone to order their supper. Not wanting to wake Daniel, he made it to the steps leading to the kitchen when Jack realized something had seemed different.
Normally he could differentiate between dark and light. As he'd turned from the softly lit room the rest of the house had appeared dark, as usual. It was the grey fog that had seemed different for a moment.
He slowly turned back towards the living room and realized there was substance before him. His world of shadows actually *had* shadows in them. He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes, wondering if he was imagining things.
His attention was drawn to a bright glow off to the side and he moved towards it. The pain assailed his eyes again and he swore as he turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut. Involuntary tears slid down his face and he snuffled as his nose reacted to the tears.
The pain receded and he opened his eyes again, gasping as he actually made out a large white blur contrasting against something black. Heart pounding and breathing quickly, Jack took a few steps forward, almost walking into the coffee table, and moving aside as his leg grazed it.
He knelt and put out a shaky hand, feeling the soft wool of Daniel's cream-colored sweater. He wasn't dreaming! He could see it plainly outlined against the black that was his couch.
Daniel was warm and solid beneath the sweater, his chest rising with every breath he took. Jack lifted his hand and he saw the blur of his fingers. He wiggled them then moved his hand from side to side, grinning widely as he was able to follow the movement. He scanned the room, which still appeared to be a vast miasma of indistinct shapes and colors. Colors! He could see that what he'd thought to be black was actually the deep maroon of his leather couch. There was something orange and black on the wall, and the brown of his stone fireplace was still just a blur. But it was a brown blur.
Daniel coughed and shifted restlessly. Jack turned his focus to the smudge he knew to be Daniel's face. His heart beating wildly in his chest, he rubbed at his eyes several times, willing them to see.
For a moment Daniel's face came into sharp focus then resumed its fuzzy outline.
"Oh God, thank you," Jack whispered, heartened at the glimpse he'd seen of the beloved features before him. He got off his aching knees and sat on the coffee table, pushing the bright yellow blob of a towel where Daniel had thrown it earlier. He sat there watching Daniel sleep. Over the next few minutes his eyesight ebbed and waned in clarity but each time it fuzzed over it remained sharper than the previous.
Daniel sneezed several times in succession and then groaned. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, sniffling loudly several times.
"God, Daniel, that's disgusting," Jack said. He reached for a box of tissues on the end table and nudged Daniel's arm with them.
Daniel opened his eyes and took several tissues from the box, blowing his nose. Jack could see that his eyes were red-rimmed, bloodshot, and tearing. His nose looked raw and red from the constant irritation of blowing it and he was still breathing through his mouth.
"You look terrible," Jack commiserated.
"Gee thanks," Daniel grumbled, wadding the tissues when finished and tossing them onto the coffee table.
"And I am so not picking those up," Jack said, eying the sodden mess.
Pressing his lips together to hold back a smile, he watched Daniel's face when the realization of what Jack had just said hit him. Daniel's eyes widened and locked onto Jack's as he lifted his head off the couch.
"Jack?" he whispered.
Jack let the grin explode onto his face. "I can see, Daniel." He'd tried to shout the words but they came out as a strangled whisper. "I can see you," he said again as he reached out and caressed Daniel's cheek.
Daniel sat up in a blur and grabbed Jack's arms.
"You're not joking, right? Jack, you're not teasing me?" Daniel's voice was shaking and held a quality Jack had never heard before.
"Truth. I can see. God you're so beautiful," Jack said as tears slid down his face.
"How?" Daniel cried out. "When? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Just now. It just happened now."
Daniel hugged Jack to him in a crushing embrace. Jack could feel Daniel trembling until Daniel pulled back and placed both hands on the sides of Jack's head, staring at him intently.
"You can see," he said in an awed voice. "You can really see- Jack! We have to tell Janet." Daniel's words were nearly tumbling out of his mouth in his excitement. "Get your jacket, no wait, stay there, I'll get it. I'm taking you to the infirmary after I call Janet." Daniel stood up and raced for the phone that was on the floor by the stairs where Jack must have dropped it earlier.
Jack got up and hurried after Daniel, the world tilting sickeningly as his brain was bombarded by input from an organ it hadn't used in months. Jack managed to grab Daniel's hand, stopping him from using the phone while holding on for dear life and managing not to topple sideways. With his other hand he covered his eyes.
"Jack?" Daniel put an arm around Jack to hold him steady.
"I'm all right. Just can't move too fast or else I get a little dizzy."
"Let me have the phone. Jack, you're not all right."
"Not yet. Please, I want to just enjoy this without having to look at the infirmary walls for a while. Let's just see how far my sight improves first, okay?" He lowered his hand and looked at Daniel. He could see the worry and exhaustion lining his face.
"But you might need medical attention. Jack, it's been months... you have to have your eyes looked at."
"I will, Daniel, but not right at this minute. All I want to do is get something to eat and just look at you." He smiled and caressed Daniel's nape. "God you are such a sight for sore eyes."
Daniel chuckled, ducking his head.
"Is Thai okay with you?"
"Supper. I was gonna order something spicy. Unless you want something else..."
"Yeah, sure, that's fine."
Jack pressed the on button and peered at the blur of numbers on the handset before him. Sighing, he closed his eyes and let his fingers search out the numbers and dialed the restaurant from memory.
He snapped his eyes open at the worry in Daniel's voice.
"Still blurry, it comes and goes."
After calling in the order for their supper, Jack led Daniel back to the couch. He tossed the phone on the coffee table and leaned against Daniel, savoring the feel of his warm body against his.
He could see! He couldn't seem to stop grinning and when he turned to look at Daniel, he could make out tears running down his cheeks.
"Hey," Jack said softly as he raised a hand to wipe them away.
"What?" Daniel lifted a hand to his face and looked at the dampness on his fingers in wonder. "Sorry," Daniel sniffled self-consciously. "I didn't realize..."
"No, don't be. I don't know whether to cry or laugh myself. C'mere," he coaxed, turning so that he was sitting sideways on the couch and Daniel was lying between his legs. After a few minutes, Daniel twisted so he was facing Jack. His words were soft but Jack could tell that Daniel was worried by the way his words began tumbling out of his mouth the more he spoke.
"Jack, we really have to call Janet and tell her. Maybe you need special treatment, or be kept out of the light, or have to keep your eyes covered, or take medication. Please, let me call her. Look, we can invite her for supper, and..."
As much as Jack wanted to spend time alone with Daniel he knew deep down that Daniel was right. It felt like he'd been blessed with yet another miracle and he thought that if he blew any chance of maintaining his vision because he was being stupid right now, Daniel would never forgive him. He sighed and reached for the phone lying a foot away. Handing the phone to Daniel, he watched as Daniel called Fraiser. Jack could hear the faint ringing from the receiver which was only a few inches from his head.
"Janet?" Daniel said after they both heard Fraiser answer. "Janet, I know it's really short notice but you have to come over." Jack heard her tinny voice as she replied, the words muffled. "I know, but it's Jack. He... oh God, Janet, please." Daniel's voice suddenly thickened and he pulled away slightly, hunching up on himself. "He doesn't want you to but you really need to look at him. He... he..."
"Danny?" Jack said, hearing the distress in Daniel's voice. He hadn't realized how troubled Daniel was at Jack's refusal to seek immediate medical consultation. Daniel had begun shaking and couldn't seem to go on. Jack plucked the phone from Daniel's hands while Daniel turned his face against Jack's chest. Fraiser's voice was demanding what was going on.
"Hey doc," Jack said when Fraiser finally took a breath. "Look, it's really nothing serious. Something did happen and Daniel thinks you should have a look at me."
He winced as her tone of voice rose demanding to know what had happened.
"Well, it seems my eyesight just came back."
Jack pulled the phone away from his ear at her ear-splitting, "What!"
"I really don't want to go in to the infirmary tonight and Daniel's too tired to drive me there anyway."
Daniel's head came up at Jack's words and Jack blew Daniel a kiss in response to the glare Daniel threw his way.
"I just ordered some takeout so at the least you'll get a free supper for your trouble," he said, ignoring her, 'I'll be the judge of that.' He hung up when she informed him she'd be right over.
"Thank you," Daniel said simply. Jack squeezed him in reply. They lay like that, holding onto one another, trying to relax until Fraiser showed up. Jack could feel the tension in Daniel's body whereas Jack himself was totally at ease.
"It'll be fine," he whispered in Daniel's ear.
He thought Daniel had begun to relax but felt him start when the doorbell rang. Daniel jumped off the couch and ran for the door. Jack got up more slowly and had reached the steps by the time Daniel had ushered Fraiser in.
Jack saw her look at Daniel but his eyesight chose that moment to fuzz out on him. He thought she was giving Daniel the once over and for a moment Jack felt guilty that he'd regained his sight at this particular time when Daniel didn't need the added stress on top of his exhaustion.
All thoughts of guilt flew out the window when Fraiser descended on Jack and quickly ordered him to sit so she could examine him. She sat before him on the coffee table and placed her bag beside her.
The dratted penlight came out and he winced in expectation of the pain he knew it would impart. He wasn't disappointed and quickly brought up a hand to rub at his eyes. "Sorry, I know you're photophobic at the moment but I really need to look at your eyes, sir," she said as she placed a hand on his knee.
Jack nodded and steeled himself. He looked for Daniel and saw him standing off to the side, his arms curled around himself, a picture of uneasiness.
"Okay," he said, gritting his teeth. The light flashed once more and he forced his eyelids open while Fraiser examined his eyes carefully. Tears were streaming down his face from the pain when she finally clicked the penlight off. He dropped his head into his hands, seeing spots of lights dancing behind his eyelids.
"I don't believe it," she told him as the couch beside him dipped. A warm hand touched his nape and massaged it gently. Jack raised his head, eyes still closed, and leaned against Daniel's welcoming bulk.
"You are one lucky son of a bitch, sir," Fraiser said. Jack cracked open his eyes and saw the huge grin on her face. "I think tomorrow morning will be soon enough to set up tests. I'll make an appointment with Doctor Molinari for a more in-depth exam. Now, tell me how this happened."
Jack sighed and recounted the events of the past hour to her. She listened attentively and then suggested he try focusing on objects up close to prevent nausea and dizziness. He shouldn't attempt to actually look at everything as a whole until his brain got used to the fact that it was seeing again. He could probably expect the symptoms to last another two or three days and to expect headaches. Doctor Molinari could probably give him more detailed information after his examination tomorrow.
The doorbell rang once more and Daniel got up to pay for their supper. Jack moved slowly into the kitchen, never realizing before he could get motion sickness just by walking. Seeing his discomfort, Janet prescribed some Dramamine for him.
Supper was a strange mix of giddiness on all of their parts. Although elated, Daniel was clearly exhausted, despite his nap. He was uncharacteristically clumsy, dropping his utensils repeatedly and knocking over his glass of water. But at least he'd stopped sneezing and appeared to be able to breathe through his nose. Jack caught Fraiser looking at Daniel a couple of times and he vowed to get Daniel into bed the second she left.
As the evening went on Jack's sight continued to improve. He couldn't get over how white the rice was, how vibrant the red of Fraiser's sweater, how blue Daniel's eyes were despite the red rimming them. He never remembered colors being so brilliant and contrasting, or soft and rich and pleasing.
The kitchen was illuminated solely by the light over the sink and even though muted, it brought out highlights in Daniel's and Fraiser's hair. Jack was mesmerized by it and blushed when Fraiser caught him staring at her.
"Sorry," he mumbled, "it's just all so..."
"Overwhelming?" she supplied.
"Yeah. And incredibly beautiful," he added, glancing at Daniel and smiling when his lover looked away self-consciously.
Seeing Daniel stifle a yawn, Fraiser got up and said her goodbyes. Jack accepted the Dramamine from her but had no intention of taking any since they'd make him sleepy. Anyway, Jack had plans and he didn't intend to spend them sleeping. All of them included Daniel watching over the next few hours.
- - - - - -
Daniel swiped at the irritating hand that was tickling the back of his neck. He heard a soft chuckle and he groaned. It couldn't be time to get up yet, could it? He'd been having such a wonderful dream and hated to come back to reality. In his dream Jack had regained his vision and suddenly the world seemed more than okay.
Catching the scent of coffee, hel cracked open an eye and saw Jack sitting on the bed waving a cup of coffee under his nose. He rubbed his eyes after turning onto his back and pushed himself up into a half-sitting position, stuffing the pillows behind his back.
"Morning sleepyhead," Jack said as handed him the mug of coffee.
Daniel grunted, glancing at the clock as he sipped his hot brew and saw that it was after ten.
"Sorry to have to wake you but I do need you to drive me to the Air Force Academy hospital. Fraiser phoned a little while ago; she got me an appointment with Molinari at 11:30."
"What appointment?" Daniel asked him, his brain still sleep-fuzzy and lamenting the dream he'd been pulled from.
"Daniel?" Jack said in a teasing voice. "Do you remember anything of last night?"
Daniel glanced up at Jack, noting the smile on Jack's face.
"Just being really tired," he admitted.
"You don't remember calling Fraiser? Her coming over and checking me out? Her making an appointment with our resident eye doctor to check out my..." Jack waved both hands towards his eyes and Daniel suddenly realized that Jack was looking at Daniel. Really looking.
"You mean it wasn't a dream?" Daniel demanded as he bolted upright, spilling coffee down his arm in his haste to sit up. The smile on Jack's face turned into a wide grin as Daniel quickly placed the dripping mug onto the bedside table and wiped his arm on the bed sheets.
"No dream, Danny. It happened."
The jumble of memories suddenly fell into place and Daniel recalled the previous evening. A feeling of relief swept over him and he felt almost dizzy from it. He eyed the clock, figuring he had time for a shower and breakfast before needing to leave the house.
When Jack joined him in the shower, Daniel helped Jack celebrate their good fortune. He brought Jack to a shuddering climax, then when he gained his own orgasm, he saw Jack watching him intently.
"It's one thing to know I've made you happy," Jack whispered as Daniel regained control of his breathing. "But seeing you come has got to be one of the most beautiful things in the world. If this sight thing ends up being temporary, at least I'll have been blessed with these memories of you."
Speechless, Daniel simply put his arms around Jack and held him close.
An hour later he sat quietly in a corner of Molinari's darkened office, watching as the ophthalmologist ran test after test on Jack's eyes. His lover submitted to all without protest. Jack admitted to strong lights still hurting his eyes but the pain had diminished tenfold since last night.
Doctor Molinari got up and snapped the overhead lights on, then turned his chair so he was facing both Jack and Daniel. Daniel wished he could get up and touch Jack, give him his physical support for the verdict they both were anxious to hear.
"I can see no sign of the microorganisms in your eyes, although they were still in evidence five weeks ago when you had your last checkup. As you know, we've been unable to figure out exactly how they caused the loss of your sight and we weren't even sure if they were responsible for it. But the fact that they're gone and your sight has returned is irrefutable evidence that the two are related.
"Now, the sensitivity to light, the dizziness and discomfort you're experiencing at the moment, will most likely disappear in the next couple of days as you begin to adapt to seeing once more. Spatial disorientation will most likely continue for a week or so, including blurred vision and headaches. As to the quality of your vision, colonel, I believe you will most likely make a full recovery."
Daniel released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and caught Jack's relieved look as their eyes met. He brought his attention back as the doctor continued speaking.
"I don't want you trying to read or using a computer for the moment, and I'd minimize the use of the television also. If you feel you're straining to see, or the attempt is tiring you, simply close your eyes and go back to your training for a while. I'm putting you on medical downtime for one week and then we'll re-evaluate you at your next visit. And needless to say, driving is out of the question."
Doctor Molinari stood up and Daniel did so too. As Jack thanked him and shook his hand, Daniel stepped forward and did the same. They were both grinning like idiots as they made their way back to the parking lot and Daniel's Thunderbird.
As Daniel pulled into Jack's driveway, he saw Sam's car parked in front of the house. Both she and Teal'c weren't in sight but Daniel suspected he'd find them on the back deck. Jack had made the trip from the hospital with his eyes closed, unable to stand the quickly flowing scenery. As Jack stepped out of the car, eyes carefully glued to the ground, Daniel quickly came around the front and took Jack by the arm, pointing towards their friend's vehicle as Jack raised his eyes.
Daniel realized that neither of them had called and told either of their teammates the good news. He figured either Janet or General Hammond must have done so and he hoped they wouldn't be too upset about not hearing it from either Jack or himself. He acknowledged how everything had happened so quickly in the past 18 hours and last night his brain hadn't been firing on all cylinders due to his fatigue.
They made their way into the back yard and weren't surprised to find Sam and Teal'c patiently waiting for them, seated on the back stairs despite the light dusting of snow. Both stood as they spotted Jack, their gazes nervously fixed on him.
Stopping, Daniel allowed Jack to move ahead. He smiled to himself as Jack went straight to Sam and mussed her hair, saying, "New do, Carter? You never mentioned you'd changed your hair."
"Congratulations, colonel," Sam told him, her smile as wide as Jack's. "It's wonderful news." She looked over Jack's shoulder at Daniel and included him in her good wishes. To all of their surprise, Jack grabbed Sam and hugged her. "Thanks Carter," Jack said softly as he let her go.
Jack turned to Teal'c, who was also smiling broadly. He took Jack's arm in a warrior's greeting. "I am very glad to see you have regained your sight, O'Neill. Will you be rejoining SG1?"
Trust Teal'c to come straight to the point. Sam ducked her head in discomfiture then raised it quickly to hear Jack's answer. Actually so much had happened since Daniel had woken up four hours ago that he hadn't even had a chance to think about Jack returning to command SG1. But Molinari's news had been so positive that the prospect was very encouraging when he thought about it.
"We'll have to wait and see about that," Jack answered. "Although I flunked some of the tests this morning, the doc said I'll probably get my 20/20 back. But I won't jump the gun. But if things do work out, I'm afraid you might get stuck with me."
"Sounds like a plan," Sam said, while Teal'c merely bowed his head.
"You guys wanna come in? It's kinda chilly out here." Jack turned and made for the front of the house, quirking his mouth at Daniel as he passed by him. Daniel watched Jack run up the few stairs leading to his front door and his heart leaped at seeing the old, unbridled energy let loose.
- - - - - -
Daniel smiled as he pulled in the driveway. A light from the living room cast a golden glow over the snow covered ground. It felt good to be coming home. He zipped up his jacket and opened the car door, his breath coming in a gasp at the sudden change in temperature. He hurried up the walk, sighing as the door opened under his touch. Hanging his jacket on the coat tree, Daniel took off his steamed up glasses. A quick glance at the living room showed him Jack wasn't there. Daniel walked to the sofa, finding a half empty carton of fried rice on the coffee table along with the TV remote. He placed his hand against the carton, finding it cold. He grabbed it and took it to the kitchen with him. Rummaging in the drawer for a fork, Daniel then took a few mouthfuls of the rice before opening the refrigerator to place it inside.
The smell of coffee reached his nose and he noticed the coffee maker was on and almost full. Pouring himself a cup, Daniel tugged at his tie. A day of sitting in meetings with representatives from P7Y-003, and translating their very complex language, had left him exhausted. Daniel walked towards the bedroom taking the mug with him. He felt disappointed when he didn't find Jack in their bed. He looked at the bed longingly but resisted the temptation to stretch out. Another gulp of coffee fortified him. There was no note and Jack's truck was in the driveway so Jack was somewhere around the house. A scraping sound had him tilting back his head looking at the ceiling. Grinning, Daniel finished the coffee in two more quick swallows and changed into a warm pair of sweat pants and a heavier sweatshirt. He pulled on his oldest pair of sneakers, the ones Jack said should be buried somewhere off-world so he didn't have to look at them every day they were home, and took the mug back to the kitchen. Daniel pulled down the Thermos from the top shelf and filled it with the rest of the hot coffee. Hooking two thermal mugs in one finger and cradling the Thermos in the crook of his arm, he went out the back door.
"Hey," he called softly as he stood at the bottom of the ladder to the roof. When there was no response he shrugged and scrambled up, not surprised to find Jack standing stock still staring up into the stars. He placed the mugs and Thermos on one of the chairs. He snagged a blanket and went to stand next to Jack, just nudging him with his body.
Jack pulled his gaze away from the stars looking at Daniel a long moment before he managed to speak. "Hey."
"I brought up some coffee for us." Daniel gestured and then sighed as Jack snaked his arms around him to envelop him in an embrace. "Wondered where you were."
"Just looking, you know." Jack touched cold fingers to Daniel's warm cheek and Daniel closed his eyes as he leaned into the touch. He kissed Jack's palm before turning to look up at the stars himself.
"Beautiful night, isn't it?"
"Beautiful," Jack agreed. Daniel studied his lover's face as he once again lost himself in the night sky. There was a look of wonder on Jack's face that Daniel rarely saw. The starlight bathed them both in a silvery light.
"I missed this," Jack said, his voice low and rough.
"I know." Daniel responded. He brought his hand up to touch Jack's face, the small scar near Jack's left ear. "I know."
"What did I ever do to deserve such a miracle?" Jack jerked his head, his eyes glittering in the soft light.
"I don't know, Jack. I only know it was a miracle."
"Fraiser and Molinari ran some more tests and sent them to the Hannarans." Jack didn't meet Daniel's eyes as he spoke and Daniel squeezed the cold hand in his. "Major Wendover sent a report back that the rehabilitation center is up and running. She's working with a young woman there who is interested in figuring out a Braille system that works for the Hannarans."
"That's great news, Jack." Daniel tugged on Jack's arm, urging him to sit on one of the chairs. He poured Jack a cup of coffee, passing it to him with a smile. Jack settled back in his chair, sipping at the coffee and tilting his head back every now and again to look at the stars.
"Danny," Jack said and then stopped, leaning forward to place the mug on the roof and his head in his hands. Alarmed, Daniel scooted off his own chair and knelt before the man he loved.
"Jack? What's wrong?" Daniel ran his hands up Jack's arms, concerned at the slight vibration he felt.
"Nothing," Jack murmured before looking up and cupping his hands around the face of his kneeling lover. "Nothing, it's just overwhelming sometimes."
Daniel smiled and turned, settling on the floor with his back resting against Jack's legs. He tilted his head back and sighed as Jack began carding his hair with one hand.
"Thank you, Danny," Jack whispered. "Thank you for everything. For believing, for taking care of Sara, for being here, for not giving up on me."
"Jack, I love you." Daniel squirmed, uncomfortable by Jack's gratitude. It wasn't as if Jack hadn't supported Daniel too throughout the long months. "I love you," he repeated, hoping Jack understood.
"Yes, Daniel." A feather light kiss was placed on his hair and Daniel sighed.
Sitting in the cold night on Jack's roof wasn't the smartest thing they'd ever done Daniel decided some minutes later as he began to shiver despite the coffee he was drinking.
"Let's go inside." Jack shifted, his knees knocking against Daniel's shoulders. "You're getting cold."
"And you're not?" Daniel grinned as Jack grimaced as he stood. "I think I could hear your knees creaking." He gathered up the Thermos, hooking it through his fingers and watched as Jack got the mugs.
"Just wait, Daniel. I seem to remember it's not too long until you reach that big four oh." Jack wagged a finger and gestured for Daniel to go down the ladder.
"So," Daniel said as they walked back in the house, "you have any ideas on how to get warm?"
"I can probably think of one or two." Jack grinned back and gave a pinch to Daniel's ass.
"I'm thinking a shower would be nice." Daniel lowered his head, flirting with Jack over the tops of his glasses.
"I'm thinking that's a very good idea, Doctor Jackson."
"Why thank you, Colonel O'Neill."
- - - - - -
The glow from the bathroom light they always left on overnight spilled into the bedroom and Jack smiled down at his lover. At Daniel. At Daniel who was smiling back at him with love in his eyes. Miracle. It was the only word he could find for his amazement.
"Jack?" Daniel asked, his eyes scrunching up in question.
"I'm fine, Daniel." Jack smiled back. He brought one hand up to slowly trace the line of Daniel's jaw. "Just enjoying the view."
"Like what you see?" Daniel mock frowned.
"You could say that." Jack grinned back. He slid down in the bed, resting on his side. Daniel couldn't quite hold back his yawn. Get Daniel warm and dry after some creative showering and it was never very long before the man was half asleep.
"Hey Daniel?" Jack kept his voice light. He'd learned early on when he returned from Hannara that discussion of what Daniel had felt and experienced when Jack was presumed dead was dangerous ground. But right now Daniel was relaxed and Jack was determined that over time he was going to start pushing for some more of those details. An exorcism of sorts.
"What did you do with my telescope? You know, when I was missing." He could hear Daniel swallowing and saw the swift look of sorrow and remembered pain pass over Daniel's face.
"Sam took it down for me. I, uh, I couldn't go up there," Daniel whispered. "She said she'd do it." Daniel turned, seeking out Jack's embrace. "I could hear her crying downstairs while she did it. And I couldn't bring myself to help her with it." Daniel shuddered beneath his hands and Jack kissed his forehead, not saying a word because there were none that could erase the memory.
"Teal'c packed it up and I carried it into the basement," Daniel continued. "I hope that it's okay down there."
"Yeah, it will be just fine." Jack kissed Daniel's forehead again, pulling him closer, wishing his body could convey what words could not. Another shiver coursed through Daniel's body and Jack could feel hot breath on his neck. He remembered going to Daniel's apartment when they thought he had died on Nem's planet and the pain of all the little things, remembered the feeling of loss as he touched each small item. And that had been before he and Daniel were lovers. Knowing Daniel, his view of his inability to help Carter dismantle the telescope was that he was weak. Jack squeezed tight, the solidness of Daniel's body reassuring and strong. He inhaled Daniel's scent, his world righting itself once again.
Daniel moved, pushing away a little, and Jack opened his arms in understanding. Daniel always got restless when he was half asleep, maneuvering until he got comfortable. Flopping onto his back, Daniel flung one arm up over his head and the other across his stomach. Jack grinned and began a mental countdown. It wouldn't be long now. By the time he reached five, soft breathing that wasn't quite a snore reached his ears. Jack pushed himself up in bed in order to get a better view of his sleeping lover.
'Don't touch,' Jack ordered himself, even though his fingers twitched. He let his eyes drift across Daniel's face, down to his T-shirt-covered chest which moved in a slow regular rhythm with his breathing. The fingers of Daniel's left hand extended then curled into a loose fist. A long sigh and Daniel turned onto his side, facing Jack. He brought his arms to his chest, curling his hands under his chin. Jack smiled at the view. Ambient light highlighted Daniel's hair, turning it silver in patches. There was a soft mumble and another sigh. Jack slid down in the bed, keeping his eyes on his lover. His eyes drank in the sight. Unable to resist any longer, he reached out one finger and traced the lines at Daniel's eye, letting his finger slip down across his cheek and then brushing over Daniel's slightly parted lips.
Losing and then regaining his vision had taught Jack to now treasure every sight. He was fascinated with color, with the small things he'd always taken for granted. Daniel licked his lips once and then took a deep breath. It hadn't been the big things Jack had missed when he'd been on Hannara, when he lost his vision. He'd missed the sight of Daniel, hair still on end drinking his first cup of coffee in the morning, the look in Daniel's eyes when he was able to communicate with an alien race, the way Daniel scrunched up his nose when he was reading a book, the reflection of firelight in Daniel's glasses, smiles that were only shared with him. They would have made a life for themselves, had adjusted to the changes his blindness had meant for them. But Jack couldn't help being grateful beyond belief for the restoration. He continued watching, wanting to store up these visions of Daniel for a future time. A half-forgotten memory of Sara reading a book to Charlie flitted into his mind.
- - - - - -
"Dad? I'm not a baby anymore, I can read myself." Jack had cuddled up beside Charlie on the bed, touching his finger to Charlie's lips while Sara continued to read aloud.
"Shh...your mom likes this book." Jack had pulled his son into his arms and inhaled the fresh clean scent of little boy wondering how much longer he was going to be able to hug his child.
"'It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.'" Sara had looked up from the book, tears in her eyes as she met Jack's.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Charlie had asked with all the exasperation a nine, almost ten, year old could muster.
They hadn't had an answer for Charlie, not one he would have understood. And the next week it was too late to give any more answers to those mysteries of life.
- - - - - -
Jack blinked once, twice, clearing his own vision as he watched Daniel sleep. He didn't know if he would have been able to answer Charlie now. How did you explain love that filled your being with mere words? He closed his eyes, Daniel's soul imprinted on his inner vision more surely than anything his eyes showed him.
What was essential? Jack and Daniel, that about summed it up. He brought up his hand to rest it on Daniel's cheek, smiling as he breathed in unison with his lover. The time he'd been blind had been a gift, Jack realized. He hadn't known it at first, but he knew it now. He didn't need his eyes to see Daniel, he never had. They saw each other with their hearts, they always had after that first fateful meeting. Warm skin under his fingertips, the scent of sandalwood and coffee, soft puffs of breath, warm and moist on his neck. Jack smiled, closed his eyes, and embraced the night.
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Authors' Comments: Thanks to devra, MajelB, DebA, Dawn, and Kalee for all their encouragement. A huge THANK YOU to Sharon for doing the beta to this 'ficlet' and another thanks to DebA for her patience with all our questions concerning medical advice. And a huge hug and thank you to babs, for asking me to co-write this plot bunny with her. And hugs from babs to Jo for doing this fic with me. And of course any and all errors found herein are ours.
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