Jack mentally scratched his head. He could've sworn he'd just been in the infirmary. In fact, he was damn sure of it. He wasn't likely to forget watching numbly as Jacob Carter tried to heal Daniel. Tried to undo the worst damage Jack had ever seen inflicted on another human being.
Jack struggled to process that strange fact. Daniel... looking like Daniel and not the vaguely Daniel-shaped mummy wrapped mass of dying tissue lying in the infirmary. Daniel... with tears in his eyes.
"Was there something you wanted?" Jack asked, squinting at the familiar brilliant light hovering near the gate.
"Tell Jacob to stop."
Jack's heart stuttered to a stop about halfway up his throat. He found that, even knowing the inevitable outcome, he couldn't face what Daniel was telling him. Could not do what Daniel was asking him to do.
"Don't." Jack's voice emerged harshly from his constricted vocal cords.
"Jack," Daniel said softly.
Jack saw in Daniel's eyes a grief as great as his own. He could only hope that Daniel's grief was the result of his innate empathy for his family and the loss they were already feeling. He hoped it wasn't the result of any sense of unfinished business. Jack hated to think that he himself might be some of Daniel's unfinished business.
"Stay," Jack said, unconsciously reaching his hand out to Daniel. "I need... Stay."
Daniel nodded before Jack could question what his ears had heard.
"Okay," Daniel repeated as he reached out and touched Jack lightly on the shoulder. Then, suddenly, Jack was back in the isolation room.
Jacob was still using the healing device. Everyone was still gathered around Daniel's bed. The annoying beep of the monitors reassured Jack that Daniel was still with them. Jack let out a deep breath, relieved. Then his heart clenched in dread as he considered the possibility that he had just asked Daniel to condemn himself to something far worse than death.
Staring through the window of the isolation room, Jack was aware of his own reflection overlaying Daniel's image. A washed out, ghostly gray reflection. Gray hair, gray complexion, gray... black circles under his eyes. Seeing himself, even this dim image, Jack understood why everyone was betting that he would end up in his own infirmary bed shortly.
It had been several days since Jacob had worked to heal Daniel. Days since Jacob had driven himself to the point of exhaustion in the vain attempt to save Daniel. No, not vain, Jack struggled to remind himself. Daniel was alive. Daniel, however, was also a long way from being healed.
Thanks to Jacob's efforts Daniel's mind was intact, his heart still beating. But so much remained unhealed, both inside and out. Daniel was still mummy wrapped, his skin seared by the lethal radiation. He existed in a dense fog of drugs, the only help Dr. Fraiser could offer to alleviate the still excruciating pain.
They had nowhere else to turn. The Tok'ra had nothing more to offer. The Asgard were still incommunicado. The Tollan were unreachable, if not utterly destroyed. Jack bleakly considered the very real possibility that he had denied Daniel his only chance of continued existence. A different kind of existence, certainly, but still an existence.
Fraiser had greeted Jack the same way many times over the years. The single word had meant anything from "This won't hurt a bit" to "Get the hell out of my way and let me work." This time there was no force behind the weary "Go get some rest, there's nothing you can do here" subtext to her greeting.
"It's my fault," Jack said grimly, his voice rusty with disuse.
"Sir?" Janet said, somewhat surprised that he'd bothered to speak to her. "There's no way you could've known what would happen. Even if you had been there, the most you could've done was stop Daniel. In which case, the naquadria would've gone critical and you'd all be dead."
"I know that," Jack said, raising his head to look at Janet. The doctor frowned, puzzled by the strange mix of accepting words and guilt darkened eyes.
"I mean this is my fault," he said, gesturing at the inert body on the other side of the window.
"I... I don't understand."
"He told me to stop Jacob," Jack confessed emotionlessly. "I asked him to stay. He said 'okay'."
The grimace that twisted the colonel's features seemed to ask why--why did Daniel say okay? Fraiser's concern for the colonel's state of mind was exacerbated by the apparent depth of O'Neill's emotional distress. The fact that he seemed to be recalling a conversation that never happened wasn't easing her mind any.
"Colonel, I was right here the entire time and Daniel never asked you to stop Jacob," Janet said gently.
"He did," Jack said. "Oma was here."
"Oma? You mean... ?"
"Glowy energy being," Jack said with a nod. "I was here with all of you, but at the same time I was... somewhere else talking to Daniel. He was going to go with her." Jack dropped his eyes again, back to the inhuman form of his friend. "He stayed because I asked him to. He's suffering because I couldn't let him go."
"It's only been a few days," Fraiser said, uncertain about the veracity of O'Neill's story but reluctant to argue the point with him at that particular moment. "Jacob warned us it would take time. And if the healing isn't as quick or... complete as we hope then we'll find the Asgard. Or someone or something else. The important thing is that Daniel's alive."
"No," Jack said with grim certainty. "This isn't life. It's a living death."
"Despite appearances, what Jacob--or rather Selmac--accomplished is nothing short of a miracle," Dr. Fraiser said as soon as General Hammond gestured for her to begin her report.
"Despite appearances," Jack said, unable to keep the bitter edge from his voice.
"I know Daniel looks bad," Janet said sympathetically.
"He's in pain."
Jack felt Hammond's eyes on him and knew exactly what the general was seeing. A man battered by guilt... and sharing the joy. Jack realized that "a word" was in their mutually immediate future, as well as Jack's removal from active duty if he couldn't get his shit together.
"Yes, he is," Janet agreed. "But we can manage it."
"Is it your opinion that Daniel Jackson will recover completely?" Teal'c asked from his seat next to Jack.
"Nooo... I don't want to sound overly optimistic," Janet replied.
"How about cautiously optimistic?" Sam asked.
"Doctor," Hammond interrupted. "Why don't you just start at the beginning and give us your report." Hammond looked sternly at the three members of SG-1. "I'm sure we can hold our questions until after you've finished."
"Yes, sir," Janet said briskly. "There are three main problems that have to be addressed, any one of which can be lethal on its own. Jacob did the best he could. He prevented any further damage, fixed what he was able, and increased Daniel's body's own recuperative powers. But Jacob couldn't 'cure' him. The hand device simply isn't powerful enough."
Janet paused and looked around the table. This was nothing that she hadn't already told them. The trouble was that she didn't think any of them had ever really heard her. She knew she had to start at the beginning.
"First--burns. As you know, by the time Jacob arrived, Daniel had suffered extensive skin loss--more than 80% of his total body surface area. This isn't just a cosmetic issue. Without skin the body can't maintain proper fluid balance and there's no protection against germs. Normally, treatment would require skin grafting. However, amazingly, we're seeing significant re-epithelialization. In layman's terms--Daniel's skin is growing back." Fraiser shook her head slightly, remembering her genuine astonishment when she'd discovered the development.
"It's too soon to say for certain, but I suspect we may need only limited grafts. Almost certainly to his right hand, which received the largest and most direct exposure."
The hand that Daniel had stupidly, foolishly... bravely used to disable the device. Jack was torn between wanting to march down to the infirmary and smack Daniel for saving a planet, and wanting to smack himself for forcing Daniel to live with the consequences.
"This new skin--is it going to look normal?" Jack asked.
"What difference does that make?" Carter interjected, turning to look at Jack. "If it saves his life, who cares what Daniel looks like? I sure don't."
"Neither do I," Jack said angrily, slightly surprised to realize just how true that was. Daniel's physical beauty had certainly gotten Jack's attention, but it had swiftly become secondary to Daniel's other attributes. "I'm just asking because I think it might matter to Daniel."
"I don't know," Janet said. "It appears he won't have the extensive scarring to deal with, but whether this skin will look 'normal'... I just don't know."
"But at least that's one problem that's been minimized," Hammond said.
"Yes, sir. Next is the gastrointestinal system. Basically, the GI tract is lined with skin. Not exactly skin, of course, but the same basic cell type. And what radiation does to the skin, it also does to the lining of the stomach and intestines."
"Oh, God," Sam muttered. Jack's stomach twisted sickly, too.
"The lining is already dead and will slough off, but it will regenerate on its own. In the meantime, we have to be careful to maintain Daniel's nutritional status by other means since his digestive system won't be able to tolerate normal intake. And we have to be very careful to make sure the vulnerable tissues aren't injured any further, possibly causing perforation and peritonitis."
"Just gets better and better," O'Neill muttered.
"And the third problem?" Teal'c questioned.
"Hematopoietic," Janet answered. "These tissues are some of the most vulnerable to radiation. Basically the bone marrow is wiped out and blood cell production ceases. Without leukocytes, you can't fight infection. Without red blood cells, you suffer from oxygen deprivation, among other things. Without platelets, your blood won't clot and you can bleed to death."
"Was Selmac able to do anything about that?" Sam asked, her eyes fearful.
"Some," Janet answered. "I just don't know how much. It can take days or even weeks for the different cell types to reach their nadir under normal circumstances; it could be a while before I know exactly where we stand. Daniel's blood counts are borderline, but they seem to be remaining stable at the moment."
"Bottom line it for us, Doc," Jack said impatiently.
"I don't know the bottom line, Colonel. All I know is that I never expected Daniel to be alive at this point, let alone be in as good a shape as he is," Fraiser said. "I'm hopeful but I can't make any promises."
"So what are we talking about time wise?" Jack asked.
"If Daniel can get through the next couple of weeks without any major complications, then he'll have beaten this. Of course, it's going to be longer than that before he's fully recovered... or as fully recovered as he can be," Fraiser said.
"So we just... wait?" Sam asked.
"That's all we can do."
"Hey," Jack said.
Daniel looked up at him, eyes clouded with confusion. Jack forced himself to look back with a bland expression. Daniel was not a pretty sight. Not as ugly as he had been, granted, more... disconcerting. Daniel was rapidly reaching the point where more of his body was covered with skin than with bandages. Very new, very delicate, very pink skin. And hairless.
Jack thought Daniel looked like he'd been parboiled.
Fraiser had been damn near ecstatic over the skin growth. Jack understood that it was a big deal. He understood that, even if everything else had been fixed, Daniel would have died as a result of the burns. But it was still very strange to look at. It just didn't look like Daniel. Except the eyes. The eyes were still as blue and revealing as ever.
"What happened?" Daniel asked. For the first time since the... incident, Fraiser had been able to decrease his meds to the point that he was no longer doped out of his mind.
"You don't remember?" Jack asked.
"I remember... I'm supposed to be dead," Daniel said, looking perplexed. "Apparently I'm not."
"You gave it a damn good shot, but no, you're not dead."
Jack's mind was in turmoil. During all his endless imaginary conversations with Daniel in which he apologized for his selfish request, Jack had never considered the possibility that Daniel wouldn't remember.
"Do you remember Jacob?"
"Umm... No. I don't remember much of anything after you saying you maybe, might have admired me." Daniel smiled weakly at Jack's pained grimace. "You really do suck at that stuff."
"Can't say I didn't warn you."
Jack managed to say the words with a light tone despite the sinking feeling in his chest. His gut had been tied in knots for days anticipating this moment. Thinking about how he had to apologize to Daniel for keeping him trapped in this crippled body. Now he had to consider the possibility that he might have to explain to Daniel why he needed to apologize in the first place.
"Jacob showed up just in time and used that healing doohickey."
"Well, that would explain the 'not dead' situation." Daniel closed his eyes as his body tensed in obvious pain, fighting the instinctive response to curl up in a ball.
"S'okay," Daniel gasped, rolling to his side, pulling at lines and leads and Jack's heart.
"I'll get Doc." Jack stabbed at the call button with one hand and grasped Daniel's shoulder with the other.
"Go," Daniel groaned through clenched teeth.
"Daniel?" Fraiser gave Daniel a quick appraising look before jerking her head in an indication that Jack should leave. Jack gave Daniel's shoulder a gentle squeeze and stumbled reluctantly from the room.
Jack felt like he'd been pacing the hall for hours. At the very least, it had been long enough for Jack to wear the top layer of the concrete floor into dust. He looked up sharply as Janet came face to face with him.
"I bumped his pain meds back up a little," Janet told Jack. "It was... Well, I told you what radiation does to the digestive system and this is probably the worst of it. But he's getting through it," Janet emphasized. "He's still alive."
"Yeah, and there's nothing like shitting your intestines out to make a guy glad to be alive," Jack said bitterly. He waved off Fraiser's imminent rebuttal and stalked to the other side of the hall. After a moment, he turned back to her, pushing his fists into his temples as if he could push the knowledge of Daniel's pain from his mind.
"I know," he continued abruptly. "I know. Jacob did his best. You're doing your best. I just... I hate this."
"It's not exactly a picnic for me either," Fraiser said.
"It'll get better, right?" Jack asked, desperate enough to ask for reassurance.
"Yes," Fraiser said confidently. She gave Jack's arm a gentle squeeze. "It is and it will continue to get better."
Jack strolled into the infirmary. Teal'c was standing at parade rest at the foot of Daniel's bed. Carter was at Daniel's side, one foot on the floor, the other leg half perched on the bed as she lightly stroked his forearm, just above his still heavily bandaged hand.
"Hey," Jack said, walking to the opposite side of the bed.
"Transport should be ready in about fifteen minutes," Sam told Jack.
"So you're really getting out of here," Jack said, pulling up a chair and making himself comfortable.
"Yeah." Daniel shrugged. "I guess it's an improvement, but it's still just another hospital."
"You are improving," Teal'c said. "Dr. Fraiser believes you are ready for the next phase of your treatment."
"I know," Daniel said. "And believe me--I'm more than ready. I just wish it would go a little faster."
"You must have patience, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.
"Patience is not something I'm known for," Daniel pointed out with a wry smile.
"Think of it as a translation," Jack suggested. "You seem to have all the patience in the world when it comes to chicken scratches."
"It's... mental," Daniel said.
"So's this," Jack said. He felt a small beat of amusement at Daniel's expression, at first puzzled, then comprehending.
"At least you'll have a window to look out of now," Sam said encouragingly. "And better food."
"It's hospital food, Carter," Jack said.
"I know, but at least it's not military hospital food," Sam said.
"She may have a point," Jack told Daniel.
"Yeah, well, if I ever get rid of this I'll let you know," Daniel said, pointing at the NG tube in his nose.
"Ready to go, Daniel?" Janet asked as she entered, followed by two medics pushing a gurney.
"Ready as I'll ever be."
"We'll be up to visit," Sam promised, leaning forward to drop a light kiss on Daniel's forehead.
"It's a long drive, Sam," Daniel said.
"We'll be up," Sam said emphatically.
"You have fought a difficult battle, my friend. One that is not yet over, but I am confident you will succeed," Teal'c said with slight bow.
"Of course he will," Janet said. "He's one of the four most stubborn people I know."
"So Daniel, Teal'c, Carter, and Cassie?" Jack asked with mock innocence.
"One of the five most stubborn people I know," Fraiser said without missing a beat.
Sam just smiled at Janet as she and Teal'c left. Jack hung back, watching as Fraiser and the nurse got Daniel ready to go. Daniel seemed to fade in the midst of the bustle, not from exhaustion or drugs, but as if he'd gone somewhere else. Frowning, Jack moved closer.
"Daniel?" he asked, reaching out to touch Daniel on the shoulder. Daniel's eyes slowly rose to Jack's. He stared, a look of extreme concentration on his face.
"Something wrong, Daniel?" Janet asked, noticing the colonel's concern.
"Um... no. What?" Daniel said, his eyes finally appearing to really focus on the here and now.
"Are you feeling okay?" Janet asked, looking like she was ready to start a full work up on Daniel.
"Yeah, I'm... I thought..."
"Yes?" Jack prompted.
"I don't know." Daniel gave his head a little shake. "I guess I just get a little... confused sometimes."
"I don't know," Daniel said with just the briefest flicker of a smile. "I'm a little confused about that."
Jack stared through the glass to where Daniel twitched in restless sleep. He'd been put back into isolation earlier that day when his white cell count dropped to concerning levels. The drop came later than Fraiser had expected thereby giving them the false hope that Daniel had managed to avoid this particular complication. And it was so unfair. Daniel was just reaching the point where he was spending more time on rehabilitation than on treatment, only to have his feet knocked out from under him again.
Jack hated having Daniel away from the SGC. Not because of the quality of the medical care he received. Fraiser had expressed great confidence in the doctor who had taken over Daniel's case. And Jack knew that the reconstructive work on Daniel's hand required the kind of specialist that the SGC infirmary didn't have. This hospital was the best place for him.
But it wasn't the SGC. It meant that when something happened, when something went wrong, Jack was more than an hour's drive away. An hour that, even on a good day, Jack spent brooding. He was spending way too much time in his own rather unpleasant company as it was lately. That solitary time spent cruising up and down I-25 tended to make the little gray cloud over his head just a little darker.
Jack suddenly realized that Daniel was awake, staring at him through the window with a questioning expression. Jack forced a quick smile and reached for the phone. He waited until Daniel clumsily, lethargically maneuvered his own handset into place.
"Hey," Jack said quietly.
"How you feeling?"
"Tired," Daniel said, sounding as worn as he looked. "Just... very tired."
"I won't stay long," Jack promised. "I just wanted to check. You know."
"Dr. Riley seems to think this is temporary," Daniel said quietly. "Says it's mostly precautionary."
"Sure," Jack said quickly. "You'll be feeling like a new man in no time."
"Yeah," Daniel said with a distinct lack of conviction.
"I know it's rough," Jack said, disgusted by his own hypocrisy. "You just... you have to hang in there a little longer. You have to be patient."
"Well, I don't exactly have any other choices," Daniel said dryly, giving Jack the hint of smile to take the edge off his words.
"None that are acceptable," Jack said.
"It's okay. I'm just..."
"Yeah, that," Daniel said with another small smile. "I'll be fine."
"Course you will."
"What, um... what happened to the Kelownans?"
"You don't remember?"
"No, I remember what happened but... The scientists?"
"Everyone in that room died, Daniel."
"Oh," Daniel said softly. He turned to Jack with a wary expression. "They blamed me."
"They--the government--they wanted me back. If I survived."
"Not going to happen," Jack assured him. He paused, studying Daniel's expression. "You been worrying about that all this time?"
"No, not really. After all, dying would've made the whole point moot so..."
"So you've been worrying about it since Doc Fraiser said you were going to make it?" Jack said. He should've considered that. He should've considered the fact that Daniel would remember that he was a wanted man on Kelowna. Should've considered the fact that someone... that he should've told Daniel he was safe now.
"You're not going back, Daniel."
"No?" Daniel said skeptically. "They were pretty insistent that I stand trial."
"Yeah, well, cooler heads prevailed."
"So...you weren't involved in that then?" Daniel asked. He responded to Jack's answering glare with a mouthed "sorry."
"Hammond pointed out that we could never be confident about an alliance with Kelowna. That if they were so quick to try to dump the blame on us this time--on the man who saved their asses no less--how could we be certain they wouldn't do it the next time something went wrong?" Jack gave a disgusted snort. "And there will be a next time. Those people wouldn't listen to anything we tried to tell them."
"They're not so different from us, Jack. Not really."
"As far as I'm concerned--good riddance and don't let a wormhole hit you in the ass on the way out." Jack took in Daniel's drooping eyelids. With the easing of the concern over his fate, it appeared that Daniel's fatigue was about to overcome him. "Hey, I'm gonna go. Get some rest, okay?"
Once again, Jack was watching Daniel through glass. He thought that was probably some kind of metaphor for his current relationship with the archaeologist... which only served to remind Jack that he hated metaphors.
Jack had spent a couple of weeks now monitoring Daniel's progress from behind windows and doors. He had to because Daniel had a tendency to tense up when he knew Jack's eyes were on him. Daniel's frustration at his own infirmity increased and his patience waned. So Jack stayed in the background. He didn't consider it spying, per se, more of a non-invasive watching.
Jack watched as the occupational therapist sitting across the small table from Daniel tried to help him train his nearly healed left hand to do what his right had always done. And gently worked his right to maintain as much movement and flexibility as possible. Jack watched as the young woman smiled at Daniel before reaching for his splint. She frowned at the splint, said something to Daniel, and got up. Jack didn't have time to get out of sight before she energetically pushed through the door.
"Oh, Colonel," she said, startled. "I didn't see you there.'"
"Uh... yeah, sorry," Jack said clumsily.
"You can go in now, sir. We're done for today." She waved the splint. "I just need to get the nurse to redress his hand."
"Oh, that's o..." Jack's voice trailed off as the therapist was already halfway down the hall. "... 'kay."
He gave himself a little shake and walked into the therapy room. He stood by the side of the table, trying not to stare down at Daniel's injured hand while he searched for something to say that wasn't totally inane.
"Hey." Jack grimaced again. That was definitely not the non-inane opening he'd been looking for.
"Why are you here?" Daniel didn't look up, staring instead at his hand. Jack's eyes shifted from their own contemplation of Daniel's hand to study the half hidden face.
"What do you mean?" Jack asked. Daniel finally raised his head and looked Jack in the eye.
"I mean... you keep coming and watching and never say a word," Daniel said. "So, why are you here?"
"I said 'hey'," Jack protested. He attempted to marshal a rebuttal as he waited for the inevitable argument. Even though he knew that Daniel was right. Daniel was always right. Jack had been forcing himself to witness Daniel's slow recovery, performing his penance in silence.
"You don't have to be here," Daniel said.
"Yes, I do."
"You're not responsible for this."
"Daniel, I'm always responsible." Jack's face remained impassive as Daniel's eyes studied him.
"How? I'm a grown man. I make my own decisions. And you can't watch all of us every minute. So how are you responsible?"
"Because I'm the team commander. That makes me responsible."
Daniel stared at Jack a moment longer before turning away, his shoulders slumping. Jack knew he'd said something wrong. He just didn't know what.
"I don't want to be a 'duty', Jack."
"You aren't," Jack assured him. "You're my friend. I want to..."
"Want to what?"
"Help," Jack said, frustrated. "But there's nothing I can do."
Their conversation was interrupted by the therapist's return. A nurse accompanied her and between them they efficiently redressed Daniel's hand, covered it with burn netting, and strapped it into the splint. Daniel thanked both women politely and then wasted no time in departing the room.
It took Jack only a second to catch up. Daniel's energy still hovered on the low end of the scale. He'd put on an impressive spurt of speed getting away from the therapist, but he slowed almost immediately once out in the hall.
"You could treat me normally."
"What?" Jack asked, walking easily at Daniel's side.
"You said there wasn't anything you could do. You could treat me normally," Daniel said.
"I..." Jack hesitated. "I don't, do I?"
"Not even close."
"It's hard," Jack admitted. "All this stuff you've been going through... It's hard to watch. It's hard to be normal and... and not be afraid that we won't still lose you."
"That's crazy," Daniel said after a moment of thoughtful consideration. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I know," Jack agreed. He tried on a small smile. Judging by Daniel's reaction, it missed by a mile. "You know it's got nothing to do with the way you look, right?"
"There's something strange about the way I look?" Daniel asked, arching an eyebrow. Or he would have, if he'd had an eyebrow to arch.
"What?" Daniel asked, raising his non-existent eyebrow again.
"That!" Jack said, waving a finger at Daniel's forehead. "The eyebrow thing."
"Oh." Daniel looked bemused by the thought. "Maybe I should wear falsies?"
Jack's eyes dropped to Daniel's chest.
"Not that kind of falsies," Daniel said, elbowing Jack lightly in the ribs. Jack's smile was more natural this time. "I suppose I should just think of all the money I'll save on haircuts and shampoo."
"Some people find the bald look sexy," Jack offered. He still found it more weird than sexy on Daniel, but then, Jack had found Daniel sexy in plaid. Jack was sure the hairless look would grow on him.
"With my luck the Goa'uld queens find the bald look sexy," Daniel said with disgust.
"Doc?" Jack spun around, surprised because it wasn't Fraiser's normal day or time to be at the hospital. "What's up?"
"I just wanted to catch you before you saw Daniel," Fraiser said. "There was a little problem..."
"Is he okay?" Jack interrupted.
"Yes, sir, he's fine. There was a problem with the graft. Dr. Riley had to take him back to the O.R. earlier."
"Ah, crap," Jack muttered. Daniel would not be a happy camper. Not just because of the set back, but because Daniel and anesthesia were not a good mix.
"It was a fairly short procedure. It went well and Daniel seems to be fine, physically." Fraiser gave Jack a hesitant sideways glance. "But I should warn you--he's not in a good mood."
Jack shrugged one shoulder. What Fraiser failed to realize was that Daniel was in a bad mood a lot lately. He just managed to hide it from most people. Which was probably just as well since Daniel in a full blown snit was enough to scare Teal'c.
"So what--I'm not allowed to see him?"
"No, you can visit. Just... look out."
"Thank for the heads up, Doc, but I've dealt with Plant Boy's tantrums before."
"Just don't say I didn't warn you."
Jack tossed an abbreviated salute at Fraiser as he left her near the nurse's station and headed for Daniel's room. The door was ajar, but the privacy curtain was pulled far enough around the bed to block his view of the bed. Jack thought that was probably not a good sign. Normally Daniel was relatively social. At the very least he liked to people watch. Closing himself off behind the curtain was... not a good sign.
Jack took a deep breath and walked around the foot of the bed. His shoes squeaked against the waxed floor, alerting Daniel to his presence. When Jack stopped at the far side of the bed, Daniel opened his eyes.
"So," Jack said, trying to establish eye contact with Daniel. "Having a bad day?"
Daniel closed his eyes again and Jack could almost hear him mentally counting to ten.
"What makes you say that?"
"Heard about the surgery," Jack said, shuffling his feet and sneaking another look. Daniel's eyes were open again, but he was staring at the ceiling. "How are you feeling?"
"You don't want to know," Daniel said tersely.
"Then why did I ask?"
"Jack," Daniel warned.
"Daniel," Jack said calmly. "I asked. I want to know."
"You want to know how I'm feeling?" Daniel asked. "Okay, I'll tell you how I'm feeling. I'm tired. I'm tired and sore and sick of never having a minute of privacy and I wish everyone would just fuck off and leave me alone for once."
"Self pity isn't your usual shtick," Jack said after a moment, keeping his voice low.
"I'm entitled," Daniel said bitterly. "I look and feel like someone's taken a power sander to every surface, inside and out. I've got a hand that may--someday--be semi-functional as a paper weight and testicles that are about as fertile as Death Valley." Daniel shifted irritably in his bed. "And let's not forget that even when all this is behind me, I have a greatly increased chance of developing leukemia or thyroid cancer or God knows what to look forward to in the coming years."
Daniel slumped back against his pillows, eyes closed.
"All done?" Jack asked, struggling to maintain his outward calm.
"For now," Daniel said, sounding weary to his very core. After a moment he opened his eyes and looked over at Jack. "Aren't you going to tell me to shut up?"
"To be a whiner?"
"To be angry. And hurt. And to be allowed to say it."
"I'm sick of this. And I'm sick of me," Daniel said. "You should be sick of me."
"Well, that'd be nothing new. I get sick of you a lot."
Daniel turned his head and stared hard at Jack.
"What?" Jack said. "You're impossible. You know you are."
"You're not making me feel any better," Daniel said.
"Who said I was here to make you feel better?" Jack said. Daniel gaped at him in disbelief. "I'm here for me. Anything you get out of it is purely secondary."
"You are such a prick," Daniel said with exasperation.
"Yeah, but I'm your prick." Jack's flustered look matched Daniel's. "Er... you know what I mean."
"No," Daniel said shaking his head. "Sometimes, I have no idea what you mean."
Fraiser's voice cut off instantly when Jack jumped. He'd backed out of Daniel's room, unable to tear his worried eyes away from the man who'd finally given into his fatigue. Jack didn't realize Fraiser was lurking outside the door until she spoke.
"Jesus, Doc--don't go sneaking up on a guy like that," he whispered harshly.
"Sorry, Colonel. I didn't intend to startle you." Janet sighed. She motioned for Jack to follow her, leading him a short distance down the hall. Jack gladly followed her out of Daniel's hearing range and into a small consultation room.
"I know it's not easy for you, but Daniel needs that," Janet said as she closed the door behind them.
"Needs to feel ugly and useless?" Jack asked in a cutting tone.
"No, needs someone he feels safe with to listen to him when he feels ugly and useless."
"Safe," Jack said flatly.
"With all that Daniel's been through, is still going through, it's only natural that he's going to feel angry and depressed," Janet explained unnecessarily. As far as Jack was concerned, Daniel had every right in the world to be not just angry but outright furious.
"Daniel needs to express those feelings, not hold them in. Normally I'd call in a therapist but you know how he feels about that."
"Can you blame him?"
"Not really." Fraiser seemed resigned to the improbability of Daniel ever voluntarily accepting psychiatric care. "But he won't or can't open up to anyone else. Not even Sam and Teal'c. He pulls that 'I'm fine' garbage and pretends nothing is bothering him. You're the only one he'll talk to."
Jack suspected it had little to do with feeling safe and a lot to do with blame. Even if Daniel didn't consciously remember, Jack feared that deep down in Daniel's mind he knew that Jack was the one responsible for the daily torture he went through. Daniel's subconscious was pissed and taking it out on the guilty party.
"Sir," Janet continued, watching Jack's expression carefully. She was all too aware from earlier conversations that Jack believed himself responsible for Daniel's suffering. "Daniel hits you with this because he trusts the bond between the two of you. He trusts that you won't desert him if he unloads on you."
"Of course I'm not going to leave," Jack said angrily. Not physically anyway. He'd done a pretty good job of bailing on that little discussion he needed to have with Daniel about why Daniel had stayed with them in the first place, though.
"And as difficult, even painful as this is for you," Janet continued, ignoring Jack's outburst. "I'm going to ask you to keep doing it. Daniel needs it."
"Then I'll be here," Jack vowed.
"What's up?" Sam asked as she entered the briefing room.
"Not a clue," Jack said, taking his usual seat to the right of Hammond's chair. "Hammond just said to be here."
"We do not have a mission currently scheduled," Teal'c said. "Perhaps this pertains to Daniel Jackson."
"Sir?" Sam asked quickly.
"Daniel's fine," Jack said, although he was gripped by the urge to run over to the phone and call him. Just to be sure.
"Good morning, people," Hammond said, entering the briefing room with Dr. Fraiser at his heels.
"What's the good news?" Jack asked. He knew it wasn't good news. Hammond had that stern father look on which meant that whatever it was, it wasn't good news. Not to Jack.
"I believe it's time to assign a permanent replacement for Dr. Jackson."
"General," Jack said sharply.
"Jack," Hammond warned. "I know you don't like the idea. None of us does. But the fact is that we cannot afford to keep SG-1 in limbo any longer."
"Is it not possible that Daniel Jackson will recover enough to rejoin us?" Teal'c asked.
"Possible, but not likely," Janet said. "Certainly not in the immediate future."
"But..." Sam said.
"Sam," Janet interrupted. "I know. I wish it didn't have to be this way but it does."
"Oh, come on," Jack said belligerently. "It doesn't have to be this way. Daniel's worked like crazy on that hand. At least give him a chance."
"Colonel, I don't doubt that Dr. Jackson has worked diligently on his rehab. It's a credit to his determination and strength of will that he's done as well as he has. But it's my understanding that his right hand is not fully functional."
"So he'll use his left hand," Sam said. "He's been learning to do things left handed."
"His left hand was damaged, too," Janet reminded her. "Not as bad as the right, but between the injury and the fact that it's not his dominant hand..."
"The fact is that he can't handle a weapon proficiently. I can't in good conscience allow him to go back in the field," Hammond said with a sympathetic expression.
"It's more than that," Janet added. "Daniel is still weak. He'd be far too vulnerable to exhaustion or infection. Not to mention the fact that his new skin can't tolerate direct sunlight."
"So we'll have to make some allowances," Sam said.
"Not acceptable, Major."
"Give him some time," Jack argued.
"He's had all the time I can give him, Jack. We simply can't allow SG-1 to sit idle because of Dr. Jackson's personal problems."
"Personal problems?" Jack said, outraged.
"Daniel Jackson was injured in the line of duty, was he not?" Teal'c reminded Hammond. "Furthermore, his actions saved an entire population, as well as the lives of myself, Major Carter, and O'Neill."
"It's not a punishment, Teal'c," Hammond said, clearly offended. Teal'c bowed his head in apology. "I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Dr. Jackson. And you know that. You all know that. But that doesn't change my obligation to do my duty to this command."
Hammond stood up and slid a sheet of paper across the table to Jack.
"Four people I believe would be suitable replacements," Hammond said, nodding at the paper. "You've worked with all of them. I'd like your decision by the end of the week."
"By the end of the week, Colonel," Hammond repeated sternly.
"Hey, how's it going?" Jack asked.
He'd panicked a little when Daniel hadn't answered his shout from the front door. He always panicked a little when he didn't know where Daniel was, as if the moment Jack's back was turned Daniel would put in a call to Oma and make like the wind. But it didn't take Jack long to discover Daniel back in the study, struggling to write in his notebook.
"Peachy," Daniel said, tossing down his pencil with disgust.
He'd been at Jack's for a little over a week. He spent his mornings at the hospital getting therapy and his afternoons... As far as Jack knew, on good days Daniel came home and devised his own methods of occupational therapy in the afternoon. On bad days... Jack wasn't completely certain about what Daniel did on his bad days. He just knew that if the guestroom door was closed when he got home from the SGC, it was best to give Daniel his space.
"Come on," Jack chided. "It's getting better."
"A little," Daniel admitted, flexing his injured hand in front of him. "But I just don't have the fine motor coordination I need to write."
"Have you been practicing with your left hand?" Jack asked.
"Yeah," Daniel said. He offered a sheet of paper as proof.
"It's legible," Jack said, skimming the page.
"Barely. And it takes me forever."
"Good," Jack said, tossing the page back on the desk. "Your reports have always been too long anyway."
"Would you actually start reading them if they were shorter?"
"Probably not. But it would save me from having to take so many loads to the recycling bin." Jack grinned at Daniel's scowl. "Just think what you'll be doing for the environment."
"Great. I can see the slogan now: Cripple a geek, save a tree."
Jack couldn't turn away fast enough to hide his reaction.
"Jack?" Daniel's voice was concerned, and surprised.
"It's nothing," Jack muttered, staring fixedly at the carpet.
"Yes, it is. It's something. What's wrong?"
"You're not a geek and you sure as hell aren't a cripple," Jack said angrily, turning back to see Daniel's eyes widen in surprise.
"Jack, I... ," Daniel stammered, obviously disconcerted by the strength of Jack's reaction. "I was just making a joke. Bad joke, but..."
"Very bad joke," Jack said. But like so many of the bad jokes in Jack's life, it had more than a little truth in it.
"Jack," Daniel called, his voice catching Jack at the door. "Please. I didn't mean to upset you."
"No, it's not you, Daniel. It's me," Jack said with a fleeting smile.
"I... I don't understand."
And Jack wasn't going to explain. He couldn't. If he told Daniel that he'd asked him to stay and face... this, then he'd have to tell him why. Jack wasn't sure that was something he could articulate, not yet.
"I... I just don't like to hear you put yourself down like that," Jack said. "Not even as a joke."
"Oh. Um... thanks," Daniel said, staring at Jack, obviously still a little confused by Jack's outburst.
"I'm going to get supper started. You hungry?"
"Sure," Daniel said, turning back to his self appointed task.
Jack paused with his hand on the doorframe, watching Daniel. He wanted to tell Daniel that he would do anything to make it better. Easier. Except that Jack wasn't sure that was entirely true. He'd do anything to help, but he couldn't say for certain that he'd go so far as to go back and undo what he'd done. Some days, the really bad days, Jack wished he'd never opened his big mouth. In the early days, Jack had wished desperately that he'd had the strength to allow Daniel to leave.
But now... Jack was just so relieved to still have Daniel around that he told himself that the other stuff didn't matter. That it was worth the cost. The trouble was he didn't know if Daniel would agree.
Jack stared through the sliding glass door to his deck. Daniel was sitting at the table hiding from the sun under the table umbrella. He struggled to cut up his meal with his right hand still splinted. Jack cringed as Daniel took an angry, careless swipe at the pork chop. And mentally kicked himself for not cutting Daniel's food up before he took it out, Daniel's insistence that he be allowed to manage for himself be damned.
"Easy," Jack said sharply as he hurried out to the deck. "Let me help."
"I'm fine," Daniel said stubbornly.
Jack shook his head. Daniel's fierce independence had come back with a vengeance. With a mental sigh, Jack took his seat and just watched as Daniel fought his dinner to a draw.
Daniel still looked... weird. His fragile new skin was no longer so unnervingly pink and raw looking. It was still completely hairless. Not even the hint of follicular rebirth anywhere. Well, anywhere that Jack had seen. Even he wasn't pushy enough to inquire about state of Daniel's pubic region.
Fraiser had no idea whether the hair would come back or not. Jack was a little surprised that this was one thing Daniel seemed to take in stride. He'd reminded Jack that when they took their hippy trip through the gate the old version of Cassandra had commented on Daniel's hair. The implication being that most of her memories of Daniel were of him in the hairless state.
"I'm not," Jack lied blatantly.
"Are, too," Daniel grumbled. But it was a good natured grumble. "So quit."
"I'll quit if you let me cut that up for you."
"I have to be able to do it for myself or I'll never get to go home," Daniel said.
"You can stay here as long as you need to," Jack assured him.
"I don't want to!"
"Fine," Jack said tightly. "But you aren't going to help your case if you cut off your damn fingers."
"I won't cut off my fingers," Daniel said irritably.
"No, of course not. I can see the incredible skill and dexterity you're applying to the problem."
"Fuck you, O'Neill," Daniel muttered. Jack just slumped back in his chair and waited.
"I didn't mean that," Daniel said with a sigh. "I just... I need to have some control again."
"Tired of someone wiping your nose for you every time you sneeze?" Jack asked with just a hint of sarcasm.
"Something like that." Daniel smiled apologetically. "Sorry. I have a very short fuse these days."
"You do," Jack agreed, provoking a sullen glare from Daniel. "But under the same circumstances, mine would be a hell of a lot shorter."
"Yours started a hell of a lot shorter," Daniel said, trying to hide a small grin.
"It's gotten shorter from constant exposure to you," Jack shot back. "I used to have patience like you wouldn't believe."
"You're right, I wouldn't believe it."
"Bite me," Jack said amiably as he started in on his own meal.
"Have you picked a fourth yet?" Daniel asked casually.
"We've been rotating some temps."
"You have to pick a new fourth."
"No hurry..." Jack began.
"Jack!" Daniel said sharply. He let out a deep breath. "I won't be coming back to SG-1. I won't... can't be on a field unit anymore."
"Says who?" Jack said. It was a token protest at best and from the expression on Daniel's face, he knew it, too.
"Dr. Fraiser and General Hammond." Daniel looked directly into Jack's eyes. "I appreciate the fact that you... that all of you waited for me. But it isn't going to happen. And you know it."
"You know what? I don't want to talk about it," Jack said. He started eating like nothing existed in the world but the food on his plate. Daniel watched Jack for a few moments before finally looking away. He jabbed idly at the food on his plate with his fork, eating only an occasional bite.
"You're not leaving," Jack announced, staring at his plate because he didn't want Daniel to see in his eyes everything he was feeling. Daniel's fork stilled.
"What if I want to?" Daniel asked almost inaudibly. Jack's eyes flashed up to Daniel's in panic.
"Then..." Jack paused to clear his throat. "Then I guess I'll have to find a way to convince you to stay."
"How?" Daniel asked.
"Let's say I want to leave. How are you going to convince me to stay?"
"You want to leave?" Jack asked, panic growing into dread.
"I didn't say that."
"Then why are we talking about it?" Jack asked with exasperation.
"I guess we're not," Daniel said, his tone flat. Jack got the sense that he'd missed something again. That he'd said the wrong thing. Or hadn't said the right thing.
"Daniel, please--give it time. Don't make any decisions now."
"What's the point in waiting?" Daniel asked.
"Because... I'm asking you to."
Jack jumped up from the chair when Fraiser and Daniel finally emerged from the exam room.
"So what's the good word?" Jack asked.
"I'm very pleased with Daniel's progress," Janet said, but she cast a wary look in Daniel's direction. "I'm thinking of releasing him to work half days soon."
"Hey, that's great. Right, Daniel?"
"Yeah, it's great," Daniel said in a dull monotone, pulling his jacket on.
"Daniel?" Jack said, throwing Fraiser a questioning look.
"I want to go home."
"Sure, let's go," Jack said.
"No, Jack-- I want to go home," Daniel repeated.
Jack's eyebrows rose as he risked another quick look at Fraiser. Neither one of them wanted Daniel on his own again. Not yet. What they hadn't said to each other, let alone to Daniel, was that they were concerned about Daniel's mental state. Daniel still worked diligently at his therapy, but he seemed to be becoming more and more apathetic about everything else. Jack sensed a storm brewing, and he was pretty sure he needed to be around when it hit.
"Daniel, I told you," Fraiser said sternly. "Your blood counts still aren't up to where I'd like them, and neither is your energy level."
"Right. Fine," Daniel said unhappily. He turned to Jack. "You've got work to do. I'll get an airman to drive me home."
"You don't have to... Daniel!" Jack called after the disappearing figure. Daniel just kept walking away, down the corridor, without acknowledging Jack's words.
"I don't know what to do," Jack admitted to Fraiser, exasperated by his inability to relieve Daniel of whatever was burdening him.
"I recommended that he try an anti-depressant," Janet said. "He refused."
"It's not depression," Jack said. "I've seen Daniel depressed--this isn't it. I don't know... I'm missing something. Something's eating at him and I can't figure out what it is."
"Maybe when I give him a medical release..."
"It's not that," Jack said, certain despite the fact that he didn't know what was bothering Daniel. "I mean--yes, that'll help. He hates being 'dependent.' But there's something more, something... deeper."
"Have you asked him about it?" Janet asked.
"Colonel," Janet said in a gentle voice that meant Jack was about to hear something he didn't want to hear. "You know that I've let the issue of counseling slide. I did that because I knew Daniel was talking to you and as long as he was talking to someone I didn't care who it was. I get the feeling that's changed."
"Changed? What changed?" Jack protested.
"Forgive me, Colonel, but I've been watching both of you." Janet paused. "You're afraid."
"I..." Jack couldn't get the words out. He knew where Fraiser was headed with this now and he couldn't deny it. He was afraid.
"Does Daniel know that you asked him to stay?"
"No," Jack said, his voice low.
"Don't you want him to know?"
"No!" Jack said more forcefully. "Of course not."
"Because it's my fault. Everything he's been through, everything he's lost is my fault." Jack shook his head helplessly.
"You have to talk to him," Janet said firmly.
"Do you really think it's going to do Daniel any good at all to know that he didn't have to go through this?" Jack asked, gesturing wildly around the infirmary. "Will telling him that I made him stay make him feel better?"
"Maybe," Janet said with a shrug.
Jack entered his own home hesitantly, wondering if the squall had passed or if they were brewing up to a real humdinger of a storm. Daniel was sitting quietly on the couch, just staring out the picture window at the sunny day. Jack tossed his keys on the dining table before entering the living room, keeping an eye on Daniel at all times. Daniel didn't acknowledge Jack's presence at first, his eyes glued on the window.
"So... you okay?"
"Why did you let Jacob do it?" Daniel asked with quiet curiosity.
"Do... ?" Jack's bland expression belied the spike of fear that twisted his gut.
"Because that was the only way... and we didn't want to lose you," Jack answered. None of them had, Jack most of all. "Are you sorry Jacob saved you?"
"Sorry?" Daniel questioned. "Why would I be sorry?"
"Oh, I don't know," Jack snapped. "You went through excruciating pain--and don't tell me it wasn't. I was there. You'll never look the same. You'll never have kids. You damn near ended up as Captain Hook."
"Doctor Hook, actually," Daniel said mildly.
Did you ever think about... you know," Jack said, uncomfortable with dragging up such bleak thoughts.
"No. I'm not..." Daniel bit off the rest of his words.
"Not a quitter," Jack finished for him.
"I'll admit there were days that I wondered why..." Daniel gave a wry smile. "Let's just say it's probably just as well time travel isn't all that easy."
"I'm sorry," Jack finally said what he should've said a couple of months earlier. "I should've stopped Jacob."
"I'm not saying dead is better, Jack."
"There was another option."
"Another option to dead?"
"Oma was there. She came when you were... She was there."
"Oma," Daniel said.
"Yes, Oma," Jack said sharply, looking away, unwilling to witness the moment of realization in Daniel's eyes. "She could've made you one of them. She could've saved you from this."
"Then why didn't she?"
"Because..." Jack cleared his throat. "Because I told you to stay."
"Asked. Told. I said 'stay' and you did," Jack admitted. "I'm a selfish, thoughtless bastard and I didn't think about the consequences and I wanted you to stay."
"Of course you... Wait," Jack said, turning to look at Daniel. "You know what? That I'm a selfish, thoughtless bastard? Or that I asked you to stay?"
"Um... both." Daniel looked far too calm for Jack's ease of mind.
"You remember? You've known all along?"
"No. I mean--I didn't remember at first. Then... I did. I think Oma blocked those memories. She didn't want me to know that there'd been another option until after the worst was over. She didn't want me getting all messed up about why I'd stayed."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Why didn't you?" Daniel asked.
"Cause I never meant to say it in the first place!" Jack blurted out. Daniel recoiled as if he'd been slapped. "No, Daniel--I didn't mean that."
"Didn't mean what? Didn't mean to say it in the first place or didn't mean to say you didn't mean to say it?"
"I thought you were dying," Jack said once he'd managed to wade through Daniel's question.
"That makes two of us," Daniel said sarcastically.
"I just... it wasn't something I was ready to deal with yet," Jack said. "And then I had to say it and you didn't remember and I didn't know where to go from there. Why didn't you tell me you knew?"
"Because it would've complicated things. You asked me to stay for a reason but that reason got buried under guilt and fear and... everything else," Daniel explained. "And because I wanted you to tell me. Not out of some strange sense of duty or..."
"I couldn't tell you," Jack said. He let his head drop, his shoulders slumped, regret and remorse weighing him down. "There aren't a whole lot of people in this world--or any other for that matter--who know me like you do. Know me and still like me. I didn't want to lose that."
"Well, I know. I'm still here," Daniel prodded. Jack sank his hands deep in his pockets and stared at the floor. "Jack?"
"I still don't want to lose... that."
"Then say something."
Jack stood, paralyzed by the risk--both of success and of failure. He was very aware of Daniel waiting; he just wanted a little more time.
Daniel crossed in front of Jack and walked over to the door, grabbing his coat from the back of the couch as he went. The action sent a shock of fear through Jack that was as powerful as the fear he'd felt at realizing that Daniel was leaving with Oma.
"No, Jack. You can't hide anymore." Daniel laughed bitterly. "Well, I guess you can... but don't expect me to hang around for it. I've cheated death--again--and I'm not going to waste time on your doubts." Daniel pulled his cell phone from his pocket and, balancing it on his forearm, used his good hand to start dialing for a cab.
"For what it's worth, Jack, I'm not sorry I stayed," Daniel said, keeping his eyes fixed on the phone. "I would have gone with Oma because there really wasn't anything to keep me here. Nothing but you. And if you were willing to take a chance and admit you wanted me here then I was willing to take a chance and be here."
"Where are you going?" Jack asked desperately.
"I don't know."
"What are you going to do?"
"I... I don't know," Daniel answered, his voice strained.
"Daniel." Jack waited until Daniel turned, reluctantly, to face him. Jack held out his hand.
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