TITLE: Between the Lines
CATEGORY: GEN, Friendship, H/C
DATE: September 16, 2004
SEASON/SPOILERS: Post-ep for "Need"
ARCHIVE: Alphagate, Comfort Zone, Stargatefan, Gengate
SYNOPSIS: He couldn't undo the mistakes he'd made. But maybe he could stop Daniel from duplicating them.
Thanks to Jo for her thorough and speedy beta, and to my heart sisters for advice and encouragement. This one's for babs, who wanted a "Need" fic.
DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No copyright infringement whatsoever is intended. The story is for entertainment purposes only. The original situations and story are mine. Please check with me first if you want to archive or link to this story.
Between the Lines
Rousing himself, he turned to the passenger seat. Daniel sat rigidly upright, arms wrapped around his middle as if to keep himself from flying apart.
Crouched on the floor of a storeroom, heart pounding from the adrenaline rush--had that really only been yesterday?-- he'd watched Daniel shatter into a million pieces.
Daniel. The guy who'd held it together through that first, nearly disastrous trip to Abydos, through the loss of his wife, through freaky quantum mirrors that led to alternate realities, through death--and how the hell many times was that now?
Daniel had come unglued, crumpling into a shivering, sobbing tangle of arms and legs.
And Jack had finally--for the first time during the whole, gut- wrenching, nightmarish, screwed-up mission--bought a clue. Sweat-soaked skin. Tremors. Paranoia. Suddenly he recognized the face staring at him through those wild eyes.
It was his own.
He shut his eyes, as if that could somehow block out the host of images that paraded through his mind.
"Second thoughts?" The voice was nearly unrecognizable, rough and gravelly from too little sleep and too many tears. Jack opened his eyes and found Daniel gazing impassively back at him. "No one would blame you, least of all me."
"Huh?" Jack frowned a little as his overtaxed brain struggled to keep up.
"You did a nice thing, springing me from the infirmary. I know how hard you had to fight Janet before she gave in. But I also know you can be a little...impulsive when it comes to looking out for the rest of us."
"What the hell are you... I am not impulsive!"
"The point is, I understand if you're starting to regret your decision." Daniel twisted his lips into a bitter little smile. "Hell, even I don't want to be around me right now."
Jack's heart lurched. Daniel might be trying for stoic, but with his tousled hair and shadowed eyes, he looked more like a puppy waiting to be kicked. "No regrets. No second thoughts." He climbed out of the truck, leaned back inside and stabbed a finger at Daniel. "I am not impulsive. Now get your ass in the house before I really do change my mind."
As he'd expected, his friend gave in with a soft sigh. Daniel was running on vapors, with no energy to spare for one of their heated exchanges. Jack only wished the circumstances were different so he could truly enjoy it.
He bit the inside of his cheek, keeping his expression carefully neutral as he watched Daniel get out of the truck and make his way unsteadily up to the front door. When his hands twitched to take his friend's elbow, he shoved them in his pockets.
"Something to drink?" He shut the door and jingled the keys in his palm.
Daniel stumbled, caught himself, and wobbled over to the couch. "How about some coffee?"
"Milk, water, or juice?"
Daniel gritted his teeth and his hands curled into fists. "Coffee."
Jack mentally counted to five. It wasn't as if he hadn't been warned. "You heard Fraiser. No caffeine, no stimulants of any kind."
Daniel pounded his fists on his thighs. "Oh, screw Fraiser! Since when do you listen to her?"
"Milk. Water. Or juice."
His exaggeratedly calm reply snuffed Daniel's fire. His friend tucked chin to chest and scrubbed at his forehead, shielding his eyes. "Water."
In the kitchen, Jack pulled the water pitcher from the refrigerator and set it on the counter. He'd opened the cupboard and was reaching for a glass when a vivid image of Daniel, folded into a corner and waving a loaded gun, stayed his hand. Bracing his palms on the counter, Jack took a deep breath and slowly released it.
The little shit was right.
Second thoughts? How about fourth or fifth? Daniel was stretched tighter than a rubberband right now, depressed, angry, a time bomb waiting to explode. What the hell had he been thinking, bringing him here?
He knew exactly what he'd been thinking. Even distracted by 170 pounds of distraught archeologist in his arms, he'd seen the looks. On the less-than-poker faces of the SFs who'd burst into the storage room. In the nurses' eyes as they'd given Daniel a sedative and helped Jack settle him in bed.
Disbelief. Embarrassment. A little bit of contempt. And a whole lot of pity.
Daniel was hands down the brightest guy Jack had ever known. Not the kind of smarts that came out of books, but the intuitive, out-of-the-box genius that couldn't be taught. The man had solved the mystery of the Stargate in two weeks, saved Earth from certain destruction--he'd even rescued Jack's sorry ass before he and Carter could turn into popsicles.
No way in hell should anyone--anyone--look at Dr. Daniel Jackson with pity, let alone contempt. Jack had made up his mind, then and there, that Daniel wouldn't spend a minute more than was absolutely necessary in the fishbowl of an infirmary. He'd argued his case, eloquently, heatedly, some might even say pigheadedly, with Fraiser. And he'd won.
God help him, he'd won.
Too bad he'd never really considered what he'd do with Daniel once he got him here. Or that watching Daniel suffer through this nightmare might dredge up a few bad dreams of his own.
Impulsive? Yeah, sure, you betcha.
Jack put away the pitcher and pulled out a bottle of water instead. Plastic. Unbreakable. Safe. He pasted on a smile and sauntered into the living room.
Daniel was...gone. Jack froze just inside the doorway, tightening his grip on the water bottle's cool, slick surface. A thousand nameless fears hit him low, in the belly, sucking the air from his lungs. He'd left him. Damn it, he should never have left him.
The unmistakable sounds of retching drifted down the hallway, and suddenly he could breathe again. Jack headed for the bathroom, shaking his head. He'd been reduced to finding reassurance in Daniel's puking--how sick was that?
Daniel was on the floor, curled around the commode, his forehead pressed against the porcelain rim. He lifted his head, spat into the bowl, and glared. "Get out, Jack."
Wrinkling his nose, Jack flicked on the fan and dangled the water in front of Daniel. "Rinse, don't swallow, or it'll come right back up."
"I came here to get away from nurses a hell of a lot prettier than you." Daniel snatched the bottle and twisted off the lid. "And I'll swallow if I damn well feel like it." But he swigged, swished, and spat.
Jack's temper flared, but Daniel's ashen face and shaking hands kept it in check. "You finished?"
The soft, patient tone caught Daniel's attention. He cocked an eyebrow as he held the water bottle to his temple. "Puking? Or bitching?"
It took a moment for Jack to register the dark humor in his friend's raspy voice. He grabbed a washcloth off the bar, wet it with cold water, and crouched beside Daniel, offering it with just the hint of a smile. "Puking. I figure you've got an endless supply of the other."
Daniel twitched his lips in a weak smile. He wiped his face, then pressed the cloth to the back of his neck. The spark of humor slowly faded from his eyes. "I don't think I can do this anymore."
The withdrawal or SG-1? Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know. Either way, the answer was the same. "Yeah, you can."
He stood up to cut off any further conversation and held out a hand. Daniel stared at it for a long moment before tentatively placing his own in Jack's. Jack hauled him upright and tugged one arm over his shoulders, ignoring Daniel's flinch at the unexpected close contact. He muscled them both through the narrow doorway- -no small feat--and half dragged, half carried his friend back to the couch. By the time he'd deposited Daniel on the cushions they were both panting and drenched with sweat.
"What have you been eating lately--lead?" Jack collapsed into the armchair, mopping his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.
Daniel tipped his head onto the back of the couch and shut his eyes. There was a long uncomfortable silence. Jack had begun to hope Daniel had finally slipped into much needed sleep when his friend spoke, his voice emotionless. "I'm quitting the team."
He replied from the gut, all emotion and no thought. "Over my dead body."
Daniel cracked open an eye. "Almost."
"I've made up my mind, Jack. I'll get the request to the General as soon as my hands stop shaking long enough for me to type it."
"Hammond will never accept it."
Daniel laughed, a harsh, grating sound. "Hammond never wanted me on the team in the first place! He was afraid I might just get the rest of you killed--which I nearly did."
"Hammond didn't know you then, Daniel. He had no reason to trust you, and he was pissed as hell you'd been playing hooky on Abydos for the past year. And just for the record, you were the one he was afraid might wind up dead--which you have. It's a nasty habit I've been meaning to talk to you about."
"Why would you want me?"
The soft question took him completely by surprise. "What?"
Daniel sat forward, pinning his clasped hands between his knees. "Why would you want me to be a part of SG-1? I screwed up, let you all down! You were dying in that mine and I...I..."
"You screwed up. Yeah, I got that. You're not the only one who made a mistake on this mission, you know."
Daniel lurched to his feet and began pacing, waving his arms. "Don't patronize me! Who's the one who got us captured in the first place? Who's the one who ruined our one chance to escape? And let's not forget who's the one who kept climbing into the damn box. Seems to me the mistakes are all mine."
Jack ran his fingers through his hair. Fraiser had grudgingly allowed him to take Daniel home provided Jack keep him as calm and quiet as possible. Somehow he didn't think this was what she had in mind.
"Who's the CO who was so busy executing an escape that he left one of his people behind?"
Daniel's head snapped around. He lost his already precarious balance and stumbled into the coffee table, barking his shins. Jack shot out of his chair and grasped his friend by the shoulders as he pitched toward the floor. To his surprise, Daniel shoved him away and staggered backwards, his eyes wild.
Jack raised both hands. "All right, all right. Take it easy. I was just trying to help."
"I don't need your help."
It should have pissed him off, except Jack clearly heard the meaning behind Daniel's words.
I don't deserve your help.
He scrambled for something, anything to say, hating the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that stilled his tongue. Why had he ever thought he could do this? This was exactly why his marriage had failed--he sucked at the emotional stuff. Daniel was floundering, and Jack was standing on shore, watching him go down.
"Daniel. Why did you get in the sarcophagus?"
Daniel recoiled as if slapped. Then slowly he straightened his shoulders and met Jack's eyes, a condemned man facing his executioner. "Because it took away all the doubt, all the fear. I felt like I could do anything I set my mind to, and not fail."
"It made you feel invincible."
Daniel looked away, his throat working. "It made me feel worthy."
Jack's throat tightened painfully. He tamped down on the instinct to pull Daniel into a hug, giving him the space he seemed to need. Instead he concentrated on making his voice as soothing as possible. "The first time. Once you were healed. Why did you get back inside?"
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut, grimacing. "Trust."
Daniel's voice dropped to a whisper. "'Trust me and I'll trust you.' It was the only way I could convince her."
Anger ambushed Jack, flushing his face and pounding behind his eyes. "Shyla?"
"I didn't know." Daniel searched Jack's face, tears welling in his eyes and overflowing. "I swear I...I didn't know, Jack. If I had, I'd have never... And then I...I couldn't stop."
"I know." Jack ground the words out through clenched teeth, long buried memories flashing through his brain.
"You were down in that hell hole--you, and Sam, and Teal'c. Beaten. Starving. Dying. While I was...and Sha're...God!" His voice broke and he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "I'm so ashamed."
To hell with Daniel's space. Jack took two steps and jerked his friend into a bear hug. "It's okay. We're all okay, Daniel. And you will be, too."
Daniel clutched his shirt with both hands, his face buried in Jack's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Jack. I'm so sorry."
Shaken by his own memories and the force of Daniel's grief, Jack did the only thing he could. He held on.
He had the phone in his hand before his muddled brain could register it had rung. Jack squinted blearily at the alarm clock. 6:03. Judging from darkness outside his bedroom window, PM, not AM.
The short hesitation told him it was Carter before she spoke. "...Sir? I'm sorry...did I wake you?"
Jack ran a hand down his face and smacked his lips. Ugh. Note to self: Never fall asleep immediately after ingesting a ham and Swiss on rye. With extra pickles. "We're a little off schedule around here. No need to apologize."
"We--that is, Teal'c and I--wanted to see how everyone was doing."
"I'm fine, Captain. Thank you for asking."
Jack swung his legs over the side of the bed, grinning. Sometimes Carter was just too easy. "He's hanging in there. It was a rough afternoon." He stood and stretched, suppressing a groan of satisfaction when his spine popped. "You still at the mountain?"
"Just getting ready to leave. Actually, we were hoping we could bring you and Daniel some dinner."
"Gonna check him out for yourself, huh? What--you don't trust me?"
He heard laughter in her tone. "Not really, sir."
"It'd have to be something mild. His stomach is still pretty dicey."
"See you in about an hour?"
"It's a date."
Jack disconnected and set the phone on its cradle. He made a quick stop in the bathroom, then headed down the hallway to guestroom.
By the time Daniel had regained his composure, the adrenaline rush had ebbed, leaving him punch drunk with exhaustion. Jack had manhandled him into the guestroom where he'd promptly sprawled face down across the bed and passed out, still fully dressed. After tugging off Daniel's shoes, covering him with a blanket, and downing a quick sandwich, Jack had retreated to his own bed and done likewise.
A check of the guestroom revealed a still dead-to-the-world Daniel, now on his back with one arm tossed over his head and the other curled across his stomach. For the first time, his sleep seemed peaceful, free of the muscle spasms and restless twitches that had plagued him while drugged in the infirmary. While he was certain there would be some difficult days ahead, Jack hoped they'd weathered the worst of the withdrawal. Resisting the impulse to check for fever, Jack shut the door and continued on to the kitchen.
Caffeine. He might be in better shape than Daniel (which at this point wasn't saying much), but his body was still feeling the mileage he'd put on in the mine. The little impromptu nap was like a thimbleful of water--it just made him crave more.
Still, brewing a pot of coffee would be cruel and unusual punishment for the man currently drooling on the bed in the next room. Jack snagged a Coke from the fridge and popped the top, collapsing into a chair with a soft grunt.
Without Daniel as a distraction, he was too tired to evade the memories that had been circling like vultures. Pain and a relentless, gnawing hunger that would never be satisfied. Fear and guilt camouflaged by sharp, angry words and clever excuses. Regret. Shame.
Jack propped his elbows on the table, burying his face in his hands. He'd asked himself why he'd brought Daniel here, but deep down he knew the answer: restitution. Not for Daniel, though God knows he should have done a better job protecting the civilian on his team. No, this was payback for the people whose lives and hearts he'd torn apart nine years ago. He couldn't undo the mistakes he'd made. But maybe he could stop Daniel from duplicating them.
He jerked upright, his elbow tipping the half-full soda can onto its side where it rolled gently back and forth in an expanding brown puddle. Cursing, he picked it up and lunged for the roll of paper towels next to the sink. Four or five sheets, coupled with his lightening reflexes, contained the mess before it could spread to the floor.
When he finally looked up, Daniel was still propped in the doorway, looking rumpled and confused. For some reason Jack couldn't have named, it fueled his irritation.
"What are ya doing standing there? Sit down, for Pete's sake." He barked it in his command voice while dumping the soiled paper towels in the trash and grabbing a sponge to wipe down the table.
When he looked up again, Daniel was gone. Great. Jack pitched the sponge into the sink and stood with his hands propped on his hips. After a moment the quiet murmur of the television filtered in from the living room. Jack rubbed the back of his neck, then headed out for some damage control.
Daniel was curled in the corner of the couch, remote in hand, his face an expressionless mask. Sleep had softened the lines around his eyes and mouth, but he was still three shades too pale. Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and wandered over to take a seat on the opposite end. When Daniel didn't acknowledge his presence, he glanced at the television. Huh. Football? A sure sign Daniel was staring through, rather than at, the screen.
"I still don't understand."
Daniel's quiet statement pulled Jack's attention from the game. His friend continued to gaze at the screen, his jaw clenched.
"That makes two of us."
Sarcasm was usually an effective way to get a rise out of Daniel. It worked like a charm. He clicked off the TV, tossed the remote onto the coffee table, and glared at Jack.
"You were pissed at me. I know I... The sarcophagus might have turned me into a bastard, but my memory is intact. You were furious when I left you and Sam and Teal'c in that mine, and you were still mad as hell when we finally got back to the SGC."
There was no point denying it. "You're damn right I was."
Daniel widened his eyes at the unexpected honesty. "So why am I here? And even more important..." He looked away, swallowing hard. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
"You'd rather I was a bastard, too? I'll admit, it's a bit of a stretch for me, but--"
"Maybe." When Jack raised both eyebrows, Daniel shrugged. "I'm not big on surprises. If you're holding back because you think I'm too fragile to take it, you're wrong. I'd really rather get it over with now."
"Cold shoulder, snide remarks, kicking me off the team."
"Excuse me? Were you absent when I went over the part about not accepting your resignation?"
"I heard you."
The irritation was building again, but Jack tamped it down. "Then maybe you can explain why I'd boot you off SG-1 myself?"
"Because sooner or later your head will catch up with your heart, and you'll do what has to be done."
"You know I'm right."
Jack searched Daniel's face for any sign of self-pity, but found only regret. "Daniel... Do you believe in second chances?"
Daniel frowned. "It depends."
"The situation. Jack, if you're suggesting that I--"
"I knew a guy, Air Force, good officer, lots of commendations. A mission went sour and he was shot down behind enemy lines. The crash should have killed him, but by some miracle he not only survived, he walked out. Well--crawled. Spent four weeks in a crappy little third world hospital before he was strong enough to be medivaced out."
"Shut up, Daniel."
Daniel pressed his lips together, and wrapped himself up in a hug.
"Tell you something about that hospital--it was understaffed and it didn't have the best facilities, but it had good drugs. And the nurses were quick to offer them, especially if it kept things quiet. By the time the guy landed stateside, he was carrying a hell of a monkey on his back. He just didn't know it."
Daniel was watching him closely now. "You mean...?"
"Morphine. The doc here weaned him off the hard stuff right away, but the damage was done. Nothing else worked the way the morphine did. He was in excruciating pain--broken bones, still healing internal injuries--and they expected him to pop a couple Tylenol for it? How could everyone be so cruel? No one understood, not the doctors, not his wife..."
Jack stood and walked over to the window. A headache throbbed behind his left eye and the Coke he'd consumed burned his stomach. "I'll spare you the gory details--the lies, the subterfuge. Let's just say by the time the idiot owned up to his problem, he'd done some damn distasteful things and put his family through hell."
"But Sara and Charlie forgave you."
Jack smiled to himself, despite the ache in his gut. He'd known Daniel would catch on. "Yeah. They did." He turned to face his friend. "Because Sara believed in second chances. And so do I."
Daniel shook his head, wrapping his arms more tightly around his middle. "It's not the same, Jack. I endangered--"
"I was high when I was supposed to be watching my son."
Daniel stared at him, lips parted in shock.
"I wish I could say it happened only once, but it didn't. One day Sara came home early to find Charlie playing in the backyard and me passed out on the couch. It was the final straw for her, and a wake-up call for me.
"She had every right to boot my ass to the curb, but she didn't. She believed me when I said I'd get help. And when I promised it would never happen again."
Daniel's voice was rough. "It won't."
"I know, Daniel. That's why you're still on the team."
Daniel didn't say anything, but he relaxed the death grip on his body. He was silent for a long time before speaking. "Sara didn't believe in third chances?"
The question caught him unprepared, swift and merciless as a strategically placed knife. "Sara wasn't the one who didn't believe in them."
Daniel ducked his head. "I'm sorry. I never should have--"
Jack waved him off and returned to the couch, weariness turning his bones to lead. "It's one of life's great ironies that I was completely straight when Charlie got ahold of my gun and.... If I hadn't been, I don't think we'd be having this conversation. As it was, well...I wasn't as willing as Sara to let me off the hook."
"You can't forgive yourself, but sometimes you can forget." Daniel drew in a shaky breath. "I think I understand now."
"You've always been your own biggest critic, Daniel." Jack smiled. "Guess maybe that's one thing we have in common."
The doorbell rang before Daniel could respond. Jack grabbed the remote and leaned back into the cushions, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "That's for you."
He watched Denver mop up the field with Chicago, one ear on the game and the other on the activity at the door.
"Daniel." From the corner of his eye he saw Carter pull Daniel into a hug. "You look...um..."
Daniel sounded amused. "I know what I look like, Sam. You don't have to beat around the bush."
"Has not O'Neill been performing his role in your convalescence, Daniel Jackson?"
"For cryin' out loud, T, I've had him all of twelve hours! Cut me a little slack, will ya?" Jack scowled at the Jaffa as they filed into the living room.
"Oh, you, um, brought...food." Daniel's tone was distinctly unenthusiastic as he eyed the white paper sacks.
"It is our contribution to your recovery. Soon you will regain your strength, and your place on SG-1."
Good going, T! Jack gave Teal'c an almost imperceptible nod and the Jaffa inclined his head.
"Don't worry, Daniel. The Colonel told me you'd been feeling queasy so I picked things that will be easy on your stomach." Sam patted one of the bags and placed it in Daniel's hands. "Egg drop soup, rice." She grinned at him. "Maybe even an almond cookie if you eat all your dinner."
Daniel blinked, clearly overwhelmed. Jack knew he was bitterly regretting some harsh words he'd traded with Carter. He sent her a nod of her own and received a wink in response.
Daniel had opened the sack was sniffing appreciatively. "Weeell, maybe I could eat a little."
Jack stood and gave him a pat on the back. "That's my boy. Carter, break out the plates. I'm taking drink orders."
As Carter led the way into the kitchen, Daniel hung back, snagging Jack's elbow. "Jack, I...um...that is...thanks."
"Don't thank me, thank Carter. Dinner was her idea."
Daniel rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do. But that doesn't mean we have to discuss it. It's implied."
"Unspoken. You know, between the lines." Jack slung an arm around Daniel's shoulders. "There's a lot of that with us, Daniel. I thought you understood."
This time Daniel didn't flinch, and a slow smile curved his lips. "Oh. I, um...I guess I do."
Jack gave him a squeeze, then a gentle shove toward the kitchen. "Then what are you waiting for? Lead the way, Dannyboy. Soup's on."