Jack heard the raised voices before he entered the infirmary. He paused just inside the doorway, listening to the argument that originated behind a drawn curtain.
"Daniel, we had a deal. You promised if I'd release you *just* long enough to welcome home Sam and Teal'c, you'd come straight back and get into bed."
"I want to renegotiate."
"You want to renege. You promised, Daniel."
"Because it was the only way you'd let me out of here! I'm fine, Janet. I made it to the 'gateroom and back with no problems, no ill effects. I don't need to stay here."
Fraiser's voice sharpened. "You've only been back forty-eight hours, Daniel. You were severely dehydrated. You have a bullet wound in your thigh, two cracked ribs, bruises, cuts, contusions. Your chest and back--" Her voice, which had grown progressively less steady, broke. She cleared her throat. "The burns were already showing signs of infection. Another twenty-four hours on oral antibiotics will ensure--"
It was that one little word that got Jack's feet moving. He recognized that tone, understood exactly what it signified. Quiet, unassuming--it might easily be underestimated, just like a certain archeologist he'd grown to know and love. Jack knew better. When Daniel was upset, frustrated, he ranted and paced and waved his arms. That low, nearly emotionless voice meant his friend had taken all he was going to take.
Danger, danger, Will Robinson!
"Howdy, folks. Everything okay in here?" He raised one eyebrow when his cheerful greeting was met with two hostile glares.
"Was there something you needed, Colonel?" Fraiser folded her arms, and for the first time he glimpsed weariness behind the anger in her eyes.
"Just stopped by to see if Daniel was up to joining me, Carter, Teal'c for some lunch." When she narrowed her eyes, he added, "It's the second most important meal of the day."
Daniel and Fraiser stopped talking and resumed scowling.
"Yeah. See, that would be why I asked if everything was okay." Jack looked at his friend. "Daniel?"
Daniel turned away, his lips pressed tightly together.
Okay. No help there.
"Dr. Jackson disagrees with my diagnosis of his injuries."
Daniel's head snapped back around. "I didn't say that."
"Really? Then the problem must be that you don't trust my judgement when it comes to treating those injuries."
"I didn't-- The *problem* is that I object to being held prisoner in the infirmary when I'm well enough to go home."
Interesting choice of words, Jack thought. He held up both hands, palms out. "Okay, okay. Everybody just calm down a minute. "You." He pointed at Fraiser. "How crucial is it that he stays here? I mean, sure, he looks like crap, but that's still a lot better than he looked two days ago."
"Gee, thanks, Jack."
Janet ignored Daniel's mutter. "Colonel, he sustained a gunshot wound and third degree burns under conditions ripe for infection. We just discontinued the I.V. antibiotics today and I'd really like to keep him under observation for another twenty-four hours to make sure the oral medications are doing their job."
"Which is completely--"
"Ah, ah!" Jack cut Daniel off with an upraised finger. "You." He pointed at his friend. "Why are you so dead set against doing what the doc says? I mean, it's just one more night, right?"
"Jack..." Daniel screwed up his face, frustration written in every line. "The shack we were held in had no bathroom facilities and roaches the size of tanks. The only food or water we saw for days was what disappeared down Raphael's throat. I've been kicked, punched, shot, and...and jump-started. I want to go home." He looked at Fraiser, his voice dropping to little more than a whisper. "Please, Janet. I just want to go home."
Fraiser melted like a popsicle left out in the sun. "I suppose it's not imperative you be on base, but I certainly wouldn't want you alone in case--"
Jack jumped in. "I hear a motion that Daniel be allowed to finish convalescing at home under my expert supervision. Will someone second it?"
"You? Expert?" Daniel snorted. "Seems to me that last time you were supposed to be expertly supervising my convalescence you--"
"Will someone second the motion?" Jack growled.
Daniel's sigh was martyred. "Fine. You can sleep on the couch."
"Seconded! All in favor signify by saying--"
"Shut up, Jack."
"Not what I had in mind, but it'll do." Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Truce successfully negotiated thanks to yours truly. My work here is done."
Fraiser pursed her lips and looked at Daniel. "You may come to regret this."
Daniel groaned. "I think I'm already there."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jack eased the truck around a corner and accelerated smoothly, continuing another meandering circuit through quiet neighborhood streets. He darted a quick glance at his passenger. Daniel was still out, hands tucked under his arms and head tipped against the window. He'd dropped off five minutes from his house--hence the reason Jack had been driving aimlessly for the past twenty-five minutes.
Rest, Fraiser had said with her patented no-nonsense glare. Something Daniel needed desperately but had been sorely lacking. The tremendous energy required to heal injuries like Daniel's came at significant expense to the body. Weakened by starvation and dehydration, Daniel was vulnerable to infection both from without and within. Eating and sleeping should be the only things on his friend's agenda for at least the next week.
Jack had tossed off a joke about unlimited beer, pizza, and the sports channel. Then Fraiser had taken him aside, ostensibly to give him Daniel's medications.
Fraiser ushered him inside the drug supply room and shut the door. Any smart remark he might have made died when he saw the look on her face.
"Colonel, I wanted to speak with you in private."
Jack waved his hand around the tiny, windowless cubicle. "Well, this is private, all right. Do you mind telling me why we're doing this here and not your office?"
"Because I don't want Daniel joining us for this conversation."
"Okaaaay. And that would be...why?"
"I've observed some things that have me very worried about him."
"Well then, shouldn't he be the one standing here in the closet with you? Not that is isn't a nice closet, mind you, but I really--"
"Normally I would agree with you, Colonel. But Daniel and I share a history that might make him...resistant to my concerns."
"It's not like you to beat around the bush, Doc. Spit it out."
She folded her arms. "I'm worried about his mental status. I don't think he's coping with his ordeal nearly as well as he'd have us believe. I wanted you to know that I've made a formal recommendation for counseling. He won't be released for active duty until he meets both the physical *and* psychological requirements."
Oh for cryin'... "You're over-reacting, doc. You know better than anyone what those bastards did to him. Of course he's going to be a little jumpy for a while."
"Colonel, I have never forgiven myself for what happened four years ago. Do you honestly think I'd make such a recommendation if I wasn't absolutely certain it was necessary?"
The truth in her words took the wind out of his sails. "That bad, huh?"
"He flinches at the slightest sound, barely eats or sleeps, won't take his pain medication, is argumentative and uncooperative with my nurses...." Fraiser ticked off each item on her fingers.
"Whoa, slow down." Jack ran a hand through his hair. "Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that Daniel's as screwed up--"
"--whatever, as you think he is. What do you expect me to do about it? He's a big boy, Doc. I can't make him eat or sleep any more than you can."
"Perhaps not. But you can get him to talk. In fact, you're probably the only one who can. And that's what he really needs, sir. Until he acknowledges how badly he's been hurt, he'll never be able to heal."
Jack groaned. "You know how lousy I am at the touchy-feely stuff."
Fraiser grabbed a bottle of pills and opened the door. "Too late to back out now, Colonel. You wanted him, you got him."
A small sound from the passenger seat drew Jack's gaze. Daniel's slow, deep breathing had quickened, and sweat had broken out on his brow. Lines appeared around his eyes and mouth and his shoulders twitched spasmodically.
"Daniel?" Jack said the name quietly, hoping to wake his friend without startling him.
Daniel's respiration turned to short, sharp pants and he moaned--the low, wounded cry of a child. Jack pulled to the curb and gripped his friend's shoulder.
"Daniel, wake up."
Daniel's whole body jerked and both arms flew up as if to ward off blows. He stared at Jack through wild, unseeing eyes.
"Take it easy; it's just me. You were dreaming." Jack deliberately left his hand in place, relieved when he saw comprehension seep into Daniel's gaze.
Flushing, Daniel rubbed a trembling hand over his face. "Sorry."
Jack sat back and watched his friend regain his composure. "Nothing to be sorry about. Looked like a doozy."
Daniel frowned. "Huh?"
"The nightmare. I've had enough of 'em myself to recognize a bad one when I see it."
Daniel's somewhat bewildered expression immediately transformed to a blank mask. He turned his head and looked out the window.
Jack pressed a little harder. "Want to talk about it?"
"Where are we? This isn't the way to my place."
So that's the way it was going to be. Change the subject and just ignore the elephant standing in the middle of the room.
"I took the scenic route."
Daniel looked at the dashboard clock and then Jack through narrowed eyes. "We left the mountain over an hour ago."
Jack put the car into gear and pulled into traffic. "Did we?"
"It only takes thirty minutes to drive to my house."
"I'll take your word for it. I've never timed it."
Jack had long ago learned the value of obtuseness. Faced with banging their heads against a brick wall or moving on, most people chose the latter. Of course, Daniel was hardly most people. He'd called Jack on his devious little technique the first time he'd tried it. Still, it was worth a shot.
Daniel glared at him for a long moment, then let out a long gust of air. "Forget it."
Damn, Fraiser was right. Daniel letting him off the hook that easily was as worrisome as the nightmare.
"You hungry? You must be. You missed out on lunch."
"I was trying to get some work done."
"Is that why Fraiser was chewing your ass when I walked in?"
Daniel made a rude sound and scrunched lower in his seat, arms folded. "She actually had an SF come to my office and escort me to the infirmary!"
"You don't mess with Dr. Dread, Daniel. You sure as hell should know that by now."
"Huh. I'm surprised she didn't have him use restraints. If I'm going to be treated like a prisoner, she might as well pull out all the stops."
There was that word again, Jack thought, watching surreptitiously as Daniel gritted his teeth and muttered something under his breath. We've got some serious control issues here. What exactly is going on inside that head of yours, Danny?
"Sooo, pizza? Chinese? Mexican? Name your take-out poison."
Daniel twitched his shoulders. "Suit yourself, Jack. I'm really not hungry."
"Fraiser said you--"
"The last time I checked, I was an adult male in his thirties. I'll decide when, what, and how much I eat. I don't need Fraiser, you, or anyone else telling me what to do."
"Fine." Jack pressed his lips together, stemming a tide of angry words. Frasier's half-smile and quirked eyebrow flashed before his eyes. You wanted him; you got him. Jack tightened his fingers on the steering wheel. If the past ten minutes were any indication, he was in for one helluva long night.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jack was watching him again, and doing a damn poor job of hiding it.
Daniel swished his chopsticks through rice and vegetables, spreading them across the plate to disguise how little he'd actually consumed. Not that he really expected Jack to fall for such a trick. For a moment he envisioned his friend in father mode, sternly insisting that Charlie stop playing with his food and start eating it. A pang of sorrow immediately followed, softening Daniel's irritation.
"I wouldn't quit my day job, if I were you."
Jack gestured to Daniel's plate. "You're an archeologist, not an artist. And while perhaps impressionistic, that sure as hell ain't art."
"I told you I wasn't hungry."
"Yeah, I seem to recall hearing that somewhere."
Daniel shoved back his chair and stood, his anger ratcheting up a notch when despite his best efforts a hiss of pain slipped out. Snatching up his plate he hopped to the sink, flipped on the tap, and grabbed the dish detergent. He stared at the soapy water as it filled the sink, his thoughts a million miles away.
He hurt. Everywhere. Leg, abdomen, ribs, and every one of those damn burns on his chest and back. His gaze wandered to the little amber bottle sitting on the counter. Darvocet--Janet wouldn't take no for an answer when he'd tried leaving them behind. He licked his lips. Just one little capsule would make it all go away for a while...
"You *will* tell me what I want to know." Trapped. Hot. Dark. "I'm going to skin you alive." Pain. Fear. "I told you what would happen if you ignored me." Struggling. Powerless. "Don't bother screaming; no one will hear you." Can't get out. Can't breathe. Alone. Oh, God. Someone. Anyone. Help?
Hands on his arms. Big. Strong. Grabbing. Squeezing. No!
Daniel rammed both elbows backward, spun on his heel, and swung his fist with all his might. He connected with solid flesh, vaguely registering a breathless grunt before fiery agony blazed through his leg and it folded beneath him, tumbling him to the floor.
"Ah, God...! Damn it, Daniel, what in the hell do you think you're doing?"
Jack's voice, muffled and strained, filtered through Daniel's haze of pain. He pushed himself upright until he could lean back against the cabinet, clutching his thigh with both hands. Jack was similarly propped against a table leg, one hand cradling his face. Glaring at Daniel, he leaned over and spat blood onto the tile.
Daniel fought against a wave of nausea, his eyes skittering from the blood to the already purpling swelling along Jack's jawline. "Wh...what happened?"
"What happened? You decked me, that's what happened!"
"That's...that's crazy, Jack, I wouldn't..." Daniel trailed off, slowly lifting his right hand, gaping at the torn and swollen knuckles.
"You were saying?"
His whole body turned ice cold while his head felt as if it might float away. Warm fingers touched the back of his neck, guiding his head down between his knees.
"Relax, Daniel. Take deep breaths."
"S-sorry. I'm sorry, Jack." He could barely force the apology past chattering teeth.
"Just shut up and breathe." Harsh words spoken in the gentlest of tones.
Daniel shut his eyes and went with it, too rattled to protest. After several minutes the shivering diminished to occasional tremors and he cautiously lifted his head.
Jack peered into his eyes, brow furrowed. "You okay?"
Daniel nodded, feeling heat rise in his cheeks. "You?"
"Hey, I'm a big, tough, Special Ops colonel and you're just a geeky archeologist. What do you think?"
"Like a sonuvabitch."
He smiled but it slid quickly off his face. "I really am sorry, Jack. I don't know--"
"I do. You had a flashback, Daniel."
"You heard me."
"No, I... No." Daniel shook his head. "You're wrong, Jack. It was...I just got confused for a minute, that's all."
Jack snorted. "Daniel, I've known you, what, eight years now? I've seen you confused and--correct me if I'm wrong--you don't normally come out swinging."
Daniel opened his mouth for an argument but snapped it shut when he couldn't think of one. He tried to stand up, biting back a moan when his leg burst into flames. Well, that's how it felt, anyway.
The pain must have shown on his face. Jack stabbed a finger at his chest, growled "Stay put," and disappeared. Daniel heard a cupboard open and shut, water run, and then the soft click of pills shaken from their bottle. A hand appeared under his chin.
Daniel looked at the little pink capsule and curled his lip. "Jack, I don't want--"
"Don't give me that shit, Daniel. You turned white as a sheet just now. I'm not having you pass out on me when I haul you off the floor."
Some of his previous irritation tried to surface, but after a look at Jack's bruised jaw, Daniel swallowed the pill. Jack disposed of the glass and joined him back on the floor, this time sitting beside him. They were silent for a time--long enough for the drug to blunt the needle-sharp teeth gnawing at Daniel's leg. When Jack finally spoke, his voice was soft.
"You can talk to me about this, Daniel. It's not like I won't get it."
Daniel's mouth went dry. "Iraq?"
"Sara never knew from one minute to the next what might set me off. Flashbacks during the day, nightmares all night. She finally took Charlie and went to stay with her dad. It knocked some sense into me. Made me realize losing them was way scarier than dealing with what happened."
The pain had faded to a low hum and all his limbs felt pleasantly loose and heavy. Daniel tipped his head back and closed his eyes. "I just want to forget. Is that too much to ask?"
"Hell no. As far as I'm concerned you can bury it, lock it up and throw away the key. But I'll tell you a secret, Daniel, and it's the damnedest thing. You've got to take it out and look at it first. Otherwise there won't be a hole deep enough or a box strong enough to keep it from creeping back. And you'll never be rid of it, kiddo. Voice of experience here."
"You can hear your own ribs break--didya know that, Jack?"
Silence, and then Jack's tight voice. "Yeah. Actually, I did."
Daniel could feel Jack looking at him but his eyes decided they preferred to remain closed. "I couldn't decide what was worse--having 'em beat the hell out of you or waiting for your turn to have them beat the hell out of you. Tied up in that cramped, filthy little shack, so hot, no air, you could barely breathe, and dark, so dark at night...." He shivered, indescribably comforted when Jack shifted closer so their shoulders touched.
"Then they brought out the jumper cables and suddenly having them beat the hell out of you didn't seem so bad. I was so scared, Jack." Daniel pried open his eyes and squinted at Jack's still, white-lipped face. "Guess it was a good thing they wouldn't give us any water. Probably would've pissed myself. Some soldier."
Jack's fingers clamped onto his chin, startling him. "You are a damn fine soldier, Daniel. I'm proud to have you on my team, watching my six. Never believe otherwise." He released his grip and a little of the fierceness left his tone. "I've seen career military break under that kind of interrogation. You did good."
Daniel's sigh turned into a jaw-cracking yawn. In the back of his mind a little voice was telling him he should feel mortified for using Jack's shoulder as a pillow, but he was just too tired to listen. "Thought I'd forgotten...the hurt...the helplessness. Was so long ago." Forming words was getting harder. "Guess you were right, Jack. Came creeping back."
He heard Jack's voice from a great distance, but the words made no sense. Yadda, he thought, lips curving, and sank into sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jack shut the bedroom door and, after a moment's hesitation, headed into the living room. He collected the cordless phone and sank into the couch cushions, grunting when his overtaxed muscles twanged a painful protest. Hauling a drugged archeologist to his bedroom and pouring him into bed was definitely a job for a younger man. With better knees.
Exhaustion, an empty stomach, and Doc Fraiser's magic pill had turned Daniel into a boneless, incoherent lump who'd appeared perfectly willing to spend the night on his kitchen floor. Now that he was safely tucked away in his bedroom, dead to the world, Jack could make his phone call without fear of being overheard.
He paused, thumb poised over the keypad. He was about to commit a clear violation of Daniel's privacy. An act that his friend was unlikely to thank him for. One that could conceivably drive a wedge between the two of them, just when they were getting this friendship thing back on track. Jack sighed.
He had no choice.
It took several minutes for his call to ricochet down to the correct lab. The phone rang five times, and he was ready to hang up when a breathless voice answered.
"Major Carter--this better be damn important."
Jack's eyebrows soared. "As a matter fact, it is."
"Colonel?" Embarrassment colored her tone and he could just imagine her cheeks turning pink.
"Got it in one."
"I'm sorry, sir, it's just that I'm in the middle of some further testing on the armor from the supersoldier we captured. It's really quite fascinating, I discovered--"
"TMI, Carter, TMI."
"Too much information. Sorry to interrupt your fun, but I need a favor."
"Of course, Colonel. What is it?"
"Hold on a minute. Before you say yes there are a few things you should know."
"Okay." He heard puzzlement in her tone, but she waited for him to continue.
"First, this is strictly unofficial. I'm not asking this as Colonel O'Neill. I'm asking as Jack."
A long silence. "All right...Jack."
He cleared his throat. "Okay. So the other thing is that what I'm asking isn't exactly...uh...legal."
"I need you to dig up Daniel's records from the time he was fostered."
Another, longer silence. "I'd need to know why."
He'd expected this, but he still fumbled for the right words. "I need to know if there were any...incidents with any of his foster parents."
"You're losing me, sir. Incidents?"
Jack closed his eyes and hung onto his temper. Blurting "I need to know if anyone beat the shit out of him" would not be a good choice. "I'm trying to find out if he was ever mistreated, Major."
"Child abuse?" She sounded stunned.
"I can't answer that, Carter. You're gonna have to trust me when I say that I wouldn't pry into Daniel's past if I didn't think it was absolutely necessary."
Jack waited. As much as he needed Carter's help, he recognized the enormity of what he was asking. He wouldn't push her on this one.
"I had dinner with Janet tonight."
What in the hell did that have to do with the price of tea in China? "That's...nice."
"She's worried about Daniel. She thinks something's bothering him, something more complicated than just aftershocks from the kidnapping."
Sometimes it was hell having a 2IC too smart for her own good. Or his. Jack remained pointedly silent.
Carter sighed. "I'll poke around, see what I can find out."
Some of the weight lifted from his shoulders. "Thanks, Carter. I owe you."
"I'm not promising anything, sir. Those are confidential records and they may have security too tight for my...capabilities."
"Understood. You can reach me at Daniel's. Just...don't tell him why you're calling."
"I'll let you know as soon as I find anything." Her voice softened. "Is he okay?"
Jack's eyes automatically drifted to the bedroom. His answer sounded more like a vow. "He will be."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
You can take the colonel out of Special Ops, but you can't take the Special Ops out of the colonel. Jack came fully awake with all senses on alert. He took inventory, searching for the source of whatever had disturbed his slumber. The catlike pad of bare feet followed by a creaky floorboard gave him his answer. Throwing off the blanket, he stood and navigated his way to Daniel's bedroom without turning on a light.
The house was still, but Daniel's door stood ajar. Jack stuck his head inside, noting the crutches lying at the foot of the empty bed. "Daniel?"
A soft thud drew him back into the living room. Moonlight spilled through the windows, illuminating several books, once piled on an end table but now scattered on the floor. Jack bent over to pick them up, when he heard the front door rattle and then a soft, frustrated sob.
He squinted at the shadowy figure standing in the foyer. Daniel had wrapped both hands around the knob and was frantically twisting and pulling. As Jack moved closer, he heard a continuous string of incoherent whispers and sobs.
"...kharagny men hena, ana sowfa akoun kewayes, I'll be good, I promise, men fadlak, too hot, can't breathe, kharagny men hena, I'll be good, men fadlak ..."
Daniel didn't react to Jack's soft call, just went on twisting and pulling, muttering and sobbing. Jack felt a quiver of unease. Daniel's eyes were wide open, tears trickling down his cheeks, yet they weren't seeing. He tugged and jiggled the brass knob but completely ignored the dead bolt that held the door firmly shut. As Jack watched, Daniel brought both fists up and pounded on the door. Pressing his forehead to the smooth wood, he uttered a low, broken wail that raised gooseflesh on Jack's arms.
"Damn it, Daniel! Wake up!" Jack seized his friend by the shoulders and spun him around.
Daniel stiffened, then blinked. "Jack?" He looked around, his fingers clutching Jack's tee shirt. "Where.... H...how did I...?"
"Come here." Jack helped an alarmingly passive Daniel limp over to the couch.
Though the house was cool, Daniel's face was flushed, his tee shirt damp with sweat. Jack settled him on the cushions, then darted into the kitchen for a bottle of water. Twisting off the cap, he pressed it into Daniel's limp hand. The water sloshed wildly when Daniel raised it to his lips but he drank greedily.
Jack paced back and forth for a moment, then shoved aside several artifacts and sat on the coffee table, his folded hands dangling between his knees. "You mind telling me what the hell that was about?"
Daniel looked at him with shadowed eyes. "I would if I could, Jack."
Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly, reaching for patience. He was lousy in these situations, and he knew it. Somehow his fear inevitably twisted into irritation. The bewilderment in Daniel's face warned him to tread lightly.
"Okay, let's try this. What's your last clear memory?"
Daniel frowned, deepening the lines around his eyes and mouth. "Well, I ...sitting on the kitchen floor." His gaze dropped to Jack's jaw and then slid away. "Guess I fell asleep. Sorry."
"You can make it up to my knees later. What else?"
Daniel picked at the water bottle's label. "You wanted clear memories. Nothing else is clear."
Jack huffed. "For cryin' out loud, Daniel. Then tell me what you remember that's not clear."
Daniel chewed on his lip, long fingers peeling off bits of paper label that drifted to the floor. "Just sensations, really. Heat. Darkness. Like I was...I don't know...trapped." He finally looked up at Jack. "Obviously a nightmare. I'm not the best sleeper, Jack. Sometimes I have bad dreams--you should know that by now."
"Yeah, but you took this one on the road. You were sleepwalking, Daniel. You'd made it all the way to the front door."
Daniel wrinkled his nose. "That's funny. I had a problem with sleepwalking for a while, but that was years ago. I was just a little kid." His voice trailed off and his eyes lost focus, as if he were looking inward.
"How little?" Jack pitched his voice low and unobtrusive.
"Nine or ten, I think. It was after my parents died. What...um...what was I doing?"
Jack rescued the partially filled water bottle when it threatened to slip, unnoticed from Daniel's fingers. His friend immediately curled his arms around his middle.
"You were trying to open the door, but you didn't release the deadbolt. You just kept rattling the knob and...uh...crying."
"Crying?" Daniel touched his cheek where Jack could still see faint tear tracks.
"Yeah. In English and in Arabic. You kept asking to be let out, promising you'd be good."
All the color drained from Daniel's face.
Daniel didn't respond, just stared through him. Jack could see the quick rise and fall of his chest. He reached a steadying hand toward Daniel's knee.
"Daniel, what's wrong?"
Daniel surprised him by first flinching and then knocking aside his hand. He scrambled awkwardly to his feet. "Nothing. I...I'm really tired, Jack. I think I'll try to get some more sleep."
Jack stood, blocking his way to the bedroom. "Tired? Is that why you look like you just saw a ghost?" He leaned in closer. "That's pretty close to the mark, isn't it? You did see a ghost."
In the blink of an eye, Daniel went from shell-shocked to furious. "This conversation is over, Jack. Now are you going to let me go around you, or do I have to go through you?"
It was an empty threat, and they both knew it. In Daniel's current condition Bill Lee could've knocked him on his ass. One look at his friend's outthrust lip and rigid posture, however, convinced Jack that resistance was futile. Holding up both hands, he stepped aside.
"This conversation may be over, Daniel, but the subject's far from closed. We will talk again."
Jack was pretty sure he heard a muttered "when hell freezes over" before Daniel shut the bedroom door. The click of the lock engaging echoed loudly in the abrupt silence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The 'gate alarm. Unscheduled off-world activation!
Jack bolted upright. His feet tangled in the blanket and he took a nosedive toward the coffee table. Somehow he managed a mid-air twist that landed him back on the couch, but he smacked his already bruised jaw on the armrest and wrenched his right knee.
He snatched the phone from the floor. "O'Neill. And it better be damn near life threatening."
"Very funny, Colonel. What if it hadn't been me?"
"Caller ID, Major. It's a beautiful thing."
"Yes, sir. How's Daniel?"
"Oh, he's--" Jack caught himself before he could utter a flip reply. "He's been better, Carter."
She took a deep breath. "I have some information for you. It's...not going to be easy to hear."
Jack's stomach did a slow roll. "Hang on a minute." He set the phone on the coffee table and walked quietly to the closed bedroom door. All was still, not even the rustle of bedclothes broke the silence within. Reassured, he returned to the couch. "Let's hear it."
"Daniel remained in the custody of Social Services for the first four months after his parents died. It took them that long to track down his grandfather. When Nick refused to accept responsibility for Daniel, he officially became a ward of the state and entered the foster care system."
Jack gritted his teeth. That Daniel's grandfather could simply turn his back on the little boy both amazed and infuriated him. "Go on."
"From what I can tell, Daniel's first foster placement went well--at least, there were no problems listed in the file. Unfortunately, after only six months the husband was promoted to a position that required they spend the next three years in Japan. And Daniel went back to the group home."
"Kid couldn't catch a break. First his parents, then Nick, then his foster parents." Jack rubbed at the headache that was building between his eyes. "But I'm guessing this isn't what you called to tell me, is it, Carter?"
"No, sir. I think you need to hear about Daniel's second foster experience. The one that nearly killed him."
Jack closed his eyes. "What happened?"
"The records are sketchy. My guess is that someone in Social Services tried to exercise a little damage control. There are quite a few holes." Carter's voice sounded thick. "But I was able to piece together enough."
"Several instances when Daniel was picked up as a runaway. Neighbors' assertions that the husband was often drunk and abusive. A teacher's concern over Daniel's too frequent bumps and bruises. The only thing I can't figure out is why Daniel had to almost die before anyone acted."
"Son of a bitch."
"My thoughts exactly, sir."
"Carter--" Jack broke off, listening. Had he heard a sound from the bedroom? All that greeted him was silence.
"Sorry, Carter. You said Daniel nearly died. What happened?"
"His foster mother brought him to the hospital emergency room. Daniel was suffering from an extreme case of heat stroke. She refused to explain how a nine-year-old boy wound up in such a condition. So did Daniel."
"Heat stroke?" He could almost hear the pieces click neatly into place. "Carter, I--"
The bedroom door banged open and Daniel stood clutching the jamb. Two bright spots of color burned in his pale cheeks and his eyes were dark with accusation. "You bastard! How dare you?"
Jack winced at the icy tone but spoke calmly into the phone. "Gotta go, Carter. I'll catch up with you later." He disconnected and gestured to the phone in Daniel's hand. "Thought I turned that one off."
"I turned it back on." Daniel tossed the phone onto the coffee table and hobbled into the kitchen. "Get out, Jack. I don't need your kind of help. I don't need you."
Jack scrubbed his hands through his hair. A part of him wanted nothing more than to take Daniel at his word, pack up, and get out. He'd gone fishing and landed a whale; now he had no idea what to do with it. He was no shrink--his only qualification for helping Daniel was that he'd once been just as screwed up. Worse.
He was tired. Bone weary from too many sleepless nights, the nerve-wracking trek through the jungle, jet lag.…
And he was wasting time arguing with himself. He knew what he had to do.
Daniel was trying to make coffee. Trying, and not really succeeding since it was nearly impossible to hop on one leg while carrying a carafe full of water and a bag of gourmet beans. Jack caught the bag just as it slipped from its precarious position tucked under Daniel's arm.
"Fraiser said no caffeine."
"Fraiser's not here." Daniel snatched back the bag. "Why are you? What part of 'get out' didn't you understand?"
"I'm here because I'm your friend."
"Friends watch your back. They don't go behind it."
Ouch. Even though he'd expected Daniel's anger, Jack was surprised by how much it stung. Their friendship had always pushed at boundaries, demanded an honesty and openness he'd given to very few people in his life. Yet Daniel evidently didn't feel he could trust Jack with this.
"They don't turn their backs, either." Jack stepped in closer. He could see fine tremors running through Daniel, as if he might fly apart at any moment. "Daniel, you've always made me face the truth about myself. Even when it hurt like hell. Do you really expect me to walk away?"
"If I said yes, would you?"
"Ah, let me think a minute--No."
"God! I should have stayed in the infirmary. At least I was left in relative peace--when the nurses weren't poking and prodding me."
"Fraiser's just as worried about you as I am. You might as well drop the act. Believe me, you're not going to be able to handle this one alone."
"Don't tell me what I can and can't do! I'm a grown man, not a little kid, Jack. I didn't ask for your help."
"You didn't need to. I'm your friend."
Daniel's shoulders slumped. "I can't do this."
"You have to." Jack took the carafe and coffee from Daniel's unresisting fingers. "Go sit down before you fall down. I'll make the coffee."
"You make it too strong."
"Sitting down now." He reached for a kitchen chair.
"Ah, ah! Living room, where you can elevate that leg."
Muttering under his breath, Daniel hobbled to the living room. Jack measured coffee and prayed for inspiration.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Daniel accepted the coffee mug and took a swallow, nearly spluttering with surprise. His eyebrows rose. "Ah...Jack? Janet also said no alcohol."
"Yeah? Well as you so succinctly pointed out, Janet is not here."
Oookay. Daniel buried his nose in his mug and tried to ignore Jack's piercing stare. Warmth from the liberal lacing of brandy spread its tendrils through him, steadying his jangling nerves.
"Do you remember?"
Daniel surrendered. He was too damn tired to fight Jack's inexorable prodding. "I didn't. I had no memories of those months; it was as if they'd never existed." He looked up at Jack, unable to mask his own bewilderment. "How could I have forgotten something so terrible?"
Jack held his own mug without drinking. "You know the answer to that. Sometimes forgetting is the only way you can cope. You were just a scared little kid."
"I hated the way he made me feel. So trapped. Helpless." Daniel took another sip of coffee to moisten his suddenly dry mouth. "He got off on that."
Daniel snorted. "Oh yeah. He was a mean drunk. And I seemed to provide the perfect...outlet for his anger."
"He hit you?" Jack's voice was dangerously soft.
"He'd never graduated high school and had little use for education. He couldn't understand why I'd rather read than play baseball--or whatever other manly pursuits he valued. The fact that I'd get lost in a book and not hear him calling made him crazy. Literally, if he'd had one too many." Daniel gulped down more coffee, deliberately not looking at Jack.
"And where exactly was his wife in all this?"
The memory was crystal clear--a petite, fair-haired woman with a warm smile and tragic green eyes. "She was good to me. They couldn't have kids of their own, and she really wanted a child. We used to play board games together, bake cookies--things I'd never done, even with my own parents. I could have loved her, I think..." He shook his head. "She was terrified of him. The one time she tried intervening, he beat the hell out of her and then punished me anyway."
Jack leaned forward and his voice gentled. "Is that why you wouldn't talk to anyone about what he'd done to you?"
Daniel set down his mug and tucked his hands into his armpits to hide their trembling. "She begged me not to. And I...I was scared of him. He liked describing what he'd do to me if I ever told." Goosebumps broke out on his arms and he shivered. "His favorite threat was that he'd skin me alive."
Jack sucked in a sharp breath. "God, Daniel. No wonder--"
"Yeah." He laughed, but it sounded too high and ragged. "Talk about a blast from the past."
Jack abruptly stood and disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned he was carrying a whiskey bottle and a tumbler. He placed the glass into Daniel's hand, poured two fingers, and sat down beside him.
Daniel swirled the amber liquid. "I'm all right, Jack, I don't need--"
Jack blocked his arm as he tried to set down the glass. "You look like shit. And we're not done yet."
"I've already told you most--"
"All of it, Danny. Or it's gonna come creeping back to bite you in the ass. You want to break the bastard's power over you? Tell me what happened that last time."
He stared into Jack's eyes for a long moment, drawing strength. One gift his friendship with Jack had given him was security. Jack made him feel safe--whether by watching his six while on a dangerous mission, or by being there when he needed someone to lean on. This friendship was the most stable, long-lasting relationship he'd experienced in his ever-turbulent life.
He could do this.
Daniel tossed back the whiskey, gasping a little as it burned the back of his throat. He took a deep breath.
"It was summer. August, maybe--I'm not sure. It was hot--one of those days when the air feels too heavy to move in and out of your lungs. I don't know what I did wrong. I never did. After a while I stopped trying to figure it out.
"What I do remember is that I'd had enough. Something in me just snapped, and when he swung at me, I caught hold of his wrist and dodged the blow. The look on his face.... I thought he really was going to grab one of the kitchen knives and make good on all those threats.
"I tried to run, but he just scooped me up, kicking and screaming. He started spouting nonsense--or at least I thought so at the time. Stuff about Vietnam and POWs and teaching me a lesson I wouldn't forget.
"They lived in an older home with a full attic above the second floor. You got to it by going up some wooden steps in the back of their bedroom closet. He carried me up and dumped me on the floor like...like a sack of garbage. He said I could scream all I liked but no one would hear. My foster mother had gone shopping for the afternoon and wouldn't be back until dinnertime. He unscrewed the only light bulb and stuck it in his pocket. And then the son of a bitch locked the door and left."
Daniel ran a hand down his sweaty face and around to massage the back of his neck. "It was like a sauna up there. The air was hot and dry, and so musty I wanted to gag. There were no windows, so it was pitch black--I couldn't see my own hand in front of my face."
"I tried to stay calm and rational. I'd never been a kid who was afraid of the dark. Hell, my parents had taken me into tombs with them from the time I was a baby; I didn't spook easily. But this was different. I was trapped; there was no way out but that one door, and it was solid oak. I've never been so hot and thirsty in my life--even on Abydos. It felt as if the heat was sucking the life out of me--and I guess it was. I lost it and started pounding on the door, screaming and crying for him to let me out. Promising...promising I'd be good."
A warm hand rested on his shoulder and Daniel realized he was moving, rocking back and forth. The hand left his shoulder to steady the jittering tumbler. A little more whiskey was poured and he swallowed it, without hesitation this time.
"Your foster mother found you?"
"Eventually. I was pretty far gone by that point, only semi-conscious and laying in my own vomit. I'm not sure how she got me to the hospital--he never let her drive the car. I remember her holding me, rocking me. Telling me she was sorry."
"Not sorry enough to tell the authorities what happened." Jack practically growled the words. When Daniel stole a look at his friend's face, it wore an expression usually reserved for politicians and Goa'ulds.
"She was terrified, Jack. So was I." He bit his lip. "After the hospital, I never saw her again. I always wondered what happened to her. If she went back to him. If he hurt her. Maybe she didn't do as much for me as she should have, but in the end she risked everything to save me."
"You never talked about this? To anyone?" In a heartbeat Jack's tone warmed thirty degrees.
"I told you, I didn't even remember it." An overwhelming sense of relief spread through him, as if an old and painful wound finally had been treated. Not healed--yet. But stitched and bandaged. Daniel settled more deeply into the cushions and let his head drop onto the back of the couch. "I guess I just stuffed those memories down deep where they couldn't bother me anymore."
"Yeah. I started having some strange dreams-- hallucinations, whatever--while we were locked up in that shack. But when Raphael came after me with the knife...something inside me just snapped and I was that scared little kid again. It all came back." He looked at Jack, managing a weak smile. "For a moment when I saw you...I didn't know where I was. When I was."
Jack's lips curved. "Guess that explains your reaction."
Daniel raised an eyebrow.
"You asked me what I was doing there," Jack explained. He shook his head, his lips curved in a rueful smile. "I wondered where the hell else you thought I'd be. After all, you know the drill by now."
"No one gets left behind." Daniel blinked, a comfortable lethargy washing away the last of the shakes.
"You bet your ass." Jack's finger prodded his chest. "Don't forget this, Daniel. When I burst into that clearing, you weren't lying there passively, waiting to be filleted. That rock might not have been much of a match for a knife, but you were damn well going to go down fighting."
"Not a victim?"
Suddenly he felt as if he could sleep for a week, and without the aid of Janet's pills. Daniel closed his eyes. "Wish I'd had you back then, Jack." He snickered. "The bastard wouldn't have known what hit him."
The tumbler was pried gently from his fingers, his glasses removed, and then a drift of soft warmth covered him from chest to toes. "Sweet dreams, Daniel."
Perhaps now they could be. But if not, Jack was here. Secure in that knowledge, Daniel let himself go.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"All right, SG-1. You have a go." Hammond stood and smiled at Daniel. "It's good to have you back, Dr. Jackson."
Daniel dipped his head. "Thank you, sir."
Out in the hallway, Sam linked her arm with his. "We missed you, Daniel. 'Gating's just not the same without you." She cast a mischievous look over her shoulder. "I think the Colonel's tired of terrorizing your replacements."
Teal'c inclined his head. "Indeed."
"Now wait just a cotton pickin' minute. It's not my fault they needed constant supervision."
"Jack, do you have any idea how many of my staff refuse to work with you? I've spent the last two weeks soothing ruffled feathers." Daniel shook his head. "These are all competent individuals, experts in their fields. There shouldn't be a problem--"
"I believe the problem lies in the simple fact that they are not you, Daniel Jackson. Is that not so, O'Neill?"
Jack made a face. "Hey, I'm just as glad as the rest of you that Daniel's back. That doesn't mean we have to get all mushy, does it? Now how about lunch in the commissary? I'm treating."
"It is my understanding that the food in the commissary is served without charge to all military personnel, O'Neill. Am I in error?"
Sam chuffed. "Let's go, Teal'c."
"You kids go ahead. Daniel and I will be along in a minute."
Daniel watched them go. "Jack?"
"Come to my office for a minute, Daniel. I've got something to show you."
Daniel followed, puzzled by the subtle tension in Jack's brisk stride. When they reached his office he motioned for Daniel to take a seat and shut the door.
"Jack? Is something wrong?"
Jack leaned against the front of his desk, arms braced at his sides. "Why would you ask that?"
Daniel shrugged. "You just seem...I don't know...worried about something."
"Me? Mister Happy-Go-Lucky? Worried?"
"The white knuckles are a dead giveaway."
Jack rubbed the back of his head. "I've done something, Daniel. And I guess I'm hoping you'll want to thank me, not deck me."
Unease crept up Daniel's spine. "What have you done?"
After a moment's hesitation, Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He handed it to Daniel. "I found her."
"You found... Oh!" Daniel stared at the scrap, his heart pounding.
"Lisa McKenzie. Divorced from Kurt Butler in 1978." Daniel involuntarily flinched at the sound of the name, but if Jack saw it, he didn't react. "Married to Brian McKenzie for the past twenty years. Two children--a daughter, Caroline, and a son, David." Jack's smile was grim. "Guess it was the bastard's fault they couldn't have kids."
Daniel tore his eyes from the paper to search Jack's face. "She's...she's okay? She's happy?"
"Yeah. I think she is. I spoke to her on the phone. She wanted to hear all about you. Said she'd never stopped thinking of you, Danny. Praying you were all right."
Tears blurred Daniel's vision and he quickly ducked his head. "I was sure she would have forgotten me."
"Apparently not." Jack tapped the piece of paper. "Her phone number is there, as well as her address. She'd love to hear from you. But she'll understand if you'd rather not."
Daniel swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. "Thank you, Jack."
"Really?" Jack's voice sounded weak with relief. "I wasn't sure."
Daniel swiped at his eyes with his sleeve. "Really."
"Sweet." Jack sobered. "You gonna call her?"
"Maybe." Daniel smiled and stood up. "Maybe not. But you know what? Whether I do or don't will be *my* choice, Jack. No one else's."
Jack caught him by the scruff of the neck and squeezed. "Damn straight." He cocked a thumb at the door. "Now, how about choosing some lunch?"
Daniel slipped the paper into his pocket. "Sounds like a plan."