SYNOPSIS: Janet says Daniel is ready for duty. Jack sees things a little differently.
NOTES: My first dip in the Stargate pool.
When he first heard the sounds, he was thinking about pizza.
Pepperoni, maybe, or sausage with mushrooms and onions. Anything but green peppers or, God forbid, those green olives Sara loved. Jack shuddered; he hated olives.
He'd left Carter sitting by the fire, sipping coffee from a dented tin cup. Blue eyes bright and alert, she'd bid him goodnight with a grin and far more energy than any sane person ought to have at 2 a.m. Trudging toward the tent on stiff knees, his stomach had growled, and cravings for beer and pizza quickly followed.
Several feet from the tent he pulled up short. Soft, anguished cries drifted through the flap, cracked open for ventilation on a muggy night. Jack listened to the rustle of restless limbs and incoherent mumbling for a moment before slipping quietly inside.
Twin moons provided sufficient illumination for him to crawl to his bedroll without knocking anything over. He tugged off his boots and sat with elbows propped on his knees, his lips pressed together. Watching Daniel. Something he'd been doing a lot the past few days.
Nearly a week since Machello's superbugs had come close to destroying Daniel's sanity and Teal'c's life. Teal'c's symbiote had recovered quickly, leaving him no worse for wear. And once all the crap McKenzie had injected cleared Daniel's system, his brain chemistry had returned to normal levels. Physically fit and ready for duty, Fraiser pronounced--and who was Jack to argue? Their current objective, collecting mineral samples from an uninhabited planet, was a cakewalk by SG-1 standards. The perfect mission to ease everyone back into the water. So to speak.
But Jack had been watching Daniel with different eyes, and he wasn't so sure he liked what he saw. A little too thin, a little too pale. Shadows under his eyes that might or might not be remnants from his stay in Mental Health. All to be expected, Janet would say. Perfectly understandable.
What bothered Jack more was the way the archeologist worked in relative silence. No grumbling about wasting his time playing geologist when he had a stack of translations back at the SGC. No rambling tangents or lectures--mining practices in ancient Egypt or whatever the hell inane facts rattled around in that brain of his, spilling out at the slightest provocation. Daniel didn't *do* silent. Until now.
And then there was the incident with Teal'c. Crouched over his pack, digging out his journal, Daniel hadn't heard the Jaffa approach from behind. When Teal'c tapped his shoulder, Daniel had flinched and stumbled backward, hands raised. Jack tried telling himself that the archeologist was just startled. That he'd imagined the flash of real fear in Daniel's eyes.
All day long he'd ignored the nagging little voice in his head that insisted all was not well in Daniel-land. Seeing his friend now, Jack realized that for once in his life he'd known better than Dr. Janet Fraiser. Unfortunately, he was too busy worrying to feel smug.
Stretched on top of his sleeping bag, dead to the world, Daniel twitched and moaned, his long-fingered hands curling and flexing. Sweat dampened his hair and beaded his upper lip; his eyes darted behind closed lids. Jack didn't need to decipher the soft, jumbled words; Daniel's pain and distress were written in every line of his body.
Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair, unwilling to watch but unable to look away. Obviously a nightmare, and a bad one. What was it you were supposed to do--wake the sleeper or let them be? He grimaced, undecided and irritated with his indecision.
He'd almost convinced himself to let the dream run its course when Daniel's garbled words became clear.
"No...get it out...can't...don't leave me...JACK!"
Daniel bolted upright, eyes wide and unseeing. He struggled to stand, legs tangling in the bedroll as he crawled toward the tent flap. Alarmed, Jack scrambled close enough to grab him around the shoulders.
A big mistake.
Daniel went ballistic, arms thrashing, legs kicking. "Let go of me! I don't need that. Leave me alone!" His fist caught Jack high on the cheekbone, a grazing blow that nevertheless knocked him onto his ass.
"For cryin' out loud--DANIEL!" Jack evaded another punch and grabbed him in a headlock, gritting his teeth when Daniel clawed at his arm. "Wake up. Daniel, WAKE UP!"
Daniel jerked as if zatted, then went limp. "Jack?"
The confused whisper sounded as if it belonged to a lost little boy, not his argumentative archeologist. When Jack released his hold, Daniel scooted backward, arms wrapped tightly around his chest. Despite the stifling warmth inside the tent, he shivered, panting for air. "Wh...what happened?"
Jack leaned back, pressing his fingers to his throbbing cheek. "What happened is that you tried a few of those new self-defense moves on the wrong guy." At Daniel's blank look, he added, "Me. You were having a nightmare."
"Oh." Daniel ducked his head and drew his knees up. "Sorry."
"Actually, you were pretty good. No match for me, of course..."
Not a hint of a smile for his weak attempt at humor. Daniel nodded, then began fussing with his sleeping bag.
A shadow darkened the tent flap. "Sir? Is everything all right?" Sam's quiet question held a sharp edge
"We're fine, Carter. Everything's peachy."
Daniel waited for the crunch of retreating footfalls before speaking. "Um...like I said, I'm sorry about...that." He gestured vaguely at Jack's face, eyes sliding away to the ground. "I know you must be pretty tired, and I've got to relieve Sam in a while so..."
So that was how he intended to play it. Jack watched, poker-faced, as Daniel made a show of smoothing the bedroll, then stretched out with an exaggerated yawn and closed his eyes. "'Night, Jack."
Jack didn't move. He continued to watch, waiting. Sure enough, Daniel cracked open one eye.
"Why are you staring at me?"
"No reason. Just thinking."
The eye shut. Jack waited. This time a scowl accompanied the slice of blue. "Jack?"
"What exactly are you thinking about?"
"Fraiser?" Daniel wrinkled his nose.
"Wondering how you conned her into releasing you for duty. Did you lie, or just neglect to mention a few things?"
Daniel sat up, brow furrowed and lips pulled tight. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
He tamped down his own irritation, keeping his tone gentle and patient. "Your nightmare. You were dreaming about Machello's little doohickeys."
Daniel's face shuttered, all expression washed away. "I've had nightmares since I was a little kid, Jack. This is just one more for the collection. Certainly nothing to impact my medical status."
Jack ignored the ice-coated words. "You had a flashback, Daniel. You tried running out of here like a hundred Jaffa were on your tail. When I restrained you, it triggered a full-blown panic attack. Now you tell me--does that sound like someone fit to go off-world?"
"It's a routine mission--no sign of intelligent life, nothing but trees and some possibly useful mineral deposits. We're not in any danger here."
"Which is the only reason I'm not hauling your ass back through the 'gate right now."
Daniel slumped, his shoulders curling as the anger drained from his body. He pressed his forehead to his knees.
Jack massaged the stiff muscles at the back of his neck. The fact that he'd won this argument so easily testified more than words to Daniel's state of mind.
"You know, Granny O'Neill always said telling someone about your nightmare makes it go away."
Daniel didn't move, didn't acknowledge his piss-poor attempt at comfort. Jack blew out a long breath, grimacing. Feelings. He tried to forget he had them--why couldn't everyone take a page from his book?
"Look, I know how you must've felt. I had some of those things in me too, remember? It's no picnic to realize you're gradually losing it. Hell, Fraiser started doing a strip tease in the lab--something that I personally won't let her forget for years to come."
Not even a chuckle.
"Daniel. Talk to me."
He was ready to throw in the towel, cash in his chips, acknowledge that the fat lady was, indeed, singing, when Daniel muttered something into his chest.
Daniel whipped his head up, eyes blazing. "I said 'You left me,' you son of a bitch!"
"Daniel, I couldn't--"
"Couldn't what, Jack? Couldn't bear to be in the same room with a guy who'd graduated from 'a little flaky' to 'nuts'? Couldn't spare the time to figure out what really might be wrong instead of throwing me to McKenzie and his wolves like a piece of fresh meat?"
Jack lost his tenuous hold on his patience. "Now wait just a minute! That's not--"
Oblivious now, Daniel plowed onward. "'I know how you must have felt?' You bastard! By the time those things crawled into you, we had a handle on what was happening, knew what to expect. I had no fucking clue, Jack. I was seeing things, hearing things out of my worst nightmares, and no one would believe me. My sanity was slipping through my fingers, and you all stood by while McKenzie pumped me full of drugs and locked me away."
His voice broke and he looked away, blinking hard. "I was scared, Jack. I needed you. You always say no one gets left behind. What happened?"
Jack closed his eyes, sucker-punched. He licked dry lips. "Truth is, I left because I couldn't stand seeing you that way. Being reminded how badly I'd failed you. You're right, no one gets left behind. I'd've risked my life, done everything in my power to bring you back, you gotta know that. But I couldn't find you, Danny. I didn't even begin to know where to look."
One corner of Daniel's mouth turned up, but his eyes were sad. "I was right in front of you. You just wouldn't see me."
Silence stretched between them, pulled out like taffy. Jack remembered how Daniel had folded against the wall in that stark, white room.
*"I'm sorry...For being such a headcase."*
Damn it, who was the lost one? His best friend had been crumbling to pieces, terrified and yet still trying so hard not to lose Jack's respect. He'd told himself it was best he leave, that he was only upsetting Daniel. At the time, he'd believed it. Now...
"I'm not Nick." He growled the words through clenched teeth, hating the defensiveness.
To his surprise, Daniel smiled. "I know."
Daniel sighed and shrugged. "You came back. Even with Teal'c in the infirmary, dying, you came. If you hadn't, I'd still be trapped in that place. And Teal'c would be dead."
Jack shook his head, bemused by the generosity. More, he thought, than he deserved. "You saved Teal'c, Daniel. You and Carter. I didn't do a damn thing."
"You believed me, when no one else would." Daniel arched an eyebrow. "Took you long enough, but you got there. Eventually."
Silence again, more comfortable this time. Jack rubbed a hand along his jaw, stubble prickling his fingertips. It had to be said.
"Daniel, about the flashback--"
"Dream, Jack. It was a dream. After everything that happened, I think I'm entitled--"
"It was more than a dream."
"Well when you're dreaming, you've got a helluva right hook!"
They glared at each other. Then Daniel's gaze drifted to Jack's cheek and he tucked his chin to his chest, wincing. "Sorry."
"Forget it. Consider it payment past due. But if anyone asks, I'm saying I walked into a door." He waited a beat. "Daniel, I'm your team leader as well as your friend. And I'm telling you, you've got to talk to someone about this."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Telling? Or ordering?"
Oh, for cryin'... "Take your pick. Either way, you're not going on another mission until I'm certain you've put this behind you."
"Put it be-- Fine. Who do you suggest I have this heart to heart chat with, Jack? McKenzie? I know! We can have a little encounter group--me, McKenzie, and his friends with the really big needles. That way if I become upset, or agitated--"
"All right, all right! I get your point."
He so didn't need this. It was the middle of the damn night and time for aging Colonels to be tucked snugly into bed--or whatever passed for one off-world. Sometimes dealing with Daniel felt like running uphill. Against a stiff breeze. Carrying a ninety-pound pack.
And it was worth every ounce of effort. Because he'd never had a friend like Daniel Jackson. Somehow a geeky archeologist with hayfever had taken out an Air Force colonel. With Special Ops training, no less. Daniel had wormed his way into his life, gained admittance to parts of Jack O'Neill that *no one* had breached. Not even Sara.
And, damn it, if that meant he had to talk feelings, well, he'd suck it up and talk.
"It doesn't matter who. You can talk to Carter or Teal'c." He pulled in a fortifying breath. "Hell, you can talk to *me*, Daniel. Anytime. I'm right here."
Daniel blinked. The lack of glasses made him look especially vulnerable. Or maybe it was Jack's offer. "Yeah?"
Jack palmed the nape of Daniel's neck; gave it a gentle squeeze. "Yeah. Not going anywhere."
Daniel pinned him with a laser stare. "Is that a promise?"
Jack smiled. "You betcha."
Ah, what the hell--Jack O'Neill could do feelings with the best of them.