CATEGORY: Drama/Angst, Friendship, H/C
DATE: February 4, 2004
SERIES: Sequel to Regression
ARCHIVE: Alphagate, Comfort Zone, Stargatefan, Gengate
SYNOPSIS: Daniel takes another crucial step toward healing past hurts.
NOTES: Thanks to everyone for their kind feedback on Regression and the requests for this follow-up. This one's unbeta'd—any mistakes are all mine.
WARNINGS: Some mention of child abuse.
Jack pulled smoothly to the curb and turned off the engine. Daniel stared out the passenger window, ignoring the weight of his friend's expectant gaze. The house was pale blue with white shutters, a modest-sized ranch with brightly colored tulips peeping between the bushes that lined the porch. Next door a thirty-something man was washing a minivan, and across the street children whooped and hollered as they ran through a sprinkler.
"Daniel? This would be when you get out of the car and walk up to the door. Ringing the bell is optional but highly recommended."
"Gee, thanks, Jack. Remind me why I let you come along?" Daniel realized he'd curled both arms around his middle and quickly dropped them to his sides.
"We both know why I'm here. But I think one of us has forgotten why you are."
Daniel tore his gaze from the window and looked at Jack. His friend had removed the keys from the ignition and was spinning the ring around his index finger. "Maybe I have."
Jack caught the keys in his palm and leaned forward. "Daniel. You've been working up to this meeting for the past six months. I had to do some pretty fancy talking to finagle four days leave out of the General, and we traveled 1800 miles to get here. So I want to make something crystal clear." He blew out a long breath and sat back. "All you have to do is say the word, and we're outta here."
Daniel blinked. "What?"
"You heard me. Daniel, you don't have to go through with this. This is your life, remember? You decide what's best for *you*. You don't owe her anything."
"How can you even ask that question?"
"She saved my life, Jack."
"If she'd been doing her job you'd never have needed saving!" Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair and gentled his voice. "Why the second thoughts?"
"I...I don't really know, I..." Daniel licked his lips, his mouth suddenly bone dry. "I guess I'm afraid
"Of...I don't know. That when I walk through that door 30 years will melt away and I'll...I'll be that scared, helpless little kid again. That everything I've worked so hard to put behind me is still here, lurking right beneath the surface, just waiting to pop out like some kind of demented jack-in-the-box. And that despite the nice house and the husband and the kids...I'll see the same despair in her eyes." He ducked his head, shamed by his admission.
Jack cleared his throat. "When I was in Iraq, one of my buddies was in the cell next to mine. We...were shown the same hospitality. By some miracle, we both made it out alive. Once we got back home and our lives started passing for normal, we lost touch. I didn't hear from him for more than two years. And then, out of the blue, he called. He thought we could get together for a few beers. Catch up. I apologized and turned him down--said I was busy."
Daniel looked up when Jack fell silent. His friend was staring into space, his lips pressed tightly together. After a moment, Jack cleared his throat again and resumed speaking.
"He kept calling, and I kept making excuses. Charlie was sick. Sara already had plans to go out and I needed to babysit. It had been a long day and I had an early meeting." Jack shook his head, a rueful smile curving his lips. "The truth is, every time I thought about seeing him I'd break into a cold sweat. I hadn't managed to forget that living hell, but the memories had faded and blurred. I was afraid seeing him would bring them back into focus. So I gave him the brush off. And after a while he took the hint and stopped calling."
Daniel waited. When Jack didn't continue, he prompted, "Well?"
"Where's the rest of the story?"
"That's it. There isn't any more."
"That's *it*? That can't be it!" Daniel turned, laying his arm along the seatback.
Jack lifted one shoulder. "It is."
"Well, what's the point?" When Jack just looked at him, he huffed. "I thought you were going to tell me you finally overcame your fear and said yes. That getting together helped you put the past to rest and move on. Or maybe that not getting together saved you from opening old wounds, and helped you put the past to rest and move on. I mean, what was the *point*?" Daniel waved his arms as he spoke, beyond irritated.
Jack raised an eyebrow. "You've been watching the Lifetime channel again, haven't you?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Jack sighed. "Look, Daniel. I didn't tell you that story to convince you to see Lisa McKenzie. Or not to see her. I just wanted you to know that I've been where you are. That there is no right or wrong decision, only one you make to the best of your ability. And that whatever you *do* decide, you're going to come out okay."
Daniel slumped back in his seat. "Since when did you become so...philosophical?"
"What can I say? I'm deep."
Daniel snorted. "It's getting deep, that's for sure." He sobered. "Do you think you made the right decision?"
Jack chewed his lip. "I think it was right for me, at the time. But I'll tell you something, Daniel. I've always wondered what happened to the guy. I probably always will."
Daniel turned his face back toward the window. "I think I just remembered why I'm here."
"Good. Now get outta the car. We're a stone's throw from the Adirondack's and it's a beautiful day for a drive." He heard a smile in Jack's voice, hidden beneath the sarcasm.
Daniel's stomach lurched. "How far are you going? I mean, what if, you know, things don't go so well? How will I get out of here, what--"
"Daniel. Relax. I promise to stay within fifteen minutes of here. You got your cell phone?"
Daniel patted his jacket pocket and nodded.
"Good. Mine is on and charged. If things get wonky, just walk out. Give me a buzz and I'll pick you up at that little park, the one a couple blocks down the street." Jack hooked his thumb over his shoulder. "Okay?"
Daniel sucked in a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah."
"I'm sure." And suddenly, as he said the words, he was.
Daniel got out of the car. As he shut the door, Jack turned the key in the ignition and gave him a thumbs up. He strode up the sidewalk without looking back, but the engine continued to idle steadily. Despite his nervousness, Daniel smiled. Leave it to Jack to watch his six, even here. His friend wouldn't leave until certain Daniel was all right.
Daniel fixed his gaze on the freshly painted white door, only vaguely noticing the well-manicured lawn and neatly trimmed bushes. He stepped onto the porch and reached for the bell, startled when the door was flung open and he found himself staring into a pair of familiar brown eyes.
Lisa McKenzie smiled, her lips quivering. "Daniel."
Unable to speak past the lump in his throat, he nodded.
Her arms twitched, as if eager to hug him, but dropped quickly to her sides. "I saw you sitting out front. I was afraid you'd changed your mind."
He swallowed, his dry throat clicking. "I, uh, almost did."
She stepped back and he caught a glimpse of hardwood floors and colorful braided rugs. "Please, Danny. Come in."
He stiffened a little, jarred by the once-familiar sound of the nickname spoken in her soft, alto voice. After a brief hesitation, he stepped across the threshold. Looking over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of Jack pulling away just before the door shut.
"Was that your friend? The one I spoke to on the phone?"
He refocused his attention on Lisa. "Yes, that was Jack. He flew out with me."
"Something like that."
"He sounds like a good friend."
They stood in awkward silence, just staring at each other. Lisa's once shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair was now lightly streaked with gray and cut in a short style similar to Sam's. Her linen slacks and silk blouse were simple, yet elegant; her only jewelry a diamond wedding band and a pair of gold earrings. She gestured toward the adjoining room. "Where are my manners? Come and sit down, Danny. Can I get you anything to drink?"
"I go by Daniel now." The correction came out harsher than he'd intended. When Lisa's face crumbled, he quickly added, "But I'd love a cup of coffee."
"Of course! Make yourself at home. I'll be right back."
Daniel stepped into a large living room. He walked past an overstuffed sofa and two wing-backed chairs, pausing next to a baby grand piano. Letting his fingers trail lightly over the smooth, highly polished wood, he smiled. Sheet music lay open on the rack--Moonlight Sonata and Claire de Lune. Reminding him that not all the memories were bad.
With one last touch to an ivory key, Daniel moved on to the large fireplace. Photos lined the carved oak mantle, and he leaned in closer, fascinated. A little boy wearing a cowboy hat and waving a toy gun. A little girl in a pink tutu posing with arms arced above her head, smiling a gap-toothed grin. The same boy, now wearing a cap and gown with a diploma clutched in his hand. The girl, dressed in a lacy white gown and holding a bouquet of red roses, standing in front of a church with a solemn young man in a tux. And Lisa, laughing, enveloped in the arms of a man with silver hair and warm, brown eyes.
"My husband, Brian."
Daniel jumped, spinning around. Lisa stood by the couch, a mug in each hand. "I...I hope you don't mind, I--"
"Don't be silly. The cowboy cum college graduate is our son, David, and the ballerina turned bride our daughter, Caroline. She's expecting her first child in September."
"That's...that's wonderful." Daniel wrapped his arms around his sides and shuffled his feet.
A fleeting expression of sadness crossed Lisa's face, and then she smiled and held out a mug.
"I wasn't sure how you take it so I left it black. I've got sugar and cream in the kitchen, if--"
"Black is great. Really." He took the cup and sat on the couch, pleasantly surprised by the first taste. The coffee was rich and flavorful, obviously made from freshly ground beans.
Lisa chuckled, claiming one of the two chairs. "Like coffee, do you?"
Daniel took another sip. "Jack calls me a coffee slut." He nearly clapped a hand over his mouth, horrified. "Sorry, I shouldn't--"
Lisa burst into laughter, her eyes sparkling. "Now I *know* I like your friend." She studied his face. "What?"
Daniel ducked his head, clutching his mug tighter. "Nothing, it's just.... I realized I've never really seen you laugh before."
Her smile faded to a gentle curve of her lips. "There wasn't much to laugh about back then, was there?"
He peered at her, cautiously, from beneath his lashes. "No. Not much."
"Dan--Daniel. I need you to know that I'm sorry, so very sorry that--"
"Don't." He set down the mug, folding his arms when a shiver tingled down his spine. "You did the best you could."
"You're kind. But we both know that's not true. It was my job to protect you, Daniel. To make you feel safe. I'm afraid I failed, miserably."
"What...what happened to him?"
"I don't know." Her voice hardened. "I don't want to know."
"Not right away." She traced the rim of her cup with one long finger, her shoulders stiff. "He was very angry when they took you away from us." Her lips twisted. "Less drinking money. He blamed me, said I should never have taken you to the hospital. When I made the mistake of pointing out that he'd nearly killed you...well...you can imagine what happened."
She looked up at him. "After that, things were so much worse. Not the drinking or the beatings--that was pretty much status quo. It was the loneliness. I missed you terribly--baking cookies, playing the piano, watching that silly show with all the kids--"
"The Brady Bunch," Daniel said quietly.
"That's it." A smile flickered across her face and disappeared. "I'm not sure why I stayed. My...um...my father was an alcoholic. He wasn't a mean drunk, like Kurt, but I was...I was used to it. It was all I'd known, really, and I guess maybe I didn't believe I deserved any better."
"When did you change your mind?"
"The day I found out I was pregnant." She nodded at his stunned expression, her jaw clenched. "Caroline is Kurt's child."
"But...but you told me you and Kurt couldn't have children of your own."
"No, sweetheart. I told you Kurt and I hadn't been able to have children of our own. A difference too subtle for a nine-year-old to grasp. We'd tried for two years without success, but we'd never sought out help from a doctor."
"I still don't understand. If you'd been trying so hard to have children with Kurt, why leave? What changed your mind?"
"Don't you know?"
Daniel licked his lips. "Me?"
"I'd seen the kind of father Kurt would make. And there was no way I was going to allow him to hurt another child." Lisa smiled, her lips trembling and her eyes flooding with tears. "I'd failed you, Danny, but God forgave me. He gave me another chance."
"Did Kurt know about the child?"
"I hid the pregnancy for as long as I could. Finally, I packed my things while he was at work one day, and never went back."
"Where did you go?"
Lisa rolled the mug between her palms. "One time after Kurt...got angry with me, a nurse had given me a card with information about a local shelter for women...in situations like mine."
"Battered women," Daniel said quietly.
"They helped me find a job, and eventually a place to live." She grimaced. "Kurt was furious, of course. He threatened me, told me he'd never let me go. That he'd kill me before he'd let me divorce him."
//I'm going to skin you alive//
Daniel closed his eyes and wrapped his arms more tightly around his body. A feather-light touch on his cheek startled him and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Lisa was now seated beside him, her face twisted with grief.
"Don't. Please don't, Danny." When he stared at her in confusion, she gently tugged on his arms until he'd unfolded them. "You used to do that when Kurt would get angry. I can still see you standing there, hugging yourself. You looked so small and scared..."
Her anguish pulled him back from the dark place. Daniel mustered a weak smile. "It's okay. Lisa, it's okay now--I'm okay. He can't hurt either of us anymore."
Lisa swiped at her eyes and nodded. "I'm sorry. I really didn't want to dredge it all up again."
"Yes. Well, someone once told me you've got to give the bad stuff a good hard look before you put it away. Otherwise it just keeps coming back to haunt you."
Her lips twitched. "Let me guess. Jack?" When he nodded, she smiled. "Then he's smart as well as funny."
"So he tells me." Daniel turned a bit to face her. "You obviously got the divorce. How did you change Kurt's mind?"
Her smile turned grim. "Good, old-fashioned blackmail. I told him if he gave me any trouble, I'd go to the authorities and tell them exactly how you wound up in the hospital. And the reason I'd racked up so many emergency room visits of my own. Once he realized I was serious, he signed not only the divorce papers but the ones waiving his parental rights to our child."
"What happened to him?"
"I don't know. I've never cared to find out, and neither has Caroline. I met Brian when she was only a year old. He's her father in every way but biologically."
Daniel studied her face--the iron determination in her eyes and the defiant tilt to her chin. "You did an incredibly brave thing. For you and for Caroline."
"I did what had to be done. What I should have done from the beginning."
Daniel looked down at his hands, his throat tight. "I'm glad. You deserve to be happy."
"So do you." She ducked her head, forcing him to see her. "You are, aren't you, Danny? I always wondered...hoped you'd found a family of your own."
Daniel thought about beer, pizza, and hockey with Jack. Trading theories and munching chocolate walnut cookies with Sam. Working out and meditating with Teal'c. About Janet and Cassie trying to update his wardrobe. General Hammond's paternal concern. Ferretti's boisterous humor.
"I did. It might not fit the common definition of the word, but it's where I belong."
"I'm glad." Lisa wiped her eyes again and stood. "You know, I have a batch of those double chocolate chip cookies you used to love. How about we move to the kitchen for some more coffee and we'll satisfy that sweet tooth of yours." She cocked an eyebrow. "You *do* still have a sweet tooth, don't you?"
Daniel grinned and got to his feet. "Some things never change."
Jack parked in front of the house, a flutter of unease in his gut. Daniel's call had been short and to the point—he'd finished his visit and was ready to go. More than three hours had passed since Daniel had disappeared inside the McKenzie home. Jack found that, and the fact Daniel hadn't escaped to the park, encouraging. But his friend's voice had been difficult to read, and Jack had detected a definite note of weariness underlying the words. He really hoped this reunion had been healing. Daniel already had more than his share of regrets.
The front door opened, and Daniel and a blonde woman Jack assumed was Lisa McKenzie stepped onto the porch. Lisa was talking to Daniel--his friend's eyes were locked with hers and every so often he'd give a little bob of his head. As she finished, she reached over and lay her palm against his cheek. Even from a distance, Jack could see Daniel's eyes flood with tears, and then they were embracing.
When they finally broke apart, Daniel pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and walked to the car. He climbed in and buckled up without speaking, turning and offering Lisa a parting wave as Jack pulled away.
They drove in silence--Daniel gazing out the window at the passing scenery and Jack stealing covert glances at the back of his head. When several minutes passed and Daniel still showed no signs of speaking, Jack couldn't stand the suspense any longer.
Daniel turned away from the window. "Hey."
"Are you all right?"
"I'm good, Jack."
"Good as in 'thank God that's over' or good as in 'I'm sure glad Jack stuck his nose in where it didn't belong'?"
Jack prided himself on his ability to put that little line of exasperation between Daniel's eyes. "Jack."
"I'm just looking for clarification here. I mean, you're not acting like your usually verbose self."
That got him a raised eyebrow. "*Verbose*, Jack?"
"Hey, I can do vocabulary. I'm not just a pretty face, ya know."
Daniel smirked. "Believe me--I know."
It took Jack a moment to process the subtle insult. Before he could retaliate, the smirk faded from Daniel's face and he sighed.
"You're welcome. For what?"
"For being a good friend." Daniel shrugged and his eyes slid away from Jack's. "For being family."
Daniel had a way of flying under his radar, digging up feelings and emotions Jack had thought dead and buried. He tipped his head in silent acknowledgement, keeping his gaze fixed on the road.
"We're different people now." Daniel's voice was pensive. "She's everything she could have been, but wasn't. And I think--I hope--maybe I am, too."
"Are you going to stay in touch?"
Daniel smiled. "She didn't leave me a choice. She said I'm back in her life now, and I'd damn well better stay put." He bit his lip, shoulders stiffening. "She asked me to come back for dinner tomorrow night. And…she invited you, too."
Jack grimaced. Daniel might have forgiven Lisa for failing him, but he wasn't exactly there yet. "I dunno, Daniel. I mean, I think it's great if you want to go, but I--"
"She wants me to meet her family, Jack. And I'd...I'd really like her to meet part of mine."
And just how could he possibly say no to that?
"She a good cook?"
All the tension flowed out of Daniel, and he grinned. "The best. Her double chocolate chip cookies are to die for."
"Cool." Jack pulled into the space in front of their hotel room and shut off the engine. He stopped Daniel from opening his door with a hand on his arm. "Daniel?"
"I was just wondering.… What did she say to you? You know, right before you got in the car?"
"Oh, that. I...she...um..."
"It's okay." Jack said quickly, dismayed by the strong emotion glistening in Daniel's eyes. "You don't have to tell me."
"No. No, it's all right. She, um..." Daniel cleared his throat. "She said she was glad we'd found each other again, and that I...um...that I'd always be the child of her heart."
Maybe he could forgive Lisa McKenzie after all.
Jack nodded, and then slapped Daniel on the back and opened his own door. "Well, I don't know about you, Dannyboy, but right now I need to find some dinner. Room service, anyone?"
Daniel shook his head, grinning. "Lead the way. I've got your six."