Rating: PG-13 for language
Category: Gen, H/C
Season/Spoilers: Lifeboat post-ep
Date: October 18, 2003
Archive: Alpha Gate, Stargatefan, Comfort Zone
Synopsis: Salvage -- Something saved from destruction and put to further use.
Notes: Thanks to DebA for her medical know-how, and to Jo, Babs, Devra, and Darcy for the "clippy" review. Most of all thanks for welcoming a stranger in a strange land. <G> This one's for you.
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
Security clearance be damned. One of these days she was calling Guinness.
Janet listened to the heart monitor's soft, rhythmic beeps, mesmerized by the EEG's gentle oscillation and Daniel's pale, peaceful face. He'd been asleep more than ten hours, not even twitching when her nurses monitored his blood pressure, pulse, and respiration. She suspected his exhaustion stemmed as much from an overtaxed mind as the painkiller she'd administered for his headache.
How many death or near-death experiences could one man survive? She'd heard the Colonel tell Sam that Daniel should have "Timex" tattooed on his forehead--"takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'." His low, tight voice and stiff posture told more eloquently than words how deeply Daniel's latest brush with disaster had affected him.
Daniel's return was a precious gift. Losing him again was unthinkable.
After checking each of the monitors one last time, Janet drew the curtain and headed for her office. And ran into an impenetrable wall of hovering teammates.
Inwardly touched by their devotion, she folded her arms and gave them her best dictatorial glare. "I thought I told you three to get some food and some sleep--in that order."
O'Neill held up both hands. "Hey, we did the commissary tour--I had the meatloaf, Carter got her Jell-O fix, and Teal'c... What was that you were eating, T?"
"A delicacy Daniel Jackson calls 'PBJ.' It was most satisfactory."
"There, ya see? Tastes good and good for you. Who could ask for more? Now, if you don't mind, we're just going to take a quick peek, see if Daniel--"
"Is sleeping. Like you should be."
The Colonel's brows knitted together. "As his commanding officer, I'm--"
"Subject to MY authority in matters pertaining to Daniel's health, sir. Now I want the three of you go home and get a good night's sleep."
"That's an order, Colonel."
Janet thought she heard him mutter something about "pint-sized powermonger" before Sam quickly drowned him out.
"We understand, Janet. We'll come back in the morning. Won't we, sir?"
She and Teal'c left without further argument, talking quietly as they headed down the corridor. The Colonel took exactly five steps before pivoting on his heel. Janet bit back a rebuke when she read the worry etched in the lines around his eyes and mouth.
O'Neill shoved his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels. "Level with me, Doc. Is Daniel really going to be all right?"
She blew out a breath, too tired to temper her exasperation. "Colonel, I *told*, you--"
"I know, I know. I just...I need to hear it again."
The wisp of uncertainty in his tone, so contrary to his typical air of cocky self-assurance, melted her resolve. Janet smiled.
"He's fine. The EEG is textbook, and he was perfectly lucid--right up until he fell asleep." She sighed and extended her arm towards the bed. "Three minutes. And don't wake him."
He held up two fingers. "On my honor as a Boy Scout."
Janet chuckled. "Colonel, I can picture you as many things, but a Boy Scout is not one of them." Still shaking her head, she continued on toward her office.
Jack ducked around the curtain and stopped, staring at his friend. Daniel's chest rose and fell with slow, even breaths, but a tiny line between his brows gave the impression he was still thinking, even in sleep. Jack prowled around the bed, examining equipment and readouts that meant nothing to him, yet felt oddly reassuring. After untangling a snagged I.V. line and fiddling with the blood pressure cuff, he smoothed the rumpled blanket and tucked it more securely around Daniel's body.
Daniel sucked in a sharp breath and the little line deepened to a frown. He shifted his legs beneath the covers and turned his head in Jack's direction. Jack froze like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. If Fraiser got the idea he'd wakened Daniel, his next physical might be his last.
Daniel licked his lips, eyelids fluttering open. "Jack?"
Darting a useless glance over his shoulder, Jack patted his friend's shoulder. "Shhh. Right here, Daniel. Go back to sleep."
In typical fashion, Daniel ignored his order. "Timizzit?"
"Time for all good little archeologists to be in bed with visions of mummies dancing in their heads."
Daniel wrinkled his nose. "Have you ever seen a mummy, Jack? Not exactly the stuff of dreams."
"The point is that you should be sleeping." Jack tried to peer around the curtain. Had he heard footsteps?
Daniel squinted at him. "If you wanted me to sleep, why did you wake me up?"
"Shhh!" Jack drew his finger across his throat. "I did NOT wake you up."
Daniel raised his eyebrows, the corners of his mouth turned up. "Scared of Janet, huh?"
"All sane men are afraid of Fraiser, Daniel. You don't piss off the mechanic that handles the equipment, if you get my drift."
Daniel chuckled, then winced, eyes squeezing shut.
"You all right?"
He nodded, rubbing the flesh above his eyes. "Yeah. I just have a...a..." He trailed off, frowning and tapped his head. "It still hurts."
"Fraiser says the headache is temporary. You just need a little more time."
Jack jumped, whirling to face the pint-sized powermonger herself. Who happened to be shooting daggers at him with her eyes, hands braced on hips and toe tapping against the linoleum.
Determined to go on the offensive, Jack shook his finger. "Ah, ah! I did NOT wake him."
She rolled her eyes and opened her mouth, but Daniel's soft voice cut off the reprimand before she could utter it.
"He's right, Janet. I woke up because I was thirsty. Could I have a drink of water?"
Janet shifted her attention to Daniel, her gaze softening with unmistakable affection. "Of course you can."
She walked over to the sink and filled a paper cup with water. Jack mouthed "thank you," quickly assuming a neutral expression when Janet returned.
"As you can see, sir, Daniel is doing just fine," she said, handing Daniel the cup. "Now would you please get some sleep before you keel over? The last thing I need in my infirmary is another member of SG-1."
"On my way." Jack tipped a mock salute and ambled toward the door.
"Yo?" He turned around, amused that Fraiser now focused her death glare on Daniel.
Who promptly used the pleading, puppy dog look that had undermined Jack's resolve on more than one occasion. "There's something I have to tell Jack, Janet. Please. It will only take a minute, and then I promise I'll send him home."
"One minute." She looked at Daniel, then Jack, skepticism dripping from the words.
Jack pressed his hand over his heart. "Sixty seconds and I am so outta here."
Janet sighed. "I give up. One of you is bad enough; now you're double-teaming me. Just keep it brief. I've got to drop off some paperwork for the General. When I come back..."
"Thanks, Janet." Daniel caught her sleeve as she turned to go. "For everything. Even though I did my best to shield myself from those people, some of their thoughts, their consciousness seeped through. Enough to sense not all of them were...agreeable. I think maybe this was as difficult for you as it was for me."
"Oh, I don't know. Keenan was pretty cute." She smiled. "I'm just glad you're back, Daniel. We all are."
When she left, Jack raised both eyebrows. "So what was important enough to brave Fraiser's wrath?"
Daniel cleared his throat and gave him a lopsided smile. "Nothing much, just... Jack, I...um...my memories of the last forty-eight hours are pretty scrambled but... Well, the few times I did surface, I sensed you were there. Especially toward the end. I just wanted to say... That is, I needed you to know--"
"It's okay. I know."
"Oh." Daniel plucked at the sheet, stifling a yawn.
Jack patted a blanket-covered foot. "Get some sleep, Danny. I'll see you in the morning."
He opened his mouth to answer; saw Daniel had already begun sliding toward sleep. Exhaustion, no longer short-circuited by worry, hit him like a punch to the gut. Not bothering to smother his own jaw-cracking yawn, Jack left his archeologist to sweet, mummy-less dreams and headed for home.
"I'm serious, Daniel. I want you taking it easy for the next few days. No skipping meals and a minimum of eight hours sleep per night. If I find you holed up in your office, obsessing over some translation..."
Daniel pulled the tee shirt over his head and jammed his arms through the sleeves. "I do NOT obsess!" He glared at the two people standing beside his bed.
Janet lifted one eyebrow, arms folded. Jack smirked and nodded.
"Danny, I've walked in on you when you're...focused. A tel'tac could land next to you and you wouldn't notice."
"That is such an exaggeration."
"Gentlemen." Janet silenced them both, holding up a prescription bottle. "Daniel, I know your head is still bothering you. You can take one of these every four to six hours, up to six in a twenty-four hour period. Understand?"
Daniel started to nod; frowned instead. "How do you know?"
"How do you know my head still hurts? I said I was fine."
Janet's lips curved and she shook her head. "Colonel?"
Jack shrugged. "Your face gets squinty."
"My face gets...squinty?"
"Like this." He scrunched up his eyes and nose.
Daniel turned to Janet. "Really?"
"Really. So do us both a favor--take the medicine, don't suffer in silence."
Daniel reached for his shoes. "Fine. Can I get out of here now?"
Janet looked at Jack. "You're driving him home?"
"It's what I live for."
"Then I'll see you back here in two days, Daniel. We'll run a final MRI and if everything still looks good I'll clear you for duty." She smiled. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have sick people to take care of."
Jack picked up an otoscope, flicked on the light and began using it to examine the back of his own hand. "So, Daniel. What'll you feel like doing when we get to your place?"
Daniel slid the sneaker on his foot and paused, brow furrowed. "Doing? I thought you'd drop me off and head back to the..." He stopped, disconcerted when he couldn't find the right word. In his head he clearly visualized a road disappearing into a towering hill of earth and rock, but his mouth couldn't articulate that picture.
"The mountain?" Jack shook his head. "Guess you didn't hear. Hammond gave the whole team 48 hours leave. You bought us all a vacation, Dannyboy."
Daniel snorted softly. "You're welcome."
He fumbled with the laces--around, over, under. Or was that over, under, around? Daniel wrapped and tugged with increasingly unsteady fingers, breath speeding up to rapid pants for air. He blinked, black spots dancing at the edges of his vision, a rushing sound in his ears.
Jack's face appeared, eyebrows knitted, mouth moving. One large hand cupped the back of his neck. The warmth and pressure grounded him and gradually the dance of Jack's lips and tongue resolved into words.
"...slow it down. That's it, deep breaths. Nice and slow."
A nurse hovered, pointing urgently toward him. Jack waved her off, voice switching to an authoritative bark. "I said we're fine here. Go get Fraiser. NOW."
"J...Jack?" Daniel shivered, staring down at his hands, still clutching the laces.
"Right here, Daniel." The gentle, soothing tone was back. Jack scrutinized his face as if looking for the answer to a particularly baffling puzzle. "You want to tell me what the hell that was about?"
"Jack, I c-can't...I duh...duh...don't remember." He choked out the confession in a thready whisper.
Jack gritted his teeth but kept his voice calm and even. "Don't remember *what*?"
Daniel licked his lips, his mouth desert dry. "My shoes. Jack, I...I don't remember how to t-tie my shoes."
The sharp tapping of heels on tile and Janet rushed in, breathless. She nudged Jack out of the way, pressing her fingers to Daniel's wrist. "Cindy said it was urgent. What's wrong?"
Daniel jerked his hand from her grasp. Wrapping his arms around his body, he looked at her with huge eyes. "I can't tie my shoes, Janet. Why don't I remember how to tie my shoes?"
"Calm down, Daniel." Taking his chin in her hand, she pulled a penlight from her pocket. Daniel winced as she flicked the light into first one eye, then the other. "Track my finger."
He complied, his head thumping in time with his racing heart.
Janet took his hands in hers. "Squeeze."
He tightened his fingers, looking over at Jack. His friend stopped pacing and offered what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile. Daniel swallowed hard and turned back to Janet.
'What's going on?"
"Bear with me, please. I want you to answer a few questions, all right?"
"What's your name?"
"Oh, for cryin'--"
"Colonel." Janet gave Jack a look that would have sent a lesser man running for cover. Jack stuffed his hands in his pockets and pressed his lips tightly together.
Their familiar bickering eased the knot in Daniel's chest. "Daniel Jackson."
"Where are we?"
"The SGC--Colorado Springs."
Janet smiled. "Good. What day is it?"
Daniel opened his mouth to answer, respiration speeding up when he couldn't find the word. It flitted through his brain, just out of reach. Today was the day after Tuesday, but he couldn't say *that*.
Ohgodohgod. Was this brain damage? He was a linguist--words were his job. Hell, words were his *life*. How could he--
"Daniel, stop!" Janet's sharp rebuke jerked him back from the edge. She patted his knee. "You were starting to hyperventilate."
She huffed, smiling. "Daniel, you don't have to apologize. I know how scary this must be. Will you try something for me?"
"Can you tell me in Spanish what day this is?"
"Miercoles." He blurted the word without thinking, surprising himself. "Janet, please. What's wrong with me?"
"Daniel, I have to be honest with you--I just don't know. I need to run some tests, consult with a neurologist."
Jack stepped closer. "Give him a break, Doc. You must be thinking something."
Janet hesitated, then sighed. "Daniel's motor functions appear unimpaired and I detected no weakness in his grip. It's possible that his symptoms are the result of stress and fatigue."
"But you don't think so," Daniel said quietly.
"No. I don't."
He closed his eyes, fear bubbling up and spilling out as anger. "You said I was fine, that everything looked good."
"You were exposed to a piece of alien technology--not once but twice. I'm operating in an arena for which I have no frame of reference. I'm doing the best I can."
Daniel's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry, Janet." He pressed the palm of one hand over his eye, wincing.
He nodded, reaching for the prescription bottle. "Can I have some water? I think I'm ready to take one of your...your..." Small, round, white. He grasped for the word and, coming up empty, latched onto a substitute. "...one of these."
Janet looked at him through narrowed eyes but got him the water. When he tried to take the cup, however, she held on. "Daniel, level with me. It just happened again, didn't it?"
He suppressed the urge to lie. "Yes."
"Describe it for me."
"I could see the word in my head, it was right on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't... Pill!" He waved the bottle. "I was trying to say I'm ready for a pill."
Pathetic, the wave of triumph that washed over him. Daniel swallowed the tablet with a few gulps of water, ignoring the way Janet and Jack traded glances.
"Okay, Daniel. I want you to lie back and rest for a few minutes while I make some phone calls. Then we're going to run a PET scan."
"PET scan. Positron Emission Tomography. It will show if any areas of the brain are working at abnormal levels, even ones too small to be picked up by the MRI."
He scooted back on the bed, chest tight and eyes burning. Damn shoelaces. He should be on his way home by now, soaking up sunshine, breathing fresh air, and listening to Jack bitch that he ought to be fishing.
Jack cleared his throat and tipped his head toward the door. "I...ah...guess I'll go get some work done, since you're stuck here. I'll check back in a while, see how you're doing."
"Sure. I'll be right here playing pincushion to Janet and her...her..." Young, pretty, white dresses and crepe-soled shoes. He knew the word; couldn't speak it. Daniel flushed, his throat closing up until he could hardly speak. "Damn it."
He breathed through his mouth, feeling lost and hopelessly bereft. Suddenly he was that ten-year-old kid again, adrift in a world that didn't make sense.
The grating scrape of something dragged across the tile penetrated his misery. Cracking open his eyes, he saw Jack place a chair beside the bed and sit. He leaned back, folding his arms.
"What are you doing?"
Daniel pursed his lips. "I can see you're sitting. What I mean is why are you still here? I thought you had things to do."
"That? Yeah, well, you know my philosophy of paperwork."
"Avoid it at all cost?"
Jack made a shooting motion with his thumb and forefinger. "Got it in one. So, it just occurred to me that I'd be crazy to pass up an opportunity like this. You're the perfect alibi, Dannyboy. Hammond will never fault me for putting a teammate before a few reports."
Daniel looked away, blinking. "Glad I can be of service."
"Me too. Now how about I try and scare up a deck of cards? We can play Gin."
"I told you before, Jack. I'm terrible at Gin."
"And I told you, Daniel. I'm fine with that. Are we on?"
Daniel smiled. "Yeahsureyoubetcha."
Jack sauntered into the briefing room and claimed his customary seat. Carter and Teal'c broke off their conversation, scrutinizing his face for any scrap of information. Jack gritted his teeth--he was hardly a font of knowledge. Though she'd bombarded Daniel with tests all morning and afternoon, Fraiser had remained annoyingly tight-lipped about the results, insisting Jack wait for her report just like everyone else. When he had jabbed a finger at the stripes decorating his shoulder, she'd sweetly asked if he thought he was entitled to receive information before the General. Wisely, if sullenly, he'd retreated.
And yes, damn it, he did feel he deserved special consideration. Daniel was his best friend, for cryin' out loud--he'd named Jack his next of kin. He'd promised Daniel they'd get through whatever this was together, but he needed intel to make that happen.
"O'Neill. What is Daniel Jackson's condition?"
Jack sighed. "Sleeping. Doc wore him out with all her poking and prodding. By the time she'd finished, he could barely keep his eyes open."
"Sir, has Janet given you any indication--"
"Negative, Carter. Fraiser hasn't exactly been in a sharing mood. She's keeping Danny's chart locked up tighter than a virgin's--" He caught himself. "She's not talking."
The sound of a throat clearing snapped all three to attention. General Hammond entered the room, followed closely by Fraiser. He sent Jack a quelling look as he moved to the head of the table. When they were all seated, Hammond focused his attention on Janet.
"Doctor, I'm going to turn the floor over to you. I know we're all anxiously awaiting your assessment of Dr. Jackson's condition."
Janet pressed her folded hands to her lips before speaking. "First, I want to stress that there is an unavoidable element of supposition to my conclusions. As I told Daniel earlier, we are dealing with the aftereffects of an alien device. We can't predict the long-term impact on human physiology."
"I've put Daniel through a complete neurological evaluation and a PET scan. I'm sorry to say that both indicate widespread injury to the cerebral cortex."
Jack's stomach did a slow roll. He licked his lips, careful to keep his voice calm and even. "Doc. English, please."
"Simply put, the cerebral cortex is the outer layer of gray matter largely responsible for higher brain function: speech, reasoning, and memory. Now, the good news is that while the damage Daniel sustained may be generalized, it's also mild."
Sam leaned forward. "Meaning?"
"Meaning the PET scan indicates multiple pockets of superficial damage scattered across the frontal and parietal lobes. Each individual area is so small as to be virtually indistinguishable unless viewed with the proper diagnostic equipment."
Jack scowled. "Doc. I hear you talking, but you're still not *telling* me anything."
"I believe O'Neill is asking how your findings will impact Daniel Jackson's ability to effectively function, both at home and as a member of SG-1."
Jack held out both arms. "Thank you, Teal'c."
"I'm getting to that, gentlemen, if you'll just bear with me. Because the damage is widespread, Daniel is experiencing a variety of symptoms. He's lost certain motor skills--tying his shoes, for example. He's mildly aphasic, which means he occasionally has trouble articulating a word, or performing a string of commands."
"But you said all these symptoms are mild, right, Janet?" Sam interjected. "Nothing too serious?"
"Relatively speaking? No, Sam, none of the symptoms are severe."
"Depends on your perspective. They're severe enough to scare the crap out of Daniel," Jack pointed out.
Janet inclined her head.
Hammond frowned. "Is there a treatment for this condition? What is Dr. Jackson's prognosis?"
"No treatment, sir. The cells in these injured areas have died--we can't undo that. But much of the human brain remains untapped--we use a relatively small percentage of the whole. There are documented cases of the brain literally 'rewiring' itself, circumventing dead tissue to restore function. I have every hope that, with time and therapy, Daniel will regain normal function."
The knot in Jack's chest loosened. "Any theories *how* this happened? Aside from wonky alien technology, that is?"
Janet shrugged. "I'm not sure, sir. Perhaps something in our brain chemistry, or the simple fact that not one but twelve souls had to be extracted? As I indicated earlier, it would be pure speculation to--"
"What if it wasn't the device?"
All eyes turned to Carter, who flushed. "Excuse me, Janet."
"Explain, Major," General Hammond said.
"Sir, when Janet mentioned the twelve souls, it reminded me that not all of those individuals left Daniel willingly."
"Martice," Jack growled.
Sam nodded. "What if Martice didn't give up without a fight? For that matter, he wasn't the only one reluctant to comply with the extraction. What if they resisted, and that resistance caused the damage you described?"
Jack curled his fingers into fists. "Son of a bitch."
Teal'c's eyes were cold. "Indeed."
"It's at least as plausible as any theory I've come up with," Janet admitted. "Perhaps more."
"Truth is, we will never know for certain. Attempting to assign blame is useless at this point. Our priority now should be Dr. Jackson's recovery."
"I agree, General. This will be a difficult time for Daniel, and he's going to need our support. I've obtained the name of a therapist who should be able to help him with the aphasia and language processing. But it's inevitable that he'll continue to discover other missing skills like the shoelaces. He'll need to relearn basic tasks he's performed for years without a second thought. The emotional toll will be high."
No shit, Sherlock. Daniel valued his independence. This was going to hit him hard. "When can he leave the infirmary?" Jack asked.
"I have no reason to keep him. Other than fatigue and a persistent headache, he's physically fine. But," she held up a hand before Jack could jump in, "for his own safety, I don't think he should be alone right now. He's got too many blind spots."
"Does he have to remain on base?"
"You volunteering to take him home?"
Jack shrugged. "That a problem?"
She considered for a moment. "Actually, it may be the best thing for him. Easing back into a normal routine may help jog the missing pieces back into place."
Jack turned to Hammond. "Permission to take some time off, sir?"
Hammond smiled. "Granted, provided you keep me informed of Dr. Jackson's progress."
"Doctor, thank you for bringing us all up to speed. You're dismissed, people." As they stood and began filing out of the room, Hammond called, "And Jack?"
"Take care of our boy."
Jack snapped a salute. "Yes, sir."
Jack breezed into the infirmary, whistling tunelessly. He pulled up short when he saw Daniel and Carter sitting side by side on the gurney. Sam had one arm loosely draped around Daniel's waist as she talked softly to him. Daniel, shoulders hunched and arms wrapped around his body, looked as if he wished the floor would swallow him whole.
"Evening, campers. What's up?"
At the sound of his voice their heads whipped around with comical symmetry. Carter gave Daniel a little pat and stood.
"I was in the neighborhood, thought I'd stop by to visit Daniel before he left, see if he needed anything."
Daniel flushed, his voice edgy. "Has Janet finally finished briefing you? Can we get out of here now?"
Jack extended an arm toward the door. "Your chariot awaits."
He watched Daniel slide off the gurney, shoving his hands into his pockets when they itched to steady him. Daniel wobbled for only a moment before he flashed Carter a quick, tentative little smile.
"Thanks, Sam. For...um...for everything."
Daniel met her eyes only briefly before his skittered away. Interesting, Jack mused. What exactly had happened?
Not put off by Daniel's obvious discomfort, Sam leaned in and kissed his cheek. "My pleasure, Daniel. Remember what I said, okay?"
A quick dip of his head and Daniel turned toward the door. Jack plucked Carter's sleeve and, eyebrows raised, cocked his thumb at his friend's back. Sam gave a quick shake of her head. Not now.
"I'll give you a call later this week," Jack said aloud. "Maybe you and Teal'c can come by for pizza."
"Sounds good, sir."
Daniel was quiet in the elevator. Withdrawn. Stared at his shoes, wrapped up in that damn self-hug that made Jack want five minutes alone with each and every one of the adults who had failed him as a child. Starting with Nick. When Melbourne and Claire Jackson died, an overworked, understaffed child welfare system taught a bewildered, grieving Danny that he should rely on no one but himself. Though he spoke very little about his string of foster parents, the closed expression on his face and carefully neutral tone of voice had told Jack all he needed to know.
When they were finally in the car, the SGC well behind them, Daniel dropped his head onto the seatback with a small sigh.
Jack's lips twitched. "Glad to be out, are we?"
"You have NO idea."
"Fraiser on your case?"
"I think I have more holes than a golf course. If I had to put up with one more of her...her..." His mouth hung open a moment as he groped unsuccessfully for the sharp, silver object. He snapped it shut and averted his face, staring out the window.
Jack couldn't decide whether to fill in the blank or let it lie. He ended up choosing the latter. "Thought we'd stop by your apartment so you can pack a bag, then head over to my place."
Daniel appeared fascinated by the passing scenery. When he spoke, Jack could barely make out the words above the engine's drone.
"Guess this time you got the short one."
Jack frowned, stealing quick glances at his friend in between watching the road. "What?"
"Just wondered how you came to be stuck with babysitting detail. Did you draw straws? Flip a coin? Or did Hammond make it an order?"
Ah, self-pity. Now that was something he understood. "Well, you see, we all wrote our names on little pieces of paper. Then George put them in a hat and--"
"Ask a stupid question..." Jack huffed impatiently. "Look, I know this thing has you thrown for a loop, Daniel, but you're going to be fine. You've just hit a bump in the road, that's all."
Daniel ducked his chin to his chest. Jack could see his eyes glitter in the dim light from the dashboard. "It's an awful big bump, Jack."
"So? You're responsible for unlocking the Stargate, for making successful first contact with hundreds of worlds, hell, for saving this planet, more than once! This is doable, Daniel." He curled his fingers more tightly around the steering wheel. "And for the record, it was MY idea."
He watched from the corner of his eye until he saw Daniel get it. His friend swallowed, blinking hard. When he turned toward Jack a little of the tension had left his body.
When they reached Daniel's apartment, he disappeared into the bedroom to pack. Jack roamed restlessly through the living room, fiddling with Daniel's eclectic collection of knick-knacks and resisting the urge to offer help. Eventually Daniel emerged, a duffel slung over his shoulder and a tentative smile on his lips.
Jack set down a small clay pot and rubbed his hands together. "Ready?"
"I think so. I--oh!" Daniel set down the bag and hurried over to his fish tank. Muttering under his breath, he shook food into the water, frowning when it was vigorously attacked by a swarm of hungry fish. "Sorry, guys." He looked over at Jack. "I'm surprised they all made it."
"It's been a rough few days for a lot of us."
Some of the wariness left Daniel's eyes. "Guess we're all survivors."
YES! Jack nearly shouted aloud. A breakthrough. "Got one of those feeder doohickeys for the next week or so?"
Daniel shook his head. "I'll call Mrs. Hennessey. She knows what to do; she always takes care of them when we're off-world."
"Well make it so, Dannyboy. I'm starving and there's some Chinese out there with my name on it."
Jack resumed prowling, knowing it was bugging the hell out of Daniel and loving it.
Daniel picked up the phone and punched buttons, head swiveling to keep Jack in view. "Ah, Jack, I really wish you wouldn't...Hello? Mrs. Hennessey?" He listened, brow creased for a moment. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must have the wrong number."
Jack juggled something that looked like a hackey sack, amused by the way Daniel's eyes tracked it back and forth. "Problem?"
"Yes. I mean no. I mean I just... Jack, would you please cut it out?"
Jack set down his new toy and held both hands up. "Okay, okay. Not gettin' any younger here, Daniel."
"Well, if you weren't distracting me..."
Jack smirked, pleased with himself. He'd take a pissy Daniel to a quiet, somber Daniel any day of the week.
"Hello? Who is this?...I...I'm trying to...to...reach Dorothy Hennessey."
Jack's smile faded as he listened.
"Number? I...um...598-2627. Oh, I...S..Sorry."
Daniel pressed his finger over the disconnect button. Rather than hang up the receiver, however, he stood frozen, staring at the keypad.
"Daniel?" Jack circled around to stand beside his friend.
"I...I...hit the right numbers, Jack, I know I did. 598-2627. Why isn't it working?"
"You probably just went too fast. Dial it again. Slowly."
Daniel bit his lip; nodded. Jack watched closely as one long finger began tapping buttons. 5...9...3--"
Daniel stopped, finger poised over the key. "Why?"
"You dialed wrong."
"No I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
Daniel clenched his jaw. "No. I. Didn't."
Jack held onto his temper. "Daniel, look at your finger. There isn't even a 3 in the number you're dialing."
Daniel stared at Jack for a long moment before slowly dropping his gaze. His breath caught and his hand began trembling. "No, that's...Jack, that's not...that's eight. Isn't it?"
A chill ran up Jack's spine and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He called on every bit of his military training, suppressing his own fear so Daniel would not detect how rattled he felt.
"No, Danny, that's three. Eight is this one." He gently moved Daniel's finger to the correct button. "Remember?"
Daniel snatched his hand away and backed up, folding his arms tightly around his chest. "Of course I do. I just...I got a little mixed up, that's all. You...you were distracting me."
Jack nodded, feeling as if he were speaking to a frightened child. "Sorry. My fault for messing with your head. Tell you what--I'll call her. It's the least I can do after giving you a hard time."
Daniel looked away, throat working. "Okay."
Jack pressed the correct numbers, chatting with a friendly, slightly deaf old lady while tracking Daniel's every move. After scrutinizing every stroke of Jack's finger on the keypad, Daniel had retreated to the far side of the room, where he paced back and forth with short, jerky strides.
Jack hung up the phone. "Done. You ready to go?"
Daniel stilled, but made no move toward him. Head bowed, he muttered something to his feet.
He snapped his head up. "I said she had to tie my fucking shoes!"
Jack blinked. He recognized the signs. The high, shaky voice, the profanity...Daniel was a breath from losing it, big time. He felt his way carefully, like treading on thin ice. "Who did? Fraiser?"
Daniel shook his head. "No. Sam."
So that's what he'd interrupted back in the infirmary. Jack stuffed his hands in his pockets and sauntered closer.
"You know, there's worse things than having a beautiful woman willing to help you."
He knew it was the wrong approach the moment the words left his lips. Daniel flushed and his eyes turned to steel. "Go to hell, Jack." He stomped past Jack, headed who knows where, but Jack grabbed hold of his arm and held on.
"Let *go* of me." Daniel tried to shrug free.
Jack tightened his fingers. "Daniel, I'm... That was a stupid thing to say, okay? You know I'm no good at this."
Daniel's body remained rigid, but he stopped pulling away. "Yeah. I noticed."
Satisfied he'd regained Daniel's attention, Jack turned him loose. "All I'm saying is that you have people who care about you. And you don't have to be embarrassed or ashamed when we want to help. We're a team, for cryin' out loud, we watch each other's sixes. If this time it means letting Carter tie your shoes..." He shrugged.
"It's not that...um, that...simple, Jack." Daniel scrubbed his fingers through his hair until the short, spiky strands stood on end. He dropped his hands to his sides and looked away. "*I* have to take care of me. It's what I know."
Jack swallowed, throat tight. Seeing not the man before him, but a small, bewildered eight-year-old boy. "C'mere."
When Daniel stared blankly at him, he palmed the nape of his friend's neck, guiding him over to the couch. Daniel sat, frowning when Jack claimed the coffee table opposite rather than the cushion beside him. Both eyebrows shot up when Jack pulled his sneakered foot onto his lap and untied the laces.
"Okay, there's a couple different ways to do this, but I'm going with the single-loop method, for now. I'm pretty sure that's how you tied them before, and it's probably best to stick with what's familiar."
He risked a brief glance up, gauging Daniel's reaction. Daniel was gaping at him, wide blue eyes blurred with tears. Jack quickly looked back at his own hands. "You paying attention? 'Cause there's gonna be a quiz in a minute."
"I..." Daniel made a sniffling sound, then his voice grew steady. "Yes. Go ahead. Slowly, please."
Jack patted the foot and smiled. "You got it."
Head tipped onto the back of the couch, eyes closed, Daniel nodded. Jack gathered up paper cartons, noting that while he'd decimated the Mongolian Beef, Daniel had merely picked at his Szechwan Chicken.
"You should eat more."
"I'm not hungry."
"Doc said you shouldn't take the pain pill on an empty stomach."
"I ate a little."
"What, like two pieces of chicken? Daniel, I'm telling you--"
"What part of 'not hungry' don't you understand, Jack?"
Jack gritted his teeth as the first threads of anger wove their way through his patience. He stalked into the kitchen and dumped the cartons in the trash, returning with the prescription bottle.
"Here." He picked up Daniel's hand and shook a small, white tablet onto the palm.
Daniel popped it into his mouth and dry swallowed, barely lifting his head.
Jack grimaced. "How do you DO that?"
A twitch of a shoulder was his only response. Jack rubbed his jaw, studying his friend. Too pale, dark, bruised crescents beneath his eyes, lines of pain along his forehead and around his mouth. Jack winced, recalling vividly the agony he'd experienced upon waking in the infirmary.
Fraiser's instructions were simple and straightforward: Daniel needed sleep, and plenty of it. Keeping him secure and relaxed would increase his ability to re-establish connections. That incredible brain could work either for or against Daniel. Jack's job was preventing his friend from sabotaging his own healing.
"The bed in the guestroom is all made up."
Daniel's lips tightened to a thin line. "I'm not tired, Jack."
"Uh-huh." Not hungry. Not tired. Short, clipped answers delivered in a monotone. Daniel had left his apartment flushed with pleasure over his regained ability to tied shoes. Something since had soured his mood, but Jack was damned if he knew what.
Daniel cracked an eye open. "I'm not."
"Fine. But I gotta tell ya, you do a damn good impression of a guy who needs to be horizontal."
Daniel huffed. "What I *need* is a..." He trailed off and his face got the blank, panicked look Jack had come to recognize. The one that meant he was desperately searching for a word and trying to cover up his discomfiture. "I need coffee."
Cup, Jack wanted to say. You want a *cup* of coffee. Such a simple little word, three measly letters. You're Dr. Daniel Jackson; you speak 23 languages. God, Danny, how could you forget the word cup?
Instead he shook his head. "Sorry, kiddo."
Daniel sat up. "One lousy...One, Jack! You and I both know it's not gonna kill me."
Sensing that things were rapidly spiraling out of control, Jack tried humor. "I'm not crossing the woman who has the ability to inflict pain on a regular basis. You know what Fraiser said."
The attempt to defuse fell flat. Daniel's eyes narrowed. "I know that I'm sick of you all treating me like a child. Worse--a brain damaged child."
It hit him on the raw, too damn close to what he'd been thinking moments before. Jack tensed. Tired, frustrated, helpless--emotions he'd bottled up for Daniel's sake came spilling out.
"Yeah? Well right now that's exactly how you're behaving. I'm here because you're not capable of doing this on your own, Daniel. So you can just cut the crap."
Daniel turned away, white-lipped and shaken. "Sorry."
Shit, shit, shit. Anger evaporated, leaving his stomach churning with remorse. Jack heaved a sigh and sat down beside Daniel.
"That didn't come out the way I meant it."
Daniel smiled, a bitter little twist of the lips that had nothing to do with humor. "Oh, I think you did. And I can't say I blame you. I know there's probably a hundred things you'd rather be doing than baby-sitting me."
"That is so not true."
Daniel looked down at his clasped hands. "I don't feel like playing, Jack."
Jack nodded. "Then I'll cut to the chase. You're here because it's my job to help you through this." When he saw Daniel flinch, he held up a hand. "Not because I'm your team leader. And sure as hell not out of some misguided sense of guilt or obligation." He waited until Daniel looked up at him before continuing. "Because you're my best friend. You're part of my family. And that's what families do, Daniel. They take care of their own. Okay?"
Daniel bit his lip, face twisted to stave off tears. "'K."
"Now will you please come clean about whatever is bugging you?"
Daniel lifted his arm, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt. "When I took my bag into the guest room, I saw the pictures on the dresser."
Jack waited. When Daniel just picked at his thumbnail, he prodded, "And?"
"I, um..." Daniel cleared his throat. "...saw the one from Abydos. Sha're, Skaara, and me."
Daniel opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He shook his head, shrugging Jack's hand from his shoulder. "Don't. Just--" Voice soft and thready.
Jack backed off, giving him space. Daniel cleared his throat again, then rasped, "I can't remember meeting Sha're."
"It's a blank, Jack. A black hole. I remember Katherine picking me up off the street in the pouring...ah...the...the...I was wet. I...I remember figuring out the glyphs. I even remember going through the 'gate with you, Kawalski, Ferretti. Then..." He shook his head, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.
Jack pushed aside his own tangled emotions, keeping his voice calm and soothing. "Ra? The bomb? Taking a staff blast for me?"
Daniel answered each question with a sharp shake of his head. He looked up at Jack with red-rimmed eyes. "This isn't something I can relearn, Jack, like tying shoelaces. My memories--Sha're's gone. They're all I have left."
Jack thought about Charlie. The way he stuck out the tip of his tongue when he colored. The sweet, clean smell of his skin after a bath and fresh pajamas. The way his laughter sounded like bright, joyous music. Tried to imagine losing even one of those precious memories. Couldn't.
He sucked in a long, slow breath, dug deep, and found a smile. "It's all right." His voice sounded a little unsteady, but sure.
Daniel stared at him, eyes wide. The muscles in his face jittered, anger and bewilderment vying for control. "All right? How...how can it *ever* be all right?"
"Because those memories aren't gone. You just misplaced them." God, he hoped he was right. "I'll help you find them, Daniel."
"How?" Daniel choked out the word, a barely audible whisper.
"Because even though you may have forgotten, I remember. I'll keep them safe until you do."
"You...um...You really think...I'll get them back?"
"I really do."
"Do ya want me to tell you a bedtime story?"
Daniel chuckled, using the same sleeve to wipe his eyes. "Yeah. I guess I do. But you have to promise me one thing, Jack."
"And that would be...?"
"You will NOT start out 'once upon a time.'"
It wasn't working.
Properly wielded, his wistful yet diffident expression--wide eyes and just a hint of lower lip--had an 80 percent success rate of rendering Jack putty in his hands. With Sam the figure was substantially higher; and as for Teal'c, well, that Jaffa stoicism was pretty hard to crack.
Except this time it wasn't working.
Daniel shoveled down bacon and eggs, casting mournful, yearning looks at the dormant coffeemaker. Jack sat down with his own plate, either oblivious to the signals or doing a damn good acting job.
"Not gonna happen, Daniel."
Ah. That answered that question.
They ate in silence. Despite the head start, Daniel was still pushing food around on his plate when Jack finished. Daniel poked at a bit of egg gone cold and rubbery, then picked up his dishes and carried them to the sink.
"I have it on good authority that my scrambled eggs are to die for." Jack leaned on the counter, watching him. "So why are most of them currently making their way into the disposal?"
"Whose authority says they're 'to die for'?"
Jack stared at him, lips parted, brow furrowed. "Well...lots of people." He stabbed a finger at Daniel. "Don't change the subject."
"I just don't have much appetite right now, okay? If I can ever shake this headache..." He rolled his shoulders, tipping his head right, then left.
"Did you take a pill?"
"It makes me fuzzy."
"So I'd rather not spend the whole day sleeping on the...the...laying around." Daniel felt his irritation growing, and the headache along with it. He needed Jack to stop nagging and give him some space. No wonder he kept losing words.
"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Ah, ah--" Jack held up a hand, silencing him. "The walls in this place are pretty thin, Daniel. I know you didn't sleep well last night."
Daniel looked away. 'Didn't sleep well' was an understatement--he'd tossed and turned all night, plagued by a string of nightmares. Keenan. Martice. Desperate souls clinging to his body, refusing to let go. He'd awakened gasping for air and drenched in sweat, a scream caught just behind his lips. Certain he could still feel them burrowing into his brain, drawing memories like blood.
"I'm fine, Jack. I've had nightmares most of my life. It's not a big deal." Please don't push me; I can't talk about this.
As if he'd heard the unspoken plea, Jack backed down. "Hey, it's your choice." He checked his watch. "You might want to get cleaned up. We should leave in an hour."
"Leave? Are we going somewhere?"
"Very funny. Shower, Daniel."
Daniel froze in the act of clearing the rest of the dishes from the table. "I'm serious, Jack. Where exactly are we supposed to be going?"
Jack studied his face. "Fraiser didn't talk to you about this?"
This was not good. Jack's wary, guarded expression clearly indicated he wasn't going to like what came next. "About what?" Daniel ground the words out between his teeth.
"You have your first appointment with the speech therapist today. Eleven o'clock."
He stared, slack jawed for a moment before firmly shaking his head. "No."
"I'm not... Cancel it, Jack."
Jack ran his fingers through his hair. "I can't."
"Yes, you can."
"No, I can't."
"For crying out loud, Jack, I'm not asking you to sell secrets to the Russians. Just pick up the phone and call off the damn appointment!" He hated the shrill, whiny sound of his own voice.
Jack went still, as if he were mentally counting to ten. "Look, Daniel. I'm sorry I just sprung this on you. I assumed... Fraiser pulled quite a few strings to get you this appointment. Apparently this therapist is usually booked weeks in advance."
"I don't care. I'm not going." Way to go, Daniel. Why don't you just throw yourself down on the floor and kick your feet?
Jack shook his head, anger creeping into his carefully controlled tone. "Why?"
How could he explain? He didn't understand it himself. Being here with Jack was simple. Safe. He could wrap himself in the illusion that he was normal, just having a bad day. Letting a therapist, a stranger, inside his head would make this waking nightmare real.
"Why? Why didn't anyone ask me how I felt about this? I don't need you, or Janet, or anyone else making decisions for me. Last time I checked I was still an...an..." Mature. Full-grown. Close, but not what he wanted to say. Daniel groped for a word that danced tantalizingly out of reach, his face hot and eyes stinging. "...an...an--Shit!" He slammed the glass he held onto the counter. "I'm not a child." Though the glass held firm, his voice cracked and broke. Horrified, he turned and fled to the living room.
He stood in front of the open window, arms folded around his body as if he could physically hold himself together. Outside, the sun shone from a cloudless blue sky. A young woman jogged down the street, a German Shepherd bouncing eagerly at her side. Someone was mowing a lawn--he could hear the growl of a mower and smell the crisp, green fragrance of fresh cut grass. Everything was humming along smoothly, on well-oiled hinges. Routine. Predictable. Normal.
Why did that feel so wrong?
He sensed Jack come into the room--restless, shuffling movements that communicated frustration as clearly as words.
"I don't want to hear it, Jack."
"Well, you're gonna hear it anyway. The only reason your ass isn't chained to an infirmary bed is that I promised Fraiser--"
"I might as well be back there. I thought I was getting away from Janet's hovering. Turns out I just traded up."
Jack grabbed his elbow and spun him around, forcing Daniel to look into eyes filled with anger and compassion but not an ounce of pity. "Am I missing something here? Why the hell are you being so pissy about this? Adult, Daniel. You're an adult. That's what you were trying to say back in the kitchen, isn't it? I have eyes, I see how it kills you every time you reach for a word and come up empty. This woman can help you get better. That's what you want, isn't it?"
Daniel ducked his head. "Of course it is."
He felt Jack's sigh, warm breath ruffling his hair, before his friend turned him loose. "Then I suggest you get cleaned up. Fraiser will never let me hear the end of it if we're late."
Daniel nodded, willing to accept any means of escape. Foot on the first step, he stiffened when Jack spoke again.
"Daniel. I'm sure Fraiser believes this is the best thing for you."
He hunched his shoulders and kept climbing, concentrating on the simple act of placing one foot in front of the next. They always believed it was for the best. He'd learned long ago that what he believed didn't count.
"Where are we going?"
Jack inwardly winced at the flat, lifeless tone. The fact it had taken Daniel this long to notice they weren't headed home spoke volumes about his state of mind. He'd walked out of the therapist's office with the pale, pinched look of a battle-weary soldier. That mood hadn't improved in the fifteen minutes they'd spent in the car.
"I stopped by the deli while you were with Atkinson. It's a nice day--thought we'd eat lunch at the park."
Daniel chuffed a bitter little laugh. "Now you figure I'm due for some fresh air--is that it?"
"No, I figure I'm due for some fresh air. You're just along for the ride."
Daniel tightened his lips and turned back to the window.
Jack stared resolutely at the road, wondering if he'd miscalculated. He'd hoped that a little time communing with nature might soothe Daniel's ruffled feathers after the grueling therapy session. Probably didn't matter. Lately he was damned if he did, damned if he didn't as far as Daniel was concerned.
A picnic table in the sunshine, snow-capped mountains, and a cloudless blue sky appeared unable to penetrate Daniel's cloud of gloom. He chewed doggedly, without pleasure, eyes fixed on the pitted wooden tabletop. Jack watched from the corner of his eye, irritation and helplessness turning his own sandwich to lead in his stomach.
"I could go back to the mountain."
He glared at Daniel. "You sick of my sparkling wit and magnetic personality already?"
The gentle jibe earned him nothing--not the ghost of a smile, elaborately rolled eyes, not even a scowl. Daniel set down the sub, pinning him with a probing gaze.
"This can't be any fun for you, Jack. I don't blame you. I'm not exactly the nicest person to be around right now."
He dropped his own lunch, swiping viciously at his mouth with a napkin. "*Fun*? Is that why you think we're here right now, why I brought you home with me? You think I was after a good time? Looking for a way to spice up all this enforced down time, cut the boredom?" He shook his head. "You don't have very high expectations for me, do you, Dannyboy?"
"That's not what I--"
Jack held up a finger. "Remember when my brain was nearly fried by that do-it-yourself download from the Ancients? I could barely communicate, had little or no control over my own actions. I look back now, and I don't even recognize that person. You stuck by me, Daniel. The way I hear it, you even took on Hammond when he tried to send you back to the planet with Carter and Teal'c. Was that fun? Did you follow me around with that damn Latin translation book because you were having a really good time?"
To his surprise, the faintest of smiles curved Daniel's lips. "No, I wasn't, actually."
"Well, there you have it. No more talk about going back to the mountain. And no more self-pity."
"Fine. Then stop managing me. I don't need Janet making my appointments. And as nice as this little impromptu picnic may be, I don't need you handling me like a kid who needs an ice cream after a bad day. I'm an adult, and I expect to be treated like one.
"Fine. Was it?"
"Atkinson--Tammy--ran some diagnostics."
"Oh, name the picture on the card, point to the right shape, remember these three items... You know, simple things any third grader could do." Daniel looked away, swallowing.
"But not so simple."
"I, um... There were a lot of blanks. And Tammy was...was..." Daniel grimaced. "She didn't pull any punches. Right now she can't say for certain I'll get any of those missing pieces back."
Is that what had him tied in knots? Jack grinned. "You will."
Daniel jerked his head around, scowling at Jack's apparent flippancy. "You can't know that, Jack. Tammy's the expert and she--"
"Hasn't been around you the last forty-eight hours. Listen, Daniel. From what Janet told me this woman is used to working with people who have had strokes. People who are permanently disabled. What happened to you is completely different, something she's got no frame of reference for--even if she had the clearance."
"Granted, you're right about that. But it doesn't necessarily follow that I'll recover what I've lost."
"Ah, ah! You keep forgetting, Danny. Nothing is lost, just misplaced." Jack gestured to his friend's feet. "Who tied your shoes this morning?"
"Jack! It doesn't--"
Daniel growled, impatient. "*I* did."
"Could you tie your own shoes twenty-four hours ago?"
Daniel's forehead smoothed and he looked at Jack with interest. "No."
"See? Not lost, misplaced. Tell me, Dr. Jackson, what do you call those lovely angels of mercy who insist on escorting you to the bathroom just so they can get a peek at your ass?"
Daniel flushed, mouth dropping open. "They do not!"
"Hey, I hear yours is ranked number three, right behind Anderson's and Detwiler's. Not bad, considering."
"They're nurses! What happened to patient confidentiality?"
"Nurses. That's the word I was looking for. And--refresh my memory here, Daniel--how did you say you want to be treated?"
Daniel went very still. "Like an adult." He said it in little more than a whisper.
Jack cupped a hand behind his ear. "Speak up, I can't hear you."
"I said...like an adult."
"Hmm, adult. Yeah. Funny, I seem to recall you having trouble with both those words earlier. What do you suppose happened?"
"I didn't even have to think about it. They were right there." Daniel blinked, delight seeping in to replace shock. "They were right there, Jack!"
"Misplaced. Not lost. Believe me?"
Daniel's smile rivaled the sunshine. "I do now."
Jack grinned back. Now they were cooking with gas.
"Did General Hammond say what this was about?"
Daniel fiddled with the air vent, then reached for the radio. Jack slapped his hand away, punching buttons until the strains of opera filled the truck.
"Just that he needs us both, ASAP. We'll find out when we get there. For crying out loud, Daniel! Stop fidgeting."
Daniel let go of the seatbelt, tucking his hands under his arms and slumping backward. He'd had a string of bad days, and Jack's patience was frayed to its limits. As was his own.
He'd cruised along on a cloud of near euphoria for a full day after Jack's revelation in the park, nearly giddy with relief. Then, as always, reality had come stomping in to bite him on the ass. Maybe--all right, probably--Jack was right, and he would eventually recover. That still left him where he was now--grounded, on forced medical leave and woefully dependent on Jack in more ways than he cared to admit.
And therein lay the problem.
Each time he tried to stretch his wings, to prove himself capable of independence, he ran smack into the brick wall of his limitations. The result left Daniel humiliated and Jack infuriated, in equal measure.
So much he'd taken for granted now resided behind that wall. Thanks to his attempt at washing clothes, three of Jack's white tee shirts were now pink while several others had shrunk to a size more suitable for a ten year old. He'd overdosed himself on painkillers by incorrectly reading the time, spending 18 hours in a drugged sleep that had Jack frantic with worry. And tonight he'd almost burned down the house trying to cook dinner.
The spaghetti debacle had occurred only minutes before General Hammond's phone call; they'd been forced to leave the mess for later. Daniel surreptitiously sniffed his shirt, wrinkling his nose--they both smelled like charred marinara.
Daniel feigned interest in the scenery, in reality observing Jack. His friend's rigid spine and clenched fingers betrayed the anger he tried to suppress. Daniel closed burning eyes. Jack had bent over backwards to remain patient and understanding. He'd endured more in the last five days than anyone ought to. Everyone had a breaking point--no surprise he'd finally pushed Jack past his.
Surprisingly, when they reached the SGC they were directed to Hammond's office, rather than the briefing room. Daniel sank cautiously into one of the cushy chairs, the uneasiness that began with the general's phone call ratcheting up a notch.
As if sensing his disquiet, Hammond smiled at him. "How are you, Dr. Jackson?"
He couldn't look at Jack. Keeping his gaze on Hammond, he managed a weak smile. "I'm fine, general."
"Glad to hear it. I know you have a lot on your plate right now, and I deeply apologize for dragging you in here during your medical leave. The fact of the matter is, I had no choice."
Jack sat forward. "Sir?"
"You both are aware that SG-11 has been engaged in diplomatic relations with the inhabitants of P3X-755?"
Hammond shot Jack an exasperated glare. "Sumerians, Colonel."
"Little blue guys," Jack said to Daniel.
"General, I was under the impression they had little to offer us," Daniel said, ignoring him. "Their culture is primitive, lacking in either technology or...or..."
"Weapons." Jack winced apologetically.
"You are correct; that was our initial assessment. A geological survey, however, turned up rich deposits of naquada. With Dr. Jackson sidelined and SG-1 unavailable, SG-11 has been negotiating the treaty that would allow us to mine the material in exchange for food and medicine. Things were proceeding nicely, until yesterday."
"We're not sure. Major Kovacek was meeting with the elders when all hell broke loose. The Sumerians became extremely agitated. They took Captain Escobar prisoner and insisted the others return through the 'gate. All further attempts to communicate have been rebuffed."
Hammond looked at Daniel. "Son, I'm at the end of my diplomatic rope. If we can't determine what went wrong, I'll be forced to consider Captain Escobar's detainment as a hostile act and respond accordingly."
Daniel clutched the arms of his chair. "General, I...I... Of course, I'll do anything I can, but..."
"I've spoken with Dr. Fraiser; I'm aware of your current situation. But frankly, even laboring under this handicap you're still the best we have. You may be our only chance for a peaceful resolution."
Daniel looked into Hammond's compelling brown eyes, heart sinking. How could he possibly refuse?
"I'll do my best."
Two hours later he was ensconced in his office, papers strewn across his desk and a pencil clamped between his teeth. Transcripts of Kovacek, Miller, and Warren's debriefings. Documents outlining the Sumerians' surprisingly complex justice system. Even the proposed treaty. The Sumerians spoke English, but many of their ancient documents were written in a bastardized form of cuneiform that would be frustratingly tedious to translate on a good day.
Today was not one of those.
Daniel rubbed the flesh just above his right eye, unable to soothe the painful throbbing that reverberated through his skull. Two hours and he was chasing his tail. There was an overwhelming amount of information, more than he could hope to assimilate in such a short period of time. To make matters worse, the gaps in his memory forced him to look up what he would normally know by rote.
He glanced up at the clock for the fifth time in as many minutes, clenching his trembling fingers into fists. Time was running out. Hammond needed him, Escobar needed him--hell, the Smurfs needed him to figure this out. Abilities he'd once taken for granted now eluded him, and people were going to die because of it. Because of him.
He needed something, anything, to help him focus.
Daniel's gaze locked onto the coffee machine and he licked his lips. Jack had gone to give Hammond a progress report--he huffed humorlessly--not that there was any progress to report. Daniel pulled open his desk drawer and stared at the bag of coffee. Damn Janet and her caffeine restriction. If they were allowing him to work, they could allow him a decent cup of coffee.
He filled the pot with water, then stood in front of the machine, frowning. He picked up the bag of coffee, weighing it in his hand. How much did you use? Fingering the small scoop, he struggled to think around the headache. Still coming up blank, he jerked open the compartment and began shoveling in the dark, rich grounds. He snapped it shut and poured in the water, flicking on the power.
He rummaged through four cupboards before finally locating a reasonably clean mug and heading back to the machine. Practically salivating with anticipation, he pulled up short, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the sharp, acrid smell.
Dark, thick sludge trickled into the pot. Daniel snatched it up, scowling at the thick clumps of coffee grounds. As he stabbed at the power switch, his gaze fell on a package sitting just behind the machine.
Daniel stared, heat creeping up the back of his neck and flushing his cheeks.
Jack was halfway down the hall when he heard a loud bang followed by the crash. He broke into a run, sliding to a stop just outside the door to Daniel's office. Peering around the corner, he watched a carafe soar through the air, hit the wall, and explode in a spectacular shower of coffee grounds and shards of glass. He heard Daniel curse in Abydonian, his voice thick and raspy, then a red mug joined the broken pot.
"Daniel! What the hell--?"
At the sight of his friend, the words died in his throat. Wild, tear-filled eyes huge in a pale, thin face. For a moment Jack felt himself transported back to a dark, cold storeroom. Taking a deep breath, he slowly edged closer.
"Ah...Daniel?" He scanned the room, taking in the smashed coffee machine and the debris from several broken cups, finally settling on the one currently clutched in Daniel's hand. "Don't ya think maybe you're going a little overboard on the no coffee rule?"
"I can't do it, Jack. How can I possibly help Escobar when I can't even make myself a fucking cup of coffee?"
Shit. Jack raised his hands in a pacifying gesture. "It's all right, Daniel."
"It's not all right! How can you say it's all right when a good man is being held...being held...is trapped on another planet? He may have been given a death sentence; he could be dying, for all we know. I should be able to save him, Jack. General Hammond is depending on me to save him."
"You're wrong, Daniel. General Hammond is grasping at straws. He knew this was a long shot. He doesn't expect a miracle."
"No, *you're* wrong. He expects Dr. Daniel Jackson, linguist, expert on ancient cultures. The whiz kid who opened the stargate. Instead he got this." Daniel flung out his arms with a choked little laugh, then his legs folded and he slid slowly down the wall. He drew his knees to his chest and ground the palms of his hands into his eyes. "What a colossal disappointment."
Jack eased himself down beside his friend. He cleared his throat, staring at his clasped hands. "Daniel. You are the bravest, brightest guy I know. You've pulled my ass out of the fire more times than I care to remember. Believe me, you have never been, nor will you ever be, a disappointment."
Daniel dropped his hands, looking at him with world-weary eyes. "Give it time, Jack. I'll get there eventually. I always do."
Jack could have sworn heard an audible click, as pieces fell into place. "Is that why you left?" Daniel turned his face away, expression blank. "It is, isn't it? I could never quite figure out why you were so eager to get glowy with Oma. You figured you'd save us all from the ultimate disappointment that's Daniel Jackson."
"I'd already failed enough people, Jack. Sha're, Sara, you--"
"Oh come on. I know I never lived up to what you needed me to be, as a team member, as a friend. Some days I'm not so sure we even liked each other any more."
The words cut like knives--not because they were true, but because he could understand why Daniel believed them to be true.
"You're so wrong, Daniel. The problem was never you, it was me. I knuckled under to pressure from above, let traveling through the 'gate become all about what we could get instead of what we could learn. I pushed you to become a soldier because I thought it would keep you alive. But when I saw how it sucked the joy, the passion out of you, I hated myself for it."
"You didn't push me into anything, Jack. I asked to be a part of the SGC--I practically twisted the general's arm to get on the team. But after Sha're...well, it got harder and harder to find a reason to continue. It felt as if I was just spinning my wheels, never getting where I needed to go. I thought with Oma I could make a difference." He tipped his head back against the wall with a soft thud. "The fact that they kicked me out would indicate I failed."
"See, that is so not true. You helped me hang on when I was ready to throw in the towel. And Teal'c would be dead right now if you hadn't intervened. Now, I may be biased, but I consider that making a difference." Jack sighed. "You know, you've always been your own worst critic. Nobody expects as much from you as you do."
Daniel lifted one shoulder. "Prospective parents don't want average, Jack. They want brilliant, the little genius they can show off to all their friends. Unfortunately, geniuses can be a pain in the ass."
"Oh, I don't know. It's been my experience they kind of grow on you." Jack shook his head. "Buy a clue, Danny. We're not going to kick you out. Far as we're concerned, the glowies' loss is our gain. Nothing you do, or don't do is going to change that. We're family. You getting the picture?"
Daniel's lips curved. "Yeah. I think I am."
"Good. Now if you behave yourself, maybe I'll smuggle you some coffee from the mess." Jack stood up, poking at a piece of smashed mug with his toe. "But as for this mess? You're on your own."
He was getting way too old to be pulling all-nighters.
Blinking gritty eyes, Jack slowed as he approached Daniel's office. Encouraged by the absence of cursing and breaking glass, he shoved his hands into his pockets and ambled inside.
Daniel was just as he'd left him--hunched over the desk, head propped on one hand and a pencil clutched in the other. Papers covered every available surface, and a stack of books perched precariously at his right elbow.
"Breakfast, Dannyboy. Time for all good little scientists to feed the machine."
Jack glanced around the room, noting that the custodial staff had done an admirable job scrubbing coffee grounds off the wall. Daniel didn't respond, obviously hoping if ignored he'd go away. Fat chance.
"C'mon, Daniel. Fraiser's already pissed that you worked through the night. If you don't eat something, she'll..."
Jack blinked; leaned in for a closer look.
Daniel was asleep. Eyes shut, breathing slow and deep, he didn't move when Jack extracted the pencil from his slack fingers. The yellow legal pad beneath his hand bore a translation that trailed off mid-sentence, as if he'd literally nodded off while writing.
Jack was so dead if the doc found out about this.
He gently shook his friend's shoulder. "Daniel. Rise and shine, big guy."
Daniel came awake full throttle, snapping upright so quickly he nearly toppled the pile of books. Glasses barely clinging to the end of his nose, he blinked up at Jack. "What?"
Jack grinned, using his index finger to shove the glasses back in place. "You had yourself a little power nap. Now it's time to eat."
"Oh. I, uh--no. No thanks, Jack. You go ahead; I'm not hungry." Daniel flicked a hand in his direction, as if shooing away a pesky fly, and began shuffling papers.
Jack moved around the chair and parked his ass in the middle of the desk and, incidentally, the papers.
"Jack! What do you think--"
"Breakfast, Danny. That's an order. Then you can get back to your chicken scratchings."
Daniel glared at him. "That's just...just so--"
"Non-negotiable." Jack sighed. "Daniel, you shouldn't even be here. In the last 12 hours you've shot to hell most of Fraiser's medical restrictions. The least you can do is eat something."
Daniel's shoulders slumped, a sure sign of defeat. "Fine." He shoved back his chair and stood, lip thrust out and eyes narrowed. "You know, you're no better than Janet. Your methods are just a bit more subtle."
"Gotta tell ya, subtle is not a word often used when describing me." Jack slung an arm around his friend's shoulders and guided him toward the door. "Breakfast, Daniel. It's the most important meal of the day."
Lip curled, Daniel looked at the tray in his hands. Jack had insisted on following him through the line. As a result, he now had enough food to feed a company of marines. He panned the room, surprised to see Sam and Teal'c at a nearby table, conversing quietly.
"Hey." He slipped into the chair beside Sam, nodding at Teal'c.
"Daniel! You look..." Sam frowned. "Tired."
"Gee, thanks, Sam. You know, maybe you and Jack should form a club. You could get matching tee shirts or something." He speared a piece of cantaloupe and popped it into his mouth.
"Sorry. I heard about SG-11. Any luck figuring out what happened?"
Daniel blew out a long breath. "Don't apologize. And no, luck is not something I've had an abundance of these days."
"Please let me know if I may be of service in this endeavor, Daniel Jackson. I am most willing to lend my assistance, should you require it."
"Thanks, Teal'c. I'll keep that in mind."
"Howdy, campers. How's everyone on this fine morning?" Jack set his tray down with a thump and dropped into the chair beside Teal'c.
"I am well, O'Neill. And you?"
"Peachy, just peachy." Jack dug into his bowl of Captain Crunch, squinting at Sam as he chewed. "Carter, aren't you supposed to be out there somewhere--" He waved his spoon at the door.
Sam pursed her lips. "Well, I was, sir. I visited Dad for a couple days, but then he had a mission, and anyway I've really been wanting to run some tests on the molecular structure of that mineral we discovered on P3X--"
"Whoa, Carter. Too much information. Sounds to me as if you and Daniel are tied in the 'need to get a life' sweepstakes."
Daniel snorted. "Oh, and like you're any better? Face it, Jack, curling up in front of a hockey game with beer and pizza isn't exactly a wild social life."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."
"Hey, I'm older than you two. I've already sown my share of wild oats. I'll have you know I still hold the record at St. Pat's for racking up the most Hail Marys in one confession."
"That's, um, fascinating, sir. I never realized you were Catholic."
"A lapsed Catholic, Carter. Can't say I've hit the confessional in..."
Daniel stared at Jack, his voice fading to an indistinguishable drone. Gooseflesh broke out on his arms and his mouth dried up. After all the hours he'd spent pouring over documents and translations, could it be that simple?
Daniel blinked, abruptly realizing his teammates were all staring at him with identical expressions of concern. "I...I think I...Jose--Escobar--he's Catholic, isn't he?"
"As the Pope. I once overheard him telling--Daniel! Get back here!"
Corridors and people passed in a blur of color and sound. One minor collision and two near misses later, Daniel flew into his office, scrabbling through sheets of Sumerian legalese with shaking hands.
There it was. My God. So simple, it had been staring them in the face all along.
"Damn it, Daniel! What in the--"
Jack, Sam, and Teal'c stood in the doorway, breathless.
"Escobar is Catholic, Jack."
"And this is significant, because--?"
Daniel tapped the sheet of paper in his hand. "The Sumerians are a primitive society and as such, highly superstitious. Their fear of the...the..." Daniel growled in frustration, banging his fist against his thigh."
"Easy, Daniel. Slow down." Jack's soft, steady voice calmed his nerves. "Their fear of what? The unknown?"
"The supernatural?" Sam interjected.
"Yes! Yes, their fear of the supernatural has resulted in them composing an elaborate code for detecting and identifying the presence of evil. The code describes signs--certain behaviors, words, gestures--that serve as positive proof the one exhibiting them is possessed by an evil spirit. As such, they are expressly forbidden."
"Sounds a bit like the Salem witch trials," Sam observed.
"Exactly. We're talking about a highly suspicious and paranoid society."
"This is all very fascinating, Daniel, but what does it have to do with Escobar?"
"Well, according to Miller and Warren, they were eating dinner when their hosts became agitated and attacked Escobar."
"What--he forgot his napkin? Slurped the soup?"
"I've seen Escobar in the commissary, Jack. He always prays before a meal. And when he's done praying, he...he..." Daniel moved his hand over his chest in the pattern of a cross.
"Of course! He crosses himself!" Sam's eyes widened. "Completely innocuous to us, but to the Sumerians..."
"Taboo." Daniel sank into his chair, adrenaline rush ebbing. His arms felt leaden and his eyes burned.
"I'll notify the general we're on our way up." Jack picked up the phone, punching buttons. He nudged Daniel's shoulder. "You did good, Daniel. Real good."
Sam grinned like a Cheshire cat, while Teal'c merely inclined his head. "Indeed."
Jack set the phone back on its cradle and stared at the man sprawled across his couch. Daniel had held on during the car ride home from the mountain, then practically keeled over on the sofa. He'd been out cold for more than four hours. He knew Daniel would appreciate the good news, yet hated to wake him.
One blue eye cracked open. "I'm not sleeping."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Coulda fooled me."
Daniel pushed himself upright, stretching like an oversized cat. "Well, I mean, I *was* sleeping. I'm just not now, um...anymore." He blinked. "Did I hear the phone?"
"Yeah. It was Hammond. Kovacek brought Escobar through the 'gate about fifteen minutes ago. He's a little roughed up, but basically fine. Said to tell you thanks, and that from now on he'll be putting in a good word for you with the big guy."
Daniel's brow furrowed. "Hammond?"
"Not Hammond. You know, the Big Guy." Jack poked his finger toward the ceiling.
"Oh, um, wow. That's, ah, that's nice of him." Daniel squinted, glancing around the room.
Suppressing a grin, Jack retrieved the glasses from the mantle. "Here. You were still wearing them when you fell asleep. I rescued them before they hit the floor. Didn't want you to hand Doctor Dread another excuse to give you grief."
"Thanks." Daniel ducked his head, the corners of his mouth turned up. "For everything. I know I, ah, haven't exactly been easy on you."
"Hey, I'm just glad you got that coffee thing out of your system in your office and not my kitchen." Jack sat down in his chair with a soft grunt. "God, I hate all-nighters. You all right?"
"Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tired, but the nap helped, and--"
"No, I mean are you *all right*."
Daniel considered the question. "I can pretty much guarantee your glassware is in no immediate...ah...immediate..." He sighed. "Your stuff is safe."
"Well...I won't be *good* until I can make myself a cup of coffee and speak without--" he waved his hand in the air, "you know. But I'm dealing."
Jack smiled. "Pretty damn well, I'd say. Escobar owes you his life, Daniel. Not bad for a guy who's had his brains scrambled." He shook his head. "Yet again."
"Hey, this wasn't my fault!"
"It never is, Danny." He held up a hand to quell Daniel's protest. "What I'm trying to say is that you did your job despite one helluva big roadblock. I'd say you're going to be just fine."
Daniel sighed, rubbing eyes still red from exhaustion. "I just hope I've convinced everyone else of that fact."
Jack huffed a wry laugh. "Daniel, the rest of us never stopped believing in you. *You* were the one that needed convincing." He stood up. "Now how 'bout a pizza? I, for one, am starving. If you promise you won't rat me out to Fraiser, I'll even let you have a beer."
"Deal," Daniel said around a yawn.
Jack held out a hand, pulling him to his feet. "And then, my friend, you're on your own. I'm hitting the sack."
Daniel grinned. "Welcome to the 'need to get a life' sweepstakes, Jack."
Jack cuffed him lightly on the head. "Just for that you get no anchovies, Dannyboy."
"...clear indication the inhabitants utilized an actual written language that predates anything we've seen, not only on Earth but on any other planet. The sophistication of the alphabet, the intricacy of the characters is..."
Daniel stumbled when he hit the ramp, but the flow of words never faltered. Lips twitching, Jack steadied him with an unobtrusive hand to the elbow. Daniel had launched into his enthusiastic recitation as they walked to the 'gate, and to Jack's knowledge he hadn't drawn breath yet. His eyes sparkled and his hands flew as the words tumbled effortlessly from his lips.
"...haven't seen a find this well-preserved since P3X-774. I mean, a lot rests on the carbon dating, of course, but given the limited exposure to moisture and light, not to mention the elements, I'm guessing..."
Jack noticed Carter smother a little grin with the back of one hand, ostensibly mopping perspiration from her face. She met his gaze and the grin blossomed into a beaming smile. Together they both turned to Teal'c. Though the Jaffa responded simply by inclining his head, a softening around his dark eyes conveyed amusement and satisfaction.
"...with a proper dig we could undoubtedly uncover..." Daniel trailed off, eyes narrowing as he observed each of his teammates. "What?"
"What what?" Jack replied, deadpan.
Daniel made a circling motion with his finger, encompassing the three of them. "Why are you smiling like that?"
"I'm not smiling. Carter, are you smiling?"
"No, sir, not at all."
"I am aware of exhibiting no such facial expression, O'Neill."
"There--ya see? No one's smiling."
"Okaaay." Daniel's voice dripped disbelief.
Hammond met them at the bottom of the ramp. "Welcome back, SG-1. Sounds like the mission was a rousing success. Dr. Fraiser is waiting for you in the infirmary; we'll debrief in one hour. Dr. Jackson, I look forward to your report."
"General, you won't believe what we found. This could change everything we thought we knew about..."
Hammond allowed Daniel to draw him along. Glancing back over his shoulder at the other three members of SG-1, he winked.
Jack slapped Teal'c on the back and followed, no longer able to contain his grin. Daniel was back and better than ever.
Now they were cookin' with gas.