by Graculus

Daniel turned over again in bed.

This time he opened his eyes and squinted through the darkness at the digital clock on his bedside table. A sigh escaped when he saw what time it was; it looked this was going to be another night he just couldn't get his restless brain to stop working and let him get some sleep. Another night when all he could do was wonder what the hell was going on and what was going to happen next.

Working at the SGC should tire him out; insomnia probably ought to be a rare occurrence in a place where there was always so much going on. But he was used to the way his mind worked at times. Like now. Running over and over the same ground like a rat running interminable circles on a wheel, all that effort expended but never really getting anywhere.

Closing his eyes again, Daniel pressed his face into the pillow and wondered what he was going to do. He couldn't carry on this way - every time he looked in the mirror he saw the circles under his eyes, silent testimony to unsettled sleep. He'd also seen the looks Janet Fraiser gave him every time he got back from a mission, the looks that said she had half a mind to stick a needle in him and make him stay in the infirmary for a few days.

What was going on, anyway? Why weren't things simple and straightforward, all the pieces of the puzzle dropping into place and making a recognisable pattern? Daniel smiled to himself at that idea - when had his life ever been that easy?

At the moment, everything was confusing and uncertain and was likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

This whole situation had unsettled him, throwing him off his stride completely; there was nothing in his past with which he could compare it. This was unfamiliar territory, this whole thing between him and Jack. He'd turned the thing round in his head a hundred times, mentally examining it from every angle, and still Daniel had no idea what to do next.

Surely the fact that Jack had known for a long time how Daniel felt about him and hadn't distanced himself had to count for something? He'd not seen the slightest thing during that time that could have made him suspect Jack knew how he felt, and Daniel had always believed that Jack just wasn't that good an actor. Well, not most of the time, anyway.

Of course, when Jack had eventually decided to confront him with the truth, Daniel had lied. And that had muddied the waters between them. It had felt to Daniel like he was waiting for everything to settle, to become clear once more. He'd told Jack that he didn't feel the same way about him anymore.

Had he even slightly believed that?

Daniel had soon dismissed that idea. He knew that he'd changed, grown up a little, maybe, since the night many months back when he'd written that letter. That damn letter he should never have written in the first place. But it had taken Jack being tortured in front of him to make Daniel realise the extent of his previous self-deception.

He'd wanted to think that he had a good reason for lying, he'd even tried to tell himself he wanted to protect Jack from the consequences to his career, but none of that had been true. Daniel had been scared and hurt by what Jack had said, that was the truth at the heart of all the lies. And he'd lashed out, using Jack's revelation as the weapon closest to hand.

Once Daniel had admitted the truth to himself, as well as to Jack, once he'd admitted that he'd lied, he'd wondered what would happen next.


On the surface, little had changed between them, but Daniel had been forced to wonder whether Jack was waiting for something, for some signal he couldn't understand, in order to brush him off completely. Or, the times Daniel was feeling more optimistic, that Jack just wanted the right time to admit once more how he felt and so complete the circle of honesty between them.

Part of him wanted to ask Jack outright. Part of him was scared to know.

Was Jack watching him while he tried to figure out what the hell was going on, Daniel wondered, or was he alone in confusing himself with circular logic?

He had no idea. No thought on how to ask Jack what might happen next. No clues he could follow. Daniel wondered whether he was even misunderstanding the very existence of his on-going friendship with Jack, misinterpreting it as holding the possibility of more.

Daniel turned over again, wishing more than anything that he could get to sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jack had no idea what he wanted.

That in itself was an unusual experience for him - he usually had a plan of some kind, knew the things he wanted and had a least a vague idea how he might achieve them. But not this time. Not the one time when it mattered so damn much.

He'd known how Daniel felt about him for a while now, though they'd taken a slight detour along the way, and Jack was starting to figure out that he felt the same. Maybe. This was kind of new to him, this realisation that he wanted more from his friendship with Daniel than he'd ever known, that he wanted a closeness with him that he hadn't experienced with anyone in quite a while.

But thinking and doing were two completely different things.

What could he say to Daniel, anyway? And why the hell should it be him that had to make the first move? There was a part of Jack that reminded him he had the most to lose, that knowing what he knew about Daniel gave him the upper hand for once. And that wasn't something Jack had all that often where Daniel was concerned.

But the last thing he wanted to do was mess it all up, blow his friendship with Daniel out of the water for a different kind of relationship that might not even work. They were very different, him and Daniel, in so many ways - who was to say they could make this thing happen?

They both had too much to lose.

But that didn't mean Jack could stop thinking about what it would be like. Or thinking of all the things he couldn't really express in words, the things he wanted from Daniel and yet feared to rely on anyone for, all of them mixed and mingled together. And it didn't stop the mental images that both aroused and worried him, in equal measure.

Jack couldn't perceive doing some of those intimate things with anyone he didn't trust completely, and so far Daniel was the only candidate for that position. Daniel was the only person Jack wanted to be that close to.

He had to admit to himself that he wanted to see that expression again, the one he'd last seen on Daniel's face when they were all on Kheb. Daniel had been desperate to show him something, and then delighted with Jack's reaction to what he could do. Or what Daniel thought he could do, as they'd discovered later on that it wasn't him doing it at all. It had seemed too good to be true, even at the time, but Jack hadn't wanted to rain on Daniel's parade.

It had been a while since he'd seen Daniel that excited about anything, that enthused, and Jack had missed it. He'd missed Daniel. And he didn't ever want to feel that loss again. He wanted to see that kind of pleasure on Daniel's face once more, but Jack was never quite sure that he could do what was required to make it happen.

So, Jack supposed, despite everything, that was why he was keeping his mouth shut and his hands to himself at the moment.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Daniel had tried not to think about Nick, even as the camera on the MALP showed him the crystal skull on its pedestal.

Of course, Daniel's own stay in a padded room a couple of months back had made him wonder whether certain family traits were coming out, but he'd survived that experience and tried to push those worries to the back of his mind. It had been so long since Daniel had last seen Nick, and they'd parted on such bad terms, that even talking about him hurt a little.

Jack had looked interested anyway, maybe a little surprised that Daniel should have anything as normal as a grandfather, even if Nick didn't exactly fit the bill. He'd hardly been a kindly old man, having had an acerbic edge to his tongue, and a low tolerance level for anything other than brilliance, even when Daniel was young.

He'd visited Nick in hospital, at one time he would have said that they were close, but, as time had passed and Daniel's academic ambitions had been affected by his theories about the pyramids, they'd argued. In the end, the two of them had been left with nothing they could talk about that wouldn't spiral into harsh words. So Daniel had stopped visiting.

He'd hated himself for it, but he'd pushed that pain back into the darkest recesses of his mind, only bringing it out for examination first when he'd been thought crazy himself, and again now, seeing the skull.

Daniel didn't like to remember he could be that petty, and he'd wondered what the others would think of him if they found out the truth. Pushing those memories to the back of his mind as best he could, Daniel carried on with the briefing about what Nick had discovered.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, the enigmatic Dr. Jackson has a grandfather...

Jack listened to Daniel's voice, considering the things Daniel didn't say, and the way that he said the things he did, and decided that overall he didn't like what he heard. He'd been surprised by this revelation, though of course Daniel had to have had grandparents, but in the end it was in keeping with Daniel's nature. Getting personal information out of him was like getting blood out of a stone, though Jack had to concede to himself that he wasn't that much better.

Two close-mouthed individuals, him and Daniel, when it came to anything personal at least; it was just one more of the things they had in common.

But it seemed like being ridiculed by academics was a trait that ran in the Jackson family as well, so Jack had to consider the possibility, slight as it was, that 'Nick' had also been right. There was more to this story than met the eye, Jack could tell. He hadn't been hanging out with Daniel this long without seeing when Daniel wasn't telling the whole story.

Still, it was a golden opportunity to say something positive to Daniel, and Jack seized it with both hands.

He knew Daniel still remembered what it was like to be ridiculed by his fellow scavengers, and the memory of his grandfather's struggle to be believed had to have struck some chord within him. Though it was more than possible Nick had been as crazy as a loon, he could also have been right, like Daniel had been right.

After all, was a teleporting skull any crazier an idea than a big stone circle that let you travel between planets?

Jack's reward was just a look from Daniel, but he'd basked in it for quite a while. He could read that expression of Daniel's with no problem at all, so then Jack pushed for a little more, supporting Daniel and Carter's pleas to Hammond to be allowed to visit the planet as wholeheartedly as he could.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Daniel found himself at the back of the line as they headed towards where the skull was. He'd never been all that keen on heights, and even if that hadn't been a problem, the great emptiness that stretched either side and above the narrow walkway they were on would have done little to fill him with confidence. Still, if he wanted to see this thing....

When they'd reached the pedestal itself, Daniel could hear Sam going on about the discoveries they were making here changing the face of physics as they knew it, but he'd been drawn to the skull itself. From the moment Daniel laid eyes on it, he'd understood Nick's fascination, as he found himself face to face with the Belize skull's identical twin. It was impressive, Daniel had to admit, as it faced him impassively from its position on a chest-high pedestal of unworked stone.

Then something was happening; rays of light beginning to swirl inside the skull. Daniel leaned closer, looking deep into the crystal itself, his eyes focussing on the source of the light, deep within the skull's interior. The crystal itself was pinkish, its natural hue he supposed, but now it was turning white, the light swirling and coalescing inside to....

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Aw crap.

Daniel had just up and vanished, when Teal'c had zatted that damn skull. There had been no prior warning of what was to come - one minute Daniel was just standing there at the top of the steps, staring at the skull as Jack tried to stop his eyes glazing over from Carter's technobabble, the next sparks were shooting out from it and Daniel was just gone. Like he'd never even been there.

Carter had said something then about their having to get out of there, before the radiation fried them all, but there was no way Jack could leave without Daniel. The only problem with that resolution was, where the hell was Daniel?

Next thing Jack knew, Carter had keeled over and he was faced with a tough choice. Since he'd no idea where Daniel was, he'd no way of making sure Daniel was okay - what he did have was a chance to get the rest of his team out. He'd always hated this. Hated leaving someone, anyone, behind, most of all Daniel. The feeling gutted him like a fish, leaving him open and bleeding.

Still, they had to go, and go now, before they all ended up like Carter. Jack picked her up, shouldering her without too much difficulty, though the major was no lightweight, and yelled for Teal'c. There was no time to see if Teal'c was following, as Jack just headed for the narrow stone walkway, taking it at a run this time, all the time hoping that Daniel would be okay.

But, even as Jack left, he knew that a part of him was still there, with Daniel. Wherever that was.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Why was he lying face down on the rock at the bottom of the pedestal steps? The last thing Daniel remembered was light swirling inside the skull, forming into something, but what?

Just as he was coming to some kind of conclusion, his normally acute intellect reacting sluggishly this time, Daniel realised he was no longer alone. He heard footsteps coming towards him at a run and turned his head just in time to see Teal'c go straight past him, as if he didn't see Daniel lying there. What was going on? And where were Jack and Sam, anyway?

Teal'c had headed straight for the pedestal, getting a small case out of his backpack, his expression intent and focussed. Daniel was forced to step back as Teal'c finished stowing the skull in the case and headed straight down the steps towards him. And then straight through him.

Okay, Daniel thought, no time to try and figure this out now...

Daniel shrugged off his vest and all its various encumbrances and ran after Teal'c, trying to ignore the chasm that stretched out to either side of the narrow corridor of rock they were on. As they reached where the MALP was still standing, Teal'c paused, and then turned, looking back to where Daniel was. He wondered for the briefest of moments whether Teal'c was about to admit he knew Daniel was there, but then Teal'c looked right through him again.

This is so weird - what the hell is going on?

Daniel followed Teal'c back to the 'Gate, talking to him all the while, but without a response. When they headed back through the 'Gate itself, stepping through the event horizon, Daniel was just a couple of steps behind Teal'c, the wormhole disengaging as he was barely on the ramp.

This was getting stranger and stranger.

Daniel walked down the ramp, to where Teal'c was talking to Hammond and Siler. He was just in time to hear Teal'c's words, to hear him tell Hammond that he had found no-one on the planet.

So, I'm invisible, am I? Daniel thought, waving his hand in front of Siler's face. Siler didn't even blink. Looks like it.

Turning to Hammond, Daniel's hand seemed to pass through Hammond's head as easily as Teal'c had run through him back on the planet.

This is weird, Daniel thought. I hope it's temporary.

But what if it wasn't?

Daniel could feel himself starting to panic, the first cold fingers of fear clawing at him, and he forced himself to listen to what Hammond and Teal'c were saying, just to give his over-active imagination something to do. To push that fear to some place he could deal with it.

Something's wrong with Sam? And where's Jack, anyway? Damn, this not panicking isn't easy.

Torn between following the skull to where Rothman was and going with Teal'c, Daniel realised it was more than likely that Teal'c was headed for the infirmary. There was nothing he could do to help Rothman anyway, if Robert couldn't even hear him, and he needed to see that Jack and Sam were okay. That was one decision made, anyway, as he followed Teal'c out of the 'Gate room.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dr. Fraiser was throwing her weight about, having kept Jack in the infirmary when he was desperate to be up and looking for Daniel. Where could Daniel have gone, anyway? Had that grandfather of his been right all along about the skull? Had Daniel been transported off to some aliens somewhere? And if so, how did they get him back?

Jack couldn't help thinking the worst. Daniel had said in the briefing that Nick had tried for years to make the skull work again, but without success, so what if they couldn't follow wherever it was that Daniel had gone? Jack refused to consider any other alternatives. He knew that Daniel could be dead, that the shaft of energy they'd seen erupting from the skull could as easily have fried him as sent him somewhere, but what good would thinking like that do anyone?

Jack needed something to focus on for now, and that something was finding Daniel and bringing him home.

Well, at least being in the infirmary had given him time to think. About all the things that he wished he'd done, things he wished he'd said, about the argument they'd had in Daniel's darkened bedroom. Had he really considered not telling Daniel the truth after all because he wanted some kind of hold over him? How dumb had that been?

Jack decided that he'd give anything now, put up with anything, if it just gave him the chance to have Daniel back here with him safe and sound. And when Teal'c arrived, bringing with him an air of indefinable sadness and the news that he'd seen no sign of Daniel on his return to the planet, Jack felt his resolve harden. Somehow, some way, he would get Daniel back from wherever he was.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This was just weird, Daniel decided, as he roamed the corridors of the SGC. It was bad enough that no-one could see him, but not being able to communicate at all was turning this into his worst nightmare - people walking through him if he didn't hasten to get out of their way didn't help much either.

He had to wonder, though he'd tried to suppress the thoughts as much as he could, whether there was any way to reverse what had happened to him. Whatever that was. The last thing he remembered was gazing into the skull itself, seeing some kind of energy whirling round inside it, a blast of white light, and that was all.

Daniel began to realise that he wasn't actually hungry, or tired, or feeling any of the physical sensations he would have expected. Emotions, yes, those he still felt, but nothing more. Nothing that would seem to indicate that he was alive, that this limbo state he found himself in could be reversed.


He'd told himself he wouldn't panic. What was it that drove him back towards the infirmary, that drove him to want to go see Jack again? Even if he couldn't communicate with him, couldn't make Jack realise he was there, being around him would probably bring everything back into perspective once more. He hoped.

But first he had to wait for someone to use the elevator and Daniel found himself pacing restlessly in front of the doors before anyone came along.

Then he was forced to loiter in the car itself for quite a while, going up and down between floors in the hope that someone might eventually be going to the level he wanted. After all, Daniel had discovered quite early on that, though he could walk through doors and walls the same way that other people could walk through him, he'd yet to master the art of pressing buttons.

It seemed to take forever - Daniel was tempted to move around, even though there were other people in the elevator car, but the shivery sensation he felt when people walked through him was something he didn't want to repeat, no matter how frustrated he might be.

Finally, when the doors slid open on the floor in question, he slipped out behind the people as they left, and headed down the corridor in search of Jack.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He'd always considered that life was too short to have regrets, that it was pointless thinking too much about the things you'd either chosen not to do or never had the opportunity to. But that was a point of view that Jack was starting more and more to despise.

He regretted a lot of things, things he couldn't change, and Daniel's recent confusion over where he stood with Jack held an uncomfortable position up there with the best of them now that Daniel was MIA.

Jack wished he'd been more careful, that he'd spent more time with Charlie, had given more of himself to Sara both before and after Charlie died, even though he knew those wishes to be pointless. Things had happened as they had and there was nothing he could do now to change them - regretting them, wishing it had all been different would just drive him headfirst into a spiral of despair he'd experienced often enough before.

But he also wished he'd told Daniel the truth from day one, that he hadn't just slapped him on the back and said it was good to see him when in fact it was better than good. Much much better. As soon as he'd found the letter, as soon as Daniel came back unexpectedly safe and sound from that mission, he should have said something.

But he'd been afraid, that was the truth of it, and Jack knew that now. The hours he'd spent staring at the infirmary ceiling had given him lots of opportunity to consider and dissect his motivations. He'd been afraid of showing his hand, afraid of rocking the boat; in the end he'd just been plain chicken.

All that talk of just wanting to be friends with Daniel, of being scared to destroy the relationship he had in favour of one that might not work - it was all just empty excuses.

Janet seemed to be still on some kind of power-trip, her eyes sharp on Jack's every move as she stormed around the infirmary, and though he'd tried to enlist Teal'c's help to get him out of there, it had been without success. There was no way in hell that Rothman would be able to figure out whatever had happened to Daniel, and Jack had said so to Teal'c in so many words, right before he'd fallen on his face. At least Teal'c had been the only audience to that, had been there to pick him up, even if it hadn't been the most dignified handling Jack had ever had.

He was right, though. The only person who could figure out what had happened to Daniel was Daniel, and no-one knew where the hell he was. If it had been a case of searching for him, of combing the damn planet they'd visited from 'Gate to pole and back again, Jack would have done it without a second thought. He wouldn't have thought of it as anything but necessary, no matter how long it took. After all, if it brought Daniel back safe and sound to him, the ends would justify the means.

But here he was, instead, flat on his back in the infirmary still. That just felt wrong somehow, like Jack was missing something. Oddly it also felt a little like Daniel was still there with him, somehow, even though he was nowhere around.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He'd never realised Jack felt like that. As big a nightmare as this invisibility thing was turning out to be, there were some things Daniel just couldn't find it in himself to regret.

Daniel had known for a while, after all, that Jack cared for him, but to hear Jack recognise his expertise, that was different. There was something natural and unforced about the way Jack had spoken, as if the words had come easily to him, much easier than Daniel would have expected. Like Jack didn't think he was a joke. Like Jack respected his abilities, despite all the stupid jokes he probably would have made if he'd realised Daniel was anywhere within earshot.

That was reassuring, sending warmth through Daniel when all he was otherwise feeling was the chill of a lack of sensation.

This invisibility thing was a little like being wrapped in cotton wool; he was insulated from reality, unable to touch or experience anything, and it was slowly but surely driving Daniel crazy. He'd always considered himself fairly resilient - he'd held up to some stressful situations in his time and survived them - but this was starting to take its toll. It felt like his edges were fraying, like he was gradually being worn away to nothing, and it scared the hell out of him.

What if this couldn't be reversed, whatever had happened to him back on the planet? Would he be fated to waste away to nothing, trailing around in the SGC like... like a ghost?

Daniel shuddered.

He'd had some success earlier, he'd thought, with trying to communicate with Teal'c while he was in kel-no-reem, but nothing like enough to give himself a realistic hope of rescue that way. Even if he knew where it was he needed to be rescued from and how. At least Teal'c returning to get the skull had meant he hadn't been trapped on that planet alone. Not that what he was going through right now felt much better, but at least while he was here there was always a chance.

And now, it seemed, the others were planning to go visit Nick, which sounded altogether like a last desperate clutching at straws. The guy had been in a mental hospital for the last 20 years - what was he going to be able to tell them?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If it hadn't been for Daniel's persistence, Jack thought, as he straightened up from the watercooler and looked around, this could have been him we're visiting now.

He couldn't help thinking about that time, the memories of seeing Daniel so distressed coming back to haunt him when he least expected them. Seeing him sobbing in the corner of a padded room had been one of the worst things Jack had ever experienced, even though Daniel hadn't been anything like the first person he'd known who'd ended up in a place like that.

But he'd been the first person Jack cared so much about to suffer that way, Jack realised, as he walked back to rejoin the others.

Would he have continued visiting Daniel if he'd ended up somewhere like this? Jack had to wonder, and he wasn't completely sure whether he could have stomached it. After all, if you cared for someone, the last thing you wanted to see was them suffering, and Daniel had clearly been suffering.

The fact that he hadn't been crazy after all, that it had been those damn Goau'uld-killers of Machello's, didn't make much difference at the end of the day. It had only been because he'd basically thrown himself at Teal'c, because one of those things had then entered Teal'c and slowly but surely begun the process of killing him, that they'd realised Daniel wasn't as delusional as they'd previously thought.

If it hadn't been for that, if they hadn't had that kind of proof, what would have happened?

He couldn't think about that, Jack decided, as he crumpled the paper cup and threw it into the bin. He couldn't think about Daniel spending the rest of his life somewhere like this, drugged into a stupor to keep everyone else safe. They'd survived that experience, weathered that breach of trust, and moved on. And they would weather this too, somehow.

He'd find Daniel, wherever he was, and then Daniel would know the truth.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When they'd returned to the SGC, bringing Nick along with them, Daniel had hardly known what to do with himself.

Part of him wanted to be there with Rothman, hoping he would discover more about the skull, but Daniel knew that was a waste of time - Robert had been even more cynical than he'd expected and it was unlikely he'd be wasting much more time on something he'd described as a paperweight.

So, in the end, and feeling more than a little like a voyeur, Daniel had trailed after Jack like a lost puppy, following him to his quarters and watching him as he went to bed.

Daniel tried to think of the last time was that he'd been this close, this physically close to Jack, and decided it had been a while. The discovery of their feelings for one another seemed to have created a barrier between the two of them. They'd always been fairly relaxed before, so that backing away from one another's space had stood out, in Daniel's mind at least, as another side-effect of the truth of their mutual feelings coming out.

As he watched Jack sleep, Daniel relished this closeness, and wondered if this fleeting experience was all he would ever have.

He wished he could reach out and touch Jack now, that his touch could somehow wipe away the worry he'd seen in Jack's eyes when he'd realised that Daniel was still 'missing' and no-one knew how to bring him back. That no-one actually knew where he was. That was an expression Daniel knew he wouldn't be forgetting in a hurry, and it was also one he never wanted to see on Jack's face ever again.

If he could, he would have run his fingers through Jack's hair, even though Daniel wasn't sure whether, if he was really there with Jack, Jack would ever allow him to do that.

All Daniel wanted was a chance to have things back the way they were, a chance to try and make things work between him and Jack, a chance to be saved from this awful limbo.

That was all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In so many ways, Jack decided, Nick was just like Daniel - despite the long years he'd spent in that Oregon mental hospital, there was a spark of life in his eyes that looked very familiar. He'd seen that same stubbornness on Daniel's face, that same determination that he was right and no-one would persuade him otherwise. All very familiar, all things he wished he could see right now.

Of course, Hammond hadn't been happy, though Jack had known that he wouldn't be from the moment he'd agreed to Nick's demands. There was no way that the general could be pleased about the decision, but Jack had to believe that Nick knew something that could help them get Daniel back from wherever he was, and he'd be damned if he allowed red tape to get in the way of that.

And if that meant explaining himself to Hammond when they got back, so be it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Daniel had walked out of Hammond's office in a daze.

He supposed he shouldn't have eavesdropped on Jack's conversation with the general, but he'd been curious about what Jack would say. Jack had to know that Hammond wouldn't like the idea of Nick being there, and he hadn't, but he'd allowed Jack to persuade him it was a good idea without much doing.

And then Hammond had dropped the bombshell, after Jack had gone, telling his grandaughter in no uncertain terms how much he wished they could find Daniel. It was unexpected, to say the least; the taciturn general wasn't really one for sentiment, or at least that was what Daniel had always thought. But he'd been wrong.

Going to see Nick, going from one grandfather to another, Daniel had wondered at the difference between the two of them. What would his life have been like if Nick had been more like Hammond? More involved in his life, more interested, just there?

In hindsight, Daniel wondered how he hadn't realised that Nick could hear him - looking back on when they had first visited him in the hospital, he remembered that it seemed as though Nick had responded to one of the things he'd said, but Daniel had been so intent on what Nick was saying that he hadn't realised.

Somehow, wondering all the time what the hell Nick thought he had been playing at, Daniel managed to control his temper. It wasn't easy - all the frustration of the previous days welled together, making him want to grab Nick and shake him. It was lucky for him that Daniel couldn't touch anything, that he could only rant and rave a little.

But at least this way he could communicate. Not all of the things he wanted to say, the things that were only meant to be between him and Jack, but at least he could reassure his friends that he was there with them. That he was okay, and that they needed to sort this out. Somehow.

Nick had been surprisingly amenable to the idea, particularly when he'd realised what it was that Daniel had been up to. That he hadn't been the only one in the family to have an encounter with aliens. And that he could help Daniel just by passing on what he said.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Those familiar words coming out of an unfamiliar mouth, the slight accent itself something that made him pause a little, they were the last thing Jack ever expected to hear.

As they kitted up, Jack wondered why it had been so easy to believe the things that Nick had said, the words that Daniel seemed to be saying and him passing on. Because even if the voice was different, it didn't take much for Jack to hear Daniel in the words.

This had to work. One step at a time, but it had to. They could find Daniel, bring him home, and then everything would be okay.

Jack tried not to think about what would happen next. He'd made up his mind he'd deal with that when it happened, the most important thing now was getting Daniel back. Without that, all his resolutions could come to nothing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was over almost as soon as it had begun. The familiar white light had swirled around him once more, the same light that had done this to him in the first place, and then spread to the others.

Daniel had turned from where he stood by the pedestal, looking down towards where the others stood, and the first person he had looked for was Jack. And Jack had looked straight back at him, as if he had been searching for him all along, which, of course, Daniel knew he had.

He practically ran down the steps, even the realisation that Teal'c could now somehow not see any of them not enough to dampen his spirits.

That look he'd hated so much, the one he'd seen in Jack's eyes before, that look was long gone. In its place was one that promised much, and Daniel had to almost tear his eyes away from Jack's to look at the aliens when they appeared. As much as he wanted to ask Jack to explain, to demand he say what he was thinking, Daniel knew this wasn't the time or the place. But that look made Daniel think, had made him wonder just exactly what might happen between them now.

He was starting to feel alive again, in touch with reality once more, and that was a wonderful sensation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jack paced the corridor outside the infirmary, wondering when might be a good time to just 'drop by' and see how Daniel was doing.

Doc Fraiser had insisted on keeping him in for observation overnight, and then on running a battery of tests when the routine ones were done and the rest of SG-1 had been dismissed. Jack had almost pushed to stay behind, not really wanting to let Daniel out of his sight, but the look Janet had given him had changed his mind post haste.

He'd had enough of the infirmary anyway, Jack told himself, as he waited for the opportune moment to sneak back in. In the mean time, he loitered in the corridor outside, thinking about what had just happened back on the planet.

The smile Daniel had given him, when he'd returned from wherever he'd been, had been nearly as blinding as the light from the skull and much more welcome. On the way back to the 'Gate, Daniel had said something about being with them all the time he'd been gone, but it hadn't made a great deal of sense, and Daniel had been a little down about the idea of leaving Nick behind so Jack hadn't pushed that much, really. It wasn't as if he had a lot of family, so Jack knew that farewell had to have been hard on both of them.

Jack's initial response had been to want to grab hold of Daniel the moment he reappeared from nowhere, and not let him go for a long time - he'd wanted to reassure himself that Daniel was real, that he was really there. But in the end he'd settled for slapping Daniel on the shoulder; just like last time his resolve had crumbled. He was chickenshit, that was all there was to it.

It couldn't go on forever, he couldn't keep doing this, Jack told himself, no matter what response he'd made to Daniel in front of Carter. Because he'd been very aware of the major's eyes on him, as he'd schooled back his instinctive response to just wrap his arms round Daniel and hold on. And sometimes instinctive responses were the right ones, Jack knew that, even if they didn't exactly 'fit' with the image you wanted or needed to present to the rest of the world.

Just then the infirmary door opened and Janet looked out, her eyes a damn sight less worried than they had been when Jack had last been in there.

"You can come in now, colonel," Janet said, not looking at all surprised to see him there. "Just for a little while."

Jack nodded, hurrying over and slipping inside the infirmary as she held the door open for him. It was quiet inside, much quieter than he'd expected and the moment he saw Daniel Jack realised why.

"If you wake him..." Janet left the threat hanging. Jack nodded, barely hearing her words but knowing what she would say anyway, without taking his eyes off Daniel. He heard her walk away but didn't look round.

Well, this delayed things a little, not that he wanted any kind of meaningful conversation with Daniel in the infirmary anyway - too much chance of being overheard, or interrupted, or both. Daniel was asleep, his face relaxed, his hands curled loosely on top of the bedcovers.

Jack pushed down the urge to reach out and touch, knowing that urge was fuelled by memories of seeing Daniel disappear in a blaze of light, not the reality of him being here. He wanted to pull Daniel to himself, keep him safe and connected once more, but Jack knew that was something their surroundings wouldn't allow.

Besides, what would Daniel think if he woke?

Jack smiled to himself at the likely response, wondering if that would really make him give a damn, if he was able to summon up the courage to touch Daniel now, in the first place. He knew, deep down, that the only thing that stopped him doing so was one simple fact - if he allowed himself to touch Daniel now, Jack wasn't sure if he would ever want to let go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When he woke, Daniel wondered what had been reality and what had been nightmare. Was he really back? Really visible and tangible once more?

He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings, the familiar sights and smells of the infirmary, his eyes resting for a moment on the chair that had been moved to his bedside. Though it stood empty now, he could almost feel Jack's presence there and wondered when he'd left.

Daniel wanted to see Jack; he realised suddenly that he wanted that with a desire that surprised him a little, so much so that he was uneasy with its intensity. Was that how it was going to be from now on? Was he always going to be ambushed by his own emotions this way? He wasn't sure he liked the idea of that.

"How're you feeling this morning?"

Daniel looked round, wondering how Janet had managed to arrive by his bedside without him noticing her. He thought for a moment, treading the fine line between honesty and his desire to get the hell out of there as soon as possible to determine his response.

"Like I could do with another few hours sleep," he said, finally, leaning towards the truth. She nodded.

"I'm not surprised, Daniel. Did you sleep at all while you were invisible?"

"I don't think so. I didn't seem to need sleep or food."

"No wonder you slept so well last night," Janet said. "Colonel O'Neill came by to see how you were doing but you were already asleep by then."

"Jack was here?" Daniel found himself looking at the empty chair again, as if he somehow expected Jack to miraculously appear there.

"Most of the night," Janet said, without looking up from the chart she was reading.

So why wasn't Jack still here?

Daniel thought about this for a moment, the memories of all the times he'd woken up in this very place with Jack loitering nearby running together almost seamlessly. Waking up alone seemed wrong somehow, as though something important was missing, and he knew now just what that something was.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If he didn't want to betray himself completely, Jack knew that he had to leave the infirmary before Daniel woke up, had to make himself scarce till Daniel was sent home. Otherwise he'd be tempted to offer his services as a driver, let himself be 'persuaded' into taking Daniel back to his apartment, and he wasn't ready for all that entailed just yet. Daniel needed to have a chance to settle in at home first, before Jack rocked the boat in the way he planned to.

He'd seen that answering spark in Daniel's eyes, the smile that had been only for him even though Carter had been standing right there too, when Daniel had come bounding down the steps from where the pedestal stood. Jack had seen it all, he'd known exactly what it meant, and this time he hadn't backed off like before - he kept telling himself that all he was doing was buying bought himself a little breathing space.

Not that he was completely sure how things would progress between them - Jack had to admit to himself that this was uncharted territory he was moving into. And that worried him a little, though less because it was a journey he planned to be making with Daniel than if it had been someone else. There was no way he would have allowed himself to be this vulnerable with someone else, that he'd have been so prepared to lay everything on the line like this, Jack knew that for a fact.

Still, the minutes seemed to tick by incredibly slowly, as he watched the hands on the clock inch their way round. Then, when he judged it was safe, Jack phoned the infirmary, only to be told that Daniel had been discharged home with strict orders to rest, and that he'd just been accompanied out of there by the airman who was driving him home.

Jack thanked the nurse and put the phone down, calculating just how long he should wait. He needed to leave it another hour before going over to Daniel's apartment, he decided - he wanted to get there shortly after Daniel had got home, but before ongoing fatigue might cause him to take to his bed once more.

Settling back in his chair, Jack watched the clock again.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This was very odd, Daniel decided, as he waved to the airman who had dropped him off outside his apartment building then watched the car speed off into the distance. He'd almost expected Jack to show up, ready to bring him home and put him to bed, though Daniel wasn't sure whether he could have stopped himself from blushing if Jack had used those words again this time.

Or whether Jack would even say that kind of thing now, knowing what he knew.

Daniel paused with his hand on the door into the building, considering. The last time Jack had made that kind of wisecrack had to be after he'd discovered the letter, which meant that all those comments Jack had made which he'd thought were perfectly innocuous needed to be reconsidered and reinterpreted. Shaking his head, Daniel pushed the door opened, wondering if he would ever be completely sure what was going on.

At least the elevator was working. Daniel thought back with a smile to his journeys up and down in the SGC elevator when he'd been invisible, glad that particular nightmare had come to a satisfactory end. He pushed the button for his floor and leaned against the back wall of the car as the elevator made its way upwards sluggishly.

Once inside his apartment, his first port of call was the answering machine, but the light remained stubbornly unwinking. No calls from Jack, then.

He hadn't expected there to be one, not really.

One thing he did know about Jack was that he was unpredictable, but chances were he'd turn up at Daniel's place sooner or later, more or less willing to talk, depending on his mood.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Even as he drove over to Daniel's place, Jack could feel the tension inside himself growing with each passing mile. He felt like someone was winding up a giant spring inside his chest, tightening it a notch at a time till he thought that he'd just explode. He couldn't remember feeling this nervous in a very long time.

What if he was making a major mistake? What if he'd misinterpreted everything, misread the signs he'd seen, and was thinking Daniel being glad to be safe was Daniel looking for something more?

No. He couldn't let himself think that way. He'd seen the look on Daniel's face, the way he'd smiled, and the promise in Daniel's eyes. The look that had said more than their circumstances had allowed. Much more.

But this was uncharted territory, Jack knew, for both of them. Even if things were much clearer now between them, even if he had more of an idea of what both he and Daniel wanted, that didn't mean it was all going to be plain sailing from now on. This was, after all, a step into the unknown.

Jack found himself at Daniel's apartment building almost before he realised, and he sat for a moment in the Jeep before getting out. This had to work, they had to make it work, somehow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Daniel rubbed his palms nervously on the legs of his chinos as he crossed to open the door, knowing before he did so who was outside. He'd been waiting for Jack, expecting him ever since he'd left the infirmary, and he'd wondered how long it would take him to get over here.

And now he was here; suddenly Daniel wasn't feeling half as confident as he had been.

Nothing in his wide-ranging repertoire of fantasies, nothing in the number of times he'd run through this very scenario in his mind, could prepare Daniel for the reality of seeing Jack standing outside his apartment door. Daniel wondered how big an idiot he looked, whether he was just standing there with his mouth open as he tried to figure out what to say. Before he could rescue himself, Jack spoke.

"Can I come in?" Daniel nodded, feeling his face redden with embarrassment.

Jack smiled at him, and Daniel felt something inside him lurch to a halt. The nervousness he had been feeling, the thing that had robbed him of the words he usually had no difficulty in finding, just seemed to evaporate like mist.

He'd known Jack long enough now that it was difficult for him to misunderstand what he saw there in Jack's expression. It was complex, a complicated mixture of emotion and desire, but there was nothing there to be afraid of. Nothing Daniel wasn't feeling as well.

Daniel closed the door, letting the routine of it carry him for a moment, giving himself a chance to re-group, to pull himself together.

"How're you doing, Daniel?"

"Is this a social call?" Daniel asked, ignoring Jack's question. He watched Jack carefully as he turned, his eyes running up Jack's body in a slow assessing movement, one he knew that Jack had no difficulty noticing or interpreting for what it was.

"I can do social," Jack replied, his eyes darkening a little. "If that's what you want, Daniel."

Or whatever else you'd like. The unspoken continuation of that sentence hung between them, almost audible.

"I'm not sure that you're ready for what I want, Jack," Daniel said, surprising himself at the coolness with which he heard himself speak. He didn't feel as cool as he sounded, though; Daniel felt as though his face burned with embarrassment.

"I had a lot of time to think, while you were gone." Jack met his eyes fearlessly, the look long and intense. His eyes were full of promise, all the things Daniel had thought he'd seen before seeming to pale before the things that Jack was offering now. "I might surprise you."

"Jack." Daniel took a step forward, closer to Jack. And then another. They were face to face now, just a little space between them, so close that Daniel could reach out, if he dared. But that gesture, that one single movement would mean no going back.


Daniel leaned forward, bridging the space between them that way, though his hands itched for Jack, his fingers wanting nothing more than to wrap themselves in Jack's clothing, to stroke his skin, to explore every undiscovered inch.

"You already have."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He hadn't expected this. Where was the Daniel he thought he knew? Jack wondered where the Daniel he thought that he understood was, rather than this passionate stranger looking at him with familiar eyes.

They were so close now, and still Daniel didn't touch him. Jack was fed up with feeling like a holy relic, like something that would somehow be profaned if Daniel laid a finger on him. It was so ironic anyway - the last thing that he wanted to do with Daniel was anything that could possibly be described as sacred. Though hopefully both of them could experience some bliss in the very near future.

But not if Daniel wouldn't touch him.

He'd read the situation correctly. The things Jack had seen in Daniel when the skull had made him visible again, those things were true and honest and no amount of fear on Daniel's part was going to stop them experiencing every one. Jack wouldn't let that happen, wouldn't let Daniel short-change himself that way. He owed it to both of them to make up for lost time, one way or another.

Slowly, feeling like someone trying to gentle an animal that might turn and run, Jack reached out his hand. Daniel watched it like it was a snake about to strike, his gaze locked on the slow movement. Jack hesitated for a moment then grabbed Daniel's hand, bringing it up to rest on his chest, making the long fingers splay out over his heart. Daniel's hand was trapped there, his own hand holding it in place, and he felt its warmth seep through the material of his shirt.

"It's okay," Jack found himself saying. "This is real. I'm real. It's okay."

Daniel's eyes travelled up from where they had been, reluctantly moving to meet his.

"I never thought..." he began, before looking down again, back at where their hands joined.

"But you do want this." It was statement, not question, and they both knew it. "You want me."

Daniel nodded, without looking up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He had no idea how long they stood that way.

Daniel found himself fascinated with Jack's hand, feeling the warm solidity of Jack's chest under his palm, the hand that kept his own in place. Keeping him somewhere he'd always wanted to be. He just hadn't realised how badly till now.

This was real, something that he'd been wanting from before the time he was invisible, but that experience made this closeness even more appreciated. He'd never been that tactile a person, not in comparison to Jack, for example, but that lack of contact had been some of the worst of it. Part of Daniel wanted to crawl inside Jack's skin with him now and never come out.

"You're not going to freak out on me, are you?" Jack asked.

Daniel smiled, hearing the concern in those words, balancing it with the patience Jack was currrently exhibiting.

"I was just thinking.."

"Scary words," Jack said, interrupting.

"I was just thinking," Daniel repeated, firmly. "About being invisible and how much it drove me crazy."

"So, you were there with us all the time?"

Jack had to have seen the reports, have heard what Daniel had told an Airforce stenographer about his experiences,but it seemed as though he needed to hear it for himself. And there were things Daniel had missed out in his for-public-consumption version of what had happened.

Like watching Jack sleep.

He couldn't figure out a way to make that innocuous, to strip it of all the emotions he had been experiencing, so he just decided not to mention it, and no-one had been the wiser. At least, not till now.

"All the time. I had nowhere else to go."

Slowly, Jack removed his hand from Daniel's - Daniel shuddered slightly at the loss of contact, only the reality of Jack there still, under his palm grounding him. Then, before he could object to that loss, he was pulled close, Jack's arms wrapping around him until he was sure he'd get his wish from before. That they'd merge somehow, he'd slip beneath Jack's skin and feel safe, feel real for the first time in ages.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It wasn't as if he hadn't hugged Daniel before, but this was different. Because Jack wanted it to mean more, to promise more than he could find the words to say, to tell Daniel he was safe and wanted and there. That they were both there, body and spirit.

He'd read Daniel's report, that was one of the things Jack had done as he'd sat at Daniel's bedside, but he'd known the words hid more than they revealed. That Daniel had been scared, afraid that he'd be trapped that way forever, and that seemed a realistic fear. One that Daniel probably wouldn't admit to even under torture and that certainly didn't find its way into the dry prose of his report.

Even as he held Daniel close, his warm breath gusting across Jack's ear, he thought about how he'd felt knowing Daniel was missing, how he'd wondered if he'd ever get the chance to be this close. He'd thought about so many things, decided that he'd been an idiot, that things had to change between them, but now he had no idea where to begin.

"I don't know about you, Daniel," he said, quietly, conscious of how close his mouth was to Daniel's ear. "But I'm beat. Want to hit the hay?"

He felt a pressure against his chest as Daniel pushed with his hands, giving himself enough space to look Jack in the eye.

"Is that the best you can manage?"


"As pick-up lines go, Jack, that's pretty weak," Daniel said, with a small smile.

Oh, so that's how we're going to play it? Jack thought, feeling suddenly not quite so out of his depth. He could do this, it wasn't so different from what they'd both been used to after all - teasing was familiar, in a way that something more intimate might have been alien to both of them.

"Why should I need a pick-up line, Daniel?" he asked, smiling back. "Haven't I already got you just where I want you?"

There was always a risk that he'd go too far, push Daniel into something that he didn't want to do, but as long as they could talk, surely they'd be okay?

Daniel snorted, pushing himself out of Jack's embrace.

"You calling me easy, Jack?"

As he spoke, Daniel headed away from where they'd been standing and Jack just watched him go. Before he'd even reached the living room, a matter of a couple of paces, Daniel had glanced back over his shoulder. There was an unspoken invitation there, one that Jack knew immediately. It was exactly the look he'd seen on the planet. The one that had warmed him like sunshine hitting his skin.

"Maybe," Jack replied, following. "Or that might just be me."

He caught up with Daniel before he reached the couch, latching onto his arm and turning him, Daniel not resisting at all. Suddenly they were face to face once more.

"We can do this the easy way," Jack snarled, seeing that Daniel wasn't at all convinced by his bravado.

He leant forward and kissed Daniel slowly, infinitely gently - he saw Daniel's eyes widen slightly but no other reaction. Jack pulled back before he spoke again.

"Or we can do this the hard way." This time the kiss was snatched, more aggressive - this time Daniel responded, arms embracing Jack, pulling him close, mouth exploring.

Jack was the one who pushed this time, freeing himself from Daniel's embrace long enough to speak.

"Works for me," he said, before shoving Daniel back onto the couch.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This was real.

As he plundered Jack's mouth, Daniel wondered if he came across as desperate, but he wanted to experience as much as he could. It seemed as though his body was hungry for sensation, needing to make up for lost time, to experience all the things he'd missed so much when he'd been invisible.

Here they were. Daniel and Jack. Together, on Daniel's couch, with more on the way if he had anything to do with it.

This was real.

Things were so clear between them now, all the lies and pretense of the past weeks and months pushed aside. It had taken him watching Jack be tortured and Jack 'losing' him because of the skull to make this happen. To make them look past what had come before, choose to commit, choose to risk what they already had in favour of what might happen.

This was real.

Pulling back from Jack's kiss, before wrapping himself as closely round Jack as he could, Daniel decided that he liked reality just fine.

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions and Gekko Productions. This story is written for entertainment purposes only - no money whatsoever has changed hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations and storyline are the property of the author - not to be archived elsewhere without permission.

This page created by Graculus - last changed 12/6/2001.