It was dark, it was quiet, and he was alone.
Daniel slid his hand across to the other side of the bed, trying to ignore the way it was shaking. As he'd suspected, the sheets were already cool, their temperature marking the passage of time since Jack had left for home. Daniel lay back, breathing slowly to try and calm his heartbeat, which seemed to echo loudly in the silence of his bedroom.
The rational part of Daniel's mind told him Jack had left a couple of hours before he woke. He'd wanted to get home, to keep to some kind of routine - it was part of Jack's plan to keep their newfound relationship a secret.
But that didn't stop Daniel reaching for Jack every time he woke, his hand scurrying out across the bed instinctively towards him, before he woke enough to remember Jack wasn't there.
The nightmare still seemed so real.
Daniel had endured nightmares before - for years he had been plagued by fractured memories of his parents deaths, along with the usual childish dreams a child has, inhabited by monsters. Since joining the SGC he had experienced enough to ensure that his dreams were often troubled, but nothing like this. There had been no clue this time that it was a dream as Daniel raged and screamed within it.
Even now, Daniel could feel the warm wetness on his hands as he tried to keep Jack's life from ebbing away, smell the sickly-sweet scent of blood, feel his throat rasp with the screams that had erupted from it.
Daniel pulled himself back up the bed, till he could sit upright and reach the bedside light. Turning it on, he ran weary hands over his face, feeling them shake slightly still. In the light, it was easier to remember the truth, push those nightmare images back into the depths of his mind where they belonged. The adrenaline was subsiding now, Daniel decided, as he felt himself shake more with reaction. Just thinking back, turning over those nightmare images in his mind, made his heart begin to pound once more.
It was just a dream.
Jack was alive.
It was just a dream.
But the mantra failed to calm him. It left Daniel unsettled instead, the words a poor weapon against the reality of what he had just experienced.
Daniel tried to keep things business-like when he got to the SGC - he tried to pretend everything was okay as he took his usual seat at the briefing room table, his mug of coffee like a shield. He saw Jack nod in welcome, saw too the stronger emotions which lurked in Jack's eyes, then felt the weight of his gaze. Normally, Jack's scrutiny was comforting, reassuring, but this morning it felt oppressive.
As usual, there were folders in front of the four seats SG-1 would occupy, and Daniel opened his, absently paging through the information there. He stopped on one photograph, one grainy image from the MALP transmissions - there was something about it, something sinister.
The smell came back to him first, and Daniel jerked instinctively, spilling coffee on himself. For the briefest of moments, the coffee oozed stickily across his skin, warm as the blood he had tried so desperately to hold back. Daniel knew that his face must show it all, the nightmare, the fear he had experienced, even for the briefest of moments before he regained control.
He glanced across at Jack, though he already knew what he would see.
Jack's eyes were intent on him - he was halfway out of his chair, his palms laid flat on the briefing room table to push himself up. Ready to come to Daniel's side.
Daniel shook his head at Jack, taking a shuddering breath to calm his nerves, just as the others arrived in time to cause the perfect distraction. Looking round to smile in greeting at Sam, Daniel saw movement out of the corner of his eye as Jack sank back into his seat. Not over, just delayed.
Jack caught up with him in the corridor after the briefing. He glanced down at the mission folder Daniel clutched to his chest.
"You feeling okay?" Jack asked, looking concerned.
"I'm fine," Daniel lied, as he felt himself back away from Jack slightly. He didn't want to get into this kind of discussion in the SGC corridor. "Just trouble sleeping, that's all."
He knew his body language was projecting 'leave me alone, Jack', but, as usual, Daniel had no idea whether Jack would interpret it as he wanted.
"Missed me?" Jack said, quietly, leaning closer.
His eyes were dark, full of concern and curiosity, a mixture that both intrigued and alarmed Daniel. Jack had to suspect something was wrong - he had been halfway out of his seat to come to Daniel's assistance before Daniel had been able to calm himself. Even if he only suspected something, it was unlikely Jack would let it go.
Daniel didn't want to have this conversation, the one that would reflect the level of worry he'd seen in Jack's eyes, so terseness had to be a possible tactic to avoid it. He shuddered slightly, trying to push back the sensations of warmth pulsing against his hands, feeling his stomach churn with the memory.
Daniel stepped back again, until his back hit the wall. He saw the airman coming down the corridor towards them long before Jack even realized the woman was there. Daniel met Jack's eyes briefly, a quick jerk of his head alerting Jack to her presence. Jack looked round calmly, as if this kind of intense conversation in the hallway was an everyday occurrence.
With a nod of acknowledgment and a slightly curious expression on her face, the airman passed them, and Daniel's eyes returned to Jack. Jack was watching him, his eyes still full of worry. How much more worried would he be if he realized the truth? Was this the first sign of some kind of breakdown?
"Not here," Daniel said, curtly. "We talked about this."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it," Jack muttered.
Daniel stepped past him and headed off down the corridor once more, relieved to have escaped the conversation so easily. He knew it was only a brief reprieve - there was no chance Jack would leave him alone if he suspected something was wrong, but for now....
For now, Daniel didn't have to try and keep his stomach contents under control at the memory of the life fading from Jack's eyes, the way his own voice had rasped with pain as he begged Jack to stay with him.
"Glad you're okay!" Jack called out, as Daniel turned the corner.
Jack watched, more than a little puzzled by the turn of events, as Daniel stalked away from him down the corridor. They hadn't been together all that long, and everything had seemed to be going fine - the ease with which he and Daniel had taken the considerable step between friend and lover had surprised him.
That ease had unsettled him slightly, making him jumpy, over-protective, and he knew it was driving Daniel up the wall. But he hadn't imagined the expression on Daniel's face, the one that had made him react instinctively, the one that had made Jack want to be there.
There was something different this morning, a look in Daniel's eyes which had not been there the night before when Jack had reluctantly left his sleeping lover behind.
It had been the last thing he wanted to do - what kind of idiot would want to leave the warm embrace of someone he cared for and drive halfway across town to an empty bed? The deception rankled with him, it felt like a betrayal, like he was going back to someone else, and Jack wondered at times how it made Daniel feel.
Though he knew he had played an instrumental role, as had Daniel, in the reactivation of the SGC, Jack didn't kid himself that he was irreplaceable. And the slightest whiff of any kind of scandal could see him taking early retirement before you could say 'Teotihuacan'. Except for one thing - that would mean his chance of any kind of life with Daniel was impossible, and that thought pushed Jack out of Daniel's warm embrace when he was at his most reluctant to leave.
This had him worried.
Daniel was important to him, more than just a friend now because of all that they'd shared, one way or another, and that look in the briefing room had set off all sorts of alarm bells for Jack. He had seen the fear on Daniel's face - if he hadn't been indulging in his favorite sport of Daniel-watching, Jack knew that he might have missed it, it had been so fleeting. He'd seen that kind of fear before, knew it intimately from the inside, felt the racing pulse that accompanied it. Daniel was terrified of something, something that Jack currently knew nothing about, and he shivered in empathy.
That, combined with the fact that Daniel was clearly reluctant to talk about whatever it was, made a small knot of coldness form in Jack's stomach. Had it been too good to be true after all, Jack wondered, the idea that he and Daniel might be able to make a life together without the universe interfering?
He had wanted to reach out, bridging with a touch the space that was forming between them, even though he knew the risks involved, and that knowledge startled him a little. Priorities, Jack told himself firmly. But he couldn't make the thought stick - from the moment he had admitted to himself what Daniel meant to him, Jack knew that his universe had been turned upside down.
Back in his office, Daniel flicked through the pictures the MALP had sent back once more. He could feel worry creeping on him moment by moment, like cold hands across his skin. It all looked so familiar. But it had only been a dream, how could it be possible for him to recognize something from a planet they'd barely even thought of visiting yet?
This is ridiculous.
Daniel gathered up all the photographs and shuffled them together before he shoved them back into the folder. He paused for a moment, as he looked again at the photograph on the top of the pile. A strange rock formation, reminiscent of a crouching animal, waiting to pounce. Something he remembered seeing once before, in a nightmare.
Daniel closed the folder, then closed his eyes. The smell was there again, the stickiness on his hands.
"Jack is alive," he told himself, seeking comfort in the words. "It was just a dream."
But hadn't he seen, on Kheb, the power of the mind? Even though the monk had tricked him, making him believe that he was the one lighting the candle, maybe he had been given another, more terrifying gift there?
How could he explain this to Jack, who had been so rightly skeptical back on Kheb? Even after all the things they had seen and experienced, in all their trips across the galaxy, Jack remained someone who needed proof, something he could touch, words were rarely enough to convince him.
And what could Daniel say, anyway? "I had a premonition, Jack"? He knew what response that would get.
If Daniel noticed that Jack was watching him, he never mentioned it, not even coming out with his usual comments about Jack's mother-hen tendencies. If anything, he was unusually quiet, his stillness and silence drawing Jack's attention in a way that no amount of activity could have ensured.
It was like sparring, Jack decided. He had to wait for an opportunity to get inside Daniel's guard and make his move - if he telegraphed his attack, Daniel would just close down completely, make himself impenetrable to any form of assault.
Not that this made the waiting any easier. A knot of fear grew inside him. Had Daniel decided that what they had done was a mistake? Jack knew that Daniel liked to consider things from every angle - had he done that and decided what they had was wrong somehow? That they had been wrong?
Jack knew that pushing for the truth from Daniel at the wrong time could make that fear a reality, driving a chasm between the two of them that might never be bridged.
Not that this made waiting for the right moment any easier, as Jack watched and listened to Daniel, someone he cared deeply about who was clearly suffering under a burden he longed to share, no matter what the cost.
Daniel shuddered slightly, as he stepped through the Gate. Not just the instinctive reaction to the wormhole, but something more. His eyes seemed to be drawn to the rock formation he had seen on the photograph, the one in his nightmare, which loomed ominously over them.
"You're not coming down with something, are you?" Jack asked, throwing the words back over his shoulder at Daniel as he walked past him down the steps.
"I'm fine," Daniel replied, answering the concern in Jack's words more than the words themselves. He felt anything but, the coldness encroaching once more. But what was he supposed to say? "Be careful, Jack, this is the planet where I dreamt I saw you die."?
The rock formation he had seen in his dream, and then seen again in the photographs from the MALP, loomed over them, unmistakable. It towered over the surrounding scenery, dwarfing the small village that lay at its base.
The grass surrounding the 'Gate itself was lush and green, unbroken by any path. Daniel paused at the base of the steps and watched his team-members take their accustomed roles, Sam hurrying over to check the DHD, while Jack and Teal'c scanned the area for trouble.
Glancing upwards at the rock formation again, Daniel found himself glaring at it.
"I won't let it happen," Daniel vowed quietly.
"Wait here," Jack said, as they reached the outskirts of the village. He didn't even look to see if Daniel had done as he was told, just walked away, trusting to him to follow instruction.
Stay, roll over, good dog, Daniel thought, bitterly.
The rock formation cast a dark shadow over them. Daniel tried not to look at it, concentrating instead on watching for movement within the village, but its presence was overwhelming. It drew him, pulling his concentration back to its existence relentlessly.
The others were out of sight now. There was silence for a moment, before the gunshots began, making Daniel's heart race. What had he been thinking, letting Jack go anywhere without him? Suddenly all he could think of was his nightmare, cradling Jack's body as he tried to stop his life ebbing away, the terror he had felt.
Daniel ran, his hand fumbling at the strap which held his gun in place, fingers finally finding some leverage on it so he could pull it free. Its weight was reassuring, long hours of practice making him much more comfortable with it, more certain of his ability to do what needed to be done.
He skidded slightly on a patch of loose dirt, bracing himself with his free hand on a broken-down wall. There was no-one in sight, but the gunfire continued, echoing strangely in the deserted village but all seeming to come from one place.
Daniel knew which building it would be, instinct and memory combining to remind him of his nightmare, making him bite down on his lower lip to stop a sob escaping.
No time, he thought.
It was Jack's worst nightmare. It was the kind of scene he would have described as an example of the worst way a mission could go wrong. One minute, he had been walking into the deserted, half-destroyed village, hearing his footsteps echo in the silence, the next everything was chaos.
And in the midst of it all, unbidden, was Daniel. The one person he tried his hardest to keep safe, who he had told to stay put, was right there in the middle of everything bad and bloody. Jack had always relied on his own ability, and those of Carter and Teal'c, to keep Daniel safe, their shared responsibility for his safety weighing a little less heavily on each of them that way.
A responsibility that had only become heavier for Jack since they he and Daniel had become more than just friends.
Whatever it was they had woken, it erupted from the darkness with a scream of fury and headed straight towards Carter, long fingers outstretched to rend her into pieces before she could react. They opened fire, but the shots barely seemed to stagger the creature, who swiped at Carter. The blow sent her flying although it had barely connected.
Then Daniel was there, stepping into the creature's reach at just the wrong moment, as it turned to flee. Jack couldn't fire, for the longest of moments, couldn't risk hitting Daniel as the creature grabbed him by the throat, shaking him into submission. Jack's throat was dry, his hand shaking slightly as he looked for the shot, tried to figure out the angle that would let him stop this madness.
What the hell had Daniel been thinking? Anger and despair warred within him, as he tried not to think about the possibilities, even as his treacherous mind catalogued Daniel's possible injuries. Jack's mind raced, pushing him into the future, reminding him of memorial services he'd attended, standing with Carter at the top of the ramp with a wreath held between them. He couldn't allow that, not now. Not ever.
Teal'c crossed to where Carter lay - Jack spared them the briefest of glances, glad to see that Carter was moving, though sluggishly, knowing that Teal'c would keep her safe until she was able to protect herself once more.
Daniel was a different matter altogether. Jack followed the creature cautiously as it made its escape. He tried not to think about the way Daniel's body flopped and swayed alarmingly as the creature moved, the way his every breath was a racking gasp.
He tried only to think of what he needed to do. Jack looked for the shot with his till-then forgotten zat gun. He sought the moment, tried to push back the wave of fury and despair that threatened to overwhelm him as the creature choked the life from Daniel. Then it was there in his grasp.
It had grabbed at him, long fingers clutching at his throat until he thought that he was about to be shaken like a terrier shakes a rat. It had moved so swiftly, turning on him from Sam, that all he had the time to see what a dark shape, covered in matted hair, seemingly all teeth and claws.
He'd dropped his gun, as his fingers had clawed in a futile attempt to loosen the grip on his throat. His vision began to blur, dark spots appearing before his eyes. When the grip relaxed suddenly, Daniel hit the ground with a boneless thud, his lungs reaching desperately for every breath, rasping sounds coming from his tortured throat.
After a cursory check that the creature was finally dead, Jack crossed over to where Daniel lay, and squatted down next to him. His eyes were dark, and Daniel couldn't bear to look at him, couldn't see the reproach that he knew would be there.
"I'm fine, Jack." Daniel pushed Jack's hands away, his voice rasping and angry, though that was the last thing he really wanted to do. "I said, I'm fine!"
"What the hell were you doing running in like that, Daniel?" Jack asked, the words coming like bullets.
"I heard shooting."
Even as he spoke, Daniel realized he'd made a mistake. He saw Jack react, saw the anger that he was barely holding in check.
"I bet!" Jack said, angrily. "There was enough of it. I thought I told you to stay put?"
Daniel pushed himself to his feet with a grunt, flinching as Jack's hand touched him. Jack ignored his reaction, wrapping his hand in Daniel's sleeve, holding him still.
"If you'd done what I asked, Daniel," Jack continued as he turned Daniel slightly so he could examine his neck, "none of this would have happened."
The words stuck in his throat, the words Daniel knew could explain this, that could drain Jack's anger away. Why couldn't he say them? Explain it all?
"Then why didn't you just do what I said?"
"I heard the shooting, Jack. I thought...."
With those words, it all came crashing over Daniel once more - the despairing cries as he tried to hold Jack's lifeblood back, the creeping warmth that marked his failure. He couldn't. Daniel started to walk away, rather than face Jack's sympathy, with all that entailed. He had to be strong, had to work through this.
"You thought what?" Jack's hand grabbed his arm and pulled Daniel back to face him before he could make his escape.
"You know what."
Daniel heard his voice grind out the words, despising himself for the tiny tremors he could hear, the suppressed emotion. If Jack shook him, he would crack, shatter into a million pieces. But Jack was oblivious.
"No, I don't, Daniel. Why don't you spell it out for me, and make sure you don't use any long words!"
The abject misery in Daniel's quiet words drove a spike through Jack's heart. He tightened his grip on Daniel's sleeve, preventing him from pulling away even though he hadn't tried to yet.
What could possibly have possessed him to rush into danger like that? Daniel had no idea of the terror Jack had experienced in those seconds, as they seemed to last forever. He'd thought he knew before what it was like to lose someone under his command, that lesson had been drilled into him in the past with anger, fury and despair. But it was nothing compared to hearing Daniel gasp that way, gasps that still seemed to echo inside Jack's brain.
He wanted to shake Daniel, to make him realize that he wasn't alone, that it meant too much to both of them now. Like it hadn't before? Like every time Daniel was in danger Jack didn't die a little himself?
"I thought you were dead!" Daniel's voice rose unexpectedly, startling both of them with its loudness. "Don't you understand, Jack? I thought you were dead! I saw..." Jack lost his grip on Daniel's sleeve then, letting him go a couple of steps away before he realized he had even moved. "I was wrong, Jack. Wrong about a lot of things."
Jack's stomach seemed determined to make its escape through his throat. Jack forced himself to speak, pushing the words past the emptiness he felt. After all this time, didn't Daniel trust him, at least a little?
"You couldn't trust me?" Jack asked. "To do my job, to get us all out of here alive?"
"What, Danny?" Jack's voice caught on the affectionate nickname.
"That's what this is all about, isn't it?" Daniel said, choosing to take the diversion Jack had offered him. "You don't trust me to use my own judgment."
"You're a..." Jack stopped.
"A civilian?" Daniel finished the sentence for him. "No chance of me ever forgetting that with you around, is there?"
"What's really going on here, Daniel?" Jack's eyes were cold, assessing. "This isn't about you being a civilian, or me not trusting you, is it?"
"Leave it, Jack."
"I never thought of you as a quitter, Daniel," Jack snapped, smiling to himself coldly as the barb hit home.
"I'm tired," Daniel replied. "I can't do this now, okay?"
"You can't walk away from this forever, Daniel."
The misery in Daniel's voice stabbed at him, even now. Jack had thought that he had seen it all, weathered every kind of mood or emotion that Daniel could experience, but he had never heard him sounding so... broken. Even in those dark, confusing days after Sha're had died, there had still been a spark of life, something defiant, that had lingered in Daniel's eyes.
How could he live with himself, Jack wondered, if he was the one responsible for snuffing out the last tiny flame of hope that flickered inside Daniel? What kind of crime was that?
He shoved at that thought, ruthlessly, turning it to consider it from another angle. If Daniel was truly hurting that much, would he have said anything?
Jack had seen before that Daniel's favorite way of dealing with things was to clam up, to turn in on himself, immerse himself so deeply in his work that the paper choked him. But this time, he had spoken out, the misery lacing his words for anyone to hear. A cry for help?
Jack latched onto that possibility like a life-line, pulling it to him desperately. Daniel had called out to him, as surely as he had done in Nem's illusion, screaming out Jack's name as he was caught in fire. And this time he wouldn't be held back.
Even as he was being examined by Janet, her fingers impersonally moving across his neck to check for damage, Daniel knew Jack was nearby.
He couldn't pretend to himself that the encounter with the creature hadn't terrified him - if Daniel thought about it, allowed himself to dwell on it, the experience mingled with the remnants of his nightmares to make him shake with fear. He'd chosen to push that topic to one side, taken the opportunity Jack had given him to say it was about something else, something that was an old subject between them.
And how angry was Jack, anyway?
He'd been angry on the planet, but the proximity of Sam and Teal'c had made him hold back, Daniel was sure of that. He risked a glance across to where Jack was standing, but Jack's face was impassive.
"You're very lucky, Daniel," Janet said, as she stepped back and pulled off her surgical gloves with a resounding snap. "As far as I can tell, the creature did no permanent damage to your throat."
"Thanks," Daniel said, as he slipped off the bed, turning to pick up his jacket.
He wondered if he'd be so lucky by the time Jack had finished with him.
Jack had slipped outside into the hallway when he'd heard enough to be sure Daniel was okay, and now he waited for him to emerge from the infirmary. Something inside him clenched tight when he saw the worried look on Daniel's face, and Jack forced himself to smile. Even though it felt false, it must have worked, as Daniel looked a little less worried.
Jack glanced up and down the quiet corridor before he spoke.
"We need to talk." Daniel nodded, though clearly reluctant. "I'll be round later, okay?"
Jack didn't wait for Daniel's reply, not wanting to hear his stammered excuses, or reasons why it wasn't a good idea. In some ways, he was proud of his self-control - he hadn't erupted with anger as Daniel had obviously expected him to, but those emotions were still there, just banked below the surface. There would be time later for them to be dealt with.
At least, he hoped so.
Why was it, Daniel wondered, that, every time he was waiting for Jack to turn up, he was as nervous as the first time? The knock on the door made him start a little, even though it was expected, and Daniel took a couple of deep breaths as he crossed to the door.
"Come on in," he said, letting Jack into his apartment.
"You scared the crap out of me today, Daniel."
"What the hell were you thinking?" Jack asked, following Daniel down into the living room. "You could have been killed."
Daniel turned, suddenly.
"You think I don't realize that?" he snapped. He smiled to himself as he saw Jack take a step back, startled by the sudden words.
"Sometimes I wonder," Jack said, "and sometimes I have no idea whether you know anyone gives a damn about what happens to you, Daniel." Daniel found himself staring at Jack, caught completely off-guard by his words. "Don't you get it?" Jack continued.
Daniel shook his head.
"You don't understand, and I'm not sure I can explain it."
"This again?" Jack snapped, running his hand through his hair in an irritated gesture. "Don't push me away, Daniel. Just.... just don't."
"It's not easy."
Jack laughed at this, the lines in his face seeming to ease a little as Daniel watched him.
"Easy? Since when has anything we're in the middle of been 'easy', Daniel?"
"You have a point."
"I don't want to argue with you," Jack said, as he moved closer. "I'm just glad you're okay."
"Me too," Daniel said, not protesting as Jack reached him and pulled him into an embrace. "Me too."
"Stay," Daniel said, rolling over in the bed towards Jack.
"Nobody will know, Jack," Daniel said, watching Jack's economical movements as he dressed.
Jack turned back to him then, his eyes lingering for a moment on the bruises around Daniel's neck before coming up to meet his eyes.
"I can't," he repeated.
Daniel's hand moved across the bed towards Jack, and he watched its progress, wondering if it had a will of its own. The sheets were already beginning to cool. Daniel searched for the right words, the words that would make Jack stay, wanting him to be there, needing him to be. Maybe if Jack was there....
But by the time Daniel had found the words, Jack had already closed the door.
The darkness loomed over him, seeming to mock the futility of his gestures as Daniel tried to keep Jack alive. Jack's mouth was moving, a tiny trail of blood seeping from it, even as he tried to speak.
Daniel heard someone pleading, and it took a moment for him to realize that it was him. With each tiny movement, each beat of Jack's heart, his life ebbed away. Slipping through Daniel's fingers more like water than blood, as he struggled pitifully to hold it back. Without success.
"Stay with me!" he heard himself beg, but Jack just closed his eyes.
Daniel woke sweating, turning to where Jack should be before he was even awake, the coolness of the sheets jolting him into reality.
He lay back, feeling his heart pound, wondering how long he could do this. This wasn't working. Nothing was.
If Daniel had ever had any illusions about what it would be like working permanently for the military, they had soon been quashed by the piles of paperwork and endless meetings he had to attend. Every tiny detail was examined, and re-examined, it seemed, until the telling and re-telling of them made him want to scream.
He knew Jack was watching him, could feel the sidelong glances Jack gave him. It wasn't chance that had put him into the chair next to Jack for this debriefing - Daniel had chosen that seat deliberately. The last thing he needed this morning was Jack watching him.
There was a small spark of anger inside him, Daniel realized. Anger both towards himself and towards Jack - he hadn't been able to ask Jack to stay last night, even though he wanted him to, but he was also angry that Jack needed to be asked. He understood Jack's concerns, really he did, but that didn't stop Daniel from wanting him to be there.
Was this how his life was going to be now? Forever hiding, always scared of people finding out the truth?
He studied his notes intently, trying to quell the panic that was rising inside him. The nightmare was still fresh in his mind, the smell and feel of it so close to the surface, and Daniel tried to use the ordered words on the paper in front of him to turn his mind from them.
Could everyone hear his heart pounding? Did they know how scared he was?
Damn. Should have dealt with this last night.
He'd been angry, even on the drive over to Daniel's apartment, wanting to ask him what the hell he thought he was playing at, but in the end nothing had come of it. Overwhelming relief that Daniel was okay had been the stronger emotion in the end, and it had made Jack want to try and forget he had even been mad at Daniel.
And since when did he ever have much self-control where Daniel was concerned anyway?
Seemed like all Daniel had to do was look at him sometimes and he was sunk.
But this wasn't over, not by a long way. He'd seen that expression he hated on Daniel's face again, and he didn't like it, not one bit. There was something going on, something more than just another in the long line of Daniel's near-death experiences, and he would find out what it was or his name wasn't Jack O'Neill.
"What aren't you telling me, Daniel?" Jack asked that night, as they were eating pizza together.
"What?" Daniel paused and looked at him, a slice of pizza halfway to his mouth.
"Something's going on with you," Jack continued, half his attention on the melted cheese that seemed about to cover Daniel's lap, and half on the expression on Daniel's face. He'd been startled by the question, Jack could tell, and Daniel's brain was clearly currently working its way through a list of acceptable answers.
"I have no idea what you mean," Daniel said, concentrating on the pizza once more.
"Yes, you do."
Daniel sighed, looking round for somewhere to park the slice of pizza, and finally settling on the box it had come from.
"I don't want to talk about it," he said, his mouth set in a stubborn line.
"Not an option, Daniel."
"Why the hell not, Jack?" Daniel asked. "It's an option for you, hell, getting anything out of you is like getting blood out of a stone."
"Stop changing the subject," Jack said. "We're talking about what's bugging you."
"You! That's what's bugging me at the moment, Jack. You are." Daniel had got up from the couch and was pacing. "Why can't you just leave it alone?"
"Because I'm worried about you."
"I don't have to put up with this, Jack," Daniel said, suddenly. He turned, heading for the door. "I can't do this."
"Daniel?" Jack said, throwing his half-eaten slice of pizza in the rough direction of the box. "Where are you going?"
"Home," Daniel said, before closing the front door behind him with unnecessary force.
Even before the echoes of the slamming door had died down, Daniel knew it had been a mistake, but he was too riled up to go back and try to apologize. What the hell was Jack thinking, pushing him that way? He needed that kind of interrogation like he needed a hole in the head.
By the time he arrived home, Daniel was calm, and now felt more embarrassed than anything else. The rational part of him knew that Jack had just been trying to help - it wasn't his fault that Daniel was feeling like he'd shatter into a thousand pieces at a single wrong word.
The light was flashing on the answerphone and Daniel crossed over to it. It had to be Jack, but what would his attitude be? Daniel watched the light flick on and off for a moment, before slowly and deliberately pressing the button to erase the message.
The dark rocks loomed over them, casting ominous shadows across the broken-down walls of the village. Time slowed, crawling, as Daniel ran -- he felt his feet slip as he turned the corner, boots skidding on the loose earth.
He was too late. He knew it, with each breath he took, each beat of his heart. Too late. Jack would die and it would be all his fault. His fault.
And then he was the one on the floor this time, Jack's face contorted with fear as he crouched over him. Daniel could feel each pulse of hot blood as it spurted between Jack's fingers, see the anger and terror warring for supremacy in Jack's eyes as he raged at him to stay alive.
He wasn't afraid, somehow, he was numb. This was different from last time - then he had felt the warmth more, heard himself pleading with all the deities he knew to let Jack live. This time he was passive, seeing his former fears reflected in Jack's eyes, hearing his pleas come from Jack's mouth. And none of it touched him at all.
From where he lay, Daniel could see the ceiling of the room in which he was dying, his eyes following the pattern of vines that covered it. They twined round each other as if alive, crossing and recrossing, almost as if they held the ceiling together with their lattice.
When he jerked awake this time, Daniel was silent, his only movement a hand creeping across his stomach to check for a wound he knew wasn't there.
He'd waited all night for Daniel to call, finally surrendering to tiredness in the early hours of the morning. Even then, Jack had been reluctant to leave the phone, convinced that Daniel might still phone even though the angry expression he'd seen on Daniel's face told him how unlikely that really was.
Tired, Jack drove to the SGC, and was surprised to see Daniel's car there already.
"Dr. Jackson?" he said to the checkpoint guards as he signed in.
"He's been here most of the night, sir."
Jack nodded his thanks for the information and headed for the elevator.
Damn, things were worse with Daniel than he thought. Had he even gone home last night or had he come straight here and immersed himself in his work instead? At least that would explain why he hadn't returned Jack's message.
Jack checked his watch as he entered the second elevator - he still had time before the next briefing session to catch up with Daniel, to try and repair the situation between them before things spiralled out of control.
Even as he opened Daniel's office door, he could see that things between them were no better. Daniel's stiff posture as he was hunched over his desk screamed 'keep away', but Jack chose to ignore the warning signs. Jack moved till he faced Daniel, his presence forcing Daniel to acknowledge him - there was no way Daniel could ignore him, as close as he was stood to the desk.
He watched Daniel work, or pretend to work, for a long moment. There was a concentration to Daniel that always fascinated Jack, an intensity that kicked in regardless of whether he was working on SGC things or watching cheesy sci fi movies. But this wasn't it. There was a sense of defeat in Daniel's posture, a sense that he had been beaten down by something, and it struck Jack to the core.
"Are we going to talk some time?" he asked, choosing bluntness.
"You want to talk, Jack?" Daniel got up from his chair and went to lean back against the worktable that occupied a large part of his office, crossing his arms. "Fine, talk."
Jack frowned. This wasn't going to plan. Daniel was supposed to either say they could talk later or tell him everything, not put up this barrier between them by making him do all the work.
Jack watched Daniel for a long moment in silence, and the way that Daniel wouldn't meet his eyes sent a cold feeling through him. A small voice inside him wondered whether it was something more essential then even he had feared before - was this the beginning of the end between them? It was like treading on ice, one false step could be disastrous, shattering the bond that existed between them.
"So that's how it's going to be, is it?" Jack asked, trying to sound casual as he turned and headed for the door. "Fine. You want to pretend it's business as usual down at the SGC, you keep telling yourself that, Daniel. But you know it won't work forever."
Outside, he smiled to himself. If Daniel thought he could be that easily put off the scent, then he didn't know Colonel Jack O'Neill at all.
Daniel felt himself sag as the door closed behind Jack. He hated to admit Jack was right, but they couldn't go on like this. His work was suffering, not just because he couldn't sleep, but because he was worried that the rest of SG-1 were picking up on the antagonism between the two of them.
Daniel had made a conscious decision to concentrate on his work, effectively isolating himself from the rest of the team. He couldn't deal with them right now, Jack on his own was enough. The last thing he wanted to do was deal with their concern about his well-being too - at least by avoiding them, he could put that off.
It would be wrong to force Sam and Teal'c into taking sides. Sam would be torn between her loyalty to Jack as her CO and her friendship with Daniel, while Teal'c would watch what was going on, disapproving.
Daniel knew that Teal'c was closer to Jack than anyone else on Earth. They had some kind of warrior-bond going on between them, something based on a great mutual respect, but Daniel had also come to consider Teal'c his friend as well. He didn't want to force Teal'c into some kind of choice between them, even though he suspected that he would be the loser.
He should have asked how Sam was, back there in the village, but the words had never come. Even though Daniel had seen her go flying like a ragdoll, he had been too focussed on his own pain to ask after her. Fortunately, he knew Teal'c had been there, that the Jaffa would ensure she was safe, even while other, more selfish, members of his team got their priorities all wrong.
And then there was Jack, their fledgling relationship, which currently seemed to be struggling to breathe. Now, it seemed, they were hardly even friends, let alone lovers, just two people who worked together, two people who had sex.
And he missed that casual closeness. Missed Jack's sarcasm, his backhanded compliments, all the things between them that had made being back on Earth bearable. All the things that made it feel like he was part of something, connected somehow, that dealt with the demons in his head.
Daniel wanted to be able to talk to someone about this, but who? He couldn't talk to Sam or Teal'c, but without being able to find the words to explain it to Jack, there was no-one left in whom he could confide.
In the end, a constant headache had sent Daniel reluctantly down to the infirmary. He felt like an overwound watch - just a little more and he would snap.
Dr. Fraiser prescribed rest, stating as her medical opinion that Daniel was over-tired. The nights of insomnia he had confessed to readily had pushed him a little too close to exhaustion.
The only problem with that was that he couldn't rest.
He couldn't bring himself to close his eyes, not even for a moment - Daniel had no wish to see his own death, or that of anyone else he cared for, played out in technicolor and surround-sound.
Daniel had reluctantly accepted the ride home Janet had organized, sitting silent beside the airman driving him all the way down the mountain. The sidelong looks the airman was giving him made Daniel wonder just how bad he looked.
Daniel held the small bottle of pills that Janet had prescribed, staring at the label on them for a moment before placing them carefully on his kitchen counter. Even though he had accepted them, at her insistence, Daniel had known even then that he had no intention of taking any.
There was no way he wanted to become dependent on some chemical for something as simple as getting off to sleep. Even though the nightmares terrified him, there was something about that kind of reliance on something outside himself that scared him even more.
Instead of resting, Daniel was re-arranging his bookshelves, surrounded by piles of books in little towers on the carpet as he knelt there, a worshipper at the temple of knowledge. Daniel tried to concentrate, tried to focus on a logical arrangement of his library, but his mind kept drifting back to Jack.
There was something comforting about the orderliness of it all, something about the control Daniel had over this small part of his life at least. If nothing else, he was the master of his bookshelves.
When the doorbell rang, it brought him back to reality with a jolt. Even as he opened the door, Daniel had a suspicion who his visitor would be.
"Not so loud, Daniel," Jack replied, glancing back down the hallway, "I'm playing hooky and don't want the rest of the world to know I'm here." He smiled, producing a box from behind his back. "I'm bearing gifts, can I come in?"
Daniel hesitated for a moment, before he was won over by the intent expression on Jack's face. He stepped back to let Jack pass him, waiting for him to make some comment on the state of the apartment. Sure enough, it wasn't long in coming.
"You planning a garage sale?" Jack asked, as he headed for the kitchen.
"Just moving things around a little," Daniel said, following Jack to the kitchen doorway, where he leant, watching the sure way that Jack moved. He had placed the mysterious box on the counter and was looking at Daniel a little uncertainly, as if unsure of his welcome.
That look, that concern he saw in Jack's eyes struck something inside Daniel, something that cracked.
"I went to that bakery you like so much," Jack said, looking down at the box as if to remind himself of the fact.
"What's going on, Jack?" Daniel asked, feeling a sudden need to know. What was Jack playing at? Did he really want to know what was going on? "You're not at work and then you drive across town and back to get me something?"
"I'm wounded by your suspicious nature, Danny," Jack replied. He was trying for casual, Daniel realized but his voice stumbled slightly over the familiar nickname.
He couldn't do this any more. Not alone. He had to tell someone, had to tell Jack what was going on. No matter what the consequences were - even if Jack thought he was crazy, Daniel knew that was better than carrying this alone.
"I'm glad you've come over, Jack," Daniel said. "I've got something to tell you, something we couldn't really talk about at work."
Jack seemed to freeze at his words. He looked up.
"That doesn't sound good."
"It isn't. Well, I don't think it is." Daniel rubbed his hand over his face. "I'm not really sure any more."
"Maybe we should save all this," Jack indicated the box and its still-unknown contents with a gesture, "till we see if we have any appetite left."
Daniel turned, heading back into the living room. The books still stood in their piles, some teetering slightly, columns raised to his industry over the past couple of hours.
"I know Fraiser sent you home - I thought she told you to rest?" Jack asked, as he sank into the sofa's embrace.
Daniel shrugged, considering his choice of seating carefully. He wanted to be able to see Jack's face, but he was tired enough that sitting down was perilous. In the end, he decided to get a hard-backed chair, settling himself on it backwards, his arms crossing on its back.
"Okay, shoot," Jack said, after he had watched Daniel settle himself. "What's going on?"
"I don't really know where to start, Jack."
"Okay," Jack began, sinking back further into the sofa. "Let's say we start with how things are with us and work out from there? After all, isn't that what got us into this mess in the first place, isn't it?"
"That's how you feel about us being together? That it was a bad idea?"
"Damn it, Daniel, did I say that?" Jack closed his eyes. "Everything was fine between us, and then, suddenly, it wasn't. If it was something I did..."
"You're not responsible for making the sun rise in the morning either, Jack."
"It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it," Jack countered, with a small smile.
"We already met the guy who thought that was his job, and look what happened to him."
Jack nodded, the smile falling away. "Is it Sha're, then? You feel guilty?"
"Will you stop that?" Daniel felt his hands grip the wood of the chair back and glanced down at them, watching the skin slide over his knuckles as he loosened his grip. "Stop trying to second-guess me."
"What choice do I have? You're not giving me a whole lot to work with..."
Jack studied Daniel, hating the way that Daniel looked, the paleness of his face and the darkness under his eyes. He had come here with a peace offering, wanting to bridge the gap that had emerged between them, needing to know that he and Daniel could be like they had been.
But at the end of the day, he was worried about Daniel. Jack had told himself that he would never let anyone get close again, closed himself down after the pain of losing Charlie. Then all his plans, his self-protection, had been worn away by Daniel. He had managed to worm his way through Jack's defenses, making himself so much a part of Jack's life that it had almost been inevitable that something more came of it.
It had been so good, for a little while at least, their new closeness building on the friendship they'd nurtured over the past couple of years. It had seemed a natural step, to trust Daniel this way when he didn't really trust anyone else, when he couldn't tell anyone else the things he seemed to be able to tell Daniel without a second thought.
Losing that was like losing a part of himself, a pain he hadn't expected to, had hoped never to, feel again. With Daniel, Jack could be himself, and he had thought that Daniel felt the same way too. But now Daniel had put up some kind of barrier between them, for no reason he could quite see - if he had done something, said something to cause this, Jack needed to know. This was too important to mess up.
"What is it, Daniel?" Jack urged, his voice pleading with Daniel to trust him.
"I..." Daniel's voice broke on the word. "I dreamt..."
"You need to tell me."
"You died, Jack. I saw it, it was so real."
Daniel heard himself grind to a halt, words failing him for once. He focussed on his hands once more, not wanting to see whatever expression would be in Jack's eyes. What would it be? Disbelief? Contempt?
There was silence for a moment, hanging between them ominously.
"And you didn't feel you could tell me all this because...?" Jack prompted, his voice calm, quieter than Daniel had expected.
He looked up. Jack's face was calm too, relieved-looking.
"What was I supposed to say?" Daniel asked. "That I was having premonitions?"
"They aren't premonitions, they're just nightmares," Jack said, his voice still quiet.
"I know what I saw."
Jack's voice rankled with him somehow, rubbing him wrong. He had expected Jack to make fun of him, but when he hadn't, this steady calmness had the same effect.
"I know what I saw," he repeated, his voice sharper this time in reaction to Jack's disbelief.
Jack paused, his eyes thoughtful.
"I never thought of you as a great believer in destiny, Daniel," he said, after a moment's silence.
"There has to be some kind of cosmic justice," Daniel said, "something that makes things work out in the end."
Jack shook his head at Daniel's words.
"And that means bad things have to happen to you? Like the universe is never going to cut you some slack? As philosophies go, I've heard better."
Jack sighed, settling back further into the sofa's embrace. Daniel watched him for a moment, before letting his chin sink onto his crossed arms.
"How can I prove you wrong, Daniel?"
It had taken some persuading, and Dr. Fraiser had not been at all impressed by Jack's persistence. He had managed finally to get her to agree to Daniel coming back to work, even going off-world with SG-1, but only for a return trip to the planet they had visited before. Her final words of warning, threatening dire consequences should anything untoward happen to Daniel, had rung in Jack's ears all the way from the infirmary back to the briefing room.
Like he would risk Daniel's safety....
Janet and the others had no idea, and he wanted to keep it that way, but sometimes the attitudes the others took with him, acting as though Daniel's welfare wasn't his first concern, rankled with Jack. He'd been the one to tell Daniel that the new intimacy they had found was their secret, but it seemed that he was the one who carried the heaviest burden as a result.
Jack watched Daniel carefully as he exited the wormhole. He turned as he reached the other side so he could see Daniel's face as soon as he cleared the surface. Daniel was pale but determined looking, his eyes meeting Jack's immediately.
"You don't have to baby-sit me, Jack," he said, with a wry expression. "You have your opinion about this and I have mine. We can just agree to disagree."
Jack couldn't help smiling back at him.
"Let's just see what happens, okay?"
He led the way down the steps from the 'Gate, hearing the wormhole disengage and three sets of footsteps follow him. Carter passed him, heading for the DHD, as he scanned the horizon.
Please let me be right, Jack thought, though he wasn't sure who that prayer was directed to. One way or another, he'd had his fill of gods and goddesses over the past few years. Maybe, like Daniel, he believed in something a little more abstract, something without a face attached.
If he had to describe the mission, Daniel would have picked 'tedious' as his adjective of choice.
It had all turned out to be a massive anti-climax, the rooms with their ornate ceilings apparently all that was left of this civilization. Certainly, there were no inhabitants, nothing to ambush them, no reason why Daniel would find himself staring up at the ceiling, blood pouring from his side.
They had rushed back to the 'Gate last time they were here, the creature's attack on them making their exploration of the planet a secondary objective. Making sure that he and Sam were okay had been far more important. It seemed that whatever it was that Jack had killed, it was alone - there were no signs of similar creatures, though scavengers had clearly picked the carcass of their attacker clean.
Other than that, there was little of interest here, little to make it necessary to spend any time, and Daniel found his thoughts wandering back to Jack's words. Had Jack been right? Had all of this, the overwhelming fear he had felt, been something unfounded after all? It was difficult to believe, and Daniel avoided Jack's gaze as he headed back to the DHD.
"Find anything?" Jack asked, the humor in his voice cutting through the casualness of the words.
Daniel bristled at the tone, a sudden wave of anger sweeping him as he turned.
"You just had to be right," he snapped. "What's next? Going to remind me that you told me so?"
Daniel turned back to the DHD, ignoring the small gasp of shock from Carter. She had come into earshot at the start of Daniel's angry words, as his hand slapped at the glyphs to dial home. It wasn't until he felt Jack's hand on his shoulder that Daniel realized he was shaking.
Once back at the SGC, having passed Dr. Fraiser's scrupulous examinations, Jack had insisted on driving Daniel home. Daniel had taken one look at the set of Jack's jaw and decided he didn't have the energy for the kind of argument he would need to change Jack's mind.
That didn't mean he had to like it, or that he had to talk at all on the way down the mountain. But he wasn't surprised when, as they pulled up outside his apartment block, Jack turned off the engine and got out.
"I don't need you to tuck me in," Daniel said, as they walked towards the entrance together.
"Considering the fact you haven't been sleeping much, that goes without saying," Jack replied, without looking at him.
He was silent in the elevator too, shadowing Daniel down the hall and up to the apartment door. Daniel considered asking Jack if he was coming in, then realized, from Jack's expression, that would be a waste of breath. Jack had already made his mind up.
"So," he began, as he closed the door behind the two of them, "is this the part where you say 'I told you so'? Or does that come later?"
Jack stopped, turning back to where Daniel stood.
"Do you think I came here to gloat, Daniel?"
Daniel hesitated for a moment, unsure what he wanted to do next. He hung up his coat and walked past where Jack still stood. He went into the living room and threw himself down onto the sofa, trying his best to ignore Jack when he followed.
"Why did you come here, Jack? I get the feeling you don't really want to be."
Daniel hated the tiny tremors he could hear in his voice, knowing Jack heard them too. He tried instead to concentrate on Jack, watching the expressions that chased each other across his face.
Jack settled himself at the other end of the sofa with a sigh, looking down as Daniel pulled his feet up to give him more room. When he looked up, Daniel found himself swallowing nervously as he tried to decipher the expression that had taken up residence.
"You think I care about being right?" Jack asked. "You think I don't give a damn about you?"
Daniel considered how he should answer those questions - there were glib answers, ones which readily came to mind, but that path held only danger. Instead, he settled for honesty, so that, when Jack exploded, at least he'd still have his self-respect.
"I don't know," he said, watching Jack warily. "I feel like I don't know much of anything where we're concerned any more."
"Me neither," he said. "What's happened, Daniel? Everything was going so well and then... Why couldn't you tell me something was wrong?"
Daniel rested his head against the back of the sofa, closing his eyes as he considered Jack's question. What had stopped him from telling Jack straight away about the nightmares he had been having?
"I didn't think..." Daniel hesitated, the words difficult to find.
"That I'd want to know?" Jack supplied, his voice sharp enough to make Daniel open his eyes, tilting his head till he could see Jack's face.
"I wasn't sure you'd believe me, Jack."
"And I didn't believe you, did I?" Jack asked. "Even if you'd told me, then what?"
"I have no idea. I know what I saw."
"Why, when you were having these nightmares, Daniel, were they all about one of us being shot? That was what happened in them, wasn't it? Not being grabbed by some huge hairy creature and used as a chewtoy?"
Daniel's face clearly showed he hadn't considered this. Jack pressed on.
"Unless your subconscious was trying to tell you that you were going to shoot me, Daniel. I think those things, that rock, those paintings, got all twisted up with other stuff, when they were really never part of it in the first place."
"It was all about us, you mean? Not premonitions at all?" Daniel asked. "I know what I saw."
"What you saw, what got twisted up with whatever it is you're worrying about was what? Things you saw on MALP transmissions, pictures you hadn't even realized you'd seen."
"You think that's what it was?" Daniel asked.
"I'm sure of it," Jack said. "You're no prophet, Daniel. You're just someone with a lot on their mind." is hand had slipped across the cushions as he spoke, the warmth of his touch seeping through Daniel's trouser leg, comforting, secure. "Want to tell me what's been on your mind?"
"It's not important."
"If it's got you as wound up as this, it's important," Jack pressed. "Please?"
"Can we..." Daniel hesitated, frowning as he searched for the words. "Is this going to work?" Jack frowned, looking slightly puzzled. "Us."
"You want it to?"
"Of course!" Daniel protested. "You think I don't? You're the one who never wants to be here."
"Then it'll work," Jack said, sliding his hand further up Daniel's leg. "If we let it."
"You make it sound so easy," Daniel said, starting to smile as he felt the movement.
"Not everything is complicated, unless we make it that way," Jack said, with a small smile. "It can work, Daniel, if we let it."
"No more nightmares?"
"Maybe I just need to stay the night, to make sure?" Jack asked, watching Daniel's face carefully.
"We agreed.." Daniel began, before the words failed him and he looked down.
"No. I said that was what we should do and you went along with it. And I was wrong, okay?"
"Can I quote you on that?" Daniel asked, looking across at Jack with the shadow of a smile.
"Like anyone would believe you," Jack replied, reaching out and pulling Daniel closer, wrapping his arm around Daniel's shoulders. "I'd deny it."
"I'd like you to stay, Jack." The words were muttered, a quiet breath against his neck.
"That's settled then. And no more premonitions, Daniel," Jack said. "We make our own destiny round here." He felt Daniel's weight against him, his quiet breathing as he slipped into sleep. "No more nightmares."
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 exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story-line are the property of the author - not to be archived elsewhere without permission.