Daniel fought every instinct, managing to not blast through the countless red lights and stop signs he came to. Instead, he drove with extra caution as he forced his bleary eyes to stay glued to the road, and refused to allow his mind to focus on anything but keeping the truck, Jack's truck, traveling in a straight line.
His eyes began to tear with exhaustion, but he refused to release his death grip on the wheel, and so Daniel just blinked through the moisture. He had unwillingly and impatiently succumbed to Warner's post mission checkup, but he simply didn't have time for the ordered x-rays. No matter how much he had pleaded and cajoled, Daniel hadn't been able to get Warner to understand that time was of the essence. So, hiding his irritation, Daniel had waited until Warner had written out the x-ray orders, making a show of attempting to find a comfortable spot on the gurney. But the second Warner had gone to his office, Daniel had jumped off the gurney, grabbed his clothes, doffed the scrubs and had frantically dressed. He'd tossed the scrubs over the chair and rushed out of the infirmary, bypassing the corpsman coming to pick him up with a wheelchair for his x-ray appointment. The only stop he had made was to his office to swallow some aspirin and pick up his keys before signing out of the mountain.
He had straightened his stance and forcibly hid his grimace behind a sharp retort to the chatterbox of an airman at the last checkpoint. Stiff legged and head down, Daniel hurried awkwardly to the Avalanche. The airman was contact enough, he certainly hadn't wanted to explain his departure to anyone else along the way. It had taken Daniel two attempts to buckle the seatbelt, his body uncooperative to bending in any direction. By the time he'd accomplished the task and exited the mountain, a fine sheen of sweat had covered his body, causing his tee shirt to stick uncomfortably to his torso.
Daniel was fine. There was no time to worry about the nausea burning a hole in his stomach, the unsympathetic bruises from bouncing off the rock walls or the ache in his arms from holding Jack's head above water. The aspirin were going to have to take care of the pain in his right ribcage and the ache in his leg muscles from hours of treading water.
Superstition was clouding Daniel's mind. A whispered promise made to an incoherent Jack on PX0948 had begun to grow to epic proportions as it pushed aside all of Daniel's ability to reason. Daniel was now positive if he fulfilled his promise, it would ensure Jack's survival.
Daniel's fingers beat a tattoo of annoyance on the steering wheel as he stopped at yet another red light. "Oh, God." Daniel slapped on the truck's heater and adjusted the settings to ward off the chill of the frigid water. His teeth began to chatter as he felt the water from the planet begin to crawl up his legs, under his pants, numbing his vulnerable extremities. Subconsciously, his arms tightened their grip on the wheel as he struggled to keep Jack's head above water, and he became peripherally aware of a slight trembling in his leg muscles as they valiantly fought to find purchase in the water's depth.
Daniel jumped at the sound of screeching tires and blaring horns. His heart began to race wildly and he nearly lost the meager contents of his stomach as he was shocked into awareness as cars raced past his stationary truck. An older man to his left slowed down, gesturing wildly, his movements accompanied with loud curses directed at Daniel's inability to drive before he took off through the yellow light, which turned red right after he sped by. Daniel lowered his forehead onto the hard leather of the steering wheel as he slowly took stock of the how and why he was in Jack's truck and not on PX0948, fighting for Jack's life.
He silently cursed at his inability to locate Jack's house key as he flipped through his key ring one more time. Unquestionably, the number of keys seemed to have multiplied. Once Daniel finally found the appropriate one, he steadied his shaking right hand with his left to aid in fitting the key into the slot. He entered the house, locked the door behind him and listened to the oppressive silence. Suddenly, Jack's house became cavernous as Daniel leaned heavily on the closed door, overwhelmed at the number of nooks and crannies in Jack's life, and Daniel prayed that he knew his lover well enough to find what Jack wanted and needed.
Daniel grabbed the kitchen counter to steady himself as he slipped on the papers and various sundries strewn haphazardly on the floor. At first, he had begun his search with a methodical precision, placing everything back nice and neat. Two hours later, frustrated and with a pounding headache, Daniel was now dumping articles onto the nearest flat surface and fishing through the papers, strings, and odds and ends with numb and desperate fingers.
The frantic, frenetic searching had drawn to a halt, and Daniel sat quietly on a corner of the bed, his fingers reverently tracing the outline of the faded word 'Nike' printed on a battered cardboard shoebox. A box, small enough to hold a pair of children's sneakers, and inconspicuous enough to be hidden away in a dark corner of Jack's closet.
Daniel was out of options; every conceivable drawer and hiding place in the house had undergone his scrutiny.
"I'm sorry, Jack," he whispered. There was little doubt in his mind that he was never meant to find this box, positive its contents held bits of Jack's past Daniel didn't need to be privy to. He closed his eyes in a silent prayer of forgiveness before using both hands to remove the lid.
Jack's marriage certificate, a wedding picture and his divorce decree. Daniel placed each of the items in an orderly pile right next to him. Medals, a lock of Charlie's hair, a birth certificate. A handwritten birth announcement. A pair of baby shoes, a yellowed newspaper with a little boy's obituary. School pictures, report cards and a few years' worth of hand-drawn Father's Day cards. Daniel went through these artifacts, hardening his heart against what each item must mean to Jack. If he allowed himself to feel, Daniel would lose what little tenuous hold he had on his emotions at the moment. A baby tooth, a well worn infant baseball cap and an out-of-place, expensive, relatively new Hallmark style Christmas card attached to a pile of letters with a ribbon. Daniel slid the ribbon off the stack of neatly folded papers and placed it to the side. He read the first few letters and skimmed the rest, letters from Sarah, one or two from friends and quite a number from Jack's mother, but still, Daniel couldn't locate what he was searching for. Downtrodden, and with a sense of hopelessness looming over the horizon, Daniel stared at the picturesque image on the outside of the card. As Daniel opened the card with trembling fingers, he felt the sense of failure was becoming a living, breathing reality if what he needed wasn't inside.
Daniel slid his ass onto the floor, his back pressed up against the mattress and all the items, save the card, were lovingly placed back inside the shoebox. Book-like, he held the card open in his left hand along with the phone, and using his right hand, it took him two aborted attempts to dial the numbers written at the bottom of the card.
Daniel had only a moment to compose himself before the voice on the other end of the connection said 'hello'. So familiar in inflection, Daniel's heart constricted painfully.
"Hi," he stammered. The card flitted to the floor when Daniel pulled his knees up to his chest. His long limbs were tucked so close to his body that Daniel could feel his pounding heart against his leg for only a second before a painful spasm in his thigh muscle forced Daniel to quickly unfurl his body from this tight position. For all his linguistic capabilities, it was taking every ounce of his strength to hold onto his composure and not come across as a blithering idiot. "My name is Daniel Jackson, and you don't know me, but I'm a good friend ... best friend ... of your son, Ja ... Jonathan O'Neill." He swallowed. "There's been an accident ..." Daniel's voice trailed off, letting the person at the other end digest the information. "No! No!" he replied emphatically at her alarm. "Jack is still alive. Holding his own." Daniel cringed as he said the words he had been avoiding facing since SG1's return from the planet. "Jack asked for you, Mrs. O'Neill. He needs you."
Daniel scooped up the mess dispersed throughout the house and stuffed the loose paraphernalia into large trash bags, all the while silently apologizing to Jack as he went along. He deposited the overflowing bags into the garage with the intention of sorting through them at a later date and returning all the items to their rightful place. Exhausted, Daniel leaned against the inside door to the garage as he literally felt the adrenaline seep from his body, but he forced his mind to stay aware enough to perform a quick walkthrough of the house to make sure everything was presentable for Mrs. O'Neill. As Daniel locked the door, he mentally planned the next day's agenda, and if he was correct, there would be no time for him to return back here before going to the airport.
Daniel's mistake didn't register until he was behind the wheel of the Avalanche. He had just started the truck when he was hit with that panicky feeling, the hot flush of an irreparable error, and he guiltily eyed his cell phone sitting in the empty passenger seat.
This time tomorrow, Mrs. O'Neill would be in Colorado to see her son as per Daniel's request. What Daniel had just realized was Jack would be deep in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain complex in an infirmary bed, unable to be seen by his own mother. Didn't matter if Colonel O'Neill was 2IC of the best-kept secret in the world. Hell, it wouldn't make a difference if his title was President O'Neill. Security clearance ruled the roost. Parents and loved ones were not allowed to visit injured and dying family members inside the mountain, a facet of the job that everyone had learned to live, or die, with.
He slammed the truck into gear. Not in this case. Nope. Daniel didn't care what marker he'd have to call in or the amount of groveling and begging that would be necessary, or even if this would mean an untimely end to his career with the SGC. Jack had asked, and Jack would receive. Come hell or high water, when Jack woke up, the mother he hadn't seen in almost nine years was going to be right by his bedside, because Daniel had promised.
'When did it get so cold in the infirmary'? Daniel stood under the harsh lights, rubbing his hands over his forearms, feeling the goose bumps as they traversed up and down both his arms and legs. He blinked and his eyes teared involuntarily against the glare of the fluorescent bulbs and not from the accusatory emptiness of Jack's bed. It was neatly made with no sign of anyone having occupied it for some time. Daniel sniffed, 'yup', he definitely needed an antihistamine to ward off whatever irritant was in the cement walls of the infirmary that was making his chest and throat constrict.
"Can I help you, Dr. Jackson?"
Daniel jumped at the nurse's unexpected inquiry. "Ummm. No. I'm okay ... fine. I'm fine," he stuttered, hoping the accompanying tight smile would be enough to placate her curiosity. Slowly, Daniel backed away from her concern, heading towards the exit. "If anyone is looking for me, I'll be in my office."
With a shock, Daniel realized his office was no warmer than the infirmary and adjusted the thermostat. He dimmed the overhead lights, leaving the desk light on for illumination, but even that small bulb burned his eyes. The water and the two allergy pills he had just ingested sat heavy and uncomfortably on his stomach, and they weren't doing anything to alleviate the difficulty he was having drawing a deep breath.
He pulled the blanket which was folded along the back of the couch around his shoulders, but even with the added coverage, he still shivered despite the long sleeved shirt, jacket and raised temperature. Tucking arms and legs into a corner of the couch, Daniel manipulated his stiff body into the smallest space possible in an effort to preserve body heat.
"Wake up, Daniel."
He opened his eyes and blinked a few times to bring Janet's face into focus.
Daniel jerked away when she gently laid a hand on his forehead. "What are you doing here?" Janet's eyes raked over Daniel's face.
Daniel righted his body, moaning as twinging, tight muscles made their presence known as he fought to keep the blanket close to his shoulders. "Here as in the SGC, or here as in my office?"
"Why aren't you in the infirmary?"
"Too cold." For emphasis he hugged the blanket even closer to his body. "Too cold in here, also."
Gently pinning his chin between her thumb and forefinger, she forced his gaze to hers. "I think you're in shock, honey."
Daniel's face scrunched up in confusion at the unexpected term of endearment and then angrily, he shoved her hand away. "No need to treat me with kid gloves, Janet ... just because Jack is ... I'm a big boy. I've dealt with enough death in my life. I can ..." He drew a deep breath and squared his shoulder under the protective wrap of the blanket. "I can do it again ... practice makes perfect."
"When did it happen? I would have liked --"
"What!" Daniel's spittle sprayed out, peppering Janet's face and shirt.
"The Colonel is not dead. Who the hell told you something happened to him?"
He cocked his head in confusion. "The bed, it was empty and ... I assumed ..." Daniel's eyes widened in comprehension. "Jack's still here? Where?" Daniel squirreled around on the couch, fighting to skirt around Janet's body, blocking his way.
"No, Daniel. The Colonel isn't here."
"Then were the hell is he!" Daniel replied angrily.
Janet stood from her crouched position and grabbed Daniel's forearm. "If you would shut up and listen, I'd tell you."
Daniel's body went lax under Janet's hand and she withdrew her contact. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's me who should be apologizing," Janet replied tiredly. "Me. That was totally ..."
"It's bad," Daniel stated, shamed at how he missed the smudges of darkness under the doctor's eyes or the drawn, pinched lines around her lips. Even pieces of normally pristinely coifed hair had escaped their confinement. "Sorry, Janet," he admitted.
"I had the Colonel moved to the Academy Hospital about two hours ago." Janet made a futile attempt to shove the errant pieces of hair back into the clip at the base of her neck. "How about you come back with me to the infirmary, allow me to finish what Dr. Warner started and we'll talk?"
"No," Daniel said firmly. "We'll talk now. You haven't finished telling me about Jack. Why I wasn't contacted?" Daniel pushed back against the couch pillows to avoid Janet's hands. "Don't worry about me, I'm fine. You take me to the infirmary and you'll put me in a bed ... and I can't be there. Not now. Not while Jack is at the hospital. Do it. Here. Turn the lights on, do a look see, and talk," Daniel demanded, throwing off the blanket.
"Stop it! Contrary to what you think, you are not calling the shots here. You left the base against medical advice, disappeared for hours and didn't answer your cell phone. I had to do a bit of fancy lying with the General, so honestly, Daniel, a thank you rather than an argument is what I'd prefer." Janet turned on the overhead lights, not missing Daniel's grimace when the room brightened. She wheeled a chair over to the couch to sit facing Daniel. "You're not doing a great job of convincing me there's nothing wrong."
The apology that Daniel offered Janet was forced when he held his breath as Janet probed his bruised chest. "The Colonel sustained a hematoma on the occipital lobe as a result of his --"
Daniel jumped and clamped his mouth shut, trapping a groan. "I know that, Janet, what else?" Daniel hissed.
"Hurts?" she asked, pressing around the vicinity of his belly.
He shook his head. "That's okay ... ow ... not there."
Daniel complied, willing to play the game at this point. He situated his body the length of the couch, propping his head on the little needlepoint pillow that had been shoved into the corner. "Jack's injury?" he reminded her. "You were explaining."
Daniel's hand was in her lap and she shushed him with a stern look as she registered his pulse. Janet's fingers stayed wrapped around Daniel's wrist long after the required counting was done. "When the Colonel was stable, I transferred him to the Academy Hospital. He needs neuro checks every hour, Daniel. And in case of a seiz ... it was a precautionary movement. He's under a care of a neurologist there."
"Your heart rate is up."
Daniel snorted. "You're surprised? SG1 was on a planet for soil and mineral samples. The proverbial walk in the park." He shot Janet a threatening look when her hand moved to his chest to keep him flat. Daniel gave in with a suffering sigh. "Seizure?"
Janet's hands worked their way down the length of Daniel's legs, her concerned gaze gauging Daniel's reaction to her ministrations. "We have the Colonel on anti seizure medication as a precaution. A precaution," she stressed. "Sometimes injuries like his will bring on seizures." She gripped Daniel's arm and assisted pulling him to a sitting position. "Colonel O'Neill is also on Mannitol to keep the swelling of the brain down. I know you think otherwise, but the coma, at this point, is the Colonel's way of healing."
Janet sat back down in the chair, her experienced eyes measuring Daniel's slow calculating movements as he buttoned his shirt. "You, on the other hand ..."
"I'm not going to the infirmary," he growled. "I'm getting up and ..."
"Going nowhere without me. Aside from some deep bruising, I don't think anything is broken and you're damned lucky. I can imagine, though, knowing you as I do, you're a bit more uncomfortable than you're letting on." Janet began to tick off her demands. "You're going to listen to me. I did it your way, now it's my turn. You go the infirmary to get the x-rays Dr. Warner ordered before you, how should I put it, took a walk. And we will wait for the x-rays to be developed. After the results are read, and I'm satisfied, then, and only then, will you be able to visit the Colonel. I'll drive. You get thirty minutes by his bedside, then I drive you back here. Set you up in an infirmary bed with some muscle relaxants, you sleep, wake up, and I make sure you eat a good breakfast."
Dejectedly, Daniel dropped his head into his cupped hands, his shoulders drooping in resignation.
Daniel could feel Teal'c's and Sam's comforting presence as they stood watch in the hall outside the cubicle. He and Janet stood shoulder to shoulder and he listened attentively as she instructed Daniel on the necessity of each monitor, the ventilator, each medicinal IV and every tube snaking out from under the blanket. Daniel's hand rested on the guardrail and Janet's fingers skimmed across his knuckles, the paleness of her fingers drawing attention to the darkening bruises on his hands. "I'll be in the hall if you or the Colonel need me. Thirty minutes ... no more."
Daniel's whispered 'thank you' was barely audible above the chorus of the machines. He grabbed her hand as she stepped away from him.
Daniel's eyes darted from Janet's startled face to the lax expression on Jack's. In sotto voice, he whispered her name. "Janet? I need you to promise that you'll be honest with me at all times."
The petite woman wordlessly nodded in response, her eyes filling as Daniel enveloped her into a hug. "Jack will be fine," Daniel reassured her as he smoothed down her hair.
Daniel released Janet and she fumbled around in her pocket before producing a crumpled up tissue. "Of course he will," Janet agreed as she wiped her eyes, hastily removing any hint of her loss of control.
The hushed voices of his friends standing in the hallway floated over to Daniel, creating a soothing balm to his frayed nerves. He was thankful for their opportune timing. Sam and Teal'c were now distracting Janet from her ultimatum of thirty minutes, and Daniel was grateful for any additional time his teammates' conversation was buying him. He ran his fingers along Jack's cheek, smiling at the warmth and five o'clock shadow that scraped under his nails. "You need a shave," Daniel teased, studying Jack's features as his fingers traced his lover's profile. Without watchful cameras to interpret his every move and gesture, Daniel was permitted to be tactile. His long fingers traveled over Jack's form, avoiding the various leads and connections, all the while confirming the strength in the sleeping body, pausing to feel the reassuring rise and fall of his chest with the aid of the ventilator. Daniel's thumb gently wiped off a touch of moisture in the corner of Jack's mouth. "You're drooling ..." The younger man's Adam's apple bobbed painfully as he held his emotions in check, punching down an overwhelming desire to get into the narrow bed with Jack. "A shave and you're drooling." Daniel wiped his runny nose along his arm, sniffing loudly.
"I did what you asked, Jack. I called your mother." Daniel's hand petted Jack's limp one, carefully avoiding the IV site and pulse ox. "Your mom loves you, but I think you knew that all along, didn't you?"
Sam's footsteps on the linoleum floor warned Daniel of her approach. "Daniel?"
"I'm coming, Sam." He turned to meet her worried glance. "I'll be out in a minute, 'kay?"
She hesitated a moment before placing her hand on his shoulder and kneading his stiffening muscles. Appreciating her caring, but unable to trust his voice with words, Daniel reached up and squeezed her fingers in understanding. Sam nodded, sliding her hands from his grasp before slipping from the room.
Gripping the bedrail for support, Daniel leaned over and kissed Jack's forehead, silently mouthing an "I love you" against his lover's ear. The metal bar locked in his death grip was cold and hard, dragging Daniel's mind back to the wet, slick rocks on the planet. Daniel was unable to find purchase with hands that were occupied with keeping Jack's head above water and he kicked out, treading imaginary water as he tried to drag them both to safety. In his delusional panic, Daniel knocked over the plastic chair in the room, cringing as the clattering sound echoed like the rumble in their underwater, underground prison. And still he held on.
The rail vibrated under his hands and Daniel felt his elbows lock with the concerted effort of hoisting their combined weight from the water. The situation was deteriorating exponentially as wet clothes, slippery hands and cold were battling Daniel's efforts to save Jack. His hoarse cries of help brought Sam, Teal'c and Janet running.
"Daniel. The Colonel?" Janet ran to first check the monitors and then her gaze and deft fingers worked to assess the body in the bed, checking leads and IV's in a matter of seconds. Her sigh of relief was short lived when she realized that Daniel hadn't responded to her question. Janet stepped closer to Daniel, her hand reaching out to physically appraise what her eyes were recording.
"No!" he screamed, jerking sideways from her touch and it was only Teal'c's lightening fast reflexes which prevented Daniel from toppling over.
"DanielJackson, let us help, you are no longer on the planet. We are all safe. You have saved O'Neill."
Daniel adamantly disagreed as the cinderblock walls of the hospital room continued to morph into a water-filled chamber, fraught with rocks and fear. Jack was going to die because Daniel wasn't strong enough or capable enough to save him. He fought viciously as watery tendrils counteracted his grip. His sweaty hands fought to regain their hold as they were gently bent back and removed one by one.
The weight of the water shoved him down, forcing his head between his shaking knees. "Breathe, Daniel," the echoing voices commanded.
He struggled against the onslaught of cold water and attempted to jerk upright, only to be pulled down once more. "You must do as DoctorFraiser instructs. At this time, it would be most advisable for you to breathe deeply."
"No!" Breathing deeply would mean inhaling water, filling lungs, drowning. He fought and struggled against the watery hands fighting to keep him still, until a sharp prick from the rock wall brought darkness and failure down around him.
Daniel's mouth was full of cotton and seemed unable or unwilling to cooperate in conjunction with his brain. His body was heavy and lethargic and he could only hope Jack was willing to get up and get him a glass of water. Maybe an aspirin or two? And in about another ten minutes, a fresh, hot cup of coffee. "J'ck?" His voice sounded surprisingly old and decrepit, scoring his throat painfully.
Daniel's eyelids opened but the room swam nauseatingly and he slammed them shut.
"I will return with DoctorFraiser." Teal'c touched Daniel's forearm with a gentleness belying the man's size.
"I could have gone to the airport myself," Daniel complained, adjusting his sunglasses against the glare of the sun. "Jack's mother isn't expecting anyone but me."
"Janet didn't want you to drive. She didn't want you to leave the hospital or the bed or even the room. So I would advise you to grin and bear it." She offered him a quick empathetic smile which Daniel chose to ignore.
Daniel hrmpff'ed in reply and just let the argument die a natural death. Whatever sedative Janet had injected him with yesterday while in the throes of his flashback, had left him groggy, disconnected and cranky. And though he didn't want to admit it, Janet was correct; he really wasn't in any condition to drive. And he'd rather be resting in his bed, preferably with Jack lying in his arms.
"What do you suppose she's like?"
"Daniel." He couldn't help but cringe at the exasperation in Sam's voice. "The Colonel's mom, Mrs. O'Neill."
Daniel shrugged and then realized Sam's attention was focused on maneuvering around the slow moving traffic. "I don't know." He checked his watch. "We're going to make it in time, aren't we?"
"We have plenty of time. It's me driving, remember." She flashed a quick smile. "How are you going to recognize her?"
"Suitcase. A purple, paisley print monstrosity. Her words, not mine." Daniel pulled a slip of paper from his pocket, reviewing the travel agenda that Mrs. O'Neill had called him back with while he was still at Jack's house cleaning up, and then checked his watch.
"Plenty of time, don't worry," Sam said, laying heavy on the horn.
They arrived just as Mrs. O'Neill's flight was supposed to be landing, and Sam dropped Daniel off by the front entrance of the airline terminal.
"Don't worry, by the time the plane taxis and the passengers disembark, you'll have time to grab yourself a cup of coffee before meeting up with her."
"Yeasureyabetcha," Daniel answered sarcastically, before slamming the car door.
Daniel had hurriedly limped along to the luggage area, but now, as he checked his watch for the fourth time, he admitted that Sam had been right. Daniel was sorry he hadn't stopped to grab a cup of coffee from one of the shops he had hobbled past but at this point, it was too late to leave his post to even use the vending machine, enticing him from right around the corner.
He began to play 'Which one is Jack's Mom' with the passengers milling around the empty baggage carousel. Daniel had narrowed his choice to three women when luggage began to circulate.
The woman who grabbed the purple piece of luggage surprised him. Of the three, she had been his last choice, with only her age keeping her in the running. A sturdy woman, handsome, casually dressed and who wore glasses. But except for the graying hair, there was nothing in her stature or appearance which bore any resemblance to her son.
More nervous than he would care to admit, Daniel pushed himself off the pillar that had borne his weight and moved to introduce himself to Mrs. O'Neill. Daniel finally saw what he had been searching for as Mrs. O'Neill leaned over to say goodbye to a fellow passenger, Jack's familiar smile mirrored on his mother's face.
Suddenly, the woman who had flown across country to see her son didn't seem like such a stranger anymore, and Daniel stepped up with greater confidence to meet his lover's mother.
"Mrs. O'Neill, do you want to go to the house first and freshen up, or would you rather go straight to the hospital?" Sam asked.
"Please call me, Rose, Samantha, and the hospital first, if you don't mind."
"Daniel?" Sam's eyes met his in the rear view mirror, checking for confirmation.
"Hospital's fine," Daniel answered tiredly, hunkering down in the corner of the backseat and resting his head against the window. The last of the women's conversation he heard was his friend insisting that Rose call her Sam and not Samantha.
With great hesitation, Rose gently fingered Jack's hair.
"He's gray," she commented with a voice thick with emotion.
Sam's face was full of sympathy as Rose reacquainted herself with Jack, and Daniel was stunned at the territorial feelings surfacing while she hovered over Jack.
Rose cleared her throat. "Sam, would you and ..."
"Sorry. Daniel. Would you two mind, I'd like some time alone with my son." She flashed a smile which Sam accepted with understanding, but it took two tugs on Daniel's arm before he followed her out the door.
Daniel sat in the waiting room at Sam's insistence while she nervously paced the hallway outside, covering his six, performing watch duty. The ever-present soldier taking the forefront when Sam became upset. Daniel was trying to come to terms with his feelings towards Mrs. O'Neill. Everything about the situation shouted resentment and while sitting on these faux leather couches, Daniel allowed his mind to wander over to the dark side. He was thoroughly annoyed at this woman who'd arrived on the scene and usurped Daniel's place by Jack's side, forgetting his name in the process. Angry that Sam managed to become buddy buddy with this stranger in the time it took her to drive from the airport to the hospital. Pissed that his own feeble mind had betrayed him yesterday, costing him precious, solitary time with Jack. Right now, from Janet Fraiser on down, up to and including himself as well as the man lying in the ICU unit and the woman who was holding his hand, Daniel hated them all.
The three of them picked at the fast food on their trays. Sam had done her best to engage all of them in some type of conversation but her efforts to include Daniel had fallen flat, so for now just Sam and Rose were conversing.
"Let's go, Sam." Daniel stood suddenly, sweeping the garbage from the table onto his tray.
"Daniel!" The pursed lips, narrowed eyes, and the timber of her voice were more than enough clues to let Daniel know just how rude Sam thought he'd been.
"No, Daniel's right. It's been a long day. I would appreciate ..."
"Of course, Rose." Sam tripped over apologies to the older woman.
Daniel and Rose faced off in the foyer. "I just thought that Sam ..."
"No. This is Jack's house. This is where you'll be staying." With a supportive hand wrapped around his still aching ribs, Daniel awkwardly bent down and picked up the ugly, paisley bag.
"Look, Daniel, if my being here is an inconvenience," Rose stuck
her hands on her hips, "I'll gladly take a room in a nearby hotel."
The suitcase landed on the wood floor with a resounding thud. "Rose, let's try this again." He drew a deep breath and drew on his years as a linguist on the SGC's premier team. Treating Rose as he would any inhabitant that he would be making first contact with, he took a mental cleansing breath and forced himself to start over. Daniel raised his arms, devoid of weapons, to waist level, palms open, fingers spread outwards, and he began again. "Sam has to work and I'm on medical leave because of ..."
"... what happened. I understand that. I can see that, Daniel.
I'm more than happy to stay in a hotel. I certainly don't want
you, if you feel as bad as you look, to believe you need to
be responsible for
"Mrs. O'Neill --" This wasn't going well, Daniel thought as he pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his of his nose in frustration.
"Rose. I'm sorry if my staying here with you is an uncomfortable situation and I apologize. But I'm fine and I thought this would be the most convenient for all concerned. I will be able to transport you back and forth to the hospital, and ..." Daniel hissed, ashamed at how this woman had the very Jack-like ability to push all his buttons. "Jack would want you here," Daniel said, hoping to end an argument he was positive he was destined to lose.
Rose followed Daniel to Jack's bedroom, his and Jack's bedroom, the bedroom Rose would be sleeping in during her stay. He saw Rose's eyes scan the room and Daniel's tracked right along with her, each of them searching for different parts of Jack's life.
Daniel placed the luggage on the bed and Rose picked up the picture of Charlie that Jack kept on the nightstand. She said nothing, her fingers tracing the outline as tenderly as they had Jack's profile this afternoon.
"The bathroom is right here." Daniel showed her and flipped on the light switch for emphasis. "There are clean towels in the closet, I'll get you some."
Daniel turned and tried not to notice Rose hugging the treasured photograph of Charlie tightly to her chest. "I'll find the towels on my own."
"Okay, I just wanted to make things ..."
"Did I thank you for calling me? If I didn't, I'm sorry. Thank you."
"Jack asked for you."
"Thank you for listening to him," Rose replied. She returned the picture to the nightstand. "Good night, Daniel."
"'Night, Rose." Daniel was smart enough to know when he had been summarily dismissed.
The size of the spare bedroom was claustrophobic. Daniel had gotten as far as the door to the room when he realized he didn't want to wander around the house and draw Rose's attention. So instead, he sat on the bed, missing Jack terribly and fearing his inability to suppress his emotions because of the woman who was sleeping down the hall.
Three days after Rose's arrival, she managed to corral Daniel into taking her shopping, a chore both he and Jack only did out of necessity. Daniel at first balked and then gave in when he found her picking up the phone and asking information for the number of a local cab company.
An hour and the start of one humdinger of a headache later, Daniel followed Rose through the local grocery store, leaning on the cart for support more than actually guiding it along. It was mid morning and the store was deserted and quiet enough that Daniel was able to make out the Musak being piped in over the loudspeakers.
Daniel managed a meager shrug when Rose asked him which type of milk he desired. "Either one is fine."
Her gaze slid over the top of her glasses and she shook her head in what Daniel decided was undisguised annoyance at his inability to make a choice. He was going to ask Rose to pick up a container of half and half for Jack and then realized with a pang there would be no need.
"Were you going to say something, Daniel?"
"No, no," he quickly answered.
The heavy smell of the roasting chickens while Rose was getting her order filled at the deli counter turned Daniel's stomach, and he left the filled cart and walked over to the far corner. A display for halvah caught his eye and for a moment he contemplated the selection before making his choice.
Marble with a chocolate covering, a taste left over from his childhood days growing up in the Middle East. A treat that Jack hated with a passion but always managed to pick up for Daniel when he went shopping. Daniel remembered with a smile how a bar would usually be sitting on the desk in his office after the two of them had an argument, the closest thing to an apology Daniel would receive.
"What do you have there?" Rose asked as she put the sliced, packaged cold cuts in the cart.
"Halvah," Daniel stated shyly as he held up the package for her to inspect.
"Oh ... an acquired taste, I'm sure," Rose stated. "Put it in the cart, and let's finish so we can get to the hospital by lunch."
Daniel threw in a box of Coco Puffs to counteract Rose's oatmeal and Special K. There was a standoff in the middle of the cereal aisle, and Daniel refused to back down.
"That's not exactly healthy," Rose sniffed, pointing at the garish drawings on the box of Daniel's cereal of choice.
"It's an acquired taste," Daniel replied haughtily. "I think we're about finished here."
"Yes, I would agree," Rose answered in the same tone of voice.
"Dr. Jackson! Hi, how are you?" the middle aged woman behind the register exclaimed as Daniel began to unload the grocery cart.
His head jerked up in surprise. "Helen!" Flustered, Daniel dumped the items in his hands into a heap on the moving conveyor belt. "Ummm ... long time no see."
"Sure has been, Dr. J. Where's that good looking Colonel?" Helen stopped ringing up the items and astutely assessed Daniel. "Are you okay, honey?"
Daniel couldn't help but smile at her concern. "There was an accident, and the Colonel is in the hospital recovering."
"Oh my," she said, a manicured hand flying to her mouth in shock. Daniel could only nod at Helen's concern. Seeming to sense Daniel's awkwardness, Helen turned her attention to Rose. "And this must be the Colonel's mom, damn, the resemblance is remarkable." Helen stuck out her hand in greeting.
"Resemblance?" Daniel stepped back and examined Rose as she exchanged hello's and a handshake with Helen. He shook his head in confusion. Except for the occasional smile that would flash across Rose's face, Daniel saw nothing in Rose that reminded him of Jack. Nothing at all.
Rose handed the filled bags to Daniel and he arranged them into the trunk of the Avalanche. He snatched the bar of halvah peeking out of one of the bags and stuck it in his jacket pocket.
"I didn't know you were a doctor, Daniel."
"That's still a doctor. It's something you should be proud of."
"I never thought of it that way, honestly." Daniel said closing the trunk. "It's just a part of who I am."
After the visit to the grocery store, over the next two days, Daniel and Rose spent an inordinate amount of time being extremely polite to each other. They traveled back and forth to the hospital, staying for long periods of time. Daniel gleaned childhood stories from Rose as she spoke to Jack, and Rose learned nothing from Daniel as he sat silent by the bedside.
Jack and Daniel really never had any schedule they adhered to, even on downtime, and Rose was slowly driving Daniel crazy with her anal desire for their lives to run like clockwork. At home, Rose was never able to sit still, flittering from place to place. Cleaning, rearranging, working off nervous energy. Daniel could feel his head pound and his blood pressure rise exponentially with every room she dusted and every load of laundry she washed.
He could have kissed Janet when she cleared him for light duty.
Rose watched Daniel pull that monstrous truck out of the driveway and breathed a sigh of relief. He was a nice, pleasant enough young man, obviously well educated and intelligent, but she was confused at what her son could possible have in common with him. Sure, they worked together, but to call himself 'Jack's best friend', in her opinion, was quite a stretch of the imagination. Okay, it had been nine years since she or Jack had seen or spoken to each other, but there was no way she could believe a person who had such a serious nature as Daniel wouldn't bore Jack within minutes.
She straightened the pillows on the couch, smoothing out the beautiful afghan thrown along the back. The throw, the rug covering the gleaming hard wood floors, the photos of friends on the mantle, some familiar to Rose, some unfamiliar. Silly little pieces of Jack's life brought both tears and satisfaction to Rose. Her joy that her son had found some type of happiness in his life was tempered with the sorrow that she hadn't been around to witness it.
"Damn!" Daniel slammed the truck into park. "What the hell does she ... damn," Daniel reiterated, pulling the keys out of the ignition and flinging open the door. The garage door was wide open and there was a pile of very familiar looking trash bags on the curb alongside the bundled papers and garbage pails.
Stuffing the keys into his pockets, Daniel opened the top green trash bag to confirm his suspicions. He stuck his hand and grabbed a handful of papers, pulling them out into the sunlight. Daniel shoved them back in into the depth of the bag and tied it back up. It took him only one trip to carry the three awkward bags into the garage.
He was dropping them onto the cement floor when Rose appeared through the door connecting the garage to the house.
"What are you doing?"
"What am I doing, Rose? What are you doing?"
"I was cleaning out the garage."
"Thank you," Daniel replied. "But there truly isn't any need."
"What you're telling me is that you don't want me to?" Rose challenged.
Daniel sighed. "I guess that's what I'm telling you ... or wait until I can help." He tapped the pile of trash bags. "There are some things of Jack's in here that shouldn't be thrown out."
"You should have said something, Daniel."
"I didn't think I needed to. I didn't expect to come home to find you cleaning out the garage."
"Do you want me to check with you before I throw anything out?" Rose asked.
Daniel didn't miss the sarcasm in her voice, the challenge of pissing rights in Jack's house. "No. That's not necessary ... and I'm sure you know that."
"Daniel," Rose replied, "I'm not sure of anything anymore."
Daniel had all the best intentions on departing the mountain earlier than usual in order to visit Jack on his way home. He had wanted to snatch a few minutes alone with Jack for fortification before going home to a full course dinner, a chatty Rose and a return trip to the hospital to spend the evening watching Rose watch Jack. But things hadn't gone as planned. Daniel had spent too much time wading through his inbox, playing catch up from his time on medical leave and by mid afternoon, he had been engrossed in deciphering the "tower of Babel" of languages inscribed on an ancient tablet brought back by SG5.
It was only when Sam stuck her head into his office to see how he was that he realized the lateness of the hour.
He had driven home like a madman, only to find an annoyed and pissy Rose as she wrapped up the remains of something that smelled delicious to his empty stomach. She had accepted his apology with a haughty "hurmpf," which only succeeded in making Daniel feel guiltier than he already did.
Without a word, he stood in the kitchen doorway as Rose finished cleaning up. She wiped up the counter and folded the towel before looking at her wristwatch and then the clock on the microwave. "If you would have told me that you were going to be this late, I would have gone to the hospital alone," Rose said, her voice clipped, tight and accusatory to Daniel's ears.
"Sorry," Daniel whispered.
"Next time, call. Do you want to me to make you a sandwich before we leave?"
"No, I ate already," Daniel lied.
"Let's go, we have about ninety minutes before the end of visiting hours," Rose commanded, latching onto Daniel's arm.
Daniel hated the nurse on duty, the one who anally stuck to the ICU visiting rules. "One visitor," she reminded them as they attempted to stop by Jack's cubicle. "One. Family first." Daniel hated the one finger the nurse showed for emphasis, and the empathetic pat Rose gave to him as she hurried off to spend time with Jack. Again.
The cloying heat of the ICU waiting room, which had felt good only moments before, was beginning to become oppressive. He hadn't expected to spend time in this eight by ten foot room with the uncomfortable couch and even more uncomfortable chairs. In an effort to stay awake, he began to pace, counting the number of steps in either direction in every language he knew. That distraction became monotonous and Daniel dropped down in frustration on the unforgiving couch. He took perverse pleasure flinging the out-date-magazines across the room, smiling wickedly at his infantile behavior as one after the other flew through the air, hit the wall and slithered to the ground.
He stretched his arms over his head, scowling as taught muscles pinched and tugged with the effort. Daniel patted his jacket pocket, pleased when his search produced a slightly melted candy bar and a half-eaten package of cheese crackers. He really needed to eat something more substantial but the cafeteria was three floors down, probably closed already and he was afraid if he left this claustrophobic box of a room, he would miss his visiting minutes with Jack.
Daniel kicked the chair to his right. Rose wasn't family. He was family. Teal'c, Sam, Janet, Cassie, General Hammond, hell, even Siler were closer to Jack than the stranger that had been sleeping in their bed for the past week. Nine years was a long time to lapse between phone calls and Christmas cards. 'Not fair', Daniel groused like a petulant six year old as he licked the melted chocolate off his fingers. He stuffed the empty wrapper into his pocket and picked up the bottle of water he had brought in from the car. Warm, but at least it washed down the pieces of chocolate stuck in his throat.
Daniel flung the empty plastic bottle into the garbage, smiling with satisfaction as it went in. Too thirsty to eat the crackers, he bunched up his jacket and stuck it behind his head, angling his neck upwards so he could count the ceiling tiles.
"Attention. Visiting hours are now over. Attention. Visiting hours are now over."
Daniel jerked awake, banging his head on the frame of the couch where his jacket should have been. He struggled to a standing position, cupping the back of his injured head. "Damn." Daniel checked his watch, grabbed his jacket from the floor and ran headlong into Rose, who was entering the waiting room.
"Whoa," Rose said as Daniel grabbed her arms to keep her from toppling over.
"The same," Rose stated a-matter-of-factly as she shook herself loose from Daniel's grip and began to slip into her coat. "I came in a while ago, but you were sleeping so I went back to sit with Jack."
"Sleeping?" Daniel shook his head in amazement. "Did you try to wake me?"
Rose seemed to be taken back by that question. "No, should I have?"
Daniel walked away, down the hall and past the nurse at the desk, ignoring her whispered shouts of warning. He was at Jack's bedside for all of two minutes before a nurse appeared by his side.
"Sir, you have to leave. Visiting hours --"
"Over, yeah I know." Daniel stroked Jack's cheek and turned to the nurse. "I'm sorry. I just needed to see him."
"Okay," she said with more understanding than Daniel thought imaginable. "But you need to leave now."
Rose was still in the hall leaning against the wall. She eyed Daniel with curiosity. "See, I told you he was the same."
"Yes, you did." Daniel placed a hand under her elbow, guiding her to the bank of elevators, making a concerted effort to squash down the tsunami of resentment he was feeling towards Rose.
Daniel kept his eyes on the changing numbers over the elevator doors. "Maybe tomorrow," he agreed.
Two more days of limited time with Jack, and Daniel was pissed as he stomped through the house, shrugging off Rose's attempts to placate his anger. Eventually Jack's mother had given up and left Daniel to his own devices, a habit that Jack obviously hadn't inherited. As he sipped a mug of coffee, Daniel watched through the sliding doors as Rose busied herself in Jack's garden.
Rose's ability to lose herself in everyday chores and shut out the machines and smell of the hospital was beginning to grate on Daniel's nerves. He found himself waging a daily struggle to hold back sharp, angry words when Rose showed even the minutest concern over Daniel's eating and sleeping habits. Rose didn't seem to understand Daniel's lack of conversation and Daniel couldn't comprehend Rose's constant chatter. Daniel's daily diet was being supplemented by doses of Tylenol to counteract the pounding in his head from unspoken, harsh words of reprimand.
Daniel went from the computer to the TV, then deciding on a shower to cool down the emotions bubbling just below the surface. He grabbed towels, clean clothes, slammed the bathroom door and locked it, a habit born of necessity since he and Rose had become roommates. Exhausted, he canted against the shower door, focusing only on how great the pounding water felt on his body.
Daniel had gone to the SGC very early that morning to work on some reports and had brought back breakfast for both he and Rose. They had gotten a late start to begin with and hadn't been at the hospital long when Janet appeared with Jack's chart in her hands. He had argued with Janet, not wanting to leave the hospital. The doctor had threatened that security would bodily escort him from the building if Daniel didn't go home for at least a few hours.
"I was just home." Daniel's defiant posture as he had leaned against the hospital's cinderblock wall had tested Janet's patience as she had reasoned with him.
"We're running tests on the Colonel all day, Daniel." She raised her hand to ward off the questions ready to fly from Daniel's mouth. "No need for concern. Just the opposite. A battery of tests to check on the swelling, neurological testing, respiratory testing. Trust me on this one. There's no need for you to sit here ... you or Mrs. O'Neill." Daniel had turned away from the concern in the petite doctor's eyes. "Go home, rest," Janet had said softly as she placed a warm hand on his arm, dropping it as he eyed the offensive touch with annoyance. Her voice had become colder and more demanding as she continued the conversation. "You look like crap --"
"Is that your professional opinion, Dr. Fraiser?" He really hadn't meant that, but he had been angry and upset and she had been right there in front of him to bare the brunt of his fury.
Janet had sighed. "No, my professional opinion is you're running yourself intothe ground and your ass should be in a bed in the infirmary." She had ducked her head in embarrassment, a blush of color highlighting her cheeks. "I'm sorry."
Softening, a small smile had touched Daniel's lips. "I'm sorry, Janet. I didn't mean ..."
"I know you didn't. Go home, sleep. I promise if any ..."
Daniel leaped from the shower in a panic. Rose was outside, he was under running water, neither of them would hear the phone if Janet tried to reach them. Hurriedly, he toweled off and dressed, more wet than dry, the sweatshirt and jeans resisting falling into place against his body. Barefoot, he rushed into the kitchen and exhaled loudly at the red zero on the answering machine. To relieve his active imagination, he checked for voice messages on his cell phone. Finding none, he refilled his coffee mug with fresh coffee and turned away from the sight of Rose still digging in the garden as if she hadn't a care in the world.
"Damn!" Daniel mumbled. "I know it's ..." Somewhere between watching the clockand finishing his coffee, Daniel recalled reading an article about music and people in a coma. He had easily found the portable CD player, the headphones, fresh batteries and was now ransacking the bedroom in an attempt to locate Jack's favorite, overplayed CD. He shoved the contents of one night table drawer back, cursing under his breath as it took two tries to close it properly. Daniel flung himself across the bed and reached for the drawer on the second nightstand.
He jerked open that drawer and even at this awkward angle Daniel managed to rifle through the meager contents. "Shit," he exclaimed, slamming the drawer shut. Daniel slithered off the bed and dropped to the floor, picking up the comforter. He peered into the dusty darkness, sneezing twice as dust bunnies tickled his nose. With groping fingers, Daniel latched onto a satchel and dragged it out into the daylight, sneezing again as he dusted off the collected cobwebs.
It took him two tries to unstick the zipper. "Finally," he muttered, shoving his hand into the darkness of the bag, cursing under his breath as his fingers traveled the bottom of the satchel, feeling the hard plastic shape of a CD case wrapped in something soft. Daniel fingered the item and was unable to stop the tentative smile tugging at his lips. With a small sigh, he slowly removed his treasure from the depth of the satchel. Tossing the CD onto the bed, Daniel looked at the ragged tee shirt of Jack's. Daniel remembered the satchel, the tee shirt and an impromptu downtime about six weeks ago. The last time Daniel had seen this tee shirt was at a hotel far from Colorado, in the middle of the day, after removing it from a hot and sweaty Jack.
Daniel smiled through tear-filled eyes and he reverently caressed the shirt, breathing deeply of the material that held a lingering odor of his lover. Very slight, but enough to evoke a horrible fear in the pit of Daniel's stomach. "I need you," Daniel pleaded into the folds of the shirt.
Hugging the shirt to his chest, the satchel forgotten, Daniel stood and dropped onto the bed, falling sideways. Forgetting Rose's presence in the house, Daniel wrapped both arms around the empty tee shirt, bringing it up to rub soothingly against his cheek as he deeply inhaled Jack's essence and memories still trapped in the shirt.
The song that Rose was humming died in her throat as she stood in the open doorway of her bedroom, the arms that were filled with sheets fresh from the dryer tightened subconsciously, clutching the warm laundry to her chest as a shield of protection.
The afternoon sun was highlighting the rise and fall of Daniel's chest as he lay on his stomach. Deep in slumber, his body language was not that of someone who was unfamiliar with the room he was in. This was not someone who had accidentally fallen asleep somewhere they shouldn't have. Daniel slept with a man's tee shirt tucked tightly in his grip, pillows resting under his head and chest, and the blanket which covered only bare feet was confirmation to Rose this room was a place where Daniel obviously felt comfortable, even in the depths of slumber.
Tiptoeing over the threshold, she lowered the pile of laundry onto the chair and, wary of every squeak in the wooden floor, she cautiously approached the bed. Daniel's face was turned towards her and in sleep, the lines of stress and anxiety that had haunted him these past days had lessened, leaving in its stead a much more at peace Dr. Daniel Jackson. A man, her son's best friend and co-worker, was sleeping in Jack's bed in the middle of the afternoon, holding what she believed to be Jack's shirt. Not just holding, but snuggling with it. Snoring, drooling and burrowing into the pillows like it was the most natural place for him to be.
And Rose knew the reason for her son's happiness lay in that bed, yet years of ingrained teachings of what was right threatened her sanity. Naked, sweaty men doing things to each other, things that were inherently wrong and unnatural prompted a flush of embarrassment and anger so unexpected that Rose had to grip the edge of the dresser in an effort to physically restrain herself from throttling Daniel until he woke. Hatred of this man who slept in her son's bed. Daniel had so perversely warped her son's way of believing ... Daniel must be the reason Jack had not found another wife and had more children. This man was the reason her arms and heart were empty of grandchildren.
Instinctively she crossed herself, silently thanking God that Patrick wasn't alive to see this. To know that the O'Neill line was going to die because Jack had been taking another man into his bed would have destroyed Jack's father.
Rose clamped her hand over her mouth and barely made it to the hall bathroom before losing the contents of her stomach.
Rose stood in the hallway, chewing her thumbnail, indecisive of her next move. Daniel's plaintive pleading reached her, pulling her once again to the doorway of Jack's room. He was still asleep, in the throes of a nightmare, restlessly traveling across the bed to escape the demons.
"I won't let you die, Jack," Daniel promised as he grabbed fistfuls of the shirt and blanket. "Hold on ... have you." Daniel feet found purchase on the quilt and he slithered upwards on the bed.
Silently, Rose stood frozen in the room, a reluctant voyeur to Daniel's nightmare as he relived his battle to keep Jack alive. Clenching and unclenching her hands, Rose stepped forward and then back again as she fought with her own demons.
And in those moments, as Daniel struggled to save Jack, Rose struggled to get beyond her prejudices and see what her son needed. Set aside her ideals and beliefs to focus on Jack's. Ignore what was important to her and remember what was important to her only child. What made Jack happy. The pictures on the mantle, the little pieces of contentment in this house, roses in the garden, the garden itself, and the warmth within these walls even without Jack's physical presence.
She sat on the bed and gathered the tormented man in her arms, begging his forgiveness for her unvoiced thoughts. He hung on to her, his tears and sweat soaking her shirt. "I tried ... I tried."
"You saved him, mhuirnin, my sweetheart," her grandmother's Gaelic words of tenderness flowing easily from her lips. "You brought our Jack home." Rose held this flesh and blood connection to her son, rocking and soothing him, giving Daniel permission to release his tears simply by her presence.
Rose scoured through the diminishing remains of their expedition to the grocery store and managed to find enough ingredients to put together a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon for herself and Daniel. The mundane, everyday chores of feeding, cleaning, washing and working in the garden helped to erase the feelings of inadequacies over her inability to do something, anything, to speed up Jack's recovery.
She had just finished cooking when Daniel entered the kitchen.
"Daniel," Rose said, acknowledging his presence with a nod of her head.
The silence that followed was awkward and embarrassing. Rose paused, her hands occupied with holding the two filled, steaming plates, observing the young man who stood hovering uncertainly in the kitchen doorway. Primed and ready for a quick departure, Daniel was swaying front to back, his arms wrapped firmly around his midsection. With his head hanging and his eyes downcast, Daniel reminded Rose of a little boy who was going to get beaten for speaking out of turn. Or for getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
She plunked the plates onto the table, the sudden noise catching Daniel's attention. He remained where he was while Rose slid her chair out and sat down.
"I'm really not hungry ..."
"Oh, do me a favor," Rose said as she picked up her empty coffee mug and waved it in Daniel's direction. "I made fresh coffee ..."
"Sure," Daniel answered with a sigh. Rose accepted the filled mug with a crisp thank you and called out to Daniel as he went to leave the kitchen.
"Hey, where are you going? Sit." Rose used the ball of her foot to shove the empty chair in Daniel's direction. "Eat." She pointed to the other plate with her crisp slice of bacon.
Daniel hesitated a moment before sitting in the proffered chair. He picked up the glass of orange juice by the place setting, and warily eyed its contents. "Was this left over from ... Did you check the expiration date on the carton?"
Daniel's eyes widened. "Fresh?" he asked incredulously.
Rose hid her smile behind her mug of coffee as Daniel drank deeply. "There were three lonely oranges rolling around in the fruit bin of the fridge, so I made some OJ." Rose tapped Daniel's now empty glass. "Remind me to buy oranges the next time we shop."
"Or at least juice with pulp in it." Daniel's tongue flitted around the edges of his mouth, capturing errant pieces of pulp.
"Jack always hated the pulp. Only wanted the pulp free, fake orange juice," Rose said. She grabbed the salt shaker and liberally salted her eggs.
"Still hates the pulp," Daniel responded around a forkful of eggs. "He likes his eggs runny."
"Just like his father did," Ruth sighed. "I used to hate making breakfast for the two of them. Fake juice, runny eggs, soggy bacon and light toast with raspberry jam. And they'd read the sports page to each other. Honestly, it wasn't the highlight of my day. After a while I stopped making breakfast for them and insisted they go eat at the diner and ..." Rose looked up from her plate, watchful eyes not missing Daniel's subdued persona or the fact that he was playing with his food more than eating. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Why shouldn't I be? Oh." Daniel flushed with discomfort. "I didn't mean to ..." He used the fork to point in the direction of the bedroom.
Rose took a sip of coffee and changed the subject. "I've heard from everyone else how Jack got hurt and how you saved him. Everyone but you," she scolded.
"There's nothing to tell. There was an accident while we were examining ruins, the ground gave way and deposited us in an underwater cavern. Jack hit his head during the fall and I kept his head above water until we were rescued."
"Hours later, the water was frigid and you yourself were injured."
"You saved Jack."
"No. I didn't. Jack's in a coma. Saving means the person is walking and talking without the fear of a vegetative state hanging over their head."
Rose smacked Daniel's hand and he pulled it back, tucking it under his armpit for safety. "Ow! What the heck was that for?"
"For your lack of faith. Jack's a fighter, a stubborn son of a bitch. And I want him to wake up so ... so ... Crap." Rose grabbed at the tattered napkin, dabbing at the corner of her leaking eyes. "I want him to introduce me to you."
"Rose?" Daniel leaned forward. "We've met. The airport, we're both staying here, dinner."
"I've met you as his friend, not as the person who ..."
Daniel's face flooded in embarrassment as Rose strove for the proper word. He regained his composure and adamantly began to deny the path Jack's mom was heading. "Best friends. We're best friends ... honest. I just feel very guilty."
"You're a poor liar, Daniel."
Daniel sat back with a sigh. "Jack has told me that on a number of occasions."
"My son has always been a good judge of character. I may not understand about you and Jack being ..."
"Best friends," Daniel interjected.
Daniel ducked his head and laughed at Rose's "yeahsureyabetcha."
"I'm not a young woman." She waved away Daniel's objections. "No reason to be polite. I'm not young, the calendar and the mirror every morning have a nasty habit of reminding me. But I'm young enough and aware enough to want my son to be happy again. And if you're being in his life as his best friend, or whatever, makes Jack smile ... then it's okay with me."
On to Part Two
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