"No," I say, not bothering to turn. I know Fraiser's approaching, I know what she wants, and she's been rebuffed enough times in the past seventy-two hours to know what I want.
I hold onto the blanket covering Daniel's body. "No."
"Don't make me make it an order, Jack."
I sigh, obviously Fraiser's called in the big guns to blast me out of the seat next to Daniel's bed. "General."
"Six hours, Jack, that's all Doctor Fraiser is asking. Shower. Eat something. Sleep."
"I can't, sir." I can feel the weight of the Hammond's hand on my shoulder.
"This isn't a request."
I stand, slipping out from under the general's grasp, and my argument dies when I face my commanding officer. He's standing there, Fraiser at his side, but he's holding an oversized book like a shield against his chest. Curiosity gets the better of me and I point to the volume. "Sir?"
"Oh." The man who happens to be one of the strongest men I know, blushes slightly under the harsh, unforgiving infirmary lights. "I thought Dr. Jackson and I could enjoy some reading while you were gone."
"Six hours worth of reading?"
"Give or take," Hammond admits, then sits in the chair I've occupied for countless hours, cutting short any need I might have to challenge his right to stay with Daniel. "Six hours, Colonel."
"And not a minute sooner," Fraiser adds.
Okay, I shower. Hell, I even grab a donut and a cup of coffee from the commissary and after two bites and one gulp of the bitter liquid, I throw it in the trash, opting instead to track down the two mobile members of my team. Teal'c is kel-no-reeming, and I wave away his invitation to join him though he does take a break from his meditation to answer my question regarding Carter, who, he informs me, has also been banished off base for some much needed rest.
Due to my military efficiency, the shower, pseudo-meal, checking on teammates' whereabouts, all in all has taken thirty minutes. I do the math. I have five hours and thirty minutes before I can go back to the infirmary.
I open the fridge, close the fridge, then open it one more time, turning a blind eye to the grouping of tinfoil covered dishes that probably should be in Carter's lab and not my kitchen. I grab a beer, a package of individually wrapped American cheese with an expiration date well into the next century and the tub of butter. There's a half bag of semi fresh potato chips, two salvageable pieces of whole wheat bread, and a can of tomato soup that I dust off before I open. I dump the can's contents in a pot to heat up, and in ten minutes I have a bowl of soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, chips and an iced cold brew. All of which, except the beer, taste like sawdust.
After I eat, I listen to the messages on my answering machine, deleting them all except one, the first one, a message from Daniel reminding me to pick him up on our way to the mountain. Which I had done, the morning of our fateful mission, and my finger hovers indecisively over the delete button. I superstitiously decide not to erase the message.
I sort through the mail, then re-sort it, then just dump it right back into the basket. The newspapers I don't even bother to read, I just take them to the garage and drop them in the paper recyclable pile. Mail and papers have been tended to compliments of Mrs. Zacker, my seventy nine year old neighbor, who always keeps on eye on the O'Neill house when I'm not around.
Against my better judgment I lie down in bed, fully dressed. I'm not going to sleep, but I promised Fraiser and Hammond that I would eat, sleep and shower, and when I report back in -- I look at my watch -- in three hours and twenty minutes, I will be able to say I did just what I had been ordered to do.
I pull my cell phone from my pocket and check to make sure there's a dial tone, then I check the cordless next to the bed and hang it up quickly when I hear the familiar buzz of a dial tone. I place both phones right by the pillow, just in case someone needs to contact me. Just in case.
The noise of the day filters into the bedroom and I can hear through the closed windows a school bus, a lawn mower, a barking dog, daily sounds of normal people living normal lives. Sometimes I wonder how nice it would be to be one of those people and worry about everyday things, like money, what's for dinner, the funny noise the car's making and not be concerned with angry, backwards inhabitants of a planet light years from Earth who manage to have in their possession advanced weapons, and who catch four highly trained individuals, the best of the best, off guard.
"Damn." I dig the heels of my hands into my gritty eyes, forcing the image of Daniel taking a header off the Stargate platform, landing in a heap, a spreading bloom of blood blossoming on his back. We had been sitting ducks, the attack coming from the rear the moment the 'gate disengaged, and if Daniel dies, the last words he will have heard were mine reprimanding him for being late.
Well, we can't have Daniel die, can we? I wait, but my ceiling doesn't answer me. It should, I spend enough time gazing longingly at it, but as always, it remains silent, mocking me. "Fuck you." I point an accusing finger at the white expanse, then jump out of bed, shoving my cell phone back into my pocket. "If you're not going to listen to me," I mutter as I lean over tying my shoes, "I'll go to someone who will."
The worst part about being in the mountain for days on end is the lack of windows and the constant, monitored preset temperature, so I was shocked to realize that spring had sprung in the days I hadn't been topside. Funny how I didn't think twice about it at my house, but here at the cemetery, there seems to be tiny signs of the warming weather everywhere I look.
"Hey, Charlie." I pat the headstone as I once had patted his mop of hair. I gaze downward and smile. "Ahh, I see your mom has been here to say hi." There is a bouquet of flowers and a pack of unopened baseball cards, a spring ritual I remember well. On the first warm day of spring, Sara would bring home a bunch of fresh flowers for the table to carry her over, she'd say, until our own garden was in bloom, and two packs of baseball cards, one for me and one for Charlie to signify the end of the hockey season, which she hated, and the beginning of baseball season, which she tolerated.
"Let's see if you got any good ones." I lean down and pluck the package of TOPPS cards from the flowers, then rip open the packaging, stuffing it in my pocket. "Oooh, nice." I flip through the cards, remembering times when Charlie and I would argue over who got the better cards and I would bore him with tales from my own childhood when my cards had come complete with bubble gum. "I'll take the cards home for safekeeping, okay?" I tuck them into my back pocket, then glance upward. Nope, no drab white ceiling here, just blue skies and white clouds as far as the eye can see.
The grass is damp and as soon as I sit my butt down, I can feel the moisture seep through my pants. "My ass is gonna be wet." I wiggle it, trying to find a dryer spot. I shake my head and if I close my eyes, I can see my son pointing at my wet butt and giggling. He had just reached the stage of sharing with me his enjoyment of all gross and disgusting bodily functions, much to Sara's horror. Charlie was just mastering the fine art of burping on command just before he --
"Daniel's hurt really bad." I lean my head backwards so it rests on the headstone, my fingers pulling up little tufts of grass. "Fraiser assures me that he's gonna be okay, but he hasn't moved in -- days. Not even a finger twitch." I clear my throat, then rub my eyes, due to the burst of spring in the cemetery. I'm obviously channeling Daniel's allergies. I blot the moisture from my eyes with my shirt sleeve.
"I'm scared, Charlie." I'm not just scared, I'm fucking terrified that Fraiser's wrong, but I can't tell Charlie that, a boy never wants to know that his father is afraid of anything. But I'm afraid I haven't learned my lesson, one that Charlie should have taught me, one that Daniel had been trying to show me when he kissed me in my kitchen all those months ago -- that your life can change in a blink of an eye, and then suddenly all those things that you deem important, suddenly aren't.
"But Daniel's a guy, Charlie. A guy. Which makes me -- a stupid ass." I bang my head lightly against the headstone. "I'm so stupid. Go ahead and say it -- My dad is stupid." I listen for my Charlie inner voice to go "ewww, a guy," but I don't hear those words, I'm picking up more of the sensation that my son is giving me a kick in the butt to get my ass in gear and go tell Daniel how much time his stupid father has wasted. "But a guy?"
Okay, I understand Daniel's not a woman and while I can ignore Charlie's "no duh" comment, I can't ignore the barriers that are in my way, ingrained in me from my time spent in the military. Unfair, yup. Prejudice, yeahsureyabetcha.
The question becomes one of how strong I actually am, and I smile, recalling a four year old Charlie peering down the neck of my shirt to see where his Superman daddy hid his "S". Back when he was four, a lift through the air, a ride on my shoulders, wiping away his tears and banishing the monsters in his closet made me a superhero.
Nowadays I battle the bad guys for a living, but telling my best friend I love him makes me more of a superhero than fighting any System Lord. How's that for a sad, pathetic fact that certainly doesn't move me up the ranks of bravery.
But what if Daniel dies?
He won't, Fraiser said he won't. But what if he does? What then? Will I be sleeping with my prejudice for the rest of my life, with my dog tags to keep me warm? Is that what I want? Is that what I want to remember of the friendship that Daniel and I had slowly and steadfastly been reconstructing.
"No." Charlie is strangely silently, the final step is mine. Everyone knows that. Daniel, Charlie, hell, even my damn ceiling knows that.
"I love Daniel." I try the words out for size, then sigh when they sound flat and forced. How about if I start with the easy stuff? "Daniel's my teammate." Much better. "I've known him for --" I begin to count on my fingers. "I've known him almost nine years, Charlie." Nine years. Whoa, that sorta surprises me. Charlie died just short of his tenth birthday, which means -- which means I don't want to go there. "He's one of the smartest people I know and one the biggest pain in the asses I've ever had the pleasure of meeting." Hey so sue me, it doesn't kill a person to state the obvious, does it? "He's my best friend." I can't help smiling when it dawns on me that I can once again say those words with confidence.
And then my cell phone rings and my words and my world come to a screeching halt while my heart begins a slow and painful exit through my chest cavity. I don't even answer with my customary "O'Neill", I just open the phone.
"Daniel regained consciousness about thirty minutes ago." Her words are rushed, tumbling over each other, and I'm thinking she's thinking she knew what I was imagining when the phone rang.
I work up enough saliva so my tongue isn't sticking to the roof of my mouth. "And?"
I can hear her smile. "Confused -- but that's to be expected -- he doesn't remember 'gating to the planet at all. But he knew his name, age -- wanted to know how the rest of SG1 was."
Fraiser's uncharacteristic giggle makes me realize how tired she actually is.
"Thank you, doc."
"I'm just doing my job, sir."
"What's Daniel doing now?"
"Sleeping? He was lying in bed for seventy two hours, eyes tightly shut, not moving --"
"Unconscious is not sleeping, Colonel."
"I knew that," I reply with a hint of indignation, amazed at how she can read me. Scary.
"Speaking of sleeping -- I hope I woke you up."
"Um, yeah." I scrub my face. "Just getting up now." I raise my arm over my head, latch onto the flat surface of Charlie's headstone and pull myself to a standing position. "Up, now." See, I'm not lying, it's just a matter of semantics.
"Drive safely, Colonel. No hurry, Daniel will be sleeping for a few hours -- so if you want to grab another hour or two of shut eye --"
"No, that's quite alright, I'll be there as soon as --" I pat down my pants, then remember I'm soaked through to my skin. "... I get dressed."
The moment my right foot crosses the threshold into the infirmary, the doc begins to shoo General Hammond home. We exchange smiles as Fraiser continues to harangue him as he heads towards the door, the book tucked under his arm. I sit in the chair he has vacated, feeling the warmth of the general's body and presence on the hard plastic.
Fraiser is still muttering to herself even after Hammond leaves, then turns to me with a warning glance which is specifically layered in meaning that I know the words to. 'Don't wake Daniel up. Don't disturb him. Don't knock the bed, etc. and then act surprised when his eyelids flutter, or your ass will be sitting in the hallway quicker than I can shine a penlight in your eye'. I smile, she smiles, acknowledgement that I have received her message loud and clear.
I know that Teal'c had visited the infirmary and also know that he has gone to pick up Carter. I'm a tad obsessive that way; I need to know that all my chicks are in a row no matter what side of the 'gate we're on.
I lean on the bed railing and study Daniel. Fraiser's wrong, there is no difference between sleeping and unconsciousness. Daniel doesn't look any different than when I left five hours and fifty nine minutes ago. I gently finger the IV tubing, hell, even the same wires and tubes are still in place. I surreptitiously gaze over my shoulder and notice that Fraiser is deep in conversation with a nurse -- so despite the doctor's warnings, I stick my pointer finger through the metal railing and poke Daniel hard enough so that his nose wrinkles and he makes a futile attempt to slip away from me. Okay, there is a slight difference and I rub the affected area on his arm.
I jump at the sound of Fraiser's voice and bang my hand on the railing. "Ow."
"May I ask what part of hands off didn't you understand?"
There's no way I can lie my way out of this. I can't flutter my eyelashes and divert her attention the way Daniel can, so I go for broke and try honesty. "I understood, I just wanted to check for myself."
"My shift is over, let's go into my office so we can talk, okay?"
I'm getting an order couched in a request and I know better than to decline.
"Daniel didn't just fall down and go boom."
"I was there. I know."
"I know you were, Colonel." Fraiser exhales and her puff of breath blows an errant piece of hair off her forehead.
I squirm uncomfortably in the chair. For someone who is usually straightforward and doesn't hold back, she seems ill at ease, like she's searching for the right words, so I decide to help her along. "What you're trying to say is the bounce back kid isn't going to be bouncing back so fast from this one."
"But he will bounce back." She paces nervously within her small office, picks up her coffee pot, shakes it, then offers me the sludge before changing her mind. "The projectile that he was hit with was damaging enough on its own." Fraiser touches the right side of her chest. "It's amazing that his lung wasn't -- well, it's just amazing."
"Jackson luck, I guess."
"I guess." Her agreement is wholehearted. "The fall did as much damage as the projectile, if not more."
"I figured." I had this mission pegged from the beginning. A Spidey sense tingle born of years' experiences when I saw the altar-like structure the Stargate had been mounted on. I had voiced my objections, but Daniel had shot me down, pleading to the general that the structure itself was worth investigating. He won, I lost, and discovered the planet's inhabitants obviously felt as strongly as I did about their structure.
"He broke three ribs, concussion --"
"Bruises," I add, the ones on his face and jaw line are quite spectacular, he has a black eye that would make Rocky proud and I can only cringe to imagine what's under the infirmary gown.
"His collar bone is broken, two fingers from his left hand --"
She nods, I shake my head. "He's going to be in pain, uncomfortable and --"
"You could say that, especially when he finds out that he's going to be Earth-bound for at least a month and that he's going to need PT a few times a week."
"That's the understatement of the year." Fraiser glances at her watch. "Well, Colonel, it's time for me to head home to make some motherly noises at Cassie."
She smirks at me. "No, you can stay and make motherly noises at him, my shift is finished for the day."
I acknowledge her attempt at a joke with a smirk of my own. "No, I mean now -- what about Daniel?"
"For the next twelve hours he's in Dr. Warner's capable hands, sir."
Daniel's a physical mess and he's pissed, two lethal combinations. Seven days in the infirmary can do that, but at the moment he's angrier at me than he was at Fraiser for keeping him an extra day.
"Don't take this the wrong way. I appreciate that you're giving me a lift rather than an airman, but --"
"Jack. Thank you very much for your offer but the answer is still unequivocally, no."
"You need --"
"I need a lift home --"
"Come stay at my house --"
"Once more to set the record straight. I want to go home, to my house, my kitchen, my coffee maker, my bed, pillow, blanket." His left hand is weighted down with two wrapped fingers and movement of his right hand is hindered by pain and a sling, so his normally expressive hands are lying dormant in his lap. "Please."
This isn't the way it's supposed to go down. In my imagination, Daniel would willingly, and quite thankfully I might add, come home with me where I would declare my undying love. I feel more comfortable proclaiming my love on familiar territory, not that his house isn't familiar, it's just not my house.
I haven't told him yet that I've crossed the line. The infirmary was too impersonal, and it's not really the type of place that was conducive to saying those three special words to him.
"Okay." Short of throwing Daniel over my shoulder and kidnapping him, there's nothing I can do but honor his request.
Daniel's drowsing, more asleep than awake when I park in front of the grocery store down the block from his house. It's a tiny little establishment, one of those little mom and pop corner stores that are far and few between. Daniel opens one eye. "Milk, whole wheat bread, cheese --" he sighs deeply, pauses, and I have one hand on the door handle, thinking he's drifted back to sleep. "See if Millie made any muffins, if she did --"
"I got it covered."
It takes two trips to get Daniel up to the eighth floor. The first trip comprised of Daniel and all his paraphernalia -- from his laptop and approved files to a satchel of books he's going to be working on at home. I don't know exactly when he thinks he's going to be working as Daniel's having a hard enough time staying awake during the elevator ride, but I keep my comments to myself. Daniel carries nothing but his bags of meds and even that he's not really holding, it's stuffed in the sling.
On the second trip, I lug the groceries. Five bags filled with essentials besides the items he requested. I dump them on the kitchen counter and go in search of Daniel, who had wandered in the direction of the bedroom just as I was leaving to retrieve the food.
Oh, he's in the bedroom alright, standing by the bed, gazing down at it, studying it like it holds the secrets of the universe. I'm not sure what part of his body is unbruised and touchable, so I settle for calling his name. "Daniel? Is there a problem?"
"I need to lie down."
"I'm not too sure how to, um --"
"Why, Daniel, are you possibly asking me for help?"
"Can you sit?"
Daniel gazes at me over the rim of his glasses like I'm stupid. "Of course I can sit."
"Eh," I blurt out. "Do you want my help or not? 'Cause I can just as easily go and unpack the groceries and leave you standing here --"
"I can sit."
"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" I grab the quilt and walk it down to the end of the bed, then gently tug on his elbow that's not in the sling and guide him over to the bed, backing him up until the mattress hits the back of his knees and he has no option but to sit. He blinks lazily as I tug off his shoes. Daniel lifts his own two legs slowly and I hurriedly stick my hand behind his back to prop him upright when he realizes both hands are unable to provide him any balance.
We stay our position for a few minutes until I come to the conclusion I better say something before Daniel nods off like this. "Side, back -- give me a hint what would be the most comfortable."
"Neither, but the back is the least of two evils."
He slides down with a bit of help and I can't help wondering how Fraiser released him on his own recognizance, he can barely get into bed, how the hell is he expected to feed himself, shower, hell, even wipe his own ass?
"Hate these pills," Daniel confides as he tries to make himself comfortable. "All I do is want to sleep."
"I know," I agree as I drag one of the pillows over and put it under the arm with the sling. "Want me to take this thing off?"
"No," Daniel sighs, then closes his eyes, pain furrows deepening along his forehead. "Don't let me sleep for too long."
Fraiser had given him a pain pill with a chaser of a muscle relaxant just as we left the infirmary, so contrary to what Daniel believes, he's gonna be down for a few hours. "Of course I won't," I lie easily, then pull the blanket up to cover him.
The sky is darkening. Evening is approaching, Daniel is late for his dose of medication and he's missed lunch, but sometimes, I figure, sleep is the body's way of healing, so I allow Daniel these transgressions. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. I spent the afternoon preparing both a pot of stew and vegetable soup, the stew we'll eat, the soup I'll put in the fridge for tomorrow's dinner.
I'm sitting at the edge of the bed, still hesitant to wake him. Earlier his face had been pain free while he slept, while now, I can see the little twitches of discomfort around his eyes and mouth. I know Daniel well enough to know that unless I physically shake him, he'll continue sleeping, so I take a deep breath and finally say the words.
"I love you."
I know he's not awake, and people may view this as cheating and taking the chicken's way out, but I'm not. I'm testing the words-a practice run if you will, and we all know that practice makes perfect.
He made it through dinner, dessert, and a quick shower, where I stood right outside the bathroom, my ear pressed to the door, listening for a telltale thud. Daniel also was able to make it halfway through some movie on TV before the fidgeting began. Up. Down. Shift to the left. To the right.
"Sure you are." I get up, stretch, then check my watch without making a big deal of it. "I'm going to go get some ice cream, want something? Like a pain pill."
But I don't listen to him. I never do. I get two bowls of ice cream, stick a pain pill in my pocket, and shove a bottle of water under my armpit. My ice cream is delicious, his turns to a soupy mixture before he sticks his hand out in my direction.
"Hand it over."
"Hand over what?"
"The pill, I know it's in your pocket."
I give it to him with a roll of my eyes, Daniel downs it with a roll of his and he lasts about fifteen minutes before going to bed with me at his heels. I help, keeping up chatter just to hear myself speak obviously, because Daniel is fast asleep the moment he gets under the covers.
The bed in the spare bedroom is just as uncomfortable as the couch, but I settle for the couch 'cause at least there, I can watch TV and forget about the lumps on the couch. In the spare room I'll have nothing but the ceiling to keep me company.
At zero one hundred hours I check the door, the balcony doors and Daniel, whose snores I hear even before I push open the bedroom door. The snoring is because he's sleeping on his back, far from his favorite position, but the ribs, bruises and collarbone are prohibitive to curling up like he usually does. I know I'm selfish, but I'm glad, because I like to look at him while I practice my "I love you" and this time I plant a kiss on his forehead, just as a precaution to make sure he's not running a fever.
The second day I'm back at the SGC, and call Daniel every two hours, Carter calls him every hour in between and Teal'c takes a ride over for lunch. By the time we ascend on his house with fresh bread and cold cuts to go along with the vegetable soup, Daniel growls at us the whole time we're there, but he voices no objection when he realizes I'm staying overnight again.
I leave Daniel under Fraiser's eagle eye on the third day. He's due for a perusal by the CMO before his PT and I'm due at a briefing that started about ten minutes ago. Getting Daniel physically out of bed in the morning has never been one of my favorite pastimes.
Three hours later, I find Daniel sitting on the couch in his dimly lit office with a book on his lap which I'm guessing he's reading, but who can tell in this lighting? Amid the papers on his desk is a half eaten buttered roll and a glass of OJ, so Carter's obviously been here.
I stand in front of him and realize his glasses are balanced precariously on the tip of his nose and he hasn't turned a page in the past few minutes. I bend down and gaze upward into his lowered face. Sleeping. Snoozing.
I slide Daniel's glasses up his nose and he jumps, startled, then grabs his side, grimacing. "Ow. Nice, Jack, thanks."
"I bet." Daniel drops his head against the back of the couch and gazes upward.
"What are you still doing here?"
Daniel rubs his face with his left hand, his taped fingers protruding awkwardly. "Janet said she would find an airman to drive me home."
"Your chariot awaits." I tap his knee with mine.
His scowl makes me smile. "You?"
"Yup." I bend and place my hand on his less injured arm's elbow and help him stand.
I wait until we're halfway to his house before I break the news. "I'm going offworld for about forty eight hours."
"Oh?" Daniel's really not listening, he's got a three-fingered death grip on the Starbucks cup of coffee I bought him to soften the blow.
"You'll be okay, won't you?"
Even though my eyes are on the road, I can feel Dr. Jackson's death stare. Right then, while driving through the intersection, I decide if Daniel were ever to become a superhero, that stare should be his signature weapon.
"I'm not going to justify your question with an answer."
The only way to battle the dreaded death stare is with guilt, so I clamp a hand over my heart. "Well, excuse me for being concerned." I even manage a touch of indignation in my voice for emphasis.
It takes about two, maybe three minutes, before Daniel's 'sorry' arrives just as he's drinking from the cup, another minute or two tick by before he shows interest. "Where are you going, by the way?"
Moment of truth, this is the reason I bought him the coffee, 'cause this is gonna hurt. "We got invited to a celebration."
"Well, SG1 -- and you, of course," I hasten to add. "But because of, you know," I point to his injured side, keeping my eyes on the road. "Fraiser said no way."
I mumble the planet's designated code numbers.
Silence, but I know he's heard me.
"What kind of celebration?"
See, this is where it gets tricky and tough. Six months ago, SG1 gated to PX641A and walked right into the middle of a civil war that basically had just begun. Both sides were vying for contact with the people of Earth, though that wasn't the reason the factions were at war. Daniel was able to weave his first contact magic and sit both sides down at the proverbial table to discuss their differences. This led to peace for them and a piece of their abundant minerals for Earth. Since then, Daniel sorta held a soft spot for them, and they, for him.
Hammond had received an invitation that the daughter of the Drianos and the son of the Hannons were tying the knot. A two day celebration. SG1 had received an engraved invitation for a command performance, which Washington had deemed necessary that we attend, with or without Daniel. I had literally argued with Hammond until I was blue in the face. The general, in a stroke of military genius, had pushed the responsibility of Daniel going through the 'gate onto Fraiser, who had adamantly replied 'No', in as many ways possible as she could.
She explained that not only was the trip through the 'gate hazardous to him and his current injuries, but Fraiser also reminded me that the trek to the villages was a quite a distance. Eventually, frustrated with my persistence, the good doc sat me down in her office, pulled out Daniel's files and x rays and made me see for myself the reason he was going to remain Earthbound.
"There's going to be a wedding."
"Alberon and Kysmita are getting married." The remainder of my explanation comes out in a jumble filled with words like, Hammond, Fraiser, Washington, assholes and bad timing.
For a linguist, sometimes Daniel's lack of words speak volumes.
I break the stillness before he does. "It sucks."
"It sure does," he agrees. "When are you leaving?"
"Twenty one hundred hours."
Daniel nods, remembering the planet's nights and day are the opposite of Earth's. "You need to take a nap, but," he glances down at his watch. "Do we have time to run an errand first?"
"Sure, you want to stock up your fridge?"
"No, I want to go buy a wedding present."
"Make a left over here."
"Don't forget the protocols," Daniel says as we stand by his front door. "Slight bow, count to three before --"
"Daniel, I remember." I bend down to pick up the gift. A handmade, antique quilt which we spent the better part of two hours researching and purchasing at some hole in the wall antique store where Daniel had already been on a first name basis with the elderly owners. He never looked at the price as he plunked down his American Express, but I kept looking at my watch, impatiently watching the time for my afternoon nap slip away.
"Don't forget to explain to them the history of the wedding quilt, where it came, from --"
"Don't worry, I'll do you proud. I'll bow where I should, I won't burp --"
He smiles, the first of the day. "Burping is allowed, even farting --"
I hold the wrapped gift against my chest. "TMI, Daniel."
"Bye, Jack. Give the bride and groom my love," he taps the package that I hold, "and the gift."
"Take care of yourself, and Daniel, I --"
I wonder if my preparatory gulp sounds as loud as it feels.
"I'll see you when I get back," I blurt out quickly. I chicken out big time and if I could bend my foot backwards, I'd be kicking myself in the ass.
The families were happy to see three fourths of SG1, were concerned about Daniel, and the bride and groom looked happy and wonderful as all newly married people do. They loved Daniel's gift and the rumor was that the quilt actually bore witness to the consummation of the marriage. Daniel will be quite pleased. Other than that, like all forty eight hours parties, we ate too much and drank even more and slept very little. In actuality, I spent my time in bed gazing upward, staring at a ceiling in a house hundreds of light years from Earth. Different planet, same answer. Jack O'Neill is a big fat chicken.
It's the middle of the night when we arrive back on Earth, the SGC is quieter and Fraiser isn't on duty for me to bug about Daniel's recovery, so as soon as I'm done with the usual shit, shower and shave routine, I'm on my way to him.
The sun is just coming up as I slip my key in the door and quietly step over the threshold. I place the bag of fresh, out of the oven, delicious smelling bagels on the counter, but I can't resist reaching in. I shush the loud crinkling sound of the paper bag, and rip off a piece of a cinnamon raisin bagel before I go to awaken sleeping beauty with an 'I love you'.
You see, something happened on that planet, something more than a wedding but a little less than an epiphany, so I'm just going to call it a revelation. Maybe it was the whole head of grey hair reflecting back at me when I dressed for the marriage ceremony. Maybe it was the abundance of happiness amongst that people that was the turning point or maybe, just maybe, I realized that I missed Daniel, and he was just a universe and a wormhole away. And if I miss him when he's that close to me, how would I feel if he had died?
The flickering light and low drone of voices draws me into the den, where I find Daniel sitting slack jawed and staring at the TV.
"Daniel?" I sit on the coffee table, right in front of him, blocking his view of the television.
"Hey." Daniel blinks lazily at me and his smile is slow in coming.
I take a bite of bagel and contemplate Daniel as I chew.
"How was ummm -- you know."
"Good, it was good," I answer after swallowing. "They sent their regards. They missed you."
"Nice to be missed," he sighs.
"Hey, I missed you," I reply indignantly. Nervously, I begin to pull the innards outta my piece of bagel, popping them in my mouth. "You know, Daniel, I've been meaning to tell you that -- are you even listening to me?" For the first time in the dim light of the TV, I can see that not only is his face pale and drawn, but the fingers of the arm in the sling are swollen, and the back of the hand that's visible is wrapped in an Ace bandage.
He smacks his lips few times. "I'm listening -- didn't sleep well, bad night."
I snort and point at his arm. "Obviously. Care to share?"
Daniel follows my line of vision. "I'm okay."
I leave my bagel on the table, then get up and sit next to him on the couch. I gently flick his swollen pointer finger.
"You slipped in the shower?" I interpret.
He nods slowly.
"What did you hurt?" This time I take the swollen fingers and rub them gently.
"Besides my dignity?" Daniel looks skyward for the words to fill in the blanks. "I sprained my wrist. That's it. Nothing more. And before you even say anything, yes, Janet's seen it. Yes, Janet wrapped it, after she gave me a good talking to and stopped laughing." Daniel drunkenly waves his splinted fingers in the air. "Change that, she wrapped my hand and laughed at the same time."
"When was she here?"
"She stopped by to see how I was doing -- and when I didn't answer the door she -- did you know Janet can pick locks?"
I grimace. "Embarrassed?"
"Oh yeah, that's putting it mildly."
"Naked, wet, spread eagle."
I gently squeeze the fingers in mine. "Unconscious?"
"I only wish." Daniel yawns and his head drops heavily onto the back of the couch. "I was wide awake and flat on my ass when the good doctor burst into the bathroom. The rest, as they say, is history." He grunts, then makes a futile attempt at stretching, his fingers falling from my grasp. "I need to lie down."
"And you fell in the shower because ...? You slipped on a bar of soap? Shampoo bottle fell over?"
His sigh is torturously long. "Later. I promise I'll fill you in on all that took place when you were offworld."
"Excuse me for caring."
"Jack, there's a huge difference between caring and smothering."
"I am not smothering."
"You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Daniel." I jump up from the couch and wag my finger in his face. "I love you and I would never smother you." I shove my hands in my pockets and stutter, "I'll -- I'll just care you to death."
Daniel's snort cuts me to the core. "Ha! Care me to death? Just what the hell does that -- you love me?" He goes two shades whiter than he already is before his face is infused with a bright blush of color.
I nod, stupefied that I finally did it, but what amazes me even more is that I lean down and kiss Daniel, whose lips are parted in an "o" and stay that way through the whole kiss, even after I break the contact. "Daniel?"
He sighs through those parted lips, well, actually more of an exhalation of air than a sigh. "Do you know you're a son of a bitch? You wait until I almost die before you decide that you love me?"
This was so not the reaction I was expecting from Daniel, and because of that, my first knee jerk reaction is to apologize. "I'm sorry, I just thought --" then I realize what I was just about to do and catch myself. "Okay, so my timing wasn't the most fortuitous, it doesn't --"
"Fortuitous? That's what you're calling it? Did you decide you loved me before or after I flat lined?"
"You didn't flat line," I argue.
He's so frustrated at not being able to use his hands to express his annoyance, he's practically thrumming. "That's not the point."
"Then what the hell is the point?" I look at my hands. It's obvious I'm doing enough hand gesturing for the both of us.
He glances up at me. Tired eyes seemed filled with a resignation that scares me. "Go home, Jack."
"No." Damn him, I haven't been jerking off and talking to my ceiling to just leave now. I haven't traveled all this way to be rebuffed.
He slides to the front of the couch and uses the edge to push himself to a standing position. "Fine. Stay here. Personally, right at this moment, I don't give a shit what you do. I'm going to bed."
Fine, if Daniel desires to play the hysterical heroine from a Harlequin novel, I'll let him, I decide as I drop down onto the couch. I find the remote, flip through the channels, and decide on CNN so I can catch up on all the wordly news that I've missed in the past forty-eight hours. The news around the globe keeps me entertained for ten minutes tops, my attention wanders and in another ten minutes I come to the conclusion that Daniel's den ceiling, like all the other ceilings in my life lately, is unforgiving.
"Bullshit," I exclaim to the newscaster, kicking the bagel off the table in a fit of anger, then watch as it flies across the room and settles under a piece of furniture. "Ooops." I feel a tad guilty and stand to retrieve it, but change my mind.
Even with the sun up, Daniel's room is dark, the only light is from the lamp on the dresser and even then, there are more shadows than not. The arm with the broken fingers is flung over his face, covering his eyes, so I'm not sure if he's awake or sleeping, though his breathing is deep, regular, and doesn't vary when the door squeaks as I close it behind me.
I walk around to the empty side of the bed and surprise myself by getting in. Well, not in, in, under the covers, but in as in the sense that we're sharing the same mattress. Daniel's lying down and I'm sitting up, my legs stretched out before me, my back propped up against the headboard.
This feels strange, and it really shouldn't, because Daniel and I always share a tent offworld and I'm as familiar with his sleeping habits as I am with my own. But this feels different. No matter how much I try to reason with myself, it's different. Daniel's a guy. I'm a guy. And right now I'm in his bed as a guy, not as his commanding officer or his friend.
"I was scared." An embarrassed snort of laughter bursts forth and I quickly silence it by scrubbing my hand over my mouth because just admitting that truth and actually voicing those three words, feels like I've lost the hundred pound weight sitting on my chest. "How 'bout that, Daniel? I bet you never thought you'd hear me say that. Actually telling you I'm scared is probably harder for me to say to you than I love you."
My hands smooth the blanket covering Daniel's body. "It doesn't mean I was scared about saying I love you -- no, well maybe I was scared about that also, but you have to understand, I thought you were going die. On the planet, as we dialed the 'gate home, and until you opened your eyes in the infirmary, I was terrified. I'm sorry it took an accident for me to grow a set of balls and I apologize for how long it took me to admit what I've known for a very long time. You may not believe me, but that's okay." My hand travels over his shoulder, his jaw line and settles in his hair. "You see, I'm really just practicing this speech, you know that diplomacy isn't exactly my forte and I'll just keep trying a couple of different ways to say it until it sounds right and then maybe when you get up --"
"You're smothering." Daniel's muffled voice comes out from under his arm.
I pause, stop and take it as a good sign that Daniel's at least talking to me. "I'm not smothering -- I'm caring."
"I'm not complaining, just stating a fact." Daniel drops his arm and it lands on my thigh, his hand resting on my bad knee, and broken fingers and all, he begins to massage my knee cap, and suddenly it doesn't seem so strange that I'm in bed with Daniel.
"You're smothering me, Daniel."
"Live with it."
"Are you threatening me, Dr. Jackson?" I carefully pluck Daniel's fingers off my knee and slowly slide down the headboard, bit by bit, until I'm lying parallel to him.
In the dim light of the bedroom I can see Daniel smiling at me and I smile back. Nice. I lean over and kiss Daniel, and he kisses me back, which is even nicer.
We separate, and I bring my hand up and trace the outline of his lips, and my fingers are warmed by the air of his sigh. This isn't a sigh borne of exasperation or annoyance or even frustration, this is a sigh of contentment. I can't help but kiss Daniel again to see if I can elicit that sound again, but this time when we separate, the sigh unexpectedly comes from me and Daniel laughs. "Hate to say it, Jack, but I told you so."
"Yeah, you did. I can't believe it took me this --"
"Stop. You're here, that's all that matters."
The bed moves with Daniel's weight as he shifts around, trying to locate a position that's more comfortable. There are grunts and groans and a final sound of satisfaction.
"Comfy?" I ask, then cringe. Comfy? Comfy? Not even ten minutes into our relationship and I'm turning into a caring, smothering sap? This is going to be a long 'rest of our lives' if this is how I'm starting out.
"Comfy," Daniel repeats happily, my chest bearing the weight of his nodding head.
"Go to sleep," I order, and settle down to stare at the top of Daniel's head, the expanse of broad back and the width of his shoulder as he lays draped over me. Hands down, this is so much better than gazing at a blank white ceiling, if I do say so myself.
I'm not tired, and I know I'm going to be stiff and cranky later but I don't dare move for fear of waking him. "I love you," I state, as I wrap my arm around his shoulder, my fingers spread gently over his bandaged wrist. The feeling of Daniel in my arms is both comforting and disconcerting, sorta like a trip through the 'gate. The unknown beckoning, drawing you in and on the other side -- home.
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