The various sounds of the monitors' litany and the ever so slight fogging of the oxygen mask are the only evidence that tenuous life still exists in the body on this bed in the infirmary. The hand that I hold in my own remains chilled even hours after Fraiser has set the unresponsive form under the warming blanket. I want nothing more than to touch his arm, his face, but the medical paraphernalia snaking around Daniel only permits limited tactile contact, so I must be content with the pad of my thumb brushing warm strokes across indifferent, placid fingers. "Come home to me," I whisper under the bright, harsh infirmary lighting, "Follow the warmth of my voice back to me," I plead despairingly. "Remember, no one gets left behind."
I sit on the deck chair, legs splayed before me, the long neck of a cold brew dangling from my fingertips and gently swinging like a pendulum. I watch. To the untrained eye, I'm relaxing on a hot summer day ... to the CMO of the SGC ... I'm watching. I hold in a sigh of exasperation as the doc takes the chair next to mine and conspiratorially leans into my personal space. I begin to count and get to four before the questioning begins.
"How's he doing?" Fraiser asks.
What I would like to answer is ... 'How the fuck do you think he's doing? You released him from the infirmary a little over a week ago, after he returned 96 hours overdue from a mission. A doomed mission. The struggle in your infirmary was the good part, because did I happened to mention what happened when I got my archaeologist home?
No I didn't? Well let me share ... he can't get warm, in the heat of the summer nights I'm sweltering under quilts and no air conditioner. My hot water bill skyrocketed due to the number of showers and baths he submerges himself in. My neighbors have already questioned why Daniel is wearing sweats outside. Maybe I should tell them it's an accomplishment, at least his down jacket is still in the closet.'
But I mention none of this, my promise to Daniel that I'll play defense between him and MacKenzie eats away at my innards. The Phd'er isn't stupid, he knows his actions are gearing him towards the padded room and an up close and personal visit with the psychiatric team of the SGC. All I need is time, he had pleaded, and against my better judgment I acquiesced.
I take a long swig of the beer, rolling the empty bottle between my palms before I answer. "Nice pool." That's it, no more no less as my eyes settle on my lover stretched out on a raft, floating on the expanse of chlorinated water, soaking, absorbing, drinking in the hot, afternoon sun. Even from here I see the sun's rays coloring his pale skin.
"Cassie likes it," Fraiser replies, playing my game. "I really don't know what possessed me to erect this monstrosity, but ..."
"You're a good mother ..." I forget and lift an empty bottle to my lips, harrumphing at my stupidity, my forgetfulness, this acknowledgment of my nervousness. I stand and sheepishly smile down on her, waving my empty beer bottle as explanation. "... And a good friend, Janet." I add as an afterthought.
"How about you, Colonel? Are you being a good friend?" Her brown eyes are soft and caring as she asks, stepping over the invisible boundary line between doctor and friend.
I can't answer because honestly, though I'm honoring Daniel's desires, I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do.
Fraiser retrieves a tube of suntan lotion from the railing of the deck, and deftly tosses it in my direction. I catch it one handed and, without missing a beat, I salute her with the tube, acknowledging the order of protecting Daniel against what he craves, the heat of the sun.
I deposit my empty in the recycle container and stick the lotion in my back pocket. I meander down the grass, passing a rousing game of volleyball, pausing to shout encouragement to Cassie and Carter as they volley a ball before Teal'c spikes it over the net. The other team voices their protests loudly and soon good-natured bantering becomes the background song as I approach the pool.
And I watch. Daniel's right hand is lax but doing its job of anchoring the raft to the side of the pool. Daniel and the raft bob gently, obviously rocking the exhausted man into REM sleep. I watch eyes twitching behind closed lids hopefully giving Daniel a better view of life than he has had these past few weeks. I long to touch the sunburned cheeks, feel the warmth that has been unobtainable in our lives.
Quietly, I dip my hands in the water. Removing them, I run wet fingers through my hair, shivering as the water rolls down my neck and under the collar of my shirt. I wipe the remaining moisture on my pants, and I watch. In and out Daniel breathes, effortlessly, his face relaxed in sleep, his chest rising and falling with each exhalation. My fingers itch to smooth the lines in the corners of his eyes, a sign of age, maturation.
Placing my hand on the raft to keep it stationary, I remove his hand from its perch, gently turning it over, and slowly begin to drag my fingers over his palm. Daniel sighs deeply. "I wasn't sleeping," he replies groggily, his fingers walking up my hand to rest on my forearm.
I release the raft and use my finger to push down the skin of his bare arm, grimacing as my touch confirms the amount of sun Daniel has taken in this afternoon.
'Keep telling yourself that Daniel,' my mind automatically answers. 'Say it enough times and maybe you will believe it. Say it enough times and maybe I will believe it.' My eyes travel the length of this body and I fight the outward evidence of what my longing and desire do to me. I've touched him since his return, his release from the infirmary ... but I haven't seen him naked ... no, not naked. He's been in our bed, in my arms, but clothed ... wrapped in layers, wrapped in me, seeking a warmth I can't provide him.
"You're drooling, Jack," Daniel says with a smile and I see hope and promise there as he reaches out to me. But a grown man on a raft, still half asleep, trying to stay afloat is an accident waiting to happen and, although I try, I'm not fast enough to grab Daniel before the raft flips.
Cassie and her friends have moved discreetly to the pool and Carter, Teal'c and Fraiser are standing awkwardly to the side of the lounge chair on the deck. No one admonishes Daniel for the sweats he wears, or the blanket wrapped around his shoulders or the shivers passing through his body. I swallow against my emotions. I'm angry at his loss of control. I'm angry, he's embarrassed, and we both want out of here. His head is bent and shaking, white-tipped fingers hold the blanket tightly around slumped shoulders.
The water wasn't cold-the Colorado summer has been unseasonably warm, temperatures for the past two weeks topping 90 degrees. The water wasn't tepid enough for a man who has been taking scalding showers or has spent the afternoon baking under the sun ... but in his mind, the water became as frigid as the ice planet he had returned from, enough to trigger a flashback.
Fraiser gently touches my hand and nods her head, indicating that she wants to talk. I get up and Teal'c takes my vacated place, his hands resting on Daniel's knees. Carter has placed herself behind Daniel rubbing his blanket-covered back. I cringe, imagining the mortification running through my lover's body. I know Daniel well enough to know that he is permitting his teammates to offer him comfort because that is what they need ... their touches and closeness are doing nothing to alleviate his self imposed hell, but speaking volumes in taking care of their guilt.
I drive home, my barely controlled anger popping up in bursts against the steering wheel, released on the car in front of us, at the traffic slowing our progress. Daniel sits in distressed silence; I refuse to turn on the heat in the Avalanche, and he refuses to relinquish the blanket from Fraiser's house. Before I departed, before I pulled out of the driveway, our friend, our doctor, read me the riot act. The sands of the hourglass were running out, I was bluntly informed; physical and mental examination for our Dr. Jackson by the end of the week, no argument, no ifs, ands or buts.
We left before dinner was served and I'm starving. I do a mental inventory of the foodstuffs in my fridge and cupboards and come up with nothing that even appeals to me. "I'm hungry ... you hungry?"
I keep talking over his lack of response, running down our options for dinner and I give momentary pause at each selection, hoping for a yeah or nay from my passenger. I get a barely discernible grunt of acceptance when I mention our favorite diner.
"Take out?" he questions.
'No duh,' I want to answer. There is no way in hell I want to explain Daniel's state of mind and dress to our waitresses or shield him from the glances of the other patrons. "Sure," I reply, displaced anger erupting as I curse the car in front of me for turning too slowly.
My eyes slide towards Daniel as he calls my name in response to my show of annoyance. Harsh retort dies on my lips at the pain and anguish reflected in his face as my eyes meet his. I maneuver around cars, ignoring the protesting honking and pull the Avalanche over to the curb. Throwing the gearshift into park, I leave the motor running and unhook my seatbelt. I lean over the console and, blanket and all, I pull him awkwardly into my arms. Neither Daniel's seatbelt nor Daniel himself allow me much access, but maybe this touching is more for me than for him, and like with Carter and Teal'c, he permits it.
I kiss the warmth of his sunburned cheek before separating, smiling at his half smile that quickly turns into a grimace as the sun-damaged skin stretches painfully. I hide my happiness in the darkness of the car as a hint of Daniel's tenacity sparks through with a "do not say I told you so about this hurting."
The silence is a little easier as I drive to the diner. Parking, I take Daniel's order and maybe, just maybe my heart seems a little lighter on the short walk into the diner entrance. I exhale loudly upon entering; the coolness of the air conditioner feels wonderful against my heated skin.
I place our order, exchange pleasantries with the staff and ward off inquiries about Daniel's well being. I leave the comfort of the diner, entering the humid air of the Colorado night. Walking to the truck, I hold the bags away from my body, their heat adding to the sweat that begins to form and roll down my neck.
Approaching the Avalanche, seeing the closed windows, the street lamps lighting Daniel's slumped stance in the front seat, knowing the heat that is going to slam into me as I open the door ... my anger fast encroaches and overpowers what happiness I had experienced.
I fling open the door, handing Daniel the hot bags. "Use them to keep yourself warm," I say, throwing my body into the driver's seat. "I'm turning on the AC." I start the engine, turn the AC on high and drive home. I don't even have to look over ... my Daniel imagination works just fine as I picture him with his arms folded tightly across his chest and his eyes watching the passing scenery. The crinkle of the brown bags is indicative of Daniel's use of his calves to pull the bags closer to his body in a wholehearted attempt to retain and sap their heat.
Dinner had been subdued, I'm at least thankful that Daniel has given up the blanket and that the tremors have stopped.
He's standing facing the fireplace, his ramrod back facing me, his hands visibly tapping a soundless tune on his sweatshirt, a true indication that Daniel is involved in self hugging.
Fraiser, Mackenzie, and to some degree even Teal'c and Carter, I'm sorry to say, may take what Daniel is going through as a sign of weakness, a self introspective rather than coming to terms with the last mission. Daniel is far from weak, and underlying these outward symptoms is something that he is working through. Experience has taught me that Daniel will succeed in dealing with this issue on some level, burying it deep enough to haunt his sleep, not his waking hours. That's what he's hoping for, the time to find the right place to file away whatever is *eating* away at him.
"Sorry, Danny-boy ... time's up," I mutter under my breath, as I take a step forward, over the ropes and into the ring. Slipping on mental boxing gloves, I brace myself to drag my contender, kicking and screaming into the fight.
I'm an arm's length behind him before I call his name. "Daniel?"
"I have this under control, Jack."
"Ummm ... hate to burst your bubble, but Fraiser, as we speak, has an appointment card to mental health with your name on it."
He whips around and for a moment we are so close, I can feel his harsh, incensed breaths bounce off my face. There is no loss of control there, no cowering, whimpering archaeologist that stands before me, but on his face is a look of anger so intense that I steel myself for the onslaught of words that I'm sure will accompany it.
We face off and I'm the first to break. I drop my gaze with what I hope will be construed as words of understanding and comfort. "I understand about the warmth ... never feeling like you will be warm again ... after Antarctica ..."
Daniel offers up a chuckle, laced with sarcasm if that's possible. I know what he is trying to convey to me; my lack of faith, my inability to comprehend what he is going through. My head shoots up at his disregard and true empathy is replaced in a heartbeat. The battle lines have been drawn.
I step around him, and grab a piece of firewood that sits in the iron holder by the fireplace. "Is this what you want, Daniel? Will a fire bring warmth back to you?" I fling the wood towards the direction of the fireplace, registering the crash when it impacts the screen covering. I stride over to the thermostat, adjusting the controls upwards. "Maybe an internal sauna is what you need."
My back is toward him, my hands on the control unit of the thermostat. I'm so focused on my actions that I'm unaware of his presence in my personal space until he slams me up against the wall. "Can you warm my soul?" He asks mournfully.
His whispers against my neck add to the feel of his body crushed against mine and I experience involuntary shivers over the length of my spine. Daniel's hands roughly tug my shirt from the confines of my pants giving him access to my upper body. His hands seem to skim over my chest, lingering for torturous seconds on my already hardened nipples, searching ... finally coming to rest over my beating heart.
Daniel's kisses and tongue burn a hot pathway down my neck and I restrain the urge to turn, to meet his alpha behavior head on. Still facing the wall, my hands braced to support the extra weight; I spread my legs in open invitation as his hardened cock grinds into my ass ... igniting a warmth within my soul through our layers of clothes. Daniel's callused hands catch chest hairs as they travel down the length of my body, teasing me with their hesitation on their journey to my belt.
Daniel slaps my hands away, refusing assistance in undoing my belt. I hold back a noise of frustration as his fingers fumble with his work and then heave a sigh of pent up relief as his hands complete their task and maneuver around the confining material to stroke me. I want more, I want Daniel inside of me ... but this is his demon he's slaying and I will follow his lead through this battle.
Hands on my shoulders, Daniel pivots me around so I can see him. Our eyes meet for a second before he leans into me ... his lips capturing mine with a greed and a hunger that I'm having trouble matching. His mouth is still latched to mine as he begins to undress me in hurried, frantic movements. I slide my hands under his sweatshirt but they have trouble finding purchase on his sweat-slicked skin.
Daniel kisses his way down my body and I grab his hair, intertwining my shaking fingers around his sweaty strands ... to ground myself, to ground Daniel. "Too fast," I mutter as his tongue suckles my cock, his deft fingers massaging my balls. He releases me and strips himself of his clothes. Naked, Daniel grinds his body into mine and just the feel skin on skin after being so long deprived is almost enough to push me over the precipice.
I didn't think it was possible but Daniel is managing to pull me closer, his tongue stroking the inside of my mouth, teasing and retreating from its mate ... his thumbs trace my jaw line, his fingers caressing my stubble-covered cheeks. The sigh he produces touches me all the way to my soul, a sound of contentment that I haven't been privy to for a while.
We separate for air, panting, pupils huge with desire too long pushed aside. I wait for him to make the next move ... the decision is his. Seconds pass before Daniel offers me up a crooked smile and words die in my throat as Daniel rubs himself against me. His firm body occupying my space and his mouth seeking my oxygen ... his engorged cock rubbing against my thigh ... my warmth becoming his warmth as he moves his shaft against mine. Unbelievable sensations flow as the friction of our bodies produces fire.
Daniel's touch to my balls is all it takes and the ledge that I had been teetering on gives way and I come calling his name. Daniel buries his face in my neck and he follows me off the ledge, the heat of his come sliding down my leg, the warmth of his body pressing into me. Without waiting for his breathing to regain its normal rhythm, I kiss his hair, his sunburned cheeks, his forehead and lastly, the tears that sit patiently in the corners of closed lids.
I awaken to a darkened bedroom and an empty space where Daniel had been. The pillows are cool to the touch and, with concern, I arise to find my wayward lover. Daniel may not have worn his sweats to bed, he may have acquiesced to the air conditioning, but this was still the tip of the iceberg. I would have been a fool to think otherwise. Buried beneath the layers is the real reason, and Daniel should know me better than to think that I would be lulled into believing otherwise by our extremely satisfying grope and touch session in the living room earlier this evening.
He is sitting on the steps of the back deck, under a cloud-covered night sky, the humid Colorado air promising rain. Sans sweats, glasses, clad only in boxers and a tee shirt -- he's gone from one extreme to another. I'm concerned with none of this, not the rain, nor the hour, nor the clothing that Daniel is wearing. What holds my attention is the opened bottle of whiskey sharing the lower step between Daniel's bare feet.
I use the handrail to lower my body down so our shoulders and thighs are touching, the heat of his sunburn uncomfortably warming the length of my arm and leg. Daniel makes no move to deter me as I reach across his body to grab the bottle. His eyes are trained on the tree in the far corner of the yard and Daniel takes no notice of the quick slug I manage. Involuntarily, I smack my lips in appreciation of the taste as I feel the amber liquid slowly slide down my throat extending its tentacles of warmth into my stomach.
I wave the bottle back and forth, catching Daniel's attention. "Watcha celebrating."
"Life," he answers in a voice devoid of emotion, causing a shiver of unease to replace the liquor's warmth in my bowels.
Nonchalantly I place the bottle beside me, out of Daniel's reach. I rub my hand along his bare leg, smiling inwardly at the goosebumps that appear under my fingertips. "I thought we did a pretty good job celebrating life earlier tonight."
Daniel plucks my hand from his leg, takes a deep breath and heaves himself off the stairs. "It's late, I'm tired ... and I've had a little to much to drink. I'm going to take some aspirin before I go to bed."
I almost let him go ... I'm a hair's breadth away from agreeing that it's late and the bed is calling our name. Almost ... so close ... it would be easier ... but he is two steps away from the door before his name tumbles from lips. He knows the tone, the pitch ... the one that means walking away is not an option.
He takes the last two steps, his hand resting on the door knob before he answers. "I'm tired Jack ... I've been having problems sleeping."
I had shifted positions, so my back is now leaning against the railing, my legs extended before me. Absent mindedly, I rub my knee against the ache produced by the night's humidity. "I know you're having problems sleeping ... you aren't telling me anything I don't already know. Who the hell do you think you've been in bed with these past few days? Your tossing and turning certainly aren't conducive to a good night's rest for me either." Before he can even open his mouth, I interject. "No, sleeping on the couch or in the spare room is not the answer. You know ..."
Daniel throws up his hands and walks swiftly away, making his feelings clearly known by slamming the patio door behind him.
The hard deck is uncomfortable but I refuse to move. From this vantage point, I can see into the kitchen perfectly, the light over the sink providing the ideal backdrop to Daniel's soothing ritual of making the consummate cup of coffee. Through the window, I watch Daniel for the second time within twenty-four hours. First had been in the light of the afternoon sun in Fraiser's pool and now, here in my backyard, in the darkness of the evening. His face is obscured momentarily as he opens a cabinet door and I notice the aspirin bottle in Daniel's hands. Shaking out two, he swallows them and follows them up with a glass of water. Daniel returns the aspirin bottle and then holds onto the countertop, elbows locked, head bowed ... the picture of internal strife. "Come on, Daniel," I whisper. "You can do it."
I close my eyes and lean my head back against the railing, allowing my body to relax though I keep my ears open to the sounds around me. All the words of encouragement given, whether whispered or shouted, won't make a difference. The decision to stop running rests with him and him alone. I am through pushing, persisting. Many of our incidents we've pushed aside, but eventually they crop up at a different time and place and we deal with the repercussions if we need to. The same may be true here, but I just wanted to help Daniel circumvent a visit to Mackenzie.
I must have dozed, because the next sensation I have is Daniel's foot tapping my bare leg, a sign that he wants me to move ... he needs me to make space for him on the steps. With a grunt I readjust my position on the steps, my back matching my knee for stiffness as I swing myself back to my prior position. I reach down to steady the bottle of whisky that my leg knocked against.
He steps down the stairs to stand on the grass in front of me, offering me one of the mugs of steaming coffee that he holds in his hands. There are many other things I would rather be drinking on a sticky summer night, but I take the proffered mug and nod my thanks. I am surprised when the mock salute I offer him with the filled mug is returned with a half smile.
Daniel takes a seat below me and with a sigh he stretches out his long legs so they extend onto the damp grass, wiggling his toes in the freedom of the night air. I resist moving away as he leans back into me, resting against my knees. Between the heat of the coffee, the heat of Daniel's sunburned body, and the heat of the night air, I can feel the beads of sweat beginning to form along my hairline.
"I didn't want to go on the mission to PX1647."
That's all he says. The quiet of the night is deafening after Daniel's confession. If you strain, you can hear the neighbor's barking dog or a car on the street or a cricket in the throes of their love song ... but Daniel is mute.
I'm not too sure what he wants from me. Does he require my silence, hoping that this confession will be enough for me to back away or does he want my nod of approval with his statement?
I was in Washington when Daniel was pulled into service for this mission. My last glimpse was of Daniel buried under artifacts and translations in his office ... a glance, a smile in my direction and I was off. I returned to find him gone and paced the control room like a caged animal for the next 96 hours until the weather had cleared enough on PX1647 to send a search and rescue team through.
I put my mug on the deck and rest my hands on Daniel's shoulders. He moves forward a fraction, his body language transmitting permission for me to massage his tight muscles.
"Right after you left, SG8 had brought back evidence of an energy source on the planet not far from a set of tunnels. The video of the cave walls inferred the language inscribed to be a derivative of Goa'uld ..." Daniel took a sip of the coffee, nervously palming the half filled mug between his hands. "Hammond requested my joining SG8 ... wait ... maybe 'requested' isn't the right word," he said, his low voice tinged with anger.
"I was informed that my presence was desired. So, before I could even say 'wait I have work to do' ... I was kitted up and through the Stargate on a planet whose temperature wasn't conducive to plants, trees or archaeologists ..."
There's only silence as Daniel realizes what he just said. He gulps down the remaining coffee and slams the empty cup onto the wood step. He leans forward, my lax hands falling from his shoulders, and he cards visibly shaking hands through his short hair before falling back against my knees. Snorting in remembrance he continues, choking out the next words. "Stupid ... the planet wasn't favorable to any life form."
Instead of providing a massage, my hands fall over his shoulders, resting on his chest, pulling him closer to me, now seeking the warmth of his body as I remember all too clearly the body bags that we escorted through the wormhole.
The rumbles of thunder echo in the distance as Daniel takes a deep breath before continuing. "I stepped into a winter wonderland, Jack. Snow covered ground ... white as far as the eye could see." Daniel's shivers are shared with my hands that still are resting on his shoulders.
"Matt and I began to translate ..."
"Matt?" I interject.
"SG8's new civilian archaeologist, Matt Weber."
I sift through the file cabinets in my brain, attempting to place the name with a face ... and with an internal chuckle, I come up with a young man that was more than a little bit in awe of SG1's and the SGC's premiere archaeologist. "Yeah, I remember him."
I listen to Daniel prattle about the writings on the cave walls, its roots drawn from the language of the Goa'uld. There is something oddly comforting about the drone of Daniel's voice, the nearness of his body, even in this heat, that allows my mind to drift onto planes of contentment.
Thunder sounds, followed by sheet lightening dancing in the overhead clouds. The trees in the yard move with the wind from the coming storm and I rub and rub my hands along the cold skin of Daniel's forearms in the hopes that the friction will provide warmth. He grabs my fingers and applies pressure in an almost imperceptible squeeze; his cold hands conveying a thank-you into my palms.
"I need another cup of coffee," Daniel states, releasing my hands and pushing off against the step to an upright position. He grabs his cup and motions toward mine.
"Sure." Before I can hand him the empty mug, Daniel bends to retrieve it, placing a gentle kiss atop my hair before he disappears. I don't watch this time; there is no need to. I hear the door close. My mind drifts back to the ice planet, to the good people that the SGC lost there and to the man in my kitchen, who for the thousandth time in his life, is making a valiant attempt to piece together the shattered pieces of his psyche.
The slamming door and the padding of bare feet on the deck indicate Daniel's physical return to me. I turn my head in his direction as he tentatively calls my name.
Daniel is hovering above me, holding our mugs along with two sweatshirts thrown over the crook of his arm. Two ... one for me, one for him ... to ward off the chill of the coming storm of both words and nature.
I reach up and take the mugs, placing them on the step next to me and pull my sweatshirt from his extended arm, sliding it onto my body. Daniel accepts my thanks with a nod of his head before putting on his own sweatshirt. He bends to retrieve the mug of dark coffee, its color a hint of the time it has spent in the pot and the strength of its flavor.
"Wait. Hold on." I mention that I have an idea. Daniel may be able to drink the coffee but, in its present state, a little additive may be necessary to make this go down easier. I put a dollop from the whiskey bottle into each steaming mug.
Daniel settles in, a replay of his previous position, no eye contact, but I'm thinking that may have something to do with his inability to face the demon within himself. He clears his throat and sniffs, clogged sinuses a true indication of approaching rain.
"They were good people, Jack."
"I know." I can't argue with Daniel. SG8 was a well-liked team. Major Nathaniel Stewart and his teammates, Lts. Salant and Blasko, were some of the good guys. Dependable, a family unit ... a younger, less experienced version of SG1. And now that I remember, even their understanding and patient attitude toward their young civilian archaeologist was similar to ours. They were going to be sorely missed within the SGC.
"They were going to be back by nightfall. The power source wasn't even two hours away ... minimum supplies. I had wanted to go with Major Stewart, the cave writing ... but I didn't ..."
'Thank you,' I give a silent prayer to the god that watches over SG1's archaeologist as unbidden memories of frozen, snow covered SGC uniforms flash through my brain.
"... Matt went with Stewart and Blasko, Salant and I stayed behind ... I was to keep up with the translations and pass on via radio any more findings and Salant was going to watch my six. 'Cause that's the military way ... never leave your civilian without coverage for his six."
"And I remember ... Matt's voice carrying over the landscape, chattering about what we had found ..." Daniel clears his throat, whether because of the approaching rain or memories I can't be sure without eye contact, but his body stiffens under my fingers, against my knees before he continues. "... And I thought to myself, 'is that what I sound like to Jack when I get excited?' I thought of you and smiled on the fuckin' godforsaken planet, I was so cold and I wanted ... Damn him ... he was so young. I don't remember ever being that young."
I mentally agree with Daniel, he was never that young. His youth was crushed by a coverstone over 30 years ago and he has spent his life ever since digging out from under the fallout of that event.
My heart skips a beat at the wording of Daniel's next question. "Why did I live Jack?" He doesn't ask why SG8 died, but why was he was chosen to survive. "Four people perished on a planet, far from home ... why did I live?"
"Daniel, sometimes in life there are no easy answers."
Daniel disengages himself and stands, pacing in front of me, nervously wearing a path in the damp grass. I extend my leg allowing my foot to make contact with Daniel's calf as he passes before me. "Oh ... sorry," he apologizes and halts the erratic movement. He taps his forefinger against pursed lips contemplating his thoughts. "So what it boils down to ... is the answer to my question of 'why was I chosen to live' a cliché? A joke? A parable?" He snorts. "Yeah, I can see that ... makes sense to me. Of course to the four dead people ... they may not see the humor in this."
I roll my eyes heavenward my voice rising in anger. I shout angry stupid words, words meant to hurt the stranger who stands before me. "How dare you even think about pigeon-holing this mission. A chuckle, a laugh, is this how you're going to deal with whatever the hell happened on that planet?"
Daniel steps back in confusion, blinking at me once, twice before telling me to unequivocally fuck off. He is quick but I'm motivated and he and I reach the back door at the same time. Daniel jerks his shoulder from my touch, hissing at me through clenched teeth. "You weren't there," he growls, enunciating each word to cut through me like a knife.
I raise my hands to ward off and deflect his anger. "You're right, I wasn't there. I'm sorry you were there. I'm sorry we're having this conversation, but believe it or not SG8, would have gone through the gate without you." My fear turns to anger in a blink of an eye at Daniel's inability to understand me through all of this. "This is not all about you!" I scream. "You are right ... there are four dead people lying in the morgue and Hammond has to write letters of condolences to these families ..." I trail off, my anger deflating like a spent balloon at the self-punishment in Daniel's eyes.
"I was there." I cringe in sympathy as Daniel punishingly pokes himself in the chest for emphasis. "Me," he adds softly. "I was there as we tried to attempt a rescue and failed. I was there as we tried for hours to raise Stewart on the radio after the storm hit. Do you how the acoustics of a cave are, Jack? Hmmm, the echoes ... how our voices carried? Over and over searching for some confirmation that they were alive ... until I wanted to scream." Daniel lowers his eyes in embarrassment. "But I couldn't because I understood how he felt. Salant's team, his family was out there without him. We tried until all we had left were hoarse voices. Until Salant placed his hand over mine, shook his head and whispered to me 'no more.' Then and only then, Jack, did we begin to worry about our own survival."
Daniel begins to shiver uncontrollably, but he places his hands on my chest to deter me from approaching him. The threatening rain begins to fall, more of an annoying drizzle, but I'm mesmerized as the rain water slowly drips down Daniel's face in place of the tears he has been incapable of shedding. Ignorant of the change in weather, powerless to stop the demon he has unleashed. Unfettered, Daniel continues. "Did you know Salant was 29 years old and the only son amongst three daughters?"
"No, I didn't know that."
His breath catches and Daniel nervously shoves wet hair from his forehead. "No, I didn't expect that you would. I mean, it's amazing what you find out about someone when you're huddled together for survival."
"What else, Daniel? So he was the only boy ..."
"And his real name was Eugene Philip Salant and he hated it. Only his parents and sisters called him that ... his wife called him Gene. Did you know he was married and had a baby due in 3 months? Bet you didn't know he was going to be a father?"
I shake my head, droplets flying from my soaked hair.
"So Jack ... I'll ask you again. Why did I live and an expectant father die? Why did I, Dr. Daniel Jackson, survive a fated mission to a planet light years from earth? Please, no cliches this time ... I want the truth."
So I answer Daniel with the only truth I know. "I would have died if you didn't survive."
I pull him toward me, the rain beginning to fall in earnest and I begin to cry, me, not Daniel, all my fear and anxiety of having lost him to that planet of ice suddenly overwhelming. I wrap my arms around his shaking, drenched body and inform him between sobs "No cliché ... you survived because of me ... because I wouldn't have been able to live if I had to bury you. I'm not strong anymore, you're my strength."
Daniel relaxes into my embrace his hands resting on my neck, cupping the back of my head, his breath hitching against my chest when I reveal, "If you had died, the loneliness would've killed me."
I switch off the bathroom light and hesitate in the doorway, allowing my eyes a few moments to adjust to the bedroom's darkness. The sound of the air conditioner mutes the rain and I flex my knee, which is just now beginning to appreciate being warm and dry.
Daniel turns on the lamp at the exact moment I'm bending my knee. "Sorry about the ..." he waves his hand in my direction, scrunching his face in unmitigated sympathy.
"Nothing a little Advil and a warm bed can't take care of," I answer glibly. He pulls the quilt down in invitation and I gratefully slide under the covers.
I won't lie, the bed feels wonderful after the dampness of the night and I cannot help the involuntary sigh of contentment that escapes my lips. Under the covers, my left arm rests on his bare thighs, lightly stroking the taut muscles. "Tickles," he laughs, snaking one of his hands beneath the covers to halt my ministrations.
He turns on his side, pulling my arm with him, sleep is not too far off. I maneuver his nakedness close to me though there is no arousal, the body in my arms is satiation enough for me.
I surprise myself when the words of "sweet dreams" flow from my mouth. Daniel's chuckle is followed with an echo of "don't let the bed bugs bite," but the vice grip he has on my hands telegraphs the fear of the daily nightmares that have become routine in this room.
"I'm here," I whisper, tugging Daniel so close that the minute hairs on the back of his neck threaten me with a sneeze.
"And the voices will stop?" He questions hopefully. "I won't hear those whispers waiting for a response that's never going to come? I won't hear the exuberance of a young archaeologist ... I won't hear Salant telling me how much he loves his wife ...?" Without thought, Daniel brings our intertwined hands up to wipe the tears that his soul has finally allowed him to release.
"Like everything else, Daniel, it'll take time before the voices go away. I can't guarantee that their voices won't carry into your nightmares, but one thing I can promise is that you won't be alone when they haunt you."
My promise becomes a beacon to Daniel and before long, in the darkness of the room, he has drifted off to sleep. I lie awake for not much longer as the warmth of the bed and Daniel's regular breathing becomes a soothing lullaby.
"Goodnight," I say into the darkness, offering up a silent prayer for those with empty arms tonight, selfishly glad for the warmth that now rests beside my body, in my bed, in my life. Daniel has crept under my defenses and become my beacon; the light on the shore that stands steadfastly against danger and, even during the darkest of hours, will guide me home.
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