Geek By Kalimyre


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: Established Relationship, H/C, Angst
Season/Spoilers: Season 3, Spoilers for Shades of Gray
Synopsis: Daniel thought he left bullies behind with high school, but bullies grow up to be Marines.
Warnings: Violence
Length: 62 Kb
Notes: The three Marines named in the story are my own creation. And I know that Marines being mean and stupid is an inaccurate stereotype, but work with me here. It’s fiction.

Geek By Kalimyre

***

“Oh look, it’s the geek.”

Well, great. That’s just what I need, a bunch of socially impaired marines hassling me. Those three--Anderson, Owen and Kurtz--seem especially dedicated to giving me crap.

“I really don’t have time for you guys today,” I tell them tiredly, not looking up from my translation. “Maybe you could come and be juvenile later? Make an appointment first and I’ll try to be suitably upset by your needle-sharp barbs, okay?”

“Oh, are we boring you, geek?” That would be Owen. He’s the ringleader, the alpha dog. The other two circle behind him, grinning like idiots. Didn’t I leave bullies behind when I finished high school?

“You know, I can give you several synonyms for ‘geek’ if you’re having trouble coming up with them on your own.”

Anderson comes up behind my chair and drops his hands on my shoulders, squeezing painfully. “You think you’re smarter than us?”

Gee, that’s a tough one. “Do you really want me to answer that?”

His hands tighten, digging into the muscle, and I force myself to be still. Giving them a reaction will only make things worse. I’ll have to remember to avoid being naked around Jack for a few days, until the bruises fade. Which shouldn’t be hard, since he’s off-world training new recruits until the end of the week. If Jack knew about these dolts, he’d yell at them or make them do pushups or something, and that’ll only make things worse.

“What’cha working on, geek?” Kurtz drawls, snatching the pictures of the inscription out of my hands. I clutch the side of the desk to keep from trying to grab them back. I know that will only lead to a humiliating game of keep-away. Anderson’s hands give me a little shove, just enough to smack my chest into the edge of the desk, and then thankfully let go. I try to shrug off the cramping muscles without being obvious.

“This is getting old, guys,” I sigh, turning to face them. I’m still sitting and they’re all doing their best to loom menacingly, which is more cheesy than scary. I’ve been intimidated by the best, and these three fall far short of the mark.

“Maybe you should have thought of that before you helped get our team leader locked up,” Owen snaps.

I’m actually at a loss for words for a moment. That kind of stupidity is almost dizzying. “First of all, I didn’t get Makepeace locked up, he got himself locked up by stealing alien technology. Secondly, how is harassing me going to change anything for him?”

“You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us,” Anderson declares, puffing his chest out.

“That doesn’t even make sense!” I’m starting to lose my temper, and I know that’s the wrong move here. Anger will only feed these idiots--they’re looking for a reaction. Calm, controlled... come on. Breathe. You’ve dealt will bullies all your life; you should be an expert by now. Reason and deflect, but never let them see you get rattled.

“I wasn’t even the one who caught Makepeace.” There, that’s better. Smooth, rational. “Jack was the one who broke up his little off-world smuggling ring. Why don’t you hassle him?” Because really, I’d like to watch that. These three wouldn’t know what hit them.

“Oh, ‘Jack,’ is it,” Kurtz says, drawing the words out. Is it my imagination, or are they taking turns talking? I feel like I’m in a second rate play. Adults don’t really behave like this, do they?

“Yes,” I reply very slowly, as one speaks to the extremely young or mentally retarded. “Jack. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?”

Owen perches on the edge of my desk, casually shoving aside a priceless artifact that I still haven’t finished studying. I snatch at it to keep it from falling, and they all laugh. I can feel my cheeks heating up, and I grit my teeth. Breathe. Steady. Don’t ever let them see that you’re upset.

“I’ve heard of Colonel O’Neill.” Owen emphasizes the name. “But I’m not familiar with ‘Jack.’ Awfully cozy, aren’t you?”

“We’re friends,” I say levelly.

“Uh-oh,” Anderson says mockingly. “He’s going to tell on us to his ‘friend.’ Gonna run crying to Jack about how the big bad Marines were picking on you?”

“I never said I was going to tell anyone! You’re...” Stop. Don’t let him get to you. “Why? Are you worried about what he’d do?” That’s better. Calm, idly curious, like nothing they do matters.

“Why, geek,” Owen asks. “You gonna tell your boyfriend on us?”

I smile inwardly. “You know,” I say conversationally, “People who accuse others of being gay are most often covering up their own homosexuality.”

“You shut up,” Owen snarls, and Kurtz snorts laughter behind him. He whirls and fixes the man with a furious stare, and then turns back to me. I can see color rising in his face, and I can’t help myself. I just have to go that extra mile.

“Oh, look at those eyes flash. You’re cute when you’re angry, Owen. I bet all the boys love you.”

His lips draw back from his teeth, and he raises one hand. I watch it, curious about how far he’ll take this. If he hits me, then that’s it, I’ll put a stop to it. Actual physical attack is something I can bring as a serious charge. The rest is just name-calling and piddly stuff.

“Funny, Jackson,” he says, lowering his hand. “Real clever. But you just made a big mistake.”

He stands and walks out, gathering his lackeys with a commanding glance. Anderson swings by close enough to ‘accidentally’ slam into my shoulder with his hip, but that’s the extent of the damage. This time. I get the feeling that I just made a real enemy in Owen. Why do I always let my mouth get me into these things? I had a bad habit of talking back to bullies in school, and it got me beaten up more times than I can count.

You know, if you’d just stayed calm and quiet, not giving them anything to work with, they would have given up eventually.

So what’s that, the ‘ignore them and hope they go away’ school of dealing with problems? I should just sit here and let them treat me like that, without fighting back in any way? Just let them walk all over me?

It’s better than the alternative. Look where your smart mouth got you. You made Owen look stupid in front of his buddies, and now he’s never going to leave you alone. Remember Richie Pounder, in fifth grade?

I really try not to. But this is ridiculous--I’m not in fifth grade anymore. I’m in my thirties, and those three Marines are all older than me! Shouldn’t they have grown up by now? We’re all highly skilled and trained professionals here, so why can’t we behave like adults?

See, that’s the thing with bullies. Some of them never grow up. You should be careful around Owen for a while. Try not to be alone with him.

Oh, now that’s just stupid. What’s he going to do, punch me? Run my underwear up the flagpole and shove me into the girls’ room with no pants?

Maybe... maybe something else? Something more grown-up? Something worse?

I wish Jack were here.

* * *

When I walk into my office the next morning, the light switch doesn’t do anything. I flick it up and down a few more times just to make sure, but the office remains dark.

“Great,” I mutter, squinting into the gloom. The light from the hall is weak at this hour--I came in a bit early--and the office is nothing but silhouettes. I think I have a flashlight in the bottom desk drawer, though, and I can see the outline of the desk, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble to find it.

Two steps into the room, something crunches under my foot. I freeze and look down at it, but it’s useless. Whatever it was sounded like clay, rather than glass, and I get that unpleasant heavy feeling in my stomach that I’ve just done something stupid. I walk in a little further, wanting the flashlight to see what I’ve just broken, and something else breaks under my other foot.

I grit my teeth and swallow curse words in several languages. Very carefully, without moving my feet, I lean over and dig through the desk drawer for the flashlight. It’s right where I expected it to be, and when I shine it at the floor, I see a trail of artifacts. Pretty much everything breakable from my shelves is arranged across the floor. It’s actually lucky I only broke two of them.

“Owen. Son of a bitch. Had to be him.”

Talking to yourself there, genius. Not good.

Okay, right, not good. I look up at the light fixture, and I see that the bulb is missing. Of course. I know he did this, but I’ll never be able to prove it. And what am I going to say? He made me break two of my artifacts?

I’m suddenly reminded of Tommy Larson, who tore up my journal when I was nine. I was furious, and ran to show the teacher the remaining scraps, thrilled to finally have physical evidence of Tommy’s bullying and abuse. She clucked sympathetically, called Tommy’s parents, and he was punished. I’m not sure exactly what was done to him, but it can’t possibly have been as bad as what he did to me when he caught me on the way home from school the next day.

I keep a mental picture of Tommy kicking the crap out of me and then taking all my clothes, leaving me to make my way home naked, right in the forefront of my mind. It helps me to stay calm as I clean up the shattered remains of two canopic jars and carefully place all my still-intact artifacts back in their places.

This is nothing. Just a couple small, broken things that didn’t really have any practical value, except to me. It could have been much worse, and it will be much worse if I escalate things by reporting it.

I repeat that to myself mentally as I retrieve a new bulb from a storeroom and replace the missing one in my office. Don’t react, don’t give them anything to work with. Just ignore it, act like it doesn’t matter. Don’t let them see that they’ve hurt you. It’s fine. You’re fine. It doesn’t matter.

Then I carefully, calmly close and lock the door to my office, sit down on the couch, and spend several minutes punching the cushions.

See? All better.

* * *

The knock on the door startles me, and I nearly crush the delicate, finely carved crystal figurine in my hands. “Yes?” I call, and then clear my throat, trying to get rid of that quaver. This is ridiculous. I’m actually barricaded in my office.

“Daniel Jackson. Are you well?”

Teal’c. Oh, good. As long as he’s around, Owen and his goons wouldn’t dare try anything.

I get up and unlock the door for him, waving him in. “I’m fine, Teal’c, why do you ask?”

“You do not customarily lock your office door.”

“Um, no, not usually, but I’m just working on something really tricky, and I needed to concentrate with no interruptions.”

He nods regally. “Then I will not disturb you further.”

“Wait, wait,” I say quickly, grabbing his arm to keep him from leaving. “I, uh, I could actually use a break. Want to get something to eat?”

Teal’c stares at me for a long moment, and I cross my arms over my chest. I feel like he can see right through me, and it’s unnerving.

“I have already eaten,” he says, and my stomach does a nervous flip. I can’t believe I’m scared to be alone. Owen probably got his revenge with his little step on the artifacts game, and I’m most likely worrying for nothing.

“Oh, okay, well never mind then,” I say, biting my lip to keep from babbling.

I start to turn away and trudge back to my desk, but Teal’c speaks again. “However, I was sent here by Major Carter to see if you were available to translate a piece of alien machinery in her lab. Should I tell her you are busy?”

“No, no, I’d love to help Sam out.” God, I sound pathetically relieved, even to my own ears. And Teal’c doesn’t miss a trick. I know he noticed. But he just falls into step beside me in the hall, his hands clasped behind his back and his head held high, and he says nothing. I don’t know if I’m disappointed or glad.

Two more days until Jack comes home. Not that I... it’s not a big deal. Just that I miss him. It’s hard sleeping alone once you get used to sharing again.

Admit it. What you’re really thinking is that as soon as Jack gets home, everything will be okay.

No! No. I’m not his puppy. I don’t need to go running to Jack just because some idiots are giving me a hard time. It’s just a little bit of hazing, some practical jokes. Not funny, granted, but these things usually aren’t to the person on the receiving end. I can handle it.

I think that translating this thing of Sam’s might take me a while, though. Maybe long enough to keep me in her lab all day, instead of alone in my office. After all, it’s important to be thorough.

* * *

Jack comes home tomorrow. I’m done with work for the day, I’m going home, and Jack comes home tomorrow. In the morning. I knew I was worried for nothing. I didn’t even see those Marines today. Granted, I spent most of the day locked in my office, but I got a lot of work done, and nobody disturbed me.

I guess it was silly to let myself get so rattled by a little bullying. Maybe it just made me feel like a helpless kid again. Anyone who gets nostalgic about childhood was never actually a child, that’s my opinion. But now, I’m home free. I can see my car across the parking lot, and in just a few minutes, I’ll be away from the mountain, listening to the radio and watching the sunset through the window.

“Hey, geek.”

Oh, crap. That was from behind me. I stop dead, and then slowly turn around. Calm, relaxed. Don’t let him see anything.

“Owen,” I say coolly. “Heading home?”

“Oh, soon enough.” He grins in a way that is not so much smiling as baring his teeth.

“You’ve been locking your door, geek.” That was from my left. Kurtz, snaking his way between the cars, hands behind his back. Calm down. He’s not holding anything, he just wants you to think that. This is all about intimidation and control. Don’t give them anything.

“Well, there were some idiots who kept interrupting me,” I tell him. “I got tired of it.”

“Is he calling us idiots?” Anderson, from the other side. They’ve got me surrounded. Jumped in the parking lot. I’m almost tempted to laugh at the cliché.

“Oh, I sure hope not,” Owen drawls. He’s still got that feral smile. Bastard knows he’s got me scared. “I’d hate for the geek here to get hurt, after all. And if he was calling us idiots, then he might have a little accident.”

All right, the time for games is over. Jack’s always telling me that the best defense is a good offence, so it’s time to take charge.

“Fine, Owen,” I say flatly. “You want to hurt me? Have your goons beat me up? It takes three Marines to beat up an archeologist, is that it? You go right ahead. I won’t make it easy for you, but you’ve got me outnumbered, and I’ll probably lose. I’ll end up in the infirmary. But you’ll end up in prison. Assault is serious business, and in the end, you’ll only be hurting yourself.”

Owen’s smile widens, goes from feral to downright predatory. “Oh, we’re not going to hurt you, geek. We’re not even going to touch you.”

What? “Oh... that’s good...”

He laughs. “Not really. When this is all over, you’re going to wish we’d just kicked the shit out of you and gotten it over with.”

I take a step back, so I can see all three of them, but the two flanking me move with me, staying just barely in my peripheral vision. I want to watch them, but I’m not sure how to keep them all in view without looking back and forth and seeming panicked. Any minute now one of them is going to slip around behind me. I can feel the skin on the back of my neck crawling.

“Look,” I say, “let’s be reasonable. We’re all adults here, professional, sensible people. We’re all on the same side. Can’t we discuss this?”

“There’s nothing to discuss, geek,” Anderson snarls from the right. I dart my eyes to him, and see that he’s moved a little further back, more behind me than beside me now. I back up again, to stay parallel with him, and the whole procession moves with me. It’s like some macabre dance.

It’s okay. Stay calm, take it easy. They said they weren’t going to do anything, and even if they do, you can handle it. You’ve faced down plenty worse than this, and lived through it. The worst that’s going to happen here is you might get a little roughed up, and a lot humiliated. Not like you’ve never been there before, so just breathe, and keep your voice level. Don’t let them see you shaking.

“So what are we doing here? You guys just going to stand around in the parking lot making vague threats all night?” Good, that’s better. Casual, sarcastic, like you couldn’t care less. Keep that tone.

“I don’t make threats.”

“Oh, let me guess, you make promises. You’ve seen too many bad movies, Owen. Get some new lines.”

His jaw tightens, and I swallow, keeping my eyes on his. Don’t drop the gaze first, stand straight, don’t back down. Any sign of weakness is just going to give him another opening.

“Go on, geek,” he says, turning aside and waving his hand negligently. Like I’m not worth his time. “Go on home. We’ll see you around.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to make another smartass remark here, but I bite it back. They’re leaving. Now is not the time to mouth off. The three of them are walking away, and I’m within twenty feet of my car.

Walk. Don’t run, walk. What are you so afraid of? All they’ve done is call you a few names and play a few dumb jokes on you. You dealt with worse when you were nine. This is nothing. They’re watching you now, so walk. Slow, casual, unafraid. You’re fine. It’s all fine. They were all talk, and you called their bluff.

But what did he mean, ‘we’ll see you around?’ What’s going to happen next?

He was just trying to scare you.

Yes, well, it worked. But I can keep it together. I can drive calmly, carefully out of the parking lot, aware of their eyes on me but refusing to hurry. I can drive down the mountain in a perfectly controlled manner. I’m fine.

Until I pull over about five miles down the road and let the shakes take over for a few minutes. Just to get them out of my system. Adrenaline let down, that’s all.

Home tonight, Jack tomorrow. He’ll be hanging out in my office, eating with me in the commissary, and they won’t dare come around when he’s there. Then, the weekend, alone with Jack, time to unwind and get some distance. They’ll forget about this stupid little game, and I’ll get it through my head that this is nothing to get so upset about.

I pull back onto the road and head home. Maybe I check my rear view mirror a little more than usual, but it doesn’t mean anything. I’m fine.

* * *

I’m standing in the gateroom when the chevrons start to light up, leaning casually against the back wall, hands in my pockets. They’re right on time.

I watch the iris close, and then reopen as the GDO signal is recognized. The new recruits come filing through, looking dirty and tired and awed at the idea of training on another world. So very, frighteningly young. Jack, as always, is last, to make sure no one is left behind. He meets my eyes from the top of the ramp, and I feel the knot of tension in my guts loosen a bit.

Getting awfully dependent on him, aren’t you? So anxious to have Jack come home and protect you from the bullies?

Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not even going to tell him about the Marines. I’m just glad to have him home again because I missed him. That’s what happens when people you love go away. You miss them.

“Daniel,” he says, stopping in front of me, giving me that little sideways smile.

“Jack,” I reply evenly. I’m staring at him and I know it, but I can’t help it. I can feel my hands shaking, and I shove them deeper into my pockets. Be calm--it’s the gateroom, for crying out loud.

The sparkle in his eyes dims slightly, and his smile slips away. “Daniel? Everything all right?”

“Sure. I’m fine. Good to have you back.”

“Welcome home, Colonel.”

Jack turns to acknowledge the general. “Thank you, sir, good to be home.”

“How was the training?”

Rocking back on his heels, Jack takes his hat of and whips a hand through his hair, flinging dirty water on the floor. I notice for the first time that his uniform is soaked and muddy.

“Training was just great, sir. Lovely planet you sent us to. Constant rain, mud everywhere, bugs the size of mailboxes. I think I’ll take my next vacation there.”

The general’s lips are twitching in that trying-not-to-laugh way he has. “Go hit the showers, Jack, and then the infirmary. Debriefing is in an hour.”

“Yes, sir,” Jack replies, wiping his wet hands on his equally wet jacket. Then he turns back to me, and the irreverence seeps out of his eyes. “Daniel?” he asks softly. “You sure everything is all right?”

God, how bad do I look? I know I haven’t been sleeping that great, but I didn’t think it was this obvious. “Sure I’m sure, Jack. Go get your shower, you must be sick of those wet clothes. I’ll see you later.”

He looks at me for a long moment, and then seems to let it go. “Walk me to the locker room?” he calls over his shoulder, and I hurry to catch up. We head down the hall together, Jack chattering amiably about the painfully young kids who he had to nursemaid through the mission, and how today’s academy training standards are sorely lacking compared to the way things were when he went through.

Well, okay, not amiably, but close enough, for Jack. And I don’t care, anyway. I’m just happy being next to him, hearing his voice, occasionally brushing our sleeves together as we walk.

When I leave him at the locker room, I stand uncertainly in the corridor for a long moment, and then head for my office. Got work to do, after all, and there’s no reason for me to be hanging around here. No reason at all.

* * *

I don’t know how to react to this. There’s a spring-loaded knife in my desk drawer, and it slammed into my hand when I opened it. Granted, it’s a rubber knife, but the threat is obvious. Next time, it might not be rubber.

What really bothers me is that I left the office locked. It was still locked when I came back, so whoever did this has a key, or some other form of access.

Whoever did this. Like you don’t know.

But I don’t have any proof, and even if I did, it’s a harmless prank. Just a rubber knife, designed to give me a little scare. Funny, right? Yeah, hilarious.

Now hiding in my office is no good. Not that I was hiding. I was just insuring that my work wasn’t interrupted by those time-wasting idiots. And now that they have a way past the lock, I’m not safe. From interruptions, I mean.

This is crazy. How long am I supposed to put up with this? Where do I draw the line and tell someone? But really, what is there to tell? Oh, Jack, these three Marines have been calling me names, and they made me step on two of my artifacts, and they put a rubber knife in my desk. Please, save me.

God, that’s pathetic. Plus, it’s not really accurate to say they’ve been calling me names. Just one name. Geek. It’s starting to get on my nerves. I mean, at first, I thought they were just unimaginative morons who couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘geek,’ but now it’s starting to be my new identity. I get the uneasy feeling that if somebody called it in a crowded room, I’d respond.

I pull the knife off its spring mounting and stare at it for a long moment, turning it over in my hands. It’s a cheap little thing, probably from a costume shop, painted with over-bright fake red blood on the blade. I wipe my thumb along it like the blood will come off.

Damn. Now I’m shivering again, and I hate that. I hate that they’re getting to me so easily. I am not a weak person--I can’t be, with the life I’ve had. I’ve always been proud of my resilience. Why am I letting this rattle me?

It’s nothing. It’s just a stupid little joke, designed to wind you up. If you give in, you’re only letting them win. Throw the knife away and forget about it. You’ve got work to get finished before you can go home with Jack tonight.

Right. Jack, and the weekend, and perspective. Put this dumb game in its proper place and ignore it. I’m fine.

* * *

Almost home. I repeat that over and over in my mind, tapping my fingers on my thighs in rhythm to the words. Almost home, almost home. Jack, beside me, drives with one eye on the road, the other watching me. I know he’s concerned. I know I’m sending signals that something’s wrong. I can’t seem to stop. But that’s okay, because we’re almost home and the second we’re through that door, I’m going to reassure him the best way I know how. By the time I’m through with him, he won’t remember his own name, much less what he was worried about.

Almost home. God, it’s been a long week. Almost home.

“Home swee--“

I don’t let him finish. He’s still hanging up his coat, the door partially open behind us, but I kick it shut and knock the coat out of his hands in one movement. Then I have him pinned against the wall, my arms tight around him, my face buried in that warm place between his neck and his shoulder.

God, Jack. Been waiting for this all week.

He makes a breathless sound of surprise, but his arms go around me quickly, squeezing tight but not tight enough. I grunt impatiently, imperatively, tugging at him. Squeezing the breath out of him. Jack, bless him, gets the message and holds on tighter.

Yes, yes. Jack. Just what I’ve been missing. So warm, so strong, so well-loved. He’s got one hand in my hair now, stroking, the other on my ass. Squeezing, rocking me, murmuring something unintelligible, but it doesn’t matter. It’s his voice, and that’s what counts.

He starts to lean back, loosening his arms, tilting his head to kiss me, but I shake my head and burrow closer. Not yet, not yet. Just a little longer--missed this too much to stop now. Needed this too much. I can feel all the tension and nerves those damn Marines stirred up just melting away, leaving my stomach feeling stable for the first time in days. I finally feel like I can breathe again.

I don’t know how long we stand that way, me pinning him tight against the wall, him stroking my back and my hair and speaking quietly. All I know is that it’s finally enough, and I can let him go. I relax my arms and just rest my forehead on his shoulder, my eyes drooping. I feel loose and wobbly and sleepy, and I think I could drop off right here, standing in the hall, my face in his shirt.

“Daniel?”

“Mmm...”

“You want to tell me what’s going on?”

No, I certainly don’t. I can just see how that conversation would go, and I really don’t have the energy or the will to go through it right now.

“Let’s go to bed,” I whisper in his ear. I know damn well his ears are a hot spot for Jack, and he catches his breath, shivering.

“Daniel.” He’s trying to be firm, but I just keep kissing the rims of his ears, the side of his neck, and he’s wavering.

“Come on, Jack. Bed. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“Promise?”

Oh, he just had to go and say that, didn’t he? If I promise, there will be no getting out of it. But I don’t care--I’m so tired. I’ll think of something to say in the morning. Right now all I want is Jack and sleep, in that order.

“Sure, Jack. I promise. Come on, bed.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” he replies, smirking, and then he kisses me. Mmm, Jack. Just what I’ve been missing.

* * *

“Daniellll...”

“Mmf. G’way.”

“I’ve got coffeeee...”

He does, too. I can smell it. It’s almost worth leaving my warm, soft nest for. Almost.

“Too early. Come back later.”

There is a long pause, and I start to think he’s done as I asked and left. I’m just sinking back into sleep when the bed sags, and I feel his hip against my side.

“Daniel. It’s almost noon.”

What? Crap, how long did I sleep?

“Were we up late?” I ask, my mouth gluey and thick.

“Not unless you consider ten at night late.”

“It’s dark then,” I offer weakly. “It’s kind of late.”

“Daniel.”

Oh, fine. “At least give me the coffee.”

I manage to sit up against the headboard, and he sits beside me, handing me the coffee. Once I get outside about half the cup, I start to feel a little more human. I can smell Jack, clean and soapy and warm. I lean a little closer, resting my head on his shoulder and nuzzling along his collar.

“Come here,” I murmur, tugging at him. I gulp the rest of the coffee, and he takes the empty mug before it can get dropped and broken, and turns to me. I duck my head, laying it on his chest, and his hand comes up to idly play with my hair. I think Jack has a fetish about my hair. He used to touch and ruffle it even before we were together.

“So,” he says. “What happened?”

“What makes you think something happened?”

He sighs and puts his arms around my shoulders. Oh, nice. I wriggle against him, rubbing my cheek along the line of his collarbone. The place right where his shirt opens is soft and tastes so good.

“That’s what makes me think something happened. You’re being so clingy.”

I stiffen, and then draw back. “Well excuse me for missing you. I didn’t realize you wanted your space.”

“Oh, Daniel, stop it. Quit dodging the issue. We both know something is going on, and we both know I’m not going to quit until you tell me.”

See, this is what happens when you spend so many years with a person. They get to know you way too well.

“I did miss you,” I say petulantly. God, I sound like I’m pouting.

“I missed you too,” he replies gently. “And I like holding you, and I sure as hell liked what we did last night, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to ignore whatever is bothering you.”

Crap. Improvise. You don’t have to lie to him, but you don’t have to tell him everything, either.

“I didn’t sleep so well while you were gone.” There, that’s true. I really did have trouble sleeping.

His eyes soften, and he squeezes my shoulders again. “Bad dreams?”

“Yeah.” Also true. Mostly about those Marines ganging up on me and finding something worse to do than beat me up, but I’m going to consider that information available only on a ‘need to know’ basis.

“You want to tell me about them?”

God, he’s making me feel so guilty. Here he is being gentle and understanding, and I’m lying to him. Well, not lying, exactly, but not telling the truth, either.

“No, I really don’t need to, Jack. I feel much better now that I got some real solid sleep.” Again, the truth. I do feel much better. I can’t believe I let those three stooges upset me to the point of being afraid to be alone in my office. It was probably the lack of sleep that made me overly sensitive. Now that I’ve got Jack back in my bed, I’ll be fine.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

He nods and ruffles my hair, kissing my forehead. I love when he does that. “All right,” he says, “how about some breakfast?”

I grin at him and stand up, stretching hugely. “Shouldn’t that be lunch?”

He grins back, that charming, sideways smile that has half the women on base drooling over him. Damn, I’m lucky. “Lunch it is,” he says easily.

I knew everything would be all right once he came home. I just needed to get the situation in perspective, and see it for the piddly little thing it is. I’m going to be fine now.

* * *

Office is dark again. The light in the hall closest to my office door is also out, so I can’t see a damn thing in there. What a lovely way to start my week. Sorry, guys, I’m not falling for this one again. I’m not setting foot in there without a flashlight, and I happen to know there’s a whole box of them in the storeroom just down the hall.

The light in the storeroom is out, too. It’s a little too convenient to be a coincidence, and just like that, all the relaxation I got with Jack over the weekend evaporates. I shouldn’t go in there. I really shouldn’t. But the hallway light is more than enough for me to see the box of flashlights less than ten feet in front of me. All I have to do is leave the door open, step in, grab one, and step out.

It’s easy until I get about three steps into the room, and then the door slams shut behind me. Suddenly I’m in total darkness, and I freeze, my hands flying up to feel around me and to protect my face.

Easy, easy. The flashlights are right in front of you. Just move straight forward, slowly, and feel for them. You’ll be fine.

Right, okay. Straight forward. I take another step, cautiously stretching my fingers ahead of me, and the dark is suddenly full of grabbing hands and mocking laughter. I yell, hitting out at them, and they spin me, shoving me back and forth and bouncing me off shelves.

“Stop it!”

More laughter, seeming to come from all directions. The hands are tugging at my clothes now, pulling me back and forth, and my feet tangle together. Next thing I know, I’m falling, hitting the ground hard and messy. Suddenly the hands are gone, and the only sound is my own ragged breathing.

“Hear that, guys? I think the geek is scared of the dark.”

“You scared, geek?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I shout, my hands balled into fists. I want to hit someone, or kick the wall, or just... just anything. I feel like screaming at them.

“Oh, oh, we made the geek mad.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. I think he’s gonna cry. You gonna cry, geek?”

No, dammit, I’m not. I’m going to get a handle on this. Slow, deep breaths--long, flat inhales and careful, measured exhales, blow the air out through pursed lips. Blink slowly, deliberately, control the breathing, open the throat. I am not crying over some stupid prank.

Okay, focus. Stay still, and wait for your eyes to adjust. It’s not total dark, because there’s some light seeping in under the door. Give yourself time to settle, and then find that little bit of light. They’re not going to hurt you, or they would have done it by now. They only want to laugh at you, so don’t give them any more ammunition.

There--light. I can see the outline of the door, the line of a shelf to my left, the pale fluttering of my hands in front of my face. This isn’t so bad. I’ll just get up and make my way over there, open the door, and walk out.

It works until hands come out of nowhere and shove me sideways, knocking me painfully into a set of shelves. Something falls and lands with a crash, and I duck reflexively, covering my head.

“Stop!”

No, no, don’t shout. It only lets them hear the strain in your voice. Keep quiet. Breathe, dammit, breathe. You’re fine, you’re okay.

Right. I grit my teeth and head for the outline of the door again, shuffling my feet slowly to avoid tripping, my hands stretched out in front of me. Then, between my hands, swinging close to my face, something white and grinning. One of them, backlit by the seeping hall light, right in front of me.

I act without thinking, swinging my fists, wanting so badly to connect with that mocking mouth. I get a piece of him, something hard, feels like a cheekbone or jaw, with enough power to make my knuckles sting.

“Hey!” The voice is surprised and hurt, and I bare my teeth in a wide smile.

“Not so fun on the other end, is it?”

I can hear the other two laughing, and the one I hit snarls at them to shut up. Oh, crap--that was Owen. I made him look stupid in front of his goons again. All the triumph I felt bleeds away, and I rub at my face. God, I just want out of here.

So get out of here. The door is two steps away, and you’ve got them flustered. Take the opportunity and get the hell out.

Yes, yes, time to move, before Owen can decide he wants to hurt me after all. I move too fast and smack into the door, and I hear them laughing again behind me. I bite my lip hard enough to taste blood, but I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of hearing me lose it. I’m getting out. The knob is in my hands and thank God, it’s turning easily, not locked. Light, blindingly bright, from the hall, and I’m out, moving down the corridor, not caring about the people staring.

I don’t stop running until I’m at my office door again, which is when I realize that I never got a flashlight and the office is still dark. I don’t care, though. At this point, I’ll step on whatever artifacts are on the floor. Hell, I might enjoy it. I feel like smashing something.

But there’s nothing on the floor this time, and my desk flashlight reveals the missing bulb sitting right on my chair. I replace it again, the task taking twice as long because my hands are shaking so badly, and then I turn on the light, lock the door, and curl up on the couch. I press a pillow against my face, grinding my mouth into the fabric to muffle the sounds.

I’m fine. It’s just a little release of tension. Besides, if you try to hold stress in, you get ulcers. I’ll wash my face when I’m done, use a few eye drops, and no one will know the difference.

* * *

“Daniel?”

“Hi, Sam. Maybe I could work in here for a while?”

She blinks at me, and then shrugs, beckoning me in. “Sure,” she says. “My lab is your lab. Something wrong with your office?”

“I think the heating is broken. It’s really cold in there.” The lie rolls out easily, and Sam nods, already focusing on her work again. I hate those bullies for rattling me so much that I can’t handle being alone, but I hate them more for making me lie to my friends. To Jack.

I spent the rest of Monday holed up in my office, not even coming out to eat. Luckily, this behavior isn’t exactly unusual for me, and nobody seemed worried. Jack was in meetings all day--sometimes I forget he’s the second in command of a major base, and has a lot of administrative duties. If he hadn’t been busy, he probably would have come by and seen something wrong in my expression, but that didn’t happen.

When we got home I jumped on him again, reveling in the solidity and strength he seems to radiate. By the time I was done hugging the crap out of him, the humiliating little incident in the storeroom seemed pretty unimportant, and I managed to convince him I was fine. It wasn’t hard, because by then, I really was fine. As soon as I was away from work and wrapped up in Jack, I felt a million times better.

Then, this morning while he was in the shower and I was stressing out over what might happen today, I hit on the idea of working in Sam’s lab. It wouldn’t always work--there were just too many reference materials in my office that I couldn’t be carting down the hall all the time--but it was a good temporary solution. Sooner or later those Marines are going to lose interest, and then things can go back to normal, but for today, I’ll stick with Sam.

I set up my laptop on one of the unoccupied tables in the back, and arrange the pile of notes I brought with me. It isn’t until I’m all settled in that I realize I’ve put my back to the wall, and given myself a clear line of sight on the door. Guess I’ve been hanging around Jack too much.

I start writing my report, getting the presentation together for the briefing I have to give SG-5 later. Every so often, I lift my head and watch Sam for a few minutes. She’s bent over some piece of machinery, poking at it with a metal probe and watching readings on a computer screen. The wall is big and solid and comforting behind me, the light overhead is strong, and the sounds of her work are reassuring.

So it’s come to this, has it? You need Sam to protect you now? Too scared to be in your office alone?

Not scared. I just wanted to reconnect with my teammate, is that so bad? We haven’t been off-world in over a week, and we’re not due for another mission until Thursday. When we’re planet-side, we tend to not see each other very much. Which reminds me, don’t Owen and his buddies have jobs? When do they go off-world? And how do I find out without seeming weird? I don’t even know what team they’re on.

* * *

Well, crap. At least one of them is on SG-5. Kurtz, sitting at the other end of the briefing table and leering at me. Somehow I just assumed they were all on the same team, but I guess that the old SG-3 was split up when Makepeace went down.

Not a problem. You’ve given lectures to some pretty hostile audiences in the past, so this is nothing. What’s he going to do, with the general here? Not pay attention? Hell, you get that from Jack. So don’t let him rattle you. You’ve got a job to do here, so do it.

Right. The general nods at me to begin, and I stand, flicking on the Power Point projector. Kurtz rolls his eyes. It doesn’t matter, though. I’ve gotten plenty worse reactions to one of my briefings. I can ignore him.

I’m well into it, warming to the subject, giving them details about the fourth Chinese dynasty which are relevant because the world they’re gating to may be under the dominion of the goa’uld System Lord, Yu. That’s when the tapping starts. His pen is rapping on the surface of the table, moving whenever I speak, stopping when I pause. I look at him, and he meets my eyes, grinning. ‘Geek’ he mouths, and I look away fast.

Focus. The others are starting to look at you funny. Don’t let him make you screw this up. And dammit, don’t blush! Think about what you’re saying, don’t stumble on the words, and get through this. It’s just a briefing. You’ve done it hundreds of times.

“So,” I continue, floundering for a moment until I remember where I was. “If you encounter natives there that were influenced by the Chinese culture brought over by Yu, it’s important to--“

“Brought over by you?”

I narrow my eyes at Kurtz, who is feigning--badly--a look of innocent confusion.

“The goa’uld System Lord, Emperor Yu. If you were listening, you would know that.” Good, much better. That was just dripping with contempt.

“It was an honest mistake, Doctor Jackson,” the general reproves, and I blink at him. “There’s no need to be unprofessional.”

Unprofessional? Me? What about them? How unprofessional was it to put a rubber knife in my desk, or harass me constantly, or push me around and laugh at me in a dark storeroom?

Stop it. You’re sputtering and making a fool of yourself. Just nod, accept the general’s words, and move on. If you push it any more, he might make you apologize, and there’s no way you’ll be able to stomach that. So be an adult and get over it.

“Of course,” I murmur through clenched teeth. “Honest mistake.” Yeah, and the goa’uld aren’t bad, they’re just written that way.

Kurtz is showing so many teeth his face must be hurting. I force my lips to form something like a smile and deliberately uncurl my hands. Briefing. That’s what I’m doing here. Don’t react.

When I start speaking again, my voice is steady and even, and I can see Kurtz’s smile fade. So there. I’ve dealt with entire lecture halls full of skeptics and insulting remarks, buddy. You don’t even rate.

I look down at my notes and make a quick decision to cut the briefing short. They’re not paying attention anyway, and the rest of this is just academic backfill left over from years of trying to justify myself to grant boards. I don’t need to prove that I know my subject to these people.

Maybe I rush through the last bit, but I’m pretty sure nobody notices. I just want to get away from Kurtz and his smug smile. Get back to Sam’s lab and really relax with some translation work, without having to worry about my own personal bullies.

The general has a few things to say when I’m done, but I tune them out, sitting in my chair and staring at my clasped hands. My part is over, and all I have to do now is wait for the briefing to end and get out.

“Doctor Jackson?”

“Huh?” I look up, and feel my face heating up when I realize I’m the only one left in the room. General Hammond is frowning down at me.

“Was there something else you needed?” he asks.

“Oh, uh, no, no, I’m fine. Sorry. I was just, ah, thinking about my presentation. Making sure I remembered everything.” Yeah, that was convincing. I think I’ve lied better to foster parents.

“You’ve seemed a little tense lately, son,” he says, sitting back down. Great, now I’ve got the general noticing. Why am I letting a few dumb tricks get to me like this?

“I’m fine, sir.”

He fixes me with those wise eyes for a long moment, and then lets me go, nodding slowly. “Very well,” he says. “You’re dismissed.”

“Yes sir, thank you,” I mumble and head for the door. My cheeks still feel hot. It’s not enough that I came off as an arrogant academic in front of the general, I also had to obviously zone out during his part of the briefing. And there’s just no way I could explain my behavior without sounding like an idiot. I mean, what can I say? Sorry I snapped at that man for no good reason, sir, but he’s the same one that’s been calling me names.

Oh, stop thinking about it. You’re only going to feel more embarrassed if you keep worrying about it. The rest of the day is yours, so go use it. Hide out in Sam’s lab and bury yourself in some nice artifact.

I’m not hiding. I’m... using strategic positioning. I’m not afraid of those three, I just don’t have time to waste on them. That’s all.

* * *

“Daniel.”

“Mmm...”

“Are you falling asleep?”

I smile against Jack’s neck and nod. His hands are slowly rubbing my bare back, his legs wrapped securely around mine. I love having sex with Jack, but I think I love this part more--right afterward, warm and sticky and relaxed.

“You want to tell me who did this?”

His voice is still calm, but I can hear the danger underneath.

“Did what?”

Oh, that didn’t come off well. I’ve never been able to lie to Jack with any skill, and especially not when I’m post-coital. Something about the hormones induces honesty.

“Daniel, I can see the bruises.”

What bruises? Other than the fun and games with Kurtz in the briefing, I didn’t see those three at all today. How could I have bruises?

“What are you... oh.”

He’s looking at me steadily, his hands on the long, thin bruises along my ribs. From the shelves in the storeroom yesterday. Getting sloppy, Jackson. You should have remembered to keep the lights off, like you did last night.

“Yeah, oh,” he says. “Who did it?”

I press my face against his chest so I won’t have to meet his eyes. “No one,” I mumble. “I was in the storeroom and I tripped. I ran into some shelving.”

“Looks like you tripped five or six times.”

Well, crap. Think, think, come up with something. You know how Jack is about anyone hurting you--if he finds out, he’ll come down hard on those Marines.

Would that really be so bad? So they get punished for harassing you. Don’t they deserve it? Don’t you want it to stop?

God, yes, I want it to stop, but I’ve dealt with bullies all my life, and telling on them just doesn’t work. No matter what the punishment is, it only makes them mad, and the bullying gets worse. I just need to stand up to them, to show them that I’m not affected by their stupid games, and they’ll lose interest.

“Is that how it looks?” Good--casual, innocent, puzzled.

“Daniel. If somebody hurt you, why are you covering it up?” He sounds genuinely baffled. Oh, Jack. You were never on my side of the playground, were you?

“I really did run into the shelving.” Hey, it’s true. I really did. I had a little help getting there, but he doesn’t need to know that.

He’s quiet for a long time, and I let myself relax against him, nuzzling along the line of his throat. His hand is in my hair again, sliding through it, and I murmur happily. Maybe I’m going to get out of this easier than I thought.

“Did they threaten to do something if you told anyone?”

Or maybe not.

“Jack, there’s nothing to tell. You know me--clumsy academic. Sometimes I just have to go back to my geek roots, you know?”

He sighs and lifts my head, forcing me to meet his eyes. He looks so very worried for me, and I can’t help feeling guilty. If I thought it would help things, I would tell him, but I can’t.

“I used to call you a geek,” he says softly.

I can feel myself tensing up, and force a deep breath. “That was a long time ago.”

“You never liked it.”

“Well, no, of course I didn’t. Nobody likes to be called derogatory names.”

“Then why did you just refer to yourself that way?”

I did? No, I didn’t. I couldn’t have. I’ve always hated that name, especially now that Owen and his buddies can’t seem to get off it.

“Jack...” I tug at him, pulling his arms around my back again, burrowing against his neck. “I’m tired. Can’t we just go to sleep?”

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“Nothing to tell.”

I can feel him shaking his head. Then he kisses my hair and lies back, pulling the covers up. I reach for his hand and lace our fingers together, squeezing. Silent thanks for letting the subject drop. He squeezes back, but I don’t think he’s giving up so easily.

* * *

“Hey, geek.”

Oh, great. Didn’t we do this already? It’s like a bad song that gets stuck in your head.

“Gentlemen,” I reply evenly. “Something I can help you with?”

“Sure,” Anderson says. “What’s this thing?” He picks up a Grecian porcelain vase from my shelf and tosses it hand to hand, grinning. I tighten my hands on the armrests of my chair and sit still. I won’t try to get it away. If he breaks it, it’s not the end of the world. I will not play their game.

“I’d explain it to you, but I don’t think I know enough one-syllable words.”

Kurtz circles around and holds a hand up, and Anderson throws him the vase. He fumbles for a moment, intentionally, and then catches it. “Hey, I think the geek is calling us stupid again.”

“That’s an amazingly keen grasp of the obvious you have there,” I snap at him, my eyes on the vase. I could reach out and grab it. He’s right in front of me. I really think I could do it.

“Now, now, geek,” Owen says, his voice coming from two inches behind my right ear. I jump, and they all laugh. “You shouldn’t say mean things to us. It’s ‘unprofessional.’”

Bastard told them about what the general said. Of course he did.

“You should know, seeing as you wrote the book on unprofessional. Or do they teach Marines how to be childish?”

“Oh, he called us childish,” Kurtz drawls. “Oh, my feelings are just so hurt! I think I might cry!”

The other two are laughing it up, and Kurtz is distracted, playing to them. He gestures widely, and the hand holding the vase passes right in front of me. That’s it--I’m shutting him up the fast way. My hand darts out, clutches for the vase, and he makes a startled sound, yanking it away. We both lose contact with it, and the next thing I know, I’m staring at the shattered pieces on the floor.

“You... you...”

“Oh, geek, you broke your pretty little glass,” Owen says mockingly. “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“I didn’t break it! This moron with the... the...” I’m stumbling over the words, stuttering the way I did when I was a kid and I’d get so damn angry I couldn’t think.

I stand, my fists balled at my sides, leaning into Kurtz’s face. He’s got a few inches on me, but we’re pretty evenly matched for weight and reach, and right now I really want to know who’d win in a fight. I really want to find out.

“Uh-oh, the geek’s mad. Whatcha gonna do, geek?” Kurtz laughs and shoves me before I can take a swing, and I backpedal, struggling to stay on my feet. Anderson catches me and pushes me toward Owen, and he pushes me back to the middle of the triangle. The leg of my chair tangles with my feet, and I drop into the seat in an undignified heap.

Don’t get up. There’s three of them and one of you, and if you take this to the next level, it’ll go badly for you. Stay down, stay in control, don’t lose your temper. When this is over, you can go beat up a punching bag until that need to hit something fades.

Oh, but I don’t want to hit a stupid punching bag. I want to hit them, all of them. I want to punch those laughing mouths in. I want to see the surprise on their faces, the shock, I want to laugh at them. I want to knock them down and then, when they’re on the ground, I want to kick them. Over, and over, feeling my boots connect with ribs and muscle and skin. Ohhhh...

Don’t. Don’t! Take a deep breath, and another. Hold onto it. They want you to react, to start the fight. Don’t let them win. Don’t play their game.

I’m so mad I could kill someone. So mad I could cry, and oh God, I think that might actually happen. No, no, I can control it. Just... breathe. Think about Phoenician numerology. Name all the pharaohs in alphabetical order. Now name them in order of rule. Don’t look at the bullies, or you’ll lose it.

“Lookit the geek,” Anderson crows. “Lookit how red his face is getting. What’s the matter, geek? You upset about something?”

Owen leans down and grabs my chin between his fingers, forcing my head up. I stare at him, and he stares right back, and dammit he’s getting blurry. I’m not going to give in to this! I’m not!

Would you pull it together! It’s just a little vase. You didn’t even keep it for any kind of cultural value, you just liked the way it looked. It’s nothing to cry about.

But it’s not just the vase. It’s everything. It’s the last two weeks of crap. It’s being laughed at and humiliated and pushed around. I have to draw the line somewhere.

“Oh, look what we got here,” Owen purrs, low and satisfied. “Would you just look at that? Isn’t that nice...”

My vision is swimming, and I know what that means, but I won’t give in. I won’t wipe my eyes; I won’t acknowledge it. I... am... fine, dammit!

“Is there a problem here?”

Oh, God, just who I didn’t want to see this. The goons and I all whip around to stare at Jack, leaning casually in the doorway, his hands in his pockets. He looks calm, but I’ve seen that expression before. Usually just before he shoots something.

“No, sir, no problem,” Owen says confidently. “Doctor Jackson was just explaining some things to us.”

“Uh-huh.” Jack straightens, tilting his head to one side. He takes me in with a glance, his eyes narrowing as they meet mine. Then he focuses on the remains of my porcelain vase, and he raises his eyebrows. “What happened there?” he asks smoothly.

“Oh, that was my fault, sir,” Kurtz volunteers. “I’m afraid I was a bit clumsy with it. Sorry about that, Doctor Jackson,” he adds to me. I just blink at him, and then wipe furiously at my face. Now it looks like I’m crying because someone accidentally broke one of my artifacts. I can feel the flush start at my collar and work its way up until my ears are hot.

“Oh,” Jack says, packing a great deal of meaning into that one word. He peers at each of them carefully, his eyes going to the names sewn into their uniforms. “So, Owen, Anderson, and Kurtz. I think I’ll have some things to discuss with you later. Why don’t you run along?”

The lackeys look nervously to Owen, and he nods. “Yes, sir,” he says, his jaw tight. I have a moment of spiteful glee--they are so going to get it now. The Marines file out obediently, and I slump in my chair, staring at the desk. Well, this is embarrassing.

“Daniel.” His voice is so soft. I hunch my shoulders. I really didn’t want Jack finding out about this.

“It’s not just the vase,” I mumble.

“What?”

“Uh, the vase.” I gesture vaguely at the mess on the floor. “That’s not really why I was, ah, upset. It was just...”

“The last straw?” he offers.

“Yeah.”

Jack reaches behind him and shuts the door, and then he perches on the desk in front of me. One hand cups my cheek, lifting my eyes to his, and I can’t help comparing his touch to Owen’s rough grasp. Jack touches me with reverence. That’s really the only word for it.

“This is what’s been going on?” he asks gently. “Those three have been giving you trouble?”

I shrug and drop my gaze again. “Not really. Nothing I couldn’t handle. They were just teasing a little, you know, pranks and name-calling, that sort of thing.”

“Daniel, every time we get home from work, you’re practically desperate for a little reassurance. You won’t let me get ten feet away while we’re off duty, you want to be held all the time, and on base, you’ve been either locking yourself in your office or hiding out in Carter’s lab.”

“I... what? I haven’t...”

He smiles and ruffles my hair. “Yes, you have. Sounds to me like those three yahoos were doing more than just a little teasing. That’s how you got those bruises on your ribs too, isn’t it? How did that happen?”

“Uh... that’s kind of a long story.”

“So tell me. I’ve got time.”

I look up at him, and he strokes my cheek with his knuckles, swiping a thumb under my eyes. I want to shrug it off and tell him I’m fine, that it was nothing--but I can’t. I’m so tired, and I just can’t.

“It started a couple weeks ago, while you were off-world doing that training mission,” I begin, and before I know it, I’m telling him everything. The little scare in the parking lot, the rubber knife in the desk, the trick to make me step on my artifacts. The provocation in the briefing room, the experience in the dark storeroom--which I now have to admit frightened me badly. Nothing serious happened, but it so easily could have been worse. And I hate that helpless, out of control feeling.

What was really draining was the constant awareness. I couldn’t walk down the halls while reading something, because one of them would ‘accidentally’ bump into me, and knock whatever I was holding all over the floor. I couldn’t concentrate on my work because I was always looking around, watching out for them, waiting for the next little game, the next call of ‘geek,’ the next time I would be helpless to stop them. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

“And then they were in here, tossing that vase around, and I thought I could get it from him. They were all laughing, and I was so sure I could grab it, but we both pulled on it and it fell. And I... I wanted to hit him. Wanted to hurt him. I really did. I think I would have, except that he pushed me, and then they were all pushing me and I fell and it was just... I couldn’t...”

“Easy, Danny,” Jack murmurs. He’s got his hand in my hair again, and he pulls me in, encouraging me to lean against him. With him sitting on the edge of the desk, he’s at the perfect height for me to press my face against his chest. I know I shouldn’t be getting so worked up over this. It was just a few stupid games. But I’m just so tired of being fine, and he feels so good...

I don’t know how long we sit like that. I know Jack’s shirt is getting wet, and I know the tight bands that have been wrapped around my chest are finally letting go. Jack’s voice is washing over me, mumbling nonsense, but it’s soothing nonsense. His hands are on my back and in my hair and rubbing my shoulders, and oh, I could just stay like this all day. Mmm, Jack.

I finally pull back, sniffling and embarrassed at having lost it completely like that. I cough a little and wipe my face, and Jack gives me the time I need to compose myself.

“Okay?”

I nod. “Yeah. Much better. Uh, sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. Wasn’t your fault.”

I don’t know how to answer that, so I shrug and say nothing. Jack is still lightly rubbing my shoulders, and I let my head hang, enjoying the sensation.

“Daniel,” he says softly. “Why didn’t you want to tell me?”

Damn. There goes the relaxed feeling. “It wasn’t a big deal. They were just bullies, Jack, and I’ve dealt with bullies all my life. These guys had nothing on some nine year olds I knew, actually, and I handled them all by myself.”

“Why?”

I lift my head to look at him, confused. “What? What do you mean, why?”

He smiles. “Why did you handle bullies by yourself when you were a kid?”

“Because I had to, of course. I was pretty much on my own, you know.”

Jack nods like he expected this. “Yes, I know. You didn’t really have anyone to turn to, so you had no choice. You had to deal with stuff alone.”

“Right...” I say, drawing the word out uncertainly.

He wraps a hand around the back of my neck and pulls me closer, looking into my eyes. “Now, Daniel, you have a choice. You have friends who love you, and you have me. You don’t have to deal with things alone.”

“Oh.” Well, when you put it that way... maybe I was being stupid. Maybe I should have told Jack. But I’m so used to fighting my own battles, I just... I don’t think that way.

“Yeah,” he says, smiling again. “Oh. Now you understand?”

I nod and lean against his chest again, closing my eyes. God, I’m tired. I just want to go home and sleep for a week.

“What are you going to do to them?”

Jack’s hands tighten on my arms, and although I can’t see him, I can picture the look on his face. “Oh, I have some ideas,” he says darkly.

I can’t help grinning. “It’s not going to go well for them, is it?”

He laughs and pats my back. “Well, I was thinking I’d just fill Teal’c in on what’s been going on. Let him decide what to do. You know that Jaffa revenge thing.”

“Jack, you can’t! He’ll go to jail!”

We’re both laughing now, and I take a deep breath, leaning back in my chair. I feel better than I’ve felt in... well, weeks. Two of them, to be exact.

“Seriously, Jack,” I say, looking him in the eye again. “I know it was just some teasing, and I don’t expect them to really be punished. I just want them to leave me alone. Could you maybe talk to them?”

Jack frowns and stares at me, and then shakes his head slowly. “You still don’t get it, do you? It was not just some teasing. It was a deliberate campaign of threats, harassment, and physical assault against the highest ranking and most valuable civilian consultant in this command. It was three entirely replaceable Marines interfering with your ability to do your essential work. It is serious, and they will be dealt with seriously.”

I’m aware that my mouth is hanging open, but I can’t seem to shut it at the moment. “I... Really? Essential?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Daniel. Essential. Without you, there wouldn’t be an SGC, don’t you know that?”

Oh, stop. Take a deep breath. You are absolutely not going to cry again. You’re just wrung out right now, that’s all. It’s making you overly emotional. You’re fine.

“Daniel? You okay?”

I smile widely at him, catching his hand in mine and squeezing it. “Yeah, Jack,” I say. “I’m fine.” And now, I really am.

* * *

Fin

February 27-29, 2004


FINIS

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