Hook By Kalimyre


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: Established Relationship, Angst, H/C
Season/Spoilers: Season 7, Spoilers for Hathor, Legacy
Synopsis: When Daniel comes back from being held prisoner off-world, the damage goes far deeper than the physical. This is the story of his recovery
Warnings: Violence, References to torture, non-con
Length: 186 Kb
Notes: Thanks to Mamabeast for the great beta and ideas, and for liking the story and telling me so.

Hook By Kalimyre

~~~

I’m running down the hall the minute the off-world activation alarms sound, leaving Airman whatshisname standing in my office holding up that paperwork and blinking stupidly in my wake. There’s no reason to think it’s them, of course. Teams come in from off-world all the time, and SG-5, along with Daniel, has been missing for six weeks. Six weeks exactly, to the day. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been counting.

“Colonel!” Carter rushes into the control room from the other side, and our eyes meet. She’s flustered, out of breath--she ran, too.

“Carter,” I say, trying for some level of control. Teal’c glides in behind her, looking like he doesn’t know what worry is, but unless he makes a habit of hanging out in the hallway near the gate room, he had to have run as well.

“O’Neill,” he says, and I nod at him. No use pretending I don’t know why they’re here. It’s been the same way on every unscheduled off-world activation since Daniel’s been missing. No reason to think it’s him, but we come running every time.

“Seventh chevron is locked,” Davis calls out, and we all turn to watch the gate do its thing. The iris is closed, the SF’s standing ready in the room below, their weapons up. All of us are staring at the computer screen, waiting for a GDO, willing it to be the right one.

“Receiving GDO signal,” a technician says, but it’s useless background noise until we know which one. The screen shows the rippling pattern of radio waves, the computer searching for a match, and does it always take this long?

“Come on, come on,” Carter mutters beside me, and I give her a quick look. If we were different people, I might put a hand on her shoulder, but we’re not those people.

The screen flashes our answer for us and I blink at it, my hands clenching convulsively at my sides and my eyes refusing to focus properly. “It’s SG-5,” Davis gasps, breaking the momentary hush that has fallen over the control room, and that’s all I need to snap me out of it.

“Get a medical team up here!” I shout, already heading out the door. Carter and Teal’c are hot on my heels, thumping down the stairs and skidding around the corner. I run out in front of the SF’s, uncaring of their raised weapons, and they lower their aim slightly.

Major Guthman is the first one through, looking ragged and filthy and thin, but I’m already staring past him. Come on, Daniel, be with them. Be alive. Captain Milosh follows, his hands behind him, carrying the ends to a couple branches. I can see the beginnings of a makeshift stretcher coming through the shimmer of the wormhole, and I already know who will be lying on it.

“Why is it always Daniel?”

“Wish I knew, sir,” Carter says, and I look at her sharply. Didn’t mean to say that out loud. She returns my look with one of her own, strained and scared, and I straighten my back. I need to be strong here, set an example for the team. I can’t follow my immediate urge to rush up the ramp and pull Daniel into my arms the minute he clears the wormhole.

Guthman looks up and meets my eyes. “He’s alive, sir,” he grates. He stops at the bottom of the ramp and just sort of folds up, landing hard on the floor and resting his head against the railing. I don’t spare him a glance. Daniel--I need to see Daniel.

Fraiser comes running in with her usual rattle of gurney wheels and shouting of orders. She takes in Guthman and Milosh with a glance, and then focuses on the stretcher. I can see a hand dangling over one side, emerging from a blanket wrapped bundle that seems far too small.

The remaining members of SG-5 step through the gate, one of them carrying the other end of Daniel’s stretcher. They look like the first half of the team: dirty, thin, and shocked. Their eyes don’t seem to look at any one thing, but bounce around the room aimlessly, wide and blank.

SG-1 is closing ranks around our missing member, all of us reaching out to touch him, but Fraiser freezes us with a glance. We settle for hovering anxiously as she organizes the smooth transfer of that filthy bundle of blankets from the improvised stretcher to her infirmary gurney. SG-5 seems glad to be rid of his weight, and they all sit on the ramp in a uniform state of exhaustion.

“What happened to him?” Fraiser asks, directing her question at the whole room.

“Everything,” Guthman says dully.

When it becomes obvious that she’s not going to get a better answer than that, Fraiser zooms off to the infirmary with Daniel in tow, while her nurses check out SG-5 and make sure they can walk under their own power. My last impression of them is Guthman following Daniel’s progress with hollow eyes, and then they’re behind me and I’m trying to see what’s under those blankets. Daniel’s hand flops limply as we run down the hall, and I want to stop for a moment so I can tuck it back in place against his side. It shouldn’t he hanging like that.

In the elevator, the warm salt-and-copper smell of blood is painfully obvious, and Fraiser takes advantage of the momentary pause to unwrap Daniel a little. He’s naked under the blanket, so caked with dried blood and filth that I can’t tell if he’s still bleeding. His ribs are visible, clearly defined curves under thin, pale skin. His hip bones jut up sharply from his sunken belly, his head somehow seeming overly large on his bony shoulders.

“Oh, Daniel,” Carter whispers, and I can hear the tears in her voice without turning around. Teal’c, facing me from the other side of the gurney, looks ready to disembowel everyone who had the slightest hand in doing this to Daniel. I want to do both--cry and kill someone at the same time. I can’t begin to guess what my face looks like.

“His pulse is steady, Colonel,” Fraiser says reassuringly, her fingers on his neck. “Aside from the obvious malnutrition, I don’t see any major injuries. He may have internal damage, but we’ll know more once we get him cleaned up and properly examined.”

“Malnutrition,” I echo numbly. Nice way of saying damn near starved to death.

The doc covers him back up with the blanket before we leave the elevator, and I feel a little better. If she cares about preserving his privacy, it seems like a sign that he’s going to live to appreciate it.

“You’ll have to wait outside,” she says firmly, pulling Daniel into one of the private rooms. I can see two nurses waiting for him, already pulling the blanket away and readying their needles. The door closes in our faces and we all stare dumbly at it, and then turn to exchange looks.

“Sir,” Carter starts, and then seems to run out of steam. She just shakes her head, looking at me with huge, wounded eyes like I can somehow make things better.

“I know,” I tell her. I know.

“We must discover who is responsible for this,” Teal’c growls.

Yes. Something productive, something that might lead to me hurting someone the way Daniel was hurt. I need to do that.

“Let’s talk to SG-5,” I say grimly. SG-5, a military team who walked back through the gate without a scratch while their borrowed civilian had to be carried. SG-5 who looks a little thin and worn around the edges, but nowhere near Daniel’s level of emaciation.

I have a few things to say to them.

While we were trailing after Daniel, SG-5 has made it down to the infirmary. They are spread out on various beds, allowing blood to be drawn and submitting to the usual exam. They’re all very quiet. Lt. Corin, who looks too young to drive a car, much less carry a gun, is huddled on his bed, wrapped in a blanket and shivering. Benson, their fourth, is already asleep, laid out in an exhausted sprawl and not even twitching when an IV is inserted in his arm.

There are plenty of ways to hurt someone without leaving obvious physical damage. They may not look as bad as Daniel, but they’ve clearly suffered, and I’m sure they did the best they could in a bad situation. They did bring him home alive, after all.

Rationally, I know all those things. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to go over there and demand to know why they let this happen to Daniel. My hands twitch and I stuff them in my pockets before I get within reach of Major Guthman.

“Sir,” he says weakly. “Is Daniel all right?”

“No,” I snap. “Daniel is not all right. Daniel is covered in blood and he looks like a strong wind would blow him away. You want to explain to me why he looks like that while the rest of your team is fine?”

Okay, so fine might be stretching it a little, but none of them are skin and bones, and they all still have their clothes.

“I’m sorry,” Guthman mumbles. “Sorry. We tried to help him. They wouldn’t let us...”

“Colonel!”

I wince and turn to face Fraiser, who is bustling toward me, her eyes hard. “Doc?”

“Are you harassing my patients, Colonel?”

Well, yes, I am, and I really shouldn’t be. Guthman looks like hell, and he obviously cares about what happens to Daniel, and considering my own track record, I know keeping Daniel in one piece isn’t easy. “How is Daniel?” I ask quickly, before she can give me the lecture I probably deserve.

“Daniel is sleeping,” she says firmly. “He’s receiving intravenous fluids and glucose, and sleep is the best thing for him right now. He doesn’t have any injuries.”

What? “He doesn’t? What about all the blood?”

“Maybe it wasn’t his,” Carter offers, looking anxiously between me and Fraiser.

“It’s his,” Guthman says from behind us. “They had a sarcophagus.”

Well, shit. Just when I thought things were looking up.

“Doctor,” Hammond says, stepping through the door. “How are they?”

Fraiser’s demeanor immediately softens, but she gives me one last warning look before putting on her professional reporting-to-the-general face. “Daniel is severely malnourished and dehydrated, and his blood count is dramatically lowered, but he doesn’t have any injuries. The rest of SG-5 is in better shape, but they’re all exhausted and showing indications of shock.”

Hammond nods slowly, his hands clasped behind his back. I’m aware of Guthman lowering his head, either guilt or weariness, but the general looks at him without the slightest trace of accusation.

“Are they able to attend a debriefing?” he asks.

Fraiser shakes her head. “They need a lot of rest, liquids, and a few solid meals would be a good idea, too. I’m recommending a minimum of twenty-four hours in the infirmary before any debriefing.”

“No,” Guthman says, lifting his head again. “I’ll do it. Let the rest of my team stay here. We all saw the same thing, anyway.”

I don’t want to like this man, but I can’t help respecting the sentiment.

“Major,” Fraiser begins, her arms folded in disapproval.

“I can do it,” he insists. “It’s the least I can do.” That said with a guilty glance at me.

“Are you sure?” Hammond asks gently, and Guthman nods. We all turn expectantly to Fraiser, who is looking mulish and outnumbered.

“A short debriefing,” she finally concedes. “And then he comes right back to the infirmary.”

I’m already helping Guthman to his feet, unconsciously holding my breath. Whatever they did for those six weeks they were missing, it didn’t seem to include showering. That briefing room isn’t going to be pleasant, but right now, I don’t care. I need some answers.

~~~

“It was a Goa’uld,” he begins, staring at his hands on the briefing table.

“Which one?” Carter asks, and I grit my teeth. Does it matter which one? A snake is a snake. What matters is what was done to Daniel.

“I don’t know,” Guthman shrugs. “Not a system lord. Just some Goa’uld. He might have been working for someone higher up. He had a few Jaffa with him, but they all had different symbols.”

“You were captured,” I say, making impatient little ‘go on’ gestures.

“Yes. Almost from the moment we came through the gate. They knew to hide from the MALP, I guess. We were zatted and taken to this place...” He swallows and squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, his hands clutched together.

“Take your time, son,” Hammond says, full of compassion.

“I’m fine, sir,” Guthman replies. “We weren’t hurt--SG-5, that is. We were just... tools that they used to hurt Daniel. He was the target.”

“You said that Daniel Jackson was placed inside a sarcophagus,” Teal’c says. “Was he injured when this was done?”

“He was dead. Every time.”

I wince, and to my left, Carter makes a little choked sound. “How many times?” she asks weakly.

Guthman gives a little, humorless laugh. “I lost count. It was a lot, I know that. And never the same way twice. It’s amazing how many different ways there are to kill someone. How many different slow, painful ways.” He swallows again, and I can hear his teeth grinding together from across the table.

“What did they do to him?” Was that my voice? It sounded so... so old.

“Whatever you can think of. If you can imagine it, they did it, and probably some things you can’t imagine.”

“Rape?” I ask sharply, and Guthman gives me a strange look. He couldn’t know about Daniel and I, of course, but I get the feeling that he does.

“Yes,” he says flatly. “Many times.”

“Oh, God,” Carter murmurs. She’s biting her lip and blinking furiously down at the table.

“Colonel,” Hammond says reprovingly. I shoot him a look that I hope is apologetic, but I’m not sure. My face feels numb.

“Were they seeking information?” Teal’c asks.

Guthman shakes his head. “No. They never asked him questions. They wanted to... to damage him. To mess with his head. That’s the only thing I can think of. The way they made him depend on us...”

“What do you mean?” I snap, and he winces a little. I take a deep breath. Lower the voice next time, O’Neill. Getting a little out of control there.

“The place we were in was like a pit,” he says, closing his eyes. “There was Daniel and the Goa’uld and his Jaffa in this room, with all these... things... they used to hurt him. Knives and pain-sticks and just... God... everything. We--the rest of the team--we were in these cages suspended above the room. We had the basic stuff, enough food and water to live on, and a bucket for... you know... but Daniel didn’t have any of that stuff.”

“And you did not give him any of your food or water?” Teal’c growls, and Guthman cringes away from him.

“We tried!” he says. “We tried so much, but they wouldn’t let us. If we gave him anything, he was punished for it. Not us, him. And they wouldn’t let him keep it, anyway. He only got what they gave him, which wasn’t much. One time... one time they let him die of thirst.” Guthman breaks off and puts his face in his hands, shuddering.

“Oh, Daniel,” Carter says softly. She’s wiping at her face, struggling fiercely for control in front of the general. Teal’c covers her hand with his own, wordlessly, and she squeezes his fingers.

“If they wouldn’t let you feed him, how did they make him depend on you?” I ask. Something tells me this is important.

“He had to touch us,” Guthman says bitterly. “That’s the only way he was safe. As long as he was touching one of us, they wouldn’t hurt him. The catch was that we were up in those cages, so he had to stand and reach up to us and hold on through the bars. He was always bleeding and hungry and exhausted--they never let him sleep--and he could only stand up for so long. Once he collapsed, they’d be on him again.”

“You couldn’t hold on to him?” Carter asks, her eyes narrowed and red.

“We tried. God, we tried. They wouldn’t let us do that, either. He had to stand on his own. As soon as his knees buckled and it was one of us supporting his weight, they would drag him away. After a while, all he cared about was getting to one of us and holding on.”

“I have seen this done before,” Teal’c says, and we all stare at him.

“You have?” I try not to make is sound like an accusation. I know he’s done some terrible things in the service of Apophis, but I’ve never had them spelled out for me. Don’t really want them spelled out.

“I have not participated in such torture,” he says quickly. “This particular method of breaking a prisoner is rare. It is done only to prisoners who are much valued by their people. Leaders or those who command armies, usually.”

“Why?” Hammond asks. That about sums it up, doesn’t it? Why?

Teal’c looks grim, his lips flattened into a thin line. “If you kill your enemy, another rises to take his place. But if you blind him and send him back to his people, they expend time and resources caring for him.”

“So that’s what this is?” Carter asks. “They wanted to... to what, disable Daniel? Then why did they heal his injuries?”

“They didn’t matter,” I tell her. “Daniel’s body was never his greatest asset. They were out to destroy his mind.”

Hammond fixes Guthman with a steely look. “Is that correct, Major? They were attempting to damage Doctor Jackson mentally?”

Guthman nods, the movement slow and slight. I can see his headache from here. “They made him totally dependent on touching one of us. He would... he would beg us not to let go. He stopped asking for water and food, but he never stopped asking us to hold on. That was all he cared about. And toward the end...” He trails off uneasily.

“What?” I prompt. Need to get out of this room and down in the infirmary. Soon. Now.

“He wasn’t seeing us anymore. He called us by your names.” Guthman meets my eyes for a moment, and I see that knowledge in him again. Daniel must have asked for me as more than his friend.

Carter frowns and leans forward in her chair, preparing to stand. “Sir, if Daniel has been conditioned to believe he is only safe if someone is touching him...”

“He can’t wake up alone,” I finish for her, rising to my feet. “We need to stay with him, General.”

Hammond nods, but holds us back with a raised hand. “One more thing. How did your team escape, Major?”

Guthman makes that humorless almost-laugh again. “We didn’t. They let us go.”

Teal’c is nodding. “Yes. They sent you back to your people, so that we would be obligated to care for Daniel Jackson and therefore have less time to spend fighting the Goa’uld.”

“It makes sense, sir,” Carter says, turning huge, round eyes on me. She keeps swallowing like she’s trying not to throw up. “If Daniel... if they’d just killed him, we’d eventually get another fourth and go on. But now, he needs us--this puts the whole team out of commission.”

“Clever,” I mutter.

“It is considered to be a dishonorable technique,” Teal’c adds.

“Dishonorable Goa’uld,” I reply. “Call the papers.”

“SG-1, you’re dismissed,” Hammond says, and I’m out the door. “Take care of our boy!” he calls, and I wave a hand in vague acknowledgement. Got to see Daniel. Now I’ve got a good excuse for holding him and not letting go, and I intend to take full advantage of it.

~~~

“NO! Stop it stop it stopitstopit...!”

The three of us freeze as we hear the yelling coming from the infirmary, and then we start running. I hear something fall with a metallic crash, and then the not-quite-musical sound of delicate glass breaking.

I pause in the doorway, hearing Carter catch her breath behind me, and stare at Daniel. He’s on his feet--I don’t know how--struggling like a madman with Fraiser’s orderlies. Two well built guys against one emaciated, exhausted shadow of a man, but he’s fighting with sheer panic and he’s winning. It doesn’t help that they’re trying not to hurt him, while he’s doing everything in his power, including biting and clawing, to get away.

“Daniel!” Fraiser shouts, a loaded syringe in her hand. “Daniel, calm down! You’re in the infirmary... just hold still!” She shoots her men a meaningful look, and they try their best to hold him long enough for her to give him the injection.

“Daniel!” I call over the noise. He’s screaming, shouting no and stop and pleasepleaseplease, but he freezes when he hears my voice.

“Don’t,” Carter says sharply when Fraiser moves in with her needle. “That’s not what he needs.”

Fraiser frowns at us, but nods slowly, backing off. She actually looks relieved to put the syringe down, and I’m not surprised. Sedating Daniel against his will has to be the last thing she wants. Her people follow suit and carefully let Daniel go. He staggers, unprepared to support his own weight, but catches himself against a bed. He’s staring at the three of us, his eyes flitting from one face to the next, his mouth working soundlessly.

“Daniel,” I say softly, stepping forward. He immediately fixes his gaze on me, his hands coming up defensively. He’s shaking everywhere--knees, hands, lower lip. Fraiser got him cleaned up, and the hospital gown does nothing to disguise how thin he is. His hair is a short buzz cut--must have been so filthy and knotted that they had to cut it off. For some reason that bothers me more than anything else. Hathor did that to him once. We shouldn’t do that to him.

“Easy, now,” I murmur, advancing toward him again. He keeps his arms up, protecting his face and his belly, but his eyes are steady on mine, bright and unblinking, like shiny stones. Blood runs down his arms in a slow trickle where he tore out the IV lines, dripping onto the floor in startlingly red circles. I feel like all the colors here are muted and gray except for those splashes of Daniel’s blood.

His mouth forms my name, but no sound comes out. He swallows, making a dry clicking noise in his throat, and tries again. “Jack?”

“Yeah, Daniel, you’re okay. Just take it easy--“

He cuts me off with a low, keening wail and hurls himself forward, his legs buckling beneath him. I lurch forward to catch him, and his arms wrap around me with surprising strength. I can feel the thin, corded muscles under his skin, like high-tension cables, twisting and coiling and refusing to let go.

“Okay,” I mumble dumbly into his fuzz of hair. “Okay, okay... shhhh... okay...”

“Jackjackjackjack,” he chants. “Don’t let go don’t let go please please pleasepleaseplease don’t... Jack Jack jackjackjack...”

“Oh, Daniel,” Carter says, reaching a tentative hand toward his back. He flinches and hides his face against my shoulder when she touches him, and she pulls back, her eyes filling. Teal’c stands back, his hands clasped tightly behind his back, his face as distraught as he ever gets.

Daniel’s chanting pauses, stutters, and he lifts his head ever so slightly. “Sam?”

“I’m right here, Daniel,” she says. “Right behind you. You’re safe, you’re in the infirmary.”

Daniel tilts his head to look at her, his eyes searching her face for a long moment, his arms never relaxing a fraction from their panicked grasp around my ribs. “Sam,” he says, making the word a request.

“Right here,” Carter murmurs. She reaches out a hand again, and this time Daniel accepts it, leaning toward her and giving her a pleading look.

“Go ahead,” I tell her. “Let’s do a little group thing here.”

She nods and threads her hands around Daniel’s waist, laying her head against his back. Daniel makes a strangely happy little gulp and presses himself against both of us, chanting again. “Don’t let go, don’t let go, yesyesyes good good don’t let go...”

“You too, Teal’c.”

He nods and swoops in, standing to one side and putting his arms around all of us, pressing us closer against Daniel. I can feel his breathing slowing against my neck, his shaking easing off.

“Teal’c!” he chirps, sounding delighted. “JackSamTeal’c goodgoodgood... yes... hold on please hold on...”

“We’ve got you, Daniel,” I murmur against the side of his head. “Don’t you worry. Not letting go.”

He nods frantically and sort of wriggles, pressing against each of us in turn, rubbing his cheek against my shoulder and snuffling the skin closest to his face. He’s mumbling a lot of ‘good’ and ‘yes’ and ‘don’t stop’ but the words are all blurring together.

“All right everyone, show’s over,” Fraiser says sharply from behind me, and I’m aware of her shooing a bunch of gawkers away. I guess we look pretty silly all bunched up together around Daniel, but I don’t care. I’ve finally got him in my arms, where I’ve wanted him for the last six weeks. He’ll get better. He will.

He has to.

~~~

“Almost there,” Fraiser says in a low, soothing voice. Daniel eyes her mistrustfully and huddles closer to me. We’re riding a rolling gurney down the halls of the SGC, me sitting cross-legged with Daniel firmly in my lap. He’s leaning back against me, his arms holding mine in place, wrapped around his middle. Every so often he arches his neck and rubs his cheek along the line of my jaw, murmuring happily.

We made sure to clear the halls first before going on this little trip.

“Easy, Daniel,” Carter says from beside us, her hand wrapped around Daniel’s upper arm. He smiles up at her, pathetically grateful for any word of reassurance.

We decided on this after it became clear that Daniel wasn’t going to go back to his infirmary bed alone. Not without being unconscious, that is, and Fraiser was reluctant to give him drugs in his weakened state. Having one of us by his bed holding his hand wasn’t good enough, either--he had to be held. Constantly, tightly, and preferably by all three of us at once.

Just disentangling him from Carter and Teal’c was quite a job, and I’m pretty sure he only allowed it because I never once let go of him, and because he was too exhausted to fight any more. He let himself be deposited on his bed, but only on the condition that I go with him. It would have been fine if those beds were built for two, but they’re barely big enough for one. Not to mention the rather public location didn’t exactly lend itself to blatant cuddling, no matter how medically necessary it was.

Hence, the rolling trip to a VIP suite. Fraiser wasn’t thrilled about releasing him from the infirmary, but as long as he keeps getting IV fluids and manages to eat something within the next twenty-four hours, she grudgingly gave in. I think she realizes that his mental health needs a lot more work than his physical condition.

“We have arrived, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c intones, holding the door open for us. He squeezes Daniel’s shoulder as we go past, and gets a wide smile for his efforts.

“All right, Daniel,” Fraiser says briskly once we’re in the room. “Time for you to get some sleep.”

He just looks at her warily and presses his back against my chest. I can feel the hard knobs of his spine, the lines of his ribs, the bony wings of his shoulder blades. God, Daniel.

This is the tricky part. He’s trembling with exhaustion in my arms, but getting him from the gurney to the bed requires a complicated procedure that we’re just now beginning to work out.

“Here, Daniel,” Carter says, standing close beside him and holding her arms open. “Come here... it’s okay, right here, there you go...”

She keeps up the soothing litany of words, and Daniel leans forward, his fingers digging into my arms to pull me with him. I shift until I can unfold my legs, and then we turn together until Daniel is standing and I’m sitting behind him, plastered against his back, my arms still tight around his waist.

“Okay,” Carter says, slipping her hands between my chest and his back and pulling him close. I move with them, and soon we’re shuffling toward the big bed in an awkward kind of three person dance, Daniel wrapped snugly between us. He’s giving out these pleased, tired little moans and nuzzling Carter’s shoulder, his hands kneading at my forearms.

With some slow, careful shifting, we manage to get Daniel laid out on the bed, me beside him. He whines like a scared dog when Carter lets go of him and immediately burrows against me, clutching at my back and rubbing his cheek against my collarbone over and over.

“Wow,” Carter says dazedly.

“Yeah,” I mutter. “This may take a little longer than I thought.”

Fraiser nods, pushing the IV pole closer. “His physical recovery alone will take weeks. I can’t begin to guess about his emotional state.” She begins reattaching the tubes to Daniel’s arms, where the IV catheters are still in place. Daniel makes a complaining mumble when she tries to pry his hand away from my back for a moment, but he’s used up all his strength and she manages to get him hooked up.

“Now what?” I ask her. It’s amazing how difficult it is to feel professional and in charge when you’re curled in bed with a shivering archeologist cuddled to your chest.

“Now, he sleeps.” She gives us all a stern look. “You should all sleep. I know you’ve been running yourselves ragged while he was missing. Let him sleep himself out, and if he asks for food or water, let me know. Water he can have in small, careful amounts, but I’ll have a specific diet plan to follow for food.”

“You believe Daniel Jackson will ask for food or water?” Teal’c asks, raising the ubiquitous eyebrow.

“He doesn’t seem to have any problem articulating his needs.”

“His need for contact, yes,” Carter argues. “He’s pretty clear about that. I’m not sure he’ll ask for anything else.”

“We’ll have to offer it,” I say. “Make sure he knows that he can have whatever he needs, without having to worry about...”

“Punishment,” Teal’c supplies.

“Yes.” Thanks, Teal’c. Lovely mental image.

“Sounds good.” Fraiser scrubs her hands together and looks around the room. There’s a second bed that I assume Carter will be using, and Teal’c can do his Kel-no-reem thing anywhere. The place has a large bathroom with a shower big enough for two--good thing I don’t have a problem showering with Daniel--and a table and chairs. It’s not the Hilton, but it sure beats the infirmary.

Teal’c sits down at the foot of the bed, his legs folded together, and regards us with half-lidded eyes. Carter hovers uncertainly, eyeing the spare bed and then frowning at Daniel. I’m sure Daniel would love for her to climb in with us--the more people holding him the better, as far as he’s concerned--but there just isn’t room. Not if we want to have any chance of sleeping comfortably.

“I’ll be back to check on you later,” Fraiser says, and strokes her hand over Daniel’s back one last time. He mumbles sleepily but doesn’t flinch away this time, and she looks pleased. Then she’s out the door, and it’s only us, tired and worn and worried, but whole again.

“Good night, sir.” Carter perches on the edge of the bed and lets her hip rest against the small of Daniel’s back. He makes a pleased ‘mmm’ noise and she smiles.

“Night, Carter,” I reply, already closing my eyes. Daniel feels wrong in my arms, too thin and fragile, his hair fuzz instead of silk, but it’s still Daniel. I’m going to sleep better than I have in weeks.

Carter gets into the spare bed and lays down facing us. Her eyes are watchful on Daniel’s back, her hands twisting anxiously in the covers. Later on, I’ll let her hold him for a while, because we all need that reassurance, but for now, he’s mine. My Daniel.

“Daniel?” I murmur in his ear. “Sleeping?”

“Jackjackjack good good don’t let go good,” he mumbles back, snuffling in the hollow of my neck.

I could get used to this.

~~~

“Come on, Daniel. Don’t you want to eat something? Here you go...” Carter waves the spoonful of applesauce enticingly, and takes a nibble herself. “See? It’s good. Here, take a bite.”

Daniel is tense in my arms, his eyes tracking the spoon, his mouth half-open. So far this morning we’ve managed to get him showered, which was more complicated than I thought it would be, and he’s dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt instead of his hospital gown. It sounds easy in theory, but think about it. Have you ever tried to shower and get dressed while remaining in constant, close contact with someone? It was like a weird party game where nobody had fun. I ended up doing a tag-team deal with Teal’c, sort of passing him back and forth, and sometimes sharing him between us. I never thought I’d be trying to squeeze myself into a shower with Daniel and Teal’c. He seemed happy with getting clean and wearing more regular clothes, but he’s balking on the food thing.

“Let me try,” Fraiser says, moving up behind Carter.

“Okay.” Carter drops the spoon back in the bowl and slides off the end of the bed, sighing heavily. I’m sitting up against the headboard with Daniel between my legs, his back leaning against me and his arms holding mine firmly in place around his middle. He watches Carter move away and frowns, raising one hand toward her for a second, and then clamping it back down on my wrist.

“Come here, Carter. Maybe he’ll feel safe enough to eat if we’re both with him.”

I scoot and she squeezes, and pretty soon we’ve got our archeologist wrapped between us on the bed. I’m halfway to falling off one side, and Carter’s legs are hiked up in a way that has to be uncomfortable, but Daniel loves it. His eyes are half-lidded, his head tilted back, and he’s damn near purring.

“Good?” I ask.

“Yes yes good don’t let go good...”

“Okay.” It’s best to cut him off before he gets going, because he can mumble like that for a long time. He was really into that ‘yes good’ chant in the shower, but I think it had more to do with being really clean than it did with being naked with me. He didn’t seem interested in that at all.

Yeah, and he probably won’t be interested for a while, O’Neill. You heard what Guthman said. Raped, many times. He may never be interested in sex again.

That’s... that’s not something I want to think about right now. He’s acting almost like a child anyway, which makes it impossible for me to think about him that way.

“Okay, Daniel,” Fraiser says, leaning in close. “I want you to take a bite of this applesauce.” She’s going for the firm, authoritative approach, and Daniel seems to react better to that. He opens his mouth obediently, like a baby in a high chair, and Fraiser slips the spoon in.

“Mmm!” he says, licking his lips. “Good yes good thank you thank you.”

Carter and I exchange a grin over his head. Fraiser just holds the spoon out, for him to take it and feed himself. “Here,” she says. “Take all you want.”

Daniel tenses between us, his hands clenching on my arms. He looks back and forth at us with wide, pleading eyes. “Jack?” he asks uncertainly. “Sam? Eat?”

“Yes, you can eat,” I tell him. “All you want, like the doc says. Need to put some meat on those bones, Daniel, you’re looking a little peaky.” Which is the understatement of the year.

Daniel purses his lips and stares at the spoon that Fraiser is still patiently holding out. He lifts one hand a fraction, and then hunches his shoulders and claps it back down.

“He’s afraid to let go, Doc.”

“I know that, Colonel. But eventually he’s going to have to learn how to let go, and we have to start somewhere.”

“He hasn’t even been back a whole day yet.”

“The longer we wait to teach him to be independent again, the longer it will take.” Fraiser has her hands on her hips, her jaw set as she stares me down. I simply glance sideways and refer her to Daniel’s soft, begging look. Not even the doc can refuse that one.

“Just one hand,” she wheedles. “I’ll hold the bowl for you, Daniel. All you need is one hand free.”

He leans back and forth on the bed, pressing against Carter and I, and kneading with his hands. “Won’t let go?” he asks plaintively. “You’ll hold on?”

“You bet we will, Danny.”

He blinks slowly, studying my face. “Promise?”

Carter makes a choked little noise and Daniel whips his head around to stare at her worriedly. She does her best to put on a smile for him. “We promise, Daniel.” Then she borrows Fraiser’s technique and gives him a stern look. “Now be good and eat your food. We’ll be right here.”

Daniel’s face clears and he nods easily, reaching out for the spoon. Janet hands it over and holds the bowl up, and Daniel starts scooping in applesauce like it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. His other hand stays tight on my wrist, though, and he never breaks contact with either of us.

“Slow down,” Fraiser says, drawing the bowl back a little.

“Sorry,” Daniel mumbles. He lets the spoon slip from his fingers and cringes back against us, hiding his face against my shoulder. I can feel his mouth moving through my shirt, more muffled apologies.

Fraiser sighs and picks up the spoon. “Daniel. It’s okay... see? Here, you can have it back. I just didn’t want you to get sick. I don’t know how long it’s been since you had solid food, and you could shock your stomach eating that fast.”

“Okay?” he asks. “Eat? Okay?” He’s peeking at her with one eye, half his face still pressed into my shoulder.

“Yes. Eat, okay, go ahead. Just a little slower, all right? Nobody is going to take it away from you. You have all the time you want.”

Daniel eyes her dubiously, but Carter and I nudge him forward and make the right encouraging sounds, and he manages to start eating again. He watches the doc as he takes slow, measured bites.

“Why is he so thin anyway?” Carter asks, absently stroking his remaining hair.

“Um, just a guess, but they didn’t feed him?”

Fraiser rolls her eyes at me. “That’s true, Colonel, but I think Sam is asking why the sarcophagus didn’t heal the malnutrition the same way it healed the more... dramatic damage.”

“You mean that little being dead thing,” I say.

“Yes, that.” Fraiser puts down the empty bowl and offers Daniel some toast, which he snatches eagerly. He wolfs down half a slice and then winces and eyes her warily. She gives him a reassuring smile and he manages a little smile back, but I notice he finishes the slice with tiny bird bites.

“I guess even a sarcophagus has limits,” Carter muses.

“The technology cannot create matter where there was none,” Teal’c suddenly chips in, and we all turn to stare at him. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s there when he’s doing his statue routine.

“So the loss of blood and muscle mass and all that...”

“Couldn’t be replaced,” Fraiser finishes for me. “That’s why he needed a transfusion and a large amount of IV fluids when he got back. His skin has lost several surface layers over his whole body, his hair was extremely thin and brittle and even his bones have been weakened. It’s like the sarcophagus stole tissues from all nonessential places to replace what was needed to keep him alive.”

Daniel is peering at the empty tray that held his food, his brow furrowed. “Eat?”

“Sorry, Daniel, but that’s all for now. I understand that you’re probably still hungry, but your body hasn’t had to process nutrition the normal way for a while, and you need to ease back into it slowly.”

I’m not sure he understands that. He’s doing well, all things considered, but he’s still speaking in those one-word sentences and I get the feeling he’s not really with us. Not all of him, anyway. The part we have is just a bundle of emotion and basic needs.

I’m really hoping the bigger part, the part that is Daniel’s intelligence and spirit and everything that makes him who he is--I’m hoping that’s not gone permanently. Just locked away somewhere for protection, not destroyed. I really hope that.

Fraiser pulls out her usual props--blood pressure cuff, thermometer, syringe, and that ubiquitous little penlight--and approaches Daniel purposefully. He tenses and tries to hide behind us.

“Daniel,” she says patiently, “you’ve done very well so far. I’m glad that you were able to eat and that you’ve kept it down. I just need to check you out a little, and then we’ll be done.”

“Done,” he echoes. “Won’t hurt?”

“It won’t hurt. Not even the blood draw, because I’ll use your IV line.”

He nods slowly and offers his arm like a kid putting on a brave front for his shots. Fraiser smiles broadly and gets busy with her stuff.

“After this,” I say to Carter over Daniel’s head, “we need to do something about his beard. It’s coming in and scratching the hell out of my neck whenever he... ah...” Crap. Can’t talk about Daniel nuzzling me to my 2IC, even if it was entirely innocent. This time.

“I know, sir.”

Of course she does.

“I will assist you, O’Neill,” Teal’c offers.

“Good deal. We’ll do a team effort kind of thing. You two hold him and I’ll do the shaving.”

“Okay,” Fraiser says briskly, pulling back with a test tube of Daniel’s blood in her hot little hands. “That should about do it. I’ll be back in a couple hours to recheck him and I’ll be bringing more food.”

“Is he improving?” Carter asks.

Fraiser nods and runs her eyes down the chart on the table. “His vitals are all stronger, although still a bit low. I’ll have to wait on the lab results on the blood before I can make a determination there.”

“What about...” I wave a hand vaguely, and then point my thumb and forefinger out like a gun. “You know, the sarcophagus thing.”

“I’m not sure,” she replies soberly. “If he was going to show signs of withdrawal, we should have seen them by now. It may be that because he was always... severely hurt when he was placed inside, it’s not addictive.”

“Perhaps the intensity of his mental conditioning is overcoming any withdrawal symptoms that might exist,” Teal’c says.

“Could be,” Fraiser allows. “Either way, it can only be a good thing that he’s not addicted this time. He has enough to deal with as it is.”

“That’s for sure,” I mutter. Although we’re talking about him as if he isn’t in the room, Daniel doesn’t seem to care. He’s got his head laid back against me, his eyes half-closed, and he keeps rubbing his jaw against my chest and neck. Really need to do something about that stubble. There are far more pleasant ways to get whisker burn.

Fraiser pauses at the door and gives us all a formidable look. “Make sure you take breaks and stay with him in shifts. He’s going to require intensive, round-the-clock care for quite some time, and if you don’t trade off, you’ll all get burned out.”

“You got it, doc,” I say, knowing full well that none of us will be leaving him anytime soon.

Then she’s gone, and we all watch Daniel for a long moment, just enjoying the steady rise and fall of his chest. He’s got a small curl of a smile on his lips, and his eyes are dark and sleepy.

“So,” I say when the moment threatens to become sappy. “Shaving. Should be simple, right?”

You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

~~~

“Almost done.”

Daniel nods ever so slightly, too busy soaking up Carter and Teal’c wrapped around him to care about me waving a razor around his face. I think he especially likes it when Teal’c squeezes him together with someone else. Something about the sheer strength must be reassuring.

“Hold still, Daniel.” I’m doing the delicate part on his throat now, and he freezes obediently. Daniel desperate for physical contact I can accept, mostly because I like touching him so much, but Daniel compliant and near-mindless is really starting to bug me. There’s no fire in him any more.

We’ve done this before, the shaving thing. It’s an intimacy that he suggested, actually. He said that he used to wash Sha’re’s hair, and he always remembered the trust and affection of doing a simple, personal thing like that for someone else. I thought it was a little weird until he finally talked me around, and then it turned into this almost ritualistic experience with a lot of touching skin and fingertips tracing over his face. He was right about the trust thing. When he just tilted his head back and closed his eyes, it floored me that he would give up total control to me in that way.

Then, it was a conscious choice that he made, but now, it’s dependence. He’s letting me do this because I’ve told him to, and because he’s being held. I get the feeling he’d let anyone do this, and that robs the whole thing of its value.

Daniel jerks slightly, and I draw back, seeing a bead of blood welling up on his neck. It’s a tiny cut, but he’s staring at me like I tried to kill him.

“Dammit,” I mutter. “Sorry, Daniel. Let me get that...”

I lift a bit of tissue to blot the cut, but he catches my hand, his fingers bruisingly tight on my wrist. He leans to one side so he can see himself in the mirror behind me, and then lets my hand go. He’s reaching trembling fingers to touch the bit of blood, smearing it with the shaving cream and leaving a trail of pinkish foam.

“Daniel?” Carter asks. “It’s okay. It’s just a little cut.”

He’s staring at the blood on his finger, tilting it back and forth to catch that dull, wet gleam in the light. “Real,” he whispers.

Something about the way he said that makes my stomach go cold. “Daniel? Hey, you with us?”

He lifts wide, shocked eyes to meet mine. “Jack? Am I... I’m really home? This is real?”

“Oh, Daniel,” Carter says, biting her lip.

“Yes,” I tell him. “Yes, it’s real. You’re really home.”

“This is real?” he asks again, and dabs the blood between his thumb and forefinger. He presses the back of his hand against the cut and winces a little as the shaving cream gets into it and stings. “This is real. Real. Oh God... oh...”

I grab his hands and get between them, making him focus on my face. He’s alarmingly pale, and I get the feeling that Teal’c and Carter are keeping him upright. “Daniel! Hey, come on... right here... look at me. I want you to take some deep breaths with me, okay? Watch me... in, hold it, out... there you go...”

He follows along for a few breaths, and then his face twists and crumples and he lurches forward, trying to grab me and drag the others with him. I drop the razor and catch him, feeling the smear of shaving cream against my neck. Doesn’t matter. It’s like Daniel was in a dream world until now, and he’s only just become fully present. He even feels more solid in my arms.

“Thought... crazy... dead again... oh God oh God, home, really really home...”

“Shhhh,” Carter murmurs, rocking the four of us back and forth, her hands petting his back. “Hush, Daniel, you’re all right... we’ve got you...”

“You will be well again, Daniel,” Teal’c says, and I look at him sharply. He almost never uses Daniel’s first name alone. He meets my eyes with immeasurable sadness, and my stomach shudders. I get the feeling he doesn’t believe his own words.

And he should know, shouldn’t he? He’s the one that’s seen this done before. But no, and no, and no again. I refuse to believe that Daniel is lost to us forever. If anyone can beat this, he can.

He feels small and broken in the middle of us, crying so hard that he might fly apart if we weren’t holding him together. It’s crazy, really--the four of us in the tiny bathroom, all getting spotted with shaving cream and tears and mumbling nonsense back and forth. Daniel keeps going on about dreams and crazy and begging us to tell him it’s real, and the rest of us are trying our best to reassure him. I feel like I’m in a movie, like this can’t really happen in real life. I want to look around from the camera and then get between it and Daniel, because nobody but us deserves to see him like this. Nobody else has earned the right to be this close.

Our Daniel. My Daniel, and if that’s possessive, so be it. Nobody takes him from me.

He’s tapering off now, nearly asleep on his feet, and I start tugging us out of the bathroom. He needs to get back to bed.

Daniel moves with us until we get to the doorway and Teal’c has to let go to make us fit through. “No!” he says sharply, trying to cling to all of us at once. “Don’t let go don’t don’t please...”

“We won’t let go,” I say, overpowering his frantic chanting. “Breathe with me, Daniel. Remember that? With me... there you go...”

It takes a lot of shared breathing and slow, shuffling steps, but we get him back on the bed, sandwiched between Carter and I. I’m clinging to one edge of the bed and Carter has an elbow on the side table, but we fit. Teal’c looks a little left out, but accepts it gracefully, moving to the foot of the bed and standing guard. I make a mental note to see about getting a bigger bed in here. In the meantime, Teal’c always seems to make sure he’s standing where Daniel can see him, which has a reassurance value all its own. Nothing like knowing there’s a former first prime standing between you and anyone who means you harm.

Daniel is almost finished with the crying for now--down to sniffles and long, shuddery sighs, his chest still hitching now and then. He keeps burying his head against my neck and taking these deep breaths, like he’s trying to catch my scent. I think he even tastes me a little.

“Jack,” he sighs, his whole body loosening and slumping against mine. “Jack, Sam, Teal’c. Stay with me... stay...”

“We’ll stay.” I press a kiss into his hair, not caring if the other two see. I think they knew about us anyway.

“Go to sleep, Daniel,” Carter says, rubbing his back again. “You’re safe.”

“We will insure no harm comes to you, Daniel Jackson.” Teal’c has an expression that says that anyone who does try to harm Daniel will rue the day, and Daniel relaxes a little more when he sees it. Considering their history, it’s amazing that Teal’c can make him feel safe simply by being here.

Daniel has only been awake for a few hours, but he’s still weak, and he’s drifting off again. To be fair, I’m pretty tired myself. It’s been a rough morning. Carter has her face hidden in Daniel’s back, and I’m pretty sure she’s crying, but I’m not going to say anything. I’d do it too if the rest of the team weren’t here. Instead, I settle for occasional chaste kisses against Daniel’s forehead, and I rest my eyes a little. Just for a minute.

~~~

“Colonel, wake up.”

“Hmm?” I lift my head and blink a few times. Fraiser is leaning over me, but the bed is too big and comfortable to be an infirmary bed. Big, comfortable, and apparently shared by Daniel and my 2IC. What the hell...

“Daniel needs to eat again,” Fraiser says patiently. “Sorry to wake you.”

“Eat?” I wrinkle my nose and rub my face against the pillow, trying to clear my head. What about Daniel eating? He’s... oh. OH. Right.

Was nice to forget for a minute.

“Carter,” I hiss, shaking the bed a little. “You up?”

“Yes, sir,” she says in a clearly sleeping voice.

“It’s feeding time.”

“Yes, sir.”

When she doesn’t move, I shake the bed again. “Carter!”

“What?” She shifts, mumbles, and then I hear her catch her breath in a long ‘oh’ of understanding. “I mean, uh, what, sir?”

Fraiser is trying not to laugh at us. I put on a dignified face, which is difficult when I’m snuggled in a puppy pile with my archeologist and an Air Force Major with bed head.

“Daniel?” I nudge him a little, squeezing too-thin ribs with my arms, which are still conveniently wrapped around him. He squeezes back, but I think he’s still asleep. I frown up at the doc. “Shouldn’t we let him rest?”

“I’m afraid not, Colonel,” she says firmly. “We need to replace the lost weight as quickly as possible. Complications from infection and arrhythmia are still a very real threat, and since I see you’ve taken it upon yourself to remove his IV drip...”

I wince and cast a guilty look at the IV pole, standing forgotten in a corner. “Yeah, well... it was getting in the way. We meant to hook it back up after we got him shaved, but, um... there were complications.”

Fraiser’s eyes sharpen, and go unerringly to Daniel’s face, still puffy from all the crying and coated with sticky shaving cream residue. “Colonel?”

“He had a breakthrough, Janet,” Carter says, bailing me out. She sits up in the bed, easing away from Daniel but keeping a hand on his shoulder. He mutters and wriggles closer to me.

“What sort of breakthrough?”

“He thought... he didn’t realize that he was really home. I think he believed that he was dreaming, or that he had lost his mind. Then he got a little shaving cut, and... I don’t know.” Carter pauses, frowning down at the sheets as she tries to puzzle it out.

“Daniel Jackson knew that he would never be hurt in his dream,” Teal’c says. “If this were a fantasy, there would be no pain or blood.”

Carter brightens. “Yes, that’s it exactly. Thank you, Teal’c. Anyway, once it finally sank in that he was really home, he...” She looks uncertainly at me, and I’m suddenly aware that I’m glowering at her. Daniel had every right to lose it like that, but the world doesn’t need to know.

“Colonel,” Fraiser says gently. “I know you want to protect Daniel, but I’m only trying to give him the best medical care possible. To do that, I need to have all the information.”

I take a deep, slow breath. Come on, O’Neill. This is Fraiser, and she loves Daniel just as much as the rest of us. Besides, she already saw him flip out in the infirmary when he first woke up, and if you’ll remember, she was the one that chased away everyone who wanted to stare at him. No reason to shut her out now.

“Right,” I say. “Sorry. He just broke down for a while, that’s all. We got him back in the bed and he fell asleep again.”

“Did he vomit or pass out?”

I shake my head. “Nope. Cried a lot, got tired, fell asleep.”

She nods and offers a conciliatory smile. “I know it must be difficult for all of you to see him like this. I know how you feel, actually. It’s important that we work together to help him recover.”

“Indeed,” Teal’c adds, and Fraiser gives him a grateful look.

“Now,” she says briskly. “Wake him up and we’ll see if we can get him to eat again.”

Daniel’s been sleeping through the whole conversation going on over his head, so I forego trying to talk to him and just pat his face a few times. His forehead wrinkles in that ‘go away, I’m sleeping’ way that I’ve seen so many times, under much more pleasant circumstances, and I can’t help smiling. I catch myself before I kiss his hair again, though. Can’t use sleepiness as an excuse this time.

“Daniel,” Carter says. She starts shaking his shoulder a bit. “Come on, Daniel. Don’t you want to eat?”

He makes a low grumbling sound, but his eyes crack open, red-rimmed blue, clouded and confused. “Jack?”

“Right here. You awake?”

“No.”

Carter’s lips twitch, and she moves to stand up, stretching her arms over her head.

“No!” Daniel yelps, grabbing for her, and then pressing back against me. “Don’t, don’t... stay with me...”

Carter starts to get back on the bed, but the doc holds her still. “Let him wake up little, and he’ll realize that the Colonel is still with him,” she says.

It looks like she’s right, because Daniel’s breathing smoothes out and his grip on me loosens a bit after a few seconds. He lifts his head slowly, a strange look on his face. It’s like he can’t meet any of our eyes.

“Daniel?”

He shakes his head at me. “Sorry.”

Okay, not good. “Nothing to be sorry for.”

Daniel glances around the room, his face flushing a bit as he sees us all staring at him. He focuses on the way we’re wrapped together in the bed in front of everyone, and ducks his head again. “Um... I know I’m being... weird.”

“Your behavior is no fault of your own,” Teal’c says. He’s actually smiling down at Daniel. I’ve seen him look at Rya’c that way.

“I know there’s no reason for me to... I mean... the whole, uh, touching thing. I know it’s not... I know that.”

Fraiser raises an eyebrow. “So you’re saying that you realize you’re safe here, and that being in contact with the team isn’t necessary for your continued safety?”

He nods. “Yes, that.”

There’s no way this is going to be that easy. “Okay,” I say dubiously. “Then you won’t mind if I...” And I start to pull back, loosening my grip around him.

Daniel grits his teeth and lets me draw back, but before I lose contact with him completely, he caves and clings to me again, shaking violently. “Don’t,” he whispers. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. Sorry... just can’t, please don’t go...”

“Okay, okay... easy now... I shouldn’t have done that.” I’m rubbing his back, rocking him back and forth awkwardly--he may be thin, but he’s no child--and trying to avoid Carter’s accusatory look. Yeah, I know he wasn’t ready for that. The point is that now he knows it, too. But still, I can’t help thinking this is a good thing. At least he knows, rationally, that there’s no reason to be afraid.

“Don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he says into my shirt. “I know I shouldn’t need this... know they’re not here...”

“Who is not here?” Teal’c is leaning forward, and I can see him mentally dismembering anyone Daniel names. Anyone.

“Them.” He shudders and falls quiet. I can feel his breath in hot, erratic little puffs against my neck.

“Do you remember what happened to you?” Carter asks gently.

Daniel doesn’t answer, just burrows against me and tugs at my shirt like he wants to get between it and my skin. He’s shaking his head, and I can feel his breathing getting faster, catching in his throat.

“Too soon, Major,” I tell her. “He’s not ready to talk about it yet.”

She nods quickly. “Yes, sir. I... sorry, Daniel.”

“S’okay. I’m fine.”

Yeah, that was convincing.

Fraiser leans over and pats his shoulder, slowly drawing him away from me. He’s doing his best to cooperate, he really is, but I can feel him twitching and shivering. I move with him, so that he can sit up and eat and still be close to me, and some of his tension eases.

“How are you feeling, Daniel?”

Daniel looks up at the doc, helpless. “I... I don’t even... I’m not sure where to start.”

She smiles, soft-eyed and affectionate. “Let’s start with the physical side. Are you hungry?”

He hunches his shoulders and looks around sharply, his bony back pressing into me. I hear him gulp for air several times before he gets the reaction under control.

“Daniel?” I try to catch his eye.

“Um... sorry.” He’s looking down again, plucking nervously at my sleeves where my wrists cross over his belly.

“Was that the wrong thing to say?” Fraiser asks.

He shrugs. “They, uh... they played games with food. If I asked... if I said I wanted it... I wasn’t supposed to. I mean... if they told me to, it was okay, but I wasn’t supposed to...”

“Let me guess,” I interrupt. “If you said you wanted it, you didn’t get it, and if you said you didn’t want it, you didn’t get it. And if you didn’t answer, you were punished for that, and you still didn’t get the food. Is that how it worked?”

He twists around in my arms to stare at me, his mouth hanging open. I slip a finger under his jaw and push upward, and he closes his mouth and swallows. “How... you weren’t there?”

I don’t think he realizes that he made that a question. “It’s a pretty standard ‘screw with your head’ technique, Daniel. I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen my share of prisons.”

“Prison,” he echoes. “Was that what it was?”

“You were a prisoner of war,” Carter tells him. “What they did to you was intended to hurt you, and to hurt all of us. None of it was within your control and none of it was your fault. You’ve been conditioned to behave this way.”

Daniel swallows again, and squeezes his eyes shut, twisting so he can hide his face against my shoulder. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “I don’t mean to... sorry I’m so messed up. I’m really trying not to...”

“Don’t fight it so hard. It’s okay to be messed up, Daniel. Anyone would be after what you went through. I would be.”

He looks at me through watery eyes, and I can’t help cupping his face, slipping the pads of my thumbs over his cheeks. “You would?” he asks.

“I was,” I say quietly. “It takes time, but things do get better. Trust me on that one.”

There is an awkward silence in the room as Daniel’s eyes threaten to spill over again, and then Fraiser steps in and gives us a distraction.

“We won’t be playing any games with your food, Daniel,” she says firmly. “But I do need to know if you’re feeling hungry, because overfeeding you will only make you sick. If the thought of eating is unpleasant to you, then you probably shouldn’t do it.”

“I... I don’t know...” Daniel shivers again and hunches over, rubbing at his abdomen. “I feel all shaky. I just...” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, biting his lip.

“I understand that you’re upset, and it’s affecting your appetite. Why don’t you just try a little bit, and see how you feel about it?”

He nods and reaches out blindly, palm up and eyes still tightly shut. I can see his throat moving as he swallows, a muscle snapping in his jaw. He’s trying so very hard not to fall apart in front of us, but it’s a losing battle.

“Hold it, doc.” I catch the bowl of banana slices and push it back. “If he tries to eat anything right now, he probably will be sick. We need to get him relaxed first.”

Daniel’s lip quivers, and he bites it hard, shaking his head. “I’m fine.”

“It’s just overwhelming, right? You feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions, like you can’t think and you want to do what’s expected of you, but it’s so hard. You’re embarrassed and angry and confused, and if anyone pushes you the slightest bit, you think you’ll just shatter.”

Everyone is staring at me, but I ignore it as best I can, watching Daniel. He meets my eyes tentatively, sucking in a quick breath and biting it down before it can turn into a sob. “How...?”

“Been there, Danny.”

He’s shaking his head rapidly, looking around the room like he’s going to find some magic button to push and make things better. “I... it’s just so much... I’ll be fine in a minute. Just need a minute...”

Carter is already crying for him. “Let go, Daniel,” she says.

“I think I’ve cried enough,” he snaps, grinding his knuckles into the wasted muscles of his thighs.

“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c says sharply. “I have seen victims of such torture before, and you are stronger than any of them have been. There is no shame in losing control when it has been deliberately taken from you.”

That seems to be what Daniel needs, because he finally loses the fight and crumples against me. His voice is nearly gone, the sobs coming out in high, reedy whispers of air, racking his bony chest. His hands clench and release on my shirt, over and over, threading the material through his fingers as if reassuring himself that it’s still there.

“Hey, uh, guys,” I pause and clear my throat. My voice did not just crack. It didn’t. “Do you think you could maybe give us a little time? Say ten minutes?”

Teal’c nods immediately and Carter follows suit a little slower, sad eyes trained on Daniel’s shaking back. Fraiser frowns down at her tray of food, but leaves grudgingly, tapping her watch and raising an eyebrow. Yeah, doc, I get it. Ten minutes.

Just enough time for me to get this cracking voice thing under control.

“Daniel,” I whisper when they’re gone. So much I want to say, and that’s all that comes out. “Daniel. Oh, Daniel.”

“Sorry,” he chokes out. “Sorry, sorry... can’t stop...”

“Not your fault.” I’m growling at him, grinding my teeth together. I remember being in a pyramid--excuse me, ziggurat--with him and that Russian team, and finding out how old Marduk bought it, the slow way, in the sarcophagus with that thing eating him. I want to do that to every single one of those rat-bastards who did this to him. I want to watch. Want to hear their screams.

“Jack,” he protests, squirming weakly.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, my voice numb and far away. I can almost hear them crying for help, begging to be let out. My face stretches, stings, and I realize I’m grinning.

“Ow.” Wheezing, more ineffectual wiggling.

I hear real pain in his voice this time, and it slaps me out of that grim, violent little fantasy. God, I’m squeezing him hard enough to hurt, maybe hard enough to crack some of those weakened ribs. I let go quickly, but he’s having none of that, yanking my arms close again and wailing low in his throat.

“Sorry, sorry, oh God, Daniel, are you all right? Didn’t mean to hurt you. You okay?”

“Don’t let go,” he says. “Want it to hurt. Want to feel you holding me. Don’t let go.”

That’s what does it for me, knowing he’s so desperate to be held that he doesn’t care if it hurts, that he wants the pain so he knows for sure I’m there. That’s the last straw. The next thing I know his shirt is getting as wet as mine, and I don’t care. I’ve been scared out of my mind for six weeks over him, only to get back this hurt, broken version of my Daniel. Nobody is watching. I need this.

He calms down first, perhaps lacking the strength to keep up such intense emotions for very long. For a while, he’s holding me, rocking us on the bed, stroking me all over. His hands seem hungry for the feel of me--they’re in my hair, sliding over my face, kneading the muscles of my back and arms. He gets in under my shirt and makes a low, pleased sound, taking deep breaths of the hollow of my shoulder.

“Daniel,” I say. “Daniel. Missed you so much. I thought... God, I thought...”

“I’m okay. I’m home, I’m okay. Home, okay, home... Jack...”

We’re both babbling like idiots, and I don’t know which of us is comforting the other, but I guess it doesn’t matter. My guts filled up with frozen spikes when I heard what had been done to him, when I saw the damage with my own eyes, and they’re only now starting to thaw. I hope vaguely that I can get myself under control before the others come back in, but it’s not important. My world is very simple right now. Daniel, breathing, safe, a little bent, a little battered, but alive. That’s about all there is to it.

“Jack?”

“Yeah. It’s okay, Daniel.”

“Not really.”

I look at him sharply. He meets my stare with one of his own, angry again, his mouth a hard line. “I hate what they did to me,” he says. “I hate how weak they’ve made me.”

“Not your fault.”

“So you keep saying. You know what I just thought of?” He smiles a little, a thin curving of his lips that doesn’t touch his glittering eyes.

“What’s that?”

“I thought that I wanted to kiss you. I saw your face so close, so sad for me, so angry with them, and I thought--‘I love him, and I want to kiss him.’ And then I remembered what they did... what they made me do... and I got scared. Afraid to kiss you, to touch you. They took you away from me, and I hate that.”

Oh, Daniel. I open my mouth, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any magic wand that can fix all this. I can’t say the perfect words that will make Daniel whole again. God, I wish I could.

“Sir?” Carter’s voice comes through the door, high and worried.

“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, come in. We’re okay.”

Daniel just looks at me. We’re not okay. We’re so not okay.

Carter, Teal’c, and Fraiser come in, the doc immediately veering toward the bed and the side table where her tray still sits. She casts an assessing look over both of us, and I find myself scrubbing at my face with my shirtsleeve. She pretends not to notice. Kind woman, Fraiser.

“Daniel?” she asks. “Any better?”

He takes a deep breath and turns to sit with me more comfortably, falling naturally against my chest, my legs spread to either side of his. “Some,” he says. “I think... I think I’d like to eat now.”

Fraiser beams at him, and at me by association. “That’s great,” she says. “Take it slow, and if you feel nauseous, don’t force it. Vomiting will only cause you to lose precious fluids.”

Daniel nods and casts a plaintive look at Carter. She immediately steps forward, perching on the edge of the bed and holding the tray so he can eat without losing full body contact with me. For this, she gets the first real, shining smile I’ve seen from him since this whole mess started.

He eats as he did before, ravenously, but with a thin edge of control. When Fraiser cautions him to keep it slow, he doesn’t cower against me this time, but simply nods and slows down. I let my head rest against his back and close my eyes for a long moment, feeling his heartbeat beneath my cheek. Carter and Fraiser are talking--something about electrolytes and potassium levels in Daniel’s blood, and Teal’c rumbles something else, but it doesn’t matter.

We’re not okay, but I think we might get there.

~~~

Two weeks later, we’ve got the routine pretty much down. Daniel and I shower together in what has become a stiff, awkward choreography of maintaining contact with minimal intimacy. I’ve tried just holding his hand from the outside of the shower, but that’s not enough contact for him. He gets panicky if I’m not touching him enough, but if it’s too much, while we’re naked, he starts to hyperventilate and go overboard with scrubbing his skin. It’s a fine line, and we’re still working out the exact boundaries there. They seem to change every day.

The doc still has him on a strict diet, mostly high-protein stuff, and he’s steadily gaining weight. The nurses keep slipping him homemade cookies, which I suspect are low sugar to keep from upsetting his stomach, but he eats them like they’re his treasured chocolate-walnut cookies from that tiny bakery downtown. The room has been brightened considerably with flowers and balloons from most of the SGC. We had to start turning them away when we ran out of space, and once that message got out, people stuck to cards. You can barely see the concrete walls now, they’re so covered in cards. A handmade one from Hammond’s granddaughters has pride of place, pinned over the headboard where Daniel can see it easily.

He’s still far too thin, of course--you don’t rebuild from near starvation in two weeks--but he’s on the right track. Physically, he’s clearly going to recover just fine. It’s not his body that we’re worried about.

He still cries at the drop of a hat, and he still gets embarrassed about it, but I think that’s not as much of a problem for him anymore. He’s used to his emotions being so close to the surface, and under such thin control. When he burst into tears because Carter brought him a book he’d been wanting, he seemed resigned to it. He said, “Oh, here we go again. Pass the tissues, would you?”

It was the first screaming fit of anger that caught him off guard. I wasn’t there myself, having finally been convinced by the others and their constant nagging to take a break. The way Carter tells it, Fraiser told him he couldn’t have coffee when he asked for about the thousandth time, and he just flipped out.

When I walked in, he was screaming at the top of his lungs in some language I didn’t recognize, kicking furiously at the couch we had brought in, alternately shoving at Carter and Teal’c, and then begging them to stay. In the end, it was only Teal’c who could hold him, and he still fought wildly, hating the dependence, hating all of it. He called Teal’c every nasty name I’ve ever heard and then some, told him to let go right this second, but when Teal’c went to obey, Daniel panicked and clung and apologized over and over. In the end, he was totally exhausted, crying again, and he curled against me in the bed and hid his face in a way he hadn’t done for days.

That was the first time. When we talked about it later, he was so ashamed that he couldn’t meet my eyes. He tells Teal’c that he’s sorry about every five minutes. Teal’c keeps trying to say it’s not necessary, but Daniel’s not hearing that.

“It’s natural for you to be angry, Daniel,” I told him.

“Right,” he said. “I’m sure it’s natural for me to scream and throw things and generally have a temper tantrum like a spoiled two-year-old, too, is that right?”

“Yeah, actually, it is.”

He glared at me, and then smoothed his face with a conscious effort. “You’re just saying that.”

I lifted his chin, forced him to look at me. “No, I’m not. Where do you think I go when I’m not here? I’m in the gym, beating the hell out of the punching bags. I hate what’s been done to you, Daniel, and I’m not even the one who’s locked in this room, dependent on my friends.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Well, I am. And I don’t see any punching bags in here. You want to take me to the gym? Let everyone watch you put your arms around me, so I can be held and hit something at the same time? Give everyone a good show?”

“You’re getting mad again now, aren’t you?”

“What was your first clue?” he snapped, and then he closed his eyes and ground his teeth together, clinging to that thin edge of control.

“Here,” I said, and guided him over to the couch. “Hit that.”

He looked at me like I was crazy and folded his arms, shaking his head. Didn’t want to lose it again. “This is stupid,” he said.

“So play along. Humor me. It’s for your own good, Daniel.”

I could feel him stiffen in my arms. “Do you have any idea how many times a day I hear that?” he growled. “It’s all Janet says to me. ‘No coffee, Daniel, it’s for your own good. You need to drink this protein shake, which, by the way, tastes like reconstituted roadkill, because it’s for your own good.’ And then, of course, there’s Sam, who wants me to talk about it. ‘You need to share how you feel, Daniel. It’s for your own good.’ You know, for someone who’s doing so much for my own good, I sure don’t feel that great!”

“I bet you don’t,” I said. “I bet you’re sick of needing everyone like this. I bet you’re ready to punch the next person who thinks they know what’s best for you.”

“Guess who that is?” he asked, looking at me narrowly.

I smiled and turned him toward the couch again. It was time to deliver the final blow. “I know how you feel,” I said.

His hands bunched into fists at his sides. “You don’t have the first clue how I feel!” And that was all she wrote. He tore into that couch, shouting things I wouldn’t have expected a man with an ivy-league education to have in his vocabulary. But then, Daniel always was good at communicating. He was making sure I heard how pissed off he was loud and clear.

I stayed behind him and steadied him, my arms loosely around his waist, letting my chest brush his back whenever he leaned into me. He carried on at a furious pitch for several minutes, the couch creaking and cracking ominously, and then ran out of steam, slumping down and letting me catch him. We ended up in a tangled pile of arms and legs on the much-abused couch, Daniel gasping for breath and shaking.

“You did that on purpose,” he said when he finally caught his breath.

“Did what?”

I got an actual smile for that. “Made me lose my temper. You were pushing all the right buttons, and you know it.”

“Was I?”

He thumped me gently on the chest and actually laughed, a weak, breathless little sound. “Don’t play dumb with me, Jack.”

“Who’s playing?” I asked, and he laughed again.

We sat together quietly for a long time, Daniel loose and sprawling in my arms, until he lifted his head and regarded me with sleepy, calm eyes. “Thanks,” he said.

“Anytime.”

So we did that a few more times. It’s gotten so that Daniel can predict it, to a certain degree. He’ll be carrying on like he normally does, reading or tapping away on his laptop with someone sitting close beside him, and something will set him off. We never know what it’s going to be, and I don’t think he knows, either. Sometimes it seems like there’s no reason at all. He’ll just go all tense and lower his head, and tell us he needs to hit something. Then we steer him toward the couch or the pillows, stand behind him, and hold on for the ride.

He ends up trembling with exhaustion and usually crying afterward, but I think every time he does it, he breathes a little easier.

He hasn’t had many visitors. The general wanted to come see him, but Daniel pleaded with us to stop him. He’s so ashamed of his dependence, and Hammond’s opinion means a lot to him. He doesn’t want someone who he respects like a father to see him this way. Hammond was very understanding about the whole thing, as he usually is, and told us we had all the time we needed to get Daniel back on his feet. ‘To make our boy well again,’ was the phrase he used, and Daniel started crying again when we repeated it to him.

All of SG-5 has been by more than once, visiting in a group. They’ve kind of adopted Daniel, and since they already saw him at his worst, he doesn’t feel so bad about them seeing him now. Guthman in particular seems fond of him, and swept him up in a hug the moment he walked into the room. Daniel accepted it the way he accepts all touches now--gratefully and with more than a hint of don’t-let-go desperation.

Once the initial hugs and questions about his well-being were out of the way, an awkward silence fell. They’d all seen what he went through, and nobody wanted to talk about it. They came by at feeding time once, and I think watching him eat did something to all of them. Corin, the kid who’d been in shock in the infirmary, looked like he was going to cry. Guthman saw it and covered for him with a comment about how much better Daniel looks now.

The whole team seems relieved to see how improved he is, and Guthman never gave the slightest indication that he knew about us, or that he had any problem with it. I had my arms around Daniel for a while during their visit, and none of them even blinked, which I have to admit was a relief. Daniel paid special attention to Corin, making sure the kid knew how much his support was appreciated, and I was proud of that. That Daniel could still look outside himself and be aware of those around him. They say that the ability to show compassion is one of the biggest signs of a stable mind.

Other than that, and the occasional visit from one of Fraiser’s nurses when she’s off duty, it’s only been SG-1. We stayed nonstop in the beginning, but the doc was right about that burning us out quick. Daniel is extremely high maintenance. We love him, of course, but everyone needs a little space and some time to themselves occasionally. I can only imagine how much it’s driving Daniel nuts to never have any privacy. I think, in his position, I’d be screaming and hitting things, too.

Daniel requested a few things from his office when he got bored, and a few things turned into a lot of things. He’s getting some of his backlog of translation work done, when Fraiser isn’t hounding him to get more rest, and I’m getting a lot of paperwork taken care of. Carter is actually writing that book on wormhole physics that she’s been thinking about for so long, and Teal’c... well, he watches a lot of TV. We got a TV and a DVD player in here, and he’s been working his way through a collection of old TV shows in boxed sets. He likes Green Acres. It’s a little scary, actually.

So it’s not peaceful, and it’s not great, but it’s something we can live with. Daniel is slowly healing in more ways than one, and we all feel like we’re doing something to contribute to that. There’s no question that he has a long way to go, though, and that’s where today’s visitor comes in. Daniel is starting therapy today.

He’s not happy about it.

I meet the shrink they got especially for Daniel out in the hall before we go in together. The deal is that I stay in the room during the session, so I can hold Daniel, but everyone else clears out so he can have some degree of privacy.

“Hi,” he says, sticking a hand out. “You must be Colonel O’Neill. I’m Dr. Nelson, but please call me Dave.”

I take his hand gingerly--he’s built like a bird. Thirty going on fourteen, looks like. Skinny, with a quick smile and blue eyes like Daniel, but not as sexy. Like anything could be. “Hi, Dave,” I say. “I’m Colonel O’Neill, but please, call me Colonel.”

His smile sharpens a bit at the edges. “I see,” he says. “Shall we?”

So we go in, and Dave zeroes in on Daniel quickly. It’d be hard not to pick him out, though, because even with the weight gain he’s still noticeably thin, and both Carter and Teal’c are hugging him as they get ready to leave.

“Hello,” he says brightly. “You must be Daniel.”

Daniel declines to take the offered hand. He has a decent excuse, seeing as his arms are still around Carter and Teal’c, but it still sends a clear message. “Hello,” he says. “You must be Dr. Nelson.”

The shrink drops the hand, but doesn’t seem put out. “Please, call me Dave,” he says.

Daniel nods. “I’d tell you to call me Daniel, but apparently you’ve decided you don’t need my permission.”

Carter grins and tries to hide it. I don’t bother. Daniel always did have teeth when he wanted to.

I take Daniel from the others, giving him a quick and comprehensive hug. “Nice shot,” I whisper in his ear, and I feel his cheek crease against mine as he smiles. We sink onto the couch together, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. I sling an arm around him and he slouches so that he can rest his head on my shoulder. Carter and Teal’c file out without a word to the shrink, who is left standing and staring at us, frowning slightly.

“I take it you’re not very enthusiastic about the idea of therapy,” he says.

“I don’t have the best history with psychiatrists,” Daniel replies.

I nod and smile broadly. “Yeah, didn’t you read his file? Last time a shrink got a hold of him, he ended up locked in a padded room. Mistaken diagnosis. Doesn’t exactly generate a lot of faith for psychiatry in general.”

“I did read about that,” Dave says. “In fact, I’ve spent the last several days doing nothing but reading about you, Daniel. I would have recommended therapy for you even before this most recent capture and torture. You’ve been through a lot.”

Daniel blinks innocently up at him. “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

Dave sighs and drops into one of the chairs. “Do you know why I was chosen to speak with you?” he asks.

“I’d assumed it was because you had the necessary security clearance, and because they knew there was no way in hell that I’d talk to Mackenzie.”

“That’s part of it,” Dave says. “But I specialize in men who have been raped.”

Daniel hunches his shoulders and glares, and I squeeze him a little closer. He refuses to lean on me, though, sitting stiffly by my side.

When he doesn’t get an answer, Dave plows right ahead. “It’s an area that I have a certain understanding of, because it happened to me, too.”

That gets Daniel’s attention. “What?” He looks up sharply, and Dave meets his stare without blinking.

“It was about five years ago,” he says. “Of course, I was in a gay bar, so I figured it was my fault that the guy thought ‘no’ meant ‘yes, please.’ I was probably asking for it by being there.”

Daniel is shaking his head. “No,” he says. “That’s not...”

“I know,” Dave tells him. “I know it wasn’t my fault. But it took a lot of time, and a lot of counseling for me to get to this point. To be able to talk about it, and then to be able to move on. You never forget, but you can learn to live with it.”

“I know it wasn’t my fault,” Daniel says mechanically.

“And you know that you don’t need to be touching someone in order to be safe, but I haven’t seen you without contact for a second since we met. Knowing something rationally and truly believing it are often two different things.”

Daniel scowls, but he doesn’t have an answer for that one. Dave just smiles blandly, and Daniel’s face relaxes after a moment, the scowl softening to a thoughtful frown. I can almost see the thoughts whirling behind his eyes, Daniel attacking this problem with all the power of his formidable mind.

“Okay,” Dave says. He rubs his hands together and grins, flashing teeth with a gap in the front. It makes him look like a monkey. For some reason I dislike him a little less.

“Okay?”

“Yes, okay. It’s time to start. Let me tell you my basic plan for what you can get out of therapy, and then you can tell me if it needs to be changed, all right?”

“All right,” Daniel replies warily. “But I can tell you right now that you’ll probably have to change a lot.”

“Then I’ll change a lot. I’m here for you, Daniel, not for me. All I ask is that you try to let me help you.”

Daniel glances at me, and I shrug. It sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” Dave pulls a notepad out of his pocket and glances at it quickly. “So. Here’s my understanding of what happened. You were basically trained and brainwashed into believing that you were only safe from torture if you were touching a member of your current team. At the time, it was SG-5, but you replaced them with SG-1 in your mind at some point, and now if nobody is touching you, you become panicked and flashback to your time in the hands of your captors.”

“That’s a bit of a simplification,” Daniel says. He looks like he can’t decide if he should be embarrassed or offended to have six weeks of hell reduced into a few sentences.

“I know,” Dave says, “but it covers the essentials. Now, I believe we should work on one thing at a time, so you can focus all your energy on it. The way I see it, you have two main obstacles to overcome. The dependence on being touched, and the trauma and aftereffects of being raped. These are both major complexes and will both have a serious effect on your ability to live the life you want. The question is--which do you want to address first?”

“The touching thing,” Daniel replies promptly. “I’m dealing with the... the other thing on my own.”

Dave nods. “I see.”

“I am.”

“I’m sure you are.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

Dave smiles. “Then don’t lie to yourself. How can you claim to be dealing with the rape if you can’t even say the word? If you can’t even hear me say it without becoming uncomfortable?”

Daniel is tense beside me, his muscles twitching and thrumming. “Jack,” he says. “I... I need...”

“Now?” I ask. I know he’s getting mad, but I also know he’d be embarrassed about throwing a fit and punching the couch cushions in front of a practical stranger.

“No. Not now. Don’t let me.”

“Okay.” I turn his face to mine and put my hands on his cheeks, steadying him. “Look at me, Daniel. Breathe. In, out, in, out... slowly... think very hard about all the coffee I’m going to smuggle in for you when Fraiser isn’t looking.” His lips curl up a little, but it’s more of a snarl than a smile. His fists are clenching and relaxing, over and over, grinding into his legs.

“Daniel?” Dave asks.

“Shut up,” we tell him together. That makes Daniel smile a little more, and he forces his hands to smooth out, pressing his palms against my chest. I’ve found that it often calms him to feel my heart beating, and my chest rising as I breathe.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay, okay... I’m getting it. I’m all right.”

“Outstanding,” I tell him. I ruffle the little bit of hair that has grown back, and he rolls his eyes.

“What was that?” Dave asks quietly.

“Nothing.” Daniel has his arms crossed over his front again, and he presses against my side, thrusting his chin out defiantly.

“Daniel. I thought you were going to let me try to help.”

“Try all you want,” he says.

Dave just looks at him, the picture of patience. His look says that he can wait all day, if necessary. Daniel sighs and sags on the couch, rubbing at his face.

“Okay,” he finally mutters. “I get mad sometimes. The dumbest things can set me off, and then I just... I lose it. I end up hitting something for a while.”

“And you didn’t want to do that in front of me.”

“Exactly.”

Dave presses the tips of his fingers together, tapping them against his lips. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that anger is a natural reaction.”

“So I’ve heard,” Daniel says.

“Expressing it physically, through exercise or, as you said, hitting something, is actually a very good idea. Bottling it up doesn’t make it go away.”

“He doesn’t bottle it up,” I say. “He usually kicks the crap out of the couch, actually. All of us--his friends--we know he needs to let this stuff out. We want to help him too, you know.”

“I didn’t mean to imply otherwise,” Dave says mildly. “And from what I’ve seen so far, you’ve done a remarkable job.” He nods at Daniel. “You’ve shown a great deal of resilience and strength, Daniel. There are a lot of people who would be reduced to a lifetime of medication and psychiatric supervision after an experience like that.”

“Been there, done that,” Daniel says dryly. “I’m not anxious to revisit the padded room and the orderlies with the big needles.”

“I would imagine not.” Dave consults his notes for a moment, and then gives Daniel an assessing look. “So. You said that you want to work on your dependence on touching first. I think that’s a good idea, because once you’re more independent, it should help give you the self-confidence to believe that the rape was not your fault.”

“I know it wasn’t,” Daniel insists.

“But do you believe that it wasn’t?”

He hesitates for a long moment, casting me a sideways look from beneath his lashes. “I don’t know,” he mumbles. “Maybe not.”

Dave nods, his eyes steady and cool, and the difference between pity and sympathy is so sharp that Daniel brightens visibly. He’s sick to death of being pitied, but someone who can actually understand appears to be a whole different ball game.

“That’s for later, though,” Dave says. “One thing at a time. Today, we’ll start by having you stand alone for a short time.”

Daniel freezes, and his hands clamp down on my leg, beside his. “You mean... without anyone touching me?”

“Yes. Just for a little while.”

“No,” Daniel says quickly. “No, I can’t do that. I’m not ready for that.”

“When do you think you’ll be ready?”

Daniel just shakes his head. He’s swallowing convulsively, and he blinks at Dave a few times before pressing his face against my shoulder and closing his eyes tight.

Dave stands up, his hands on his hips. “You have to start somewhere, Daniel. I’m only asking for ten seconds.”

Daniel shudders, but he slowly lifts his head. “Ten seconds? That’s all?”

“That’s all,” Dave confirms. “Don’t think about this in terms of ultimate goals. The idea of spending a whole day without being touched probably seems impossible right now. Take little steps--ten seconds. Count it out in your head, right now. See how short it is.”

“Okay,” he says in a very small voice. I see his lips moving as he counts, zipping through the numbers as fast as he can. I want to ask Dave if this is such a good idea, but Daniel doesn’t need my uncertainties right now. He has enough of his own.

“Okay,” Dave says. “Are you ready?”

“No.”

He smiles. “Can you try anyway?”

Daniel takes a deep breath. “How do we do this?”

“First, you need a replacement object.” Dave looks around the room, and then crosses over to the bed and grabs a pillow. “Here,” he says, thrusting it at Daniel. “Hold this against your chest. It will give you something to hang on to. Think of it as a middle step. Needing people to hold you, then needing something to hold, then not needing anything.”

Daniel takes the pillow and squeezes it, burying his face in it for a long moment. It happens to be my pillow, and I figure holding something that carries my scent will only help.

“Now stand up,” Dave instructs. “Colonel O’Neill, you come with him. I want you to stand behind him with your arms around his waist. Daniel, don’t touch the Colonel. Hold onto the pillow, and lock your hands in place. Grab your own wrists. When he moves away, you’re going to want to reach for him, and you need to fight that.”

“Ten seconds, right?” Daniel asks tremulously as we stand.

“Ten seconds. Here we go. Daniel, hold on tight, and get ready to count. You’re going to count them out loud. It’ll help you focus. Colonel, when I tell you, let go and quickly move away. Make a clean break, but stay where he can see you.”

I open my mouth, and then shut it again. I don’t like this. Everything in me is saying that this is only going to get Daniel upset. We’ve spent so much time over the last few weeks trying to keep him calm and happy that deliberately rattling him just goes against the grain.

“Colonel?”

“Yeah,” I grate. “Yeah, let’s get this over with.”

“Hurry,” Daniel whispers. “The waiting is killing me.”

Dave nods sharply. “Colonel. Now.”

I was holding Daniel tight, my arms fitting beneath his and wrapped around his too-thin waist, but now I spread them wide and back away, crossing to stand beside Dave. Daniel takes two lurching steps after me, wide-eyed and frightened, shaking his head.

“Daniel! Count!”

Daniel jerks to a stop when he hears Dave’s order, and starts to obey automatically. “One,” he says. “Two, three... f-f-four... Jack oh God Jack I can’t, please please...”

“Five,” Dave says. “Halfway there. Hold your pillow. Six, seven...”

Daniel closes his eyes and moans, rubbing his face frantically over the pillowcase. “Eight,” he gasps out. “Nine. Ten. Jack, Jack, hurry please please please...”

“Go,” Dave says, but I’m already there. The pillow squishes between us as Daniel jumps at me, and then I’m rocking him, my hands on his back and in his hair and my voice in his ear, mumbling nonsense. He’s crying again, sobbing breathlessly against my chest.

“Don’t let go,” he says. “Stay, stay, stay, don’t let go anymore... Jack, please, promise, please...”

“You’ll be okay,” I tell him. It’s not what he asked to hear, but I won’t make a promise that I can’t keep. We can’t go on like this forever.

“Daniel?” Dave asks gently. “Do you feel like you can talk any more today?”

“Go away,” he says. “Just go away.”

Dave nods and gathers his notes. “I know you don’t like me right now, Daniel, but this was an important first step. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“No,” Daniel says. He hasn’t lifted his face from my shoulder since his ten seconds ended. “No more. Can’t do this.”

“You can.” Dave doesn’t wait for an agreement that isn’t coming. He just nods at me and leaves, affording me a glimpse of Carter and Teal’c hovering anxiously in the hallway. I wave them in, and they join me around Daniel. We do this group thing a lot when he’s really upset, like after one of his screaming nightmares. It seems to reassure him better than anything else.

“Jack, Sam, Teal’c,” he says. “Don’t let go. God, that was awful. I can’t do this, I can’t... not again...”

“It’s okay, Daniel,” I tell him numbly. I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen tomorrow, when the shrink comes back. It has to be uphill from here. Things can only get better, right?

~~~

Daniel spends the rest of the day quietly, his eyes often darting to the pillow, which has migrated back onto the bed. He seems to be mulling things over in his head, and his silence says a lot about how his thinking is going. He’s more prone to tears than usual, and for the first time, lacks an appetite at dinner. He only forces the food down to please the doc.

Afterwards, he’s curled on the bed beside Carter. She absently strokes his hair with one hand while she uses the touch pad on her laptop with the other. Usually he does some reading of his own after dinner, but tonight he’s just pressed close to her, staring at nothing, still crying a little. It’s a slow, steady trickle that he doesn’t seem to care about stopping.

Fraiser nods at me to follow her into the hall, and I give Daniel’s shoulder a squeeze before I go. His eyes flit to me and he smiles weakly, but the slow, silent crying never stops.

“I don’t want that shrink in here again,” I tell Fraiser as soon as we’re out of the room.

“Colonel--“

“No. I don’t want to hear it. You saw how he is! It’s like we just lost all the progress we’ve made with him.”

She sighs and leans against the wall, rubbing her forehead. “He’s depressed. Considering his situation, depression was inevitable. He needs the therapy more than ever, to help him through it.”

“Oh, so the therapy that sent him into the depression in the first place is going to help him out?” I ask, smacking my hand against the wall. “He was fine this morning!”

“No, Colonel, he was not fine this morning. He was in denial about just how not fine he was, and you and the rest of your team were only supporting that illusion. You keep telling him he’s okay, that everything is fine, and he believes you. Everything is not fine,” she says firmly. “He has a very long road ahead of him, and today, in taking the first step, I think he realized just how long the journey is going to be. That’s what is depressing him. He had a reality check.”

“Reality is overrated,” I say. It’s the only thing that came to mind.

Fraiser smiles tiredly. “Yes. But we all have to face it someday.”

I stare at the closed door for a long moment. “Can’t we get him out of here? He’s been locked in that room for weeks. I know moving him through the mountain is awkward, but it can’t be healthy for him to be stuck in that little room all the time.”

“You may be right,” she says thoughtfully. “And right now, he could really use a lift. Maybe a little later tonight, when the mountain is quiet and NORAD is down to the janitors and the night watch, we can slip him out. Some fresh air might just be the thing he needs to keep his spirits up.”

“We could look at the stars.”

She nods and pats my shoulder. “Yes. I’ll see about arranging a time where the exit route will be as empty as possible. Meanwhile, why don’t you go in there and see if you can get him to talk to you?”

Yeah, that’s going to happen.

~~~

“I feel like an idiot,” Daniel grumbles.

“Don’t worry about it,” I tell him. To be fair, I’m feeling pretty dumb myself. We’re shuffling down the hall in a kind of threesome, Daniel between Teal’c and I. Carter is taking the opportunity to get some actual work done in her lab, once we convinced her that all four of us doing this would be even more awkward. We’ve each got an arm around his waist, and his arms are slung around our shoulders. The halls are relatively empty, but we have passed a few Airmen and gotten some odd looks.

“God only knows what they must think,” Daniel says.

Teal’c and I exchange a quick look over his head and say nothing. Truth is, most of the mountain knows what happened to him by now, but I don’t think that would be very comforting for him.

“Limp.”

He stares at me incredulously. “What?”

“Limp. Act like you’re limping, and we’re supporting you. Then it won’t look so weird.”

Daniel rolls his eyes, but he cooperates, switching legs every so often. When we get to the elevator, he sighs and presses closer to me. He’s okay with only having an arm around him if it’s from both sides and if it’s only for a little while, but he really prefers full body contact.

“How’re you doing?” I ask him, rubbing his back a little.

“Get Teal’c too.”

Ah. So that’s how he’s doing. I nod at Teal’c and he slides closer, getting behind Daniel and holding both of us. Daniel presses his face into the hollow of my neck, and I can feel him crying a little more. He refused to talk about what was bothering him earlier. Not that I was surprised.

When the door opens for someone else to get on, we find ourselves staring down a couple Marines. They gape at us until Teal’c gives them his death look, and then they decide they didn’t really need this elevator after all.

Moving on.

The second we’re on the surface, Daniel forgets about pretending to limp and starts taking deep breaths, his eyes on the sky. It’s a gorgeous night, June in Colorado, and he’s so focused on that he doesn’t give the guard post a glance. We breeze on by, ignoring their confused stares, and head up the mountain a little.

“Nice night,” I say.

“Yeah.” He’s stopped crying, at least.

“Perhaps we should stop here,” Teal’c says when we reach a little clearing. He’s right--Daniel is flagging badly. He still gets tired really fast.

I slide down with my back against a wide tree, and Daniel moves with me. We’re almost like synchronized swimmers at this point, so used to moving in concert that it requires little thought. When he’s leaning back against my chest, our arms and legs woven together, he heaves a big sigh and lets his head fall back, watching the stars.

Teal’c, bless him, moves off to the side and starts patrolling the trees, giving us some privacy.

“Hey,” I murmur, squeezing him a little.

“Hey.” He turns to look at me, and leans our heads together for a moment. “Sorry,” he says. “I know I’ve been a pain in the ass.”

“You?”

He smiles. “Me. I just didn’t... I didn’t know it would be so hard.”

I’m rubbing my knuckles up and down the center of his chest, something he liked even before all this happened. “The not touching thing, right?” I ask.

“Yeah, that. Ever since I woke up in the infirmary, you’ve all been with me. Maybe I forgot a little bit how terrible it feels without that contact. Or maybe I thought it would have gotten better on its own.”

“And it didn’t.”

He shakes his head. “No. I don’t see how... what if it never gets better, Jack?”

“It will,” I tell him. “You’re too stubborn to give up.”

“But how long can we hole up in that little room before the rest of you start going nuts? Or for that matter, how long can Hammond keep the whole team offline before he decides it’s time to replace me and move on?”

Oh, Daniel. “That’ll never happen. You’re irreplaceable.”

“Nobody is irreplaceable, Jack. Whoever you get as your fourth might not be me, but he’ll be someone who can make it through the day without constant babysitting.”

“Never figured you to be one for self-pity, Jackson.”

Daniel jerks against me. “That’s not fair.”

I keep stroking his chest, and he relaxes a little. “I know it’s not fair,” I say. “None of this is fair. But if we’re going to get you back--and we want you back, Daniel--we can’t do it for you. You need to keep fighting.”

He’s quiet for a long time, and then: “It’s hard. It’s so hard.”

“Shhh.” I think he’s crying again, but this time it seems okay. The tears aren’t pointless anymore, if that makes sense.

“What’s it like?” I ask sometime later, when his breathing settles again.

“What?”

“When nobody is touching you. What’s that like?”

He shudders and burrows against me. “It’s... oh, God Jack. I can’t even begin to describe it.”

“Come on,” I tell him. “You’re the linguist. You always have the words.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“So you’d rather tell the shrink tomorrow?”

Daniel flinches. “He’s coming back? I have to do it again? Jack, I can’t do that, you have to tell them I can’t...”

“You said you couldn’t today, and you did,” I say. “Remember when you were going through the sarcophagus withdrawal, how you were so sure you couldn’t do it? You begged and screamed to be sent back to that planet, so you could get back in that box, and we wouldn’t let you. Remember how pissed off you got?”

“You’re saying I made it through that, and I can make it through this,” he says tiredly. “This is different.”

“How?”

“The sarcophagus was a physical addiction. This is all in my head, and it’s not just going to wear off with time.”

“You can beat it.”

He looks up at the stars for a long time, his fingers twitching nervously at my sleeves. “I’m not so sure,” he says faintly. “Maybe... maybe every time something happens, like the sarcophagus thing, or losing Sha’re, or being locked in that padded room, or the thing with Nem and his memory machine, or dying of radiation poisoning and doing the whole ascended thing... maybe all those things take a little something away. Maybe I don’t have enough left to fight this.”

I shiver and hold him tighter. I don’t like the way his voice sounds, like he’s already gone. “Maybe all those things make you stronger.”

Daniel laughs, short and bitter. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, is that it? What about what does kill you? How many times have I died, Jack? When I was in that... that place... so many times. So much darkness there. It’s still in me, you know? Still this dark place, this heavy, dark place that sucks away everything.”

“Daniel... stop it. You’re freaking me out.” I meant that to sound light and funny, but it falls flat.

“What do you expect, Jack?” he asks softly. “You think you can just give me a little pep talk and I’ll say ‘oh, okay then, I won’t give up and everything will be just fine.’ You think it’s that easy?”

“None of this is easy,” I snap. “You think I like this, Daniel? Do you know what it does to me every time you start crying over the smallest thing? Every time you beg us not to let go?” I close my eyes and press my mouth against his shoulder. “Every time we’re in the shower, and you’re afraid of touching me, and afraid of not touching me, and nothing I do is right... do you know what that does to me?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be this way.” And dammit, he sounds ready to cry again. It’s impossible to predict which way he’ll go next--his emotions are all over the place.

“I know, I know. I do love you, Daniel. Do you know that?”

“I know,” he whispers.

“Do you believe it?”

Quiet for a long moment, and then he nods. “I do,” he says. “I really do believe it. Despite how messed up I am.”

“Well, there you go then,” I say gruffly. Not crying here. One of us doing it is enough. “When that shrink makes you let go of everyone, hold onto that.”

“It’s like falling,” he says.

“Falling?”

“When I’m not touching anyone. It’s like falling and floating away and breaking into tiny pieces. It’s like the people around me are my skin, and without them, everything that’s inside me spills out on the ground and I can’t hold it in. It’s like being touched is an anchor to reality, to sanity, and without it I’m just... lost.”

“Oh.” What do I say to something like that?

“Yeah. Oh. I hate it, Jack.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. It seemed like the thing to say.”

He’s smiling a little bit. “You’re lost too, aren’t you? You don’t know how to deal with this any more than I do.”

“You know me, Daniel, I’m always lost.”

He runs a hand through my hair and says nothing. Even a linguist knows when words only get in the way.

~~~

“We agreed on five minutes today, right?”

Daniel takes a deep breath and nods slowly. “Five minutes,” he says. “Right.”

In the space of ten days, we’ve gone from ten seconds to five minutes. If this keeps up, he’ll be totally independent in, oh, about a hundred years. But still, not so long ago he was absolutely certain he couldn’t handle ten seconds, and now he can do that easily. He can get up and cross the room for a book or pen or whatever he needs and come back and sit beside one of us without having to drag someone along for the trip, and he can go to the bathroom by himself, which was really important to him. We’re moving slow, but at least we’re moving.

Dave nods and sets the little kitchen timer that he’s been bringing in. It saves Daniel from constantly asking how much time is left. “I hear you’re all set to move house today,” he says.

“Yeah. Can we just do this and talk later?”

“Want to get it over with?” I ask.

“Brilliant deduction, Jack.”

I just shrug and hold him a little tighter. He’s always snappish and tense before one of these separations, and especially clingy both before and after. I know he’s been looking forward to meeting that five minute goal, though, because we said he could come stay at my house if he could do it.

Fraiser and I argued over that one for a while. She’s technically in charge of his care, but we both know that physically, he was ready to be released a while ago. He’s on normal food now, still gaining weight steadily, and all his bloodwork has been consistently normal. My whole point was that his mental condition is not being helped by living in a concrete room so far underground.

“Colonel, you can’t take care of him alone,” she said. “Making him totally dependent on only one person isn’t healthy for either of you.”

“I won’t be alone. I have a guest room for Carter, Teal’c likes my couch, and Daniel--well, you know he needs to share with someone now, so he can share with me.”

“Since he needs to share,” she said dryly.

I refused to act embarrassed. “Yes. Exactly.”

I’m pretty sure she knows about us too, but she’s never brought it up and I’m not about to give anything away if I don’t have to.

“And General Hammond is all right with this?” she asked.

“Yep. He’s given us all some much deserved downtime. Teal’c hasn’t had a real vacation since he became a part of the SGC, and Carter can do a lot of her stuff via email. For that matter, so can I. Daniel’s job is supposed to be doing nothing but resting and recovering, but he can squeeze in research and translating at my place just as well as he can in the VIP suite. You know how important it is to him to keep working, to still be valuable to the SGC.”

She frowned and crossed her arms. “Colonel...”

“Doctor.” I dropped the casual grin and looked at her directly. “Daniel needs this. The first time he really opened up to me and talked a little about what’s going on inside his head was when we were on top of the mountain, under the stars. He needs the privacy and the space and to not feel confined. And frankly, the rest of us are getting sick of that room, too.”

Fraiser was still reluctant to let Daniel out of her reach on general principles, but she couldn’t deny the sense of what I was saying. We negotiated the terms--five minutes of independence before she would consider him ready. Basically, it means the five minutes it would take to walk out of the mountain and get into a car without touching anyone.

We’ve been working our way up to it, and I think it’s really helped him to have a solid goal that he can actually reach. Dave is very big on goals. He keeps reminding Daniel to see the big picture, and to remember what he’s working toward.

So. Right now, today, he’s going for five minutes. Yesterday was four and a half, the day before was four-fifteen. Each time, the jump gets a little longer. Daniel constantly argues that we’re pushing him too fast, but at night, when the dark makes him a little more open, he asks me to keep pushing. He says he’s afraid he’s not strong enough to push himself on this.

After watching him fight this thing for nearly a month, I tell him that he’s strong enough for anything.

“All right,” Dave says. “Ready?”

Daniel gives his customary answer. “No.”

I find myself actually smiling at Dave. It’s become almost a joke between us. He ignores Daniel’s ‘no’ and plows right ahead, pressing the button on the timer. “Now,” he says, and I pull back fast.

Daniel hunches over and starts to pace, chewing nervously on his thumbnail. Every time he crosses over to the couch, he grabs it and hangs on for a few seconds, his eyes closed and his breathing fiercely controlled. We gave up on the pillow thing pretty quickly, because he said it wasn’t solid enough. He needed an anchor.

“Doing great, Daniel,” I say.

“Shut up, Jack.”

I smile again. He’s always like this during a session, but angry and tense is far better than panicked and begging for help. He’s fighting it, and he’s slowly gaining ground.

“Just think,” Dave says, “this time tomorrow you’ll be stretched out in the Colonel’s back yard, working on your tan.”

“Which is the only reason I’m doing this,” Daniel growls.

“It’s for your own good,” I call. He gives me a deadly look over the rims of his glasses, and instead of grabbing the couch every time he goes by, he kicks it.

“Quit trying to distract me.”

“Why? Is it working?”

“When my five minutes are up, Jack, I’m going to strangle you.”

I just laugh. The truth is, when his five minutes are up, he’s going to cling and shake for a while, and I’m going to do my level best to be reassuring. When he’s trying to make it through the separation time, though, it’s best to keep needling him. If he’s angry, he forgets to be scared.

“How much longer?” he asks, running his hands through his hair. It’s almost back to its old length now, and with the weight he’s been regaining, he looks close to himself again.

“You can see the clock,” Dave says patiently.

“You could just tell me.”

“Does having someone speak to you make you feel more connected? Less insecure and isolated?”

Daniel narrows his eyes. “Can’t you ever stop being a psychiatrist?”

“’Fraid not,” Dave says cheerfully. “It’s in the blood, I think.”

“One more minute,” Daniel says, looking at the clock. “See, if you had just said that in the first place, we could have avoided this whole thing.”

“It wasn’t one minute when you originally asked me.”

Daniel growls and kicks the couch again. I stuff my hands in my pockets and watch him. The shakes are setting in now, making his strides uneven and rough; his eyes are starting to get that panicky glaze, rolling like those of a frightened animal. His pacing takes him closer to me and I draw back. If he gets too close, he’ll lunge for me. We learned that on his second day of therapy.

“Come on,” he mutters. “Come on, come on... please... hurry UP, dammit! Come on, come on...”

“Almost there, Daniel, you’re doing great.”

He shoots me another poison look, but the fear is edging out the anger now. “Easy for you to say,” he snarls.

I know better than to respond to that.

“Twenty more seconds,” Dave says. “Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen...”

“You have some kind of obsession with counting,” Daniel says. But that doesn’t stop him from taking up the count. “Fourteen, thirteen, twelve... God, Jack, get over here, I want you to be ready. Seven, six, five, four, come on come oncomeoncomeon...”

The timer goes ‘bing!’ and Daniel leaps at me, all thin, clinging arms and trembling knees. I steer him over to the couch before we both fall down and he huddles against me, shaking and sniffling. “Way to go,” I murmur into his hair. “You did it. We’re going home.”

I can feel him nod, but he doesn’t say anything just yet. He’s not much for talking right after these things.

“Well done, Daniel,” Dave says, busily packing up his timer and notes. The session always ends with the separation drill--we do the talking thing first. Daniel has been able to talk a bit about what he remembers and how he feels, although I notice he never mentions anything about being raped. Guess that’s still an off limits area.

“Whatever,” Daniel mumbles. Dave is never his favorite person right after a session.

“You also did well, Colonel O’Neill.”

I give him an appraising look. Ever since that first day we’ve met, he’s taken me seriously about calling me Colonel. He pushes Daniel, pries and cajoles and makes him talk about things that are painful for him, but the results speak for themselves. Daniel just did five minutes, and yeah, he’s rattled, but he’ll be calm again pretty soon. I have to wonder how much progress he would have made if we did this my way.

“I guess maybe you can call me Jack,” I say casually.

Dave smiles a small, knowing, psychiatrist smile. “Okay,” he says. “Jack. I’ll be by your house at about ten for tomorrow’s session, all right?”

“Fine.”

He nods and leaves, and Carter zips in before the door can close again. Teal’c is doing a little of whatever he does around here when we’re not off-world, but Carter is still hovering quite a bit. She’s never been happy about being excluded from his therapy sessions, but Daniel is embarrassed enough to have me there. He doesn’t need a bigger audience.

“Sam,” he says, holding an arm out, and she joins us on the couch.

“Did you make it?”

“He sure did,” I answer when he just pulls us both closer and shivers. “Five minutes, did it like a pro. We’re getting the hell out of here.”

Carter beams and kisses the top of his head. “That’s great, Daniel! I knew you could do it.”

He slowly lifts his head, wiping his eyes on my shoulder and smiling. “Thanks,” he says. “I think I knew it, too.”

Time to go home.

~~~

“So you feel that moving out of the mountain and into Jack’s home has really helped your recovery?”

Daniel nods, his hand idly stroking my side, his head lolled against my shoulder. “Yeah. It just... I don’t know how to explain it. It made what they told me... not real.”

Dave glances at his notepad and scribbles something. He’s left-handed--I just saw that. “You’ve been here for nearly a month, right?”

“Twenty-eight days,” I say. I love the irony of that--twenty-eight days is a standard stint in a rehab center, and Daniel is trying to kick a kind of addiction.

“And you feel ready to return to full duty.”

Daniel hesitates, looking down at his leg, pressed close to mine. “Well... with some qualifications,” he says. “I’m fairly independent now, but I still feel... edgy without some kind of contact. Being touched makes me much more comfortable, so if I have a choice, I stick close to Jack, or Sam or Teal’c, as the case may be. But I can handle being alone.”

“For how long?”

“Depends,” he hedges. “When I’m home, I generally keep light contact every few minutes, just because I can and because it’s comfortable, but when Jack goes to the mountain for work and I’m in his office, I can wait a while.”

“Hmm.” Dave frowns at his notes again. “So you haven’t actually tested your limits on this. Once our time trials reached past an hour, you took over your own recovery in that regard, but I’m not hearing a definite number here.”

Daniel shifts uncomfortably and his arm tightens around my waist. “I didn’t need to force myself to wait until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Being here, in the real world, where it’s so... so normal has just...”

“Just what?” Dave asks.

“When I was there, what they taught me was real,” Daniel blurts out, speaking to the floor between his feet. “That place was the whole world, and their rules were set in stone. Be touched by a friend, or be... be hurt. I spent six weeks learning that rule, living by it, and it sank in pretty good. But I spent a lifetime before that learning to take care of myself, learning that I can be on my own without having to be afraid. Now that I’m back here, in a familiar place, the old learning is taking over.”

“I see,” Dave says slowly. “That’s actually a very good description of trauma recovery. The deeper, older habits of a lifetime overcome the short term extreme effects of torture and brainwashing. Being in a familiar environment helps to drive home the fact that this is the reality.”

“Right,” Daniel replies. “Exactly.”

“In fact, you said it so perfectly that it could have come out of a textbook on psychology.”

Daniel stiffens. “What?”

Dave it watching him with those endlessly cheerful eyes of his, always calm, always focused. “The truth, Daniel. Did you maybe have a little help with your explanation?”

“I don’t think I like what you’re implying,” Daniel says coldly.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Hey now, wait a minute,” I interrupt. “You think Daniel would deliberately look up the answers that you want to hear just so he could go back to active duty?”

Dave shakes his head, smiling gently. “Not in an attempt to be deceptive, exactly. But he may be so eager to return to what he perceives as ‘normal’ that he’s smudging the details a bit. Telling me--and himself--that he really is ready when in fact, he isn’t.”

“And you just know that somehow,” Daniel drawls. “When you were getting your psychology degree, you minored in telepathy, is that it?”

“Ask yourself this, Daniel. What if I clear you for full duty, not just the on-world desk stuff you’re doing now, and you become separated from your team during a mission? Let’s say they all get captured and it’s up to you to go for help, or to rescue them, but you’re so panicked at being alone that you can’t do either.”

Daniel scowls. “That won’t happen. I’m not claiming that being without contact is easy for me, but I can work with it.”

“Can you?” Dave asks sharply. “Can you function well enough when lives depend on it? Have you fully tested your abilities by spending hours, perhaps days without being touched? Because until you try it, and try it under difficult circumstances, under stress, you can’t be sure. It’s one thing to work in Jack’s office for hours without touching him, because he’s right there, within reach, and you’re in a safe and familiar environment. In the field, you may be injured, lost, worried for your friends--can you really handle the added stress of needing to be touched on top of all that?”

“Can’t you ever quit?” Daniel snaps. “Can’t you ever just believe me when I say I’m fine? God, you never stop pushing! You’re just... just relentless!”

Dave sighs. “For what it’s worth, Daniel, I am sorry. I know you want so badly to be well again, to just leave this whole mess behind and go on with your life. But do you want it this way? Do you really want me to sign off on this, knowing you’re not ready, when it could put you and your team in danger?”

“I am ready!” Daniel stands abruptly, jerking away from me and looming over Dave, his hands fisted at his sides. Dave just looks up at him mildly, completely unconcerned, which only serves to make Daniel angrier.

“Daniel...”

“Shut up, Jack,” he tosses over his shoulder.

“What are you going to do?” Dave asks softly. “What’s your instinct right now, Daniel? Do you want to hit me? Or do you want to sit back down and let Jack hold you until you feel calmer? And is either an appropriate response in a field situation? Ask yourself how you can control your emotions out there, when you’re about to lose it in your own home.”

Daniel makes a stifled scream of rage and whirls, stalking to the basement door and slamming it behind him. I had a punching bag installed down there shortly after he moved in. I happen to like my furniture the way it is--in one piece.

We stare at the closed door for a long moment, and then I lean back on the couch and run a hand over my face. “That went well.”

Dave laughs. “Actually, it did. Once he’s worked out the anger, he’ll realize that he truly isn’t ready for full field duty.”

I raise an eyebrow. “You think he’ll just accept that?”

“The truth is, he may never be ready,” Dave says. “Like it or not, Daniel has been permanently altered by his experiences. He’s reached a high-functioning level, where he can live and work and have an acceptable degree of independence, but this may be as good as it gets.”

“I don’t believe that. You’re underestimating him, which is something a lot of people do. You see this bookish genius, this skinny guy with glasses, and you don’t realize just how strong he really is. Daniel can beat this.”

“Really.” Dave tilts his head and gives me that piercing I-see-everything look. “I only see him for a little while each day. You tell me--how is he doing?”

“Fine.” I look at my hands. “Fine. Really fine. I mean... yeah, he still has some issues, but after what happened, how could he not? But he’s mostly fine. Really.”

“I see,” Dave says, and falls quiet.

He’s still staring at me with that tiny, knowing smile. “He is,” I insist. “He’s so much better. He gets himself ready in the mornings, he works all day in my office or in Carter’s lab with only occasional touches to keep him grounded, he can handle going out for groceries or to see a movie or for dinner or whatever without any problems.”

“And without any touches?”

“Well... yeah. Mostly. Just a little bit, here and there. He doesn’t need to be held all the time anymore, though. I mean, hell, right now he’s down in the basement, using the punching bag, all alone, and he’s fine with it. He’ll probably be down there for half an hour, maybe more. He’s come so far...”

“Nobody is denying that, Jack,” Dave says, “but he’s not fully recovered yet. I notice you mentioned him getting himself ready in the morning. I assume that means showering alone?”

I blink and slide my eyes to one side. “Of course. Why would he share if he didn’t have to?”

Dave’s smile tugs up a bit at the corners. “I won’t ask you that, Colonel, so you don’t have to tell me.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I say calmly.

“Of course you aren’t. So let’s just say, hypothetically, that Daniel was in a relationship with someone before he was captured. And let’s say that this someone was available to him now. Do you think he’s able to continue their relationship the way it was before?”

“Uh-huh... by ‘the way it was before’ you mean...”

“Sex,” he says bluntly. “If he’s as fine as you both insist, I assume he’s able to resume normal relations?”

I narrow my eyes. “And of course, that’s such an important part of field duty that we need to make sure he’s capable of it before you can clear him.”

“It’s an important part of his mental and emotional health,” Dave says patiently. “I’m trying to treat the whole person, not just Daniel the soldier or Daniel the archeologist.”

“He’s not a soldier.”

“I’ve read your mission files, Jack. I beg to differ.”

“Beg all you want.”

Dave sighs and closes his notebook. “I think we’re done for today.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I think we are.” Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

He stands and pauses by the front door, looking at me steadily. “He’s not ready, Jack, and you know it. More importantly, he knows it. This is where his recovery gets hard. You’ve made the big, dramatic improvements already--now you’re down to the nitty gritty. A lot of work for little appreciable gain. This is not the time to tell him and yourself that everything is fine, and sweep his problems under the rug, because they’ll come out to bite you on the ass when you least expect it.”

I glare at him, but I can’t come up with a response to that. I really hate people who are always right, but I have to admit that Dave knows what he’s talking about.

When he’s gone, I lean back on the couch and close my eyes. I can hear the muted sounds of repeated, dull thuds as Daniel punches the heavy bag, and his muffled curses. He tends to swear in other languages, and the occasional bits that I pick up--usually in Arabic--are astonishingly filthy. It’s been hell on my mental image of him as this sweet, innocent kid who only knows about old rocks and dead languages.

He really is doing better. When we brought him home, there was no way he could have been down there, working off his anger, without someone close by to hold him. It’s been nothing but steady improvement, with gained confidence and independence every day, and maybe we got a little complacent. Maybe we just assumed everything would go back to normal, given enough time.

I do have to face that he isn’t completely okay. For one thing, he freezes up if I touch him in a remotely sexual way. Even a back rub makes him nervous. The separate showers thing was a major goal for him, and even when he could only take five minute showers and yank his clothes on while he was still wet just so he could jump into my arms that much sooner, he still insisted on doing it alone.

We used to enjoy showering together. I miss it. I miss Daniel.

He has nightmares. Hell, he can’t even fall asleep if I’m not in bed with him, holding him close. But we both have to be wearing pajamas--even bare chests mean too much skin touching for him. With all the right conditions, safely dressed and held tight in the security of our own room, he still has screaming nightmares. He still cries sometimes for no reason at all, and he still has a volatile temper that can flare up over nothing.

He’s not okay. But he’s so much better that it’s easy to ignore the little things. When Carter and Teal’c moved out and it was just us, having beer and pizza and arguing over what to watch on TV, I could pretend things were normal again. He would get up and go into the kitchen for a drink, or go to the bathroom, and sink back down beside me with complete calm. Sure, he’d cuddle close again, but it wasn’t like he was desperate for it.

When we started going in to work together, it was difficult at first. He could make it to my office by simply walking by my side, letting our arms brush occasionally, but working alone in his own office was out of the question. Still is, actually. If I can’t be in the office all day, he goes to Carter’s lab, or he hangs out with Teal’c. In the beginning, he had to get a hug or something similar several times in an hour, but now he can go all day with only little touches here and there. A squeezed hand, a pat on the back, maybe I ruffle his hair or let our shoulders lean together. Little things. Pleasant, really.

If I didn’t know that he’d eventually fall apart and panic without those little touches, it would be nice.

“Hey.”

I jump and twist to look at him. “Hey. Didn’t hear you come back up.”

“Yeah.” He’s sweaty, red-faced and trembling, his muscles still twitching from the workout. His hair, longer now than it was before his capture, sticks out in damp, unruly spikes.

“Come here,” I say, and open my arms. Daniel sinks into me easily, his slim frame still not quite what it was, but he’s getting there. For a few minutes, he just closes his eyes and breathes, his eyelashes a soft, intimate touch against my throat.

“Sorry I lost it,” he says.

“Don’t be. I wanted to smack him one myself.”

He laughs softly. “Yeah.” A deep sigh, and then he pulls back to face me. “He’s right, you know. About not being ready.”

“I know.”

Daniel searches my face for a long moment, and then he brings one hand up and traces his fingertips lightly over my mouth. I can taste a hint of the leather he was punching, and the rest is salt and coffee and skin. Daniel-taste. I’d almost forgotten it.

“I’m sorry about this, too,” he says.

I blink slowly, rubbing my cheek against his hand before he withdraws it completely. “What do you mean?”

He smiles sadly. “You know what I mean. You’ve been very patient, Jack. I know you want to... to be like we were before.”

“You know, Dave mentioned that.”

Daniel draws himself in, like his skin is a cloak he can hide behind. “What did he say?”

“He asked if you had been able to... you know. Have sex.”

“Why would he ask you? He doesn’t know about us.”

I smile and ruffle his hair, something which Daniel tolerates with his usual exasperated grace. “He knows. I acted like there wasn’t anything, of course, but he knows.”

Daniel grimaces. “Peachy.”

“Hey! Quit stepping on my lines.”

He laughs, and I laugh, and he leans against me again, his fingers tracing lightly over my arm. The skin there pebbles into goose bumps, all the fine hairs standing on end, but he pretends not to notice.

“I am trying to... to be okay with that stuff,” he says softly.

“No hurry, Daniel. If you’re not comfortable with the physical stuff, I can live with that. I don’t want you doing anything that you don’t feel good about.”

He smiles and leans close to me, our mouths a breath apart. “I do love you, Jack,” he says. He veers to the side at the last minute and kisses my cheek, light and fleeting. “So much,” he whispers. “Thank you so much.”

“For what?” I ask, trying to keep my voice even.

“For not leaving. I know I haven’t been easy to live with.”

“Hey,” I say gruffly. “Better or worse, and all that.”

Daniel blinks at me comically, his eyebrows moving gymnastically. “We’re not married.”

“Close enough, Danny. Close enough.”

His face crumples, and then he’s sniffling into my shirt. “See what you made me do?” he chokes out. “Why’d you have to be so nice?”

“I’m so sorry, Doctor Jackson,” I growl. “In the future I’ll try to be a bastard.”

“You better.”

I smile and kiss his forehead, and I feel him smile against my chest, even if he is still crying. My Daniel. Not giving up on you, and not giving up on us, either.

~~~

“Leave it off.”

I pause with my tee shirt in my hands. Daniel is sitting in the bed, blankets to his waist, wearing his usual pajama bottoms and tee. I was just getting ready to join him for the night. “Daniel?”

“The shirt,” he says. “Leave it off.”

I stare at the plain white cotton in front of me. “Um... are you...?”

“I want to try this.” He fumbles uncertainly with the hem of his shirt, and then yanks it over his head and tosses it across the room in one quick movement, like ripping off a band-aid. Hurts less if you do it fast. He’s spent a lot of time outside since we brought him out of the mountain, and his skin is golden from the summer sun. It looks like honey in the lamplight, smooth and perfect, and it almost seems wrong that he doesn’t have any scars from his time as a prisoner.

“Well.” I let the shirt dangle from my fingertips, one sleeve dragging along the floor as I take a couple steps toward him. “If you’re sure...”

“Just get in here before I lose my nerve.”

I know an order when I hear one. I drop the shirt and climb in, scooting close but letting him set the pace as far as touching goes. His face is tense, set, his jaw sticking out in that stubborn I’m-gonna-do-this look. I can’t see his ribs anymore--they’re sheathed in the new muscle that he’s been working so hard on.

“Jack,” he says softly. He presses a hand against the center of my chest, palm flat and fingers trembling.

“Yeah,” I say. I don’t know what he wants to hear.

He’s fascinated by the skin that peeks out from beneath his spread fingers. He keeps sliding his hand back and forth in tiny little increments, his head tilted to one side, the tip of his tongue poking out and barely visible--dark pink over the dusky mauve of his lips. “Jack,” he says again. “Oh, Jack.”

“It’s okay, Daniel.” It isn’t, of course. I can feel him shaking, the fine tremors communicating their way down his arm and through his palm onto my chest. But it’s what you say. It’s the mantra. It’s okay, it’s all right, you’re gonna be fine.

“They had this thing,” he says suddenly. “Like a kind of modified hand device, but it wasn’t meant to cause pain. Or it was, but in a roundabout way.”

“Oh...?”

“It, uh...” He licks his lips nervously, and I can feel the shaking get a little worse. “It made me... oh God, Jack, it made me so...”

I cover his hand with my own, trying to still the tremors. “You don’t have to tell me,” I say gently. “It’s okay.”

“I do have to tell you.” He’s got that trapped animal look back in his eyes, but when Daniel sets out to do something, he damn well does it, or kills himself trying.

“Okay. Tell me.”

“It made me... got me... you know. So I wanted them to, ah... do things. So I needed them to... to finish it. Finish me.”

“Uh-huh...” I’m getting some bad ideas of what he means, but nothing concrete.

He takes a deep, wavering breath and closes his eyes. “The goa’uld in charge--he never did have a name--would put it on and I’d just know what was coming. I hated that thing more than anything else. The pain sticks were bad, but eventually they’d just knock me out, and the hand device was bad, but it would just kill me if they used it often enough. There was a thing with needles that was really bad, because they could go on and on and I would just stay awake for all of it, not much blood loss with needles you know, but if you stick them in the right places it hurts so much... God, so much...”

“Daniel.” I’ve got my eyes closed now, too. I want to hold him, to just yank him close and feel his skin, his perfect unmarked skin, to feel his breathing and his heartbeat. God, Daniel. I knew, but I didn’t know. Not the details. Not the sharp, merciless reality of it.

“That stuff...” He pauses and I hear him swallow, and then he leans forward carefully, his forehead resting against my shoulder and his hand still on my chest, but not touching me anywhere else. “All that stuff was bad, but the other thing, the thing that could actually control my body... God, that was so much worse. It was the only time I didn’t want the others there--SG-5--because I was so ashamed of what it made me do.”

“Wasn’t your fault, Daniel. None of it was your fault. Whatever that thing did do you, you couldn’t help it.”

His sigh sends a gust of warm air along the skin of my chest, and I grit my teeth. Now is not the time to get turned on.

“I know that,” he says tiredly. “Don’t you think I know that? I told myself that a million times. ‘Not your fault,’ I would say. They’d bring that thing out and turn it on, wave it over me... touch me... and I’d get so hard and I’d think over and over ‘not your fault, it’s designed to do that, you can’t help it, not your fault.’ I just kept repeating it, but I think I stopped listening after a while. I stopped taking my own word as something that could be trusted around the time that I begged them to fuck me. Tends to erode the old credibility, you know?”

“God, Daniel.” My voice sounds gut punched. I bring a hand up to his hair and stroke it, trying to swallow past the stone in my throat.

“It hurt,” he says. “It hurt so much, when they’d just keep me on the edge, waving that damn thing over me for hours, Jack. Until I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I’d beg them to finish it, one way or another. The goa’uld would say, ‘do you want this?’ and he’d have the Jaffa put something in me--a finger or two, or one of their little toys--and he’d ask if that was what I wanted. And God, I wanted to say no. I tried to say no. But he just kept at me with that thing, that golden, glowing thing and I lost it. I begged for it. For their mouths or their hands or their dicks. Anything, anything to make it stop. So I guess Dave was wrong after all.” He laughs bitterly, a dry snap of sound that makes me shiver. “I wasn’t raped,” he says. “I literally asked for it.”

“Daniel.” God, I don’t even know where to start. “Daniel, no. Alien technology and all that. What they did to you was just as much a rape as what Hathor did.”

“I never begged Hathor. I never said yes. Consent, right? That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s the legal definition of rape. ‘To have carnal knowledge of a person forcibly and without consent.’ But they didn’t force me, didn’t hold me down or tie me up, and I gave consent. I said yes. Hell, Jack, I screamed it.”

“You wanted to say no.”

“But I didn’t.”

“Daniel...” I turn my head to press my lips against his hair. I can’t... I don’t know what to say. I want to fix this so bad, to make him better, make him my Daniel again, but I just don’t know how. “Oh, Daniel,” I whisper. “It’s okay.”

Not because it is, but because that’s what you say. The magic words that don’t fix anything.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “God, Jack, I’m so sorry. I love you... and I let them... I wanted them to...”

“No!” Daniel, no, no, no... “You didn’t want them. You wanted the pain to stop, and they had the only means to make that happen. If they didn’t have that thing that made you... that affected your body, you never would have done it willingly. Think about this. When Teal’c betrayed us to Apophis, was that his fault?”

“He was brainwashed,” Daniel says.

“Apophis used a sarcophagus to screw with his head. Alien technology, goa’uld technology, to make him do something that Teal’c would never do. And what about when Carter had that thing in her? That computer thing that was trying to kill us all. I ended up having to zat her twice to make her stop.”

“That wasn’t her fault. She was taken over.”

“Like a host?” I ask quietly. “Like when Sha’re nearly killed you with the ribbon device?”

Daniel stiffens, his breath catching in his chest. “That wasn’t Sha’re. That was Amaunet controlling her.”

“In that prison, that wasn’t you. That was the goa’uld controlling you.”

He’s quiet for a long moment. “But... but... I wasn’t a host.”

“So he controlled you from the outside. When Sha’re was a host, and she slept with Apophis, was that rape, Daniel? Was she raped, even though the goa’uld inside her made her say yes? Made her consent?”

“Jack...” My name sounds like a sob in his throat. “Please...”

“Remember when you were on Abydos and you saw her, pregnant with his child? Remember how it tore you up? You told me that you hated what had been done to her, that you couldn’t protect her from being raped. That’s what you called it, Daniel. You said he raped her. And if you admit that it happened to her, you have to admit that it was the same with you.”

He’s shaking his head back and forth, trembling violently now. “I said yes,” he moans. “I let them... I begged for it...”

“They made you,” I tell him. “They controlled you. Daniel, it wasn’t your fault, any more than it was Sha’re’s fault.”

“I’m so sorry, Jack,” he whispers. “God, I’m so sorry... I didn’t want to...”

He’s not hearing me. “Daniel. Daniel! Listen to me.” I lift his chin, forcing him to meet my eyes. “Did you blame Sha’re? Were you angry with her for sleeping with someone else? Did you feel betrayed?”

“What?” His eyes widen, shocked. “No! Of course not. That... that thing inside her made her do it. It wasn’t her fault.”

I hold his eyes, hold his face, making him see me. Making him hear me. “I don’t blame you, Daniel. That thing that the goa’uld used made you do it. It wasn’t your fault.”

He opens his mouth, shuts it again, and his jaw begins to quiver. “Jack,” he wails. “Oh, Jack...” And then he crumples against me, crying so hard that it’s almost silent, his voice unequal to the task of expressing so much pain. I hold him and rock him and murmur the same old words, “It’s okay, Daniel. It’s all right, you’re gonna be okay. I love you. I forgive you, it wasn’t your fault, it’s okay.”

We keep tissues by the bed because he cries a lot after his nightmares. Tonight, it looks like we’re both going to need them.

Daniel eventually cries himself to sleep, his breath catching and his chest jerking against mine every so often for a long time, even after he finally stops crying, exhausted. I hold him and watch him sleep, my fingers tracing the lines of his face, the curve of his back, over and over. My Daniel. God, what did they do to you?

~~~

Daniel can’t sit still. He’s supposed to be doing whatever he does with those little statue things that SG-7 brought back, but as far as I can tell, he’s not accomplishing much. He keeps closing his eyes and tilting back in his chair, blowing air out through pursed lips and tugging fretfully at his hair. Then he’ll shake himself a little and try to force a focus on his books and pictures and notes, but a few minutes later, the cycle starts over again.

“Daniel?”

His lips tighten, and he tilts forward, his feet hitting the floor hard. “Jack.”

“You okay?”

“Sure.”

Right. Tell me another one. “It’s just that you seem a little...”

“I’m fine, Jack.”

Uh-huh. I shrug elaborately and turn back to the SGC guard duty roster that I’m supposed to be going over. These things have been checked and re-checked by the time they get to me, but as the base 2IC, I have to sign off on them and I’m just paranoid enough to not sign anything without reading it fully. Behind me, Daniel rattles the statue things around a bit and takes another deep breath.

“Been a while, has it?” I ask, not looking up from my desk.

He pauses, and I hear his teeth click together a few times--a nervous habit he’s picked up lately. “A while?”

“Since you touched me. Since you touched anyone. A while, Daniel, and it’s obviously messing with you. Why didn’t you say something?”

He sighs, and I look at him over my shoulder. “I’m trying to do something,” he says. “I haven’t really... I just assumed that once I could do an hour, I had it beat. I’ve been getting better with... you know, the other stuff.”

Which is true. The nightmares still happen, but they’re not every night, and he seems resigned to them the same way he was resigned to the unpredictable crying jags in the beginning. Those are almost completely gone, as well as the sudden rages, although he can still have either if he’s provoked or stressed. His hair is back to the old, short-but-slightly-messy look he had before, and he’s rebuilt his body to a slimmer, more streamlined version of his old self. Nearly four months since his return, and from the outside looking in, he seems normal.

Except that after a whole morning not being touched, he’s antsy and irritable. And of course, there’s the little matter of our sex life, or lack thereof.

“Daniel.” I shake my head and scoot my chair over beside his, reaching a hand to stroke through his hair. He usually likes that--it’s safe and comforting and they never touched him that way, so it doesn’t bring up any bad memories, but this time he pulls back before I can make contact.

“Don’t,” he says. “I want to see how long I can do this. How long I can hold out and still get work done.”

“You’re getting things done?”

He scowls at me. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

I raise my hands and lean back, trying to look apologetic. “Hey, now, you know that’s not what I meant. It just seems like you’re a bit distracted.”

“Yeah.” He licks his lips and his eyes keep getting caught on my hand. He’s leaning forward slightly, obviously wanting the touch even if he’s trying not to. “I have to push it, though,” he says. “I have to keep stretching it until I don’t need it anymore. It’s the only way Dave will clear me for full field duty.”

He doesn’t say anything about the other condition that Dave has--that he at least talk about the rape, and be willing to continue therapy for it. He hasn’t talked about it with Dave or me since that one night, and we’re back to sleeping with shirts and pajama bottoms. I haven’t pushed him, and I’m starting to wonder if he wants me to. If he wants to move forward, and he just needs a little nudge to get started.

“I thought you were happy with doing translation work here at the base.”

Daniel shakes his head and edges his chair away from me, like having me close is too much of a temptation. “It’s driving me nuts. All those years at school, I did this kind of thing, working on artifacts, little leftover pieces, but now that I know what’s out there... Jack, I just can’t go back. There are whole living civilizations, people on other worlds living the way people did on Earth thousands of years ago, and it’s right there, where I can touch it and speak to them and actually hear the language...” His voice is getting thick and he pauses, clearing his throat. “I can’t be satisfied with sitting at home and playing with what other teams bring me, not anymore.”

Oh, Daniel. Why didn’t you say something if you were so unhappy? “I didn’t know that,” I say softly. “Actually, I thought you were getting tired of SG-1, of first contact and always fighting. You were always going off with other teams...”

He narrows his eyes, his arms folded tight across his chest. “Like I went off with SG-5? So it’s my own fault I can’t go with anyone now, and I should quit whining about it?”

“Dammit, Daniel, stop that. You know that’s not what I meant.”

He glares at me for a long moment, and then he closes his eyes and forces a long, slow breath. “I know,” he says. “Sorry. I’m just... I hate this. I hate knowing that because of me, SG-1 is out of commission for who knows how long. Sam and Teal’c get tacked on to other teams temporarily, and you, Jack... I feel like I’ve cut off your wings.”

“Daniel...” I catch myself reaching out to him again and pull my hand back, gritting my teeth. “I never blamed you for a second, don’t you know that? I...” I lower my voice and look around furtively, and then say, “I love you. I want to stay with you, to help you heal. You didn’t force me to do anything--I made a choice.”

“And you never once resented me?” he asks skeptically. “You haven’t been off-world since I got back, you spend your days doing paperwork and you’re telling me you never resented that? Never wished I would just get better so we could be SG-1 again?”

“I’m not saying I’m happy with the way things are, Daniel,” I say, “but I don’t blame you for it. I do wish you were fully recovered, for you and for the rest of us, but you’ve come so far... I’m willing to be patient.”

He smiles, but it’s sad, and his eyes are so old. “Everybody has a limit, Jack. Patience doesn’t last forever, and I guess... I guess I’m just scared that sooner or later, people are going to stop being patient. The general is going to replace me and SG-1 will carry on and I’ll just sit in this office, looking at pictures of other planets and going down to the infirmary to beg Janet for a hug when I can’t take it anymore.”

“Oh, Daniel.” That’s it. I can’t hear him say something like that and not touch him. “Come here,” I say, and he comes willingly, leaning out of his chair to rest his forehead against my shoulder. I can feel him shaking, and my hand goes to his hair, where it wanted to be all along.

“That’s why I have to push,” he says. He’s rubbing his cheekbone along my shirt collar like a cat, and his voice already sounds calmer. “I can’t settle for the way things are, Jack, because the way things are just isn’t good enough. Not when I know how much better they could be.”

I smooth his hair back and press a kiss against his temple. “You mean trying to overcome the touching thing, or...?”

“The other thing too.”

“Ah.”

He leans on me for what seems like a long time, and then he takes a deep breath and pulls back. I’m surprised to see that his face is still dry. Maybe he’s all cried out.

“That’s it for today,” he says. “Make me wait until we get home before you touch me again.”

It’s not quite noon yet, and Daniel has been known to work far past five. “Are you sure?” I ask. “That’s quite a stretch.”

“That’s the point.”

“Okay.” I start to turn back to my desk, but he holds a hand up, waving his finger at me.

“Jack,” he says. “I meant it about making me do it. Even if I change my mind later, you need to tell me no. I need to borrow a little willpower from you for this, okay?”

I raise my eyebrows at him, but he’s perfectly serious, his eyes steady on mine, his chin lifted. ‘Don’t make me beg,’ his look says, and I won’t. But I can feel a headache starting at the base of my skull already. This promises to be a long day.

~~~

“No, really, Jack, it’s been long enough.”

“Daniel...”

“I know I said to make me wait, but I hadn’t thought it through,” he says earnestly. He’s on one side of my desk, I’m on the other. He hasn’t actually resorted to chasing me around the office yet, but I’m thinking that has to be the next step.

“You sounded pretty sure to me,” I say, keeping my eyes on his midsection. First thing they teach you in hockey--you can fake with your head or your feet, but the gut always shows you which way the other guy is really going to go.

“Jack. You’re not listening. What was the most I did before, an hour? It’s been nearly five. Doesn’t that seem like enough stretching for one day?”

“We could go home early,” I offer.

He shakes his head. “I need to finish this. I have to give a briefing on it first thing in the morning.”

“Then you better get on it.”

Daniel raps his knuckles rapidly on the desk in front of him, and then begins to sidle to the left. I follow suit, keeping the big desk solidly between us. He rolls his eyes. “Jack, I’m not going to jump you.”

“Of course not.”

“I’m just having a little trouble concentrating.”

“I can see that.”

“All I want is one little touch, so I can think clearly again and get this finished.”

“Finish it at home.”

“I don’t have the necessary references at home.”

“So finish it here.”

Daniel abruptly drops the calm act and slaps both palms down on the desk, leaning across it and glaring at me. “I can’t!” he says. “Is that what you want to hear? Fine, I admit it, I can’t. I look at my books and the words don’t make any sense--they’re just meaningless squiggles. I’m trying to type and my hands are shaking so badly I’m reduced to hunt-and-peck, which means the report will take me about ten years to write. I thought I could do it, Jack, but I can’t.”

Well, crap. He was pretty insistent about me making him wait, but I didn’t count on this. If I can’t touch him until we go home, and he can’t go home until he finishes, and he can’t finish unless I touch him... something’s got to give.

“Daniel,” I say helplessly. I suddenly have new respect for Dave, who withstood Daniel’s begging and his anger without blinking.

“Look, think of it this way,” he says. “I made five hours today. We’ll call that a starting point. Tomorrow I’ll go for a little longer, and even longer the next day... you know how it goes. I’m done for today, Jack. Seriously.”

I’ve suddenly got a sinking feeling in my stomach. There’s no way to win this one--either I do it, and right afterward he’ll give me that melting-eyed look of disappointment and ask why I didn’t make him wait, or I tell him no and spend the rest of the evening watching him try to translate something while going through this touch-withdrawal.

“Think about what you’re fighting for,” I say. I’m grasping at straws, but they’re all I’ve got left. “You want to go through the gate again. To touch other cultures, to hear those old languages spoken like they were thousands of years ago. Isn’t that why you wanted to wait as long as you could?”

“I can do that,” he insists. “I’ll get there, but I need to work up to it. Remember how we started with ten seconds? If Dave had tried to start with an hour, or even a minute, I never could have done it. Five hours is enough of a first step right now.”

Daniel...” I’m wavering and he knows it.

“I won’t blame you, Jack. I know you’re trying to do what I asked, and I appreciate it, I really do, but I didn’t realize how hard this would be. I probably could make it till we get home without totally losing it, but I’m already too far gone to concentrate on this report, and it’s important.”

“I could type for you,” I offer. Serious last ditch attempt here--I hate typing, and I’m slow as hell.

“Jack...!” He squeezes his eyes shut and clutches at the desk. It reminds me of when he used to hang onto the couch in the VIP room, back when he was still skin and bones and needed to be held almost constantly. The sliding, queasy feeling in my belly intensifies, and I swallow.

“Daniel?”

He opens his eyes and just looks at me. I can see his chin quivering, and he keeps biting at his bottom lip, hard enough to make it swell and darken slightly. He looks like the definition of misery. “Jack,” he whispers. “Please. Please. I can’t stand it.”

My stomach lurches and I’m hurrying around the desk before I have a chance to think about it. He meets me halfway and slams into my chest, his arms going around me before I can remember to take a breath. He’s gotten a lot of his strength back, and once he’s holding on tight, breathing is iffy at best.

“Easy, Daniel,” I murmur into his hair. “You’re okay now, it’s all right, you’re gonna be fine.” All together now. Come on, you know the words.

“Sorry,” he says, his chin grinding against my collarbone as he speaks. He refuses to lift his head even the fraction necessary to speak clearly. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t take anymore. God, I needed this...”

“S’okay,” I mumble. What else is there to say? “It’s okay, it’s not your fault. It’s okay.”

“I’ll do better next time,” he promises. “And tonight, we’ll work on that other thing.”

I pause and make sure my hands are on his back and not heading treacherously toward his ass. “We will?”

He nods, five o’clock shadow rasping against my neck. “Yeah. I want that, too, and I feel terrible that I’m making you wait so long.”

“Hey, hey,” I protest. “I’m not saying you have to do it. I’m not going anywhere, Daniel, even if... that... is no longer an option.” But even as I say the words, I have to wonder just how okay I am with never having sex again. I’m old, but I’m not that old.

“I want to,” he says. “I owe you at least that much.”

Okay, that’s not good. “Wait just a damn minute, Daniel.” I pull back so I can his face, pressing a palm against his cheek and keeping his eyes on mine. “I am not helping you with all this crap just so I can eventually get some again. I would have been here for you if we were only friends, just like Carter and Teal’c have been here, every step of the way. You don’t ‘owe’ me anything, and even if you did, sex is not a payment or an obligation. It’s something you do because you want to, not because you think you have to.”

“I know,” he says dismissively. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

I’m not so sure about that.

~~~

“I can do it this time,” he says. “I swear I can.”

“Daniel...”

“I can do it!” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, pressing the knuckles of one fist against his mouth. When he speaks again, it sounds calmer, but he’s not fooling anyone. “Jack. Seriously, I can do it. I need to do this.”

“Why?”

Daniel folds his arms and leans back against the headboard, not meeting my eyes. “I need to,” he says flatly.

“Maybe you’re pushing a little too hard,” I say, copying his pose. He’s naked under the blankets, and so am I, but that’s as far as we’ve gotten. Every time he tries to touch me, he freezes up, and let’s not even talk about what happens when I try to touch him. Watching him huddle and cry in a corner because I kissed him doesn’t do a whole lot for my ego.

“We’ve been trying this every night for a week, and I still can’t do anything,” he says. “If we went any slower, we’d be going backwards.”

“So maybe we should try a different method.”

He laughs shortly. “Oh, sure, Jack, please do enlighten me about the miracle method. You’re the expert, after all.”

“Daniel...” I sigh and close my eyes, rubbing the bridge of my nose. I know he’s scared and frustrated and tired of this. I know that. I can be patient with him.

He’s not making it very easy, though.

“Sorry,” he murmurs. “Sorry I’m such a--“

“Daniel, if you apologize for being a headcase, I will have to hit you.”

That startles a real laugh out of him, and he actually meets my eyes for the first time since we lost the clothes. “I wasn’t going to say that,” he says.

“Sure you weren’t.”

He smiles again, sheepish, rueful, but it fades. “I don’t know how else to do this,” he tells me. “I thought if you just laid there, and I was in control, I could do it, but I just can’t. Every time I try to touch you I... I know it’s you and I know you’d never hurt me, but I can’t seem to...”

“I know, Daniel.” I reach for his hand but he jerks it back, putting the blankets between us and drawing his knees to his chest. I drop my hand and he stares at it, biting his lip.

“Sorry,” he whispers. “God, Jack, I don’t mean to...”

“Don’t you do that,” I tell him sharply. “Don’t you start crying again. We can fix this, you hear me? We’re just going about it the wrong way.”

“So what’s the right way?”

Good question. “I’m only guessing here, Daniel. I’m as lost as you are, remember? But this thing, this naked together and you taking the lead thing--well, it sounded good in theory, but it’s not working.”

“No kidding,” he says quietly.

He’s still got the blankets clutched to his chest, covering as much of his body as possible, and I figure that’s a good a place to start as any. “First of all,” I say, “you need to keep your clothes on. Being without them is obviously making you very uncomfortable, and as long as you’re so tense, we’re not getting anywhere.”

Daniel frowns down at the outline of his body under the covers. “We’re not going to get anywhere if I’m fully clothed, either.”

“Sure we are. Naked is for sex, and clearly you’re not ready for that. That’s like--the last step. We need a first step. A ten-second level step, you know?”

He ducks his head to hide his smile. “Is that the technical term?” he asks.

“Youbetcha, Doctor Jackson. We start at the ten-second level, and that means clothes on.” I pause and tilt my head, catching his eye. “Seriously, Daniel. You need to feel safe doing this. Forcing yourself to go through it when you’re scared is only going to make things worse.”

“I guess so...”

I nod sharply and slide out of the bed, grabbing our usual nightwear from the dresser. I toss Daniel his stuff and then dress with my back turned, so he won’t feel like I’m watching his body. He’s become very self-conscious about his appearance lately, even though we all keep telling him he looks so much better. He’s still got some muscle to rebuild if he wants his old body back, but even now, he looks good. Very good. Frankly, I’m keeping my back turned for my own benefit as well. Been a while, here. It’s no good drooling over his bare skin when it’s off-limits.

“Okay,” he says, and I turn back around. He’s back in the bed, blankets to his waist, snug in his tee shirt and pajama bottoms. The tension lines around his eyes and mouth have eased, and I find myself breathing a little easier just looking at him. The kind of tightly controlled panic he was radiating earlier tends to be contagious.

“Better?”

He nods. “Yeah. Warmer.”

I slide in beside him and give him a puzzled look. “You were cold before?”

“Sort of,” he says, and leans into me. He feels warm enough in my arms, heavy and solid against my chest. He makes a pleased sound and sighs against my neck, seemingly content to just lie with me for a while.

“Easier with the clothes, huh?” I ask. I’m not smug. Just because little old me figured it out when mister multiple Ph.D. couldn’t get it, I’m not gloating. Really.

“Yes, Jack.” Patient, indulgent--I can hear him rolling his eyes. I’d call his voice fond, but I don’t want to go there. I have to make some concessions to testosterone, after all.

“That’s good,” I say, and he nods. His foot insinuates itself between my legs, and his arms go around me, his body pressed full length against mine. For the last week, we’ve shared the bed in the nude, separated by blankets and as much space as Daniel could possibly get.

God, this is better.

“So,” he says after a while. “What the next step?”

What? “Next step?”

“I thought you had a plan.”

“What plan? Did I say anything about a plan?”

“You thought of this.”

“Ye-es... now it’s your turn to think of something.”

I can feel his smile against my neck. If he tilted his head just a little, his lips would be on that shivery place right behind my ear, where I can already feel the steady, soft puffs of his breath...

“Jack?”

“Mmm?”

“Are you cold?”

Just the opposite, actually. “Noooo...”

“You’ve got goose bumps.”

Imagine that. “Huh.”

He sighs and pulls back, looking at me sadly. “I know this is hard for you,” he says.

“It’s okay.”

“So you keep saying.”

“Yes, Daniel. So I keep saying, because it’s true.”

His hand comes up to my face, and he traces his fingertips, feather-light, over my cheekbones. His eyes are intent, fascinated, his lips parted slightly. He doesn’t seem to be blinking. I watch his face as his fingers slide up, tracing along my eyebrows, lingering on the scar in my left one, then moving on to weave in my hair. His other hand ghosts over my ears, just the outer rim, then the inner, then the outer again, so slow, barely there. I close my eyes and swallow, digging my fingers into the mattress.

Hold still. Have to hold still.

“Jack?”

No, no, don’t... breathe... trying to kiss him now would be bad. Very, very bad. Seriously. Don’t even think about it.

“Jack?”

I know his mouth is right there, but it’s not an invitation. He’s not ready. Don’t. DON’T. You can’t. Just hold still.

“Jack!”

I jump and scrub a quick hand over my face, trying to erase the tingling that his touch left. “What?”

He’s got a small, secret smile on his lips, his eyes bright with something. “A little distracted?”

“What? No... distracted? What?”

The smile gets bigger. “I think that’s it,” he says.

“What’s it?”

“The ten-second step. I think I just did it.”

I blink at him. “What? Did I miss it?”

“Jack.” He shakes his head, grinning. He hugs me, quick and impulsive, and I hug back, wondering where I lost the thread of the conversation.

“So, explain this to me, Daniel,” I say when he lets go. “Slowly. Small words.”

“What I just did,” he says as if it should be obvious. “When I was touching your face. It was... intimate, in a way, but safe. I felt safe. I... Jack, I actually liked it.”

“Oh, ah...” I cough slightly, clearing my throat. “Me too. A bit.”

“A bit,” he says dryly. “I couldn’t tell.”

I get the distinct feeling that I’m being laughed at. “Okay,” I admit. “More than a bit. A lot, if you want to know the truth.”

“Yes, so I gathered.” He can’t stop grinning--he looks like the cat that got the cream. “I’m glad,” he says quietly. “I’m glad I could do something for you, even if it wasn’t... everything. I want so much to be able to do this for you.”

“Daniel,” I say sternly. “We’ve talked about this before. It’s not just for me.”

He shrugs and looks away. “I don’t expect you to wait forever, Jack.”

“Daniel...”

“Don’t.” He looks at me, all the laughter gone from his eyes. “Don’t tell me that you would, that you’d be fine with us never making love again. Don’t tell me that. I will not be lied to, and I will not be patronized.”

“It’s not a lie,” I say stiffly. “I didn’t know you thought so little of me, Daniel.”

He makes a quick, cutting gesture with his hand, dismissive and impatient. “You know that’s not it. I know you fully intend to stay with me, and Jack, you’ve been so great about this whole thing. You’ve been a rock. If it weren’t for you, I don’t know that I’d have even come this far, but you’re only human. I don’t expect sainthood from you, and I don’t expect infinite patience. I have to do this. I have to be sure.”

“Sure,” I echo. Sure of what? Sure that I’ll stay with him? He can only be sure of that if he’s putting out, is that it? Does he really think that’s the only reason I’m with him?

“That we’re equals, Jack,” he says gently. “That I’m giving as good as I’m getting. I want to be sure that I can make you as happy as you make me.”

“Oh.”

His lips twitch into an almost-smile. “Oh? That’s it?”

“Um...” Dammit. Not going to get all teary, here. Just not going to happen.

“Jack...” His hands frame my face again and he pulls me close, resting his forehead against mine. “It’s okay,” he says.

“Isn’t that my line?”

He laughs and nudges his nose forward, butting it against mine. “I’m borrowing it. It’s okay, Jack. We’re going to be okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Well. Guess we’re going to be okay, then. Who am I to argue with a genius?

~~~

“Yes, sir.” I shift my weight from one foot to the other and sigh, my eyes flitting to the clock again.

“Also, you need to make sure Jeffries down in Supply gets the order right this time. There seems to be a breakdown in communication somewhere between the Maintenance department and Supply.”

“Right. Got it.”

General Hammond leans back in his chair and gives me a long look. “Why don’t you sit down, Jack?”

“That’s okay, sir. I’m sure this is going to be a quick meeting.”

He smiles slightly. “I’m aware that you’ve been stuck in meetings all afternoon, Colonel. I’ll try to be brief.”

“It’s not that, sir,” I say. He raises his eyebrows, and I add, “Well, yes, that is it, but not for the reasons you think. It’s just that Daniel has been on his own pretty much all day, and that’s... not good.”

“I was under the impression that Dr. Jackson had regained full independence.”

I nod quickly. “Yes, yes, mostly. He just needs a little contact here and there, and he’s fine. But with all the meetings running late... he’ll be waiting in my office, and by now, he’ll be climbing the walls.”

Hammond frowns, and I wince a little. I didn’t mean to phrase it quite like that--I’m sure Daniel wouldn’t thank me for giving the general the wrong impression.

“I see,” he says slowly. “Is that why he hasn’t been cleared for full active duty yet?”

“Pretty much.”

Hammond leans forward, pushing the forms on his desk to one side. “Jack,” he says seriously.

I sit down. “Sir.”

“I can’t keep SG-1 grounded forever.”

I knew this was coming. “Yes, sir. I understand that.”

“I would much rather have Dr. Jackson back on the team than try to replace him.”

“I feel the same way,” I tell him.

“I’m sure you do.” He pauses and leans back, tapping his fingers on the desk. “How is his therapy progressing?”

“You’d have to ask the therapist,” I say neutrally.

“I’m asking you.”

Sharp guy, George. “Yes, well... he’s improving,” I hedge. “You’ve seen him yourself, sir. He’s far better than he was.”

He nods. “Yes, I know. I have spoken with him, and I read his report on the mission. He glazed over a few of the... more unpleasant details,” and we both know he’s talking about the rape, “but it was essentially complete. His work here on the base has been up to its usual excellent standards, and his behavior seems completely normal. You’re saying he still has a dependence on contact?”

“Just a little,” I say. “He’s pushing it further every day, but Dave says... uh, that is, Dr. Nelson, he says that being able to stretch it isn’t good enough. As long as Daniel still wants it, as long as the craving is there, then the addiction is still present.”

“That seems a bit strict.”

“That’s what I said,” I agree. “I mean, I still crave a cigarette sometimes, so I guess I still have the addiction, but I haven’t smoked in years. And really... wanting someone to touch you occasionally... it doesn’t seem that unreasonable, sir.”

“No, it doesn’t.” He digests that for a minute, and then nods to himself. “Maybe I should discuss this with Dr. Nelson and find out exactly what his reasons are for keeping Dr. Jackson grounded.”

“That sounds good. Ah, in the meantime, though...”

He waves a hand at me. “Go, Jack. The rest of this can wait.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” And I’m gone, his ‘you’re welcome’ trailing after me from halfway down the hall.

Office is empty when I get there, Daniel’s books and rocks and laptop strewn about like he just stepped out for a moment. I blink stupidly at the room for a few minutes, until I see the post-it note left for me. Not on my computer screen, where I’d probably never notice it, but on the phone. Which, of course, I would have been using to call the rest of the team and ask if they’d seen him.

I don’t know if it’s nice to be known so well, or a bit depressing to be so predictable.

‘Jack,’ the note says. ‘Gone to Sam’s lab.’

Well, of course. When I didn’t come back and the need to be touched started getting out of control, of course he’d look to the rest of the team for help. Sometimes I forget that I’m not the only one trying to guide him through this recovery.

Sure enough, he’s in Carter’s lab, both of them bent over the guts of some machine scattered across one of the tables. Carter isn’t touching him, but I figure they did that already and got it out of the way, and then he got distracted by her latest... thing.

“Daniel.”

He turns, a wide smile spreading across his face. I’m next to him in a second, a hand going to the back of his neck and pulling him in for a quick hug.

“Jack,” he says, sounding a bit bemused. “Nice to see you too.”

Carter is smiling at me and I find myself ducking a little. There’s no reason to be embarrassed--medically necessary, remember? Hugging Daniel is like giving him his allergy pills. It’s preventative medicine.

“I just figured... the meetings ran late, and I thought you’d be...”

Daniel blinks at me and then his mouth falls open. “Late? You were late?”

“Sure,” I say, frowning at him. “Isn’t that why you came down here? To... um... so Carter could help you out?”

“Actually, sir, I called Daniel and asked him to come down. I found some writing on the inside of this device when I took it apart and I wanted to see if he recognized it.”

Daniel has this little smile on his face that keeps trying to get bigger. I look back and forth between the two of them, and then at my watch. “It’s been all day,” I tell him. “And a long day at that. Ten hours, easy.”

Daniel shrugs. “Well, Sam did touch me when I came in, so it was actually only about nine and a half.”

“But you didn’t come here just because you needed the contact,” Carter says, beaming at him. “It was incidental, and in fact, I was the one who initiated it. You were fine.”

His smile gets a little bigger, and then he reins it in, biting his lips together. “Well... I was distracted by the writing you were showing me. If I had been thinking about how long it was since... you know... things might have been different.”

“But you weren’t thinking about it.” I’m grinning now, too. I can’t seem to help it. “That’s the whole point, Daniel, is that you weren’t thinking about it. You didn’t need it.”

“I... I didn’t?” He blinks several times and takes a step back. “I didn’t. That’s... wow, Jack... does that mean what I think it means?”

Carter is still shining at us, looking like she wants to give Daniel a kiss just for the hell of it, but Daniel actually looks a little sad. He’s happy, of course, for the most part. So am I. Of course. But... all those times I got to hug him and touch him at work and get away with it because he had a legitimate reason for needing it... I guess that’s over.

“We don’t have to stop,” I blurt suddenly, and they stare at me.

“What?” Daniel asks.

“Um... I mean... crap, I don’t know, Daniel. Never mind.”

“No, no, wait,” he says, pinning me in place with one finger on my chest. “You said we don’t have to stop. Stop what?”

I cast an uncomfortable look at Carter and she takes pity on me. “I think the Colonel means that we don’t have to stop touching you, Daniel. I assume you still feel more comfortable when you have contact with someone?”

“Yes...” he says slowly, drawing out the word. “But it’s not necessary.”

“Which is good,” I say. “It means that you should be cleared for off-world duty, and that’s good. I’m just saying that when we’re here on base... or hell, even on a mission, you’d probably work best if you were... comfortable. It, uh... efficiency, and all that. Get more done. So we don’t have to stop.”

Daniel’s smile is threatening to become very soft, and his eyes are already there. I clear my throat and stuff my hands in my pockets, wishing I had a yo-yo or something to play with.

“Ah,” he says. “You’re suggesting that the team provide ideal working conditions for me in order to improve the quality of the work done, both here and on missions. That sounds reasonable.”

“Yeah!” I grab at that one with both hands. It sounds so much better when he says it. “Like that. That’s what I’m saying.”

“Sounds like a good idea, sir,” Carter says. She keeps bouncing up onto her toes and then dropping back, her expression fiercely controlled.

“Something funny, Carter?”

“No, sir. Not at all.”

Uh-huh.

“Daniel. It’s late. You about done here?”

He glances at Carter and she casts a reluctant look over her scattered bits of metal, but she knows when to bow to the wishes of a superior officer. “This can wait,” she says.

“Okay,” Daniel says easily. “I’ve got an appointment with Dave first thing tomorrow, but I’ll be by afterward to finish this, all right?”

Carter nods. “Sure. How is that going, by the way?”

“Oh, you know.” Daniel pats the air meaningfully, rolling his eyes. “It’s therapy. He’s better than Mackenzie, at least.”

“Yes, well, it would be hard to be worse, wouldn’t it?”

Daniel grins at her. “Yeah. I’m down to just seeing him once a week now, though, which is nice. The daily appointments were sucking up a lot of my time.”

I want to mention what the general said about discussing Daniel’s duty status with Dave, but I’m thinking this isn’t the time. It’ll only start him worrying about Hammond replacing him again. He accomplished something today--I think I’ll just let him ride it as long as he can.

Besides, I have other plans for using that good mood once we get home.

~~~

“Are you sure this is a good plan?”

“Yes, Daniel. For the millionth time, yes.”

“But I thought it would be better if I was in control. That’s... I need that.”

Oh, Daniel. “You are in control,” I tell him firmly. “You say stop, and it stops immediately. The second you don’t feel comfortable, you let me know, and we change things until you are comfortable.”

“Oh,” he says. “But... but I’m not doing anything. I’m not taking the lead.”

“Exactly. There’s no pressure. All you have to do is relax and let me take care of things.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and then, “Jack, are you sure this is a good plan?”

“For crying out loud, it’s only a backrub!”

“Sorry,” he says and rolls over, laying on his side with his back to me. I can feel the bed shaking slightly in time with his hunched shoulders.

“Ah, crap, Daniel, I didn’t mean... hey! You’re laughing!”

He twists to look at me with wide, guileless blue eyes. “Am I?”

“You... you...”

“Genius? Linguist? Archeologist? Incredibly hot guy?”

“Bastard!” I sputter, already laughing with him. “You tricked me.”

“Come on, Jack, did you really think I would fall apart that easily?” He’s smiling merrily, his eyes sparkling, and it’s easy to forget that yes, a few months ago, he would have fallen apart that easily.

“Guess not,” I mumble, and he turns toward me again, running a palm over my cheek.

“It’s okay, Jack,” he says. “I know you’re used to handling me with kid gloves, but it’s okay now. I’m better.”

“Mostly,” I say, and his smile fades.

“I’m working on that.”

Well, crap. “I know you are, Daniel, and you’re doing great. Really. I know you’re trying hard.”

He nods and takes a deep breath, lifting his chin. “So. That’s why we’re here, right? To work on it? I believe somebody mentioned a backrub?”

“Ah, Doctor Jackson, not just a backrub.” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively, which doesn’t have the desired effect, unless the desired effect was to make him roll his eyes and giggle.

Actually, I can live with that effect just fine.

“An O’Neill special, right?” He’s indulging me. I can hear it.

“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

“Yes, sir, Colonel, sir,” he says, still giggling. He’s been like this all evening, bubbly and relaxed. He’s got himself convinced that he’s going back to full duty, and he’s damn near euphoric over it. I knew being grounded was bothering him, but I think I’m just now finding out how much.

“All right, smartass,” I growl unconvincingly. “Roll onto your belly and prepare to have your bones melted.”

“Okeydokey,” he says breathlessly, rolling and stretching out, arching his back and wriggling happily on the sheets. His arms go around his pillow and he hugs it to his face, making a low, damned-if-that-isn’t-a-purr sound in his throat.

I straddle his lower back, keeping most of my weight on my knees but applying enough pressure on him to make him feel it. We learned early on that he liked the feel of my weight holding him down, keeping him contained and surrounded. He said it helped with that falling, flying away feeling that he’d get when nobody was touching him.

We’re doing this with clothes for the time being, but I’m hoping to get him relaxed enough for me to get my hands on some skin. I can see the outline of his spine through the tee shirt, the curves of his shoulder blades and the smooth contours of his newly built muscles, and my palms itch. It’s been so long.

“Jack?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you just going to look all day, or what?”

His voice is still happy and calm, but there was a slight edge. He doesn’t like being stared at, especially not in the context of me and bed.

“Or what,” I say, and put my hands on his shoulders. He sucks in a quick breath and then lets it out more slowly, deliberately relaxing into the mattress. I start with light pressure, my fingertips moving in little circular motions over his shoulders and the nape of his neck. When his hair grew back in, it came in a bit curlier and thicker, and there’s this little curl right at the top of his spine that I can’t resist threading through my fingers a few times.

“You’re obsessed,” he mutters.

“Am not,” I say automatically. So I touch his hair a lot. So what.

I start pressing deeper into his muscles, the shirt sliding over his skin as I knead first one side and then the other. He keeps making these little ‘mmm’ sounds that are going straight to my... head... but I keep that firmly under control.

Well. Mostly.

Once I’m satisfied that his shoulders are completely loose, I start making my way down his back, rubbing with my thumbs close in on either side of his spine and smoothing my fingers over his ribs. He twitches a little when I get close to his sides and I can’t resist lightening the pressure, my fingertips finding their way perilously close to his underarms.

“Jack! No tickling!”

“Am I?”

I can feel his smile all the way down his back.

“Jack...”

“I’ll be good,” I promise, and he laughs.

“You?” It’s amazing how much skepticism he can pack into that one little word.

“Yes, me. I’ll have you know I have excellent self-discipline.”

“Uh-huh.”

I stick meticulously to his back without tickling him just to prove my point, and he sighs and goes back to the little ‘mmm’ noises. Which, from a self-discipline perspective, is not so good.

When I reach the hem of his shirt, I push it up just enough to slip my hands in underneath it, and then I just rest them there, the skin of his lower back warm and silky against my palms.

“Jack?”

“It’s okay.”

“Skin,” he says uncertainly.

“I know. It’s okay. It’s only me, Daniel.”

He’s quiet for a long time, considering, and I wait for him. My hands stay right where they are, and if my fingers are rubbing ever so slightly, I pretend I don’t know about it.

“All right,” he says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. But... only under the shirt, Jack.”

As in, not under the pants. Yeah, I figured.

“You got it.” And now that I have permission, I waste no time familiarizing myself with how Daniel feels. I remember Fraiser saying that he lost several layers of skin, and it seems that they grew back smoother than before. It’s not possible that he always felt this way. If he was like this before the capture, I would have remembered. I wouldn’t have taken it for granted.

I can’t take it for granted anymore. Daniel’s skin under my hands is a privilege, one that has to be earned.

I push the shirt up further and lean down, letting my forehead rest in the little hollow between his shoulder blades. I press a kiss to each one and he shivers. I’m in a perfect position to see the fine hairs on the back of his neck rise.

Speaking of rising...

“Jack.” He sounds strained, nervous. He has to be able to feel me against his hip. There’s no way he didn’t notice.

“It’s okay,” I say, because those are the magic words, aren’t they?

“You’re... um...”

“I know.”

“I can’t...”

“I don’t expect you to do anything about it, Daniel. I’m just... appreciating you.”

“Oh,” he says. “Appreciating.” He mulls over that for a while and I use the pause to kiss the bit of skin peeking out over his collar. I blow a thin stream of air over the damp spot I just made with my lips and he shivers again, his skin prickling into goose bumps.

“Lots to appreciate, Danny,” I say.

“Um. I, ah...” He sounds surprised. “I think I’m appreciating, too,” he says.

What? “What?”

He shifts his hips and makes a startled grunt, his mouth turning into the pillow and biting at it. “Oh, wow,” he murmurs.

“Daniel?”

“Just, um... keep doing what you’re doing.”

Not a problem. I keep my hands stroking his back beneath his shirt, and I lean up a little more, placing a kiss on the side of his neck. He angles his head for more and bites the pillow again.

Interesting.

“Daniel?”

“Mmm...”

His head is turned so I can see his face now, his eyes tightly shut, his lips parted. He’s breathing faster than I am, and that’s saying something.

I can’t resist that mouth. I should, I really should, but I can’t.

It’s awkward and sideways, him on his belly with his head turned to one side and me leaning over him trying to match my lips to his, but I manage to connect for a moment. His taste is just as I remembered it, and God, how I’ve missed this. The pleased little sounds he makes, the softness, the feel of his body under mine.

He’s with me, he’s kissing me back, and then he suddenly jerks away, wide-eyed, shocked.

“No! No, no... stop it... can’t...”

“Okay, okay, easy, Daniel.” I keep up the reassuring words and back off physically, swinging my leg off him and laying beside him in the bed, my hands firmly away from all that tempting skin.

He flips onto his side and stares at me, closes his eyes for a long moment, and then stares again. “Oh,” he says.

“Oh?”

Daniel swallows and scrubs at his face. I see that his hand is trembling, but I catch myself before I reach out to take it. This is not touch-Daniel time. Touching time appears to be over for tonight.

“Yeah. Oh. That, uh... I actually...”

“You actually?”

He ducks his head, and unbelievably, he’s blushing. “You know,” he says.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”

“I was...” He gestures vaguely, trying to point to his groin without actually pointing.

“Hard?”

The blush deepens. “Yes. That.”

“Oh,” I say. Yes, smugly, I’ll admit it.

“I haven’t been able to... not since this happened.”

Ahhh... now I get it. “You were worried that it was a permanent condition?”

He shrugs and tries to wave it off, but his eyes say yes, he was. “I still freaked out when you kissed me,” he cautions. “I’m not completely there yet.”

“Yet.”

Daniel blinks and then smiles brilliantly, looking happier than I’ve seen him in a long time. “Yeah,” he says. “Yet.”

I prop my head up on one hand and grin at him. “You know,” I say, “I was saving this for another time, but I think you deserve to hear it now. Kind of a prize for... you know.”

“Oh?”

“You remember on the way home, you made me stop at that Starbucks and then wait in the car while you got your precious caffeine fix?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Jack, I remember.”

“You remember how I was just finishing a call on my cell phone when you came back out?”

Daniel hesitates, his smile growing guarded. “Ye-es...”

“I called Dave.”

“Oh.”

“Told him about today. About how you went all day and didn’t even feel it.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He’d already heard from Hammond.”

“What?” Daniel asks, his eyes widening. “General Hammond was talking to Dave? What about?”

“He wants you back in the field, Daniel.”

“You mean he wants SG-1 back in the field, whether I’m on it or not.”

“Daniel,” I sigh. “He wants you. We all want you. And apparently the general fought for you with Dave. Told him that he better have some extremely good reasons for keeping you grounded, and since my little conversation with him, guess what?”

The guarded hope is back on Daniel’s face. “What?”

“It looks like he doesn’t have any more good reasons. He’s going to tell you at tomorrow’s session--he’s signing off on your full active duty status.”

Daniel’s mouth drops open and he just blinks at me for a while, his lips moving soundlessly. “I... what? Really?”

“Yes, Daniel. Really.”

“Off-world?”

“That’s generally how it’s done.”

“With SG-1?”

“We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

He blinks again. “Really?”

“Dan-iellll...”

He laughs suddenly, a quick bark of sound, and lunges for me. His jaw connects with my ear with a bit more force than I’d normally care for, but I figure this is a special occasion. He’s still laughing, high and breathy, and he keeps bunching my shirt in his hands and tugging at it fretfully.

“Jack,” he says. “Oh, Jack.”

I think my shirt is getting a little damp, but I can live with that. Daniel still has a long way to go before we can make love again, but he’s getting there, and I can live with that, too.

He pulls back and looks at me, his eyes suspiciously bright, but stunningly happy. I kiss his forehead, just a light, brushing touch, and his smile cranks up another notch. My Daniel.

I’ve finally got him back.

~~~

Finis

March 22 – April 3, 2004


FINIS

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