HOMECOMING  BY PHOENIXE
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: J/D Angst, First Time, H/C Romance A/R
Season/Spoilers: Season 5 Spoilers for SG:TM, some allusions to the breakdown of the friendship we witnessed in season 5 but no episode specific spoilers.
Synopsis: Six months ago Daniel disappeared. Against all odds SG-1 have found him and Jack must face the truth of his darkest desires and his fears he was responsible for driving Daniel away.
Warnings:  Suggestions of past nastiness but nothing graphically explained or experienced.
Length:  87 Kb  Posted to the net 8 Oct 06

Notes:  This story originally appeared in the JD Divas Zine published by Yadda Press, accompanied by the lovely illo below, by Biblio.  An exploration of a scenario where the SG-1 and Jack are deprived of Daniel for an extended period of time roughly post Meridian, but where Meridian obviously did not occur.  


 

Daniel raises his coffee cup to his lips with shaking hands.  His eyes are averted; he's desperately concentrating on keeping the liquid from sloshing all over the ground while he sips, and then sighs.

Carter bites her lip and glances at me, her expression miserable with concern.  I know, Major, I know. We're all worried about him. We don't know what the hell kind of hell he's been through these past six months, returned to us…like this.  But we can make a few educated guesses, and none of them add up to him having had a very good time.

I'm just sorry I only got to kill that bastard once.  And I didn't make it last nearly long enough.

But that's all water under the boat, now.  There's not a damned thing we can do about the last six months.  Can't change it, can't make it go away.  All that matters right now is; we got him back.

We got him back.  Oh God, we got him back!

I don't even want to think about the odds, of how stacked they were against us for being in the right place at the right time, the huge cosmic coincidence of after six frigging months of fruitlessly scouring the goddamned galaxy, not just us, but every ally we've got, without seeing so much as a hair of him, we just happened to be here, today, enroute to Enada, and we hit that crossroads at the same time as the Prick and his entourage…

Lucky too we ran into them before we'd reached the city.  Made it ever so much easier to separate the Prick from his favourite slave – and his head - without having to worry about pesky laws, rules and restrictions, local customs and taboos and ensuing messy entanglements with the local constabulary for having broken any or all of the above.

Not that I'd have let anything, or anyone stop me from getting Daniel back.  If we'd had to nuke the whole damn city to get to him, hey, whatever it took.

But, fortunately it didn't come to that.  We got Daniel back without any casualties, at least on our side, and we're in the clear.  Life is pretty damned good.

"I'm sorry," Daniel blurts out suddenly, unexpectedly.

"For what?" I grunt, kinda surprised by his outburst.

"I've slowed you down," he says, draining his mug with an enthusiastic slurp.  He lowers it, his hands tightly cupped around the empty vessel, staring at it with eyes wide with longing.

Crap.  He wants more.  He wants more but he's scared to ask for it.

I wanna go screaming back to where we left that dog dead in the dirt and kick his goddamned, flea-ridden carcass around the planet 'til fricking doomsday.  Not that it would make any difference to him; you can't get any deader than dead, but it would make me feel so much better.

"Pada's people…they'll go to Enada," Daniel continues, hunching his shoulders like he's suffering from a sudden chill.  Smooth as a shadow Teal'c glides over to the nearest tent, grabs a thermal blanket and then slides back to our boy, arranging the blanket around him with tender solicitude.

You wouldn't think someone so big could be so gentle.  Well, take it from me, when it comes to Daniel, he's as careful as they come.

Daniel gives him a grateful glance, nodding his head to acknowledge the kindness.  "Pada's people," he starts saying again.  "You know they'll – there'll be trouble.  Because of – because of me… What you had to do...to – to – "

Save you, Daniel? The cost of your freedom, what it entailed?   You can't even say it, can you?

He swallows hard, twisting the mug in his hands.  I give Carter the eye.  She's closest to the coffee pot.  She looks back at me, not getting I want her to – come on Carter, look at him, he's dying for more, make with the java!  Refill!

Okay, there she goes!  She's got it now.  Took her long enough.  She's supposed to be a genius and all, well, that may be when it comes to stuff no one can pronounce but in the interpersonal department, at times she's not quite so sharp.

That's okay, no one's perfect.  I think we'll keep her anyway.

"When they find out what's happened, the Exis will come after you – us, " Daniel corrects himself, watching Carter go for the coffeepot.  Eyes huge, he tracks her, licking his lips.  His eyes get even bigger as she brings it back to him, her smile tremulous while she wordlessly refills his mug.

That earns her the first genuine smile we've seen from Daniel since we first laid eyes on him collared and leashed and being beaten in the middle of the road by that prick.

I'm jealous.  If that makes me a prick too, well, bite me.

"Don't sweat it, Daniel," I say, glaring daggers at Carter, who's now really confused.  She was feeling all proud of herself for having done a good thing for Daniel, and then I go and poop on her parade, giving her the evil eye.  She hasn't got a clue what she's done to piss me off, and I'm not about to explain it to her.  She returns the pot to the fire, then plops down beside Daniel, glaring right back at me.

She might not get it but she's not gonna take it either.  Good for you, Major.

"By the time those yahoos stop running around and screaming and finally make it to Enada, we'll be well in the clear. We've got a good head start on any possible pursuit. If you factor in transit time to and from the city from where we got you back, and add the distance we've backtracked, I'd say we've got at least a ten hour lead on anyone who might, repeat might be coming after us.  It's not much further to the gate from here.  It's certainly not going to take us ten hours to walk the rest of the way, even if we do stop here for a bit.  So we're fine.  We'll camp here for a few hours, rest up, and we'll have you back in the SGC before the Exis have stopped scratching their asses and get off them to come after us."

"You'd be there now if you didn't have to stop for me," Daniel glumly tells his coffee.  "I'm putting all of you at risk – "

"Ah!  Ah!"  I silence him firmly but gently.  "Don't go there, Daniel.  You're a member of this team.  We look after our own.  All for one and everyone into the pool."

Daniel thinks about this for a minute, frowning and clutching at the blanket, drawing it tighter around his thin frame.  Which is way too thin.  Whatever that prick was feeding him, it wasn't nearly enough.  Daniel looks like a good stiff wind could carry him all the way back to Kansas.

Only one of the many on a very long list of transgressions against our boy that asshole has more than answered for.  Trust me.

"I am?" he finally murmurs, shooting me a sudden, sharp look.

"Am what?"  I blink.

"Part of the team…still," he says uncertainly.

"Well, yeah!"  I'm stunned he should doubt this.  And then again, come to think of it, maybe if I were him, and my last memories of my team, and my best friend were…

Yeah, I can see where he might have a few problems with the concept.

Crap.

"I mean, I'm just surprised you haven't…" he starts to stammer, his eyes glistening.  "It's been so long – I'm not exactly sure how long but – but – after awhile I – "

God, Daniel, oh God, don't.  Don't say what I know you're going to say.  Please, not that.  I don't want to know you were out there, on your own, thinking…

Thinking no one was coming for you, no one…

"I figured you'd… given up," he admits, in a barely audible voice.  "I kept on hoping for the longest time, and then, I – I realised it wasn't going to happen.  I knew you'd try, but it's a pretty big galaxy, where would you look?"  He shrugs and takes a swipe at a devil-may-care-grin and only succeeds in looking like he wants to throw up. 

Hey, he's not the only one.  

"That's life, right?" he says, his face bleak.  "Sooner or later, you'd have to - to move on, replace me -  "

Now that hurts!

"You see anyone else but us sitting here, Daniel?" I indignantly retort.

"No, but – I – I –"

"Oh Daniel, we never gave up on you!"  Carter wails.  "Not for a minute!  We never stopped looking, the Colonel – the Colonel he wouldn't let anyone -"

Shut up, Carter.

"You do not wish to know the fate of the last individual who was temporarily assigned to SG-1.  O'Neill was most insistent there would never be another."

Et tu, big guy!

"He did?"  Daniel looks at me again, greedy hope written all over his face.  "You looked for me – the whole time?"

I really need him to understand what I'm about to say. We've got a lot of bridges to rebuild between us, probably a few more now because of everything that's happened to him, but I want him to know, now more than ever, he's always been the most important thing in the world to me.  And all the time he's been gone finding him was the only thing I cared about.

"I made you a promise years ago I wasn't able to keep.  I couldn't save her for you, but that was the last time, Danny, the last time I was ever going to let you down.  Every single time I went through that gate I was looking for you, and I wasn't going to stop until I brought you home.

"This promise, I kept."

Because I care, Daniel, not because – because of what happened that last day.  It's you; it's always been you, driving me onward, not the other…thing.

"Yeah," he says, his eyes shining.  "You did."

Then, he smiles.  And suddenly I'm not begrudging Carter her little grin. His whole face is glowing and the way he's looking at me, it's like we're the only two people in the whole frigging universe.

The only two that matter.

Yeah, I can get behind that concept.

And then I remember, no, I can't.  Because the only place any more of this can go is down a path I'm not allowed to tread.  Not now any more than I could all those months ago when it first hit me why my heart turned over like a freaking pile driver every time he looked at me. 

Just like this.

I got him back, but I still can't have him. 

"Of course, since we broke the law here by shooting up several…travellers…it's probably safe to assume the negotiations are officially a no go," Carter suddenly blurts out, and then looks like she wants to kick herself when she realises, just a little too late, what she's just said.

Thank you, Carter!  If I'd sunk any lower there I'd be fit for nothing but blowing my brains out, but your peerless people skills have pulled my chestnuts out of the fire.

I also think I'm way ahead on points now.

"Your mission!"  Daniel groans.  "You were here to trade for Viradon.  Or Bakkti crystals."

Whoa.  Daniel might have spent a lot of time chained to a post in the Prick's back yard, but he obviously had his eyes and ears open the whole time.  He knows an awful lot about Enada and what they've got we could possibly want.  If he knows about Enada and why we're here, then he probably knows a lot more about other places where the Prick did business we might not even have heard of.

Where the Lord taketh away, he also giveth backeth.  On a number of different levels.  Getting Daniel back has cost us the deal in Enada, but maybe we'll be able to make up for it later.

Not that Daniel's not worth it, even if we don't.

"The moment we became aware of your presence, the mission became irrelevant, DanielJackson," Teal'c's deep, dark voice bongs behind me, scaring the crap out of me.  He's so damned quiet, you forget where he is!

"Maybe to you guys, but I doubt General Hammond is going to feel rescuing me was worth – "

"You are mistaken," Teal'c continues, relentlessly steam-rollering Daniel's objection.  "I have no doubt the general will approve of O'Neill's decision to abort the original mission to effect your rescue and will also concur the necessity of returning you to your home and family took precedence over any other consideration.  You forget; we do not leave our people behind."

Hey, I was gonna say that!

"Especially not you, Daniel," Carter softly adds.  "General Hammond will be so pleased to see you.  And so will everyone else at the SGC – Janet and Siler, Walter, Ferretti, Robert, he's been looking after your office for you – oh Daniel," she pauses, takes a deep breath, her voice getting shaky. "You just don't know – you have no idea how happy everyone is going to be to see you!"

No, Carter, I can tell from the horrified look on his face, he really doesn't.  For once you got something right and you can't even see it.

Daniel can't deal with this right now.  He's only just getting used to the idea we didn't immediately write him off the second he was out of sight, but the concept of being loved and mourned and desperately missed by a whole mountain of people, a lot he doesn't even know…

That's a little more rocking than his current worldview can stand.  We load him up with any more of this emotional stuff right now his head might explode.

"All right, okay, I think that's enough for now, kids," I say, slapping my thighs and pushing myself to my feet.  "Daniel, you need to rest.  We'll stop here for four hours and then pack up and head for the gate.”

Daniel nods wearily, and looks up at me.  "Thanks, Jack," he murmurs.  "Four hours should be just fine.  I'll just – I'll just – "

Before he can utter another sound he's got a Jaffa on one side, a major on the other.  His fond look at both of them as they help him to his feet would melt the heart of an IRS investigator who's been freeze-dried on Venus for a hundred years.

I don't even want to tell you what it's doing to mine.

Carter clutches, gazing up at him.  If her eyes had teeth they'd be chewing up huge chunks of him and swallowing them down whole.  Her expression is like nothing I've ever seen before, her features bunching, mouth twisting, like someone is about to take her whole face and crush it like a used up post-it note.  I'm wondering if she's about to have a seizure or something then I see the big, fat tears flooding her eyes and I get it.

"Oh Daniel, I missed you so much," she chokes, burying her face in his neck as the sobs start.

Holy crap.  Carter is – is crying!  Not just crying, but sobbing, weeping, wailing, slobbering, snorting and if she doesn't let up on Daniel's ribs she might pulverize one or two.  I know I've got my mouth open, but I can't help it; I've never seen her cry.  I know she must do it; she is a woman, after all, though you didn't hear it from me, so yeah, I'm sure she does, she has.

It's just; she never has in front of me.

The sight makes me feel kinda weird; I dunno how to explain it, I'm swinging between embarrassed and envious and I don't know where to look.  I cut my glance over to the big guy, seeking some moral support, I guess, only to find there's no help there either.

I don't know if my system can take many more shocks like this, but there is the original man 'o stone, older than the hills and three times as impassive, hanging onto Daniel like he's the answer to a prayer.  There's an almost maniacal gleam in his bottomless black eyes, burning pits of unfathomable devotion aimed straight and unswerving at Daniel.

I think I'm seeing things, I have to be, but no, I'm not, that vast, dark visage appears its usual untouched-by-whatever-passions-are-beating-in-that-most-impressive-chest, but you can't believe everything you see.  Teal'c's face is wet, a single, betraying damp contrail blazing fearlessly down the unexplored country of his countenance, marking it with the moist evidence of its solo flight.

My kids hold Daniel tight, enveloping him in their love and relief and I can't do a damned thing but stand here, my hands screaming weights hanging off my wrists, fingers aching to reach out…touch.  I'm dry-eyed, dry-mouthed, stupid with need and crazy with envy watching them – and him - and what this fierce infusion of love is doing to him; he's helpless to stop himself from absorbing what they're giving him even as the sheer weight of it breaks him.  He needs it so much and yet he can't take it; his eyes squeezed tight, damming back the flow he hangs his head, making a strangled sound before his legs give way.

And here's me on the outside, excluded, left out, shut out nowhere near him and I want to be, I want to be there, with him, the only one with him, want to crush him in my arms, hold him, smell him, snort him like a hundred pounds of cocaine I want him, I want him but I can't, I can't go there, can't, can't let him see, can't let him know…

Carter and Teal'c feel him go, and they've caught him, they're taking him away from me, slumped heavily between them, guiding him toward the tent. It tears my guts out with each step he takes away from me, and yet I let him go, I have to, it's for the best.  I just have to…a minute more, two tops, he'll be gone, safely tucked away, out of sight, though never out of mind, and then I'll be able to, get a handle on this, just another minute, hold on for another minute, hold back, don't look, never touch, this - this will pass, and then I'll be fine.

They're turning, moving away, and Daniel’s head comes up, turns, he's looking back, craning desperately over his shoulder trying to see, to find…

  Me.

Blue eyes blazing with need so consuming, primal, terrifying slam me head-on, rocking me down to the ground.   I can't move, I can't think, but I can feel how much he wants me, how desperately he’s looking for some sort of sign, something, anything, even the slightest indication I – I…

It's not possible, I don't believe it, but those eyes don't lie.  As much as he's getting from Carter and Teal'c, now when he's shattered and laid bare, bleeding and wanting – they're not what he needs.  Not what he really wants.

He's never been this open or desperate, maybe never will be again.  And what it's costing him…

It scares me.  He scares me how much he wants, and how little he cares if it shows.

He's not said a word but he's asking all the same.  This is way bigger than another cup of coffee, he couldn't ask for that, but he's all but on his knees and begging for even the smallest scrap of affection from me.

I've turned to stone and I want to die.  His eyes lock with mine, deep, desperate and pleading, I feel my blood freeze, my heart stop.  Every cell in my body is screaming at me to run to him, hold him, give him everything he wants but I can't – I can't give him anything, can't let him know can't – can't…

Forgive me, Daniel, I'm a coward and a fool, I know that, but I am…what I am.

I know you’ll hate me for awhile, possibly forever, even, but trust me, this is for the best.

I harden my heart, my face giving nothing away; I push back the light and the hope from his glorious, pleading eyes.  There's nothing here for you, Daniel.  Yeah, sure, I'm glad you're back, it'll be nice to have three kids again instead of two, and no one reads those crooked lines and squiggles better than you do, but more than that from me, you don't need.  Not from me. 

Don't go knocking on this heart, there's no one home.

I see it, the instant he gets it, the second he believes me; nothing has changed between us and he hopes in vain and I watch as it all shrivels up inside him, the need, the hope, all his dreams, the whole lot gets yanked back, stamped down deep. Something in his soul goes quiet, dark and still, his eyes empty, turning sightless and blank away from me.

Suddenly I'm really scared, shitless, like I've never been before, and the fear comes screaming up my throat, crowding out every other thought in my head.  I stand there and stare at Daniel's retreating back, watching Carter and Teal'c mother hen him into the tent and I'm cold, cold and scared because I've seen something bad, something really, really bad and the reason it's there, rooted and sprouting inside him, tainting Daniel's soul, it's my fault.

Several short hours ago I killed a man.  Shot him dead without a qualm because he was a stinking piece of pond scum and he deserved to die.  He'd hurt Daniel.  Starved him and beat him and kept him a prisoner.  For six months that piece of shit held my friend against his will and did stuff to him no one should ever have to be put through, hurting him in ways we'll probably never know about or understand.

And yet, in several short seconds I've done more to damage to Daniel than the dead prick did during the whole time he had him.

Which means, by rights, I should shoot myself, too.

Fair is fair.

At the very least I should put an end to it, one way or another.

I don't know how long I've been rooted to the spot here, rummaging around in my scruffy, useless soul for the vestiges of my conscience, but obviously it was long enough for Carter and Teal'c to have finished tucking Daniel in.  Carter pokes her head out of the tent, gets a visual fix on me, then I swear to God she huffs, charges out and starts storming toward me.

If she was a torpedo and I was a destroyer right about now I'd be telling all hands to abandon ship.

I don't know what happened in there, there's no way Daniel would say anything but I guess the dead eyes thing is a dead giveaway.  Carter, being a math whiz and all, must have added two and two and came up me.

Yanno, this insightful streak she's having, I wish she'd knock if off already.  It's proving to be damned inconvenient.  I've got to pull my shattered nerves together and figure out what the hell I'm going to do about Daniel, and I can't concentrate if she's beating me around the ears with my transgressions.

It's a damned good thing we're not married.  Or ever likely to be.  What, are you kidding, I'm gonna give up the only leverage I've got? I don't need to outsmart her as long as I outrank her.  These birds are all the protection I need against what's headed my way, full head of steam notwithstanding. 

I can shut her down faster than you can say, "I'm Colonel O'Neill, and you're not."

It's the only edge I've got and I've no problems using it if I have to.

In fact, I give it enough gas, I don't have to say a thing.  I see her snarl, raise her a growl and stomp off in the opposite direction. She doesn’t want to, but she gets the unspoken order, as well as the warning and lets me go.

Problem solved.  At least that one, anyway.  As for the other, the only one that really matters, well, I’ll deal with it, but not right now. The coast isn’t quite…free of obstructions.  Teal'c is still in there with Daniel; I'll just patrol the area awhile until he clears out and clears the way.

Or maybe I'll just keep walking, and consider my options. Ponder exactly how it is I’m going to fix this…thing between me and Daniel.  Without making it even worse. Heck, I ought to be able to come up with something in say, a year or two.

Way to go, O'Neill, man of straw with big, clay feet and a hole where your heart should be.  You know damned well what you should do, you've known it for years, and if you were a better, braver man –

"DanielJackson has suffered greatly, O'Neill," Teal'c's dulcet tones batter my ear.  I kiss ten years of my life good-bye and narrowly avoid a shock-induced coronary.

How the hell does he do that?

"Yeah," I grunt as the big guy falls into step beside me.  "I'm sure he has, but that's all over now."

"Is it?" he purrs.  "He bears many wounds none can see. The ones that burn the deepest were inflicted long before the visible hurts.  The surface scars will heal, with time, but as for that which sears soul deep without ceasing – who can say?"

Yanno, when it comes to cryptic, no one can hold a candle to my Jaffa friend. 

"No one's ever gonna mess with him again as long as I'm around," I snap.  And mean it.

 Maybe I can't do much else for Daniel but -

"And who will save him from the greatest threat of all? This Pada oppressed him, held him prisoner in body but his soul has long been shackled to another.  That one alone has the power to truly hurt, or heal."

Ummmm Carter, you still want a piece of me?  Right now going a few rounds with you sounds like way more fun than Jaffa Roast.

Teal'c stops walking, rounds on me, his eyes so dark and discerning I want to run screaming to Mommy.  Not that it would do me any good, she'd whup my sorry ass and send me right back here to take what's coming to me.

My mother is no fool, which is why I could never figure out how she managed to raise one.

"This must never happen again, O'Neill," Teal'c looms.  I listen. 

Trust me, you would too.

My mind is sputtering.  I know exactly what he means, now, not a shadow of a doubt, but what I don't know is how he  - knows!  My God, I thought we were alone in the suite that day, but if we weren't, if Teal'c had come back without either of us realising it, sure, it's possible, he's damned quiet enough to have been in there without us knowing, but come to think of it we were both doing so much yelling…

God, I guess anybody passing within a half mile of the palace probably heard us.  From the way Teal'c is glaring at me, I'm guessing he heard something. 

What, what did he hear, and how much?

Oh God, he knows, he knows!

All this time, my dirty little secret, kept so closely guarded, under wraps, tucked away out of sight all these months we were looking, searching, running down the faintest rumour, lie or fairytale, the fear driving me, the uncertainty, the gnawing suspicion I was the one responsible for – for…

"You will ensure this, O'Neill."

Nothing cryptic about that, at all.  He didn't lay the unstated 'or' on me, but that too, is perfectly, mutually understood.

"Major Carter and I will secure the area," he announces, then stalks regally away.

Knowing full well I'm living on borrowed time, I slink over to the tent.  I'm trying not to think about what I just learned as I poke my head inside.  Worrying about what the other half of my team thinks of me should not be my primary concern.  The man lying swaddled in the sleeping bag before me deserves as much of me as I can give him.

Okay, he deserves way better than any of me but –

Never mind.

I quietly park it on the other side of the tent.  I really shouldn't be here right now, Daniel needs to sleep, and it looks like he is, so I'll be quiet so I don't wake him up.  I'll just sit here, not make a sound and watch him sleep, and hopefully, seeing me just being in here, with him will be enough to mollify the Jaffa/major lynch mob and let me keep breathing for another day.

I’ll do it, I will, I’ll…fix it.  When it’s a better time.

God, it feels so good to just listen to him breathe!  I don't think I've had a full night's sleep since he disappeared, spending every night lying awake wondering where he was, what was happening to him, that was bad enough, but not nearly as bad as not knowing for sure, not knowing why

"It wasn't your fault," Daniel quietly murmurs, his voice eerie-creepy dull and dead in the silence.

Dammit, how did he know?  I can't believe this! I don't believe him!

The first thing he does, the first moment we're alone together; the time and hurt and distance haven't made a dint in his ability to somehow know, when it really counts, what I most need from him.

However, especially after all this time and hurt and distance, I have to wonder why he'd still care enough to make the effort.

He takes a deep, sighing breath, lets it out again and keeps right on talking.  His voice quiet, detached, monotone, emotionless.

"It had nothing to do with you at all. What happened to me, I mean. I just wanted you to know that.  It occurred to me, after a couple of weeks…  I was doing some thinking.  I had lots of time to think," he says, and laughs. 

A short, sharp bark.  Creepy sound.

Time.  I had lots of time on my hands too.  Time to sit and stew and imagine all sorts of horrible things, time to do nothing but worry and wonder, were you still alive, would I ever see you again?

"I was thinking, and it occurred to me, you might have thought, because of the way…what I said…"

Yeah, I had lots and lots of time.  But the only time I really wanted was the moment you walked away from me.  I wanted it back, wanted to go back, to shut my goddamned mouth, swallow my stupid pride and stop you from walking out that door.

"This'll make you laugh," Daniel says dully, in the most un-funny voice I've ever heard.  "The whole thing, why it happened, it was a really big piece of bad luck.  Huge. A wrong place at the wrong time…thing.  Ironic.  What makes it even funnier, when it happened, I was on my way back to apologize."

No.  Please no.

"I never made it.  Someone saw me, but I never saw him, and the next thing I knew, I was trussed up like a plucked turkey and on a ship bound for the Urgani Underground."  Daniel stops, shivers, burrows deeper into the sleeping bag.  "Not a nice place," he whispers.  "Wouldn't put it on a Cook's Tour of the Galaxy."

This time he doesn't laugh.  Me either.

"Yeah," he says, still shivering.  "It's a pretty rough place.  Hazardous to your health.  As the bounty hunter found out."

Bounty hunter?  What?

"Oh, sorry, did I not say?"

Then he goes silent, and I wait, wondering if he's done.  Said too much, or has too much to say.  I can't believe he's already told me what he has.

He hasn't moved since I got here, he's still lying on his side, his back to me.  He's shaking, and I should…I should do something.  I know him, I know him so well, can see the signs, he's getting shocky, I know what he needs, but God, I can't, I can't move.  Part of me wants to hear more; the other part hopes he'll stop talking, stop shaking, go to sleep.  Sleep, that's what he needs.

Go to sleep, Daniel.  Forget about this for awhile. 

"Yeah, a bounty hunter grabbed me on the way back to the palace," Daniel starts speaking again.  "I'd gone over to Marda's, you remember the place, to sit, have some busga, clear my head."

Yeah, I remember.  It's the first place I looked.  Not soon enough.   Not soon enough.

"That's where he saw me.  Now we're getting to the funny part.  He was after someone else.   Came to pick up some other poor soul and saw me instead.  Whoever other this guy was, he was got really lucky, because apparently the bounty the Goa'uld placed on me was three times what the hunter was hoping to get for his original target.  So, he decided to trade up. Just think, if I hadn't been there right then, and the hunter hadn't kept current on his 'Galaxy's Most Wanted' list, none of this would have happened.  How's that for irony?"

Oh God, Daniel, I'm so sorry.

"Like I said, I was heading back," Daniel continues his recitation with frightening detachment, like all of it happened to someone else. 

I wish it had.  He probably does too. 

"The streets were pretty crowed, it was the height of the trading interval in the Kabaat.  I was getting knocked about a bit, in the crowds, you know, uncomfortable but no big deal, and then I felt this pain, in my arm, and the rest…"

He stops again, for several seconds.

"I don't remember much, after that.  Until I woke up on the ship, that is."

So that's how it was done.  The guy followed him out into the street, drugged him, then got him to his ship, and then off-world.  The hunter was there with the express intention of bagging someone, so he already had his moves, including how to safely cut his target out of the herd and get back to his ship, all planned.  Changing victims wouldn't have changed any of his original get out of Dodge with the goods arrangements. Even if Daniel was stumbling around, trying to fight off the drug, in that crowd no one would have looked twice at them and if they did, they'd only have seen a guy helping his friend home who'd had a bit too much to drink. We were all dressed in the duds the Vangar insisted we wear, so there was nothing to make Daniel stand out, no reason for anyone to have noticed him.

No wonder no one saw anything, knew anything. No wonder it looked like Daniel had just vanished into thin air.  Or slipped out of the city, gone to the gate and made himself…disappear.

God, Daniel!  Bad luck?  That doesn't even begin to cover it.  The odds against something like that happening were astronomical.  Almost as unlikely as us being in just the right place at just the right time…

To get you back.

But still, odds or no odds, you wouldn’t have been in that place, out on those streets – alone - for a bounty hunter or anyone else…if we hadn’t – if I hadn’t…

This is all my fault.  But then, I knew that all along.

"The bounty hunter was pretty pleased with himself," Daniel starts up again after another one of those silences.  I think he's waiting for me to say something.  Or walk out on him.  I can't do either; nothing I could say could even begin to make up for what I've done to him, and as for the bailing option, well, that would make things a lot easier on me, to not have to know, but I forfeited the right to spare myself six months ago.  All I can do, the least I can do for him right now is to keep my stupid mouth shut and make myself listen to as much of the sordid story as he's willing to share.

The irony of this situation has not escaped me, by the way.  No matter what happens to him, Daniel is usually tighter about keeping all the gory details close to the vest than Scrooge McClam.  You can't get him to talk about squat about himself. At best, for all your digging you get a hearty 'I'm fine,' and then he's off and dealing, leaving you in the cold tearing your hair out because you don't know what the hell is wrong and you don't know how the hell to fix it. 

That's the way he is, usually, but not now. Now, when the last thing I want is to listen to any of this, he won't shut up. He must be so close to the edge he's about to disintegrate.  And he's talking to hold the hysteria at bay.

This premise gets more and more likely as the talking, and the shaking continue.

Faster, it's coming out faster now.  He’s still speaking in a cold, dead voice, but the delivery is definitely picking up speed.

"Yeah, he was really patting himself on the back," Daniel rapidly drones on. "Couldn't wait to cash in on my misfortune.  Me on the other hand, knowing I was headed for a System Lord, I figured my future wasn’t looking too good, or too long.  That is, if I got lucky, it wouldn't last too long."

You mean, the best you were hoping for was they'd kill you quick and only once. Leave you dead. 

God.

"But then I caught a break.  The bounty hunter had someone after him, and they caught up with him on Urgani, before he could close the deal with the Goa'ulds.  Whatever he did, it sure pissed some people off." Daniel shrugs. "I'm a little fuzzy on the details, it got…confusing."

And probably a lot dangerous.

"So anyway, this guy kills the bounty hunter and takes me to recoup his losses.  I change hands a few more times, three, maybe four, I'm not sure, but eventually I end up property of Pada.  Which, while it still wasn't exactly my first choice, was a hell of a lot better than going to the Goa'uld. So, I got lucky again.  At least I was still alive, which was way more than I was expecting to be."

And where there's life, there's hope, Danny?

"So you see, Jack," he says, fighting the words out.  He's shaking so badly now, his teeth are starting to chatter.  "It wasn't your fault.  Just bad timing.  Could've been any of us, anywhere, it just so happened it was me."

You're wrong, Daniel, oh, so wrong.  It was my fault, all of it.  I never should have let you leave me, never should have made you… 

"Anyway, it's over now," he gasps, his voice wavering slightly for the first time.  "It turned out all right in the end.  Besides, it wasn't so bad."

Suddenly Daniel isn't the only one who's shaking.  I'm usually not given to having premonitions, but the second those words leave his lips a cold, dark chill shimmies up my spine.  I have a horrible, sick feeling if I thought what he'd already told me was bad, I ain't heard nuthin' yet.

"I got used to the beatings after awhile," he chatters.  "It's not that hard, you just have to keep telling yourself it doesn't matter.  Besides, I brought it on myself.  I wouldn't stop trying to escape.  Pada couldn't kill me, he'd paid too much for me, and what I knew was far too useful to him to waste, although he did threaten to cut my legs off once, but I told him if he separated me from any of my body parts he'd never make another dime off me or my expertise. Did you know all the years I've spent out here rooting around in alien garbage dumps hasn't been a total waste of time?  I've gained enough knowledge to become something of an expert in alien artefacts and antiques.  Pada certainly made a pile buying and selling based on the advice I gave him. He was doing very well for himself.  Hey, when you were looking for me I'll bet you never even considered searching the galactic equivalent of yard sales, back-street bargain bazaars and auction houses."

No, Daniel, we didn't.

"No, he'd beat me and starve me, but he didn't dare do anything else to me," Daniel mutters.   "He knew me well enough by then he was well aware there was no way he could force me to advise him on his deals if I didn't want to.  Yeah, I had him right where I wanted him, all right," Daniel finishes, emitting a short, eerie giggle.

God, Daniel, why did you do it?  Thinking how close he must have come to being maimed for life scares the crap out of me – why didn't you just lie low, bide your time, make him think you were beaten, had accepted things, and he didn't need to watch you all the time?  You're smarter than that; know better than to draw attention to yourself – why!  Why did you take such a terrible risk!

"I had to," he babbles.  "I had to get away.  I had tell you – I knew you'd be thinking I – I'd run away because…  It wasn't like that, it wasn't like that at all, Jack, I wasn't even mad anymore, well, yeah, I was pissed at the whole…slave…thing, but not at you.  I wasn't mad at you, Jack, I wasn't and I didn't want you thinking – didn't want you blaming yourself…"

He's gulping and shaking, curling in on himself like a shocked snail, still babbling, the words tumbling out of him in a tangled torrent, most of it unintelligible.  I watch him curling and jerking, trying to compact himself into the smallest space possible and it hits me – finally - what I'm really seeing.

Yeah, I know at first I thought it was shock, and there is some of that to what's happening to Daniel right now, but that's not all of it, not even the biggest part of it. 

Strange as it may sound, Daniel is in withdrawal.  I know what I'm talking about; I've seen him this way before.  What's really weird though, I know you're not going to believe this part, that is, what he's in withdrawal from.

Believe me, I'm having a hard time getting my head around it myself, but it makes sense, and if you knew what I know about Daniel, you'd see it too.

A few years back the guy lost his wife and his family on Abydos, got dragged back through the gate with us, ending up lost in the shuffle in the corridors of the SGC like a fish without its barrel.  So, I took him home with me, put him up until he got his act together and got a place of his own.  Least I could do, considering the guy had saved my life, a couple of times, and we were friends.  Funny, he'd already gotten so far under my skin by then I never even stopped to consider how odd it was I already knew so much about him, considering I didn't really know him.

That's right, I didn't really know him at all.  But I did. I still don't understand how after that first mission on Abydos we'd gotten to be tighter than I've ever been with guys I've known half my life, when I barely knew a thing about him.  We'd only spent a couple of days together, during which we were both too busy dodging staff blasts, getting killed and resurrected, married, leading a slave rebellion and blowing up scum-sucking oppressing aliens to have much time for engaging in getting-to-know-you stuff, even if I had been in the mood to make his more intimate acquaintance, which I have to confess I really wasn't at the time.  Then we left him behind and I didn't see him for a whole year, so by the time we got to where I found him that night, up on my roof and staring at the stars, alone and silently bleeding all over the deck, there wasn't any way I'd had the time or the opportunity to get to know him well enough to know what he needed.

But I did.

In fact, I didn't even have to stop and think about what I did, I just did it.  It wasn't until afterwards – days afterwards - when I started really watching him and getting he had a bit of a touch taboo… 

You don't have to be a genius to read Daniel's body language and when I finally had the time and leisure to study it I got quite an education.  Which made me wonder what in the hell I'd been thinking that night, doing what I did.

But I did.  I'm shit with words; when I can manage to anything to say at all, it's usually totally stupid and absolutely the wrong thing, and right then, Daniel didn't need empty clichés and platitudes, he needed a shoulder.

So, I gave him one.  I just walked up to him, put my hand on his shoulder and turned him.  Not only did he not make strange or shrug me off, he came the rest of the way on his own.  I held him and hugged him for a long time, and when he was ready, he pushed himself away, said thank you, and left me and went back inside and straight to bed.  We never said a word the whole time, never mentioned it again, but then, we didn't have to.  What I did for him did the job; it was exactly what he needed.  Afterwards he still wasn't great, but he was better.  That's all that mattered.

Like I said when I started figuring out he wasn't the sort of guy to let anyone get too close to him physically, I wondered what made me different.  Because I obviously was, he'd let me touch him, whenever, and that body language thing?  After awhile I'd catch the signals he'd send me, not even realising he was doing it, when he wanted me to touch him.   And all the time I was doing it the reason why, why he would turn to me and no one else; I completely missed the point.

I always thought it was simply about the basic human need for contact thing.  We all need it, even someone like Daniel who's spent most his life, 'cause he's had to, convincing himself he doesn't.  All this time I thought it was about the touch, and Daniel accepting it from me and pretty much only me in those early days because I was the only one he trusted enough to let get that close.

As time went by and he mellowed some, he gradually expanded the circle of people he'd allow casual physical intimacies with, so this seemed to reinforce my erroneous assumption I was no more special than anyone else. 

It was the touch, any touch from anyone, and nothing more.

I was wrong.  Oh God, I was so wrong.  Needing human contact was only a small, small part of it, it wasn't the touch Daniel craved, it was me.

It was me, it was me, all this time, that's what he's wanted, that's what he's needed, it all makes sense now, what he was saying back in that room, what he was trying to tell me, why he was so desperate to make me understand by cutting him out of my life and backing away I'd cut him off from something he needed as much as breathing.

Me.

But I couldn't hear him, couldn't afford to listen, I was fighting my own battles with cravings clawing out my insides, they were bad, bad enough when he was right there, and at least I could see him even if I could never allow myself to touch

But when he was gone, I was alone with it, the burning, aching, emptiness, a hunger gnawing at your guts there's no answer for.  I swore to myself when I got him back I'd never hurt him again, even if it meant I had to burn in my own self-made hell for the rest of my life to keep this thing inside wanting to possess him from ever touching him.

Now I understand if I don't let it out, give in to it, and give him what he wants, I might as well shoot him now. 

It'd be kinder.

Irony again. What I thought was the vilest part of me; the thing I needed to protect him from at all costs is what he wants from me the most.

Crazy world, isn't it?

Daniel's desperate rambling cuts back across my awareness as a couple of particularly distressing phrases suddenly come clear.

"It didn't matter, none of it mattered, everything that happened to me, I didn’t care about any of it, the beatings and the threats and the – the –  I didn't care, didn't I just kept…I knew I'd get back to you, I'd find a way, no matter how long it took no matter – and then – and then…"

He stops, sobs and I'm reaching toward him.

"Stupid, stupid," he savagely spits.  "I know it was stupid to think – to-to-to hope – nothing's changed, nothing it's – you – don't – I might as well have saved myself the trouble.  What does it matter if I'm here – or – or still there, it's all the same.  All the same.  Nothing's changed.  Nothing."

He chokes on the last word, and finally falls silent.  His body shakes with grief; he folds in on himself, desperately stifling the sounds of his despair.

You're wrong, Daniel, everything's changed, but as usual, I can't think of a single thing to say to convince you. 

That's okay, because I don't have to.

I'm already propped up on my side, directly behind him.  All I have to do is reach out my hand…

Touch.

"Daniel," I whisper, my hand closing gently on his shuddering shoulder.  Instantly he stills, the sound of his panicked breathing swirling around us.  I squeeze lightly, but he still doesn't move, then I pull, and draw him unresisting against my chest.

He doesn't move, doesn't shake, doesn't even breathe while I wind my arms around him.  He lies unresisting, totally inert in my embrace, but the heart beneath my hand is pounding frantically. 

"Why are you doing this?" he finally whispers, his voice thin, needy, scared.  Slowly, he snakes his hands up 'til he's clutching my arm, holding it tightly to him.  He's torn in two, can't believe, after everything I've done to convince him otherwise, this could actually be happening and yet he wants so much for this to be real.

Wants me.

Can’t imagine why, but if he really wants me, he can have me.

I pull him tighter, rub my cheek against his and he sobs again, struggling weakly to move away. 

"Don't," he pleads.  "Don't do this.  I don't need your pity – just - just leave me alone," he begs, breaking.  "Just – just...go…"

I don't understand, this isn't going the way I thought it would, this isn't supposed to be hurting him, he's supposed to – all I've ever had to do was hold him and he – he gets it, he gets better

Pity?  Daniel thinks I…

Oh God, oh God, I've screwed it up, I've screwed us both, I did my job too well.  He bought the act, hook line and sucker.  Now I'm here, for real, not pretending, not pushing him away, I'm here to give him what he wants – everything he wants. It's too late.  He doesn't believe me.  He'll probably never believe me.  Not now.  Not…ever.

I've got no right to stay and yet I can't let him go.  I should, I've already hurt him enough but if the only thing I have to give him, if he doesn't want it – want me…

I slam my eyes shut but it's too late, not fast enough.  I can't believe this.  Bawling?  Me? 

Jesus, what next?

I gotta get out of here but I don't know where to go.  I've got nowhere to go; all my roads have led right here, from the first moment I saw him, I think.  I've wasted so much time running around in circles, trying to go anywhere but here, and now I've finally faced my own best truth and come crawling to the only place I want to be…

Daniel, I'm so sorry.

I'm startled by a light touch to my cheek.  Gentle fingers ghosting across the damp symbols of my stupidity.

"Jack?"

I crack my eyes open, ashamed to meet the ones I'm going to see.

Daniel has twisted around in my arms so we're now face to face and I was so sunk in my own self-pity I didn't feel him do it.  He's gazing at me, wary, concerned, definitely confused.  His glance cuts to the tips of his fingers, back up to my face, astonishment widening those clear, blue eyes as he sees mine are still leaking.

Goddamit.

Not a damned thing I can do to stop them at the moment – something else I can't believe.  I don't cry.  Ever.  Okay, maybe I have sort of…misted… a couple of times over the last few years, but it wasn't – crying.  Not really, there were circumstances.

I lost it when that orb…thingee pinned me to the wall of the gateroom.  The big guy was the only one who saw that, although considering the fact I was pinned to the gateroom wall like a plucked duck, I think he cut me some slack.  I got a little upset when we thought Daniel had died on that fish guy's planet, but that was probably mostly due to getting our brains messed around with.  Ditto for the outburst I had in front of Janet just before Daniel flat-lined in the infirmary and I had to take him back to the Goa'uld disco ball planet.

My brain was screwed up.  That's why I got weepy.  That's what I told myself at the time.  Worked for years, too.

So what was my excuse for the night Daniel disappeared? Waking up in the dead of night, night after night, my face wet?  What about now, tough guy?

So, I guess there's another theory that won't hold water. 

Apparently, neither can I.

Daniel is in my arms, his wide, searching gaze missing nothing and there's no getting away from it, no getting away from him this ain't misting there are huge, honking tears rolling down my cheeks, my chest is heaving, my nose is running, I can't stop it, can't hide it, aw crap, can this day get any worse?

"Not…not pity?"  Daniel says slowly, his eyes still trying to make sense of what he's seeing.  Which is my stupid face, so I wish him a lot of luck.

I shake my head, hideously self-conscious about my dripping nose.

"Then – what?"  Daniel asks softly, again, not taking his eyes from my face while he slips his hand into the pocket of my vest where I keep the tissue stash.

It's a habit I got into, back at the beginning of SG-1's career, of carrying around a packet of tissues, just in case Daniel forgot his, which he usually did.  And still does.  He used to have a problem with allergies when we first started going through the gate and would honk his head off half the time.  And he'd almost never have something to blow his nose with.  I got tired of watching him use his sleeve.  He seems to have grown out of the whole allergies thing, but I still carry them, just in case he needs to wipe his glasses or something. 

You never know.

Yeah, I still carry them, have been carrying them all this time even though…

He's pulled the tissue out and is wiping my nose, and I see it hit him at the same time it hits me.  What he just did.

He reached in, expecting to find them, and did, but he shouldn't have, they shouldn't have been there.  I've had no reason to carry them, not for months and months, and they still shouldn't have been there today because when we kitted up this morning I didn't know we'd find him, but we did, and I had what he needed, and expected to find, even though there was no possible way I could have known he'd be here today to need it, so I should have it.

And I did.

"Why?" Daniel asks, looking down at the used tissue in his hand, a soft, gentle smile on his lips. 

"Why are you still here?"

I can see he already knows, the presence of a couple of pieces of unexpected cellulose in my pocket have spoken more for the truth of my intentions than a ton of hearts and flowers, but he did ask, and very nicely too, so I figure I should give him an answer.

I hope he likes it.  I've been dying to be able to give it to him for ages.

From all the moaning he's doing into my mouth I'd say he likes it very much.

I give the kiss all I am, and it's sweet, so sweet, tender, and I wish it could last forever, but at last he sighs and pulls away and when I open my eyes I see I'm not the only one whose face is wet.

He's weeping, but they're happy tears.  His eyes are swimming with love and hope and every good thing I ever want to see in them. 

Thank crap I've finally done something right.

"You do?"  he sniffs.

I nod and do some snorting myself.  But no talking.  Keeping my lip zipped has been working so far; I'm not about to mess it up now.

"Me too," he sighs happily, nestling into me.

I hold him tight and stroke him, letting him rest.  He's not shaking now, and now he knows I'm here, I'll always be here, he's safe…

He's home.

"Jack," he murmurs against my chest.

"Shhhh," I hush him, kissing his hair.  He needs to rest.  I've kept him awake long enough, we still have a few hours hike ahead of us before we get to the gate and are truly home free.

"Rest," I tell him.  "We'll talk later."

"Oh," he groans, pulling back so he can see my face.  "Do we have to?"

"No", I say before fitting my mouth over his.  "No, we don't."

FINIS




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Biblio, PhoenixE, babs, Brionhet, Darcy, Devra, Fabrisse, JoaG, Kalimyre, Marcia, Rowan and Sideburns, 2001-2008.
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Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate Productions, Sci Fi Channel, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. These stories are for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. These stories may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author. Copyright on images remains with the above named rightsholders.
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