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Even Your Darkest Night

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The small, ill-at-ease man in the ill-fitting suit made his way silently through the invited crowd towards him.

He moved smoothly, unerringly, in a way that was dream-like. This was a dream, wasn’t it?

Pushing his way through the mass of people, he said quietly, “Dr. Jackson?”

“Hello. Yes.” Be polite. Be friendly. Be the public face of a program that has just been revealed to a frightened, unsuspecting world.

The man held out his right hand. After a moment’s hesitation, he took it in a firm grip, all the while seeing the scene as if through a camera obscura. The stranger looked down at their joined hands, then raised dark eyes as the handshake went on for just a moment too long.

He felt himself being pulled closer, could smell sour breath, old sweat and an unsettling staleness that perfectly matched the man’s shabby appearance. Words were whispered in his ear, clear, unhesitating, precise, as though memorized and rehearsed for this single moment. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore; and have the keys of hell and of death.”

Pulling back, the man reached out his left hand to cover the hand he was holding ever more tightly; pressed damp, slightly shaking fingers to clean, warm flesh.

“I’m sorry, what …?”

The man smiled slightly, turned away and melted into the crowd.

He held up his hand, turned it slowly back and forth and saw a small pinprick of blood, a tiny, crimson tear, slide its way down his palm and on to the cuff of his shirt.

A dream. He knew it was a dream. It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.

For in the dream he knew without question that he was dying.

>>>>>>> 

Struggling for breath, Daniel shot up in bed, a strangled cry leaving his throat even as he fought to swallow it. For one blissful second, it was just another nightmare in a long list stretching from falling columns to flesh-melting burns and beyond. But one check of his bandaged hand and it all came flooding back relentlessly.

The man with the dark eyes and darker intentions; the pinprick that carried liquid death; and later, the frantic dash to the hospital; the medical staff with troubled eyes that never quite managed to meet his when he started asking the hard questions.

Daniel took deep breaths and looked around, trying to find an anchor in this sea of unreality. The bedroom of Jack’s Washington townhouse, the place that was their home when time and circumstances allowed. Crisp, no-nonsense white bed linen felt comforting beneath his fingers, a relief from the starched sheets of Georgetown University Hospital. Sunlight was slanting through the half-open blinds. Late morning, he guessed. His clothes were folded neatly on the nearby chair. Jack’s reading glasses lay on an upturned, open book on the nightstand. He squinted to read the title, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. Research. Jack was doing research. Any other time that would have been unspeakably hot. Now, it just made his chest hurt.

Daniel eased himself up to a comfortable sitting position and considered how he felt. Nauseous, for starters, which was one step up from the constant vomiting that had been the case for several hours after it first happened. He had a headache, felt thirsty and was running a high temperature if the sweat stains on his grey T-shirt were anything to go by. At some point, Jack must have dressed him in the comfortable old T and sweatpants Daniel sometimes used for sleeping.

 He ached a lot, and not just in his bones.

Reaching for the glass on the nightstand, he swallowed a few sips of water. It felt blessedly cool as it slipped down his raw throat.

So far, it could have been a bad dose of the flu. Then his eyes were drawn to his bandaged hand again. Not the flu. Nothing trivial that could be swept away with a handful of Tylenol and a hot toddy.

“…and have the keys of hell and of death.” Hell and death. His breath hitched. He needed…

 “I. Don’t. Care. You can quote logistics at me ‘til the cows come home. Make it happen. Then maybe we can start to look at how this asshole got close enough to do this. Then I can have the pleasure of considering your reassignment. How does the Pegasus Galaxy sound?”

Jack’s voice got louder and higher as the conversation progressed.

The cell phone was flipped shut and Daniel winced as it landed on a hard surface. To anyone else, Jack would have sounded angry, which he was. He was also terrified, and that scared Daniel more than any poisoned needle ever could.

Jack was downstairs in the living room. “Jack,” Daniel called hoarsely, levering himself slowly out of bed.

Daniel made his way carefully down the stairs and into the living room on legs that felt like overcooked spaghetti. Jack blew out a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. He only did that when the end of his rope had been reached. It was a dead giveaway. Busted. Jack finally saw Daniel standing there, shrugged and put up his hands in apology.

“The man is a shrub, Daniel. He was in charge of security.”

“Jack …” He kept his voice calm and measured, the perfect counterpoint to Jack’s.

“Security let the man through.”

“Jack …”

“Security let the man get close enough to fucking whisper in your ear and inject who knows what poison for God’s sake.”

“Jack!” Daniel raised his voice, then coughed, the rasping sound making them both wince.

“Sorry,” Jack mumbled. He moved towards Daniel, resting a hand on his arm in mute apology. “Shit. Ignore me. Come and sit down before you fall down, and what are you doing out of bed?” Trademark gruff-Jack concern. Daniel hid a smile.

Jack led him further into the room until they sank into the rich comfort of the leather sofa. 

Daniel peered at his bandaged hand as though it held the secrets of the universe. Jack seemed to be fascinated by the pattern on Daniel’s much-loved Persian rug beneath the coffee table.

Silence fell between them. It was the first moment of quiet in the hours and minutes of worry and growing fury since Daniel had collapsed on the bathroom floor of the house two hours after the incident at the public meet and greet, held to introduce the faces behind the program to a curious and frightened world.

Daniel remembered falling to the bathroom floor, taking a shelf of toiletries with him; the sound of his heartbeat thudding wildly in his chest as he slipped into unconsciousness; the distant wail of the ambulance siren; the rise and fall of the medical team’s voices as they swarmed around him like diligent worker bees.

Above all, he remembered the sanctuary of Jack’s arms as he flitted in and out of awareness, fearful and confused; Jack’s fingers woven tightly with his, a strong, immutable link that was only broken when he was whisked away.

Jack rose from the sofa, seemingly full of barely-contained energy. He paced to the window, peered out of the part-closed drapes.

“Great. Now they post guards and throw in unmarked black sedans just for good measure.”

Daniel laid his head back on the soft leather and closed his eyes. He couldn’t cope with pissed-off Jack, so retreated into silence instead.

He must have dozed for a moment because Jack’s soft, “So. How are you feeling?” jolted him awake. Jack was sitting back down, half turned to face him. Jack’s knee brushed the side of Daniel’s leg. It felt absurdly comforting.

Daniel cast him a disbelieving glance and then huffed a small laugh. It broke the tension. Jack smiled back, although it seemed to be an effort, as though all the muscles in his face had forgotten how.

“Dumb question, huh?” Jack asked, somewhat chagrined.

“Maybe not your most incisive.”

Jack nodded and was quiet for a moment. Then, in a burst of anger, he ground out,  “I told them. I told them I didn’t want your face out there. You were an obvious target.” The contained energy was spilling over into restlessness. His right leg was jiggling. Daniel found the soft tap, tap, tapping intensely annoying but strove for understanding. Jack was hurting, too.

“Jack, it was always going to be a calculated risk. I was no more a target than anyone else who fronted the media coverage when the program went public.” Daniel coughed a little, then shivered. Jack got up, fetched a blanket from the hall closet and draped it over Daniel, smoothing and tucking as he went.

Daniel smiled to himself. Jack was an inveterate carer when he had the chance. Jack ran a hand over the material covering Daniel’s legs and Daniel wished with a fierce ache that he could feel smooth skin instead of the soft wool.

“That’s bullshit, Daniel,” Jack was warming to his subject. “You. You were the one who figured it all out, opened the gate. Of course you were going to be at the top of the crazy fraternity’s hit list. They should have taken better care of you.”

The I should have taken better care of you went unspoken but was clearly heard.

“You can’t legislate for the actions of one crazed individual, and I had to be involved in taking the program public.” He was so tired. Everything was such an effort but he had to make Jack understand. “We’ve been over this. My name would have come out sooner or later and I want to help people understand what it means, what it can mean. And I refuse to live my life behind bullet-proof glass and a shield of men bigger than Teal’c.  Don’t ask me to live my life like that, Jack.”

A further awkward silence fell.

Daniel sighed. “I need my laptop. If I can study the Book of Revelation some more maybe I can come up with...”

“Fucking religious freak.”

“He has a belief, Jack. For him, the Stargate obviously threatens that.”

“So it’s fine to lash out? Whatever happened to turning the other cheek?” There was a powerful mixture of fear and anger in Jack’s eyes and Daniel recognized it for what it was.

“I’m sure, in his twisted way, he thought what he was doing was right. I helped open Pandora’s box. I’m a threat. The gate’s a threat.”

Jack’s hand, which had been smoothing small circles on the blanket, stilled and clenched into a fist. He closed his eyes. “Don’t,” he whispered.

“Don’t what?” Daniel asked gently.

“Don’t defend him. I don’t care what he believed. He had no right, no fucking right to do this to you.”

“No. No, he didn’t, and I’m not making excuses. I guess I’m just … trying to understand. That’s all.”

“Well, I don’t understand and I can’t spare one second of sympathy or empathy on some whack job who thinks its okay to kill you. Okay? All right? I have nothing left for him.”

Daniel reached out and covered Jack’s clenched fist with his hand. He rubbed gently, watched the fingers start to uncurl, the white knuckles gradually regain some color.

“Then don’t think about him. Let the police and FBI and the rest do their job. Let’s just be together. For now.”

“For now.”

Daniel couldn’t think beyond For Now and he knew that Jack couldn’t either. What waited was unthinkable. Unbearable.

Then, as though he had to say it, Jack whispered, “It’s not going to happen, Daniel.  I won’t let it.”

Daniel had no answer that wasn’t either cruel or contradictory. Jack was powerless here and they both knew it. So Daniel smiled gently, leaned into Jack and kissed him softly, just once. It was a brief, dry meeting of lips, almost chaste, but it spoke of love and tenderness and seemed to calm Jack when words couldn’t.

“I don’t think I’ve said thank you yet,” Daniel said, nuzzling Jack’s forehead.

“For what?”

“For springing me from the hospital. I have no idea how you did that. The doctors were pretty adamant I should stay.”

“Yeah, well. I can be scary, with or without a P-90. There’re conditions attached to your breakout and a long, long, list of dos and don’ts. And I’m a general and have friends in high places. The President called while you were asleep, by the way. He’s being kept apprised. Said to call if there was anything he could do.”

They sat together just rubbing foreheads. Daniel would never have believed how necessary and reassuring such a simple gesture could be.

“That’s nice,” he said, letting the physical contact imbue him with the first sense of peace he’d enjoyed since the whole nightmare began.

“Yeah. Nuzzling. Good for what ails you.”

Daniel laughed weakly. “No … the President.”

“Oh. That. He’s a good guy. He knows what you’re worth to the program, to everyone, now.”

Daniel shifted uncomfortably. “Don’t make me out to be some kind of hero.” Daniel went to pull away but Jack stopped him, holding him in place with a hand at the back of his neck.

“You are. You always have been. To me.”

Daniel gazed at Jack; that he should say those words, feel he had to say them, was almost more than Daniel could bear.

Tears began to well and Daniel blinked hard. Before he could respond, lighten the mood, steer them away from saying the things neither could face saying, Daniel’s cell phone rang from the kitchen.

They continued to hold each other’s gaze. Daniel had never seen the depth of love he found now in Jack’s eyes. It hurt him and soothed him and, shit, this wasn’t fair.

“I’ll get that,” Jack said hoarsely.

Daniel watched him leave and closed his eyes. He really was so fucking tired.

He strained to hear the conversation in the next room. “O’Neill. Yeah … he’s doing okay … no, nothing yet, but, you know, the best minds, yadda. Sure. Hold on.”

He walked back into the room and held out the phone. “Carter.”

Daniel coughed, wincing at the pain it caused in his throat, and took the phone from Jack, who motioned with his hands that he was going back to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

Daniel nodded as he answered the call. “Hey, Sam.”

“Hey, Daniel.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you can call me on my phone from there.”

“Yeah. I’m not sure I understand it myself, and the cost must be astronomical, but, you know, special circumstances…” She was babbling. She did that when she was frightened or unsure of herself. At this moment, she was probably both. “I’m so sorry. I just heard from Cam.”

“Good news travels fast across the universe.”

“The poison. Are they running tox screens?”

Daniel smiled to himself. Typical Sam. Ever practical, ever on top of what needed to be done. “Every screen you can think of, and then some.”

“Toxic screening is not always much help; qualitative rather than quantitative. It can provide false results, too, and they only check for a limited number of substances. Do they know the poison’s composition yet?”

“Um, I don’t think so … to be honest, I’ve been kind of out of it. Jack’s been running interference. His cell phone’s been red hot. I’ve been awake and asleep but I know he’s pulling every string, calling in every favor. Kicking every butt. And somehow he got me out of the hospital, for which I’m eternally grateful.”

“Where are you?”

Home. I’m with Jack. I’m home.

“At Jack’s house. Seven minutes from the hospital, with a medical team on standby there, should I deteriorate or decide I can’t be more than two feet from an emesis basin. Oh, and there’s a dedicated cell phone right in front of me that will only ring when the FBI, or whoever, finds the guy who did this.”

Sam sighed. “He’s the key, Daniel. Find him and the odds of finding the antidote improve a thousand-fold.”

“Yeah. If he’ll talk.” He paused, then voiced the one fear he couldn’t share with Jack; the one fear he felt certain Jack would have recognized before Daniel did. “If he’s even alive, which, in all honesty, I doubt.”

“Why?”

“Because this has all the hallmarks of a suicide mission. He got me. Mission accomplished. Glory awaits; at least in his twisted view of things.”

Daniel looked up as Jack came back to the sofa, sat down and offered water and two tiny pink pills, which Daniel took and swallowed. He had no idea what they were for.

“God, Daniel.”

“Yeah.”

“I feel so far away.”

Daniel laughed. “You are.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

Daniel sighed and shifted a little to ease the dull ache that seemed to afflict his whole body now. Jack scooped up a couple of throw pillows and put them behind Daniel’s back and went back to watching him while seeming not to.

“I know,” Daniel said, softly.

“I feel so helpless.”

“It’s okay, Sam. Everything that can be done …”

“You know I love you, right?”

“I know.”

“You know I’m hugging you right now.”

“I know that, too.”

“Damn, I’m sorry Daniel, I gotta go. Ask the General to keep in touch, okay?”

I’ll keep in touch.”

The significance of that insistence took a second to register with Sam. “Yeah. And don’t think this is an excuse to welch on our deal. It’s your turn to shell out for pizza and a DVD next time I’m home.” She sounded choked, voice wavering. He could picture those huge blue eyes filling, her chin jutting as she tried to stop the tears.

He hung on, not wanting to break the connection. A click and the call ended. Daniel closed his phone and placed it against his cheek. He told himself he did that because the plastic felt cool against his overheated skin; he knew he did it to feel closer to her.

He felt Jack’s eyes on him, assessing, as he placed the phone on the coffee table and sat back, adjusting the pillows to his comfort.

“You okay?” Jack asked, softly.

“Can we agree not to ask that question again?”

“Its redundancy becoming an issue?”

“Somewhat.”

“Okay. Let’s just agree that when you feel like shit you’ll tell me.”

“Okay …. I feel like shit.”

“Your honesty is to be commended, Dr. Jackson. Feel like a nap?”

“Yeah. I really do, but only if you’ll come with me.”

Jack smiled gently. “You need to ask?”

Daniel unwrapped himself from the blanket and allowed Jack to pull him slowly to his feet, Jack scooping up the cell phone they were both longing and dreading to hear ring. They negotiated the stairs together, one at a time, Daniel leaning heavily by the time they reached the top.

“I just need…” Daniel gestured towards the bathroom.

“Need any help?” Jack asked.

“It’s okay. I can cope. But thanks for the offer.”

Jack left him at the door. Daniel closed it behind him and leaned heavily against it. He felt markedly worse. If the evidence of the mirror was anything to go by, he looked markedly worse, too. Pale, drawn, almost gaunt, he looked ten years older. The effects of the poison would, in all likelihood, be slow acting, rather than fast, the medical team had said. It was the only reason they were prepared to release him. Daniel had already figured out that events would take their own sweet time. This was about making him suffer, as much as it was about killing him.

He was starting to feel pins and needles in his toes and fingertips. His temperature was spiking ever higher and he was pretty sure he was going to be …

His knees slammed hard against cold tile as he sank to the floor, throwing up nothing but bile until dry heaves wracked his body. So much for the anti-emetics.

Then Jack was there; cold cloth against Daniel’s forehead, offering water to sip; so calm and capable that it soothed Daniel when all he wanted to do was scream at the sheer horror of it all.

He was helped onto the bed, grateful to feel the cool sheets beneath him. He loved this bed. It was the one place in the world he felt really himself, truly safe. They tried so hard not to let the outside world intrude into this room. It was their sanctuary, a haven from regulations and orders and everything that meant they’d never had the life they so desperately craved.

Only half-aware now, he felt his legs being lifted and a sheet being pulled up to cover his shivering body. He flailed an arm out, seeking, and his hand was grasped firmly.

“Stay,” he whispered.

“I’ve got you,” he heard before he drifted away.

For now, it was safe to let go.

>>>>> 

He saw his mother, turned away from him, standing beside a huge body of water. The sun was shining. It was warm and peaceful. She was young, hair dark and lustrous, and so beautiful. She possessed an innate warmth that always meant love and understanding, even when he transgressed.

She turned to face him, that remembered and loved smile spreading slowly across her face. It was a face full of character and intelligence; features so mobile and expressive. Her eyes crinkled at the corners; he’d always loved that, looked for it. When he saw that, he knew she was happy.

“Don’t be frightened, Noori. All will be well.” Noori, the name she called him when no one else was around. Their secret. His father had insisted on naming him for Daniel’s paternal grandfather; his mother always thought of him as her Noori – her shining, her brightness.

“I’m dying, mom,” he said. In the dream, he couldn’t see himself but felt himself as energy, as a presence.

“You’re safe. You’re loved. Trust in those who love you. He loves you so much.”

A gentle wind blew her hair across her face and she tossed her head.  So beautiful.

She was so certain. How could he not believe her?

“This is a puzzle I can’t solve. I can’t save myself.”

“Then trust those who can.”

“They can’t help me this time.”

“They can, Noori, and they will. Have faith.” She smiled gently again, and he wanted to run to her, to feel her soft, comforting arms around him again, just as he had as a child so many times.

“I’m so tired, mom. I can’t fight anymore.”

She frowned, and the light went out of her eyes just a little. “You must. There’s so much to fight for. He’s worth fighting for. There’s so much happiness waiting for you, my beautiful son. But you have to fight.”

“I can’t …” and he felt hot tears.

“Be strong,” she whispered.  “Be strong, my adored Daniel, my Noori.” And her image began to fade, to be swept away by the breeze from across the water, becoming nothing.

“No!” he screamed, a mute cry. He screamed again and again but knew that he was making no sound and that he had lost her.

Trust, she’d said. Have faith.

He held on to those words as he let the tears overwhelm him. In this dream place, it was safe to cry. Here there was no life or death, no choices to be made.

If only he could stay …

>>>>>> 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s okay, shhhh, come on …”

Jack’s voice. He was no longer in the safe dream space. But that was Jack’s voice and that meant Jack was close by and if he could just fight his way clear of this confused muzziness he could find him.

And then he felt strong arms around him and he was clutching at soft cotton and could hear a heartbeat and, oh God, he was being rocked. Back and forth, back and forth, just a little. But it was so much what he needed right then.

He felt wetness on his face. Tears. He was crying. His mom would wipe them away. But his mom wasn’t here. This was Jack. Jack was holding him, and he had to trust him and have faith and believe.

“I can do that,” he whispered.

“Hmm?” Jack murmured, placing a gentle kiss on Daniel’s sweat-soaked hair as the rocking continued.

“Trust you.” He coughed. God, his throat felt red-raw. His eyes stung with salt and sweat was prickling all over his body.  “Mom said.”

“Sure,” Jack said, and Daniel was pulled even tighter to Jack’s chest.

Daniel’s thoughts raced, it was so hard to concentrate. There were things he had to say but he just felt fevered, in body and mind, and the headache that had been in the background was now very much in the foreground.

He had to think … he had to ….

“Just rest, baby. Sleep. It’s okay. Sleep.” More kisses, more rocking, and shivery, fleeting images of his mother, reaching out and coaxing, imploring.

Fight. He had to fight.

And then he couldn’t think anymore.

>>>>>> 

He woke to a hand stroking his hair. He was cradled loosely against Jack’s body, his head on Jack’s chest. His eyes felt gritty and raw as if he’d been…

He tried to focus his thoughts. He remembered being in the bathroom, then, just a jumble of words and images. He’d been dreaming but no matter how hard he tried to hold on to the dream’s remnants, nothing of any substance would formulate.

With some surprise, he noticed he was no longer ragingly hot. He wasn’t sweating or shivering. Was that a good thing?

He stirred a little and felt Jack tense against him. Jack put his reading glasses on the nightstand.

“Hey, how you doing?” Jack asked. Daniel peered up through sore eyelids. Jack looked tired, exhausted actually, his strong face lined with worry.

“Um, I think that’s a variation on ‘You feeling okay?’ and that’s banned,” Daniel whispered. He smiled wanly and was relieved to receive something approximating a smile in return.

“Had me worried there for a second. You were making even less sense to me than you usually do. Think your fever spiked. You were kind of out of it.”

Jack made no move to leave the bed and Daniel was happy to stay there. It felt wonderfully peaceful, being held like this.

“Who or what is a Noori?” Jack asked, carding his fingers through Daniel’s hair.

Daniel frowned. “It’s an Arabic name, means brightness. My mother called me that sometimes. Why?”

“You said something about Noori. When you were, I don’t know, hallucinating or something.”

Daniel thought for a moment. “I think I was dreaming about her. She talked to me.” He thought some more. “She told me I had to fight. That you were worth fighting for.”

The hand in Daniel’s hair paused and Jack’s breath caught. “Wise woman, your mom.”

“Yeah. She was. I miss her.” He did. Suddenly and fiercely.

Jack’s fingers resumed their ministrations.

“Did she make good soup?”

Daniel laughed. “Not really. She never had the time. She told me great bedtime stories, though. Stories of gods and goddesses, eternal struggles between darkness and light.” For a moment, he let himself recall happy memories, the ones that were lost to him for a long time after his parents’ death.

Jack seemed to understand his need for reflection and simply let him be.

“I loved her so much. My father, too. I often wonder what they would think of me now.”

Jack snuggled in a little closer. “They’d be so fucking proud. Just like me.”

Tears were close to the surface, damn drugs, and Daniel fought them off, unwilling to give into them. To distract himself, he laid a hand on Jack’s T-shirt and rubbed small circles on his chest, concentrating on the patterns his fingers made as they moved in a gentle rhythm.

For a long time, they just lay together, touching, watching the afternoon shade into early evening, the light through the blinds creating changing geometric patterns on the wall. A light breeze blew through the room from the open window. It was a beautiful day out there. A day for living.

Time and again, Daniel looked up to see Jack’s eyes dart to the cell phone sitting defiantly silent on the nightstand beside him. He wanted to tell him that a watched pot never boiled but he didn’t have the heart and it wouldn’t have been fair to make light of such painful anxiety.

Finally, Daniel broke the silence.

“There are decisions that need to be made, Jack. Things we should talk about,” Daniel said, not really wanting to talk at all.

“Okay. Chicken or tomato and basil? Unlike your mom, I make great soup.”

And suddenly, the humor that had smoothed the way through everything in their life together – the good and the bad – couldn’t carry them through this. Jack’s joke sounded labored, forced.

It sounded desperate.

“I need to know that you’ll respect my wishes,” Daniel addressed the wall behind Jack’s head because he couldn’t face looking into his eyes.

“Daniel, we’re a long way from having to make that decision.”

“I’ve already made it.”

“That was before we …”

“I need to know, Jack,” Daniel ground out as forcefully as his sore throat would allow. He lifted his gaze to meet Jack’s. He loved him so much, wanted the life together that would have finally, after everything, been theirs when Jack retired in six months. How could this be happening now?

Jack closed his eyes, reached for Daniel’s hand and threaded their fingers together. Daniel wanted to drown in that touch, that beautiful, tender intimacy he had sought all his life and could now lose in the space between one labored breath and the next.

“No extraordinary means,” Daniel whispered, staring at their joined hands.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Jack said, tightening his grip on Daniel’s hand. “There are always other options. We just have to buy some time.”

“No guarantees.”

“Technology. There’s always technology out there.”

“No sarcophagus.”

“New allies.”

“No Oma.”

“We’ll find a way.”

“No time.”

“Stop it!” Jack burst out. “Will you stop with the negativity here?” Jack abruptly let go their twined fingers and slipped out from under Daniel’s touch to stand by the bed. “You might have accepted the inevitability of all this, and that’s your right, but I can’t, Daniel. Okay? I just ….”

Daniel reached for him, drew Jack to sit beside him on the bed. He needed to be touching Jack to say what he had to say.

“I’m not accepting this and I won’t give in. I told you once that I wasn’t giving up and I didn’t then. I won’t now, but I have to be pragmatic and so do you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to. I might not survive this and if it comes to a time when you have a decision to make, I want you to make it knowing that it’s right and it’s what I want. I don’t want to leave you, Jack. I can’t bear the thought of being apart from you, in life or in death. There’s been too much separation and loss and pain in both our lives. I want that future with us living together, here, anywhere, I don’t care, living openly. I … I want to walk down the street and touch your back or hug you, just because I want to. I want to … to not fish. I want to read on the porch while you work in the yard and bitch about your knees and back. I want to grow so old with you that even Viagra can’t help us. I want to sleep with you every night and fuck you without the shadow of regulations and duty. I want you. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted, right back as far those early days on Abydos. I had no idea what it was between us but I wanted it. God, I ached for it when you left. I wanted it so badly that I knew in my heart it was one reason I unburied the Gate, and every day, every single day I walked into that chamber hoping you’d be standing at the top of the stairs looking for me. I died for you, Jack, and I’d do it over and over, but more than that … I want to live for you. For us. I love you so fucking much … and I’m so tired  … and so scared …”

He’d lost track of himself. The words were spilling of their own volition.

Jack had edged closer as he spoke, his hand palming the back of Daniel’s neck, squeezing and gentling. Daniel relaxed into the touch and felt a finger brush his lips, hushing him. His eyes were closed against a terrible, gnawing fear that was clawing at him, ready to consume and destroy.

“You’re scared for me.” Whispered words that were edged with tears Daniel couldn’t bear to see. “Don’t be.” Jack’s finger that had been running softly across his lips was replaced with a thumb that rubbed and rubbed in a caress that would have been deeply arousing on another day. “I can’t bear that you’re scared. You’re so strong. Have such courage … the only thing you’ve ever been afraid of is failure, and I know you think you’ve failed so many times and I think you believe that in dying now you would fail me … but you’ve never, never failed in my eyes. Like I said, Daniel … big fucking hero.”

Daniel winced. Jack’s words, meant to ease and encourage, flayed him.

His failures lay before him like an ocean of loss and pain; Sha’re, Sarah, Reese, Anna … the list went on, and behind closed eyes he saw them all.

“Lie down,” Jack whispered. “Don’t think about anything but this.” And he pushed Daniel flat on the bed. He moved to lie beside him, draping one leg possessively over Daniel’s. With an aching tenderness, Jack took Daniel’s face in his hands and stroked fingers lovingly over Daniel’s eyebrows and forehead and nose and lips. Mapping, as if memorizing.

Daniel melted into the touch, felt his thoughts drift away from sadness to a place where there was no thought at all, just sensation.

Jack’s hand’s roamed his body, over and under the T-shirt, soothing, petting, just loving in a way that was uniquely Jack. His touch was a language all its own and one that Daniel was learning with growing fluency. Through the years, Jack had touched him in anger and sorrow and delight and always, always, with love. Jack had never needed words to say what he needed to say.

The stroking went on and on, lulling Daniel into restfulness. Firm but never too-firm strokes up and down his arms put Daniel in mind of gentle waves lapping the shore, again and again. Everything, everything, became focused on the tactile sensations that were washing over him.

This was Jack “talking” to him and offering comfort. This was what Jack needed, and it felt so good and so right. It was making Jack happy and Daniel didn’t really need anything more.

Jack snuggled in closer and tucked Daniel’s head into his shoulder. It rested there like it belonged there, like it was the one place it was always meant to be. Soft kisses rained on Daniel’s head and Daniel heard and felt every soft exhalation of Jack’s breath.

He was giving himself totally to this freely-given affection, replaying over and over the times he’d found solace in Jack’s arms, from a dark storeroom to a gateroom full of Marines. He remembered after the Gadmeer, how they’d argued and then got drunk and cried out their apologies in the way that only the truly drunk can. Then they’d hugged and then they’d kissed. And then Jack had fucked him. Just once. And it had all been horribly complicated and difficult and sad.

But it was okay because everything had led them here, and here was full of such wonderful love.

They fell asleep in an exhausted tangle of limbs.

>>>>>> 

A cell phone rang.

Not Jack’s, not Daniel’s.

The sound roused Daniel from dreams of the desert and Sha’re. He could taste her sweet, sun-kissed skin.

Jack tensed beside him.

The phone rang and rang.

Jack slowly untangled himself from Daniel’s arms and eased himself to sit on the edge of the bed. Jack half-turned and took Daniel’s hand, squeezed it, just once. Daniel looked into Jack’s eyes and found his strength there, quirking the corner of his mouth into a small smile. Jack looked calm, almost serene and so much like the take-charge colonel he fell in love with so many years ago it almost broke his heart.

Jack smiled and reached for the phone.

“O’Neill.”

Daniel closed his eyes and pictured a box. He opened the lid slowly.

It still had hope inside.