This was new.
Daniel opened his eyes and waited for the world to stop spinning. Blurry was expected because he seemed to have lost his glasses, but this spinning thing was not good.
He resisted the urge to groan in frustration as he finally began to make some sense of his surroundings.
Jack was standing over in the far side of the room, playing with what looked like a saline bag…
How had he ended up in the infirmary again?
Time to go through his personal test routine, make sure everything was in the right place before Janet realised he was awake and started asking questions.
It was less stressful that way.
So, how much did he remember?
His name was Daniel Jackson. He had two PhD’s, could speak twenty-three languages, (along with a smattering of hybrids he’d encountered on his travels through the gate), and he seemed to have an uncanny knack of ending up in the infirmary at least twice a week.
Well, everything seemed to be in the right place. So what was it this time?
Closing his eyes briefly, Daniel tried to think back, to work out what could have happened. He’d been somewhere dark…bodies of some kind…
It all came back in a rush, and Daniel had to fight down a sudden rush of panic as he remembered.
They’re coming for you…
Daniel frowned as the pain in his head increased. Okay, that wasn’t right. In spite of what he remembered the Linvris were dead, they couldn’t come after anybody any more.
So what the hell had he seen in his closet? And how had he ended up here if they weren’t real?
The panic came back, and Daniel had to fight to stay calm as Jack approached the bed. Why was he so freaked? It was only Jack.
Taking long, deep breaths, and having to consciously keep his voice steady, Daniel spoke.
I was kind of hoping you could tell me.
Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to will his headache to go away and wishing for his glasses at the same time. He was not looking forward to explaining this to Jack. The man was going to think he was nuts, but…
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
Daniel had given up banging on the door hours before, slowly realising that McKenzie wasn’t going to answer. To be honest, after the first few calls the man probably hadn’t even heard him, since at least half a dozen other patients had joined in, yelling McKenzie’s name and drowning out Daniel’s cries. Exhausted, Daniel had finally given up, sitting down and leaning back against the wall.
He needed to think. To focus. Work out what was happening to him.
Why couldn’t he think?
There was something he was supposed to be doing. Something about…Teal’c. And Jack. He had to speak to Jack.
But he was cold; the clothes he’d been given didn’t do much to keep him warm. He needed to keep warm.
Quiet, it was too quiet. Any minute now, they’d come back. The Linvris, or the Goa’uld. They’d come for him, and he had to be ready. He couldn’t defend himself, couldn’t stop them if he couldn’t think.
Daniel shivered again, squeezing his eyes shut and curling in on himself as the tremors took over. McKenzie would be along soon. The tremors always started when the drugs were wearing off, but there always seemed to be another injection, another dose just around the corner. Making him sleep, numbing his mind, stopping him from thinking straight.
If only Daniel could just get rid of the drugs, he could start making sense of all this. Find a way to convince them that he wasn’t crazy, get them to let him go.
No, he wasn’t crazy.
There had to be a logical explanation for it all.
He hadn’t imagined the… bug… that had left his body and gone into Teal’c, he knew he hadn’t. They hadn’t come for him since then, not since Jack and the others had left.
He’d not been himself, but he hadn’t missed the look on Jack’s face, the tears in Sam’s eyes. They’d been so shocked, as if they couldn’t believe what was happening to him, and yet they did believe it. They’d written him off as crazy and dumped him here.
The sound made Daniel straighten up, glancing wildly at the door, expecting to see the Linvris coming for him again.
He didn’t think he’d ever been so relieved to see McKenzie and his aides coming through the door. Even so, Daniel had to take a few deep breaths to calm his shattered nerves before he could even think about facing them.
“Just er…one second.”
But McKenzie didn’t seem to have a second to spare. Too many patients, too little time... Daniel fought down the inappropriate laughter, angry with himself for getting distracted so quickly. This was not the way to get McKenzie to believe he was cured.
The three aides walked towards him, and Daniel shrank back into the wall as their approached. They were overbearing, crowding him…
…coming to turn you into a host…
Taking another breath, Daniel scrambled to his feet and backed away from them, trying to keep perspective. He had to stay focused, had to keep whatever shred of sanity he’d managed to find. He could fall apart later, once he was out of this place and everything was back to normal, but for now he had to keep going. It was what he always did.
He could do it again.
“Look Daniel, it’s time for your meds.”
Oh, that’s right. They hadn’t come to see why he’d just spent god knew how long banging on the door. No, they were only interested in keeping him quiet, keeping him docile. They weren’t interested in anything he had to say. Did he really believe he was going to be able to talk his way out of this?
“I don’t need any more drugs. What I need is to get the ones you got in my system out of my system.”
Daniel finally summoned up the courage to look McKenzie in the eye, and wanted to scream in frustration at what he saw. The Doctor was wearing the same expression as he always did, one of patient tolerance. Not understanding, no, never that.
“No Daniel, you need rest.”
And patronising. Don’t forget patronising.
This time Daniel couldn’t hold back the bitter laughter. “I think I’ve rested enough.” The room spun around him, and Daniel pressed his head against the wall, wincing as nausea clutched at him again. The three men moved closer again, and Daniel bit back a curse. He was running out of time.
Get to the point, Daniel!
“Just tell me one thing. Is Teal’c sick?”
“Not that I’m aware of. I haven’t been to the SGC.”
Frustrated, Daniel slammed his elbow into the wall as anger flooded through him. He couldn’t do this. How could he make them believe him when they thought he was crazy?
“Doctor Jackson, I insist you calm yourself, otherwise I’ll have to have you restrained and further sedated.”
That stark warning was enough to break through the fog that still enveloped him, and Daniel found himself beginning to voice what his mind had been protesting ever since they put him in here. “Why are you so quick to jump to the conclusion I’m crazy? I’m dangerous, I’m out of control?” Even as he spoke Daniel could hear how his voice was slurring, could see that he didn’t seem to have full control of his hands. Daniel could almost hear Jack laughing at him, rolling his eyes at Daniel as he pointed out the obvious. “It’s because I’m kind of acting that way, aren’t I?”
God, he was so tired. Suddenly, more than anything Daniel just wanted to curl up and go to sleep, to forget about the world outside his white room and let this happen. After all, it didn’t really matter what he said here, did it? He was never getting out of this room.
No, he had to try.
Daniel had never given anything up without a fight before, he was damned if he was going to start now. Sighing, he moved away from the false protection of the wall and faced them again. “Just…I just need to get these drugs out of my system. Look, Doctor, I’m sure you probably hear this from patients all the time but I think I’m cured.”
McKenzie was still doing patient tolerance, and Daniel’s heart sank. “You’re right I hear it all the time. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get well from something like this overnight.”
They moved in on him again and Daniel backed away, glancing nervously at the bulky aides on either side of McKenzie. They were the same aides that had been present during his evaluation when he’d first arrived at the hospital. McKenzie hadn’t been there then, and Daniel had stayed stubbornly silent throughout their assessment. National Security meant he could hardly go around telling everyone about the Stargate Project, could he? Especially since they would have just taken it as extra proof he was crazy.
Not that they’d needed any, really. Daniel had provided more than enough proof all on his own when the faces of the Linvris had appeared in the walls and he’d cowered in fear, pleading with the Doctors to keep them away from him, to keep him safe.
Was it any wonder they’d locked him up and thrown away the key?
But McKenzie was here now, and even though the man thought he was nuts, he did have clearance, he knew what went on inside Cheyenne Mountain. Maybe, just maybe, he could convince McKenzie to listen to him, to see beyond the apparently textbook diagnosis.
“You do, if there were an alien organism inside you, making you think that you were sick when you really weren’t.”
McKenzie nodded. “And you found this out how?”
He’s not listening. He’s not going to believe you, whatever you say.
“Machello told me.” At McKenzie’s blank look, Daniel explained. “Machello? He’s an alien old man we met on P3C-599.”
“Dr Jackson, you haven’t had any visitors.”
No-one since Jack and the others left you here.
“No, of course I haven’t. You see Machello is dead.”
Daniel could almost see McKenzie switching off, dismissing Daniel as yet another crazy patient, nothing more.
Maybe that’s because you are…
No! Daniel had to be right, he had to. Just because he had no actual proof of his theory, that didn’t mean he was wrong. Most of his theories didn’t have any proof to back them up to start with. He couldn’t be wrong, because if he was wrong, then that meant he was crazy.
And if he was crazy, he’d never leave this room.
McKenzie began speaking again, tolerant amusement evident in the tone of his voice. “Dead? Yet he told you that there was someone inside you, making you appear crazy?”
Okay, this wasn’t working. He had to get to the important bit. McKenzie wasn’t going to believe him, but it didn’t matter. All he had to do was get Jack back here. Jack would listen to him.
Assuming Jack wanted to return.
Daniel couldn’t stop himself from glancing nervously at the aides, who looked like they were ready to restrain him any second. Forcing a smile to try and convince them that he wasn’t a threat, to hold them off for just one more second, Daniel gave in to McKenzie.
“That’s a good point. I wouldn’t buy that if I were you either. Just do me one favour, okay? Contact the SGC, find out if Teal’c is sick. If he is, promise me you’ll let me talk to Jack O’Neill.”
For an eternity no-one spoke, and Daniel waited nervously, praying to whatever Gods might be listening that McKenzie would humour him and grant his request.
“Alright, Daniel. I’ll call the SGC, but only after you’ve taken your medication.”
Daniel’s heart sank. How could he hope to convince Jack of his theory if he was spaced out on drugs?
“I told you, I don’t need any more drugs,” he muttered angrily, wrapping his arms round himself again to ward off the cold.
The aides closed in again.
“It’s not as high a dose as before, Daniel,” McKenzie continued.
Well, I haven’t attacked anyone this time, have I?
Daniel forced down his anger at McKenzie, well aware that any seemingly ‘irrational’ behaviour would just be taken as a sign that he was still sick. So he submitted to the injection, turning his head away and closing his eyes as they rolled up his sleeve. He winced as the needle bit through his skin, forcing himself not to lash out as the aides crowded him, watching him warily for the slightest threatening movement.
Backing away with a sigh of relief as the aides finished and let go of his arm, Daniel turned back to McKenzie.
“Promise me you’ll let me speak to Jack,” he pleaded, hearing the desperation in his own voice. “Please.”
McKenzie regarded him for a few seconds before nodding. “I promise, Daniel. I’ll call Doctor Fraiser and ask about Teal’c for you.”
With that McKenzie turned and walked away. Daniel watched miserably as the small group left and he was alone once again. As the white door closed noiselessly behind them Daniel slid down the wall, coming to rest sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall with his knees pulled up against his chest.
The walls seemed to close in on him, the white colour too harsh even though his eyesight wasn’t good enough to be able to make anything out in detail.
Daniel wrapped his arms around his knees, fighting the urge to call McKenzie back, to plead with him to stay simply so that he had someone to talk to, something to focus on to help him keep hold of the tenuous thread of sanity he seemed to have found.
He knew he wasn’t crazy, had somehow known it even before he’d seen that thing go into Teal’c, but left alone in this room, Daniel felt lost. There was very little sound above his own breathing, the sounds from outside the room sounding distant, muted by the padding on the walls. That didn’t stop him from jumping at every slammed door and faint footstep though; his relief that he was no longer seeing the Linvris every time he opened his eyes tempered by the fear that he might start seeing them again at any moment. As convinced as he was that he wasn’t really crazy, Daniel couldn’t seem to quell the little voice in his head that suggested his sudden coherence was more to do with the drugs they’d given him than the bug he’d seen go into Teal’c. Was that a hallucination as well? For all his protests to the contrary, may be he was truly losing his mind.
Some people he knew thought he’d lost that a long time ago.
There was nothing he could do now but wait, and that was the hardest thing of all. He had no choice in here, no control. Everything that happened to him depended on other people, on their opinions. A hundred things had to go in his favour if he was ever going to get out of here. McKenzie had to keep his promise, Teal’c had to be sick, Jack had to be willing to visit him, and even if he did, Daniel still had to convince him that he was sane, and then Jack in turn had to convince McKenzie.
Daniel rested his head back against the white wall, closing his eyes with a sigh.
When had he ever been that lucky?
Please let Teal’c be sick. Please…
Oh God, how selfish could he get? Praying that Teal’c was sick – no, if his vague theory about Machello was correct then Teal’c would be dying – and there was no guarantee they’d be able to help Teal’c even if anyone did believe him.
Which was worse? The prospect of being in a room like this for the rest of his life, or wanting one of his closest friends to be on the brink of death in the vain hope that it just might mean he could talk his way out of a padded cell?
Whichever way you looked at it, he was screwed.
Emotion welled up in his chest, and Daniel felt the lump rising in his throat even as his fingers started to tremble. Squeezing his eyes shut, he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, trying to stop the angry tears that were beginning to fall.
Crying wasn’t going to help. He hadn’t cried when Apophis had taken Sha’re, or when he’d been stuck in the alternate universe, or when he thought they’d lost Jack and Sam for good, though God knows he’d had cause. What was Jack going to think now if he came and found Daniel crying on the floor?
He’d think Daniel was crazy.
If he came at all.
“Doctor McKenzie seems to think there’s been a change in Doctor Jackson’s condition.”
A change? What the hell did that mean? Jack had raced out of the infirmary and was halfway to the surface before it had really sunk in, otherwise he’d have tried to find out what else the General knew, but he didn’t think, and now he knew he’d have to wait till he got to the hospital before finding out.
He threw the car into gear and screeched out of the compound, part of him grateful to have something to do, a physical task to focus on after so long sitting at Teal’c’s side.
SG-1 was unravelling around him, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop it. He fucking hated this. Give him a gun, show him an enemy and he – they – could beat anything. Sometimes Jack wondered if he and his team were invincible, considering the things they’d managed to survive over the past few years.
Of course, he knew they weren’t. He was reminded of just how vulnerable they all were every time they went into battle, every time one of SG-1 was hurt, which was sadly all too often.
No, thinking that you couldn’t lose was the quickest way to get killed, but considering the number of times Daniel had managed to come back from the dead…
Damn it! After everything that had happened, how could it end like this? Teal’c was dying, Daniel had lost it, and all Jack could do was watch and drink endless cups of coffee.
Every time he closed his eyes he could see Daniel huddled on the floor in those stupid clothes, cowering away from his friends.
Daniel had looked terrified, and Jack couldn’t help him.
He hadn’t felt this helpless since Charlie died.
They’d been told not to touch him. To keep their voices low, no sudden movements, nothing that might antagonise the patient. Apparently Daniel had been displaying violent tendencies. Of course, Jack already knew that, since he was the one Daniel had attacked back in the SGC, but nothing could have prepared him for seeing his friend like that.
Even when they were going through the do’s and don’ts Jack had felt like shouting “this is Daniel for fuck sake!”
Daniel Jackson. He was a peaceful explorer, not a violent headcase.
Jack had seen him keep it together in front of the guy who snatched his wife, hold his own in the SGC with passionate, logical arguments about their obligations as Gate Travellers – he might worry too much, and Jack was convinced the younger man was responsible for more than a few of his recent gray hairs, but he didn’t think there was anything that Daniel couldn’t handle.
To see him like that, completely bewildered…he couldn’t even get a sentence out without breaking down.
For those few moments, Jack would have given anything to have the real Daniel back, their Daniel. The one who could flay him with words, who drove him crazy every time he rushed in to dangerous situations without thinking and left the rest of SG-1 to pull his ass out of the firing line.
Then he had attacked Carter, and suddenly Jack had regretted teaching him to fight.
Jack cursed as he took the car round the corner too fast, wrenching the wheel sharply to the left to keep from hitting the Volvo stupidly parked on the corner. The shocked face of an old lady on the sidewalk barely registered as he flew past before forcing himself to ease off the gas a little.
Getting himself killed wasn’t going to help Daniel or Teal’c.
Not that anything else he could do would make the slightest damn difference either.
Jack knew he could be a selfish bastard at times, but he didn’t want to go back to the Asylum. He didn’t want to see Daniel like that again. Stupid as it might sound, Daniel attacking Carter was one of the scariest things he’d seen in a long time. It was like something had snapped in him, and in that instant Daniel’s every movement screamed fury and rage. As Jack had watched Daniel throw himself across the room, he had finally believed that it was true.
They’d lost him.
He’d been so shocked that he hadn’t even moved, just froze as Daniel lunged at Carter. Some Special Forces man, huh?
Thank God Teal’c had kept his head, even if Jack had still had to fight back the instinct to go to Daniel's rescue as the aides wrestled him to the floor.
And now there’d been a change in his condition?
Jack hoped that Daniel hadn’t done anything stupid. Prayed that he hadn’t hurt anybody.
Curled up in the corner of his cell, (he refused to think of the padded room as anything but a prison), Daniel waited for a man who might never come.
Surely if Jack were coming he would have been here by now?
At first, he'd tried to work out how long it would take for Jack to get there, grasping on to the question as something to keep his mind active, to keep himself focused on the present instead of drifting back over the nightmare of the previous few days.
It took about forty minutes to drive from the mountain, assuming Daniel was in the Air Force Academy Hospital. He couldn’t even be sure about that.
Surely forty minutes had passed by now?
Of course, Daniel was assuming that McKenzie had made the call as soon as he’d left Daniel, just as he was assuming that Jack would leave the base straight after speaking to McKenzie.
Stupid, Daniel. Sam’s always chiding you for jumping to conclusions, for not waiting for scientific facts to back up your theories.
Not having a watch didn’t help. It was kind of hard to tell the time without a watch, or the stars, or something to help assess the passage of time. At that moment, Daniel would have given everything in his apartment for his wristwatch.
And some shoes. Shoes would be nice. His feet were freezing, not to mention the constant sight of his bare toes just drove home just how helpless he was.
His glasses wouldn’t go amiss, either. Daniel always felt better when he could see straight, and hours of straining to focus without them had left him with a terrible headache.
Hell, while he was wishing for things, why not go all out? He could wish for a blanket, or some coffee…
…or maybe he could just wish to get out of here. Daniel couldn’t quite smother the giggle. Yeah, if his wishes were going to come true, he should definitely be wishing to be let out of hospital. That way he could go find his own shoes, could look at any clock he liked to see what time it was.
Come on Daniel, keep it together. You’ve got more important things to worry about.
Like how he was going to convince Jack he wasn’t nuts.
Hell, Jack barely listened to him anyway, always cutting in with some quip or gesture to hurry him along when Daniel was trying to explain something. What were the chances Jack was going to listen to him now, when McKenzie, with all his experience and medical knowledge, was completely convinced that he was crazy?
Daniel could imagine the things McKenzie was going to say when Jack arrived at the base.
‘I know he may seem like himself, Colonel, but it’s really just his medication keeping the symptoms at bay.’
‘Try not to antagonise him.’
‘I’m afraid there’s no cure for schizophrenia.’
Daniel knew he was going to have to get past all that if he was going to force Jack to see the truth, but the drugs McKenzie had given him weren’t helping him focus.
But he had to try, because if he failed to convince Jack then he’d be left alone again, and Daniel was afraid he really would go insane.
Daniel would almost rather be a prisoner of Apophis, or Heru’er, than in this white room. At least if he’d been a prisoner he’d know that the rest of SG-1 would be searching for him, he’d know that there was still hope.
But sitting in this supposedly safe room, Daniel had never felt more alone. Because no-one was looking for him – they knew exactly where he was. They’d helped put him there.
The footsteps came again, echoing faintly in the corridors outside his room, and Daniel waited for them to fade, for the silence to close in around him again.
But they didn’t.
Instead they kept getting closer, and Daniel was beginning to worry that the Linvris were going to appear after all when the door opened.
Oh, thank God.
He came in alone, and Daniel scrambled to his feet, quashing the sudden urge to hug Jack for coming back after everything. Something of his thoughts must have betrayed him, because Jack raised his hands slightly, moving into a defensive position that stopped Daniel cold with a sudden realisation.
Jack was afraid of him.
Daniel stared at his friend, stunned.
“Hey Daniel,” Jack’s voice was friendly, but his hands were still raised.
God, Jack, have you lost faith in me that much?
All Daniel’s plans, all his clever words, everything he’d been going to say to convince that he was himself again; suddenly he couldn’t remember any of it. Jack was no more than three feet away from him, but he might as well have stayed back in Cheyenne Mountain for all the good it would do. Jack didn’t trust him anymore, hell, the man wouldn’t even come near him. Jack was such a tactile person, barely a day went by without Jack’s arm slung around Daniel’s shoulder, or ruffling his hair. For Jack to suddenly be keeping his distance like this was like a slap in the face to the archaeologist.
God, even at his worst, during those hellish days battling his addiction to the sarcophagus, Jack had never stopped touching him. Daniel could still remember Jack cradling him in his arms as he cried, barely minutes after he’d beaten one of the guards unconscious and knocked Janet clear across the room.
When had that changed?
When had Jack started seeing him as a real threat? Ironically, Daniel had been crazier then than he was now, out of his mind with pain and need, but Jack hadn’t been afraid to hold him, to comfort him.
Filled with the sudden need to do something, to do more than just stand there staring at his friend, Daniel started pacing, trying to think of a way to convince Jack. The room lurched and swayed as he moved, but Daniel did his best to ignore it. Falling over his own feet wasn’t exactly going to help Jack see that he was back to normal, was it?
“You don’t need to walk on eggshells any more, I’m…I’m better.”
Jack didn’t seem convinced. “So I hear. Err, it’s not that I doubt you, but um, why do you think it happened all of a sudden?”
Hoping to hide the tremors coursing through him, Daniel wrapped his arms around himself, trying to work out the best thing to say. Preferably something that wasn’t going to make Jack walk away without hearing him out. Unfortunately that was difficult enough on a normal day, since Jack rarely let him get more than two sentences into anything before interrupting and demanding a bullet point summary.
“I don’t completely understand it myself, but I saw something come out of me and go into Teal’c, and then I heard Machello’s voice.”
Oops. Wrong thing to say. Daniel could almost see the shutters closing on Jack’s face as he switched off. Damn. Speeding up, Daniel held up a finger, the only thing that he’d ever known make Jack stop and listen once he’d started to dismiss what was being said. “Just…just hear me out. I’m guessing it wasn’t actually Machello. It was probably some sort of technology or organic recording, and it said something about delivering Machello to the vile Goa’uld, which made me start thinking. Maybe I had some sort of Goa’uld killing invention inside of me. One of Machello’s inventions.”
Daniel trailed off, uncertain what else to say. Jack still wasn’t looking convinced, but Daniel could only find hope in the fact that Jack hadn’t laughed at him and left yet.
“And that’s what made you… nuts?”
“Well since I don’t have a Goa’uld a side effect of this invention must make normal people act like they’re…”
Daniel trailed off, aware even as he spoke just how unlikely it sounded.
Jack finished his sentence for him in a whisper. “Nuts?”
“Schizophrenic,” Daniel corrected automatically before dragging the conversation back to the point. “Look, Teal’c is sick, right?”
“Right.” Jack raised his eyebrows, seeming surprised, and Daniel wondered if Jack had even been told why he’d insisted that McKenzie call the SGC in the first place.
“Well he does have a Goa’uld.”
Daniel fell silent. He was out of arguments – it was all up to Jack now. Short of pleading, Daniel couldn’t think of anything else to say. It wasn’t as if he had any proof of his theory, well, nothing that didn’t sound like the ramblings of a madman, anyway. There had been a time when that would have been enough for Jack, when he would have gone along with Daniel’s theory regardless of whether he believed or understood it. *Daniel* believed it, and that was enough.
Daniel could only pray that it was enough now.
Jack was watching him, obviously deep in thought, and the two men stood in silence for a while. It was too quiet, and Daniel had the irrational urge to scream at Jack, to beg him to say something, to tell him that he believed him, but he was afraid of what Jack might say, and so said nothing.
Eventually Jack sighed and dropped his gaze to the padded floor. Sensing the change in mood, Daniel summoned up what was left of his courage to mutter a quiet: “Jack?”
Jack started as if he’d forgotten Daniel was there, head snapping up to stare at his friend again. Daniel wrapped his arms around himself again, fear prickling up and down his spine.
Please God, don’t let Jack leave him here.
“For God’s sake,” he muttered. “Will you say something?”
Jack managed a tired smile and shook his head slightly. “Welcome back, Daniel.”
For a second Daniel couldn’t breathe as Jack’s meaning filtered through his dulled mind. Then he sighed in relief, resisting the urge to slide to the floor as all the adrenaline flowed out of his body. He swayed slightly and Jack was by his side in an instant, hand tentatively under his elbow to keep him upright.
“Christ, you’re freezing!” Jack exclaimed in surprise, eyes narrowing as he took a closer look at his friend.
“It’s not very warm in here,” Daniel murmured, and Jack shrugged quickly out of his jacket, draping it round Daniel’s shoulders before pulling the young man to him in a hug. Daniel froze for a second before letting himself sink into the embrace, eyes drifting shut as he swallowed the lump rising in his throat and tried to take on board the fact that he’d done it.
Minutes passed before either of them moved, then Daniel raised his head slightly and murmured: “Teal’c?”
Jack nodded and stepped back, letting go of Daniel completely. “Stay here,” he began. “I’ll go find you some warmer clothes.”
“No!” Daniel grabbed at Jack’s arm, alarmed. He couldn’t stay in this room again, couldn’t watch them shut him in again, not even just for a few minutes. “Just…get me out of here, Jack.”
Jack must have read Daniel’s fears in his face, because concern flashed across his face as he nodded.
“All right, Daniel.” Keeping one arm on Daniel’s shoulder, Jack moved towards the door and rapped smartly on the safety glass. An aide appeared within seconds and opened the door slightly. Elbowing it fully open, Jack pulled Daniel close to him and walked them both out into the corridor. Daniel tensed as they passed the stunned aide, expecting at any moment that someone would object and he’d be tossed back into that hateful room. He clutched Jack’s arm like a lifeline, knuckles turning white as they tightened their grip. Daniel knew they’d have to prise him away from his friend. Jack’s hold on him tightened in response even as the aide began to protest.
“Colonel? Colonel O’Neill, what are you doing?” Jack ignored him, continuing in his single- minded walk towards the main reception. “Colonel, you can’t just take a patient out of…”
Jack held up a hand to silence the spluttering man. “Get McKenzie,” he ordered. “Now.”
With one last confused glance at Daniel the man scurried away, and Jack eased Daniel into a plastic chair a few feet from the quiet reception desk. Daniel sat down where he was told, suddenly exhausted. It was taking every ounce of strength he had left just to keep his eyes open, but he couldn’t let himself sleep. Not until he was far away from the hospital.
Because if he woke up in that damn room again…
He could hear Jack’s voice as if from a distance, though he couldn’t make out the words. Instead he let his eyes close, leaning forward and resting his head in his hands.
Daniel had no idea how long he sat in the hard chair, letting the world drift by around him. After a while, something was pushed gently into his lap and he glanced up, blinking in surprise to find a pile of clothes resting on his legs and Jack crouched down beside him.
“You want to get dressed, Daniel?” he asked gently. It took a few seconds for Daniel to understand what Jack was asking, then he nodded, frowning slightly. Forcing himself to his feet, Daniel clutched the clothes to him and turned to Jack. “There’s a room just round the corner where you can change,” Jack continued, pushing him gently in the right direction.
Daniel silently followed Jack’s instructions, opening the door nervously before letting out a huge sigh of relief that the room wasn’t padded. It was just… a room.
Jack hovered outside as Daniel closed the door behind him. His need to feel that he was no longer shut in didn’t quite outweigh his desire to have some privacy while changing, though it was a close run thing, and Daniel had to suppress a shudder as the door clicked quietly shut.
He shed his clothes fairly quickly, and had just started putting on his freshly cleaned SGC uniform when there was a commotion outside.
Daniel froze, fear creeping up on him again. It couldn’t be this easy, could it? Surely he couldn’t really believe that he could just walk out of a mental hospital where he’d been officially committed, even with Jack’s support.
Ice flooded through him and Daniel forced himself to take deep breaths, closing his eyes for a few second before making the conscious effort to carry on dressing.
It was okay. Jack was here now, Jack would take care of him. There was no way he’d let them keep Daniel here against his will.
He’s done it before…
Daniel clenched his fists together briefly before methodically starting on the buttons of his clothes.
Come on, keep it together, Daniel. You don’t need to fall apart here. Not now, you’re too close to getting out of here to lose it.
The voices outside the room rose in anger, and Daniel’s fingers fumbled at the buttons. God, what he wouldn’t give for his glasses.
Eventually he was done, though the shoelaces took longer to manage than he’d have liked, and he moved reluctantly towards the door. He reached out and grasped the handle before pausing as the voices began again, listening to what they were saying.
“I’m sorry, Colonel, but Dr Jackson can’t leave here.”
“No. No apologies, no excuses, Daniel is coming with me.” Daniel relaxed slightly at the tone in Jack’s voice. He knew that tone of voice. Jack was in full blown ‘Colonel’ mode, and that meant he’d get his way. Daniel had never yet heard anyone but General Hammond hold out against Jack in military mode.
MacKenzie couldn't get Hammond to overrule Jack, could he?
He eased the door open quietly, moving out to stand slightly behind Jack and as far away from McKenzie as he could manage.
“Your military rank has no jurisdiction in medical matters, Colonel.”
Ah. That could be a problem. McKenzie’s voice was as cold as his expression, and Daniel mentally added him to the list next to the General. Unconsciously he moved closer to Jack, crossing his arms in front of himself as if that alone could hold McKenzie and his aides at bay.
Jack didn’t even bat an eyelid as he changed tactics. “Okay, fine. What if I told you that Daniel here holds the key to Teal’c’s illness?” he asked. “Unless he comes back to the SGC with me, now, there’s no chance we’ll be able to save him. Don’t believe me?” Jack nodded over to the desk behind him. “Pick up the phone and call Fraiser. She’ll confirm that I’m telling you the truth.”
“I’ve already spoken to Doctor Fraiser, and am well aware of Teal’c’s condition,” McKenzie snapped back, before sighing in reluctant agreement. “Very well, Colonel. But there are procedures that need to be adhered to. You can’t just walk out of here. Someone has to be temporarily responsible for Daniel’s care while he’s away from this facility.”
“Fine,” Jack snapped, already walking towards the main desk and the exit. “Sign Daniel’s care over to Fraiser, or me. Do whatever the hell you have to do to cover your own ass, but we’re leaving. Come on, Daniel.”
In spite of Jack’s angry words, ten minutes passed before they were finally able to leave the hospital. Daniel had been standing by Jack’s side as the man ran quickly through what seemed like a mountain of forms. Daniel couldn’t help but remark quietly that he’d never seen Jack do that much paperwork in one go, and Jack had laughed, relaxing a little more at each sign that Daniel really was returning to normal.
Towards the end Daniel had become restless, wondering if anyone would mind if he got a head start and wandered outside into the fresh air, though the aides hovering nearby kept him quiet and still. He didn’t need another wrestling match with them, particularly as tired as he was.
Eventually he was free and they walked out of the hospital and into the daylight. Daniel blinked furiously as his eyes adjusted to the harsh light, but he was grateful for the warmth on his chilled skin.
It took him three tries before he could get the car door open, and when he finally sank into the car seat and began fumbling with the seat belt, Jack glanced across at him in concern.
“You okay?” he asked, gesturing to the door.
“I’m fine,” Daniel replied automatically as the seat belt clicked into place and he rested his head back against the seat. “McKenzie’s drugs are still in my system.”
“Drugs?” Jack asked, his tone carefully neutral.
“Haldol,” he explained. Daniel had demanded to know the name of the medication he was being given, as if knowing its name would give him back some measure of the control that had been stripped from him along with his clothes. “They’re meant to keep me docile. Agreeing to take them again was the only way I could get McKenzie to call you, but they take a while to wear off. I’m tired.”
“It’s a fair drive back to the mountain, Daniel. Try and get some rest.”
Silence fell for a few moments, and Daniel let his eyes close in relief before a thought occurred to him, and he sat upright in alarm.
“Don’t…don’t let them send me back there?”
Jack frowned again, shaking his head mutely in reply before putting his foot further on the gas pedal.
It was over.
Teal’c was out of danger – everything was going to be okay.
Standing at the end of the infirmary bed, Daniel felt himself shiver even as he tried to stifle a yawn.
God, he was tired. Tired and cold. Suddenly he could barely keep his eyes open. He needed to rest. Jack was still talking to Teal’c, smiling with the relief that his team was no longer falling apart around him.
Quietly, Daniel turned and slipped out of the room, turning left in the corridor and heading automatically for his office and his jacket. From there he could pick up his car keys and head home. He needed a few hours sleep, as well as a few hours by himself, to think over everything that had happened, to try and make some sense of what he was feeling.
Janet’s voice rang out behind him and he stopped in his tracks, tensing in spite of himself.
He made no effort to acknowledge her, and for a brief, insane second considering making a run for it. Maybe he could reach the surface and the highway before they caught up with him, before they rang through to the gate and told the guards to stop him.
Alarmed at the turn of his thoughts, Daniel frowned. What was he running from? He was safe - surrounded by friends here.
Footsteps echoed around him as Janet approached, and reluctantly he turned to face her, trying to assume an air of nonchalance even though he couldn’t keep from wrapping his arms around his body, seeking some form of protection, however ineffectual.
Janet came to a stop a few feet away from him, eyes narrowed slightly as she studied him.
“Where are you going, Daniel?” she asked gently.
“Home,” he answered nervously, angry to find that the word came out as more of a request than a statement. When Janet hesitated, glancing away briefly before looking back at him, he sighed, and tightened his grip around himself. Why did he have the feeling he knew what was coming?
“I’m sorry Daniel,” she said, sounding genuinely sorry, “but I can’t let you leave the base. Not until we can be sure you don’t have any adverse reactions to the medication you’ve taken.”
You didn’t take it! Daniel’s mind screamed at him. They didn’t give you any choice!
“I’m not going back…there…” Daniel couldn’t even bring himself to name that place, not even in his own thoughts. Unconsciously he backed away from Fraiser, his heart rate beginning to increase at the thought of being sent back to the hospital.
Janet looked concerned, moving closer to Daniel before stopping short at the fleeting look of panic that crossed his features as he backed away. “You don’t have to, Daniel. You were released into my care when Colonel O’Neill brought you back to the SGC…”
“I shouldn’t be in anyone’s care! I’m not sick!” Daniel interrupted, voice rising in alarm. “I don’t need looking after.” He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t crazy, and none of this should ever have happened. It shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
Why couldn’t they have just trusted him?
Daniel could feel the lump rising in his throat once more, as the emotion and terror he’d been fighting ever since his incarceration flooded back over him, this time refusing to be stopped.
Choking it back, desperately trying to hold it together in front of Fraiser… they’ll lock you up if you fall apart again… Daniel sighed quietly when Jack came out of the infirmary, looking immediately in Daniel’s direction.
He’s heard you shouting. You’ve done it now.
Jack walked carefully down the corridor towards them, looking completely relaxed, but Daniel could see the slight tightness around his eyes. Two years of working with the man and Daniel knew Jack’s body language better than he knew his own. If they’d been on a mission, that expression screamed ‘danger’, but here? Daniel knew with absolute certainty that Jack was wary of him. Just like he had been back in that cell.
Daniel shivered again, feeling the tears begin to well up in his eyes. Damn it! Not now!
Jack came to a stop next to Fraiser, a brief glance across at the Doctor as he assessed the situation before he turned back to the archaeologist.
“What’s up, Daniel?”
“Nothing,” Daniel ground out between clenched teeth, his entire body shaking with the need to hold it together for just a little longer. “I’m fine.”
He could imagine mentally Jack rolling his eyes at that. Of course you’re fine, Daniel. Because you look fine, obviously.
“I’m afraid I can’t allow Doctor Jackson to leave the base, Colonel,” Janet began. “The side-effects of his medication require constant monitoring.”
“I just want to get some sleep, Jack,” Daniel pleaded with his friend.
“He really ought to be in the Infirmary.”
“No!” The refusal came out harsher than he’d intended, and Daniel bit down on his lower lip as the tears threatened to fall.
God, what was wrong with him?
He faced off against the Goa’uld on a weekly basis, seemingly without turning a hair, and now what? Was he threatening to turn into an emotional wreck simply because he was tired? He was always tired, that had become a constant ever since he’d joined the SGC, if not before. So why was he suddenly such a mess?
“Okay,” Jack began, eyes still flickering warily between the two Doctors. “How about one of the VIP quarters, Daniel? Or your office? Is that okay?”
Daniel closed his eyes at the sound of Jack’s voice. It was gentle, calming, and nothing like he was used to from the acerbic Colonel. He sounds like he’s talking to a child… or a mental patient. The sudden realisation rocked Daniel like a blow, and he nodded briefly before turning and stumbling blindly from their presence. The journey to his office passed in a blur as the tears continued to well, and Daniel had almost reached safety when he realised that neither Jack nor Doctor Fraiser had made any attempt to follow him. The sheer relief that knowledge brought pulled down the rest of his defences, and was enough to finally push him over the edge.
Exhausted, Daniel slammed his office door shut behind him, blocking out the rest of the world before sinking down to the floor with his back against the cold metal, arms wrapped around himself as the tears finally began to fall.
“…suppose he’s in there?”
“I’ve not seen him since he came back with the Colonel this morning.”
“I heard he went nuts…”
“…you surprised? I’m not. I mean…”
Where was he?
Eyes closed, Daniel could still feel sleep beckoning to him. Frowning, he reached out, trying to will himself back to sleep. He was too exhausted, couldn’t deal with the reality of being here, of being alone. It might be a hospital, white-walled, a sterile environment where safety was the main priority, but that didn’t make it feel any less like a prison cell.
But sleep eluded him, and as he took the final step to full consciousness, the muffled words coming through the door was enough to completely startle him out of the daze he’d fallen into.
“I’m not crazy,” he whispered on reflex, wincing slightly as he raised his head, neck stiff and aching. Blinking, he glanced about at his surroundings, starting slightly as he realised that the walls weren’t white, weren’t anything like as sterile as he remembered, and as his gaze fell on his desk, and the coffee cup perched innocuously by the phone, it finally registered to Daniel that he wasn’t in the hospital at all, that he was back in his office at the SGC.
He wasn’t going back there again.
He closed his eyes briefly as a shudder ran through him, before sitting up properly and running a hand through his hair. He wasn’t particularly surprised that he’d not recognised where he was straight away, after all, he wasn’t used to looking at his office from the floor. Not that he could see very much anyway, there were no lights on and it was almost pitch black. Only the light seeping under the crack in the door allowed him to see the desk that was a few feet away.
He leaned back against the door, listening for any sign that the owners of the voices might still be around. Daniel didn’t feel up to facing anyone right now, let alone people who thought he was crazy. Unfortunately, he acknowledged with a grim smile, that probably ruled out everyone in a three mile radius. Even without those SF’s who barely tolerated his civilian status and bizarre theories on a normal day, the rumour mill within the SGC was razor sharp, and the fact that he’d been carried out on a stretcher a few days before was bound to have been general knowledge within hours, as well as the reasons why.
He groaned quietly at the task ahead of him. Two years of constant work, striving to become a recognised member of the SGC, respected by more than just the General, SG-1 and Major Davis, all wiped out in less than a week.
At least, he thought it was less than a week. God, how long had he been in that place, anyway?
And how was he going to win that respect back? Everyone thought he was crazy now, he’d been officially certified for God’s sake! Even after he’d been medically cleared for duty, which he knew wouldn’t be for a while yet, how many of the SGC personnel would still think he was crazy?
Glancing around him again, Daniel couldn’t help but laugh at himself. Imagine if they could see him now. Sitting in the dark, on the floor in the middle of an office with a perfectly good sofa and tear tracks down his face. He wouldn’t blame them if they did think he was crazy, he was certainly acting like it.
Okay, Daniel, get up. Time to put this behind you. Act like nothing happened, like you’re over it. You need to forget this ever happened, that way maybe they’ll forget as well.
Dragging himself to his feet, Daniel automatically reached for the light switch, then flinched as harsh light flooded the room. His heart began to race.
Too bright. Can’t concentrate with the light. Can’t sleep…
Daniel sighed miserably and ran a hand over his face.
What, are you afraid of your own shadow now?
Actually, no. He liked the dark. Shadows were somewhere you could hide, where you could relax, because people couldn’t see you. And if they couldn’t see you, they couldn’t hurt you, couldn’t upset you or worry about you. Even as a child he’d liked the dark; in those lonely, terrifying months after his parents had died, the shadows had been the only place where he could truly grieve, where he could give in to the tears without someone seeing him, judging him or trying to comfort him. Back then, he’d refused to be touched, refused to be comforted.
The only person he’d wanted comfort from had been his mother. Anyone else trying had only driven home to the small boy just how alone he was, lost in a world where strangers were the only people to see his tears.
He’d always liked the dark.
Without thinking Daniel turned the light off again, before compromising and switching on his desk lamp.
It was the light he couldn’t handle. Not yet. Days of being in a room bathed in constant light, where people could see him just by looking in the window – Daniel had never felt so exposed, so vulnerable. He might have been medicated throughout his entire stay, but he hadn’t been so far gone that he couldn’t remember how it had felt. The faint, constant shuffle of feet outside the door, never knowing whether they were real or just figments of his shattered mind.
In fact, he wasn’t sure which was worse. Seeing the Linvris everywhere he turned had been terrifying, yes, and served as constant reminders that he was crazy, that he’d finally lost his mind, and that his surroundings – that hateful room – was all he had to look forward to in his future. But when the footsteps were real, that meant people were watching him, faces through the glass assessing him like a lab rat.
And then the door would open, and they’d crowd him, hold him, sharp needles piercing his skin until he couldn’t think, could barely stand, couldn’t concentrate long enough to form a protest, to try to convince them that he was sane, that something else was making him sick. Something outside his control.
No, even now Daniel wasn’t sure what was worse. The Linvris might have been terrifying, but they weren’t real, couldn’t hurt him, couldn’t really do more than scare him. They were a nightmare, yes, but Daniel had had a lot of experience with those. Nightmares could make you so scared that you were afraid to move, to breathe, to do anything that might bring the terror back, but it was all emotion. Mind-games, and however horrific, dreams couldn’t really hurt you. Once you were fully awake, you could take the control back from the dream, and they couldn’t hurt you.
But in that hospital he’d had no control, no freedom, instead he’d been left at the mercy of McKenzie and the rest of the staff. If they wanted to leave him alone for hours, they did. If they wanted to pump him full of drugs, they did. Nothing had been up to him. Any form of protest had been met with the threat of restraints and even more drugs, until Daniel had stopped resisting, accepting the inevitable and handing his care over to McKenzie. After all, if he was truly stuck in that room forever, what did it matter what happened to him?
Sighing, Daniel pulled his thoughts away from his memories. He needed to pull himself together, and put the last few days firmly out of his mind. Lock them away with all the other bad memories he tried not to think about. Hathor, Skaara, his parents; the list was always growing and one more bad memory wasn’t going to change anything. All he needed was a few days alone, until the feelings and memories had faded slightly and he could ignore them.
He couldn’t do that yet. It was too recent, too raw. He could still feel the drugs coursing through his system, making his hands shake and keeping his emotions too near the surface for comfort. When he closed his eyes, Daniel could remember the callused hands of the aides as they held him down, and the sharp pinprick in his elbow as the needle slid home.
God, he needed a shower.
Clenching his hands into fists, Daniel closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths before moving to the door and opening it. A few seconds passed while he adjusted to the light and waited to make sure there was no-one around. Daniel knew that he couldn’t avoid people forever, but for the few precious minutes - perhaps hours - of solitude, Daniel would be eternally grateful.
Only when there was silence, no footsteps and nothing but the distant humming of the SGC ventilation system did he leave the safety of his office and step out into the corridor. Fists still clenched, Daniel began the long walk to the locker rooms, praying he wouldn’t meet anyone on the way.
He made it to the elevator unhindered, but as the doors opened Daniel’s heart sank. There were people in the lift. No-one he knew particularly well, though he vaguely recognised them, but Daniel didn’t feel up to facing anyone, even people he’d never met before. Focusing his gaze down at the floor, Daniel reluctantly stepped into the elevator, silently moving over to the wall and as far away from the other occupants as he could get. He knew they were watching him, could almost hear their minds whirring as they thought over whatever they’d heard about his breakdown.
Paranoia now, Daniel?
All three occupants were silent during the ride, but even so Daniel breathed a shaky sigh of relief when the door finally slid open and he could step out into the corridor. He was only a few steps away from the showers, so he hurried quickly along, relieved not to pass anyone else during his journey. Being around people was unnerving, but he could just about cope with the presence of people he could barely put names to. It wasn’t them he was worried about. They weren’t likely to talk to him, to say more than perhaps a vague greeting, and they certainly weren’t going to ask how he was.
It was Jack, Sam and the others he was more worried about. Sooner or later they would come and find him, would want to talk about what had happened, and Daniel had to be ready when they did. He couldn’t let them see how hurt he felt, how shaken he was by their actions. But getting the barriers back up was going to take time, and Daniel knew that he didn’t have long.
He finally reached the shower room and moved quickly over to his locker, pulling out a towel before moving towards the cubicles. The place was deserted, and Daniel sent a silent message of thanks out to whoever still looked after terminally unlucky archaeologists.
Stripping off his clothes Daniel padded barefoot across the tiled floor, hanging a towel over the partition door before switching on the water and stepping inside. He shivered in the cold air until the water began to heat up, then stepped fully under the spray, closing his eyes and letting the water cascade down his body.
Water ran through his hair and into his ears, dulling the sounds around him, and for a few precious seconds he was completely cocooned in his own world, cut off from the fears and uncertainties that hovered around him like a cloud.
As the water cascaded over him, Daniel finally allowed himself to begin to relax, letting the tension seep out of his body and wash away with the water.
It really was over. No matter what happened now, however hard he had to fight to regain the trust and respect of his colleagues, Daniel was safe. He was out of the cell, able to come and go as he pleased and back in control of his own future; as much as anyone could be working for the military. Considering his few coherent hours over recent days had been spent convinced that he’d never get out of the hospital, it was a start.
Even the simple act of taking a shower helped to reinforce the knowledge that he was free again. Back in the hospital Daniel had been so spaced out on the medication that he could barely stand, let alone wash himself, and in the end he’d had to be assisted by one of the aides. Oh, there had been nothing improper about it, the man had been a total professional, and in a strange way that had been the hardest thing about it. Daniel had been well taken care of throughout his stay, but that was all it had been.
Cold, professional care.
For the most part Daniel had just been left alone: safe, but isolated. No-one had talked to him or stayed with him unless it was to give him another dose of drugs or another assessment. Looking back, Daniel could understand their actions – he wasn’t the only patient there, and they simply didn’t have the time to spend idle hours with individual patients, but nevertheless, for a man as reliant on communication and social language as Daniel, it had been difficult to deal with.
As he reached for the shampoo, Daniel couldn’t help but wonder if he would have found the same experience as trying before he’d joined the SGC. Back in academia, particularly in those few years before his final lecture, Daniel had been increasingly ostracised, someone to be laughed at and then ignored. He’d become used to spending hours, even days with just himself for company, and after a while it had stopped bothering him. In fact, he’d often gone out of his way to be alone, preferring his own company to that of people who were only humouring him in order to laugh about him behind his back.
After all, he’d always been alone, and he had his work to keep him occupied. But a year on Abydos, and then two years as an integral part of SG-1 had changed him. He’d become used to the company, to having a ‘family’ around him, who listened to him and spent time with him, and being completely alone again, even for a short time, had been a shock that he hadn’t expected.
And what kind of family did they turn out to be that they locked you up at the first sign of illness?
Daniel tensed again, disturbed by the sudden turn of his thoughts. Jack and the others hadn’t had any choice, after all, they’d only been following the medical advice of Janet and Doctor McKenzie.
So they trusted the Doctors more than you, then?
Frowning, Daniel opened his eyes, absently moving further under the spray to clean the shampoo from his hair, blindly seeking the warmth raining down upon him. Glancing down, he froze when he saw the dark bruising across both his arms.
Track marks from the needles.
Daniel flexed his arms carefully, feeling a stiffness as they moved that he’d not noticed before. Leaning forward slightly, Daniel took a careful look at his body. The puncture marks on his elbows mingled with bruises that ran up his arms, vaguely finger shaped, and when Daniel closed his eyes he could still feel the solid, unwavering grips of the aides as they held him down. There were bruises on his left hip as well, the padding in the cell not quite soft enough to cushion his body when he’d fallen. And was it his imagination, or had he lost a little weight over the past few days? It wouldn’t surprise him, even when he’d been coherent enough to think of food he’d not been hungry – too appalled at what he’d become to think of anything as mundane as the need to eat.
He didn’t want to see anymore, didn’t want to think about the physical reminders of his few days of lunacy and so Daniel shut off the water, pulling the towel from the door and burying his face in it, drying the water from his skin before wrapping the towel around his waist and stepping out onto the cold tile of the locker room. He moved quickly back to his locker, pulling out a set of dry clothes and dressing quickly, still grateful for the fact that the room was still empty. The shower had helped, certainly, but he still didn’t feel up to interacting with anyone, particularly not standing half naked and covered with bruises.
Daniel pulled on his spare pair of socks and shoes with an overwhelming, almost embarrassing sense of relief, the warmth found in those insubstantial pieces of fabric an almost physical pleasure after being barefoot for so long. Shrugging on his jacket, Daniel got to his feet and shut his locker gently before moving to the door and heading back towards the safety of his office.
Daniel sighed as he turned to face the voice calling from the other end of the long, grey corridor. He didn’t recognise the voice at first, but wasn’t all that surprised to find himself face to face with Nurse Marlowe, a longstanding member of Janet's staff and one of the women who had dealt with him after he'd first collapsed in his office. “Yes?”
“Dr. Fraiser asked me to check that you were resting in your office.”
“I’m on my way there now.”
The nurse fell into step beside him, and Daniel couldn’t help a wry smile – she was obviously under instructions to make sure that he did as he’d promised.
“General Hammond has arranged a mission briefing for 0930 hours. Dr. Fraiser asked if you would go to the infirmary beforehand for another check-up?”
Daniel nodded, knowing that he was going to have to go back to the infirmary anyway even though he hadn't been able to face it earlier. But as long as he could walk in and walk out under his own steam, then at least that was something. The illusion of control was better than nothing, however flimsy his magician’s skills had become of late.
"I'll let you get some rest, Doctor," Marlowe smiled as they came to a stop outside his office. "See you in the morning."
Daniel smiled absently back at her, and she’d begun the walk back down the corridor before Daniel suddenly darted after her and grabbed her arm. “Nurse? How’s Teal’c?”
“He’s doing fine, Doctor Jackson. He'll stay in the infirmary ovenight as a precaution, but we're confident that he's over the worst of it now."
“Thank you,” Daniel replied, before walking into his office, closing the door behind him as her footsteps echoed down the corridor.
Switching off the light, Daniel felt his way to the sofa, pleased when he didn’t fall over in the dark. McKenzie’s drugs had been affecting his balance, so maybe that meant their effects were finally starting to wear off. Sinking into the soft cushion, Daniel stilled for a second before bending down to pull off his shoes. The room spun suddenly as he leaned forward and Daniel grabbed hold of the sofa, fighting the sudden fear that he was going to fall. He didn’t, of course, instead squeezing his eyes shut and swallowing down the nausea rising in his throat as he waited for things to stop spinning.
The drugs probably hadn’t quite worn off yet, then.
After a few minutes his surroundings started to stabilise and he risked leaning forward again, resting one arm on his knees as he reached for the laces. Fumbling with the knots, Daniel decided that trying to do this with the light out was probably not the greatest idea he’d ever had. He didn’t reach for the light switch, though, the fear that he’d find something as simple as untying his shoelaces difficult even without the darkness as an excuse was enough to keep him where he was. Finally the knots gave, and he kicked his shoes off with a sigh of relief, leaning back and bringing his legs up until his body was moulded into the contours of the fabric. He’d feel better after some proper sleep, even if the sofa wasn’t exactly built for his tall frame. A bed in the VIP room would be better, but taking one of the VIP rooms meant filling in forms and signing things, all of which meant actually talking to people.
The sofa would be fine, tonight.
Closing his eyes, Daniel tried to relax his tense muscles, tried to drift off to sleep as easily as he usually did. Most of the time, the physical exertion of their missions meant he’d be asleep the second his head hit the pillow. Even when he wasn’t off world, Daniel usually spent most of his time pulling all-nighters to catch up on his translation work, which meant that when he finally did get time to rest, he had no trouble sleeping, even if those hours of rest didn’t make up for all the sleep he lost through working. There were always exceptions, though, and Daniel was well acquainted with those nights when sleep just wouldn’t come, when past transgressions and regrets haunted him mercilessly, no matter how exhausted he was. Daniel had barely been on the sofa for five minutes, but he had the feeling that tonight was going to be one of those nights.
Assuming it was even night outside – with a start, Daniel realised he didn’t actually know.
Staring up at the dull grey ceiling, Daniel could hear nothing but his own harsh breathing as he willed himself to fall asleep. The silence was comforting in its own way. At least this way there were no voices, no dripping taps, and no corpses about to jump out at him from cupboards or doorways.
So why couldn’t he sleep?
Shifting restlessly, Daniel turned over onto his side and buried his head in the pillow. He was too cold, that was all. The SGC was never very warm at night, but he’d be able to sleep if he could get warmer. Sitting up, he snagged a second blanket from the shelf above his head, throwing it carelessly out over himself before settling down again.
That was better. Sleep wouldn’t be long in coming now.
Twenty minutes passed, and Daniel found himself staring at the luminous numbers on the clock on the wall, watching as the tiny fluorescent strip on the minute hand clicked slowly round in a circle.
Nope, still not asleep then.
The nights in the hospital had passed like this. A few, brief hours of exhausted sleep followed by a night that never seemed to end. They always dimmed the lights at night, but only slightly. The nurses still needed to be able to see their patients, and so the lights were never completely switched off. That first night Daniel had still been under assessment and so hadn’t been completely medicated. Instead he’d been almost fully aware, huddled as far into the corner as he could get and trying to convince himself that it wasn’t happening, that it was all some kind of mistake.
Pretending that any minute now, Jack would walk through the door and take him away from the madness. Of course, that hadn’t happened, and the next morning had brought more drugs, more terrifying encounters with the Linvris.
On the second night he’d been out of his mind with the medication, and had quickly lost all sense of time. Hours passed in the blink of an eye, and seconds took an eternity.
Just like now.
In fact, in some ways it didn’t seem like a lot had changed since he’d left the hospital. He was still losing sleep, was still confused, still confined in one building even if this one did have a few more comforts than the last, and at least half the mountain apparently still thought he was crazy.
Sighing in frustration, Daniel sat up and wrapped the covers closer around him. This wasn’t helping. Resting was one thing, but his mind didn’t seem to want to sleep, and rehashing the events of the past few days wasn’t going to do anybody any good.
He’d be better off getting some work done than just lying here.
“Opening the heavens…no, accessing the door to…”
Daniel broke off his muttering in disgust. No, it was no use. Even in the harsh glare of the lamplight, Daniel couldn’t make out enough of the writing on the photographs to make a realistic translation. Absently he reached out for the magnifying glass that always sat in front of the only picture of Sha’re he had. It wasn’t even a very good picture, a blank and white sketch that Skaara had once given him that bore only a vague resemblance to the subject, but he treasured it all the same.
The simple picture brought him comfort in those dark days when he couldn’t seem to quite remember her face.
Reaching out for the magnifying glass, his hand closed around empty air.
It wasn’t there. The unexpected change in routine startled him out of his thoughts, and he glanced up, bewildered.
His sight blurred slightly as he looked up and he sighed, blinking furiously until the world settled around him. The magnifying glass was in plain sight on the wrong side of the desk – when had he left it there? - and he reached for it impatiently before bending back over the grainy photographs.
Squinting against the cold light, Daniel held the magnifier over the bottom section of the picture, his mind already beginning to switch back into translation mode.
It didn’t help. The picture wouldn’t stay still, he couldn’t read it. Slowly Daniel realised his hand was shaking as it held the glass, and with a frustrated curse he slammed the magnifier back down onto the desk.
The glass cracked across the middle as it hit the hard table top.
For a few moments he stared down at his hand, watching as his fingers trembled as if he were an old man.
He felt old.
At first he couldn’t even feel his hands moving, but as he watched he started to feel the tremors, until it seemed as if his whole body was shaking.
Clenching his hands into fists, he pressed them down fiercely against the tabletop in an effort to stop them shaking, at the same time mentally trying to calm his breathing as it sped up in alarm.
Everything was okay. This was normal. The nurses had explained what the side effects to the drugs were, he knew that this was going to take a while to recover from – hell, he’d even been shaking back in the institution, curled up against the padded walls, but he’d thought he was just cold.
He was cold even now despite being miles away from that room, but the terror had followed him, was following him wherever he went.
He couldn’t shake it.
He was too tired.
Running a hand over his face, Daniel pushed himself to his feet, waiting for the dizziness to pass before attempting to walk across to the coffee machine in the corner. Coffee would warm him up, and wake him up now that the adrenaline rush of helping the others had faded along with the sheer, exhilarating relief at being out of that room, away from McKenzie and his aides.
Making the coffee, spooning granules into the filter, listening to the quiet hiss of the machine as the water heated - it was a mundane ritual he indulged in several times a day, and he found refuge in the simple familiarity of it. As he finally began to pour the steaming hot coffee into a mug, Daniel could feel himself calming, relaxing slightly even though his hands were still shaking.
Footsteps rang out on the concrete outside his door and he jumped, spinning round in alarm to face the oncoming threat. Coffee spilled unnoticed over the floor.
They were coming for him again. More drugs…examinations…
He wasn’t in that room anymore. This was the SGC – he was safe here.
Daniel ignored the treacherous voice that whispered through his mind. Being here didn’t help you before, did it? Your own friends put you in that place…left you there.
Shaking his head as if he could make the voice go away, remove the truth in the harsh words, Daniel placed the coffee pot carefully down on the hot plate, returning to his desk as the footsteps came closer. Sitting the mug firmly on the table, he wrapped both hands round it, finding some small comfort in the warmth seeping through the ceramic. Pressing his fingers hard against the sides of the mug helped disguise the tremors. A figure appeared in the doorway, and Daniel swallowed another sigh. The most difficult person of all to fool, of course it would be Jack.
“Hey Daniel,” Jack leant against the doorway as he spoke. “Thought I’d find you in here. What’cha doin’?”
“Translation,” Daniel replied, pleased that his voice wasn’t too shaky. “SG-4 brought these pictures back from P3C-291 last week. Hammond asked for a report on the writings by Tuesday morning.” That was it, get back to normal, discuss everyday things. The sooner he could get back to normal, the sooner he could forget this whole nightmare had ever happened.
Lifting the mug with both hands Daniel took a sip of the coffee, grateful for the familiar taste as he stared fixedly down at the photographs strewn out in front of him and trying not to look as if he was avoiding Jack’s gaze. He had to look normal – had to seem as if he was fully recovered.
They’ll lock you away. Abandon you again.
Daniel shivered again. Why couldn’t he get warm? A voice broke through his thoughts. Jack was speaking. Come on Daniel, pay attention…
“…reconsider, don’t you?”
Daniel glanced nervously up at his friend. “Sorry?” A look of amused tolerance mixed with a trace of concern as it flashed across Jack’s face. He walked fully into the room, pulling the door shut behind him.
Daniel resisted the temptation to go over and open it again.
“I said, I came to tell you that Hammond wants us all in a briefing at 0930 tomorrow morning, so I’d suggest we both try and get some sleep. Besides, I doubt Hammond’s going to hold you to that deadline considering the past few days.” He paused for a second before continuing, “I don’t know how you can see anything at all in this light – I can hardly see you.”
With that, Jack switched on the overhead light. Daniel flinched away as if he’d been struck, his heart pounding wildly.
Constant, unforgiving light. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t hide from it, from them…watching him…
“Daniel?” Suddenly Jack’s face was a lot closer, leaning over his desk to look at him in concern. “You okay?”
Letting go of the now shaking mug, Daniel shoved his hands in his pockets before returning Jack’s gaze with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“Fine, Jack. I just have a lot of work to do.”
“You need to rest, Daniel,” Jack replied patiently. “Doc Fraiser told me about the side effects of those drugs…”
“Whatever happened to doctor/patient confidentiality?” Daniel muttered, scowling.
Jack rolled his eyes. “She’s worried about you, Daniel.”
Daniel closed his eyes and laughed bitterly for a second before biting his lip and choking back the inappropriate sound. She can’t have been that worried, because apart from that short confrontation in the corridor Daniel hadn’t seen her since he’d returned to the base. Even when they’d been re-evaluating his dopamine levels, when half…no, the entire base still thought he was crazy, a nurse had been the one to conduct the tests.
She’s avoiding you…
“She needn’t be,” he spat out angrily. “I told you, I’m fine.”
“Well you’re not acting like it,” Jack snapped back, his temper flaring.
Eyes narrowed, Daniel looked directly at his friend for the first time since their conversation had begun. “What am I acting like, Jack?” he asked quietly. “Like I'm crazy?”
“Of course not!”
Jack’s eyes widened in shock at Daniel’s question, but even his obvious surprise didn’t stem the doubt in Daniel’s mind. After all, it hadn’t taken much for Jack to write him off as insane, had it? For Jack to capitulate so easily, some part of him must have already seen something in Daniel that suggested craziness, at least on some level.
‘I think you might be losing what’s left of your mind…’
Words spoken in anger, easily dismissed like a thousand other jibes he’d heard over the years – this one even more excusable given their circumstances, but didn’t it just prove his point? Right from their first meeting Daniel had been flaky, eccentric, weird, and what were they but polite ways of saying someone was crazy? People had been calling him insane in polite – and not so polite – ways since he was a teenager, was he so surprised that eventually, people he’d thought were his friends would come to the same conclusion?
Daniel couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if Sam had been the one first touched by the Linvris – would everyone have been so quick to assume she was crazy?
No, of course they wouldn’t…because Sam was immune to the effects of Machello’s invention. Come on Daniel, are you starting to forget things here?
Sighing, Daniel closed his eyes again, too tired to think any more. He needed a break, and he certainly wasn’t up to another round with Jack O’Neill. Not today, anyway.
“I’m just tired, Jack.”
As he’d hoped, Jack took the way out offered to him. “How long since you got any sleep?”
Would that be natural or drug induced?
“I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “What day is it?”
Jack rolled his eyes again. “Daniel…”
“I’m serious, Jack!” Daniel pushed angrily. “What day is it? They didn’t exactly furnish me with a newspaper and a morning coffee in that place, and I’m still not allowed off the base. I don’t know what day it is.”
Daniel didn’t miss the frown that flickered briefly across Jack’s features. “It’s Thursday.”
Thursday. They’d come back from the planet on Sunday, he’d been committed the following morning, which made it…three days he’d been in the hospital, and almost five days since he'd managed anything even remotely like peaceful sleep; he'd found no rest while under the influence of McKenzie's drugs. Jack was right – in spite of his failed attempt earlier that evening, he did still need sleep. And food, probably, but that meant going to the Commissary and facing the others, something he wasn't ready to do yet. At least here in his office he had some modicum of privacy.
Maybe these last couple of hours of work would have tired him out enough to let him rest properly this time. He sighed again before standing and walking round his desk. “You’re right, Jack, I need some sleep. Are you guys still on stand-down?”
Jack nodded. “We all are, at least till Teal’c is back on his feet.”
“You going to go fishing?”
“Maybe. We’re all confined to the base, remember? At least till the Doc says otherwise, so I guess I’ll be hanging around for a while.“
“Catch up on those reports you pretend not to read?”
It was a poor attempt at their usual banter, but Jack grinned as Daniel moved to follow him, apparently pleased to at least see the effort made.
“Well, if you scientists will insist on writing a thesis each every time we come back from a mission…”
It was a standard argument, one they had ten times a week and never seriously, so Daniel tuned it out, snatching a small bottle from the shelf by his door at the last minute. Switching off his office lights, he walked down the corridor with Jack at his side. Maybe the proper beds in one of the VIP rooms would be more comfortable than his office sofa as well. It would do until he could get out of here, anyway.
The sound of his name startled Daniel, and he glanced over at his friend to find Jack staring at him, obviously concerned.
"Huh? Sorry Jack...what did you say?"
Jack sighed. "Never mind. You okay?"
Daniel nodded absently. "I'm fine."
Jack's eyebrows raised in disbelief, and Daniel continued, "I'm just tired, Jack. Just tired, that's all."
Jack remained silent for few seconds before nodding. "Well, we're here."
Finally taking in his surroundings, Daniel realised in surprise that they were standing outside the entrance to the VIP wing. He glanced uncertainly back down the corridor - when had they walked that far?
Frowning, Daniel moved towards the main door, trying not to think about his apparent lapse of concentration. Sleep, that was all. He just needed sleep.
He took a few steps before he realised that Jack was still behind him, and glanced back to his friend.
"Jack?" he murmured, confused.
"Do you need anything?"
Daniel was surprised to discover that Jack himself looked nervous, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another as he waited for an answer.
They watched each other for a few moments, and Daniel got the feeling that Jack was expecting him to say something more, to make some sign that everything was back to normal. Automatically, he searched for the expected words, for something he could say to give Jack the reassurance he so obviously needed.
"Jack..." The words didn't come.
Daniel watched, crestfallen as hope flickered across Jack's face, and the man took a step forward that was quickly checked when Daniel found himself backing up in kind.
An uncomfortable silence settled between them again before Daniel finally sighed. "I'll see you in the morning, Jack." He turned away without waiting for a reply, unwilling to see the disappointment in him that he knew Jack would be feeling.
He'd had experience enough of Jack's disappointment in him in the last few days - he didn't need to see it again.
Daniel walked down the short corridor and signed for the room in a daze, gaze fixed firmly on his own feet. Pushing the door open, he risked a glance back at the soldier on duty, realising suddenly that he hadn't even looked at the soldier as he'd signed his name.
Jack was still standing by the door, watching him.
Forcing himself to walk calmly into the room, Daniel shut the door firmly behind him before sinking down onto the bed, staring blindly down at his shoes.
God, what a mess.
Closing his eyes, Daniel could still see the disappointment on Jack's face back at the hospital, along with the shock on Sam's expressive features. Only Teal'c had remained impassive, whatever distress he may have been feeling firmly hidden behind his Jaffa training. That was something Daniel would always be grateful for - one more debt that he owed. If Teal'c hadn't kept his head and grabbed hold of him, Daniel knew he'd still be in that room. In fact, if the man hadn't visited, if he hadn't stopped him from attacking the Linvris, Daniel was quite certain that he'd have been stuck in that cell for the rest of his life.
Reaching down to untie his shoelaces, Daniel steadfastly ignored the shaking in his fingers. It was the drugs, that's all. Just the drugs.
Daniel cried out as he hit the floor, twisting desperately in their grip as they pinned him down.
"Help me," he whispered, pleading with his friends to help him, to do something other than stand there and watch as they stole his mind.
The needle approached, and he struggled again, kicking out to try and keep the hated medication away from him. He had to fight them, had to make sure he could think straight, find a way out of here.
An arm clamped down on his legs, keeping him immobile, useless. He couldn't stop them, couldn't defend himself, could do nothing but watch in fear as the needle came closer to his skin.
Behind SG-1, a shadowy figure came out of the darkness, staring down at him before speaking.
"Now Daniel, we've been through this before. Do I really have to put you in restraints?"
Daniel shrank back, trying to disappear into the floor as the needle pricked his skin.
His heart raced, and he couldn't seem to catch a breath. The room grew hazy around him as he stared out at his audience, eyes focused on Jack.
"Come on Daniel," his friend taunted, the sneer evident even to Daniel's confused mind. "Don't start crying - you're working with the military now."
Only then did Daniel realise there were tears streaming down his face. Ashamed, he tore his gaze away from O'Neill, glancing instead at the aides that were still gripping him, waiting for the drugs to kick in.
The Linvris stared back at him, their faces rushing towards him as they attacked.
...Daniel fought to free himself, still caught up in the dream and barely aware that he'd woken. Gasping for breath that he couldn't seem to find, he fought against the arms that held him down, becoming more and more frantic as the grip tightened.
He was running out of air. His eyes flew open in panic, his struggles weakening as he began to run out of energy. But the bright lights weren't there, and instead he found himself staring into a calming darkness that he wasn't expecting. The sudden realisation that he was back at the SGC was almost a physical blow, and Daniel sank back into the thin pillows with a muffled sob, air slowly filtering back into abused lungs as he finally began to relax.
It was only a dream.
Something wet trickled down his cheek, and he realised with embarrassment that he'd been crying in his sleep. Reaching up a hand to scrub out the tears, panic flared again briefly when he realised he couldn't move his arm.
Glancing down at himself in alarm, Daniel realised what had triggered the nightmare - he was tangled up in the damn duvet. He cursed in frustration as he shifted his body, wriggling around until he could free his arms and throw back the covers. Sitting up, he rested his head against the wall behind him and concentrated on slowing his breathing down, casting off the last residues of panic from the nightmare.
Eventually he felt calm enough to stand, and he pushed himself up off the bed, stretching stiff muscles as he glanced at the clock by the bed.
Damn, was that all? It was still over five hours till the briefing, and Daniel didn't feel the slightest bit rested from his previous sleep. Sighing, his gaze strayed to the small bottle of pills taunting him from the nightstand next to the clock. It had been years since he'd had to use them, and Daniel wasn't even sure why he'd kept them around.
Did he really want to resort to sleeping pills?
Probably not, but he desperately needed rest if he was going to put on a brave face at the briefing, and Daniel didn't think he'd be able to find that rest on his own. Not tonight.
Before he could change his mind, he took the few steps over to the sink and poured himself a small cup of water before returning to perch on the side of the bed. Unscrewing the child-proof cap was harder than he remembered, but Daniel shook off the frustration, tipping one of the small yellow pills into his palm before swallowing it down with a grimace and drinking down half the cup of water.
Placing the cup on the bedside table, he lay back down in the bed, pulling the covers up over his shoulders and shifting restlessly onto his side.
Daniel opened his eyes blearily, caught in those few moments between sleep and consciousness. He gazed unseeingly at the table a few feet from his bed, vaguely aware that there was something he should have been doing, but still too tired to work out what it was.
He tried to turn over, to force himself to wake up properly, but it seemed that his body was still asleep, and it was a while before he was able to summon the energy even to turn over.
Yawning, Daniel could feel sleep pulling at him, trying to keep him from beginning the day, and he was tempted to let it, the instinct to hide away from the real world and all its problems almost overwhelming in its intensity.
Glancing over at the clock, he registered the numbers but it was a while before he could attach meaning to them, telling the time suddenly becoming as difficult as translating a long-lost ancient Sumerian text.
With a start Daniel took the final jump towards full awareness, realising with an awful sinking feeling what it was he'd been trying to remember.
He threw himself out of bed, stumbling a little as his head spun at the sudden movement. Damn it, the briefing started in twenty minutes, and he had to go through his check up with Fraiser first.
Terrific. The one time it was desperately important that he wasn't late, that he showed everyone he was fine, that the nightmare of the last few days was already forgotten.
He shivered slightly and reached for his clothes, frowning as he picked them up from where he'd thrown them the night before, the creases in the fabric obvious even in the semi-darkness.
Nothing like that 'slept in your clothes' look to make a good impression in a room full of perfectly pressed military uniforms.
The next few minutes were a blur as Daniel rushed around getting dressed. Even signing out at the VIP desk was done in a rush, his signature not even remotely resembling the careful, precise letters he usually used to sign his name.
Daniel only had one arm inside his jacket when he left the room, and was still pushing his other arm into the sleeve as he hurried down the corridor. In spite of his rush, he knew his movements were sluggish and slightly uncoordinated, his mind still foggy from the sleeping tablets he'd taken the night before. Janet would probably throw a fit if she found out he'd taken something on top of the anti-psychotic medication still running around in his system, but Daniel knew from bitter experience that he'd have managed no more sleep without their help.
However, it was going to take one hell of a performance to keep Janet from finding out what he'd done, particularly when if he was honest with himself, he was still half asleep.
He hurried down the corridor, intent on getting to the infirmary before he was any later. If he was lucky, then he might still be able to get to the briefing on time. In fact, maybe he could use the briefing to limit the amount of time he was forced to spend in the Infirmary.
Deep in thought, Daniel’s gaze was focused firmly on the floor, ignoring everything and everyone around him. Avoiding eye contact was a useful trick, and one he’d learnt very early on in life. It helped you blend into the background, stopped you from being noticed, and right now Daniel definitely wanted to be alone.
Turning the corner Daniel glanced up briefly, and came to a dead stop.
Daniel paled, then as McKenzie noticed him and broke off his conversation with the General, Daniel took a deep breath and forced himself to keep walking. As he approached the two men, Daniel was intensely aware of their scrutiny, Hammond radiating concern while McKenzie watched him, observing and assessing…
Just like he did back in the asylum…
Daniel frowned and bit his lip as his blood ran cold.
He still thinks you’re crazy…
Daniel didn’t slow down as he passed them, a muttered greeting to the General his only acknowledgement that they were even there. McKenzie’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he passed, and Daniel could just imagine what the man was going to say next.
‘Doctor Jackson needs professional help to deal with the events of the last few days, sir, along with constant observation in case the medication in his system have any unexpected side effects. In fact, letting us take him back to the hospital would be a wise move for all concerned.’
Daniel forced himself to keep a steady pace as he continued down the corridor, his heart pounding in his ears. Only when he was safely round the corner and out of sight in an empty corridor did he allow himself to break into a jog, certain about one thing.
He couldn’t carry on like this.
"Okay Daniel, you can put your jacket on again."
Nodding, Daniel shifted awkwardly, carefully avoiding the bruises on his arm as he did so. He watched warily as Janet placed her latest blood samples in the hands of the nurse, only relaxing when the needles were well out of sight once more.
Sitting placidly while she took various blood samples hadn't been easy, and Daniel could feel his hands trembling again, but somehow he'd managed to get through it without freaking out. The less time he had to spend in the infirmary, the better.
"So, can I go home now?"
Janet frowned slightly. "Not yet, Daniel. I want to at least wait until I've had the results of these tests back, and I'm still a little concerned about your dopamine levels."
"Yesterday you said they were back to normal!" Daniel protested, aware that he sounded a little like a petulant child, but it was only now he realised just how much he'd been relying on completely getting away from the mountain.
"They were," Janet replied, moving closer to the bed Daniel was resting on. "They're a little low today Daniel," she continued, "but that's only to be expected. Your body got used to the infusions of Haldol, it'll take a few days for the chemicals in your body to stabilise on their own. It's perfectly normal, but I'd rather you stay in the mountain while they do."
Daniel laughed; a bitter, mirthless laugh that made Janet frown. Daniel choked it back as quickly as he could, avoiding Janet's gaze as he did so.
Normal was a nine-to-five job and going home to your wife and kids. Nothing about this entire situation was normal.
"Daniel," Janet began, concern suddenly evident in her voice. "About what happened...I hope you don't think that we..."
"It's forgotten," Daniel interrupted curtly, unwilling to deal with the conversation that Doctor Fraiser so obviously wanted. "I should go. I'm late for the briefing."
Janet nodded wordlessly, sighing before turning around and heading for her office.
Daniel was in the corridor before she'd taken two steps.
Daniel hesitated outside the entrance to the Briefing Room, trying to calm his nerves before going in and facing SG-1. As much as he wanted to put this whole mess behind him, he knew that the others would want to talk about it, to discuss what had happened and what he felt about it, and that was something he didn’t want to have to deal with. Unfortunately, refusing to talk about it was going to be a little difficult at a meeting set up specifically to do just that.
He might not be part of the military, but within the SGC Daniel knew that he still had to adhere to Uncle Sam’s rules and regulations, and that meant sucking it up and answering whatever questions the General saw fit to ask him.
But that didn’t mean he had to like it.
Taking a deep breath Daniel stepped round the doorway into the Briefing Room, surprised to see that the General was already there.
“Nice of you to drop by, Daniel,” Jack commented wryly.
“Sorry I’m late,” Daniel replied quietly, checking his watch as he walked to his seat. God, he really was late. “The medical took longer than I thought.” Not quite true, but it certainly took longer than he’d have liked. In fact, being able to skip it completely would have just about made his day.
Sliding into his seat, Daniel risked a cautious glance at the people around him. Jack was frowning, but Daniel wasn’t surprised. The man always seemed pissed when Daniel was late, particularly when the General was kept waiting.
Sam was watching him, concern and something dangerously akin to pity on her face. Scowling, Daniel looked away. He had no desire to deal with anyone else’s guilt over what had happened, however selfish that may be. For once in his life, he didn’t feel like turning the other cheek, wouldn’t hand out useless platitudes and pretend things were okay just to help maintain the status quo. If Jack and Sam wanted to pretend that SG-1 was still one big happy family and that nothing had happened, then they’d have to do it without him.
“Well, now that you’ve all arrived,” the General began, “I think we need to discuss the events of the past few days. The effects of Machello’s devices has perhaps highlighted some of the unknown dangers we face in travelling through the Gate – dangers that I’m not sure we’ve been fully prepared for in the past. Doctor Fraiser informs me that Teal’c is recovering well – how about you, Colonel? Do you feel that you’ve fully recovered from your ordeal?”
“Yes Sir,” Jack replied, and Daniel could feel Jack’s gaze fixed on him like a laser. “I’m just peachy.”
There was a brief silence, and Daniel could almost hear the General’s hesitation before he spoke again. “Doctor Jackson? I understand that you’ve discharged yourself from the infirmary.”
Not quite, since Daniel had refused to go back to the infirmary in the first place, but he bit back the automatic correction. It was close enough, so he merely nodded. “Yes, I’m fine General, thank you.”
A disbelieving snort came from Jack, and Daniel sent a glare in his direction before turning back to the General.
“Very well Doctor, but if you notice any unexpected side effects, I want you to report back to the infirmary immediately.”
“Good, now Colonel, there are some serious security issues to consider while SG-1 is on downtime.”
At this, Sam spoke up. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t think there’s very much we can do to pre-empt things like this from happening. The cultures and technologies we encounter are so diverse, it would be almost impossible to guard against every virus or alien technology that Earth’s knowledge would place firmly in the realm of science fiction rather than a realistic possibility.”
Daniel tuned the conversation out, unable to concentrate on the topic at hand.
Nothing had changed. Even the knowledge that he’d be helping ensure the future safety of the SGC didn’t make Daniel want to discuss what had happened. As the voices continued in the background around him, Daniel wondered whether they’d mind if he just rested his head down on the table for a few minutes. Damn sleeping pills – on the few occasions when he used them, he always forgot how groggy they left him, how difficult it was to focus on things happening around him when his body was still fighting the urge to sleep. Putting your head on the table probably wasn’t acceptable behaviour in the middle of a military briefing, though Daniel wasn’t sure they’d even notice.
Okay, maybe they would. Hang on, had he actually put his head down? For an insane second Daniel had the feeling he had, and he started up in alarm, glancing around at his friends before realising that he hadn’t. Thinking frantically back, Daniel could just about remember that the General had asked him a question, though he had absolutely no idea what that was.
“Are you alright, Doctor Jackson?”
“Yes sir. Just a little tired, that’s all.”
Hammond frowned, but nodded, accepting his explanation. “Do you have anything to add to this discussion?”
Not a single word. Daniel knew his friends would be expecting his usual response to questions like that, a long exposition on whatever culture they’d encountered, its relation to ancient Earth culture as well as some ideas of what Goa’uld may have been responsible for their initial trip through the Gate, but somehow Daniel couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
“No sir, not really,” he muttered, staring intently down at the table.
“Daniel…” This time it was Jack who spoke, and Daniel looked over to him, trying to entreat him to understand his feelings without forcing Daniel to put them into words.
“I don’t, Jack. It’s not like I’ve been here on the base these last few days, I wasn’t really...involved in any of this.”
“Not involved?” Jack echoed incredulously. “Daniel, you’re the one who figured out this was one of Machello’s inventions instead of just…” Jack trailed off, an expression of alarm flickering across his face as he realised what he was going to say. Daniel finished his sentence for him.
“…instead of just me losing what’s left of my mind?” he suggested, the words coming out unbidden and without warning. Jack frowned, looking away from Daniel for the first time since he’d come into the room.
Childishly feeling as if he’d won some kind of point, Daniel ignored the flurry of guilt at so obviously upsetting Jack, and finally looked back to the General, who was watching the exchange intently from the head of the table. Sighing, Daniel realised there was no way he’d be able to get out of the briefing without at least having to talk about it to some extent. Okay, fair enough, hoping otherwise had been foolish, really, but he'd make sure they got the edited version.
“Look, General, yes, I worked out that it was one of Machello’s inventions, but I didn’t really have any involvement with the security of the base after I woke up in the infirmary. I mean, I went from the infirmary, to the VIP room, to the…hospital.” Daniel was quite pleased that there was only a slight hesitation in his voice as he spoke. “I was constantly under guard, and by the time I returned to the SGC we knew what was going on and the appropriate precautions had been taken. I certainly wasn’t in any position to help anyone, and I don’t see how I can be of much help now.” The General looked as if he was going to protest, so Daniel hurried on before the man could interrupt. “To be honest, I really don’t remember very much about the last few days.”
An out and out lie because Daniel could remember every terrifying minute, but claiming some kind of temporary amnesia had worked with Hathor, so maybe it would work again.
It was worth a try, anyway.
“There is something you can do to help us, Doctor.”
Daniel’s blood ran cold as ice, and he whirled in his seat, staring at the doorway in alarm at the new arrival.
“What are you doing here?” Jack’s words, and Daniel was surprised and a little grateful to hear the obvious dislike in Jack’s voice. Maybe his fear of the man wasn’t quite as irrational as he’d thought, then.
“I asked the Doctors to attend the briefing, Colonel,” Hammond interrupted, and then Daniel noticed Janet entering the room behind McKenzie. Unlike McKenzie’s calm, self assured manner, Doctor Fraiser seemed ill at ease as she approached the table, and only relaxed after a brief smile from Sam.
Daniel noticed that while Doctor Fraiser had carefully avoided his gaze since entering the room, McKenzie was watching him intently. His skin began to crawl, and Daniel couldn’t stop himself from shrinking back in his chair as McKenzie took the empty seat directly opposite him.
Crossing his arms in front of him, Daniel forced himself to breathe calmly and looked down at the oak table, willing his voice to remain steady before speaking even if he couldn’t meet the man’s gaze. “What is it you want from me?”
“As I’m sure you’ve been told, our initial theory was that your schizophrenia had been caused by the effects that Gate travel has on the human body,” McKenzie began.
Daniel looked over at Janet, unable to conceal his surprise.
“Gate travel?” he echoed, still trying to process this new piece of information. “How could Gate travel cause mental illness?”
“It is possible, Daniel,” Sam interrupted. “The Stargate works by compressing your molecules during the trip through the wormhole, and the human brain is still largely a mystery to us. We can only really speculate what effect de-molecularisation could have on the intricate neural pathways inside the brain.”
Suddenly, Daniel could see exactly what had led them to think he was schizophrenic, why he had been locked away so readily.
“You were expecting this,” he said slowly, lifting his gaze to look at McKenzie. “You’ve been waiting for something like this to happen since the SGC program began.”
“It is certainly my research that has led to this theory, yes.”
“What research?” Daniel persisted. “We’re the only subjects you’ve got, and as far as I know no-one in the SGC has ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. What on earth are you basing this theory on?”
“Daniel,” Janet interrupted uncomfortably with an apologetic glance at Sam. “There is one person. Jonas Hansen might not have been officially diagnosed, but from SG-1’s own mission reports, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he was suffering from some form of mental instability when he died.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Daniel was about to continue the conversation when he noticed how uncomfortable Sam looked and changed his mind. Dragging Sam’s ex-fiancé into the conversation would be as heartless as someone else mentioning Sha’re, and however much he might want to press McKenzie, it wasn’t worth upsetting Sam over. He’d met McKenzie’s type before, and Daniel could see already that nothing was going to convince the man that he was wrong.
In fact, Daniel had to admit, the man did have a point. It would be unreasonable to assume that Gate travel had no discernible side effects at all, though jumping straight to schizophrenia did seem a little extreme.
“So what does this have to do with me?” Daniel already had a good idea what was coming, but he was damned if he’d give in easily, and he wanted to hear McKenzie say it. Surely the others wouldn’t expect Daniel to go along with the testing that he knew McKenzie was about to suggest?
To his dismay, it was the General who answered him. “Doctor McKenzie believes that it is only a matter of time before someone else in the SGC begins to display similar symptoms to your own, Doctor.”
“Are you going to lock them up as well?” Daniel couldn’t help but retort.
“That may not be necessary, Doctor Jackson. Hopefully we’ll be able to use this regrettable experience to adequately prepare for any future incidents.”
“Doctor McKenzie, I am not crazy, and I was never schizophrenic. You can’t possibly expect to use results gathered from Machello’s inventions to treat a biological *human* illness. Particularly when I’m no longer experiencing the effects of the bugs. I’m back to normal; there’s nothing left to examine.”
McKenzie’s eyes narrowed. “With all due respect, Doctor, you can’t expect us to believe that all the severe symptoms you were experiencing while at the hospital have completely disappeared overnight. It’s important that we are able to gather information on their after effects.”
“The only symptoms I’m still experiencing are those caused by the medication that you gave me,” Daniel snapped. “There is no way I’m going back to that hospital.”
“Believe me Doctor Jackson, I’m only thinking of your best interests here. It's impossible to predict what long term effect your psychotic episode is going to have on you. Officially you’re still under my care, and it would be irresponsible of me to completely discharge you without being satisfied that you have completely recovered.”
Speechless, Daniel sank back in his chair, anger and fear robbing him of any reply. This was it. It really didn’t matter what he said, did it? McKenzie had obviously decided that Daniel would be the ideal subject with which to prove his theories. Even if Daniel gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed that McKenzie really was thinking of his best interests, Daniel wasn’t sure what more he could do to convince him that he was fully recovered.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jack spoke, and Daniel glanced up, slightly reassured to see the alarm plainly written across Jack’s face. “Do you seriously expect Daniel to voluntarily submit himself to your care after you screwed up the last time?”
“No! General, this is crazy! McKenzie and Fraiser screwed up, and we should never have listened to them in the first place. We go through the Gate to alien worlds every single day; alien technology should have been the first thing we looked for when Daniel started acting…”
“…crazy,” Daniel supplied.
“Schizophrenic,” Jack corrected, watching Daniel with apologetic concern.
Daniel managed a weak smile, grateful for Jack’s support even if he didn’t feel particularly reassured by it. After all, even with Jack’s previous assurances that Daniel’s hallucinations were stress related and his initial reluctance that Daniel be admitted for evaluation, he hadn’t been able to stop that exact thing from happening.
Ignoring McKenzie, Daniel turned to address the General, hoping that McKenzie’s ability to overrule officers on medical grounds didn’t extend to the General. “Sir, believe me, I’m fine, but I will not go back to the hospital. I’m not hallucinating any more, I’m not crazy, and McKenzie has no grounds to hold me without my consent. I’m sorry, but there is no way I’ll agree to any further testing.”
McKenzie frowned but said nothing.
“Don’t worry, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond replied. “While I agree with Doctor McKenzie that further research into the effects of Gate travel does need to be conducted, I won’t agree to compulsory testing. If you don’t wish to be involved, then you don’t have to be.”
“No objections, Doctor. My decision is final.”
Daniel breathed a sigh of relief and smiled his thanks, but the smile didn’t last long. He could see from McKenzie’s expression that this wouldn’t be the end of it.
Jack continued before McKenzie could protest further. “Can we go back to work now, Doc?”
“I’m still waiting for the results from this morning’s tests, but I don’t expect to find anything untoward. I’d advise that SG-1 be on stand down until Teal’c has fully recovered, but as far as Colonel O’Neill and Major Carter are concerned, I don’t think they need to be confined to base in the meantime.”
Jack grinned, but unlike his friend, Daniel hadn’t missed the omission in her words.
“What about me, Janet?” he asked wearily, already resigned to the answer.
“I’m sorry Daniel, but your body is still working through the effects of the Haldol you were given at the Hospital. Until I’m completely sure that you’re clear, I can’t authorise your leaving the base.”
Sighing, Daniel nodded and ran a hand through his hair, too tired to argue any further. While Janet did sound apologetic, he knew that tone in her voice, and knew that any protests would simply be overruled.
General Hammond spoke, taking control of the briefing back again.
“Major Carter, I’d like you to work with Doctor Fraiser, see if you can come up with some suggestions on how we can guard against this kind of thing happening again. Even if it involves extending the range of tests run on the SG teams after they’ve been offworld.”
“Colonel O’Neill, we need to reassess the specific security procedures taken when teams go offworld. The number of guards in the embarkation room, escorts down to the infirmary, everything. It’s not enough that we improve security after the fact, because sooner or later something is going to happen that we can’t stop once it’s begun.”
“Put together your reports, and bring your recommendations directly to me when they’re ready. Dismissed.”
There was a chorus of agreement from the various people sitting round the table before the General got to his feet. Daniel did the same. Heading out of the room without a second glance to anyone else, he heard Jack calling his name at the same time as the General called Jack’s, and chose to ignore his friend. He’d have to talk to the General now anyway, which meant Daniel could go and find somewhere quiet to think.
Unfortunately, well aware that Jack would be making a beeline to Daniel's office when he was through with the General, Daniel wasn’t too sure where 'somewhere quiet' would be.
In the end Daniel wandered aimlessly round the corridors of the SGC, speaking to no-one and rarely stopping long enough to really take any notice of where he was.
Finally he couldn’t walk any further, and came to a stop back in the briefing room, staring down at the Gate. Daniel never got tired of the view from this window; the Stargate was spectacular even when it wasn’t active, a stunning symbol that reminded them all why their work was so important.
Daniel’s mind was whirling, trying to assimilate what he’d learnt in the briefing.
He wasn’t getting very far.
While the General had so far supported his refusal to help McKenzie, Daniel couldn’t believe that the man would let it drop. He’d met people like McKenzie before, those who were so determined, so single minded in their belief that their theories were right that they pursued proof to the exclusion of all else, even ignoring evidence to the contrary in their need to be right. Daniel knew that McKenzie wouldn’t willingly let his theory drop.
At the very least, the General would be forced to allow further research into the effects of Gate travel on the human psyche, and that meant giving McKenzie repeated, long term access to the SGC, because there was no way the man would allow his pet project to be taken out of his control.
A feeling of dread settled over Daniel, and he knew that however unofficially, he would be the primary focus of that research.
The saying that mud sticks was a cliché, but that didn’t make it any less true. In McKenzie’s eyes, and probably those of a lot of the SGC personnel, Daniel would now always be ‘the one who went crazy’, and there wasn’t a damn thing that he could do about it.
It had been different when he'd thought it was an isolated incident, one that could be blamed firmly on Machello and then forgotten about. He could have fought against that, but not this. Trying to prove that he wasn’t crazy in the face of an apparent scientific theory, however baseless, would be almost impossible. Too many people here didn’t know the difference between a theory and a proof.
Did the military still have the right to lock people away without their consent? Because he certainly hadn’t agreed to being locked up the first time, though he could see why consent would have been taken away from him under the circumstances. Could McKenzie do it again if he had a good enough excuse?
Just a few brief days in that place had been enough for a dozen lifetimes. He’d fight it if they ever tried to commit him again, but he knew that he’d stand no chance if there was even the slightest proof that something was wrong with him.
This wasn’t the first time he’d been influenced by alien technology, Daniel reflected, and he was certain that it wouldn’t be the last. What if next time McKenzie or someone else was able to use it as proof of their theory? What if he couldn’t talk his way out next time?
And what happened the next time he posited some unlikely theory, the way he had with the plants on PJ2-445. It was hard enough to be believed as it was when he didn’t have concrete proof: would that now be automatically taken as proof that Gate travel had finally driven him nuts?
Daniel rested his head against the window, closing his eyes and resisting the urge to scream in frustration. He was going to have to watch every single word he said in the future – how could he continue to do his job?
Oh, he knew that Jack, Sam and Teal’c would stand by him, would continue to believe in him regardless of what others thought, but he was tired of fighting, and if the last few days had proved anything, it was that there was only so much that the rest of SG-1 could do. Jack in particular had fought his corner in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, and for that Daniel was grateful. In the end, though, it had been futile; he’d been committed regardless, and they’d finally become convinced that he was insane along with everyone else.
He'd been through all of this before, back when he’d never even heard of the SGC.
Gossip about him had been spreading through the academic community for months before his final lecture, and he’d watched in dismay as people wrote him off as an eccentric nutcase. Even so the work had been too important to ignore, and those closest to him had stood by him in the face of the ridicule, just as SG-1 had done and would continue to do.
Unfortunately, his protection hadn’t lasted. One by one, even his friends and close colleagues had turned their backs on him, some because they’d disagreed with his theories, and some for fear of being rejected by the academia themselves.
He’d become a pariah, and that knowledge had almost destroyed him.
The SGC had saved him then, helped Daniel to rebuild his self-esteem and given him back a connection to friends – to a family – that he’d been missing for a long time.
The thought that he might lose that family for a second time – Daniel didn’t think he could go through that again.
But did he really have any other choice?
Well, there was one thing he could do.
He could always leave.
Daniel caught his breath and frowned, stunned at the sudden thought.
Could he leave? Could he really give up his life here, abandon everything he’d worked for and start again somewhere else?
Did he even want to stay?
Daniel whirled at the sudden voice, startled, only relaxing when he saw who it was.
“Oh, hey Sam.”
She smiled, walking across the briefing room to stand by his side.
Daniel looked back out the window, watching the people work in the Gate Room.
“It makes you think, doesn’t it,” she said, quietly.
“I come up here sometimes when I’m working late,” she continued, placing a hand on his shoulder. “If I’m struggling with something, trying to work a theory. Sometimes it helps just to step back and take a break. Looking at the Gate…I don’t know, it just helps to put it all into perspective, somehow.”
Daniel nodded. He’d done the same thing more than once. In fact, it was standing watching the Gate in the middle of the night that had given him the final idea that there may be a second Stargate on Earth when they’d been searching for Jack and Sam two years before.
“I’m sorry, Daniel,” Sam said suddenly, turning to face him. “We should never have listened to McKenzie.”
Daniel tensed, not sure what to say. He didn’t want to talk about this. It was too soon, still too difficult, particularly in light of the briefing. He didn’t have any answers, couldn’t tell her that it was alright, that it was forgotten, because it wasn’t.
Instead he simply nodded.
Sam frowned. “Daniel, you know we don’t think you’re…” she hesitated, “well…we know it was just the bugs.”
“I know,” Daniel replied, still refusing to look at her. “I’m fine, Sam. I just need a few days off, that’s all.” And Daniel did know. He could accept that SG-1 would stand by him, at least for the time being, but it wasn’t them he was worried about. Not initially. “Being stuck inside the Mountain doesn’t help.” She squeezed his shoulder in sympathy. “What are you still doing here, anyway? Fraiser cleared you to leave, I’d have thought you’d have gone home by now.”
But Sam ignored his attempts to change the subject. “You told me once that no-one expects you not to feel. It’s natural to be upset about all this, Daniel.”
Daniel nodded again before gracing her with a brief smile. “Thanks, Sam.”
“Janet and I are starting work on the report for the General. We could use a hand?”
For a second Daniel was tempted. Ironically, it might help to take his mind off things, and if he knew what kind of precautions were going to be suggested then he’d be forewarned of any threat to himself at the same time. He had to smile at the hopeful look on Sam’s face, though, her intentions pretty obvious under the circumstances. After all, there was very little that a linguist would be able to bring to a report that revolved around medicine and physics, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to suggest anything that the two women weren’t perfectly capable of thinking of on their own.
No, Sam was obviously trying to give him something to do, trying to draw him back into the team again as if nothing had happened, in the hope that it would help him come to terms with it. Daniel was grateful for the offer, he really was, but the knowledge that he’d pretty much be a spare part in the work made him shake his head.
He needed to be somewhere he felt safe, doing something where he’d be confident in his abilities, and that wasn’t it. Sam’s face fell slightly as he declined the offer, making the first excuse he could think of.
“Thanks for the offer, Sam, but I haven’t eaten for a while. I think I’ll go to the commissary instead.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Sam replied cheerfully, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was in the opposite direction from the labs, and Daniel had to smother a sigh. Of course, that meant that he would actually have to go to the commissary, facing what was bound to be a large group of people for the first time since he’d returned to the base.
Like so many others since Daniel had come back to the SGC, the walk through the corridors was conducted in an awkward silence. Considering the glances that she kept throwing him, Sam obviously wanted to say more, probably wanted him to open up to her, but Daniel had no intention of doing any such thing, and it seemed Sam was aware enough of his stubborn streak not to waste her time trying.
In the end she headed off to her lab with a smile and a brief hand on his shoulder, leaving Daniel to enter the commissary alone. As nervous as he was about being in a room where he knew people would be watching, he found that the smell of food was more than enough to get him through the doors. He hadn’t realised he’d been so hungry, but then it had been a good few days since he’d managed to keep down anything resembling a decent meal.
Steeling his nerve, he moved towards the counter without catching anybody’s eye. The commissary staff had finished cooking hours ago, and so Daniel consoled himself with a slightly stale sandwich and the largest coffee he could lay his hands on. Finding a single seat in the corner, he kept his head down until he was seated, only then taking a careful look at the people around him.
The commissary was reasonably quiet, with only a couple of dozen people littered around the various tables. All but the kitchen staff were dressed in BDUs, and Daniel recognised most of them from the various SG teams. Several people met his glance as he looked around the room, but Daniel couldn't help but notice that the vast majority weren't even looking in his direction. Perhaps he was overreacting after all.
Relaxing slightly, Daniel quickly consumed most of his sandwich, barely registering the chicken filling since he was suddenly so hungry. Then came the coffee and Daniel wrapped his hands round the warm mug, inhaling the bitter aroma and allowing his eyes to drift shut before taking a long sip.
“I figured you’d surface when you ran out of coffee."
Daniel’s eyes flew open to find Jack standing in front of him, reaching for a chair by one of the other tables and pulling it over to join him. He smothered a sigh, well aware that it wouldn’t be long before Jack started asking the questions that Daniel didn't want to answer.
“Well, here I am,” Daniel glanced briefly at Jack before taking another mouthful of coffee. If he ignored the man for long enough, then maybe Jack would take the hint and leave him in peace.
“You feeling better than you did in the briefing?”
“What are you talking about? I told you in the briefing, I’m fine.”
Jack rolled his eyes and sighed. "Don't give me that, Daniel. Everybody could see that you weren’t up to it. Particularly after McKenzie walked in.”
“I wasn’t exactly in the mood to deal with him again, that’s all.”
“Daniel, he’s the head of psychology here. You might not like it, but you're going to have to deal with him sooner or later.”
“Not if I can help it,” Daniel muttered. “Jerk doesn't know what he's talking about.”
“Oh come on, Daniel. I don’t like him much either, but the guy does have a point.”
Daniel bristled at that. Surely Jack wasn't really saying that he agreed with McKenzie's theory that Daniel could still go crazy? “You've changed your tune," he muttered.
“Well he's right. We don't know exactly what effects Gate travel will have on us in the long term. He didn’t exactly go the right way about it this time, and I know that we all overreacted, but to be fair, you were acting a little crazy.”
“Not now, Jack,” Daniel interrupted angrily, abandoning his lunch and standing up before walking away from the table. It was too much. Too soon. Why couldn’t Jack see that? He wasn’t being fair, expecting Daniel to think rationally about it, expecting him to be able to put it behind him just yet. Tomorrow would be better, he could talk about it tomorrow. Just…not today.
He walked angrily out of the commissary. It seemed like all his fears were true: they didn’t trust him. That much was obvious now. They were always going to take McKenzie’s side over his, and there was nothing that he could do about it.
Of course, Daniel knew even then that he’d be naïve to assume that Jack would just let him walk away again, and the soft footsteps coming up swiftly behind him came as no surprise. Nor did the hand on his arm that spun him round.
“That’s enough, Daniel."
"Let go of me!” Daniel snapped and threw off Jack’s arm, taking a step backwards away from him.
“Oh, stop behaving like a prima donna.”
Daniel could feel his temper starting to fray. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“With respect, Daniel," Jack continued angrily, "I know you've not exactly had a great time of it lately but you're not the one in the infirmary." When Daniel didn’t react, Jack's eyes narrowed and he frowned. “You do remember Teal’c, right? He's fine, by the way.”
“Oh, don’t you dare pull that guilt trip crap on me, Jack. I know damn well that Teal’c is fine. He’s got the whole SGC backing him up, making sure that he’s fine. I bet he hasn’t been left alone for thirty seconds since he collapsed. Of course Teal’c is fine.” There was bitterness in his voice now, and Daniel obviously wasn’t the only one who could hear it.
“Oh, please – you weren’t the only one who had those things in you, Daniel. You’re not the only one suffering here. God, I had four of those things in me, we all know what it was like.”
Daniel laughed bitterly, “Really? What do you remember, Jack? After Machello’s bugs went into you, what could you see?”
Jack shrugged. “Carter, Fraiser, you and General Hammond watching, though you were all a bit blurry…”
“Want to know who I saw?”
Jack rolled his eyes again, and Daniel suddenly had the absurd desire to hit him. "What?”
“Nothing. Nobody. I was alone, Jack. Absolutely terrified, and I didn’t know what was happening to me. At least you had the whole of the SGC supporting you, knew for sure that you weren't really going crazy.”
Jack sighed, anger suddenly spent, and Daniel wondered whether his words were finally getting through if Jack could finally see what had upset him so much.
"So did you, Daniel.”
Jack’s voice was quieter now, and Daniel found himself lowering his own in response, too tired to continue the argument without Jack’s anger to fuel his own. “How? How did dumping me in a padded cell in a hospital forty minutes away from the Mountain give me the slightest support? You didn’t trust me, you didn’t try and find another explanation for the things I was seeing.” He wrapped his arms around himself before continuing. “How can I ever be sure that it's really over? How can I go on another mission, put forward another theory without being afraid you’re going to lock me up again?”
The alarm on Jack's face was plain to see. “Daniel, that’s crazy!”
Daniel began to justify his feelings even as he had to bite back a bitter laugh at Jack’s unfortunate choice of words. “I know that, but it doesn’t matter. It’s how I feel. You did it once, Jack, how do I know you’re not going to do it again?!”
“We trust you, Daniel.”
It was a few seconds before Daniel spoke again, and he searched Jack's face, trying to find some kind of reassurance that would allay his fears. He couldn't find it, and finally answered in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “But you didn’t.”
The sound of the klaxon brought their argument to an abrupt end, and Daniel jumped at the harsh noise as alarms began to wail throughout the mountain.
Jack cursed as he glanced up at a nearby speaker, then looked back at Daniel before sighing and breaking into a run, heading back in the direction of the Gate Room. Out of habit Daniel followed, a few paces behind Jack, but as he reached the end of the corridor, the screeching of the klaxon echoing through him with every step, he suddenly found himself stumbling to a halt, watching as Jack carried on running before disappearing out of sight around another corner.
Not this time.
The SGC was more than capable of managing whatever crisis this was without him.
Instead, he turned and moved quickly back down the corridor, heading for the nearest elevator and taking advantage of the confusion he knew from experience that the klaxon always brought with it to leave the mountain in peace.
Sitting on the grass, his back resting against a tree close to the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain, Daniel stared up at the stars, allowing the darkness to embrace him.
He was cold, shivering in fact, the skin on his arms tingling from the cold even under the meagre protection of his jacket. In spite of all that, Daniel was as content as he could remember being since he’d come out of the hospital. Simply being outside, able to smell the freshly cut grass, to breathe in fresh air instead of the stale, stuffy quality of the ventilated air inside the mountain – it all helped calm him, released the tension he’d been unable to truly shake on his own.
The klaxon had already fallen silent before he even reached the surface, and it wouldn’t be long before they came for him: he knew that. As it was, the guard at the gate had looked as if he was going to protest when Daniel had first walked past, but Daniel had kept his head down, said nothing and carried on walking, and thankfully hadn’t been stopped. Even as he’d sunk down into the long grass, Daniel had known that the guard would already be on the phone calling Jack, or maybe even the General, to check whether his confinement to the base had actually been lifted. Even if by some miracle he didn’t call, it wouldn’t be that long before Jack had started looking for him. Their conversation was far from over.
Millions of kilometres above him the stars twinkled down, and Daniel found himself searching for the constellations he knew so well. As a child, his mom had spent hours telling him about the intricate patterns, what they really meant as well as the myths surrounding them, and he'd come to love those stories almost as much as the Ancient Egyptian tales he’d been immersed in for so long.
If he’d known then what he knew now…
Daniel sighed. Those were familiar regrets, some now decades old, and no amount of what-ifs or wishful thinking was going to change that.
If Daniel had learned anything at all during his years of archaeological study, it was that the past truly is set in stone. Whatever happened, you couldn’t change it, and allowing yourself to live in the past only made you bitter and lonely.
No, all you could do was examine history and learn from it, grow stronger because of it, and then move on.
So what could he learn from the events of the last few days?
Even as the question occurred to him, Daniel’s mind shied away from it. The last week held too many memories, too much emotion, and he didn’t want to think about it. Not yet. Possibly not ever, but certainly not here, now that he’d finally found somewhere safe, set apart from the obligations and demands placed upon him by all those inside the mountain. Normally he thrived on those demands. They stretched and grounded him, giving him the sense of place he’d searched for all his life, but that place was no longer a haven, no longer somewhere safe where he could retreat to rest, and he needed a physical distance from it now that the rules and the guards stopped him from achieving.
Speaking of which…
Footsteps rustled in the long grass, and Daniel knew that his time was up.
“Hello Jack,” he said flatly, and the presence he’d felt hovering somewhere out of sight stepped hesitantly forward from the shadows, becoming the shape and form he knew so well. Jack looked down at him, and Daniel closed his eyes to the scrutiny even as Jack opened his mouth to speak.
“What are you doing out here, Daniel?” he began, and Daniel was surprised to hear the faintest trace of unease in his friend’s voice. A voice that, apart from that brief outburst in the corridor had been carefully neutral in tone ever since rescuing Daniel from the asylum, as if Jack was afraid that Daniel would shatter again if he pushed too hard.
Daniel never thought he’d think this, but he missed Jack’s sardonic streak, missed the playful banter that until now had always run through their friendship. “Don’t panic Jack,” Daniel said. “I’m not planning a jailbreak.” He opened his eyes again in time to see Jack’s face close over at his choice of words before Jack eased himself down on the grass next to Daniel, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I’m just…thinking.”
If Daniel expected or hoped for a flippant response to his remark, he was disappointed. “And you can’t think inside the base? You don’t normally have trouble.”
Daniel resisted the urge to remind Jack that things hadn’t exactly been normal. “It’s peaceful here,” he said simply.
“Yep,” Jack agreed, and there were a few seconds of silence between them before Daniel spoke.
“What happened in the gate room?”
“Oh, the usual. SG-3 were coming back, computer malfunctions, wormhole horizons, according to Carter it was the end of the world for about thirty seconds.” Jack paused for a second before adding, almost as an afterthought: “Siler got electrocuted.”
“He’s okay. Back in the infirmary. I swear he visits Fraiser almost as often as you do.”
Jack trailed off as his words brought back into sharp focus the spectre that had been looming over them. “You know you’re supposed to stay on the base, Daniel.”
“I am,” Daniel protested, gesturing vaguely to his right and the metal fencing that glistened in the faint light. “I’m a good five feet inside the boundaries of the compound.”
Even in the semi darkness, Daniel knew that Jack would be rolling his eyes. “I don’t think that’s quite what Janet had in mind.”
“Doctor Fraiser would rather I was still in the Infirmary.”
“I know Jack, I know.” Daniel sighed and zipped up his jacket before continuing. “I just…I need some time to myself, that’s all.”
The stars shone brighter out here on the mountain, and together the two men gazed up at them in silence. Daniel found himself relaxing even in the presence of the older man. In spite of what had happened, the difficulties he knew that he was going to face, Daniel didn’t hate Jack, didn’t truly resent any of them for what had happened. He was hurt, and a little afraid of what was going to happen now, but he didn’t really blame them, and he knew from bitter experience that the hurt would fade in time. They always did.
“We do trust you, Daniel.” Jack’s voice broke the silence, and even though Daniel had fully expected their aborted conversation to start up again, he closed his eyes briefly, wishing for a second that the silence could have been held for just a few moments longer.
“I’m sorry for what happened.”
Daniel continued watching the stars, not looking across at his friend even though every sense was hyper aware of Jack’s presence at his side.
“Why, Jack?” he asked quietly. “I woke up in that infirmary bed, and the first thing I thought was that I was going crazy, just like Nick. Like they all said I was when my theories on Egypt were made public. They said it was hereditary, that I was as insane as my grandfather. When I saw the Stargate in my closet, I thought they’d been right all along.”
“We screwed up,” Jack said simply. “We shouldn’t have listened to McKenzie until we’d checked out other causes, I know that and I’m sorry. No-one was prepared for this. But Daniel, everyone knows the truth now, we all know it wasn’t you. Forget about McKenzie, he’s a vulture, but he won’t get anywhere near you again. I’ll ask Hammond to have him transferred if I have to. We trust you, Daniel.”
At that Daniel hung his head with a sigh, wanting more than anything to believe Jack, to put this all behind him, but still not certain that he could, that it was safe to.
“How can I believe that?” he whispered, more to himself than to his friend.
Silence enveloped them both, only the sound of insects rustling in the grass nearby enough to anchor him. The stars called to him, and Daniel turned his attention back to the skies. When Jack spoke again, his voice was soft, quiet, as if he was as aware of the silence as Daniel himself.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Daniel. We made a mistake. I’m sorry, but it’s happened. None of us can take it back. I’ll do my damnedest to make sure it doesn’t happen again but you’re the only one who can decide whether that’s enough.”
“I don’t know if it is.” Honesty compelled him to reply, but even as he said the words, Daniel was expecting Jack’s response to be anger, frustration, or any one of a hundred different responses that had come to mean ‘Jack’ to him over the years. But of all the things he’d imagined, this wasn’t it.
“So what happens now?”
He seriously considered the question, the same one he’d been asking himself over and over since he’d walked away from Teal’c in the infirmary.
However much he might want it to, this mess wasn’t going to resolve itself, and he couldn’t just flick and switch and move on, even if this conversation with Jack, the fact that Jack had finally listened to what he was saying, had already helped.
And it had helped. A little. But he still didn’t have any definitive answers.
In the end, he settled for an honest, quiet: “I don’t know.”
“Do you want to leave?” Jack asked hesitantly.
Daniel smiled sadly in the darkness, idly tracking Ursa Major with his eyes.
“I’d have nowhere to go.”
“If you really wanted to go, you could. You’re good with people, Daniel, you speak a thousand languages. You’d have no trouble finding somewhere.”
Listening to Jack’s words, the prospect of leaving suddenly held no relief for Daniel. “No, I don’t want to go.” It was the first thing he’d been completely certain about since waking up in the hospital.
Jack shifted, turning to face him. “Then come back inside.”
“I’ll be along in a minute.”
Jack nodded, hauling himself to his feet with a tired groan that belied his agility in the field. As he turned to go, Daniel called out to him, making the older man turn back.
“Jack? Talk to Janet for me, get her to lift her curfew.” He raised his eyes to meet Jack’s for the first time since the man had stepped out of the shadows. “I’m okay. I’m not going to lose it again. I just want to go home.”
Trust me this time.
The unspoken words were implicit between them and Daniel held his breath, half dreading the response in case it wasn’t what he needed to hear.
Jack simply smiled, nodding once before turning away and heading for the mountain, leaving Daniel alone again, and that single action did more to reassure Daniel than a thousand words ever could.
He’d stay, had probably always known that, deep down. In spite of Jack’s words, Daniel knew that while he might be able to survive anywhere, this was the only place that he felt he belonged, even if recently he’d been forced to question that sense of safety.
The SGC wasn’t easy, never had been, and Daniel was enough of a realist to know that there
would always be people there who admired men like Kinsey, who would question his right to work in a military installation, and would use incidents like these as justification for their doubts and prejudices. But Daniel had faced off with bullies like that for most of his life, and while the stakes were higher now, the game hadn’t really changed.
With the help of his team mates, his friends, Daniel knew he could hold his own. He’d get past this with time, they all would, just like they’d dealt with everything else that had come their way. But he also knew that, for his own sake, while he’d already begun to forgive, he’d never quite forget.
Daniel leant back against the tree, staring into the sky once more before closing his eyes and listening to the distant sounds of the night.