Things fall apart
the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed
and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned
The Dead Don’t Stay Dead
Daniel could not see where he was going, but the burlap hood that had been shoved over his head had still allowed some visibility through the loosely woven strands of rough twine. He gritted his teeth as the jackbooted thugs half-dragged him by his armpits and hauled him into a black armored Humvee van that had once upon a time been part of the Colorado Springs police department. This one had been converted into a prison transport, where the rear seats had been taken out. He crawled to the rear and put his back against the bare metallic wall. As he drew up his knees, he never noticed that he winced. It was commonplace; it hurt to sit. It also hurt to lay down. He was skin and bones.
“Is he chained?” came a familiar resonating voice.
“Yes, my Lord,” said a thug. One of hers.
Hatred filled Daniel at the sound. It came from a Goa’uld who inhabited a woman named Colonel Janetta Frazier. He loathed the woman as much as the parasite because they were ideally matched. He had never found out why Frazier had been given the reins, but if he had to guess, it was because the woman and the snakehead had the same appetites. It was even odder that the thing had kept her name, that she refused Jaffa. These thoughts were not all that important; just questions to mull on because he had nothing else to think about. Apart from their murder. If an opportunity presented itself, he would gladly give his life to take them out. Unfortunately, it was not at all likely, not in the shape he was in.
“What did you say, Jaffa?” she asked.
“Better. I like the sound,” she said. “These people have done away with their gods. They worship the war machine, which I like. So, remember, soldier.”
“Is the device ready?”
“Awaiting your arrival.”
“Let’s get going.”
Horror filled Daniel. He knew that the device was a quantum mirror. Once, a long time ago, he had experienced it, going to another universe. It had not been harmful, but that was because its use had been benign. Not so with Frazier. She had been threatening him with it for the past few weeks, instilling horror. Frazier was not one to make empty threats. With her, it was only a matter of when, and she used it to space people. The Reform had ships, so it could be done that way, but instead, she would have it dialed to a universe where the mirror would be floating in space. How she had stumbled on that twisted pleasure, he did not know. She had told him herself that when a person is condemned, they’re thrown at the mirror, so that when they hit and transferred to the other universe, the momentum would carry them away from the mirror, ensuring they couldn’t touch it to return to safety, albeit a brutal one. No one wanted to die in space.
It was apparently his future and as the knowledge, the reality, finally sank in, he groaned and fell onto his side. Instead of weeping outright, he did it while screaming invectives and kicking at the rear doors. Up front, the driver, two guards, and the Goa’uld laughed at him. They found his horror amusing.
Frazier’s method of ruling the Colorado Springs Auxiliary Reform, formerly Stargate Command, with an iron fist was to instill terror and suffering. She was not interested in supplying a false hope to the slaves because they were just that: slaves. They were not prisoners of war. They were not personnel forced to work in harsh conditions. They had been, several months before. Now, they were slaves, and as such, they were either listed as a worker or forced to become a means of entertainment.
She had caught sight of him after he had been brought back from Chulak and had taken a special interest. She had had him educated about many things he wished he had never learned, and his translation skills were only a small part of her interest. If he did not perform well, then a Goa’uld pain stick was applied. It was an effective weapon he had experienced only once before the world had disappeared into a black hole. He’d once asked why she didn’t use the hand device she wore on occasion, and her response had been, “Aside from death, it causes brain damage. I don’t want my favorite pet deprived of all of his faculties.” So, she used the pain stick, telling him that she loved watching the light burst forth out of a person’s orifices, and if they were naked, the light escaped in those other areas, too.
Frazier was one deeply disturbed and scary bitch.
The shackles around Daniel’s wrists and neck tinkled ominously during his fit of rage, sliding easily over shiny pale skin, a sign of long wear. They were heavy and uncomfortable, used to control, not restrain. When his body and mind grew tired of the emotional outburst, he lay there wondering what the cold of space would do to the metal against his skin. The thought changed into pictures of popsicles, and he remembered that he used to love the root beer flavored ones. He tried to laugh at himself, but it turned into a grimace of pain instead. His mind went to weird places. It always had, but during suffering, it went altogether mad.
Fifteen minutes later, the vehicle came to a stop and he was pulled from the van, once again by his armpits. At least it was not by his restraints. He managed to keep on his feet to avoid being dragged, unlike when they had thrown him into the van. If he was going to go to his death, he would go without fear, but as he walked, the more that resolution dissipated, and his legs began to give out, making his escort pull him up.
“That’s far enough.”
Her voice sounded to his left. All he wanted was to get his hands around that throat. The hood was yanked off and the sudden light made him squint and duck his head. High heels clacked over concrete, coming closer, then someone grabbed his collar from behind and hands made him jerk in surprise and revulsion. They traveled over him and he tried not to react, but he could not stop the twitching of his body. That hateful face came into view as her hands left him.
“I’m going to miss you,” said Frazier with a heavy sigh. “But you’ve outlived your usefulness.” She gave him another once over with her eyes. “I should have kept better care of you I suppose, but you have only yourself to blame for the state you’re now in.” She leaned in until her face was about six inches away. “There’s been talk that I should get you back your health and beauty so I can put you on retainer in the Section Twelve House.”
Cold ran through him. It was a whorehouse. “Pity,” he said, dredging up the last vestiges of his free will to throw sarcasm at her.
She laughed. “Alas, no, my pet. My patience has all but evaporated because it would take much too long to rehabilitate you.”
“Maybe you should’ve thought ahead,” he murmured. He could not help himself. It was just who he was. All these months of pain and humiliation could not rob him of it. He waited for the guards to punish him for his insolence, but to his surprise, nothing happened. She just smiled at him, the vicious cunt. That epithet was one he had rarely thought of, never mind used, until he had met her.
She wore her all-black collarless frock coat, embroidered with snake patterns. She had also cut her hair again, and the buzz cut was even shorter than the last time he had seen her over a month ago. It made it easier to see the coiled snake tattoo she wore on the back of her neck. If it had been a joke about what lay under her skin, coiled around her spine and nervous system, it was not all that funny or clever. Regardless, she appeared to love showing it off, hence the haircut. When he had first met her, a billion years ago, she had sported a pixie haircut. And now, the shorter hair made her ugly and severe. Didn’t the Goa’uld like their hair? Or was it just the headdresses? He could not remember.
The head of the Reform smiled at him with a malevolence that was frightening. It was a smile that would have been beautiful on anyone else, but on her, it was revolting. To his knowledge, he had never hated anyone’s smile more, not even that smirk by Apophis. He had learned to hate seeing it form on her face with a ferocity that was scary. As the smile widened, her eyes flashed that familiar golden glow.
“I see that hatred in your eyes,” came resonant voice. “It’s so sweet. Now come on, Doctor Jackson. Give me an insolent comment.”
She used his former title as a slur and he desperately wished he had the strength to react and give her a reason to stay in her sarcophagus for a week or two. She stared at him for the longest time, then suddenly sighed impatiently. He knew that expression. She had grown bored. Her eyes glowed again.
She snapped her fingers at one black-uniformed security officer. “You have found suitable coordinates?”
“Shouldn’t that be my Lord?” Daniel asked. “How’d you get downgraded from a god?”
Frazier laughed as she gave him a “give me” gesture with her hand. But when she spoke, she dropped the resonance, sounding like the human, Janetta. “Lovely. Come. Anything else you wish to say, dear Daniel, to your mistress?”
“A few questions, if your majesty wouldn’t mind?”
“Why are you still called Frazier and not by the name of that snake in your head? Whose name is what? And for that matter, where’re your Jaffa? I’ve never seen Jaffa.”
Her smile turned vulpine and she drew a leather-gloved forefinger down the side of his cheek. “Yes, you have because they are my Jaffa. They aren’t wearing their old-fashioned armor. How do you people say it? We’ve gone native.” She laughed again as her eyes glowed and the resonance returned. “As for me, darling,” she said with that purring tone he loathed, “die in ignorance. Bye-bye, little whore.”
One of her guards took him under the arm and hauled him toward the center of the darkened building that had once housed C5A transports. Daniel saw the irregularly shaped object with its normally gray slate surface now a solid black, but as he was dragged closer, he saw white dots. Space.
“No,” he said weakly, tears frozen in his throat. He was not afraid of death. He was only afraid of certain methods, and this was one of the worst. Fifteen seconds, then you drop unconscious due to lack of breathable air and last for a few more minutes while the water in his body boiled. How would his mind experience it all, even unconscious? Where would he go? Into the black? And then … wherever it is you believe you go? Would he see Jack? If he wanted to die more quickly, he could hold his breath. But the closer he got to the mirror, to space, he found he did not want to die that way. Death, fine. Space, not so fine.
He stiffened his legs, surprised to find some strength remained and he managed to put up a fight. He waited for the bullet or the knife, but instead, the hot, sharp two-pronged ends of the pain stick stabbed him in the center of his back. It sent a severe electrical current through his body and he fell to the cold concrete floor in a rictus of agony. He heard a dim sound of clapping and laughing that seemed extremely far away, but he knew it came from that evil bitch, and it continued while he was tortured for the next five minutes. By the time it was over, he was too weak to do a damn thing. He could not even summon the will to open his eyes.
“Tsk, tsk, Daniel,” said Frazier as the clicking of her high heels drew near. “Let’s give you a goodbye present.”
“Just kill me,” he begged, finding his voice waver. “Please, you fucking bitch. Just kill me.” He heard movement.
“Hold!” Frazier commanded. “Stand aside.”
Daniel heard the guard retreat, but a swift kick from a pointed high-heeled toe landed in the center of his right buttock and a sharp pain shot down his leg and up his spine. He had strength enough to jerk, but that was all. “Be my good little whore and face your death with some semblance of dignity, or I’ll have my Jaffa teach you your final lesson about resistance. By the time they’re done, you’ll welcome the cold of space.”
“It can’t be a lesson if I’m to die afterward, can it?” he argued through thin gasps. “Why don’t you just kill me now, here?”
She dropped to a knee and stroked his face with a leather object that drove even more fear into him. He had not seen her carrying it. A riding crop. In his mind, her favorite security blanket. Once an innocent tool, it now created nausea throughout his body, and he began to shake.
“Because you don’t deserve a relatively easy death, even though you’ve been a very good boy,” she drawled slowly, pronouncing the last two words as if he was a dog. “Good boy,” she repeated.
He squeezed his eyes shut as he held still, biting back the tears of hatred and humiliation as she stroked his ass with the crop. It was a reminder. Long before, if she saw tears, she would whip him with it, then follow it up with a Taser against his balls, screaming with laughter as he was forced to ejaculate semen like some prize bull or stallion.
“You fucking—” he managed to say before choking it off.
“What’s that?” she asked, and snatched a handful of his hair in her gloved hand.
“Nothing,” he said, eyes hot. He had to work hard to keep the tears away.
“Nothing what, Daniel?”
“Nothing, mistress,” he said, but the tears fell anyway. “I hate you.”
“Good boy,” she drawled again. Suddenly she stood up and stepped back, throwing a sharp gesture at the instrument of his impending death. “Bored now,” she sang in monotone. She looked at the guard holding the pain stick. “You want another turn at him, don’t you?”
“That dried up husk? You can’t fuck a dried-up husk, soldier.” She snapped her fingers at the other guard. “Pick him up and get rid of him.”
The other guard came over quickly and his two jailors picked him up by his ankles and armpits and without a pause in their actions, threw him at the mirror.
He screamed in fury, “Die screaming, bi—”
At the same time, he thought he heard explosions. Just before contact with the mirror, shock waves hit the hangar and he somehow felt a tremor of impact as he landed on the other side of the mirror, rolling over and over until he hit what might have been a wall. His brain recorded two things at once: One, as he looked back at the mirror, a firebomb had enveloped the hangar and she was screaming. Absolute joy spread through him as she was quickly roasted along with her guards. The Humvee transport exploded, flying into the air, and the fireball that had hit the hanger hit the mirror.
“Fuck!” he screamed, the word holding all his sorrow and rage, and curled into a protective ball, expecting the blast to transfer and roast him alive. Except, anti-climactically, the fireball only enveloped the mirror in a translucent blue flame, evaporating like ether as the mirror turned off. He stared at the now-gray slate surface. What had caused that explosion? If it was the Resistance, he hoped they firebombed half the country, starting with Washington D.C.
There was biting cold underneath him, and he spread searching fingers. Concrete? And he could breathe. He was not in space. But what about those stars he thought he had seen? He rolled over to look behind him and found a wall, the one he had hit, decorated with what appeared to be an immense poster of stars. At the bottom, a label read Quadrant Two, whatever that meant. He huffed out half a laugh and pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes. He was safe. For the moment.
He sat up and stared at the things around him. MALPs, boxes, tarps over large objects, and to his immediate left sat an elongated pentagram-shaped window that curved outward, following the shape of a bulkhead. Colors whirled outside the window. He recognized them. Hyperspace. He was on a ship.
He took a deep breath and let it out. Facts flitted through his mind. The label was in English. The MALP was something that Stargate Command used, but it was not specific to that location. It was, however, generally a military support vehicle.
It was then that he noticed the fine red lines that crisscrossed over and around him. Security lasers. He looked down at himself, finding a few crossed over him. His ears finally registered sound: a deep-toned bell that repeated every one and a half seconds, a security alarm letting the people on the ship know that they had an unwanted guest. What would happen next depended entirely on the universe he had landed in. Panicked, he looked around wildly, searching for the control device that operated the mirror. He found nothing. Was his death imminent? Maybe. Incarceration was most definitely in his future. No. He could not do that again, torture or no torture. He had to force someone to kill him. He did not have the strength to be threatening enough to warrant it unless he was found by trigger-happy drones who refused cognitive thinking. For once, he hoped that was who he’d meet, until he realized that those sorts of people torture first, then kill. Like a cat playing with a mouse.
He closed his eyes as his body slumped in resignation and he fell back onto his side. His view now followed the plane of the floor and the minimal lighting from the colors of hyperspace was the only thing that allowed him to see where the door was likely located. It had to be directly across the room, but not necessarily straight ahead. He waited to find out.
A minute later came the sound of beeping, then the mechanical whine of a door sliding open. Brief light from the open doorway allowed him to see only black silhouettes, then the room lights were turned on, forcing him to squint and raise an arm over his eyes. Under it, he saw several combat-booted feet and legs wearing an old BDU pattern. Earth? In his universe, only the military on Earth wore such boot design and fabric pattern. Providing he was making sound deductions, and he had to admit that it was entirely possible he was not thinking straight. A starvation diet plan did wonders for the mind.
It did not matter. If these people somehow let him live, they would not keep him here. If he could not get them to kill him, then he had to devise an escape. Find another mirror. However, he could not do any of that until he had been nursed back to health. Until he was strong enough, planning was as pointless as a spiderweb in a windstorm.
The booted feet stayed just inside the door and to the side. Logic said they were waiting for others. Twenty seconds passed while he kept his focus on the boots, not allowing himself to look up. Finally, another pair of boots entered. Then two more. These people wore solid olive drab. Two of them had big, male-sized feet. Another had smaller. A woman? Maybe. Why did he care?
There was a long silence. What were they thinking? It did not matter. Someone just shoot him now. He was so tired.
“Sir,” Carter said, staring.
“Yeah,” Jack said. Teal’c glanced at him with the same stunned look and Jack just jogged his brows at him.
On the floor before them lay a man covered in bruises and dirt, with long matted hair and a face caked in blood down one side. He wore a ragged, brown garment that looked like a long potato sack.
Jack went to the right side of the door and pressed a button below a small, circular speaker. “Infirmary, we need a stretcher in Cargo Bay Four. We have an injured… guest.”
“On our way.”
Jack gestured at the SFs. “Stand down. We’re not in any danger.” He looked around. “But, just in case he’s not the only one, remain outside.” They nodded and retreated from the cargo bay.
As soon as they stationed themselves in the corridor, Jack walked over to the man and crouched down. “Hey, you’re safe. We won’t harm you. You’re on a ship called Andromeda. Not the TV show, and I didn’t choose it.” The levity did not engender a smile. He sighed. “Okie dokie. I’m in command. If you are who I think you are, then maybe you know who I am? And who these two characters are?” Teal’c raised a brow and Jack grinned. It faded when he met the confused expression in the bloodshot blue eyes, wide with fear. “Guess not.” He held out a hand, but the man shrank away from him, so he withdrew it. “Okay. Let’s start small. How about you sit up, take in your surroundings?”
Daniel pushed up and drew his knees to his chest. The odds that he had landed in an advantageous reality seemed incredibly low, so he couldn’t be seeing what he was seeing. He sighed as carefully as he could, hoping that this was not a starvation-induced hallucination, but he had to admit that it probably was. The man who had spoken to him looked like Jack. But it could not be Jack. Jack was dead. Had been for almost eleven months. He had watched him die on Chulak. There were Sam and Teal’c, too, but they had been murdered two months before Jack. He was looking at ghosts. The signature line from an old movie popped into his head and it damn near made him laugh hysterically: I see dead people. His brain always had a peculiar way of handling stress.
He would have said something, but he had no idea what. What do you say to a hallucination? But that hallucination turned something strange into a nightmare when two white-clad corpsmen arrived with a litter. Memories from McKenzie’s snake pit passed before his eyes and he pushed back on his hands and ass until he found himself backed against the bulkhead window. Things just could not go his way, could they?
“Hey,” Jack said, waving the corpsmen to the side. “Hang tight,” he told them. Then to this wild Daniel creature, he said soothingly, “We’re not going to hurt you. You’re safe among friends.”
Daniel managed a derisive laugh. “Yeah, right.” A part of him said he was being irrational, that this world might be okay, that he had lucked out. Then the more paranoid part of his mind said that his luck had not been all that great and this was just a trick.
“I give you my word,” said the man whose features made his heart ache.
Then the voice of his Jack whispered in his mind that the best thing to do was to gather intel, to find a way to escape as soon as it was workable. “In the meantime,” said the voice, “play along.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, taking a deep breath as he used the wall to push to his feet. The ghost of Jack seemed to relax, and he held out an arm. “I can walk.” As he used the wall to tremble his way to his feet, the collar dragged heavily, and the chains tinkled between his wrists.
Jack frowned angrily. “What the hell?” He looked over his shoulder at his teammates. “Could you guys find something we can use to get those damn things off him?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, and both she and Teal’c hesitated before leaving.
Jack put a hand out. “C’mon. We’ll get you to the infirmary and get you checked out.”
Daniel hesitantly came forward and stayed just out of Jack’s reach as he walked toward the door. His eyes were slightly unfocused as he tried to keep an eye on everything at once. The SFs who stood by outside made him flinch and hesitate. “Who’s in charge?” he asked as Jack went into the corridor.
. . . . .
“I am,” Jack answered. He approved the way this man handled himself, despite what he had apparently been through.
“Okay, but who’s in charge of your infirmary?” Daniel said. If she was there, it would take all his strength not to bolt. Or kill.
Daniel felt intense relief, but he dared not show it. He put on the mask that telegraphed simple acknowledgment. Would this O’Neill know that, like his Jack would have? No. Probably not. He suddenly looked around, searching. “Where am I?”
“On a ship called Andromeda.”
Daniel grimaced. “No, the me in this reality.” He saw this ghost of Jack turn stony. Not a good question then.
“He’s not here,” Jack said. “He passed away.”
“Why’s there a mirror on this ship?” Daniel said, not bothering to digest the answer to his question as he asked the next. His brain was fogging up and he could not think. Died?
“Transferring a lot of equipment to Omega.”
Daniel paused, placing one hand on the door jamb. His stomach was reeling, and a wave of nausea spread through him. If he evacuated his bowels now, he might just empty his intestines with them. What the hell was left? He had to think of something else or he might just vomit up his organs instead. He concentrated on the man’s words, flipping through memories like a Rolodex. “Omega. Omega,” he repeated, and he bit back the anger that almost made him verbally lash out. It was not their fault his mind was slow. “Omega. Last letter of the Greek alphabet,” he said, latching on to the familiar.
After that hurdle, he grabbed hold of familiar thought processes, but he could not concentrate and come up with other answers… too many answers… and he realized that the problem wasn’t that he was slow. His mind, in fact, was tackling things to too fast. The input of facts gathered from his surroundings as well, cogitating the last five minutes were computing way too fast. He was in danger of overload. He shook his head as one bare foot stepped in front of the other. The nausea was worsening. “Go away,” he mumbled.
“Excuse me?” Jack asked.
“Not talking …” Daniel said, gritting his teeth as he stared at the floor while he used the wall as a crutch. “I need water. Can’t focus.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you fixed up.”
Daniel whipped his head up, eyes wide. We’ll get you fixed up. His Jack had said that a few times. The movement made him dizzy. He closed his eyes, brushing against the wall for support as he stumbled back. This Jack was waiting for something. Why?
“What’s wrong, Daniel?” Jack asked.
Daniel stared at his arm. The patch grabbed his attention: SG-1. The men around them: SFs. Not … jackbooted. The ship was Asgard-designed, not Goa’uld. He had not seen one in ages. And then came the awareness of Jack’s scent. That particular scent of his with that scant cologne he wore that used to drive him crazy … Then images of his Jack dying filled his mind. The ghost stared at him in concern. It was too much.
“No, no, no …” He began to slide down the wall and Jack rushed at him. “You’re dead,” he managed. “Why aren’t you dead? Or am I dead?” He vaguely felt Jack’s hands on him. Thank you, god, he thought. I can die in Jack’s arms, even if it isn’t really him.
“Shit!” Jack said, catching him. The corpsmen came over quickly and set the litter on the floor, then lifted the poor man onto the stretcher. On the way to the infirmary, Jack took in the details more thoroughly: starved, bruises everywhere, eyes sunken with blue shadows underneath. There were scabs on his forehead, his cheeks, his chin. The blood wasn’t just on the side of his head, either. There were caked flakes down his outer right thigh and calf. He had blood under the fingernails and new dirt streaked over old dirt. Dry skin flakes at the elbows and along his hairline. A trace of something had leaked out of the corner of his mouth to form a now-dry trail past the jaw line. There was a faint scar near the hairline he’d at first taken for a strand of white hair.
His feet were scarred, and his ankles were bruised under the shackles. There were broken toenails, broken fingernails, and that hair. At first, he’d thought it looked long because of the clumps of dirt and mud clinging to thick strands. But once it was washed and thoroughly brushed, that damn stuff really would fall between the shoulder blades. He was so thin, he worried that the man would die. Jack didn’t know if he could take that again. He didn’t know him, but it didn’t matter. This was Daniel. Then Jack saw something that made his blood run so cold, he did a stutter-step before getting into the medical service elevator that would travel sideways down the length of the ship.
Near the elbow, there was a small, tattooed number on the inside of his left arm.
Daniel awoke to bright light and he curled into a tight ball and wrapped his arms over his head.
“Sir, what’s the matter?” came a woman’s voice.
“Light! Where am I?”
“Infirmary. One second. I’ll lower the lights.”
Through his arms, he peeked just a bit under and raised them slowly. There was light, but not as bright. He unfolded himself into a sitting position with his knees up and feet tucked under. He wrapped his arms around them and hugged them to him—an oft-used position to keep warm.
“Are you cold?”
The nurse, as it turned out, judging by the stethoscope around her neck, and she removed a white blanket from a very wide set of drawers, unfolded it, and wrapped it around his shoulders. It was warm. Preheated? He’d never heard of such a thing. It cooled quickly against his skin and he still shivered. “Could I get another one?” She wrapped another one around his shoulders.
“I’ll have a bed made up next to you.”
“You don’t have to bother,” he said.
“It’s not,” she said, and she left the ward.
He wondered where she was going, but she returned instantly. She came to the left side of his bed, or gurney, or whatever it was. It had an odd, thin mattress, and felt as if it had been stuffed with straw. Which was ridiculous when he thought it over.
“I’m going to take your vitals,” she said and withdrew a few things from the second drawer of a medical cabinet. “First your blood pressure.”
He nodded absently, but she did not put a cuff around his upper arm. Instead, it was a small device like a large watch with a cloth strap that was secured by Velcro. He stared at it, curious, as she moved the loose manacle and strapped it gently to his wrist. Then it began to puff up and squeeze his wrist. It wasn’t hard, unlike what happened to your arm with a cuff, but instant fear gripped him as the memory of a table and something horrific being done while he was strapped down. With an intense whine, he ripped it off and threw it as he shot off the bed. The shackles and chain between them rattled and his already intense fear skyrocketed. Wild-eyed, he looked around for a place to hide.
Corpsmen ran into the six-bed ward while the nurse came toward him, absently holding the torture device and he began to hyperventilate. Terror grabbed a hold of his heart and consciousness fled.
Jack wanted to be near the man. There was no logical reason why, only emotional. It was Daniel. But he was also the commander of the ship for this mission, and for two months after arrival, the interim commander of the Omega base. It was a plum assignment from Hammond. It would give him the distraction he needed while he continued to mourn the loss of his better half. Except that was now in the toilet as Jack had, in his estimation, been given a swift kick in the balls.
He sat back down in his office just off the Command Deck and sighed as he picked up the digital tablet with all the Omega specs. He needed it memorized, and most of it already was. What he wanted to memorize was the order of unloading, the names of the department heads to oversee that unloading, what should be prepped for it, and the personnel assigned under those department heads, in charge of installing equipment, seeing to the plumbing, the electrical, and any construction that hadn’t yet been finished.
Carter was temporary head of the science division and it was her task to get that operational. She would assign the personnel, get the protocols in place, and all the equipment in operation. Teal’c would head up tactical and make sure the weapons and security personnel had everything they needed, and their own protocols were in place, and during off time, he’d teach his classes in the art of mastering control of your mind. Also known as the Chulak version of Zen mysticism via Kung Fu …
Jack’s mind hiccupped, because the person who had described it that way had been Daniel. He had been taking Teal’c’s classes, but once upon a time, it had all started with meditation. Jack took a slow breath and moved on.
The ongoing part of the job on Omega was to ensure that everyone was happy, did their jobs correctly, and properly delegated so they did not do everything themselves, and on the opposite end, to communicate how delegation works. Carter had given him the names of some scientists who tended to hover over their sections so Jack would give them a word before he and his teammates would go home. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
With just one Daniel-sized, Daniel-shaped catch.
He now had a painfully unwanted distraction. He hated that there was an emotional pull from a direction that by all rights should not be there. If he were an asshole, he would have sent the dude back where he came from. But he wasn’t an asshole, and the man needed medical attention. He needed help. Jack left no one behind, even those he didn’t know, because once they became his responsibility, you oversaw their welfare. This Daniel Jackson might not want his help, but he’d get it nonetheless. It was now up to him to get his ass squared away. The only problem with that was having his heart ripped out for the second time.
His Daniel had only died six months ago, so the pain was fresh. He had only just been able to sleep through the night without nightmares and he wasn’t snapping at people anymore. He did not feel the insane urge to cry himself to sleep every night, and he’d only let go twice. And now … here was this man. Why? Why was he here? Did God send him? Made it possible?
Jack was both mad and scared. A part of him, that was gaining ground for no logical reason, had begun to look at the situation as an opportunity. A chance to stop grieving, to begin again, and to have a second chance. If so, could it happen? Was this man like his late Daniel? If he had loved him in the other universe, would he want to carry on with this other Jack? Should he even do that? Would it betray his late lover?
Questions, questions, and variations of yes, no, and maybe, with a lot of invectives. And damn it to hell, the even crazier thought was that the shithead in the universe who had sent him had been Daniel himself. Maybe he was in heaven or Valhalla or Nirvana, looking down with sympathy. The thought was uncomfortable because who was he to get this special treatment?
It then occurred to Jack that perhaps this potential second chance had its own warning: this Daniel looked broken. What was he supposed to do with that? And that was the whole thing in a nutshell. He imagined Daniel saying, Fix him. You know how. So stop complaining and just do it.
Daniel woke up disoriented. Again. Take two. He was on his side, under blankets, and he did not dare move. He tried to take stock of himself. Neck shackle, check. Wrist shackles, check. He moved a foot. No restraints, check. He moved the arm underneath him and felt the same sort of mattress as before, so he was back on the bed. Those corpsmen must have manhandled him, and a weakness began to filter through his body starting at the neck. It was a sign that he might begin to weep. It had been his version of anger for a while. They enjoyed the anger and he could not do anything about it. Despair crept in; the tears came. But here? Away from his torturers, and away from her, he had to put a stop to the tears.
He moved even more and when nothing bad happened, he pushed himself up to a sitting position. The chain tinkled between his wrists and he winced. He hated the sound. He saw a nurse standing at the foot of the bed, writing on something. A file started for him. Maybe. Déjà vu. Only that file had been about two inches thick and the sight of a nurse writing in it, or a doctor, had become commonplace. It’s what happened when the fight had not been taken from him yet. Those thoughts vanished when he spied another table—was it one of those tables that could be rolled and have the table top cross over the bed? On it sat a plastic pitcher. A clear cup sat next to it.
He cleared his throat, then cleared it again. It would not smooth out and he gave up. “Water?” he asked, fully expecting to be told ‘no.’ After which, he would launch himself off the bed and guzzle as much as he could before they’d take it away. And then his mind reminded him where he was. Not his universe. A reminder came when the nurse smiled at him and filled the cup halfway.
“Here you go. Sip. Don’t guzzle. Your stomach will revolt if you do.”
He took it, chains tinkling horribly. Water. Good god, it tasted sweet. No medicine. There might be LSD in it, like the few times he had been given water, but he didn’t care. He gulped air with the medium swallows and when he burped it back up, it hurt his throat. He went a lot slower and when he was done, he held it out. She refilled it again. He began again when this world’s Sam and Teal’c came into the room. They were walking too fast, or too loudly, he could not tell which. Alive. Strong. Unafraid. Like he used to be.
“Daniel?” Sam asked cautiously. “Daniel Jackson, right?” He nodded. “I’m sorry those chains aren’t off yet, but it’s taken a few tries to find the right kind of tool. The locking mechanism is really odd.” She held up a tool in her hand, lying vertically across her palm so he could see it. It looked like an awl with the tip bent slightly. “I think this’ll do the trick. Could I try? I give you my word I mean you no harm.”
He nodded again.
“Can I take that?” Sam asked, referring to the cup. When he hesitated, she said, “You’ll get it right back when the chains are off.”
He did not believe her. Part of him told him that Sam would never betray him like that, that she was not one of the sadistic people he had come to know. But hope was not something he was familiar with. Not anymore. He was used to game playing. He wanted to object, but he was so tired, so thirsty. He sagged and handed her the cup of water in a shaky hand. Unexpressed anger and humiliation filled his mind and his face went blank as he ordered himself not to show weakness.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, fully alarmed. “Teal’c?”
Teal’c tipped his head to the side as he considered Daniel’s non-expression and body language. It hurt him to see someone in such condition and sadly, he recognized it. He gave Sam a sad look and lowered his voice. “I have seen similar behavior by the prison laborers on one of the many mining planets owned by Apophis. I believe this man has assumed that he will get no more water.”
“No, no, no,” Sam said, placing the cup in his hands. “I just didn’t want you to spill it.”
Daniel nodded mutely, not trusting that her behavior was genuine. It felt real, but he had been fooled so often that he no longer took anyone at their word. Voices argued inside his mind.
They were being kind. No, they were playing.
They were not strangers. Yes, they were.
He flinched when she inserted the tool into the lock mechanism of his shackles on his right wrist and twisted around until it popped and fell open.
“There. Let’s do the other one.”
Daniel raised his eyes slightly, jarred by the sudden absence of weight on his right wrist. It felt as if his arm wasn’t there. The left one popped off and the lack of weight as he held the cup was as startling as the loss on the other wrist. He dropped the cup of water.
“Oops!” Sam said, trying to catch it, but ended up jumping back. She picked up the wrist shackles, scowling at them, and dropped them on the bed behind her before coming forward. “Teal’c, get him another cup. Daniel, lean over a bit so I can get the collar.”
Woodenly, Daniel obeyed, while his body tried to recognize the immense relief it felt not having cold weights around his wrists. There were minor burns there, made by that goddamn pain stick, but he was used to them. He wasn’t used to their exposure to air and somehow, that made them hurt worse. It made no sense. A grinding penetrated his ears and he sucked in a breath and started to shy away.
“No, hang on. I’ve almost got it.”
He swallowed hard and held still, ordering himself to calm down, that what was happening was happening and he could not stop it. He tried to believe that she was helping, but as she picked the lock on the collar, he kept wondering why she was taking it off.
“There!” she said, and pulled it off him.
It was light. He felt absurdly naked, which was stupid. Even worse was the stupid idea that he had lost some sort of protection. He crossed his arms in front him, hands covering his throat.
“Here,” Sam said, taking the water from Teal’c and handing it to Daniel.
Kindness. Even more kindness. He blinked several times, ordering himself not to cry. It was getting ridiculous, all that weakness.
Sam stared at him, watching as his eyes grew redder. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.” She put her arms around him. “Shh,” she said, rubbing his back. “It’ll be okay.”
“Hey, Sam,” Carmichael said as she entered. “Something happen?”
While Sam hugged him, Daniel kept the cup of water close to his lips, sipping a teaspoon at a time. When she pulled back, he glanced at her face, then into his water. She looked concerned and it did not look like she was faking. Still, he ordered himself to show no emotion, no semblance of weakness. But a few tears dropped unbidden, unwanted, and he sniffed and wiped at his eyes, looking anywhere but at the people in the room who acted like they wanted to help. He wanted to believe, so badly, but he just could not take the chance.
“We took the chains off,” Sam said. “He’s upset anyway. I don’t get it.”
“I know,” Carmichael said. “It’s PTSS, Sam. Now, you guys need to skedaddle while he gets cleaned up and has his physical exam. You can come back in a while.”
“Okay, thanks, Cat.”
The doctor nodded and watched the two friends reluctantly leave. She wondered what Sam’s reaction would be when she realized she had his dirt all over her uniform.
“Okay, Daniel, c’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“No, I’m fine,” he said, refusing to budge.
She sighed. “I’m not gonna touch you. You’ll clean yourself. So, let’s walk to the showers, unless you’d like a wheelchair.”
Water, he told himself. A shower. It compelled him to move. “No, I’ll walk,” he said. He looked at his knees, lower legs, and feet, and you couldn’t tell that he used to be pale and pink under all that brown. Would the dirt even wash off? Good god, what if it stained? Does dirt stain? He couldn’t remember.
They reached the showers after five minutes of careful walking, and he realized that two of his toenails were bleeding.
“Take particular care there,” Carmichael pointed. “I’ll have a nurse tend to your feet after we get everything settled. Don’t worry, Daniel. We’ll get you right as rain. Physically, at least. There’s plenty of water because of the recycling system in this particular Asgard-Human hybrid ship design, so you can take your time.”
The shower room held eight shower stalls, with full doors for privacy, though they had a foot’s clearance at the top and bottom. She walked across the room and opened a cabinet with her ring of keys and withdrew a terry cloth white robe. She set it on the hook outside a center stall, then pointed to a large hamper with piles of white folded towels. “Use however many you need. There’re sponges and shampoo, conditioner, and soap dispensers. When you’re done, just return to the infirmary.” She pointed her hand at the exit. “Left, left, and in.”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
“I’ll leave a set of scrubs for you on the bed. You can pull the curtain around to dress in privacy.”
“You won’t be there when I get back, Doctor Carmichael?” he asked, realizing that he had already formed a clingy attachment. In just ten minutes. That would not do, but he couldn’t go back to being afraid of her either, so he had to find a compromise. It would give his mind a problem to solve.
“I’ll be around somewhere,” she grinned. “I have things to sort out for the Omega site’s medical facilities.”
“Oh.” When she was gone, he grabbed some towels and draped them over the door, then paused as he opened it. He spied an orthopedic stool by the cupboard where the robes were kept and he brought it into the shower with him, then looked around before closing the door. He checked all the stalls, opened cupboards, then walked with a wince to the entrance of the shower room. He held still, listening. No one was around.
Cautiously, he returned to the shower stall and closed the door behind him, and finding that it locked, he turned the knob. It made a satisfying click. He pulled off the tunic and dropped it to the floor, then stood to the side and turned on the shower to avoid the cold shock. Thankfully, it was hot in under ten seconds. He angled the shower head so that when he sat down with his back to it, it caught almost all of him, then tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
Water. It was surreal. Glorious. Hot water, at that. His frayed nerves kept expecting something bad to occur, but as the minutes passed and nothing happened, he allowed himself to relax just a little. After nearly half an hour of doing nothing but soaking himself, he looked at the contents of the shower, remembering what the doctor had said. Hanging on metal hooks were two fake loofah sponges and a long-handled brush, all wrapped in transparent plastic packaging. Three dispensers held body gel, shampoo, and conditioner. No ‘soap,’ but he figured that was what the body gel was for. It was almost like being in a hotel.
He wet the loofah and began to scrub with the gel. Thankfully, the loofah was loosely woven and rough. He needed that to slough off all the layers of dead skin. It took several washings, and the same was done to his hair. Several matted clumps of it dropped through the drain along with the caked mud that had held it together. He didn’t have a brush or comb, so he had to use the conditioner twice in order to run his fingers through it. He refused to leave the stall until he was dry and wrapped up in the robe. He went to the sink … and realized he’d done it without thinking. He had expected to shave and brush his teeth, but he didn’t have the things he needed for either. He would have to ask. The prospect left him cold and he shivered. Before walking away from the sink, he caught himself in the half-clouded mirror and was surprised by how long his hair had gotten. The bangs were several inches past his chin. They had been semi-fashionable tufts over a year ago. Sometimes he hated how fast his hair grew.
As he examined it critically, he finally focused on his face and his eyes widened in alarm. They were bloodshot, with dark smudges underneath that made him look like he had been given black eyes. His cheekbones and jawline were sharply lined, making his eyes look all the larger. His neck was thin enough to accentuate the veins and as he pulled aside the robe, he found his collarbones stark. He looked hideous. He did not dare open the robe and look at the rest of himself. As he padded back to his bed on bare, stinging feet, he was extremely self-conscious of his appearance, afraid to have anyone see him. A holocaust survivor, his mind told him, though he knew it had not been as bad as that, but a few more months of starvation meals and he would have been. Given the way he felt, he was not sure he would have lasted another few months.
He was dizzy by the time he reached the bed and steadied himself with a hand on the bed rail. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered. His eyes started to water, and he sniffed angrily and pushed it back. “Stop fucking crying, you stupid dumbass.” He wondered why the hell he was so goddamn emotional, crying at the drop of a damn hat. There was no answer, which was more depressing, so tried to distract himself with the scrubs. He pulled the curtain along on its ceiling rails until it was all the way around his bed, then unfolded the sharp-creased maroon-colored clothes. He had never seen them that color. He had gotten used to sterile green.
After dressing, he noticed the terry-cloth booties and slippers sitting on the rolling food table, both still in their clear packaging. He climbed in bed and took care to put the booties on around broken toenails, glad to hide them from sight. He wished he could do the same for his head and face. He looked at his hands, finding them just as bad, resembling thin rakes. The nails were broken down to the nub and further, with some just barely covering the nail bed, having just started to grow back. Daniel pulled the blankets and sheet around him like a shield, and out of habit, curled into a ball. He fell into a fitful sleep, but it did not last long.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Doctor Carmichael said as she knocked on the door jamb to Jack’s office.
“Hmm?” he said, looking up, pulled from his thoughts. He hadn’t noticed her approach and he was facing the door, for cryin’ out loud. “Come on in, Doc. Close the door and have a seat,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “How’s your new patient?”
She gave him a sad smile. “In bad shape, but he can be treated. You’ve seen the shape of him?” He nodded. “Starvation is obvious, and there are the tests to run. Meanwhile, I’m concerned about his mind. He’s terrified and paranoid of everything.”
Jack sighed. “I was afraid of that. What problems are you having?”
“It’s taking time to get his vitals done. He passed out while having his blood pressure taken.” Jack’s brows shot up and she nodded. “He flung the wrist reader across the room, startled my nurse. She went to put it back on, which was a mistake, but she’s in training—”
“Put pros on him, Doc.”
“Taken care of,” she said, raising her hand. “But he fainted after getting off the bed. She said he kept looking around, eyes wide, as if looking for a place to hide, then he just sagged and lost consciousness. If it weren’t for his reaction to the reader, I would have strapped him to the bed. Plus, he’s not a threat to anyone so far, so it’s all right.”
He nodded. “What else?”
“As I said, he’s paranoid. He’s also light sensitive, so the ward lights must be dimmed. I suspect I’ll have more problems. But if he has the same high-functioning mind as our late Doctor Jackson, then he’ll be doubly stressed out. A mind like that, of a genius, runs like a fast-moving rollercoaster that rarely slows down. When it’s out of whack from problems with the body, starved for essential vitamins and minerals, it … misfires.”
“I know,” he nodded.
“Later, when we get to the Omega colony, we should give him a lot of puzzles. Not literal things because they can become monotonous, but science puzzles we haven’t worked out yet. It should help him recover from his trauma. Whatever happened to him, I think we can be relatively certain that he’ll be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.”
Jack winced. “Which means, depending on the traumas he’s suffered, his examination might engender some problems. You think he’ll have to be forcibly sedated?”
She winced in return. “I don’t want to, but if he can’t be calmed …” She paused, giving him a look of hesitation.
“There is a person on board who has the psychological knowledge to help him in this preliminary state.”
Jack raised a brow. “Who?”
She gave him another sad smile. “I know you won’t want to hear this, but that person is you.” When his brows skyrocketed in shock, she held up her hands. “I know, I know. You have your hands full. Just … when you can, talk to him. I know you don’t have the degree, but you have the experience. You know what steps to take.” When he gave her a dubious look, she said slowly, “For example. You know just by looking at him and observing that he’s been traumatized.”
“Anyone with sense can see that,” he objected.
“Yes, but there’s an additional understanding with you.” She lowered her voice. “He keeps himself very compacted. Legs together, heels tucked under. He’s protecting himself physically. You know what that sounds like? What happened to SG-6’s Myers after her teammates were murdered and she was held hostage by those Anderphile people. And, if I may, with your experience in Iraq.”
Jack grimaced and shaded his eyes. “Goddammit.”
She sighed. “I know. I don’t like to think of that either, but I think it’s necessary to prepare to deal with all forms of abuse, because it looks like he’s been through them all.” She put a hand on his arm. “So if you think you can help, please stop by.”
“I’ll see what I can manage.”
She held up her own tablet. “Here’re just my prelim observations. I’ll get you the test results with my final report, but only after I’m able to run those tests. I think you could be a major help.”
He eyed her. “You mean, if this Daniel Jackson had the same relationship with that Jack O’Neill.”
She shook her head. “A close friendship would do it. If he trusted you, that is. As we can see, not all universes are the same.”
“Yeah, like the time with Carter and Kowalsky.” He winced again. “What a nightmare that was.”
He blinked at her. “Well, finding out that we were married, for one.” He shuddered.
She teased, “With Carter or Kowalsky.”
He tapped the pencil on the table. “Your sense of humor is as bad as mine.”
“Why thank you, Colonel,” she grinned. Turning more serious, she added quietly, “I know this is a difficult situation for you. And I’m trying to think ahead to solve problems that haven’t happened yet.”
“Sure, what’s your point?”
“If he asks for you, and it’s not some medical emergency …”
A twinge hit Jack between the eyebrows. He rubbed at it. “Then call me. I’ll be there when I can, which might not be right away. If he’s like our late Doctor J, he should understand. If he doesn’t, he’ll have to learn to.”
She nodded, tapped his arm, and left. He turned his attention to his tablet, delving back into summaries, maps, and cargo lists. In the back of his thoughts, his inner warning system said, “Be careful. He’s not your Daniel.” The part that had told him that Daniel might be a second chance warred with the other half of himself that told him to stay away. But after a consideration, he reluctantly admitted that doing that had never been his way. He faced things head on and damn the consequences.
Sometime later, Daniel sat up in bed with a start, gasping, with a choked keening. His heart was pumping so hard and fast that it hurt. He felt the tears well up in hot eyes and swallowed repeatedly to try and stop it. The tears came anyway, and it pissed him off. As the anger intensified, it grew out of control, raging against the nightmares, the reason for them, the fact that he kept crying and that his emotions were out of control. He expressed by screaming. There were no words. Only sound. When Carmichael and two nurses ran into the ward, eyes wide, he drew up his knees and dropped his head down, surrounding it with his arms so he could muffle the anguish.
“Daniel, oh my god! What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” he cried out in anger, voice muffled. “Take a fucking guess!” It was not like him to lash out at someone there to help and it only made him angrier. He balled up his hands and squeezed hard, wishing he had fingernails long enough to gouge into his skin. It was self-destructive, and that too made him rage. He did not want to appear like a martyr, hating himself, feeling unworthy, but it wasn’t exactly far from what he privately felt every hour of every day, and long before he’d been a member of SG-1. The SGC, however, had only intensified it, especially when going through the stargate had only made things worse. And they gave him credit for opening the damn thing. Abruptly, Daniel’s will evaporated and he dropped his hands to his side and raised his head.
The doctor had on her stethoscope and there were a few devices in her pocket. He vaguely recalled checkups with instruments that looked into your nose and ears. He then remembered that it was time for his exam, and he hated the fear it caused.
She rubbed his back, eyes intense and worried. “Are you okay now? What just happened?”
“Purging,” he said automatically, his tone flat and lifeless. “I think.” He looked at her pockets. “Exam? Can’t it wait?”
“No, sorry. I have to look you over and find out how injured you are. It’s obvious that you need food and water, but there are the other things I need to know to get a good look at your condition. Please? The only thing that will hurt will be the sting of a needle.”
He spied the tray with the blood vials and the hypo syringe pieces that a nurse set on the food tray. “No needles!” he whispered, eyes wide with fear as he drew his knees closer to his chest.
“I have to take your blood, Daniel.”
Events flooded his mind and his body shuddered with sense memory. “Kill me first,” he said, and he wasn’t joking.
“Who are you?” she asked abruptly.
He blinked, startled. “I … I’m sorry?”
“Are you Daniel Jackson?”
He frowned. “Yeah.”
She sighed heavily. “Do you think you can remember who you are? A strong, intelligent man with a resilience that would break most people.”
He closed his eyes and bowed his head for a few seconds. “I haven’t been that person in a long time,” he said, looking up to meet her gaze. “You were his friend?” he asked, cringing as she picked up the open-ended syringe and needle. The closer it came, the more horror he felt because of the futility of resisting. He was in control, he knew that, but he still had to do this. Or die. A keening sound threatened to spill from his throat, and he swallowed against it and held his breath.
She watched him, heart wrenching. “Yes, he was my friend. And seeing you is … the others may think it’s hard, but I find it somehow comforting.”
“What?” he asked, sounding more like his old self. “That’s silly.”
She held up her hand and waggled it. “Meh.” Her hand turned over, asking for his. She was so gentle that he only felt a slight sting as the needle went in. He watched as four vials were drawn. “I didn’t think I had that much left in me,” he half-joked.
She smiled. “That’s better. A bit of wit.” She paused as she gave the supplies to the nurse and took off the blue sterile gloves. She frowned then, looking into his eyes. “Let’s get this over with. I’ll be as gentle as I can.”
He shook with hard fear as she listened to his heart, his lungs, tested reflexes, then felt his abdomen and listened to it through her stethoscope. Her touch was so careful that he began to relax until she pressed her lips together and asked, “I won’t look unless you let me. How are your genitals?”
He swallowed as she stepped back, putting the stethoscope back around her neck. “As desiccated as the rest of me.”
She nodded. “I’ll order x-rays done while your bloodwork is getting analyzed.”
“Why x-rays?” he asked.
She looked at him in surprise. “Because I need to see your history. Best way to see that is inside. And I’ll need a full set.”
“Oh. Is that standard?”
“It is for me. Now, lay down, rest, and I’ll have someone bring you some broth and Jell-O.”
He nodded and lay on his side, but after she left, there was nothing to do but think, and he did not want to do that. The one good thing about his weakness was that sleep came easily. Unfortunately, it was also interruptive, and he startled himself awake several times thinking he’d heard her voice. Or Jack’s. His mind recalled hearing PTSS and he lay there trying to think of what the second S stood for until he drifted off again. Sometime later, he awoke to the sound of a woman’s voice and he sat up in alarm and panic, clutching the blankets to his chest. He’d thought it was her voice.
He blinked and narrowed his eyes, focusing. Sam. He looked away, bringing his knees to his chest.
“You want me to go?” she asked.
“It’s just that … I saw myself in the mirror and I look hideous.”
“No, you don’t.”
He looked up and gave her a long-suffering look.
“You just need food and proper care, that’s all. Cat said you should have broth and Jell-O, so I brought you some.”
He inhaled slowly and the smell of the chicken broth assaulted his nose and his stomach growled painfully. He swallowed as unbrushed hair fell into his face and he grimaced. “I forgot to ask the doctor. Don’t suppose you have a brush I can use?”
She handed him a sixteen-ounce plastic soup container with a sippy cup lid. “Small sips, or you’ll throw it up. I’ll be right back with a brush.”
While she was gone, he went to great pains to keep himself covered up while he drank the broth. He might be wearing scrubs, but he was still awfully cold. Didn’t they heat these damn places? But as he drank the liquid, his insides began to warm. He wanted to guzzle, but resisted solely on the fact that his stomach already hurt. There was no sense in making it worse, and sure enough, a minute later, the pain in his stomach didn’t exactly worsen, but he felt stuffed. He held up the container against the light. Looked like four ounces were all that he’d drank, but his stomach seemed to be rebelling at that much food. He recalled the protocol for feeding starvation victims and sighed heavily.
Sam returned with a food tray and Doctor Carmichael followed her in. She set the tray on the table and wheeled it over. There was a mug filled with something light brown, which he guessed was tea, a glass of orange juice, sugar packets, a small pill cup containing three pills. There were three cups of Jell-O of differing colors: green, red, and orange.
“This is some of what you’ll have for your first day of recovery,” the doctor told him. “Later, I’ll bring in some milk and oatmeal. No butter, but you can sweeten it with sugar. Tomorrow, there’ll be more of the same, but we can add toast with the oatmeal and broth. On the third day, we can build up to a small, regular meal, but it has to be low-fat to begin with.”
Daniel’s stomach growled at the end of her recitation and he smiled as she and Sam did the same. “Okay, thanks.”
Sam held up a brush and he nodded, but didn’t take it. He was determined to finish the broth slowly and told his stomach to go fuck itself. She tipped her head, looking at his hair.
“I can do it, if you want.”
He frowned. “Why?”
She frowned back. “Why what?”
“Why do you want to help me brush my hair?”
Sam’s frown turned uncomfortable. “Okay then,” she said, and set the brush on the table.
He felt ashamed and stopped drinking, but he held the soup container to his chest. His stomach growled again, and it made him more aware of the state of his body. In the shower, he had felt his ribs and while they hadn’t looked that bad, they still showed. He swallowed against the emotion that brought up and followed it up with anger, hating how he kept wanting to cry.
“I’m sorry, Major. It’s not you,” he said thickly. “Could you help me with the robe? I’m cold.”
“Sure.” She picked it up off the foot of the bed and went around to the other side. He dropped the blankets and slid in one arm, then the other. She hurried around to the other side to help him off the bed, but he just sat there with the robe bunched around his waist. “You’re okay with it like that?”
“Okay, Daniel, let’s get you hooked up,” Doctor Carmichael told him as she gestured to a nurse, who wheeled over a small cart. It had medical things on it. And a needle. All thoughts of food were replaced with the horror of that sharp instrument.
“What’re you planning to do?” he asked, eyes widening.
“We need to give you an I.V.,” she answered. “You need it to rebuild the serum proteins in your blood. I’ll know how long after the blood tests come back.”
“Can’t I just … take pills?”
“Your digestive system might rebel,” she warned.
“I’ll risk it,” he said, hating how afraid he was of the size of that needle. He had never been afraid of that stuff before. Before. “I don’t have much skin to stick that into,” he said, shaking even worse. His stomach was rumbling, but not for a good reason.
“Are you cold?” Carmichael asked.
He nodded, pulling the covers around him. “Major Carter?”
“Distract me with the brush?” he asked, eyes stuck on the needle.
“Sure,” she said, and rounded the bed again.
“What’s your first name?” he asked the doctor. “Major Carter called you Cat.”
“Catherine,” Carmichael said, throwing Sam a look he could not read. Turning her attention back to Daniel, she said, “You can call me Cat if you want.”
He shook his head. “I was just wondering.”
“For future reference then.”
She pulled the cart up, looked at it, then said to her nurse, “Get me the spray. It’ll help.”
“Spray?” he asked as Sam knelt on the bed behind him and gently pulled his hair over the back of his robe and the blankets.
“Cold spray,” Carmichael said. “It’s mostly used to freeze the skin before a cortisone shot, but sometimes it’s needed for I.V. insertion. Children get it sometimes.”
His eyes widened. “Are there children on this ship?”
“Sure,” she nodded. “Don’t be alarmed. They won’t come in here. The families intended for the colony are housed in another area of the ship, separated from the crew.”
“I’m not afraid of children,” he frowned.
“That’s good to know. My point is that no one will come in here to bother you.”
“Right,” he said, remembering his standard reply when no answer was actually needed. He noticed the surprised look that Carmichael and Sam shared. “What?”
Carmichael shook her head. “You just sounded like …”
“Our Daniel,” Sam finished.
“Sorry,” Carmichael said. “For hesitating. I don’t know how to refer to either of you. Saying ‘our’ Daniel sounds alienating.”
“Ouch,” Sam said. “You’re right.”
“I get it. I won’t take offense,” Daniel said. Carmichael took his right hand in hers and tapped at the vein on the back of the hand. He twitched and wanted to pull his hand away. “Can’t you do the inner arm?”
“The vein in the hand is best, in case of failure. If your hand veins somehow fail, then we go up the arm. If that fails, we go to the neck by the collarbone.”
He cringed and gave her his hand. As she sprayed, he concentrated on the minimalist brushing Sam was doing, yet when Carmichael opened the sterile kit for the need, he was surprised by the small size. “I thought you needed a large gauge for I.V.s.” Carmichael shook her head as she smoothly and quickly inserted the needle. He felt a little sting and that was all. “Wow. I didn’t … expect that.”
“What did you expect?” she asked as she coiled the tubing near the catheter and taped it all down.
“A lot of pain,” he admitted. He frowned then and turned his head slightly to talk to Sam. “Major Carter, are you brushing my hair because I don’t feel anything.”
“I’m taking my time with your hair because it has some really nasty knots.”
“I thought I got rid of them all.”
She paused and put a hand on his shoulder. “We can give you a haircut if you want.”
“You know how to cut hair?”
“No. We have a barber.”
His brows went up. “You do? On a ship?”
“For now, because of the extra people.”
“Why didn’t you just transport through the stargate?” he asked as he felt her tug at his hair.
“Power utilization wasn’t available,” Sam said.
“Meaning you needed more?” he asked.
He frowned in thought. “So … that means that the Omega base is outside the seven-chevron address field.” He looked behind him, then at Carmichael. “That’s it, right?”
“Yes,” Sam said, stopping the brushing of his hair and she came around and handed him the brush. “I’ve gotten most of it. I think I should let you handle the hard ones. I don’t wanna spook you if I cause you pain.”
Daniel snorted derisively. “I’ve been through a lot worse, trust me.” He pointed the brush at his hair. “This is a picnic in the park compared to the war crimes the SGC has committed.” They stared at him, wide-eyed, and he blinked, stunned at his own words. “I’m so sorry. I have no idea where that came from. I did not mean anything by it where this universe is concerned.”
“What happened to it?” Sam asked.
“It went bad. Then it was renamed,” he said dully.
“Into what?” Sam asked.
“The Colorado Springs Auxiliary Reform.”
Carmichael blinked. “The what? What is that?”
“In a nutshell, the Goa’uld Pentagon.”
The room went deadly quiet. At the door, Jack stood, mouth slightly open in shock. He walked in, his gaze on Daniel. “Goa’uld,” he said after a minute. He found a wheeled stool and brought it over to sit upon. “Fuckin’ figures.” Sam winced and Jack rolled his eyes before looking back at Daniel. “So. What happened to the other Pentagon?”
Daniel was startled by his presence. There came a yearning that was non-sexual. It was a demand for comfort because he knew he could find it there. Except he wasn’t his Jack. He let out a heavy sigh. “It stayed in D.C. The Goa’uld set up their version at the SGC, taking control of the stargate.”
“Of course,” Jack sighed, shaking his head.
Daniel took a deep breath. “Okay, guys, here’s the gist of it. After a bunch of BS, the United States of America ceased to exist when the presidency and the cabinet agencies went full fascist state two years ago, during our sixth year in operation. Long story short, chaos followed martial law. Everything was insane. Shock troops went out in force and …” He made a lift and fall of his hands. “People just didn’t see it coming because they got complacent. News was restricted long before. Anyway, a lot of us got out through the gate. We made it to the Tok’ra, and we started to form a massive resistance. But then things got … Jack … uh, my Jack. They got him. Us.”
His voice had dropped to a whisper. “So yeah,” he said with sudden false bravado and a sick, fake smile. “All in all, a swell time. I … wanted to kill myself. Then I remembered that he once told me, the last time we’d been captured by Apophis, that no matter what, as long as there was a chance for me to make the bad guys pay, I had to hold out. I tried. But then I got weaker …”
His words faded as he beheld six horrified people, as Teal’c and one other nurse had entered the room. He cleared his throat. “Ever been on the business end of a Goa’uld pain stick?” Jack, Sam, and Teal’c’s expressions said they did. “Well, five minutes of that tends to kill all the energy in you. It’s why they could so easily toss me into space.”
Jack blinked. “They used that as punishment?”
“No, they had creative ways of inflicting punishment,” Daniel said, wishing he would ditch the matter-of-factness in his voice. “Spacing was body disposal while inflicting the last bit of torture. Like being sent to an even worse hell than the one you were already in. It was for when you … served no more purpose.” He gave them all a look. And still, his mind said, ghosts. His mind was still mush. He wondered how long it would be like that. “They mistook that poster in the cargo bay for space.”
“What’s that smile for?” Jack asked, disturbed.
“Joke’s on them. Plus, the hangar I was in was hit by plasma bombs, going by the explosion I saw. I thought I was toast, literally, but the firebomb didn’t fully transfer through the mirror.”
“Justice. Thank god,” Jack said, sitting on the opposite bed.
Daniel gave him a wan smile. “Maybe. Maybe it was the rebels. And maybe it was another Goa’uld. Either way, that fucking bitch is dead.” He shuddered and Sam came forward to help, but he put up a hand. “What’re you doing?”
Sam looked confused. “To help you get more covered up. You’re cold.”
“Why can’t you people just leave me the hell alone?!” he shouted. The silence afterward was deafening. He sucked in a breath and said between clenched teeth, “I’m sorry. I need to be alone for a while. Please leave.”
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose, then got up. “Come on, people.” They left the ward before him, but Jack paused. “Daniel, let Carmichael do her job. I’ll come back later to check up on you.” Without another word, he left.
Daniel stared after him, feeling a keen sense of déjà vu. Jack had once told him, “You have a brilliant mind and a kind heart. That is why you’re a valuable member of this command and not replaceable. Tell me you’re not important one more time and I’ll reassign you to the science lab with Lee.”
“That could’ve been handled differently,” Carmichael said, pulling Daniel out of his memory. “Consider that we care about what happens to you.” She patted the bed. “I’ll be back after my rounds.”
Jack walked down the corridor and when someone started to open their mouth to ask him something, he simply raised two fingers in warning and the person shut up and kept on their way. He headed for the top deck, the observation room. A small, peaceful place. It held, of all things, a round-backed wicker chair and a Koi fish pond. The first was real. The second was a hologram. He sat down and stared into the ship’s wake. From there, tendrils of purple and white flared outward, leftover from the energy of hyperspace. Beyond that, nothing but black. It was relaxing and the only place he could go to scream, if necessary, or to keep from screaming.
He asked himself why Daniel wouldn’t let anyone help him. There was the state of him: starved, brutalized. Jack had had a similar trauma, being held captive in Iraq. He hadn’t been as damaged, physically, but mentally? During the first few hours after his escape, he’d been hyper-alert, paranoid, and on constant defense. Everyone was a threat. After returning home, that behavior had continued, and he’d had to stay in the VA for a few weeks to get his head on straight. There had been so much anger that he hadn’t wanted to risk being around Sara and baby Charlie. There had also been times when he had been a danger to himself.
He hit the comm unit around his ear. “Lieutenant Murphy, get me Doc Carmichael.”
“One second, sir.”
“Carmichael, sir,” said the doctor.
“Doc, I was just thinking. Given Doctor Jackson’s state of mind, don’t you think he should be on suicide watch?” There was a significant pause. He had surprised her, which was disappointing. She should have predicted this, but some MDs just didn’t have the knack for psychology. They tended to call someone in, however, when that was the case.
“I’m not so sure, Colonel. I think he’s stable, but … what’s made you ask?”
“Because, as you said, I know a thing or two. The depression can hit hard, and out of nowhere. I think it’s best you have him watched.”
“Not by the SFs, Colonel,” she said adamantly. “He’s severely paranoid of them. He hasn’t said anything, but you can tell how his eyes constantly watch the ward entrance whenever they go by.”
“Who would you suggest?” he asked.
“My nurses are tied up at the moment and I have rounds to make in the civilian section.”
Jack sighed. “How long will you be?”
“Two hours, maybe three.”
“Fine. I can spare the time. I’ll be down shortly. O’Neill out.” He stared at the fish as they circled a dark stone at the bottom of the pond. He wondered if there was a metaphor in there somewhere. “Why didn’t you …” he said to the stone, as if it was his lost love. “The dead don’t stay dead, do they Daniel?”
When he came downstairs, he found Carter walking onto the bridge with a rigid posture and a stony expression. She was pissed off.
“Carter?” She just looked at him and he nodded. “I know. Keep the chair warm. I’ll be in the infirmary, whether he likes it or not.”
Daniel got what he wanted. He had alienated them. The doc was kinder, but she too did not have time for his bullshit, which was just as well. He wanted to be alienated. He wanted pain. It was what he was used to. Everything felt temporary. Ghostly. And when they were nice, it was almost abhorrent. If they only knew the anger, the hatred, that permeated his thoughts when he was not thinking of Jack. It did not matter which one.
Next to the alienation, he also wanted Jack’s arms around him. He wanted that comfort. He yearned for it. With the yearning came another feeling, sexual in nature, and a type of claustrophobia hit him as nausea took control. That reaction had started four months ago. Whenever he had thought of having sex with Jack, even recalling a memory, the nausea showed up. Always unbidden, uncontrolled, unwanted. And it was still with him. He could not even grieve by way of jerking off, remembering Jack’s touch, his kiss, his … everything.
An emotional chasm opened, and his self-esteem fell into it. His face crumpled as he squeezed his eyes shut. He was broken. Damaged. He was not a man anymore.
“I miss you, Jack.” The tears came, and when he opened his eyes, several drops fell down his cheek and hit his hand. Like before. He looked down, and his gaze rested on the I.V., reminding him of the fear of needles he now had. Like a scar. It was not the only one.
Self-loathing followed, and it made sense to have it, given all the hatred that filled up everywhere else in his mind. A dichotomy: love, hate, nothing else. There didn’t seem to be a way out. He couldn’t think of the love he had, not without getting sick. So, all that was left to him was this simmering hatred that would come to a boiling point sooner or later. He might lash out without thinking. He could not have that.
He touched the tape, then gently pulled it off his hand to study the needle. It would be easy. Just pull it out, detach the tube, then stick the needle into his carotid artery.
Jack started to round the corner, eyes on the inside of the ward. Daniel was not in sight yet, but what caught Jack’s attention right away was an I.V. line on the floor. He frowned as he entered the ward and found that Daniel was holding the needle and catheter, and he was aiming for his neck.
He ran at him and Daniel froze, needle inches from his artery. “I have t—” he began.
Jack placed a hand on Daniel’s chest, just under his collarbones, and shoved him backward, hard, as he grabbed the Daniel’s wrist with his other hand and squeezed hard, forcing him to drop the needle. He said nothing. Instead, he let go of his wrist and searched the cabinet, snatching a packet of gauze. He ripped it open and slapped the material over Daniel’s bleeding hand and with his free arm, pulled him into his embrace.
Daniel did not want comfort and he pushed him away. He held the gauze in place, but he needed the distance. “You don’t understand,” he said tiredly and sat on the edge of the bed.
Jack found more gauze and wiped his own hands mostly free of blood, then grabbed a stool and rolled it over to sit up close to him. “Enlighten me then.”
“What purpose would I serve in staying alive in this universe?”
“What kind of stupid question is that?” Jack asked, deeply disturbed.
Daniel shook his head as he kept looking up at nothing, then back to Jack. He tried to grab hold of something, anything, that would get his point across. Then something occurred to him. “Did you guys go to Kheb? See a being called Oma Desala?”
“Sure,” Jack asked, puzzled. “What about her?”
Daniel took a deep breath. “In my timeline, or reality, or whatever you want to call it …”
“Yeah, whatever.” Daniel frowned, confused for a second. “Did you ever visit a planet with a country called Kelowna?” Jack’s face went blank and Daniel watched him try to put up a wall of pain. “Yeah, I can see you did. What happened?”
“You went,” Jack said. “You exposed yourself to a lethal dose of radiation when you deactivated a bomb that would’ve killed millions. And you died three days later.”
Daniel swallowed. “The same thing happened in my universe, except we had this hand device that was stronger than the usual one the Goa’uld use. Jacob brought me back with it.”
“He tried that here, with a regular hand device. And it didn’t work. You died.”
Daniel frowned. “Didn’t I ascend?”
Jack matched the frown. “No. You just died. What do you mean, ascend?”
“Ah,” Daniel said. “One more difference.”
“Aside from the fact that you lived.”
“And a lot of other factors,” Daniel said. “My point is that Oma came to me while I was dying. She asked me if I wanted to ascend, and I told her I didn’t think I was worthy of it. She said I was, but that I’ll never ascend until I believe I can. Or that I deserve to. And I was prepared to die. But Jacob wouldn’t let me go. And I was sick for about a week after that, then Ja … you and Sam and Teal’c ran into Lord Yu. He died, and his First Prime let us take the sarcophagus back to the SGC.” Daniel remembered the last time he had seen it. She had been rising from it. He swallowed and concentrated hard to get rid of that memory and get back on track with his talk with Jack. “Point is, I lived.”
“How long ago did this happen?” Jack asked.
“Three years ago.”
“Wow, I think your universe’s timeline, if you can call it that, is way different than ours because you … he … died six months ago.”
Daniel frowned, looking away. “Right.”
“That wasn’t your point though,” Jack said.
Daniel blinked. “What?”
“That you lived. What was the real point?”
“How do you know that?” Daniel asked.
“I know suicidal when I see it,” Jack said. “The only time a person does that is when they’ve given up. And now, here, you’ve given up, and I don’t understand why. Don’t you understand that you’re being given a second chance?”
Daniel blinked several times. “I … guess … but it just doesn’t …” He took a shaky breath and half-laughed, half-sobbed. “I don’t know what to do. What to think.” He dropped his tone. “It’s like I’m having a very vivid dream-slash-nightmare. You’re …” He gestured at Jack, waving an aery hand. “You. Here. And I’m …” He gestured at himself while grimacing. “And then there’s …” He waved at the ceiling, the walls. “This.” He sighed, looking down. “I couldn’t ascend because I didn’t think I was worthy, and I can’t go on … here … because I’m not worthy. I’m broken.”
“One minute at a time,” Jack said slowly.
Daniel blinked a few times, confused. “What?”
“That’s all you have to give yourself. Or give the universe, or god, me, Carter, Teal’c, the doc—just give us a minute. Give yourself a minute. Allow that things can improve. Just for a minute. Then give it another minute. You last until the next minute. And the next. Eventually, the feelings of anger and hatred and this burning need for a revenge you can’t have will fade. You’ll climb out of that pit. You won’t feel that you need to be on guard all the time.”
Daniel said tiredly, “I just want to be normal again. And I won’t be.”
“I just … won’t,” Daniel said evasively. “I’m not ready to explain why.”
“Okay. But consider something else. I’m here,” Jack said, grasping at things he hoped would help not just Daniel, but himself. “I know you’re not him, except you are, and he’s you. And I will not have you checking out on me.” His voice became commanding as he took Daniel’s hand and squeezed. “I will not have it, Daniel. Don’t do that to me a second time.”
Daniel blinked a few times, listening to him.
“Are you listening?”
Daniel tried to pull free, but Jack would not let him. “You don’t understand! I hate! I hate! I hate so fucking much! Take it away.” He dropped his chin to his chest. “Just take it away.”
Jack remembered something from years ago. On Abydos. When Daniel had said something like, “Hate is evil. It’s poison. It seeps into everything and I abhor it.”
“Wish I could. Trust me. I really wish I could.” He suddenly found himself getting up and lifting Daniel’s chin with his fingers in order to force him to look his eyes, and in doing so, he wound up staring into those heart-wrenching, pain-filled blue eyes and feeling his own heart wrench. “But I’ll help, however much I can. Just let me do that.” And without thinking, he kissed him. It was chaste and dry and lasted only a second before he sat back down.
Daniel’s eyes widened and he swallowed hard. The moment froze in time, seconds stretching into an eternity. He feared a bodily reaction, to be followed by nausea, but instead, he studied the warm brown eyes who seemed to be studying him in return. “But … I’m not him.”
“Yes, you are. You’re just not the same,” Jack said. “And if you ask me to explain that, I can’t.” He took his hand again, then turned over his other hand and waited for Daniel to take it. When he did, he asked, “Why worry about that?”
Daniel huffed out another half-laugh, half-sob. “Isn’t it obvious?” He forced Jack to look at his fingernails. “Look.” Jack only nodded, and raised his brows, waiting for an explanation. Instead, Daniel closed his eyes. “I’m afraid. I’ve been in such a … I just hate. I’m so angry, weak, and I can’t even brush my own hair. I just think it’s better to …” He shook his head and whispered, “All I want to do is push you all away. It’s too much. The kindness. After all that horror. And …”
“And?” Jack repeated.
“It hurts,” Daniel said. “He died. You, I mean. And I just want the pain to stop.”
Jack sighed. “Me, too,” he admitted quietly.
Daniel’s eyes widened and he grimaced in guilt. “Oh god, Jack. I’m such a self-centered bastard. I’m so sorry.”
Jack shook his head. “Don’t. Don’t do that. My grief is six months old. Yours is fresh.”
“No,” Daniel said, examining the emotion in Jack’s eyes. “He died a long time ago. Almost a year.”
“So? Besides, you were never allowed to grieve,” Jack pointed out. “You went from one horror into another.”
“Well … yes,” Daniel said, making a face.
“You were in limbo. Now you’re not. You’re free to feel however you want. And the only thing that’s not acceptable is suicide.”
Daniel swallowed. “You kissed me.”
Jack nodded. “I needed to. I’m not all that interested in examining why.”
“It’s not … It’s too soon, isn’t it?” Daniel said.
“Not really.” Jack looked down as he took Daniel’s right hand in his, frowning at the jagged edges of some of the nails. What little there was of them. “I think we need each other, and it doesn’t matter that we are who we are.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked.
Jack sighed. “No. I’m just winging it here.”
Daniel frowned. “Why aren’t you yelling at me for trying to kill myself?”
“Is that what I’m supposed to do? Yell at you for being in despair? What good would that do?” He reached over and caressed his cheek. “You need to heal. You’re a mess. It’d be sub-human to fault you for it.”
Daniel let the words sink in. “I guess.”
“So, we’ll just tackle one problem at a time. A minute at a time. Or an hour. A day. It’s up to you.”
Daniel swallowed and he forced himself to take his hands away because feelings started to stir. Jack didn’t know why, but he seemed at ease with letting him go. Daniel moved back on the bed and crossed his legs. At first, it felt wrong. He was too exposed. But he laid his hands in his lap to mitigate it. “One problem at a time?”
“Okay,” he said, hating the fear that began to rise. “There’s something.”
“Shoot,” Jack said.
“Where we’re going, you said we’ll be there for two months?” Jack nodded. “And then we’ll go back to the SGC?”
Jack nodded. “You afraid of what Hammond—”
“No,” Daniel said, cutting him off. “Is Frazier the CMO?”
Jack gave him a puzzled look. “Yeah, why?”
“She … I mean, her counterpart in my universe … was a sadist. A really nasty piece of work. Please tell me she’s not the same here.”
“Hell no she’s not,” Jack said, eyes wide in alarm. “She’s one of the most kind and empathetic people I know.”
“Agreed,” Carmichael said, walking in.
“I thought you were going to be gone a few hours?” Jack asked.
“I just stopped by, picking up a few charts. Daniel, you’ll never find a more caring person than Janet Fraiser.” She then took in the I.V. tubing, the bloody gauze, Jack’s red-smudged fingers. She stared at Daniel, then said, “You two. Stay right where you are. Do. Not. Move.” She turned and left the ward.
“What?” Daniel began, but Jack held up a hand. The gesture reminded him so much of his Jack that he was made speechless.
Carmichael returned with a hypodermic needle. She gave Daniel a stern look. “I’m not having this happen again. Whatever it was that compelled you to pull out your I.V, it’s not gonna happen again.”
“No, no,” Daniel said, heart hammering instantly. “No, please.”
“Daniel, maybe it’s a good idea,” Jack said.
Daniel’s face turned anguished and he asked, “What is it?” when she lifted his right sleeve, rubbed the skin with alcohol.
“A mild sedative.”
Before she inserted the needle, he grabbed hold of Jack’s hand and a tear flew from his right eye. He nodded to her and she proceeded to give him the shot. He sucked in a breath. Afterward, he said, “I can’t …” He blinked at the sudden head rush. “That’s fast.”
“It’s due to your weakened system. Now, if you continue this behavior, I’ll increase the dosage.”
He sighed and let Jack go. “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she said. “But let us help you. And by so doing, help yourself. This is the beginning of a long road.”
“Yeah, and it’ll get worse the second I see her. How the hell am I going to get better if I have to see her all the time when we get back to the SGC?”
“It’s that bad?” Jack asked, trading worrying looks with Carmichael.
Daniel opened his mouth, then shut it. He did not know how to respond.
“Can you talk about it?” Jack asked. “Explain what happened with her?”
Daniel shuddered as memories flipped through his head like a rapid slideshow. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You guys have a World War II?”
“Yeah,” Jack said warily.
“A holocaust?” Daniel went on. “A Doctor Mengele? Concentration camps?”
Jack nodded slowly. “That’s where you got that tattoo on your inner arm?”
Daniel frowned, then looked down. Redness crept up over his ears, his cheeks, down his neck. “Squeeze my hand.”
“What?” Jack asked, caught off guard.
“Daniel, what’s wrong?” Carmichael asked.
“I think you’d call it an anxiety attack.” He bit his lips together and did his best not to cry. “I don’t want to cry. Squeeze me hard. Hard.”
“I’ll break fingers.”
Jack did, but not hard. Still, Daniel grimaced, and he began to breathe deep but too fast. “Slow down,” Jack urged. Daniel did. “What happened?” he asked, releasing the hard grip, but kept hold as lightly as he could. He didn’t really want to let go.
“My emotions are raw. When I get upset, it’s too much. It’s like being flooded and I can’t seem to stop. Does that qualify as an anxiety attack? I’m fairly sure it doesn’t. I just don’t know what else to call it.”
Jack reached up and smoothed a strand of hair from Daniel’s face. “It’s gonna be like that for a while until your mind accepts your new reality. You’re at the beginning of PTSS, Daniel. It’s normal. But it’ll get better. I promise.”
“PTSS? You mean PTSD?”
“Changed to PTSS, as a syndrome, not a disorder, because it’s like a wound, not a psychiatric malfunction.”
Daniel thought about that. “That actually makes sense.”
“The tattoo,” Jack reminded him. “What happened to make you have an anxiety attack?”
“I was just thinking that I’ll have that fucking thing for the rest of my life.”
“No, you won’t. We can get it removed.”
“Really?” Daniel asked, surprised. He didn’t really believe it, but he wanted to. He cleared his throat. “Okay. About Frazier. Colonel Janetta Frazier was this floating doctor who visited the SGC occasionally. When the Goa’uld invaded, she had already been messing with personnel, eliminating people she didn’t like. She was fascinated with the Goa’uld and made a devil’s bargain with one. She welcomed the infernal thing into her.” Jack’s and Carmichael’s eyes were widening in shock. “Yeah. And here’s the kicker with her. It let her have control. Frazier kept her name, used her voice half the time. For some stupid reason that I have never learned the Goa’uld allowed it.”
“That’s weird,” Jack said, both puzzled and dismayed.
“Tell me about it. Before the Goa’uld, she’d already earned a rep as a despicable human being.”
“How’d Hammond allow that?”
“He wasn’t there. A fascist state like North Korea had taken over. Those in the government who didn’t play ball were quietly, systemically replaced, and the rest welcomed the Goa’uld as long as they could stay in local power, and I never learned why the Goa’uld allowed that either.” He swallowed and bared his teeth in a snarl. “That bomb I saw as I crossed over. I hope they’re all dead now.”
The pronouncement startled Carmichael and Jack because their Daniel would never have said such a thing, but Jack couldn’t really blame him since it was a Goa’uld who died. “What else?” Sam and Teal’c came in at that moment. They were hesitant, but Jack waved them over. “Pull up a stool. We need to hear this to understand what he’s been through.” He caught them up on what Daniel had already said.
“Janet?” Sam asked. “Oh my god.”
“No,” Daniel corrected mildly. “Janetta.” He took a deep breath, started to speak, then asked as his eyes widened. “What year is it here?”
“2016,” Jack said, then his Red Alert sounded. “You think those Goa’uld are headed to Earth?” he asked, standing.
“I don’t think so, judging by all the stuff that’s different here. But in my … former universe … it was 2021. The Goa’uld in charge was Ares.”
“Ares,” Teal’c repeated. He looked at Jack. “Ares is one the oldest Goa’uld after Ba’al and Lord Yu. He was one of the System Lords who banished Anubis. Master Bra’tac believes that he was the reason Anubis vanished for many millennia, but he was told by Apophis that it was Cronus who forced him into exile.”
“One big happy family,” Jack said dryly.
“At any rate,” Daniel said, “Ares forced all the others to bend to his will. I don’t know how.”
“What other Goa’uld were involved on Earth? Or do you refer to the Goa’uld as a whole?” Teal’c asked.
“As a whole, as far as I know,” Daniel said. “There were eight on Earth …” He closed his eyes to focus, then listed them with a significant pause between each name. “Osiris, Ba’al, Kali, Inanna, Sekhmet … um …” He sighed and shook his head. “There are three more. They divvied up the planet. The U.S. got split in three ways. The western half, including Stargate Command, was given to Osiris.”
“When did all this happen?” Sam asked.
“Over ten months ago, in twenty-twenty. Just after the fixed election of John Bolton, who started wars all over the planet while instituting Martial Law. It took four years before that to get him elected. His private army enforced new regulations—”
“Hang on,” Jack said, scowling. “Private army? How the hell was a private army allowed on our own soil?”
“Corporatization,” Daniel said simply. “Everything was privatized, and while we still had a military, all police were either inducted into the new so-called security force, called Blackwater. They ordered an agency named ICE to round up everyone who wasn’t born here and boot them out, except they weren’t booted anywhere. They were housed in detention centers and eventually turned into the first slaves. Cops either joined or were kicked off the local police forces, which were absorbed into Blackwater. So when you guys hear me call these people jackbooted thugs—”
“Hang on,” Jack repeated. “Where were the Jaffa?”
Daniel shook his head. “I don’t … I finally asked Frazier that before I was thrown into this universe. One of the few times she let me ask questions. She said the security force was her Jaffa, that they assimilated. Or rather, in her words, ditched the armor and went native.”
“That’s …” Jack began, but stopped and pinched his nose.
Daniel continued. “Anyone who didn’t tow the line about the new regime were rounded up and sent to shipyards to build Goa’uld motherships.” He paused, looking at their faces. “Uh. What kind of government do you have on Earth?”
“Left wing, science-based,” Sam said, and rather smugly.
Daniel sighed heavily. “Thank god. You can all put up a good fight then, I hope?” He twirled the forefinger of his left hand over his head. “Given the tech you have? Asgard?”
Jack nodded. “We helped save their bacon from the Replicators. They gifted us with space travel and tech to protect the planet, and I don’t mean with guns. We have a defensive platform that consists of satellites.” Jack twirled a finger vertically. “Boom.”
“What was happening in the galaxy, with the Goa’uld?” Teal’c asked.
“Okay. Um. What you need to beware of?” he asked. They all nodded. “Okay. Um. Ares is gaining power. If it’s not him, then it’s someone else, I guess. In my old world, they attacked Earth as soon as they had most of the System Lords under their control.”
“The Goa’uld currently absorbing other domains is Ba’al,” Teal’c said.
Jack nodded. “He doesn’t have everyone yet. Just cleaning up smaller territories.”
Daniel searched his memory, but he couldn’t think. “Just make sure there are warning systems at the edge of the solar system, never mind in hyperspace.”
“We have those already,” Sam said. “Set at the edge of the system.”
Daniel blinked. “Oh. In hyperspace?”
Sam blinked in surprise. “In hyperspace? No. I didn’t know you could do that.”
“I can draw a rough diagram of one the modules your other self-built. She devised a way to place markers inside hyperspace.” He rubbed at his forehead. “I’m not quite with it so the drawings would be crude.” He looked at Jack. “You find that second Ancients’ database?”
“There’s another one of those things?” Jack asked back, eyes wide. He threaded a hand through his hair. “Christ, one was enough.”
“Six. There’re six. If Ba’al hasn’t learned about them yet, he will. I suggest you grab them up before he does.”
“And how do we do that?” Jack asked.
“Ask the Asgard,” Daniel replied. At the consternation on the faces around him, he cleared his throat. “Look, I’m sorry that I’m not being more helpful. But they’re the ones who can keep the person who downloaded the database from dying. Like, I’m assuming, they did for you, Jack.”
He nodded as he got up. “No one’s got the ability to launch an attack or we’d have heard about it by now. Still, after we get to the Omega site, I’ll send out feelers, have people activate a higher alert.”
“Can’t you contact the Asgard to help with the databases? And Earth’s still protected, isn’t it?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah, but the Asgard are a bit busy,” Jack said, chewing at the inside of his cheek. “Be back in a few.”
Daniel looked around. “Um …” He suddenly had no idea what to do or say. He picked up his brush, absently meaning to run it through his hair, but he glanced at Sam and set it aside. “I’m sorry, Sam. Sorry for pushing you away. It’s just … it seems weird that you’re all just so willing to accept me. It’s like it’s sacrilegious somehow.”
“It’s not. We’re just … we couldn’t help him. We can help you.”
Daniel blinked as metaphorical tumblers clicked into place, unlocking understanding. “That makes sense.”
“I can finish that, if you want,” she said, gesturing at the brush.
“Um. You could always let a nurse take care of it, Sam. I mean, it’s that what they’re supposed to do?” He frowned, looking around, and finding none. “When they’re around, I guess.”
“It’s okay,” Sam said, rounding the bed. She picked up the brush and began to work on his hair. “You want to put this in a ponytail?”
“And find me a bandana,” he said. “Uh. Please?”
“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said. “Would you like to continue sharing what else you know?”
“What’s relevant?” Daniel asked him. “I don’t know. I can’t really think of anything.” His stomach growled rather loudly, and he placed his free arm over his stomach. “Sorry.”
Carmichael got up. “Well, that’s my cue. I’ll replace the Jell-O with some new stuff. Any flavor you prefer?”
Daniel shook his head. “Jell-O is Jell-O. I’ll be happy to have some Cool Whip on it though.” He looked at her hopefully.
Grinning, Carmichael shook her head. “Sorry. Gelatin is good for you. Right now, Cool Whip isn’t.” She left the ward.
Daniel observed her appearance, wondering why he had never noticed. She had reddish-blonde hair, blue eyes, and was almost Sam’s height. No wonder he wasn’t afraid of her. He then thought that perhaps he hadn’t noticed because she did not look like Frazier. “About Frazier. What’s she look like?”
“Brown hair,” Sam said. “Five-foot nothing. Big brown eyes. Slender.”
Daniel nodded, trying to grasp at something bugging him. He rubbed at his forehead.
“You have a headache?” Carmichael asked. He nodded. “It might be a side-effect from the medicine. Might not be.”
“Can I get some Tylenol?” he asked. While she was gone, the thing that was bugging him solidified into a question. “Her name. How’s it spelled?”
“Whose?” Sam asked.
“F r a i s e r,” Sam answered.
Daniel felt a band loosening across his chest as he let that sink in. “That’s different. I just suddenly wondered.”
“How’s the bad one spell it?” she asked.
“F r a z i e r.” His jaws tightened by habit and he ground his teeth together, then ordered himself to stop and ran his tongue over them. “Here’s a weird thing. During my … incarceration … I rarely got to use toothpaste. And my teeth haven’t rotted. I don’t get it. So, I really need some, and a toothbrush. Could you ask someone for a shaving kit too?” He rubbed at the two-day stubble he sported. “It’s itchy. I don’t like hair on my face.”
“Why’d they keep you dirty, but shave your face?” Sam asked.
Daniel paled and rubbed at his forehead again. “Because she liked me clean-shaven.”
“Oh,” Sam said, cringing. “Sorry.” He waved a hand.
“May I ask you a question about your universe, Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c asked.
“Sure. As long as you sit down,” Daniel said. Teal’c hesitated. “You’re as bad as the other one. Please sit down?” Teal’c took a seat on the opposite bed. “Thanks. Ask away.”
“Are Major Carter and myself alive in your universe?”
Daniel shook his head. “You were both part of the Resistance, headquartered offworld. It used to be at a Tok’ra base, but then you had to move. You both got hit by Ba’al’s forces after defending one of the offworld sites.”
“Like the Alpha site?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” he said, pausing. Sorrow filled him, but it was diffused by the presence of Sam and Teal’c in this reality.
“And the Colonel?” Sam asked. She handed him the brush and went to sit next to Teal’c. “I think Cat has hair bands. You’ll have to wait.”
“Okay.” He cleared his throat again. “Jack and I were at Chulak.” He had to take a deep breath. “We were evacuating your son and his family, Teal’c, along with other rebel Jaffa and their families, even though the Tok’ra had a lot of defenses, they—”
“The Tok’ra?” Teal’c asked.
“Their base was there. Coordinating with the Rebel Jaffa.”
“Wow, that’s a nice change, compared to here,” Sam said.
“What?” Daniel said. “They don’t get along?”
Teal’c shook his head. “They do not.”
Daniel made a face. “Oh. The, uh, outer defenses held until …” He cleared his throat. “They came for us. Osiris’ motherships just blasted the shit out of Chulak. Jaffa ringed down everywhere outside the … uh, can I get some water?” Teal’c was closer to the sink across the room so he brought him a small cup. “Thanks,” he said, frowning at the size. He downed it, then quietly panicked when he realized he probably shouldn’t have done that. But his stomach did not rebel.
“You need more?” Teal’c asked.
Daniel gave him a desperate smile. “Please?” he said, handing him the cup. After drinking the refill, a lot slower, he was quiet for a minute. He tried to not see what had happened next quite so vividly, but the scene was permanently stamped in his head. “Jack … we’d just come from the gate, after seeing off a few dozen people, and we heard ring transports behind us, then there was staff weapon’s fire all around us. We were almost to the fortress gate when Jack was hit in the left shoulder.”
He paused, his chest tightening again, and he couldn’t look at them. “Two more blasts hit him, and one hit me between the shoulder blades. I went down. Jack … several … they just kept firing …” He did not realize he was hyperventilating until Carmichael appeared, as if out of nowhere, and grabbed an oxygen mask off the machinery behind the bed and quickly placed it over his mouth and nose, telling him to breathe. “They didn’t need to do that,” he said, pulling the mask away. “They didn’t need to …” He held the mask to his face as he tried to gulp air.
Jack was standing in the doorway. He had heard everything. As he had approached the door, he’d heard his name and Chulak and had stopped dead. He wanted to rush to Daniel’s side as he gulped down air, but he couldn’t move. The shock was broken when Sam and Teal’c came over.
“Did you hear that?” she asked. He nodded, eyes on Daniel. “I didn’t realize. They were the same, sir. You and Daniel. He and Jack.”
“I knew that already,” Jack said, nodding. “So, did you.” Sam clearly did not. “Weren’t you in the room?” He thought it over. “No. No, sorry. You weren’t. He was … I distracted him with a kiss.” Both she and Teal’c gave him looks of shock that made him narrow his eyes. “A chaste kiss. Jeez.” He looked back at Daniel. “Point is, it didn’t even faze him, but it did calm him down.” They gave him a look. “No, I’m not gonna do it again.” He rolled his eyes.
“Colonel,” Carmichael said, jerking her chin at him.
Jack looked at his teammates. “Mess Hall’s open. You guys go ahead. I’ll join you in a bit.”
“We’ll see you later, Daniel, okay?” Sam asked from the door.
“Sure,” he said, but the word was muffled and unintelligible through the mask. He gave her and Teal’c a thumbs-up instead. They nodded and left.
Jack stared at him in hesitation. He was torn by his presence. Part of him wanted to kiss him again. Part of him wished he wasn’t there. It was the state of him. It was appalling and it filled him with anguish because it was all up to Daniel to heal. He walked over and took his right hand as he pushed hair strands out of Daniel’s eyes. Daniel started to talk, but Jack tapped the filter. “Shh. Breathe, stupid.”
Daniel’s panic attack abruptly calmed as he focused on Jack’s face. The feel of his hands. “I’m s—”
“Stop saying that,” Jack chided. “You’re allowed to be whacky for a while. If you’re still like this two years from now, I’ll have you committed.” Amazingly, Daniel took it like the joke it was meant to be. Just like his late Daniel would have.
Through the mask, Daniel smiled a little and said, “Deal.”
Carmichael picked up the pieces of the I.V., sighed, and said, “We’ll just have to forgo this part until I’m sure you won’t pull it out again.”
“I’m fine,” Daniel began, then froze, realized what he had just said, then took the mask off. “It won’t happen again.”
Carmichael nodded slowly, studying him. “Then I’ll get that other hand, if you don’t mind.”
He didn’t say anything because he was too ashamed and he sat still, controlling the fear of the needle as she and a nurse gave him a new I.V.
“There,” Jack said. “You’re a pincushion again.”
“You’re getting funnier by the hour, sir,” Carmichael said. Patting Daniel’s shoulder, she said, “Jell-O,” and pulled the food table over. Three small plastic cups held assorted colors. “Colonel, I think you can manage this part.”
“Thanks, doc,” he said as she left the ward. He pulled the table over so it overlapped the bed. “Orange, red, and green. Guess that means, orange, cherry, and lime.” A white plastic spork sat next to them and he handed it to Daniel. “Which?”
“Lime,” he said, surprising Jack.
“Let me guess. He wouldn’t have chosen lime.”
Jack shook his head. “Cherry. You remember those Luden cherry cough drops?”
“That were actually candy?” Daniel asked around a small mouthful of gelatin.
Jack nodded. “He’d buy about ten packs, then take them on missions. He smelled like cherry cough drops for the entire time we’d be gone.” He cleared his throat and Daniel took his hand.
“It’s okay. Talk about something else. I’ll change topics, too.”
Jack took a deep breath and nodded. “Deal.”
They talked about the ship. Where Jack’s office was. What his quarters were like. What the planet was like, and his office and quarters there. Jack then told him about the average news on Earth. Movies. Games. How the planet was handling their nearly complete cessation of fossil fuel use. “My truck is electric, but my bike is not. Gotta get it converted.”
“You can do that?”
“Aside from your Daniel not being here, I think I landed in a universe with its head on straight.” He hesitated, thinking of the kiss. A world with its head on straight except for himself. It wasn’t fair.
“Sorry?” Jack asked.
Daniel blinked. “What?”
“You said it wasn’t fair. What do you mean?”
Daniel abruptly colored. “Wow. I didn’t even realize I was saying that shit out loud. That’s really …” He winced. “Sorry.”
“Would you stop saying that?” Jack asked gently. “It’s not necessary when you’re apologizing for shit that’s out of your control.”
Daniel sighed through his nose. “Fair enough.”
“Just remember that you’re recovering from a lot of stuff. You’re underweight—”
Daniel sputtered. “Underweight? I look like a corpse.”
“You do not,” Jack scowled. “You’re too thin. You’re not skeletal.”
“Like hell,” Daniel argued, yanking up his scrubs top. “Look at this!” His stomach was sunken a bit and you could just see the outline of his ribs.
Jack winced and reached over, but he did not touch. “Daniel. Two things. One, you look like you haven’t eaten in a few weeks. You don’t look like a holocaust survivor.”
Daniel blinked, surprised that Jack would use that very same term. For some reason, it made him listen, and believe. “I don’t?” He lifted the top again, but he made a face and pushed it back down. “I look awful.”
“Two. You’re black and blue and you’re worried about looking starved?” He shook his head. “And since when does Daniel Jackson give a shit about the way he looks when he’s sick?”
Again, Daniel was taken aback. Sick. He hadn’t even … “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
“Cue dramatic theme music,” Jack said sarcastically.
Daniel shot him a look of reproachment. “Funny guy. You always were, and you apparently still are.” He blushed then, hating that he had connected the two men. “I think that should require an ‘I’m Sorry’.”
Jack waggled his hand. “For both of us, since stuff like that’s gonna continue.”
Daniel’s brows lifted. “Ain’t we a pair.”
Jack smiled broadly and almost said, “That sounds like you.” But he just shook his head instead, then gestured at the gelatin. “Eat that.”
Daniel made a face and gave him the cup of green. “Give me the orange.” After a bite of that, he asked for the cherry. He ended up eating the entire cup. “I think I get why he likes this one more.” He blinked. “Um. Liked.”
Jack gave him a wan smile. “I know what you meant.”
Jack got to his feet. “Time for me to do some Command stuff.”
Daniel nodded, then asked, “Doesn’t it bug you that, as a Colonel, you have to change to Commander or Captain just because you’re on a ship?”
Jack shrugged, grinning. “It is what it is.”
Daniel nodded and watched him leave. He stared at the ceiling, amazed at the axiom he had never heard before. “It is what it is,” he repeated. “It sure is.”
Daniel was singing to himself. Jack stood just outside the man’s quarters on the base, watching him without him noticing. He took a moment to make a critical assessment of his improved appearance. It had only been three weeks, and one week at the base. He had filled out a bit in the face and neck. His hands were not as thin. The hair though? He would not cut it and had only had the ends trimmed. It was a darker reddish-brown now, maybe because he had not been out in the sun. Plus, it had been overcast from the day they had beamed down. At present, he had it in a pony tail and covered by a green bandana. He almost looked like the man Jack had met seven years ago, except a bit older, and with one glaring difference: this Daniel was left-handed.
He sat on the bed, drawing on the digital tablet that Sam had given him. His Daniel had known how to draw but it had never been as much of an interest as it was for this Daniel. To his Daniel, drawing had been a means to an end. This one saw it as something else, as a focusing tool as well as a pleasurable activity. Jack then took a moment to listen to the song he was singing.
“… all my childish fears. And if you have to leave, I wish that you would just leave, 'cause your presence still lingers here, and it won't leave me alone. These wounds won’t …”
Jack knew that song from somewhere. Was Daniel singing that song on purpose, or was it just something rattling around in his head? It was a bit of a downer, regardless, even if the tune was pleasant. Aside from that, he was surprised by how well Daniel could sing. The sound of it made things stir and he swallowed and pushed it aside. He was about to open his mouth, alert Daniel to his presence, make him blush for having heard him singing, then tease him about the reason for singing in the first place, but instead, Jack took another moment to look at the walls of his quarters, decorated with print-outs of the digital drawings he did on the tablet. Most were artistic renderings of the pictures taken of local structures found a few miles away. They were thousands of years old and had been decorated with alien writings. He had found the pictures the survey team had made from the rubble of stones and had been copying them, arranging them like a jigsaw puzzle on the wall.
When asked why he wanted to draw these images, he had said, “I don’t know. There’s just something here that’s bugging me. Something vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember. I’m not actually a member of the SGC so I can’t access the database or see the ruins, so I’m just working on it for my own … satisfaction, I guess.”
“How’d you get the pics?” Jack had asked.
“One of the scientists. He said if I wanted something to do, I could study them. And …” He had gestured at the wall. “I’m studying.”
Jack had not seen anything wrong with the answer, either. And Daniel was right. He was not an officially sanctioned civilian. He technically should not be on the base because he was not a member of the SGC. But the circumstances were special—you could not very well ditch the guy who came aboard the ship via that blasted mirror, which in Jack’s opinion belonged in a cement grave somewhere. Or at least a high security warehouse like the other two they had found. He hadn’t even wanted it on the ship, but Hammond had insisted that it be taken to another galaxy, so its present location was in a newly built crate. Perhaps the next jackass who tried to come over would see it boarded up and dial elsewhere. Not that Daniel was a jackass, or that it had been his doing.
But Jack also believed in destiny, and fate, and that people were where they were for a reason, even if the only person who knew why was god. Or the universe. Same thing, in his mind. It wasn’t fair, either. Why did the bad things have to happen? He was all for learning lessons, but there was some stuff that was beyond the pale. He’d had this discussion with new Daniel and the man’s answer had been aggravating. “You can’t have good without evil, light without dark. The universe requires balance.” It was aggravating because old Daniel would have said the same thing.
And as far as fate went, was it possible that their better halves were now together in some other form? Realm? Leaving the living to … what? There hadn’t been any discussion between them about personal feelings that were inevitable because Daniel was still ‘sick’ and would be in recovery for quite a while, and the sad part there was that there was no licensed psychologist at the base able to properly deal with PTSS. A huge oversight, and one Jack planned to fix when they went back home. For now, Daniel needed to gain weight, put on muscle, heal from wounds only Carmichael had seen, and decompress from the extreme trauma he’d been through. All Jack could do was have Carmichael brush up on psychology because Daniel did not trust anyone else.
And then there was the fallout when they got home, and Jack was worried about how it would play out. Where could Daniel go? He was dead, for all intents and purposes. They couldn’t just resurrect him. That was not how things went. He had no papers, no history, no formal education that would get him hired at the SGC. The best argument Jack had, however, was that neither did Teal’c. So, he’d work it out with Hammond and the brass one way or another.
“You’re lost in thought,” Daniel said, staring at him with a curious look on his face.
Jack blinked and took a step inside his room. “Just going over your situation in my head. For when we get home. And …” He made an aery gesture at Daniel’s head and body. “Giving you a critical eye. You’re sure you’re gonna keep those tresses?”
Daniel covered his head with both arms and groaned, then dropped them and stared at him. “Will you stop saying that?” he asked, wrinkling his nose. “I don’t need you reassigning my gender.”
“Is that the roundabout way of saying tresses only applies to girls?”
Daniel rolled his eyes and returned to drawing with the stylus. “I guess.” He drew a little more, then did a slow double take of Jack. “You’re hovering,” he said, putting aside the tablet. “What’s up?”
Jack did the internal argument one more time. It took mere seconds. It consisted of, Do I start this conversation, or do I wait? If I wait, for how long? Because the truth was, given how busy Carmichael was, he had decided to play amateur psychologist. She had been right. He was the best person for the job. At least until they got home. “I’ve got some free time. Come take a walk with me.”
Daniel’s brows went up. He had not spent any decent amount of time with Jack since arriving on the base. Just meal times in the mess hall. “Yeah, sure.” He looked down at himself, realizing he was still in his underwear, which consisted of a t-shirt and boxers. “Um, step outside while I get dressed.”
Jack frowned, puzzled. “I’m seeing you in your underwear at this very moment. Defeats the purpose of stepping outside, doesn’t it? You can always avoid this nonsense in the future by keeping your door closed or by getting dressed before leaving it open.” Daniel sighed and didn’t budge. Jack shook his head and stepped out, closing the door. “You’re very weird, Daniel.”
“I’m gonna change into briefs,” he said through the door.
“Well you could’ve … never mind. Hurry up.”
Daniel grinned to himself and opened the small closet to change. He took down the plain olive drab fatigues, and after putting on the trousers and buckling them up, he opened the door. “Okay, come back in.” He sat down on the bed to put on his socks and combat boots. He liked the black suede that was now standard issue. The old shiny leather versions were harder to break in. “Where’re we going?”
“Just around. I need to walk,” Jack said, and when Daniel frowned at him, he sighed. “Fine. I was gonna take a walk around the lake and have a look at our greenhouses. Figured you could use the exercise.”
“Yeah, okay,” Daniel repeated. He was an old hat with boots, and they were laced up rather quickly. Ten months of torture didn’t negate the six years living as a member of SG-1. Pulling on the fatigue shirt and buttoning it up, he felt self-conscious because Jack was staring at his hair. Again. Maybe he should cut it, but the moment he did, he had literally cut all ties to his old universe. To the old Jack. He was not ready. He grabbed his cane that Carmichael had given him for the dizzy spells he was still experiencing. He thought it was attributed to his condition, but she thought otherwise. It had to be inner ear. Trouble was, she did not have the PT section of her hospital properly put together and a therapist could set him right. So, he had to wait until they returned to Earth.
“Damn pain in the ass,” he said as he gestured for Jack to leave first.
“Better to have it and not need it,” Jack said, in the tone of one reciting a sacred mantra.
“Ah huh,” Daniel said, following him out and shutting the door. “That axiom is supposedly meant for guns and condoms, isn’t it?” Jack snorted out some laughter, making him smile. He added, “Although technically-speaking, aren’t guns and condoms related?”
Jack gave him an appraising smile. “Did you have that dry wit before?”
Daniel had a feeling Jack had left something out of that question, judging by the interrogative frown and turning away. Out of deference of their ongoing happy mood as a start to the day, he skipped over it. “I did, actually.” He would have added something else, but it would have been about the old Jack and he’d had enough with comparing the two. They were, in his estimation, identical. Was it mad that Jack’s mere presence somehow helped instead of hindered?
Was it mad that he was afraid to tell him how badly scarred his psyche really was? To go from semi-pacifist to happy murderer was only one traumatic event away from happening. He knew he was broken that way, not just sexually. Here he was, however, able to make Jack smile. But something, somewhere, somehow, was going to make him snap. And he had a feeling it would happen the moment he saw the nice version of the devil—waiting for him in the SGC’s infirmary. He had to try very hard to overcome the fear when the meeting eventually happened.
Jack looked over at him, seeing the frown of concentration on Daniel’s face as they walked. He was worried about something. “Penny for your thoughts,” he said.
“Hay penny, maybe,” Daniel said before he could stop himself. Jack hated it when he knocked himself down. He held up a hand, stalling the impending scold. “Sorry, I forgot.”
Jack sighed. “Guess it’s better out than in.”
Daniel snorted. “Like bodily fluids.”
“Ew,” Jack said, brows wrinkling, even though it really hadn’t bothered him.
They exited the main quarters wing and headed down the dirt road created for easier travel between the main buildings and the myriad of greenhouses two hundred yards to the right of the lake. Daniel looked around, making sure no one was within earshot, and for a second, he had no idea why he was doing it. Then he just blurted it out there. He put a hand on Jack’s arm.
“Jack, I don’t want to leave.”
“Why?” Jack asked, touching his arm in return. It was the first time the Daniel had touched him outside the infirmary. “This is going to be a colony, Daniel. Earth’s first. Protected by the Asgard. I don’t have the patience to run a colony. And we’re too far away from Teal’c’s and Carter’s family. The Tok’ra don’t even know this base is here.”
“What galaxy are we in?”
“Orilla. New home of the Asgard.”
Daniel froze. “The Replicators, Jack. They’ll—”
Jack held up a hand. “Taken care of, Daniel. They finally figured out what that Reece robot did in creating them and were able to get ahead of their … evolution. Carter explained it was like a virus, and I have no idea what she and Thor were talking about.” He then winced and admitted, “Actually, I wasn’t paying attention. I wanted the bottom line, not the long division.”
Daniel snorted, amused, but it quickly faded as he resumed his preoccupation about meeting Frazier. Fraiser. The panic rising inside him had him imagining ways of escaping, to avoid meeting her at all. He thought of stealing a dialing code and using it to go through the gate and escape. At present, a person needed a code to open the iris and use the DHD. Sam had set it up. Could he get her to … No. He couldn’t.
Jack touched his shoulder, making him stop and turn to him. “What’s going on in that head of yours?” Daniel tugged at Jack’s shirt sleeve and continued walking. Jack frowned, watching him create distance. He sighed and caught up with him with just a few long strides. “Out with it.”
“I … don’t want to see her.”
Daniel nodded. “I’m afraid of her. I haven’t met her, and I’m afraid.”
“She’s not the one from your reality.”
“No, but the trauma her evil twin caused is … was … she really did a number on … me. And when I see this reality’s Fraiser, different spelling or not, I …” He stopped and gave Jack a long, hard look. “Promise me something then.”
“If I can.”
“No, I need an absolute promise, Jack.”
Jack stared back, weighing the pros and cons of getting Hammond pissed off at him. Fuck it. This was Daniel. “Fine. You have it. What am I promising?”
“To stay by my side while I’m in that infirmary. Or whenever she’s nearby, no matter what. And to get Hammond to agree to my not ever being in the same room with her, alone.”
“She won’t harm you, Dan—”
“No!” Daniel said, eyes flashing angrily, but he kept his voice low so he wouldn’t alarm anyone within possible earshot. “You don’t get it! I’m not afraid that she’ll do something to me. I’m afraid I’ll do something to her.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “Oh.”
“I’m deadly serious, Jack. Fear causes people to do things out of their immediate control and I don’t trust myself.” He saw the alarm on Jack’s face, but more than that, he saw doubt and disbelief. For that reason, he plunged ahead because it needed saying. He had to get it out. As Jack had said, better out than in. “That creature, that demon in the other universe. She, it, you don’t know what she did. What she put me through. And I’m not even going there, so don’t ask. My point is that I used to be someone who’d feel guilt at having to shoot a Jaffa. I used to feel guilt at harming any other creature, for that matter. But after her fucking mindless, brutal, sadistic criminal acts …”
He took a deep breath. “Now that I’m away from her, the stronger I get. And I don’t trust myself. I mean, I’m quite sure I’m cognizant enough to stop myself. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to, and given how I feel about the other one, it makes me sick to my stomach. But I just want …”
Like a litany of feelings past, Jack said, “You want revenge and you can’t get it, so you’re afraid you’ll take the next best thing and it’s this world’s copycat.” Daniel stared. “How’d I do?”
“How’d you …?” Daniel asked. “I mean, you’re half right, but still. How?”
Jack bit his lips together. “When I mentioned Iraq?” Daniel nodded. “Same deal. Different circumstances. Didn’t get the chance for payback. All I got was the chance to get away, to live another day. Once upon a time, my team worked with a team of Russians. They went to the wall in order to obey orders exactly as written and they got two of my guys killed because they wouldn’t bend and adapt. So if you ever wonder why I can’t stand Russians, that’s why.” Daniel opened his mouth and Jack held up a hand, silencing him. “My point is that I felt a strong need to strangle the next Russian I met, even though they weren’t responsible for the death of two members of my team. So I get it, Daniel. I really do. So, what you have to do is …” Get a grip, he thought, and then immediately hated himself for it.
Daniel swallowed, bracing for the look he expected to get. “Thanks, I always wondered. The thing is, I don’t have guilt about these feelings, and I should.” He paused, then said very slowly and deliberately, “I can kill her, murder her, and feel nothing but cold satisfaction.” There. There was the look. He swallowed. “I know it’s bad. I’m sorry. So I need you to promise me that you’ll keep me from being alone with her until … I don’t know. I get it through my head that she’s not … her.”
Jack stared at him, nodded, then took his arm. He led Daniel left, toward the other side of the lake, not the greenhouses.
“Where’re we going?” Daniel asked, removing his arm from Jack’s hand, though he continued to walk at his side.
“See those shaded trees and the two benches and table?” Jack asked. He pointed to an area with the planet’s version of elm and maple trees.
“We’re gonna go there, sit down, and hash out your feelings about this,” Jack said. He planned to ask the questions. Getting it all out in one go. Or as much as Daniel could manage and do it by releasing all those fears. Whatever Daniel needed to get rid of the poison in his head, it had to be exorcised, like a demon.
After they got there, Jack had him sit down on one bench and he sat down across from him. “Okay. We’re gonna get all this poison out of your system. First leg of that is talking. Getting all the shit that happened out in the open. Exposed to the light, if you like. Darkness doesn’t like that.”
Daniel blinked. “Iraq was that bad, I take it. You didn’t go over everything, and I didn’t push because I understood why not.”
Jack only nodded. “Release what you’re comfortable with. I don’t need every detail. That’s where the second leg of this comes in. The plan is to physically purge it. Running. Boxing. Martial art training, if you’d like Teal’c to teach you. It has to be grueling, like trying to sweat out toxins, because emotionally, that’s the point.”
Daniel frowned in confusion. “I don’t see how that second leg helps the first.”
“Because you’ll be talking about it while exercising. It’s works wonders when boxing or hitting the bag.”
“Not if I’m boxing a real person,” Daniel countered. “I’m not as weak as I was, but I could hurt someone. And I don’t want to box, because when talking about that stuff, I’ll want to puke, then scream, then kill whoever is making me relive that shit.”
“And that,” Jack said, pointing at Daniel’s chest, then head, “is exactly what I’m talking about. You need to purge it. And you won’t kill me.”
Daniel stared hard at him. “What?” he asked, stunned. “You?”
“Well who the hell else?”
“This is crazy.”
Jack stared. “Is it? Which is crazier? Asking me to guard you so you won’t kill a woman you’ve never met? Or working out all your hatred before we go back to Earth?”
Daniel made a face. “I hate you.”
“No, you don’t. You just don’t like being given a better alternative than going to jail and staying in a cage for the rest of your life.”
Daniel stared at the ground. “Once upon a time, it was me offering alternatives.”
“Yeah?” Jack asked as he got up and sat down next to him, resuming the same position. “Who?”
“You,” Daniel said automatically. “I mean, the other you.”
Jack laced his fingers together. It made him think about how much he missed his fingerless gloves. “Why?”
“Ba’al,” Daniel said.
Jack frowned. “Ba’al?”
“He … you …” Daniel made a growling sound. “You and Teal’c got captured behind enemy lines, thanks to an asshole Tok’ra who lied about the mission. Ba’al tortured you. We got you out of there. Teal’c used his kel’no’reem to balance his chi, or whatever the Jaffa version is, I forget, but you couldn’t do that. What you did want to do …”
“Let me guess,” Jack said. “I wanted to go after the sonofabitch.”
Daniel nodded slowly. “Pretty much.”
Jack rubbed his hands together. “And what did you do?”
“Dragged you to a boxing gym and forced you to work it out by hitting me.”
Jack raised a brow. “You’re joking.”
Jack gave him a wary look. “Exactly how did that work?”
Daniel nodded. “I put on a lot of padding. Then I wore one of these throat gadgets that makes you sound like a Goa’uld. Then I goaded you. Over and over.”
Jack scowled. “I could’ve killed you, Daniel.”
“No,” Daniel said. “And I never said I didn’t hit you back. Plus, I knew how to box, know how to box, for real, and he didn’t.”
Jack’s brows went up into his hairline. “No shit?”
Daniel nodded seriously. “No shit.”
The way he said it made Daniel look at him carefully. “Let me guess. You know how, too.”
Jack nodded slowly. “Guess it’s gonna be a helluva fight. We’ll both need lots of padding.”
Daniel shook his head. “I can’t.”
“Because I’m not capable of doing that to you. He was different because he needed it. You don’t.”
“I can goad pretty well, Daniel.”
“Not this,” Daniel said very quietly. “This is different. The sort of trauma I went through …”
Jack regarded him, trying to understand what he meant. “The type of torture, you mean,” he prompted.
Daniel swallowed. “Yes. It’s not, it’s not something you can push a person into a rage because it would re-traumatize them. Do you understand?”
Jack felt a chill down his spine. “I … think so.”
“When I pushed him in the ring, goaded him about Ba’al, it was to get him to admit how much Ba’al hurt him, which he wouldn’t admit to. It’s not the same thing here. I can tell you what she did. What her jackbooted thugs did on her orders. I know the pain she caused. You saw how I reacted. But to goad me about it?” He swallowed. “I don’t want to end up hating you or wanting you dead.”
Jack’s spine now went cold. “What exactly happened?”
“You want to talk about that now? Here?” Daniel asked, turning to him. “I thought—”
“I changed my mind. What I wanted to do won’t work. But you need to get the poison out of your system. I can’t guard you twenty-four seven, Daniel.”
Daniel got up, rubbing his hand on his hips, then making fists. He turned to Jack, then turned away and took a few steps. “C’mon. I don’t … let’s talk where no one will hear. Or see.”
Jack frowned with worry. “I know a place. But … what if you fall apart like that day in the infirmary? I don’t even have a paper bag for you to breathe in.”
“Just … I don’t know. Wing it.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “That’s a stupid plan.”
Daniel lowered his voice again. “I can’t talk about it and not react. I can’t be around others. I’ll …” He started to shake and hated it.
“Hey, hey,” Jack said, getting up and going to him. He put his arms around him. “C’mon then. But if you have a fit or something … I don’t like it.”
“Then slap me or punch me.”
“I’m not gonna do that.”
“Just don’t kiss me,” Daniel said as they walked.
Jack flashed on that moment in the infirmary when he had kissed him. It had seemed the thing to do and had been as natural to him as breathing. The solution had worked, as he had somehow known it would. Would he dare to do such a thing again? Could he? A chaste kiss? Jack felt the attraction as easily. He could fall in love all over again. It was not hard to care about him, because he was who he was. Plus, he saw the love there in his eyes. Once Daniel was healed, though, then what happened between them? Would they continue, as a couple? Would they split up? If they were destined to be together that is? Just the thought made Jack’s stomach flutter uneasily and he decided to take his own advice. A minute at a time. Or more like one day at a time.
“Where are we going?” Daniel asked several minutes later as they walked to the left, further and further away from the lake.
“There,” Jack said.
Daniel frowned, not understanding. Jack pointed at a section of land that seemed to be split by small creeks. He followed the water as it moved uphill. “I don’t get it.”
“It’s just this general area, Daniel. Choose a spot to sit down.”
Daniel looked around him and walked to an evergreen and sat down against its base between two large roots. “This’ll do.”
Jack looked around, shrugged, and said, “It might now be far enough away if you don’t want people to hear you.”
Daniel sighed. “Why didn’t you just grab an ATV?”
“They’re being used at the moment.”
“Well, that’s awesome,” Daniel said dryly. “How about you ferry some horses next time. That’ll give the place a real colony feel.”
Jack had no idea whether Daniel was kidding or not. “I’ll add that to the list,” he said with the same heavy sarcasm as Daniel had used. He sat down next to him and pulled a flask from his side pocket. “Here. Water.”
Daniel took it with a look of chagrin. “Why didn’t we get provisions?”
“Because we were originally going to go to the greenhouses, which have provisions. And fresh snacks.”
“And then you made a detour.”
Jack jogged his brows. “Yeah, so … my fault.”
Daniel handed back the flask. “I’m not blaming you. But why didn’t you just say that this is what you wanted to do instead of making up something about touring greenhouses?”
“Because I wasn’t sure. I was, as you said, winging it.”
Jack dug into the other pocket and pulled out a baggie of dried apple slices. He held it out, but Daniel declined. He took one himself and nibbled on it. It was not great, but it was something to eat that wasn’t too sweet. They were quiet for a while and he could see Daniel tensing up a bit. He tended to flick the nails of his thumb and ring finger against each other. It did not matter which hand.
“What happened when you were brought back home from Chulak?” he finally asked quietly.
Daniel swallowed. “I’ll take that apple slice,” he said, but when Jack gave it to him, he used it to pick at, gouging it with thumbnail marks. He was quiet for a few minutes, then said very slowly, “I was raped.”
Jack closed his eyes and sighed. When he opened them, Daniel was looking away. “By Jaffa?”
Daniel shook his head and looked at the water running in the creek. “Rape is a tool of war and it’s not just women who suffer. I was dragged into a warehouse in … Denver, I think. Doesn’t matter. I was separated from other prisoners and that collar was put on me. I was then questioned for …” He swallowed again. “Several weeks. It was by members of that Blackwater mercenary force that the president used.” His hands began to shake a bit and he buried them in his armpits, making fists. “They beat me for a while. Whipped. Then used the pain stick. With that collar on, the pain was intensified. What a few of them loved best was to rape you while they stuck you with that stick. Said it turned your body into a vibrator.”
Horror filled Jack and he covered his mouth with his hand. He swallowed hard as he watched the tears flow down Daniel’s cheeks though there was no sign of those tears in his voice. Instead, Daniel spoke in monotone.
“It became routine. I had to work a cornfield for a week, which saved me from the abuse, but then she sent for me. And for the next several months, I became her favorite plaything. She would question me. Wanted to know where we went on missions. And I wouldn’t tell her, so she’d use this miniature pain stick that …” He brought his knees up to his chest, feet tucked in firmly. “She liked pain. She would invent new things. I wasn’t the only one, so I got a rest once in a while. I … almost bled to death once.” Suddenly the tears clogged his throat.
“Imagine being violated by a serial killer,” he said thickly and gave Jack a wild, intensely heartbreaking stare.
Jack stared, horrified, as Daniel’s voice changed. It turned gravelly as he held back the rage and seemed to yank the words out like thorns.
“Jack,” he managed, and then the emotion flooded into his voice. “I can’t get aroused anymore.” The sobs began. “Not without getting sick to my stomach.” He buried his head under his arms and began to sob more fully. Abruptly, he started kicking the tree roots with the heels of his boots. “I’m sick! Broken! I can’t ever be a man! How the fucking hell am I supposed to ever have a normal fucking relationship with you?” he bellowed, and began coughing, following it up with vicious kicking at the roots. It became so violent that his back dug into the tree bark, tearing it off. His shirt began to shred.
Frightened, Jack yanked him away from the tree, across the roots, and into his arms. Daniel tried to push him away, but Jack held him tightly, rocking him as he screamed and struggled in rage, and tears fell down his own face as he, too, cried. For him, and for his own loss.
. . .
A few days later, they were sitting in one of the vegetable greenhouses, plucking Chinese peapods from one of the raised beds to put in canvas sacks. Others were harvesting their own beds of lettuce, radishes, carrots, onions, and other stock vegetables. Since their own bed of peas was set a little further away from the others, Jack asked in a low tone, “How’s your back?”
“Better,” Daniel said, and tried to control the blush of embarrassment. “Doc Carmichael was livid when I finally asked her for muscle relaxers.”
“I did warn you,” Jack said, giving him an understanding half-smile. “Don’t keep things from her while you’re under her care.”
Daniel nodded, then winced as he looked down at Jack’s legs. He couldn’t see them through the fatigues, but he knew there were black and blue half-moon marks made by the heels of his boots. “Um. How’re your bruises?”
“Negligible,” Jack said. Truth was, he was still reeling from the revelation about the depth of Daniel’s trauma. He wanted so much to kiss him, make love to him, but it was not possible. What he could do was find someone who could help him heal, to separate the memories from the physical reactions. In a minor way, he understood how he felt. After escaping his Iraqi prison, it had taken him over a year to feel normal again. To be able to make love to his wife had taken longer and he had spent most of that time focusing on Charlie. Then …
Jack shuddered and shook off the memory.
Daniel looked over, noticing. “What’s wrong?”
Jack took a deep breath and finally told him every detail about what had happened in Iraq, and how bad it had been after coming home. “It’s not as bad as what you’re going through, but I get it. I know. And it took a while to climb out of that hole.”
“How long?” Daniel asked.
Jack cringed. “Over a year.” At the horrified look on Daniel’s face, he was nearly overcome by the urge to pull him into his arms. “I’m sorry, Danny.”
Somehow, the revelation took a backseat to being called by that nickname. He let out a choking laugh and sniffed back the more negative emotions. “Danny.” He half-laughed again. “Neither you have ever called me that before.”
“Yeah?” Jack asked, surprised himself because it had just slipped out without conscious thought. “Truthfully?” Daniel raised a brow. “It just came out. It wasn’t on purpose.”
“Huh,” Daniel grunted. He picked up the full sack and tied it off, then opened another and set it between them on the table. He looked calm and collected, but he was hiding the inner turmoil. “Jack?”
“What?” Jack asked as he moved around the table to get at the plants from that side.
“On the ship. When I tried committing suicide?”
Jack stopped what he was doing and stared back, remembering the terror that had gripped him. “I remember.”
Daniel took a deep breath. “What I told you, about getting sick whenever I … uh, well, that was why.” He set bean pods in the sack and leaned on the table, bowing his head. He took a few more deep breaths. “I … don’t trust myself not to fall into that hole again. Not yet.”
Jack’s eyes widened and he came around the table and put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder and pushed a bit, forcing him to straighten and look at him. “How can we put a stop to that? Keep you from wanting it?”
Daniel half-laughed, but it was sour. He turned around and leaned against the table, gripping the edges tightly. “I don’t have a fucking clue,” he said quietly. “But I can see myself succumbing to the despair. I can feel that knot, that hole in my stomach. In my heart.” He sighed heavily and turned around, reaching for bean pods to remove and place in the bag. “I don’t know how to stop it.”
“Would it help if I told you that sex didn’t matter to me?”
“No,” Daniel said, letting out another laugh as he shot Jack a doubtful look. “Because I wouldn’t believe you.”
Jack let out a disgusted snort. “Worth a try.”
“You were my husband, you know,” Daniel suddenly revealed.
Jack’s eyes widened to saucers. “We were married?” Daniel nodded. “How long?”
“Uh, well,” Daniel laughed nervously, worried about what Jack would think. “We got married right after Shau’re died.”
Jack blinked at him. “Right after?”
Daniel nodded. “We’d been seeing each other from day one, Jack. I mean, right after she was taken.” When Jack did not say anything, Daniel sighed. “Don’t judge.”
“I’m not. I just thought you loved Shau’re.”
“I did. But I was also in love with you. I realized it after you … uh … he … left me on Abydos.”
Jack’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”
“Will you quit asking me that?” Daniel asked, rolling his eyes.
Jack frowned, embarrassed. “I …” He frowned even more, staring into the peas, thinking. “Holy shit,” he whispered. “Do you think he was too? My … sorry.” Jack made a face. “The old Daniel?”
Daniel raised a brow as he kept his attention on the peas. “If he and I are anything alike, then I’m quite certain he was.”
After a long silent minute, Jack said, “Wow.”
Daniel gave him a sad smile. “Yeah, I know. But we … it just … we just …”
“How did that happen?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “Uh, I can’t. Not now. Another time, Jack, when I’m healthier.” He looked up and met his eyes. “Is that okay?”
Jack nodded soberly. “Whatever you want.”
More than curious, Daniel asked, “Isn’t marriage done here? I mean, between guys?” Despite his physical and mental conditioning, a sense of doom wanted to intrude upon his mind.
“Sure,” Jack said. “It’s just not a thing in the military. We can, but there are still too many homophobes, so gay men are discouraged. Many have left the service because of it. Frankly, I think the phobic atmosphere is tolerated in order to get that result. But then, it’s been a few years and people have gotten more used to the idea.”
“Would you …” Daniel began, but paused.
“Get married?” Jack asked. Daniel nodded. Jack shook his head. “There’s only one man I want to marry and he … you …” Jack frowned, confused. “If I asked?”
“Yes,” Daniel said, blushing hotly. “I just don’t see the point, since I can’t … you know.”
“Love doesn’t need sex,” Jack put out there.
“I’m sorry, but it does.” Daniel stopped and rested a hand on the table as flattened his other hand over his stomach, pushing in. He held his breath and turned away, expecting to hurl all over floor. He felt Jack close in behind him and he panicked. “No, stay away.” He breathed shallowly, carefully, and thought of icy water. Imagined it flowing over him, cleansing away all thought. The nausea vanished and he turned back around and gave Jack a look of sadness. “I’m so fucked. No pun intended.”
Jack thought of something and laughed sadly. “If ever there was a need to think of sex between us as boring …”
Daniel shared in the light joke, letting out a sad laugh. “Right?”
They were silent for a minute and Jack reran the entire conversation in his head and what had just happened. What had just been revealed. “Uh, Daniel?”
“Yeah?” Daniel asked. And he looked embarrassed.
“Did we just have a conversation about getting married? I mean …” His mouth just dropped open and he shook his head. “Are we getting carried away because we’re just so happy to be around each other given that they’re not here anymore.”
“No argument from me,” Daniel with a sigh of relief. “Wish it was different.”
“So, at the very least, we can say for sure that we’re friends?” Jack teased. He gave Daniel that devastatingly gorgeous lopsided grin.
Daniel’s mouth turned up at the ends. “Friends.”
On the way to another greenhouse, which held the citrus crops, they met up with Sam and Teal’c heading their way.
“Hey, Daniel. Sir,” Sam greeted, her eyes on Daniel. “How’re you doing?”
Daniel almost lied. Almost. “Comes and goes. The fears, I mean.” He gestured at Jack. “We were talking about active ways for me to purge the crap but goading me in boxing isn’t the way.” He shook his arms at his sides. “But I need to do something.”
“I have a suggestion, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said.
“Yeah?” Daniel asked. He and Jack turned around, deciding to walk with the duo back to the base complex.
“I have begun classes on the Chulak forms of Tai Chi and Kung Fu. You are welcome to join.”
“Thanks, Teal’c,” Daniel said, “but I’m not ready to be around a crowd, even if that’s what I do every day during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A class is more personal and would invite questions I’m not ready to answer. And I already harbor enough anger. It doesn’t need to be misplaced, on accident of course.”
“Then perhaps you could join me in meditation, as your counterpart did before you. We could also arrange gym time separately, to spar. Did you learn any martial arts from time in your universe?”
Daniel nodded. “A little. But it’s boxing that I know how to do.”
Teal’c’s eyebrow went up. “Truly?”
“We could do that instead, if you desire.”
Daniel glanced at Jack, then answered, “Sure. As long as you don’t provoke me.”
“Well, stop here a second,” Daniel began, and he faced Teal’c about six feet in distance and turned his body slightly. He put up his hand in loose fists. “For example, if we’re boxing …” He began to dodge and weave, and Teal’c became amused and shadowed him.
Sam looked at Jack and he quickly shook his head, grinning, and crossed his arms. “Watch,” he mouthed. She crossed her arms as well and watched.
Daniel moved off the gravel and onto the grass and Teal’c followed. They weren’t affecting boxing moves any longer but faced each other. “You know what kickboxing is?”
Teal’c was surprised. “Indeed.”
“That’s part of what I know. So, let’s say we’re doing that.” He began to bounce on the pads of his feet, though it was a little more difficult in boots and on the grass. He moved back and forth, pretending Teal’c was faking moves at his head. “And you started to goad me.” He suddenly stopped. “If you said something wrong, without meaning to, I don’t know that I wouldn’t automatically react due to the strong emotion.” He sighed. “Like I told Jack. I don’t want to end up hating you for saying things, no matter how well-intentioned.”
“I see,” Teal’c said. He and Daniel moved back on the gravel and the quartet continued on. “Perhaps it would be best to set verbal communication aside. It is not necessary when training.”
Daniel nodded. “Except when you’re teaching.”
“Perhaps,” Teal’c said. “But I do believe you would benefit by it, simply by toning the muscles you need to rebuild. No contact is necessary, and truthfully, in your current condition, it would be hazardous to your help.”
Daniel winced. “Thanks, Teal’c. And I agree. So. Wanna set it up?”
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
And no one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be faded to telling only lies
But my dreams they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free
Jack stood in General Hammond’s office instead of taking the offered seat. He fidgeted behind the chair and kept looking through the window to the Briefing Room. Teal’c and Carter waited, looking anxious. All three of them were feeling antsy, worrying about their new, and yet somehow old, friend, Doctor Daniel Jackson. He had remained on the ship, waiting to hear Hammond’s verdict about accepting him on the base as an alien contractor. Like Teal’c.
“You know how crazy this sounds?” Hammond asked him.
“Yeah,” Jack said, threading fingers through his hair. “But remember when we had that visit from alternate Carter and Kowalsky?”
Hammond nodded, but gave Jack a puzzled look. “What’s your point?”
“How’d you feel about them? What if Kowalsky had stayed behind? Would it have been any different than accepting an alternate Daniel Jackson?”
Hammond frowned deeper. He stood up, pen in hand, tapping the desk. “I get what you’re saying. And I don’t have a problem with bringing him down. But the brass will want to see him the moment they receive my report. While there may not be an attack pending, they’ll want to hear other things that could be of use.”
Jack stared. “You haven’t sent it yet?”
“No,” Hammond said. “I want to talk to him myself.” He sat back down and eased back in his chair, studying Jack. “As for your argument. Let’s say we accept him as a visiting alien who takes over the job as Chief Linguist. Then what?”
“We move on.”
“How do we do that?” Hammond asked. “I was only his commanding officer, but I thought of Doctor Jackson as a friend. To see him, another him, again and accept him as Doctor Jackson …”
Jack sighed. “I hate to answer a question with a question, but how’d we accept Teal’c? He was a stranger. This is different because we already know what to expect.”
Hammond’s brows rose. “First, Jack, we weren’t replacing Teal’c with a double from another universe. Second, and you’ll hate to hear this but, Teal’c also had valuable intel on a new enemy.”
“And Daniel has his knowledge of alien languages, no different than the guy who passed away eight and a half months ago.”
“Okay. For the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s allowed to stay. He comes to work for us. He’s assigned to SG-1 as a linguist.”
“Okay,” Jack said slowly, waiting.
“He can’t leave the base.”
Jack blinked. “Why not?”
“He has no history, never mind that he might spook people he knew off the base.”
Jack ticked off his fingers. “That’s easily explained away. Twin thing. But you know that Daniel didn’t have any family living because Nick is off playing anthropologist with Quazicoatal, that Mayan god, so there’s no one to make a fuss about the man coming back from the dead.”
Hammond’s lips twitched with the effort of not smiling. “Quetzalcoatl,” he corrected. When Jack just frowned at him, he moved on. “So where’s he supposed to live?”
Jack hesitated. “With me.”
Hammond pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know I give people a wide latitude about personal relationships because our jobs here are highly stressful. That said, please don’t tell me you’ve formed a relationship with this … doppelganger.”
“He’s not that,” Jack argued. “And yes, I have. A friendship. If it becomes something else, that’s not your business, sir. No offense.”
“It is my business, Jack, and you know—”
“Colonel!” Hammond said more forcefully.
Jack quieted and swallowed.
Hammond sighed. “I’m concerned about you too. Is it healthy to form a relationship with someone—”
“Who’s no different than the man we lost. I swear, General. The only difference that means anything is the trauma he’s gone through. And trust me, if you’d seen him, you’d know it isn’t an act or that he’s a danger to us. He’s Daniel Jackson, sir: doctor, linguist, friend. It doesn’t matter where he came from. Why can’t we accept him?”
Hammond sighed. “Jack, I’m sorry, but you’re letting your personal feelings interfere—”
“No, I’m …” Jack shaded his eyes before nodding. “Fine. I’m personally involved. It doesn’t make my argument any less valid. But let me make one more point, which will in no way make any sense whatsoever?”
Hammond sighed and gestured. “Go ahead.”
“It feels like Daniel sent him to me.” When Hammond’s brows went up, Jack held up his hands. “Yes, I know exactly how that sounds. Exactly. And I still can’t shake the idea.”
Hammond shook his head, mystified, and gestured again, this time at the door. “Let’s talk to your teammates.”
Jack got up and he and the General entered the main room. Hammond got right to the point, without bothering to take seats at the table.
“Do the both of you concur with Colonel O’Neill’s opinion that this alternate Daniel Jackson is no different than the one who passed away over eight months ago?”
“Yes, sir,” Carter said, nodding readily.
Teal’c bowed his head once. “I concur. While there are subtle differences, physically, and if we set aside the severe trauma he has undergone, this Daniel Jackson is the same as the one we lost.”
Hammond detected something interesting. “Physically?” he asked, then looked at Jack, then Carter. “Is that a specific choice of words, Teal’c, or is it incidental?”
“This Daniel Jackson is left-handed,” Teal’c said matter-of-factly.
Hammond’s brows went up briefly. “Do either of you consider the trauma this man has experienced a possible security risk?”
“I do not,” Teal’c said. “He sees us as friends, and we will help him with the healing he requires.”
“I agree,” Sam said. “He’s trying very hard to overcome what’s happened, but it’s gonna take a professional.”
Jack shoved his hands in his pockets. “You know what I think.”
“Can any of you define the trauma?” Hammond asked.
“He’s suffering from severe PTSS, sir,” Jack said, wishing Hammond would just leave it at that.
Jack winced. “Sir, maybe it’s best he tell you.”
“Jack,” Hammond said, losing his patience.
“Sir,” Carter put in. “I think the Colonel’s right. You should talk to him yourself.”
Hammond looked at Teal’c. “And?”
“I concur,” Teal’c said. “I do not believe it is our place. We do not, in fact, know what happened. We have only seen the results.”
“Very well. Colonel, bring him down.”
“Yes, sir.” Jack keyed his comm mic. “Rogers. Beam him down to the Briefing Room.”
“Yes, sir,” came the tinny response.
Daniel materialized in a white Asgard beam. He was still in the olive drab uniform, but he had changed the bandana from plain olive to a forest BDU pattern. When he had his bearings and saw General Hammond, he stared at the man with a bit of unexplainable shock. It was extremely surreal to him because the last time he had seen this man … He swallowed and held out his hand. Hammond shook it. “Good to meet you, sir.”
“Welcome, Doctor Jackson. Let’s take a seat everyone.”
Sam and Teal’c took seats to Hammond’s left, leaving Jack and Daniel on the right. Daniel glanced at Jack, then Sam and Teal’c, and though he tried to keep some composure learned over the course of the last two months, he was still adjusting to seeing ghosts.
The General frowned. “What’s wrong, son?”
Again, Daniel looked at Jack, Sam, and Teal’c, and after getting nods from them, he said, “I’m sorry, sir. It’s like seeing a ghost.”
“To be honest, he gave us the same look at first, too,” Jack put in.
“Why a ghost?” Hammond asked.
“Forgive me, sir,” Daniel drawled, feeling awkward. “But the last time I saw you, you’d been shot to death in this very office.”
“I beg your pardon?” Hammond asked, shocked. “What in the world … What kind of situation were you in when you left your universe?”
Daniel quickly outlined the world he had come from without going into detail about what he’d endured at the hands of Colonel Frazier. “That kind of world, sir.”
Hammond looked stunned. “No matter how many times you may repeat that state of existence for the Unites States of America, it’s nearly impossible to believe. But that’s neither here nor there. Colonel O’Neill said you’re suffering from PTSS. That’s a profoundly serious condition. Those suffering from it have been known to exhibit violent behavior. I need reassurances from you that nothing like that will occur.”
Daniel nodded. “I give you my word,” he said, summoning the only trick he knew on making someone believe a lie. Basically: look innocent.
Hammond gave him a look that told him he had made the wrong play. With his hands on the desk, the General raised his forefinger and pointed it Daniel. “I know that tactic, Doctor.”
Daniel sagged against the back of the chair and Jack once again placed a calming hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said to Hammond. “I have no violent feelings for anyone on board Andromeda or at the Omega base. Most of the people I knew as friends, loved ones, and acquaintances left the SGC through the stargate, and they either found rebel strongholds or were murdered in assaults by the Goa’uld. I’ll see their counterparts here and it’ll be like seeing ghosts. But there are others I was acquainted with, if not friends with, who turned traitor and worked for the fascists or the Goa’uld or both. Many of the SFs seemed to have no problem working for the other side. Some went to work for Blackwater, which was like the SS, I guess.”
“Blackwater? They’re a private security force owned by Erik Prince. That Blackwater?”
“To put your mind at ease, they’re not involved with the government. They were, many years ago.”
“I suggest that the FBI and CIA have them investigated. I guarantee they’ve been murdering and raping wherever they’re assigned.”
Hammond frowned deeply. “That’s a very serious charge, Doctor Jackson.”
“Maybe they aren’t as bad in this universe. All the same, they need to be investigated.”
“I’ll make a note of that. Please continue.”
“The SFs, along with several others, are likely to give me pause, but I have enough wherewithal to treat them like different people.” He glanced at Jack again for reassurance and got a nod. “There is someone here that I’m afraid of, even though we’ve never met.”
“Who’s that, Doctor?”
“Doctor Fraiser, sir.”
Hammond’s brows shot into his hairline. “What? What on god’s Earth has she done in your universe to make you afraid of her?”
“Doctor Mengele ring a bell, sir?” Jack instantly put in.
Hammond blinked. “Are you serious?” he asked. “Doctor Jackson, I can assure you that she’s a decent human being here, and our Chief Medical Officer. More importantly, you will have no choice but to talk to her. You can’t get around that.”
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment. “Then could I have Jack, Sam, or Teal’c be at my side at all times while I’m in the infirmary?”
Hammond scowled, sitting forward. “Are you saying that you are violent?”
“I … no, sir. It’s just that … I’m extremely afraid of her. What her counterpart … got up to was very chilling.”
Hammond regarded him for a minute. “Give me your word that you will do nothing to harm any of my people. Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, and Teal’c cannot be with you twenty-four seven, and if I have to worry about you, you will have a security escort during your entire probationary time here.”
“Probation?” Jack asked.
The General gave him a quelling glance. “Doctor?”
Daniel had gone pale at the notion of an escort. “I believe that is enough to keep myself in close check, sir. The worse thing that can happen is that I’ll puke. Or hide. Nothing else.”
Hammond frowned at him. “That’s not very reassuring, Doctor.”
“I know that, sir,” Daniel said, rubbing his forehead.
“Are you feeling okay?” Hammond asked.
Daniel shook his head. “Headache. I’ll deal with it.”
The General looked at Jack, Sam, and Teal’c. “Give me your word you’ll take precautions with him while in the infirmary.”
“Already done,” said Jack.
“You have it,” Sam said.
“You have it,” Teal’c said.
Hammond gave him a slight smile, then focused on Daniel. “My first command for you is that you seek professional help. Get it done today or tomorrow, by end of business. It’s non-negotiable, Doctor.”
Daniel nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll take responsibility, sir,” Jack said.
“You already have,” Hammond said sternly.
“Getting scanned and examined is also non-negotiable,” Hammond told Daniel. “It’s the same for everyone who returns from off-world. Every time. You’ll do this before you do anything else. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir. I remember.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I used to be a member of SG-1, sir. For nearly six years.”
“I see.” Hammond stood and everyone else stood with him. “I want you to take Doctor Jackson to the mess hall after you’re cleared by Doctor Fraiser,” he told Jack. “In the meantime, I’ll call Doctor Fraiser and explain the situation, so you don’t give her a heart attack walking into the infirmary.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said.
Hammond said to Daniel, “Have you been told that your counterpart had a very close friendship with Doctor Fraiser?”
Daniel’s eyes widened as he looked around accusingly at his three potential teammates. “No, sir.”
“Does it change anything?” Jack countered.
Daniel frowned back, then thought about it. Did it matter? Not to him. It would to her, he supposed, and he could not give a shit. It was wrong, and he knew it. She shouldn’t be punished for something a counterpart did, but the deep need was there nonetheless. “No,” he finally said. “It changes nothing.”
“I’m not sure that statement gives you credit,” Hammond said, frowning in concern. He rose from the table and when Daniel approached, he held out his hand. Daniel shook it. “Welcome to Earth, and to the SGC, Doctor Jackson.”
“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said.
They started to leave, but Hammond said, “Colonel, a word.”
Jack touched Daniel’s elbow. “Hang tight. Don’t worry.” He stepped into the office and Hammond closed the door nearly all the way and lowered his voice.
“Is it my imagination or is this man severely underweight?”
“Not your imagination, sir. He’s gained weight, if you can believe that, at the Omega base.”
Hammond’s eyes widened. “How did he get that way?”
Jack sighed. “You heard what he said. Starvation is a torture tool.” He thinned his mouth. “Speaks for itself.”
“It does, and so knowing that, please be careful with him, Jack,” Hammond said soberly. “Don’t get carried away and blind yourself to the help he needs over the help you want him to have. It’s going to be tough for him for a while, if what he said is true.”
Jack blinked. “Who in their right mind would make that up? You should’ve seen him, sir. It’s not some hallucination. The man was in chains and bruised head to toe and … he wasn’t just afraid of us. He was terrified.”
Hammond sighed. “That poor man. I can’t even imagine.”
Jack gave him a pained smile. “I can. And on that note, sir, I’m gonna skedaddle.”
Moving through the double doors of the infirmary entrance, Daniel made fists to stop the shaking of his hands. It was only partially successful. To his left was the nurse’s station and hallways that led to other wards. To his right, the entrance to Ward 1. The nurses at the station adopted deer-in-headlights expressions as they stared at him. More people staring. Watching. At least it’s a small group this time, Daniel thought, but that did not give him any comfort.
“Colonel O’Neill?” asked one of the older nurses.
“Chapman,” Jack nodded. “Fraiser tell you we were coming? More accurately, that he was coming with us for our standard scan and checkup?”
The moment he saw her and took in her details, Daniel felt relaxed. She wore pink scrubs and a vest over the top that had bunnies all over it. It was something typically worn in a children’s ward, which made him wonder if she had started her shift at the Academy hospital or the university hospital. In any case, because she was not in uniform, he knew she must’ve been a civilian. A stethoscope was hung around her long neck and was partially covered by her grey-streaked black hair. When her blue eyes rested on him, they were calm, telling him that she had had years of experience in putting on the mask that would calm anxious visitors—or startled nurses. In any case, he appreciated it.
“Hi,” he said, feeling twelve.
“Hi,” she said, gesturing at the entrance to Ward 1. To Jack, she said, “You guys know the drill. Have a seat on the beds and we’ll get your vitals while we wait for the CAT room to be cleared.”
“Another team?” Jack asked.
She nodded. “SG-4 is just finishing up.”
“Oy,” Jack said under his breath.
Daniel went to the last of the four beds, preferring to stay the hell out of the line of sight from the entrance, and the lookiloos who would pass it on their way out. Chapman followed him, seeing to his vitals first. He watched as other nurses came in to do the same for his unofficial teammates. When Chapman put her hands on either side of his throat, however, he reared back in alarm, giving her a hard glare.
“I’m sorry, sir. This is standard,” she said. Her voice was soothing while there was worry in her eyes. Was it for him or herself, he wondered? “I’m checking for Goa’uld intrusion. There’s a typical swelling of lymph nodes.” He wanted to tell her that he was not a goddamn snakehead, but he told himself to stop being an asshole and took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. After that exam, she removed a tongue depressor from her pocket and clicked on her pen light. “Say ah.”
The memory of these exams was old, but it came back to him. She was checking for the tell-tale scar as well as abnormalities around the lymph nodes. Except he began to shake because her exam was taking too long. He knew why.
She narrowed her eyes and peered harder, then removed the depressor. “You have a discoloration at the top of the throat wall, in back. Do you know what could’ve caused that?”
He did. He swallowed and nodded. “I’m not going to explain. But you can be certain it has nothing to do with being in the control of a Goa’uld.”
“No, I’m certain of that,” she said, the worry in her eyes deepening. “It looks like an injury.”
As good an excuse as any since it was partially true. “Yes, it is.”
“From what?” she asked.
He stared at her, then over her shoulder at Jack, in the next bed. “Jack?”
“Do I have to answer that?”
She answered instead. “No. I’m just concerned, that’s all.”
Daniel nodded and he caught worry in Jack’s eyes now. He blinked a few times and looked at Chapman, then her bunny rabbits, twice. “Ever been waterboarded?” he asked. Her eyes went as round as saucers and he gave her a sick smile. She stepped back and asked him to bend his head down so she could examine the back of his neck. “Why?” he asked, as a flight or fight response was kicking in and he did his mental best to get it to go away.
“Security measure,” she said. “A Goa’uld doesn’t like to feel vulnerable, and when you’re bent over like that, a person is vulnerable.”
“I can imagine that quite accurately,” Daniel said, his mouth going dry. “Except, do you think I could just skip that bit?”
“Let him do it his way, Chapman,” Jack said from across the room at bed number one. “He’s not a snake. And you’ll find that out soon enough.”
She raised a brow at Daniel, and he turned around and lifted his ponytail. Her eyes widened at the length of his hair. “Wow. That’s a head of hair, Doctor Jackson,” she said as she pulled down his collar.
She pressed something cold against nape of his neck and he shrank slightly from the touch. “It’s okay,” she said, putting his hair down.
He turned around, choking down a rush of fear even as his guard was let down a little, simply because of her compliment—and the fact that she had called him Doctor. “What was that cold thing against my neck?”
“What’s the matter?” she asked, alarmed. She held up the penlight. “It was this. You know how when you put a flashlight against your skin, you can see just under it?” He nodded. “Same thing. Sometimes the Goa’uld will have healed the scar on the outside but it’s a lot more difficult to hide the scarring of the tissue underneath. Unless they’ve gone through a sarcophagus, of course, but the point here is that if someone had just been attacked, there wouldn’t have been time to heal the inner tissue.”
“Oh.” He tried to fight it off, but he could feel sweat gather over his forehead and above his upper lip. It trickled around the tiny bristles of his five o’clock shadow and he absently wiped at his upper lip with the back of his hand.
“Are you feeling ill?”
He nodded. His stomach was beginning to hurt as if he had been hurling for half an hour. The nausea followed. “Nerves, I think.” He’d meant for it to be casual, but his voice seemed to waver a little. He closed his eyes and wrapped both arms over his stomach. “You have any pot?”
Jack straightened up, surprised. “What?” Behind him, Sam and Teal’c wore the same expression.
Chapman was equally surprised. “For what?”
“Nausea. Stress reduction.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but it’s federally prohibited, so we can’t stock or prescribe it.”
“Jeez, you guys are advanced in other areas, but pot is still seen as a threat to the beer industry?” he asked.
She blinked a few times, frowning. “I never thought of it that way.”
“Yeah, well,” he said.
Jack came over to sit next to him. “Hey.”
Daniel frowned, trying to feel amused but his stomach would not let him. “Hey.”
“I’ll wait here with you. That okay?”
Chapman looked confused, which was understandable. “Sorry, Chapman,” Jack said. “He’s been through a tough time. Came from a place where decent people did not run infirmaries. He’s nervous.”
“I’m not nervous,” Daniel said. When she walked away, he admitted to Jack, “I’m terrified.”
“Because of Fraiser?”
“With a Z. Yes. Back in the other reality’s infirmary, I was ordered to have a so-called exam every month and I always refused.” He shuddered. “Every time, I was punished. I’m really, really not going to tell you why I refused, nor what the punishment was, so don’t ask, okay?”
“Okay,” Jack said, frowning in dismay.
Two beds over, Teal’c got up and walked over to sit on the bed Jack had vacated. Sam joined him. They seemed to be waiting. Daniel said, “What is it?”
“CAT scan waiting time,” Jack said, and Sam sighed.
“How long does it take?” Daniel asked.
“You didn’t have them before the world went to shit?” Jack asked.
“X-rays, not CAT scans.”
Teal’c said, “Nurse Chapman seemed very worried.”
“I got a bit nauseated,” Daniel said. “I had nasty experiences in this place.”
“Oh,” Sam drawled. “No wonder.” She frowned, thinking, then thumbed behind her. “I can get my chessboard. Or a deck of cards.”
“I’ll pass, but thanks anyway,” Daniel said, pushing back on the bed until his back hit the wall.
“I’m in,” Jack said to her.
Sam left and returned, and for the next half hour, the three members of SG-1 played a few rounds of Spades while Daniel watched with amusement. It kept him entertained, and therefore well distracted.
A nurse came for Teal’c first. Then Sam. When they returned, Jack left, and Daniel hated the clinginess he felt because he wanted to go with him. Sam and Teal’c kept him company and Daniel had wondered why until he remembered his panicky request about not being left alone.
“No, we’re fine,” Sam said. “You didn’t want to risk being alone, so we’re staying.”
“You have reports to do,” Daniel said.
“We will remain by your side, Daniel Jackson.”
Daniel smiled gently at him. “Thanks, Teal’c.” A question hit him. “How’re you feeling about all this? Me, I mean. My presence. You and he were pretty good friends, I’m guessing?” Teal’c bowed his head. “And now here I am. I already know how Sam and Jack feel, but you’ve hardly said a few words about it.”
“Oh, you know how he is,” Sam said, giving Teal’c a grin. “Big ol’ softy doesn’t know how to express himself.”
Teal’c raised his chin. “I am very eloquent when I need to be, Major Carter.”
She grinned her head off, having succeeded in taunting him. He raised a brow at her, then regarded Daniel.
“I have to admit that I still find this situation extremely … unusual. We were, as you said, good friends, and I will miss him deeply for the rest of my life. But having you here, in his stead, seems to me to be very calming. I am saddened and angry at all that you have suffered, and though you have not said much about it, I have seen great brutality as First Prime of Apophis and as an acolyte before that. I do indeed know what kind of horrors are visited upon men and women by what you Tau’ri call sadists. You have a term here that defines the type of person that comes close to those to whom I am referring.”
“What’s that?” Daniel asked warily, having felt chills down his spine, just because he was quite sure that Teal’c did indeed know what kind of horror he’d been through.
“Serial killers,” Teal’c said. “I have made a great study of them on this planet. What many have done are not so vastly different from the horrors I have seen inflicted by the Goa’uld.”
“Are you serious?” Sam asked in a low tone.
“I am. I should not be surprised, but I am.”
“What, that humans can get up to some pretty nasty behavior?” Daniel asked.
Daniel gave him a grim, closed-mouthed smile. “Welcome to the real world of the Tau’ri. And what you’ve read, Teal’c, probably hasn’t even scratched the surface. The human race has a long, bloody history of torture and madness, and those that weren’t called serial killers were called monsters instead, and for all intents and purposes, there’s very little that separates them.”
Sam shuddered and hugged herself. “Ugh. Let’s talk about something else.”
At the ward entrance, Doctor Fraiser walked in, barely aware of them as she read from a clipboard. She turned over a page and kept reading. Sam and Teal’c rose to guard their friend and keep him from doing anything crazy, as he had put it once.
Daniel felt the fight or flight response kick in again as his heart rate skyrocketed. Sweat beaded on his forehead and over his upper lip, negating the dried sheen that had been there before. A whine sat at the back of his throat and he held his breath to keep from issuing it. He kept telling himself that it wasn’t her and ran through a mental checklist of comparisons: brown hair in a French twist, bangs over her forehead, eye makeup, lipstick, a white coat over Air Force officer’s Class Bs. She had a pen over her left ear, a stethoscope around her neck, and a penlight in the pocket of her lab coat.
Daniel swallowed hard. She resembled Frazier, but she clearly wasn’t, and his mind was grasping onto that for dear life. Her face was softer. Kind. The only way he would know for certain would be to see her eyes, but he didn’t want her to come close enough to have him check. Phantom pains tried to take over his senses and he clenched his jaw and made fists at his sides as he got to his feet.
“I can’t,” he began, eyes as round as saucers. “I can’t. I can’t. Send her away … please.” The entreaty carried the whine at the back of his throat and his stomach fluttered a bit. Sam and Teal’c glanced at him in alarm and Sam reached for him just as Fraiser looked up, then began to walk toward them.
“Well,” she said.
Daniel did not hear her. He heard the clicking of her heels as they came toward him. He clapped a hand over his mouth and dropped to the floor, grabbing the small trash can, and up came the little bit of food and coffee he had had on the ship.
“What’s wrong?” Fraiser said, rushing over in concern.
He heard her come nearer, heard the alarm in her voice, but her heels …
He dry-heaved into the trash and eventually bile started coming up. “Stop it, dammit!” he ordered himself in a half-sob.
“Hey, Doc?” Jack said, rushing into the ward. “Come back this way. We need to have a chat.”
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, looking back and forth between the man on the floor, Jack, and Sam and Teal’c. “What’s going on?”
Jack ran over and got down on a knee, putting a hand on Daniel’s back. “I’m here.” Over his shoulder, he said, “Just give us a few minutes. Carter, could you take her aside and re-explain the situation to her. I know she’s not gonna like it, but it can’t be helped.”
“She is standing right here,” Fraiser said, annoyed.
“Janet, c’mon,” Sam said.
Daniel heard the woman’s voice, much less tight than the one he recognized, but it did not matter. He felt Jack rubbing his back and the fit subsided. He bowed his head. “I’m such a coward,” he whispered to Jack. “I’m such a fucking coward. Look at me.”
“Stop it,” Jack chided. “Deep breath. Daniel, don’t argue. Deep breath.”
Daniel breathed in, breathed out. “I can’t,” he said tightly. “It’s not doing me any good. I taste puke. Makes it worse.” The beads of sweat cooled over his brows and he covered his mouth with his hand. “Thanks.”
“I need to brush,” he said, trying to sound normal. “And to refill my system with coffee.” He sagged onto his haunches.
Jack waited until Daniel got to his feet and kept him from sitting back down. “Let’s get your CAT scan done, then we’ll get you cleaned up and refilled.”
Daniel gave him a look. “Can’t I just skip the CAT scan?”
“I don’t think so. They don’t care if you were sick. Mandatory order means business. They’re more worried about snakeheads.”
“For good reason,” Daniel said shakily.
When he left the ward and did not see Fraiser anywhere, he relaxed slightly. The scan was over quickly enough, and it didn’t faze him in the least. But when he and Jack came back down the hall to the nurse’s station, Sam was at the entrance to the ward with Fraiser.
“No,” Daniel said, backing into Jack.
“Try,” Jack said. “Just give her a chance.”
“Where’s Teal’c?” Daniel asked. He needed his big friend near him and recognizing that surprised him. Wasn’t Jack enough? No. Because he wanted Jack and Sam there, too.
“Nearby,” Jack said. “By the double doors.”
Waves of fear swept over Daniel and he began to shake. He tried like hell to get control of himself and grabbed Jack’s hand.
“Daniel,” Jack said, pulling his hand away. “That won’t fly, no matter how badly you’re freaking out.”
Daniel turned to him, about to say something nasty as a comparison, but he bit it back. He looked away and took hesitant steps toward Sam and Fraiser. “Shit.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jack said. “She’s not the evil twin, and I can’t believe I just said that.”
Daniel gave him a weak smile, but it faded quickly. He and Jack approached Sam and Fraiser and stopped three feet away. Daniel was startled to discover that the doctor looked nervous, and if he was not imagining it, she also looked worried. She was looking him over as if she was concerned … for him. It was the same look he had last seen on Carmichael before leaving Omega. She held her hands together in front of her and her thumbs were circling each other. A common nervous gesture. Unless it was something she always did. The doctor held out her hand. It was not straight out, nor was it too low. A natural gesture. Nothing suspicious.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Janet Fraiser. You are obviously Daniel Jackson, but a much different one.”
Jack nudged him and Daniel realized he had been staring. Into her eyes. Warm, affectionate. They somehow belonged to someone else entirely. This was not Frazier’s counterpart at all. This was Fraiser. He took a step and carefully whispered his hand into hers. He was shaking badly now, fighting the urge to flee. She squeezed his hand just a tiny bit firmly, then placed her other hand on top of his, patting it before she let his hand go.
“It’s okay, Doctor Jackson,” she said soothingly, in a quiet tone. One that harpy bitch could never have managed. “I won’t hurt you. Ever. You have my word. And if the people around you haven’t been lying to my face all this time, they’ll vouch for me.” She held out a hand toward the ward. “Would you like to have a seat on the bed here? We can have a chat. With your friends, of course.”
“Okay,” Daniel managed. He moved his feet, and it suddenly felt odd. As if one of his nightmares had been replaced by something with a foggy shroud over it. Dreamlike, he thought. He watched her go to the second bed and lean against it, facing the first one. He approached the bed and leaned against it. It might look like he was copying her, but he did it, so he wasn’t at a disadvantage. If he needed to run, he would be ready. He glanced to his left. He would have to run through Jack and Sam and around Teal’c. Would they stop him? Would they really make him stay there and talk to her if he did not want to? An ornery side to him wanted to test it and he shut it down.
There was still a bit of weakness in his legs, accompanied by slight nausea. He began to wonder how many women on the base were forced into wearing heels. He began to count the likely number while hating the fact that the military was still operating under sexist bullshit. At final count, he figured about sixty-five. Sixty-five pairs of heels he would have to put up with and it horrified him. Fraiser rolled a stool over and sat down. He took a deep breath. “Your name is different,” he said. “And the spelling.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Her name was Janetta,” he said. She made a face. He liked that.
“That was my grandmother’s name.” Fraiser took a breath and to Daniel, she seemed to be studying his eyes. “How long were you held captive?”
He wanted to correct her because her question made it sound like he had just been in a prison. “Under a year.”
She sighed, frowning a bit. She removed the penlight from her breast pocket. “Will you permit me a look into your eyes?” she asked.
“Are you going to touch me?” he asked, leaning back a little, even though she had not come any closer.
“I don’t have to, no,” she said slowly. “That’s apparently a problem?”
He felt like screaming, “Of course it’s a problem, you stupid bitch! Can’t you see I’m shaking hard enough to fall apart?” Instead, he nodded, then forced himself to say, “I’m sorry, but it’s just too much right now.”
“Okay. I won’t touch. May I perform some eye movement tests?”
“Because you appear to have a tremor in your right eye. It might indicate an inner ear imbalance.”
“He does?” Jack asked, bending over.
“Colonel,” she admonished.
Daniel blinked at him, then at her. “Okay.”
She scooted forward and held the penlight about eight inches in front of his right eye. “Stare straight ahead.”
She shone the light just off both eyes, then flicked it several times over each one. He blinked repeatedly when she was done, then squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose for a few long seconds to refocus.
“Headaches?” Fraiser asked.
He nodded, then blinked several times to try and get rid of the red, then green, dots that floated in the air like holographic imprints.
“Do you have dizzy spells?”
He nodded again.
She pointed at the ceiling. “Look up.”
Daniel did, and at once grabbed Jack’s arm as the right side of his world spun a bit.
“How is it when you lie down?”
“The room spins when I look to the right.”
She nodded this time and dropped her hands to her lap. “Did you sustain any head injuries while being held hostage?”
“Why?” he asked, hating that she had brought it up, simply because he was forced to recall them, even for a second.
“Because if your dizziness isn’t caused by inner ear imbalance, then it might be TBI.”
“TBI,” he repeated. “Traumatic brain injury?”
“Yes, and it’s more common than people think. Any hard knock on the head can put a person at risk, and concussions are a form of TBI.”
“I’ve had two diagnosed concussions. I got them after getting cracked unconscious by a staff weapon and then a baton. Like a police baton.”
She frowned. “Did they cause unconsciousness?”
“No,” he said.
She nodded and pointed her penlight vertically, light casting off the ceiling. “Watch the pen,” she said, moving it slowly from left to right to back to left again, over and over. He started to get a little dizzy and leaned back and closed his eyes as he grimaced. She did not stop the pen from moving. “Watch the pen. I know it’s making you dizzy. I’m sorry. But this is a test.”
In all that time, he had not let Jack go, and he refused to do it now. He sighed and watched the pen. “I don’t see the point.”
She stopped and put the pen down. “Have you heard about a new method of handling traumatic events called EMDR, or Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing?” she asked, not looking at anyone but Daniel.
He shook his head. “What is it?”
“It’s a method of getting the brain to diffuse trauma by focusing on happier memories or feelings. You watch a moving object, you listen to sounds. Then you’re asked questions about a particularly traumatic event and as you describe the heart of what is causing the issue you’re dealing with, you’re asked to stop, then think of something happy or pleasant. Your mind is abruptly redirected.”
“I know it doesn’t sound like much, but there’s been remarkable progress with it. I’d like you to see a therapist who specializes in this method.” She pulled out a card and handed it to him. “Nurse Chapman will help you set up the appointment, as well as two others for an eye exam and a visit with a physical therapist to get your inner ear back in balance. Chapman?”
“Ma’am,” the nurse called back.
“He’ll need a few appointments. May I have his chart?”
Chapman brought his chart over and Fraiser spent a few minutes writing on one page, then two more, and finally wrote on two script sheets. She handed them to Daniel. “Chapman here’ll get you your appointments. When you’ve completed them, I’ll see you after. The day after tomorrow, most likely.”
He stared at her, hard. He was astonished to find that he no longer saw the other one. He saw this woman. Her voice was different. Her eyes were different. Her manner was radically different. And, of course, her appearance. While there was still some part of her that made him afraid, he was fairly sure he could trust himself around her. Maybe eighty-percent sure. That twenty percent was the part of him that was on edge, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. Just in case. There was no logical reason for it, but then, PTSS wasn’t logical, was it?
“What is it, Doctor Jackson?” she asked.
It was then that he noticed a sadness in her. Her eyes. The sound of her question. He remembered Hammond telling him that his other self had been good friends with her, which, of course, went the other way, didn’t it? He told himself to see things from her perspective, as he had been used to doing a million years ago. She clearly missed him, and she was probably having a tough time seeing him. But instead of betraying any emotion, she had put on her professional hat in order to put him at ease. That was so Jan … et. Daniel startled himself by the observation.
“Daniel?” Jack asked.
Daniel blinked. “Sorry,” he said, coming out of his introspection. “I’m so sorry this is upsetting you. You were good friends with him, I’m told.”
She held up her wall well. “Yes, that’s right.”
“I’m sorry I reacted like I did.” He made a face. “I’m quite sure I’m not over it. Yet.” She fidgeted as she got up, and he was reading body language correctly, she was controlling the impulse to touch him. She was someone who did that. As a doctor. As a person. As a medical professional, it would have been a good bedside manner trait, wouldn’t it? But his other self had been her friend, so it was more than that. How long before he was able to let her hug him? He swallowed, knowing it might be a while.
“You’ll be fine, if you’re anything like he was. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, or that it’ll ever go away, but you’ll win in the end, Daniel.”
“Wait, Doc,” Jack said. She paused. “Doc Carmichael gave Daniel muscle relaxants.”
“Why?” she asked, showing concern.
“He bruised his back and had spasms for a little while.”
“You still need them?” she asked Daniel. He shook his head. “Do you have them with you?” she asked. Again, he shook his head. “When you can, turn in the prescription to the pharmacy so they can dispose of them safely.” She looked at her watch. “I’ve got other patients. And I’ll need Chapman to get more bloodwork done.”
“More? Can’t you just use the results on board the Andromeda?”
Fraiser shook her head. “Sorry, I need a fresh look.” She left without another word and went to talk to the nurses.
The sound of her heels made him both nauseous and dizzy and he sat down on the stool Fraiser had vacated.
“Daniel?” Jack asked.
“Heels,” Daniel said, swallowing hard, and then began to take deep breaths.
“Count to ten on each breath, Daniel,” Jack told him. “It’s better for some reason.”
Daniel nodded and did so, but the nausea did not go away. Chapman appeared with implements of torture … also known as the blood drawing equipment, and she withdrew scripts and an appointment card from a pocket.
“Here. Now, I’ll get this done as painlessly and quickly as possible.”
Daniel nodded again, and at least there was only a bit of fear now compared to two months and three weeks ago. He had to get rid of that goddamn fear. It was starting to piss him off. When she was done, he said, “Thanks,” and raised the scripts and card. “And thanks.”
“Sure,” she said, leaving.
“Well, time for lunch,” Jack said, eyeing Daniel. “Think you can force something down? With the state you’re in, you can’t skip meals.”
“I … yeah, maybe,” he said, grimacing at the taste in his mouth and throat. He covered his lips with a hand. “Gross. I need to brush my teeth, but I left the stuff you gave me aboard Andromeda.”
“It’s already been beamed down,” Jack said.
“The VIP room you’ll be staying in temporarily.”
“Temporarily? Until …?”
Jack shrugged and started for the exit. “C’mon, kids. Let’s get Daniel cleaned up—”
“Jack, for cryin’—”
“and then lunch awaits. The all those fun reports await writing. Except for Daniel, who gets to draw or whatever till dinner.”
“Thanks, Jack,” Daniel sighed, and the man gave him that devastatingly gorgeous smile he remembered, and his eyes grew hot.
For Daniel, the surreal feeling continued, intensifying as the team turned down a corridor that led to the mess hall. The SFs did not pay him much direct attention, but he saw them watching his progress down the corridors anyway. A creepiness began to crawl up and down his spine and goosebumps formed on his forearms. Normally, no one would have noticed, but he had rolled up the sleeves of his fatigue shirt. As the four of them entered the elevator, Jack stared at his arm as he pressed the button for the proper floor.
“What’s walked over your grave?” he asked, unthinking.
“What?” Daniel asked, startled.
“Goosebumps?” Jack said.
“No, what was that saying?”
“Haven’t you ever heard that?” Sam asked him.
Daniel shook his head and Teal’c agreed. “I have not heard that particular phrase, either. What does it mean?”
Sam and Jack exchanged frowns. “Well …” she began but paused. “It’s when something spooks you for no discernible reason.”
“But …” Daniel said, then shook his head. “No, skip that. You’re right. I’m spooked.”
“Why?” Jack asked.
“It’s the SFs,” Daniel said in a tone that only Jack, Sam, and Teal’c would hear. “I don’t trust them.”
“They aren’t the same people, Daniel,” Jack told him.
“Yes, thank you, I know that,” Daniel snapped. “Doesn’t change a thing.” When Jack gave him widened eyes, he raised a hand in apology and received a nod in reply.
They reached the mess hall and Daniel nearly groaned out loud in relief because it was only half full and the far-left corner table was free. “Over there,” he said, but then factored in the six people ahead of them and sighed inwardly. Once he moved down the buffet line to grab a tray, silverware, and glasses or mugs, he discovered the blessed aroma of coffee and grabbed two more mugs. Jack gave him an eyebrow and Daniel shrugged. He copied Sam, taking blue Jell-O, and though he took the plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, his stomach felt too fluttery. When they were finished in line, Daniel was relieved to find that the back table was still available, and he quickly went around the table to take the seat that would leave his back to the wall. That way, he could easily see anyone coming their way.
Jack recognized the behavior. He had learned it while serving in Special Ops and the habit was hard to break, even when going to a familiar restaurant in town. He watched in amusement as Daniel fixed his mugs of coffee with packets of sugar and powdered cream.
“Get enough coffee?”
“Oh, hell no,” Daniel said, and he downed one mug in under thirty seconds while his friends were still seasoning their food.
“I take it you’ll want a refill,” Jack said sarcastically, but to his surprise, Daniel took him seriously.
“Sure,” he said, and offered him his mug. “Could you get it for me?”
“Something wrong with your legs?” Jack asked, but as soon as the word were out of his mouth, he suspected there was a reason Daniel did not want to get it himself. “You feeling overwhelmed around this many people?”
“Well, no, but it’s …” He blinked a few times as he quickly looked behind Jack and to the right. “They’re staring. It’s unnerving.”
“Haven’t you ever been around people who stare at you?” Sam asked.
“Yes, but that’s during a lecture,” Daniel said to her. “But outside of one, or outside of a meeting? No. When’s the last time a bunch of people were staring at you except when you were giving a briefing or teaching at the Academy?”
Sam frowned, then looked over her shoulder. A few people had been looking over their shoulders and upon seeing her frown at them, they turned back around. “I see your point.”
Jack sighed. “I think Hammond’s gonna have to put out a mandatory notice via email to inform everyone to please show some damn respect and not stare.”
“Yeah, that’s likely,” Daniel sighing.
“Well,” Jack said, getting up and taking Daniel’s mug. He went to the coffee machine to refill it and mentally tried to formulate a proper request for Hammond to send out a base-wide notice.
“Colonel,” said another of the same rank as he moved around him and set his tray back on the serving line. “Is that who I think it is?”
“Yep. And he’s not a ghost,” Jack answered as he grabbed a handful of sugar and cream packets.
“Where’d he come from?”
“What’s the matter, Reynolds?” Jack asked dryly. “Haven’t you read the mission reports on the quantum mirrors?”
“Yeah, but those’re locked up.”
“Not the one we had aboard the Andromeda,” Jack said, jogging his brows.
“Holy crap,” Reynolds said.
“Do me a favor?” Jack asked, and he did not keep his voice that low.
“Pass it along that he’s Daniel Jackson from another universe and he’s going to be staying here. And I would take it as a personal favor if people didn’t stare.”
“It’s hard not to,” Reynolds said.
“Yeah, I get that. Try it out anyway.”
“Sir,” Reynolds said with a nod and moved down the line.
Jack jogged his brows and wove his way back to their table. He set the mug down in front of Daniel and sat down. “That might help.”
“What?” Daniel said unhappily as men and women from other tables kept looking over their shoulders.
“I asked Colonel Reynolds to pass it alone that it would be appreciated if people didn’t stare.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, surprised. “Uh, thanks.”
“So, what about the SFs isn’t trustworthy?” Sam asked around a mouthful of blue gelatin.
Daniel took a spoonful of his own blue stuff first, then pushed it aside and stuck with his coffee.
“You are not hungry?” Teal’c asked, sitting across from him with a nearly overflowing tray of food.
Daniel grinned and offered his plate. “Take it.”
“No,” Jack said, pushing Daniel’s plate back down on his tray. “Eat. At least some of it. You can’t afford to go hungry, Daniel.”
“Except my stomach is a little …” Daniel waggled his hand.
“O’Neill is right, Daniel Jackson. You must eat something.”
“Thanks, Teal’c,” Daniel said dryly. “And Teal’c? Don’t you think it’s about time you used your friends’ first names?” Teal’c seemed flummoxed by the question. He opened his mouth to answer but Daniel held up a hand. “I know, I know. You’re going to say that it’s disrespectful, right?”
“Indeed,” Teal’c said.
Daniel rolled his eyes, getting grins from Sam and Jack. She pointed a spoon at him, getting ready to talk, and he headed her off, too. “I know. SFs. But you heard me tell Hammond about the ones in the other universe. That’s why. They were the first to sign on to the new fascist regime. They betrayed Hammond without a second thought.”
“All of them?” Sam asked.
“There were some who defended him. They were just outnumbered.”
“That isn’t reassuring,” Jack said. “Do you remember any names?”
Daniel frowned, thinking, then shook his head. “I can give you a list later, but mostly, it’s mainly faces I remember. Aren’t they supposed to maintain a stoic post, like the Buckingham Palace guard?” Teal’c asked who they were, and Daniel went into a long, involved explanation.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Jack said. “You can talk to them though. Not so much the palace guard.”
“You said the entire country was fascist,” Sam said. “That was before the Goa’uld showed up?”
Daniel nodded. “Started in our third year as a team. It was subtle at first, then bolder.”
“Suddenly our non-war research division was eliminated, and the science teams were disbanded unless they were mining for naquada and trinium.”
“But you were kept on,” Sam said. “Why?”
Daniel gave her a pained smile. “Because I’m a linguist and they needed translations to the tech they were stealing.” He sighed. “Then one day, the SG teams were replaced by those rogues who’d been in the Area 51 prison.”
“Maybourne’s guys?” Jack asked.
Daniel nodded. “A Senator Kinsey was responsible.” Jack growled in disgust. “Ah. You know him here, too?”
“A pain in the ass,” Jack said. “He’s already tried removing Hammond via blackmail.”
Daniel closed his eyes. “Happened during our first year. He tried shutting us down, but …”
“What did they actually do?” Sam asked. “The SFs, I mean.”
“Because some of them killed the General, Sam. The rest did nothing.”
Daniel took his time taking a drink from his mug. “They blithely accepted the Nazi rule and greeted that psycho bitch from hell with open arms. Makes me wary of the SFs here if they are even slightly the same people. If it were up to me, I’d have their allegiances tested.”
“That’d be difficult without a valid reason why,” Jack said.
“I know,” Daniel sighed.
“Was she already a member of the SGC?” Sam asked. “Frazier.”
Daniel shook his head. “Not as CMO. Went back and forth between the hospital, the SGC, and the Pentagon. When the regime changed, she replaced Hammond.” Daniel was rather proud of himself for speaking so calmly about her. “Changed the SFs’ mission and made them part of the Reform Security Force.”
“Reform …” Sam asked, then shook herself. “Oh, right. Was that what the SGC became? The Colorado Springs Auxiliary Reform?”
Daniel nodded over his mug. “How come you didn’t ask me these question before, when we were at the Omega base?”
Sam glanced at Jack, and he answered for her. “Because I told them to go easy on the questions until you got your sea legs. So to speak.”
“For two months?” Daniel asked. “I wasn’t that crazy, Jack.”
Jack waggled a hand and Daniel cringed. “Yes, you were. Well, no, not on the Omega base, just on the ship for that first week. But at Omega, you were pretty much frazzled. Your nerves were a mess. I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to have you talk about that place without stressing you out, so I wanted to give you time to …”
“Acclimate?” Daniel asked.
“That,” Jack said around a mouth of food.
Daniel nodded, thinking back to the first hours after transfer. His mind had been stuck in that universe. He kept seeing the explosions, and the surprise on Frazier’s face, along with her undercover Jaffa. After that, his world was all about getting used to not being under a constant threat of rape, torture, and inventive, sadistic methods of control. He’d admitted some things to Jack and he’d mentioned them as if speaking matter-of-factly, but that constant threat had was still there, to a degree, and the bad memories of Frazier had been brought to the forefront when he’d met Fraiser.
Normally, a man had a hard time even saying the word rape, never mind admitting to being a victim of it. It had become part of his life and now that it was over, he had tried to be pragmatic about it. It was the past. But seeing Fraiser had brought it all back. When it came time for a full physical, would it include a prostate exam? If he did not want that exam but was told he had no choice, Daniel knew damn well that he would be re-traumatized, no matter how gentle the doctor would be. Nothing had even happened yet, and he was wondering when the assault would begin.
Daniel had often prided himself on being able to see things pragmatically, but it was taking a backseat to paranoia. He knew his self-image was at an all-time low, and it seemed to him that everyone could see that he had been assaulted just by looking at him. Look, there’s a guy who’s been raped. Is he gay? Did he like it? How the hell did women put up with the disbelief? Was there a lesson in there for men? Or was he, like all the others, left to flounder without a lifeline? Jack had been there to—
“Daniel?” Jack asked.
Daniel jerked, torn from his depressing introspection. “What?” he asked, wondering if he had missed something.
“You were lost in there somewhere,” Jack said.
Daniel nodded and sipped his coffee, and for a second, he looked past Sam and Teal’c, only to find that he was still being scrutinized. He closed his eyes and swallowed. “Can’t they just eat their fucking meals and leave?” he muttered into his coffee.
“Stop looking,” Jack said.
“How?” Daniel asked, scowling angrily. “I just happened to look past Sam and Teal’c. A typical sweep of the eyes. Everyone does it. You don’t even notice you’re doing it. Just like I didn’t. And then … boom. There they are. The lookiloo brigade.” Sam snorted. He tried scowling at her, but the earnest look on her face, and how her snort of amusement was clearly not at him doused his fiery anger. “Sorry,” he said to Jack. “I’m being an asshole, aren’t I?”
“You’re on edge,” Jack said. “Can’t fault you for it. A year from now, if you’re still doing it, we’ll have a talk.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Point taken.”
“Lookiloo?” Teal’c asked.
Sam snorted again as Jack tried and failed to explain what it meant. “When you can’t look away from something,” she said, earning a mock-glare from her team leader. “It’s when people stare at a train wreck. Or a car wreck. People are curious, but they’re more curious than circumspect. Basically, it’s just plain rude.”
“Thank you, Carter. I think I could’ve handled that.”
“You tried to, sir,” she said, grinning.
“All right, so giving a definition caught me off guard. We should just give Teal’c a slang dictionary.” He paused. “Is there such a thing?”
“It’s called urban dictionary dot com, sir.”
Jack sighed. “A website isn’t helpful. I want a book.” He tapped the table several times. “A physical entity.”
“It is a physical entity, sir,” Sam argued. “You type in the address on your phone or computer, go there, look it up. It’s no different than opening a book.”
Jack grumbled. “I like paper.”
“A finite resource, sir.”
“Carter, for cryin’ out loud,” Jack went on. And so did the friendly argument.
Their banter made Daniel relax a bit. They were engaging in typical, every-day, random conversation. It was ironic that he could not express how grateful he was for that normalcy without having them look at him funny—and he was long past sick of getting such looks. He sighed inwardly, wishing he would not turn everything into a negative. Maybe that would stop when he grew accustomed to his new life and threats would evaporate. But just how long that took would depend on his therapy. And exactly who the hell had the expertise to handle this sort of trauma? A part of him said rape trauma was universal, but not all rape was the same. One rape versus several deepens the trauma doesn’t it? Aren’t there layers of issues that aren’t present in—
He looked up, realizing his name had been spoken a few times. “Sorry. Again.” He suddenly remembered that Carmichael had said something to him about Jack being the person to help him, but he could not help him through this. Jack was, unfortunately, part of his problem.
“What’s goin’ on?” Jack asked.
“Worrying,” Daniel said. “About …” He blinked a few times, his eyes moving slightly in Sam’s and Teal’c’s direction. He couldn’t talk about physicals or therapy in front of them. Maybe in time, he thought, then dismissed that idea. “About … stuff.”
“Try to put stuff aside and focus on getting food into your system. Eat.”
Daniel stared at the chicken and mashed potatoes. “They’re cold now.” He made a face, but only because what he had said sounded like a pout.
Jack made a throaty growl. “Daniel, for cryin’ out loud.”
“Here,” Teal’c said, and held out a small branch of green grapes.
Daniel took them and popped one into his mouth. As he chewed, the hunger appeared and before he knew it, the grapes were gone. Jack nodded. “Teal’c?”
“Go ahead, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
“No, I mean …” He stared at Teal’c’s food, then shook his head. “Never mind.” He looked at Daniel. “Take the bull by the horns, Daniel. Get up, go to the display case with the fruits and deserts and get more grapes. Add some oranges and other stuff, too.”
Daniel wanted to protest, but he felt that it would make him look like a sulky child. He took a deep breath, muttered, “I hate you,” and purposely did not look at Jack afterward. In one fluid motion, he got up and headed down the aisle. He found himself peripherally watching the rows of tables as he kept his eye on the part of the buffet line that he needed to get to. He found he was absently counting. One row. Two rows. Three. Six rows later, he was free of them and had the urge to scream at himself for being stupid.
He knew why he hated being there. Being watched. Eyed. It was a full-on creepy feeling on the back of his neck, even as he went to the display, lifted the bottom window, and reached in to pick a bunch of grapes. They were the red ones instead of green, but he did not care. His stomach rumbled, out of both anxiety and hunger. He turned around to head back to the table when someone behind him said, “I thought he was dead.” He found himself coming to a halt and looking over his shoulder. He stared at two men, toyed with the idea of saying, “Wishful thinking?” but dismissed it and turned forward. He headed back through the rows, counting as he did, but found that his mind left off at row three.
“What was that about?” Jack asked as Daniel retook his seat.
“Nothing. They’re seeing ghosts. I thought I’d answer them with sarcasm, but I just decided it would be a waste of time.”
Jack sighed. “Yeah, I think a system-wide email or notice is in order.”
“I need to go somewhere and scream,” Daniel said suddenly before popping a grape in his mouth. His three friends looked at him, apparently puzzled. He tried to block the emotion, but their looks made him mad. He wondered why it was that they could not understand why he’d want to scream. The Japanese did it all the time to vent stress. Damned clever idea, to his way of thinking. He would figure out a way to get to the top of the mountain and just let loose. Unless he could find a soundproof room somewhere.
He ate the grapes slowly, ordering himself to take his time or his stomach would bitch. He looked up, finding their still-puzzled expressions, only they were looking a little guilty now. It was probably his imagination. What wasn’t his imagination were the looks he was still getting from around the room and he popped three grapes in at once to stop himself from calling out, “I’m not the ‘droid you’re looking for!” The thought made him grin to himself and abruptly, his mood began to lighten a little. But only a little.
“Sir?” Sam said to Jack.
They’d forgotten that Daniel had needed to stop off at the pharmacy, so while he was at the pharmacy window, waiting to get the proper forms done for a person who wasn’t technically supposed to be there, she’d had an idea that she wanted to run by the Colonel.
“Carter?” Jack asked.
She pointed her head toward the exit, indicating she wanted to talk to him out of Daniel’s earshot. “Teal’c?” The two men joined her.
“What’s up?” Jack asked.
She glanced to her left, watching Daniel. “Sir, maybe it’s just me but …” She made a face. “Has Daniel had much physical contact with you or Carmichael or anyone outside of a touch on the arm or holding your hand for a second?”
Jack shifted uncomfortably. “I haven’t done—”
She held up a hand. “No, I’m not implying anything untoward or intimate. What I’m talking about is a person’s basic need for human contact. While we can manage to go without it, we don’t because we have friends, family—”
“Carter, what’s your point?” Jack asked impatiently.
“I believe I know what Major Carter is trying to infer,” Teal’c said. “That Daniel Jackson has needed basic contact. Yet, due to his past, he cannot seek it.”
“That’s partly correct,” Sam said. “He grabbed your hand, sir. Then your sleeve. When he’s stressed, I’ve noticed he reaches for you. Now, aside from the fact that he was involved with your counterpart, so it makes it natural that he’d seek you for comfort, I think it’s a sign of something deeper. Maybe he’s simply, or not so simply, missing the comfort we normally get. Hugs, for example.”
“Carter, I’m not a hugger.”
“With Daniel you were.”
She sighed and bit her lips together. “My point is that we should, I don’t know, see if it will make him more at ease. I know a person’s traumas can make them shy away from contact, but I think it’s counterproductive, if they’re able to work to overcome it. So maybe we can help?”
“Maybe,” said Daniel. He had heard Sam as he had drawn closer. At first, he’d started to get mad because they were talking about him while he was distracted, but he’d calmed down after listening to what she had to say. He gave her a hesitant, shy smile. “Thanks, Sam. I appreciate it. I can hug you three. It’s just that I’m not really someone who does that, apart from hellos and goodbyes.”
“We aren’t either,” Sam said, blushing a bit as she gestured at herself, Jack, and Teal’c. “I was just thinking that maybe there’s something to it, aside from the comfort or reassurance you seek when you’re in turmoil.”
He looked down at the small bag he held, then up into her eyes. “Yeah, maybe. We’ll just see how it goes, talk about it. I’m not sure what the point is, but maybe you’re right, maybe you’re not. Maybe it’s something related.” He gave her a lopsided grin that all three of his friends had never seen on him, and missed. “I’ll bring it up with the doctor I’ll see in …” He pulled the card out of his pants. “Four days.”
“Okay, now that that awkwardness is settled,” Jack said, gesturing at the exit. “What was that thing about reports?”
After Sam and Teal’c took off, Jack escorted Daniel to the VIP room he had been assigned. “Think there’s something to what Carter was saying?” Jack asked, well out of earshot of the SF down the hall.
“Maybe,” Daniel said. “I have to think about it.”
Jack handed him his temporary ID which held the barcode needed to open doors and elevators. “You gonna be okay?” he asked as Daniel swiped the ID over the scanner. The door clicked open and Daniel went in, dropping his things on the foot of the bed.
“Yeah,” he said, turning to him. “You’re off to do those reports?”
Jack nodded, hand on the doorknob. “I’ll come get you for dinner. If you want any coffee or something else to drink, there’s a rec room two corridors over.”
He blanched a bit. “Thanks.”
“That bother you?” Jack asked. “Going alone?”
“Because of … well. Me. I’m coming to the realization that being around personnel here isn’t a problem. It’s getting gawked at. I mean, you saw all those looks on the way here. Worse than the mess hall.”
Jack nodded. “I know. It’ll be like that for a while. No getting around it.” He grinned. “I’ll ask Hammond to send out an announcement.”
Daniel looked at him, horrified. “Oh, I thought you were joking.”
Jack pursed his lips, thinking it over. “You know, it’s actually not a bad idea.”
“Heh,” Daniel said, feeling sick. He looked around, just in case a nightmare caused a midnight vomiting session but there was no attached bathroom. “Crap.”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
Jack stepped out of the doorway and pointed. One door down on the right was a blue sign that indicated a unisex bathroom. “For the VIP rooms.” He pointed at the door past that. “That VIP room is empty, so you’ll have the bathroom all to yourself. Only you can use it with that key card there.”
“Swell,” Daniel said woodenly. “If I have to puke, I first have to open this door, have the presence of mind to grab the key card, open that door, and then make it to the toilet before I hurl all over the damn thing.” He glanced through the door, not thrilled with the presence of the SFs down the corridor. They were not too close, but he didn’t like seeing them regardless. “I need a phone,” he blurted out. “In case I need to hear a friendly voice for grounding.”
Jack frowned. “Yeah, you do. Why didn’t I think of that? Let’s see. I think the PX sells smartphones. I’ll go up top and get you one until you’re assigned one specifically used by base personnel. Better than a Blackberry.”
“I’m sorry. Smartphone?” Daniel began, then frowned. “That like a Blackberry?”
That surprised Jack. “Didn’t you have those? In 2021?” he asked. Daniel shook his head. “Oh, well, don’t go crazy all at once with it, like Teal’c did, although that was fun, watching him get addicted to a game app.”
“App,” Daniel said, thinking. “Hey, yeah, I think we did have smartphones, but they weren’t called that.” He rubbed at his forehead because he could not recall and trying to remember gave him another headache. “So, you can show me at dinner.”
“Good deal,” Jack said, and winced as he looked at his watch. “See you in a few hours.” He shut the door behind him.
Daniel was suddenly alone for the first time since they had beamed down from the Andromeda. Andromeda. He vaguely remembered Jack saying something about a TV show. What had he been talking about? He pulled out his tablet, intending to distract himself with drawing. He plugged it in and sat on the bed to draw, but after only ten minutes, he set it aside and laid down.
He rubbed at his eyes, then recalled what Janet had said about his eyes and looked around for a mirror. There was one over the dresser but the light in the room was too dim. He grabbed the key card and went to the bathroom. He looked for a tremor in his eyes but found nothing. Sighing, he took that moment to shave, then shook out the bandana and brushed out his hair.
Returning to his room, he put the bandana back on and laid down, thinking about people staring at him. In the mess hall, the corridors, the pharmacy, the ship, the Omega base. It was becoming a problem, wearing on his nerves, and he was afraid he would lose his temper and shout at people for doing nothing wrong.
It was not their fault. What Jack and the others did not know, nor would they ever know, was why he did not like all the staring. It was not that different from watching. Eight months ago, people in the other universe had literally paid to be able to watch him, and the things he had been forced to do. Or had done to him.
. . .
At dinner, Daniel stared at the biggest gift he had ever gotten in his life: the smartphone Jack had given him. He was now properly distracted and wasn’t focusing on being stared at. He swiped through all sorts of settings and checked out app after app. He finally set it down to drink the third cup of coffee Jack had just set in front of him.
“You look tired,” Jack said. Daniel nodded. “Then eat,” he said, pointing his knife at his plate. “If you don’t, Fraiser will have you hooked up to an I.V.”
Daniel shuddered. “Point taken. Where’s Sam and Teal’c?”
“Teal’c’s gonna be late because he’s teaching a class and Carter went home to talk to her plants.”
Daniel smiled. “I remember she used to …” The smile faded. “… do that.” He sighed and picked at the beef steak and gravy and mashed potatoes, then seasoned them and began to eat. He went back to the smartphone as he ate, and after a while, he realized Jack was watching him.
“Stop it, Jack.”
“Sorry, Daniel but …”
Daniel sat back and gave him a hard look. “What?”
Jack gestured at him with his fork. “You’re not wearing glasses.”
“Of course, I’m not. I used to. I had laser surgery just before I went to the Oriental Institute in Chicago … which really needs to change its name.” He frowned. “Assuming that’s the name of the research and museum wing at the university of Chicago.”
“Why change the name?”
“Because you don’t say oriental anymore, Jack.”
Jack frowned. “You don’t?”
“Where have you been?” Daniel asked.
“With my head in the sand, apparently.” Jack sighed. “Never mind. Now I know.” He pointed again at Daniel’s eyes. “I kept thinking, all this time, that there was something else different about you. My head really hasn’t been in the game.”
“Wait. Something else?” Daniel asked, picking that up.
“You said something else different. What else is?”
Jack pointed his own fork at his left hand. “You’re left-handed. He was right-handed.”
“I feel like a lab specimen,” Daniel murmured, and pushed his plate aside to dig into the chocolate pudding. “I was right-handed. Now I’m ambidextrous. Broke my hand when I was five, so I learned to use my left for six weeks. That young, I guess I just decided to use both. I write and draw with my left and I do everything else with my right.”
“You don’t write like a typical left-hander,” Jack said, recalling the form at the pharmacy that Daniel had to fill out.
“What? Upside-down?” Daniel asked. “Do you know why some lefties write that way?”
“No, but you’re gonna tell me,” Jack grinned.
“Because they’re conformists,” Daniel said.
Jack blinked. “Ya lost me.”
“When you’re learning to write in school, everyone’s paper is turned to the left because most people are right-handed. I turned the page to the right. My first-grade teacher started to get on me about it until my mom came down and had a few words with her.” Daniel smiled a bit at the memory.
“I never saw it like that,” Jack said thoughtfully. “But it fits you to a tee, you non-conformist you.”
Daniel rolled his eyes.
At his VIP room door, Jack said, “So you do everything else with your right hand?”
“If your mind is even in the same area code as something dirty,” Daniel growled at him, “let me remind you what happens when I get close to arousal.”
“And on that note, goodnight, Daniel.” He squeezed his shoulder and left, a Cheshire Cat grin on his face.
Daniel groaned and went inside, only just realizing that Jack had touched him. He spent the next hour teasing Jack via text messages, asking him if he had given him a pseudo-hug.
As Daniel headed up the curving staircase of the converted 1922 mansion, he still wore the olive drab fatigue trousers and a black t-shirt he had been assigned. In the short amount of time spent at the SGC, getting civilian clothes had not been important. While Jack had told him on the way to the appointment that it was time to take him clothes shopping, it did not do any good at the moment.
“But I appreciate it and I’ll figure out a way to pay you back,” Daniel had replied. Jack had rolled his eyes, and Daniel knew that, like his late husband, he would not care about getting paid back. It did not matter because Daniel paid his debts, even when the other person forgot about them.
At the top of the stairs was an old-fashioned sitting room with hallways that branched out on each side, bearing two doors apiece. He went to the first one on the right, as directed by Doctor Fraiser, and knocked. Instead of telling him to come in, a man about Jack’s age and height answered the door. He looked very non-threatening. He had a round face with kind blue eyes, short brown hair, a beard, and moustache that looked unfinished, and a slender build.
“Doctor Daniel Jackson?” the doctor asked, holding out his hand.
“Yes. Doctor William Palmer?” Daniel asked as they shook hands.
“That’s me,” he said. “Come on in.”
Daniel surveyed the room quickly, determining points of egress, as well as ordinary facts. The furniture was as old as the house: clawfoot chairs with heavy leather upholstery, a clawfoot desk, made of mahogany, and refinished. There were old landscape paintings on the walls. They were bland and calming and aimed to put patients at ease unless a patient found the outdoors a threat. There were vanity desks on opposite ends of the long, rectangular room.
The far wall held two sets of wide Bay windows, multi-paned on the sides as well as on the straight windows that separated them. There were plants on small settees and hanging from the ceiling. All in all, a rather serene atmosphere, including the very pale yellow paint. He was glad it wasn’t a medium green. It was an antiseptic color and there were too many bad memories associated with it. Sadly, most of the tile in the SGC bathrooms was the same color.
“You have any opinion on the decorating scheme?” Doctor Palmer asked.
Daniel turned to him. “No. I mean, I like it. Very …” He waved an aery hand. “Non-threatening.” He gestured questioningly at the chairs in front of his desk and the doctor nodded and pointed with his pen. He was surprised that the doctor had accurately guessed what he was doing, but after a few more seconds of thought, the man probably had multiple patients who did the same thing. He waved a hand again. “Do many people do that?” he asked, sitting in the right-hand chair. “Examine the office?”
“Almost always,” the doctor said, and instead of sitting behind his desk, he chose to sit in the chair next to Daniel’s and turned it so he would be facing him. “First things first. There was a sharing of information between your main primary care doctor, who is Doctor Janet Fraiser, and myself. She told me your symptoms and your background, but when it came to specifics about your traumas, she wasn’t free to share that information, particularly because it came second hand.”
Daniel nodded. Sam.
“Second thing is that I won’t be sharing any information about our sessions unless you give me permission to do so, and even then, it would be broad strokes, so no details.”
“What kind of information would you be sharing?”
“How you’re doing,” Palmer said. “I’m expected to report your progress on a weekly basis, and the only reason for that otherwise breach of ethics is due to the secret nature of the work and where you work. It’s unavoidable, and the government can pull this sort of thing at the drop of a hat and call it national security.”
Daniel gave him a small smile. “Which, I’m guessing, you don’t approve of?”
“No,” Palmer said on a sigh, “frankly, I don’t. I don’t appreciate having the health of my patients compromised based on erroneous judgments and nonsensical belief systems. And I don’t mean religious. Sometimes those at the top lose sight of the rights of those below them.”
“Yes, they do,” Daniel nodded. “So basically, when Doctor Fraiser calls and asks how I’m doing, you’ll let her know that I’m doing well, that there haven’t been any problems, or that if there are problems, you’ll tell her that, too.”
“I will tell her what I’ve always answered when asked by a person’s mother, father, priest, employer, lawyer, prosecutor, and primary care physician. Quote, ‘I am not at liberty to divulge my patients’ welfare. If he or she is a danger to themselves or others, I will take steps.”
“Steps?” Daniel interrupted, eyes wide.
Doctor Palmer gave him a grim, sad smile. “If a patient has a psychotic break, then I would order an involuntary stay at our best facility. Seventy-two hours is the minimum, and patients generally need more than thirty days to recover from something that severe.”
“Right,” Daniel sighed, jogging his brows.
“Unless or until that becomes a factor, you are not authorized to have that information as long as the patient hasn’t given their consent to share it,’ unquote. And in your case, it would be ‘Doctor Jackson’s treatment is proceeding normally. Unless he gives me permission to elaborate, that is all I will tell you.’”
Daniel was relieved, but he frowned and said, “In the past, there was a shrink who ordered Doctor Fraiser to share our medical information with our commander of the base. We weren’t happy to hear that.”
Palmer gave him a displeased look. “Yes, I’m aware of that sort of thing. It’s a different thing entirely to deal with military regulations. If the psychiatrist was military—”
“—and the doctor was military—”
“Then both are bound by regulations. For us, here, that doesn’t apply because I’m a civilian. I’m under no legal obligation to share any information with the military, regulations or no regulations.”
Daniel frowned. “You’re contracted, right? I used to be a Department of the Air Force civilian contractor. I had to abide by their regulations.”
“That doesn’t apply to the civilian medical profession, which is bound by an ethical code that overrides other regulations.” He gave him a rueful grin. “We’re like priests, only without the religious end of it. There are layers of involvement when it comes to the illegal behavior of my patients. If you tell me that you’re about to murder someone, but haven’t done it yet, I’m not allowed to contact the police. I am, however, obligated to talk you out of it. If you tell me that you have committed the murder, then I am compelled to talk you into turning yourself in. Now, if you’ve become a multiple murderer, such as a serial killer, and you confess that to me, or I find out in another manner, then I have to risk censure or my license to practice in order to turn you in to the police.”
Daniel nodded all throughout the doctor’s recitation. “I understand. So, let’s be plain here. I give you permission to tell Doctor Fraiser how the treatments are progressing. I do not give you permission to give her details. For example, if I tell you about the type of assault that happened, I don’t grant permission to divulge that information. It’s no one’s business but mine, and yours, as my therapist.”
Doctor Palmer nodded. “Of course. I wouldn’t divulge that information anyway, with or without your consent. Now, by the consent you’ve just orally given, but will have to be done in a sworn document, I will be able to tell her how well you’re progressing. Good or bad. I won’t elaborate. I can simply word it so that it sounds more than just good or bad.”
Daniel snorted. “You sound like a lawyer.”
“The medical profession deals with the same legal wording. It’s annoying but true.”
Doctor Palmer said, “Now, let’s talk about you, shall we? Do you have any conditions that can affect hand-eye coordination?”
“Hand-eye? I have a possible inner ear problem, but that doesn’t involve hand to eye.”
Doctor Palmer nodded. “Now, I have to do a MMPI assessment. Do you know what that is?”
“Psych test,” Daniel said, nodding.
Doctor Palmer gave him a rueful grin. “Not precisely, but for all intents and purposes, that’ll do. But to be more accurate, it’s the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. It’s a psychological test that assesses personality traits and psychopathology and is primarily intended to test people who are suspected of having mental health or other clinical issues. Where you are concerned, it’s appropriate, due the prolonged trauma you’ve suffered. It’s also a test commonly given to patients suffering the aftermath of sexual assault.”
“Right,” Daniel said.
“So, I’ll ask true-false questions. There are a lot of them, and they focus on specific areas of examination, and they include hypochondriasis, depression, hysteria, psychopathic deviate, masculine/feminine, paranoia, psychoasthenia, schizophrenia, hypomania, and social introversion. There are no right or wrong answers.”
“Psychoasthenia?” Daniel asked, fully intrigued, but partially worried. He was afraid of what the test would reveal, but he also knew that he wasn’t put together. He needed this help.
“The definition is a psychological disorder characterized by phobias, obsessions, compulsions, or excessive anxiety, but for this test, it looks for actions or thoughts that you are unable to resist, abnormal fears, difficulty in concentration, guilty feelings and thoughts, compulsive self-criticisms such as the compulsive need to put yourself down. Lastly, basic obsessive-compulsive behaviors that have developed due to the assaults and related trauma.”
“Indeed,” Doctor Palmer said. “Let’s begin.”
After the questions were finished, Doctor Palmer set his clipboard on the desk and sat forward.
“What’s the verdict?” Daniel asked nervously. “Am I headed for the rubber room?”
Doctor Palmer grinned. “You have some problems, but you knew that, and they’re also standard for someone who’s suffered prolonged trauma. And you know that, too. But it’s designed for me to be able to guide your treatment. Now, do me a favor.” He reached for a penlight sitting on his desktop. Sitting back, he held it vertically at eye level. “Watch the pen and tell me when you feel dizzy.”
“Okay.” Doctor Palmer moved it left and right, down, and up. When he went up on Daniel’s right, Daniel raised a hand as he blinked rapidly and squeezed the armrest with his left hand. “There.” The doctor stood up and raised the pen upward enough that Daniel had to tip his head back. “There.”
The doctor sat back down. “Sorry. Just confirming the inner ear issue. Did you have scans done to exclude other possible diagnoses?”
Daniel nodded. “Clear. No TBI or swelling.”
“Are you scheduled to see a physical therapist to get the inner ear balanced?”
Again, Daniel nodded. “After I leave here. Why do you ask about that? Did someone say something?”
“No, it’s a standard question from me because the work I do here is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” He grinned, showing even, white teeth. “I know. It’s a mouthful. EMDR, for short. After we discuss the results of the MMPI, we’ll begin work on the EMDR.” He grinned. “Gotta love the acronyms. Now, I prefer to start treatment with as much of a clean bill of health as possible. Physical health, I mean. EMDR is meant to help in a patient’s mental health, but it uses physical sensations to help a person fix what is wrong. Inner ear is a tricky problem.”
“Before we go further, what do you know about me? Specifically.”
Palmer gave him a more serious look. “You’re from an alternate, or parallel, universe. You arrived through a device called a quantum mirror.”
“Oh, okay. So, you know a great deal about the SGC and what we do, what I did, there?”
“I do. I’ve done some consulting work before for Doctor Fraiser. You travel to other planets via an alien device called a stargate, and that it was you who coined the term after transcribing the word from an ancient Egyptian cartouche. You then figured out what the symbols meant on the stargate itself and how they worked in a spatial grid.”
If Daniel did not know better, he’d have thought that Sam had given him that information. “Okay,” he said, nodding. “What do you need from me?”
“I’ll need to know why and how you appeared in this universe, where you came from, what your traumas were, how they were inflicted, and what you are currently experiencing in the form of PTSS.”
Daniel let out a long breath. “That’s a lot of information for one sitting, Doctor Palmer.”
“I don’t expect to hear it in detail in one sitting. The details are to be part of the treatment, if those details are causing you stress whenever you remember them. If they have affected your behavior in a negative, or positive, manner, then we’ll work to get you to a state where they don’t. And I could have said, ‘back to normal,’ but normal is relative.”
Daniel let out a snort. “Yes, it is.”
“We’ll try to avoid that term here. What I’d like to know, also, is what you expect to get out of this treatment.”
“I have a lot of fear, anger, hatred, rage, nightmares, nausea, vomiting. Those last two are what happens what a particular fear is activated.”
“That’s nicely general, but also specific. What is most important?”
Daniel swallowed. “It’s gonna sound stupid.”
“No, it won’t. There’s no such thing here.”
Daniel let out a wan half-laugh. “Yeah, well.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then another. And another. It was a full five minutes, and several raises of his hand, before he opened his eyes and looked at the wood grain of the front of the doctor’s desk instead of into his eyes.
“I get sick to my stomach every time I get aroused. I really, really want that to end.” He met the doctor’s eyes.
“Of course, you do,” the doctor said, frowning. “That is a particularly nasty side effect because part of your body’s natural function is fighting you.”
Daniel sighed silently as relief ebbed through him. The doctor noticed.
“You didn’t believe it was that important?”
“Important to me. Just not to … well, you. A doctor.”
“There will be no judgments in this office, Daniel. I give you my word.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said, but he reserved his own judgment on that. Time would tell.
“Any other issues?”
“Yes,” Daniel said with a sharp sound on the consonants. “First, I should tell you that the idea of never being able to be aroused again, for the rest of my life, without getting sick to my stomach … it made me suicidal.” The doctor’s eyes widened in alarm and Daniel held up a hand. “I’m not anymore, but you should know. It happened aboard the Andromeda, a ship we have in orbit.”
Doctor Palmer had started writing things down on a steno pad. “Go on.”
“I’m afraid of Doctor Fraiser.”
“Why?” Doctor Palmer asked, looking only slightly surprised. He looked more curious.
“Because of her counterpart in the other universe.”
The doctor nodded, writing, and he paused and grinned at him. “To a much lesser extent, and for various reasons, many in the SGC are afraid of the one in this universe. Although ‘annoyed with’ is more accurate. She’s in charge of their well-being and takes her job very seriously.”
Daniel sighed. “That’s understandable.”
“What else do you think needs examining?”
“Intimacy, where sex is concerned. I’m bisexual, and I was married to a man on the other side. I’m worried that because of … some … uh … assaults … that I won’t ever enjoy that kind of relationship again.”
“Can you be more specific?” Palmer asked. “I have an idea what you mean, but I don’t want to begin our professional relationship by making assumptions.”
Daniel cringed. “Oh. Sex. Anal … sex. I received, so to speak.” Palmer frowned, clearly bothered. Or concerned. Daniel could not tell.
“And are you saying that you are worried that there’s some damage there that will keep you from enjoying anal sex again?”
The way he said it, so matter-of-factly, without any judgment, made Daniel relax a bit, but only a bit. “Yes,” he said, waiting for any tic of disapproval. He did not see any. So, either the doctor was a fair person, or he hid his homophobia well. Daniel could not work with one, no matter how professional. “Does that bother you? My being bisexual? Or in this particular case, gay?”
“No,” Doctor Palmer said after writing a line. He looked up and something in Daniel’s expression made his brows go up.
“Am I giving you a challenging look?” Daniel asked. “Confrontational? If you’re reading that, you’re reading it correctly. I should have asked a few minutes ago. I won’t work with homophobic doctors. It shows a complete lack of empathy for a percentage of the population.”
“You don’t need to be concerned,” Doctor Palmer said. “People love who they love. My only problem with a person’s sexual desires are when those desires either intentionally harm another or their desire overrides any sense of empathy in the harming of the object of their desire. Specifically, pedophiles, and sexual sadists that pervert the more normal sexual explorations of BDSM. For example, Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade would be particularly disgusted with the average BDSM community because there is no enjoyment of another’s pain at the expense of their suffering, instead of at the expense of their pleasure.”
Daniel blinked in partial surprise and partial amusement. “You do give thorough answers, Doctor Palmer. I appreciate that.”
Doctor Palmer smiled. “You’re a professional, and an academic, if you’re anything like your counterpart. You appreciate a qualitative answer.”
“You know about his work?” Daniel asked.
“I looked it up. Doctor Fraiser told me about the person who died almost nine months ago. He had authored several papers on cross-cultural pollination that I found fascinating. Did you do the same in your former universe?”
Daniel nodded, impressed.
“Well, that would be a great discussion for another day. Now, let’s get back to your traumas. Or more accurately, the stress produced by them.”
“Would you be able to discuss what has caused this aversion to arousal, and your fear that you will never again be able to enjoy anal sex?”
Daniel stared at him and swallowed, then flushed from his ears to his neck and said shakily, and in a noticeably quiet voice, “Rape.”
“Once?” Doctor Palmer asked, lowering his own voice as well, but nowhere near the whisper-level of Daniel’s.
Daniel gave him a micro-shake of his head.
Daniel shook his head minutely, and slowly.
Doctor Palmer wrote on the pad. “More than two?”
Daniel nodded more fully, and very slowly, carefully. Sweat began to appear on his forehead.
Doctor Palmer nodded. “Okay,” he said, sighing slightly as he regarded him. “Let me say this, because I have to say it to all victims of sexual assault.” Daniel winced. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Not necessary,” Daniel said, and the slight frown turned slowly into a scowl. “I was a prisoner of a war no one was fighting because we all lost it. I was kept for nearly a year. I know it’s not my fault.”
“Good,” Doctor Palmer said, writing. “Would you be able to discuss what other forms of assault you endured?”
Daniel nodded, swallowing again. “Torture. Daily. Some of it was psychological. Threatening me or others with death if I didn’t do a translation within a specific amount of time. Or if I didn’t learn an alien language they wanted to know about. Then there were the punishments when I didn’t cooperate or be good enough, but that came after the initial questioning period after I was captured. Waterboarding, freezing, forced wakefulness.”
As he spoke, the doctor’s frown became just as severe as Daniel’s as he became horrified by the abuse inflicted on his patient. He wrote for a few minutes while Daniel waited. His shakiness subsided, and the sweat began to go tacky at the hairline. He had been afraid the doctor would overreact. Or rather, that he would do what Jack would do if Daniel told him everything. Instead, he was calm, professional, and Daniel appreciated it to no end.
“Okay,” Doctor Palmer said, setting his pad down on the desk. “We have some work to do.”
Daniel gave him a wan smile.
“There is one thing I was surprised by what you said, and that was the ability to use the word rape.”
“You reacted to the word as I expected, but you’re also able to say it. Will you continue to be able to say the word, or do you think it will get difficult the more we discuss it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe more difficult. There are things that she …” He stopped talking.
“She,” Palmer repeated. “A specific abuser,” he surmised.
“Who is somehow the same woman, physiologically, and genetically, as Doctor Fraiser, apart from the Goa’uld presence. It’s why I’m afraid of her. And the sound of …” He swallowed and started to become nauseous. “High heels clicking on hard surfaces.”
“Daniel, you’ve gone a bit pale. Are you nauseous?” Daniel nodded. “Sit up for me, stare straight ahead.” Daniel did so. The doctor picked up his penlight and held it vertically in front of Daniel’s eyes. “Watch the penlight.”
“Okay,” Daniel said shakily.
“What happened when you met this world’s Doctor Fraiser?”
“I froze,” Daniel said, watching as the pen moved slowly from side to side.
“She came walking toward me and I heard the heels. I vomited into the trash can. And I kept doing it until bile started coming up.” He was shaking now, his voice wavering.
“Okay, listen carefully. Tell me about a happy moment from when you were in the fourth grade.”
Daniel heard the tinkling of a tiny bell, frowned at its sound, then concentrated. “I … got a book for my birthday.”
“What was the book?”
“The original stories of the Brothers Grimm. I wanted to know the source material for fairy tales.”
“Because I studied them in the library, and it didn’t make sense that their fairy tales would be so clean compared to the time they lived in.”
“And getting that book made you happy?”
“Yeah, because my foster mother had never gotten me a present before. Then I she got me that, and we had a lot of talks about the stories.” Daniel’s body language changed dramatically. The stress he had been under was primarily gone.
“Now, let’s go back to the sound of high heels.”
Daniel sighed heavily. “Really?”
“Humor me,” Doctor Palmer said, half-smiling. “You heard the sound of her high heels as she came toward you, and you threw up. Then what?”
“Sam took her out of the infirmary, and I calmed down.”
“Was seeing her the problem? Or the sound of her heels?”
“And what were you thinking the moment you saw her?”
“I started doing comparisons. What was different.”
Doctor Palmer’s brows went up. “That’s encouraging, Daniel.” He set the pen on the table. “Relax.”
“What’s encouraging?” Daniel asked, slightly relaxing the muscles in his back. Sweat had beaded on his forehead and he absently wiped at it. Doctor Palmer handed him some tissues from the box on the desk.
“Your brain didn’t juxtapose the two women. You began to find ways to differentiate. Your subconscious, whether you realize it or not, was trying to protect you by forcing you to see the Janet Fraiser of this world, not the other one.”
Daniel frowned. “Well, no. I was consciously doing that. On purpose. It’s what I do, gather facts. Maybe it’s an emotional withdrawal, I don’t know.”
“A good observation, but it’s more a protective act.”
“And how do you feel now, recalling the event?”
Daniel frowned again, confused. “You mean, you want me to tell it to you again?”
“No, just think about it. Picture her coming toward you. You hear the heels.”
Daniel swallowed and felt the panic rise. He held his stomach. “Nauseated.”
Doctor Palmer nodded. “What’s missing from your reactions, during the initial telling?”
Daniel concentrated, then his eyes widened. “I’m not sweating, and my heart isn’t beating hard.”
The doctor nodded again and got up to go around his desk. “That’s a good beginning. What the essence of your fear is focusing on is the sound, not so much the sight. So, we’ll work on that. What we just did, Daniel, was EMDR, though there’s a lot more to it than that. We’ll get to it next time.” Palmer opened a date planner off the desk, making Daniel raise his brows.
“You make your own appointments?” he asked.
“You see a receptionist outside?” Palmer asked with a grin. “Yes, I schedule my own appointments. And I’d like to see you in two days. We’ll start our regimen at twice a week. Is that okay?”
Daniel stared at him, pleasantly surprised. “Absolutely.”
“You’re surprised,” the doctor said, writing. “Why?”
“I’m used to cold, clinical detachment. And doctors who don’t make their own appointments. More importantly, you believe this is important enough to see me twice a week.”
“Before you jump to conclusions,” Palmer said, continuing to write, but this time on an appointment card. “It’s standard practice for multiple sessions in one week. If you weren’t as well-adjusted, we’d be seeing each other every day.”
That took Daniel off-guard. “Well-adjusted? You’re kidding, right?”
“Hardly,” Palmer said, and ticked off the fingers of one hand by holding them up one at a time. “You’re not hallucinating. You’re not actively suicidal and have taken control over it. You’re not exhibiting signs of mental confusion. And you’re not evasive, confrontational, or scared of me. So, yes, you’re well-adjusted. What you are is someone experiencing stressors hourly, as a result of your extreme traumas, so we’ll meet twice a week. What we’ll be doing in our EMDR sessions are called Phases. There are seven. Phases one thru six are bi-weekly.” He gave him a brochure. “Read up on it online, too. Depending on the severity of some issues will depend on how long the bi-weekly appointments will last. At two months, there’s an evaluation. Then we move forward on a weekly period to see how you progress. The entire treatment can last as little as two months or as much as twelve. It all depends on the patient.”
“That’s all?” Daniel asked.
“Depends on the patient. Those are averages I gave you.”
After a minute, Palmer handed him a card with six appointments. “For the rest of the month.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Daniel said, and again, shook hands with the man. “Really. Thanks.” Daniel hesitated. “Can you tell me, straight out, and no pun intended, how likely is it that I’ll be able to have a full, healthy relationship with someone?”
“Sex, you mean?”
Daniel gave him a wince. “Yeah.”
“It’ll depend entirely on how well you do with this type of treatment. I would like to say that you have a particularly good chance, but the caveat is to not put the cart before the horse and guess. I feel positive, if that’s of any help.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said as he left the office.
By the time he reached Jack’s truck, Daniel felt hope for the first time in long time.
“You look better than I thought you would,” Jack said, surprised and relieved.
“It’s not the usual mumbo jumbo, as you call it. Not the sharing of feelings that will somehow make it all okay again.”
“It’s not?” Jack asked, brows up.
“Well …” Daniel waggled a hand. “It’s sharing, but it’s wackier. And it seems to work, but we didn’t go into depth. That’s for the day after tomorrow.”
“Twice a week, no exceptions.”
“Well, if you want this as bad as I do—”
“No, because I’m not you, but I come a close second.”
“So, tell me what’s what,” Jack asked as he backed out of the parking space. Daniel did, and Jack privately wished he had had someone like that to help when he’d returned from Iraq.
As they drove down the road, Daniel looked at his watch. It was just after 11:00. The PT appointment was not until 1:15 at the base. “What’re you planning now?” he asked. Jack frowned, clearly confused by what he meant. “I mean … wanna grab some lunch or do you have to head back right away?”
Jack was at a loss. He had not even thought about lunch, which was a first. He always seemed to be hungry lately, and there had been times when he’d wondered if it was because his body was confusing the need with something else entirely. After all, hungry did not just apply to food. On the heels of that thought, sexual desires started to rise to the surface of active thought and he quickly suppressed them. There was no need to torture himself.
“You have a look,” Daniel said.
Jack was taken completely off guard by Daniel’s oddly accurate intuition. “No, I don’t. What do you mean?” Daniel burst out laughing. It was the first time Jack had seen genuine laughter from the man and it looked good on him. “What? What’d I say?” Jack grinned. He especially needed to know so he could duplicate it when needed.
“You contradicted yourself. Sort of,” Daniel said, trying and failing to stifle the huge grin on his face. “You said ‘no you don’t’ to the comment, but then asked what I meant. How can you refute something you don’t understand?” He frowned, thinking. “Wait, never mind. Congress does it all the time, don’t they? And racists, Nazis, fascists, people who hate science—”
He started giggling again. Or chuckling. Jack had no idea which adjective applied to Daniel’s soft laughter. It did not matter. He tried to be annoyed but the man’s laughter, like most laughter, was infectious and he could not stop the grin on his own face. “That doc must’ve given you a happy pill. It’s weird. Stop that. So, what do you mean by look?”
Daniel sobered up eventually and cleared his throat as he sat up straighter. “Focused. Thinking about something serious,” Daniel said thoughtfully. “Maybe with a touch of guilt.”
“You can’t know that,” Jack said, disturbed by that blasted accuracy. Daniel’s brows rose. “Seriously, Daniel. You can’t know that.”
Daniel went quiet, suddenly self-conscious and cursed himself for treating Jack like his late husband. He knew him so well he could read the tiniest of facial expressions and be eighty percent right. He rolled down the window, needing air, even though Jack was running the A/C. The weather was abnormally warm for June. Or July. He suddenly did not know what month it was and dug out his appointment card from the front pocket of his fatigues. July. His next appointment was the day after tomorrow, which the card said was the 10th, so that meant today was the 8th. One day away.
“Now it’s you who has a look,” Jack said. “And I don’t need some sort of special intuition to see it. It’s all over your face.”
But unlike him, Daniel nodded. He also did not feel the need to explain. They were passing many fast food restaurants and up ahead, Daniel pointed. “Go in there, please?” Jack gave him a slight smile, maybe of acknowledgement, maybe of amusement. He turned into the access drive and headed for the Drive-Thru lane. Daniel abruptly thought of money and blurted out, “Unless you’re not buying, then never mind.”
“Of course I’m buying,” Jack said, giving Daniel an odd look.
“You had a look,” Daniel said. “Again. Definitely. What’s it mean? And no, I’m not playing the guessing game just because I was semi-accurate about the other look.”
Jack sighed. “It’s not about you. I was just thinking about how long it would take the Pentagon to approve your status and start paying you.”
“Only when I start contributing to their For-Profit bullshit,” Daniel replied with a cynical sigh.
Jack was surprised by the comment, but he could not argue with it. He also did not want to talk politics. “I think I can cover what you need or want. It’s not like I’m spending it on anything or anyone else. There’s just me.” He pulled up to the window and they both ordered. After paying, Jack drove to a nearby city park to have their lunch but remained in the truck because no tables were available. Apparently, the park was meant for activity, not picnicking. The humidity began to feel cloying and Daniel rolled up his window.
“Thanks,” he said, sipping some of the Coke he had ordered.
“Don’t you find it odd that I never once asked what month or day it was? All I ever asked about was the year.”
Jack shrugged. “No.”
“I just realized what month and day it was.”
Jack suddenly spit out, “Holy shit!”
Daniel’s brows went up, hoping that Jack was realizing what day it was tomorrow. “What?” he asked, keeping a smile off his face.
“It’s your birthday,” Jack said, sighing in disgust.
Daniel was surprised this time. “No, it’s tomorrow.”
Jack frowned. “The 9th instead of the 8th. Huh.” It then occurred to him that he had a whole day’s reprieve to get Daniel a present. Although … “Uh oh.”
“Listen. Carter and Teal’c might think it’s today.”
Daniel felt a little claustrophobic as the image of a party came to mind. He was not ready by any stretch of the imagination. “I don’t want a party.”
Jack gave him a definite look. “Why? Just a team thing.”
Daniel winced. “Can I take a rain check?”
“For a year?”
“I know, and I know it’s just Sam and Teal’c. And you. But …”
Daniel sighed. “I’m getting this feeling. Closest I can describe it is anxiety. A weight pressing down, or of being cornered.”
“Why?” Jack asked, frowning in confusion.
“Because of the memories of my last birthday.” He closed his eyes, trying and failing to block out the past. “My late husband and I,” he said slowly, “had a private celebration. Thinking about it causes those feelings, and I’d rather not give up my lunch, so I’m not going to tell you about it. And right now, a party in its place feels stupidly, insanely, sacrilegious. And no, that doesn’t make sense.”
Jack frowned at him and shook his head. “Okay. But what about presents?”
“I’d rather not.”
Jack’s brows knotted in consternation. “Why not?”
“Because … I’m not him.” Jack opened his mouth to start that argument all over again, but Daniel threw up a hand, signaling STOP. “I know! But think about it, Jack. You’ve only known me for a few months. It feels like it’s too early.” Jack opened his mouth. “And you probably think that doesn’t make sense since we’ve all become friends.”
“Yep, pretty much. Now, here’s my counterargument and this one might be uncomfortable for you to hear, but remember that I’m being completely honest here.”
Daniel gave him a wary look. “Okay,” he said slowly.
Purposely, Jack stared out the window instead of giving Daniel a direct look. “It doesn’t matter how long I’ve known you. I already feel more than friendship, and so do you. It’s not just inevitable, it’s who we are. Don’t you agree?”
“Yeah,” Daniel drawled, then sighed. “It is.”
“So, given that, don’t you think I can buy you a present and you can buy me one? Jesus, Daniel, where the hell does this lack of self-worth come from?” He waited several beats before he looked over at him.
“God knows,” Daniel said automatically, too busy redirecting his thoughts away from those feelings that Jack had forcibly, albeit innocently, awakened. When was he going to realize that he can’t even talk about it with him? He blinked several times, concentrating on the scenery. It was not working. He decided to take a long drink of his soda instead, hoping the ice cold would give him an ice cream headache. It worked, doing what he’d hoped it would do: act like a cold shower for his brain. He still pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth to warm the nerves and get the pain to stop.
“What’d you just do?” Jack asked.
“Diverted my mind from the feelings you just provoked by giving myself an ice cream headache.”
Jack made a growling, gurgling noise at the back of his throat. “It must take extreme willpower to keep your mind from going where it naturally wants to go. I admire that, while hating why you have to do it.”
Daniel shot him a startled look. It made him speechless for nearly a minute. “I wish I didn’t feel the need to thank you but thank you.”
Jack grinned mildly. “Now that we’ve covered the completely dysfunctional part of the friendship, how about we just play things by ear, day to day. The less pressure, the better.”
Daniel did not realize he had been worried about it, but after Jack’s suggestion, he felt his body relax. “Yeah. That … that actually sounds like a great idea.”
“And let Carter and Teal’c give you presents.” Daniel sighed but said nothing. Jack started up the truck and headed back to the mountain. “Back to business. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to be doing after PT. I’ll have to ask Hammond.” He shot him a quick, wary look. “If you don’t mind, I’ll give you the code to the archaeology lab. His office. You can start setting up shop there yourself.”
Daniel was not comfortable with the idea, but he kept that to himself. If he wanted to belong here, stay here, then where else was he going to work? “Sure. Thanks. Providing Hammond doesn’t mind.”
“I’d say you could go to the office anyway, but I’ll check with him first. Sometimes you don’t know which way he’ll swing.”
“Oh, no, you didn’t,” Daniel said, grimacing, and pressing a thumb between his eyes. “Rephrase that.”
Jack refused. Or rather, he could not. He was too busy laughing.
At the SGC, Physical Therapist Kyle Mathers instructed Daniel to sit on a therapy table, one whose upholstered surface was divided into four sections. When Daniel sat down, the tall, dark-skinned man wearing blue medical scrubs had him tip his head back, then move it side to side.
“Okay, lie down on your back and grab onto the table. I’m going to tilt the table’s head downward at an angle and I need you to stay put.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, puzzled. He waited and Kyle adjusted the table with a plunking sound, then moved around the table and tilted Daniel nearly ninety degrees backward, angling his head downward. He bent over to look into his eyes. “Yep. You feel that sensation?”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, holding his breath while he felt his right eyes wobble. Or as Janet had put it, tremor. He was severely disoriented.
“You’re going to stay in that position, then we’ll tip you in the opposite direction. What’s happened is that the balancing crystals, for lack of a better term, that are housed in the cavity behind your ears have become somewhat dislodged, and over time, the condition has worsened. So, when you lie down in one position, or look up far enough, your balance is lost and the room spins. What we’re doing is resetting them.”
“Okay,” Daniel said in a strained voice as he held himself still.
After a minute, Kyle rotated the bed, then kept Daniel in that position for another minute, checking on his eyes. Then the bed was set right again, and he hovered near his shoulders.
“Need help sitting up?”
“No,” Daniel said as pushed up and sat. He shook his head and blinked several times.
“Check your balance.”
Daniel did, and found that the spinning was gone.
“Fixed?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel answered, amazed. “How in the hell does doing that even work?”
“Realigns the crystals, as I mentioned.”
“Look forward,” Kyle said, and did the penlight motion thing. “Yep. Seems to be fixed.” He handed him a card. “If not, call me. I’ll put you on the books and we’ll try again. But I don’t think it’ll be necessary.” He eyed Daniel’s bandana-free hair as the man redid his ponytail. “That’s long. Are you going to cut it?”
Daniel sighed. “You’re the fifth person today who’s asked me that. And the answer is no. I’m not ready yet.”
“Why not?” Kyle asked, curious. “What’s keeping you from cutting it?”
“My past. The … problems there that ended up landing me in this universe. And no offense, but I’m not elaborating.”
Kyle shrugged. “Fair enough.”
Daniel got off the bed and dropped his head back, turning it first left then right. Vertical again, he saw Kyle grinning, and shook his hand as he said, “Just checking. Thanks so much.”
Kyle gave him a firm grip. “You’re welcome.”
Daniel left the office and pulled out his phone, calling Jack. “All fixed. Now what?”
“Ah. Head over to Carter’s lab. You know where it is?”
“Level 19?” he asked, going by his old universe.
“Level 20. We’re gonna talk about your lab.”
Daniel suspected a white lie. “Jack,” he drawled in a scolding tone, as if Jack was a kid stealing a cookie. A passing airman raised an eyebrow at him, and he quickly ducked through the infirmary’s double doors. The nurses looked at him questioningly and he shook his head at them. He had missed the first part of what Jack was saying, catching only “—new lab.” “Sorry, could you repeat that. I had to hide in the infirmary. I was in the corridor and got a look.”
“Yeah. It was the way I said your name.”
It made Jack laugh. “What I said was that we’ll talk about your lab while having a little welcome to your new lab thing.”
“Jack,” Daniel sighed with exasperation.
“A mini celebration. Tiny. Miniscule.”
Daniel smirked. “You just repeated yourself.”
“Mini. Miniscule. Hello.”
“Grammar police. I love it.”
“It’s bad manners to call your superior a liar.”
“Well, first, it’s considered insubordination, not bad manners; and second, you’re not my superior. Yet.”
“Give it time.”
Daniel was a bit taken aback. “Wait.” He lowered his voice. “Are you saying Hammond’s going to assign …” He could not say it.
“May-bee,” Jack said, turning a simple word into two.
Daniel had absolutely no idea what to say that would not bring on a lecture from Jack about self-worth. “Okay, so hang tight. I’m on my way.” He hung up before Jack could start grilling him about the PT. He would rather have time to think before he arrived at Sam’s lab.
Daniel spun around to see Janet at the station. “Hey,” he greeted, good mood gone. He swallowed, prepared to bolt the moment his stomach did a flip after hearing her walk. Strangely, she stayed at the nurse’s station and did not approach. It looked like she wanted to. He made fists with his hands, then realized it might look threatening and put one hand in his pocket instead and placed the other on the door. “Uh, good to see you. Exc—” he began, intended to leave.
“How’d PT go?”
Trapped. He gulped and looked away. “All fixed.”
“Excellent. And Doctor Palmer?
“Promising,” he said, nodding.
“That’s great,” she said cautiously.
He lowered his voice. “It is. I actually experienced hope afterward. First time in a long, long time.” Her response was to stare at him with eyes had that deer-in-headlights look. Apparently, she found the comment disturbing and that, in turn, bothered him. He rapidly said, “Okay, so Jack wants me to meet up at Sam’s lab. See you later.” He backed through the double doors before she could get over the surprise and say something weird. Or worse, walk.
. . .
Stargate Command had a station hut atop one of the peaks of Cheyenne Mountain. It was used for emergency exits and training and was otherwise locked and barricaded. Daniel had seen them using the entrance up on Level 12 earlier in the week, so he had gone up in the freight elevator and out into the open air before he could change his mind. He sat behind the structure, hugging his knees and leaned his chin on the latter, watching birds fly over the wide chasm before him. He was not supposed to be there.
Ten minutes earlier, he had been in Sam’s lab with her, Jack, and Teal’c, putting up with a celebration that, for lack of a better description, did not belong to him. He knew they had meant nothing but kindness and friendship, but he’d suddenly experienced an odd panic attack the moment he’d seen the arranged presents and drinks for someone born on the 8th of July. At least there hadn’t been a cake.
He knew they would be wondering what had taken him so long since a trip to the bathroom took three minutes, tops. Any minute now, the phone would ring. He would not avoid answering, but he needed time to get over the fact that he was, well, mad. He loved these people, these new people. He wanted to appreciate the kindness, the inclusiveness. They were going out of their way. And still, there had been an acute sensation of surrealism combined with a spooky sense of déjà vu and an instant recall of something that had happened over a year ago and in another universe, with Jack, Sam, and Teal’c, celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday. They had not been at Stargate Command though. They had been at a Jaffa stronghold, visiting some of Teal’c’s allies and brothers-in-arms. And everyone had died within a month. He should have died, too.
And therein lay the crux of his problem: a sense of wrongness. He was supposed to be dead. Either shot to death next to Jack or a frozen dead thing, floating in the cold of space inside another reality. Was it destiny that he should end up here? He could not believe that because it implied fate and he didn’t believe in fate. So, was the sense of wrongness part of his PTSS or maybe part of his grief?
At first, he had meant to visit the double’s office. To check and see if there were gouges over the desk’s middle drawer lock. Whether the green laminate over the metal of the desk had started peeling away. If there was a coffee stain on the floor by the right front leg. Was there a small book behind two blue atlas volumes that was his old address book? He had thought he had lost it and during a boring day, he’d decided to rearrange the books and had found it there. It had been missing. The last location had been the top right drawer. The most likely suspect had been Jack, who liked his little pranks.
And now here he was, in a world where he felt like an intruder, an interloper. The people he cared about were dead. And they were also alive and well. If it felt like they were getting a second chance with Doctor Daniel Jackson, couldn’t he think the same? Couldn’t he just stop with the damn comparisons? Why was he continuing to devalue himself? Why did he keep thinking he was not worthy? Clearly, he had self-esteem issues, but unfortunately, they were not a result of trauma. At least, he did not think so. He would have to bring it up with Doctor Palmer. He pulled the notepad and pencil out of his front right pocket and began to jot down the note, and while he was at it, he thought up a few more. And a few more after that.
. . .
Jack paused at Daniel’s office, swiped his key card, then opened the door. Immediately to his right was the old Daniel’s desk. Empty. He frowned and pulled out his phone.
Daniel’s phone rang mid-word and he finished it before answering. “Hey.”
“Where are you?” Jack asked instead of responding with the usual ‘hey’ back.
“At the observation peak, behind the building.” There was a long pause. “Jack?”
“On my way.”
He sounded mad. Daniel sighed, hung up, dropped his phone on the grass, and went back to writing the list of things he thought Doctor Palmer should know. As he wrote outsider, another word came to him, and it said everything about what the hell he was doing on a mountain peak: distancing.
Jack headed up in the second freight elevator, which began on Level 11. He knew it would take about five minutes and during that time, he cursed himself for being a fool. He had pushed this party thing on Daniel, who just might be feeling overwhelmed by it, never mind the fact that today was not his birthday. It belonged to the other Daniel. His Daniel. And if there was ever a reason to feel like an imposter or that he did not belong, it was having a party today instead of tomorrow. How stupid could he have been to think Daniel would just set it all aside for the sake of teammates celebrating a birthday that wasn’t his?
Guilt increased as he wondered if their acceptance of him had gone too fast. They had meant well, but had they simply accepted him too soon because, if they were all truly honest, they had only seen their old Daniel in rough shape? It had almost been like that with the Kowalsky from another universe. Jack had easily felt comfortable with him, even though the man had been dead two and a half years. The guy acted and thought like the friend he had lost, and he had invited the man to stay. They could pick up where they left off. Almost. But Kowalsky had said it plainly: “This isn’t my world, Jack. I don’t belong here.” Plus, he had a fight with the Goa’uld to get back to and Kowalsky’s sense of honor was as strong as Jack’s.
Jack kept getting mad at Daniel for his lack of self-worth, and while that was justified on a certain level, it was not fully appropriate because Daniel had every right to feel how he felt. Who was he, Jack O’Neill, to tell him how to feel? In what universe were these three people, who missed their friend and loved one, in a place to judge Daniel’s behavior? They had all gotten mad at him on the ship for treating them like strangers. They had not tried to see things from his perspective. They were too wrapped up in grief, and when this man showed up, they were all too willing to see him as the man they had lost.
In the two months on Omega, they had grown closer, and so it felt as if the stages of grief had been aborted. There was Daniel again, even though he was not precisely the same guy. They were drawn to him, just as he was drawn to them. And Jack had to face that he was falling for him. He had started to deny it, thinking that it was his imagination, but it wasn’t, and worse yet, it had only taken three months. A foundation was already in place, so he hadn’t had to start from scratch, and while this man had a different personality, in some respects, there had been many times when he’d said or done something that was identical to his counterpart. And he was still doing it.
The biggest issue, in Jack’s mind, was that Daniel was damaged, and none of them, not even himself, had the slightest idea what this Daniel had gone through. He had lost his own Jack, his own friends. He, too, had been in mourning, however abbreviated, and they could not see it. They had only seen their own. Their Daniel had died a gruesome death, and the new Daniel had seen his friends, and his husband, murdered. So, what was he feeling now? Unable to grieve, thanks to his trauma, what did Daniel need? Given the distancing he was looking for, it felt like he wanted to be alone, but wasn’t that supposed to be a bad idea? Didn’t Daniel require a support system to help him through healing?
Jack exited the elevator and walked around the structure. Daniel was sitting on the ground, writing on a notepad that rested on his knees. He walked over and laid a hand on the back of Daniel’s head. His hair was silky soft. “Hey.”
Daniel did not look up and continued writing. “Hey,” he said.
Jack sat down next to him. “Was it a fear that brought this on, or another sense of not belonging?”
Daniel did not look at him. He paused in his writing and looked straight ahead. “I’m sorry.”
“For?” Jack prodded.
“The latter.” He set the notepad down and crossed his arms over his knees, continuing to stare at the mountain peaks and slopes that filled the landscape. “I’ve been here long enough to get used to you, Sam, Teal’c, but it just gets to be too much sometimes. And today …”
Jack sat down next to him. “It’s us who should apologize to you, Daniel. So, for my part, I’m sorry.”
Daniel looked at him, frowning. “That’s …” He paused, brows twitching, as if he didn’t know whether to be surprised, puzzled, or angry. “Thanks. But what’re you apologizing for?”
“For today. For not waiting until tomorrow, as if you would just accept today as your birthday when it isn’t. I’m sorry.”
Daniel sighed and looked back at the scenery, absently noting number of green tones in the trees and shrubs, and a part of his mind said pollen, which reminded him of the last paper he’d written on the expansion of civilizations and how the blend of cultures was a mixed bag of positives and negatives. It seemed to go well with his own situation, odd as he felt that was. Was he a speck of pollen, just floating along until it landed somewhere to disperse its activating DNA? The metaphor was too vague and silly, and he shook his head to clear it.
Jack wondered what he was shaking his head for. He patted his mid-back. “If you’re still acting this way a year from now, then we’ll have a problem. But for now, you have every right to act like a dick whenever necessary. Not that—”
“Dick?” Daniel asked, scowling as he turned to him. “What are you talking about? I’m not being a dick.”
Jack raised a brow.
“Okay,” Daniel allowed. “So, checking out without a word was a dick move, so I’ll grant you that, but the reason for doing it wasn’t a dick move.”
Jack picked up the notepad. “What’re you writing?” He read the list of adjectives, verbs, and nouns. The last one said isolation.
“Topics to discuss with Doctor Palmer.”
Jack nodded absently. “You like this guy?”
Daniel nodded. “I looked up all the theories and papers this guy has written, as well as the in-depth studies done on EMDR. He’s pretty smart and pretty innovative.”
Jack grinned. “Like you.” Daniel snorted, making him grin. “By the way, you have the office. It’s no longer his. It’s yours.”
Another wide-eyed stare. “I do,” he stated, then thought it over. “Weird.”
“Because …” Daniel began, then paused as he tried to form the most coherent response. In the end, he just laid it out plainly without trying to sound too apologetic. “Okay, here goes, and I’m sorry for the arrogance of this statement: it’s weird because it’s already my office. I’m just being allowed to have it back.” Jack stared at him, brows raised. “Yes, I know how that sounded. But the truth is …” He froze, refusing to say the words in his head aloud, and scrambled to find something else to say instead.
“You don’t think you’re ready for it?” Jack guessed.
Daniel blinked a few times. It was as good an answer as any. “Maybe.”
“Well, don’t think it’s my doing. About getting the office, I mean. It’s Hammond you have to thank.”
Daniel eyed him. “Just Hammond?”
“Okay, there’s a little more to it, but it’s now your office. Plus, I have a surprise.”
Daniel dropped his head back and closed his eyes. “Hit me.”
Jack tapped his leg before standing up. “You’re coming home with me.” Daniel got to his feet in a snap, eyes wide. “Calm down. I’m not asking you to sleep in the same bed. You’ll have the spare bedroom.”
Daniel’s heart beat at his chest like bongo drums and he forced himself to breathe. He really, really wished he had not needed to do it. On the heels of that damn fear came relief. No more VIP room with green tile. “That really means a lot, Jack. Thanks.” He also wanted to hug him but that would lead to dreadful things. But he also remembered Sam’s comments about touching and how he seemed to subconsciously reach for him. How was he supposed to avoid the desire part while getting that needed comfort?
“C’mon. Let’s get you packed.”
“But it’s—” Daniel began. “What time is it?” he asked, picking up his phone to look.
“After two, but we’re leaving early so we can get you squared away.”
“Okay, cool,” Daniel said, hiding his excitement. He did not want Jack to get the right idea. But shouldn’t he show a bit more—
“Try to contain your enthusiasm,” Jack said with a blandness he did not feel.
--Enthusiasm. Daniel smiled and got to his feet. “I am excited. Trust me.”
So close, no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters
One Month Later
Daniel felt the sweat trickle at his hairline as he walked outside to call for a taxi. The doctor’s office had been air-conditioned and cool compared to the late-summer heatwave outside, but it hadn’t mattered. They had been going through the hardest of his traumas, and today had been the start of zeroing in on the substance of his psychosomatic nausea.
They were on Phase Five of Seven. The doctor had explained that in the first six phases, targets were named and processed. They involved particular events that required him to recall sight, smell, sound, taste. Everything had to be concentrated on, and while he was in distress, he would watch the doctor’s hand. An audial tone would be added for additional external stimulation. In the midst of his stress, he would be asked to think of a happy memory. The point was to diffuse the stress while not removing it so that when he went back to it, the emotional feedback would be less and less until it was no more than a bad memory and an active dislike.
So far, that was all that they had done. He had watched the doctor’s moving hand, listened to the tone, and upon the moment of the doctor’s request, Daniel had searched for something happy. It had taken a dozen tries on some of the worst stressors because, as he had warned the doctor, he did not have a whole lot of happy memories. The ones he did have involved Shau’re, Abydos, and Jack. Some involved academic achievements. Put together, they were limited in number and the problems came when recalling the same happy memory did not work as well as the first time.
When he could not find a particularly happy moment in time, he had to settle for satisfaction and events that were pleasurable. He had discovered that instances like his first Christmas or birthday present were good enough to dispel the emotional upset. Doctor Palmer learned that for Daniel’s treatment to be successful, happy had to be redefined.
The current issue had been extremely difficult to recall without vomiting or being overwhelmed with hate. As a result, he was wiped. The weather was not helping. As he waited for the cab, he wished for the millionth time that he had his own car. Jack was no longer picking him up from his treatments because Daniel needed to be alone afterward. He did not think it was fair to deny Jack his emotional support, but Daniel didn’t know what to say, do, or think when he was around right after a session. All he wanted to do was scream and rage and hear the sound of something breaking.
For the last few weeks, he had held a mantra in his head that had said, I’m doing this so I can be with Jack in both body and mind. When he’d mentioned it to Doctor Palmer, the Doc had abruptly put a halt to the therapy in order to spend one entire visit on re-grounding to make sure Daniel believed that his therapy was for his own benefit, not for someone else. It was difficult because his love for Jack interfered with his own well-being. It was what Doctor Palmer called a martyr complex and just knowing that helped Daniel fight against it.
When it came to tackling the sexual traumas, love was a hindrance, and at the source of his difficulty because his sole interest in getting past the damn trauma was so he could be intimate. It was more than important; it was an imperative. At least he had accomplished one big change: he had stopped believing that he didn’t belong in this universe.
Daniel walked into the house and began to undress at once knowing that Jack would not be home for a while. He did not care that his clothes lay scattered all the way to the bathroom because his goal was to get under the hot spray as soon as possible. He was about to step into the shower when he remembered two things: he needed to wait for the water to warm up, and he needed a mixed ale from the kitchen. The latest favorite was Mike’s Harder lemonade.
He was not happy about not being able to smoke pot. It was legal in Colorado, and he would get some as soon as he had the money, but he was not going to ask Jack for it. Unfortunately, he had to make do with alcohol and he was getting awfully sick of doing that—no matter the subject matter of the treatments.
After downing half the can, aiming directly for that buzz, right or wrong, he got into the shower and let the hot water wash over him for a while. It might be hot outside, but he needed that hot water to relax the muscles in his neck and back, and ease away the headache that stabbed at his temples and applied pressure right above his brows.
Ten minutes passed and his mind began to settle. Another ten minutes, and he began to float on a tide of ale-assisted endorphins as the pain retreated. Drawing up happy memories during the session had been just as exhausting as going through the traumas themselves. What he needed to do was to look for those memories throughout his day. In the shower, he looked for associated memories and found himself revisiting a happy moment with his late husband: the last time they had shared a shower. They had been playing driveway hockey and there’d been the typical teasing and taunting. Afterward, there was a lot of sexual pampering. He sighed as the memory expanded . . .
Behind him in the shower, Jack had wrapped his arms around him, inhaling his scent and growling against his neck. Those hands had moved downward to take hold of his cock and he had jerked him off, slow and easy for a while until Daniel’s breathing had told him it was time to speed up and get him off. They had swayed afterward with slow anal sex.
Without thinking, Daniel took hold of his cock and began to stroke himself as he immersed himself in the memory … and then his hand froze, and eyes flew open in alarm.
He was hard. And he wasn’t sick to his stomach.
His mouth dropped open, partly in shock, partly in lust, partly in fear, waiting for the nausea to ambush him. But it did not arrive. Tentatively, with a purposeful focus, he recalled the memory again but with an extremely specific aim in mind. He used the technique the doctor had given him and focused on sight, sound, touch, and taste. He focused on the feel of Jack body, and the touch of his gifted hands and tanned forearms, the smell of his sweat, the scent of his own arousal, the taste of the water and of Jack’s deep kiss as he had been brought to orgasm in his husband’s hand. Daniel stroked rapidly, desperately, as his body finally responded to desires without the overwhelming nausea.
He wanted to keep the memory alive, to climax reliving it, but his subconscious had other ideas and instead of his husband, it was the Jack he lived with who took over. He was the one now standing behind him, hand wrapping around his cock. The arousal amped up to eleven and Daniel gasped in startled, welcomed relief as the fantasy erupted in climax. “Jack!” The orgasm that ripped through his body was explosive, as if it were gun powder that had been stockpiled, and he collapsed to his knees, free hand on the tile to hold himself up.
He squeezed and pulled his dick through that keen, beautiful release, wishing for more, but it was all he was going to get. He half-laughed, half-cried with a relief beyond description and he did not dare fantasize about anything else, especially the future, and simply accepted what he was able to do.
That night after Jack got home, Daniel said nothing, not wanting to jinx it, nor give premature hope, but he knew that Jack could tell something had happened because he caught Daniel smiling to himself. And bless Jack’s angelic heart. He did not ask.
. . .
“Here,” Jack said the next morning, and he handed Daniel a set of keys after they cleaned up the breakfast dishes.
Daniel looked at them, expecting to see an extra fancy set of house keys or something equally silly since his copies were just fine. Instead, he took another look and realized that they were not house keys. An emblem on one key was an upside-down triangle. He turned it over. It said, Rocket III. He frowned, having never heard of the car make before. “Is this a car?”
Jack shook his head, making him frown. “C’mon, follow me,” he said, and led Daniel out to the garage. It was a place Daniel had avoided. “I’ve been wondering why you never asked about what’s in here,” Jack said, opening the side door by the laundry room.
“A guy likes his privacy,” Daniel said, shrugging. “Tool shop and all that. Besides, when you gave me the penny tour, it didn’t include the garage, so I didn’t ask.”
Jack gave him an odd look. “What was in this garage in the other universe?”
“His workshop,” Daniel answered, grinning. “He liked his alone time with blocks of wood.”
“Okay, I’m not touching that,” Jack said and flipped a switch just inside the door. A set of florescent light fixtures flickered on. The garage was filled with the usual shelves of power tools, including the customary pegboard with the equally customary hand tools. It was pretty clean, as garages went. In the center of the garage, however, sat something under a brown tarp that most obviously was not a car. It was a bike.
“A motorcycle?” Daniel asked, eyes wide. “Rocket III is what?”
“Let’s find out,” Jack smirked as he went over and stepped on something at the foot of the garage door, then pulled it up along its tracks until it was fully retracted. He then pulled on the tarp and drew it off, folding it up as he went. Sitting there was a sloping black motorcycle with fancy pistons and a flared exhaust. The name on the top of the gas tank said Triumph.
Daniel’s mouth dropped open. A thousand questions ran through his head. “When … how … what … did … I …” He shut his mouth out of consternation at his own inability to form a frickin’ sentence. Surprised was one thing. Speechless was another. “Wow. That’s gorgeous.”
Jack grinned as he looked at his watch. “We have time to stop at the gas station to get it filled up, and before you ask, it’s not regular fuel but biofuel. Based on corn.”
Daniel stared. “No shit?”
“No shit. This weekend, we can find you some appropriate riding clothes.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “I don’t need riding clothes. It’s got a helmet. That’s all I need.”
“You need a jacket, boots, and in a few months, a coat. Trust me, will ya?”
Daniel swallowed, bracing for a scolding. “Why?” he asked. “And I don’t mean, ‘I don’t deserve blah, blah, blah’.”
Jack put a hand on his arm. “To make life simple. I can only imagine having to deal with the fallout from your therapy sessions in the back of a damn cab. Too bad fixing what’s broken isn’t as simple as fixing your inner ear.”
“If only,” Daniel said.
“So, let’s just make going to your appointments as painless as possible. Besides, this baby never gets ridden. You said once that you used to ride.” He held out both hands. “Voila. Here he is. Ready to go.”
“Don’t people usually refer to inanimate objects as ‘she’?” Daniel said as he followed Jack back in the house to get his phone and house keys.
“Do I look like a sexist asshole to you?” Jack asked.
“I’m going to assume that was rhetorical,” Daniel said.
Jack threw a pair of gloves at him and Daniel half-ducked, smiling, as he caught them anyway. Jack locked up the house while Daniel pushed the bike out and locked up the garage. Heading for his truck, Jack said, “By the way. Next week, Hammond’s thinking about having you go out on a cake walk mission with us.”
Daniel paused in the act of inserting the key, eyes wide. “Really? You’re not just yanking my chain?”
“No,” Jack drawled, walking around his truck. He opened the door and said, “I’m not. Not for this.”
“What kind of cake walk?”
“Don’t know yet. But you deserve a head’s up.”
“Right,” Daniel said, turning on the bike. It had a powerful sound and the buzz under his balls was tantalizingly pleasant. He looked down at his combat boots and thought that maybe Jack was half right. He needed proper boots. By the time he got to the mountain, he had also decided he needed a leather jacket. The base ID he carried was the special driver’s license, so until they decided what his real name would be, at least for now, he was Doctor Daniel Jackson.
Five Days Later
Daniel headed into the doctor’s office with conflicting thoughts. He had not seen the man for five days, which was a no-no, and he wasn’t looking forward to the reprimand. Despite this, he was contradictorily self-conscious and self-centered in his excitement about his shower breakthrough—even though talking about his sexual behavior was still a bit awkward. A hat trick of dysfunction, if he was honest with himself.
Palmer was standing by one of the bay windows, looking down at the parking lot. “Did you buy a motorcycle?” he asked. “I thought you didn’t have a decent paycheck coming in yet.”
“It’s Jack’s,” Daniel said, taking a seat.
“Ah.” He came back to his desk and like always during their sessions, he sat next to Daniel instead of putting the desk between them. “Do you like riding?”
Daniel nodded. “I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was heading down the road. All the old reflexes kicked in. I used to ride all throughout college and my post-graduate fellowships, but then I lost grants and support because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I had to sell the bike. The next time I rode was when my late husband bought me a bike for my birthday.”
“Hell of a birthday present,” Palmer said with a smile.
“Right? Though my husband bought me a Harley and Jack’s is a Triumph.”
“Do you like one make more than the other?”
Daniel sighed slowly, thinking. “The Triumph, and it’s only because of the seat. It feels better. Other than that, they’re identical in power. But I’ve never been a fan of making them loud. It’s grating to me. Gets on the nerves of those around you who don’t ride, and why inflict that on someone just for some false masculinity?”
Palmer pursed his lips, studying him. “Riding a bike suits you.”
“It does?” Daniel asked, surprised. “How so?”
“The image. Free of constraints, compared to when you’re in a car or truck and you’re surrounded by steel. Your personality reflects the desire to be free of restraint.”
Daniel thought about that and chewed at his lip. “I’ve had to put up walls to protect myself and can only release that when I ride.”
Doctor Palmer smiled. “Precisely, Daniel.”
Daniel gave him a mild look of exasperation. “Well done. You steered me into a metaphor, so let’s skip the manipulation and get down to business.”
Palmer nodded. “I apologize. Manipulation was not on my mind, and metaphors were originally designed to teach.” Daniel nodded agreement. “So, how’ve been things since last Tuesday? When you cancelled Thursday, I was worried.”
Daniel made a face. “I’m sorry. But there was a briefing I wasn’t allowed to skip.” The doctor frowned as he got up and reached across his desk to write something down, then returned to his chair. “What was that?” Daniel asked.
“Remember when I said your therapy is paramount? Well, apparently my orders about its precedence are being ignored, so someone’s getting a phone call. Your therapy is far more important than anything that isn’t an emergency security issue. You can’t commit to your life, or your job, until your mind is properly realigned.”
Daniel sighed. “I knew it wouldn’t go over well. I did warn them. And frankly, part of that is my own fault because I could’ve rescheduled.”
“Not really. I had a lecture to give the next day so that day was important.”
Daniel made a face. “Consider me reprimanded.”
“That’s not my intent,” Palmer said, leaning over, and placing a hand on Daniel’s forearm. “You need to learn to value yourself.”
“I do.” He grinned. “More than I did two weeks ago.”
“You seem pretty upbeat,” the doctor noted. “Is it the bike or something else?”
Daniel gave him a hesitant smile and cleared his throat a few times. “I, uh, got aroused and didn’t get nauseated.” The doctor’s brows rose slightly. “I was in the shower,” Daniel said quickly. “I was thinking about my late husband and the last time we shared one. I didn’t even call up the memory on purpose. Well, sort of. I was thinking about happy memories and that moment just popped into my head. Things just kind of went on from there.”
“And you orgasmed?” the doctor asked.
Daniel swallowed back the embarrassment and nodded. “I did. It was rather …”
“I’m not surprised, given how long you’ve had to go without enjoying a release of any kind.” He paused, considering him. “Did Jack feature in any part of the recollection, turning it into fantasy, or was it only your late husband and the memory itself?”
Daniel gave him a guilty look and nodded. “The former. I know why it happened, but it felt wrong somehow.”
“Fantasies are normal and there’s no right or wrong. Given that you’ve had this breakthrough, do you think you’re ready to move forward and leave fantasy for reality?”
Daniel shrank a bit. “Not yet. I’m too afraid of something triggering fear or nausea.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“A touch, specifically. On any part of me, not just in the focused … areas. There are some things I just can’t do yet, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. And if you don’t mind, I’d rather not explain.”
“Would explaining cause you stress?” Palmer asked pointedly.
Daniel frowned. “Yes, and I really don’t want to go there right now.” He had paled then, afraid that the doctor would insist.
“It’s all tied together, Daniel. What happened to you. It wasn’t just the physical. It was psychological. So, what you’re referring to will need to be examined.”
Daniel grimaced. “It’s … bad enough that I think I’ll retraumatize myself by just talking about it. Can’t we skip it?”
“I’d rather not, but your mental health is more important than risking a relapse just because I think we should examine everything.”
“Thank you,” Daniel said, relieved.
“However, can you give me a generalized description so I’m aware of the problem? It’ll relate to other things, I guarantee.”
Daniel heaved a sigh of trepidation. “It’s a sexual position. Facing downward. I can’t talk about it. I know I can’t do it. If or when I’m finally intimate with Jack, every position will be with Jack facing me. I don’t think I can even spoon with him, sex or no sex.”
“Then we’ll skip that for now until you’re ready. When we go into Phase Seven, we’ll have to bookmark this problem and get back to it.”
“Ugh,” Daniel said, sagging in his chair. “Okay.” He straightened. “Remind me what Phase Seven entails?”
“You’ll keep a log for one week. Record everything that’s related to the material we’ve gone over, and anything that we have not, including what you’ve described. For example, when you sleep with Jack, and I mean sleep, you might wake up in a spooning position, so however that makes you feel and react, I want you to write it down. That goes for all stressors, no matter how potentially insignificant. It will also serve to remind you to employ the self-calming techniques we discovered that work for you. Now remember. If you do decide to use the practice of recall on your own, remember to let your mind go blank. You then mark any thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation that comes to mind, and write it down in the log, and then we’ll go over those instances as well as any others in sessions next Tuesday and Thursday.”
“I, uh, actually did that in the shower. After I realized what I was, um, doing, as I thought about him, my late husband, I employed the recall of all the senses.”
“Very good,” Palmer said with a nod. “After you complete a log, two weeks from now, we’ll start the next phase, if all goes well.”
“Remind me what that is?”
“It’s a review of your progress and the successes or failures that have happened. We can then go over stressors that still need work.”
Daniel sighed. “Okay.” His eyes widened. “Oh, crap! I’m supposed to go out on a test mission. I don’t know how long it’ll last. It’s next week, Jack said.” He gave the doctor an imploring look. “Can we extend the log phase? I really want to get off this planet for a while.”
“To prove yourself, you mean.”
“Is it that obvious?” Daniel asked with chagrin.
Palmer grinned. “Only to me. And those who know you best, like Jack. So, if you pass the test, does that mean you’ll be rejoining SG-1?”
“I think so.”
Doctor Palmer pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Then I’ll expect a phone call from Hammond.”
“Really?” Daniel asked.
“As I said, therapy comes first, which also means that any decisions he makes will include my opinion on your progress and outlook.”
“Are you feeling positive about that?” Daniel asked worriedly.
“I am. But let’s not jump the gun and put the cart before the horse. I’ll agree to the mission, so long as it’s only dealing with known factors that aren’t life-threatening.”
Daniel made a face. “If it’s not?”
“I suppose throwing you into the lion’s den, so to speak, is a test, but I’ll insist it can’t be that. No strange aliens or unknown situations, Daniel. I mean it.”
“Can you give me an example?”
Palmer pursed his lips again. “Well, if the planet you go to has a population of Unas, skip it. If you’re going to see the Asgard, skip it.”
“I get why I should steer clear of the Unas, but why the Asgard?”
“You know about them?” Daniel asked, surprised. He looked at the doctor’s desk and laptop sitting open. “I’m going to assume you have security measures in place to keep that information private?”
“Military-grade encryption,” Doctor Palmer said. “And I know about replicators only because they’re a threat to SG personnel, and therefore are of particular note in their fears. It saves time when patients don’t have to use up their therapy hour having to explain.”
“That makes sense. I’m just surprised that you were told.”
“Janet and I have discussed work with many patients, and in order for me to do my job, facts needed to be shared, regardless of their secrecy level.”
“Ah,” Daniel said. “Got it. So. What’s on the agenda for today?”
“The Goa’uld Frazier.” Palmer checked his notes quickly. “What happened during the fourteenth week at the Reform, in the cargo bay on Level 15.”
Daniel swallowed hard and grabbed a sickness bag.
Laughter. Maniacal. Pain. The blinding, overhead light above the table.
Daniel screamed the word, mind filled with fear and hatred, and he awoke from a nightmare where he had been reliving a painful, hideous memory. He would not have had the stupid thing if he hadn’t done the image stimulation in therapy. Damn Doctor Palmer for making him go through that. At least the nightmare had not been sexual.
“Fuck,” he said, getting up and throwing the covers aside. Now he had to walk around, get something to drink while he ran into things thanks to how damn tired he was. When he headed for the door, the floor creaked and the door opened. There was Jack’s black silhouette as he appeared in the doorway. “You okay?”
Jack was in pajama bottoms and nothing else. They were in response to Daniel’s request that he wear something more than boxers. Seeing him in those things had been just a bit too … well, things stirred that were not supposed to. Hopefully, that would change soon. But Jesus. The guy was still half naked anyway and looking sexy as hell.
“Yeah, I’m okay. And you’re …” He waved an aery hand and averted his gaze. “Half naked.”
Jack snorted. “I don’t have a shirt on. That’s not half naked.”
Daniel groaned and shaded his eyes. “Whatever you say. Now get out of the way so I can do my thing.”
Jack stepped aside and watched Daniel go down the hall and disappear into the kitchen. It was now routine, unfortunately, whenever he had a nightmare. Daniel would go to the kitchen, take some Tylenol with a mixed ale, then go out onto the deck behind the house and stand there, waiting, as the nightmare faded. He would not go back to sleep until he was sure his mind wouldn’t pick up where it had left off upon waking. He followed him into the kitchen, just to make sure he was alright and watched as he retrieved a can from the fridge.
Daniel looked over at him as he opened the bottle of Tylenol kept on the kitchen counter. “Did I wake you?” he asked, cringing. “I’m sorry.”
Jack leaned against the entryway’s support column that separated the kitchen from the dining room and crossed his arms. “There’s nothing to apologize for. I was already up. I can’t sleep.”
Daniel gave him a lop-sided grin. “Wanna talk about it?”
Jack snorted and laughed. “That’s funny.”
“Yeah. And here’s the even funnier part. I’m serious.” He was. “And maybe listening to you will get my mind off the crap. Or I can go out back and stand in the dark.”
“Maybe,” Jack said, and turned around, heading for the hallway.
Daniel frowned as he guzzled the drink, stopping after five seconds. The fizz burned nicely, making him twitch his nose as it tickled his throat where nasal passage exited. Jack returned with the leather-bound journal Daniel had bought for his log writing. He set it on the counter next to him and said, “Write it down before it fades. A nightmare qualifies as the distress the doc told you to record.”
Daniel gave him a disgusted look and skipped answering him because it had all been said and done twice over. He would say, “That’s what I get for telling you everything.” And Jack would respond with, “Then stop telling me.”
“I keep forgetting to ask,” Daniel said instead as he moved aside while Jack grabbed a beer. “Why can’t you get to sleep at nine or ten anymore?”
“It’s been a thing for the last year,” Jack admitted. “Since his death, I can’t go to sleep early. Partly because I’d wake up from nightmares not long after I’d drop off. If I stay up, or fall asleep watching TV, that doesn’t happen. I don’t know why.”
Daniel frowned as he took a sip from the now-half-empty can. “You’re still having nightmares?” he asked. “Why haven’t you said anything?”
“Because the nightmares have passed. So, I could go to sleep, except …”
“You’re afraid the nightmares will come back? I think you need to see Doctor Palmer. His method helps me. Maybe it’ll help you.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Jack jerked his chin in the direction of Daniel’s bedroom. “You going back to bed?”
Daniel shook his head and tipped his can at the back door. “Going to do my thing.”
“Maybe you should talk about it instead?” Jack asked, knowing already what the answer would be, but he had to offer an ear anyway.
Daniel shook his head as he gave him a small, pained smile. “Sorry. I’m not sharing this stuff.”
“Burdens are meant to be shared,” Jack offered.
“Not these,” Daniel said, and he tapped Jack’s arm with the side of his fist as he walked past him, heading for the back door. Jack did not follow when he stepped onto the deck and the tension in Daniel’s neck and shoulders relaxed. He needed Jack to stay away. What he wanted most at that moment was to wrap his hands around Frazier’s neck and squeeze the life from her, watching with glee as her face turned red, then purple. He did not like the murderous hatred and he needed to be alone so that Jack wouldn’t see it in his eyes. That was something he refused to share, no matter how much he wanted to vent.
He leaned over, elbows resting on the deck’s wooden railing, and stared into the dark of the backyard, forcing himself to think of nothing in particular. If he focused on what had woken him up, the nightmare would continue when he went back to bed. Movement to his right caught his eye and he froze as a small family of raccoons appeared, skirting the extremely tall hedges and copse of trees that separated Jack’s house from the neighbors on the next street over. He watched the four little kids follow mom as they foraged and part of him wanted to go in and get them something to eat. As a kid, he used to feed them unshelled peanuts, watching as they cracked them open.
Eventually, the brood moved on without detecting his presence, mostly because he had kept himself very still and barely breathed. He was not sure what mama raccoon would have done, but he sure as hell would not have bolted back inside if she had taken notice. With animals, if you showed no fear, they left you alone. It was too bad humans could not do the same thing. The thought nearly made him go back to the nightmare, so he forced himself to think of something else. Anything else. Twenty minutes later, he went back inside. Jack’s bedroom was now dark, and he paused, listening, to see if he had fallen asleep. There was no reason to do so, since he would not have done anything if Jack had been awake. It was just the unacted wish to climb into bed with him, to have that contact. To feel his body heat beside him as he slept.
Daniel climbed back into his own bed and arranged himself in a cocoon of covers. As he drifted back to sleep, his mind focused on images of Jack’s firm chest and abdominal muscles, dusted with hair. Down below, something stirred, and no nausea followed to wake him up.
. . .
The next day, Jack popped his head into Daniel’s office. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Daniel said, not looking up as he tapped a key on the computer.
“Hammond wants to see us.”
“Now?” Daniel asked, still not looking up. He scowled and tapped another key. “We need a better database.”
Jack paused, confused, and not giving a shit. “Whatever. Yeah, now.”
Daniel sighed. He had only just finished reading about the latest SG-1 missions, which had been far different from his former universe’s reports. There had been significant differences—apart from him not being dead. But at the moment, he had been waiting for keyword search results and was not happy because they were incomplete. Logging out and shutting off the monitor, he got up from his desk and grabbed his fatigue shirt, phone, and keys. “What’s up?” he asked, then scowled again because Jack was moving faster than usual, and Daniel had to half-run to catch up. But after five seconds, Daniel decided that half-running was stupid. The Briefing Room and Hammond were not going anywhere. He caught up with Jack at the elevator just as it was about to open. He did not say anything about running and neither did Jack.
“So what’s the deal?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Jack shrugged as the two of them entered. He pushed the button for Level 27 and the doors closed.
In the elevator, Daniel straightened out his fatigue shirt. “You’re so full of shit,” he said. Jack tried for a bland look that Daniel did not buy. Then his eyes widened as a thought came to him. “Wait. Is this the mission?”
“I don’t know,” Jack said, shaking his head and frowning.
Daniel held up his hands in apology. “Okay, sorry, but you’ve pulled a lot of stuff on me. It’s kinda been the norm for you lie. Even for a good cause, it’s annoying.”
Jack sighed. “Okay, fair point. But this time, not a clue. It might be the mission, or it might be something else.”
By the time they were nearly to the Briefing Room, Daniel was even further annoyed. “Well, if it isn’t the mission, I don’t see why I’m supposed to be here.”
“We’ll find out,” Jack said. He really did not have a clue. They entered the conference room and found Teal’c and Carter waiting. “What’s goin’ on?” he asked them. She shrugged and Teal’c shook his head. Hammond came out of his office and approached them, looking serious. Daniel looked at Jack’s expression, which would tell him whether he needed to be worried or not. Jack only jogged his brows, so Daniel assumed there would be bad news.
“We’ve finally heard back from the Tok’ra,” Hammond told them. “They’ve completed their move to their new base of operations, and everything checks out, but they say they’d like an outsider’s view of their security.”
“You don’t believe them?” Jack asked.
“We’ve all been burned a few times so, no, I don’t. There’s something going on.” He regarded Sam, who looked as if she was about to object. “Your father notwithstanding, Major. I’m positive he wouldn’t be leading us down the wrong path.”
“More like a dangerous path, sir,” Jack said.
“Agreed,” Hammond said. “That said, he may not be involved in whatever ulterior motive may be in play. To be honest, this gives us a unique opportunity to do an assessment. While the Tok’ra want another view of security, I want your objective to find out where this new base is.”
“We don’t know?” Jack asked, brows rising.
“They’ve been tight-lipped about it. All we know is that the Asgard were involved somehow.”
“There’s the unexpected shoe,” Jack said. “Have they ever done anything together prior to this new base?”
“Not to our knowledge, Colonel. So, I want eyes and ears.” He looked at Daniel. “And I’m including you in the mission, Doctor.”
Daniel’s eyes widened and he and Jack traded looks.
“Is this, by any chance, the cake walk you were hinting about?” Jack asked the General.
“Yes, Colonel, it is. It’s time to throw him into the pool and see how he swims.”
Daniel gave him a flat look. “You mean to see if I drown.”
Hammond grimly nodded. “That’s the way it was put to me by the Joint Chiefs, Doctor Jackson. In my personal opinion, there’s no problem. You’ve been doing a good job with the few Goa’uld translations we’ve tossed your way. They’ve been minor enough to both keep you on your toes and not put any undue stress on you at the same time. This is the next logical step, given that the Tok’ra sound just like the Goa’uld, but aren’t. They’re no threat, so you’ll have nothing to fear except failing a mission by your own standards.”
“Doctor Palmer never said anything about clearing me for this kind of mission.”
“It’s been cleared,” Hammond assured him. “You’ll be tested on your ability to rebound after being confronted by perceived stressors. The Tok’ra voices, specifically. Think you can handle that?”
Daniel kept the worry off his face. “I’ll do my best, sir. But is there anything I should be doing during the mission other than tagging along?”
“Were you a member of SG-1 in the other reality?”
Daniel dropped his mouth open, then closed it, feeling somewhat stupid. “I said I was, sir, yes.”
“Then you have your answer, Doctor.” Hammond gave Jack a nod. “You’ll leave this afternoon at 1700 hours. Uniform code is black.” He returned to his office and shut the door.
“Sweet,” Jack said, then turned to Daniel and looked him up and down. “Don’t worry. It’ll look great.” He leaned back to look at Daniel’s long hair. “For the most part.” He grinned at him. “C’mon, kids. Go home, gather what typical non-essentials you need, and meet back in the locker room at 1630.”
“Yes, sir,” Sam said as she and Teal’c left the room first, followed by Jack and Daniel.
“Non-essentials?” Daniel asked.
“Snacks, books to read, music to listen to, that sort of thing.”
Jack eyed him. “And you’re taking your log, Daniel, or you’re not going.”
Daniel stopped in the corridor, mouth gaping open as he watched Jack continue down the corridor. “You little shit.”
“I heard that,” Jack said without turning around.
Daniel sighed and hurried to catch up. “Fine, I’ll bring it. Just promise me that you won’t embarrass me in front of them.”
“I swear,” Jack said, making an X over his heart.
“You’re a prince.”
Daniel rolled his eyes.
. . .
Jack had lost his patience. Daniel was late by ten minutes, having agreed to meet back at the house by 1630. He should have told him that whatever it was that he wanted to do at the last minute, it could have waited. He had no idea where he had gone. There were a lot of things that mystified Jack about Daniel, but they were also rather welcome because they were radically different from the late Daniel. Jack had to admit that he had wanted something to separate the old and new men he loved. He liked the man who had bloomed from the dry wretch he had found in the Andromeda’s cargo bay. The only thing that would make things perfect would be to take their relationship past the friendship stage.
Jack’s ire suddenly changed to worry as he considered that Daniel might have gotten into a car accident, but a second after that, he heard the engine of the motorcycle. The sigh of relief was quickly followed by annoyance, and he went to the door and stepped onto the porch, mouth open to chide and scold, but what he had planned to say died on his lips.
“Sorry I’m late!” Daniel said, removing his helmet, and running a hand through his hair. He left the bike running as he dismounted and stuffed his gloves into the helmet, then headed up the winding path to the door. “Really, really, sorry, but I had to …” He stopped mid-step about three feet away because Jack was staring. He passed a hand over his hair. “What? Does it look bad?”
Jack replayed the last ten seconds over and over in rapid time even as he beheld the man’s shorter hair. It looked exactly like the hair style he had seen on him when they’d first met. It was that layered look, with the length just past the bottom of his collar and the bangs that fell even with his eyelashes. Windblown and messy, it had been sexy as hell. Now, it was just messy, and still sexy. The auburn brown color seemed more vibrant, as if the extreme length had dulled it. Daniel ran his hand through his hair again, roughing it up even more and it made Jack’s fingers itch. He stepped back, holding an arm out so that Daniel would enter the house first. He planned to listen to Daniel’s explanation, even though it was clearly unnecessary, but he just ...
Daniel felt a bit warm under the jacket thanks to riding in the late afternoon sun. He looked at Jack a few times as he walked in the house. “You’re not saying anything. Is it that bad? Look, I’m sorry I’m late, but I figured I’d celebrate going offworld with the team by looking more like my old self and …”
His words faded and a very different warmth started to spread through him thanks to the stare he was getting—and did not mind. It was also causing him to panic because Jack was looking at him in that way. He had seen it often enough on his late husband’s face. Was it just because he had cut his hair? He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Jack?” The man took a few steps toward him. Daniel took a few steps back and hit the small phone table by the front window. “Okay, look,” he said in a half-laugh. “You … look … a bit … well, you know. It’s dangerous and you really shouldn’t …” He discovered there was no accompanying nausea to go with the flat-out arousal Jack was bringing out in him.
Jack narrowed his eyes. “I’ll just bet it looks that way because the thoughts in my head actually are. Dangerous, I mean.”
“Ha huh,” Daniel said, half-laughing again. Jack came closer and Daniel looked over his shoulder for a clear path to escape, but he had to move sideways first, which was not helping to move away. “You need to stop.”
Jack nodded, stopping. “Any fear?”
Daniel shook his head, then inhaled sharply as Jack stepped into his personal space and reached out to thread the fingers of his right hand through his hair. Daniel closed his eyes at the caress, wanting more, even though several warring emotions swam into each other. Arousal, trepidation. Longing.
Then things magnified when Jack leaned in at the same time as he took a handful of Daniel’s hair in his hand to pull him forward. Daniel sucked in a breath as his gaze traveled back and forth between Jack’s emotion-filled eyes and his lips. “You shouldn’t,” he began, but the words were faint. “We shouldn’t.” He meant it to sound like a warning, but it came out as permission.
Jack said in a low voice, “You look just like you did that first day we met.” He threaded the fingers of his other hand through that wonderful hair. “I’m going to kiss you.”
“That a good idea?” Daniel said, heart rate climbing.
“I don’t know. Isn’t it?” Jack asked, only a few inches away now.
“No,” Daniel managed to say. “Maybe. Uh …” What was wrong with him? Just say it!
“You’re shaking,” Jack paused. “Good or bad?”
“Just kiss me alr—”
Jack mashed their lips together, parting them soon after to forcefully seek out his tongue. Daniel met him with much more force and passion, as if all his pent-up desires tried to be expressed all at once. He wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck while Jack tightened his fingers in his hair, and those actions combined deepened the kiss. They changed angles twice, hungrily trying to consume each other, but when Jack wrapped an arm around his waist to bring their bodies closer together, they both realized that the kiss could not go further. Jack was hard, as was Daniel, and they slowly broke apart.
Jack rested his forehead on Daniel’s. “We’ll finish this when we get home?” he asked in a murmur.
“Yes,” Daniel managed, and the elation inside him was nearly too great to contain. He was hard, and Jack had made him that way—without any corresponding queasiness.
It took each of them more than a minute to get themselves together and it was the strongest effort of will Daniel had exerted in his entire life.
Jack would have agreed.
Continued in part two